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  #1  
Old 06-21-2008, 11:07 AM
Bloggingheads Bloggingheads is offline
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Default Science Saturday: Time’s Arrow

Afterthought
We apologize for the occasional (and occasionally surreal) glitches in the audio-video synching of this diavlog. Taking a page from Sean Carroll, we have decided to blame the occurrence of these glitches on the Big Bang. Fortunately, aside from a cut that had to be made around 25:52, the conversation is mostly intact.

Last edited by David; 06-21-2008 at 12:07 PM..
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  #2  
Old 06-21-2008, 12:19 PM
thprop thprop is offline
 
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Cool What the #$*! Do We (K)now!?

IMDB Entry

Official site with trailer

Plot synopses:
"WHAT THE #$*! DO WE KNOW?!" is a radical departure from convention. It demands a freedom of view and greatness of thought so far unknown, indeed, not even dreamed of since Copernicus. It's a documentary. It's a story. It's mind-blowing special effects. This film plunges you into a world where quantum uncertainty is demonstrated - where neurological processes, and perceptual shifts are engaged and lived by its protagonist - where everything is alive, and reality is changed by every thought. Written by Anonymous

Amanda, a divorced photographer, finds herself in a fantastic Alice-in-Wonderland experience when her daily, uninspired life literally begins to unravel, revealing the cellular, molecular and even quantum worlds which lie beneath. Guided by a Greek Chorus of leading scientists and mystics, she finds that if reality itself is not questionable, her notion of it certainly is. Stunning special effects plunge you into a world where quantum uncertainty is demonstrated - where Amanda's neurological processes, and perceptual shifts are engaged and lived - where everything is alive, and reality is changed by every thought. This film gives voice to the modern day radical souls of science, making them the true heroes of our day as they conquer and map the greatest uncharted territory yet - man's consciousness itself. Written by Anonymous

It is part documentary, part story, and part elaborate and inspiring visual effects and animations. The protagonist, Amanda, played by Marlee Matlin, finds herself in a fantastic Alice in Wonderland experience when her daily, uninspired life literally begins to unravel, revealing the uncertain world of the quantum field hidden behind what we consider to be our normal, waking reality. Written by Producers
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  #3  
Old 06-21-2008, 12:36 PM
Bloggin' Noggin Bloggin' Noggin is offline
 
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Default Re: Afterthought

I'm thrilled to see we've got a philosopher of science at last -- now if only I could get the diavlog to actually start running!!!
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  #4  
Old 06-21-2008, 12:48 PM
look look is offline
 
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Default Is that a smoking jacket you're wearing?

Well, please put it out.
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  #5  
Old 06-21-2008, 02:40 PM
bjkeefe bjkeefe is offline
 
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Default Re: Is that a smoking jacket you're wearing?

... or are you just happy to have tenure?
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  #6  
Old 06-21-2008, 05:37 PM
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Default Re: Is that a smoking jacket you're wearing?

Quote:
Originally Posted by bjkeefe View Post
... or are you just happy to have tenure?


(Dang the minimum message rule!)
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  #7  
Old 06-21-2008, 06:38 PM
bjkeefe bjkeefe is offline
 
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Default Re: Is that a smoking jacket you're wearing?

Quote:
Originally Posted by look View Post
(Dang the minimum message rule!)
Yeah, don't you hate that?

I have used a new line consisting of multiple underscores in such situations, but there's something meta about what you used that I prefer.
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  #8  
Old 06-21-2008, 02:37 PM
bjkeefe bjkeefe is offline
 
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Default Random Afterthoughts

Absolutely fantastic diavlog! I watched it straight through and then watched it straight through again.

Minor quibble 1: I admired the spirit of defending those who continue to work on, and believe in the potential of, string theory. It struck me as eminently sensible when David pointed out that sometimes, problems are hard, and should not be subjected to some arbitrary time limit to prove that they're worth working on. There is, however, the messiness of the real world, which among other things says that there is only so much money to go around, and that every dollar spent in pursuit of further string theory research is a dollar not given to some other line of inquiry. It also says that every bright young physics student who goes into that field because that's where the money and action are is a bright young student who is not working on another problem. I am not saying that we should completely stop spending money and time on string theory work; I just wish that Sean and David had acknowledged this.

Minor quibble 2: when David tried to argue about the entropy problem by giving the example of returning to his office and finding it cleaner (in a higher state of organization) then when he left it, he neglected to consider that this could easily be explained by realizing that additional energy had been added to the system (in the form of someone else coming into his office and doing work). But he did kind of pull this one back, which leads me to what might have been my favorite half-minute of the whole conversation.

I don't mean to disrespect our esteemed students of philosophy here in the forums, and I know that I am being a bit sophomoric here, but still, I can not resist reacting thus: Would that philosophers more often make this admission.

Conspiracy theory: the glitch in the middle was a ham-handed deletion of the part where Sean and David were really bashing John Horgan.
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  #9  
Old 06-21-2008, 05:46 PM
AemJeff AemJeff is offline
 
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Default Re: Random Afterthoughts

Quote:
Originally Posted by bjkeefe View Post
Minor quibble 1: I admired the spirit of defending those who continue to work on, and believe in the potential of, string theory. It struck me as eminently sensible when David pointed out that sometimes, problems are hard, and should not be subjected to some arbitrary time limit to prove that they're worth working on. There is, however, the messiness of the real world, which among other things says that there is only so much money to go around, and that every dollar spent in pursuit of further string theory research is a dollar not given to some other line of inquiry. It also says that every bright young physics student who goes into that field because that's where the money and action are is a bright young student who is not working on another problem. I am not saying that we should completely stop spending money and time on string theory work; I just wish that Sean and David had acknowledged this.
I'm totally with you on how good this discussion was. I think I want to add a caveat to your caveat, here. I'm not sure on what other lines of inquiry (Loop Quantum Gravity?, is there much else?) the dollars being spent on string theory would be better spent. My takeaway here is that the complaints of unfalsifiability (neologisms ahoy!) are somewhat premature. That gravity can be predicted in certain configurations is a hard to overstate triumph of string theory. The embedded assumption for many critics seems to boil down to "it's to complex: too hard to solve, too many solutions.") I think there are several answers to that sort of complaint.

First, who's to say what the upper limit to the difficulty of fundamental questions is going to be? As we continue to increase our theoretical resolution (if you will) toward the Planck scale, it would seem that the difficulty is going to increase exponentially - that's pretty obviously true in terms of the energy cost of doing empirical work - but there's no reason to assume that the theoretical problems aren't going to get a lot harder before we reach the end of that road.

Also, what string theory seems to give us is a definition of a multivariant solution space. Since that space seems to contain on the order of 10^500 discrete solutions, the apparent complexity seems to be in part a consequence of missing data. If we can start to make some good guesses about the actual values of some of the defining parameters, then we can start reducing the difficulty of the problem. Nail down a few of those values and maybe the solution becomes computable in real time. Maybe.

I've managed to fold my particular thoughts into my response to one small point (and my objections aside, Brendan is making a good point) - what I'm trying to say is that string theory looks to me, from my limited perspective as an interested non-physicist, like the best extant theoretical avenue. I'm not sure I want to subject it to a direct comparison to other, less fruitful (as measured today) lines of inquiry. My broader concern is that as the problems become harder, that we have the necessary attention span to pursue the solutions in the face of that difficulty. Arbitrary limits based on prior experience may not serve the cause of science very well.
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  #10  
Old 06-21-2008, 06:35 PM
bjkeefe bjkeefe is offline
 
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Default Re: Random Afterthoughts

AemJeff:

Quote:
First, who's to say what the upper limit to the difficulty of fundamental questions is going to be? As we continue to increase our theoretical resolution (if you will) toward the Planck scale, it would seem that the difficulty is going to increase exponentially - that's pretty obviously true in terms of the energy cost of doing empirical work - but there's no reason to assume that the theoretical problems aren't going to get a lot harder before we reach the end of that road.
This is a worry I share. I was thinking during the diavlog of how many breakthroughs have been made in the past, in many branches of science but particularly theoretical physics, by individuals or small groups that needed very little funding to achieve real breakthroughs. I thought of Hawkings's line in A Brief History of Time, paraphrased: We have come so far in physics that we now have to spend a great deal of money to produce a result that we can't explain.

I am not against string theory research or, say, the LHC, but I do sometimes wonder just how far down the slope of diminishing gains we already are in in studying the very small. I'm not even talking about practical applications of the potential results; I'm just considering much more pure knowledge we're acquiring, and at what opportunity cost.
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  #11  
Old 06-21-2008, 07:25 PM
AemJeff AemJeff is offline
 
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Default Re: Random Afterthoughts

Quote:
Originally Posted by bjkeefe View Post
AemJeff:



This is a worry I share. I was thinking during the diavlog of how many breakthroughs have been made in the past, in many branches of science but particularly theoretical physics, by individuals or small groups that needed very little funding to achieve real breakthroughs. I thought of Hawkings's line in A Brief History of Time, paraphrased: We have come so far in physics that we now have to spend a great deal of money to produce a result that we can't explain.

I am not against string theory research or, say, the LHC, but I do sometimes wonder just how far down the slope of diminishing gains we already are in in studying the very small. I'm not even talking about practical applications of the potential results; I'm just considering much more pure knowledge we're acquiring, and at what opportunity cost.
Brendan, I don't really accept the premise that diminishing returns is a good model for the state of the art in theoretical physics. I think there's at least one more Newton/Einstein type of theoretical paradigmatic earthquake in store - the point of reconciliation between quantum mechanics and general relativity. If (I'm not optimistic) we can actually push knowledge out to the Planck scale we're talking about immeasurably greater knowledge, many orders of magnitude greater power over our environment than is even currently imaginable. Even if we never quite climb that mountain, achieving what Rudy Rucker calls "femtotechnology" (if nano is molecular scale, femto is atomic scale) would bestow enormous benefits, both in terms of pure knowledge and in sheer engineering wizardry. And even accelerator technology has already yielded huge engineering benefits in the form of modern medical imaging technology.

There's no question but that the cost of the pursuit of knowledge is going continue to increase rapidly. I think the benefits are likely to scale, as well. But, I am an SF fanboy and that might imply something about my judgment in this arena.
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Last edited by AemJeff; 06-21-2008 at 07:25 PM.. Reason: missing comma
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  #12  
Old 06-21-2008, 07:42 PM
bjkeefe bjkeefe is offline
 
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Default Re: Random Afterthoughts

AemJeff:

In many ways, I share your feelings. Certainly, I was hugely annoyed when the SSC was canceled, and I agree that further pursuit down any road almost inevitably yields unexpected spinoffs and benefits.

One quibble: When you say that you expect "at least one more Newton/Einstein type of theoretical paradigmatic earthquake," I can't help but point out that both of these were completely new things. Einstein's first relativity paper, IIRC, had zero footnotes, and even had they been used back in the 17th centure, I doubt the Principia would have any, either. While I think the effort to unify GR and quantum theory is certainly a laudable goal, it seems to me more of an incremental step. Maybe "incremental" is a little unfair, but there still remains a difference -- lots of people can envision the goal and have ideas about how to get there. The complete paradigmatic upsets produced by Newton and Einstein seem to me to be at a whole other level. They're the sort of thing that we intuitively expect sometime, but we can't at all predict when they will happen, or even in what direction they lie.
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  #13  
Old 06-21-2008, 10:16 PM
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Default Re: Random Afterthoughts

Quote:
Originally Posted by bjkeefe View Post
Minor quibble 2: when David tried to argue about the entropy problem by giving the example of returning to his office and finding it cleaner (in a higher state of organization) then when he left it, he neglected to consider that this could easily be explained by realizing that additional energy had been added to the system (in the form of someone else coming into his office and doing work). But he did kind of pull this one back, which leads me to what might have been my favorite half-minute of the whole conversation.
I think he realized that, so I wonder where he was going with that illustration, in trying to say why a picture would not necessarily demonstrate that time only goes forward...?
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  #14  
Old 06-21-2008, 04:25 PM
bjkeefe bjkeefe is offline
 
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Default More Links

You can read more about What the #$*! Do We (K)now!? on Salon. David is quoted on page 2 of this article. There's a good post about the movie on Skeptico, too.
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  #15  
Old 06-21-2008, 07:13 PM
jhorgan jhorgan is offline
 
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Default Re: Afterthought

Sean and David, I’m flattered that among all the string critics out there you single out a humble journalist like me for rebuttal. But you neglect to address the serious problems posed by strings, so I'm obliged to remind the BHTV audience once again. One problem, which dates back to the origin of string theory, concerns empirical accessibility. Gaining the kind of experimental confirmation of strings that we have for, say, quarks would require accessing the Planck realm, which is more than 20 orders of magnitude beyond the reach of any accelerator. Stringers once hoped that, in lieu of empirical evidence, they would show mathematically that there is one logically inevitable and unalterable (as Steve Weinberg has put it) version of string theory that precisely describes our world. But this hope has recently been dashed by the so-called Alice’s Restaurant problem. String theory now comes in so many versions that it “predicts” virtually anything! Including universes with no gravity at all (and I say this of course because of David’s comment that string theory “predicts” gravity). These problems, not the “20 year statute of limitations” that you guys harp on (and of course it’s actually been 30 years), explain why string theory is widely viewed as a glorious, fascinating failure, a spectacular example of what Imre Lakatos called a regressive research program. But hey, Freudians are still hanging on decades after losing scientific respectability, so why not stringers?
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  #16  
Old 06-21-2008, 10:58 PM
Eastwest Eastwest is offline
 
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Default Afterthought: We're Being Strung Along by Strings...

Quote:
Originally Posted by jhorgan View Post
....I'm obliged to remind the BHTV audience once again. One problem, which dates back to the origin of string theory, concerns empirical accessibility. .... String theory now comes in so many versions that it “predicts” virtually anything! ....
David (also known as "Professor And-So-Forth-And-So-On" [100 times!?]) describes this so nicely himself (with a beautifully sputtering preamble) here. (This ain't quite "dingalink-of-the-week," but still, it does a fair job of pointing out a big problem.)

"Everything Always Happens." Wow. Sounds like politics!

Quote:
But hey, Freudians are still hanging on decades after losing scientific respectability, so why not stringers?
Amen.

EW

Last edited by Eastwest; 06-21-2008 at 11:00 PM..
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  #17  
Old 06-21-2008, 08:25 PM
StillmanThomas StillmanThomas is offline
 
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Default If it's not disturbing, you're not doing it right

Sean's comment (my post title) begins an interesting short discussion here. It's this way of thinking that alienates me from science today, since it presupposes the kinds of "knowledge" that will be discovered. This, to me, is scientism, which Wikipedia (from the Oxford Dictionary of Philosophy) defines as (among other things), "the belief that the methods of natural science, or the categories and things recognized in natural science, form the only proper elements in any philosophical or other inquiry."

David's assertion that "it's a sad business" to try to assimilate what we're learning with what we think we already knew is itself a sad business in my opinion. I'll quote again from one of my favorite e.e. cummings poems (I cited this in another comment a few months ago):

who cares if some one-eyed son of a bitch
invents an instrument to measure spring with

The analytical way of thinking kills something in the experience of reality. Science, for all its incredible insights and inventions, does not answer deep fundamental questions about life for many millions or billions of people. Materialists often assert that those questions have no validity, that people who ask those questions are wasting their time. Science can tell me an enormous number of things about what is happening here. To my mind, it cannot tell us "why," and it never will be able to.
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Last edited by StillmanThomas; 06-21-2008 at 08:46 PM.. Reason: Fixed citation
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  #18  
Old 06-21-2008, 10:28 PM
look look is offline
 
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Default Re: If it's not disturbing, you're not doing it right

Quote:
Originally Posted by Bokonon View Post

who cares if some one-eyed son of a bitch
invents an instrument to measure spring with

The analytical way of thinking kills something in the experience of reality. Science, for all its incredible insights and inventions, does not answer deep fundamental questions about life for many millions or billions of people. Materialists often assert that those questions have no validity, that people who ask those questions are wasting their time. Science can tell me an enormous number of things about what is happening here. To my mind, it cannot tell us "why," and it never will be able to.
I was thinking a bit along those lines, except I think that it's cool that everyone can find something that fascinates them and then enjoy exploring it. I'm sure both diavloggers spend a lot of time in awe of the universe, too!

Here's one of my favorite cummings poems:

anyone lived in a pretty how town
by: e.e. cummings


anyone lived in a pretty how town
(with up so floating many bells down)
spring summer autumn winter
he sang his didn't he danced his did

Women and men(both little and small)
cared for anyone not at all
they sowed their isn't they reaped their same
sun moon stars rain

children guessed(but only a few
and down they forgot as up they grew
autumn winter spring summer)
that noone loved him more by more

when by now and tree by leaf
she laughed his joy she cried his grief
bird by snow and stir by still
anyone's any was all to her

someones married their everyones
laughed their cryings and did their dance
(sleep wake hope and then)they
said their nevers they slept their dream

stars rain sun moon
(and only the snow can begin to explain
how children are apt to forget to remember
with up so floating many bells down)

one day anyone died i guess
(and noone stooped to kiss his face)
busy folk buried them side by side
little by little and was by was

all by all and deep by deep
and more by more they dream their sleep
noone and anyone earth by april
wish by spirit and if by yes.

Women and men(both dong and ding)
summer autumn winter spring
reaped their sowing and went their came
sun moon stars rain
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  #19  
Old 06-22-2008, 12:42 AM
StillmanThomas StillmanThomas is offline
 
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Default Re: If it's not disturbing, you're not doing it right

Quote:
Originally Posted by look View Post
children guessed(but only a few
and down they forgot as up they grew
Another of my favorite cummings poems. Thanks for quoting it.
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Old 06-21-2008, 10:31 PM
AemJeff AemJeff is offline
 
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Default Re: If it's not disturbing, you're not doing it right

Quote:
Originally Posted by Bokonon View Post
Sean's comment (my post title) begins an interesting short discussion here. It's this way of thinking that alienates me from science today, since it presupposes the kinds of "knowledge" that will be discovered. This, to me, is scientism, which Wikipedia (from the Oxford Dictionary of Philosophy) defines as (among other things), "the belief that the methods of natural science, or the categories and things recognized in natural science, form the only proper elements in any philosophical or other inquiry."

David's assertion that "it's a sad business" to try to assimilate what we're learning with what we think we already knew is itself a sad business in my opinion. I'll quote again from one of my favorite e.e. cummings poems (I cited this in another comment a few months ago):

who cares if some one-eyed son of a bitch
invents an instrument to measure spring with

The analytical way of thinking kills something in the experience of reality. Science, for all its incredible insights and inventions, does not answer deep fundamental questions about life for many millions or billions of people. Materialists often assert that those questions have no validity, that people who ask those questions are wasting their time. Science can tell me an enormous number of things about what is happening here. To my mind, it cannot tell us "why," and it never will be able to.
I'm not quite sure what alternative you're proposing. I love cummings. I'm betting you could find a great number of working scientists who would agree with the sentiment expressed in the lines you quoted. The thing is that even a botanist, often especially a botanist, can see a flower as an exquisitely beautiful thing even while considering its purpose and structure. There's no incompatibility, I'd say the opposite, between a romantic understanding and an analytic understanding of something. "Scientism" to the extent that the term has a function, seems to be as an epithet used by those who don't like some scientific idea or other. Science has its limits - this particular diavlog had as its topic the idea of how to understand those limits; but as a direct means of understanding the world it has no peer. Philosophy provides the tools (science itself, after all, is just an application of empiricism), and romanticism provides the underlying motive (I'd argue that commerce is a distant second in that regard, and best for us that it's so), but science is the tool by which we explicitly increase our understanding of the world. Did I forget to mention religion? Show me a religiously based civilization with one tenth of one-percent of the success of Western Civ since Galileo.

I agree with Dennet: (from your Wikipedia citation)
Quote:
"when someone puts forward a scientific theory that [religious critics] really don't like, they just try to discredit it as 'scientism'".
I don't see much there, there, in the term.
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  #21  
Old 06-22-2008, 01:05 AM
StillmanThomas StillmanThomas is offline
 
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Default Re: If it's not disturbing, you're not doing it right

Quote:
Originally Posted by AemJeff View Post
"Scientism" to the extent that the term has a function, seems to be as an epithet used by those who don't like some scientific idea or other.
You aren't responding to what I wrote; you're commenting on how others have used a term I used. I haven't criticized a single scientific idea explored by the diavloggers.
Quote:
Originally Posted by AemJeff View Post
as a direct means of understanding the world it [science] has no peer.
I agree that science has no peer in understanding how the world works. Nor did my post suggest otherwise.
Quote:
Originally Posted by AemJeff View Post
Show me a religiously based civilization with one tenth of one-percent of the success of Western Civ since Galileo.
Of course, that depends on what you define as success. If you mean the manipulation of physical reality (engineering), I certainly can't disagree. If you mean the ability to create weapons that terrify us, pose existential threats to the survival of the species, we're certainly "successful" there. If you mean the ability to poison our environment to the point where we threaten the survival of the species, again, I'm not arguing. Some of us, however, don't really believe that Western Civilization (if it can be called that at all) is terribly successful in a spiritual sense. I'm not talking about religion here, which I generally find off-putting.
Quote:
Originally Posted by AemJeff View Post
I agree with Dennet: "when someone puts forward a scientific theory that [religious critics] really don't like, they just try to discredit it as 'scientism'".
Well, we've come full circle, haven't we? I have no quarrel with any of the scientific theories our quests discussed. I find string theory (about which, I confess, I don't know much) fascinating. I love the idea of the multiverse, and am pretty convinced we'll eventually prove that to be the case. I won't be stunned if some of what we now believe to be distant galaxies turn out to be other "universes," that is, artifacts of other "big bangs." I also believe that "reality" has many unseen dimensions.

That being said, Dennet's comment is not really intellectually honest, and neither is your using it to refute what you apparently think I said. What I specifically disagreed with in the diavlog was David's assertion that science represents a completely different epistemic search for knowledge, and that attempts to harmonize it with what we previously thought we knew was a "sad business." Zen, for example, is an extremely empirical method of exploring how human consciousness works. It yields knowledge about the "internal universe" that isn't today and probably never will be accessible to science. But that's only one small example.

I liken Dennet's comment to this hypothetical: "Oh, I saw Young Frankenstein, and I could never take science seriously after that." Religious fundamentalists are probably the worst possible exemplars of other ways of knowing. I would put them right down there with scientific fundamentalists.
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Last edited by StillmanThomas; 06-22-2008 at 01:40 AM.. Reason: Fix typos
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  #22  
Old 06-22-2008, 05:49 AM
AemJeff AemJeff is offline
 
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Default Re: If it's not disturbing, you're not doing it right

My post wasn't a refutation of yours, it was a comment regarding the word itself ("scientism") about which I do have deep problems, and an attempt to get you to clarify what you meant - it's my fault I wasn't clearer about that.

Quote:
Of course, that depends on what you define as success. If you mean the manipulation of physical reality (engineering), I certainly can't disagree. If you mean the ability to create weapons that terrify us, pose existential threats to the survival of the species, we're certainly "successful" there. If you mean the ability to poison our environment to the point where we threaten the survival of the species, again, I'm not arguing. Some of us, however, don't really believe that Western Civilization (if it can be called that at all) is terribly successful in a spiritual sense. I'm not talking about religion here, which I generally find off-putting.
Here, I'm not with you at all. Western Civ has its faults, and certainly doesn't address every sprirual need of its citizens. The "existential threats" are a consequence of its spectacular success in unraveling the deep mysteries of the world. If we can't learn to address these and other issues that flow directly from our unprecedented power over our environment we're in deep trouble, but I don't take the fact that we have these problems as a de facto indcator of spiritual malaise. Rather, I'd say that with power comes responsibility, and we'd damned well better learn to appreciate our current role, and come to terms with it.

If you measure the quality of individual lives, that's the measure of success I have in mind. Despite the continued existence of deep misery, the average life of a citizen of this civilization is measurable better than that of any prior civilization: in terms of opportunity, leisure, health, access to education, ability to travel and communicate, any metric you care to name. The very idea of "human rights" is an invention of this civilization. And at this point it's global - the benefits aren't evenly distributed, but the effect is available to some degree to almost everybody; the citizens of truly benighted shitholes like North Korea notwithstanding. That's not an argument that there's no room for improvement, or that there's no injustice. However, there's a great deal less injustice than at any prior point in history, and way more wealth to spread around.

In what sense does any of this imply a poorer spiritual health, on the average, than what was available at any time prior to this? I think that argument moves the goalposts, makes a comparison to something that has never existed.
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Last edited by AemJeff; 06-22-2008 at 05:53 AM..
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  #23  
Old 06-22-2008, 07:02 PM
bjkeefe bjkeefe is offline
 
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Default Re: If it's not disturbing, you're not doing it right

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[...]
Good answer, AemJeff.
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  #24  
Old 06-22-2008, 10:36 PM
StillmanThomas StillmanThomas is offline
 
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Default Re: If it's not disturbing, you're not doing it right

I'm really not interested in debating whether or not science has made progress. That's totally off topic from my original post, which all of your responses so far have been. The issue I raised in my post was about the arrogance of scientists who assert that only science can acquire knowledge, that science alone can determine whether something is true, and whether attempts to harmonize what we now "know" through science with what we thought we knew before is a "sad business."

I can understand and accept that you don't like the word "scientism." The fact that I didn't know it was a code word used by religious fundamentalist shows, I hope, that I don't spend any time listening to fundamentalists.

It's sad that David was lied to and manipulated by a film producer, but that surely doesn't indict all people who attempt to harmonize new and old knowledge. Any more than a professor ripping off his graduate students' work and presenting it as his own indicts all scientists. The fact that some religious people once believed that the earth is only 6,000 years old is no more an indictment of religion than the fact that science once believed that phlogiston explains oxidation, or that epicycles explain the retrograde motion of the superior planets are indictments of science.

To me, what indicts any system of thought is its inability to answer these questions (not an exhaustive list) affirmatively:
o Can it learn new things?
o Can it harmonize what it thinks it knows with what other systems think they know
o Can it accept that it doesn't know everything?
o Can it accept that "knowing" itself is problematical, given the progressive way we discover new things
o Can it accept that other ways of thinking and knowing are vitally important and equally valid if they lead to useful truths

That's what my post was questioning about David's attitude, as demonstrated in the snippet I included.

Your inability or unwillingness to address the issue I raised in my original post speaks volumes to me about the way you think and the degree to which you, yourself, are open to new ways of thinking.
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  #25  
Old 06-22-2008, 11:49 PM
bjkeefe bjkeefe is offline
 
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Default Re: If it's not disturbing, you're not doing it right

Bokonon:

There's a little bit of a problem here, at least to me, in that you seem to be equating things we know thanks to scientific inquiry with things we know through other means.

I have already conceded that there are some things that we do in some sense know that seem non-scientific, such as the thought "this is a good piece of music." But in general, there are all sorts of things that we "know," or thought we knew, that are either utterly wrong or purely a matter of faith or are completely subjective.

To repeat, I am not saying something is only known if it is known scientifically, but it does seem that the overwhelming bulk of what we know came through that method. So, yes, scientists who think science is the only path can be a bit insufferable, but the way you respond seems too broad -- your implication, at least, is that science is quite limited.
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Old 06-23-2008, 12:54 AM
StillmanThomas StillmanThomas is offline
 
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Default Re: If it's not disturbing, you're not doing it right

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...you seem to be equating things we know thanks to scientific inquiry with things we know through other means.
This statement goes to the heart of what I'm saying in this thread: that many people believe scientific knowledge is somehow special, that science produces "knowing" as nothing else can. That surely is what David was asserting in my original clip, that science is a different epistemic endeavor than anything else. This, I believe is an astoundingly arrogant, parochial and naive belief, which is born out of ignorance of other ways of knowing.

What I'm complaining about here is fundamentalism. We all know what we mean when we talk about religious fundamentalism, but I believe that term can and should be applied to practitioners in any field who proclaim that only they have the truth, that others are deluded in what they call the truth, and that to suggest otherwise is heresy. I don't have a dingalink for this, but Sean and David touched on the danger to graduate students if they wanted to pursue lines of inquiry that were verboten by the academic community, that were, in effect, heretical. As another example, the belief that global warming is not real or not anthropogenic is a principal heresy today, and it is treated as such by many in the scientific community. Global warming is paradigmatic science, normal science, conventional wisdom, and to question it is to invite the opprobrium of scientists. Never mind that climate models cannot accurately predict tomorrow's weather; we can rely on them to unfailingly predict systemic behavior a hundred years into the future.

With science's increasingly awesome successes, I believe it has begun to replace religion in many people's lives. Bob Wright and John Horgan, for instance, have waxed philosophical about how astonishing it is that anyone still believes in God, given the power of science. Now, I'm not saying anything about atheism here. I can well understand why many people do not believe in a supreme being of any kind. The problem is that scientists can begin to take on the mantle of a high priesthood, and demand complete obeisance to their way of thought. For some (possibly evolutionary) reason, people seem to have a need to worship something greater than themselves. Scientists need to be aware that encouraging this trend in themselves and the public can have dire consequences for the scientific enterprise itself.
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  #27  
Old 06-23-2008, 02:04 AM
fedorovingtonboop fedorovingtonboop is offline
 
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Default Re: If it's not disturbing, you're not doing it right

am i the only one who still can't get the thing to play?

anyway, Bokomon, you're way off because the thing that makes science so unique is that it's non-dogmatic. it, by definition, doesn't exclude anything unless it can be disproved. if someone provided evidence for god then science would immediately annex that evidence and it would be a part of science. it works so well because it's so flexible. religion and spiritualism are worthless because they are dogmatic....not to mention they don't require evidence!! and they're, obviously, totally made up. i bet if you got cancer you wouldn't go "looking for the answer" by praying. the reason why science buffs get arrogant is because spiritualists don't have anything worthwhile to offer, ever.
that is why science is so special is because we're never saying we have "the truth" all we're saying is that my theory makes more sense than yours does as of right now....but if you come up with a better one then you win...but not permanently.
finally, that fact that us science fans could let you spiritualists get away with this worthless moral equivalence is a total joke. the thought of looking at the actual, written out, equations for string theory and then setting siddhartha next to them and trying to make something of it is laughable. how could one be more arrogant than that? it's like when jonah glob-berg comes on here thinking conservative thought is an legitimate equivalent to any other world-view. truth is, it shouldn't even be allowed at the table, and neither should religion.
by far the most arrogant attitude you could hold is one that looks at all science has accomplished and try to denigrate it.
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  #28  
Old 06-23-2008, 04:15 AM
StillmanThomas StillmanThomas is offline
 
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Default Re: If it's not disturbing, you're not doing it right

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Originally Posted by fedorovingtonboop View Post
religion and spiritualism are worthless because they are dogmatic....not to mention they don't require evidence!! and they're, obviously, totally made up.
Q.E.D.
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  #29  
Old 06-23-2008, 02:48 AM
bjkeefe bjkeefe is offline
 
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Default Re: If it's not disturbing, you're not doing it right

Bokonon:

A lot to unpack there (polite way of saying I think you're conflating things in an unhelpful way).

Seems to me there are separate issues, or if they are all of a piece in your mind, they are at least amenable to separation for the purposes of discussion. Here are some representative excerpts:

First:

Quote:
Quote:
...you seem to be equating things we know thanks to scientific inquiry with things we know through other means.
This statement goes to the heart of what I'm saying in this thread: that many people believe scientific knowledge is somehow special, that science produces "knowing" as nothing else can. That surely is what David was asserting in my original clip, that science is a different epistemic endeavor than anything else. This, I believe is an astoundingly arrogant, parochial and naive belief, which is born out of ignorance of other ways of knowing.
Second:

Quote:
... Sean and David touched on the danger to graduate students if they wanted to pursue lines of inquiry that were verboten by the academic community, that were, in effect, heretical. As another example, the belief that global warming is not real or not anthropogenic is a principal heresy today ...
Third:

Quote:
The problem is that scientists can begin to take on the mantle of a high priesthood, and demand complete obeisance to their way of thought.
Addressing these in reverse order ...

I grant, a little bit, the "high priest" gripe. But mostly, I think you're exaggerating how widespread this problem is, or that you're making a few arrogant individuals stand in for an imagined general attitude. Most scientists are quite upfront about their awareness of the limitations of their knowledge, and most will readily concede that science in no way explains everything.

As I see it, the image of the infallible scientist was at a peak in the late 1940s through the mid-1960s, and has been mostly on the decline since. People became suspicious of scientists when weapons started getting really scary and the "best and the brightest" made such a hash out of Vietnam. There was a counterculture movement in the late 1960s and early 1970s, followed by a resurgence of religious fundamentalism, mixed with a growth of New Age-style thinking, followed by the growth of a sort of post-everything attitude, in which it relativism was promoted, diversity fetishized, ironic detachment idolized, and it became fashionable to say that one person's definition of the truth could not possibly be better than anybody else's. I'm simplifying here, and these are just examples, but I think you get what I'm saying -- there is less respect for scientific "authority" now than there used to be, and there are serious and organized movements that stand in opposition. Science funding is down, the position of the President's Science Advisor has been diminished in importance, various advisory councils to the President and to Congress have been disbanded, we are graduating fewer students with Ph.D.'s in science, and so on and so on.

So, on your third point, I'm just saying: I pretty much don't buy it.

On your second point: Well, yeah. There can be a little bit of parochialism and a little bit of a preference for what's in fashion at the moment, in science, as in any other field. I don't want to argue your examples too much, but I will say a little bit to both.

As for grad students being dissuaded from pursuing certain fields: I readily grant that this happens all the time. On the other hand, it often happens for very good reasons. There may be no money to sustain the student or no one who feels qualified to be the adviser for the student. There may be a sense on the part of those with more experience that the proposed problem is too hard to be studied in the scope of a graduate program, or that it is highly likely to lead into a barren area of the field. There may be well-meant concern that even if a degree can be earned, there won't be any opportunity to go further afterwards. Are there exceptions to the good reasons? Almost certainly. But it's usually the case that a seriously interested student can pick a better school to pursue his or her goals, or can table that pursuit for long enough to get the degree and return to it later, or whatever. I think it's much more often the case that people who have already been through the mill know more about the field and the realities of life than do the students just entering the program.

As to AGW, yes, there may be cases where an excess of intolerance for skeptics is displayed at this point. I can only ask that you bear in mind the concerted and well-funded effort that has had to be overcome just to get the idea taken seriously -- there are bound to be some battle scars. Plus, it's reasonable to ask that skepticism be set aside at some point. To be hyperbolic, should we admit a student into an astronomy program who thinks Ptolemy had it more right than Kepler? We can argue about the details and the projections, but I think it is the consensus among those qualified to say that AGW is a real phenomenon and that this is a settled question.

And if it turns out that it isn't? And that all those scientists were wrong? Well, wouldn't be the first time for science. Ask Wegener. Life is not always fair and humans aren't perfect. But lone wolfs like Wegener are rarities. It is much more likely that someone who doesn't accept the consensus view on a scientific issue is under-informed or is a crank. It seems to me that if you're a grad student looking to study climatology, and you have doubts about AGW being a real phenomenon, then you could easily get into a program, make your bones, and then have your skepticism treated with more respect.

One last thought on AGW, regarding the modeling: I'll be the first to admit that this is the least certain area of the thinking, but I do want to point out that there is a big difference between predicting "tomorrow's weather" (which we're actually pretty good at -- you really should say "next week's") and general climate trends for the planet or large regions as a whole.

Which leaves the first point. I can't really think of anything else to say on this. It seems to me that we have a basic philosophic difference here. I am one of those people who does, in fact, think that knowledge gained by the scientific method is generally better, more reliable, more substantial, however one might want to say it. It is the best kind of knowledge for making consistently correct predictions about the future and it is the best kind of knowledge for removing ambiguity or doubt about a point of contention. I admit that it is limited in scope, that it is ever incomplete, that it is subject to frequent revisions, and that it will always be these ways, at least for the foreseeable future. Nonetheless, I don't believe any other approach comes close.

You obviously don't accept this view. You don't want to offer specifics, and that's your privilege, but without them, I don't think you'll have much of a chance of getting me to change my mind.
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  #30  
Old 06-23-2008, 05:43 AM
StillmanThomas StillmanThomas is offline
 
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Default Re: If it's not disturbing, you're not doing it right

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...I don't think you'll have much of a chance of getting me to change my mind.
It's never been my intention get you to change your mind, Brendan. That's something only you can do. You'll do it, if and when you ever decide that you need another way of looking at things. If not, not and no worries. My goal, always, is simply to put ideas out into the air and let them go where they will. It's like blowing on a dandelion; who knows where the seeds will take root?

Best wishes.
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  #31  
Old 06-23-2008, 07:16 AM
bjkeefe bjkeefe is offline
 
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Default Re: If it's not disturbing, you're not doing it right

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It's never been my intention get you to change your mind, Brendan.
I didn't like that last line when I wrote it, and now I really wish I hadn't.

Sorry to have ended it that way.
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  #32  
Old 06-24-2008, 04:02 AM
StillmanThomas StillmanThomas is offline
 
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Default Re: If it's not disturbing, you're not doing it right

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I didn't like that last line when I wrote it, and now I really wish I hadn't.

Sorry to have ended it that way.
No worries, mate. I've said it before and will repeat myself, you are an incredible asset to bhtv. I always read your comment threads, whether I participate or not, and I almost always learn something new and interesting from them. Thank you, Brendan for your wonderful community spirit.
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  #33  
Old 06-24-2008, 05:05 PM
bjkeefe bjkeefe is offline
 
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Default Re: If it's not disturbing, you're not doing it right

Bokonon:

Thank you for your kind words.

I hope they aren't foma. ;^)
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  #34  
Old 06-24-2008, 05:06 PM
bjkeefe bjkeefe is offline
 
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Default Re: If it's not disturbing, you're not doing it right

Yeah, I know I've made that joke before. Sue me.
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  #35  
Old 06-25-2008, 03:34 AM
StillmanThomas StillmanThomas is offline
 
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Default Re: If it's not disturbing, you're not doing it right

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Thank you for your kind words.
I hope they aren't foma. ;^)
LOL. When the site redesign happened, I couldn't access my original name anymore and couldn't get anyone here to help me log in. I had just finished re-reading Cat's Cradle and this handle leaped off my fingertips, so I switched identities. Harumph. This is probably a terrible name for me.

Eschew Foma would be a good bumper sticker for me, I think.
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Old 06-25-2008, 03:48 AM
bjkeefe bjkeefe is offline
 
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Eschew Foma would be a good bumper sticker for me, I think.
But of course anyone who knew would suspect that the bumper sticker itself was nothing but foma. So maybe it would be better to have one that said Embrace Foma.
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Old 06-25-2008, 04:00 AM
Wonderment Wonderment is offline
 
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Default Re: If it's not disturbing, you're not doing it right

There is only one resolution of the bumper sticker paradox (and global warming):

Keep on ambulando
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Old 06-25-2008, 04:19 AM
bjkeefe bjkeefe is offline
 
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Default Re: If it's not disturbing, you're not doing it right

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It always bothered me that the root word has to do with walking, and we even have the English word ambulatory, but we call the vehicle that carries those who can't walk an ambulance.
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Old 06-25-2008, 05:41 AM
Wonderment Wonderment is offline
 
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Default Re: If it's not disturbing, you're not doing it right

Hmm, do I detect an autoantonym?

My favorites are sanctions and cleavage.
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Old 06-25-2008, 07:16 AM
bjkeefe bjkeefe is offline
 
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Default Re: If it's not disturbing, you're not doing it right

Yes! I was thinking of cleave. But looking at that page -- clip never occurred to me.

Then there's flammable, which had to be created because too many people didn't know what inflammable meant -- words that sound like antonyms, but are actually synonyms.
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