Dynamical Systems and Intelligent Design

• scott
well, anywhere on the planet, you would see that the surface looks very smooth and round from a distance, but up close you'd see that its actually quite bumpy.f

scott

I've been thinking, and I've come up with a sort of Intelligent Design argument in reverse against the existence of a God.

It occurs to me that perfect shapes, such as circles, squares, rectangles, right triangles, etc .. are the product of an intelligent mind. In other words it takes an intelligent mind to conceive of, and create these shapes.

Non-linear systems on the other hand, are capable of producing (through iteration of a very simple function) patterns of astounding complexity, complexity that arises without the intervention of an intelligence.

If I said to you, "graph a shape such that it has three straight sides, the angles add up to 180 degrees, the length of one side is equal to the square root of the sum of the other two sides squred, etc .." you would graph points that formed a triangle. You would have to carefully plot each point so that it obeyed these rules.

If on the other hand I said "create the Mandelbrot set". All you would have to do essentially is "flick the switch" and start the simple equation x->x^2+c iterating. The amazing shape would be generated without you having to think about how and where each point should be plotted.

The Mandelbrot set is one example of a function of a dynamical, or non-linear system. The signature of the dynamical system is the fractal shape. Not smooth, not straight, not square or perfectly round, but fractal. These very complex fractal patterns are generated without intervention by intelligent beings.

When you look out the window, excluding man-made objects, virtually everything you can lay your eyes on bears a fractal pattern. Not a square, not a circle, not a sphere, but fractal. Therefore, no intelligence was required to generate every non-man-made object and phenomenon we can experience.

An idea of an "intelligent designer" by definition includes intelligence. Since all the patterns of nature bear a fractal fingerprint of a non-linear process requiring no intelligence, then it follows that it is not necessary to explain the existence of all we survey by attributing it to an intelligent designer. And in fact, since perfect shapes requiring intelligence do not occur in nature, we can say it is likely that there is no intelligence behind the existence of nature.

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Great post, and it outlines one of the major flaws in the use of information theory in ID arguments. ID proponents will claim that complexity is a sign of design. In fact, as often as not simplicity is a sign of design. A sphere is less complex that an randomly shaped stone, yet according to complexity proponents, the random stone must be more likely to have been designed than the sphere.

Originally posted by scott
Since all the patterns of nature bear a fractal fingerprint of a non-linear process requiring no intelligence, then it follows that it is not necessary to explain the existence of all we survey by attributing it to an intelligent designer. And in fact, since perfect shapes requiring intelligence do not occur in nature, we can say it is likely that there is no intelligence behind the existence of nature.

Actually, fractals and Mandelbrot sets do not occur in nature either. There are shapes that look similar to fractals, but then the planets look like spheres and their orbits are elliptical. If your argument is right, then you have to explain why intelligence is not needed to draw a rainbow in the sky

(I know why intelligence is not needed for a rainbow, I just think that little fact doesn't agree with your argument. But of course facts can always be dismissed if they don't agree with our theories)

Intelligent Design will never catch. Intelligence is not needed to explain the existence of anything. Everything, absolutely everything that exists, can be explained without mentioning intelligent beings. Explanations are just lies that seem true to a misinformed observer. So Intelligent Design is as much a lie as Evolution Theory, but Evolution is a better lie, so it wins for now. Until someone comes up with a better lie, that is.

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Originally posted by confutatis
Actually, fractals and Mandelbrot sets do not occur in nature either. There are shapes that look similar to fractals, but then the planets look like spheres and their orbits are elliptical. If your argument is right, then you have to explain why intelligence is not needed to draw a rainbow in the sky

I've read that experiments have been done ( by whom escapes me at the moment) where the phase-states between changes in states of various liquids were studied mathematically, and the mandelbrot set did in fact emerge at certain points in the phase-space.

As for the planets, yes they do look like spheres from our perspective, but its a matter of scale. If you moved close to the surface of a planet from space, it wouldn't look like a smooth sphere, you'd see moutains, or mounds of clouds as the case may be. Even things like glass, if you zoom in on a certain scale, the surface would no longer appear smooth. The rainbow, that one is tougher, but I suppose at some scale you'd see the light as a mass of particles (or waves as the case may be) and it wouldn't appear smooth.

Sure, calculus works in the real world, but its really just an approximation, although the margin of error is well within acceptable limits for most of our purposes.

Rainbows are not circles, they are rays. It is merely our perspective that creates the illusion of a circle. Photons fly in a (relatively) straight line from the source (sun) to our atmosphere, then bounce off water molecules and back into our eyes. Each wavelength of the light is reflected at a different angle. Due to the limited angles at which the source light approaches, and the limited angles at which light may be reflected through the atmosphere such that the light remains in the visible wavelength, the only possible configuration of light which could bounce off the air and back at us within a visible wavelength is circular, even though the light is actually being reflected in all directions (that's why the rainbow moves when you do).

So it is, in fact, OUR intelligence that is 'drawing' the rainbow in the sky using the data we have received from our eyes. From an omniscient perspective, the light is chaotic, not circular.

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but there is a problem in assuming that the lack of simple/perfect geometry points to an absence of an intelligent designer (i'm not saying the inverse follows). the reason we don't see any perfect circles, for example, (circles being the fundamental shape of the macro and micro universes, due to gravity/electromagnetism/nuclear forces) in nature is that perfect circles cannot fundamentally exist (unless and until we calculate the last decimal place of pi). therefore all circular objects deviate from theoretical perfection in some degree - it's just a matter of 'on what scale'...

so when we see the deviations from a theoretical circle on the surface of a planet, say, we are simply designating the plane of measurement at which these deviations are first salient to us - a completely subjective judgement.

intelligent designer or no, we are living in a universe that will not tolerate perfect geometry in all scales but is actually quite fond of coalescing matter around plain geometry in certain discretely comprehended scales, orbits of electrons and planets for example...

one might argue that the nature of a universe that allows perfect geometry in certain scales due to the nature of infinity but chooses to show them to us so often (orbits) is indicative of intelligent design.

but then one could just as easily argue that circular shapes are more often than not the result of gravity/electromagnetic/nuclear forces and the only reason the simple structure of a theoretically perfect circle seems distinct to us is due to our innate familiarity with these forces - existing on a physical plane that is bound by these forces.

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Originally posted by Zero
Great post, and it outlines one of the major flaws in the use of information theory in ID arguments. ID proponents will claim that complexity is a sign of design. In fact, as often as not simplicity is a sign of design. A sphere is less complex that an randomly shaped stone, yet according to complexity proponents, the random stone must be more likely to have been designed than the sphere.

I'm not an ID enthusiast, but I don't think that's what they're claiming. I think what they mean by complexity has nothing to do with appearances. Surely an object of perfect shape is better evidence of intelligent labour than a chaotic think like a stone. But, to a simple-minded being, a Michelangelo sculpture would seem closer to a stone than a to a mathematically-perfect sphere. Simple-minded beings tend to overlook the difference between the complex harmony between a large number of elements and sheer randomness, because from a mathematical perspective both look exactly the same.

Originally posted by confutatis
I'm not an ID enthusiast, but I don't think that's what they're claiming. I think what they mean by complexity has nothing to do with appearances. Surely an object of perfect shape is better evidence of intelligent labour than a chaotic think like a stone. But, to a simple-minded being, a Michelangelo sculpture would seem closer to a stone than a to a mathematically-perfect sphere. Simple-minded beings tend to overlook the difference between the complex harmony between a large number of elements and sheer randomness, because from a mathematical perspective both look exactly the same.
See, that's the problem...ALL they are talking about is appearances. It is basically a lie and a cheat, because they change the terms as needed to make their "point". If it is going to be based on "complexity", then complexity can only have one meaning. If complexity is the sign of design, then simplicity cannot ALSO be the sign of design, or else the argument is meaningless.

As far as he wonderful world of "specified complexity"(which is fancy-speak for cherry-picking the data), tell me folks, which of the following simulated coin toss sequences is the most probable to occur randomly?(H=heads, T=tails):

A) T H T H H T H T T H H H T H

B) T H T H T T T H H T T H H H

C) T T T T T T T T T T T

Originally posted by scott
I've been thinking, and I've come up with a sort of Intelligent Design argument in reverse against the existence of a God.

Are you suggesting that fractals have created beings that can create perfect non-fractal shapes? Where's the complete theory that explains how this happened?

Also, the use of words like perfect to categorize shapes that you define to be created by intelligence is a subjective and somewhat egocentric term. Just because the only intelligence that you are aware of creates these shapes doesn't mean that some other form of intelligence must also do the same thing.

Originally posted by Zero
See, that's the problem...ALL they are talking about is appearances. It is basically a lie and a cheat, because they change the terms as needed to make their "point".

Couldn't the same be said of random evolution as well? You're getting into the wrong debate: which scientific theory is true. The problem with ID is not that it's not true, the problem is that it's useless to make predictions. In fact, any theory which invokes "intelligence" as part of the explanation of natural phenomena is useless, since the only use of a theory is to make predictions, and intelligent agents are unpredictable by definition. ID is a complete waste of time.

As far as he wonderful world of "specified complexity"(which is fancy-speak for cherry-picking the data), tell me folks, which of the following simulated coin toss sequences is the most probable to occur randomly?(H=heads, T=tails):
A) T H T H H T H T T H H H T H
B) T H T H T T T H H T T H H H
C) T T T T T T T T T T T

Now I disagree with what I think you had in mind. An ordered sequence is far less likely than a disordered one, and you can't use statistics to disprove that because "order" is not a mathematical concept. If you toss a coin 12 times, get 12 tails, and think there's nothing wrong with the coin, I suggest you stay away from casinos.

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We're on the same page against ID, confutatis. I'm just coming at it from a different angle, specifically how ID tries to claim information theory as support. But, of course, evolution isn't random, it is guided and shapped by the environment.

As far as my coin flipping example, you make my point for me. "Order", as you are defining it, is not a mathematical concept, therefore the mathematics of information theory do not support the ID claims. On the other hand, an "ordered" sequence is just as likely as any other sequence, period. A straight flush in poker is just as likely as any other hand, until we add the subjective factor that we give to certain combinations.

well, you have given a mechanism, but you need to proove that the quantum world is fractal in nature, or that the origins of the universe are derived fractaly.

if so, then that is a mathmatical proof against the NEED for God, but does not proove that there is no God.

Originally posted by modmans2ndcoming
well, you have given a mechanism, but you need to proove that the quantum world is fractal in nature, or that the origins of the universe are derived fractaly.

if so, then that is a mathmatical proof against the NEED for God, but does not proove that there is no God.
Well, no one has ever rightly claimed to be able to 'prove' anything using science, especially not for or against "God". However, you CAN disprove certain statements or methods used to support the hypothesis.

ahhh...you fail to see that you can proove something about the universe creation though.

Mathmatics can proove things.

fractals are based in math soif you can show through experimentation or mathematics that the observable foundations of the universe are derived fractaly, then you have prooven mathmaticly that the universe does not need inteligent design.

Originally posted by modmans2ndcoming
ahhh...you fail to see that you can proove something about the universe creation though.

Mathmatics can proove things.

fractals are based in math soif you can show through experimentation or mathematics that the observable foundations of the universe are derived fractaly, then you have prooven mathmaticly that the universe does not need inteligent design.
Well, you can show that something isn't needed, but you can't show 100% that it doesn't exist.

Originally posted by Zero
A straight flush in poker is just as likely as any other hand, until we add the subjective factor that we give to certain combinations.

Of course this is true. But this implies that everything ordered has no statistical significance beyond what a human places on it. And I don't believe that to be true. FZ and I have gone around with this many times. A deck of cards is like a lottery in that every ticket has the same chance of winning. There is nothing miraculous about anyone person winning the lottery. Much like any hand of cards is equally as likely as any other hand. But there are some arrangements of order that may not be as likely because they produce emergent properties that other arrangements don't (not functions, but properties).

For example crankable engines don't assemble themselves. If you shook up a crate of auto parts and dump them out do you think they would ever assemble themselves into a crankable engine? This ought to be evidence that this arrangement is less likely than other arrangements. What makes this arrangement stand out is that it can crank when you turn the key. Note that we don't have to know what an engine is or that cranking is useful to humans. This is always the rebuttal. We can just note that it has a property to make a lot of noise and use fuel and no other arrangment can do that.

I don't think we could ever conclude design with certainty from this. It is a subjective process at some point but it should at least make us open to the idea and influence our methods of further inquiry. And I would argue that we all do this anyway.

EDIT: I'm not suggesting that arrangements that produce emergent properties are designed or even that they are less likely. Just that there may be cases where an arrangement of parts that produces emergent properties could be less likely. And it would be easy to tell this from our knowledge of nature and the special distinction that this arrangement has compared to other arrangements(like an engine). And one that is less likely may require special inquiry as to why it happened.

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Originally posted by Zero
Well, you can show that something isn't needed, but you can't show 100% that it doesn't exist.

that was my origional point.

it is possable that you can proove that the universe is fractal in nature, but that just shows that it is possable the universe had no inteligent design. it does not say that a God did not design it to be fractal.

though prooving a freactal universe does proove that there has been no divine action taken on the universe, otherwise, it would mess up the fractal nature of the universe and actualy show proof that God does exist...unless what we call God is a part of this universe, in which case, God is finite.

this is of course all predicated on the rhetorical hypothisis that the universe is fractal.

Originally posted by modmans2ndcoming
though prooving a freactal universe does proove that there has been no divine action taken on the universe, otherwise, it would mess up the fractal nature of the universe and actualy show proof that God does exist...unless what we call God is a part of this universe, in which case, God is finite.

Again, this theory doesn't explain how a fractal, un-designed universe created beings that can willingly create non-fractal, "perfect" shapes. The problem with this whole approach is that it makes a very subjective and egocentric distinction about what is "intelligent" and what is "designed" but yet it never postulates how that "intelligence" was originally created by the unintelligent. It just assumes it always existed for the sake of the argument. For many people it is the existence of that intelligence that is the strongest evidence for design. Not whether a tree is made up of circles or fractals.

This is another one of those silly arguments where the pro-ID and pro-magic people insert their "it is amazing that there is intelligence, there must be a design, there must be a soul" idea...whatever. I have little respect for that sort of worldview, generally, because it usually involves intellectual weakness and/or dishonesty, as is the case with using information theory as a support for ID.

Originally posted by Zero
This is another one of those silly arguments where the pro-ID and pro-magic people insert their "it is amazing that there is intelligence, there must be a design, there must be a soul" idea...whatever. I have little respect for that sort of worldview, generally, because it usually involves intellectual weakness and/or dishonesty, as is the case with using information theory as a support for ID.

Are you referring to what I wrote? Because if you are then you aren't even close to understanding what my point is. Actually, I was just pointing out the flaw in this fractal reasoning. It isn't intended to imply anything about design or not. It's very hard to prove anything one way or the other(including for design) using arguments like this without assuming a lot of subjective, egocentric criteria. Fractals by definition create more fractals. So I'm asking the question "where did the "perfect" shapes come from?" From human intelligence? Ok, where did that come from? Fractals? It's simply the next logical question to be asked with the assumptions that have been given.

It's laid out like this:

Assumption 1: Intelligent humans create "perfect" unnatural shapes(circles, triangles etc). They don't occur naturally.
Assumption 2: Fractals occur naturally in the universe without the assistance of human intelligence.

Conclusion: Universe is not designed because it's made up of fractals and not perfect shapes.

So it follows from this that the creation of human beings can be explained by a fractal equation. I'm asking where is this equation? This argument has so many logical flaws. This is but one. This doesn't even touch on the egocentric assumption that known human intelligence is equivalent to all intelligence. And I haven't even mentioned that it assumes it's conclusion.

Also, maybe the admins of PF can start up a new "magic" forum for those of you who like discussing it so much in favor of what is actually being discussed in the philosophy forums.

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If I refer to you, I'll quote you, Fliption. I was sort of getting back to the original post. You are right about "egotistical" usage of ideas based on assumptions.

And, BTW, ID is magical thinking, and so is a huge chunk of what goes on in "philosophical" conversations. IMO, philosophy seems to sometimes take a huge step backwards in human knowledge and logic, instead of advancing forwards, at least as evidenced by those who find "supernatural" causes for things.

Originally posted by Fliption
This doesn't even touch on the egocentric assumption that known human intelligence is equivalent to all intelligence.

Scott's argument doesn't assume that human intelligence is the only intelligence in the universe. His contention is that fractals can be generated by unintelligent means (that is, unless you want to argue that the nonlinear dynamical systems in nature are thinking about what they are doing). What he is attempting to do is remove the necessity of an intelligent designer.

But the problem with his argument is that it ignores the argument that is raised by ID people most often: What designed the nonlinear dynamical system?

Originally posted by Zero

We're on the same page against ID, confutatis. I'm just coming at it from a different angle, specifically how ID tries to claim information theory as support. But, of course, evolution isn't random, it is guided and shapped by the environment...

Help us understand your premise Zero from a different angle.

You say "evolution isn't random, it is guided and shaped by the environment"

1) What properties to guide and shape does the environment have?

2) Where exactly does the ability to shape or guide reside in an environment?

3) What random occurences guides or shapes the formation of an environment?

4) Does an environment need to be present before or after natural selection?

5) What immutable constant laws maintain a stable environment?

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Originally posted by Tom
Scott's argument doesn't assume that human intelligence is the only intelligence in the universe. His contention is that fractals can be generated by unintelligent means (that is, unless you want to argue that the nonlinear dynamical systems in nature are thinking about what they are doing). What he is attempting to do is remove the necessity of an intelligent designer.

But the problem with his argument is that it ignores the argument that is raised by ID people most often: What designed the nonlinear dynamical system?

1) what properties? temperature variations, weather patterns, medium(air/water/vacuum/etc.) all effect evolution.

2) where does the ability reside? it is a fundamental aspect of an environment.

3) almost nothing is random, everything in an environment happens for a reason. perhaps you mean to say what events that are out of control of the organisms in an environment shape that environment? in that case, volcanic eruptions, weakening of Earth's magnetic field, increased solar flares, impact of space debris.

4) that is sort of a tree falling in a forest type of question.
is there an environment if nothing lives in it I would say yes, because an environment is specified by measurable data. as for natural selection taking place without an environment, I would say after because as I said in the last sentence, an environment is defined by measurable data. the most extreme environment would be a perfectly physical and thermal vacuum. no environment can be more extreme than that. as such, an environment must be in place before natural selection can take place.

5) there is no such thing as a stable environment, as such, there is no law which can maintain such an environment.

Originally posted by Fliption
Again, this theory doesn't explain how a fractal, un-designed universe created beings that can willingly create non-fractal, "perfect" shapes. The problem with this whole approach is that it makes a very subjective and egocentric distinction about what is "intelligent" and what is "designed" but yet it never postulates how that "intelligence" was originally created by the unintelligent. It just assumes it always existed for the sake of the argument. For many people it is the existence of that intelligence that is the strongest evidence for design. Not whether a tree is made up of circles or fractals.

a fractal function of the universe does not mean that the elements of each node must be fractal.

if we were in a fractal universe, we would be elements of a node, not nodes ourself.

this entire argument is moot though since Quantum Theory says we live in a linear universe. and a linear universe does not prove ID or disprove it as far as the elements of the universe.

Originally posted by talus
Originally posted by Zero

We're on the same page against ID, confutatis. I'm just coming at it from a different angle, specifically how ID tries to claim information theory as support. But, of course, evolution isn't random, it is guided and shapped by the environment...

Help us understand your premise Zero from a different angle.

You say "evolution isn't random, it is guided and shaped by the environment"

1) What properties to guide and shape does the environment have?

2) Where exactly does the ability to shape or guide reside in an environment?

3) What random occurences guides or shapes the formation of an environment?

4) Does an environment need to be present before or after natural selection?

5) What immutable constant laws maintain a stable environment?
1) Environmental factors include weather, food supply, predators, as well as radiation and chemicals which may be ingested or absorbed through the skin, and other facotrs as well.

2) It resides in the environment's ability to prevent or facilitate reproduction, and well as the environment's ability to cause mutations.

3) Weather, geological formations, radiation, some mutation, and other factors can carry a random element to them.

4) This question doesn't make sense. Everything exists within some sort of environment, after all.

5) I've never heard of a completely stable environment, so why would there be a law for it?

Originally posted by Tom
Scott's argument doesn't assume that human intelligence is the only intelligence in the universe. His contention is that fractals can be generated by unintelligent means (that is, unless you want to argue that the nonlinear dynamical systems in nature are thinking about what they are doing). What he is attempting to do is remove the necessity of an intelligent designer.

But the problem with his argument is that it ignores the argument that is raised by ID people most often: What designed the nonlinear dynamical system?

Yes, I see what you are saying but I still say it is flawed. The only basis he has for saying that fractals can be generated by unintelligent means is by claiming that they don't require humans to do it. This automatically assumes that all non-human generation is unintelligent which basically assumes the conclusion that the universe is not designed.

Originally posted by Zero
And, BTW, ID is magical thinking, and so is a huge chunk of what goes on in "philosophical" conversations. IMO, philosophy seems to sometimes take a huge step backwards in human knowledge and logic, instead of advancing forwards, at least as evidenced by those who find "supernatural" causes for things.

I think this is true but it is true of "bad" philosophy. And I will agree that there is a lot of that in these forums. But I am a believer that philosphy has it's place when done properly and can contribute much to the advancement of knowledge.

Originally posted by Zero
IMO, philosophy seems to sometimes take a huge step backwards in human knowledge and logic, instead of advancing forwards, at least as evidenced by those who find "supernatural" causes for things.

One of the major problems faced by philosophy is to justify commonsense. It's very easy to prove that A follows logically from B. It's extremely difficult, perhaps impossible, to prove that anything exists or happens at all. I see absolutely nothing wrong with the supernatural, as even seemingly trivial things taken for facts are just acts of faith in disguise.

The reason I don't like ID is because it tries to explain the supernatural rather than accept that it exists. That is just too naive.

Originally posted by confutatis
One of the major problems faced by philosophy is to justify commonsense. It's very easy to prove that A follows logically from B. It's extremely difficult, perhaps impossible, to prove that anything exists or happens at all. I see absolutely nothing wrong with the supernatural, as even seemingly trivial things taken for facts are just acts of faith in disguise.

The reason I don't like ID is because it tries to explain the supernatural rather than accept that it exists. That is just too naive.
Why would anyone "accept" the existence of something with no logical or evidential support for it?

Originally posted by Zero
Why would anyone "accept" the existence of something with no logical or evidential support for it?
Because you can be skeptical of some things but not of everything. Ultimately everything can be doubted, including logic and evidence, but that doesn't mean everything must be doubted. So how do we pick what to doubt and what to accept without questioning? Or, specifically, why should we accept "logic" and "evidential support" when there's no logic or evidential support that those things exist or are true?

Originally posted by confutatis
Because you can be skeptical of some things but not of everything. Ultimately everything can be doubted, including logic and evidence, but that doesn't mean everything must be doubted. So how do we pick what to doubt and what to accept without questioning? Or, specifically, why should we accept "logic" and "evidential support" when there's no logic or evidential support that those things exist or are true?
Because if we ignore those two things, then there is no way to make any coherent statement about anything at all. If literally anything can be true, then there is no basis for claiming that anything can be true.

Originally posted by confutatis
...but that doesn't mean everything must be doubted. So how do we pick what to doubt and what to accept without questioning?
How (or who?) do we decide what can and can't be accepted/questioned? Seems to me to be a very arbitrary way to pursue knowledge, leading to no logically consistent answers.

And, whether you like it or not, this thread goes to show that scientific-style evidence and logic is more respected than the "anything goes" philosophy of the woowoo crowd. After all, just look at the creationists struggling to find any link to science to legitimize their position.

Originally posted by Zero
And, whether you like it or not, this thread goes to show that scientific-style evidence and logic is more respected than the "anything goes" philosophy of the woowoo crowd.

I always find it strange when people talk about science in a passionate tone. Isn't that anti-scientific?

After all, just look at the creationists struggling to find any link to science to legitimize their position.

I tend to notice something far more interesting: only scientists and their enthusiasts worry about that. To the rest of us, it sounds like a silly debate between a PhD and a three year-old child. That scientists get the better of it shouldn't surprise anyone. That they actually bother is really hard to believe.