Archives for posts with tag: Science

“You shall not make for yourself an image in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below. You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing love to a thousand generations of those who love me and keep my commandments.

Science teaches us many things.

In fact no, science teaches us nothing!
Science cannot teach, at all. Simply because science is not a teacher.

At individual level, science is an attitude. A mind open enough to accept its own fallibility. To accept the fact that, sooner rather than later, it will fail.
To accept the fact that the image it constantly generates during its interaction with the surrounding world is, at best, incomplete.
To accept the fact that the understanding it has reached during its existence is, and will remain forever, a work in progress.

At the social level, science is a way of conducting business.
Based on ‘trust but verify’. A scientifically minded community trusts its individual members to be honest in their efforts but verify their work because – as mentioned above, each of us will, sooner rather than later, fail.
Hence, by aggregating their efforts, a scientifically minded community will eventually paint a still imperfect image but one closer to the reality than any of those belonging to its individual members.

In order for the community to be able to continuously improve their ‘work in progress’ each, or at least, enough of its members need to preserve their scientific mental attitude. Their intellectual humility.
As soon as too many of the individuals reach the conclusion that their image of the world is the only correct one – and they start not only to bow towards it but also to convince others to join them, things start going south.

“Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.”

Who among us is perfect? Perfect enough to be sure?

And why had been chosen an adulterous woman as the main character for this lesson?
Because adultery is a sin which cannot be committed in solitude? Only in cooperation with ‘the other’? As a relationship? Where each member contributes to the shared doom?

Do you see how similar science and sin are?

Both start ‘individually’ and are put in practice ‘together’.
Both are initiated as individual pulsions and put in practice as choices.

I’ve started this post by mentioning science.
The scientists among us have reached the conclusion that there was no need for a God to start the process of which we are the alleged pinnacle. That evolution was enough to drive the whole thing. I tend to agree.
On the other hand, history – yet another branch of science, has produced enough evidence to prove that God had a tremendous contribution to the present state of civilization.

Not God himself but the image of God we have created for ourselves. The Image we’ve been bowing to for some time now.

Go figure….

105 Pastors Wrote a Letter To Keep Yoga Out of Ohio Schools. They Succeeded.
By Terry Firma

The endorsement of yoga is a violation of the First Amendment’s Establishment clause, which forbids government from picking religious winners and losers and enforcing its choice.

Based on my own experience, I consider transcendental meditation, with its veneration of the Maharashi Mahesh Yogi, uncomfortably close to a (half-baked) religion. Yoga, not so much, but opinion on that score is divided. You don’t have to be an angsty Jesus fan to concede that, depending on which yoga precepts are taught, its practice (derived from the Vedic / Hindu tradition) can veer into spiritual and religious territory. For consistency’s sake, it might be a good idea for atheists and agnostics to make common cause with the pastors (difficult though that may be!), and to err on the side of preferring that yoga instruction and public schools remain separate.

The first quote comes from the letter sent by the 105 pastors to the school districts in Ohio.
The second expresses Terry Firma’s own thoughts. Terry Firma being the author of the article…

Until reading his opinion I was convinced nobody else but those 105 pastors actually believed yoga could be considered a religion. Not in the First Amendment’s sense, anyway.

Here being the problem. A huge one.
By enlarging the definition of religion to encompass yoga – which is basically a practice, you end up with a wide enough definition to ‘engulf’ many other things. Science, and atheism, included.

Which, at some point, will be bundled with the items banned from being studied in schools.

What’s going on here?
Nothing much.
This is how ‘being rational’ works. You marshal all the resources you can identify towards reaching your goal.
Can the First Amendment be ‘helpful’ towards what ever I have in mind?
Does it mean that I’m going to actually weaponize it?

So what, if I’ll get a step closer to my target?

Have you considered all the consequences?

When I was admitted to the Bucharest Polytechnic, I learned that engineers and dogs have a few things in common. An intelligent gaze and the inability to use words when trying to express themselves.
When I started daubing in photography I discovered ‘there’s more than meets the eye’.
When studying to become a mediator I learned, as if it was still necessary, that ‘truth is somewhere in the middle’.

Nowadays, we all expect Science to come forward.
To find the answer.
To break, once again, the barrier which separates us from of the unknown. To take us by the hand and deliver us from evil.

But wasn’t Art the one supposed to provide for our metaphysical needs?!?
Even though it had been Archimedes who was the first to advertise his ‘physical’ breakthrough by shouting ‘Eureka’? While running naked up and down the streets of ancient Syracuse …
It had been the artists who used to trample their boots in the sludge at the bottom of our ordinary lives in order to open our windows towards new horizons…
The ones we expect to transform mud into statues.
To morph suffering into hope!

But is there such a great difference between science and art?

‘The man in the street’ might indeed entertain the notion that art is based on inspiration while science is defined by discipline.
Only this is nothing but yet another proof that it’s high time for us to learn how much inspiration one needs when trying to find a new cure.
And how much discipline must be observed by anybody who attempts to turn their inspiration into something to be traded with another soul.

Addressing the issue from another angle, “can spring be furloughed”?

A friend of mine answered ‘yes’. ‘If there’s no one to notice it …’
Another friend said ‘no’. ‘Spring coming no matter what is the only thing which keeps my mind, and soul, whole.’
Let’s enjoy spring. Together, as it unfolds us.

Let’s not allow it to shed its petals in vain.

Any attempt to learn something, to increase your knowledge about a certain subject, is nothing more and nothing less than an attempt to become intimate with it.

Students have two open roads ahead of them.

One which implies a lot of wooing, patience and a certain degree of self appeasement.
The other asks for a direct, almost blunt, approach.
While the first is more like the student dancing around the subject, the second is akin to a hands on combat.

The results are, obviously, different.
Not exactly different. Only fundamentally.

The difference is very much like the difference between courtship and rape.
The end result might be a child. But…

Same thing with art and science.

It is true that in order to have sex, both partners need to be, at least somewhat, naked.
But there is all the difference in the world between having sex and making love!

The end result is only apparently the same!

My friend and coworker asked me the other day:
“Why do these people hate each-other so passionately?”

“Because they are rational. They have reached their present convictions as the result of a rational process. Hence they are convinced they are absolutely right. Then, when anybody expresses a different opinion, they interpret ‘dissent’ as a personal attack. My ‘truth’ having been reached in a rational manner means that all other opinions must be false. Defending them – against all ‘evidence’, means that these people are either provocative or, even, outright destructive.”

“But being rational doesn’t include being open to the possibility of being wrong?”

“I’ll have to rephrase. ‘They are convinced they are acting in a rational manner’. In fact, we, humans, are ‘rationalizing’ rather than ‘thinking rationally’. We use whatever arguments/information we have at our disposal to justify whatever conviction we already harbor. And only when reality slaps us in our faces we ‘open up’. Even science and justice work out this way.
“Innocent until proven guilty”. Only scientists and law-enforcers are already accustomed to the possibility that things may not be exactly as they previously thought they were. Politically minded people are still learning.”

Science is, above all, a state of mind.
One that posits the world can be understood, one fact at a time.
Science also says that The (complete) Truth will never be fully acquired, only people tend to forget that part.

Some history, first.
Science, as an attitude, had appeared on the shores of the Medieval Mediterranean Sea. The Arabs had just discovered Ancient Greek writings about the ‘natural order of things’ while the Catholics were trying to figure out what God had in mind for the future of the mankind.

We have seen that the laws of nature depend on other laws of nature, which ultimately depend on God’s will.

Put all these together – the wish to understand God’s will, the belief that God’s will is expressed through the natural order of things and the systematic observation of nature, and, Eureka, you have ‘science’.

Which attitude had made Europe what it is today. Both the good and the bad of it.

Europeans have initiated the orderly study of everything around them.
As I said before, the initial intent wasn’t any technological improvement. Technicians and scientists were two completely different breed of people. As in ‘tinkerers’ and ‘philosophers’. Tinkering was sometimes confused with witchcraft while ‘philosophy’ was almost synonym with theology.
Well, both ‘professions’ could lead those to practiced them to a ‘funeral pyre’… whenever either of them ‘trespassed’… Many of those who are able to read are familiar with what ultimately happened to Giordano Bruno but very few of us know the fact that the ‘un-certified healers’ were seen with ‘suspicion’.

“Questioned whether she heals sick persons, answered yes Sir.
Questioned with what kind of medicines, answered by picking betony up and washing it like salad and crushing it into a mortar to get its juice and to give it to her patients for 3, 4 and 5 days, telling them that the more they drunk it, the better it was.
With these words the healer Gostanza da Libbiano, tried for witchcraft in 1594,….”
“The difference between them (healers) and physicians was the specific kind of tasks assigned to doctors: physicians, who rarely touched impurities and who regularly graduated from the university, were believed to be able to make the pain cease, whereas the healer, due to the fact that she actually touched her patients, was able both to make pain cease and to cause it”

Donatella Lippi, Witchcraft, Medicine and Society in Early Modern Europe, 2012

On the face of it, ‘science’ was, and continues to be, declared to depend exclusively on facts. Regardless of those facts being the expression of God’s will or, ultimately, of a serendipitous nature.
In fact, science is about what we, ‘scientists’, have been taught to accept as facts by our teachers and peers.

Another interesting thing.
When most scientists were still believing in God, their natural arrogance was kept in check by their belief that there was somebody who knew more than them. He.
As soon as God was declared dead, all hell broke loose.

‘Practical’ sciences continue to be kept in check by … well… practice! For any engineer, biologist, chemist, physician and all other related scientists and practitioners of science  it is obvious that Karl Popper and Werner Heisenberg were, and continue to be, right. No matter how much we will ever learn, we’ll never be able to know everything. Hence, we should proceed with utmost care.
Those who practice ‘secondary degree’ sciences – sci-Po being the most obvious example, share the belief that the world can be learned but are enjoying a far longer ‘leash’. Simply because the consequences of their actions come a lot later than those experienced by the ‘practical sciences’ practitioners. Add the fact that the ‘effects’ are harder  pinpoint to one specific cause/action…
And since God has become, at most, a personal matter… he no longer exerts the taming influence it used to…
Science has become independent. It is practiced for/in its own right, not as the only available manner of ‘divining’ God’s Will.
In fact, we use science as a manner to design our future. Independently. As each of us see fit and as allowed by those around us.
Which is good. Attempting to learn before proceeding is commendable, of course.
But proceeding with the unshakeable belief that we already know everything about what lies ahead of us is… foolish. Even more so when we speed up…  with total disregard about what other people, our colleagues/peers/fellow human beings, have to say and/or feel about the whole thing. Because we momentarily can.

 

The philosophical doctrine that every state of affairs, including every human event, act, and decision, is the inevitable consequence of antecedent states of affairs.”

The systematic study of the nature and behaviour of the material and physical universe, based on observation, experiment, and measurement, and the formulation of laws to describe these facts in general terms.

In these terms, science must be deterministic.
No systematic study of anything might ever be made if not starting from the conviction that a given set of causes will produce the same results, over and over again. No laws attempting to describe any facts in general terms might be formulated unless starting from the same premises.

On the other hand, it was science itself which had taught us that:

It’s impossible to determine, with absolute precision, both the position and momentum of an electron

The same ‘uncertainty principle’ can be extended to other pairs of “complementary variables, such as length of time and energy“.

And there are countless other examples of ‘in-determination’ which have been documented by scientists during their search for the ultimate truth.

Any chance of reconciliation?

Well…
To start, I’ll note first that ‘determinism’ is a concept which had started its career in philosophy while ‘science’ has a more ‘complex’ origin. It might have been initiated by Christian theologians trying to ‘guess’ God’s will only they were attempting to fulfill that task by closely watching Nature – which was seen as the very embodiment of God’s intentions.
In this sense, scientific determinism can be understood as the conviction that Nature must make perfect sense – must be completely explainable, simply because God’s creation – which includes Nature, must be perfect.
OK, and since all theologians agree that no human will ever be able/should ever pretend to know God, what’s the problem in accepting that Man – collectively speaking now, will never learn enough to find a complete explanation for everything?

‘And what about the atheists?’

What about them?
Oh, you mean the people who are sure that God doesn’t exist? Who are just as sure that God doesn’t exist as the staunch believers who are perfectly confident that God not only exists but also micro-manages everything? Under the Sun and beyond?
I’ll just leave it there…

On a deeper level, there is no contradiction between ‘determinism’ – philosophically speaking, and scientific thinking. As long as we keep these two ‘apart’, of course…

‘So you are going to accept that science will never ‘know’ everything AND that ‘everything is a consequence of the previous state of affairs’ ‘ ?

Well, again…
The key word here is “inevitable”!
Determinism is ” the philosophical doctrine that every state of affairs, including every human event, act, and decision, is the inevitable consequence of antecedent states of affairs
For a philosopher it is very easy to say ‘inevitable’. Even more so for believing philosopher.
For a scientist… how is a scientist going to say that something is ‘inevitable’? ‘Philosophically’ speaking, of course… as in ‘with absolute precision’?!?

Specially since entertaining a truly ‘scientific attitude’ means, above all, to be prepared, at all moment and without any notice, for all your previously held convictions to be contradicted by new evidence…

‘What are you trying to say here?
That everything revolves around the manner in which each of us relates to the meaning of his own interpretation of each concept?
That truth itself is relative?’

‘That man is the measure for everything?’

Yep!
AND that man is also responsible for the consequences his own actions! In front of his own children, before everything else.
For no other reason than it will be his own children who will bear the brunt of his own decisions.

Additional reading:
Science as Falsification“, Karl R. Popper.
800 Scientists say it’s time to abandon “Statistical Significance”
“Protagoras”
“On the Essence of Truth“, Martin Heidegger
“Suicide now leading cause of death among children aged 10 to 14 in Japan

Homo had become sapiens when he had started to learn.
To actively discover information and to discuss the findings with their peers.

This was how our ancestors had developed both consciousness and language.

The next stage was reached when people were no longer satisfied with mere survival. And attempted to glimpse into the future.

” “But ask the animals, and they will teach you,
    or the birds in the sky, and they will tell you;
or speak to the earth, and it will teach you,
    or let the fish in the sea inform you.
Which of all these does not know
    that the hand of the Lord has done this?
10 In his hand is the life of every creature
    and the breath of all mankind. ” (Job 12:7-10)

Until that moment, the deal was simple.
People followed the rules – which had already been set in ‘stone’ and passed over from ‘the beginning of time’, and things continued unabated. Hence no need for further inquiry.

From that moment on, everything had changed.
People still had a set of rules to guide them. But they had also been endowed with ‘free will’:
“You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh ; rather, serve one another humbly in love.” (Galatians, 5:13) and
“Anyone who chooses to do the will of God will find out whether my teaching comes from God or whether I speak on my own.” (John, 7:17)

So, there were rules, there was freedom and there was the Will of God – which had to be determined if it was to be followed.
How to determine it? Nothing simpler. ‘Ask the animals and they will teach you.’.
Meaning that the answer of any question our ancestors might have had about the Will of God was accessible to them. And that they had the liberty – the obligation even, to look for that answer. By studying the nature.
Because understanding the nature – which was the incarnation of God’s Will, was considered by our grandfathers to be the key to understanding the Will of God. And, implicitly, a keyhole through which they could glimpse into the future. Their future, of course.

It was a very recent development that more and more people had become convinced that science had killed God. By producing ‘scientific evidence’ for more and more things which used to be considered ‘acts of God’.
Franklin’s lightning rod and Georges Lemaitre’s Big Bang are but two small examples.
Benjamin Franklin was convinced that ‘God governs by his Providence and that the most acceptable service we render to him is doing good to his other children‘ while Lemaitre was an ordained Catholic priest. Yet many of our contemporaries construe their endeavors as scientific proofs that there is no such thing as a Creator God.

And what about ‘science’?
What is it, after all?
An attempt to understand God’s Will or a method to prove that God does not exist?

How about science as an attitude?
Which maintains Man can, and should, learn about things. Regardless of the name each of us chooses to call them: ‘Nature’ or ‘the Will of God’.
Which also maintains that Man, in their quest for knowledge, must preserve its modesty. Nature and/or the Will of God might be ‘accessible’ but it would be actually presumptuous, for each and for all of us, to consider that we’ll ever be able to know/explore every nook and cranny of the World.
To learn, and express, all the Truth there is.

– History is the story of what we remember of what had happened, right? Based on our shared individual recollections, the ‘written sources’ we have at our disposal and our interpretation of any other material traces we might have found… and properly preserved…

– Yep!

– Then no history, no matter how diligent and well intended the historian, will ever be the actual representation of what had really happened, back then!

– Well, you seem to be quite familiar with Heidegger’s work.

– I can’t say that. Popper’s injunction that science is more about being prepared to acknowledge your ignorance than about really knowing is enough for me.

– Then we might be soon delivered from History, after all.
When enough people will share your attitude/paradigm – that no matter how hard we’ll ever try we’ll never know anything for sure… it will be impossible for any would be dictator to pretend they have the ‘right’ answer for any problem we might encounter.

What we currently call ‘science’ is both an activity and an attitude. Something some of us do and the way in which some of us see the world.

In current lingo, those who ‘do science’ are involved in ‘technology’ while those who see the world ‘scientifically’ partake in a certain philosophical tradition.
If we look at things in this way, it becomes obvious that doing science and thinking scientifically might not be the same thing.

Science, as an attitude, had sprung up in Ancient Greece, been kept alive by the early Islamic scholars, rekindled by the Medieval Catholic theologians, come of age during the Renaissance and ‘exploded’ after the Enlightenment.
Technology, on the other hand, is way older. And had been developed mainly elsewhere than the scientific attitude. China and India had been technological powerhouses and thriving civilizations in times when Europe was still learning to wash its hands before dinner.

‘Modern’ science – what we have now, appeared only after technological prowess had been married to the right attitude. 

OK.
It is easy to accept that technology, the more widely distributed part of ‘science’, had appeared as a consequence of mere necessity. People needed things in order to survive, then wanted things in order to increase their comfort… things which had to be produced… as efficiently as possible… hence people had put their minds to it and … voila!
But what had driven some of those around the Mediterranean Sea to develop the scientific attitude?

The same thing which drives us?
The attempt to find out the future, one second earlier than it really happens?
Because they thought, like we do, that reality is unique and that man is meant to master it?

Man, the guy who was made by God in His own image and who was told to rule the world?

Roger Bacon, Duns Scotus, Occam,  Galileo, Newton, Darwin, Georges Lemaitre… some of them might have been persecuted by the church – personally or had their their ideas ‘challenged’, but they all had been raised in the Christian tradition and had been active members of their religious communities. Even Galileo, the only one among these who had been ‘physically’ affected by the way in which his ideas had been received by his contemporaries, had a more or less ‘functional’ relationship with the heads of the Church… he had died in his own bed, arrested in his own villa, not at the stake …



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