RE: Books on rationality

From: Ben Goertzel (
Date: Thu Jun 06 2002 - 17:54:50 MDT


Ah, I think I was interpreting the phrase "after the fact" differently than

My point was that evolution-of-species theory has never successfully
predicted the evolution of a new species.

I.e., it has never made a successful prediction about a future event.

It has *sort of* made predictions about past events that were unknown at the
time the prediction was made

By "sort of", I mean

-- It has never predicted the details of an unknown *past* species, which
was later discovered, after the prediction was made

-- BUT, it has predicted the *general characteristics* of some unknown
species, which were later discovered, after the prediction was made (by
identifying "missing links" in evolutionary trees built from past species
already discovered)

This evidential weakness is why there are still some fairly intelligent
people pushing Scientific Creationism (though I am not one of them!)

Cosmology has actually done better. The Big Bang theory has actually
successfully predicted a present & future event: the cosmic background
radiation at the exact wavelength predicted by the Big Bang equations. This
empirical prediction, when validated by Arno Penzias & co. (in the 60's, I
think?), put an end to the Steady State Theory for all but a few diehards.

Still, these two theories do not at all fit the classic Popperian model of
science as experimental, or predictive. They are much more
"rationalizations" of observed evidence, after the fact (the observation of
the cosmic background radiation being an important exception).

-- Ben G

> > Science does not REQUIRE prediction before the fact, it only prefers it.
> >
> > Well-known counterexamples are:
> >
> > -- The theory of the evolution of species by natural selection
> > -- Cosmology: the theory of the origin of the universe
> >
> > Neither of these, at this point, has made any verifiable
> predictions before
> > the fact ;>
> Cosmology is not my field, but I find your statement astounding
> with respect
> to the evolution of species. It is true that it is difficult to
> predict, in
> advance, the exact DNA sequence, which exact mutations will occur in a
> succeeding generation, and so on. But evolution makes very specific
> predictions which are not made by the alternate hypotheses of either
> intelligent design or Lamarckian adaptation about what *kind* of
> designs we
> expect to see - incrementally evolvable ones - and very tightly constrains
> the space of what we expect to see relative to alternative
> hypotheses. Each
> and every time new observations fall within that very tight space
> and unique
> design signature predicted by evolution, and not the spaces and signatures
> predicted by Lamarckian inheritance or intelligent design, the theory of
> evolution racks up another successful ante facto prediction.
> -- -- -- -- --
> Eliezer S. Yudkowsky
> Research Fellow, Singularity Institute for Artificial Intelligence

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