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Thursday, April 25, 2013

Mailvox: the innumerate atheists

SM has a request that is appropriate for National Autism Awareness Week.  Let's not forget to be aware of our Socially Autistic friends such as Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris:
hey vox, can you show me some evidence that dawkins sucks at math? would be awesome thanks.
 "The anthropic principle has been an embarrassing problem for secular scientists in recent decades due to the way in which the probability of the universe and Earth just happening to be perfectly suitable for human life is very, very low. The extreme unlikelihood of everything being not too hot, not too cold, not too big, and not too small, to put it very crudely, has often been cited as evidence that the universe has been designed for us, presumably by God. 

Now, Richard Dawkins is arguably not an individual particularly well-suited to play around with probability. He may not be quite as mathematically handicapped as Sam Harris, but he is known to have some issues in this regard, being openly mocked for his “comic authority” and “fatal attraction” to mathematical concepts by the French mathematician Marcel-Paul Schützenberger.

(“But look, the construction of the relevant space cannot proceed until a preliminary analysis has been carried out, one in which the set of all possible trajectories is assessed, this together with an estimation of their average distance from the specified goal. The preliminary analysis is beyond the reach of empirical study. It presupposes—the same word that seems to recur in theoretical biology—that the biologist (or computer scientist) know the totality of the situation, the properties of the ensemble of trajectories. In terms of mathematical logic, the nature of this space is entirely enigmatic.” )

Schützenberger’s contempt for Dawkins’s mathematical abilities is well-founded, as it’s generally not considered to be a good idea to adopt a casual approach to mathematical probability, as Dawkins does with the “one in a billion” chance of something like DNA spontaneously arising which he invents ex nihilo, before reaching the shocking statistical conclusion that if there are a billion billion planets and a one in a billion chance of life spontaneously arising on a planet, then life must exist on a billion planets throughout the universe! Dawkins is genuinely surprised by his astonishing discovery of mathematical division, so much so that he repeats it twice."
- TIA p. 151

As a bonus, this was the reason behind the reference to Sam Harris:
"The first thing one notices is that Sam Harris can’t even manage elementary school math. The percentage for the safest cities determined by state voting patterns is not 62 percent; seventeen blue state cities divided by twenty-five total cities equals 68 percent safe blue cities."
- TIA p. 124

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61 Comments:

Anonymous Idle Spectator April 25, 2013 1:38 AM  

Vox's bird math is no match for my people math.

Anonymous Toby Temple April 25, 2013 2:06 AM  

Dawkins may yet learn the term "mathematical impossibility".

After all, the probability that Richard still has a lot to learn is the same as the probability that he can never prove TENS.

Blogger Justthisguy April 25, 2013 2:15 AM  

Hey! Dammit, Vox, I do wish you NT monkey-men would quit picking on us rational people! God made Aspies, too, I'll remind you!

Blogger Justthisguy April 25, 2013 2:20 AM  

And further: There are lots of autistic Christians. I seem to be one. Jesus really does seem easier to get along with than the general run of humans I meet.

Blogger Justthisguy April 25, 2013 2:30 AM  

Dawkins and Harris are obviously neurotypical, probably verbal thinkers (the worst kind, IMHO). They are definitely innumerate.

Anonymous Anonymous April 25, 2013 2:43 AM  

I find it amusing that so many atheists on youtube drone on about the wonders of science probably can't even prove Kepler's 2nd law, much less understand Einstein's field equations.

Actually it's interesting, in a previous post you addressed the claim that belief in creationism was a hallmark of an uncritical mind... Yet I guarantee you that most atheists don't even have a basic understanding of evolution of science.

Anonymous Mudz April 25, 2013 2:50 AM  

Well, I wouldn't hold them up to that high a standard. Ignorance and wonder are quite sensible bedfellows.

It's simply the zeal they have for an authority that they lack the ability or will to observe critically that is at the heart of all the fluff. Mob mentality is attractive because it stream-lines the thought process and gets them straight to Go with $200. It's not about the knowledge, it's about jockeying for position.

Anonymous VryeDenker April 25, 2013 3:30 AM  

If there ARE 100 trillion universes, then surely one of them could contain an entity of sufficient ability to create biological life as we know it?

Blogger Crude April 25, 2013 3:46 AM  

If there ARE 100 trillion universes, then surely one of them could contain an entity of sufficient ability to create biological life as we know it?

That's one thing that's eventually going to come up in the infinite multiverse style arguments.

People seem to think that increasing the number of universes to infinite makes a universe with life and evolution guaranteed. It does. It also guarantees a wide variety of other universes that can be frankly called 'intelligently designed'. The idea of designer or simulated universes was kicked around a lot early into the modern discussion of the idea - you can see everyone from Paul Davies to Martin Rees to more going over it.

Anonymous VryeDenker April 25, 2013 4:15 AM  

The thing I like most about the multiverse theory is that apparently any time you do something, another universe pops up where you did something else or didn't do anything. This means that I am a god in my own right because I can actually determine the nature of a new universe simply by my actions in this one. It further means that if someone one day conclusively proved God does not exist, a new universe would pop up where the same dude conclusively proves He does.

Blogger Bogey April 25, 2013 5:04 AM  

Some would argue if there are multiple universes than that must surely necessitate that they all obey the same laws of physics to make this possible. So for God to exist in one he must exist in all.

Blogger bethyada April 25, 2013 5:08 AM  

Dawkins making up statistics silly. Those who have tried to be get a lower bound probability get such low probabilities they are essentially zero. IDers granting evolutionary assumptions (size of the universe, number of particles, 15 billion years, minimum time for an event; show the maximum information content obtainable by chance to be about 500 bits. Spontaneous generation advocates have no idea how unlikely their scenario is.

Making up stats, while poor form, does not speak to his mathematical ignorance.

Nor do I think that minor errors speak to a maths weakness. Excellent mathematicians make minor errors from time to time. If shown their error they are unable to see it then they may be poor at maths.

Anonymous Steveo April 25, 2013 5:10 AM  

The secular-humanist intellectual-teachers, hubristic-atheist types (shithats) prove there is nothing so tedious as an idea whose time has gone.

Anonymous p-dawg April 25, 2013 5:24 AM  

"would be awesome, thanks"
Thaaaaanks

Anonymous p-dawg April 25, 2013 5:26 AM  

There can't be an infinite multiverse, because by definition if there are infinite universes, then there is a universe that has annihilated all other universes, and our universe is still here.

Blogger Old Harry April 25, 2013 6:00 AM  

On multiverse theory - Schrödinger designed his famous cat thought experiment because he had an issue with applying quantum mechanics concepts to anything outside of that realm. To my electrical engineering understanding of things, just because electrons exist in a cloud, you can't measure their speed and position, light acts like a particle and a wave and you have no idea when an individual isotope will decay , it doesn't mean that the cat is both alive and dead. The cat is one or the other. And no multiverses are formed in the harming of the cat. Probabilities do not form outcomes, they're calculated based upon potential outcomes.
I deal in probabilities all of the time. Safety rated processors fail at rate x. If rate x=1/1000yrs, it doesn't mean the processor will last 1000 yrs. But if you have a thousand of those processors installed, you should plan on losing about one per year. Unfortunately, we always encounter someone, a maintenance manager, a computer scientist, an executive, who thinks those numbers mean that every processor will last 1000 years. Most people don't understand what the probability data is telling them including the Dr. Sheldon Cooper types.
The second thing about multiverse theory is that it is not science because it can not be verified through experimentation. Same thing for string theory.

Blogger Doom April 25, 2013 6:03 AM  

So, in mathematics, we can count on them if only to disfigure misfigures? Who knew? Well, other than anyone who knows that invisible clothes hide nothing and are worth every square inch of skin they cover by weight in moon rock.

Anonymous Mudz April 25, 2013 6:23 AM  

@ Samuel

Since you admit it, I think I can forgive you. :)

@ GF Dad

I was so happy when I found out that Schrodinger brought up the dead cat to show how ludicrous it was. Boy, could I never get over how stupid the whole thing was. Just the mere mention of reality-bending cat poison mystically connected to eye contact, was enough to flip my rant switch.

Blogger Old Harry April 25, 2013 6:40 AM  

For years I thought there must be something wrong with me because I didn't believe in multiple cats. I was surprised and relieved to discover that Schrodenger didn't either. I have to marvel at the level of academic dishonesty required to convince people of just the opposite.

Blogger Jupta April 25, 2013 6:45 AM  

"The anthropic principle has been an embarrassing problem for secular scientists in recent decades due to the way in which the probability of the universe and Earth just happening to be perfectly suitable for human life is very, very low."

This isn't really saying anything, because if the Universe is defined as absolutely everything that exists, then the probability of something occurring being "very, very low" is irrelevant.

As it says in the bible - "with God all things are possible." Now replace "God" with "Universe."

Anonymous Mudz April 25, 2013 6:56 AM  

@ GF Dad

What the heck, right?

@ Jupta

'If' is a significant word. Use it carefully. That hasn't been the definition of the universe for a while, if ever. Not since the multiverse speculathesis at least.

Rewriting the bible won't win you any points. The universe does not have the qualities of God.

Anonymous Salt April 25, 2013 7:56 AM  

I've heard that with unlimited Universes all possibilities are accounted for. Somewhere Keynesians are right?

Blogger wrf3 April 25, 2013 8:03 AM  

GF Dad wrote: For years I thought there must be something wrong with me because I didn't believe in multiple cats. I was surprised and relieved to discover that Schrodenger didn't either.

Of course he didn't. It has always been one cat in multiple states simultaneously. It's clear you don't understand the problem:

To my electrical engineering understanding of things, just because electrons exist in a cloud, you can't measure their speed and position, light acts like a particle and a wave and you have no idea when an individual isotope will decay , it doesn't mean that the cat is both alive and dead. The cat is one or the other.

Schrodinger's cat experiment is to show the mystery of the double-slit experiment. A photon is a particle -- as Feynman says, when it's detected, it's always detected in the same size "lump". Not two lumps, not bigger and smaller lumps but one lump. And yet, in the double slit experiment, it goes through both slits.

How does that happen?

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Blogger IM2L844 April 25, 2013 8:23 AM  

if the Universe is defined as absolutely everything that exists, then the probability of something occurring being "very, very low" is irrelevant.

How do you figure probabilities are irrelevant to a contingent object which is nothing more than the sum of it's contingent parts?

Anonymous MendoScot April 25, 2013 8:37 AM  

Don't forget Dawkins' Weasel program, where he inadvertently used an algorithm based on ID rather than TENS and then appeared not to understand the mistake he had made. It's not innumeracy, of course, but it does show a tenuous grasp of formal logic.

Anonymous Mudz April 25, 2013 8:40 AM  

@ wrf3

Magic, obviously.

Honestly, if we can affect physics simply by looking at it, or choosing which particular charms to put on the table, and there's essentially no rational reason for it's behaviour, then we've discovered a form of actual magic.

Alternatively, what the double-slit experiment demonstrates is that we're ignorant.

I think it should be apparent that light is simply more interesting and dynamic than we know. There may be hidden parities of behaviour or constituents, it may be related to particles revolving through a (tau/?) axis, (in other words, the photon we detect is only a part of the full entity which might express in multiple 'shells' that appear alike or are 'photons'), it may simply be a type of fundamental force that defines how light particles behave. It may be something as banal as sp,e sort of extension/compression behaviour. Alternatively, something other than 'wave interference' is going on. Just like light waves are a different sort of wave than sound waves (the first is existent/self-propagating, the second is behavior of existents, i.e air), there may be a difference in the type of 'wave' phenomenon.

Also, I should say, that because a single photon of light behaves as if it's being interfered with from a second photon from slit 2, this does not automatically mean that it's the same particle as we know it. It doesn't mean it's literally double-present. It just means it's behaving as if according to a certain phenomenon we've learned to expect. So there's something that we're missing. Logically. If we're accepting logic that is.

Now I'm not a physicist, so I have no idea how sensible any of my speculation is, but my point is that we can look for logical explanations before dancing our way into The Universe's Ways Are A Mystery.

On the other hand, if it is what everyone seems to think it is, that would be awesome, and a confirmation of the ancient myth of cosmic Chaos, wouldn't it? So the local universe would be a local structure built on top of the sea of chaos, where God imposed the limits on fundamental chaos as He did upon the actual sea.

So, I'll be happy either way. It'll be cool no matter what.

As a side-note, I think you missed what GF Dad was saying, in that Schrodinger considered quantum theory as only locally applicable. To particles, but not to cats.

Blogger wrf3 April 25, 2013 8:52 AM  

Mudz wrote: Honestly, if we can affect physics simply by looking at it, or choosing which particular charms to put on the table, and there's essentially no rational reason for it's behaviour, then we've discovered a form of actual magic.

We affect the world all of the time, whether it's by measuring quantum observables or putting a band-aid on a scratch. That's not a defect; it's the way the world works.

and there's essentially no rational reason for it's behaviour...

There may not be. Consider light reflecting off of water. Which photons are reflected and which are absorbed? It's completely random. Even the photon doesn't know what it's going to do ahead of time until it does it. See John Conway's "Free Will Theorem".

There may be hidden parities of behaviour or constituents, ...
There aren't. See "Bell's Inequalities".

Now I'm not a physicist, so I have no idea how sensible any of my speculation is,...
It isn't. It's as "innumerate" with respect to physics as Dawkin's supposedly is to math.

Blogger wrf3 April 25, 2013 8:53 AM  

Mudz: As a side-note, I think you missed what GF Dad was saying, in that Schrodinger considered quantum theory as only locally applicable. To particles, but not to cats.

Cats are in quantum superposition, too.

Anonymous Mudz April 25, 2013 9:03 AM  

We affect the world all of the time, whether it's by measuring quantum observables or putting a band-aid on a scratch. That's not a defect; it's the way the world works.

Of course, but I'm talking about an effect that matches the cause. Simply observing a phenomenon should have no effect greater than whatever physical interference you created with your observation. There shouldn't be any mystical peripheral nonsense going on.

There may not be. Consider light reflecting off of water. Which photons are reflected and which are absorbed? It's completely random. Even the photon doesn't know what it's going to do ahead of time until it does it. See John Conway's "Free Will Theorem".

It may appear random, it dose not mean it is literally random. Take chaos theory for example. You may not be able to predict the weather, or where the raindrop will fall off your hand, but you know nonetheless that it obeys certain laws, and there is literally only one possible behaviour whether or not we can actually predict what it will be. Varibales being the same, so are the answers.

It isn't. It's as "innumerate" with respect to physics as Dawkin's supposedly is to math.

I have no way in which to argue. I would appreciate it if you could explain why however.

Cats are in quantum superposition, too.

That's precisely the point.

The ancient question of macro vs. micro. Saturn is in quantum superposition, yet it is more observably real and present than any particle.

This is why Schrodinger demonstrated than the 'quantum uncertainty' just doesn't translate into the real world, or I should say, the mid-level world.

Anonymous Mudz April 25, 2013 9:12 AM  

There aren't. See "Bell's Inequalities".

Huh, so I just proposed Einstein's objection to quantum mechanics. I don't think that's too shabby on my part. Well, not necessarily his information/speed-of-light dilemma.

However, I wasn't precisely referring to particles that have simply interacted. I was speculating along the lines of electron/anti-electron spontaneous creation and separation. I wonder around rotations of light, and whether a particle of light is connected in a quantum super-structure. That sort of thing. Hidden constituents, in other words.

Blogger Old Harry April 25, 2013 9:33 AM  

Well said.

Anonymous Stickwick April 25, 2013 9:53 AM  

This isn't really saying anything, because if the Universe is defined as absolutely everything that exists, then the probability of something occurring being "very, very low" is irrelevant.

Everything that does exist != everything that can exist. Probabilities are still entirely relevant, which is why the anthropic principle or fine-tuning argument or whatever you want to call it is a big embarrassment for atheists.

Anonymous Eric Ashley April 25, 2013 10:14 AM  

My theory was that the double slit stuff was evidence of our culture moving away from a Christian view of an understandable and orderly universe to something more pagan and non-logical and lazier.

Pretty much agreeing with what Mudz said in his first reply.

There is a theory that Science developed in Christian Europe because of the view of the universe of the people at that time and place. My thought was, what happens when we reverse that thought process.

This is speculation.

Anonymous John Regan April 25, 2013 10:44 AM  

OT: Is this a story about the ultimate Alpha male?

http://www.foxnews.com/us/2013/04/25/gang-leader-impregnates-4-maryland-prison-guards-authorities-say/?intcmp=trending

Anonymous Richard Dawkins's Brain April 25, 2013 11:01 AM  

Drake equation. It is math. It has an "equals" sign and everything.

So fuck you.

Anonymous mistaben April 25, 2013 12:20 PM  

[Physics cred notice: I left my physics PhD program just before I was to propose my dissertation project. Among my top 5 best decisions ever.]

The double-slit experiment really isn't that odd at all. It's perfectly normal wave behavior. What is a bit odd is that certain phenomena (light, high-energy physics) have some aspects that are best modeled as waves and other aspects that are best modeled as particles. But the resolution could be as simple as a more general model that includes both particle-like and wave-like behavior.

BTW, equating the experimental physicist's term "observation" with the casual notion of "looking at something" is a terrible, though common, mistake. The fact is that all observation involves an interaction. Simply put, I can direct my eyes toward my hand all day long, but I won't actually *see* anything unless my eyes catch some light that came from somewhere and reflected off my hand toward my eyes.

Similarly, tiny samples of matter in particular quantum states in the experimentalist's lab apparatus cannot be *observed* unless something (e.g., light or another bit of matter) has interacted with it (e.g., bounced off of it).

The major problem (simplified) is that an interaction with a particular quantum state will unavoidably change the state. Imagine trying to count how many bowling pins are still standing by bouncing bowling balls off of them. The observation changes the state of the system. My hand, on the other hand (!), is only affected a vanishingly small amount by the light scattering from it.

Blogger Old Harry April 25, 2013 2:07 PM  

I say "multiple cats"; you say "multiple states simultaneously". I don't think the quantum impinges on the macro like that.
But say it does for the sake of argument. The cat, alive or dead, is the observer regardless of the box. As the observer, his little kitty brain is either contemplating his next meal, a female cat or some other cat thing or he is dead. The cloud of possible states condenses with every breath the cat does or does not take.

Blogger Old Harry April 25, 2013 2:10 PM  

" Cats are in quantum superposition, too."

Is there empirical data to support that?
What about a proof?
Does the cat know?

Blogger Old Harry April 25, 2013 2:17 PM  

And it is full of assumptions regarding the constants. Granted, the data is getting some of the assumptions closer to something useful, but until we make first contact, the percent of planets with intelligent life will remain either a guess or wishful thinking.

Blogger wrf3 April 25, 2013 2:32 PM  

GF Dad wrote: The cloud of possible states condenses with every breath the cat does or does not take.

But you can't know what they are until you look. See Wigner's Friend.

Is there empirical data to support that?

Quantum superposition has been observed in "large" objects.

Blogger Old Harry April 25, 2013 4:02 PM  

I guess I'm too dense to understand this. The qubit is like an amplifier/oscillator and the state of resonator is linked to the state of the qubit. The gain of the amplifier must be astronomical - is there any information on the signal to noise ratio of the system to prove that the result isn't noise? They don't say what their predicted results are, so we can't tell if it is noise or not.

Anonymous clk April 25, 2013 4:11 PM  

GF Dad says

"The second thing about multiverse theory is that it is not science because it can not be verified through experimentation. Same thing for string theory."

You got that backwards -- the science that can be validated (and applied) is called engineering. At the highest levels of science it is the theoretical stuff that often cannot be validated that starts it all --- if you don't go through that process you would never work on anything other than trivial engineering problems.

Anonymous Athor Pel April 25, 2013 4:21 PM  

If sound needs a medium to propagate then why not light? Just because we can't detect the medium doesn't mean it isn't there. It might help explain how light acts like a wave and a particle depending on situation.


That's my only halfway deep thought for the day.


Blogger wrf3 April 25, 2013 5:09 PM  

Athor Pel wrote: Just because we can't detect the medium doesn't mean it isn't there.

There are excellent theoretical reasons why it isn't there. It's called "special relativity". See Michelson-Morley.

Anonymous rubberducky April 25, 2013 5:35 PM  

I'm late to this discussion about the general state of scientists' (and engineers') knowledge of mathematics. My comments are based on my observations gathered through working 15 years at a scientific research laboratory with a strong engineering/applied science arm as well. Some of my colleagues have a very deep and well-rounded grasp of mathematics. They, to a man (and they are all men), are also the ones with the keenest awareness of the problems and limitations of science. They are not the majority.

The majority do have a working knowledge of mathematics, but this is not the same as a deep knowledge of mathematics. This is no surprise, given human tendencies. Most people around here work in a narrow band of expertise, and their understanding of mathematics has reduced over time to that contain only that working set of tools and techniques which apply to their tasks.

Modern software "tools" such as MATLAB (very heavily used around here) have proven to me to be both a blessing and a curse. My job often entails taking the algorithms in MATLAB developed by others and converting them into optimized native code. In consultation with many scientists and engineers who provide me with these algorithms, I've found that many cannot explain what their own algorithms are actually doing. They cannot explain what various library calls or intrinsic calls are doing. The standard situation is that they have cobbled together an algorithm by assembling various top-level techniques present in literature, and then fine-tuned it by various tricks to look good when running on constrained datasets. These types (the majority) do not advance science. They merely work in science. And most often they are they are the most susceptible to scientism.

Blogger Bill Solomon April 25, 2013 6:55 PM  

If you ever meet an atheist it's pretty much a given that they're terrible at math, heck stephen hawking who held the Lucasian chair (Newton's old post) told us to just pretend like the average energy of our universe was absolutely no energy at all and then goes on to "prove" that something can come from nothing."One can subtract out this constant vacuum energy, by measuring the energy of any volume of space relative to that of the same volume of empty space, so we may as well call this constant zero"

Blogger Old Harry April 25, 2013 7:33 PM  

This comment has been removed by the author.

Blogger Old Harry April 25, 2013 7:36 PM  

Trivial - interesting choice of words. Theoretical physicists would still be wiping their behinds with their index fingers if it weren't for those "trivial" engineers.

Blogger Old Harry April 25, 2013 7:38 PM  

I'm not saying there is a medium, but gravitational frame dragging needs to be explained a little better than special relativity experts have.

Blogger Old Harry April 25, 2013 9:04 PM  

One final question:
This one I mean in all seriousness: From many of the comments, it would seem that forming a hypothesis, using experiments to test that hypothesis and then revising the hypothesis bases upon data is no longer part of the methods used in "science". Since the aforementioned process was at one time considered the "scientific method", what is the current "scientific method"? Does it involve thought experiments and peer review alone?

Blogger wrf3 April 25, 2013 9:23 PM  

GF Dad wrote: I'm not saying there is a medium, but gravitational frame dragging needs to be explained a little better than special relativity experts have.

You do know, don't you, that gravitational frame dragging was predicted by general (not special) relativity? What's wrong with the current explanation?

Anonymous rubberducky April 25, 2013 10:47 PM  

GF Dad: To answer your question as to what ever happened to the scientific method, here's the shocking truth: Science does not operate according to the scientific method unless there's a crisis. Never did.

Science, just like every other avenue of human endeavor (why should it be different, honestly?) operates under the thrall of a power structure. Always has.

The scientific method only applies when challenges come up against prevailing paradigms. Then, it is utilized, and don't be a fool understand that every effort is made, always, to doom the challenger and to favor the prevailing paradigm.

The great merit of the scientific method is that under these rare conditions reason and proof hold sway. But please do not be so foolish as to assume that science is governed by the scientific method on a basis, because it is not.

Science is governed by egos. And nothing more.

Blogger Old Harry April 25, 2013 11:16 PM  

Even though I think it's nothing more than a trick of non-Euclidean geometry, I will go along that with the notion that gravity does warp space. Frame dragging makes it seem like there is more than just this nothing called "the fabric of space" and seems to make the fabric of space behave like a fluid.
While not admitting that there is "ether", this article started my thinking along these lines:

http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=an-echo-of-black-holes

Anonymous Mudz April 26, 2013 2:51 AM  

Oh yes, I remember that whole 'it's oscillating and not oscillating at the same time!' Bullshit word games, where they arbitrarily defined a certain threshold of activity as differentiating between the two states.

It's either oscillating, or it's not.

@ GF Dad

That's very interesting. I've always been skeptical as well (mostly of red-shift), and as far as I can tell 'special relativity' existed simply as a caveat to cover a pure contradiction between universe that is relativistic and light that propagates according to an absolute frame of reference.

Remember, 'space is expanding'. I'm perfectly happy to accept space-time conceptually as a medium (as I would rate space-time as more substantial than 'nothing'), but when they say that 'nothing' expands, it makes you wonder about some things.

I too have shared the notion the 'ether' looked like it was going to make a comeback, though I can't remember particularly why. Possibly the above.

I'll have to read up on it again, it's been a while since I did any physics speculation, but this was the impression I was left with. Anyone should feel free to correct me.

Anonymous Phil - Chicago April 26, 2013 4:00 AM  

Have Dawkins and Harris square off on Newton vs. Leibnitz. I wonder who they would pick? Smarmy bi%$#es will probably say that it doesnt matter. To those of us who think that notation matters and enjoy using computers Leibnitz is the man. ;)

Anonymous mistaben April 26, 2013 12:08 PM  

Truly, Phil. Though I sometimes con-fuse (see what I did there?) Neal Stephenson's Leibnitz for the actual historical figure.

Anonymous Darth Toolpodicus April 26, 2013 1:40 PM  

"There are excellent theoretical reasons why it isn't there. It's called "special relativity". See Michaelson-Morley"

Actually, I understand there have been some recent attempts at reviewing their original data, along with repeating the experiment that show small, but consistent non-trivial results.

My beef with the "level 1,2,..,42" multiverse is that is is a shameful abuse of probability theory. All this speculation when we have absolutely no evidence that the sample size of Universes is anything other than n=1.

Anonymous Stickwick April 26, 2013 4:01 PM  

rubberducky,

I think you overstate your case. It is true in a grand Kuhnian sense that crisis precedes advancement. It is also true that egos are a factor in science. But so what? Science is the triumph of the human mind over ego and a multitude of other human failings –- limited perspective, misleading emotions, dominant philosophies that act as closed boxes, and the corrupting effects of the universal desire for fame, fortune, and/or political power. The scientific method is the means by which these frailties are remedied. Since these obstacles to advancements in knowledge will always be with us, there will always be a turbulent interplay between human nature and the pursuit of science.

The key element of the scientific method that keeps it from flying off in the direction of wild, unsubstantiated speculation is the peer-review process. If you want to know if the scientific method is alive and well in any branch of science, simply observe how rigorously the peer-review process is being used. I go through the peer-review process on several levels every time I submit a research paper for publication.

The first hoop I have to jump through is the judgment of the referee assigned by the journal in which I hope to have my paper published. The most important thing the ref does is check how well I have accomplished the observe – hypothesize – predict – test – theorize part of the process. If the judgment is that my work is scientifically sound, the paper is published. Then the whole body of my profession passes judgment on my work by deciding whether or not to cite my work. At the next level of the peer-review process, decisions are made about which scientists are deserving of funding, tenure, and promotions. At the final level, judgments are made about which work is deserving of awards. The end result of this in physics is a steady advance in knowledge where occasional detours from truth are corrected and dead ends are usually recognized and reversed.

(continued)

Anonymous Stickwick April 26, 2013 4:03 PM  

I accept that there are some areas of science in which the scientific method does not currently function as it should. So-called "climate change science" is the most obvious example of science being corrupted by politics, money, and dogma. There is a simple test one can apply in this regard; any time the name Al Gore or the terms "scientific consensus" and "the debate has been settled" are used in regard to any branch of science, it has undoubtedly strayed from the scientific method.

Biology certainly suffers from an ego problem to the extent that it is nearly impossible to get a mainstream biologist to utter the words, "Darwin was wrong about some important things." He was, and a paradigm shift is long overdue in the field of evolution. But, it must be acknowledged that a multitude of biologists are doing very good work that is firmly based on the scientific method.

The real test of any field's application of the method is whether that field petrifies into dogma or if it routinely accepts change. I must speak in defense of my field of physics/astrophysics. It has a long history that includes the initial establishment of the scientific method as well as continuous successful applications of its process. After the Copernican revolution and the invention of precision clocks, experimental methods were sufficiently advanced that it didn't take all that long to accumulate enough evidence to overthrow old ideas and adopt new paradigms. To name but a very few examples: Newton's uniting the heavens and the earth under one set of laws, Maxwell's unification of electricity and magnetism, Poincare's relativity of time and space, Planck's quantum, Hubble's confirmation of other galaxies and the expanding universe, Einstein's new view of gravity, Lemaitre's big bang theory, Zwicky's dark matter, and the Supernova teams' accelerating universe (dark energy).

You say this is rare, but how often do you think this is supposed to happen? How often can it happen on such a large scale? The Hubble/Lemaitre paradigm is an especially important example of the scientific method working as well as it possibly can. Most physicists did not like the idea of a universe with a beginning, but the scientific method is so firmly established in physics that the vast majority of them accepted it once there was sufficient evidence to overcome all reasonable objections. Those who clung to the notion of the eternal universe for reasons of ego and non-scientific concerns were discredited for straying from the scientific path.

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Anonymous Stickwick April 26, 2013 4:04 PM  

The application of the scientific method does not have to be perfect to be functional. My own everyday experience in the field of astrophysics has been that the method sometimes proceeds as the classic observe -> hypothesize -> predict -> test -> theory. But quite often it is something very different: observe -> HUH? -> observe -> WTH? -> hypothesize -> predict -> test -> getting close to a theory! -> test again -> wait, what? -> OH! -> hypothesize -> test, and so on. As long as it is evidence- and prediction-driven throughout the confusion, that's good enough.

As for the system being set up to doom the challenger, how else would you have it? That's the way it should be, as long as this resistance is not rooted in ideology (e.g. "climate change science"). It's not unlike a court of law where the presumption should be the innocence of the accused and the burden of proof lies with the accuser.

Egos, admittedly, often get in the way of true science, but I doubt science could proceed without them. Scientists will always be fully human and infinitely closer in nature to Captain Kirk rather than Mr. Spock. The vast majority of people I work with are truly driven by a desire for truth, but also the competitive hope for recognition and reward (which is why science has always been a traditionally masculine endeavor). And yes, they also have an understandable instinct to protect the fruits of their labor. But, do not confuse the inevitable imperfect application of the scientific method for its absence.

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