Thursday, February 19, 2015

Anti-Science, Moby Dick, Climate Change... By the time you feel warmer it will be far too late.


In rereading Moby Dick I came across these paragraphs in Chapter 32, the seeds of which are  arguments, whether tongue in cheek or not, against science.  Melville's character starts by saying that the science is uncertain. He then goes on to make it sound ridiculous that anyone could even conceive that a whale were anything but a fish. The fancy latin words of egghead Linnaeus cannot compare to the direct experience of shipmates and friends, who declare the former to be nothing but humbug.  Then in the third paragraph he invokes the story of Jonah, wherein the bible calls the whale a fish, and that settles the fundamental thing.

First: The uncertain, unsettled condition of this science of Cetology is in the very vestibule attested by the fact, that in some quarters it still remains a moot point whether a whale be a fish. In his System of Nature, A.D. 1776, Linnaeus declares, "I hereby separate the whales from the fish." But of my own knowledge, I know that down to the year 1850, sharks and shad, alewives and herring, against Linnaeus's express edict, were still found dividing the possession of the same seas with the Leviathan.
The grounds upon which Linnaeus would fain have banished the whales from the waters, he states as follows: "On account of their warm bilocular heart, their lungs, their movable eyelids, their hollow ears, penem intrantem feminam mammis lactantem," and finally, "ex lege naturae jure meritoque." I submitted all this to my friends Simeon Macey and Charley Coffin, of Nantucket, both messmates of mine in a certain voyage, and they united in the opinion that the reasons set forth were altogether insufficient. Charley profanely hinted they were humbug.
Be it known that, waiving all argument, I take the good old fashioned ground that the whale is a fish, and call upon holy Jonah to back me. This fundamental thing settled, the next point is, in what internal respect does the whale differ from other fish. Above, Linnaeus has given you those items. But in brief, they are these: lungs and warm blood; whereas, all other fish are lungless and cold blooded.

Friends, anti-science thinking, call it denialism, has been around as long as there have been scientists.   In this example it comes down to the distrust of organized and disciplined thought and the fancy words that precisely describe the topic compared to the direct experience and the agreement of drinking buddies and messmates.

In my first argument with a climate skeptic some years ago went a little something like this.  She asked, "So when am I going to feel warmer?".  But what she was really asking for the direct experience of the thing itself vs the fine grained measurements and analysis of the scientific community. Her close friends had also called climate change nothing but humbug, so she felt she was in good company with this opinion I guess.  If I'd had my wits about me I would have rejoined, "By the time you feel warmer it will be far too late".

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

I'd Rather

The sign reads, "I would rather live my life as if there is a god and die to find out there isn't, than live my life as if there isn't and die to find out there is."
There is so much wrong with this picture.  But I love logic puzzles, and this is an old one.

Let's break it down.  First off, it is a simple restatement of Pascal's Wager.  The wikipedia article makes for good reading.

But here's my own simple analysis.  And I'm no Pascal, but I'll try anyway.

First off, and not to be picky, but why is it in quotes?  Did somebody actually say this?  And if so, who?  A great inspirational leader I suppose.  And if not, perhaps the sign maker?  Pretty sure it wasn't Jesus.

Basically, what it says to me is that I would rather live my life with one set of beliefs only to find out when I die that they were wrong, than to live my life with a different set of beliefs only to find out they were also wrong.  And that just sounds absurd.

Stated differently, "I'd rather live my life thinking I'm right and die to find out I'm wrong, than to live my life thinking I'm wrong and find out I was right".  It's just mixed up and crazy when put like that.  Not so inspirational now, I guess.  So let's move on.




Next, the statement itself requires that I will live past my own death to find out whether I was wrong or not.  Well, that seems absurd.  But let's make that part of what belief in god is, remembering that not all belief systems require and afterlife.  "I would rather live my life as if there were an afterlife and find out there is not, than live my life thinking there wasn't and find out there was."  Ah, there's some meat on the bone at last.  But again, if there isn't an afterlife you'll never know it.  If there is, then we're back to Pascal's Wager, an absurd paradox.

So let's take that out and have it read, "I would rather live my life as if there is a god, than to live my life as if there isn't."  That seems more straight forward.  But then you have to ask what god, or which god, and does it matter?  Can you choose your god?  There are quite a few of them, and even quite a few interpretations of something so seemingly fundamental as the christian god. Again, it gets very confusing.

And how would your life be different if there was or was not a god?  How would you live differently in either case?  Maybe I'd be forgiven for my trespasses or something.  But I live a good life and I don't have all that many trespasses to worry about.  But maybe it's different for you.  I'd like to know.

In the end, the truest words in this sign are the first six.  "I would rather live my life".  So I'll go do that now.


Pray for me

I'm kidding.

Praying might help you free your mind of worry and in so doing think up a way to actually help the other person.  But praying for someone else cannot possibly do any good unless you also take some action.  In fact it can do just the opposite.  In fact, there's a study, quoted in the NYTimes, that says praying for post operative heart patients statistically created more stress and worse outcomes, Once they hear that people are praying for them, they tend to think they must be much sicker than they thought they were, which adds to their stress.  So, long story short, it's really best never to pray for other people.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

On my theory of Belief

OK, this is a biggie.  It came to me this past month as I was struggling with some things.  I don't know if this will make sense, but I'm going to try.

It started when I got a new Android phone.  A great phone.  Lots of people use them.  So I had this new phone and about a week after I got it I went on a trip to Nashville to visit my son.  All of that went fine.  This isn't really about the trip, although to some extent it is.  You see the return flight was scheduled for 6;30 AM, which meant, working backwards, I'd have to get up a 4:30, do all my morning stuff and try to get to the airport by 5:30 at the latest.  I always like to give myself an hour.

So, I set my alarm on my new phone for 4;30, just in the same way I'd always done on my old phone.  I'd used the alarm on the new phone a few times for work related stuff, so I was confident about using it for this flight.  Of course if I missed the flight, that would be really bad.

I slept well.  My wife's alarm went off.  She did her stuff.  I dozed waiting for my alarm.  Even though we'd agreed on a 4:30 wake up, I figured she'd set hers for 4:00 since that's what the clock on my phone said.  Around the same time I noticed the clock on the bed table said 4:32, which I took to mean that someone, some dickhead obviously, had changed the time on that clock to make it about half an hour fast.

Then my wife gets out of the shower and asks me why I'm not getting ready.  That's when it struck me that my phone/clock was off by exactly 30 minutes.  OK, so how does that even happen?  That's a whole 'nother discussion.

The point of this little though exercise is that because I owned the clock/phone, and because I had set it myself, I believed it to be right, even in the face of two controverting facts.  1) My wife's alarm went off and she got up, and 2) the bedside table clock was 30 minutes ahead of my clock.

The power of belief is such that it can lead us to completely color the perceptions of things happening to us.  I thought the rest of the world must be wrong, that my clock must be right.

But that's not the only time it happened.

Well, I figured out why the clock was off.  Actually I didn't figure out why it was off, I just figured out that it was not set to pick up the network time.  Once I found that configuration option the time on the phone changed to the correct local time.

So later that same week I found myself driving from Buffalo to Rochester for a 9:00 AM meeting.  It's just over an hour drive and I wanted to get there early so I figured I'd leave Buffalo by 7:00, settle into Spot Coffee on East Street by 8:15 and it would be all ducky for my 9:00 AM meeting.  I set the alarm for 6:15AM.

The morning of the meeting I got up as the alarm rang, showered and packed, and then checked one of the games I habitually play.  Now I knew that a certain time in the game was supposed to run out overnight, but I saw that it had not.  That should have been a clue.

I had the hotel breakfast and noticed that the restaurant was really empty.  That should have been a clue.  I got in my car and noticed that the clock radio was set an hour early.  That should have been a clue.  All of these clues that I'd gotten up an hour early and it never occurred to me that my phone was off by an hour until I got to Rochester and Spot Coffee wasn't open yet.

So this is the set up.  These are the events that got me thinking about the power of belief, and how it can radically change our perceptions of the real world.

I'll write more about this later..

Thursday, June 19, 2014

P Z Meyers

We heard P Z Meyers speak last night at the Mark Twain house in Hartford, CT.  It's funny because I didn't know he was speaking.  I went because a friend wanted to go to a lecture.  When we got there they had his book for sale in the lobby, but it still didn't sink in.  Finally when he took the stage and they announced him I understood who we were seeing.  I guess I'll do almost anything for a friend.

Now, I'm no great fan of Mr. Meyers.  I find his blog a tiresome mix of cynicism, god-baiting, rabble rousing and self worship.  During his lecture he was much toned down from his blog persona, a persona which adequately obscures his lack of depth.  So I was a bit relieved, and a bit disappointed.  When I saw who it was I expected to not enjoy myself very much, but as it was, it was far better than sitting at home and watching TV.

The title of his new book, by the way, is "The Happy Atheist", which I take to be carefully crafted in direct conflict with his opponents who call him one of the Angry Atheists.  There was very little anger last night.  No fire and brimstone.  Some amusing stories.

He explained himself well in one respect, that is how be came to be the Pharyngula Blog author and what one might reasonably call an Angry Atheist.  It was only he came to teach Biology at UM that he started to run into Christians who opposed his teachings, siting utter rubbish based on no scientific facts.  They made his life difficult, and apparently Pharyngula was in response to those people.  It grew from there.

He's mellowed, or so he says, from the times when he desecrated crackers and led students on a field trip to the Creation Museum.

Sunday, June 1, 2014

What Religion Are You?

"What Religion are you?" she asked.
"How often do you fuck your husband?", I responded.


Tuesday, May 13, 2014

God, can I ask You a question?


Me: God, can I ask You a question?
God:
Me: Promise You won't get mad
God:
Me: Why did You let so much stuff happen to me today?
God:
Me: Well, I woke up late
God:
Me: My car took forever to start
God:
Me: at lunch they made my sandwich wrong & I had to wait
God:
Me: On the way home, my phone went DEAD, just as I picked up a call
God:
Me: And on top of it all off, when I got home ~I just want to soak my feet in my new foot massager & relax. BUT it wouldn't work!!! Nothing went right today! Why did You do that?
God:
Me (humbled): OH, I probably should have set my alarm clock since knew I had important meeting, but I went to bed drunk and said fuck it.  My bad!
GOD:
Me: (ashamed) And my car hasn't started right for weeks.  I should probably get that looked at.  I know it needs a new battery. Nobody's fault but mine.
God:
Me (embarrassed): And I know the lunch server.  She's is going through some tough times.  I could have been more understanding instead of getting all huffy.  What's a little cheese?
God:
Me (softly): And cell phones suck, I know that. Calls always drop.  I probably shouldn't have been talking while driving anyway.  Good thing there's caller ID on this thing.  I can see who it was and call them back later, unless it was a telemarketer.  Even God can't stop telemarketers.
God:
Me: And OMG! What am I doing?  Why do I have to make this stuff all about me?  And why do I have to pretend that someone did stuff TO me?  That sounds so unhealthy!
God:
Me: I really need to start to trust myself, work on my relationships, get some excercise instead of relying on a foot massager, eat better, drink less, spend less time on facebook, etc.
God:
Me: Hmmm.... Taking an active role in my own happiness... That actually sounds like a pretty good plan.
God:
REPOST if you Believe in HIM
Worth posting.