Archive for March, 2010

Thinking about Biology and C.S.

March 25, 2010

I really should tag these entries in the first paragraph by type — so those only interested in some could skip reading the others.  This is philosophical, and tangentially related to Comp. Sci. theory (my own, of course).

I’ve read for a long time now the musings of Steve Talbot at NetFuture.  (I’ve already referenced that writing previously), starting back when the focus was more The Future Does Not Compute — an interview on that topic introduced me to this website.

Today I learned an interesting word.  One would ask why, if I consider myself having any philosophical training at all, I haven’t heard of it before: entelechy — the “vital force” in Aristotelian philosophy.

But even if the latest article did not reference AI (and thus all software engineering), I’d make the connection myself — something vital is lost.  By the way, this is an angle of attack against Kurzweil different that other, more pragmatic and, perhaps, “easier” disagreements.

I’m going to urge you to read that article, at least most of it, before getting to the last paragraph, and the following will make more sense if you understand the gist of what he’s saying, also.

On a personal/theoretical/odd tangent: this captures somewhat my notion that a teleporter would not work, not for any physical/practical reason, but that life is something more than chemical/molecular — though I do wonder about preserving quantum states — more than that, it is “motion.”  Say nothing about the spiritual aspects of life, which cannot be “transported” via matter-to-energy-to-matter conversion, the mere fact of a precise, exactly duplicate model of a living organism is not enough to re-produce the same entity — it’s gesture cannot be so easily captured.

So the application to software engineering is this: static analysis is never enough — the dynamics of the system must be considered, and considered well.  Not very earth-shattering, I know.  Common sense, even.  It may be obvious, but any experienced programmer is “automatically” doing a “run-time” analysis when s/he is trying to debug a problem — at the meanest level, you have a finger, or pen, moving along the code (probably with some scratch notes about various states), but when were you taught this?  If ever.  (More experienced developers have some advanced technique beyond pen and paper, but it boils down to the same thing, no?)  Rather, if you were taught any kind of analysis at all, it was quite static.  Or am I alone in that?

An Entry I Do Not Have to Write

March 24, 2010

I was going to write about Clojure, but it turns out I can find what I need to say via links (mostly) — Mark Volkmann has some good reference here (beware the sound-clip on first loading), including a long article that he wrote.  (Here is the core API link.)

There’s a Google Group for Clojure, which is where I learned about the (contains? function — actually (some is what I want…

And there’s WikiBooks for Clojure.

I’m still trying to get the :test metadata to run, but I think I need newer source

Resisting the Urge (Not Really)

March 22, 2010

Update: Apparently, Petersen is a qualified no vote, but a no nonetheless.

I do not want to turn this blog into a political rant. I will return to technical and/or “personal” (non-political) opinion shortly. But I can’t resist simply posting the final vote results for “Health Care Reform Act.”

Because I’m in Minnesota, here are the Reps. and their vote:

Michelle Bachmann, No; Keith Ellison, Yes; John Kline, No; Betty McCollum, Yes; James Oberstar, Yes; Erik Paulsen, No; Colin Peterson, No; Tim Walz, Yes.

Thank you to Michelle Bachmann (R), John Kline (D), Erik Paulsen (D), and Colin Peterson (D).  Especially noted are the Democrats that disagreed with their party and voted against this bill anyway.

All those that voted “Yes” — it is noted and will be remembered.

Respectfully Disagreeing

March 18, 2010

A blog, which I read sometimes, and agree with somewhat, and before today would have recommended “without qualification” now comes with a caveat.  All because of a quote in a guest post (yes, I know the disclaimer is usually, “the views expressed … are not necessarily [my own]”…  so consider this my reply to that author, not the primary blogger; still, it needs to be said):

“Nothing in biology makes sense except in the light of evolution.” -Theodosius Dobzhansky

For reference, Mr. Dobzhansky was born over one hundred years ago.  Today, I find that statement almost humorous, given what we know about “junk DNA” (which is anything but junk), to name just one area.  See, for example, this article, which shows the silliness of comparing DNA with chimps, or others (read the first two paragraphs, then just jump down to the 3rd paragraph  of the Paradoxes section:

… More recently researchers have turned up a pea aphid with 34,600 genes and a water flea with 39,000 genes. If genes account for our complexity and make us what we are — well, not even the “chimps are human” advocates were ready to set themselves on the same scale with a water flea.

There was some research a while back (several years, if I recall), which basically found the root of some disease to be located precisely in the non-coding DNA (the correct term, now, for was as previously called “junk DNA”), and this link was missed primarily because of the bias in genetics toward evolutionary theory and against looking at that odd stuff — some 98 percent of our DNA is non-coding, and the ratio is higher for “higher life forms” than for lower organisms.  Unfortunately, I cannot find a link to that, but I did find an excellent article by William Dembski, now ten years old (the article, not Mr. Dembski), defending Intelligent Design and, more specifically, his own work and the foundations of it, as well as some consequences of it.

I was led to this:
Amato, I. 1992. Deoxyribonucleic acid: the chemical inside the nucleus of a cell that carries the genetic instructions for making living organisms. DNA shows unexplained patterns writ large. Science 257: 747.

All that to say: I couldn’t disagree more with the statement quoted (and some of the logical inferences of that in the blog post); at the same time, I will maintain that we human beings are biological, and respond in a purely biological (read: materialistic, animal) fashion at times, however, I deny the root of the similarity to be evolutionary, and the similarities cannot be purely reductionist.  We are, ultimately, uniquely, human, and that is more than physical.

To quote: “I cannot help but believe that [being human] means that … we are responsible, and we are free; that we are responsible to be free.” (From the intro to an Rich Mullins song).