Mod+ 256. DR. DONALD DEGRACIA, WHAT IS SCIENCE?

Discussion in 'Skeptiko Shows' started by alex.tsakiris, Oct 14, 2014.

  1. Michael Larkin

    Michael Larkin Member

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    JKMac: I see you gave my post (see here) a like. This somewhat surprises me bearing in mind what you said in your own post (see here).

    Just out of interest, why did you like it? By any chance has it influenced your opinion?
     
    Last edited: Oct 25, 2014
  2. Don DeGracia

    Don DeGracia New

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    The importance of Tarpley's work is that it gets to the very early history of how the "soul" got ripped out of science, and the rise of the materialistic/physicalistic world view. For example, a big part of what happened around 1710 was that Newton went on a campaign to discredit Leibniz by accusing him of plagiarizing calculus. This causes Leibniz to be ignored pretty much right up to the present. Yes, everyone used his calculus notation, but Leibniz left behind thousands of pages of writing. And most of these were about resolving the mind-body dualism. Had Leibniz caught on back in the 1700s we would not be here at skeptiko rallying against the materialists out there today who think we are just "electric meat". So, I think it is very instructive to study this era and see the early origins that led to people like Searle or the other materialists, who, as I increasingly learn this history, I think are dupes of a scam perpetrated 400 or so years ago. Best wishes, David. -Don
     
  3. Don DeGracia

    Don DeGracia New

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    Hi David. The one I would add to the list is the habitation of the American continents prior to the Europeans. This too has a lot of evidence that many races, Nordic, Chinese and possibly even Indian got here in prehistoric times. My understanding is there is controversy in this area too.

    But instead of adding to the list, it is useful to step back and ask: what does this mean? And again I think Tarpley's view is useful. We are seeing science co-opted for political purposes. You mentioned Henry Bauer. He has a book "Dogmatism in Science and Medicine. I posted somewhere early in this thread my review of Henry's book. He documents many aspects of this problem. Tarpley's view also adds to our understanding of the political co-optation of science even in its early history.

    But today it seems more acute and publicly known than in the past. The myth of Newton persisted for 200 years or so before crumbling. Things like AGW are crumbling much faster. In part this is due to the massively increased flow of information via the internet. But even this is built on a much wider literacy rate amongst the general population that has come from modern education (in spite of what problems it may have).

    What is happening, I think, is that political forces that have long used information, including science, as a form of political control, cannot keep doing this "trick" effectively. When they are unable to subdue large proportions of the population with their "myths", then they have to resort to plan B, which is to get everybody to fight. And so you have "wedge politics" (something Tarpley also discuss the origin of in his free online book about the Bush family). No domain is spared from the "shit stirring" as my Mom would call it. Politics, race, sexual stuff, and science, anything gets thrown into a state of confusion because the people in power know how to maneuver in such conditions.

    I think one thing we can do as educated, intelligent souls is to see through these methods and not succumb to them. Do not get caught up in the debates that are designed to pit us against each other. Set an example of how we can communicate and interact without any of this meanness and stupidity. Just be civil human beings. Avoid polarizing thinking.

    One example I have been pursuing is string theory. I have a modicum of formal physics training and so am interested in how the ideas relate to the general development of physics. When I first heard of the controversy surrounding it, I was drawn in by the fact that everybody likes to watch a fight or see a car wreck...it has a morbid appeal. So, I have educated myself on both sides viewpoints. As with any legitimate argument, both sides have valid points. These can be isolated and studied without the acrimony. It then becomes a very interesting intellectual problem, but there is no emotion to associate with it per se. That said, I do enjoy going to the contrary blogs and seeing them fight. But I just consider this entertainment and do not get caught up in it. In fact, some guy, Lisi, just called Edward Witten, one of the leading string theorists, a "dick". Boy, talk about stoking the flames! Again, it is great morbid entertainment, but I don't let it affect my study of these topics.

    So, that is kind of a "meta" view of these things. Again, thanks for the great conversation, David! Best, Don.
     
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  4. Don DeGracia

    Don DeGracia New

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    Hi Micheal, thanks for jumping into the discussion. First, Bauer's book Dogmatism in Science and Medicine speaks a lot about the distorting influence of money. Henry has a great historical view where he partitions the history of science based on the prevailing conflicts of interest. It is a very useful idea to make sense of modern science. All the stuff you say, he elaborates on in this book.

    Regarding what words to use. Here is my theory: stupid people get caught up in semantic arguments. I mean, how much effort does it take to determine what one of the party means by specific terms? Not much. Look at us...we are doing it here as we communicate, getting to know how each other uses words to express specific meanings, and we are learning that we often share the same meanings, only dressed up in different clothes of words. And the value of this is the different uses of words to convey the same meanings leads off into different associations. That is how we learn from each other, by seeing the associations you, or David, or anyone here makes with a certain meaning, via specific words, and it gives each of a new perspective. The net result is, each of us widens our own personal perspectives and its a win-win situation for everyone.

    So, I for one do not advocate trying to be a nazi with words. The trick is to be an artist with words, and an artist with communication. There are only a couple rules:

    1. Listen to the other party and try to understand what they mean. Do not interpret what they are saying in your own terms...try to understand what they mean.
    2. If you cannot determine what they mean, ask: "What do you mean?".
    3. Work at this until you can express in words what the other party meant. You know this is successful when they say "Yes, that is what I meant". You now understand what they meant.
    4. The other party does the same with the meaning you are trying to convey.
    5. Once the process of exchanging meaning is established, then build cool meaning structures by sharing meanings.

    It is a simple thing mediated by what I consider one of the most important phrases: "what do you mean?"

    But even though the tool is simple, you can construct unbelievable thought structures. Just as a saw, hammer and nails can get you pretty far building stuff.

    So, given this, I like using the word "matter" for the stuff everything is constructed of, where the yogis use the term "gunas". If we use the word "matter" to mean "gunas", then we can do all kinds of fun tricks with people not in on the meaning-exchange trick (or algorithm). For one, it allows you to begin speaking to them. If a person believes everything is made of matter, well, you do too, except you don't mean the same thing. This provides a foot in the door to try to really begin communicating with them.

    Same with the word "God". In my mind, "God" means "Brahman". But if I meet a dye in the wool Christian, they don't know that. All they know is I also "believe" in "God". That too opens the door to be able to have real communication. When you can do camouflage tricks like this, the other party, even if they don't know the rules of artistic communication, they at least don't put up their internal barriers and you stand the chance of having real conversation.

    What I am saying is I believe it is more effective to even get across one minor meaning to someone than to attempt to convince them wholesale of some specific context or world view. If I can get a Christian to begin to associate the words "God" and "infinity", then the seed has been planted in their mind. At that point you have to trust it to take root and grow, which is their problem, not mine at that point. Again, it is a "Johnny Appleseed" mentality. Toss the seeds out and how they take and grow.

    Ok, that is my 2 cents on words. We are supposed to use them. We should not let them use us.

    K, again, David, thanks for popping in and contributing too!

    Best,

    Don
     
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  5. Don DeGracia

    Don DeGracia New

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    Opps, sorry Michael, I got confused by all the quotes and closed off my message to you as "David". Hehe, but I meant "Michael". :)
     
  6. David Bailey

    David Bailey Administrator

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    While money is the biggest factor, I think there are a number of other factors that are ruining science in the modern era.

    1) A lot of research is now done by machine. Blood samples, for example, will be analysed by machine, the results may be transferred to a computer automatically, then the 'researcher' presses one or two buttons to obtain a statistical correlation with something else - reported level of exercise, say. While there seems little point in requiring a graduate student to do what a machine can do better, the problem is that researchers don't develop any gut feeling about the various problems that can occur with the various processes he/she is invoking.

    2) Fast computers let people try any number of statistical techniques, find one that 'works', and rationalise the choice after the fact.

    3) Computer models are particularly dangerous. Every model is in a sense a computer program, and as everyone knows, programs need to be debugged before they work - but how do you debug a huge program once it seems to be giving results that are expected? Models also have zillions of parameters that can be tweaked - they are like the ultimate flexi-curve - ready to fit any data, or to make any desired prediction! Furthermore, the output from a program can look terrifyingly authentic - such as the weather forecast for January 1, 2090!

    4) Most people in science find they end up pretending to understand rather more than they really do - I certainly did! That makes them cautious to step out of line and say something controversial even if they believe it. For example, Alexander Unzicker points out how very few particle physicists really know the details of the detectors in particle physics experiments.

    5) Researchers are judged on the number of high impact papers they have published - not whether their ideas are holding up well.

    David
     
  7. Don DeGracia

    Don DeGracia New

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    Hi David

    Yeah, I agree with all 5. #2 is particularly important. When one plans to use statistics to analyze results, the experimental design is supposed to be designed with a particular statistical analysis in mind BEFORE the experiment is even conducted. In most cases nowadays, the experiment is conducted and people do exactly what you said and look for the test that gives the "best" positive results. One concrete example. Say one measures the level of a protein by western blot with an antibody. In principle, the protein level could either go up or down. The researcher discovers it goes down. If the data doesn't clear with a two tailed t-test (which test the hypothesis that it could go up OR down), then they might shift to a one tailed t-test (which tests that it was predicted to change in only one direction i.e..EITHER up or down), which will clear p < 0.05 easier. They then rationalize the choice of stat test after the fact, which is cheating pure and simple.

    Yes, people use machines and don't know how they work. That is always a problem. Blood samples is not the best example, because automated blood sampling happens in seconds after getting the blood and prevents all kinds of side reactions and artifacts that can happen when running the assays by hand the old fashioned way. But your point is well taken.

    A better example is one I am doing right now: microarrays. Many universities have "microarray core facilities" where a researcher can send his or her samples and get back an excel spread sheet with the "results". The researcher has only a faint idea of how the microarray system works, from the chemistry on the chip, to how the machine collects the data. They generally have no idea at all how the data is processed. They just get back an excel file with the "final answer" which comes from a canned program run by the core on the data with no regard for the specific samples or any nuances of the situation. I am doing all this microarray work right now and have been learning the data analysis methods myself. How to take the raw data file and do what is called "post-processing". The software I have has 6 different methods to do this. Each method is designed for different circumstances, emphasizing different possible characteristics of the raw data, and here is the rub: each gives DIFFERENT ANSWERS! But wait there's more! After post-processing, then you run pretty complicated statistics algorithms to determine which genes go up and which go down. There are maybe a dozen different of these stats algorithms, again each designed for a specific type of circumstance.

    What freaks me out is there is now a standard pre-processing and a standard stats analysis that these cores will do for the average customer (i.e. the principle investigator of the study). Again, PIs send off their samples and just get the excel file back with the "answer". They robotically report what the company or core tells them and then publish it, completely unaware of the variety of methods.

    Now, of course, this doesn't happen in all cases. A good paper will explain why they picked the exact pre-processing and stat methods they used. But I'd say over 60% of papers do NOT explain this. So, that is VERY SCARY. The literature is getting inundated with all this "big data" -omics data and the authors often have no idea of the behind the scene machinery used to calculate the final stuff they publish. Train wreck anyone?

    So, stepping back, one can conclude that certain fields in particular will collapse under their own weight. This is happening in physics with string theory and the cost of accelerators. In molecular biology, I just gave a very concrete example. Poor climate science is f***ed.

    Stepping back a bit further, we can apply the logistic curve to science: it grew exponentially, enjoyed a steady state for a while and is now in a period of decline. Happens to everything after a while. Yay!

    Best,

    Don
     
  8. Don DeGracia

    Don DeGracia New

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    Thank you, Ian! Done and done! -Don
     
  9. Don DeGracia

    Don DeGracia New

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    Got it, thanks Michael!
     
  10. David Bailey

    David Bailey Administrator

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    I was actually thinking not of proteins in the blood, but pico-polutants in the blood - such as bisphenol A etc. The concentration of scores of such substances are recorded and correlated against scores of possible medical conditions, and the almost inevitable significant correlation is reported with taking into account the Bonferroni principle which is supposed to correct for the increased probability of a chance correlation if you do multiple correlations in one go - fishing for a result.

    I am glad to work in software - at least in that sphere things either work or they don't!

    Maybe science can find a new way of working - one that is more closely tied to stuff that works. Imagine a completely new approach where researchers would go out into space and check that the Michelson–Morley experiment really gave a null result even far outside the orbit of Pluto, and would experiment with an ESP experiment in which it was possible to determine whether communication was limited by the speed of light, etc.

    My feeling is that science has been way too keen to settle on theories before the dust has really settled, and way too keen to apply 'heroic' statistical methods to data sets that are basically noise. Perhaps it can mend its ways - particularly if there are one or two spectacular crashes (say the earth cools for a decade or two) to sober it up!

    David
     
  11. Don DeGracia

    Don DeGracia New

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    Ah, thanks for explaining about the blood...considerably subtler than I was thinking and in the context you convey you are certainly correct.

    The only problem with working in software vs working in nature is the point I raised in the interview with Alex. By working in science, you see how really difficult it is to second guess nature. This is a valuable lesson all in itself. Just coming up with the appropriate descriptive understanding is hard as hell. It amuses but also alarms me when people come up with simple ideas of how nature works and everybody falls for it. I mean, just look at the two most successful theories we have: relativity and quantum mechanics. Neither is simple nor intuitive, but they work better than anything else. When I hear people come up with simplistic models of biology, or brain function, or consciousness (of all things!) qualitative ones in particular, I have to just laugh.

    I don't think science per se needs a new way to work. It works good as long as people are honest with the process. It's not new science we need, its intelligent, well-informed (i.e. not so damned specialized), and most of all honest scientists that we need.

    Even specialization is a manifestation of one of the seven deadly sins of Mankind: laziness:

    [​IMG]

    Thanks, David - Don
     
  12. Doppelgänger

    Doppelgänger New

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    Hi Sciborg,

    I enjoy your posts and links a lot... So I guess I am introducing myself here, I suppose. (Hi, Sciborg! I am Doppelgänger, nice2meetya.)

    I thought this was a good thread to bring this up, as you are knowledgable in this topic and it was already brought up earlier in the thread. What do you think about the Hindu-Indian caste system and the impact of British colonial-rule on it? I am genuinely curious and I don't know that much, but trying to learn.

    I have seen you post about this before but not in the context of the impact of the British on that system. If you did, I missed it.
     
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  13. Stephen Wright

    Stephen Wright New

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    wow, after all the talk about the AGW, I was worried you didn't have an ecological point of view at all.

    I like what you say about meaning --- and its accessibility with civility.
     
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  14. Thanks for the kind words Doppleganger. I've heard of Dirks' Caste of Mind which argues that colonialism calcified communities into more rigid castes, and I am reading Doniger's The Hindus which dissects the idea that Hinduism as known today is the largely product of male Brahmins, but can't say I have in depth knowledge on influence British colonialism had when looking at India as a whole.

    However, given the influence colonialism apparently had in Rwanda it wouldn't surprise me to see certain issues were exacerbated by colonial rulers...though in the case of India at least from my own family history I think the issues relating to caste system precede colonialism at least where untouchables are concerned.

    Ultimately, IMO whoever is responsible for the abhorrent, superstitious nonsense of the caste system and the rampant misogyny prevalent in India one has to confront the degree to which the problem is now a religious problem in that a good deal of power in bigotry relies on religious belief. This is not say Hinduism has to be junked in total because of these issues, but one should at least take the comic book styling of Eastern masters possessing inner wisdom with a healthy pinch of salt. (And, to be clear, I'm not saying any other inherited or modern tradition escapes from these sorts of issues unscathed. I've heard horror stories about pagan Goddess worshippers' bigotry as well...)
     
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  15. David Bailey

    David Bailey Administrator

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    It is very important to realise that being anti AGW does not mean that I am anti-ecology, and it presumably doesn't mean that for Don, Michael, or Alex. Once you realise that restricting CO2 is not in any way useful, you start to think of all the harm this policy has done:

    1) Biofuels are grown on land that would otherwise have been used for food.

    2) Some biofuels have been grown on rainforset land cleared for the purpose.

    3) The UK imports wood chips from the US to burn instead of coal. The wood isn't surplus, they cut down US trees specially to make the chips :(

    4) The windmills are damaging bird life because they fly into them.

    Above all, the green movement has been largely distracted into this pointless exercise. I would rather it focused on demilitarisation, stopping the rain forest destruction and stabilising population levels.

    Remember that except at much higher concentrations than we are talking about, CO2 is not harmful - indeed it is required for life to exist on the earth! You should not think about it like other pollutants whose natural concentration would be zero.

    David
     
    Last edited: Oct 27, 2014
  16. David Bailey

    David Bailey Administrator

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    Don,

    I am still working my way through your book, "Beyond the Physical", and I noticed that at one point you suggested that the occult planes might be related to the extra dimensions of String Theory. In view of the lack of evidence for String Theory (as we discussed earlier) I wonder if you still take this view?

    Furthermore, planes and dimensions are rather different concepts geometrically.

    Do you envision these planes as having actual dimensions - even dimensions that relate to the physical location of a person? That would seem a bit hard to believe - because a man standing on another's shoulders would share his piece of the planes!

    Until I got to that remark, I had assumed that the planes couldn't really work like that.

    David
     
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  17. Good point. Not to mention no adherent to mechanistic depictions of reality has an explanation for the partially-to-wholly acausal events occurring under the designation of "randomness", nor is there anything approaching an explanation for the causality necessary to power the determinism side of things.

    Just looking at this politically, of course the materialist evangelicals have to say free will is impossible in all paradigms precisely because it's impossible in the chosen paradigm that they want to use to push an atheistic humanism. Yet as Nagel notes - and a reading of philosophers like Bergson and Whitehead seems to suggest - the introduction of the three central components of mind (rationality, intentionality, subjectivity) as ontological primitives threatens to tear down the naturalistic picture.
     
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  18. Stephen Wright

    Stephen Wright New

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    My comment was a friendly tease. Further, it was to call attention to the reference to John Chapman, who was a deeply spiritual person. He saw the spreading of apple seeds as a natural act; that fully corresponded to communicating ideas with wisdom and love.

    I am not political about ecology, other than the common sense practical reality. Having worked the better part of my career in the electro-chemical industry; the clean-up has made a world of difference. Hexavalent Chrome and cadmium ions need not be freely dispersed. Command and control of their presence in the environment is mandated by reason.
     
  19. Don DeGracia

    Don DeGracia New

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    Thanks for sharing! I just jumped in and offered Don some aid. Don and I have been in communication for some time. While we come from different starting points, our work is pointed in the same direction. I very much enjoy Frank's site at integral world and have learned a lot from it, but I think there is often an uncritical acceptance of science just because it is science, like for example, Falk citing evolutionary psychology in his critique of Don's article, as if evolutionary psychology is some fool proof position to take. As we have been debating on this forum, there are many weaknesses with Darwinian theory. Its application to brain evolution, while a natural extension of this approach, suffers all the same weaknesses as application of the model to biology in general. So thank you, Sir.

    Best,

    Don
     
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