Kicking Away The Ladder?

As an engineer, I’ve always found  engineering analogies for evolution particularly engaging. One of the reasons I’m a big fan of Dan Dennett’s scaffolding, cranes and sky-hooks. In learning and in the philosophy of knowledge – epistemology – building in stages commonly uses the idea of ladders between levels – often with the idea that having reached one level, the ladder that got you there appears to now be redundant – “just” a piece of history. It can be pulled-up or kicked-away now you are safe and secure on your new level.

In fact the status of the ladders and steps that got us where we are are, are maybe better illustrated in this graphic from New Scientist:


I think the intent here was that the earlier steps were uncertain, faltering and difficult and the later structures get more solid over time. Engineering-wise counter-intuitive that the more solid stuff is higher up in the edifice? But I see a view that says the older steps and ladders – behind us in time – are falling into disrepair when they’re no longer being maintained and used for current work – and the edifice collapses.

The accompanying story is the usual “hype” – a 2016 story “bigger than Higgs and Gravitational Waves”. Bigger also, because it’s a new, even heavier, mass-causing particle beyond the standard model. I still don’t buy that the Higgs Boson or any other mass-causing particle can “have” mass, but that’s by-the-by. (The stories of the double-bump indications of the new massive “particle” have been circulating for a while.)

My real problem with the news item is seeing the completion of the standard model as “the end of a road” – something now behind us – the new stuff, any new particle, being somewhere beyond it. The further out we get, the bigger the problem with presuming our existing models are complete as well as correct. There are still enough indications of doubt and unexplained indications in both the standard particle and standard cosmological models, that no amount of confirmation of the components of our existing models should be presumed for future endeavours. Simply constructing the new from what we believe we know about the existing. Imaginative research and testing should continue to work on the scope of the existing models – with potential new directions branching off from lower down, behind us historically.

Treating them as “job done”, they will simply fall into disrepair.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.