Posted by: Dan | December 10, 2006

Cell Intelligence as a Heuristic Framework

While browsing some blogs this evening, I caught a link from Krauze on Telic Thoughts to a wiki piece on “Examples in ID Heuristics”: cell intelligence:

In 2004, an article by Kenji Yasuda on the analysis of genetic and epigenetic controls appeared in the Journal of Nanobiotechnology. (Yasuda is not a member of the ID community.) In this article, Yasuda takes up an “intelligent cells” paradigm in order to derive methods of measuring epigenetic information. This research paper is very instructive for ID researchers and theorists. It is pedagogical in showing how heuristics can aid a researcher, a great example of how to introduce new approaches to your research community, and how to take heuristic ideas and apply them in the lab.

From Yasuda’s paper, section 2 (emphasis from the “ResearchID” wiki):

“The advantage of this approach is that it bypasses the complexity of underlying physicochemical reactions which are not always completely understood and for which most of the necessary variables cannot be measured. Moreover, this approach shifts the view of cell regulatory processes from the basic chemical ground to the paradigm of a cell as an information-processing unit working as an intelligent machine capable of adaptation to changing environmental and internal conditions. It is an alternative representation of the cell and can bring new insight into cellular processes. Moreover, models derived from such a viewpoint can directly help in the more traditional biochemical and molecular biological analyses of cell control.”

The “ResearchID” (I put that in quotation marks, because any reference to ID, who’s adherents fail to step foot in a research lab, as research, is a farce) wiki goes on to examine various points on the usage of heuristics…

1. The research is parareductive in nature. It takes an approach similar to systems biology, which looks at top-down organization. The study is focused on cell systems as integrated wholes, and how information is processed by cellular activity.

Sure – any study necessarily simplifies complex issues that are peripheral to the specific aims of that study. The question should be – “Does this holistic approach tell us anything new about anything interesting?” As they describe in their abstract, “The knowlege acquired from this study will lead to the use of cells for fully controlled practical applications like cell-based drug screening and the regeneration of organs.” From that, I gather that their approach (whatever you want to call it) helped them design novel methods – nothing new there, that’s just engineering.

2. The cell is heuristically defined as an intelligent entity, and this view is taken as an axiom. (Fuller’s Hypothetical heuristic – “Fuller’s hypothetical – Hypothetically viewing certain phenomena in the universe as designed, whether the researcher holds that the objects under study are actually designed or not, for the express purposes of deriving novel data, hypotheses, experiments, and technological applications”)

Okay, Yasuda may or may not have viewed the cells as designed, to derive some methods for studying cell-based drug screening and the regeneration of organs. So what? (A) Yasuda doesn’t explain his heuristics, the wiki is just playing semantics with their interpretations of the wording his used; and (B) Yasuda makes those assumptions to design new assays, not uncover anything new about cell biology.

3. The research goals do not include acquiring evidence showing the cell as an intelligent entity, or what type of intelligence the cell possesses, whether it be computational intelligence, algorithmic intelligence, adaptive intelligence, or conscious intelligence. (question detachability heuristic – “Can the universe be studied using ID-theoretic premises without simultaneously bungling into metaphysics?”)

By now it should be becoming clear that the wiki authors are arguing that if ID is wrong, it helps advance biological discovery. Yet, there is no biological discovery associated with this paper, only engineering design for biotechnology, and it’s no secret that a “design-centric” approach may help one design something. This is also reflected by point 4:

4. The research goals are not investigating any putative designer of the cell’s structure, whether the designer is a chance-based process or an intentional act is irrelevant to this particular application. (design-centrism heuristic)

5. The author explicitly states that this view is a ‘shift’ in the ‘paradigm’ on biology’s view of the cell. The author is presenting an ‘alternative representation’. (a design paradigm shift)

Yes, but does it actually “bring new insight into cellular processes”? No, it doesn’t. Will it ever? Perhaps, but not likely. Would it lend any credence to the inference that a designer exists? Well, it certainly hasn’t in its application in theoretical physics, or any other area of study (and yes, “design-centric” approaches have been used to some effect in terms of deriving the constants in physics, or so I’m told). So, again, big deal.

6. In the ‘conclusions’ section, it is implied that the worth of the research is based on practicality and usefulness, not whether the research axioms comply with any metaphysical demarcation like methodological naturalism. (Scientific pragmatism heuristic)

That’s reading a LOT into the paper in question. To wit, the actual conclusions section:

We have newly developed and have just started to use a series of methods for understanding the meaning of genetic information and epigenetic information in a simple cell model system. The most important expected contribution of this project is to reconstruct the concept of a cell regulatory network from the ‘local’ (molecules expressed at certain times and places) to the ‘global’ (the cell as a viable, functioning system). Knowledge of epigenetic information, which we can control and change during their life, is complementary to genetic information, and those two kinds of information are indispensable for living organisms. This new kind of knowlege has the potential to be the basis of a new field of science.

… It’s pathetic how this site used a simple biotech paper, read into it, and twisted it around to their own ends – appearing rather innocuous the entire time.


  1. The cell is heuristically defined as an intelligent entity, and this view is taken as an axiom.

    Did I get somrthing completely wrong? I always thought ID is searching for an intelligent design (at the same time resisting to name the designer). Do they now attribute intelligence rather then design to the living matter?

  2. Yep, that line is patently absurd, isn’t it?

  3. IDiot, aka Roger Rabbit, thanks for playing – and consider me fooled. Yes, you’ve embarrassed me with the trick – but like I’ve said, you’re not welcome here. Byebye.

  4. […] Yep, I admit it, I’ve been had. A commentor labeling himself as “IDiot” joined in on this thread this morning (12/14), with nonsensical arguments. […]

  5. And I just LOVE how these right-wing crazies have the gall to use the term “junk science” for evolution and global warming studies. Un-freaking-real.


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