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bigjeff5 comments on Mysterious Answers to Mysterious Questions - Less Wrong

72 Post author: Eliezer_Yudkowsky 25 August 2007 10:27PM

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Comment author: bigjeff5 29 January 2011 04:39:18PM 5 points [-]

Is it better to say "The problem is too big, lets just give up" or "The problem is too big for me, but I can start with X and find out how that works"?

It seems to me Lord Kelvin was saying the former, while Wohler clearly believed the latter, and proved it by synthesizing urea.

Did Wohler understand the intricacies of biology? No, of course not, but he proved they could be discovered, which is exactly what Kelvin was saying could not be done. After almost 200 years we still aren't done, but we do know a whole lot about the intricacies of biology, and we have a rough idea of how much farther we need to go to understand all of it. Furthermore, we understand that while biology is incredibly complex, it follows the same rules that govern the "fortuitous concurrence of atoms" as Kelvin put it.

Kelvin was plain wrong, and worse, his whole point was to discourage further research into biology. He was one of the people who said it could not be done, while Wohler just went ahead and did it.