An Engineer in the Matrix

Before getting into some neat similarities between SETI and The Design Matrix, I’d like to take a break and direct your attention to a couple of interesting blog entries over at Telic Thoughts. When I wrote the DM, I intended to offer engineers a prominent seat at the table and I am quite pleased to see that one engineer, JJS P.Eng., has looked in on the fun.

JJS writes about engineers using probabilistic design and notes a similarity between this approach (which I know nothing about) and the front-loading hypothesis I outline in my book. He summarizes:

The terms “bait” or “baiting evolution” are mentioned (in one form or another) several times in Chapter 7. IMO, this suggests that a front-loading engineer could use stochastic properties of evolutionary mechanisms to design the structure of the first life forms to achieve certain design objectives (my apologies to Mike if this was not his intended message).

And to this I say, Eureka! Someone has finally tapped into my arguments about the use of bait to guide evolution. It’s tied to the whole concept of designing surrogates. And it’s just one of a dozen topics I would like to share more deeply with my readers. Those who have the DM might want to refocus on the argument on pp. 152-153.

Oh, there is one significant tweak about my intended message. The hypothesis I raise is that a front-loading engineer could use stochastic properties of evolutionary mechanisms to design the structure of the life forms that would appear subsequent to the original life forms, (thus, achieving certain design objectives). Of course, I am wide open to the hypothesis that the laws of Nature themselves may have served as bait to design the structure of the first life forms, as one argument I was working on before the old blog went down is to explore the Genetic Code as something that might be cosmically universal. So many topics to explore, so little time.

I also noticed that JJS has a blog entry about something he calls Evolutionary Biological Engineering (EBE). I’m curious to see where he goes with this. Most of the criticism over there seems to be nothing more than carping, with the exception of one argument that sidesteps the proposal by challenging why a designer would even bother with front-loading rather than directly designing everything. While this criticism works to lure people into the misguided and muddy waters of designer-centrism (yet another topic to rewrite/repost about as I start over here), I can briefly mention a few things.

First, the criticism misses the whole point. The goal here is to determine the plausibility of front-loading and not to argue that front-loading would be the only/best choice for a designer. If we reach consensus that front-loading is plausible, then we can turn our attention to such a far more speculation-laden inquiry. If front-loading is not plausible, there is no need to bother with this question, now is there? So it is a question of dealing with first things first.

Second, an insistence on direct design, rather than front-loading, to explain all biotic features, is an attempt to steer the debate back toward the false dichotomy of non-teleological evolution and creationism. Yet we know that design and evolution can co-exist. And front-loading, by definition, is an evolutionary hypothesis. For those of us who accept evolution, the question is not “Why evolution instead of design?” The question is, “Would it be possible to design through evolution and if so, how?”

Third, front-loading falls out of the methodological constraints I raise as part of an open-ended investigation (see pp. 138-140).

Finally, I guess I, of all people, should return to the first point, as I myself have become increasingly convinced of the plausibility of front-loading. So why front-load? Well, I still can’t get past the methodological constraints and that’s a serious issue. But there is a deeper point, something that I also began to address on my old, long-lost blog. And here’s the hint, people: front-loading is related to terraforming.

Okay, with this smorgasbord of topics briefly addressed for the moment, it’s time to return focus and look at SETI.

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