PHIL/PSYCH: Algernon's Law vs. Einstein's Experience

Crosby_M (
Sun, 12 Jan 1997 17:41:35 -0500

I was struck by this following passage from Albert Einstein which
seems somewhat relevant both to Eliezer's Algernon's Law idea and to
the recent debate about whether we already have all the fundamental
concepts of science down and the rest is *just engineering*.

<I sometimes ask myself, how did it come that I was the one to develop
the Theory of Relativity? The reason, I think, is that a normal adult
never stops to think about problems of space and time. These are
things which he has thought of as a child. But my intellectual
development was retarded, as a result of which I began to wonder about
space and time only when I had already grown up. Naturally, I could
go deeper into the problem than a child.>

Mark Crosby


I like to think I'm in a similar situation with regards to
mathematics. I'm currently reading a book that deals directly with
the issue of formalisms, Turing machines, Godel's Incompleteness
Theorem, and their applicability to _Life Itself_. That is the book's
name (the subtitle is "A Comprehensive Inquiry into the Nature,
Origin, and Fabrication of Life"). This is a listing of some of the
chapters: 2. Strategic Considerations: The Special and the General; 3.
Some Necessary Epistemological Considerations; 4. The Concept of
State; 5. Entailment Without States: Relational Biology; 6. Analytic
and Synthetic Models; 9. Relational Theory of Machines; 11. Relational
Biology and Biology.

Some may recall that I've mentioned this book before. Well, I'm now
actually working my way through it and I hope to provide a review once
I'm 'sure' I've assimulated the author's arguments. (The author is,
BTW, Robert Rosen, a professor of physiology and biopyhsics at
Dalhousie University.)

Just in case your want to set up kill files ahead of time, Rosen
challenges strong reductionism suggesting that:
<with respect to biological phenomena, contemporary physics is in
exactly the same situation that 19th-century physics faced in the
atomic and cosmological realms: it either stands mute or it gives
wrong answers.... Once again, as in all similar situations in the
past, the claim is that purely technical matters are involved and that
the problem is simply one of specializing what already exists in an
appropriate way. But history shows it to be at least equally likely
that the problems are not technical but conceptual, that contemporary
physics remains too special to accommodate the class of material
systems we call organisms.>

Still, given this view, Rosen certainly doesn't just "give up and go
to church"! BTW, the book was written in 1991 as part of the Columbia
University Press, Ecological Systems Series, and I don't think it
takes much of recent A-life research into account.