Saturday, March 24, 2007

Science vs. Empirical Science

While I named this blog Questioning Science, I’m actually questioning empirical science. Science is the examination of reality. Empirical science is the arrangement of that reality into theory under the guise of using mathematical equations that have the capacity of turning theory into fact.
In reality, empirical science doesn’t even bother with the equations, although it uses chalkboard scrawlings that are supposedly understandable to the initiated, to awe us into thinking that mathematical equations are a substitute, and more accurate than, rational conclusions. It simply creates conclusions, dogma, which, because we think it has been arrived at mathematically, and we don’t understand the math, trumps our common sense.
What this system of conclusions results in are basic assumptions that cannot be challenged. These assumptions dictate the reality empirical science sends its millions of practitioners out to examine.
While the millions of practicing scientists examine reality in good faith, the reality they examine, the results, have to be filtered through the gatekeepers of the dogma, and these gatekeepers are found in the key positions of the associations and publications that serve a particular discipline.
Let me give two examples of what I mean, the first very well know because it occurred in the 1970s before the popularization of science drove empiricists to set up methods of censorship to keep their own blatant censorship out of the press, the second occurring in the last year or so (and to an editor of a scientific journal), which was kept out of the press and is known only by a few (although it is documented by a Federal ruling on the matter).
The 1st case deals with Dr. Virginia Steen-McIntyre, a geologist working for the U.S. Geological Survey. She was directed to date a group of artifacts in Mexico. While I have some serious problems with the dating systems of empirical science, the systems are empirical science’s systems and therefore should be followed by science. McIntyre used up-to-date equipment to do her dating, and she used it in four different methods because, while she expected to come up with a date of 25,000 years, the date she kept getting was 250,000 years. Scientific dogma says that all occupants of the Americas arrived here within the last 25,000 years crossing the Bering Strait. (Find the mathematical computation for that!) When she reluctantly turned in her results, the head archaeologist told her to retract her conclusions. She refused. He tossed them in the trash. Thereafter, McIntyre was banned from the pages of archaeological publications, she lost her teaching job, and basically became unemployable in her chosen profession.
The 2nd case dealt with the rather humorous inroads Intelligent Design, an alternate to evolution, is making on the dogma of species evolution (the notion that birds evolved into dinosaurs, another conclusion it would be interesting to see a mathematical formula for). Rick Sternberg, with multiple credentials, was editor of the Proceedings of the Biological Society of Washington, a task he performed in addition to his job at the Smithsonian. He received an article by Stephen Meyer, the intellectual force behind Intelligent Design (which the American Association for the Advancement of Science, not wanting to argue the defects in species evolutionary theory, has declared to be unscientific, while at the same time declaring species evolution to be fact, and therefore not arguable), sent the article out for peer review, got back 3 thumbs up, and published it.
The response was immediate. Locked out of his office, totally discredited by a series of carefully planted lies, even “ordered” to reveal the names of the peer reviewers, he sought help from the highest available authority, The U.S. Office of Special Counsel. The office’s response, in a long opinion, upheld every charge Sternberg made, concluded the Smithsonian had violated his 1st Amendment rights, but said, hey nothing we can do about it.
There’s nothing anybody else can do about it either.
There’s a big difference in these two cases, other than the fact that empirical science had not perfected its censorship process in the McIntyre case, and that goes to just what science is. If we want to have a technology that reflects reality, then we need to have as accurate picture of reality as possible. When we use our minds to make conclusions about reality, we can say, well, our minds are our minds, and are limited to what we know at the time we make conclusions about reality. However, as more facts become known, then, if we believe our minds are the ones producing the conclusions, we don’t have too much trouble altering those conclusions.
However, if we believe that conclusions are the result of a mathematical process that works independent of our minds, then those conclusions, made from limited facts at the time, become unchangeable dogma.
More to the point, though, is a picture of our past, as opposed to our origins, can definitely color our picture of reality. If we believe, as empirical dogma declares, that civilization started some 6,000 years ago, and there was nothing before that, we are cut off from our roots in what was most likely a worldwide civilization, as evidenced by the megaliths found in virtually every part of the Earth, and in many places beneath the earth and under its lakes and oceans.
On the other hand, having a picture of how we evolved does not color our picture of reality one way or the other simply because it is a religious question that can never be answered. I spend a lot of pages in the 2nd volume of The Copernican Series describing how life forms, but when it comes to how it got from there to here, I’m left with something I call characteristic evolution, as opposed to species evolution. While more and more evidence indicates characteristics are involved in genetic evolution, a science unknown to Darwin although his grandfather was a characteristic evolution exponent, how we got from there to here is not really important in our picture of reality and therefore in our technology, only in our knowledge of medicine, for which species evolutions provides nothing and characteristic evolution everything.
This leads to the purpose of this introduction. There are things we can know, a rock is hard, the grass is green, we can’t walk through walls, and there are things we can never know. The things we can never know are divided into two categories. First there are things we can never know that affect our picture of reality and thus our technology. We know gravity exists because we can see falling objects. However, we can’t see the gravity, and we never will be able to see the gravity. The same is true of magnetism, electricity and light. We know these things exist, but we will never know them like we know a rock is hard because we can’t put how they mechanically operate in a display case in a museum somewhere. They’re all round us. They’re integral to our picture of reality and thus to our technology, but we will never know exactly what they are. We therefore have to make up an explanation for what they are. That explanation is dependent on the facts we know at the time. If, as we did with gravity, light, magnetism, and electricity, we create dogma when we know nothing, then we can never go in and revise that dogma. The errors we made when we were ignorant of most of reality will be carried forth into any new pictures of reality we form, and we’ll become more and more mired in a fantasy world we think is reality.
The other group of things we can never know do not affect our technology. The most obvious example of this is how the universe was created. What possible use does blather about the big bang, blather we spend billions of dollars a year on, have to do with our technology? Nothing. Zip. The Big Bang mumbo jumbo is no different than the Earth was formed in seven days, except the latter is a little more understandable, if just as improbable. Religious questions simply are not important to the creation of our technology. People working on building a rocket can believe anything they want to believe in when it comes to when did the universe start, how did we evolve, when does time end, where is the end of space, is space real so it can be bent, so long as they deal with the problems involved with the technology.
Finally, to lead into the subject that will probably take up the early months of this blog. We all think we are brilliant people, informed far beyond what our ancestors knew for thousands of years. For those of us that do, let me put two statements side-by-side.
Statement 1: Objects fall because the planet is the center of the universe.
Statement 1: Objects fall because it is a property of them to fall (gravity is a property of matter).
If you were a space explorer and visited two planets, one worshiping the first statement, the other worshiping the second, which would you think was more informed about the nature of gravity?
I would say neither!

2 comments:

Doug said...

Dr.Virginia Steen-McIntyre was a graduate student at the time of the event described, not an employee of the US Geological survey. She was part of a team working on the site.
The head archaeologist was Dr. Cynthia Irwin-Williams, a woman, not a man. Her conclusions were not rejected, she was not told to retract them, and in fact they were published. She went on to get her PhD after this and had 3 professional papers published. She never had a teaching job to lose (and never claimed that this happened to her). There are few jobs in her chosen career which she says is "volcanic ash layers and their use in dating early human archaeologic sites." She went on to be a vociferous opponent of evolution.

Doug & Helen said...

If he was interested in being honest, he'd have pointed out that the Office of Special Counsel report was written by James McVay, a former Marine drill sergeant and insurance attorney with no experience in employment law, whistleblower law, or federal-sector work. McVay was a political appointment by Scott Bloch, a homophobic right wing activitist, who also gave him this case to handle. It's really just a political attack, not worth the paper it is written on.
The Boston Globe described the Office of Special Counsel as a haven for gay-bashing and partisan politics:
http://www.bostonphoenix.com/boston/news_features/other_stories/multipage/documents/04669647.asp
And here is an article on its treatment of the Sternberg affair
http://lippard.blogspot.com/2006/12/how-office-of-special-counsel-got.html

Doug