Christianity, Cultural Traits, Culture, Human Nature, Ideas, Intersubjective Verification, Knowledge, Learning, Logic, Observation, Philosophy, Quality of Life, Reason, Science, Scientific Method(s), Scientist, Subjective Verification, Thinking, Truth

Paul’s Brief and Saucy Primer to the Scientific Revolution

SUMMARY:  Several things or factors had to come together for the Scientific Revolution to take place.  The factors include logical reasoning, empiricism, peer review, and at least two basic worldviews.

(About a 7 minute read)

If you’re like me, your first question about this blog post will almost certainly be, “How did Paul’s briefs ever come to prime the Scientific Revolution?” I myself would say that’s a pretty good question!

On the other hand, if you’re NOT like me, but you instead suffer from a dangerous infestation of sanity, you probably already know that the Scientific Revolution is arguably one of the most consequential events in the entire intellectual and material history of our noble and esteemed species of poo-flinging, fur-challenged super-apes — and that it is still unfolding. Moreover, that knowledge may have gotten you to wondering how such an extraordinary thing ever got started?

As it turns out, that’s a huge question. Huge!

Continue reading “Paul’s Brief and Saucy Primer to the Scientific Revolution”

Belief, Biases, Cognitive Biases, Epistemology, Intersubjective Verification, Logic, Nature, Observation, Philosophy, Reality Based Community, Reason, Science, Scientific Method(s), Scientist, Skeptical Thinking, Thinking, Truth

“How unbiased is science and how unbiased are the scientists?”

A Special Guest Post by Boyd Stace Walters II

(An 11 minute read)

Boyd Stace-Walters here.  Worldly epistemologist, savvy logician, and adept philosopher of the sciences parachuting in from an undisclosed location and secret hideaway in academia to answer Mr. Bottomless Coffee’s excellent compound question, “How unbiased is science and how unbiased are the scientists?”

As it happens Mr. Bottomless Coffee, that question was the single most frequently asked question at the most recent party I was invited to back in ’96.

Admittedly, the reason it was the most asked question is because I got deliriously drunk on two two many glasses of the old bubbly and started asking it of all the guests.  I was hallucinating they were graduate students, you see.  But I’ve learned my lesson, and never again will I drink at my own wedding.

Continue reading ““How unbiased is science and how unbiased are the scientists?””

Community, Human Nature, Intellectual Honesty, Intersubjective Verification, Knowledge, Logic, Philosophy, Reason, Science, Scientific Method(s), Skeptical Thinking, Teresums, Thinking, Truth

How Scientists Verify that Something is True

 

A Special Guest Post by Boyd Stace Walters II

(About a 7 minute read)

Dear Ms. Teresums,

Boyd Stace-Walters here.  Worldly logician, savvy epistemologist, and frighteningly good philosopher of the sciences.  Mr. Sunstone has asked me to address you on a subject he says is “as near and dear to her as wanking.”  Whatever “wanking” means.  The subject in question being “How Scientists Verify that Something is True”.

I must dutifully warn you, Ms. Teresums, that the subject we are about to embark upon is thrilling, entirely thrilling.  It is fraught with ecstatic moments of discovery, and there are dangers, Ms. Teresums — dangerous moments when the least slip in reasoning can plunge the unwary student into the racing, whitewater current of a logical fallacy!

I must recommend you have you smelling salts handy at all times.

Continue reading “How Scientists Verify that Something is True”

Becky, Belief, Delusion, Education, Eric, Friends, Knowledge, Life, Logic, Makyo, Observation, People, Physics, Reason, Science, Scientific Method(s), Skeptical Thinking, Spirituality, Subjective Verification, Thinking, Truth, Wisdom

Becky’s Belief in Spiritual Energy

(About a 5 minute read)

Eric is an online friend who took his doctorate in physics.

I don’t know if he took his doctorate anywhere other than that, but I think he really should take it to a movie or fine restaurant every now and then.  I mean, presumably Eric has mounted his degree by now — he might as well show his degree that it means more to him than a mere quickie.

I’ve told Eric as much, of course, but his phone must be one of those older models that barely functions because the line has always gone dead on me when I’ve encouraged him to be more considerate of his physics degree’s pheelings.

Continue reading “Becky’s Belief in Spiritual Energy”

Bad Ideas, Knowledge, Logic, Reason, Scientific Method(s)

Our Age of Ridiculous Statistics

(About a 4 minute read)

The beautiful young lady who runs “Garnet’s Virtual Salon” — when she’s not making New England sharp, snarky comments on Café Philos — put up a post a while back on the astounding fact that Kindle actually attempts to predict — right down to the minute — the time you will take in reading the remainder of your book or selection!

The gods! The gods, I say!  Can there be any better, more concise illustration of the singular fact we are living in The Age of Ridiculous Statistics?

If that Kindle stat alone is not enough for you, then please consider the alarming fact that it is now soon to be known that fully 82.6% of all condom ads that use rhyme and rhythm to deliver their messages are of Indian origin — according to what will be the 2019 CIA Fact Book.

I’m sure of it.  I am absolutely sure that, at the rate we’re going, knowledge of the above fact is imminent.  You can scoff at me today, but it won’t be long before you’ll be scoffing at me tomorrow too you’ll be finding your own wholly unnecessary stats.  Assuming you haven’t noticed a fair share of them already.

Beyond merely being ridiculous, I suspect — but cannot prove — such stats might be dangerous, leading to contempt for all statistics, including accurate and important ones.

Yet, here I must responsibly mention the irony that we not only live in a stat-drenched age, but that most of us could not pass a remedial test on what stats are, how they are collected, how to analyze them, and how to avoid misanalysing them.  In short, we are afloat in a sea we cannot swim.

You see people say uniformed things about statistics just almost as often as you see ridiculous statistics.  For instance: How often has some seemingly knowledgeable person told you that the 2016 presidential election demonstrated how inaccurate are election polls — since all the polls falsely predicted Clinton would win?

Yet, statements like that precisely reveal how even intelligent people are so often under-educated when it comes to statistics today.  The truth is, Clinton won the popular vote just as the polling predicted she would.  What the polling missed was she would lose the Electoral College despite winning the popular vote.  And the polls missed that because they didn’t even look at the question.

So far as I can see, anyone — anyone — who tries to make deep sense of this world today without resort to statistics (accurate and important statistics) might as well be living 3,000 years ago in the Middle East trying to figure out why the crop yields are a little less year after year after year.  Civilization might someday hang in the balance of most of us being able to discern trends in what is happening to us, and then taking appropriate action.

Turning to a more important topic, have you ever visited “Garnet’s Virtual Salon”?  Over the ages, Garnet has been one of the most frequent commentators on Café Philos — under the name of “Cades62” — a name that happens to be the one her mother and father gave her a birth, for both of them were passionate bloggers.  But that’s a fact so little known that even she herself is in denial of it.

She has stuck with me right on through my occasional lengthy hiatuses.  She even stuck with me despite my concerned offer to pay for her getting psychiatric help for sticking with me.  And all during the time she’s stuck with me, she has kept a blog — but it’s been fully under-viewed.

Her posts are outstanding — usually outstanding poetry — but so infrequent that one has good cause to subscribe to her blog, rather than just bookmark it, and thus risk returning again and again before anything new is posted.

Here’s her blog, one of the sweetest little secrets on the internet. Enjoy!

Human Nature, Psychology, Science, Scientific Method(s)

Personality and Prediction

(About a 3 minute read)

Around 2500 years ago, the Pre-Socratic Greek philosophers conceived the notion that nature operates in a law-like and impersonal manner.   As it turns out, that’s a rather interesting notion.

Consider, for example, the well-known tendency of thongs to ride up a person’s butt.  Today, we quite easily assume a thong will do that because of impersonal properties and forces.  We do not ascribe the action to the wicked will and personality of thongs — except perhaps in jest.  But the fact we think thongs ride up butts because of the laws of nature — and not because they most wickedly want or desire to ride up butts — is a legacy of the Pre-Socratics.  It was they who pointed out that nature is impersonal and obeys laws.

Modern science rests on that notion (and a hundred other notions).   If we did not today think nature operates in a law-like and impersonal manner, it would be impossible for us to do science.

But why hasn’t it always occurred to us that nature is law-like and impersonal?  Why did that particular truth need to be discovered by the Pre-Socratics?  Why wasn’t it always known?

Allow me to suggest that it wasn’t always known because for most of our evolutionary history, we have thought of nature as personal.  Not as law-like and impersonal.  But as personal.

It appears that thinking of things as having a personality is a way in which the human mind predicts what those things will do.  Indeed, it may be our oldest and most traditional way of predicting the future.

When I think that my neighbor is currently cheerful, I have not yet ascribed to him a personality.  But when I think that my neighbor is characteristically cheerful, when I think he is more likely to be cheerful than not, then I have ascribed to him a personality.   To think of someone as having a personality is to predict, to some extent, their future behavior.

It is easy enough to see why an ability to think of people as persons — as having personalities — would be advantageous to survival.  All else being equal, the better you can predict someone’s behavior, the better you can deal with them.   Yet, humans are not merely capable of seeing other humans as having personalities.  Indeed, we are capable of seeing almost anything as having a personality.

You can see this tendency of ours to personify things even today — even 2500 years after the Pre-Socratic philosophers told us nature does not have personalities, but is instead impersonal. It is quite common for people to think of their car or their computer as having a personality.  Or the weather.   It’s possible that many of us live with one foot in an ancient world where natural things have personalities and with one foot in a somewhat more modern world where natural things are impersonal.

So perhaps it took us so long to invent or discover the notion that nature is law-like and impersonal because our species has traditionally thought of things as having personalities.  If that’s true, then it would not seem intuitive to us to think of nature as law-like and impersonal.

At any rate, just an afternoon thought.


Originally published September 24, 2009.

Bad Ideas, From Around the Net, Human Nature, Humor, Internet, Mental and Emotional Health, Obsession, Science, Scientific Method(s), Village Idiots, Wisdom

Why Pay for a Retirement Home When It’s Cheaper to be Committed to an Insane Asylum?

(About an 8 minute read)

As nearly everyone knows by now, the internet is the greatest danger to sanity yet devised by that mischievous and often self-defeating ape, Homo sapiens.

Case in point: There are now estimated to be well over 100 million bloggers in the world.  A number that by itself, and without any need of further evidence, provides absolute proof a sizable chunk of humanity has, since the invention of the internet, gone grass-eating crazy.

Yet, strange as this must sound to you, blogging actually might not be the very worse the internet has done to undermine sanity.  For the internet has also made it possible to find — at any minute of any hour, and at any hour of the day or night — someone, somewhere who has just said something that is certain to drive you insane.  Possible?  The net has made it all but inevitable.

The obvious example of that would be when someone publishes a statement they claim to be absolutely true, and which you know to be absolutely false, but which — and this seems to be the key here — the statement is so fundamentally flawed that you realize even in advance it will require you working something like a total of eleven hours in your spare time over three days, while skipping at least four meals, and posting in excess of 24,000 words, to correct.  But correct it you will.

That is, you can be sure someone — and possibly an entire army of someones — will at least try to correct it.

The fact that so many of us humans can so easily get drawn into nearly endless internet kerfuffling would suggest to any sane person — assuming there still exists a sane person — that the world will end, not with a bang, but on that day a zillion face-palming smilies are tragically posted at once, thus totally depleting the world’s vital supply of pixels, and crashing the net once and for all.   The net, after all, is the world these days.

Now, I myself thought I was above such foolish kerfuffling.  I imagined my tendency to quickly get bored with debates protected me.  I thought, “You are too wise to be drawn into posting more than three or five times.”  Of course, all that false pride ended a couple days ago.

A couple days ago, I ran across fourteen words.  A mere fourteen words!  Fourteen (14) lousy words.  But they have been my doom.

What exasperates me about the situation is I really have no quarrel at all with the fourteen words.  None.  I figure they are, if taken lightly, true enough.  Every day I run across at least 100 far more ridiculous statements than the statement in question.  And, at least a third of that time, they’re my own statements.  Nevertheless, I have to date filled several notebook pages with painfully belabored handwritten commentary on those words.  And I might fill several more.

I just might.

I’m dangerous like that.

What are the words?

[S]cience, which goes where the evidence and analysis indicate, and [which] is anti-mythical in nature…. [brackets mine].

I fully realize that I have just lost whatever respect and affection you once had for me.  In the column to the right of this post, you will find a blogroll.  In that blogroll, you will find a number of bloggers who are far more sane than me.  I urge you to click on anyone of them — now! At once! I myself am done for.  I’m finished.  Kaput.  Crazy as a one-legged jaywalker crossing the Chicago Eisenhower Expressway during rush hour.  But you might, if you act in time, still save yourself.

If on the other hand — if you are my brother-or-sister-in-crazy, if you are already beyond redemption, if “hope” is a meaningless concept to you, if sanity is something even an American Congressperson possesses in comparison to you — then I embrace you, my friend! My brother!  My sister!  Let us go laughing over the fields of the moon together!

So, what does the statement, “Science, which goes where the evidence and analysis indicate, and which is anti-mythical in nature…”, what does that mean to you?

The very first thing that struck me about that statement was — that it is passably true.  That it’s true enough.  And a sane man might have left it at that.

Have I mentioned that I’m not sane?  Not even close.  So, the next thing that occurred to me was science might in the end go where the evidence and analysis indicates, but it often enough goes kicking and screaming.  That is, the statement implies — at least to me — a far less rocky journey for new scientific ideas than is often the case.

I agree with those people who point out that scientists, on the whole, are to be counted among the world’s foremost skeptics.  As a group, they tend not to accept new ideas until those ideas are supported by a weight of evidence and analysis.  Sometimes that weight of evidence and analysis must be so great, before a theory is widely accepted, that it has become a juggernaut.  A new idea can be given a pretty hard time of it.

Moreover, I don’t accept the notion scientists are always and ever rational.  I recall Thomas Kuhn, in The Structure of Scientific Revolutions,  argues that scientists at times tend to resist radically new ideas in their fields almost to the point of fanaticism.  Especially the old guard.  They can — and sometimes do — resist a new theory with such stubbornness that they go to their death beds unconverted.  In which cases, it has only been after the old guard has died off that the new theory passes from controversial to widely accepted.  So, I think it might be a myth that scientists always go happily down whichever roads are the most substantially paved with evidence and analysis.

Now, again, I don’t have a profound dispute with the statement, “science goes where evidence and analysis indicates.”  I think the statement is a gloss.  But I mostly agree with it.  Of course only a stark raving lunatic such as myself would argue with a statement that he agrees with.  Yessum.  I sure do like this lunar landscape.  And you still might have time to flee to that blogroll if you act at once.

It happens I have a about a half dozen other quibbles with the statement, “Science, which goes where the evidence and analysis indicates, and which is anti-mythical in nature…”.  But this is getting to be a long blog post, so I will offer only one of those quibbles to you.  Very briefly put: Scientists have often begun by accepting one or another popular myth of their day — and they have then only rejected that myth after first affirming it — sometimes affirming it for as long as several generations.  But if that’s the case, can science be properly called  “anti-mythical”?

Naturally, I think it’s passably true to characterize science as “anti-mythical”.  I mean, I’m crazy.  Thus, I am all but obligated to object to it.  After all, I agree with it.

It all is becoming clearer and clearer to me.  Clearer and clearer.

So! Five sets of questions for you.  Pick a set, any set, and run with it:

  • Have you ever gotten into an internet kerfuffle that you later regretted having gotten involved in? And if so, what was it that made you regret your involvement?
  • What’s the craziest online argument you’ve ever gotten into in your life on the net?  Were you, by any chance, arguing with yourself?  And, if so, will you marry me?
  • When, if ever, is there any worthwhile purpose to getting profoundly involved in an internet debate?  And what is that purpose?
  • Who is the craziest blogger on the net that you’ve yet to come across — but crazy in a good way?  Where do they blog?  Link, please! We wants their link!
  • Please quote the single craziest statement anyone has ever posted to the net. Ever.

Good night, ladies; good night, sweet ladies;
good night, good night.


Originally posted May 16, 2011 as “Science, Sanity, and the Internet”, and last revised April 26, 2017 for clarity.