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Who Believes in Truth?

October 18 I participated in a debate about The End of Science with the physicist Michio Kaku and two colleagues. Unfortunately, Kaku agrees with me that the era of fundamental discovery is over; he’s just more optimistic than I am that applied science is going to transform our lives by making us immortal, supersmart and so on.

The real debate took place between me and two Stevens colleagues: the philosopher Lisa Dolling and the historian Jim McClellan. Both of them reject my assumption—which is fundamental to my end-of-science thesis--that science can achieve truth, that is, insights into reality that can withstand all attempts at refutation.

The Center for Science Writings has just posted Dolling’s remarks, along with comments by me, Kaku and a Stevens student, Suhas Sreedhar. Dolling calls me a “naïve realist.” She goes on to say: “While we might have a nostalgic commitment to both realism and truth, frankly these are concepts we can do quite well without. I would go so far as to say that the notion of truth relied on by the naïve realist is not only insupportable, but actually expendable (even superfluous.)”

As you’ll see if you read her remarks, Dolling is a very well-informed, sophisticated thinker. So are Jim McClellan and all the other scholars, scientists and journalists I know who hold this skeptical view of scientific “truth” (these folks view all truth claims as deserving of quotation marks). This is the position that I denigrate—for lack of a better term--as postmodernism.

As I’ve tried to explain ad nauseam, postmodernism is a perfectly appropriate response to string theory, multiverse theory, Gaia and psychoanalysis. Theories like these are clearly constructed, invented, not discovered; that’s why I call them ironic. But we have discovered—not invented—evolution by natural selection, the germ theory of infectious disease, the DNA-based model of heredity, the atomic theory of matter, the big bang.

My inability to convince smart, well-educated people--including professional science pundits!!!--that science can achieve truth leaves me frustrated to the point of despair. It’s similar to the feeling I get when I talk to intelligent people who nonetheless believe in a loving, just, omnipotent God.

The postmodernists don’t fly planes into buildings in the name of their anti-beliefs. But (and it pains me to say this, because some of these folks, including Lisa and Jim, are good friends) they make it more difficult to defend science and reason against the irrational belief systems threatening to engulf us.

Comments

James McWilliams

I guess smart educated people are just as likely to believe whatever appeals to them the most. Just like everyone else. ;)

Andrei Kirilyuk

Unifying Change of Science

Do not despair John, the truly progressive intelligentsia is on your side (even if it's a “club of the few”). It is interesting indeed that the ideas of the End of Science are rather popular in various “nonprofessional” circles, but are strongly opposed within established professional environment. On the other hand, it could be expected: the “ending” System tries to preserve its traditionally “high” status, despite anything. In fact, their “strange” inability to acknowledge the evident facts shows that THEY are in a really desperate situation because they know, as well as we do, that their domination is only a subjective, inertial effect, their attitudes and doctrines are already and really dead, and it's much more than just a missing understanding of colleagues. Those who defend a new, “unexpected” idea are in the opposite situation: you KNOW that you are right, logically, objectively, but you are terribly missing just subjective understanding from professional colleagues, upon which you would normally count as, being professionals, they SHOULD be logical too. In this sense, your reference to equally strange impossibility of sensible discussion with religious believers is quite relevant: in fact, both “postmodern” defenders of absolute relativism and straight defenders of unstoppable progress of conventional science are also BLIND, subjectively fixed believers, they MUST defend their attitude DESPITE any facts. [They resemble to me strong believers in Soviet communism here: even when the latter is evidently and completely dead and everything is even too clear about it, they continue to stubbornly protect it, believe in its “eternal” virtues, etc., without the slightest recognition of its absolutely undeniable, multiply exposed horrors...] Personally, I prefer canonical, religious believers because they evoke existence of “another”, qualitatively different comprehension of reality, which is not impossible, logically, while various “conceptual” believers in science are within the SAME, “scientific”, “objective” way of interaction with reality, and still they deny evident facts...

As a matter of fact, “postmodernism” we are talking about is the reaction to real change of the SAME system and approach of official science: when the facts of decay of conventional science doctrine and practice become too evident to everybody, it's “last trick” consists in saying “come on, it's not our problem, it's because everything has always been so relative, there can be no absolute truth, etc.” It's like a swindler caught by hand and saying as his justification that “nobody's perfect”. Indeed, looking at lengthy and “loose” Dolling argumentation, it becomes clear that she avoids speaking about science content and its well-specified, acute problems dealt with in the end-of-science attitude, but intensely refers instead to various “other” approaches, their connections, who resembles whom, etc. (as if it could change the essence of modern science decadence!).

That “serious” version of postmodernism is reduced finally to explicit support of sheer scientific parasitism. Dolling states in conclusion: “That's the model for science I would like to suggest. One that values the asking of the questions much more than providing of answers” (http://www.stevens.edu/csw/cgi-bin/index.php?p=dollingEos ). Thank you for being explicit, at least! Because that's exactly what the mainstream scientists are doing today, playing in questions without any sensible answers, in exchange to multi-billion, ever growing financial support from the nourishing “host”. When they come to a supermarket with their money cheated in that way, the postmodern science “philosophers” do ask for well-specified, high-quality products for their life support, but when they are asked to give something concrete and useful in exchange, it's only questions, questions, and promises, promises... Yeah, who knows, maybe eventually some more open “terrorists” produce in reality much less serious destruction, than such “educated” parasites with “polite” manners and “advanced” intensions... Their mere existence and domination in official science establishment is the best confirmation of the definite end of THIS kind of science.

We do have the evident “revolutionary” situation in science, with its “quantitatively” dominating but conceptually rotten “elites” and a few “desperate” opponents, small in quantity but strong in their convictions. It always goes like that with this “conscious” species. The next day after inevitable recognition of that new truth they deny today so strongly, the majority of “system people” will say how they always believed that the old system was wrong and that now that their eyes are wide open... Deja vu, tout ca. What WE should do, those who are not sure that asking vain questions without answers and giving empty promises in exchange to generous support of society is the main way of doing good science, is to unify efforts around the idea of deep, qualitative CHANGE occurring today in the system of knowledge, its practices, and eventually related much wider aspects of social and individual human life. The original End-of-Science concept reveals some aspects of such change; there may be other its visions, estimates of consequences, etc. But I think that it is most important to unify around the idea of deep enough change (of knowledge), as opposed to the idea of its more or less “smooth” or arbitrary evolution (including stagnation) actually defended by the current obsolete System and its “postmodern” servants. After all, let's clearly formulate major, basic differences we have, while further details can and should be discussed, but they won't change those two main camps of “objectivists” (truth lovers) and “relativists” (money lovers). I permit here a little subjectivity for me too, but the underlying basic difference is quite objective and VERY deep. As an example, I shall provide another vision or estimate of the “end of science” in a separate comment, after which the old good End of Science of John Horgan would seem a very nice, pleasant dream to postmodern parasites. There is so much of fantastic, ever MORE “absolute” (consistent, intrinsically complete) truth at ANOTHER, inevitably forthcoming level of knowledge that those poor “relativists” of today will quickly forget all their small hopes for tricky questions as the means of subsistence!

Andrei Kirilyuk

Knowledge Revolution of the Second Kind: A Harder End of Science Today

History of knowledge demonstrates two different kinds of big change, “end of science”, or “scientific revolution”. The first, “softer” kind is the canonical “extension” of a previously dominating doctrine to a much larger vision, which includes, however, that previous “global” paradigm as a now limited, but still valuable particular case. This kind of “end of science” is exemplified by the “classical” physics extension a hundred years ago, after which previously absolutely dominating science of Newton and Maxwell remains valid but occupies a more modest, limited space in the whole system of knowledge. [Whether that “scientific revolution” was a real knowledge extension, or just a “false start” of a new kind of knowledge badly needing now its genuine, unreduced realisation remains to be clarified, hopefully in further Horganism discussions.] The second, much “harder” kind of knowledge revolution makes previously dominating ideas completely obsolete and totally wrong: after the revolution they can have only “historical” or “cultural”, but not any practical meaning or usefulness. Such was the revolution of emerging “modern” kind of science in the whole, after previously dominating world vision of Ptolemy, Aristotle and other “ancient” kind of “metaphysics” (such as flat Earth reposing presumably on three big fishes), which we wouldn't even call “science” today because “it is not even wrong”, it's TOO different, being closer to what we would call today “fairy tales”, “legends” or “religion”. That's why that kind of knowledge revolution is referred to as e.g. modern science BEGINNING, rather than “end” of a previous vision, just because that end is even too evident, it leaves at most “weird souvenirs”, but virtually nothing truly “scientific” in the new, post-revolutionary knowledge.

I would argue that the end of science we are living now is closer to the second, “hard” kind of knowledge revolution, as opposed to the first, “soft” science revolution apparently implied by the original Horgan's concept of the end of science (see also my another comment, http://discovermagazine.typepad.com/horganism/2006/11/geertz_and_the_.html#comment-24838794 ). That's why that idea can be called “Super-Horganism” and implies, respectively, an essential, progressive MOTION towards the BEGINNING, qualitatively new kind of knowledge (as given by its well-specified content), rather than only “rejection” of ending, fruitless abstractions of conventional science. In fact, knowledge revolution of the second kind is so strong that it destroys also any real or imaginable revolution of the first kind because it changes even the very notion of ordered enough, “scientific” knowledge and thus also ways of its modification [Needless to say, Horgan's end of science can also be understood in a large sense, including various, “harder” and “softer”, kinds of “end” to be properly specified by further knowledge development.]

It's clear that the true nature of the end of science we actually have now can be decisively confirmed only by the eventually emerging new kind of knowledge, or in general, further knowledge development. But even without such detailed confirmation, one can see essential signs of the second kind of knowledge revolution in a number of “general”, quite evident features of conventional science problems today. Take, for example, those notorious “mysteries” completely dominating the very basis of the whole fundamental physics (its official, scholar version). This fact alone is quite scandalous, reducing “objective science” status down to not even religion, but much more esoteric superstition, such as cabbala (VERY close to the idea of now dominating “mathematical physics”) or astrology (it also claims strong “confirmation by observations”!). There is no surprise that there are multiple and increasingly appearing attempts of truly rational, causal explanation of “mysterious” features. Without any detailed analysis of their versions here, let's just imagine that the desired progress has happened and we do have a consistent, “dynamic” and unified explanation of “quantum” and “relativistic” behaviour without any remaining strong contradictions, or postulated “mysteries”. How THEN shall we estimate that totally mystified “new physics” of the twentieth century (dominating unfortunately until today), as a still valuable concept, but with a limited space of validity (like Newtonian science today), or as a “not even wrong”, “Ptolemaic” picture of the world, a historical artefact demonstrating largely subjective course of knowledge development that belongs completely to the history of science?

I have also much more substantial arguments in favour of the second conclusion, where it is rigorously shown, within a mathematically correct solution of unreduced interaction problem (absent in scholar science), that the WHOLE space of now totally dominating conventional science is an effectively (dynamically) zero-dimensional, point-like projection of reality having infinitely many such “dynamic”, permanently changing, realistic “dimensions”, or (system) “realisations” (see http://arxiv.org/find/quant-ph,gr-qc,physics/1/au:+Kirilyuk/0/1/0/all/0/1 for more details). If now we pass from that huge, MAXIMUM possible reduction of reality in usual, scholar science to its unreduced, truly realistic version, it becomes evident why such tremendous change can rather be classified as the second kind of knowledge revolution needing “complete rearrangement” of its structure and foundation. One should not be confused here about purely empirical knowledge part: all observed “atoms” and “electrons” will remain, of course, there where they are now, it is rather the true understanding of their origin and behaviour that will change everything dramatically and irreversibly (Ptolemaic and Copernican/Newtonian systems of the world were initially based upon largely the same observations that were “only” interpreted within quite different approaches and visions). One can even say probably that it is ONLY NOW that we can DEFINITELY get rid of the “flat Earth on three fishes” kind of knowledge because the whole “new physics”, taught and practiced in ALL their super-“modern” universities and laboratories and involving multi-billion (practically “infinite”) investments, is none other than an intrinsic part of THAT old, ever persisting, inherently superstitious kind of knowledge, with its irreducible, postulated mysteries, undeniable authorities and strong, subjective, unfair suppression of any serious attempt to find genuine, consistent problem solutions. “Inquisition” is still there and it does “burn” heretics, even though they use today other kinds of “fire” (quite enough to kill the truth!).

In summary, accumulating facts, new data and new understanding attempts (at various levels of world dynamics) point increasingly in the same direction of the emerging HARD version of knowledge revolution from a STRONGLY inconsistent, “Ptolemaic” kind of (pseudo) “science” to a basically totally consistent and therefore intrinsically unified (though always limited in VOLUME) kind of knowledge, where the essentially incomplete, mystified basis of modern science explanations will deserve at best only historical or cultural mention (even though many correct “classified observation” structures, such as confirmed elementary particle spectrum, Schrödinger equation, or DNA spiral will remain as such, irrespective of their new, superior understanding). Subjectively, it shows HOW deep is today's “end of science” (our “rabbit's hole”!), so that not only selfish hopes of dominating science priests to preserve its modern kind and basis generally intact are completely vain, but even much more “modernistic”, “advanced” hopes for the emerging science revolution of the first kind (old good science remains but now “looks” somewhat smaller) are equally vain: EVERYTHING will and SHOULD change in knowledge content and practice, it is an urgent, vitally important demand of the practically advancing, but completely blind and therefore DESTRUCTIVE empiricism, from fundamental physics to life sciences, studies of consciousness and ecology.

As to the idea, often emphasized by John Horgan and others, that there will/should always be something (or even much) of “simply unknown things” (for various, indefinite reasons of their widely interpreted “complexity”), it is but another way to look at the same, strongly inhomogeneous knowledge development from the “other side”, that of the yet unknown universe (as opposed to more conventional perspective from its presumably “known” parts). We can say then, “in terms of unknown”, that the current end of science appears as UNUSUAL STAGNATION of the degree/proportion and content of unknown (rather than only its ill-defined “volume” as such), while the “post-revolutionary” knowledge should provably, explicitly, fundamentally CHANGE the volume and content of the unknown (one should see explicitly, quickly moving “border/limit of knowledge”). It is true that announced OFFICIAL versions of the next “scientific revolution” (spin networks, “chaoplexity”, quantum computers, nanotechnology,...) do NOT propose any real novelty and are therefore but vain IMITATIONS of the necessary change, but modern exceptional, ever increasing abundance of such “false prophets” itself can well be a sign of approaching REAL change that can easily be discerned by the mentioned criteria (involving explicit solutions of stagnating “difficult” problems). It is evident that those “features of (true) change” (as well as its difference from any imitations) should be especially visible in the here defended case of “stronger” knowledge revolution of the second kind.

Andrei Kirilyuk

James,

But "everyone else" is not regularly, comfortably PAYED for their subjective preferences, contrary to "smart, educated people", which often obtain a practically guaranteed life support just because society have very big expectations for their activity. And what they give in return, "questions" PREFERABLY without answers?! You can call it "philosophy", I would call it parasitism. Should science become a parasitic way of existence only because there is no immediate material output of scientific activity (and too much spare resources in over-production society)?

Ulrich Mohrhoff

"My inability to convince smart, well-educated people... that science can achieve truth leaves me frustrated to the point of despair. It’s similar to the feeling I get when I talk to intelligent people who nonetheless believe in a loving, just, omnipotent God." --- Your gut reaction of despair is the reaction of those who are capable of flying planes into buildings. Your fanatic defense of science and reason is kin to the fanaticism of those whose irrational belief systems threatening to engulf us.

Jerusalem Joe

"Post-modernist don't fly planes into building"

no, but they encourage it and enable it,and they shake our belief in our own culture to the degree that we are on the verge of suicide.

actually, post-modernism and the modernist ideology driving the islamic fascism are extremely similar: both are very good ideas(not the fascism - the modernism) taken to extremes, and misapplied.

anyway - good post!

James McWilliams

Yes, thats true enough Andrei. :D I am increasingly frustrated in how science in general (technology in particular) is so often hyped beyond it's actual capabilities. Not only by the press, but by those who work in those fields. It seems to me to be a very unscientific method. But perhaps that is but another symptom of the 'getting funding' rat race.

In fact, "hype" would be the wrong word. "Lies" would probably be more accurate.

It does make me think that science is being hijacked into some sort of religion.

Sam Taylor

In another ccontext, I wrote the following a couple of years ago:

"Some current as well as past discussions in certain philosophical circles about the nature or existence of truth have some value in that they remind us that truth is illusive, has many facets, is difficult to ascertain and may even be, in part at least, beyond the ability of human beings to either fully comprehend or express. We certainly need to be reminded. Beyond that, many current philosophical discussions strike me as sophomoric.

Does what we recognize as true change? Are our perceptions of truth influenced by human emotions and surrounding culture? Is the very term “truth” difficult to define precisely, one of those “I’ll know it when I see it” kind of things? Do our senses often deceive us even when we’re trying not to be deceived, much less when we want to be?

The answers are obviously yes, yes, yes and yes.

Does that mean there is no such thing as truth and that all statements about truth are relative, true only in the context of a given set of cultural beliefs?

Get real! Does believing the earth is the stationary center of the universe with the sun, planets and stars orbiting around it for all the very good reasons most people believed this until a few hundred years ago make the belief true? Would it be true for those people who might still believe it?

In any event, we silly humans keep trying to find truth and I suggest we do not stop because some people make a living telling us how difficult it is. We’ve known that for probably thousands of years, at least since some of those ubiquitous Greek speakers explained it so clearly."

Like Harry Frankfurt, author of "On Bullshit" and the very recent "On Truth", I am old enough to be a real curmudgeon.

The unfortunate reality that so much that passes for theoretical science today tends to fall into the bullshit categoty (isn't it great to have this terribly expressive word now a defined term) doesn't change the total waste of time that some professional philosophers seem so determined to subject us to.

Sam

Comstock

I consider myself a soft postmodernist. I believe that the real world is out there. I'm a materialist. But I don't think people have direct access to the world. Everything we know about the world comes mediated through sense data, and a lot of what we know is filtered through a lot of tools before it even gets to our senses. Speaking as a former scientist, I see science as a model-building endeavor. We build models that describe how the world works. Some of these models work very well, make great predictions, and are technologically useful. We might call these true, but I think it is a mistake to think this means they are true in an epistemological sense. That kind of truth is impossible, from my perspective. I'm a bit surprised to see something like the big bang described as true. I would describe it as the best model we have at this point.

Don Emigh


Isn't truth simply that which exists, that which is, that which is a fact?

Why do we always make these questions so complicated? It seems that until a question is nearly beaten to death, made complicated, twisted until it's nearly unrecognizable, we just don't feel intellectually satisified.

Truth is always in the "now,"--or probably more correctly, it is the "now." If something was true in the past, that this "something" was true at one time is certainly a fact. Of course this fact is true, but the thing itself is no longer true--it's gone. The truth is now, and it doesn't give a soft white damn what our opinions of it might be.

Let's take an example. I am walking down a street with a friend and a woman is walking towards us. My friend says, "Now there's a beautiful woman." To know whether this is a true statement, we would have to know what it means to be "beautiful,"-- and we're off on that tangent. Is "beauty" subjective, objective, and so on. But the truth is, there is a woman on the sidewalk coming towards us; live with it.

Truth is from moment to moment. If something isn't true now, it obviously isn't true--a neat tautology.

Andrei Kirilyuk

Don,

There is an essential difference between the “here and now” kind of truth from “ordinary life” you refer to and “scientific truth” we are discussing in this blog. The “simple” image recognition you give as example is in reality a complex-dynamic interaction process in our brain, but because it is “automatic” and efficient (usually) one may have a resulting impression of its clear and definite result. Usual scientific method, including both measurements and interpretations, is much weaker. It would correspond, in terms of your example, to a person with very bad vision (as well as very limited logic and vanishing morality) who can see at best that “something” is probably moving at a certain distance, but it will be very difficult to be sure that it is a woman or even anything “alive”. It remains then to plunge into uncertain guesses using secondary information, etc. Such is the situation, for example, in modern cosmology, where despite multiple observations, different interpretations remain possible “now”, simultaneously (and the “officially accepted” one now seems to be the less and less probable, after many decades of its “triumphant” domination).

The deficiency of scholar science, its specific method and resulting kind of knowledge, is that it even does not try to approach the efficiency of brain image recognition, but is oriented rather in the opposite direction of increased simplicity and broken links between different phenomena or aspects of observed reality (“more is different”, etc.). Brain is so efficient in its “here and now” operation because it “automatically” compares various features of observed images and concludes that something is “now” only when there is a quasi-total, practically complete correlation between various “data sets” (from observations, or “experiment”, and memory, or “theory”), i.e. in the case of total consistency in its resulting activity pattern. If there are at least some noticeable “problems”, or “discrepancies”, in that resulting picture, you will immediately obtain a signal interpreted usually as “something's wrong with it” (e.g. an approaching “woman” appears, at a closer distance, to have a moustache). Contrary to such “strict control” for consistency of the complex brain dynamics (it could not exist as an autonomous system otherwise), conventional science permits as much inconsistencies as necessary, trying to “compensate” them by “unprovable” (and often “inexplicable”) “postulates” and adjustment of arbitrary number of parameters of artificially added new entities (including “hidden dimensions”, “invisible particles”, etc.). And since its “vision” power is also inevitably limited, especially at extremely small and big scales, one obtains the result, which is extremely far from relatively “clear” impressions of our image recognition system.

I could summarise the proposition of my “universal science of complexity” (http://arXiv.org/abs/physics/9806002 ) as a qualitative transition in the quest for scientific truth from chaotic and inconsistent simplification of usual science to a kind of complex, multi-component “image recognition” process and related criterion of practically complete consistency of the obtained picture at each particular scale of interest. If there is at least one serious discrepancy, the whole picture can be wrong, a “woman” can in reality be a man or a mannequin, while “expanding universe” turns out to be “moving” (developing) in a much more complicated way, with the “red shift” in the Big Bang “proof” being rather due to the properties of long-distance photon propagation (the detailed nature of photon remains always “mysterious” in usual science framework).

Do you see now why looking at women is a much more pleasant exercise than scientific research? No, it's not because the former is easier, it's because the huge amount of brain work needed for image recognition is “already inserted” in the brain as one of its “automatic” functions, somebody has already done that “organisation work”, the “natural selection” (most improbable) or an outside “designer” (but who then designed Him?). In any case, what we have “now” in conventional science seems to be ever less satisfactory, contrary to women becoming the more and more beautiful... Therefore remaining in science (where you can see less beautiful women, by the way) can be considered, the more and more, as exceptionally hard and heroic labour, especially because there is the more and more doubts about what that mere play in questions without answers of scholar science can actually serve to...

Don Emigh

Andrei,

Scientific truths--that is, scientific facts and not unsubstantiated theories, conjectures and speculations--have no choice other than to follow nature: they, also, can be true only when they are true in the present, the now.

What is the "now"? When we examine closely, we soon find that we simply cannot get the "now" within our grasp. The very instant that we "perceive," and before we can finish thinking to ourselves, "this is the 'now'," the "now" is gone. Our perception and our thinking are always after-the-fact.

So what is the now? I don't think it is metaphysical at all to say that the 'now' is a condition before perception and thinking. This appears to be just a fact. To follow this out a bit, perhaps the "now" is also a condition before time--in which case it is a universal condition.

What do you say?

Mike Cook

I have read that for many centuries the professionals who calculated tide charts continued to use the Ptolemaic model based on epicycles, even though they knew that Galileo, Kepler, and Newton were "right." Why? Because it was a lot easier, particularly if you try to be finicky and work out three-body (much less nine-body) equations of gravitational interaction.

Which brings up a speculation: could a race of intelligent computers arise on an alien world completely convinced that they are at the center of the universe and with an elaborate cosmology that nevertheless allows them to go star-faring in spaceships because, like the epicycle system, their calculations do work for charting courses in a practical sense.

It kind of comes down to the assertion that somehow the typical Galilean conception of the lay-out of typical star systems is "easier" or more "rational" to visualize.

But what is "easier" to a computer? What is visualization? If they choose to think that their homeworld is the absolute center of the universe, the starting point, and that quirk does not interfere with their gadding about in spacecraft, why insult them by insisting they are wrong?

The Russians and Chinese seem to think that Hanson's proofs of anthropogenic global warming are just an example of Western science careening off on a humbug path. The Russians and Chinese in particular look at their own analysis of the climate history of their colder regions and see no real good reason to suppose that anything other than business as usual is going on.

I am going to wait until Dec 21, 2012 to decide if man is really causing global warming any more than we are causing the latest storm on Jupiter. I anticipate that the Antarctic "ozone hole" will still be opening and closing happily at that date because it never did have anything at all to do with chloro-fluoro carbons, but was driven by the stratosphere actually getting colder, which we "knew" before NASA put in by hand corrections to the satellite and balloon data in order to make the latest career-advancement bandwagon green religion humbug work.

nigel cook

"My inability to convince smart, well-educated people--including professional science pundits!!!--that science can achieve truth leaves me frustrated to the point of despair." - John Horgan.

Join the club! The reason for this is the intrusion of politics (groupthink, bigotry, consensus, fear of heresy) into scientific discussion.

Recently on Dr Woit's blog Not Even Wrong, Dr Thomas Love of California State University pointed out that there is [supposed to be] such a thing as a "scientific mindset".

The "scientific mindset", he states, is the ability to admit that absolute facts exist.

The first postulate of special relativity (1905) is an example of an error acknowledged by Einstein (1915), when he wrote:

‘The special theory of relativity ... does not extend to non-uniform motion ... The laws of physics must be of such a nature that they apply to systems of reference in any kind of motion. Along this road we arrive at an extension of the postulate of relativity... The general laws of nature are to be expressed by equations which hold good for all systems of co-ordinates, that is, are co-variant with respect to any substitutions whatever (generally co-variant).' - Albert Einstein, ‘The Foundation of the General Theory of Relativity’, Annalen der Physik, v49, 1916.

However, most of Einstein's supporters don't have his scientific mindset, and continue to falsely claim that general relativity is merely special relativity written in tensors with gravitation and the contraction term (due to conservation of potential energy) added to it.

They are taught special relativity first, and won't admit that the first postulate of special relativity doesn't apply in the universe we happen to live in. (It would apply if there was no mass, and thus no people in the universe; but there is mass!)

The problem with special relativity is explained further by Einstein and Eddington as follows (thanks to Dr Thomas Love for this quotation):

‘... the law of the constancy of the velocity of light. But ... the general theory of relativity cannot retain this law. On the contrary, we arrived at the result according to this latter theory, the velocity of light must always depend on the coordinates when a gravitational field is present.’ - Albert Einstein, Relativity, The Special and General Theory, Henry Holt and Co., 1920, p111.

Next, Einstein explains (more credit to Dr Love):

‘... the principle of the constancy of the velocity of light in vacuo must be modified, since we easily recognise that the path of a ray of light ... must in general be curvilinear...’ - Albert Einstein, The Principle of Relativity, Dover, 1923, p114.
Einstein also publishes the fact that general relativity is a heresy to SR due to fabric:

‘According to the general theory of relativity space without ether is unthinkable.’ – Albert Einstein, Sidelights on Relativity, Dover, New York, 1952, p23.

Eddington, who validated general relativity, exposes the flaws in special relativity principles:

‘The Michelson-Morley experiment has thus failed to detect our motion through the aether, because the effect looked for – the delay of one of the light waves – is exactly compensated by an automatic contraction of the matter forming the apparatus.... The great stumbing-block for a philosophy which denies absolute space is the experimental detection of absolute rotation.’ – Professor A.S. Eddington (who confirmed Einstein’s general theory of relativity in 1919), Space Time and Gravitation: An Outline of the General Relativity Theory, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 1921, pp. 20, 152.

Next:

Muller, R. A., 'The cosmic background radiation and the new aether drift', Scientific American, vol. 238, May 1978, p. 64-74:

"U-2 observations have revealed anisotropy in the 3 K blackbody radiation which bathes the universe. The radiation is a few millidegrees hotter in the direction of Leo, and cooler in the direction of Aquarius. The spread around the mean describes a cosine curve. Such observations have far reaching implications for both the history of the early universe and in predictions of its future development. Based on the measurements of anisotropy, the entire Milky Way is calculated to move through the intergalactic medium at approximately 600 km/s."

If the above result had been discovered BEFORE special relativity, the harm would not have been done. As it is, time dilation (which is real, since relativistic muons decay more slowly) obfuscates the mechanism behind the effects normally described by the maths of special relativity.

Because bigotry in mathematical physics is as widespread as crackpottery, it is impossible to get a proper analysis of the Dirac sea in quantum field theory.

You can bet your life that the proper quantum gravity is a Yang-Mills version of Loop Quantum Gravity, and that Einstein's continuum is false, as be suggests in his 1954 letter to Michel Besso:

"I consider it quite possible that physics cannot be based on the field concept, i.e., on continuous structures. In that case, nothing remains of my entire castle in the air, gravitation theory included, [and of] the rest of modern physics."

Mike Cook

Of course, there is the quibble that Arthur Eddington could not possibly have "proved" relativity in 1919 by observing the remote eclipse for them reason that his instruments were quite incapable of the required accuracy. Eddington intuitively bet on the right horse, which Einstein also did from time to time.

Intuition should not be under-valued. Combined with sufficient stubborness and ambition it may well surpass rationality as an avenue to "truth!"

Joseph Goska

Who Believes in Truth?

John, you appear to hold that man is as one with the angels, capable of devising a system that allows him to know pure and perfect Truth. At the same time, you appear to hold that man is as one with the clay, incapable of knowing anything not conceived of in 1996.

I think I am rather clearer in my mind about my view of man, and, while I do not agree with your conclusion that we will somehow never learn another thing, I go with clay. But, hand it to this particular clay, he did manage the electric light, and did finally fly, and jump over the moon, and crack the genetic code. But first he had to recognize himself as being of very limited intellectual capacity, grievously gullible, overwhelmingly prone to error, delusion and false conviction, and then devise an approach that would work reasonably well even when applied by such creatures.

Part of the discipline is the realization that The Truth is best left to true believers, and for telling if we are absolutely cornered and can't think of anything else. The goal is reliable inference. Even the best-supported conclusions are held as tentative, and, ideally, clear distinction is made in the mind between one's conclusions and The Truth.

You yourself have demonstrated how naturally and surely the human mind will confuse its conclusions with The Truth. We did not discover the Big Bang. When and if the Big Bang occurred, there was no one there to say "Wow, look at the size of that bang! Get a picture of that!" The Big Bang is a tentative rational construct, a conclusion supported by the available evidence. It is an idea that has required saving by some very fancy mathematical footwork and physicists ready to believe impossible things before breakfast: "We added some of this Inflation stuff, see, and saved the Bang. There she is, better than new."

I do not argue that science is incapable of arriving at a truth. "The disease smallpox is caused by pox virus infection" is a statement I will hold as true, until I learn better. But consciously discarding the idea of "The Truth" has proved extremely useful, as an antidote for errors like the one above, for one good reason. Another: the tendency of the human mind to accept what it has decided or been taught as The Truth, and to conclude that anyone who questions The Truth is aligned with Darkness and Evil. Acceptance of The Truth means the end of thought, and, lo, the end of science. Systems that promote the end of questioning and the acceptance of The Truth are faiths. Another: a hypothesis is an educated guess at the nature of some aspect of the universe, and most hypotheses, even very elegant, beautiful ones that account for all the available data wonderfully, turn out to be wrong. Scientists know it and expect it and live with it. Make your guess, gather your data, hope the hypothesis is supported by the evidence. If it is, maybe you've got a breakthrough, maybe not. All that's asked is a competent, honest days work. If you're wrong, hey, Linus Pauling, two-time Nobel Prize winner, guessed that DNA was a triple helix, so there. Imagine if scientists thought of publishing their work as presenting The Truth in the Temple of Science. They would have to be superhuman not to crack under the strain.

"Never, ever confuse your, or anyone else's, conclusions with The Truth, ever," is a much better rough guide for the scientific thinker than "Go Ye, and find The Truth, and reveal it unto the Nations." If a science like that ever arises, I'll be happy to see it end, instantly.

Who Believes in Truth?

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