… they understood that the solution to the problems created by machines would not be found in laissez-faire nostrums.
In the emerging economy, there’s no longer any correlation between the size of a customer base and the number of employees necessary to serve them. In fact, the combination of digital technologies with huge network effects is pushing the ratio of employees to customers to new lows (WhatsApp’s 55 employees are all its 450 million customers need).
Meanwhile, the ranks of postal workers, call-center operators, telephone installers, the people who lay and service miles of cable, and the millions of other communication workers, are dwindling — just as retail workers are succumbing to Amazon, office clerks and secretaries to Microsoft, and librarians and encyclopedia editors to Google.
Productivity keeps growing, as do corporate profits. But jobs and wages are not growing. Unless we figure out how to bring all of them back into line – or spread the gains more widely – our economy cannot generate enough demand to sustain itself, and our society cannot maintain enough cohesion to keep us together.
George Gilder is one of the fathers of supply side economics; he is an important influence for brilliant economists like Jose Ignacio del Castillo of Instituto Juan de Mariana and OMMA. Gilder is also a co-founder and senior fellow of the Discovery Institute. This conservative think-tank promotes Intelligent Design, an unintelligent pseudoscience that has no theoretical, rational, logical or empirical support and no explanatory or predictive power: it is just the intellectually bankrupt and dishonest attempt of creationists to strategically appear scientific, secular and rigorous in their deeply misguided, faulty and bogus criticisms of evolution.
Creationists are usually fundamentalist religious believers: with the disguise of Intelligent Design they avoid explicit mentions of divinities, sacred texts or faith dogmas; but the supernatural mysticism is either insinuated or implied. They claim to fight for the good, for truth and for academic freedom; in fact they are self-deluded quacks and charlatans, masters in the art of sophisticated deception, well organized and funded and with a clear political agenda. They accuse their opponents of being intolerant and closed minded: they forget that while preferences and opinions are subjective, scientific knowledge is objective and subject to rigorous requirements and tests; science is hard and they lack the intellectual competence for it.
Intelligent Design promoters exist because they supply some religious believers with what seem to be scientific arguments for their faith. Religious believers are usually not aware that their strong faith and absurd beliefs are signaling compliance, belonging, conformism and group loyalty: they need to feel intelligent, to think that they are right, that what they believe is true, and science is a modern standard of epistemic correction and truth; they want some kind of scientific support.
While true science tends to fight and destroy religious superstition, Intelligent Design pretends to be scientific in order to support religious superstition; it also ignores or distorts scientific knowledge in order to claim that it cannot explain reality, life, evolution, cognition, emotions, morality, creativity, innovation or entrepreneurship.
In “Evolution and Me: Darwinian Theory has Become an All-Purpose Obstacle to Thought Rather than an Enabler of Scientific Advance” (National Review, July 17, 2006) and in “Biocosm” (Wired, issue 12.10, October 2004) George Gilder writes clumsily against evolution, darwinism and materialism. He criticizes them with vacuous rhetoric, big scientific sounding words and technical jargon, but without true deep understanding. He essentially makes a fool of himself, shows his intellectual limitations and proves that he does not really master physics, biology, evolution, cybernetics, cognition and information theory. Having no real scientific training or expertise, he may have read much but it seems that he has learned little.
Evolution is real, successful and fruitful science, and a very solid foundation of biology, cybernetics, cognitive science, psychology, sociology, economics and morality. Gilder’s attack does no damage to evolutionary science: it only hurts his own intellectual credibility and reputation. Distorting evolution and repeating the old topic that it is just a tautology he tries, like many other creationists, to link it with nazism and several other modern fads and fallacies. But a good scientist does not confuse the descriptive with the normative: evolution, correctly known and applied, does not inspire almost any ideology, specially not the most violent and stupid.
Gilder rejects evolutionary science, which he usually calls “darwinism” as if natural sciences had not advanced since Darwin, because of its materialism, which he deems factually wrong and morally corrupting. He falsely asserts that it “banishes aspirations and ideals from the picture”: it actually places them in their proper place, in the minds of humans as sophisticated cognitive intentional agents, but with no ghosts in the machine and no immortal immaterial souls. Aspirations and ideals are important for humans, not for other organisms with less sophisticated brains. Scientific natural materialism does not deny that there is intelligence, creativity, aspirations, ideas, or morality: what it denies is supernatural mysticism, souls, spirits, ghosts, divinities.
Evolution is not only a biological genetic process: there is also cultural evolution, studied by memetics, which is specially important and distinctive for humans. But what Gilder really wants is to introduce ideas, intelligence and volition where they do not belong, in the origin and organization of life and in the intentional direction of the evolutionary process.
Gilder accuses evolutionary theory of defending a crude vision of capitalism “as a dog-eat-dog zero-sum struggle impelled by greed, where the winners consume the losers and the best that can be expected for the poor is some trickle down of crumbs from the jaws (or tax tables) of the rich”: this may be true, but only for people who understand neither evolutionary biology nor free market economics. Darwin studied the human moral sense and evolutionary psychology has explained much about synergistic cooperation and morality. According to Gilder “capitalism can transcend war by creating rather than capturing wealth — a concept entirely alien to the Darwinian model.” It is entirely alien to Gilder’s confused mind that evolution considers not only violent competition for scarce resources but also peaceful cooperation: ants build a nest, beavers build a dam. There is creation and there is destruction both in biology and in human economics.
Gilder says that “economic science largely denies intelligent design or creation even by human beings. Depicting the entrepreneur as a mere opportunity scout, arbitrageur, or assembler of available chemical elements, economic theory left no room for the invention of radically new goods and services, and little room for economic expansion except by material “capital accumulation” or population growth.” He prefers a vision of capitalism as the “mind-centered system” which, “expressing the infinite realm of ideas and information, it is a domain of abundance rather than of scarcity.”
He does not provide any quote or reference to any economist denying intelligent design or creation by humans. While it is true that entrepreneurship and innovation are not always given the importance they deserve, it is not true that they are completely denied or fully ignored. He speaks of “radically new goods and services” without mentioning any examples and without explaining what radical innovation actually means or how it is produced.
The realm of ideas and information is huge but it is not infinite. There is abundance because ideas and information can be copied with generally low costs, but there is also scarcity because most ideas are not any good and consumers demand better ideas. The realm of information is not as vast as it seems: many ideas or information patterns have small differences that are practically indistinguishable and irrelevant, like a few different bits in a song, a novel or a picture that are probably imperceptible. Ideas tend to cluster in their space of possibilities: there are just a few plots and characters that most stories share; new ideas are slight variations and recombinations of older ones. Most combinations of ideas are either badly constructed (not syntactically correct), meaningless or useless; many ideas are inefficient or even damaging. True valuable innovation is hard: very few people can do relevant useful innovation, and they achieve it only after long training periods and by also producing lots of valueless products that must be filtered and rejected.
Some economic schools, like the Austrians, emphasize that humans can be creative and entrepreneurial and that this is a very important phenomenon for wealth creation. But instead of analyzing innovation scientifically they often just insist on how epic and heroic entrepreneurs are and how everyone can become one. The truth is that most humans, most of the time, are neither creative nor entrepreneurial, but follow routines or copy what others do or think; and when they try to be innovative they discover that it is really difficult to be successful at it.
Gilder asserts that information theory proves that evolution is impossible: the problem is that he understands neither of them. He falsely states, without proof or evidence, that biologists have ignored information theory and its consequences: in reality it is he who does not master any of these issues. Not recognizing spontaneous self-organization and misinterpreting modern information theory, he believes that a divine mind is necessary in order to explain complex adaptive coordinated orders rich in information: he does not understand that organization, information and mind co-evolve. He insists that “wherever there is information, there is a preceding intelligence”.
The universe is an emerging hierarchical order, but this is a natural spontaneous bottom-up process and not a top-down phenomenon directed by an impossible supernatural transcendent immaterial divine intelligence. Mind is not at the beginning of the evolutionary process (“In the beginning was the word”, John 1:1): it is actually a late result of it; evolutionary epistemology easily explains information, cognition and language.
He has the hierarchy of reality exactly backwards and misrepresents evolution as a purely random process, ignoring that selection is deterministic and cumulative: “the word — by any name — is primary […] the word itself is not the summit of the hierarchy. Everywhere we encounter information, it does not bubble up from a random flux or prebiotic soup. It comes from mind. Taking the hierarchy beyond the word, the central dogma of intelligent design ordains that word is subordinate to mind. Mind can generate and lend meaning to words, but words in themselves cannot generate mind or intelligence.”
Gilder is mistaken about biochemistry and information: “Whether across time (evolution) or across space (communication), information could not be borne by chemical processes alone, because these processes merged or blended the medium and the message, leaving the data illegible at the other end.”
It is not clear what he means with merging or blending medium and message. Information does not and cannot exist abstractly as pure form without some material implementation. Information is substrate independent in the sense that it can be expressed in different substrates and transmitted via different media, but that does not mean that it can exist without any substrate or medium: data and messages need some physical support and a communication medium. Matter and form can be thought apart, but they always exist together.
A cell is an organized chemical system with molecules and reactions among them (metabolism): information is stored, used and copied by specialized molecules (nucleic acids, DNA and RNA) and their reactions with other molecules (aminoacids and proteins) following the genetic code, a regular association between codons (triplets of nucleotids in nucleic acids) and aminoacids, between nucleic acids and proteins. In the cell there is spontaneous organization, structure, patterned relationships, but no mysterious, magical or supernatural forces, and no outside controlling intelligence. The central dogma of genetics is about asymmetry of information flow, communication and usage (about read but not write procedures) from genes to proteins and not backwards. It is not about information vs. matter. DNA sequence is information the same as aminoacid sequence in a protein is information.
Gilder claims that the computer models used to simulate evolution actually refute evolution because they show “the need for intelligence and teleology (targets) in any creative process”, because a human intelligence and teleology is needed in order to design and program them. He is clumsily committing a fallacy of invalid generalization: from a particular case, a program created intentionally by a human intelligence, he wrongly infers that all creative processes must be intentionally directed. Actually evolution is a natural spontaneous creative process that works without intelligence or teleology, and which generates intelligence and intentional behavior in some living beings. Human made computers are artificial information processing machines, but there are many other natural information processing machines, cybernetic systems which are the result of spontaneous self-organization and evolutionary adaptation: all living beings with their sensors and information processors (nervous systems and brains in some multicellular animals). Some computers, the artificial man-made ones, are products of intelligent design. But the human brain (and other animal brains as well) are computers and they are not the product of intelligent design but emergent results of spontaneous unintelligent unintentional evolution.
Gilder does not understand the relationships between information, surprise and determinism: “The failure of purely physical theories to describe or explain information reflects Shannon’s concept of entropy and his measure of “news.” Information is defined by its independence from physical determination: If it is determined, it is predictable and thus by definition not information. Yet Darwinian science seemed to be reducing all nature to material causes.”
All nature can be reduced to material causes plus organization and emergence. Information is substrate independent but is based on physical determinism, on a nonrandom relationship between a signal or datum and that of which it informs, to which it refers. Without physical determinism there is simply no information at all. Sounds (pressure waves), smells (molecules), images (photons), must regularly inform about something, they must be causally connected to their sources. Determinism and predictability are not equivalent: determined is ontological, predictable is epistemic; many deterministic systems are not predictable; brains have limited capabilities to obtain and process information and cannot predict everything with certainty, even though it were fully deterministic.
Regarding information content and surprise, one thing is how many bits a message does objectively contain (how much memory it occupies, how much bandwidth and time it requires); a different thing is subjective new information for a particular receiver from a specific message. Information is associated with surprise or uncertainty of a recipient of a message before it is received in the sense that it is not already known or easily predictable with certainty by its receiver, but objective information can be measured.
Information can be defined as a difference that makes a difference: an actualization in reality among several possible alternatives that is important for an intelligent observer because it is relevant for guiding its action. First difference: what is out there and in me and how can it be perceived? Second difference: is the current state of reality important to me and what should I do about it?
Gilder, the superstitious religious believer, accuses materialist scientists of myth and superstition. He often insists that “information is independent of its physical embodiment or carrier” (ordinary and well known substrate independence). From it he wrongly concludes that “information comes first, and regulates the flesh and the world, not the other way around” (In the beginning was the Word); “where there is information, there is a preceding intelligence”. Information and intelligence do not come first: some combination of randomness, regularity and determinism come first, then spontaneous self-organization, then living systems as autopoietic autonomous agents, then evolution and then information and cognition for cybernetic control. Information is very important in many fields, but it does not come first: there is no ideal platonic realm, but an aristotelian hylomorphic real world where matter and form go together.
According to Gilder, “biologists commonly blur the information into the slippery synecdoche of DNA, a material molecule, and imply that life is biochemistry rather than information processing”. The fact is that for biologists life is both biochemistry and information processing. Gilder goes on: “nucleotide “bases” form “words” without help from their bonds with the helical sugar-phosphate backbone that frames them.” Gilder forgets that the chemical bonds that matter are in another part of those molecules, where they bind together selectively in pairs (Adenine-Thymine, Guanine-Cytosine). Life is biochemistry and an important function of part of that biochemistry is information processing. The meaning of genes is in the genetic code, the regular chemical association between nucleic acids and proteins.
Gilder mistakes the fact that genetic information flows unidirectionally from genes to proteins “with the primacy of the word over the flesh”. He seems not to understand that things must preexist in order to have associations between them, and that symbols do not exist without referents, that words are useless without meanings. There are no words before there are things. Not knowing much about abiogenesis, collectively auto-catalytic systems and the co-evolution of proteins and nucleic acids, Gilder insists that proteins cannot have come first in the origin of life. He is so foolishly arrogant that he dares criticize NASA scientists for “searching for traces of protein as evidence of life on distant planets. Without a hierarchy of informative programming, proteins are mere matter, impotent to produce life.” But he lacks no religious references: “as St. John implies, life is defined by the presence and precedence of the word: informative codes.”
After insisting on the importance of ideas, Gilder appears to be a naive genetic determinist: he asserts that “by controlling the existing material of human beings through their environment, the Lamarckians believed that Communism could blend and breed a new Soviet man through chemistry.” In fact communists tried to produce a new man mainly by cultural indoctrination (and some indirect selective breeding of allies and plenty of killing of opponents). The unidirectional flow of genetic information has little to do with whether the genes or the environment are more important: genes work in an environment, it is always nature via nurture.
All quacks criticize the scientific establishment because it does not accept them, and mention some scientific revolution in which the innovators were either persecuted or not paid proper attention: Gilder writes about the quantum revolution and thinks he has discovered something radically new, that the biological cell is not a “simple lump of protoplasm”, and that “the established biology of Darwinian materialism” is “breaking down”. He believes he is among a select group of chosen few who know how important information is in biology.
Gilder is particularly pathetic when he tries to distort and attack the work of real scientists:
Within the Panel of Peers, the emergence of the cell as supercomputer precipitated a mostly unreported wave of consternation. Crick himself ultimately arrived at the theory of “panspermia” — in which he speculated that life was delivered to the earth from other galaxies, thus relegating the problems of creation to a realm beyond our reach. Sensing a crisis in his then exclusively materialist philosophy, neo-Darwinian Richard Dawkins of Oxford coined the word “meme” to incorporate information in biology, describing ideas as undergoing a Darwinian process of survival of the fittest. But in the end Dawkins’s memes are mere froth on the surface of a purely chemical tempest, fictive reflections of material reality rather than a governing level of information. The tongue still wags the mind.
These stratagems can be summed up as an effort to subdue the word by shrinking it into a physical function, whimsically reducing it to a contortion of the pharynx reflecting a firing of synapses following a mimetic emanation of matter from a random flux of quanta shaking physical atoms. Like the whirling tigers of the children’s fable, the recursive loops of names for the word chase their tails around the tree of life, until there is left at the bottom only a muddled pool of what C. S. Lewis called “nothing buttery.”
“Nothing buttery” was Lewis’s way of summing up the stance of public scientists who declared that “life” or the brain or the universe is “nothing but” matter in motion. As MIT’s Marvin Minsky famously asserted, “The brain is nothing but a ‘meat machine.’” In DNA (2003), Crick’s collaborator James Watson doggedly insisted that the discovery of DNA “proved” that life is nothing but or “merely chemistry and physics.” It is a flat-universe epistemology, restricted to what technologists call the “physical layer,” which is the lowest of seven layers of abstraction in information technology between silicon chips and silica fiber on the bottom and the programs and content at the top.
For Gilder most scientists are so dumb that they are restricted to the physical layer and do not move beyond it. If your intellectual referent is C. S. Lewis, you are in deep scientific trouble, but you probably do not know it.
Gilder’s view of the world is deeply wrong because it is completely upside down: “the universe is stubbornly hierarchical. It is a top-down “nested hierarchy,” in which the higher levels command more degrees of freedom than the levels below them, which they use and constrain. Thus, the higher levels can neither eclipse the lower levels nor be reduced to them”. The nested hierarchy is in fact bottom-up and emerges gradually; the higher levels have less degrees of freedom, not more, and can be explained in terms of the lower levels plus organization and emergence.
The hierarchies of life do not stop at the word, or at the brain. The universe of knowledge does not close down to a molecular point. It opens up infinitely in all directions. Superior even to the word are the mind and the meaning, the will and the way. Intelligent people bow their heads before this higher power, which still remains inexorably beyond the reach of science.
Throughout the history of human thought, it has been convenient and inspirational to designate the summit of the hierarchy as God. While it is not necessary for science to use this term, it is important for scientists to grasp the hierarchical reality it signifies. Transcending its materialist trap, science must look up from the ever dimmer reaches of its Darwinian pit and cast its imagination toward the word and its sources: idea and meaning, mind and mystery, the will and the way.
He wants to take the hierarchy upwards towards a summit and worship that summit: of course, God.
We know now that no accumulation of knowledge about chemistry and physics will yield the slightest insight into the origins of life or the processes of computation or the sources of consciousness or the nature of intelligence or the causes of economic growth.
With “we” Gilder probably means he and some close friends, true scientists not included.
Operating farther up the hierarchy, biological macro-systems such as brains, minds, human beings, businesses, societies, and economies consist of intelligent agents that harness chemical and physical laws to higher purposes but are not reducible to lower entities or explicable by them.
Except for the fact that they are, if you know how to do it. Gilder does not and he projects his ignorance on everyone.
Materialism generally and Darwinian reductionism, specifically, comprise thoughts that deny thought, and contradict themselves.
Except for the inconvenient fact that they do not.
The paradox of the self-denying mind tends to stultify every field of knowledge and art that it touches and threatens to diminish this golden age of technology into a dark age of scientistic reductionism and, following in its trail, artistic and philosophical nihilism.
Gilder, who wants to see mind in and before everything, thinks that scientists see mind in nothing.
He knows how really informed readers may react:
All right, have a tantrum. Hurl the magazine aside. Say that I am some insidious charlatan of “creation-lite,” or, God forfend, “intelligent design.”
Anyones who rightly describes him as a charlatan is having a tantrum.
Intelligent design is merely a way of asserting a hierarchical cosmos.
A deeply incorrect way. That is why its leading exponents, Stephen Meyer and William Dembski (both of the Discovery Institute), are not “formidably learned” as he very partially qualifies them.
MIT physicist and quantum-computing pioneer Seth Lloyd has just published a scintillating book called Programming the Universe that sees intelligence everywhere emerging from quantum processes themselves — the universe as a quantum computer. Lloyd would vehemently shun any notion of intelligent design, but he posits the universe as pullulating with computed functions. It is not unfair to describe this ubiquitous intelligence as something of a Godlike force pervading the cosmos. God becomes psi, the “quantum wave function” of the universe.
Yes, it is unfair to describe God in this way, and not very intelligent: religious believers want a caring father or mother, a judge, a guide, a helping hand, a powerful friend, partner and leader. A quantum wave function does not do the trick.
Of course there is “intelligence manifestly present in the universe”: it is just not in George Gilder’s and the Discovery Institute’s criticisms of naturalism and evolution.
Gilder mentions the mantra of the Intelligent Design movement: “irreducible complexity”. There are “myriad phenomena in biology, such as the bacterial flagellum and the blood-clotting cascade, [that] are “irreducibly complex” in the sense that they do not function unless all their components are present. It’s an all-or-nothing system incompatible with an evolutionary theory of slow, step-by-step incremental change.” He says that there are myriad of these phenomena, but Intelligent Design creationists can usually cite only these two, flagellum and blood-clotting: and they ignore that the natural evolution of both has been explained in the scientific literature.
Gilder throws around many names of scientists as if they supported Intelligent Design when in fact none of them do and many are actually vocal critics. He does not like that scientists attempt “to usurp the role of philosophers and theologians” and despises modern scientific proposals of “infinite multiple parallel universes”; “the effort to explain the miracles of our incumbent universe by postulating an infinite array of other universes is perhaps the silliest stratagem in the history of science.” The silliest stratagem in the history of pseudoscience is probably Intelligent Design and its “miracles”.
Gilder asserts that “Intelligent design at least asks the right questions”, but he forgets to mention what those questions are. “Intelligent design theory begins by recognizing that everywhere in nature, information is hierarchical and precedes its embodiment. The concept precedes the concrete”: pure idealistic unscientific and wrong platonism. “Darwinian materialism is an embarrassing cartoon of modern science.” As pseudoscience goes, George Gilder is an embarrassing cartoon.
More of the same kind of nonsense in an interview with George Gilder: One on One: Faith in hierarchy
More on the Intelligent Design movement: