Class Warfare Blog

February 17, 2018

Misuses of Science?

Filed under: Economics,Science — Steve Ruis @ 9:37 am
Tags: , , ,

 

There is a term being bandied about, scientism, to describe the intrusion of science into fields where it is felt to be inappropriate (ethics, for example). I think this “defense” is unnecessary as science is experimental, it either proves useful or it does not. The real problem, I believe, lies in a misunderstanding of what science does and is useful for.

Obviously, science applies well in “scientific” fields: physics, chemistry, biology, etc. So well, in fact, that these areas of study are called “sciences.” The application of scientific methods to other areas is more “iffy” for a good reason. Take the analysis of financial markets, for example. In recent years, college graduates who used to go into scientific fields have been attracted into the financial world. They even have a nickname, “quants,” because of their application of quantitative tools previously only applied in scientific pursuits. The inherent problem here is, even though markets watchers refer to “the market” in phrases like “the market was calm today” or “the market was perturbed today” as if it were some sort of exotic animal, unlike the sciences, there may be no controlling behaviors built into the system. A physicist doing a scientific investigation believes there may well be a fundamental behavior of matter underlying the patterns he/she is studying. That belief is well-founded as such have been found so often in the past. In finance or economics, the belief there is some underlying structure or principles is an open question as such have not been established as fact.

It is a little like Disney’s The Sorcerer’s Apprentice; the apprentice waves a tool around and mutters incantations hoping to invoke powers he clearly doesn’t understand. He is not even aware what those powers are, except he has seen his master do similar things and get some results. So, in finance, people who mutter incantations and get results are the new masters (by seeming to understand things at a fundamental level others do not) and because it is assumed they have found the underlying structures that create success. Clearly they have not and their results are not attachable to any underlying truths, but they look good to those hoping to find success. (People are still talking nonsense about financial markets as if they were truths.)

Economics is another “science” (it is not) that has adopted the trappings of science without there being much, if any evidence, there are fundamental structures underlying economies. But, by making economics “scientifical,” it has the appearance of being more founded in reality, even though there is no evidence of that.

If the people applying scientific methods to their fields are serious, they need to establish whether there are, indeed, any underlying structures that can be discovered, that help us to understand their fields. Just waving scientific tools around in the air may make one’s studies look more prestigious, but in the end they will just look foolish.

The sad thing is the general populous can’t tell the difference between science rooted in reality and speculative science being employed in the hopes it will work. This, using science speculatively, seems to be a handle that the science deniers are using to discredit solid science. And that will not help us make progress.

Advertisements

January 26, 2018

Right … Are You Sure It Wasn’t Aliens?

Filed under: Religion — Steve Ruis @ 10:25 am
Tags: , ,

The Conversation (U.K.) website ran a piece yesterday with the interesting title “Religion isn’t the enemy of science: it’s been inspiring scientists for centuries” by Tom McLeish. (What has happened to the capitalization of titles?) Mr. McLeish is writing a book on the same topic. Many other British outlets including mainstream media organs produce puff pieces supporting religion and this is no different.

The author, of course, cherry picks the Jewish and Christian Bibles to make connections of those documents with the scientific method, and then, also of course, ignores all of the opposition to scientists and to scientific findings over the course of Church history.

Unsupported claims like “The content of this timeless text has clearly steered the story of science for centuries” are made. Steered the story of science … it sounds as if the Bible has been humanity’s research director all along and we just didn’t notice.

In reality, the Church has insisted that if one wanted to know anything, the answer was to be found in scripture. If it could not be found, then the question was too trivial for scripture to have addressed it, so the question was too trivial to pursue. If one insisted on pursuing answers to such questions, the scientist was being prideful and sinful and was subject to repercussions such as excommunication, house arrest, inability to publish, imprisonment, torture and death.

In the history of science there have been occasions in which scientists, being very sure that their thinking was right, bent their evidence to align it with their foregone conclusion. It happened then and it happens today, it is normal. It is also normal in science today that when a deception is discovered the scientist responsible is excoriated, typically loses his job, and is drummed out of the field. In the history of religion, theists who fabricate documents and religious relics are almost never chastised because having an excess of zeal is “erring on the high side” and is excused.

Many religious miracles have been investigated scientifically and none have been shown to have supernatural sources. More than a few have been shown to be the result of chicanery. Mechanisms to cause inanimate objects to more, statues to ooze “tears” or “blood,” etc. have been created to attract religious pilgrims, willing to pay a small fee to observe proof of their faith.

Proving faith is what this all comes down to. This is why apologists appeal to reason all of the time instead of faith. Faith is a dead end philosophically as there is no way to create more of it through faith, only through reason. (Ask C.S. Lewis.) Since the supernatural seemingly cannot be depended upon to provide what is needed, theists feel no compunction against, apparently, providing the proof that faith is reasonable by carefully fabricating “evidence” to support their positions. This “evidence” is designed to appeal to a certain audience of certain capabilities. What works for simple people does not necessarily work for intellectuals and vice-versa.

There are more than a few books telling us that science and religion are not only compatible but handmaidens in human progress. Since only a small fraction of our culture actually reads books, the messages in these books are directed at that audience. This one, I am sure, will be no different. The text will sound literate, offer citations (mostly scripture) and connections they see which in reality aren’t significant or, in many cases, appropriate. And, they will leave out the Church’s repression of scientific ideas that lasted for centuries.

If the Bible steered the story of science it is only because people were finally allowed to study its contents and then asked “How could that be?” (Remember the Church did not want people to be able to read the Bible, so it forbade its translation into vernacular languages. They wanted the Bible to be doled out by “experts” who knew what conclusions to draw. This cherry picking of scripture continues on today’s churches. When was the last time a minister preached on the meaning of the many massacres in the OT?) Those “How could that be?” thoughts led to investigations that almost always contradicted what scripture claimed. The list of bad science in scripture is very, very long and I will not bore you expounding it, but as just one example, if you get sick would you go to a doctor or to an exorcist? The Bible would have you go to the exorcist as demons create human maladies. And it isn’t that Church leaders have not known that what they are teaching in these areas is false, Renaissance Popes had Jewish doctors on retainer to treat their illness, even after Jewish doctors were banned from treating Christians. No exorcists for them, they wanted only the best medicine available, even if it came from detested Jews. (Much like Republicans claiming our health care system is the best in the world because their platinum health care plans are so much better than our tin ones.)

 

January 8, 2018

Just Plain, Or Not So Plain, Ignorant

I was reading Yuval Harari’s “Sapiens” last night and came upon this. (Despite my occasional cavils, this is a brilliant book, highly recommended.)

The Scientific Revolution has not been a revolution of knowledge. It has been above all a revolution of ignorance.

Shortly after came this:

Premodern traditions of knowledge such as Islam, Christianity, Buddhism and Confucianism asserted that everything that is important to know about the world was already known. The great gods, or the one almighty God, or the wise people of the past possessed all-encompassing wisdom, which they revealed to us in scriptures and oral traditions. Ordinary mortals gained knowledge by delving into ancient texts and traditions  and understanding them properly. It was inconceivable that the Bible, the Qur’an or the Vedas were missing out on a crucial secret of the universe – a secret that might yet be discovered by flesh-and-blood creatures.

If something couldn’t be found in scriptures then it was, by definition, trivial.

So, I have to ask: has anything changed? The power of religions is based upon their traditions and scriptures, so they reinforce that power every chance they get. They weave that power into our cultures and politics to sustain it.

And, it is clear that very, very, very important things were left out of scriptures as they were unknown at the time of their writing.

So, has anything changed?

 

 

December 30, 2017

Are UFOs Real?

Filed under: Science — Steve Ruis @ 11:27 am
Tags: , ,

This is a quite stupid question that keeps getting muddled. Of course UFOs are real, but that is not the problem. The real problem is with the “U,” that is they are unidentified.

Many people, apparently, want these UFOs to be evidence of visitations from extraterrestrials, i.e. real aliens. That interpretation is still open.

So, UFOs are real. They are real mistaken identities, real secret weapons systems, and real we don’t know what the heck they are. But what about the aliens? Most people are ignorant of basic science, so allow me to establish some parameters based upon known scientific limits. One of those limits is that as a physical object, such as a spacecraft approaches the speed of light, really any sizable fraction of it, the amount of energy needed to increase the object’s speed goes up, well astronomically. This makes moving a space craft along at the speed of light essentially impossible, but let’s assume, for the sake of this discussion, that such a feat, travel at the speed of light, were possible.

If any neighbor of ours wanted to come our way, what do you think would be a reasonable travel distance? I suggest a reasonable limit to that distance is 100 light years. If a planet is 100 light years away (the distance light were to travel in 100 years) and it had a spacecraft capable of doing what we think impossible, traveling at the speed of light, they would be undertaking a trip that would take 100 years to get here and 100 years to get back. Even if these space faring aliens lived incredibly long lives, that is a very long time to be cooped up in a spacecraft, exposed to the hazards of space travel (nasty radiation that cannot be blocked out, the vacuum of space, tiny meteoroids that can and do punch holes through spacecraft, no refueling/reprovisioning stations along the way so you have to bring everything with you, etc.). The boredom alone would make the trip daunting.

So, there is a region in space surrounding our planet, that is 100 light years in radius from which we could reasonably expect a possible visit. How does this compare with the size of the rest of the universe? The universe is 14 billion or so years old, so its radius is about 14 billion light years. To compare the volumes, we need to cube the radii of both “spheres” and we end up with a ratio of 1003 to 14,000,000,0003. That means our little neighborhood constitutes roughly 3.6 x 10–23 of one percent of the entire universe (just add a decimal point and 22 zeros in front of the 3 and you can drop the rest).

We could conclude, therefore, that our little bubble in space also contains that fraction of the space faring intelligent alien species in the universe, too. Oh.

If you have ever wondered why we don’t see “them,” this is why.

Oh, I didn’t mention the time problem. The universe is 14 billion years old and we have been looking for aliens for maybe 100 years … to make a long story short, we have a similar fraction of time in which such encounters could occur. Space faring aliens may have come and gone, too far away to make contact, millions of times and we couldn’t possibly have noticed them as we were not looking.

There is a reason why science fiction authors are constantly inventing methods of travel (wormholes, warp drives (whatever that is), etc.). The inventor of the warp drive was cagey enough to not define what a warp number meant. Most people think it is like the Mach system with the speed of light replacing the speed of sound, so Warp 5 is five times the speed of light. The Star Trek shows seem to indicate that a limit to their technology was travel at about Warp 10. If this actually represents ten times the speed of light, then that expands our bubble 1000 fold! Hooray! Which brings our percent of the universe within reasonable travel times to 3.6 x 10–20 of one percent. Oh.

If you happen to be a theist and are wondering why a creator god would have created so much of the universe inaccessible to us, you may want to consider that he wanted to keep all of his created creatures separated for a reason (maybe until we learn that Kill, kill, kill! is not a good first response to anything strange), or maybe he enjoys a good joke, or maybe he is just perverse, or….

September 26, 2017

You Can’t Create Something from Nothing?

Filed under: Religion,Science — Steve Ruis @ 11:27 am
Tags: , , , ,

It is a common trope of Christian apologists to bring up the Big Bang cosmological theory and either endorse it as the act of God’s creation of the universe or condemn it because “you cannot create something from nothing.” The fact that these two approaches are completely contradictory doesn’t cost these apologists even one minute of sleep, of course; they are not looking for consistency or correctness, they are looking for a “killer argument.”

Setting aside everything but the claim that “you cannot get something from nothing” point, let’s look at this. Apologists often make this claim, which is not only unsupported but possibly unsupportable, and then claim that the only alternative to this merely physical description of the beginning of our universe is that their god created the universe … from nothing … by magic. Honestly, they say this with a straight face. At its heart, they are claiming you cannot make something from nothing … except by magic. And, of course, “magic” is not defined or demonstrated or … anything.

So, what about this premise: you can’t create something from nothing. When they do argue this, they say that everything that “begins to exist” (also not defined) has a cause and a cause must be pre-existing which contradicts the “nothing” aspect. So, they claim, their god is the First Cause (concept and name borrowed from the Greeks), the Prime Mover (concept and name borrowed from Aristotle, a Greek), the Totally Awesome: Yahweh.

Okay, theists, take a deep breath. Consider what “nothing” represents. Presumably, applied to this discussion nothing means no time, no space, no laws of physics, no things. Of course “things” are material objects, but it appears that in this case there would also be no energy or other non-material manifestations of our current universe.

“I wonder, have the apologists ever won an argument? Ever?
Apparently they can’t create something from nothing.”

If this was the case just before the Big Bang, what could prevent anything from happening? What, no cause? Hello? There is no relationship between cause and effect. There are no physical laws, no chemistry, no physics, no thing. Under these circumstances, there are no limitations at all on what could happen.

For example, allow me a flight of imagination. In a state of “no thing” an immense explosion occurs, creating two universes: one created from matter and energy and the other of anti-matter and anti-energy. (Imagine two balloons connected at their mouths, suddenly inflating. Each is ignorant of the existence of the other. Each seems to have been inflated from nothing.) Initially there is some mixing between the two, but since the two forms of matter and the two forms of energy annihilate each other, soon, the two universes are both quite “pure” and  stable. (This solves the mystery, by the way, of why there is so little anti-matter in our universe, when the physical laws now operating say that equal amounts should have been created “in the beginning.”) The net mass of the two universes: zero. The net energy of the two universes: zero. The laws covering whether this could occur “from nothing”: zero.

A state of nothingness is completely unlimited as to what could happen, so something could come from nothing, easy peasey.

I wonder, have the apologists ever won an argument? Ever? Apparently they can’t create something from nothing. I wonder what that says about their message.

August 25, 2017

Aliens … and Dinosaurs!

Having covered all of the ground possible … and a lot more, the Ancient Aliens TV show has hit a new high, or low, depending on your point of view. They kept many of the same people on staff, introduced some new folks, and they kept their normal whirlwind pace, one that doesn’t allow much time for consideration of the fabulous things they propose, such as aliens being the cause of the demise of the dinosaurs.

The main thrust of this episode is indeed that it might just be possible, maybe coulda been, that aliens eliminated the dinosaurs so we could thrive. I won’t comment on the “evidence” they present but there was one point at which the idiocy achieved new heights. They were developing a line of argument challenging the facts that humans are 2-3 million years old at best but “all” of the dinosaurs perished 65 million years ago, in what was considered an extinction level even involving a rather large meteor, landing in Mexico, but clearly dinosaurs and humans lived alongside one another … well, and aliens, too, of course.

They trotted out the éminence grise of this generation of unbridled thinkers, Erich von Daniken, to ask the question: If this was an event large enough to kill “all” of the dinosaurs, why did it kill off just the dinosaurs? (Apparently enquiring minds want to know.) Well, the event in question is called the Cretaceous-Paleocene mass extinction event and it resulted in about 75% of all species on the planet being wiped out, not “just” the dinos. And, it didn’t even kill off all of the dinosaurs! Many of the smaller theropods (what most of us think of when we think of dinosaurs), that is those under 25 kg/55 lb in mass, survived. Of course, the big beasties died.

The show then went on it’s merry way establishing that dinosaurs and human beings could possibly have lived together (mighta coulda). They didn’t mention Alley Oop in their arguments but they did throw in the Loch Ness monster and coelacanths. Right in the middle of this a talking head I didn’t bother to identify started bad mouthing radiocarbon dating, saying things like it was based on the production of carbon-14 in the atmosphere by cosmic rays (true) and that the rate of production may have been different millions of years ago (also true) and that these things could affect the dates on early human and dinosaurs remains (uh, not so much). If you want to know why I was puzzled, Dear Reader, read on.

Carbon-14 Dating: A Primer
All radioactivity-based dating methods are based upon a factoid of radioactive isotopes (kinds of elements): they all decay in a pattern involving a half-life. A half-life is an amount of time in which a radioactive sample loses half of its radioactivity. Interestingly, the next halving of that sample’s radioactivity takes the same amount of time, as does the next even though there is less and less to lose. This creates a situation that is summarized in a rule of thumb: a radioactive isotope can be used to date object as much as 10 half-lives back in time. The amount of radioactivity in a living animal cannot be very high in the first place. Comic books aside, radioactivity in high doses is typically lethal. So, all living plants and animals start out with only tiny amounts of radioactive elements in their bodies. Then after one half life, half of it is gone (unless it is replaced which in the case of carbon-14 happens because we eat carbon atoms in all of our food and plants absorb carbon dioxide—this, of course, stops when the plant or animal dies). After two half lives, only a quarter remains because half is lost in the first period and half of what is left was gone after the second. After the third half-life one eighth is left, after the fourth, one sixteenth is left, etc. After ten half-lives 1/210 is left. As a percent that is a little less than 0.1%. Since very little was started with, at this point close to zero is left, so there is basically nothing to measure.

So, what is the half-life of carbon-14 you ask? (You’d better!) It is 5730 years. Ten times this number is 57,300 years. This is the time span that radiocarbon dating can be used. That won’t get you back before Homo sapiens begins (200,000-300,000 years) let alone back to the large theropods getting killed off 66 million years ago. This is a classic smokescreen tactic, used often in this show. Throw anything you got against the wall and see if it sticks.

The Problem With All of This
As you are probably aware, Americans are not the most scientifically-literate people on the planet. As more and more of this bushwah is passed off as some sort of legitimate argumentation (It is not!), people are going to more easily believe the bullshit our governments peddle us. Global warming? That’s a hoax perpetrated by greedy scientists looking for grants. Dumping mine wastes laced with toxic heavy metals, not a problem. The Earth cleans itself. Lead in drinking water? A little bit is okay; go ahead and drink it.

The Exxon Corporation has released documents showing that 80% of the studies they undertook or analyzed showed that global warming/climate change was real and had real negative consequences. At the same time, 80% of its marketing budgets on the topic went to casting shade on the topic (for decades). Their problem is that one of the greatest sources of the climate change problem is the burning of petroleum products, which is what Exxon is in business for.

 

August 9, 2017

A Modern Quandary

I have been reading “Sociology is a Martial Art: Political Writings by Pierre Bourdieu.” This is puzzling to me because I haven’t been having any trouble sleeping, so why would I want to read a sociology text? (Sorry, old joke.)

In a context different from the one I will address in this post ( his was the impact of television), Professor Bourdieu wrote “How can I reconcile the exigency of ‘purity’ inherent in scientific and intellectual work, which necessarily leads to esotericism, with the democratic interest in making these achievements available to the greatest number?” His concern was that the primary function of television seemingly was to dumb down even simple discussions. Here I want to address the topic of the anti-evolution crowd and the anti-climate change crowd.

Without specialized training, it is hard to follow the science in these fields. I have a graduate degree in chemistry and I am not versed in the nuances of either subject (although I guess I could create a small summary of each). So, without esoteric training, how are the citizens in a democracy supposed to assess the validity of such concepts.

We could start with having better basic education, explaining that a scientific theory is a mechanism that explains a great many facts as well as makes predictions available to expand out knowledge. Currently people use the word theory as a synonym for “wild ass guess.” “I have a theory about that …” they will say. No, they don’t. At best they have an hypothesis and more likely they have a guess that is poorly substantiated at best. To say one has a “theory” makes one sound better than to say “I have a guess as to….”

It also does not help that each topic has a cadre of sociopolitical opponents. If the Theory of Evolution is correct, all of fundamentalist Christianity and most of doctrinaire Christianity is off to a rubbish heap somewhere. Basically, if God didn’t created humanity magically, we couldn’t have “rebelled” against his authority, so there was no original sin, and hence nothing for the human sacrifice that was Jesus to absolve. (Bye, bye!)

Climate change has political opponents who have economic stakes at risk. The Koch brothers fund anti-climate change efforts to protect their oil refining, oil pipeline, and other industries, while David Koch supports NOVA science education programs on PBS, including programs on climate change (possibly as a suppressing maneuver?).

So, ordinary citizens are left to evaluate what appears to them to be a propaganda war. “Scientists” have lied to them before as have businessmen, so it is hard to decide which side of either of these debates is trustworthy.

I find the argument that climate change was invented for scientists to be able to secure grants for their work (It is a hoax!). Whoever invented this red herring obviously has never interacted with scientists, each of which has a big ego, and the first of them to discover such a plot would gleefully expose his colleagues to shame and humiliation for participating in it. Most scientists minored in gloating in college.

So, what’s a citizen to do?

I think part of the problem has to do with the evidence not being on display. I hear Christian apologists often ask the question: Where are the transitional fossils? This questions goes back to the time of Charles Darwin when there was a very sparse fossil record. The key facts that the public needs to know is that fossils do not form all that often, so are passably rare and that with regard to transitional fossils, fossils that show one species transitioning to another, there are large numbers of them available. Maybe a video (to reach the masses) needs to me made of the amount of evidence underlying the Theory of Evolution. The amount of evidence, from many, many different and unrelated fields of science is incredibly vast. Just a list of peer-reviewed articles supporting the theory scrolling on like the credits of a Hollywood movie (like they do on TV, at super high speeds) would take hours. Flashing photos of all of the fossils that apply to animals no longer in existence but which fit into the evolutionary family tree of Earth, would also take quite a long time (blink, blink, blink, maybe a running counter would help: 1, 2, 3, …, 3008, 3009, …).

The same could be true for Climate Change. We could run publicity shots of the smiling faces of the scientists in the field who support the tentative conclusion that humanity is contributing to the current round of climate change (blink, blink, blink, maybe a running counter would help: 1, 2, 3, …, 178, 179, …). Then the photos of those reputable scientists who oppose the current consensus on climate change could have their photos flashed (blink, blink, blink).

There is no way ordinary citizens could be brought up to speed on these topics through educating them, because even with the head start in such training I have, I do not want to put in the effort. Instead, I trust the scientists in their field to represent their findings correctly (to the best of their ability) and I trust the egos of their colleagues to prick any intellectual bubbles that are flimsy or unfounded.

Another route might be to create an independent evaluation board to provide basic explanations of science topics to legislators and citizens. The Town of Brisbane, Australia did this a while back (don’t know whether they still do) when they created the office of Town Scientist whose job it was to explain scientific topics to the town governing board and citizens of the Town of Brisbane. For the longest time the State of California had an independent political official whose job was to explain issues voters needed to address and that office was never politicized or demeaned, and it worked really well for quite some time (don’t know whether it still does).

This is a modern problem, because back when “governance” was by autocrats/monarchs, they didn’t give a fig about whether the people understood or not. Ironically, it was the advent of merchants (aka business people) who accumulated wealth (aka power) enough to make it important that a wider swath of a country’s population be made to understand governmental decisions. With the advent of modern democracy, issues are now submitted to the ballot and candidates for office are voted upon, too. We need to figure out how to “reconcile the exigency of ‘purity’ inherent in scientific and intellectual work, which necessarily leads to esotericism, with the democratic interest in making these achievements available to the greatest number” and we need to do it fast. Life ain’t gonna get simpler.

July 16, 2017

It Is Put Up or Shut Up Time for the Intelligent Design Movement

Filed under: Religion,Science — Steve Ruis @ 8:52 am
Tags: , , , ,

As you may know the “Intelligent Design Theory” is just a second (third, fourth, … ?) generation form of Creationism. The people who created “ID” (it is not a theory by the way, at best it is an hypothesis) are folks who believe that God created the entire universe in only six days, about 6000 years ago or so and the science that says otherwise, aka “God’s Creation,” just has to be wrong.

The ID people spend most of their time criticizing the science of evolution (which claims we evolved and were not created magically), paleontology (which claims there is fossil and other evidence dating animals and humans back millions of years), geology (which claims that the Earth is over four billion years old), cosmology (which claims the universe is much older than our solar system), etc. but they do not seem to be motivated to answer questions on their own. These people are like colleagues who criticize your work but don’t do any work themselves.

So, it is put up or shut up time. Here are a few questions I would like to see the ID people answer. All are based upon their beliefs, primarily that God created everything about 6000 years ago. Also, since they argue that we cannot know the mind of God, I choose not to ask “why” so much as “how.”

  1. When God created all of the stars, how did he create the starlight so that it looks like it had been en route for billions of years? (Humans can start light beams and stop light beams, but not create a beam millions of light years long instantly.)
  2. When God created the Earth, He included the fossilized remains of animals that were not described in the Bible or any other historical source. How was this done, also why? (The answer “it was a test of faith” is specious because that would imply a knowledge of the mind of God.)
  3. There are animals on Earth that cannot be domesticated, nor are they good tasting or nutritious. How is it that they serve man’s dominion?
  4. When the Earth was created, radioactive elements were created alongside large quantities of their daughter products, thus creating the illusion that those minerals had been buried for millions if not billions of years. How was this done?
  5. Since all of the Earth’s creatures were created just 6000 years ago, why does all of the evidence in God’s creation point to them having evolved over a very much longer time period (3 billion years).
  6. Why does mitochondrial DNA point to a common modern human ancestor of all current humans (Mitochondrial Eve) who lived somewhere between 100,000 and 300,000 years ago?
  7. If the Earth was created 6000 years ago, why does the Earth exhibit geological layers of sediment that can only have taken place over a very long time. Many of these layers show extreme tilting and folding and contain the remains of plants and animals of bizarre domains (e.g. ferns near mountain tops)?
  8. If all of the Earth’s animals are descendant’s of the animals on Noah’s Ark, why does their DNA point back to common ancestors far farther in the past?
  9. In the Garden of Eden, what did the carnivores eat? If they ate the meat of other animals, then the GOE was a charnel house as all of the lions, tigers, and wolves mowed down all of sheep, cattle, and the rest of their kind. (Death was common in the GOE then.) If they ate grass, how were they converted into carnivores from herbivores in such a short time?

How about we collect a long list of such questions for the ID movement? Help the IDers by asking questions like the above. It seems that they are struggling to come up with a research agenda, let’s create on for them! Now, that’s creationism!

May 30, 2017

If the Universe Is So Vast, Where Is Everybody?

Filed under: Science — Steve Ruis @ 10:29 am
Tags: , , ,

The question in the title is a variant of “Are we alone?” Are there other sentient life forms in our galaxy? Enquiring minds want to know.

This post is prompted by a review of a new book (ALIENS: The World’s Leading Scientists on the Search for Extraterrestrial Life, edited and with an introduction by Jim Al-Khalili).  I have not read the book and do not intend to. The reason? The discussion is premature.

One of the powers of human minds is to imagine (possibly the greatest of human powers) but it has a gigantic flaw: garbage in, garbage out. If our imagination has little to no data to work on we come up with quite fallacious outcomes. This is how we got demons and gods and unicorns and leprechauns.

So, what evidence do we have regarding the universe? We have optical and EMR evidence for the existence of billion upon billions of stars in our galaxy and billions upon billions of galaxies in our universe. But realize we have not known this for long. One hundred years ago, we knew that the Milky Way was a manifestation of other stars in our “neighborhood” but we though that that represented the totality our universe, too. We had observed fuzzy spots in those star fields but hadn’t acquired the evidence to recognize them as other galaxies. And while we had speculated that many of those stars would have planets about them, we had no direct evidence that was so until quite recently. The first actual planet circling another star was identified in … wait for it … 1992. So, we have been aware that there are other planets “out there” for all of 25 years. We have subsequently identified hundreds of others.

Do we have any evidence that life exists on those planets? No, but we do not have any evidence that life does not exist either. At this point, we are not yet ready to make those discoveries (although we are close).

The question in the title implies that since there are so many stars, there must also be unbelievably large numbers of planets, and if life is not an isolated accident, or divine bit of magic, occurring here and only here, then where are those other peoples? There is a mistake embedded in this question though, leading to flights of imagination fueled only by fairy dust. The universe is indeed vast, but the primary constituent of our universe is empty space, aka nothing. The next closest star to us is about four light years away from us. To go there to get direct evidence of what exists there, we would have to travel for four years at the speed of light. Since the fastest speed ever achieved by a man-made object is about 25 miles per second, and the speed of light is about 186,000 miles per second, at that speed (as an average), a trip to Alpha Centauri would take a bit under 35,000 years. If we could get their magically and then sent data back to Earth, it would take four years to get here and when it arrived the information would be four years old.

The universe is unimaginably vast, but this is also misleading because it is also vast in time. A civilization could have arisen around Alpha Centauri, to the point that it was capable of building spacecraft capable of very high speeds who could have made the trip in under 20 years, let’s say. But if this occurred 100,000 years ago, there wouldn’t have been anyone here to notice. (That doesn’t stop the imagination, of course, … Ancient Aliens!)

The universe is vast in time as well as space. In order to generate a signal that we could interpret as synthetic instead of natural, that civilization would have to exist within a small radius in space and time. If it is over 100 years out of phase with us now, we wouldn’t have a chance of detecting it. So, 100 years in time is our bubble. How many years has the universe been around? That number is 14,000,000,000 years, roughly. Our “time” as a species capable of detecting another sentient species in our vicinity is therefore about 0.0000025% of the time that has occurred to now. Considering that our spatial bubble is roughly 100 light years wide and the universe is roughly 28,000,000,000 light years wide, we have in out neighborhood, 0.0000012% of the universe’s space. Consequently, we have a combined fraction of the universe’s space and time of  3 x 10–14%. In other words, 99.99999 … 9999% of the universe is outside of our purview, either existing in the past or so far away as to be unattainable.

Something you need to know. Those extra-solar planet hunters … when they “find” evidence of yet another such planet, if that planet is, say, 540 light years away, when the light gets to us it is showing us what was going on 540 years ago. Even if there were a planet with a civilization what could produce radio waves or some such we could detect, that information is 540 years old. What is to say what will happen to us in the next 540 years? Right now our prospects of existing that long do not look good. At the rate we are shitting in our own food bowl, we might not have much of a civilization to be found by aliens.

April 25, 2017

Wrestling the Unconscious (and Losing)

Filed under: Science — Steve Ruis @ 10:44 am
Tags: , , , ,

In a review of an author’s first nonfiction piece (Cormac McCarthy Explains the Unconscious by Nick Romeo, April 22, 2017) in The New Yorker magazine, we are treated to a review of a serious attempt to address the unconscious mind by someone immersed in language, Cormac McCarthy.

I have yet to read the original article (I will) but a number of comments by the reviewer struck me and I will comment on them. here are three paragraphs snatched from that review:

“His title references a famous eureka moment in the history of science: after years of thought and research, the nineteenth-century German chemist August Kekulé claimed that he hit upon the ring-like structure of the benzene molecule after he dreamed of a snake eating its own tail. McCarthy calls this ‘the Kekulé Problem’ because it’s unclear why the unconscious supplied a non-linguistic solution to the puzzle of the molecule’s configuration. Since the unconscious would have to understand language to grasp the problem in the first place, why wouldn’t it furnish a solution in the same medium? McCarthy generalizes the quandary, asking, ‘Why is the unconscious so loathe to speak to us? Why the images, metaphors, pictures? Why the dreams, for that matter.’

“His answer—which, he says, appeared in a sort of Kekulé moment of its own, as a sudden epiphany while he was emptying the trash one morning—is that the unconscious is ‘just not used to giving verbal instructions and is not happy doing so. Habits of two million years duration are hard to break.’ The description of the unconscious as ‘not happy’ with language—as, in fact, ‘loathe to speak to us’—is not an isolated lapse into intentional language: throughout the essay, McCarthy personifies the unconscious as an ancient and inscrutable agent with its own desires and talents.

“McCarthy knows that some of this might sound eccentric. After declaring that the unconscious labors ‘under a moral compulsion to educate us,’ he inserts a parenthetical anticipating a dubious reader. ‘(Moral compulsion? Is he serious?).’ McCarthy doesn’t think the unconscious is interested in micromanaging our affairs, but he does seem to seriously believe that it has a broad interest in our wellbeing. The unconscious, he writes, ‘wants to give guidance to your life in general, but it doesn’t care what toothpaste you use.’”

I tend to agree that the subconscious abilities of our brains eschew the use of words and numbers. But studies do show that there is some understanding of things expressed in words and numbers by our unconscious.

McCarthy’s fixation on “Since the unconscious would have to understand language to grasp the problem in the first place, why wouldn’t it furnish a solution in the same medium?” is misplaced, however. For one Kekulé was investigating the behavior of the chemical compound benzene specifically with regard to the shape of its molecules. So, his problem was geometric and not verbal. (We can forgive McCarthy this misunderstanding as its logic is probably of interest only to chemists.) So, basically the subconscious offered up a spatial option for a spatial problem.

Next, the image of a snake biting its tail is an archetype one can find embedded in cultures all over the world. Actually believing that snakes bite their tales and then roll around as a form of locomotion was taking things a bit too far, but this image is common enough that we have a term for it: ouroboros (see image).

May the circle be unbroken, by and …

And what McCarthy and more scientific researchers seem to ignore, possibly because it may be an insoluble problem, is how many times this image comes up in our dreams (day or night) and which then is rapidly forgotten. In my callow youth I kept a dream log. I learned a few things from it, namely that dreams are mostly rubbish, outtakes from a cornucopia of images we have stored, but also that they take almost no time to deliver. One time I remember falling asleep looking at a bedside clock and then having this very long, convoluted dream that switched locales so fast as to be breath taking. I then woke up with a start to see than only about five minutes of real time had elapsed. These dream episodes happen several times a night and the only ones we seem to remember are the last ones, which fade rapidly unless some effort is made to reinforce them. I no longer reinforce them, so I remember dreams 1-2 times per year at most.

So, consider the thousands of dreams I have had over the last year that have been forgotten. Since they seem to be snippets of images already stored in memory, I suppose they haven’t been forgotten, but there was nothing “new” about them as they were mishmashes of old images. Kekulé was struggling mightily with a problem involving the shape of a molecule and in the ongoing slideshow that was his dreams, an ouroboros pops up and this is latched onto by his conscious mind. He takes that and runs with it.

Did his subconscious really “solve” his problem for him? Is our conscious mind “under a moral compulsion to educate us?” Or is it just throwing up a slide show of images because your conscious mind has been engrossed in that topic? Or does the conscious mind filter out all of the rubbish and sift out the images because we are interested in something like at the moment?

The answers are: we do not know, we do not know (but highly doubt our subconscious has a morality), we do not know, and we do not know. The speculations of philosophers, authors, neuroscientists and the like are all grist for the mill but we still do not know the answers to those questions and their like. We are just beginning to find out. We now know that the subconscious processes of our brains use the same circuitry for the same purposes as do our conscious minds (the visual cortex for processing and storing images, the auditory cortex for processing and storing sounds, etc.). That seemed logical to assume, but now we know.

Since so much of our lives is governed by subconscious mental processing (a majority I believe) it is high time we learned more about it.

Next Page »

Create a free website or blog at WordPress.com.