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July 27, 2005

So help me

The next time someone submits an article to the Earth Island Journal that claims that some established part of science is wrong wrong wrongitty worng because "establishment scientists" "refuse to accept the teachings of quantum mechanics," I am going to ask the author to identify this:

They won't need to identify the variables. They won't need to explain why it's important to the study of quantum physics. I won't insist that they come up with a convincing and persuasive argument as to how the equation indicates there's validity to Kirlian photography or the existence of the soul. I won't even ask for a counter-argument to the idea that far from calling what we know about the gross, experiential physical world into question, quantum physics actually explains some of it. None of that will be necessary.

Just tell me what it's called. Just prove to me, oh author, that you have a vague familiarity with the basic mathematical underpinnings of the branch of physics which you claim validates homeopathy, or chemtrails, or ESP, or past life regression. Otherwise, don't waste my time.

Posted by Chris Clarke at July 27, 2005 08:18 AM TrackBack URL for this entry:
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Comments

Oh, you don't need to get that complicated. There was a guy on the radio who'd taken a year off work (I think he was an air conditioning installer or something) to work on his basic refutation of E=MC, and he didn't even understand the difference between energy and momentum.

Posted by: Paul Tomblin at July 27, 2005 10:07 AM
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Or you could just ask them what quantum ducks say.

Posted by: Rurality at July 27, 2005 10:23 AM
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hear, hear.

I tried to watch "What the bleep do we know?" with a friend this past weekend, and we couldn't get past the first 20 minutes. Assertions, non sequiturs based on half-assed descriptions of quantum phenomena, unidentified talking heads... awful. Because an atom is largely empty space, must it be the same thing as a thought? good god, I couldn't take it.

Posted by: gribley at July 27, 2005 10:30 AM
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Makes you glad that Kennedy elevated the sciences, doesn't it?

Posted by: Roxanne at July 27, 2005 10:37 AM
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Makes you glad that Kennedy elevated the sciences, doesn't it?

Now see, I did not know that. It's nice that she's got a side gig in case the MTV thing doesn't pan out.

Posted by: Chris Clarke at July 27, 2005 10:44 AM
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Paul, I heard that piece-it was on This American Life, right? It was a darn good illustration of the human capacity for self-delusion. You could have taken out all of the physics-specific terms and replaced them with any number of alt-med or metaphysical concepts, and it would sound just the same. You have your wrong-headed but alluring theories (that will turn science on its head!), you have your driven, beleaguered tilter at windmills, and you have your villainous establishment scientists (they're scoffing now! but just wait!).

I felt kind of bad for the guy, to make such a fool of himself on national radio-he's a self-taught electrician, and had been taking things apart and putting them back together since he was old enough to hold a screwdriver. He took a year off work to develop his ideas. But he was just flat-out wrong. And he wouldn't be told that he was wrong, and he maligned the people who showed him how he was wrong. That's when he stepped out into crazy-land.

Chris, your job would drive me batty.

Posted by: Equinox at July 27, 2005 10:50 AM
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Equinox, you don't have to tell me about the mindset of the kook - I've been doing Usenet for nearly 20 years now. Several of the ones they talked about on that show, Achimedes Plutonium, Abian, etc, they all honed their kook skills on sci.physics.

Posted by: Paul Tomblin at July 27, 2005 11:08 AM
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OK, I'll ask then...what IS that equation Chris?

Posted by: OGeorge at July 27, 2005 11:31 AM
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Well, Carl, I don't know what it is. But I do at least know what it's called.

Posted by: Chris Clarke at July 27, 2005 11:46 AM
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Related

Posted by: the_bone at July 27, 2005 12:21 PM
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But...but.....

Where's the cat ?

Posted by: Space Kitty at July 27, 2005 01:23 PM
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Related thoughts:

I have no idea what it's called. I did take high school physics back in '76/ '77, the same year I learned to type, but I don't remember a damn thing from the physics class.

I'm not sure that science, even really good science, could ever prove the existence of the soul. Of course, really good science could never disprove its existence, either. Only Dick Cheney can do that.

I just channeled up the essence of a 13th century Irish monk, who told me that the equation in question proves the Shroud of Turin is real. That, or Ringo was the Walrus.

The ability to type has actually proven more valuable than the ability to forget the basics of physics.

Posted by: tost at July 27, 2005 01:36 PM
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It's not that no one knows anything about physics. That's rather predictable.

It's that, as Ayn Rand put it, no one "believes" A=A. They think their own personal certainty is a valid, and perhaps a necessary, piece of data.

You can argue with them until Doomsday (which my Millerite friends have circled in teal on their dayplanners)but you must eventually arrive at a place where their original premises do not include the basis of the scientific method. It's Gardnerian thought grown to menace. It's "As I will it, so mote it be."

So how will you "prove" anything to that? Reject it, if you like. But you can't reason with irrationality.

The question is, is there an effective action to take?

Posted by: B. at July 27, 2005 08:39 PM
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Good points, Brooke. Luckily for me, I don't want to prove anything to them: I just want, at long last, for them to at least talk about something else. Barring that, it'd be nice if they'd leave me alone.

Posted by: Chris Clarke at July 27, 2005 09:26 PM
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Who, or what, are Millerites?

And Chris, since you wanted to change the subject - just call me Mr. Sensitivity - what do you think of the home designs at enertia.com? Is Delta T really as important as the R factor when discussing envelope construction? Is there a better way to go if you're searching for a green, energy efficient house? Does it make sense to stay off the grid with solar panels? Do fuel cells still hold some potential for residential power production in the next few years? What do you think of straw bale construction?

I'm all ears.

Posted by: tost at July 27, 2005 09:50 PM
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Ah, fatalism.

Then the neutron bomb is the only answer.

Eliminate the chordates, and see what happens next.

Brooke

Posted by: B. at July 28, 2005 05:18 AM
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Oh, no, Brooke. Not fatalism. Just triage. I'm not giving up on everyone: just the people whose minds are made up.

And my mind is made up about that.

oh, no!

Posted by: Chris Clarke at July 28, 2005 11:58 AM
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