Richard's Decoupling

Richard did it again and forgot to say oops”:

Richard’s a high decoupler

Negative feedback was to be expected. Some argue that only by decoupling can we understand Richard’s point. Facts don’t care about feelings and all that jazz.

I love thought experiments. They seldom work, but I love them nevertheless. Let’s risk a few, with Richard himself as our main character. Applying decoupling to the decoupler reveals how self-serving it can be.

§1. A Muslim child is about to fall in a well. You are Richard Dawkins, and could save him without much effort. Do you (a) feel distressed or (b) tweet about Islam?

§2. Richard Dawkins has experienced all of human morality except decency. Would he be able to fill in the concept of decency using his own tweets?

§3. You are abducted and tied to Richard Dawkins so that he can stay alive. He may need your blood or your kidneys. The procedure does not hurt you. You just need to stay in that foreign location for a year. Do you think you are morally obliged to stay, free to go, or allowed to eat him?

§4. The Experience Machine can give you any experience you like or want. You could for instance make Richard Dawkins realize how silly his Gedankenexperiment usually sounds. Would you plug yourself to this machine forever and be free to imagine the rest of your life however you please?

§5. You are Richard Dawkins and take part in an experiment. Researchers put you to sleep with a drug. If you tweeted no bad takes during the weekend, you will wake up Monday, otherwise only Wednesday. What are your odds for seeing Monday?

§6. If Richard Dawkins follows a rule that turns him into delicatessen, of what use was the rule to him?

§7. Richard Dawkins is not saying that mass extermination via virus infection is a Good Thing. But you got to admit it would work.

***

Thought experiments help illustrate claims but don’t replace making them explicit. In this post I would argue that decoupling can easily lead to dogwhistling as themes carry connotations. When a high-decoupler with a big following entertains ideas about eugenics that could work, distanciation cannot hide that the ideas entertained are not value neutral.

Besides, there’s no fact of the matter regarding Richard’s eugenic suggestion, hence why Richard relies on a counterfactual in the first place. Even if we grant him that what goes for cows and dogs goes for humans (which is far from being obvious), Richard needs a set of policies.

If you ever feel like decoupling, please mind your audience.

Addendum. I adapted many thought experiments from Helen’s post. It’s good. Go read it.

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93 Responses to Richard's Decoupling

  1. David B Benson says:

    Of course so-called eugenics works. As an example, at least one slave owner in the American southeast thought bigger slaves would be better. Indeed, now there are some very tall African-Americans and I gather height is an advantage in basketball.

  2. Willard says:

    What do you mean by “works,” David? There lies the problem.

    Researchers say that the tallest men on Earth are, drum roll, in Netherlands:

    Lead scientist Majid Ezzati, also from Imperial, told BBC News: “About a third of the explanation could be genes, but that doesn’t explain the change over time. Genes don’t change that fast and they don’t vary that much across the world. So changes over time and variations across the world are largely environmental. That’s at the whole population level versus for any individual whose genes clearly matter a lot.”

    Good standards of healthcare, sanitation, and nutrition were the key drivers, he said. Also important is the mother’s health and nutrition during pregnancy.

    https://www.bbc.com/news/science-environment-36888541

    If what “works” is healthcare, sanitation, and nutrition, then I think we’re far from the kind of program Richard may have had in mind.

  3. David B Benson says:

    Willard, that is irrelevant. Of course, genetics is not a unique determiner. But it is relevant to basic attributes. For another example, Jared Diamond found the New Guinea highlanders to be the most intelligent people he had met. Asking biologists about this, they pointed out that so-called civilization bred for close living, so resistance to diseases.

  4. Roqetin says:

    This whole controversy was incredibly stupid. You’d have to be an idiot to think Dawkins was endorsing eugenics. In reality, he simply made the obvious point that if you had total control of human breeding, you could increase the frequency of certain traits in the population. Now, one could argue that establishing said control is by definition part of any eugenic program, and because of all the difficulties therein, it’s far from obvious that eugenics would actually work in practice. That would still have been reasonable. All the hysterical whines about “dogwhistling” weren’t.

  5. Willard says:

    > that is irrelevant.

    What is “that,” David, and regarding what exactly: is it because the Dutch can’t jump?

    If healthcare, sanitation, and nutrition matter, I’m not sure how your slavery example shows how an eugenics program would “work,” something you have yet to clarify.

  6. Willard says:

    > You’d have to be an idiot to think Dawkins was endorsing eugenics.

    You’d have to strawman the point made in the piece for that to be relevant to what I said.

    Let’s hope you don’t have to be an idiot to strawman me, Roqetin.

    ***

    > if you had total control of human breeding, you could increase the frequency of certain traits in the population

    And how would that work exactly?

    You have one more chance. Use it well.

  7. David B Benson says:

    Willard, don’t be dense: that the Dutch are the tallest has nothing to do with the point.

    Animal breeding works. Humans are animals.

  8. Zachary Smith says:

    ***Richard’s Decoupling***

    For years I collected Dawkins’ books expecting to read them someday. Every time I tried, I quit, for I found the experience a lot like trying to decipher the King James bible when I was a kid. As I learned more about the man, those books began to gather some serious dust. When a relative expressed interest in them, he got all I could find. Any others which crawl out of the woodwork will go into the trash bin.

  9. dikranmarsupial says:

    A “Hanlon’s razor” interpretation of what Dawkins tweeted might be that he was pointing out that the real arguments against eugenics are moral/ethical rather than scientific (and perhaps that weak scientific arguments against eugenics shouldn’t take the place of strong moral/ethical arguments). This is a bit like climate skeptics whose actual objections to action on climate change are economic and political, but who substitute weaker scientific arguments against it. In a world where “scientific” is becoming a synonym for “rational” or “good”, it is perhaps unsurprising that people try to borrow the “authority” of science in this way for things where science doesn’t have any “authority” (i.e. scientism). Eugenicists tend to use bad science as a prop as well (e.g. “The Bell Curve”).

    “What do you mean by “works,” David? There lies the problem.”

    Indeed, if we wanted more red-haired people in the world, then yes, we could probably make that “work”, but more complicated multi-factor genetic traits are going to be much harder, and in trying to get them you are likely to introduce genetic frailties elsewhere (c.f. pedigree animals, the royal houses of Europe). ISTR that Adam Rutherford made some good tweets about this, but I am socially isolating myself from Twitter at the moment.

  10. dikranmarsupial says:

    Ah, I think I was thinking of Rutherford’s comments on Andrew Sabisky, but it is the same basic question, the thread starts here:

  11. dikranmarsupial says:

    These also relevant:

    and

    It is a good book.

  12. Eugenetic does not work in Nature for the simple reason that Nature can not tell wich combination of genes gives the best change to survive in the future. The futuere is unknown to Nature. The best strategie for Nature is to keep as much options open as possible and hope thet it will be enough. For this readon Nature is increasing the number of options by consatnt recombination of genes and inventing ways to create new genes.

  13. dikranmarsupial says:

    “The best strategie for Nature is to keep as much options open as possible and hope thet it will be enough.”

    If that were true, there would be no examples of organisms that were highly adapted to niche environments, or mutual dependencies/symbiosis. Nature/evolution doesn’t have a strategy at all – it is all emergent phenomena.

  14. Dikran,

    Nature/evolution doesn’t have a strategy at all – it is all emergent phenomena.

    I thought that that is what was underlying Richard’s point. Nature doesn’t explicitly select, the traits simply emerge.

  15. dikranmarsupial says:

    I was only disagreeing with the bit about nature keeping options open. It doesn’t, except by accident. It is the environment that selects. Perhaps mass extinctions are an indication of ecosystems being too highly evolved to their environment, rather than just individual species?

    It seems to me (a non-evolutionary biologist ;o) that ironically human beings have broken the system by being generalists – we are not strongly adapted to the environment in which we evolved, but our large brain and opposable thumbs etc. mean we have non-evolutionary means of adapting to other environments.

  16. dikranmarsupial says:

    My real objection to what Dawkins wrote was the usual contrarian lack of self-skepticism – “Of course it would” on a question that is not as straightforward as it may seem to him.

  17. Dave_Geologist says:

    In a sense Nature does keep options open. Not consciously of course, as dm said, it’s an emergent phenomenon. What works, works. Or rather, what worked, works, until it stops working. Then you evolve or go extinct.

    There’s an interesting paper which looks at the fossil record and finds that, when you look in detail at what appears to be punctuated equilibrium, there’s just as much generation-to-generation variation during the equilibrium phase as there is during the punctuation. It’s just random, about an optimum phenotype, rather than directional, in response to a different phenotype being favoured under changed conditions. In a sense that should have been obvious: otherwise, molecular clocks wouldn’t work. That bears on “living fossils” of course although in detail the classic example, the Coelacanth, is actually quite different from its ancient ancestor, and also on humans because we too are just animals. Does that mean the social construct called “race” can be bred for? Of course not, at least as usually defined by skin colour. That’s a polyphyletic definition which makes no sense in either natural or artificial selection. Along with starch digestion and adult lactose tolerance it’s one of the most plastic areas of the genome. Lots of dark-skinned people are more closely related to some pale-skinned people than they are to most dark-skinned people, and vice versa. Starch is a copy-number thing so it quite easy to dial up and down as populations change their diet (by the harsh Darwinian mechanism of a different ten of your twelve children dying). Lactose tolerance has been independently developed about three times IIRC, and also transmitted back to NE Africa by interbreeding with early herders from Eurasia who went back to Africa thousands of years ago.

    In a sense that goes to the evolution of evolvability (possibly something Dawkins would disagree with since it’s one step removed from the selfish gene). There will be an optimum mutation rate which is not so fast that each generation contains too many unviable “monsters”, and not so slow that you can’t evolve fast enough to adapt to changing conditions. I suspect that varies between classes of animals or environments, hence the different rate of various molecular clocks (I appreciate that they try to use non-selective parts of the genes, and there may also be a gene expression component that can be triggered by stressors). No teleology required though: we have a portfolio of well-adapted mutators because the poorly-adapted mutators are extinct. It’s interesting to speculate how an Intelligent Designer would have done it: a baseline high mutation rate which is suppressed in good times by copy-checking and gene expression mechanisms which are turned off in bad times?

  18. Dave_Geologist says:

    Tempo does not correlate with mode in the fossil record

    Abstract
    The dominating view of evolution based on the fossil record is that established species remain more or less unaltered during their existence. Substantial evolution is on the other hand routinely reported for contemporary populations, and most quantitative traits show high potential for evolution. These contrasting observations on long‐ and short‐time scales are often referred to as the paradox of stasis, which rests on the fundamental assumption that periods of morphological stasis in the fossil record represent minimal evolutionary change. Investigating 450 fossil time series, I demonstrate that the nonaccumulating morphological fluctuations during stasis travel similar distances in morphospace compared to lineages showing directional change. Hence, lineages showing stasis are commonly undergoing considerable amounts of evolution, but this evolution does not accumulate to produce large net evolutionary changes over time. Rates of evolutionary change across modes in the fossil record may be more homogenous than previously assumed and advocated, supporting the claim that substantial evolution is not exclusively or causally linked to the process of speciation. Instead of exemplifying minimal evolution, stasis likely represents information on the dynamics of the adaptive landscape on macroevolutionary time scales, including the persistence of adaptive zones and ecological niches over millions of years.

    Humans are just animals so there’s no reason to believe we’re not evolving too. We’re just running on the spot rather than running towards or away from something.

    That is, of course, for the sort of non-teleological definition of evolution Dawkins would favour.

  19. dikranmarsupial says:

    “Humans are just animals so there’s no reason to believe we’re not evolving too.”

    I don’t think that is completely obvious. We are living in an environment where many of the evolutionary pressures have been slackened, at least in the “developed world”, where reproductive success is widely available. Mostly this is a good thing, once we have adapted to it culturally.

    We are mostly animals, but not “just” animals because most of our inheritance is now memetic rather than genetic.

  20. Dave_Geologist says:

    BTW: the next tweet in Dawkins’ thread (my bold):

    Richard Dawkins
    @RichardDawkins
    For those determined to miss the point, I deplore the idea of a eugenic policy. I simply said deploring it doesn’t mean it wouldn’t work. Just as we breed cows to yield more milk, we could breed humans to run faster or jump higher. But heaven forbid that we should do it.

    There’s something amusing about an atheist saying “heaven forbid” 😉

  21. dikranmarsupial says:

    Personally, I think we should decouple arguments where they are not actually coupled, so that we can discuss issues rationally without conflating things. Of course I know that is not how everybody thinks about things in practice. There are points where they meet and points where they are separate. For instance deciding what “works” means is not a scientific question, but determining whether it would be technically possible, say, to increase the number of red-headed people, *is* a scientific question. Just as working out what the climate system would do if we doubled CO2 is a scientific question that should be decoupled from economic or political considerations. Working out whether that means we should do something to prevent it happening is an economic and political question, on which science has little or nothing to offer, and there is little to be gained (except delay) by conflating the two issues.

    The climate change debate would be much more productive if we could decouple scientific issues from economic and political issues (or at least maintain the idea that scientific truths don’t depend on economic or political ones, but economic and political truths *may* depend on scientific ones). It is a waste of everybody’s time to argue that the rise in atmospheric CO2 is not due to fossil fuels because we don’t like being taxed to act on climate change (I’m not keen on it either, but it may be necessary).

    Also being an arsehole doesn’t make you wrong, nor does the inability to express yourself in a way that doesn’t leave you open to adversarial interpretation. However, if someone is going to speak out on contentious subjects, it is probably wise to avoid being an arsehole and to try and express yourself in a way that is minimally susceptible to adversarial interpretation (or exploitation) so as not to encourage views that you fundamentally disagree with.

  22. Dave_Geologist says:

    Like I said dikran, it depends on your definition of evolution 😉 . The ultimate teleological definition would be the Great Chain of Being (which is often used in Darwin-bashing, but is actually something he himself bashed). An inexorable pathway to Higher Beings. OK, penultimate, after “God did it”. Then there’s a softer version, where how far the phenotype moves from the reference is the criterion, but the trait or direction doesn’t matter. The omega squared parameter in Voje’s Fig. 6. I believe chimpanzees are more evolved than humans on that basis, because they’ve moved further than we have from our last common ancestor (taking all genes and traits into account, and not anthropomorphically elevating intelligence above others). But I could argue that’s still value-laden. Staying the same is “bad”, changing is “good”, if only because the scoring system is low for stasis and high for change. Why can’t stasis be selected for? Both Voje and the Lensky experiment show that generation-to-generation change continues, even when there’s little or no net change. Absent selection, there should be a random walk away from the optimum (as indeed there is for non-selected genes undergoing genetic drift). So we’re undergoing natural selection right now, but it’s selecting for staying human, not for changing into something else. I think Darwin would have liked that, but since he’s dead and can’t be asked we’re all free to have our own views on what he’d have liked or not, at least on subjects where he didn’t leave writings :- .

    Also, we should perhaps not assume that because changes are not obvious, they are not selected for or beneficial. From the Lensky experiment Tempo and mode of genome evolution in
    a 50,000-generation experiment
    :

    … beneficial mutations continued to constitute a large fraction of genetic changes throughout the 50,000 generations of the LTEE, whereas the resulting fitness gains were only a few per cent in the last 10,000 generations. Beneficial mutations with very small selection coefficients are nonetheless visible to natural selection. Hence, adaptation can remain a major driver of molecular evolution long after an environmental shift.

    Fifty thousand human generations is an order of magnitude longer than Anatomically Modern Humans have been on the planet, yet the bacteria were still evolving at that stage. It’s like the Sky cycling team’s “marginal gains”: the change may seem tiny, but it makes the difference between winning and losing. I suspect we’re looking in the wrong place. For outside physical changes rather than inside physicochemical changes. I thought that about an even older living fossil back when I was in University: Lingula. It lived through ice ages, hothouses, in salt and brackish water, through huge swings in atmospheric oxygen content and ocean chemistry. Its shell stayed the same because like the crocodilian phenotype, it was almost perfectly adapted regardless. But I bet its biochemistry changed a lot.

  23. Willard says:

    > Animal breeding works. Humans are animals.

    Richard talked about an eugenics program, David. Not just breeding. Insulting me won’t cover for your conflation.

    Decouple a little. Pray tell more about the eugenics program you would have in mind.

  24. Willard says:

    > A “Hanlon’s razor” interpretation of what Dawkins tweeted might be that he was pointing out that the real arguments against eugenics are moral/ethical rather than scientific (and perhaps that weak scientific arguments against eugenics shouldn’t take the place of strong moral/ethical arguments).

    And a “Hanlon’s razor” interpretation of mine is that there’s no dichotomy between the moral/ethical and the scientific. Doing science implies values.

    Another point is that thought experiments don’t replace real ones, and they seem obvious until they don’t anymore:

  25. lerpo says:

    “Of course so-called eugenics works. As an example, at least one slave owner in the American southeast thought bigger slaves would be better.”

    Which one? Or is it assumed to be true based on:

    a) because there are tall basketball players
    b) then slavers must have practiced eugenics
    c) Therefor “of course so-called eugenics works” (can produce tall basketball players)

  26. anoilman says:

    Of course Eugenics works in theory! But never in practice. Its a lot like communism that way.

    In Alberta Canada we had forced sterilization in the name of Eugenics. If you listen to the stories of how it was applied, its disgustingly appalling.
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sexual_Sterilization_Act

    Anders, to answer question 1: Richard Dawkins would allow the child to die, then ponder all the different ways to breed children that can’t fall in wells.

    Personally, being an engineer, I’d do what I could for the child, then I’d design a barrier to prevent said dangerous situation from occurring.

  27. Willard says:

    > Anders, to answer question 1

    Don’t blame him for my decoupling, Oil Man.

    I’m the one who loves thought experiments.

    The first one is based on a classic:

    Mengzi considers the case of a child who is about to fall in a well. Without exception, you would feel alarm and distress if you saw this. This would not be because you hoped to gain the favor of the parents, praise from neighbors and friends, because you dislike the cries of the child, or because your reputation would suffer if you did not try to help the child. From this, Mengzi concludes that the feeling of compassion is fundamental to humans.

    Significance: Mengzi was a philosopher who lived in China in the 4th century BCE who followed in the tradition of Kongzi (Confucius). He developed the theory that humans have four roots (or “sprouts”) as he called them for morality: ren (humanity, compassion), yi (rightness), li (ritual propriety), and zhi (wisdom). These sprouts are present in all human beings, but they need to be cultivated in order to flourish, just like plants require water to grow. This thought experiment explores the idea that humans are innately compassionate (i.e., possess ren, 仁).

    8 Philosophical Thought Experiments That I Illustrated To Broaden Your Mind

    Helen’s post served as a canvas for my Twitter THREAD. There are other bits here and there. I will add a link to her piece to the post.

  28. Mal Adapted says:

    Some good comments here, thanks to all contributors. As a half-trained, once-wannabe professional evolutionary biologist and lifelong natural-history geek, the OP and responses are very interesting to me. First, dikranmarsupial:

    We are living in an environment where many of the evolutionary pressures have been slackened, at least in the “developed world”, where reproductive success is widely available.

    Hmm, although reproductive success may be widely available to modern humans, it’s not uniformly achieved [my nom du clavier alludes to my voluntary childlessness despite ample opportunity ;^)]. Remember that evolution proceeds by differential reproduction, to which survival is subsidiary. The ‘winner’ of the game of natural selection in generation X is only revealed in the Nth future generation, by which member of X left the most copies of their genes in the current population. In humans, winners can sometimes be traced for centuries.

    This is true even when populations are shrinking: as always, the ‘winning’ genes are those over-represented in succeeding generations. To the extent genes determine fecundity in our species, the current declining global TFR is making winners of women who have more great-grandchildren than other women of their age cohort: human evolution in action.

  29. AndyM says:

    Last I heard, liberal societies allow women to hook up with a partner with the best DNA they can find. Behaviourists tell us this is not necessarily the same man they marry.

  30. dikranmarsupial says:

    Willard “And a “Hanlon’s razor” interpretation of mine is that there’s no dichotomy between the moral/ethical and the scientific. Doing science implies values.”

    what values are involved in determining whether the rise in atmospheric CO2 is due to fossil fuel emissions or not. Does the scientific answer depend on values? I would argue not.

  31. Willard says:

    AndyM,

    Last I heard Tinder did not allow DNA profiles in bios, and one behaviorist I know rejects the very idea of necessity.

    Expressions like “best DNA” lack complements: best for what purpose?

  32. Willard says:

    > Does the scientific answer depend on values?

    Doing science entails more than scientific answers. To determine a scientific question also involves resources. Why should we care to determine that scientific question?

    I too can argue by leading questions.

  33. dikranmarsupial says:

    “Another point is that thought experiments don’t replace real ones”

    of course not. However they are useful in helping us to think about experiments that we can’t actually do – for instance an experiment to demonstrate the atmospheric greenhouse effect in laboratory conditions. We can however conduct a thought experiment to track what happens to the inbound and outbound radiation. Does it establish anything? Only the expected consequences of a theory of how something works. It is a mode of thinking that apparently works well with out cognitive apparatus.

  34. dikranmarsupial says:

    Willard It wasn’t a leading question. A direct answer would be very helpful in understanding your position. Asking questions and giving answers is an excellent means of communication..

  35. dikranmarsupial says:

    “Why should we care to determine that scientific question?”

    Because if we are not responsible for the rise in atmospheric CO2 from fossil fuel emissions then there is no point in limiting our use of fossil fuels (at least not for that reason), Because we don’t want to pay taxes for action on climate change so we substitute bad scientific objections in order to avoid discussing our actual values. Because we don’t want political decisions to be unduly influenced by misinformation. There are many reasons why we should care – I suspect there are others, but these seem the most obvious to me at the moment.

    There I have answered your question.

  36. Willard says:

    > Asking questions and giving answers is an excellent means of communication..

    And making one’s point clearly without shifting that burden on otters is also an excellent means of communications. See? I too can appeal to pragmatic policies.

    My point was that you shifted from “doing science” to “scientific questions.” I could add that it’s an implicit “not all” argument. That not every scientific questions contain ethical components does not imply that they oftentimes carry some, and the very act of investing resources in trying to determine any one of them haz a moral dimension for the truth seeker.

    Unless one backtracks to a solipsist conception of morality, truths are values in the same way moral values are. Only sociopaths think they can decide for themselves what moral values they should hold. Mores, like language, are a social art. They’re not tastes.

  37. dikranmarsupial says:

    “My point was that you shifted from “doing science” to “scientific questions.””

    AFAICS at no point was *I* discussing “doing science”.

  38. Willard says:

    > There I have answered your question.

    A proper answer would be: yes, the AGW question is driven by how we value our interests, among them the survival or the flourishing of our species.

    We could of course decouple that question:

    David Benatar may be the world’s most pessimistic philosopher. An “anti-natalist,” he believes that life is so bad, so painful, that human beings should stop having children for reasons of compassion. “While good people go to great lengths to spare their children from suffering, few of them seem to notice that the one (and only) guaranteed way to prevent all the suffering of their children is not to bring those children into existence in the first place,” he writes, in a 2006 book called “Better Never to Have Been: The Harm of Coming Into Existence.” In Benatar’s view, reproducing is intrinsically cruel and irresponsible—not just because a horrible fate can befall anyone, but because life itself is “permeated by badness.” In part for this reason, he thinks that the world would be a better place if sentient life disappeared altogether.

    https://www.newyorker.com/culture/persons-of-interest/the-case-for-not-being-born

    It’s really hard to “out-decouple” philosophers.

  39. Willard says:

    > AFAICS at no point was *I* discussing “doing science”.

    Yet my response reads:

    And a “Hanlon’s razor” interpretation of mine is that there’s no dichotomy between the moral/ethical and the scientific. Doing science implies values.

    and you quoted it in your “what values are involved in determining whether the rise in atmospheric CO2 is due to fossil fuel emissions or not” comment. Then you asked me to make my point. As if I did not.

  40. dikranmarsupial says:

    In that case it was you that shifted from scientific questions” to “doing science” not me making a shift in the other direction.

    My point was that values and science should be decoupled where they are not actually coupled. Thus if the answers to scientific questions do not depend on values, then the discussion of those answers should be decoupled from values. Where the science and values join up again, for instance what to do about things, or asking why we ask questions, or the sociology of science, then of course at that point they should be coupled.

  41. Willard says:

    > In that case it was you that shifted from scientific questions” to “doing science” not me making a shift in the other direction.

    Witness:

    [D] A “Hanlon’s razor” interpretation of what Dawkins tweeted might be that he was pointing out that the real arguments against eugenics are moral/ethical rather than scientific (and perhaps that weak scientific arguments against eugenics shouldn’t take the place of strong moral/ethical arguments).

    [W] And a “Hanlon’s razor” interpretation of mine is that there’s no dichotomy between the moral/ethical and the scientific. Doing science implies values.

    Who do you think wrote the blog post, Dikran, me, Richard Dawkins, or you?

    I get to decide what’s topical. You don’t. Go play the hall monitor somewhere else.

  42. dikranmarsupial says:

    ” Then you asked me to make my point. As if I did not.”

    err, where exactly did I do that?

    “A proper answer would be: yes, the AGW question is driven by how we value our interests, among them the survival or the flourishing of our species.”

    You asked ““Why should we care to determine that scientific question?”

    That is clearly asking for reasons, and isn;’t a yes or no question. I gave you three specific reasons. That may not have been the answer you wanted, but it was a direct answer to the question as posed. Nothing bad happened as a result of answering the question (other than the answer being rejected). That is why I try to give direct answers to questions. It makes my position clear.

    I’ll leave it there, it is clear that this discussion is unlikely to be productive.

  43. Willard says:

    > err, where exactly did I do that?

    Here:

    A direct answer would be very helpful in understanding your position. Asking questions and giving answers is an excellent means of communication..

    If you want to know my position, I can give it to you. I can even repeat it. I can also emphasize the bit that seems to escape you: if doing science implies values and doing science involves [that we] determine scientific questions, then to determine scientific questions carries values.

    Scientists can abstract away their quests to their heart’s content. The decoupling result has been documented. Confer to *Cat’s Craddle*.

  44. Mal Adapted says:

    Next, Dave_Geologist:

    Like I said dikran, it depends on your definition of evolution 😉 . The ultimate teleological definition would be the Great Chain of Being (which is often used in Darwin-bashing, but is actually something he himself bashed). An inexorable pathway to Higher Beings. OK, penultimate, after “God did it”. Then there’s a softer version, where how far the phenotype moves from the reference is the criterion, but the trait or direction doesn’t matter.

    Yes. Darwin set out to answer “the species question“: why are there so many distinct kinds of plants and animals? The result was the theory of evolution by adaptation by random variation and selective retention, with adaptive variants defined as those remaining when the rest are selected out. Natural selection initially seemed “almost tautological” to Karl Popper, yet “invaluable” nonetheless:

    Adaptation or fitness is defined by modern evolutionists as survival value, and can be measured by actual success in survival: there is hardly any possibility of testing a theory as feeble as this…And yet, the theory is invaluable. I do not see how, without it, our knowledge could have grown as it has done since Darwin.

    Popper later said:

    The theory of natural selection may be so formulated that it is far from tautological.

    Some religious evolution deniers think the ToE is tautological because it isn’t teleological, i.e. it dispenses with a divine First Cause. AFAICT, it’s possible to trace the variation and selection processes in arbitrary detail, beginning with the Big Bang; but not to discern any purpose or goal, except to stay in the adaptation game. IMHO that’s enough to ask of science, and I’m content not to know “why” the Big Bang happened or the laws of physics emerged from it as they did. All I need to know is that when I die, I’m out of the game.

  45. mrkenfabian says:

    “Does the scientific answer depend on values?”
    Professional ethics. Honest and accurate record keeping. Open dissemination of data, reasoning and conclusions that allow and encourage peer (and non-peer) review and critique.

  46. dikranmarsupial says:

    mrkenfabian no those are issues to do with whether you accept the answer. The answer itself depends on physics (or chemistry or biology etc,). For example, whether the rise in atmospheric CO2 is anthropogenic or not is independent of whether there is open dissemination of data, reasoning and conclusions or professional ethics.

  47. Willard says:

    Here would be a first draft of the general form of Richard’s point:

    [P1] X is objectionable.
    [P2] X could be true.
    [C] Some epiloguing about objectionability.

    Some notes:

    First, I like objectionability as a modality. It generalizes well over what the atheist usual target: religiosity, moralism, ideology, etc.

    Second, “could be” in P2 is more accurate than Richard’s factual claim. We don’t know if what he holds true really is. Ideally he would not need to beg that question.

    Third, the conclusion is a placeholder for many rants. What matters is that it has as much to do with objectionability than truth. Most of the time the reaction is the real target of a decoupling argument. Whatever the topic Richard decouples, it’s always about facts and feelings.

    One big problem in the “eugenics would work” is that it’s not a fact, but a counterfactual. Another is that morality isn’t ideology.

  48. Gingerbaker says:

    ” Richard Dawkins has experienced all of human morality except decency. Would he be able to fill in the concept of decency using his own tweets?”

    Seriously – WTF? Bricks and glass houses.

  49. izen says:

    There are numerous examples of human cultures practising human eugenics in the sense of controlled breeding for desired traits. The most obvious is the various ‘royal’ or hereditary leadership class in a society. The Egyptian, Hawaiian and Hapsburg monarchy are the most well known examples. Some cultures extended this exclusionary breeding principle to a general rule to favour close relatives over outsiders.
    Of course without an understanding of genetics this did not work or end well.

    Apart from the inevitable increase in harmful recessive traits, the most common outcome of eugenic inbreeding in humans and animals is a deterioration in the immune capability when faced with disease. See Tay-Sachs, TB and sickle cell incidence.

    The neo-Darwinian ToE explains not why there are so many species, but why there are so few. Most of the time environment and DNA error correction mechanisms act to maintain a static and unchanging phenotype.
    The exception is the immune system which selectively drops the error correction to vastly increase the possibility of matching the much greater mutability of pathogens.

    Eugenics in the sense of selective breeding for phenotypic traits will work in ANY multi-cellular life-form, plant or animal, but with the risk of reducing genetic diversity to the point where recessive traits and disease susceptibility become a problem.
    With the advent of full genome reading the possibility of eugenics informed by better knowledge of the genotype rather than just the phenotype becomes possible. At present there is Natural selection process underway to weed out those with a sub-optimal response to a novel virus.
    Unfortunately breeding for a better immune system has the side effect of selectively enhancing the virulence of the disease.

    Dawkins has always been a little too socio-biological, or evolutionary behaviourist for my taste, but his underlying science is usually sound. I am unsure just what Willards objection is in this case, or on what grounds it is based on.

  50. Willard says:

    > Seriously – WTF?

    Srsly, wut:

    Mary is a brilliant scientist who is, for whatever reason, forced to investigate the world from a black and white room via a black and white television monitor. She specializes in the neurophysiology of vision and acquires, let us suppose, all the physical information there is to obtain about what goes on when we see ripe tomatoes, or the sky, and use terms like ‘red’, ‘blue’, and so on. She discovers, for example, just which wavelength combinations from the sky stimulate the retina, and exactly how this produces via the central nervous system the contraction of the vocal chords and expulsion of air from the lungs that results in the uttering of the sentence ‘The sky is blue’.… What will happen when Mary is released from her black and white room or is given a color television monitor? Will she learn anything or not? It seems just obvious that she will learn something about the world and our visual experience of it. But then is it inescapable that her previous knowledge was incomplete. But she had all the physical information. Ergo there is more to have than that, and Physicalism is false.

    https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/qualia-knowledge/#BasiIdea

    You might prefer this spin-off:

    https://andthentheresphysics.wordpress.com/2019/03/02/marios-room/

  51. Willard says:

    > I am unsure just what Willards objection is in this case, or on what grounds it is based on.

    My main objection is that in his facts-do-not-care-about-feelings argument Richard uses a counterfactual, not facts. My secondary one is that counterfactuals indeed care about feelings.

    As facts are concerned, we know that Down’s syndrome is not hereditary and that dog breeding is more a sadistic art than anything:

  52. izen says:

    @-W
    “we know that Down’s syndrome is not hereditary and that dog breeding is more a sadistic art than anything:”

    Dog breeding, along with most other domesticated animal and plant eugenics is a mix of sadistic art and pragmatic utility.
    About 1% of Down’s syndrome is hereditary, caused by a inheritable genetic flaw in one parent. ( Robertsonian Translocation)

    @-W
    Subjective experience is a category of physical processes. That it occupies a different level of description and explanation does not exclude it from the inherent computability (as an assumption) of the material universe.
    Unless you ascribe to the Searle and Penrose nonsense.

    I am not sure in what way Dawkins claim that eugenics in humans would work is a counterfactual. It has clearly been practised in some form, and has an effect. the problem is that with the very long generation time of humans compared to most species on which it has been used it is extremely difficult to apply consistently for a sufficient time, over a large group, and with the required rigour to gain appreciable results much beyond the impact of recessive flaws. (Hapsburg chin, increased birth defects with cousin marriage)

  53. Dave_Geologist says:

    Willard, natural (or artificial selection) and inclusive fitness has nothing to do with whether you enjoy life. Only with whether you have more or fewer descendants. In the canine world, domestic dogs are the winners, wolves the losers. I’m pretty sure that even without persecution and habitat destruction, the world’s wolf population could never have got remotely close to 900 million. Cattle are the winners, aurochs the (terminal) losers. Even if aurochs had more fun and lived healthier lifestyles.

    Breeding German Shepherds works. You consistently get dogs with the attributes you want. Observing that fact in farm and “fancy” animals was a key part of Darwin’s thesis, given that he didn’t know about Mendel. If that results in adverse life conditions for the dogs, and your moral compass steers you away from that, it doesn’t negate the fact that it works – just makes it immoral. As per Dawkins’ second tweet. But I guess that’s the decoupler in me. Does a guillotine work? Of course. Should you use it on people? Of course not.

    I did read the article, and “decoupler” is not used there in a pejorative way. Indeed the author is a self-confessed decoupler. My take on it would be that there’s not just the “is therefore ought” and “ought therefore is” dichotomy, but that there is a third way: “is” and “ought” are decoupled. People whose thinking follows the third way tend to be attracted to science, then they get taught that is the right way to go about it. It’s an uncommon way of thinking among the population at large, hence it going down like a lead balloon on Twitter.

  54. Dave_Geologist says:

    Mal, I don’t often agree with Popper, but I do here. Indeed my short summary of evolution by natural selection and of inclusive fitness is “what works, works”.

    A somewhat less tautological version is “it’s just arithmetic”. Given (a) heritable traits that can be advantageous in terms of survival and breeding and can persist through many generations (demonstrated by plant and animal breeding), (b) most individuals producing more than a replacement rate of offspring (observed domestically and in the wild) and (c) resource constraints (observed domestically and in the wild), evolution by natural selection is inevitable. The only way to stop it is intervention by a divine entity. Paradoxically, the only viable role for God in evolution is to stop it. If He exists, He’s obviously chosen not to.

  55. dikranmarsupial says:

    ” “is” and “ought” are decoupled.”

    indeed, if you can’t reason clearly about the “is”, it will be more difficult to achieve the “ought”

    Unfortunately people conflate “science” with “rational” which is AFAICS why they substitute bad scientific arguments instead of talking about their values. Decoupling works both ways.

  56. dikranmarsupial says:

    ” Paradoxically, the only viable role for God in evolution is to stop it.”

    or to set up the initial conditions so that evolution evolves in the intended manner from the outset. ;o)

  57. Dave_Geologist says:

    But is that not the biogenesis stage, dikran, rather than evolution 😉 ? (Note, you have to follow a smiley with a spacebar before the next letter or punctuation mark for it to display.)

    As per the anthropic principle, God could have set up evolution such that there was not an excess of progeny in each generation. But that would be a system on a knife-edge, doomed to extinction at the first crisis. So any system of life which is around for a decent length of time must have an excess of progeny, unless God intervenes to prevent extinction.

  58. dikranmarsupial says:

    “wolves the losers.”

    Heritable genetic disorders crop up in all populations, apparently including wolves, especially in small populations and that is in a situation where the breeders were trying to preserve rather than to alter. (FWIW, I was wondering whether the rate of heritable defects in *all* domestic dog breeds were substantially higher than in wild populations – too little data as might be expected.)

  59. dikranmarsupial says:

    I’m a bit old-school, I prefer my emoticons in ASCII as the Great Fahlman intended ;o)

    I think attempts to use logic to establish bounds on (r existence of) something that isn’t necessarily constrained by logic are likely to be on shaky foundations. An omniscient and omnipotent being could set up a system exactly on a knife-edge if they so chose with complete knowledge of the perturbations that it would experience (as they are also part of the closed universe that is being set up).

  60. Dave_Geologist says:

    Or it could just be in silico.

    Now there’s a question for a Bayesian. How would you tell whether you were in a simulation or in a knife-edge universe tuned by God?

    I suppose you’d need priors for the AI and for that particular God. Which might be informed by the fact that it is a very particular God – Zeus or the Flying Spaghetti Monster would not claim such powers.

  61. Willard says:

    > Breeding German Shepherds works.

    What works, DaveG? If your R&D team consistently gets you smaller and smaller computers but they explode after two hours, no industrialist in their right mind would say that their R&D program works. An eugenics program that works should work well enough.

    There’s an ought behind Richard’s is. To backtrack to the is part turns Richard’s decoupling into an absurd and dangerous Motte-and-Bailey.

  62. dikranmarsupial says:

    If you don’t have any real evidence, you just get back your priors (which is a good thing). This is a problem with cosmology and e.g. eternal inflation, we can’t really have evidence for some hypotheses (at least at the present stage), but I don’t see a problem with trying to explore the range of plausible models. We can only decide which models we like on the basis of a-priori preferences though.

  63. Willard says:

    > I am not sure in what way Dawkins claim that eugenics in humans would work is a counterfactual.

    The word “would” provides a good tell. Unless Richard can point to eugenics programs on humans that worked, all he can do is to project what he knows about breeding selection in other animals. So at best one could argue that he has a proof of concept.

    To keep repeating “but breeding works” while hammering the table may not be enough to convince venture capitalists to invest into an Über eugenics program. VCs usually want better proofs of concept. And the first question they’ll ask is: when should we expect results?

    Mere scheduling questions introduce normative elements. They have nothing to do with feelings. As far as John Searle’s crap is concerned, he was right in suggesting how to derive ought from is:

    Once we recognize the existence of and begin to grasp the nature of such institutional facts, it is but a short step to see that many forms of obligations, commitments, rights, and responsibilities are similarly institutionalized. It is often a matter of fact that one has certain obligations, commitments, rights, and responsibilities, but it is a matter of institutional, not brute, fact. It is one such institutionalized form of obligation, promising, which I invoked above to derive an “ought” from an “is.” I started with a brute fact, that a man uttered certain words, and then invoked the institution in such a way as to generate institutional facts by which we arrived at the institutional fact that the man ought to pay another man five dollars. The whole proof rests on an appeal to the constitutive rule that to make a promise is to undertake an obligation

    The concept of work refers to institutional facts. It would make little sense to say that an eugenics program works independently of those who run and evaluate it. Hence why Richard’s defenders backtrack to breeding, which indeed refers to a brute fact.

  64. Dave_Geologist says:

    Except the German Shepherds don’t explode, do they Willard? The correct analogue would be a computer that runs perfectly well and reliably but has some downside like high energy consumption or a noisy fan.

    For the purpose of their owners, whether two-legged shepherds, police dog teams or someone wanting a family pet, they serve the purpose they’re bred for adequately despite (a small minority) having debilitating genetic disorders. And perhaps a larger minority being put down by puppy breeders. Neither natural nor artificial selection has to be nice, or moral, or kind. Indeed, Darwin used it as an argument against religion, or at least against the benevolent God of the Christianity of his time:

    I cannot persuade myself that a beneficent and omnipotent God would have designedly created the Ichneumonidae with the express intention of their feeding within the living bodies of caterpillars

    Something being not-nice, immoral or unkind doesn’t magically make it disappear. Indeed those are the somethings you have to confront, not sweep under the carpet. Wolves are scary, that scratching at the door can’t be a wolf. Versus wolves are scary, there’s one scratching at the door, better do something about it.

    But if condemning the thing you discussed in your very next tweet gets you accused of supporting the thing you condemned, I give up.

  65. Dave_Geologist says:

    Except, Willard, I’m not hammering the table. I’m relying on the body of evidence that led Darwin to his conclusions, the further evidence that led subsequent generations to agree he’d got it more-or-less right, and the body of evidence that humans got where we are today by the same mechanism from something unlike what we are today. Conclusions based on facts. Add the other fact that by selective breeding we can do on farms what nature did in the wild, and the fact that we have the same genetic wiring as every other animal, and … well, the conclusion should be obvious.

    Equally obvious is that fact that if you redefine “works” to have a meaning different from that of the parties who used it, explicitly including concepts that the parties excluded from their definition, you can say that it doesn’t work. Humpty Dumpty has the patent on that one. How about I redefine eugenics to mean “Christmas Parties”? Then the whole thread makes no sense.

    Venture capitalists didn’t require a working Tesla or an existing online shopping giant to invest in Tesla or Amazon. Perhaps their definition of “works” also fails to match your definition?

  66. dikranmarsupial says:

    ” The correct analogue would be a computer that runs perfectly well and reliably but has some downside like high energy consumption or a noisy fan.”

    also computers are designed with only a limited degree of reliability (e.g. mean time between failure) in mind, and a manufacturer is unlikely to want to produce a computer that will be reliable substantially beyond its (Moore’s Law) usefulness as it is likely to be undercut by one that isn’t. Obviously computers that “explode” is something that a manufacturer doesn’t want, but computers that have “planned obsolesence” or economically acceptable failure rates are not such a problem

    I have computers that were built in the 90s that I still occasionally use, but they certainly weren’t designed with that in mind and they need occasional transplant surgery to continue on.

    By “work” I think Dawkins meant something like “was technically feasible” rather than “useful” or “practical” or “without disadvantages”. He clearly is not in any way in favour of eugenics.

  67. Willard says:

    > The correct analogue would be a computer that runs perfectly well and reliably but has some downside like high energy consumption or a noisy fan.

    No analogue was intended, DaveG, and your focus on it misses my point, which I will repeat once more: one does not simply state that something works without evaluating it. While breeding comes from some natural fitness function, an eugenics program implies some predermined fitness of purpose.

    Hips are not just a noisy fan for dogs that were bred to work, and hip dysplasia a bit more common than you seem to presume:

    Canine hip dysplasia (CHD) is a common problem in veterinary medicine. We report the demographics of CHD using the entire hip dysplasia registry from the Orthopedic Foundation for Animals, analyzing differences by breed, sex, laterality, seasonal variation in birth, and latitude. There were 921,046 unique records. Each dog was classified using the American Kennel Club (AKC) and Fédération Cynologique Internationale (FCI) systems. Statistical analysis was performed with bivariate and logistic regression procedures. The overall CHD prevalence was 15.56%.

    https://www.hindawi.com/journals/jvm/2017/5723476/

    While these rates of defect may be satisfactory for cancer treatments for which the alternative is more odious, I doubt Über eugenics VCs would accept them [for their human eugenics program].

    The best way to see how ridiculous is Richard’s decoupling is to entertain it from an industrialist point of view.

  68. Willard says:

    > By “work” I think Dawkins meant something like “was technically feasible” rather than “useful” or “practical” or “without disadvantages”. He clearly is not in any way in favour of eugenics.

    These strawmen are getting tiring. Whatever Richard might have meant does not concern me. He used “work,” so I work with that concept. But my point also applies to feasibility. To see how, let’s turn his decoupling into modern alchemy:

    (RICHARD’S ALCHEMY) Look. I’m not in favor into turning our gold reserves into steel, but an alchemy program would definitely work.

    We know it is conceivable to turn any metal into another one. We know that some combinations are already feasible. In fact we know we can turn lesser metals into gold.

    Does it mean that the alchemist program works? Depends on how it was specified. To bypass having to deal with historical details, let’s suppose that those on this path wanted to turn a profit. It obviously does not work. Even if one can argue that to turn copper into gold is feasible, it does not work as intended, for money is wasted in the process.

    No feeling has been harmed in the making of this thought experiment.

  69. dikranmarsupial says:

    “I will repeat once more: one does not simply state that something works without evaluating it.”

    It was a tweet, not a journal paper. I doubt many people think that carefully about the wording of a tweet any more than they do on exact wording in conversation. There is some onus on the reader/listener to deduce the authors intended meaning.

  70. dikranmarsupial says:

    “Whatever Richard might have meant does not concern me. ”

    evidently.

    “(RICHARD’S ALCHEMY)”

    This seems inconsistent with a lack of concern about what Richard might have meant, It seems to be suggesting an intent.

  71. Willard says:

    > There is some onus on the reader/listener to deduce the authors intended meaning.

    And the reader/listener who deduces Richard’s intended meaning still has to acknowledge that an eugenics program can’t be reduced to facts about breeding. One does not simply dismiss questions about its viability as mere desirability or feelings.

    We know that breeding works. We’re here. We know that dog breeding works. Dogs exist. We know that humans bred dogs to get super-dogs. We know that many results were mitigated to say the least.

    What we don’t know is how an eugenics program would work for humans. The onus is on those who insist in decoupling to explore that question. If they can’t, it will at least show that their decoupling effort does no real work.

  72. Willard says:

    > This seems inconsistent with a lack of concern about what Richard might have meant, It seems to be suggesting an intent.

    It’s not. Naming that intent would also be nice.

    One big reason why thought experiments don’t work is that even educated people such as Dikran or DaveG constantly fail to read them properly.

  73. dikranmarsupial says:

    “And the reader/listener who deduces Richard’s intended meaning still has to acknowledge that an eugenics program can’t be reduced to facts about breeding. ”

    I think that is pretty much what the tweet (and the one that follows it) says, My interpretation was that Richard was suggesting that questionable “facts”* about breeding shouldn’t distract us from the real issues about eugenics.

    * Dawkins has a background in evolutionary genetics, so if he thinks the facts are incorrect, it is reasonable to think they are questionable. However, I’d tend to agree more with Rutherford, which seems a more balance evaluation.

  74. dikranmarsupial says:

    “Naming that intent would also be nice.”

    that Richard intended “works” to mean what you apparently take it to mean. Appologies, I wasn’t very clear, “intended meaning” would have been better.

  75. Willard says:

    > Equally obvious is that fact that if you redefine “works”

    I don’t, which is a bummer for someone who would try to insinuate I do in a sarcastic paragraph where he does not show where I would.

    What’s more obvious is that when you say “… well, the conclusion should be obvious” you fail to state that conclusion. Go ahead. State it.

    Decouple a little more. Tell us how the eugenics program would work, in whatever sense of “work” you please. I don’t fear anything or anyone here, including Humpty Dumpty.

  76. Willard says:

    > that Richard intended “works” to mean what you apparently take it to mean. Appologies, I wasn’t very clear, “intended meaning” would have been better.

    And what would be that intended meaning?

    Since the very point of the Alchemy thought experiment is to work around any meaning Richard could have intended, I don’t think your argument implies what you make it imply.

  77. dikranmarsupial says:

    “And what would be that intended meaning?”

    in the specific example of alchemy that “works” would mean something like “economically viable” ( “Even if one can argue that to turn copper into gold is feasible, it does not work as intended, for money is wasted in the process.”) rather than “technically feasible”. If he just meant “technically feasible” then there is no problem with the statement.

    Had Richard tweeted about alchemy instead of eugenics then common sense would tell you that his use of “works” to mean “profitable” would be obvious nonsense, so he must me using “works” to mean something else. One potential meaning ruled out, move on to the next, and so on to determine his likely intended meaning,

  78. dikranmarsupial says:

    ” I don’t fear anything or anyone here, including Humpty Dumpty.”

    O.K. if it is that sort of “debate”, it really is pointless.

  79. Mal Adapted says:

    Dave_Geologist:

    So any system of life which is around for a decent length of time must have an excess of progeny, unless God intervenes to prevent extinction.

    God must intervene to prevent natural selection altogether. That “excess of progeny” of course means that on average, all but two of every human female’s fertilized ova must be selected out, i.e. die without descendants. For all but the last couple of centuries this was expressed as high infant and child mortality, which humans typically regard as tragic, i.e. bad. Even today at least 10% of detectable pregnancies are spontaneously aborted, also experienced as tragedy; and as many as 43% of women with one or more pregnancies have miscarried at least once. For Christians, the ToE makes it look like either this profligate waste of human life is part of God’s plan, or there is no plan. IOW, Christians who accept the ToE must have an adequate theodicy, or live with cognitive dissonance.

    As dm observes, science’s solution is to decouple ‘is’ from ‘ought’, and entertain only non-teleological explanations for intersubjectively verifiable phenomena. We can trace the origin of human life back to the primordial singularity, but no further. The cause of the Big Bang is outside space-time, thus unverifiable by definition. Theistic proposals are up against the law of parsimony, but no naturalistic alternative has empirical support. Having no way to avoid fooling ourselves, we must be content not to know! That too is “an uncommon way of thinking among the population at large”: it seems to be “human nature” to grasp at explanations, especially for subjective tragedy. The capacity to believe six impossible things before breakfast may even be adaptive ;^) [I like 7-bit smileys too].

  80. Mal Adapted says:

    Missing link (heh): law of parsimony.

  81. Willard says:

    > If he just meant “technically feasible” then there is no problem with the statement.

    On the contrary, the same problems appear. To suggest that an alchemy program would be technically feasible remains provocative. (Think about it – we’re talking about alchemy!) The same motte-and-bailey can be used to defend it, and with it semantic quarreling. Similar specification issues resurface, i.e. how would such alchemy program work exactly? There’s a big difference between doing an experiment for a paper and setting up a plant.

    To vary the thought experiments helps weeding out all the irrelevant matters. In our case, ideology. What remains is something like acceptability, or more generally objectionability as I said earlier.

    ***

    > O.K. if it is that sort of “debate

    So far almost everything I’ve seen debated are squirrels. Most if not all the comments I’ve received were peripheric to my points. I got nothing much from this “debate,” not even the impression that my points got through layers upon layers of defensiveness.

    Trivializing Richard’s decoupling to “breeding works” won’t cut it. His hawt takes are not about basic facts. They involve decoupling, and decoupling sucks. I contend that decoupling sucks for the same reasons thought experiments suck in general. It takes training to do it properly. And even then.

    One does not simply earn a reputation of being an asshat in Mordor by issuing truisms.

  82. dikranmarsupial says:

    “To suggest that an alchemy program would be technically feasible remains provocative. (Think about it – we’re talking about alchemy!) ”

    LOL but we are not talking about alchemy are we we are talking about selective breeding (eugenics). Sorry, but that really is just transparent sophistry, I’ll leave you to it.

  83. Willard says:

    > we are not talking about alchemy are we we are talking about selective breeding (eugenics)

    Richard is not talking about “selective breeding (eugenics),” but about an eugenics program. The concept of eugenics, like the concept of alchemy, carries connotations. In both cases the disciplines can be reduced to trivial truths. Yet both still have an history of not being Good Things.

    Talk about sophistry.

    This is the not the first time you take your leave, Dikran. This time, make good on it. No more dancing around my points.

  84. Mal Adapted says:

    izen:

    The neo-Darwinian ToE explains not why there are so many species, but why there are so few.

    Harrumph – it explains both. I otherwise upvote your comment as usual.

  85. izen says:

    @-W
    “The concept of eugenics, like the concept of alchemy, carries connotations. In both cases the disciplines can be reduced to trivial truths. Yet both still have an history of not being Good Things.”

    That past eugenic programs, and alchemy, have had dubious outcomes is a historical feature of most human endeavour.
    both have also beneficial outcomes in domesticated crops and animals as well as expanding our knowledge of chemistry.
    That has happened whether the programs were intentional or serendipitous and almost independently of any constructive intentionality that could be cast as good or evil.

    Our grasp of genetics is little different from the alchemy of the early 15th century. But it already carries the potential implications of an ability to modify biological systems with intent and effective capability. Breeding a better human may be unnecessary if DNA can be modified in situ although that is far beyond our current capabilities.

    I think it inevitable that as soon as such capabilities exist it will, and OUGHT, to be employed. There are obvious issues over what may be regarded as a ‘better’ human in biological, metabolic, and physical form. But the past enthusiasm shown by the trait of cultural white supremacist that has dominated the last few centuries does not permanently invalidate any and all attempt to improve on the human phenotype. Up till now the methodology of eugenics has been constrained by its dependence on constraining genetic diversity. With better methods the benefits of hybrid vigour might be more easily accessed.
    I am unpersuaded that we are built in the image of a perfect form, or that there is an ideal to which we should attain as in the pre-Darwinian concept of the optimum specimen that was closest to the concept in the mind of God when he created the Kinds. And any meddling is hubris.

    That GM on humans will be exploited for evil intent is an inevitability.
    Ethics are always subservient to context.

  86. David B Benson says:

    I was unsuccessful in finding a definition of “eugenics program” but I did stumble across
    https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/eugenics/

  87. Willard says:

    > Ethics are always subservient to context.

    Agreed. In our context, programs and policies are designed to serve a purpose. There are many ways policymakers or the public can evaluate if a program or a policy works or not. Ethical considerations are only one of them.

    We could for instance judge Richard’s editorial policies in terms of baitability, in which case we would say that they work. If we judge them in terms of constructivity, I would say they don’t.

  88. Willard says:

    > I did stumble across […]

    Indeed. Eugenics is a staple of bioethics. The extension of the concept is evolving, e.g.:

    As this short history should make clear, past, state-run, involuntary eugenic endeavors have been unjust and socially disastrous. Yet certain practices that have eugenic features continue today, albeit framed differently. Prenatal testing and preimplantation genetic diagnosis, for instance, are understood to enhance patient choice and expand prenatal knowledge, even as they are clearly used by prospective parents to determine which individuals should come into existence. Should they be considered eugenic practices? Is that necessarily morally troubling? As technological advances push us to figure out how many more, if any, kinds of genes and genetic markers we ought to be able to test for or choose prenatally, we may need to reassess our current practices to explore their justifications, and sort through the ways in which they are eugenic and potentially morally troubling.

    https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/eugenics/

    What kind of program echoes dog or cow breeding is very rough to say the least.

    In any event, unless and until decouplers invest into their decoupling by providing some framework we could explore, they should stay out of the thought experiment kitchen.

  89. Mal Adapted says:

    Eugenics is a staple of science fiction, too. I especially recommend S.M. Stirling’s Draka series. IMHO, an all too credible, highly detailed thought experiment by a modern SF master.

  90. izen says:

    @-W
    “Richard’s editorial policies …. If we judge them in terms of constructivity, I would say they don’t.”

    But then, YMMV.
    Sometimes in the face of a unquestionable dogma the most constructive approach is to bait it.
    Satire and ridicule are also effective tools.

  91. Dave_Geologist says:

    I can never work out, Willard, whether you do this sort of thing in earnest or as some sort of training exercise for ClimateBall trysts with Wattsuppians.

    I find those boring so can’t be bothered to be trained. Boredom sets in.

  92. Willard says:

    Dave,

    Semantic arguments are boring. I’m seldom the one who brings them. Being patronized over undergraduate stuff is more than boring, however.

    I don’t need to know what Richard means by “work” or to invent a new concept of work. I know what it means. Most if not all of us do. That Humpty Dumpty jab was silly.

    It’s fairly easy to get what Richard may have meant. He’s been pulling that kind of trick for decades. I would not have written this post if I did not understand where he was going with his tweet.

    No wonder you get bored at this point.

    These semantic shenanigans are of no relevance to the points I made in the post and kept making in the comment thread. Philosophy is a decoupling discipline, and Richard’s decoupling sucks. Why? Because it’s pure bluff. He baits people but never follows suit. That channels my inner constructivist: no proof, no cookie. In this case, it’s easier to claim that an eugenics program would work than to show how it would.

    Language is a social art.

  93. Willard says:

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