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2005-03-17 20:26:56.147799+00 by Dan Lyke 8 comments

Fascinating: New Scientist: 13 things that do not make sense. From an experiment in homeopathy to methane on Mars, well worth a read.

[ related topics: Invention and Design Space & Astronomy Astronomy ]

comments in ascending chronological order (reverse):

#Comment Re: made: 2005-03-18 12:58:16.274826+00 by: ebradway

If you haven't seen it yet, What the #$*! Do We Know!? is worth a watch. What I got out of the movie and from the New Scientist list is that there is something fundamentally not quite right with what we call science.

Now, before the Objectivists start yelling at me about the universe being knowable, let me try to clarify my statement about science. I am not claiming that the universe isn't knowable - I am claiming that there may be something fundamentally wrong with the way we are going about learning about the universe. I think we are due for a major paradigm shift. It's like how mechanical engineers use classical Newtonian physics and generally ignore general relativity and quantum physics. From a mechanical engineer's perspective, those other theories aren't as 'real'.

The problem stems from how deeply mired we are in our current system of science. I think a good indicator of this is the degree of sexual segregation in science and math. There are more men in science and math, especially at the highest levels, because science and math have developed from a masculine perspective. And I know there have been great female scientists and mathematicians, but I think they were able to embrace the masculine perspective. What would Feminist Science and Math look like? And are there other perspectives?

#Comment Re: made: 2005-03-18 15:17:40.978677+00 by: petronius [edit history]

One difficulty with this list is that many items are based on one well designed yet anomalous experiment by a respectable researcher, rather than some hillbilly in a trailer. If it's real science and a real phenomonon, we should be able to find the same effect with another experiment. A physicist once pointed out to me that when you hear of some experiment that seems to find a weak spot in Einstein, it is generally while studying some very infinitesmal effect at the very limit of our instumentation. When better instruments were built, the weak spot usually turned out to be double-riveted instead. Another point is that anomalous effects should also show up in other areas. If homeopathy is correct and chemical effects can "imprint" themselves on other molecules, shouldn't it also show up in chemical plants as well, and oil refineries would find grape jelly or something in the kerosene? It can't just be limited to biological systems.

On the other hand we have stuff like dark matter or the Kuiper Cliff. I think these things just show that our first models were just that, models. When a cosmological concensus that is only a few years old gets shakey, should we be surprised?

#Comment Re: made: 2005-03-18 15:49:12.092535+00 by: Pete

ebradway, that movie will tell you nothing reliable about science. The featured people are shills for a religious organization speaking outside their expertise (chiropractors, psychic channelers, etc.). See here: http://rogerebert.suntimes.com...ID=/20041003/ANSWERMAN/410030301

#Comment Re: made: 2005-03-18 17:28:02.252565+00 by: Dan Lyke

I've seen a few indications that bits of theoretical physics have a little bit in common with postmodern literary criticism, and that a good bit of the crossover between those two fields comes from the fact that, yes, some of the string theorists are just pulling stuff out of their collective asses to see what sticks. But I've also got a friend who's been going back through and convincing himself that he understands the math behind physics, and I've read at least one of his restatements of some of the fundamental equations (I'm not going to get more specific until I know he's ready for publication on it), and the more I understand of it (which isn't much), the more I think that there have been some myths which have created a slightly more complex model than there needs to be.

It's kind of like refactoring code: once you've written it once and it mostly works, a rewrite can make it clearer and expose the edge cases better. I believe that given the tremendous advances that came in the last century from the relativistic and quantum theory models, we're about due for some refactoring which will bring us to an understanding of the universe that's as complete as those theories, but in a cleaner way.

On homeopathy, I think the other example in that list, the morphine/naloxone test shows that there's a lot we don't understand about biological processes and expectations. This kind of goes back to my sudden realization about Tony Robbins[Wiki], Tom Peters[Wiki], and similar motivational speakers: I was reading one of the Tony Robbins[Wiki] books and I was wondering "when's he going to get through all of this self-congratulational motivational bullshit and get on with the real meat", when I realized that what I viewed as the fluff bullshit was exactly what his target audience was looking for. That the effects of offering up that "Look at my success, you can do it too!" repeatedly were actually positive. I'm a firm believer that happiness is a choice, and given the links I've seen (both ways) between biology and attitude, I'm fairly sure there's a lot we have yet to learn about how expectations change processes in our bodies.

#Comment Re: made: 2005-03-21 16:34:07.763407+00 by: ebradway

Pete: are you saying that because the people in the film are members of a religious organization, then they cannot contribute to the understanding of the world around us? Why can't a chiropractor provide valuable insight into physics? What about a patent examiner?

You didn't get the gist of my post. I wasn't saying that the "facts" given in "What the Bleep Do We Know" are all specifically correct. What I was pointing out is that this idea that in order for something to be REAL, it has to be documented by a PhD (in that field), and has to be 100% repeatable. Further, it has to be explainable by our system of mathematics, which, for some crazy reason, provides enourmous challenges for over 50% of our population. My point was that maybe there is a way of understanding what is REAL that does not exclude half the world and can better account for "anomalies".

Petronius: Yes, it would make sense that grape jelly could imprint oil. But the point is that biological systems seem sensitive to this imprinting in ways that have yet to be explained.

#Comment Re: made: 2005-03-21 18:04:26.361841+00 by: Pete

ebradway, your comments are their own best refutation.

"What I was pointing out is that this idea that in order for something to be REAL, it has to be documented by a PhD (in that field), and has to be 100% repeatable."

The test of what is real, regarding ideas that describe reality, is whether or not that idea can in turn produce testable predictions about observable reality. The man you point to as your supporting exemplar, Albert Einstein, his theories' capacity to both explain known phenomena and produce predictions of previously untested or unmeanured aspects of reality are exactly what has earned them acceptance. If the time comes that they make a prediction that testing contradicts, then we will know that they are not facts, and new theories will be formulated, and the predictions that fall out from those theories will be tested against observable reality.

Faith is, by definition, the antithesis of this. Faith makes assertions beyond the ability or expectation of testing, observation, and verification. Therefore, looking to a group of people defined by faith for useful information about the nature of the physical world (yes, quantum physics is very much about the physical world) is a deeply dubious proposition.

#Comment Re: made: 2005-03-22 20:16:58.48929+00 by: ebradway [edit history]

Pete: I think if you really look into who Einstein and Newton and probably many others were, you just might find that it is "people defined by faith" who have been contributing significant useful information about the nature of the physical world.

And all I said was not to write off everything just because the people putting forward the ideas are not SCIENTISTS[Wiki](white labcoat and all). In fact, it can be pretty easily established that SCIENTISTS[Wiki] area all defined faith - faith that the entire universe can be neatly defined in a series of repeatable experiments.

#Comment Re: made: 2005-03-23 02:22:43.402567+00 by: Pete

You've effectively misquoted my writings, because I very deliberately indicated that the "group of people" was defined by faith, not the individuals making up the group. It's not that any of those individuals show up to offer their opinion, it's that the entire group universally shares allegiance to an unacknowledged organization dedicated to what is by definition an irrational thought process.