Jan 09 2012

Cranks and Physics

A  ”crank” is a particular variety of pseudoscientist or “true believer” – one that tries very hard to be a real scientist but is hopelessly crippled by a combination of incompetence and a tendency to interpret their own incompetence as overwhelming genius. In a recent article in Slate (republished from New Scientist) Margaret Wertheim tries, for some reason, to defend those cranks who believe they have developed an alternate theory of physics. In the article she does a good job of painting a picture of what a crank is, but it seems almost incidental as the main thrust of her article is to criticize science for being inaccessible. The result is confused and misleading.

In order see exactly why a crank is a crank one needs to have a clear idea of how mainstream science works and why (something that cranks often lack themselves). Science is often portrayed in popular culture in the quaint manner of the lone genius working away in their lab and developing ideas largely on their own. Further, any true advance is met by nothing but scorn from their colleagues and the scientific establishment. This view may have been somewhat relevant in the 19th century and earlier, but rarely has any relevance to modern science.

Science has progressed in most areas to the point that a large body of knowledge needs to be mastered before meaningful contributions are possible. New ideas and information are shared with the community throughout the process of research and discovery, in papers and at meetings, and ideas are criticized and picked over. Each component of a scientific theory needs to be experimentally or observationally established, and there should be good reasons to distinguish one theory from another. Any viable theory needs to at the very least account for existing evidence and should be compatible with well-established theories or facts, or have a compelling explanation for why they aren’t.

By this process a picture of how the world works is slowly being developed, as a community effort, with occasional stars standing above the crowd. The need to convince the existing scientific community that your ideas have merit is very useful – it weeds out ideas that are fatally flawed or just hopelessly nonsensical. In other words – it weeds out cranks. Of course, cranks don’t like this, so they wail against the mainstream.

Like any human institution or endeavor, the process of sifting out the wheat from the chaff is not perfect. Some chaff gets through, and some wheat may be prematurely removed. But science is also self-corrective, and there is always the possibility of correcting for past mistakes. Good ideas in science have a persistent advantage over bad ideas – they actually accord with reality and so the process of experiment and observation should favor them over time.

With all this in mind let’s take a look at the activity of cranks. Wertheim gives a very good description, talking about the main subject of her piece, an “alternative scientist” by the name of Jim Carter.

Carter’s ideas are not taken seriously by the physics mainstream. He does not have a Ph.D. and has never had any of his work published in a scientific journal. He has just a single semester of university education, which was enough to convince him that what was being taught in physics departments was an offense to common sense.
In response, Carter went off and developed his own ideas. Five decades on he has his very own theory of everything, an idiosyncratic alternative to quantum mechanics and general relativity, based on the idea that all matter is composed of doughnut-shaped particles called circlons. Since the 1970s he has articulated his ideas in a series of self-published books, including his magnum opus, The Other Theory of Physics.

So Carter lacks a formal education in physics and cosmology, something he no doubt considers an advantage. His profound arrogance is in evidence by the fact that after one semester of undergraduate study he felt confident in thinking that he was smarter than all working physicists, including luminaries like Albert Einstein and Richard Feynman. He could not wrap his mind around what was being taught as mainstream physics at the time, and rather than concluding that he needed to work harder to understand it, he decided that the problem was not with him but with physics. Physics did not make sense, so he replaced it with his own version.

This casual assumption of both one’s own genius and the idiocy of mainstream scientists is a core feature of the crank. Although it must always be considered that overwhelming arrogance can be a cover for crushing insecurity. In either case, the end result is an extremely childish approach to science. Carter feels he has not only turned over one concept in physics, something that, if true, can establish a career, but rather that he has replaced all of modern physics. He did this working by himself without testing his ideas with others, having his ideas reviewed by the community, or doing any research that could convince the scientific community that his ideas have merit. He did it, in fact, without ever fully studying the ideas he was rejecting. In short, he just made stuff up and then whined about the fact that his ideas were not recognized for the absolute genius that they were. Again, the problem (from his view) must not be with his ideas, but rather with the scientific community. They simply are too closed or too dumb to recognize his genius.

Wertheim goes on to discuss that, now in the age of the internet, cranks around the world have been able to form their own “alternative” community, publish their own journals, and have their own meetings. There is just one requirement in this alternative community – acceptance. All ideas are accepted (there is no chaff, all is wheat), that is except for one. Whatever is accepted by mainstream science is wrong. That is “the one ring” of crank mythology, that brings all crank theories together and in the darkness of their community binds them together. Otherwise they are largely mutually incompatible. Each crank’s “theory of everything” is a notion unto itself, and is mutually exclusive to every other crank’s own theory of everything (unless there is some incidental overlap). So they get together, present their theories without criticism, and all agree that the evil conspiracy of mainstream science must be taken down.  Of course, if any of them got their way and their ideas became accepted, they would instantly become rejected by the rest of the crank community as mainstream physics.

Wertheim strangely makes a leap from the crank community to the notion that modern science is inaccessible to the public. This is a strained point, to say the least. The gulf that separates those with formal education in science from those without is not the source of cranks, it is their particular personality as described above. They are the equivalent of the American Idol rejects, those who got through to the judges just so they could make fools of themselves, who, once rejected, proclaim their own vocal genius and the many inadequacies of the judges. But Wertheim thinks that cranks should be taken seriously and not rejected out of hand. She concludes:

While we may not agree with the answers outsiders give, none of us should be sanguine when some of the greatest fruits of science are unavailable to most of humankind.

This is a massive non-sequitur. The concern she raises, however, is legitimate – it just has nothing to do with the crank phenomenon.

On the real issue of science being accessible to the public, this is a complex issue and Wertheim does nothing to explore these complexities. Yes – advanced physics requires advanced mathematics. There is no way around this. Despite the assurances of some cranks, mathematics is the language of the universe, and anyone hoping to make real contributions in physics will need to be fluent in this language. Otherwise you might as well study French literature and not learn how to read or speak French and whine about the fact your ideas are not taken seriously by the “priesthood”.

There is a difference, however, in being a working physicist and being a non-scientist who understands the concepts of modern physics (if not the more complex underlying equations). There are many works that popularize science, and physics and cosmology in particular. You can grapple with the strange and beautiful ideas of physics as a lay person, you just can’t check the math for yourself or fiddle with the equations. If you want to do that – learn the math.

Perhaps that is another feature of the crank worth pointing out. There are a great deal of popular works for the non-scientist to satisfy their curiosity about modern science and to understand the ideas, findings, process, and controversies of modern science. But the non-scientist has to be content sitting in the bleachers as a spectator. Cranks are not content to be spectators. They want to be in the game, but they don’t want to learn to rules, or earn their way onto a team through work and talent. They want to change the rules to suit themselves.

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69 responses so far

69 Responses to “Cranks and Physics”

  1. tmac57on 09 Jan 2012 at 10:13 am

    I’m going to go out on a limb here and speculate that Carter may have actually had the potential for being a good scientist.He obviously has the tenacity,motivation,energy,creativity,and possibly the intellect needed to become a good scientist.What he lacks is the humility to accept that the immense body of knowledge that came before him,cannot be so easily dismissed , as he apparently did.
    What a shame.

  2. HHCon 09 Jan 2012 at 10:23 am

    Creative writing by Carter is similar to poor musicianship by a player, yet they make money in their economic sphere.

  3. DGAon 09 Jan 2012 at 11:28 am

    It is the quote “While we may not agree with the answers outsiders give, none of us should be sanguine when some of the greatest fruits of science are unavailable to most of humankind.” which I find revealing: it ought to be “While the answers outsiders give are clearly ludicrous generally, none of us should be sanguine when some of the greatest fruits of science are unavailable to most of humankind; better science education is needed so that the greatest fruits are understood and more effort on the part of the public to learn is necessary for the benefit of society.”

    The impression I take from this is that Wertheim thinks there are varieties of scientific truth or fact, and that if one theory doesn’t appeal then another can be adopted, rather than that the theory must conform to the experimental observations and fit, where appropriate, into the mathematical framework of other theories, no matter how challenging this may be to understand.

  4. ConspicuousCarlon 09 Jan 2012 at 12:07 pm

    I read the full thing to see if it really is that bad. “Yes, it’s that bad.™” should be her motto.

  5. Dmitrion 09 Jan 2012 at 12:41 pm

    I would argue that science is more accessable to an interested member of general public than it’s ever been in history of civilization. As you mention there are plenty of popular works – many of them very good – that explain general principles behind even the most cutting edge modern science without requiring mathematical expertise. I don’t believe this has ever been true in the past.

  6. cwfongon 09 Jan 2012 at 1:12 pm

    Nice article, except that mathematics is not the language of the universe. It’s our best guess at ferreting out and mimicking its logic, but a poor method of determining, if any, its possible myriad of purposes.

  7. gr8googlymooglyon 09 Jan 2012 at 1:47 pm

    cwfong – If the universe has no purpose, is mathematics still a poor method of determining its possible myriad of purposes?

  8. cwfongon 09 Jan 2012 at 2:13 pm

    Note that I said “if any.”

  9. steve12on 09 Jan 2012 at 2:13 pm

    What amazes me about cranks is how uniform they are in disposition. It’s that combination of seeming willful ignorance and hubris – the article above really captures it.

    There’s another problem that cranks suffer form universally: the illusion of explanatory depth. When I read other branches of science, I feel like I did in grad school – dumb. I sort of get some stuff, but I’m keenly aware that I don’t really understand things – certainly not the way do in my field (which also continues to evolve and deepen, of course). These people are convinced that they have a deep understanding of things when they really have a surface understanding. That is the overarching requirement of the crank, IMO.

  10. steve12on 09 Jan 2012 at 2:18 pm

    I thought I’d share this for entertainment:

    http://human-brain.org/

    This is my fav crank in my field. I’ve found his site linked over and over as a legitimate site, and had to warn journalists et al. that it he is a crank, not a scientist. He has actually read much of the literature, and generally seems to understand some important concepts. But the depth and context of his understanding is actually quite lacking, though he thinks he’s turned systems level neuroscience on it’s head.

    Epitome of the crank.

  11. jreon 09 Jan 2012 at 4:18 pm

    To my mind, the best discussion of how to be taken seriously with your brilliant, if heterodox, theory of everything was Sean Carroll’s “The Alternative-Science Respectability Checklist.” I hunted all over for an archived version, only to find that it was re-posted after Sean’s blog was picked up by Discover:
    http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/cosmicvariance/2007/06/19/the-alternative-science-respectability-checklist/

  12. RickKon 09 Jan 2012 at 6:27 pm

    Dmitri said: “I would argue that science is more accessable to an interested member of general public than it’s ever been in history of civilization. ”

    I agree, the material is out there. But the signal-to-noise ratio is still a problem. At the time Carl Sagan took the taxi ride he wrote about in “Demon-Haunted World”, the wonders of the universe were more accessible than they’d ever been. But the taxi driver, who thought himself a science buff, only knew about Atlantis, UFOs, ancient aliens, and the like. For someone without the education, and without the critical thinking skills/training, it is nearly impossible to separate the science from the chaff.

    On the topic of cranks, I find Charles Pierce’s distinction in “Idiot America” interesting. A proper crank has his bizarre ideas and will shout them from the rooftop regardless of the size of his audience – he’s there to push the idea, not achieve fame or profit. A charlatan is a crank who has sold out, and is pushing nonsense purely to get noticed and/or get paid. Cranks sometimes have value, if for no other reason than to force us to re-examine our own ideas (and re-examine the foundations of our confidence in those ideas). Charlatans, on the other hand, have zero societal value.

  13. _rand15_on 09 Jan 2012 at 8:46 pm

    Back when I studied physics at MIT – so long ago – the Physics Department would from time to time receive copies of books by cranks. They were mostly self-published, but a few were actually printed by regular publishers. Of course, no one wanted to spend time digesting the material and responding to the authors. So the Department would give them to the MIT library.

    The library filed them in a section it called the AUR – Archives of Useless Research. The AUR was mostly a couple of very large cardboard cartons. I spent several fun Saturday afternoons down there.

  14. Traveleron 09 Jan 2012 at 9:10 pm

    Why are these idiots taking on physics? If they would switch to being medical cranks then they could pick up some sweet NCCAM grants.

  15. addisontreeon 09 Jan 2012 at 10:24 pm

    Some analogs of “… some of the fruits of science are unavailable to most of humankind.”

    1. Some of the greatest works of music cannot be played by most of humankind. (Especially since most of humankind can’t play any musical instrument.)

    2. Some of the greatest comedic routines cannot be satisfactorily performed by most of humankind. (Especially since most of humankind do not practice comedic stagecraft.)

    3. Some of the heaviest weights in the gym cannot be lifted by most of humankind. (Especially since most of humankind do not lift weights on a regular basis.)

    4. Some of the fastest helicopters cannot be flown by most of humankind. (Especially since most of humankind can’t fly helicopters.)

    etc.

    In other words doing almost anything well is unavailable to most of humankind. And since a well executed deed is best appreciated by others who can accomplish similar tasks, not only can’t most people do these tasks they can’t truly appreciate them.

    So why do people like Wertheim pick on science? Why is science supposed to be “available” to everyone – even those who won’t put the effort in to learning the skills?

    (Can you imagine someone who had only ever played Microsoft Flight Simulator in their basement writing to the best helicopter pilots in the U.S. to explain to them that they’ve been flying their helicopters all wrong?)

  16. ConspicuousCarlon 09 Jan 2012 at 11:19 pm

    addisontree on 09 Jan 2012 at 10:24
    pm
    (Can you imagine someone who had only ever
    played Microsoft Flight Simulator in their
    basement writing to the best helicopter pilots in
    the U.S. to explain to them that they’ve been
    flying their helicopters all wrong?)

    Oh, but it is so much worse than that. Neal Adams would develop his own rules for flying helicopters while being proud that his ideas were not tainted by even a simulator-level experience.

  17. nowooon 10 Jan 2012 at 3:51 am

    Carter’s view of mainstream physics as “an offense to common sense” reminds me of this Feynman quote:

    “… there are many reasons why you might not understand [an explanation of a scientific theory] … Finally, there is this possibility: after I tell you something, you just can’t believe it. You can’t accept it. You don’t like it. A little screen comes down and you don’t listen anymore. I’m going to describe to you how Nature is – and if you don’t like it, that’s going to get in the way of your understanding it. It’s a problem that [scientists] have learned to deal with: They’ve learned to realize that whether they like a theory or they don’t like a theory is not the essential question. Rather, it is whether or not the theory gives predictions that agree with experiment. It is not a question of whether a theory is philosophically delightful, or easy to understand, or perfectly reasonable from the point of view of common sense. [A scientific theory] describes Nature as absurd from the point of view of common sense. And it agrees fully with experiment. So I hope you can accept Nature as She is – absurd.

    I’m going to have fun telling you about this absurdity, because I find it delightful. Please don’t turn yourself off because you can’t believe Nature is so strange. Just hear me all out, and I hope you’ll be as delighted as I am when we’re through. ”

    - Richard P. Feynman (1918-1988),
    from the introductory lecture on quantum mechanics reproduced in QED: The Strange Theory of Light and Matter

  18. tmac57on 10 Jan 2012 at 10:10 am

    ConspicuousCarl- Additionally, Adams would have claimed that he had overturned the theory of aerodynamics that all aircraft designers have been basing their designs on.

  19. daedalus2uon 10 Jan 2012 at 11:53 am

    Steve12, I looked at that site, and it doesn’t appear to me that he is a crank in the sense of being pseudoscientific. His writing style could be off-putting to the people who’s models (and sloppy thinking) he is criticizing, but I don’t find obvious fault with his criticisms. I think for many of them he is correct.

    He is thinking at a different hierarchical level than those he is criticizing. He is not disputing data, he is disputing interpretations of data and models that attempt (badly) to incorporate data and so explain extremely complicated human behaviors with overly simplistic models.

    I would like Dr Novella to take a look at his site and give us an assessment. Both as a neurologist and as a skeptic.

    As I said, I can’t see major flaws in his thinking. But he isn’t working at the levels that I am most familiar with (nitric oxide pathways) which are sub-cellular and are involved in interactions of few cells and (mostly) non-synaptic interactions. He is looking at synaptic interactions in single-cell region where most of the models he is criticizing are in much larger length scales, groups of many cells interacting with many cells, where proposed models are incompatible with his single-cell results.

  20. Mlemaon 10 Jan 2012 at 11:00 pm

    I must apologize in advance for the pedantic nature of my post. I mean only to be helpful.

    Although you may indeed mean that: “cranks don’t like this, so they wail against the mainstream.”, the idiom is “rail against”.
    Also, the wheat and chaff are not separated by sifting, they are separated by threshing.

    cheers,
    M

  21. Mlemaon 10 Jan 2012 at 11:06 pm

    Actually, winnowing removes the chaff. That comes after threshing. But there’s no sifting involved.

  22. steve12on 11 Jan 2012 at 12:11 am

    Hey Daedalus-

    “He is thinking at a different hierarchical level than those he is criticizing. He is not disputing data, he is disputing interpretations of data and models that attempt (badly) to incorporate data and so explain extremely complicated human behaviors with overly simplistic models.”

    You didn’t read enough – he’s read a lot of the lit, so he seems to know what he’s talking about.

    There’s no such thing as perfect models – that’s why they’re models. Everyone in neuroscience is well aware of the shortcomings of these models (where true, his criticisms are sophomorically trite) – but you can’t use the gaps in our current understanding to nullify what is understood, and that’s how he’s using them.

    Further, you can’t decide that a conclusion from one hierarchical level (which is itself spurious) allows you to simply ignore evidence from another. That it’s in service of a pet theory that’s supported by literally nothing is the final piece of evidence that he’s a crank. He cannot evaluate the totality of the evidence in proper context, and focuses on easy criticisms that are themselves – without context – true. Make no mistake – either he’s right, or everything we know about systems level/ cognitive neuroscience is wrong.

    His thesis is that there is (and indeed, cannot be) systems-level structure-function in the brain because neurons themselves fire totally stochastically (he regards this axiomatically), and order at the systems level cannot come from stochastic firing at the neuronal level. Because of this, there is no reliable modularity or connectivity in the brain (brain areas and connections are arranged randomly and vary randomly from person to person). Despite all of this – there is “specification” in the brain, it just varies randomly. I’m not sure what any of it means, really – it’s a bizarre walk-back of his theory. It makes no sense at all.

    I could go on, but here’s an example of him taking Hubel and Wiesel to task – probably because it’s the most foundational work that directly contradicts:

    http://human-brain.org/hypercolumns.html
    “The “hypercolumns” is one of the most stupid concepts in neuroscience.”

    Then there’s that idiot Eric Kandel. And again – I’m not saying he’s wrong because he disagrees with Kandel, but check out his “reasoning” – it all goes back to the pet theory:
    http://human-brain.org/kandel.html

    And then there’s the “myths”:
    http://human-brain.org/myths.html

    The deeper you dig, the worse it gets.

  23. ConspicuousCarlon 11 Jan 2012 at 2:55 pm

    steve12on 09 Jan 2012 at 2:18 pm

    I thought I’d share this for entertainment:

    http://human-brain.org/

    It’s not as bad as others, but I definitely see some crankish signs. I looked at his “bits” page, since I may not be advanced enough to criticize his neurology views. The Bits page has a collection of short essays griping about various whatnots and whoozits.

    Here’s the first one in the list:

    Title: “Effectively lying by implication”
    Gist: A negative review of Yehouda Harpaz’s paper (submitted for publication) praised his attempt to do a meta-analysis of brain imaging literature, but declares his paper to be a failure. Yehouda Harpaz complains about the subtle “lie” of calling his paper a meta-analysis, when in fact he wants it to be called a survey.
    Reality: The short review was one of three, all of which suggested that it was a good subject but Harpaz did a terrible job of it. I don’t know how professionally annoying or relevant it might be to use the wrong word, but the other two reviews offer harsh criticism without referring to it. Harpaz seems to be avoiding the greater issues and focusing on the casual use of a one-word description. To call it “lying” is crank behavior.

    Here’s the last one in the list:

    Title: “design principles similar to those used in electronic networks” (he is quoting someone else)
    Gist: Harpaz cites an article which compares “cortical networks” to electronic networks. Harpaz calls it “trivially nonsense”, a “religious belief”, and says the authors “just assume that they share design principles” without evidence.
    Reality: The paper he criticizes is actually somewhat reasonable and interesting. The authors explain in detail what they mean, with specific similarities described. They don’t “assume” it as Harpaz declares, they describe it. Harpaz’s anger at this article is mysterious. And here’s a bonus: One of Harpaz’s complaints is that neurons and ICs are not made of the same physical material, which has got to be the stupidest objection to an analogy ever.

    There are a lot of other examples of generally poor logic. I looked at some of his rants about evolution, and he has a habit of arguing against quotes attributed to nobody. He takes his own painfully strict interpretation of one-sentence summaries of evolution, and argues that they are too simplistic. On the subject of memes, he spends all of his words complaining about aspects of the meme/gene analogy which are not 100% identical, but completely misses the real point of the analogy (that the nature of the data influences its own replication). Most of his arguments are of low quality, and half of them are with himself.

  24. daedalus2uon 11 Jan 2012 at 3:46 pm

    First “stochastic” does not mean “random”.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stochastic

    As far as I can tell from a brief reading of his discussion of stochastic connections, he is using it in the same sense as I understand it.

    http://human-brain.org/stochastic-connectivity.html

    Second, what should be the default idea as to how neurons are connected and how neurons fire? I am extremely hard pressed to come up with a mechanism that is not stochastic. In infants at birth, a gigantic amount of the connectivity has to be stochastic because there isn’t time or non-stochastic mechanisms for it to be anything else.

    In chick retina (which can be observed during development), there is initially considerable seemingly random connection which self-refines over time.

    http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11404417

    We know there are changes in neuronal connectivity over time, when people have brain damage, new connections are formed to “work around” the damage. Presumably things like that are going on all the time.

    People have made a great many simplifying assumptions that have been accepted as “dogma” by later researchers. In some cases this has very severely limited progress in different fields. For example, the book Perceptrons said some things about linear networks which were misinterpreted and led to a great reduction in work in the field.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Perceptrons_(book)

    One of the things that greatly irritates me is the myth of homeostasis and how is is slowing progress in understanding physiology.

    http://daedalus2u.blogspot.com/2008/01/myth-of-homeostasis-implications-for.html

    When I talk to researchers about the myth of homeostasis, they look at me like I am a crank and express their feeling that homeostasis has to be correct, how else could organisms stay alive. I try to point out that the “real” definition of homeostasis posits that certain special physiological parameters don’t just stay within a living range, they are kept “static” and that all deviations from that “stasis” are pathological. This is simply wrong and most people appreciate that it is wrong, but they keep using the term “homeostasis”, even though the definition has now morphed into something else which is unstated. People still talk about diabetes being a problem of “glucose homeostasis”, even though there is no evolutionary pressure to keep blood glucose levels constant, only to preserve the life and reproductive capacity of the organism.

    There were similar problems in the idea of group selection in evolution and the current fad that everything is caused by genetics is simply wrong in many cases. There is no genetic data that supports the idea that intelligence is determined genetically. There are many senior researchers in intelligence research who assert that intelligence is genetic, but they can’t identify the genes which they say are responsible and instead point to twin studies (which are about twins, not about genes).

    This is one of the problems of peer review, that if a field gets headed by people with an agenda and/or who are mistaken about some fundamental things, the wrong dogma gets perpetuated because alternatives are never published or funded.

    The IQ debate is an extremely important example. The fundamental premise of the IQ field, that there is a general intelligence factor ‘g’ that all other intelligences/skills relate to, is simply wrong and unsupportable.

    I am not defending cranks, but I am also not defending every field that considers itself “main stream”.

  25. tmac57on 11 Jan 2012 at 4:32 pm

    Physics did not make sense, so he replaced it with his own version.

    This reminds me of an H.L. Mencken quote:

    For every complex problem there is an answer that is clear, simple, and wrong.

  26. steve12on 11 Jan 2012 at 5:26 pm

    “…which has got to be the stupidest objection to an analogy ever.”

    Seriously….

    The weird thing is that he’s really read all of the literature he talks about, so he sounds reasonable. That’s why I don’t blame Daedalus for thinking he’s not a crank. A lot of people take him seriously. I just can’t imagine spending all of that time doing research and then wasting it by mis-applying it to feed what seems like a personality disorder fueled pet theory. It’s so strange.

  27. BillyJoe7on 11 Jan 2012 at 5:33 pm

    tmac,

    For every complex problem there is an answer that is clear, simple, and wrong.

    Very good.
    I’m going to dump that on the next crank I have the misfortune to cross swords with.

    (In the distant past, I engaged in conversation with a crank over a period of several weeks. It ended in total frustration but, the remarkable thing is that he never seemed to cotton on to the fact that that I have had no formal training in physics past secondary school level. Yet he was going to overturn the modern understanding of physics.)

  28. daedalus2uon 11 Jan 2012 at 9:02 pm

    I have another comment still in moderation due to a lot of links.

    The paper “Communication in Neuronal Networks” really isn’t all that good. There is a lot of facile metaphor and teleological thinking that can be deceptive and trick people into thinking that they understand more than they actually do. Someone isn’t a crank because they point out errors in papers, even if those are facile errors.;

    Comparing volume fraction of wiring vs components in brains and ICs and then making the argument that because one is 3D and one is 2D, that explains the differences is nonsense. If there is such a correlation, it is pure artifact. Brains were not designed. Nerves do more than just act as a passive conduit for information. If signaling “efficiency” were so important, why is the visual cortex in the back of the head and not near the eyes?

    Some of those ideas might be interesting if they were followed up on. Inferring energy consumption of brains from volume of gray/white matter is (I think) a gross simplification. If mammals are to maintain a certain body temperature, they need to dissipate a certain amount of energy as heat, and they need to do that all the time. Doing it in a brain may have other advantages. Neurons are non-dividing, so metabolic activity doesn’t damage genes needed for cell division.

  29. steve12on 11 Jan 2012 at 11:31 pm

    “Someone isn’t a crank because they point out errors in papers, even if those are facile errors.;”

    That lone? No.

    All that other stuff I wrote? Yeah – all of it together makes him undeniably 100% pure crank.

  30. daedalus2uon 12 Jan 2012 at 9:30 am

    I disagree. I still have a comment in moderation. If you look at the definition of “crank” that Dr Novella is using, he doesn’t fit it. Where is the pseudoscience? Where is he saying stuff that is factually wrong? He is disagreeing with facile models which are wrong, and they are wrong in the ways he is saying they are wrong.

    Stochastic doesn’t mean “random”. He is using the term correctly, nerves are connected stochastically and they also fire stochastically. Using a default of stochastic connection and firing is a more accurate model than using a default that they are all connected according to some plan. Nerves are not all connected according to some plan.

    Arguing against straw man arguments doesn’t make him a crank either, so long as his arguments are valid and he uses correct facts in his argument.

    You can’t use his tone to judge whether he is a crank or not. Tone is independent of factual correctness. You can’t use statements that are factually correct to judge him to be a crank. You can’t use your feeling that he is a crank to judge him to be a crank. You have to come up with evidence that fits the crank model to be able to apply it to him.

  31. steve12on 12 Jan 2012 at 10:29 am

    “I disagree. I still have a comment in moderation. If you look at the definition of “crank” that Dr Novella is using, he doesn’t fit it. Where is the pseudoscience? ”

    It’s pseudoscience where he’s saying that the entire field of cognitive neuroscience is wrong and asserts – out of whole cloth with 0 evidence and w/ much evidence to the contrary – that there is no reliable modular organization or connectivity of the human brain at the systems level. This is just plain wrong – asserting it with the confidence he does and the snearing dismissiveness just adds to the crankiness, but I’ve never said that this is what MAKES him a crank. Ignoring mounds and mounds of evidence to further a pet theory for which he has no evidence – this is what makes him a crank.

    And again, that he may be right on other particular points cannot be exculpatory of what he’s wrong about. It doesn’t work that way, obviously. You can find all of the evidence of him being right about individual points (which I’ve ceded repeatedly and pointed out intiailly) and it will not save what he’s wrong about.

    “Where is he saying stuff that is factually wrong? He is disagreeing with facile models which are wrong, and they are wrong in the ways he is saying they are wrong.”

    Hypercolumns don’t exist, the columnar organization of the brain is meaningless, the modular organization of the brain is meaningless, etc, etc, etc. (http://human-brain.org/myths.html).

    “Stochastic doesn’t mean “random”. He is using the term correctly, nerves are connected stochastically and they also fire stochastically. Using a default of stochastic connection and firing is a more accurate model than using a default that they are all connected according to some plan. Nerves are not all connected according to some plan.”

    This does not matter – that the micro and systems level does not jibe (in his opinion) with the systems-level in NO WAY allows him to simply ignore systems-level evidence and substitute his own intuitions about what the systems-level “must be” because of what the cell-level IS. That’s like saying there can’t be gravity because QM can’t account for it, and then jumping off a building. Again, not exculpatory of his crankiness one bit. Neurons do not behave in a completely stochastic manner either (and what a plan has to do with anything), but that’s a side discussion and orthogonal to the issue of whether he’s a crank for his claims about systems-level neuroscience, which are demonstrably wrong.

    “Arguing against straw man arguments doesn’t make him a crank either, so long as his arguments are valid and he uses correct facts in his argument.”
    So long as we ignore all my other arguments, – sure – I’m calling him a crank because of his assertions that the entire field of cognitive neuroscience is wrong and that he has figured out in him bedroom that everyone from Penfield to Hubel & Wiesel to Kandell to Kosslyn to Tarr to etc., etc (and he pans their work himself – I’m not saying this by implication of his “theories”) are wrong and he is right that there is no reliable systems-level organization in the brain – no columns, no hypercolumns in vision, no functional specialization, no reliable connectivity etc. etc. (http://human-brain.org/myths.html). So please stop saying that I’m calling him a crank because he makes straw man arguments (or becasue of his personality, or his facileness with models, etc) as it is itself a straw man argument.

    “You can’t use his tone to judge whether he is a crank or not. Tone is independent of factual correctness.”
    See above

    “You can’t use statements that are factually correct to judge him to be a crank.”
    See above

    ” You can’t use your feeling that he is a crank to judge him to be a crank. You have to come up with evidence that fits the crank model to be able to apply it to him.”
    See above

  32. steve12on 12 Jan 2012 at 10:33 am

    Daedalus –

    IO just read your other post. While you bring up some interesting points about how neurons behave, they are addressed above on my comment about stochastic processes (essentially, even if he’s right, it’s beside the point of what he’s claiming about cognitive neuroscience).

    Nothing in your subsequent post in any way refutes that Harpaz is a crank.

  33. ConspicuousCarlon 12 Jan 2012 at 10:43 am

    daedalus2u on 11 Jan 2012 at 9:02 pm
    Someone isn’t a crank because they point out errors in papers, even if those are facile errors.;

    His complaints were not really “errors”. His declaration that the authors “just assume” is basically ignoring the existence of anything but the abstract. He also says that one thing is designed by evolution and the other is designed by engineers, as if anyone had said otherwise. He simply is not addressing the content.

    Nerves do more than just act as a passive conduit for information. If signaling “efficiency” were so important, why is the visual cortex in the back of the head and not near the eyes?

    Yes, they are more than just conduits. Except maybe for something like… the optic nerve? Isn’t that the purpose of the optic nerve? I was not planning on arguing about specific neurological facts, but this one is inciting me. I assume there is more to the optic nerve than I know, but I was under the impression that the main purpose of it was to simply move information from the eye to the brain. To use a computer analogy, which I know you hate, my impression is that distance matters in processing devices a lot more than it matters in a cable running from a camera to the board. If you think I am wrong about that, go ahead and say so and I will drop it so we don’t end up in a 200-post tangent into a subject about which I know less than anyone else here.

    Some of those ideas might be interesting if they were followed up on. Inferring energy consumption of brains from volume of gray/white matter is (I think) a gross simplification.

    And if Harpaz had said that, I would have said that he appears to possibly be offering reasonable criticism which I don’t know enough to disagree with. Instead, he claims that the authors offered nothing and refuted points which were not made or are not very relevant.

    I am not sure if his closing line is crankish or valid, as I don’t know if he is referring to all of neurology or if he thinks comparing neurology to electronics is a field:

    “That this rubbish finds its way into the magazine Science shows how clueleass are researchers in this field.”

  34. ConspicuousCarlon 12 Jan 2012 at 10:55 am

    daedalus2u on 12 Jan 2012 at 9:30 am

    I disagree. I still have a comment in moderation. If you look at the definition of “crank” that Dr Novella is using, he doesn’t fit it.

    That’s why I said “crankish”. I don’t know that he has an explicit pseudoscience to offer, but he has some behaviors which fit those employed by people who do. He does seem to think that he is the only one who isn’t an idiot, in more than one field. He calls people “liars” for what seems to be a minor detail next to major criticism. Maybe he is just really bad at the whole game and accidentally looks like a crank.

  35. cwfongon 12 Jan 2012 at 11:10 am

    Of course stochastic means random:

    stochastic |stəˈkastik|
    adjective
    randomly determined; having a random probability distribution or pattern that may be analyzed statistically but may not be predicted precisely.

    And as to “nerves are not all connected according to some plan,” of course there is a plan that governs their ultimate connection. All biological functions are both planned and act as probablistic planners.

  36. daedalus2uon 12 Jan 2012 at 3:18 pm

    No, stochastic (in the sense he is using it) does not mean random, it means non-correlated. There is a big difference. Dr Novella touched on this the other day in his post on randomness. A sequence found in pi is stochastic in that the digits are non-correlated, but they most certainly are not random, they are part of the sequence in pi. You can’t misinterpret a specific technical term that is being used correctly to find fault with the argument it is being used correctly in.

    The hypothesis that nerves are simple conduits for signals is a hypothesis that needs to be tested, and for all nerves. It is not at all clear that this hypothesis is correct. There may be very good reasons why nerves connecting different brain regions can’t take the shortest route. It may be necessary to do signal processing on the signals those nerves are carrying along the way. Maybe equalize arrival times for visual signals? Maybe sum, compare, add, subtract, transform or do other computations? Maybe modify the properties of adjacent nerves that are firing on a different time phase via feedback? I can think of a number of reasons why nerves would not function properly if they were simple signal conduits. If I were to hazard a guess, I would guess not, but making a guess is not necessary or desirable in trying to figure out how the brain functions.

    There are a great many differences between electrical signaling networks, between integrated circuits and between living neural networks. There are vastly more differences than there are similarities. I don’t think there are enough similarities between them, such that understanding electrical signaling networks aids in the understanding of neural networks. I think I have a reasonable understanding of both, and the analogy is mostly false and mostly confuses properties that are fundamental and mutually exclusive.

    The wiring of an IC does not change with use. The neuroanatomy of a brain changes every second, and can only function because it is changing. A significant amount of the information transfer in the brain does not occur via nerve conduction and is not propagated via action potentials. You can’t understand the brain without appreciating that. The dynamics of neuroanatomy are not appreciated because they are invisible to outside observers.

    If we look at an IC at a different hierarchical level, the level of electric fields, ICs are highly dynamic systems. The electric fields in each transistor, along each conductor, in each dielectric barrier between conductors all change as the electric potentials change on those conductors. The conductors don’t move, but the electric fields that are in the vicinity of those conductors are highly dynamic with time constants on the order of the clock cycle.

    To discuss how neuroanatomy changes, you first need a definition of it. The definition that I like is “physical arrangements of matter that affect the functioning of the brain”. With this definition, then the brain can’t function without changes in neuroanatomy. Since there is no non-material mind, all properties of the brain must be instantiated in matter, all changes in properties of the brain must be instantiated by changes in the arrangement of matter in the brain.

    His section on brain symbols is pretty much correct. I agree with him on most points. Brains can’t use symbols as primatives and manipulate ideas symbolically. This is completely correct and accurate. Humans are able to manipulate symbols, but my hypothesis is that they do it by emulating a Turing Equivalent, not by having native symbol processing capability. He doesn’t say that humans can’t manipulate symbols, only that they can’t manipulate symbols via native neuronal processing (which is correct).

  37. cwfongon 12 Jan 2012 at 3:34 pm

    “Humans are able to manipulate symbols, but my hypothesis is that they do it by emulating a Turing Equivalent, not by having native symbol processing capability. He doesn’t say that humans can’t manipulate symbols, only that they can’t manipulate symbols via native neuronal processing (which is correct).”

    Human brains use algorithmic “native” (pictorial, etc., not mathematical) symbolism to assess the implications of the available incoming sensory signals, and make their optional and predictive choices accordingly.

    And stochastic is supposed to mean what the dictionary sats it means.

  38. steve12on 12 Jan 2012 at 4:30 pm

    The brain symbols business is just taking advantage of the semantics of what those posing propositional representational schemes mean. It’s trite nonsense – everyone knows there aren’t literal symbols in the brain!

    Things like discrete representations and brain symbols are obviously convenient fictions to organize our theories around – to dismiss all of the work done with them evinces a complete lack of knowledge in the area.

    You mean we don’t understand how the brain works? Gee, really? Wow. The notion that one can use the fact that our understanding isn’t complete to nullify that which we have reasonable understanding of (and no better alternative) is a game that could be played with any science at any period in the history of science. It is how cranks operate – find the gaps in understanding and the sneeringly belittle scientists for their lack of knowledge with no better alternative. It absurd.

    Harpaz=Crank. Get over it.

  39. BillyJoe7on 12 Jan 2012 at 6:34 pm

    cwfong,

    “Of course stochastic means random”

    Yet the dictionary definition you provide does not agree!

    randomly determined; having a random probability distribution or pattern that may be analyzed statistically but may not be predicted precisely.

    “And stochastic is supposed to mean what the dictionary says it means”.

    It’s a bit more complicated than that.
    Context is also important:
    How would you describe the string of digits that contitute pi?
    How would you describe the string of digits that result from the throw of a dice?
    How would you describe the string of digits that come out of this device: http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/04/100414134542.htm

  40. cwfongon 12 Jan 2012 at 6:57 pm

    In virtually all cases, whether using Newtonian or quantum physics, random (in a less than fully determinative universe) has a significant probability factor involved.

    And stochastically determined means randomly determined in the context ordinarily used by scientists, even if not by Harpaz, Carter, or daedalus2u, or apparently one or more others here.

  41. daedalus2uon 12 Jan 2012 at 8:55 pm

    Steve12, cwfong disagrees with your assertion that there is no symbolic manipulation in the brain.

    No, that is not what a “crank” does. A crank takes a non-gap and fills it with nonsense. If someone is not asserting things that are demonstrably wrong, they are not a crank. Pointing out flaws in models is not being a crank if those flaws are actually flaws. His assertions about symbolic manipulation are correct, his assertions do not make him a crank no matter how much you want to think he is.

    I don’t know the field of mental modeling well enough to refute your assertion that “It’s trite nonsense – everyone knows there aren’t literal symbols in the brain!” so I looked. It seems to me that there are a great many people, senior researchers in the field who do believe that there are literal symbols in the brain.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Representational_theory_of_mind

    If you believe there is a “language of thought”, then you believe that thoughts are represented symbolically by that language.

    This guy is out of the mainstream, but being out of the mainstream is not what constitutes being a crank, being a crank requires being wrong about things that are known, not recognizing what is unknown and certainly not recognizing what is wrong.

    “[Finding] the gaps in understanding and [then] sneeringly belittle scientists for their lack of knowledge with no better alternative” does not make someone a crank.

  42. steve12on 12 Jan 2012 at 10:30 pm

    “Steve12, cwfong disagrees with your assertion that there is no symbolic manipulation in the brain. ”

    You’re completely misunderstanding me. I think symbol manipulation/representation is a convenient way to think of or organize our thinking about what is happening. But we cannot define a symbol neurally yet – a grou p of neurons, a neuronal process, etc. We can’t really, hence my calling it a convenient fiction.

    “No, that is not what a “crank” does. A crank takes a non-gap and fills it with nonsense.”
    YES. And every time I point out the nonsense he’s filling it with (no reproducible sytems level organization), you ignore me and pursue the details of no germane point.

    “If someone is not asserting things that are demonstrably wrong, they are not a crank. Pointing out flaws in models is not being a crank if those flaws are actually flaws. “

    BUT it’s all in service of a pet theory – and he IS wrong much of the time. Again, he is not crank for one of these things but ALL OF THEM.

    “His assertions about symbolic manipulation are correct, his assertions do not make him a crank no matter how much you want to think he is. “

    IF you refuse to look at him in total, you might be right. He treats the topic sophomorically, but that doesn’t make him a crank. You are very, very good at ignoring evidence that you do not want to (or cannot) address. WHY WILL YOU NOT ADDRESS HIS COMPLETE DENIAL OF SYSTEMS LEVEL NEUROSCIENCE TO FURTHER HIS PET THEORY WHICH HE HAS NO EVIDENCE FOR? WHY? I hate ot write in caps like this, but your refusal to adress my CENTRAL POINT is becoming irritating.

    “I don’t know the field of mental modeling well enough to refute your assertion that “It’s trite nonsense – everyone knows there aren’t literal symbols in the brain!” so I looked. It seems to me that there are a great many people, senior researchers in the field who do believe that there are literal symbols in the brain.
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Representational_theory_of_mind
    If you believe there is a “language of thought”, then you believe that thoughts are represented symbolically by that language. “

    Yes of course. Representation was in the title of my dissertation. I use representation 100 times a day. But I understand that it is an undefined unit neurally – it is a widget of sorts that cog neuro people use to organize their ideas about what neural events represents what behavior. Pointing out that no one knows what a representation is neurally is not news. ”

    “This guy is out of the mainstream, but being out of the mainstream is not what constitutes being a crank, being a crank requires being wrong about things that are known, not recognizing what is unknown and certainly not recognizing what is wrong.”

    Recognizing what we ALL KNOW is wrong, using it as evidence that we know NOTHING (another point you REFUSE to address), and substituting the newly destroyed field of cog neuro DOES make him a crank, not just out of the mainstream. Why do you refuse to address these actions that are CENTRAL to my claims that he’s a crank.

    “[Finding] the gaps in understanding and [then] sneeringly belittle scientists for their lack of knowledge with no better alternative” does not make someone a crank.

    That is perfect Daedalus. The ultimate REPRESENTATION of your arguing style (in this argument anyway) – take a quote of mine that ignores the majority of evidence I’ve put forth in saying that Harpaz is a crank and make a straw man that makes it seem like I’m saying that alone makes him a crank. The selective ignoring is just insane….

    You seem to have a real problem with admitting your errors, Daedalus. It’s OK – I didn’t realize he was a crank right away either. But You are literally willing to say that a denier (and his denial of all that cog neuro has done is exactly that) is not a crank. Deniers are ipso facto cranks.

    So I guess Harpaz is right – me and the rest of cog neuro (Kandel, Kosslyn, Buckner, Schacter, Tarr, Warrington, etc. – hey, when else can I throw my name around with these people?) are just a bunch of idiots, and have had this whole brain thing wrong. Thankfully you guys are here to set us straight by completely ignoring all which you do not wish to address.

  43. daedalus2uon 12 Jan 2012 at 11:27 pm

    I think you are not understanding him. We know what a symbol is. We know what it takes to represent a symbol. We know that there are no neural structures that can “natively” represent symbols.

    It is not that such neural structures might exist and we don’t know what they are (as you seem to be implying), we know that such neural structures do not exist.

    Someone is not a crank for pointing that out.

  44. steve12on 12 Jan 2012 at 11:35 pm

    “Someone is not a crank for pointing that out.”

    AHHH! How many times do I have to say it – THAT is not why I’m saying he’s a crank!

    Is this really how you argue? By putting your fingers in your ears and going “na na na-na na”?

  45. daedalus2uon 13 Jan 2012 at 2:14 pm

    No, I only argue from facts and logic. If I don’t know something I don’t argue either for or against it. That is why I am only looking at things that I understand and know about to judge if this guy is a crank or not.

    The problem with the idea of “native” symbolic representation in neural networks is not that the neural substrates that instantiate symbolic representation have not been found yet, the problem is that by their well known properties, they can’t instantiate symbolic representation. Because neural networks can’t “natively” instantiate symbolic representation, neural structures that do instantiate symbolic representation will never be found. You seem to be in agreement with this.

    Where there seems to be disagreement is with the idea that assuming neural networks can “natively” instantiate symbolic representation is a fruitful research direction. Harpaz thinks it won’t be a fruitful direction of research, and I agree with him, and you have shown no data that refutes that opinion. Opinions that are consistent with the data in the literature (which that opinion is) do not make someone a crank.

    You seem to be dissing him because of his opinion that models of cognition that use “native” symbolic representation are useless and because he disses researchers who assert that models of cognition that do use “native” symbolic representation are useful (and for other reasons).

    The OP was about cranks and physics which is a much easier topic because physics is trivially easy compared to how the brain functions. Physics is simple enough that a single person can hold enough of it in their mind to evaluate it as a whole. Physics also is simple enough that it can be expressed mathematically.

    Brains are not simple enough to do that.

    My own opinion is that judgments that someone is a “crank” based on only a partial understanding of their conceptualization of the field can be wrong. In every large and complex field, there are some ideas that are right and some ideas that are wrong, and it is often not easy to tell which is which.

    His dismissal of the systems level models is from teleology. There is simply no way for top-down systems in the brain to come into being from the top-down. There is no top-down in the brain, there is only bottom up. The high level systems properties have to be properties that emerge from the bottom up.

    Your analogy that he is dismissing gravity is not apt. It is more like he is dismissing objects behaving in certain ways because there is an immaterial spirit that is animating the object; that trees behave the way they do because they have a tree-spirit, or rocks behave the way they do because of a rock-spirit, a “systems level” animation that is coordinating the tree-like and rock-like properties.

    We know there isn’t a tree-spirit animating a tree, that tree properties are due to the emergent properties of the tissue compartments, cells, organelles, molecules, atoms and sub-atomic particles that make up the tree. In exactly the same way, we know there isn’t a mind-spirit animating a brain. The properties of a brain are due to the emergent properties of tissue compartments, cells, organelles, and so on.

    The idea that there is no mind-spirit animating the brain at a systems level is difficult for some people to accept. Many of the systems-level models posit something of the sort, some type of top-down animation, or a homunculus-type animation. There is no evidence for a homunculus, no reason to posit one, and many reasons to reject that type of approach.

  46. cwfongon 13 Jan 2012 at 2:46 pm

    *Your analogy that he is dismissing gravity is not apt. It is more like he is dismissing objects behaving in certain ways because there is an immaterial spirit that is animating the object; that trees behave the way they do because they have a tree-spirit, or rocks behave the way they do because of a rock-spirit, a “systems level” animation that is coordinating the tree-like and rock-like properties.*

    Actually both trees and rocks are products of nature’s strategic behaviors. So in that sense there are tree spirits and even cohesive strategies within rocks.

    And you might also want to see these strategies as exerting top down influences!

  47. BillyJoe7on 13 Jan 2012 at 3:29 pm

    Interesting view, cwfong, though not original. And it is a minority view which has been around for a long time despite which it hasn’t gained any traction amongst most evolutionary biologists. It’s certainly not a progressive mainstream view and shows no signs of being able to overthrow the modern synthesis. But I guess that is no reason not to throw your weight behind it.

  48. cwfongon 13 Jan 2012 at 3:43 pm

    Actually the fact that there are biological strategies is the prevalent view. And rocks are made of atomic and molecular substances with waves having a constant phase relation, causing them to strategically cohere. All pretty mainstream where I went to school.

  49. BillyJoe7on 13 Jan 2012 at 9:13 pm

    Depends on whether you see reality where there is only metaphor.

  50. cwfongon 13 Jan 2012 at 9:39 pm

    Yeah, I forgot for a moment who I was attempting to inform. Oh, well.

  51. steve12on 14 Jan 2012 at 1:44 am

    Wow. It’s almost like you’ve:

    a. Never read ANY of the cog neuro literature (but have strong opinions anyway)

    and

    b. Read none of my posts.

    I will neither reiterate my points for the 127th time only to have them ignored, nor deconstruct the semantic-laden, ill-informed post above as it is a waste of my time, and repetitious.

    You seem like a smart guy, but you also seem like one of those people who can never admit they’re wrong about anything, and would rather embarrass themselves with the likes of 13 Jan 2012 at 2:14 pm than simply admit that they may not actually know it all. That’s a shame. I’m wrong every single day, and revel in it because it means that I learned something. Not about this though….

    So final tally:
    Systems level neuroscience, including Schacter, Gazzanniga, Marr, Kandell, Eichmann, Farah, Kosslyn, Gabriellie,Donchin, etc, etc – wrong, idiots – all done in by Harpaz and Daedalus. Call CNS and SFN to them the jig is up, won’t you?

  52. daedalus2uon 14 Jan 2012 at 10:01 am

    I haven’t said that anyone is an idiot, just that some ideas are wrong. The idea that the properties of the brain derive from top down control is wrong. I don’t need to know the arguments in favor of the primacy of top down control to know that all of those arguments will be wrong.

    The brain grows from a single cell. The formation of the brain cannot be controlled from the top down because there is no brain to instantiate top down control when the process starts. The genome does not contain enough information to specify the internal connectivity of the adult brain, so those connections cannot be specified genetically. I don’t need to know how they are specified to know that they are not specified genetically or from the top down

    Top down control requires a plan instantiated by that top down controller. Where does the plan come from? The controller can’t instantiate a plan before there is a controller, the genome can’t specify all of the connections, so how are the connections specified? Very likely they are not “specified”, in the sense that there is a list of specific connections to be made. We know that a great many connections are made, therefore most of those connections must be “unspecified”.

    I think that a good term to use to describe the myriad unspecified connections that we know happen would be “stochastic”. I appreciate that you don’t like that term, could you provide a better term? Or could you tell me where and why my chain of logic is wrong?

  53. cwfongon 14 Jan 2012 at 1:23 pm

    The single cell contains instructions that govern its necessity and ability to reach the point where it divides, assuming that such division is one reason that cell has come down the long road to its existence. (Some cells in multicellular organisms no longer have the need to divide in other words.) Thus cells always have a form of top down control within themselves. And multicellular organisms could not operate and learn without some executive top down controllers.

  54. daedalus2uon 14 Jan 2012 at 1:50 pm

    cwfong, in the sense that I am using it, “top down” control means instructions from a hierarchy “above” that of the single cell.

    For a fertilized egg, there cannot be instructions from a hierarchy “above” the single cell because there is only the single cell. As the single cell grows to become a hierarchy of cells, there can be no “instruction” from that hierarchy to form the hierarchy before that hierarchy exists.

    There can’t be top down control before there is a top, and the formation of a top can’t be mediated through top down control because the top doesn’t exist yet.

    Is that clear?

  55. cwfongon 14 Jan 2012 at 2:07 pm

    No, because you’ve simply manufactured a scenario that cannot exist to “prove” a point. But by that scenario, there would be no controls at all, if the hierarchy cannot exist until the single cell is magically instructed to divide and get together with itself to create it.

  56. daedalus2uon 14 Jan 2012 at 2:47 pm

    No, the single cell can control its own division, its own protein synthesis, its own cell cycle, its own transcription, etc. What it can’t do is be controlled by something that does not yet exist.

    The assembly of the hierarchy can’t be controlled by the hierarchy. What ever does control the assembly of the hierarchy must come from somewhere else, or the assembly of the hierarchy is not controlled in the sense of a controller following a plan.

    That is all I am saying, and it is not an artificial scenario, it is what happens when every human is conceived and grows into an infant.

    If you think there is some sort of “top down” control of the division of the fertilized egg and the formation of a brain, could you give me some details on how that could possibly work?

  57. cwfongon 14 Jan 2012 at 3:12 pm

    http://www.nature.com/nature/journal/v452/n7184/abs/nature06597.html
    Hierarchical self-assembly of DNA into symmetric supramolecular polyhedra

  58. cwfongon 14 Jan 2012 at 3:17 pm

    “What it can’t do is be controlled by something that does not yet exist.”
    Right.

  59. daedalus2uon 14 Jan 2012 at 3:33 pm

    Self-assembly is not top down assembly, it it bottom up. I have no problem with self-assembly of hierarchies from the bottom up. That is the only way that brains can organize because there is no “top” before the brain has self-organized itself.

  60. cwfongon 14 Jan 2012 at 3:44 pm

    By your logic, there is no top that was not preceded by a topless bottom.

  61. cwfongon 14 Jan 2012 at 4:19 pm

    When it comes to biology, iInstead of a bottom up building analogy, you’d be better off with a center out analogy. Then you could more clearly see that the outer parts in turn refashion the inner.

  62. daedalus2uon 14 Jan 2012 at 4:56 pm

    Yes, I think there can be no top that was not preceded by a topless bottom.

    I don’t understand what you mean by a center out analogy.

  63. cwfongon 14 Jan 2012 at 5:19 pm

    Sleep on it.

  64. cwfongon 14 Jan 2012 at 5:40 pm

    Then read this:
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cell_nucleus

  65. BillyJoe7on 14 Jan 2012 at 9:15 pm

    daedalus,

    You have to understand cwfong’s philosophy.
    If you battle long enough and hard enough, you may slowly and gradually get him to condesendingly reveal what that philosophy is.
    Good luck though – with sucking blood out of a stone.

    And you’ll have to put up with put downs – like his last two posts.

    (Hints: teleology, quantum mind, universal consciousness)

  66. cwfongon 14 Jan 2012 at 9:43 pm

    Sorry daedalus2u, it’s clear to most that the citation was not a putdown. It answers your question about the center out analogy.

  67. weingon 15 Jan 2012 at 2:02 am

    How come the Iranians don’t kidnap these cranks and get them to work on their nuclear weapons program?

  68. daedalus2uon 15 Jan 2012 at 10:02 am

    In Stalinist USSR, all of science became politicized except physics and especially nuclear physics. As someone said, Stalin may have been crazy, but he was not stupid. He needed those physicists to build nuclear weapons.

  69. Yehouda Harpazon 10 Feb 2012 at 2:59 pm

    > # steve12on 12 Jan 2012 at 10:29 am

    > It’s pseudoscience where he’s saying that the entire field of cognitive neuroscience is
    > wrong and asserts – out of whole cloth with 0 evidence and w/ much evidence to the
    > contrary – that there is no reliable modular organization or connectivity of the human
    > brain at the systems level.

    Can you please tell me where did you find that I write that “there is no reliable modular organization or connectivity of the human brain at the systems level. ” ?

    This is what I actually wrote here http://human-brain.org/stochastic-connectivity.html :

    “At the scale of organs, brains have a well-defined structure. Parts of the brain have a reasonable well-defined structure in smaller scale, in the region of 1mm. The connectivity at lower scale (low-level connectivity), however, is not well specified. ”

    (feel free to read the rest of it)

    Thanks,

    Yehouda Harpaz

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