Guyau

Thank Your Lucky Cells!

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In the course of evolution, there are spectacular spin-offs. Typically, each macromolecule (such as a protein or a nucleic acid) inside a living cell tends to carry many excess negative charges. These charges get balanced by positive ions (especially potassium) dissolved in the water within the cell. But the presence of these ions means that water tends to be drawn into the cell by osmosis. (This osmosis is not on account of electrical charge on the potassium ions, but merely because potassium is not water and nature abhors concentration gradients among species of chemicals.) What keeps the cell from swelling and finally bursting as more and more water is taken in?

The walls of plant cells are made pretty strong (about as strong as a page in Objectivity), the pressure inside the cells can therefore be higher than outside, and this higher pressure inside opposes the osmotic flow of water into the plant’s cells. (Notice the passivity of this solution for the problem.) That is one stable solution to the problem that began with the fact that the molecules of life have excess negative charge. It is a rather simple-minded solution, however, and this is why to this day plants do so poorly on IQ tests (J. Enright, personal communication).

The membrane forming the boundary of an animal cell is hardly a wall. The membrane is so thin it cannot withstand any pressure difference across it. Such a cell must live a bit more dynamically with its surround. It will be surrounded by water molecules just teeming to get inside and dilute the concentrations of dissolved chemical species (especially ions of potassium, but also sodium and chlorine). What to do?

First, take stock: the cell membrane is permeable to water, to potassium, to sodium, . . . and not permeable to chlorine. The membrane is more permeable to the potassium than to the sodium. Hummm. Try this: pump sodium ions out. As it happens, doing that will simultaneously pump more potassium ions in from the outside. Then the pump (if it reaches a steady state before burning up) will be able to maintain a higher concentration of sodium ions outside than inside. Then the sodium ions outside will be diffusing across the membrane, trying to sneak back in, and the potassium ions on the inside will be diffusing across the membrane, trying to get out to the suburbs. Voila! Since the membrane allows potassium to get out more freely than it allows sodium to get in, the net effect of the pump will be to increase the concentration of nonwater particles on the outside, thereby making the water molecules content to just stay out there. Wait another paragraph before starting the pump.

Consider the electrical situation. Both the potassium ions and the sodium ions carry an excess positive charge. Since the pump will be decreasing the overall concentration of these (the nonwater pawn in this game) on the inside of the cell, the excess negative charge on the inside (macromolecules and chlorine) will not be entirely cancelled out by the dissolved positive ions inside. Then the cell membrane will have an electrical potential difference across it. The cell can live with that provided the pump speed is restricted to a certain range implicated by the membrane’s electrical conductance with respect to sodium ions relative to its electrical conductance with respect to potassium ions. Whew! Now, start the pump.

The momentous spin-off in evolutionary history was that this membrane potential, in some animal cells, could be briefly changed by adjustments in the membrane conductances with respect to sodium ions and with respect to potassium ions. Thus the animal-cell solution to the problem that the molecules of life (the macros inside the cell) carry excess electrical charge made possible the essential signaling mechanism (brief change in membrane potential) for muscle cells and for nerve cells (neurons). And that is how it came about that some animals today can study philosophy.

―Stephen Boydstun

[The preceding is an excerpt from my 1994 Objectivity essay “Volitional Synapses.” The full text and the scientific references can be found at Objectivity Archive (www.objectivity-archive.com) in Volume 2, Number 1.]

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Micro-RNAs modulate production of proteins at synapses of neurons,

which is crucial for learning and memory.

http://www.sciencenews.org/view/feature/id...e/Micromanagers

http://www.izn.uni-heidelberg.de/e/profiles/schratt.html

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Stephen: "And that is how it came about that some animals today can study philosophy."

That's a fascinating teaser, but I confess to having no idea how you got from the rest of your post to that statement. Can you explain it in layman's terms?

Barbara

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Stephen: "And that is how it came about that some animals today can study philosophy."

That's a fascinating teaser, but I confess to having no idea how you got from the rest of your post to that statement. Can you explain it in layman's terms?

The electrical signals generated in the cells make processing of information possible, just as in a computer information is processed by changing potentials and electrical signals. This processing has evolved in the course of many millions of years to the sophisticated level of conscious thinking, leading to animals that study philosophy and even study science (which in a self-referential manner can study its own genesis).

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Stephen: "And that is how it came about that some animals today can study philosophy."

That's a fascinating teaser, but I confess to having no idea how you got from the rest of your post to that statement. Can you explain it in layman's terms?

The electrical signals generated in the cells make processing of information possible, just as in a computer information is processed by changing potentials and electrical signals. This processing has evolved in the course of many millions of years to the sophisticated level of conscious thinking, leading to animals that study philosophy and even study science (which in a self-referential manner can study its own genesis).

And it came about by purely natural and physical processes. No ghosts, no goblins, no spirits, no souls, no gods.

Ba'al Chatzaf

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Dragonfly,

I am still having trouble thinking from bottom-up principles only when thinking about evolution. What makes a process decide to stop... when is an entity an entity and not just a state of becoming one?

It is a shame that top-down principles are more or less abandoned to religion, but there are people like Ken Wilbur who are working in this area.

Michael

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I am still having trouble thinking from bottom-up principles only when thinking about evolution. What makes a process decide to stop... when is an entity an entity and not just a state of becoming one?

What process has decided to stop? Evolution never stops. It's only afterwards that we may distinguish different species that evolved from each other. It is meaningless to say that a certain entity is either a certain species or just becoming one. Both are always true: every species is continuously evolving. If the differences between the species at time t1 and at time t2 have become big enough, we classify them as two different species, but where (in time) we put our markers is rather arbitrary, as long as the differences are big enough to warrant a classification into different species. There is no such thing as a differentiation between a "real" (supposedly "completed") species and a species "in statu nascendi".

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Dragonfly,

I am still having trouble thinking from bottom-up principles only when thinking about evolution. What makes a process decide to stop... when is an entity an entity and not just a state of becoming one?

It is a shame that top-down principles are more or less abandoned to religion, but there are people like Ken Wilbur who are working in this area.

Michael

The underlying physical processes for evolution (molecular bonding, primarily) are understood by means of top down physical theories. The Theory of Evolution is now totally merged with molecular chemistry and genetics. It is science. Not philosophy, not religion. Evolution (and all biological processes for that matter) is matter manifesting its underlying physical nature.

To answer your question (I think I understand it, but I could be wrong); all the doings of matter and energy are both Being and Becoming. Physical nature is never at rest. We as organisms change from the instant of conception. We grow, we develop, we break down, we die. That is the way of it. Only the living die and all living leads to death. Even our Cosmos has a limited (but very long life time). Stars form but at some point the gas from which they are made will be too diffuse and the stars that are will burn and die. And eventually there will be maximum entropy. The second law of thermodynamics is inexorable.

Ba'al Chatzaf

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Yes, thanks, Dragonfly.

Bob, that's not a very cheery "Good Morning" but it's the truth.

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Yes, thanks, Dragonfly.

Bob, that's not a very cheery "Good Morning" but it's the truth.

Only a local or short term view engenders optimism and hope. The long term view, in the context of thermodynamics, is grim. In the long run we will all be dead. Ayn Rand did not particularly like this sentiment (it is from Keynes, I believe) but this sentiment is true. One of the stigmata of wisdom for humans is reconciling ourselves to not only our deaths, but the deaths of many we love and cherish. In most cases we will bury our parents and our grandparents. That is the natural order of things. We can either learn to accept it (in some fashion) and be "philosophical" about it, or we can inflict grief and pain upon ourselves. The choice is ours.

Since I am on "a mission from God" (so to speak), the same mission that Socrates chose, I am impelled (if not compelled) to be truthful about things and not to put a cheery gloss on that which is Dark. I will be truthful before I will be cheerful. If you want something to celebrate, then celebrate your 70 odd years (barring accidents) of living in good health, and then be a good sport and accept "the gift of Illuvatar" at the end. I am reconciled to dying (like I have a choice?). I have no complaints. I have children and grandchildren and if I live long enough (not likely) I will hold a great grandchild of my own flesh in my arms. After that I have no more reasonable expectations. In the scale of Eternity, our existence is futile (even the Cosmos is doomed). In the shorter run we can get some cheer from having been.

As the Greeks say: Rejoice!

Ba'al Chatzaf

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Dragonfly,

Although I mentioned evolution, I only mentioned it as a force of change. I am actually interested in entity. For instance, you wrote: "... we classify them as two different species, but where (in time) we put our markers is rather arbitrary, as long as the differences are big enough to warrant a classification into different species."

Taking that to the entity level, I seriously doubt you would state that calling yourself an entity is a matter of putting arbitrary markers up. Yet, Dragonfly qua Dragonfly happens to be complete. You can take parts from Dragonfly or add parts to Dragonfly, but the entity Dragonfly exists as an individual.

There is a principle operating for this that is not found in analyzing subatomic components, since most everything will ultimately boil down to the same stuff.

Michael

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Dragonfly,

I am still having trouble thinking from bottom-up principles only when thinking about evolution. What makes a process decide to stop... when is an entity an entity and not just a state of becoming one?

I am jumping in here late, Michael, not understanding what point or question you are making, or what statement you are questioning. You are 'having trouble thinking from bottom-up priniciples only,' when thinking about evolution . . . what 'bottom up principles' are you thinking of?

'What makes a process decide to stop?' -- Can you give an example of a process that decides to stop? 'When is an entity an entity and not just a state of becoming [an entity]?' -- can you give an example an entity you have in mind?

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Taking that to the entity level, I seriously doubt you would state that calling yourself an entity is a matter of putting arbitrary markers up. Yet, Dragonfly qua Dragonfly happens to be complete. You can take parts from Dragonfly or add parts to Dragonfly, but the entity Dragonfly exists as an individual.

I thought we were talking about the evolution of species, not about individuals. The existence of an individual can of course unambiguously defined as it is limited in time by its birth and death. Not so for species: there isn't an exact moment that a certain species comes into existence, there is a continuous evolution and it is meaningless to say that it is at a certain moment in time a "real" species and at a different moment in time a species "in gestation", there are no privileged periods in the evolution of a species.

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Bob, I was just sending you a friendly smile, not an objection.

As you see below, we do not disagree:

http://rebirthofreason.com/inc/Galleries/A...es/1611_t.shtml

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Bob, I was just sending you a friendly smile, not an objection.

As you see below, we do not disagree:

http://rebirthofreason.com/inc/Galleries/A...es/1611_t.shtml

I am a level nine Asperger person. I was born literal minded.

Sorry about that. I tend to take things at face value and literally. I never read between the lines.

It goes against my nature to do so.

Ba'al Chatzaf

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William,

If we go back to the big bang, all we have is primal stuff. Correct? What made that primal stuff form into one element in one case and another in another case? If the primal stuff is of a singular nature, why the variety that results in entities after boom?

I see a contradiction in claiming singularity, then suddenly there is variety, except you are supposed to take that for granted because you study from the top down by already taking it for granted.

Here is sort of what I mean, but it is a poor example because it could be construed as a left-handed attempt at arguing for the existence of God and that is not my purpose. Man is able to deconstruct existing entities into very tiny and pure elements, then recombine them and form new entities that never existed before based on observed behavior. But without man deciding that this new entity (or form) will exist, those tiny and pure elements would never form into that on their own. Say, an airplane, as an example.

The top-down principle was that man designed the airplane, then deconstructed entities into tine ones and recombined them according to the design. The bottom up principle is the nature of these tiny pure entities and how they react to each other when mixed together.

I wonder how the tiny pure singularity became stars, for example, each one different but all bearing a similar shape.

I also think and wonder along these lines about life.

Michael

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I wonder how the tiny pure singularity became stars, for example, each one different but all bearing a similar shape.

Enough has been written about that. Why not start with Wikipedia for example? We don't know whether there was a pure singularity, as the physical laws as we know them break down at that point. It is an extrapolation of what general relativity predicts but we still don't have a good theory of quantum gravity which would be needed at those conditions. How stars are formed is well known (of course many details still have to be filled in, but there is no mystery about the general principles). They can be perfectly explained by the properties of the elementary particles that exist in our universe.

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I wonder how the tiny pure singularity became stars, for example, each one different but all bearing a similar shape.

Enough has been written about that. Why not start with Wikipedia for example? We don't know whether there was a pure singularity, as the physical laws as we know them break down at that point. It is an extrapolation of what general relativity predicts but we still don't have a good theory of quantum gravity which would be needed at those conditions. How stars are formed is well known (of course many details still have to be filled in, but there is no mystery about the general principles). They can be perfectly explained by the properties of the elementary particles that exist in our universe.

Read -Endless Universe- by Paul Steinhardt. He has an alternative to the Big Bang which is supported by evidence.

Ba'al Chatzaf

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Dragonfly,

When I come across phrases like "the physical laws as we know them break down at that point," or regions of the universe that are not "causally connected," I start thinking about another angle of principles like top-down.

You wrote: "How stars are formed is well known (of course many details still have to be filled in, but there is no mystery about the general principles). They can be perfectly explained by the properties of the elementary particles that exist in our universe."

Either the stars can be perfectly explained (why they are similar and so different) or the physical laws break down. You can't have both and be perfect. The scope is too broad.

Michael

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Either the stars can be perfectly explained (why they are similar and so different) or the physical laws break down. You can't have both and be perfect. The scope is too broad.

The physical laws as we know them only break down at the very first beginning. But they certainly apply to the formation of stars. Science can never be "perfect" or complete, nor does it claim to be perfect (in contrast to some philosophies). That we still have to speculate what happened before the 10-43 second of our universe is no reason to doubt the theory of the formation of stars, that can perfectly be explained. I see here the same fallacy that is used against the theory of evolution: we still don't know how life emerged on Earth (there exist theories about the origin of life, but they are necessarily very speculative as we don't have sufficient data), so "therefore" the theory of evolution is not valid, which is of course a non sequitur. That we may not know everything does not imply that we know nothing.

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Dragonfly,

That is not a fallacy. The fallacy is you putting words into my mouth as if I were trying to deny the theory of evolution. I do not try to do that.

What I deny is your term "perfectly," then saying there is an impefect exception—only the most critical one of all: the starting point and nature of fundamental stuff.

I thought you qua human being were imperfect and proud of it.

:)

Michael

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That is not a fallacy. The fallacy is you putting words into my mouth as if I were trying to deny the theory of evolution. I do not try to do that.

Oh, come on, I'm not putting words into your mouth. It's obvious I used the evolution example just as another example of the same bad kind of reasoning. I wrote: "that is used", not: "that you use".

What I deny is your term "perfectly," then saying there is an impefect exception—only the most critical one of all: the starting point and nature of fundamental stuff.

Then we would never be able to explain something perfectly, as there will always remain areas where our current knowledge is not sufficient. Science is never finished, each explanation creates a new question, namely what the explanation of that explanation is, and so on ad infinitum. So what? We can for example explain perfectly the movements of billiard balls with Newtonian mechanics, even if we know that there are situations where it breaks down. Now the formation and evolution of stars can be perfectly explained by the Standard Model of quantum mechanics and general relativity, starting with the properties of elementary particles, in short, using perfect reductionism. That there existed an extreme situation in the first tiny fraction of a second of the Big Bang where those theories are not sufficient is as irrelevant as is the abiogenesis to the explanation of the mechanisms of evolution.

I thought you qua human being were imperfect and proud of it.

That's just a fact, so it would be silly to be proud of it.

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Either the stars can be perfectly explained (why they are similar and so different) or the physical laws break down. You can't have both and be perfect. The scope is too broad.

The physical laws as we know them only break down at the very first beginning. But they certainly apply to the formation of stars. Science can never be "perfect" or complete, nor does it claim to be perfect (in contrast to some philosophies). That we still have to speculate what happened before the 10-43 second of our universe is no reason to doubt the theory of the formation of stars, that can perfectly be explained. I see here the same fallacy that is used against the theory of evolution: we still don't know how life emerged on Earth (there exist theories about the origin of life, but they are necessarily very speculative as we don't have sufficient data), so "therefore" the theory of evolution is not valid, which is of course a non sequitur. That we may not know everything does not imply that we know nothing.

Lee Smolin in his book -The Life of the Cosmos- speculates with the idea that the laws of physics are changing. That the Cosmos itself is undergoing some kind of evolution or modification. An interesting idea which cannot be dismissed out hand. If one wants to find constant laws one would need higher level laws that describe (or govern) the change in the first level laws of nature. I don't know what this does to the Principle of Identity but it raises interesting questions.

Ba'al Chatzaf

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Bob,

These "higher level laws" are more or less where I am leading to (I think). At least this is in the ballpark.

One cannot say that this is nonsense, then offer lack of knowledge and inconsistent logic as the only alternative, simple observing that logic "breaks down" at a certain level.

If you cannot be 100% positive about something, then you cannot be 100% negative either.

Michael

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