Can digital organisms can yield biologically significant results?

Interesting contribution from Steve Talbott, in the journal AntiMatters. Presentation is by the editors.

“Talbott takes aim at those who believe that experimenting with digital organisms can yield biologically significant results:

Transfixed by the intrinsic force of their own logic, they have lost their investigative anchor in the world’s sense-perceptible phenomena. The world has become in their imagination a mere crystallization of their own logic, a process greatly helped by the false conviction that the world can be understood the way we understand the humanly imposed logic of a machine. It’s as if the only task of all material substance were to put the logic on display — which is much like saying that the only task of speech is to pronounce whatever logic or grammar we can extract from the speech. But just as speech always has a content setting the terms for any further play of its logic, so, too, the world has a content giving direction to the play of the laws we discover at work in it. Investigating “organisms” without bodies isn’t a productive way to explore this content.

In the same article, the author offers valuable insight into the farcical nature of the debate about “intelligent design.” Both ID advocates and their materialistic opponents view the universe as a grand machine. While the former argue that the machine requires a Designer, the latter insist that the universe is merely a machine.

The only way out of the ill-tempered and lightless debate between the two sides is to recognize that the intelligence we see in the world is not imposed from the outside upon pre-existing material, in the way we impose our design upon a machine. The intelligence in nature works always from within. In the world’s phenomena we see intelligence embodying itself in that visible, significant, aesthetically compelling speech we can’t help recognizing everywhere around us (Talbott 2007). The one thing we can be certain of is that whatever — or whoever — speaks through these phenomena is not doing so in the way we speak through the design of our machines. It is the height of hubris to think that we have become creators in that fundamental sense. Our design of machines does not bring material reality itself into existence as the embodiment of our own expressive powers. It is not both the lawfulness and the substance of things.

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