Saturday, 14 November 2015

Observation selection effects misunderstood

I argue in my observation of the observable video that observation selection effects are part of evolutionary theory - and are simply the result of applying selection theory to observers. I notice that not everyone seems to be on the same page as me about this. Both John Campbell and Matt Ridley have recently ridiculed anthropic reasoning. In chapter one of The Evolution Of Everything, Matt Ridley compares the anthropic principle to a 'skyhook' and writes:

anybody outside a small clique of astronomers who had spent too long with their telescopes, the idea of the anthropic principle was either banal or balmy, depending on how seriously you take it. It so obviously confuses cause and effect. Life is adapted to the laws of physics, not visa versa.
John Campbell doesn't like observation selection effects either. Here are my comments on his treatment in Darwin does Physics, from my book review of it:

I agreed with John in most places - but there were a few areas of disagreement. One was the treatment of observation selection effects. I regard these as a key area where the usefulness of selection is already appreciated by physicists. "Observation of the observable" neatly generalizes Spencer's "Survival of the fittest". However, John's perspective is very different. He says that the anthropic principle is anthropocentric and criticises observation selection as being tautological and unscientific. It is true that the term "anthropic" has an anthropocentric name. However, I think that it is best to ignore the use of this stupid terminology and focus on observation selection effects. These are not tautological or unscientific. Indeed, they help support the case for the applicability of Darwinism to physics - since these selection effects are already well recognised by physicists as a source of 'goodness of fit' between physical law and humans. John has no coverage of this in his book - it seems like a fairly major omission to me.
Both Ridley and Campbell quote from the puddle parable of Douglas Adams to support their ideas. Douglas wrote:

Imagine a puddle waking up one morning and thinking, 'This is an interesting world I find myself in — an interesting hole I find myself in — fits me rather neatly, doesn't it? In fact it fits me staggeringly well, must have been made to have me in it!
Douglas is arguing that reasoning from apparent design to the existence of a creator is not sensible. However this isn't an argument against the utility of observation selection effects! Campbell and Ridley both need to rethink their positions.

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