Tuesday, December 21, 2010


We had a parcel with Xmas presents in that we were expecting. It was late because the sender had sent it from Ireland with only the correct postage for inland UK and so it had been forwarded by the Post Office in Ireland after a delay. It had various smaller packages inside which were presents for the kids and us. It was from Gordon Brown, which was not a surprise but I was quite proud that he had sent us presents even if he hadn't put the correct stamps on them.


Thursday, December 16, 2010

more 'dis'ing science

Another thing Scientists tend to imply is that it has improves us as a species. It does this in a number of subtle ways - by implying that because science has forged much of the foundations of our civilization that it is a civilizing force. I'm not so sure - religion could make the same claim and I don't think there is enough evidence to uphold either of these claims.

I believe we are getting slowly more civilized and it is partly a result of the extra time to think that has been bought by scientific advances (longer healthier lives not spent just merely trying to survive). But science is at best neutral because on the other side of the equation it has given us exponential increase in the facility to kill each other which we continue to do with no sign of any downward trend. As previously posted, I also attribute most of our improvement in behaviour to a natural evolution of child rearing.

I would say that currently, while organized religion may be involved in many conflicts, science has provided both the cause and the means for all of them. While scientists are quick to point at their role in solving problems such as famine & sickness, they fail to take into account that they were also partly responsible for the problems in the first place. Without science we couldn't feed billions of people, but without science there wouldn't be billions of people. Science is both the cause of pollution and hence climate change and our best hope of solving it.

Scientists claim that there is a need and then science provides a solution. What science actually does is creates a need for something that we hadn't even thought of and then gives us the means to provide it. No engines no need for oil. No gadgets no need for electricity. I recently heard that the Amish don't actually reject all modern technology outright but rather they pick and choose - in particular they reject anything (e.g. cars) which could fracture their communities which depend on everyone being in close proximity but are quite happy to have modern labour saving devices if they enhance their family lives. This may be a misunderstanding but the point is we tend to blindly embrace whatever technological marvels are thrust our way or if there is an element of doubt (e.g. GM food or stem cell research) these are treated in isolation while we happily accept the status quo (as if we haven't been eating genetically modified food since the invention of agriculture or as if keeping premature babies alive in bubbles is more natural than growing human tissues).

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

for gods sake shut up

OK it's starting to get on my nerves now: this constant sniping of scientists at non-scientific belief systems. I can entirely understand their outrage at the disproportionate amount of media coverage that creationism seems to be getting; I can even sympathise to a lesser extent with their attacks on alternative medicine, homeopathy, crystals, colours etc. as it is pretty hypocritical to shun modern medicine in favour of ancient folklore until you need major surgery to save your life and then happily accept it. But now Hawking has had a go at philosophy and I listened to a Radio 4 programme in which Brian Cox echoed Hawking's mantra that physics will eventually tell you everything about the universe and there really isn't any need for anything else.

Now, however clever they are, Hawking, Dawkins, Cox et al are human beings - they have the same physiology as me and everyone else - two eyes which see a certain spectrum and a brain that is essentially the same. So if they come to a conclusion about the nature of the universe, it is based on information received through the same sensory apparatus and using reasoning based on the same neural platform as everybody else. Also in a wider sense the information available to them is the same as everybody else - it's not like they are party to some dark secret that is being kept from the public at large; scientific results are public property so if I had the time and the will power I could read every journal they have. So why do I strongly disagree with the idea that scientific reasoning is explaining the universe and that on its current course will one day explain everything?

Because at every stage in its evolution science has uncovered more questions than it has answered. Yes, it's been a very successful tool for allowing us humans to do the things that us humans have always done: eat, fight and fornicate (sorry nicked that one) in ever greater numbers and at ever greater speed, but it has not got us even one step closer to understanding the point of it all or even if there is a point of it all. Science can't even predict one tiny event like whether an atom will decay or if a drop of water will roll off one side of a leaf or another - not because it has incomplete data, processing power or equations that haven't been written yet, but because the universe is chaotic - things are inherently unpredictable. It can't tell you what is real and what isn't: if there are multiple versions of the universe - what is the scientific law which decrees that I see this one?

It can't prove or disprove whether there is a god, even though there are those who are doing their damnedest to try and show that it can. It can't explain consciousness. It is completely subjective even though it talks as if it objectively 'looking in' it actually 'peering out'. Saying that science can explain everything is like taking a photo and then saying that 'OK you can only see a few things in it but if you could enlarge it enough you would see everything' , ignoring the fact that something would only have to be one foot to the side and it will never appear in the photo, that there are smells and gases and heat etc. that aren't in the photo, however finely detailed it is.

Science is one tiny narrow viewpoint created by a self serving species at one blink in time on a crumb flying through space. Not only doesn't it answer any of the important questions, it doesn't even know what they are.

If I can work that out with my average human brain then so can Hawking, Dawkins, Cox and co. and I'm quite sure they have - why else would they feel so threatened by a few noisy creationists who most of us are quite happy to ignore.

Did you hear about the homeopathic riot? There was only one rioter but he did the damage of thousands. (nicked that as well)

Friday, December 03, 2010

Life Jim

Filled in the numbers on the Drake Equation (for calculating how much intelligent life is out there) with my estimates and got 39. SETI reckon 20 to 30 thousand, but then they have to justify their funding. Seems to me that if technological sophistication increases exponentially (as ours appears to have) then the window for a civilization being within our range of experience (i.e. smart enough to be contactable but not too smart for us to not have anything worth talking about) is going to be short. We flatter ourselves that a higher intelligent species would either invade us or guide us, whereas in fact they might simply study us like "a scientist who studies the creatures that swarm and multiply in a drop of water" because having a conversation with us would bore them silly. We have come to realize that interfering with the lives of other living things on Earth, even with the best intentions, is not often a good idea and the consensus view seems to be to let nature take its course - so they could take the same view of our planet.

39 then, is my number of civilizations at roughly our level of sophistication. Which is essentially zero, given the scale of our galaxy. Given the timelag on any communications across these kind of distances, it's not going to be a very interesting conversation anyway - a bit like telegrams in a foreign language that take years to arrive and concern events that you don't understand in a place where you'll never visit.