Sunday, September 28, 2014

Would E.T. notice an icon of ID creationism?

Robert J. Marks II in his article on IDC in the conservative political outlet Human Events:

Yet we all agree that a picture of Mount Rushmore with the busts of four US Presidents contains more information than a picture of Mount Fuji.
As Jeff Shallit indicates, no, we really don’t. He has formal measures of information in mind, as I usually do. But I’ve posted a lot of formal stuff lately, and I’m going to do something more intuitive. [What you see here is an abortive attempt at late-night writing from over a month ago. Now that Jeff has posted a note he sent to Marks, I'm going to let it go as is. The pictures are fun.]

Is there some special kind of information in an image of Mount Rushmore that would grab the attention of an extraterrestrial flying by? A bright patch is certainly noticeable, but I don’t think that qualifies as a special kind of information, or as much information of any kind. And as lichen grows on the sculpture, it darkens. (This video has before-and-after shots at 4:50.) If you want to know what really wows E.T., click on the image below.

Photo by Volkan Yuksel (cropped).

There may well be a “look here, look here” icon long after the faces have crumbled.

Am I playing a dirty trick? No, by showing you the big picture, I’m allowing you to see that the form of the sculpture does not stand out from the rest of the mountain. It could not have been otherwise. A sculptor subtracts from what is already present to arrive at the result. Even when the medium is marble, there are sometimes features that drive the composition (see the quotes of Michelangelo and Henry Moore in a past post). Gutzon Borglum could not simply imagine the form of the monument, and then pick a mountain arbitrarily. He had to study available mountain form-ations, and imagine what he could produce by removing modest amounts of material.

Am I trying to diminish the work of Borglum? Certainly not. For someone to envision a monument in the side of a mountain is amazing. My point is that much of the form-ation of the sculpture was already done. The in-form-ation by the sculptor was relatively fine detail, for the most part, and that is why the gross features do not stand out from the surrounding stone.

Of course, the ID creationists make E.T. get up close and personal. The point has been made a gazillion times that an extraterrestrial may be so unlike a person that faces mean nothing to it. What objectively stands out in a shot that is tighter, but not as tight as the IDCists want it to be, is the relatively flat surface surrounding the heads. The pile of rubble beneath the carving also draws attention to it. How ironic.

The IDCists always frame what they say contains some sort of special information, without accounting for how that happens. Put simply, why does E.T. zoom in on a relatively small part of Mount Rushmore, if it doesn’t stand out? To come at this another way, Marks expects us to compare the typical image of Mount Fuji, far in the distance, to the typical image of Mount Rushmore, which is a small part containing the sculpture. That is what prompted me to go looking for shots from different perspectives and different distances. [… “If you want any more, you can sing it yourself.”]

"Mountfujijapan" by Swollib

Special Added Bonus Feature: Creationist Persecution Fantasy

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Response to Denyse O’Leary at Salvo

I received a tip that my name had been “taken in vain” by Denyse O’Leary. Unfortunately, the context is one in which I am more doglike than godlike: “The Law of Conservation of Information.”

Dembski did not invent the underlying idea of conservation of information. Biologist Peter Medawar (1980s) and computer scientist Tom English (1996) advanced the view that information is not created from scratch but rather is redistributed from existing sources. Robert Marks II and his students at Baylor University in Texas have developed the idea in terms of search, and their approach has profound consequences for plausible ideas of how evolution occurs, especially when vast claims are made for WEASEL and other evolution computer programs. As we will see in Part II, they are smuggling in information in order to arrive at their target.
I’ve come to understand a fair amount of the psychology of creationists. But I remain mystified by their proclivity to hold forth on anything and everything that comes along. What I’ve learned from my errors is that I’m qualified to speak authoritatively on precious few matters. And even on those, I have to be exceedingly careful. Denyse has had her head handed to her various times at Uncommon Descent, when she’s ventured into the simplest of math. Is she un­em­bar­rassed, or undeterred by embarrassment? Similarly, when she apes the rhetoric of the likes of Demkski and Meyer, where does the unconscious lying to herself end, and the conscious lying to her readers begin?

Ms. O’Leary, my 1996 formulation of "search" was needlessly complicated. With simplification, search is clearly a process of sampling a set of alternatives (which Dembski and Marks refer to as the sample space). To my huge embarrassment, conservation of information turns out to be nothing but obfuscation of statistical independence — a concept that undergraduates encounter early in introductory courses on probability and statistics. There can be no conservation of information in random selection of a sample because there is no information whatsoever. It is absurd to speak of conserving what does not exist.

If samplers have no information about the samples they draw, then how do we account for the fact that sampler (search) A is more likely than sampler B to select a sample that includes at least one element of the target (to hit the target)? There is not the least mystery here. Samplers differ in their biases. That is the gist of why I was wrong to indicate in 1996 that information somehow resides in samplers, and why Dembski and Marks are wrong to do so today.

The following includes a technical correction of my own errors, but ends with exposition that should make sense to everyone who is able to follow you:

The errors of Dembski and Marks apparently derive from a misunderstanding of the "no free lunch" theorem for search. The following links to an interview in which Marks attempts to explain the theorem in layperson's terms, and provides an accessible discussion of how he goes awry:

P.S.—Note that much of the misunderstanding is attributable to misnaming. I know that Ms. O’Leary appreciates the powerful impact of language upon thought. If you refer to the process of sample selection as search, designate a particular subset of the sample space as the target, and say that the selection process hits the target when the sample includes an element of the subset, then you will have a very hard time thinking straight about sampling.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Encourage Winston Ewert to lift the five-year embargo on his dissertation

In the days before electronic dissemination of theses and dissertations, I heard of a trick to see if someone had paid attention to your work: insert a buck between the pages of the library copy, and check on it a year later. Obviously, communication among scholars has changed radically. But what remains the same is the hope that someone will actually delve into the full account of your scholarship — i.e., that the document amounts to more than an exercise that you had to complete in order to move on to other things.

Students rarely withhold their theses and dissertations from public view. It makes sense if you have developed a valuable trade secret, or if you reasonably believe that someone might steal your results. There has been no such sense in the one-year embargoes that students working with Professor Robert J. Marks II at Baylor have placed on their masters' theses. But I never groused. And I waited patiently to see Winston Ewert's dissertation, Algorithmic Specified Complexity (August 2013). However, it turns out that he has opted for a five-year embargo.

This is exactly the opposite of what Winston should do. Please contact him to explain that shutting out the light is a bad move for someone who has chosen the path of creationism. He provides an email address at the Evolutionary Informatics Lab website.