|Evolution in the News - April 2019|
|by Do-While Jones|
Philosophers think. Scientists experiment.
The contradictory term “thought experiment” has become common in scientific literature since Schrödinger's cat experiment in 1935. There’s no such thing as a thought experiment. You either do the experiment, or you just think about doing an experiment. If you don’t actually do it, it isn’t an experiment!
Schrödinger's cat is a thought experiment, sometimes described as a paradox, devised by Austrian physicist Erwin Schrödinger in 1935. It illustrates what he saw as the problem of the Copenhagen interpretation of quantum mechanics applied to everyday objects. The scenario presents a hypothetical cat that may be simultaneously both alive and dead, a state known as a quantum superposition, as a result of being linked to a random subatomic event that may or may not occur. 1
Animal rights’ activists will be glad to know that no actual cats were harmed in Schrödinger’s experiment because he never actually did the experiment—he only thought about it, and thinking about an experiment is just as valid as actually doing the experiment! At least, that seems to be the consensus in science today.
Last month, New Scientist breathlessly reported,
A twist on the famous Schrödinger’s cat thought experiment could undermine quantum physics – or provide a path to a deeper understanding of how the world works. 2
The details aren’t important. All that matters is that an experiment that wasn’t really done in 2019 contradicts an experiment that wasn’t really done in 1935, and scientists have been thrown into a tizzy about it!
For quantum physicists, it is more of a tormentor, clawing at their belief in a treasured theory and coughing up hairballs over its claim to provide true enlightenment about the workings of reality. 3
We encourage you to follow the link in the footnote to read the New Scientist article—but don’t pay too much attention to what their conclusions are. Pay attention to how they come to those conclusions. The entire article is 100% science free. It is entirely philosophical, which is why no firm conclusion can be reached.
In that same issue of New Scientist, it was also claimed,
The controversial Gaia hypothesis sees Earth as a superorganism adapted to be perfect for life. A weird type of evolution may finally show how that actually happens. 4
The article begins by describing a 1948 experiment in which a device called a Homeostat tried to balance four pivoting magnets. Sometimes it worked—sometimes it didn’t.
A simpler experiment in a baby’s nursery proves the same thing. If you hang combinations of differently weighted objects on the mobile hanging above the crib, sometimes you can make all the differently weighted objects on different length arms balance perfectly, and sometimes there just is no way to balance them at all.
Both experiments prove the same thing. Some combinations of things can be balanced, and some can’t. The only difference between the experiments is that the 1948 experiment used an analog computer to try to balance magnetic forces, and the nursery mobile experiment used you to try to balance gravitational forces.
More importantly, both are actual experiments. Both can actually be done. A thought experiment is useful only as far as it might lead to an actual experiment. The thought experiment by itself is nothing more than unconfirmed speculation.
The New Scientist article claimed that evolution is the result of natural balancing.
Ashby believed this “ultrastability” to be a governing principle in nature, explaining, among other things, the adaptation of species to their niche – a process that appears purposeful, but actually arises from random processes. It may seem a stretch to describe the Homeostat’s change over time, from wild motion to stability, as “evolution”. After all, it lacks all the trappings we associate with Darwinian evolution – such as life and reproduction. Yet, there is a growing belief that the same forces driving Ashby’s machine hold the key to a wider concept of evolution, one that can encompass semi-living and even nonliving systems. This new view may prove essential to understanding the functioning of ecosystems and even the origin of life. Most intriguingly, it bolsters the Gaia hypothesis, the controversial idea that the biosphere acts like a giant organism, one that self-regulates to keep conditions just right for life. 5
There is no science here. It is simply speculation that the Earth will use evolution to balance itself naturally.
I predict this new hypothesis will be soundly rejected for purely political reasons. If evolution will naturally balance the Earth, then there is no need to worry about climate change. That conclusion is politically unacceptable, regardless of whether it is true or not. If Gaia is going to save herself, there is no need for a Green New Deal.
At the risk of bringing actual science into the discussion, we must point out that there was an experiment to test the self-balancing hypothesis.
Biosphere 2 was only used twice for its original intended purposes as a closed-system experiment: once from 1991 to 1993, and the second time from March to September 1994. Both attempts, though heavily publicized, ran into problems including low amounts of food and oxygen, die-offs of many animals and plants included in the experiment. 6
The Biosphere 2 experiments were flawed and controversial, to say the least—but at least they were actual experiments!
Some of you are too young to remember Biosphere 2, so let us remind you of what you never knew. In the 1990’s, environmentalists were warning everyone that Earth would be uninhabitable in the next 10 or so years. They said the only way humanity could survive was to colonize Mars or the Moon. We would have to learn to build a completely self-contained, sealed structure with a perfectly balanced ecological system. Biosphere 2 was supposed to be that perfectly balanced ecosystem.
It turned out to be more difficult to design a perfectly balanced ecosystem than the scientists expected. When Biosphere 2 started to become uninhabitable, they had to cheat by introducing oxygen from the outside, and make some other modifications.
In fairness, not all of the problems were biological. There were unanticipated economic, psychological and political issues inside and outside the Biosphere. When things start going wrong, the natural human response is to blame somebody else. Even people who were there disagree on what really happened, and who was to blame. The only thing we know for sure is that the attempt to make a sustainable, enclosed environment which would support a small human society indefinitely, failed miserably.
Biosphere 2 was falsely criticized as being “not scientific” because of the political motivation for the experiment; but Biosphere 2 really was a scientific experiment. There was a hypothesis that a particular combination of life forms could form a sustainable circle of life. That hypothesis was tested and found to be false. The hypothesis was tweaked several times, and every modification failed.
That doesn’t prove that a self-sustaining sealed environment can’t be designed. A different combination of plants and animals might have succeeded. It just isn’t practical to try every possible combination.
Biosphere 2 proved that designing a balanced, self-sustaining ecosystem that remains stable for a year or two is really, really hard. The natural conclusion is that a balanced, self-sustaining ecosystem, which lasts for thousands of years, isn’t likely to have happened by chance. It is just too hard to balance that many things.
As well balanced as the ecosystem is, it is clear that it is slowly becoming unbalanced. It is an undeniable fact that many species have gone extinct.
New Scientist claims that Ashby’s Homeostat machine “bolsters the Gaia hypothesis, the controversial idea that the biosphere acts like a giant organism, one that self-regulates to keep conditions just right for life.’ Perhaps, if humanity killed off all the cattle, preventing them from causing global warming by producing methane, Gaia would self-regulate and keep conditions just right for some other combination of life forms—but there is no way to know for sure (without killing off all the cattle and observing the result).
Nobody would have spent a penny building Biosphere 2 without doing a lot of analysis first. They no doubt did computer modeling which told them how much oxygen the plants would produce. Apparently those models were wrong.
This newsletter started out as a light-hearted look at things that People Who Don’t Think accept as truth; but it has taken a serious turn.
Thinking that unverified philosophy is actually settled science can lead people to believe all sorts of crazy things. There is no scientific confirmation that some mixture of chemicals can combine accidentally to produce a living cell. There is no plausible scientific explanation for how a cold-blooded, egg-laying reptile could become a warm-blooded mammal which could nurse live young. Yes, there is a symbiotic relationship between bees and flowers—but there is no proof that relationship happened by chance. There isn’t any proof that the symbiotic relationship happened on purpose, either—but that supposition is at least plausible.
On March 15, students all over the world protested government inaction on climate change. 7 These students said,
We, the youth of America, are striking because the science says we have just a few years to transform our energy system, reduce our greenhouse gas emissions, and prevent the worst effects of climate change. 8
They claim to have the solutions. How much does a sixth-grader really know about how to save the planet? Children just believe what they are told about climate change, just like they believe what they are told about evolution, because they believe what “the science says” without question.
This is the problem with our public school science education. Students are told things and not allowed to question them. This started when evolutionists got courts to prevent both sides of the creation/evolution controversy from being presented in class.
Now universities have “safe spaces,” where snowflakes can be protected from diverse opinions. It might damage their feeble little minds to suggest to them that the propaganda they received in public school was false! Students need to be taught to think!
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2 Richard Webb, New Scientist, 20 March 2019, “Schrödinger’s kittens: New thought experiment breaks quantum theory”, https://www.newscientist.com/article/mg24132220-100-schrodingers-kittens-new-thought-experiment-breaks-quantum-theory/
4 Bob Holmes, New Scientist, 20 March 2019, “Gaia rebooted: New version of idea explains how Earth evolved for life”, https://www.newscientist.com/article/mg24132220-200-gaia-rebooted-new-version-of-idea-explains-how-earth-evolved-for-life/
7 CNN, March 15, 2019, “Global Climate Strike: Students around the world protest climate inaction”, https://www.cnn.com/world/live-news/global-climate-strike-students-protest-climate-inaction-intl/index.html