Saturday, 12 November 2011

Where do buses come from?

Let's try something offbeat for the weekend :-

Sometimes it can be useful to take a frivolous idea and push it far enough to bring out something that isn’t quite so frivolous. Let’s take the evolution of the Routemaster, the archetypal red London bus.

Now it seems to me that a few billion years ago when the earth was a ball of molten rock, the possible development of the Routemaster could not possibly have been foreseen. In other words, there is no conceivable chain of cause and effect leading from that ball of molten rock to the Routemaster. Or do Earth-like planets always evolve Routemasters?

No - too weird. We’d have to stick like a limpet to the principle of cause and effect and claim that somewhere in that ball of molten rock, the Routemaster was encoded in a way we don’t understand.

Well one could still look at it like that - insist that explicable evolution goes that far back, but it obviously doesn’t. It might be more sensible to say that the Routemaster was not encoded in the ball of rock and there is no chain of cause and effect linking them. Cause and effect is a valuable principle, but it doesn’t explain everything.

Okay, so do we then say that between then and now at some diffuse and indefinable point in our history, the conditions leading to the Routemaster arose? Or do we talk vaguely of emergent properties, which seems to be much the same angle? Or do we suggest that buses are universal phenomena?

Or do we admit that the universe seems to be creative?

Do we admit that within the bounds of universal laws, the universe can generate a new state of affairs which could not possibly have been predicted from any older state of affairs via cause and effect and universal law? The universe created the Routemaster in a way we do not understand scientifically or philosophically.

We have our theory of evolution and a few ideas on how life might have evolved from non-life, but it doesn't stretch back to a ball of molten rock and certainly doesn't include Routemasters. If we start with the molten rock, we don't understand where the human genome came from either.


David Duff said...

Sorry to be frivolous but Routemasters are themselves a proof that something can come from nothing. You can wait on an empty street for ages and then two will materialise simultaneously!

Sam Vega said...

It is possible for there to be a conceivable chain of cause and effect from the molten rock to the routemaster. Many scientists could run through versions of how it could happen, the main sticky patch being around the emergence of purposes and intentions within evolved sentient beings. But this does not mean that earth-like planets always evolve routemasters.

Owen Barfield is useful on descriptions of pre-history (i.e. what was going on before there were people around to see it). What we think happened is a mere model, and it is what Barfield called "super-naive realism" to assume that those models are actual descriptions.

A K Haart said...

DD - ah but how do they materialise?

SV - I know what you mean and I used to see it like that. I've shifted my view in recent years because I think there is too much speculation and we know too little about complexity and emergent properties.

I now prefer to say that we don't know, if only to remain open to a wider range of possibilities.

JuliaM said...

"DD - ah but how do they materialise?"

I think it's caused by you sighing at the length of the wait, then lighting up a cigarette... ;)

James Higham said...

Yes, perhaps the question is about the behaviour of routemasters, as David indicated above.

A K Haart said...

JM - no it's just the sigh - I do good sighs.

JH - of course - the behaviour of Routemasters doesn't even follow cause and effect now.