The Corner

Failing the Cab Test

A fine evening at the Robert Taft club last night, putting the world to rights in the matter of design vs. no-design in the evolution of living things. I was primed for a fight, but it all turned out very friendly & collegial, mainly thanks to Charles Murray at his avuncular best. Tom Bethell put the case that the natural world is so mind-bogglingly complex, there must be a Designer making it all work. I put the case that the Left ought to have more trouble with Darwin than the Right. Ron Bailey promoted his book, which you darn well ought to buy, and Marcus Epstein was an excellent and even-handed moderator, except for the occasions when he cut me off.

Oh: Prof. Michael Hart was in the audience: you ought to buy his book too. Also our own Jim Manzi, to whom the following clarification, which I would have made on the spot if that fool moderator had not cruelly and maliciously cut me off. I entirely agree that true machine intelligence is not on the current horizon, nor even the next one. My favorite comment here is by Doug Hofstadter, who has thought more about thought than anyone alive (I think). Interviewed about his latest book for one of the science magazines—Seed, I think it was—Doug declared his utter lack of interest in computers because “they don’t have concepts.” Just so. HOWEVER, one can never be too careful with never-gonna-happen statements. The history of science is littered with pronouncements that such-and-such is never gonna happen, just a scant few years—months, in some cases—before it happens. My favorite is the bloke who said mankind will never, ever know what the stars are made of, a fortnight (or something) before the invention of the spectroscope.

It wouldn’t be a Derb evening without a Derb screw-up. I managed to leave my wallet in a cab on the way to the event, leaving myself penniless and undocumented in the slushy wastes of Arlington, Va. I put out a mayday call to the Taft audience, and they responded magnificently. Many, many thanks to all the kind people who helped (among whom, Tom Bethell, bless him—I told you this was collegial). Checks will be in the mail as soon as I get home.

OK, off to catch the Chinatown bus. WE ARE NOT RESPONSE FOR BELONGING says the disclaimer over the driver’s seat. I must strive to be a little more response for my belonging.


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