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Alchemy, NK Boolean Style

Review of At Home in the Universe: The Search for the Laws of Self Organization and Complexityby Stuart Kauffman, New York: Oxford University Press Origins & Design 17:2

There's an old joke about the philosopher Rudolf Carnap and his method of doing philosophy. According to the joke, Carnap's method was to begin any philosophical investigation with the statement "Consider a formal language L." As the good logical positivist he was, Carnap desired the precision inherent in formal languages. Unfortunately, precision has its price. Formal languages are not natural languages and the problems expressible in formal languages need not connect to actual problems in the real world. With formal languages the question ever remains whether they adequately capture the subject under investigation.

Appropriately modified, the joke about Rudolf Carnap can be retold about Stuart Kauffman and the scientific method he employs in At Home in the Universe. According to the modified joke, Kauffman's method is to begin any scientific investigation with the statement "Consider an NK Boolean network." Indeed, throughout At Home in the Universe just about every real-world problem gets translated into a toy-world problem involving NK Boolean networks. As with Carnap's formal languages, NK Boolean networks have the advantage of complete logical precision. But they also suffer the disadvantage of losing touch with reality. And it is this disadvantage which ultimately proves the undoing of Kauffman's project.

Continue Reading at Origins & Design 17:2

William A. Dembski

Board of Directors, Discovery Institute
A mathematician and philosopher, Bill Dembski is the author/editor of more than 20 books as well as the writer of peer-reviewed articles spanning mathematics, engineering, philosophy, and theology. A past philosophy professor, he retired in 2014 from active research and teaching in intelligent design (ID) to focus on the connections between freedom, technology, and education — specifically, how education helps to advance human freedom with the aid of technology. Bill Dembski is presently an entrepreneur who builds educational software and websites. He lives near Denton, Texas.