The purpose of this blog is to formulate ideas - and as ideas can be molded and refined please feel free to comment with agreement or disagreement, as long as it is thoughtful.

Friday, July 10, 2015

Religion and Science - Different Paradigms

"Science adapts to changes in expectations"
"Religion adapts around changes in expectations"

When science encounters problems in the prediction from a theory, or in the application of a theory to observations, it is the theory that must adapt (e.g. identify conditions in which the existing theory is useful and conditions where it is violated).  If and when a more suitable explanation can be found for the observations and predictions, the new theory supplants the old.

  • note, this mechanism is not perfect.  Often there is a attachment to a theory, which takes unusual amounts of conflicting observations to dispel, when, in theory, it would only take a single (verifiable and repeatable) observation to undo a theory

Religion, though, is much more flexible and there does not seem to be any single observations or violations that would kill it.  In the middle of the 1600's there were theories of celestial movement.  All, of course, circumscribed perfect circles, as God is perfect, and the Earth, God's creation was the centre of all celestial motion.  As observations grew to dispel both the centricity of Earth and the lack of "perfection" in orbits, the scientific theories moved on.  However, religion suddenly didn't seem to think these arguments, once so persuasive that the church had Gallieo imprisoned for similar thoughts, were important anymore.  The "perfection" of circles and the centrality of the Earth in the cosmos were no longer relevant - no "change" to religion resulted (e.g. the "perfection" argument still exists when discussing unknowns involving God, there was no change in theological thought that maybe we had no basis on which to judge "perfection" from God's perspective - maybe he loves parabolas and ellipses and they are perfect in a Godly realm).

Thus, science adapted to the new observations - it updated the models of the cosmos to accommodate.  Religion just adapted "around" the issue by stating that these arguments which were strong before being refuted are now irrelevant.

The key difference it that the scientific change results in movement in a direction toward further understanding, the Religion change does not - it is neutral with respect to direction because the underlying "thoughts" are unchanged.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Types of Proof

Reading Facebook usually makes me sad.  The level of discourse seems to be simply finding one or more web links that show agreement.

There seems to be a real lack of understanding of "scholarship".  The level of public discourse seems to be at newspaper level at best.  The newspaper standard is that there must be support for what you say - you need to quote accurately, you need to quote in context to the best of the limits of the medium (though this tends to be most abused) and you should be unbiased (aside from noted editorials, which by definition support a particular slant or direction).  "News" should be a statement of fact.

Where problems arise in news are typically the choice of news stories to present - compare Fox with MSNBC - each story might meet the criterion of being factual, but the editorial choices of what to report are significantly different, and thus, provide a "slant" to the right or left.  Quoting out of context is done, but is more an example of inappropriate news reporting, not a "type" of news reporting.  Editorial choice is more insidious as it requires an examination of a period of time and an understanding of the consistent direction of the editorial slant - quoting out of context merely requires playing additional context and pointing out a more accurate meaning of the speaker than the shorter quote.

Academic research adds another component - not only are you required to accurately reference sources, report with enough information to accurately present the views of the original authors, but researchers (as opposed to reviews) are required to replicate, extend or refute pre-existing conclusions with unique procedures or apparatus, with the full knowledge of past research, and are required to hypothesise on the causes of the differences (e.g. was there unacknowledged bias in past research?  Is the new research underscoring differences in the underlying theoretical underpinnings of the phenomenon under investigation?). Academic researcher aren't just allowed to quote conflicting opinions and agree or disagree with some.

Academics actually are held accountable of the accuracy of their conclusions, not that they adhered to rules or reported correctly.  An academic who is "wrong" is lost from future discussions.  An academic who engages in purposeful bias in research or in misquoting other authors faces larger consequences - expulsion from academia being the extreme sanction.

Academics are supposed to pull out the real causes and effects from research reviews and novel research paradigms - this is the sign of academic success - puling out meaning from research.  Each particular research project is likely limited in some way (inability to sample the entire population, costs, limits to the artificiality of experimental designs, complexity in researching in real world settings..).

Academics who follow the research rules survive, those who can create new understanding thrive and those that pull out universal understanding that provide years, decades or centuries of renewed interest and direction are revered.

The internet seems to spawn a very low level of discourse.  "Agree" and "Disagree" are given pre-eminent weight - finding anyone who has a similar opinion to your own is considered "supportive", even if it is just the sharing  and repeating of ridiculous nonsense.

How, in an internet world, can we teach the deeper aspects of scholarship?  How can we get people to delve into source documents with an understanding of what they see there?  How can we get folks to understand that pointing out limits to academic research is a requirement of academic research, not a weakness to the conclusions?  How can we re-link understanding - remove the "power" of the well written nonsense and resplace it with (typically messier) actual academic discourse?  Where is the reasoned arguments to counter to dogmatic extremism. and how to get those voices heard amid the sensational extremist headlines?

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Teachers and Doctors

Both teachers and doctors deal with a lot of variables they can't control.  For teachers, students come in with personalities, drives, parents, learning history, strengths, weaknesses, home environment, cognitive differences, emotional differences etc.  For doctors, there is pre-existing health, willingness to take medication, change lifestyle or other direction to alleviate symptoms, stage of illness, masking of symptoms by other issues, relative level of awareness by patients, differing levels of discomfort tolerance, different level of self-reporting,  time of diagnosis, time to treatment (e.g. surgery schedules, MRI or other diagnostic scans).

In both cases, there is a clear recognition that the professional can't always fix the problem, and in both cases, there is a recognition that each can do something (teachers can take steps to move a student forward, even if they don't have the resources to "catch them up", doctors can alleviate pain in terminal cases, even if they can't provide a cure).

Why, then, the difference with respect to policing of their peers?  Doctors accept that "things happen" and "patients die", but are willing to accept the judgement of their peers to help determine whether or not there was missed opportunities to aid the patient.  This acceptance leads directly to some portion of doctors to be removed from the field should their performance not be considered appropriate by their peers - a recognition that while some negative outcomes are unavoidable, others could have had a less severe outcome if proper decisions and procedures were applied.

Teachers, not so much.  Teachers, who are required in their jobs to evaluate and judge performance of students, tend to completely ignore or degrade the whole paradigm of assessment when it comes to their own performance, or the performance of peers.  Talking one-on-one to teachers, they all can identify anonymous (or non-anonymous, depending upon who's asking) peers who are excellent, or deficient.  However, any program that attempts to provide evaluative information is universally rejected by individual teachers and their professional associations.  Why?

I believe part of the answer comes from the generic level of respect that the professions generate - doctors tend to be respected, teachers complain that their profession is under-appreciated.  As most of the public had attended school, they all have a feeling that they understand teaching, and to a small degree, they do.  However, the actual job of teaching has a lot more nuances and requirements than a student or parent can immediately see.  As such, professional teaching organizations tend to have hair-trigger responses to any activities which might be seen as judgemental to individuals, and they adopt a "all teachers are equal" or at least an "all teachers are competent" model.

Doctors see patients relatively briefly, but over many years, typically one-on-one.  Teachers see students intensely, but over a short elapsed duration, but in large class groups.  Thus, the relationships between patients and doctors differs from that of teachers and students.  Doctors must attempt to reconstruct the history of the patient from small windows, and make diagnoses in the windows allocated to that patient.  Teachers have more complex relationships - they have to deal with personalities much moreso than doctors, because they are meeting daily for a school year, and they have to deal with many individuals with differing requirements simultaneously and repeatedly.

- time with patient/student
- scientific method application
- perception of external judgment
- perceivied use of data

Monday, August 1, 2011

Both Religion and Faith are real, but not correlated to the degree Believers believe

When thinking about religion, particularly in the context of the relationship between religion and science (for the record, I think they are distinct - it is possible to consider all of the multiverse to have been set in motion by a creator, and science is a mechanism to understand and describe this creation) I often run across a disparity between "religion" and "faith".

I'd never argue faith with anyone.  Faith is feeling-based, generally quite strong, and underlies a belief system regarding religion and/or other large-scale psychological structures.  Faith is not typically logical, and does not rely upon explanation - it is because it is.  It is difficult to imagine "learning" to have faith or to "unlearn" faith - it seems that only life-affirming or life-changing events (e.g. death of a loved one; birth of a child; near-death experience) can affect people to such a degree that they alter their core values.

Religion I consider to be a different animal.  Religion is the transformation of a belief system into an interpretative, political body.  The degree to which a particular religion clashes or agrees with one's underlying faith is the degree of adherence one has to one's religion.

Thus, there is a correlation between faith and religion, but it is not causal - Religion is built upon faith, but not through direct construction - it is an interpretive, political layer that relies upon the believer's underlying strength for support, but is separate and distinct.

The distinction may not seem to be important in a fully matching faith-religion bond, but is critical when religion  goes into the worlds of politics, science etc.  In these cases it is dangerous for a believer to confuse faith with religion, particularly if the religion is straying too far from the ballpark - terrorism is an extreme case of religion/faith distinction - it is difficult to imagine that faith is driving fanatics to these ends, but it is not difficult to believe that the faith is being perverted to use the strong, core feelings and drive them to unfaithful ends.  In the U.S., is there really a "match" between Christian conservative values and the Republican party, or are both perverting strong faith to political ends (e.g. does conservative Christianity automatically support smaller government and lower taxes, or does underlying faith deal with different issues - taking care of disadvantaged, or dealing ethically and morally)?

Monday, May 9, 2011

"Sapientiam Sapientum Perdam" - Apostle Paul

A phrase meaning "I will destroy the wisdom of the wise", taken from "The Closing of the Western Mind" where it is quotes to illustrate the early Catholic church's need to change the model of greek logical thought and rationalism in place at the time of the church origins, in order to establish a new hierarchy.
The author's conjecture is that any feud between "religion" and "science" is primarily and historically caused from the "religion" side, not the "science" side.  This more or less aligns with my perspective, as I believe that science would have to accept a devine master if that was the only or best available explanation for observations and experimental data.  Religion, by definition, cannot accept the absence of a creator, though it has shown an ability to adapt interpretations of static source material to explain away conflicts that arise thorough experimental data.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Photon Question

How "particle-like" are photons?  Is it possible to create a spin, like a billiard ball?  If so, can a spinning photon (or electron etc.) be made to fit a curved path through a medium?  I'm not sure whether or not a spinning mass is relevant in a vacuum with respect to direction.

Should spin be imparted onto a photon or electron, does this lend itself to applications where a particle source can be aimed to multiple locations through spin alone?  This could lead to new micro-switches with higher processing speeds and less (if any) moving parts to achieve path differentiation.

Black Holes

When Black Holes evaporate and leak Hawking radiation, do they maintain the density of mass to remain Black Holes, or do they lose the critical mass at some point and self-destruct back into the "normal universe" - that is, no longer form a singularity?

If so, does this assist with the problem of information loss?  The current theories seem to assume that Black Holes remain Black Holes until the final atom evaporates and it disappears.  Could not the remnants of a Black Hole be a substantial mass that remains when the total Black Hole mass drops below the threshold that requires a greater than C escape velocity?