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Sometimes I post very trivial humours things. They are mostly “that was cute and I smiled” things. Sometimes they are geek/nerd references, sometimes they are pictures chosen to bring a smile to my face and remind me that this world is a lovely place after all. Let’s call this section fluffy posts.

Some things I post are because I don’t understand, or want to verify. Some things I post are because I want to provoke thought and discussion. Some things I post are educative. This section is what I consider serious posts. They have a purpose beyond just “look – cute/funny”.

Generally I get a lot of positive response to what I think of as fluffy posts. People seem to not really want to think, consider, discuss or change. They just like to watch entertainment. That is fine by me. I tend to think of that as more background rather than intent.

The posts with intent are where my heart is mostly at. I have a fuzzy boundary post that crosses both section – “Today’s cute”. I have an intention when I post that – I want people to soften a little and smile about the day. I love it when people have caught onto the pattern and share their cute picture of today with me, so that I can re-share it to others.

The other serious posts are about learning. I don’t mind if it is I that learns, or others. What I am after is discussion about an issue that helps someone (me or someone else) go “oh … I see, I get that now”. I am certainly no expert in all thing, or even many things. Even the things that I consider myself to be an expert in leaves much room for alternative explanations, new information and heck, I can be wrong. The truth is how you measure something, not the messenger.

There are many paradigms. A paradigm is a way of seeing this world and a set of rules that work within that paradigm to help make predictions of what comes next, or to help ease the understanding of what has come before. No single paradigm can answer all questions, and many paradigms will conflict in certain areas.

As a spiritual athiest I have an odd perspective. I value evidence and logic. I also recognise that not all of the universe has been cataloged and not all evidence was measured equally. I have witnessed and continue to witness things that I do not understand and do not have a clear explanation of. I have an insatiable appetite for knowledge and understanding.

I was quite amused when going to university about 15 years ago to have three different courses uses the same term to mean very different things (I really wish I could remember what that term was… I have forgot sooooo much!) If I had used the meaning of the term in one unit in a different one, I would be considered wrong or in error. This is why it is key to understand and recognise the paradigm that one is in.

Richard Dawkins proposed a scale of thiestic probability. Feel free to wiki “Spectrum of theistic probability” when you get a chance. An interesting read. In summary it says that at level 1, there is a god who created all, that it isn’t belief, it is certainty. At level 7 there is no god and never can be. In between is a range of levels of belief about god. I am at level 6 – I don’t believe their is a god as defined by most religions, but I don’t discount the possibility that there might be one and if suitable evidence were put forth then I would change my mind. To my perspective, saying their cannot be a god is the same as saying the reverse – there must be a god. I prefer to look at the evidence, and no evidence has yet satisfied me that there is one. Nor can I figure out what evidence I would need to believe that the being I am meeting is an actual god rather than a powerful daemon. Descartes strikes again.

From a thiest paradigm, there was a creation of all, a creation of the world and an interaction of god or gods with people. Each thiest (god believer) has a set of evidence and logic to justify their particular belief. A comedian pointed out that most religions state that their way is right and believing anything else will send you to a hell like environment upon death, thus most of the world is going to hell. They can’t all be right. I’m not interested in pitting one thiest perspective against another. What I am interested in is understanding each thiest perspective internally. How is item A justified within this belief system when item B also exists which seems to contradict item A? When I have asked the question, I get many band wagon people stating “it’s all crap, don’t bother”, and I wonder how if they have actually looked at the question. Many people believe this stuff, and that belief shapes this culture of ours, the laws of the land and how we treat each other. Not because I necessarily believe it, but because they do. To ignore their belief is to ignore the oncoming truck about to hit me, because I like to drive a motor bike. We exist on the same road, even if we are driving in different directions.

Sometimes I have learned that the premise of Item A and Item B within the same paradigm are actually false, either because my source misquoted / exaggerated / made stuff up, or because it was out of context and misrepresents the point of the paragraph or chapter. I love learning that. For example, there was a gripe that the Jesus history strangely resembles that of Horus, thus stating that the Jesus story is fiction. A closer look at the known history of Horus demonstrates that this is full of crap. They aren’t any more similar than comparing Jesus to any other historical figure. Not to mention, some of the statements about Jesus are contrary to recognised standards of the story. Does that mean that Jesus really lived? Irrelevant to the question.

Sometimes Item A and Item B are correct, yet a thiest of that paradigm still persists in accepting both seeming contradictions. I want to know why. Cognitive dissonance is a well known psychological concept – the ability to hold a contradiction because of emotional investment (it’s more complex than that, but hey, a single sentence explanation can be useful) – and is held by all people about a range of topics. It is really hard for people to accept that there is a clash and that their concept is wrong for some reason when they have spent a large amount of energy in trying to uphold that clashing concept despite the evidence. A great example of that is the scientists who resisted accepting that the lead in petrochemicals was a problem. Check out the story, it’s fascinating. (Sadly, once the scientific community backed the findings the governments of the world acted together to ban lead as a stabaliser, while in anthropogenic climate change, the governments of the world are in denial despite the evidence – oh the power of media and money!)

Thiest contradictions aren’t the only things I want to understand though. I have occasionally posted, for example, quantum physics contradictions and have enjoyed reading the responses from my more ‘learnered’ friends. Much like the thiestic queries, I have enjoyed finding out how much initial items are wrong, misrepresented, or my understanding of their meaning of these seeming contradictions aren’t actually contradictions. I was talking to a chemistry PhD a year or so ago and complaining about why chemistry isn’t a real science because to make it work requires all the exceptions to the rule. He explained to me that actually, the rules we were being taught were old and over simplified thus needed the exceptions, but the real rules always work, they are just to hard to teach high school students… so I have re-evaluated chemistry.

The universe is big. You just won’t believe how vastly, hugely, mind- bogglingly big it is. I mean, you may think it’s a long way down the road to the chemist’s, but that’s just peanuts to space. While I am paraphrasing Douglas Adams, he has an excellent point. We have sent probes out to the furthest planets of our solar system, observed through telescopes exploding stars incredibly vast distances away and smashed tiny particles together to see what tinier particles they contain at such vastly small scales it is quite literally impossible for the human mind to truly understand (we use tricks to make it digestible). In all the places we have looked, we have observed patterns and created rules, tested those rules and observed better patterns and created better rules. This is the scientific process.

There are two fundamental philosophies underlying science. The Principle of Universal Nature (PUN), and Induction. Neither of them can be proven. PUN (I know it is tempting to get sidetracked here, but stick with me) in brief states that the rules that apply here are the same rules that apply over there. If there seems to be a difference, then clearly we have not truly understood the rules properly. This breaks down when shifting from the quantum level to the macro level, partly because we don’t understand gravity (I look forward to the corrections). Induction is about assuming that time moves in a forwards direction and that the past leads to the future. This instant that you are reading the last word in this sentence might be the only instant in the universe, and that instant comes with a mistaken belief that there was a past… you just can’t know. The next instant could be completely different with a complete alternate past. We assume this is not the case and that the trigger causes the event, not the event pulls the trigger.

What if these are wrong? It was thought that electricity moved from the positive terminal to the negative terminal. That makes sense and aligns with all of the prior thinking about directions and charge. Yet when we learned more, it was discovered that electricity is moving charged particles, specifically electrons. They move from a negative terminal to a positive terminal. Yet the electronics still works… Imagine trying to flush your toilet backwards. The assumptions you built the device on are back to front, but some things aren’t, like gravity. What if we discover that nature is not universal, or that time does not flow in just one direction? What if other fundamentals of science are wrong? What if the lead in the fuel is an ecological disaster and causing brain damage to our kids?

The idea of science is to recognise errors and evolve around and through them. As such, a good scientist is willing to embrace the evidence on its own merits, but within the context of the body of knowledge. As such, there are many instances where fields of science have changed to slowly and surely embrace the more accurate knowledge despite the reticence of old paradigms. Fantastic solutions require phenomenal evidence.

Scientists have not measured everything. There is still more to learn. Perhaps one day they will discover a thing called magic. However magic is defined as that which science does not explain, and science is an explanation of magic. Consider what you are reading this on – if you took that device back in time only 200 years, it would be considered magical. Arthur C Clark said it best “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.” Similarly our understanding of the worlds old magic is now called science.

Yet there is so much more to learn. We humans recognise patterns all the time and we use these patterns to make predictions which often either help us survive, or fail to kill us. Until we get a better pattern predictor, we keep the old ones. Part of my work as a social worker, when being a counsellor, is to help people identify sucky survival patterns and replace them with superior models. Harder than it sounds.

We often justify our patterns and prediction mechanism, creating interesting explanations that are just plain measurably wrong. The position of the planet seems to match this pattern, so it must be the gravitational force, or the mystical energy, or 4 was always a lucky number and is dominant. When I feel bad, I eat a banana and I feel better – perhaps you should too? Some of these solutions have been turned into medicine. Consider aspirine came from willow bark. Who the heck eats willow bark? Yet when you don’t get sick from making a tea from it, and you find it makes you feel better in some circumstances, you continue to use it. When scientists checked it out, they discovered and distilled the ingredient in will bark that now is the active ingredient in aspirine. Can you just drink willow bark tea to get the same effect as popping an aspirine pill? No – the willow bark is a variable dose with a poor targeting system and a whole bunch of impurities. Take the damn pill.

Many of the explanations given to why a certain pattern works have been tested, proven to be wrong and thus the pattern is discarded. That is bad science. First step should be to measure if the pattern actually exists. Then check if there is a causal or correlative chain. Steve Martin’s movie “All of me” had a Swami pull the chain on the toilet just as a telephone rang. He didn’t know about toilets and telephones (sticking to the idea that he was a hermit in some very remote and primitive country). From there on, whenever the phone rang, he went and flushed the toilet. Correlation, not causation. (Okay, the Swami was the causal link, but look at another toilet and phone system and the two are unrelated, so trying to work out the link between toilets and telephones is stupid).

I often here people using out dated explanations for patterns they have recognised that have clearly been discredited and band wagon people stating that patterns don’t exist because of the discredited explanation. Yet neither talk about the validity of the pattern. It frustrates me.

There are many patterns that just have not been tested yet. That doesn’t make them real, or false. Just not well tested. It is too easy to jump to a conclusion of certainty if you aren’t familiar with a decent investigative process, or you don’t have the resources.

For example, Mercury is in Retrograde. I looked it up yesterday out of curiosity. I looked it up because I’m feeling pretty emotionally bad at the moment. (Don’t worry, it will pass). I tend to feel this battered only a few times per year. When my emotions get past a certain point, I wonder where Mercury is relative to earth (poor phrasing, I mean which direction it is moving in the sky relative to our perspective). Due to the nature of two circling bodies around a fixed (ish) point, Mercury happens to be going in the opposite direction to its usual orbit (it still is going the same way as the Sun perceives it, but the illusion on Earth is of a counter spin). Pretty much every time I feel this crap, Mercury happens to be in retrograde. So what does that mean? I have no idea. It’s a pattern. It might be causative, or correlative. I just don’t know. All of the justifications I could come up with (gravity, electromagnetic interference, space aliens) don’t actually match any reasonable scientific explanation. That is, the effect would be so small as to be laughable and other factors would be far more impressive (gravity – a local mountain has more gravitational effect, the moon certainly etc, electromagnetic – this computer I am typing on puts out more ionising radiation at this range than Mercury does in retrograde – and why would the perceived direction have an effect on me anyway? Aliens – lol ).

More important is to look at the pattern. Do I really always feel emotionally crap when Mercury is in retrograde? Reading back through my journals indicates this is so far true for the last few years. Are these the only times I feel bad? No, but bad is a poor scale. Do others feel bad during Mercuries retrograde? Insufficient reliable data, but I’m guessing no as most people are not going through this else the world’s economy would be collapsing right now and other noticeable factors. So it is mostly just me and a planet would not have a single target, or a massively minor target population of humans. That just makes no sense. So, it’s an interesting observation, but not a cause or a real pattern as yet. I’m still acquiring data.

It is common for people to take one incomplete study out of context and try to apply that to too much. Most media science reporting is like that. Eat this food, avoid that food, try this diet, avoid that substance because its a poison, use these light globes, buy my product. Mostly it is all crap trying to look legitimate through either bad science (which just shouldn’t get labelled science at all), or misrepresented and misreported science. A great example of this is vaccinations. Andrew Wakefield was paid to falsify a report to justify a woman’s mistaken correlation of her child being vaccinated and the doctors recognising that her child had autism. This one study of less than 10 candidates that was heavily tampered with was used to win a case despite hundreds of other studies and experiments. Subsequently the scientific medical community went into a frenzy of more studies to see if there was any legitimacy behind Wakefield’s findings. And found none. By none, I mean thousands that said “strongly no” and a half dozen that said “maybe yes”. Those few “maybe yes” reports, added to anecdotal correlations of adverse reactions to occasional vaccinations lead to an anti-vacc movement. To justify themselves, these people worked hard to promote their views to others despite the clear evidence (for those willing to see it) that it was false. Yet their cognitive dissonance (emotional investment in a belief) outweighed their logic and the validity of the evidence. It was easier to believe their was some vast conspiracy than to accept that hundreds of millions of people get vaccinated with no real ill effect (beyond a sore arm and some local irritation). All medical procedures have some risk, even if that risk is that some equipment falls on you during the procedure. The doctor’s job is to weigh up the factors. If this proceedure has a 10% chance of killing you, but not doing it has a 100% chance of killing you, then it is worth doing. The risk factor of vaccinations is incredibly small. The risk of catching small pox, rubella, measles, tetanus, etc if the population is not vaccinated is incredibly high. The chances of death from vaccination are even smaller, while the chance of death from these diseases is reasonable. As such, vaccinate your kids. Heck, get it yourself.

There are a small subset of the population for which the risk of taking the vaccination is too high. The doctors will recommend against it, aiming for herd immunity to protect these people. To get an idea of how this works, look up the phrase “Herd immunity simulator” and have a play.

I was speaking to a med student about 15 years ago, who said that 90% of what they are learning now will be replaced with new knowledge in 10 years time, yet what they know now is the best information they have for saving peoples lives. The new knowledge will mostly be an improvement of the old knowledge and only a few things will be found to be complete wrong. I spoke to a med student a year or so ago and they said the same thing.

The point is we (humans) are discovering things all the time. The popular professional wisdom is the learned wisdom that is worth following. It will be updated, it will be improved on, and sometimes it will be wrong. But the safe bet is with the current learned wisdom.

Yet I still want to learn everything, whether it is my way of believing things or not. Oh, and I want to minimise the harm I do others, but that’s another blog post.