Monday, 28 April 2014

Wilkins vs Tegmark and Dawkins

John Wilkins takes on Max Tegmark and Richard Dawkins - for claiming that their subject matter is informational - in his recent article Information is the new Aristotelianism.

As a fan and proponent informational views of heredity, I take exception to this sort of material.

Wilkins writes:

When physicists or philosophers say that we are living in the Matrix, or equivalent statements like the properties of atomic and subatomic objects are merely mathematical, they make a classical mistake, even worse than getting involved in a land war in Asia. They are mistaking the representation of a thing for the thing. The late medieval scholastics like Lombard knew this error and named it long before Saussure: the sign is not the thing signified. The word is not the world. If we are living in the Matrix, what does the Matrix live in? We know of no information processing system that is not, itself, physical.

I am sceptical. I don't think any physicist is making this mistake.

Wilkins also claims that Dawkins' informational views of heredity arose as a misunderstanding of a quote from Francis Crick. Really? This is wild speculation, IMO. I see little sign of supporting evidence.

Massimo Pigliucci picked Max Tegmark up on the same issue as Wilkins:

Could it be that theories like [Mathematical Universe Hypothesis] are actually based on a category mistake? Obviously, I’m not suggesting that people like Tegmark make the elementary mistake of confusing the normal meaning of words like “objects” and “properties,” or of “physical” and “mathematical.” But perhaps they are making precisely that mistake in a metaphysical sense?
I find this sort of thing tedious. It is pretty-much part of the physicist's remit that the universe is isomorphic to some mathematical object. Their job is to find out which one. Philosophers might worry that mathematics only exists inside intelligent agents - and worry that the physicists are implicitly invoking god. The physicists will just shrug at this, though: it's not what they meant - and who cares what the philosophers think anyway?

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