Detecting Design – Mind and Hands

I have previously raised four criteia that can be used, as a whole, to assess a design inference – Analogy, Discontinuity, Rationality, and Foresight. Over the years, I have placed most emphasis on Foresight, gradually fleshing out the hypothesis of front-loaded evolution. And while I remain quite encouraged by the increasing plausibility of front-loading, the criterion of Rationality has lately begun to attract more of my attention.

Several years ago, Howard Van Till reviewed Dembski’s book, No Free Lunch. Van Till hit on something that I mentioned in my book:

We speak often today of things that have been designed. Cars are designed; clothing is designed; buildings are designed. Suppose, then, we were to walk into the headquarters of a major automobile manufacturer and ask to observe the process of cars being designed. What kind of activity would we be shown? Would we be taken to the assembly line to see cars being put together by human hands and mechanical robots? No, we would be taken to the “design center” where we would see people working with their minds (augmented, of course, by computers and various means of modeling what their minds conceive) to conceptualize new cars of various styles to achieve the intentions of the manufacturer in the marketplace. In other words, to say that a car was designed is to say that a car was thoughtfully conceptualized to accomplish some well-defined purpose. In contemporary parlance, the action of design is performed by a mind, intentionally conceptualizing something for the accomplishment of a purpose.

This mind-like action of designing is clearly distinguishable from the hand-like action of actualizing (assembling, arranging, constructing) what had first been designed. On a tour of an automobile manufacturing facility, for instance, we would have no difficulty in distinguishing the mental work done at the design center from the manual work done on the assembly line.

The distinction between the mind-like action of designing and the hand-like action of actualizing is key. Conceptualization precedes actualization. Thus, detecting design is much more like detecting another mind than detecting busy hands. In fact, if you did not perceive the mind, the hands would not be detected as designing – they’d be detected as doing. Without making any serious and honest effort to detect the mind-like action of designing, a focus on the hand-like action of actualization will not signal design.

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7 responses to “Detecting Design – Mind and Hands

  1. Three phases (at least)

    Design -> Manufacture -> Product

    This doesn’t get into the design of the manufacturing process itself (a huge task, taking up a very large chunk the engineering staff’s time in most manufacturing facilities).

    In this metaphor, when we look at biology, are we looking for the evidence of design by observing:

    1. the finished product (the car)? or

    2. the manufacturing process (as in the quoted story)?

    I would say both, but this is not considered in the excerpt. It only looks at the manufacturing facility and not the machine they are constructing.

    As to your statement:

    “Without making any serious and honest effort to detect the mind-like action of designing, a focus on the hand-like action of actualization will not signal design.”

    Nobody has seen any of the high energy particles that draw lines in a cloud chamber. Nobody has seen anything but the end-result of a chain reaction that we assumed, based on (?), started with high energy particles.

    Still could be wrong. But saying it doesn’t indicate high-energy particles seems a bit too rigid, even for science.

    How about, it doesn’t necessarily indicate design?

    I think, you have to look for organizational specifics. The data in the DNA is like the magnetic domains on the platter of a disk drive. They are meaningless without the other parts of the disk-drive, since they can’t be read.

    In short: The instructions to build the disk-drive are kept on the platter; The platter can’t be read without the disk drive.

    I think I understand what you are saying though: An arch must be pre-designed. It must be constructed and held in place using scaffolds, with the forethought, that once constructed, a keystone can be dropped into place, thereby making the arch rigid and able to stand without scaffolding.

    Evidence of design? No. You can start with a solid, free-standing (naturally occurring) slab of rock, and allow it to be hollowed out by (naturally occurring) wind and water. An arch will be produced without a design.


  2. Hi Stosh,

    I’m not quite clear what you mean by “organizational specifics.” But are you saying that we can detect such a thing without any consideration to the “mind-like action of designing” and that it clearly signals a mind’s design?

  3. Hey Michael,

    I’m mainly just trying to get a handle on your definition for the term “mind-like action of designing”. My primary mechanism for doing this is to echo back my own (partial) understanding in an attempt to better clarify.

    I think when you look for mind-like action of the design, you are attempting to show that a concept must exist “outside of time” as an abstract whole first, in order to be broken down into a required specific sequence of steps. The sequential non-abstract steps are required to reduce the abstract concept into objects (phenomena that take up volumetric space).

    One primary way to do this, is to work backwards, from the finished (actualized) product, through the sequential steps needed to produce it. I threw in the arch example, simply to show that it is not so simple, since there may be multiple sequential routes that lead from the “outside of time” design-concept, to the finished product.

    In essence, it behooves us to determine if there are any routes that could be achieved through a more chaotic route. One way to determine this is by looking for REAL mutexes in the finished product (e.g., instructions to build the machine that reads instructions). That’s hard too, because human thought processes, in general, have a strong bias to turning everything into an either-or choice, though few things actually are… (this was, for example, at the heart of Jevons’s non-exclusive-or fix to Boole’s algebra).

    Come to think of it, this realization about mutexes is probably one of the factors that draw me to your front-loading (hybrid) hypothesis.

  4. Hi Stosh,

    I’m simply using the term Van Till used and I think he did a nice job of making an important distinction. As I type my reply to you, where is the design? Is it in my fingers as they peck at the keyboard? Or is it in my mind that then controls the fingers? When my cat sees me pecking away, and sees the computer screen, it sees my finger-like action and their product. But does it see the design?

  5. Hey, Mike, this brings to mind one of the favorite arguments of the critics: the one that goes “We have experience with human designers, so we’re justified in inferring human design when we see human artifacts, but we don’t have any experience with some purported ‘intelligent designer’ that supposedly designed life”

    The thing is, we *don’t* just have experience of human designers. What we actually witness is the actualization, not the design. The design itself is inferred from the actualization, or from the actualized results, and is invisible to direct detection.

    That’s also why I think that IDers are mistaken when they present the design argument as an argument from analogy to human design. They’re making the same error (taking it for granted that we “just know” about human design or have experience with human designers). The biological design inference is actually an instance of the same type of reasoning as the inference to human design, not an analogy to it.

  6. Michael,

    Thanks for your reply. I’m afraid I’m still very much in the fog on the concept you are trying to convey.

    I’m used to being there though :). Perhaps it is carrying the metaphor too far to say that sometimes clarity is brought about by the fog itself…

  7. Hi Stosh,
    I’m used to being in the fog also, so we may be kindred spirits. :)

    Let’s start with the dictionary definition of ‘design’:

    to plan and fashion artistically or skillfully.

    to intend for a definite purpose: a scholarship designed for foreign students.

    to form or conceive in the mind; contrive; plan: The prisoner designed an intricate escape.

    to assign in thought or intention; purpose: He designed to be a doctor.

    These all convey the mental core of design – to plan, to purpose, to conceive. So as I design my replies to you, or design my entries for this blog, the “mind-like action” of planning, purposing, and conceiving are crucial. The are the design. I would maintain that we “detect” design only when our minds recognize another mind. That is, it is our subjective awareness of and experience with planning, purposing, and conceiving that allows us to recognize this in another. If we don’t recognize this in something else, we don’t see the design.

    My cat analogy is intended to show that my cat can watch me implementing my design and can see the product of my design, but it sees no design. It remains oblivious to design.

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