The Irreducible Complexity of Technology

I’ve pointed out before that several of the foundations of electrical engineering, especially subatomic particles, are more mysterious than scientist-witches let on. However, I have not made the connection to technology explicit. Careful readers will be aware of my affinity for Luddite critic Neil Postman who, like Michael Jackson, Benazir Bhutto, and Heath Ledger,  is dead. My conclusions about technology are even more unsettling than Postman’s for, combined with his, they demonstrate that Technopoly is actually Cultic Technopoly – for technology in addition to exercising pre-rational control over our culture, is also magical.

My basic claim is that many technological devices in their current states cannot be explained within a consistent historical progression connecting to primitive inventions and discoveries – e.g. fire, the wheel, and language. In this sense technology is irreducibly complex. Put another way: there are evolutionary gaps in the development of technology.

My first example comes from communication technology, especially cell phones. A long time ago it was discovered that you could talk into a tube and it would help the sound along quite a distance, and someone could hear you on the other end, maybe a few feet away. Then, there was a tangential invention of making lights (fires) light up and little bleeping sounds happen and these could be translated into language. Irrelevant. What I’m really interested in is the development of the telephone. We basically jumped to the development of the telephone. How did we learn that voices could magically – and silently (!) – be transported across great distances, even oceans (!), and come out on the other end completely intelligible? Add to that the fact that millions of voices can exist, perfectly separate and unconfused, in the same tiny thin wire! Add to that the fact that phone lines still work when the power is out and therefore need zero energy to operate! Add to that the fact that phone companies can add people to phone service without adding anything to the wires! Add to that the fact that you could be swimming in the Pacific and run into a phone line somewhere (?). Add to that the fact that there are satallites! How did we get from magically sending endless silent transfigured audio information which morphs back into voices through wires, to magically sending it through the air??!? The air, a.k.a empty space? You’ve got to be kidding me. Sometimes I talk through the air directly, and people don’t understand what I’m saying. What if I try talking to someone in China through the air, where my voice has to make several stops before getting there. Somehow, because of a box I hold into my ear, and some kind of spacecraft allegedly in outer space, and a box in their ear, and big towers with bleeping lights at the top so they don’t get hit by airplanes, they can hear me perfectly. Something fishy is going on here. Where’s the transitional development between talking through a short tube without electricity and talking into a magic box which sends invisible nothings into outer space and back through the atmosphere? What? It’s unbelievable. Wrap your mind around it, you can’t. To fully grasp the massive gaps in the history of technology, consider the diagram below of the evolution of telecommunication.


Academics are always making the completely asinine claim that such-and-such was the “first computer,” where “such-and-such” often is an abacus, and occasionally the human brain. Sorry, there is not legitimate connection between some guys playing with beads at a table and Google Earth. There are too many differences which cannot be bridged by any transitional cultural technological fossils. For one thing, computers today use electricity, which no one understands. We know how to conjure it, how to stop it from killing us in some cases, and that’s it. Try having a scientists explain electricity to you sometime. It’s complete bullshit (see glossary), like when a theologian tries to explain the doctrine of the trinity. At least the trinity doesn’t use electricity (usually).  In addition to the sudden transition from non-electric to electric, there is a transition from visible to invisible. We can all understand simple machines, like windmills or crowbars. But many parts of the computer, most everything aside from the cooling fan, are invisible. Look at a motherboard. What do you see? You see nothing useful. Consider the bizarre photographic representation below.


What do you see? Nothing. Some white lines. A lot of spider-looking things. Some blue strips. A collection of things that look like a toy city, like when you’re in an airplane, and so on. Certainly nothing that looks like what shows up on your computer monitor screen. So how do we get to the point where we can make these things? Certainly none of the parts are useful by themselves. Many people will say: we have robots build them, since our hands are too big to build tiny things. But we built the robots in the first place! And besides, the only way we can tell robots what to do is with computers. And how did we know what invisible things to do on a flat board in order to make movies with Matt Damon appear on a shiny screen (which, by the way, is connected via a single wire)?

Computer technology also lends itself to many reductio ad absurdum arguments. For example, it means that the law of the conservation of things is false. For example, when I download the new Regina Spektor album, what have I added to my computer? Nothing. Magnets have just shifted around or something. Magnets, which by the way are essential to Hinduism. In any case, how can magnets produce Matt Damon’s face anyway? But back to the reductios. In addition to it being absurd that I can create something on my computer out of nothing, a.k.a Ex-Nihilism, it is additionally absurd that I could theoretically create a movie simply by moving magnets around, which hasn’t been created yet. According to computer science this is possible.

A third example of how technology is irreducibly complex which I don’t presently have the time to get into is the video camera, which cannot be explained with any coherency. For one thing, video cameras are supposedly not actually recording motion, they are recording frames of still images. This leads to the conclusion that video cameras are not video camera, a rather Orwellian turn of events if you ask me.

“Never shop when you’re hungry” = nonsense

Because we live in a materialistic culture bent on the nihilistic destruction of objective values, many financial advisers tell us to never shop when we are hungry. A quintessential example comes from a Wiccan guru site called the “Money Instructor.” Read the money-loving abominations here. If you scroll down on this page to the section entitled “Don’t Shop on an Empty Stomach,” you will read the following intellectually malnourished drivel:

Don’t shop when you are hungry.  People tend to buy more, and a larger amount of the things they don’t need when they are hungry, so always shop with a full stomach.  Also, prepare to dress more warmly, since supermarkets are often cold, because the cold temperatures actually makes you hungry so you buy more!

First, I want to start out by putting an assumption of mine out on the table: we need food. In recent years, scholarship has confirmed this.

The mistakes in the above paragraph’s conjectures are so numerous and interconnected that I don’t know how to order my refutations. I’ll just go sentence by sentence, and apologize now for any lack of cohesion. Consider the sentence

People tend to buy more, and a larger amount of the things they don’t need when they are hungry, so always shop with a full stomach.

First, no empirical evidence whatsoever is offered in support of either the explicit claim that people buy more things they need and don’t need when they are hungry, or the implicit claim that being full reduces the phenomenon of buying many and unnecessary things. But let’s say the first claim – that hungry people buy what they don’t need – is true. Given Plato’s Law of Symmetry, will it not also be true that full people fail to buy what they do need? This follows axiomatically.

Next, consider the language game being played with the word “need.” How is this word being employed? It’s not obvious. The author cannot possibly mean need in the Singerian sense, since according to Peter Singer we don’t need money. There is 0% probability that “The Money Instructor” believes this, especially since the function of shopping when you are full is evidently so that you can have more money to bathe in while you are at home.

So obviously The Money Instructor is using “need” in a less severe, but still substantive sense. Maybe “need” is relative,” in the sense of “I need potatoes more than I need ice cream sandwiches.” But Dr. Atkins has proven that potatoes are in fact worse for you than ice cream sandwiches. So perhaps the comparison is celery vs. cotton candy. I “need” celery, because I need a category of which celery is part: “healthy food.” But I don’t “need” cotton candy because it is not part of the category “healthy food.” But wait? Can you taste a straw man? Who eats cotton candy because it is in the category “healthy food?” Answer: psychopaths at MSNBC.

So here’s the crux: We eat cotton candy because it is part of other categories: fun, or human parties, or piety, or some other category. The Money Instructor, and Wiccan nihilists like her, think the only value on mother earth is money, and hording it in your house. If we affirm other values, like making our grandchildren smile, we will acknowledge that purchasing things we don’t need is actually purchasing things we do need. Because we need to make our grandchildren smile.

But back to the pseudo-economics/psychology. Who exactly are you shopping for? Most basically, you are shopping for yourself. Let’s ignore for the moment the reality of guests and grandchildren and girlfriends, since The Money Instructor apparently thinks they don’t exist. Are you shopping for your hungry self or your gorged self? Obviously you are shopping for your hungry self. And solipsism teaches us that no one knows your needs better than you. So by deduction no one knows the needs of your hungry self better than your hungry self. Unless you are an ascetic and think satisfying physical desires is wicked, you can’t resist the force of this argument. If you aren’t hungry, you will rationalize – at the expense of the part of you that actually needs to eat – all sorts of evils, like not buying hummus, or ice cream sandwiches, or bread, or even baby carrots for that matter. You’ll buy two dozen eggs and bottled water and a multivitamin and you’ll steal exactly one paper plate. That sounds horrific, a veritable holocaust of a financial philosophy.

So my advice is: shop when you are hungry. Not too hungry, or else you’ll faint in the store, or hallucinate and buy the wrong things, like Triscuits instead of Club Crackers, or Meijer brand Mac and Cheese instead of Kraft. But shop when you’re in the mood for approximately one hardy meal. Your hungry self will thank you now, three hours from now, and three hours after that. Your midnight hungry self will thank you. Your morning self will thank you. Your guests will thank you. Your grandchildren will thank you. You will have good physical sensations at regular intervals throughout the day. You will not need to take a multivitamin. The only thing you sacrifice is the chance to roll around in your cash that you didn’t spend on chips and salsa. But rolling around in cash is gross, and unusual.