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Thread: Do the maths?!

  1. #1
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    Do the maths?!

    I was scanning ATM and couldn't help asking myself, why is someone who proposes a theory required to do the maths?

    Did Fresnel do the maths when Poisson told him his theory predicted a bright spot no one had anticipated.

    When De Broglie did the maths, was he not shunned, regardless, by the doctoral committee?

    Did Einstein do the maths of the Schwarzchild solution?

    What is the true scientific way? Should the presenter hold the onus of solving all numerical problems? Should the scientific community do their own maths and compare?
    Note to self: this should have been a poll!

    I personally see no problem with someone saying "I calculated A based on your theory and got values B. We have different answers which should be explored further."

    I also see no problem with "My theory predicts values B for conditions A. Do the calculation yourself to verify."

    When I'm in a calculus study group, I never say "That answer is wrong, fix it!". Instead, I do the calculations as well, step by step, and compare along the way. In this manner, the problem is easily located.

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    Quote Originally Posted by ShinAce View Post
    I was scanning ATM and couldn't help asking myself, why is someone who proposes a theory required to do the maths?

    Did Fresnel do the maths when Poisson told him his theory predicted a bright spot no one had anticipated.
    Yes?
    When De Broglie did the maths, was he not shunned, regardless, by the doctoral committee?

    Did Einstein do the maths of the Schwarzchild solution?
    Yes?
    I also see no problem with "My theory predicts values B for conditions A. Do the calculation yourself to verify."
    What's wrong with sharing those calculations?

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    99% of the time in ATM, doing the math will show the glaring error quickly. 95% of the time, the person who is saying 'Do the math!' is saying it cause they already did the math and know exactly what the error is. Someone is required to do the math cause that is what shows that the idea works. In the cases you had, someone did the math, usually the guy who the bit of math is named after.

    You are right in that everyone should do their own math, but you dont seem to realize that most of the people who say 'Do the math!' are saying it cause they have already done it. No one says 'Do the math!' just to dismiss the arguement.
    Last edited by korjik; 2011-Sep-19 at 03:53 PM. Reason: just only has one s

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    Quote Originally Posted by ShinAce View Post
    I was scanning ATM and couldn't help asking myself, why is someone who proposes a theory required to do the maths?
    Well, most of the time, how do they know if their idea is valid, if they haven't done the maths? And, if they have done the maths to show their idea is valid, then they shouldn't have any problem providing the maths, right?

    Quote Originally Posted by ShinAce View Post
    Did Fresnel do the maths when Poisson told him his theory predicted a bright spot no one had anticipated.
    No, Poisson found that. However, Fresnel did do the calculations for intensity and wave interference, which matched observation. Poisson was looking for a way to falsify Fresnel's theory.

    Quote Originally Posted by ShinAce View Post
    When De Broglie did the maths, was he not shunned, regardless, by the doctoral committee?
    That's not how it went. The doctoral committee didn't understand it (not surprisingly as it was a completely new idea and included the first mention of matter waves). Since they didn't understand it, they sent it to Einstein, and, after Einstein's endorsement, awarded de Broglie his doctorate. That's no where near shunning him. And it was endorsed by Einstein, because de Broglie had done the math.

    Quote Originally Posted by ShinAce View Post
    Did Einstein do the maths of the Schwarzchild solution?
    No, but again, Einstein did do the math for the bending of light and the precession of Mercury.

    Quote Originally Posted by ShinAce View Post
    is the true scientific way? Should the presenter hold the onus of solving all numerical problems?
    Not at all. But they should hold the onus of showing that their new idea can at least match predictions and observations that current theories do. In addition to doing the two problems I mentioned, the field equations that Einstein developed in GR, ensure GR matches Newtonian gravity in the appropriate limit.

    Quote Originally Posted by ShinAce View Post
    Should the scientific community do their own maths and compare?
    And, in most cases, those maths, the predictions those maths make, and the observations that match those predictions all have been done. In most cases, the ATM presenter says, "I have this great new theory". And that's it. So we ask, "Can you do the math and give us your prediction for this or that?". All the data for the calculation is out on the net, along with the mainstream prediction, along with observations. So why can't they provide their own calculations from their theory?

    Quote Originally Posted by ShinAce View Post
    I personally see no problem with someone saying "I calculated A based on your theory and got values B. We have different answers which should be explored further."
    If there is a difference between the calculations of the ATM poster and another poster, from the same equations, then I don't see a problem with this. But, how many times do you even see the equations (much less an actual value) from the ATM presenter?

    Quote Originally Posted by ShinAce View Post
    I also see no problem with "My theory predicts values B for conditions A. Do the calculation yourself to verify."
    I don't have a problem with this either, as long as the presenter has also provided us with the calculations they did.

    Quote Originally Posted by ShinAce View Post
    When I'm in a calculus study group, I never say "That answer is wrong, fix it!". Instead, I do the calculations as well, step by step, and compare along the way. In this manner, the problem is easily located.
    What would happen if, while you were in the study group, you told everyone that you have proved that you can't reverse an indefinite integration with a differentiation? Don't ya think they might want to see how you proved that, seeing as calculus is built on being able to reverse an indefinite integration with a differentiation? One thing about asking for the maths, is that most of the time, we're trying to get the equations that are being used in the idea the ATM poster is presenting. Not always, but a good majority of the time.

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    Problem is that most of the time people are building "intuitive" models, or explaining by analogy. Both of these methods introduce a lot of ambiguity and potential for logical inconsistency. What "Do the Math!" is trying to do is get the proposer to produce an unambiguous, logically consistent theory that can be tested. Too often the conversation goes something like:
    The universe is made of tiny spheres
    So space has a rigidity, like an aether?
    No, these spheres are like foam, they deform
    OK so this should show up as a resistance to gravity or energy
    No, because they are like greased ball bearings
    So they move past each other?
    No, because they are fixed to the CMB and rotate in place
    OK, I am going back to S&T where my brain doesn't squeak.

    And you go around and around trying to extract what the core idea is from a jumble of thinking by pictures. Every test that it has already failed produces another analogy or property of the system that wasn't there to start with. Because most people are arguing from the start point "This is true".

    So do the math should really be replaced with "Turn this into a set of axioms, a logical series of inferences and predictions that are testable so that this wall of text is a genuine scientific theory in the right format so we can evaluate it against other theories and check who you have come to these conclusions and whether they are consistent with themselves and other observations". "Do the Math" is a bit pithier.

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    ^^^
    What they all said.

    I particularly like korjik's post, because I myself have been there, done that, and have the T-shirt. Not every time of course, but enough to appreciate that, in many ATM threads, an even simpler set of questions should be asked first, ones that Shaula's post hints at; namely, "when you say 'force', what definition of this term are you using?" sort of thing. Also, even more basic is the simple question "What do you understand about how ideas in space and astronomy are developed and tested?" (sort of thing). Sadly I have found far too many of those proposing ATM ideas have quite radically different views of how (space, astronomy) science is done, so radically different that a meaningful dialogue is nigh on impossible. As a highly reliable means of very quickly determining whether we are on the same page wrt science, "Do the math" is hard to beat.

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    As a math challenged person, can't help but notice that you can have a reasonable discussion using imagery and analogies so long as you never claim that you are absolutely correct under all circumstances. Phrases like "What would be the obvious issue(s) with..." or "what observations would contradict this...", "How did so and so explore this question." can eliminate a lot a math and be more conversational at the same time. Exactly why people don't do this in ATM is beyond me.

    I see this board as a learning zone, almost a school in and of itself. It seems to me if people ventured into ATM with a smidgen of modesty it would be much better. There seems to be a whole lot of "its not even wrong" math posted in there.
    Solfe

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    No. You can paint word pictures. You can get an idea of what the models are telling you in that one case. Imagery and analogy is a very poor way to do scientific discovery. It is OK to teach, to popularise, but it is an awful way to formalise and work on a theory - which is what ATM is about. It is about presenting a theory and having it tested. You cannot do that in any rigorous way without a mathematical formalism that produces logically consistent numerical predictions we can compare to measurements or the output of other models.

    I'm sorry, you may not like it but maths is the language of science. It is how it is expressed in its most accurate form. People who have not done the math for current theories do not really understand them well enough to replace them. It is like trying to write a better Qasida than Imam al-Busiri without having read his works and not speaking, reading or writing any Arabic.

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    I completely see you point, Shaula. As for those ideas as the basis of science I cannot disagree with you at all. However the ATM section is whole 'nother reality.

    Mathematics is an art, as is language. A mathematical proof is the scientific equivalent of poetry. I actually enjoy math; it is not all lost on me, I just have limited abilities. However, most of the time it isn't required, except when describing something specific with really tight tolerances and conditions. I would say that fails to happen in most ATM threads.

    My main point is that a plain English explanation of a ATM proposal usually destroys itself right away, no math required. I am watching a few threads that have descended into an endless stream of LaTeX formulas. Usually they follow the format of:

    Poster A: bad math in proposed theory.
    Poster B: corrects math.
    Poster A: asks a question about corrected math.
    Poster B: re-posts same formula
    Poster A: Asks a more refined question on the correct math, as if coming around.
    Poster B: exasperated, re-posts the requested information with a typo.
    Poster A: goes back to former position because poster B was "wrong" and the cycle starts again.

    Both plain English and mathematics have their place, however sometimes you need to switch from one to the other to drive the point home. Many times, I think there is a bias here to switch to math when plain English would do.
    Solfe

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    I'm bad at math, and I don't think you can do science without the math. Math is the language of science, and anything else is a poor approximation of accuracy.
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    Quote Originally Posted by korjik View Post
    99% of the time in ATM, doing the math will show the glaring error quickly. 95% of the time, the person who is saying 'Do the math!' is saying it cause they already did the math and know exactly what the error is.
    Precisely. Unfortunately, most ATM proponents will persist even after glaring errors in their formalism have been discovered. Even when the ATM proponents are led to discovering their own errors, they persist.



    You are right in that everyone should do their own math, but you dont seem to realize that most of the people who say 'Do the math!' are saying it cause they have already done it. No one says 'Do the math!' just to dismiss the arguement.
    Exactly.

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    My background: after two years of elec engineering, i've decided to major in physics. I'm up to multivariable calculus because of ee, but i'm being forced to repeat physics101 due to a missing lab component.

    Basically, i know just enough to get into trouble. I'm aware of Noether's theorem and Godel incompleteness. What's to stop me from saying that the unified theory is as follows: 0=0

    I then insert postulates as i need them. I can do tons of math on this nullspace to show that it commutes, distributes. The derivative and antiderivative always belong to thr space. It transforms with ease.

    The conserved quantity is simply 0. The symmetry is unbeatable.

    Personally, i say it is nonsense. To me, science is simply the free exchange of ideas. They need not be testable. A model is still a model.

    What i look for is meaning. Does the model explain something? Even a model of why we see colors the way we do is meaningful. It might not unlock the mysteries of the brain and also be mathematically clumsy, but it would still be a clue.

    Right now we have dark matter, dark energy, and no explicit definitions of space, time, mass...

    I'm willing to entertain radical ideas while we work through this 'alchemy' of physics and math.

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    Quote Originally Posted by ShinAce View Post
    What's to stop me from saying that the unified theory is as follows: 0=0

    I then insert postulates as i need them. I can do tons of math on this nullspace to show that it commutes, distributes. The derivative and antiderivative always belong to thr space. It transforms with ease.

    The conserved quantity is simply 0. The symmetry is unbeatable.
    That's not much different from many of the "better" ATM ideas.

    To me, science is simply the free exchange of ideas. They need not be testable. A model is still a model.
    Ah, there speaks the engineer! A model of what? If it is not testable (ideally against the real world) then it is not science. The free exchange of testable ideas, might be better.

    What i look for is meaning. Does the model explain something?
    Well, I hope you won't be too disappointed with physics. It isn't really about "meaning" or even, necessarily, explaining. It is more about describing. We don't know if our best models actually describe what is really "out there". Discussions of what, if anything, is really out there are philosophy, rather than science. (And no less valuable for that. But perhaps less testable.)

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    Quote Originally Posted by ShinAce View Post
    To me, science is simply the free exchange of ideas. They need not be testable.
    Unfortunately that's not the actual definition of science as used by scientists. Per Wikipedia:
    Science (from Latin: scientia meaning "knowledge") is a systematic enterprise that builds and organizes knowledge in the form of testable explanations and predictions about the universe.
    I'm a cynical optimist. I think the only way out is through, but once we get through it'll be better. Very different, but better. Howard Tayler

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    If it's not testable, what's the point?
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    Quote Originally Posted by Gillianren View Post
    If it's not testable, what's the point?
    Paying the wages of philosophy majors?
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    Does theory not predict the charge of the 'up' quark to be +2/3?

    Which test proves that a charge of 2/3 or 1/3 is intrinsically held by a single quark, instead of being a shared function of the quark combination? I can't extract a quark to observe it independently. All i can do is set it up as a set of linear equations to solve the charges proportionately.

    If i start adding terms to the Gell-Mann quark model that disappear at our current experimental limits, won't you try to convince me to use the more basic and more symmetrical standard model.

    Is string theory scientific? It's not testable within our current knowledge.

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    Quote Originally Posted by ShinAce View Post
    Is string theory scientific? It's not testable within our current knowledge.
    That's an open question at present, still undecided by the mainstream scientific community, for that very reason.
    I'm a cynical optimist. I think the only way out is through, but once we get through it'll be better. Very different, but better. Howard Tayler

    It is not the strongest of the species that survive, nor the most intelligent, but the one most responsive to change. Charles Darwin

    Power, Lord Acton says, corrupts. Not always. What power always does is reveal. Robert A. Caro

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    Quote Originally Posted by ShinAce View Post
    Why is someone who proposes a theory required to do the maths?
    I would suggest that it isn't qualified to be called a theory until the maths has been done.
    It would be a hypothesis at best..
    How can you ensure internal consistency without doing the maths?

    Peter

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    Quote Originally Posted by ShinAce View Post
    Personally, i say it is nonsense. To me, science is simply the free exchange of ideas. They need not be testable. A model is still a model.
    That's not science, that's society.

    And some people think some of the ideas are dear, not free.

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    Math is the language of science. If you don't speak it yourself, you will have a hard time convincing those that do.

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    math is certainly an essential tool in science. nobody would question that. the better a model can be described with it and the more testable it is the more confidence we can have in it.

    on the other hand, i am with you 100% when you say:

    Quote Originally Posted by ShinAce View Post
    To me, science is simply the free exchange of ideas. They need not be testable. A model is still a model.

    What i look for is meaning. Does the model explain something? Even a model of why we see colors the way we do is meaningful. It might not unlock the mysteries of the brain and also be mathematically clumsy, but it would still be a clue.

    Right now we have dark matter, dark energy, and no explicit definitions of space, time, mass...

    I'm willing to entertain radical ideas while we work through this 'alchemy' of physics and math.
    i think the current definition of science is too limited.

    and i also think it is to a certain degree an emotional issue of the people doing science. they are often somewhat fearful characters who are scared of the unpredictability of life and hide in their minds and in science because they think that is at least something predictable. that most certainly does not apply to all of them but it's a majority i would say.

    i wouldn't be surprised if some people around here when their girlfriend or wife tells them "i love you" ask her for evidence!

    these kind of people usually also hate philosophy. why? because it's not predictable and that's scary (to them).

    i think we need a much more comprehensible approach to the universe. science - as it is currently defined - limits itself to describing and predicting nature. explaining nature is not part of the program, really.
    i find that highly unsatisfactory. we need a thoroughly interdisciplinary approach and that should also include philosophy, especially ontology.

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    Quote Originally Posted by ShinAce View Post
    I was scanning ATM and couldn't help asking myself, why is someone who proposes a theory required to do the maths?

    Did Fresnel do the maths when Poisson told him his theory predicted a bright spot no one had anticipated.

    When De Broglie did the maths, was he not shunned, regardless, by the doctoral committee?

    Did Einstein do the maths of the Schwarzchild solution?

    What is the true scientific way? Should the presenter hold the onus of solving all numerical problems? Should the scientific community do their own maths and compare?
    Note to self: this should have been a poll!

    I personally see no problem with someone saying "I calculated A based on your theory and got values B. We have different answers which should be explored further."

    I also see no problem with "My theory predicts values B for conditions A. Do the calculation yourself to verify."

    When I'm in a calculus study group, I never say "That answer is wrong, fix it!". Instead, I do the calculations as well, step by step, and compare along the way. In this manner, the problem is easily located.
    The problem is when someone presents an idea based on "gut feel" then starts arguing how their idea is right an no one gets it but it is obvious that their idea is fundamentally flawed and if the person just tested their own model first then it wouldn't have gotten to that point.

    IE if you can't be stuffed to actually test your own model properly then why should anyone else be bothered to.

    It would be like me saying "Hey I've got this GREAT dessert recipe! It is made from basil, coffee ice cream and chillies! I'm sure it will taste great!" then when a chef looks at me and says "Nah, you've got to be kidding!" Then I argue that they should try to play around with my idea because I know it will be great. Mean while the chefs are thinking "I know the flavour profile combination of coffee and basil are disgusting to most people, no way I'm doing this"

    If I just tried out my own idea I would have soon seen where it fails but no....I have to assume my idea is right based on nothing more then my gut feel. I have little sympathy for someone that is either to lazy to do the maths for their idea. Most people don't say "Hey can you help me with the maths on this idea?" and if they do and someone points out flaws you generally see them get defensive on why that flaw didn't matter or the like.

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    i think the current definition of science is too limited.
    Disagree so totally you would not believe it. Science is a much abused term, IMO. Science is about what you can test, measure and model. It is about finding and using patterns to make predictions. It is NOT about meaning, truth, beauty or anything else like that. I cannot and should not be. These are subjective and require different tools to investigate.

    Science is not a philosophy, a religion or anything else that purports to given meaning and relevance to observations. It is already pushed and stretched to breaking point by a lot of scientists who claim that science is all there is. Science is a method, a way of modelling what we see to make better predictions of how things behave. It does not, in itself, have anything to say about what a result 'means'.

    By all means build an interdisciplinary approach to understanding reality. Incorporate science into that. Do not ruin the strengths of the scientific method by forcing it to incorporate things it cannot natively deal with.

    And as for scientists being fearful characters scared by the unpredictable nature of the universe? Quantum mechanics? It ruined determinism which was a philosophical stance that got shoehorned into science. Scientists demand evidence for things they are bringing into the scientific method. Not everything in life fits into that method. I find your comments generalising what you think of scientists to be rather ... crude in your understanding of them and of science. I've met more people who were not scientists who craved that one 'answer' that made the universe predictable (rather like the one you want to see come out of an interdisciplinary approach?). They are often the people who attack scientists for not being able to make their minds up, for changing their theories and so on - because it undermines their faith that as a race we know the answers.

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    Quote Originally Posted by PaulLogan View Post
    i think we need a much more comprehensible approach to the universe. science - as it is currently defined - limits itself to describing and predicting nature. explaining nature is not part of the program, really.
    i find that highly unsatisfactory. we need a thoroughly interdisciplinary approach and that should also include philosophy, especially ontology.
    There is nothing wrong with doing all those things. But they are not science. One of the most valuable aspects of science is that it is productive, it is useful. Technology is derived from science. Which useful technologies do we have derived from philosophy?

    and i also think it is to a certain degree an emotional issue of the people doing science. they are often somewhat fearful characters who are scared of the unpredictability of life and hide in their minds and in science because they think that is at least something predictable. that most certainly does not apply to all of them but it's a majority i would say.
    Oh, that old chestnut again.

    I was tempted to ask for evidence to support that, but I won't

    Instead, I will use the same quality of argument and say that I think it is wrong. I would expect scientists to cover pretty much the same variety of people as the rest of the population. Yes, there are occasional stories of scientists reluctant to publish their results because they fear they will be ridiculed (even though they later turn out to be right). But there are just as many stories of people acting like the implausible scientist heroes in movies (e.g. Barry Marshall testing the effects of H. pylori on himself). Those fearful of unpredictability form a tiny minority, I would say. Most are in it for the excitement of finding something new.

    Also, it seems you are confusing science and scientists. The whole purpose for the "scientific method" is to, effectively, eliminate the individuals from the results (in the long term). It doesn't matter to the progress of science if one scientist hangs on to the old paradigm long after it is dead, or another promotes somewhat fringe ideas, or another falsifies his results in order to get funding, etc. These will all be "averaged out" in the process of review and replication.

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    Anecdotally, it would seem that the best scientists (e.g. Nobel prize winners) have some pretty, um, unconventional ideas. I liked this bit from the Wikipedia page about Kary Mullis (co-developer of the DNA polymerase chain reaction):
    In the book [his autobiography], Mullis chronicles his ... use of LSD, synthesis and self-testing of novel psychoactive substances ... and an encounter with an extraterrestrial in the form of a fluorescent raccoon.
    No chance they might, just possibly, be connected?

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    Quote Originally Posted by PaulLogan View Post
    .
    i think the current definition of science is too limited.

    and i also think it is to a certain degree an emotional issue of the people doing science. they are often somewhat fearful characters who are scared of the unpredictability of life and hide in their minds and in science because they think that is at least something predictable. that most certainly does not apply to all of them but it's a majority i would say.
    You could say that about a majority of people in general.

    Anyone who goes through life totally sure of things is a little bit insane. And wait, aren't you arguing that this does not apply to philosophers, who try to find some reason for everything?
    i think we need a much more comprehensible approach to the universe. science - as it is currently defined - limits itself to describing and predicting nature. explaining nature is not part of the program, really.
    That makes it sound more like philosophy is scared of the unknown.

    Which, of course, they're not.

    ETA: I've read Kary's book, a couple times. No connection whatsoever.

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    Quote Originally Posted by PaulLogan View Post
    and i also think it is to a certain degree an emotional issue of the people doing science. they are often somewhat fearful characters who are scared of the unpredictability of life and hide in their minds and in science because they think that is at least something predictable. that most certainly does not apply to all of them but it's a majority i would say.
    You know, if you'd have put religious fundamentalists instead of people doing science in that sentence it would have made some kind of sense.
    these kind of people usually also hate philosophy. why? because it's not predictable and that's scary (to them).
    I dislike philosophy, not because it's unpredictable, but because I consider it almost entirely to be intellectual masturbation, often accompanied with a strong streak of smug self-satisfaction which I find utterly repulsive.
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    Quote Originally Posted by HenrikOlsen View Post
    You know, if you'd have put religious fundamentalists instead of people doing science in that sentence it would have made some kind of sense.
    yes, you are quite right. many fundamentalists fit the description in spades. but so do many scientists (and some even fall into both categories at the same time), especially (but not exclusively) on certain internet fora.

    I dislike philosophy, not because it's unpredictable, but because I consider it almost entirely to be intellectual masturbation, often accompanied with a strong streak of smug self-satisfaction which I find utterly repulsive.
    do i maybe detect (just) a hint of anger in this sentence? you know, it is said that some people, especially when confronted with an uncomfortable truth about themselves, respond with denial and anger...

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    Quote Originally Posted by PaulLogan View Post
    do i maybe detect (just) a hint of anger in this sentence? you know, it is said that some people, especially when confronted with an uncomfortable truth about themselves, respond with denial and anger...
    Let's rather call it irritation with such things as refusing to defined terms used in definite statements with the excuse that defining the terms makes any discussion of the statement less meaningful or profound or whatever.
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