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Interview with George Gilder Transcript
By: staff
Discovery
March 2, 2006


Bruce Chapman: This is Bruce Chapman and I’m with George Gilder, whom I’ve known for decades. And George, in all the decades that I’ve known you, you’ve had a progression of interests from International Affairs and Defense, to Economics, certainly the whole issue of feminism that came up in the Seventies and the book Sexual Suicide and then Men in Marriage that came out of that. Your whole work in the Supply-Side economics program, and then, I’m very aware, and some of our listeners are probably too, that your involvement in economics led you to look at the phenomenon of entrepreneurism, and that in turn led you to the important cutting edge of our economy which is the technology field. Now you’re examining, and I guess you really have before also, the interface of technology and biology as information systems. And what are, as you have done that, the similarities?

George Gilder: Well, I’d just written a book called, or published a book called, The Silicon Eye, which is about the effort of scientists to build an eye in silicon, the element used in microchips. And when these Caltech scientists gathered to build an eye in Silicon, they imagined that biologists understood the eye, they had some idea of how the eye worked. But when they examined the actual analysis of the eye, of the retina that dominated in biology they found it was totally worthless to someone who wanted to build an eye or to accomplish the functionality of an eye in silicon or carbon or whatever element you might use. It turned out that biology although it pretends to know the eye, doesn’t have an inkling about how the eye really works. And since they don’t know what they eye is, it’s unlikely that they are going to be able to explain how the eye might have evolved. And so this was how my exploration of technology led me to address the issue of evolution and whether a purely random evolutionary process could possibly produce some exquisitely designed kind of organ like the human eye. And like human vision. And it turned out that human vision is not a sense, it’s an intelligence. And its design is so intricate and amazing that it actually evinces some kind of designed principle. And the idea is that this evolved by random processes is just preposterous. It’s not as if it’s a close call, it’s just preposterous. That is not how that particular phenomenon happened. Now, this doesn’t necessarily mean that there is some grey-bearded god that intervened and created the eye in six days or anything. It just means that there is more intelligence in the universe than is in the can of the philosophy of the Darwinian totalists who dominate biology in our universities and can’t explain the eye of a fly, the eye of the neural system of a fly. How the fly eludes the swatter and is completely beyond the comprehension of biologists. And the human eye is even farther beyond the understanding of biologists.

Bruce Chapman: Well the title of that book is The Human Eye

George Gilder: Is The Silicon Eye.

Bruce Chapman: Excuse me, is The Silicon Eye. And I noticed that the Royal Society of Science in Britain has nominated it, or has identified that book, The Silicon Eye, as one of the top science books of the past year and has it in competition for the best science book of the past year. And I attribute that to your investigations, but also it’s a credit to the people you interview and talk about including Carver Mead. And Carver Mead has had some interesting things in that book to say about biology and about this presumption on the part of Darwinians and others that they know all the answers. That they develop computer models no less that explain everything. And I don’t want to speak, I don’t think you probably want to speak for Carver Mead about this, but describe some of the reservations that he and others have about the claims that we know all the answers to these issues.

George Gilder: Well, he likes to quote Newton. And Carver Mead is really, I think, the greatest mind of Silicon Valley. He was the sixth badge at Intel and was a close collaborator with Gordon Moore who was the founder of Intel. And Mead both researched the phenomena which came to be known as Moore’s Law and named Moore’s Law. And then he developed a lot of the chip design technology. He explored the tunnel diode which is a quantum tunneling. So he developed all sorts of ingenious and novel physical concepts and has shaped three generations of Silicon Valley technology. And he describes his efforts in Newtonian terms. If the great ocean of reality remains unexplored before him, he says, whenever I’ve really come to understand a particular point, it doesn’t close down to a point. It opens out infinitely in all directions. And so the idea that scientific exploration results in closing off reality into some single monistic theory like the universal solvent, as Daniel Dennet calls Darwinism, explains everything is just not true. Carver thinks that Darwinian Theory is useful in some applications, but you know, I don’t want to say that he is a complete ally of the Discovery Institute in intelligent design…

Bruce Chapman: Right.

George Gilder: He isn’t. If you asked him he wouldn’t. But he certainly rejects this idea that that’s all you got to know and that biology understands phenomena like the eye. And most of truly important scientists are humble before what they can know. And Robert Laughlin for example, who’s the Nobel Laureate Stanford professor of physics who explained the fractional quantum hall effect which is amazing phenomenon that is important in semi-conductor electronics, describes Darwinian theory as an all-purpose explanation which is an obstacle to scientific research rather than an enabler of it. It thwarts thinking. You don’t have to think anymore once you assign some amazing natural phenomenon to some Darwinian, random process. It becomes an obstacle to thought.

Bruce Chapman: I’m reminded of the argument that you, or the statement that you often get from Darwinists, that intelligent design and criticism of Darwin’s theory in general, constitutes a god-of-the-gaps argument. That we’ve found something that science can’t explain, therefore there must be God involved in it. And that’s really not the case. What I…

George Gilder: No, Darwinism is a god-of-the-gaps. Darwin, Darwinian theory is used to explain anything that biologists don’t understand.

Bruce Chapman: The other thing that seems to me is that the more you know about all of this the more, as you say, the more humble you are in the presence of what human beings know about the universe and about themselves. Carver Mead is a great technologist. David Berlinski, who is a senior fellow of Discovery, is a great mathematician, prize-winning science writer, in many ways a poly-math. He is good in so many different fields. And he has written about this and I know that you track pretty much with him also about what we don’t know, and probably can’t know. His brilliant essay in Commentary Magazine this spring…

George Gilder: Last month right?

Bruce Chapman: Right on The Origin of

George Gilder: March

Bruce Chapman: of Life. Essentially said, at the end that we really don’t know, and the people who claim that they do know are pulling the wool over our eyes or are trying to. And so, what is it about mathematicians and technologists? What do they know that these biologists who are Darwinists don’t know?

George Gilder: They know that information is fundamental to all the major sciences of our era including biology. And they also know that information tends to come from mind. Wherever you encounter information in the world it tends to be originated by some mind. And so, they also understand that some reality is hierarchical. That you can’t explain the higher levels by the lower levels. In other words, if you’re a computer scientist, you completely understand that being able to map every atom in a computer chip will not give you the slightest inkling of what that computer chip is doing. In order to understand what that computer chip is doing you have to understand the software that that computer chip is implementing. And in order to understand the software fully, you got to understand the source code which is produced by the programmer. And so the computer which is often regarded as a model of the brain and thus somehow giving of purely physical explanation for thought and imagination actually almost proves that the brain is a physical phenomenon cannot explain mind.

Bruce Chapman: It’s the opposite of what the assertion claims.

George Gilder: Yeah. It’s the opposite. Similarly from all these artificial life projects. There’s one at CalTech called Avida, there’s one at Michigan State, there’s one in Japan, there’s one in Oklahoma. They’re much celebrated for somehow proving Darwinism. And yet, these genetic algorithms that they design, all have target sequences that these entities have to pursue and they have fitness functions that determine, whether, how fitness is defined. They have software structuring the entire arena and they’re implemented on a computer which is chiefly based on microchips with seven hundred layers of incredibly nanometer-scale intricacy of design. And there’s almost no product in the world that’s so exquisitely and exhaustively designed as a computer. And so, to regard some genetic algorithm performed on a computer as a vindication of a random process is just self-evident nonsense. And it is an amazing phenomenon to see an entire culture just asserting the meaninglessness implicitly of their own thoughts. You know these people are…

Bruce Chapman: What do you call this phenomenon? When people say that something is every body is wrong about a topic and they manage to exclude themselves?

George Gilder: Yeah.

Bruce Chapman: They never include themselves in this deterministic description.

George Gilder: Yeah, well, they describe the brain as nothing but, C.S. Lewis called it nothing buttery. They explain their brain as nothing but the atoms that compose it. And as Haldane, the great British biologist put it, if the brain was nothing but atoms, I’d have no reason to believe the products of this brain, or the no reason to believe that my brain was in fact composed of atoms.

Bruce Chapman: That’s right.

George Gilder: And Max Dellbrook who is one of the great physicists and biologists of the twentieth century, said that this effort to reduce my brain to material flux reminded him of nothing so much, this is the scientists’ efforts to reduce brain to material explanations entirely, reminded him of nothing so much as Baron Munchausen’s efforts to extract himself from a swamp by pulling on his own hair. I mean these people have to come to terms with the fact that reality is hierarchical. You can’t reduce biology to chemistry and physics. No matter how much you know about the chemistry and physics of a biological process, you cannot from that knowledge understand cat or a rabbit, let alone a human mind. It’s, reality is hierarchical. Now commonly throughout the history of the human race we’ve identified the summit of the hierarchy with God and scientists don’t have to use the term ‘god’ if it offends them. But they do have to comprehend the hierarchical structure of reality, that the lower levels do not explain the upper level. That understanding everything about the physics of a microchip does not explain what the microchip, what function the microchip is performing. You can’t reduce biology to chemistry and physics. Trying to do a model of a human on the basis of its chemistry would be like designing a model of the World Trade Center with Lego blocks. The Lego blocks are too crude an instrument to model anything significant about Columbia tower or World Trade Center.

Bruce Chapman: Why do you think all these people make this mistake? I mean if you go to Silicon Valley, I would imagine that you would find a great many people who think that Darwin’s just fine. They may not have studied them since they were in high school or college, but maybe that’s why they tend to think that this is still an important guiding theory and yet all their work goes in the other direction. The old saying in computers was garbage-in garbage-out. Well the opposite also applies intelligence-in intelligence-out. And they see that everyday. Why that they have this in their lives, they have this excitement, and really, desire to pursue creativity, and to express themselves through this medium of technology. And yet, when you get them on the subject of theory they’re these stark determinists.

George Gilder: Well, it is strange. I think that Darwinism does have the appeal of being a simple theory that excludes mystery. And it you know, but it doesn’t really work so the usual solution that physics offers is termed multiple parallel universes. And it’s infinite multiple parallel universes. And this is based on the misconception or reification on Feynman’s path integrals in physics. Feynman developed this…

Bruce Chapman: Richard Feynman…

George Gilder: Richard Feynman…

Bruce Chapman: …of CalTech.

George Gilder: …the great CalTech physicist who worked with Carver Mead on a course called physics of computation for several years and is one of the great Nobel Laureate physicists of the era. And his great invention was path integrals. He could compute the path of an electron by assuming that the electron took all possible paths and then the interference patterns among the various wave functions of all the quantum wave functions of all the electrons would end up defining the actual path. And this is a heuristic device which allows you to accomplish a very difficult computation simply. And what happened was physicists took this heuristic device, that is essentially a useful technique for calculation, and projected it onto the universe and assumed that the electron actually takes all these infinite numbers of possible paths and not only takes these paths, but each electron compounds itself into a separate universe. And so you have infinite multiple parallel universes. This is actually widely believed by many physicists. They…

Bruce Chapman: By the way, its also…

George Gilder: And it was on the cover of The Scientific American. “Multiple Parallel Universes are Real” trumpeted The Scientific American. And the reason for this, and this has been adopted by the biologists because you can’t actually show how any Darwinian process could create the complexity of biological reality. In other words, its infinitely impossible…but if you have infinite numbers of multiple parallel universes you can assume that we just lucked out in this universe. And therefore that redeemed Darwinism from an otherwise impossible critique from information theory which really shows that there’s too much information in biology to be explained by any random process like Darwinian theory. My essential assumption is that just as at the beginning of the twentieth century, the entry into the microcosm, that’s the world of the very small, resulted in the overthrow of Newtonian physics. When it turned out that the atom was not a little lump of mass, unbreakable and massy and that it was in fact an arena of extraordinarily complex quantum information. And that discovery of the actual world of the atom, that governed by completely different rules than the Newtonian classical physics, overthrew classical Newtonian physics during the 20th century. Similarly today, the discovery that the cell, the biological cell, accomplishes more computing than all the supercomputers in the world put together, is a phenomenal, amazing information processor, every human cell, and there are three hundred trillion of them in a human body all integrated mysteriously in systems of extraordinarily dense information. The discovery of the cell will eventually doom Darwinian biology. When Darwin wrote, the assumption was that the cell was a very simple thing. It was often described as a simple lump of protoplasm. And it’s a fabulously complex information processor that excels anything that human beings could build on a computer. And that’s really what The Silicon Eye, my book with Norton, is really exploring-the incredible difficulty of simulating or creating on a computer an eye that can function. And that did. You know this project could not produce an eye, but it did produce a chip that is a phenomenal photo detector for a camera. And it’s the foveon camera that emerged from this exploration of the physics and biology of the eye.

Bruce Chapman: Well, why do you think it’s the case that people who are skeptical to a fault that intelligent design is science in the first place and good science in the second place. Even though people like Behe and Dembski and Meyer - and others have laid out the scientific argument are totally credulous about something like parallel universes for which there’s no evidence or space aliens with panspermia bringing life from outer space to earth as an explanation for the origin of life…

George Gilder: This is correct. This is correct…

Bruce Chapman: How can they, How can they…that’s Francis Crick…How can people in their own heads, be totally credulous about that and accept it as science which ought to be allowed to be taught in the classroom as science and absolutely angrily denounce intelligent design?

George Gilder: Well because Intelligent Design is not understood for what it is - an explanation for the hierarchical structures evident in nature. Instead it’s widely depicted as some god-of-the-gaps theory. And that’s just a caricature and a misrepresentation. But the media has drummed in to everybody’s heads, or most people’s heads, and all across the country and around the world many people believe that intelligent design is just an insidious way of infiltrating religion into the classroom. And that’s what they think. And if you think that, then you think that’s gonna…

Bruce Chapman: Well…

George Gilder: …that’s gonna reduce the rigor of science education. And many people don’t want, I don’t want science, if I thought that’s what Intelligent Design was I wouldn’t want it in the classroom either. And so, I want rigorous science education. The fact is that Intelligent Design theory is much more rigorous and demanding than Darwinian theory. You have to understand information theory. You have to understand mathematics of an advanced kind. It’s very rigorous and difficult to develop the truths of Intelligent Design. And so the facile, simplistic, sort-of survival-of-the-fittest with random mutations somehow becomes the dominant theory. And it really is, as Robert Laughlin said, this is an obstacle to thought rather than an enabler of it.

Bruce Chapman: Well you know that many people who should know better surely have to understand that when Intelligent Design is denounced as not science, and therefore do not allow someone like Mike Behe to appear on the pages of Science magazine to defend his position, but nonetheless feel that they should really ballyhoo a report out of Oregon, University of Oregon, by Thornton et al that they have disproved irreducible complexity, Behe’s theory of irreducible complexity. That when then Behe turns around and others, and answers that they can see immediately the flaw, so much so that this guy has taken it off his website. They can’t stand the light of direct confrontation. This makes me think that there’s more at stake here and there’s a certain air of desperation in the Darwinist camp.

George Gilder: Well I think they are desperate because they, you know, anybody who tries to beat down their opponents and avoid debate is insecure about the validity of their position. I was supposed to debate Richard Dawkins on National Public Radio and twenty minutes before the program he called in and said he refused to debate, but he would appear after me and then they had another Darwinian named Ruse…

Bruce Chapman: Michael Ruse…

George Gilder: …sum up the debate at the end and…

Bruce Chapman: This is called fair play on National Public Radio.

George Gilder: Yeah, and it was amusing. I mean Dockins had nothing to say of, you know he just accused me of being some sort of religious fanatic which was totally alien to anything I’d said on the programs. So the attack on me as some religious fanatic was, it’s quite exhilarating to be shot at and missed entirely. I spent thirty years studying science in various ways, I make my living analyzing semi-conductor companies and fiber-optic companies and I write the Gilder technology report. You know, I’m really, my life, my career, is devoted to science in various forms, Science and technology. And I think one of the things that’s happened is that the Darwinians have claimed technology, the authority of technology, to support their position. Daniel Dennett did an article in a book in which he said he doesn’t see any of these Intelligent Design people refusing to ride in airplanes because the doubt the validity of science. And he’s profiteering on the accomplishments of engineers. And one of the remarkable things about engineers, if you really are a disciplined engineer, you understand the fabulous intricacy of the designs that biology manifests. And thus, lots of engineers actually support Intelligent Design. They recognize a design when they see it. And it’s…

Bruce Chapman: I gladly…

George Gilder: And it doesn’t mean necessarily that there is some god. You know people imagine this tinker-toy view of god and ascribe it to us, but you know intelligence is manifestly a natural phenomenon not a supernatural phenomenon. And human beings, billions of them, manifest intelligence. Intelligence clearly is something that can happen in nature. And there’s no reason why intelligence can’t have emerged in the process of producing the phenomena that we describe. And that can be within nature. It doesn’t necessarily imply a supernatural source. But if you understand the hierarchies of knowledge you can understand that each level has its own rules, its own meanings and applicability and at the summit it’s probably beyond our understanding. I don’t think that God is a scientific category. I think it represents the mystical and amazing summit of reality and it has nothing to do with my science. My science, I readily acknowledge that my science can’t encompass God. And it would be ludicrous for any scientist to say he can encompass God. And so that’s the…

Bruce Chapman: And I think it’s helpful to remember how this got started. That intelligent design doesn’t profess to identify God as the designer…

George Gilder: As ‘The Designer’. It’s sort of a…

Bruce Chapman: Right, right, and so what we’ve got is an alternative theory to Darwin’s that is nonetheless theistic-friendly. That is to say that it’s compatible with any religious understanding that includes God, the Judeo-Christian personal God. And then that seems to set people off on the other side of this. But in effect, part of this is scientists rebelling against the anti-theistic assumptions of Darwinists. Such as Daniel Dennett, he’s a perfect example who’s writing a book on this topic. Dawkins is writing an anti-religious book now. When it comes down to it they can’t wait to get to that. That’s the bottom line for them, is that materialism, scientism, positivism, however you want to describe it, encapsulated in science disproves God or shows that there is no god as necessary for any action. How they think science can show that is quite astonishing. That they feel free to say that. And it makes me think that there is a worldview implication. Now I’m going to conclude by asking you about the worldview implications because you have been now writing about, as I said at the outset, about gender studies, about economics and many other subjects over the years. And what are the implications or to turn it around, how do those subjects also feed into this?

George Gilder: I think economics is really the best example and the Darwinian theory is a Darwinian materialist theory of a dog-eat-dog world as they describe it and the winners prevail and they eat the losers. And this is a zero-sum game. It’s a game where any success has to be compensated by the losses of some looser. And so the ultimate result is zero. You gained and somebody else looses and this is the greatest evil in economics I believe. The belief in a zero-sum game causes all the most vicious and destructive movements on the face of the earth. You know…

Bruce Chapman: Karl Marx was a big fan of Darwin’s theory.

George Gilder: Yeah, Karl Marx had this dialectical materialism. And what Darwinism focuses you on are limited resources and a competitive struggle for limited resources. And what supply-side economics affirms is the infinite resources of human creativity. If you really believe that the economics is a zero-sum game then you’re chiefly preoccupied with the pattern of the distribution of the benefits and you also believe that any group that succeeds disproportionately must be exploiting the groups that succeed less well. So Darwinism leads to a kind of anti-Semitism very readily because it’s assumed that these Jews who have been the dominant force in influencing twentieth century science. They invented all, it’s overwhelmingly Jewish. Jews are successful all over the world. So Darwinians believe that somehow Jewish success must mean that somebody else is losing. So it yields this terrible blight of anti-Semitism. But as I showed in Wealth and Poverty this is typical all around the world. The Ibos in Nigeria are most productive and so the Hausas all want to exterminate the Ibos. And the assumption that the success of the Ibos accounts for the failures of the Muslim Hausas. And today, all around the world, the Muslims want to have this fantasy that the successes of the West or the successes of Jews somehow account for the failures of the Muslims and so they want to exterminate the Jews. And this is all the result of this zero-sum dog-eat-dog model of Darwinism which has captured the imagination of people all around the world.

Bruce Chapman: You know I have to tell you that there’s a lot of good news and some of it is, speaking of Muslims, we’ve had some I think, six scientists who are Muslims in the last ten days who have written in to join our Dissent from Darwin. So there is lots of good news on all these fronts. But we’ve seen what you are describing all around the world…

George Gilder: And I hope they understand the implications of Intelligent Design and…

Bruce Chapman: They do. I…

George Guilder: And infinite creativity…

Bruce Chapman: I think they do. And in any event I think your work is opening up people’s minds to the exciting pathway ahead and I hope that listeners or people interested in this will go to the Discovery Institute website, www.discovery.org, to learn more about it. And I don’t think I am giving anything away by saying that George Gilder with whom I’ve been talking is doing some important writing on this topic right now that will help bring up-to-date some of his own thoughts that he will share in old-fashioned print medium sometime in the not to distant future. Thanks you.

George Gilder: Thank you.


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