Tag Archives: science

Kali, Shiva, Evolution, and JHVH

I grew up with the standard Western-centric, Christian-centric, Mormon-centric view of pretty much everything (though tempered by my father’s consistent call to critical thinking and occasional iconoclasm), so when I learned about non-Christian religious beliefs, the process was tinged with paternalism and a noble-savage mentality. But perhaps one of the few true insights I’ve had in my adult life is that the vast majority of people are at least as smart and good as I and my clan are, and they usually have reasons–good reasons–for their beliefs and actions.

So, Kali and Shiva. In many non-Christian religions the main gods are both creators and destroyers, and these two are nearly the prototype of that kind of god. They manage both life and death, in the endless cycle of the universe. Their postulation and veneration indicate a recognition that these processes are tightly intertwined. I suppose I thought, for years, that the worship of such gods indicated an overly brutal or cruel perspective on life–in other words, an inaccurate worldview–but now it seems to me that these myths are, instead, an indication that those who shaped them were simply paying very close attention to the world. The world, of course, is cruelty, all the way down. It is a vale of tears. It is injustice and death and pain. It’s other things, too–nice things–but we often (these days) focus on those things in church. I’m struck by how fully the Hindus appreciated the bitter side of existence. Continue reading

Science in its underwear is still science

[flickr width=200 align=right float=right]3980267537[/flickr]So some hackers hacked some scientists’ email accounts and found that science is messy. The scientists can be petty, personal, wounded, angry, and are not always nice people. The science in question is the hot (heh heh) topic of human influence on global warming. Those who done the hacking, or at least done profited from it, claim they’ve found evidence of a global conspiracy. I doubt it. Scientists don’t cooperate enough to pull off a conspiracy of that size.

What seems to have been found is a lot of good science and a little bad science, with plenty of human foibles thrown in. Of course the negative aspects are exaggerated on websites run by climate change skeptics, and minimized by people on the other side of the debate, but it’s really just science in its underwear.

Humans make judgments based on the wrong kinds of information in many circumstances. For example, we sometimes base our judgments of the quality of a group’s arguments on our perception of how consistent the group is in communicating those arguments. That is, we decide how right people are by how consistently they agree. Many groups, aware of this bias, have learned to emphasize consistency and consensus above almost all other virtues. Civil rights groups have implemented this principle for decades. Nancy Pelosi imposed it on the Democrats, after seeing the political benefits of the Republicans’ emphasis on party loyalty. Science has also felt the pressure to unite behind a single message, knowing that the public would find the science itself to be more credible if there were fewer visible disagreements among scientists. Keep the arguments in the family. Don’t air your dirty laundry.

But that’s stupid. People disagree, and their disagreements, per se, have nothing to do with the quality of the ideas they are discussing. In fact, in areas where we don’t actually know for certain what’s going on (e.g., all of science), the disagreements themselves are an important element of the method for approximating the truth more and more closely. Science can never be perfectly certain about anything, but imperfect certainty is not the same as total ignorance; imperfect certainty leads to working suspension bridges, space shuttles that don’t always blow up, cures for diseases, and therapies for mental disorders. Science doesn’t discover Truth, really; it formulates working models. And the models, in most fields, have worked better and better over time.

Sadly, the way many members of the general public see science seems more like religion or theistic monarchy, and that creates problems. Scientists are supposed to be the infallible high priests handing down wisdom from on high. With that setup, any perceived inconsistency is assumed to invalidate the entire enterprise. Always h the baby with the bathwater.

  • A skeleton is found with weird features: throw out a century of evolutionary research.
  • Climatologists can’t explain ten years’ tree ring data: throw out half a century’s findings on climate change.
  • Red wine drinkers in the Mediterranean live longer than other people elsewhere: throw out all we know about the negative effects of alcohol.

Scientists don’t think like this; only certain non-scientists do. Individual findings almost never invalidate an entire body of work (though there are notable exceptions). Science cannot be held to some arbitrary rules of consistency completely divorced from the realities of what science is. Science, although sometimes requiring quite a lot of expertise and knowledge to carry out, is inherently mundane. The steps are humble and unpretentious. You change one thing to see if another changes. You measure two things and see if they are related. You seek the opinions of other people who understand the issues and look for a consensus. Sometimes you find it, sometimes you don’t, but you almost never find unanimity.

Finally, heed the wisdom of Gavin A. Schmidt, a NASA climatologist: “Science doesn’t work because we’re all nice. Newton may have been an a**, but the theory of gravity still works.”

Gay Marriage Issues: Response to Laine

This post is a response to Laine’s thoughtful post/essay on some of the issues involved in the “gay marriage” debate(s). She was interested in a religious person’s POV, and I figured I fit the bill. It’s a monstrous response, and didn’t fit in LiveJournal’s character limit. So, after the cut, the whole way-large response.
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Christianity = Feminized Mating Strategies?

I been thinkin’ (a dangerous pastime, I know). There’s a preponderance of male-centered form and content in traditional Judaism and Christianity\, something that can be demonstrated by simply counting words in religious texts. However, in a crucial area — mating — the doctrine seems to clearly emphasize something much more tuned to women’s evolutionary best interests. Continue reading

Democrats are Lackadaisickal and Republicans are Jumpy?

or something not exactly like that. Research in this month’s issue of Science that finds a significant correlation (among people with strongly-held political views) between certain physical reactions and political leanings. The physical reactions studied had to do with how intensely people responded to being scared by shocking images (photo of a spider on a face, gaping wound filled with maggots, sudden noises etc.).

The strongest responses to the shocking stimuli were witnessed in people who favored “socially protective policies,” which…

…tend to be held by people “particularly concerned with protecting the interests of the participants’ group, defined as the United States in mid-2007, from threats.” These positions include support for military spending, warrantless searches, the death penalty, the Patriot Act, obedience, patriotism, the Iraq War, school prayer and Biblical truth, and opposition to pacifism, immigration, gun control, foreign aid, compromise, premarital sex, gay marriage, abortion rights and pornography.

The paper concluded, “Political attitudes vary with physiological traits linked to divergent manners of experiencing and processing environmental threats.” This may help to explain “both the lack of malleability in the beliefs of individuals with strong political convictions and the associated ubiquity of political conflict.” ((From the Science Daily summary (because I certainly can’t afford a subscription to Science),))

Absurdity: Life vs. Art


Pic: A.J. Haygarth pondering the absurdity of The Constant K

The Constant K is an absurdist play. I gots no issues with that. It understands its own absurdity. Current U.S. politics, however, are a different matter. At times, it seems we’re supposed to pretend we don’t notice the absurdity of certain things happening around us ((kind of like in 1984)). Here are some insane bits:

  •  An interesting graph of false statements made by the Bush administration, month by month, 2001 – 20003. Increasingly, as journalists wake from the daze they’ve been in for the last 7 years, they’re discovering that many of these false statements were probably made with a full understanding of their falsehood. And, of course, they were integral in shoring up public support for a war against a nation that had not seriously threatened the U.S.
  • Kucinich introduces articles of impeachment, the mainstream media doesn’t seem to think this newsworthy.
  • The major media outlets also don’t seem to think it’s very interesting that the Pentagon clearly colluded with the Bush Administration  to manipulate analysis and coverage of the war effort, creating a machine that presented the administration’s talking points as if they were independent opinions by nonbiased individuals.
  • My lovely government, pushed by huge wads of cash from failing media dinosaurs, apparently shoved a DMCA-style copyright law down Canada’s throat a few days ago, by threatening to make the border harder to cross if my adoptive nation didn’t appease the big labels.
  • Finally–insanely–This document from 2001 suggests that the people who work to keep us safe have been taking Neurolinguistic Programming seriously! GAH! We might as well base our criminal justice policy on phrenology, with judges and juries using tarot cards in tie-breaker situations.

Sheesh. I’m done for today.

The Constant K Glossary – Helpful Notes for Theater-goers

Picture: Jeff Santa Barbara, Constant K Director, looks pleased, despite his dark and gloomy surroundings.

The Constant K Determines the Ultimate Fate of the Universe opened last night. It was rough in some places, but overall a success. It will just get better across performances, too :) I discovered that I am no longer the boy who could not get enough stage time, back in my early 20s: I was nothing but relieved when my 5 minutes of fame was over.

In other news, it occurred to me that we need a glossary for the show (no, I’m serious), so here it is.

Altruism
Performing a helpful act without any selfish motivations; helping purely to help the individual in need, or for helping’s sake alone.
Comet
(See Meteor/Meteorite, Tumbleweed)
Dawkins, Richard
Popular ethologist and evolutionary biologist, originally prominent for his book The Selfish Gene, a seminal text for sociobiology, and for developing and popularizing the theory memes. Although he was originally known for his scientific contributions, he is lately more famous for using his considerable intelligence and education to browbeat and humiliate less-educated religious people in public forums.

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Those little sciences grow up so fast!

Question for the day: is psychology a science? Yes ((As much as anything else is)). But I think people are made very uncomfortable by psychology, so they’d rather believe otherwise. I will explain.

This recurring line of thought was reawakened during a recent argument conversation with some friends, when one of them implied that the results of psychological research could not be applied to the subject at hand, despite the fact that the research I was referring to was addressed directly toward this same subject. The implication of the comment seemed to be that the results were not applicable because they were based on psychological research. We were not actually talking about the viability of psychology as a science, so what I say from here on out isn’t directed to the people I was having this dustup cool, collected exchange of ideas with. See, this has come up many times in other conversations with other people, so this instance was a trigger to remind me of the whole ball of wax.

It’s never fun to have one’s chosen profession dismissed outright, but I believe one must always be ready to admit, if necessary, that one’s activities may have been based on misguided assumptions. As a psychology guy, I’ve thought long and hard about the validity and viability of psychological science. The results of this thinking follow. Feel free to disagree or tell me I’m a total genius.

First question: Is psychology a science? Yes. I laugh heartily at anyone who says it’s not ((Ha ha ha!)). Science is a method, not a field of study or a set of results. I could study the multicolored spirit auras over psychic tarot readers’ heads, and if I did it with the scientific method, color-aura-ology would be a science (even if it produced no useful results, but that’s a separate issue entirely). I am acutely aware that many psychologists — especially non-researchers– either avoid or willfully ignore the scientific method, but this is a problem endemic to all scientific fields. There are always some wackos, nut jobs, idiots and charlatans ((Notably, there is research suggesting that there are more of these in psychology than in the general public; see Maeder T: Wounded healers. Atlantic Monthly, Jan 1989)). Many of them have PhDs. Continue reading

Not with a bang, but a whimper.

A couple of nights ago, my friend Brad and I had a discussion. It got me thinking, as I often do, about mi patria (the United States), its role in the world, and its future on the international stage. This morning, while trying to find a citation for homicide rates as (lousy) indicators of overall crime rates, I ran into a 2005 article titled “The next 50 years: Unfolding trends,” in what appears to be a good peer-reviewed academic journal.

The article has a section titled “America’s Retreat.” He predicts the end of U.S. international dominance by about 2050, with clear signs starting a few decades ago, and becoming more apparent very soon. He cites a lot of economic indicators, such as national debt, increasingly weak currency, and huge (and increasing) trade imbalances. He has graphs (pretty ones) and apparently rigorous data analysis. Some nifty excerpts from the article, after the jump. Continue reading