“Error Has No Rights”

Interesting post over at First Things on the concept above: that rights correspond to right – that you have no right to practice wrong.

The contention: that the American idea of religious freedom that treats all religious beliefs as equal before the law versus the European idea of an established religion that might tolerate other beliefs insofar as, in the judgement of the government, those beliefs don’t unduly interfere with the truth lives on in the secular world. If you are in error about the wonderfulness of homosexuality and free love in general, you have no rights – at least, that’s where it’s headed, as the examples in the article indicate.

To sum up: in the old days, under states whose established religion was Catholicism, the Inquisition could determine if you were a heretic or not. If you were, they would hand you over to the state – which, using its prudential judgement, decided if you needed to be burned at the stake.* The logic here was that the state derived its legitimacy in part from its conformity to truth, that the laws of the state were reflections to some extent of the laws of God. In this context,  failure of subjects to acknowledge the the truth about God – committing heresy – undermined the legitimacy of the state. 

We, the Protestant people who founded this country, didn’t much like that. (Not that they disputed the logic – they agreed that the Catholic crowned heads of Europe were illegitimate precisely because their ideas of God – their theologies – were wrong.  The Pilgrims came to America, after all, to avoid religious freedom – they wanted a state where *they* did the burning at the stake, as it were.) But, unfortunately in the eyes of many, by 1789, establishing a national religion was a non-starter – the Constitutional Convention left that up to the states. The states eventually chickened out, too, and so we got the idea that the state, at whatever level,  would not establish any religion. This reluctance to establish religions has become, through a subtle transmogrification, the Separation of Church and State and Freedom of/from Religion.

Which seems to have worked out OK. At least, so far.

The underlying concept, the founding mythology, really, is that the legitimacy of government rests on the consent of the governed. So, if we all played nice and consented to the separation of Church and State, everything was cool.  The Consent of the Governed concept, however, never really got off the ground in practice, and by the Civil War it had been buried for all practical purposes – the South didn’t consent to be governed, but that hardly stopped the North.

So our government’s legitimacy today hangs on something else. The essay linked above suggests that we’re back to claiming that governments depend for their legitimacy on the proper reflection of truth  – but a highly intolerant secular view of truth. Therefore, any deviation from the truth is heresy and treason – it is a threat to the legitimacy of the government.  This is exactly the view taken by the Catholic heads of state in the past, with one key exception: they – the old kings and queens – could view tolerance as virtue, insofar as things could be tolerated without threatening the state. (not saying they always did, but, in general, they were free to let things slide a bit.) It remains to be seen how far the modern established secular religion will feel itself compelled to enforce orthodoxy. The error of not getting on board with homosexual and ‘reproductive’ rights does seem to have no rights.

The track record of previous governments built on secular dogmas does not inspire confidence in the ability of governments so established to tolerate dissent.

*A fate that befell a few thousand people across Europe over the course of a couple centuries. We should be so lucky.

Some Headlines Say Perhaps More Than Intended…

Top two U.S. funeral companies merge as baby boomers boost demand

‘Boost demand’ should enter the euphemism Hall of Fame:

“Doctor, is there any hope?”

“Sorry, but despite our best efforts, looks like he’s going to boost demand.”

or maybe:

“I’m too young to boost demand!”


“The latest drone attack boosted demand in northern Pakistan.”

Aside on Fichte, Hegel, and that Crowd

Idle speculation follows.

I suppose that around 1800, the idea of inevitable progress driven by forces inexorable, if invisible, could maybe have seemed compelling:

– technology was clearly getting better;

– religion, in the view of Protestants, was clearly getting better,

– government, at least if you weren’t a king of some sort, was sort of getting better.

So maybe a man surveying the landscape and squinting a little could conclude that, wow, things are just getting better all over! WooEeee! What a great time to be alive here at the end of History! Or something. 

Now, events like the French Revolution, which started out promising enough in certain lights, might cause you to add an epicycle or two to your theory, such as: Well, things are *trying* to get better all on their lonesome, but, alas, there are lunkheads that are trying to turn back the clock, and slowing things down! Fools and scoundrels like Catholics and Royalists (when those 2 were different) and stuck-in-the-mud Schoolmen who fail to recognize the adolescent brilliance of Descartes and Hume.

So, in 1800, you could be a sort of Realist Idealist, claiming that your optimism was based on observable reality to at least some extent.

Then, among other things, the French overrun Prussia, and we have to reassess: maybe we need to DO something to help History along? Maybe train up our children so they don’t make the mistakes we did? So now, instead of surfing the wave, we enlightened people are left to attempt to help History along…

Then another 50 years rolls past, and those trends that looked so optimistic in 1800 don’t look so good anymore. Sure, there is lots more wealth and great public works and even a few governments that look kinda better than what we used to have, at least on the surface. But a whole lot of  peasants, who used to suffer and die out in the country where we didn’t have to see it, are now suffering and dying in factories, which are both more concentrated and handier to the cities where all of us enlightened folk live. The owners of those factories are often getting rich while the little kids, whose lives are often destroyed by factory work, live in abject poverty. This seems wrong.

So a few more epicycles were added: while the dialectic, which I think can be envisioned as a sort of Optimus Prime, mechanically yet compassionately and wisely moving us forward, will eventually get us to the worker’s paradise, in the meantime it is up to us to make sure all the counterrevolutionary forces  meet death as soon as possible, other wise sumptn’ sumptn’ will happen – it’s not exactly clear what, since history is INEVITABLE.  Besides, “workers of the world, you probably should hide under the table until the dust settles” just doesn’t work as a catch phrase.

Now, we come to today. In America at the turn of the last century, there were enlightened people pushing to have Hegelianism established as the official philosophy of the US Department of Education. No, really. And talk of ‘Progress’ became ubiquitous, and – most important – came to mean any movement toward that unseen and unseeable end to which Hegel’s Spirit is taking us.

There’s problems with this, as both communists and national socialists have amply demonstrated. When progress comes concretely to mean killing 6 million Jews, 20 million Ukrainians, and untold tens of millions of Chinese, and starting wars and sowing unrest, all in the hope that such bloodthirsty brutality will result in heaven on earth – the end which justifies all means – Progress gets a bad name. So we don’t talk about that, at least for now.

Modern progressives tend to use the language of practical politics – we’re just seeing what we can all agree to do to make things better, and letting it go at that, one small step at a time – instead of Hegelian (or Marxist) dialectic moving us to an undefinable Good. This strikes me as fundamentally dishonest. Nobody is going to say that wanting to pave a street or put in a sewer is particularly Progressive – yet those are the sorts of things people can agree on.  What causes problems are things like Obamacare – it’s not something all or even most people agree on. Pedants like me, who try to do the math to see how it’s supposed to work, conclude that not only will it not work in the long run, it wasn’t even intended to work in the long run, as discussed elsewhere. So, one can be entirely in favor of universal health care – I am! – and yet recoil from Obamacare for a whole slew of reasons that have nothing to do with being a meanie or loving pharmaceutical companies or anything apart from wanting it spelled out in practical, clear detail how it’s supposed to work for more than a decade or two. Yet Progressives love love love it, and are unconcerned that it’s unsustainable and poorly structured. Thus, ‘progress’ is functionally defined as voting into law something that has no chance of surviving in its present form. In other words – and these pretty much echo the sorts of words the administration is using – Congress enacted an idea that ‘moves the ball forward’ – but we’re not supposed ask towards what – nobody knows! That’s the miracle of Progress!

In conclusion, it seems to me that faith in progress driven by forces inexorable yet invisible rests, today, on only one observation: technology continues to get better. Religion? Government? Are those getting better? Or, more accurately, faith in progress is purely faith – belief in things unseen.

Question: are the kids buying this? I’m 55, and many of my contemporaries are definitely on board the progress train. We came of age on the tail end of the hippies and protesters, who did present the illusion of progress on some level at least, and then turned around and force-fed us on it in school. But kids – say, 35 and under – do they have any impression of inevitable progress outside of iPods and the like?

Fichte, Part 3? 4? Where Were We?

Note: I’m reading and posting about Johann Gottlieb Fichte (1762 – 1814) because he is widely recognized as a key figure in modern education. He greatly influenced von Humboldt’s reforms of the German school system, which in turn greatly influenced Horace Mann and that crowd. It’s important, I think, in any discussion of modern education to recognize just what kind of a nut Fichte was. 

About 2/3 through Addresses to the German Nation, and the word that keeps popping into my head is ‘humbug’. But that’s probably not fair, as Fichte seems to be drinking his own cool-aide.

High points so far:

– we have these quotations, famous among opponents of compulsory factory schooling:

“It is essential that from the very beginning the pupil should be continuously and completely under the influence of this education, and should be separated altogether from the community, and kept from all contact with it.”


 ”Education should aim at destroying free will so that after pupils are thus schooled they will be incapable throughout the rest of their lives of thinking or acting otherwise than as their school masters would have wished.”

And, despite Fichte’s flights of rhetorical fancy, wherein he describes in florid detail the wonders to be achieved by truly German German education that is all, like, Germanalicious, he’s scant on details. He thinks poetry is good.  Kids have to be removed from their communities and get educated 24 x 7. When they’ve been thusly purged of all evil, limp-wristed un-German foreign influence, and infused with pure natural living Germanness, they will then rise above the current age, and a new truly German age, all German-y in its Germanaliciousness, will dawn. All nations will be drawn into this new age (like moths to a flame, one impoliticly imagines), and the serious, orderly, intellectually alive and – he goes there- holy German way of doing things will prevail.

Nothing creepy about that, uh-uh.

Much-needed comic relief is provided by context: these Addresses were delivered in French-occupied Berlin. So, imagine the good burghers and minor nobles of Prussia (who else has got time and money to attend paid lecture series?) having to walk past Napoleon’s French troops to get to the lecture hall to hear Fichte tell them how much better the Germans are than these lovers of dead languages and dead ideas, that the French are doomed to think dead thoughts and are indolent and locked into an historical dead end of dead death and OH MY GOD! THESE FRENCH LOSERS JUST KICKED OUR GERMAN HINIES ALL THE WAY FROM JENA TO BERLIN! AND IT WASN’T EVEN CLOSE!  They sit their prissy French hindquarters on our solid German furniture in all those solid German buildings they commandeered at gunpoint and tell us what to do, and we’re all, ‘Jawohl mein herrr!’ about it. Please, Herr Fichte, keep telling us how much better we are than them!

Or, as the Oracle Wikipedia has it:

In total, Napoleon and the Grande Armée had taken only 19 days from the commencement of the invasion of Prussia until essentially knocking it out of the war with the capture of Berlin and the destruction of its principal armies at Jena and Auerstadt. Most of the shattered remnants of the Prussian army (and the displaced royal family) escaped to refuge in Eastern Prussia near Königsberg, eventually to link up with the approaching Russians and continue the fight.

You can’t even pull a Fish Called Wanda and call it a tie.

Anyway, a brief high-level recap of Fichte’s points:  Continue reading “Fichte, Part 3? 4? Where Were We?”

Culture versus Education

Written a bit on this previously here.

To sum up: Education can only be an expression of a culture. Throughout history (and, one suspects, prehistory) education consisted precisely in those activities that passed on culture.

Putting on my mail-order evolutionary anthropologists’ hat, it is easy to speculate that learning a particular culture, one within which have survived those most necessary evolutionary participants called ‘parents’, would in itself have huge survival advantages: how are you going to survive in an environment? Look around – who in a similar situation has survived? Why, your parents! Let’s do that!

Anyway, once History rolled around, people began to largely fail to record how they educated their young – the record is surprisingly thin on details. This makes sense: it would be like expecting early historians to record how they chewed their food or got dressed in the morning – education is so completely natural and integrated into daily life that it would have seemed completely pointless to describe how it happened.

Unless you decided to change it. The earliest records I know of recording in any detail how young people were educated comes from the Greeks in around 500 B.C. Before then, we have things like the recurring biblical exhortations to fathers to make sure their children learned the laws of their ancestors – it seems to be assumed that the fathers would know how to do it, so that part seems to get left out. I say ‘seems’ because of course the laws of the ancestors would be passed on in their observance – if everybody around you is celebrating Passover, reenacting detailed rituals and reciting specific prayers, that’s something a kid will pick up. That’s why the historical biblical books record the many times the Law and the feasts were ignored or restored – that is precisely the history of the fall and rise of Culture, and, by extension, the history of education within that culture.

So, back to the Greeks. We know from quite a number of sources that the various city-states and various philosophical and political schools paid a great deal of attention to education. It is important to note that, early on, little detail exists to cover what we might call the grade school years – just like everywhere else, no one could be bothered to describe how little kids were to be educated, everybody just *knew* how that happened. The end result was clear: all properly educated little kids would be prepared to do the next level of schooling, equivalent to junior high school, at least in terms of the ages of the pupils.

(Later on, around the 3rd century B.C., the Greeks began to record even how little children were to be educated. I’d speculate that this new interest is a sign that people felt the culture was under threat, somehow, so that what used to be safely assumed now needed to be paid attention to. )

Here the records get thicker. The arguments – Greeks so loved to argue! – was over, ultimately, what kind of culture you wanted. Spartans wanted a culture that supported an army that would never lose a war; Athenians wanted to never lose a war, too, but believed it was better to get there via a broad education that would help one love the city he was defending. Changes to education both lead to and followed changes to culture. When Alexander lead his Macedonian Greeks in conquest of most of the known world, he set up everywhere both ‘Alexandrias’ – new Greek cities manned by his troops and colonists – and Greek enclaves within the major conquered cities, from which to govern them. In both these places, schools, called ephebia, were set up to make sure that the young men were properly saturated in Greek culture.

Ephebia began as military schools. Around the age of 18, men would spend a year or two training as soldiers. As the Macedonians and subsequent Roman dominations made defending your city-state less immediately critical, ephebia evolved into cultural schools entirely, eventually completely losing their military character. They even started accepting barbarian students, training wannabe Greeks along side Greek Greeks. Thus was the survival of Greek culture in Greek lands assured up until the sacking of Constantinople. The literary and artistic output of all that culture assured its survival up to today.

So, I hope I’ve shown how cultures generate education and how education reinforces or even reinvents culture. The important note here is that all the education – and there was a lot of it – in the ancient and biblical world took place without any graded classroom instruction. Graded classroom instruction is an idea of the Enlightenment and of the Industrial Revolution.

So, given that the graded classroom model is a comparatively later-day innovation, the question should arise: what sort of *culture* does that model aim to achieve? As an innovation, it is intended to make things new – to create what was not there before. A lot of what I’m writing about here on this blog is simply an attempt to illuminate the cultural goals of ‘scientific’ education. What many people suspect – that they don’t want for their children what the schools want for them – is true to a degree most people find hard to imagine.

Alas, you can’t make a new cultural omelet without breaking the existing cultural eggs. It is telling that the Orwellian phrase ‘multiculturalism’ is a religion among the most vigorous proponents of industrial schooling. They would like to reduce culture to an innocuous matter of taste, rather than an indispensable part of what it means to be a human being – the more easily to crack it, and replace it. So, in places like the KIPP school in New York and the Pardada Pardadi school in India, where everyone (almost) can agree that the cultures being destroyed – the drug and gang and welfare culture in New York, and the misogynistic culture or rural India – deserve to die, the classroom model is seen as a great success.

But what about the Mexican culture of California? Having grown up in Southern California and having lived in California almost my whole life, I can attest that the there are many good things in the Mexican culture in California: much tighter families, greater care and deference shown to the elderly, warmer treatment of kids, and a general openness and compassion sorely lacking in our dominant culture.

It is universally lamented by the champions of public education that comparatively few Mexican-Americans go to college, and relatively many drop out of high school.  Look at what is being proposed from the Mexican-American’s point of view:  You can stay in school and go to college. To do this, you will be setting yourself apart from those members of your family who don’t don’t or didn’t do this, most notably your parent’s generation. During high school, you will be doing homework during much of the time you would otherwise have spent with family and friends. If you succeed in high school, you will ‘go away’ to college, either literally or figuratively, spending even less time with family and friends. If you succeed at college, you will get a career, the pursuit of which will, as likely as not, take you even further away.

Now, as a member of a different culture than your family, you will see them at Thanksgiving and Christmas, in accord with how your new culture does things. You will not be involved in the daily lives of your sisters and brothers, nephews and nieces, uncles and aunts. You’ve traded all that for the approval of a new culture and money and stuff. When life gets hard, you will not be surrounded by loving family – you’ll just call them on the phone, maybe.

I suspect that many Mexican Americans do not pursue college because they are more or less consciously aware of this trade-off. They’d rather drop out at 17 and take that job with Tio Juan’s sheet-rocking business, or wait tables at Tia Lola’s  restaurant, and stay connected with family.

Perhaps you think I’m painting too sunny a picture, leaving out gangs and drugs and poverty. Perhaps I am – my personal experience with Mexican Americans was all through school and church, which has the effect of largely filtering out the gang and drug scene. The Americans of Mexican origin that I knew and know very much fit the picture I painted. As to the gangs and drugs and so on, perhaps the destructive power of our culture got ahead of itself, and managed to destroy the existing culture before it was able to develop the new one. I know that divorce and materialism, which play a smaller role in traditional Mexican families, have had a huge negative effect on Mexican-American families. A husband can just walk out on his wife here in America, move in with the girlfriend. He would probably have had to flee the country in the old culture, because the entire village would have probably been outraged at him.

Are Teachers Evil?

Let’s cut to the chase:  based on all I’ve written so far about education, teachers appear to be no more than unwitting tools of a concerted, ongoing, 200+ year effort to make students stupid, docile and utterly predictable. And, insofar as teachers are products of the education schools and are part of the education bureaucracy, they, too can be relied on to be stupid, docile and utterly predictable.

Is this accurate? Is this fair?

We all, I presume, had teachers we loved. I loved my 1st, 2nd and 3rd grade teachers. Can’t say I loved any of my high school teachers, but I respected a couple of them. These were teachers whose obvious love for the students managed to overcome, to some extent, what they were systematically doing to them.

But most of my teachers? Stupid? Well, yeah – too stupid to question why it was a good idea to teach kids as a class when in fact they could clearly see that some kids were way, way ahead of the lessons, some were merely ahead, some were behind – and a majority were bored and uninterested. They were stupid enough to keep doing the same things over and over and over again despite reality – a reality that demonstrated to everyone with eyes to see that kids learn different things at different paces, and that the whole idea of an age-based class was contrary and violent to the human nature and dignity of the kids.

A typical kid, if such exists, may at any one time find fractions impossible but read several grade levels ahead, or be great at kickball but terrible at relating to other kids, or have trouble writing legibly but be able to do long division in their head, or any other of a million combinations of talents, interests and skills that help make them a unique human being but defy any meaningful classification into a ‘class’.

How can anyone be so blind? Aren’t teachers idealistic people who love kids and have a burning desire to teach? What could possibly turn such people into mindless cogs? Teachers are not just the managers of a process – they are products of the process as well.  Education schools are renowned for their irrelevant classes, stifling bureaucracies, pointless busywork and failure to prepare their graduates for what to expect in a classroom. An education degree does not prepare one to teach math, or science, or history or English – it prepares you to be an educator.

Think of education school as first and foremost a filter: it filters out people with a low tolerance for all those things listed above – hate bureaucracy, busy work, and wasting time? Is your sense of justice offended by arbitrary rules? Is teaching math or English more important to you than being an ‘educator’?  Then you will most likely be filtered out.

This leaves us with more or less docile teachers, who will follow the orders themselves and impose orders on the kids, no matter how mindless or counterproductive those directives may be. The potential troublemakers have been largely filtered out.

Think I’m just making this up? Do you know any former teachers? What do they say about it?  If you don’t know any former teachers, you could read John Taylor Gatto.

So, we end up with many teachers who are stupid – in the sense of impervious to learning from their environment;  docile – in the sense of willing to follow orders without question; and predictable – in the sense that they are very unlikely to do anything unplanned. Well? Does this seem true to you? Compare this to reality for yourself.  Note that all this does not mean there won’t be the occasional maverick, or that the love of children may not survive on some level, or even that teachers aren’t perfectly nice people. But I challenge you: for every real maverick in a school, a person who does the right think even when it is ‘against the rules’, who treats kids as human beings with dignity, whose love of learning breaks out of the bureaucratic box, there are 9 who will conform with varying degrees of bitterness, whose contempt for their students (and, especially, their parents) is palpable, or who have long ago given up any ideals and are just putting in time until they can retire.

Or who move into administration as fast as they possibly can.

This is the nature of giant bureaucracies. This is what it means on the ground when you set ‘national standards’. This is what the architects of the school system have always wanted.

The usual fallback: that’s what school *IS*! It’s definitional! It has to be that way! No, it doesn’t. One-room schooling, where millions of Americans were educated, practiced in over a 100,000 schools for a century or more in this country, recognized this fact: that children learn in different ways and at different times. So, the teacher was in charge of a group of mixed ages, and her job (it was almost always a young woman) was to see where each child stood, assign a peer to teach them what they needed to know, and then, by means of ‘recitations’ – the child coming up to the teacher and reciting what they had learned – determine what progress was being made. In this way, children got to both learn and teach, got to see that they were a valuable part of the community, and got recognized as unique individuals.

One room schools achieved a remarkably superior level of education (just look at the readers they used and the math they had to do) with much lower ‘inputs’ – much fewer classroom hours and much less homework.  They were also under the complete and immediate control of the local families that supported them.

One room schools were the enemy of the scientific graded schools. They had to go. For one thing, the teachers were amateurs, not trained educators. They were known to and hired by the families whose kids were to be taught, meaning they had no loyalty to the high-minded concepts of Fichte and Horace Mann. They just wanted the kids to know enough to govern themselves, run their farm, and be responsible members of their community.

In conclusion: teachers in compulsory graded schools are not evil. What they do is.

Modern Education In the News: History Gets Ignored, In Accord with Current Educational Theory.

First, education in the news:

From the Catholic Exchange, we find out that Indiana has rejected the Common Core curriculum developed by the Gates Foundation in conjunction with the Obama administration. Two Indiana moms noticed that their kids’ homework was getting even lamer than usual, wondered why, and, after 18 months of attending meetings and asking principals and state

from wikipedia

reps – investigative journalism, I think it used to called – they discovered that their state had replaced the ‘respected’ Indiana state standards with Common Core without bringing the change to the attention of anyone.

Here is a section that is wonderful for the surprise that our intrepid moms experienced when they discovered that these new standards had been enacted in such a way that almost nobody, certainly not parents, was even aware it had happened. Any acquaintance with the history of education in America would have prepared them for this recurring theme: that parents and voters, when presented with the choice, almost never agree to what educational professionals want to do, and that since at least the 1860s, the preferred method of educators has been to get innocuous-sounding departments of education founded at the state level and in the universities from which they could achieve the goals the voters consistently voted down. Compulsory state education was voted down for years in Massachusetts despite Horace Mann’s rhetorical efforts to make it sound OK; states in the Midwest – Indiana, for example – voted down the ‘scientific’ classroom model in favor of locally controlled one-room schools for decades on end. And on and on.  Common Core would be just the latest step in a 200 year effort to ‘dumb down’ us peons, as we will discuss below.

Continue reading “Modern Education In the News: History Gets Ignored, In Accord with Current Educational Theory.”

How Science Demands Our Loyalty and Agreement

Long said that I don’t ‘believe’ in science, that believe is exactly the wrong word to describe what we owe to science. So, if the language of faith – believe – isn’t the right one to describe our relationship to science, what is?

What I believe in is Truth: that we do live in a real, knowable world. Unfortunately, this faith in truth is not as obvious or ubiquitous  as it ought to be. These days, you’ll run across any number of people – often, people in academia, politics and entertainment (insofar as those things are different) who will hold with varying degrees of conviction that there is no truth, truth is relative, that you have your truth and I have mine. 

These attitudes are, fundamentally, treacherous. They reflect a rebellion, an act of treason, against everyone else and everything else in existence. To deny truth is the ultimate act of egomaniacal defiance. It spits in the face of all friendship, all love, all wonder. Insofar as you are making any attempt to live as a decent human being, you cannot hold relativist or worse beliefs about truth.

So, in this sense, science is based on the dogmatic assertion of truth, and my acceptance of science is therefore contingent: I defend and honor and accept the conclusion of science insofar as science defends and honors truth.

The price of science is eternal vigilance. The dogmatic assertions that 1) there is a real world whose existence is independent of my perceptions of it, and 2) that we are somehow (it gets more than a bit metaphysical at this point) able to learn the truth about the world does not mean we will automatically get it right, or that we are in any way preserved from error in our judgement. We can be wrong about the truth in many different ways, giving rise to the possibility of untruth. Of error. Of lies. Further, in so far as science can be used in the service of  power and wealth, we are sore tempted to misuse, misstate or ignore the truth  to achieve baser goals.

When you are a lover of science for any other reason than that you are a lover of truth, you are in a very morally precarious position.

Therefore, in my own humble way, I try to keep an eye on the most egregious acts of treason against truth made in the name of Science!.  This requires an understanding of the limitations of science in general, and of the particular limitations of various methods. I link to the TOF Spot and William Briggs because they frequently address both these species of limitations, and because of their knowledge of statistics, a subject about which I am largely ignorant and which figures enormously in many of the most egregious lies told in the name of science.

So: those like Sagan, who demanded our acquiescence to his claims in the name of science – ultimately, in the name of truth – while actively and knowingly overstepped the limitations of scientific knowledge for personal and political ends – they are the enemy, specifically the enemies of truth. As mentioned above, enemies of truth end up as enemies of all that is good and beautiful, all that is worth living for. This is a fight worth fighting.

But there are relatively few of those true traitors to truth. Much more numerous, it seems to me, are the legions of courtesans of science, who want to be counted among the cool kids, and therefore demand that we ‘believe’ in science and do whatever it is our betters tell us to do in the name of truth. And perhaps the greatest threat of all are the non-scientists who understand the game well enough to see what a powerful tool science is, with its claims of truth and its buckets of gadgets, but don’t even care about limits of knowledge or truth at all, but only see a means to the end of power. This is probably the smallest yet most dangerous group of all.


Ends and Odds: Back in the Saddle

– Visited the California redwood forests up near Eureka, CA, with the family. The forests are filled with surprisingly large trees, including this one, conveniently labeled, as the photo attests, ‘Giant Tree’:

Four adult sized people and one little kid can’t reach half way around the trunk; if you put a football field on end (not recommended – pretty sure it would void the warranty) the tree would stretch right past the opposite end zone.

– Micro Music at Mass Review: Attended Sunday Mass at the lovely church pictured below.  St. Joseph’s – a fine name, a fine saint – in Fortuna, CA.

The music was good and bad – we got a couple good hymns, the Latin Sanctus and Agnus Dei (although accompanied by a bizarre synth patch – but, hey, I’ll take it!)  – as well as some St. Louis Jebby songs.

A fantasy occurred to me: say you strip the lyrics from Be Not Afraid and submit the music – the tune and the accompaniment – for a composition class or competition anywhere outside the church music world. Well? Can you imagine somebody at Oberlin or Berkeley or even the local community college going: Yea, that’s what what I’m talking about! Or rather, can’t you see them going: Ya know, you use the same note with what might as well be random syncopation for about 75% of your ‘melody’ – that doesn’t strike you as lame?  And you could branch out into harmonic structures unknown to the Kingsmen without much risk of over doing it.

Anyway, lovely people, beautiful and efficacious Mass, and we got more good music to sing than bad. Not complaining.

– Iron Man III is OK. You may want to sit down for this – the plot has some holes.  But no spoilers here, uh-uh. Well, maybe a little, if you haven’t seen the trailer:

A wise man once said: it’s not the falling that will kill you – it’s the rapid deceleration at the end. Metal suits don’t alter that basic fact of physics one bit – if Iron Man hits the ground or any other even a little solid surface, he’s not jumping up to fight some more – he’s Jello in a can. And since when does genetics and brain imaging hocus-pocus result in human flesh that can withstand 3,000 degree (F, C, whatever)?

But, hey, it’s a superhero movie – it’s not supposed to make sense.

– Boy, politics is getting kinda interesting, in a road-kill/train wreck sort of way.


Science versus Science!

One of the things that’s long struck me about astronomy is how, now that we send out space probes and get a close look, the objects in our solar system often turns out to be wildly different than astronomers imagined. The thing to be learned here is that astronomers do a lot of speculating – they have some observations and a toolbox of theories, and they just can’t resist the urge to build. What gets built ends up not matching what further observations reveal. Therefore:

CAUTION! The Objects in This Science! Paper May Be Less Certain Than They Appear!

So, over at the highly recommended Chaos Manner, Dr. Pournelle gives a bit of a mid-book review of  The Static Universe, in which are described astronomical observations and measurements that do not jibe with the Big Bang. His esteemed correspondents chip in. An edifying collection of thoughts – read it!

My only claims to scientific achievement consist in having turned over a small Catholic grade school’s library of Time-Life science books, having read decades worth of Scientific Americans cover to cover, and having cleared the lab and sent a number of students to the infirmary during college chemistry.  (Note: if you’ve used a Bunsen burned to boil off all the liquid in a sample, Do Not immediately add a  nasty chemical  solution to the still very hot crucible. Just FYI.)  Also, read a lot of science history source materials, and studied philosophy and classics. So, of course, I know almost everything!

Therefore, I speculate on cosmology with nary a hint of hubris. At the Chaos Manner linked above,  gentleman named Jean-Louis Beaufils makes a comment I heartily approve of:

Despite it’s name, astrophysics is barely a science, or more accurately, very little of it has the same reliability as physics.

The core problem is the dearth of direct observation and the small size of the observation database.

Therefore Astrophysicists have to:

1) rely on a lot of second-hand data

2) assume that conditions which apply in the Solar system also apply everywhere else.

2) is further compounded by the scarcity of direct observation even within the Solar system.

So most of what’s presented as knowledge about the universe is actually but speculation, not groundless speculation but speculation still.

Almost every time we send a probe to a new part of the Solar system, we discover that things there are different, sometimes dramatically, from what was until then the accepted truth.

If Earth-based observation gives such unreliable results for objects that are only a few AU’s away from us, how can we assume that our hypotheses about objects that are even a few parsecs away actually describe what’s there?

In high school, back when VW Bugs ruled the earth, I remember realizing that the Big Bang rested on, essentially, 2 things: the red shift, and the presence of the predicted background radiation. (I wasn’t smart enough to know that it also falls out of relativity under some understandings.)  I though: you know, that’s a little thin. Are we really comfortable with the idea that the Doppler Effect accounted for 100%, or nearly 100% of the observed red shift? Really? The light we’re seeing has spent sometimes billions of years getting to us over unimaginable distances – how confident are we that nothing else is going on that could shift the spectra red?  Gravity is pretty mysterious – we’ve got some well tested formula that seem to hold very well over interstellar distances – but what about over intergalactic distances? All those red-shifted photons traversed an awful lot of twisted up space – to no effect?

Anyway, what do I know?  Here, unlike a lot of scientific overreach, there doesn’t seem to be much life or death level stuff at stake. It would be enlightening if scientist – science popularizers, more specifically – spent as much effort drawing attention to the specific and general limits of scientific knowledge as they do cheer-leading and patting each other on the back.