Scientism and skepticism

May 23, 2017

This is the kind of thing that shows how unreliable science is, and how condescending scientism is: I’ve been treated for both epilepsy and lymphoma, and my mother had MS, and I’ve often wondered about possible connections between some or all of these. One thing I have thought about at times is the role of lymphatic system since I have never shown damage on my brain in scans but they have sometimes mentioned mucus blockages in passing.

Lymph shows up more ancient and chinese medicine and doesn’t get a lot of attention in western medicine (“immune system” is used more often, and seems kind of abstract…) so it’s hard to find information. But then if ask questions or share those ideas with people who have established modern beliefs, they are dismissed as “absurd” – in this conversation the only argument given was that the brain has no lymphatic connection, which is now shown to be untrue. (-the textbooks have to be rewritten!)

And still, 8 bullet points were provided, one merely the repeat of the statement that the suggestion was ludicrous (most of the others comments that various things hadn’t been tested or seemed rare) – that of course you shouldn’t investigate that idea any further…

It’s difficult because there are often hopeful logical leaps being made and people who just pass around ideas as if they are already concluded, even when they don’t add up at all. So, there’s a lot of unhelpful behavior on both sides – but the skeptics commonly think they’re blameless.

The first step to being a skeptic is recognizing that we don’t have the answers. Some crazy ideas might be useful – actually, some crazy ideas will almost certainly turn out to be tomorrow’s science.

Forcing change, alternative facts…

March 4, 2017

This article laments the problem of contemporary culture that people are too sure that they know things, and so instead of having useful conversations and coming to possible solutions, they butt heads and get further entrenched in their views. The funny thing about it is that the article itself ends with a point of certainty about how people simply hold the wrong position on gun control and vaccination, and that if we could teach them not to be so certain, we could convince them to have the right position.

This seems like entirely the wrong way to approach the problem, at least if the problem is this self-certainty. Putting aside what the right answer is, the key issue at stake is what the actual problem is. It’s not that some people are right and some are wrong. It’s that everyone is too sure of their side. That means the people who are “right” are too sure, too. If the people who are right actually are right, then there is no need to be sure about it. That’s the great thing about truth – it remains true even if you don’t insist on it.

So it seems like what everyone has to do is trust that whatever is true can be worked out if we all agree to honestly investigate what is the case. This is where the problem lies: words like honestly, agree and trust are not compatible with modern interactions that take place on a broad scale. They only apply to person-to-person exchanges, and that depends on the relationships between the persons involved. Large social level dialogue is full of distance and abstraction, which creates the possibilities for hidden motivation, suspicion, misunderstanding and unknown factors.

But we apply this sense of suspicion we’ve learned to more local discussions as well. When people hear someone say “I think you might be wrong about that”, they often believe that’s not what is really being said. They think the person actually means “I know more than you”, “I have a higher status than you”, or ultimately “I am better than you”. That means the response is going to be to think “No you’re not” – or, to reply, “No I’m not” – and the conversation will not be over working out what the facts are, but defending one’s honor.

And unfortunately, people often do mean “I’m better than you”, at least to a degree, when they think they have the facts and someone else is simply wrong. If we could all admit to our ignorance and seek truth together, there might be a chance for movement. But if either side begins certain that they have the correct conclusion and if only they could convince those dummies… then we set ourselves up for a tug of war.

discover inner beauty

September 17, 2009

I think this is genius. I have too many little places to post things, so I don’t update at this blog much, am just as likely to post something on facebook or twitter or something, but for some reason this seemed worth putting up a more proper link… It finds any inadvertent haikus within larger texts. This is especially fun to do for your own long texts (I found 3 in my dissertation and many more in a long fiction manuscript I have – guess there are more short sentences in it…)

But it’s also just neat to see what’s in famous texts, e.g., in Kant’s Metaphysics of Morals there was only one:

The reason of this
appears sufficiently from
the treatise itself.

While Anna Karenina (gutenberg’s english version) had easily a couple dozen, a few of which I’ll copy below:

And his face expressed
serious hesitation.
“Are the oysters good?

Tried them: worse. Well, then,
there’s nothing left but to pray
to God. Tried it: worse.

Give me some morphine.
Doctor, give me some morphine!
Oh, my God, my God!

The whole day long there
was fever, delirium,
and unconsciousness.

On the contrary,
I am glad at the very
loss of my freedom.

But now her beauty
and elegance were just what
irritated him.

I speak from my heart.
We’re all gentlemen, aren’t we?
Above suspicion.

See me as you are.
It’s been going on more than
two hours already.

A quite addictive little game… and if it’s a book you’re familiar with, intriguing to catch snippets through a new window…

8 years

September 11, 2009

Eight years ago, I lived on the Lower East Side, near the East Broadway stop on the F train, where I could see the twin towers from my rooftop. On Sept 11, I was woken by a call from my dad asking if I had the TV on, soon followed by calls from friends to check that I was watching. I now think, in retrospect, that there was a sickening undercurrent of giddiness to those first few conversations, during the time between 8:46 and 9:59, from the first plane until a tower actually fell. It was shocking, horrifying even, but it wasn’t fully emotionally serious until a building collapsed.

What I had thought was concern seems like it might have just been rubbernecking, a fascination with someone else’s tragedy. From the start there was no doubt intellectually that it was awful, but I don’t know that emotionally I could distinguish it from the spectacular feeling of a Michael Bay explosion. Our entertainment choices clearly show we love grand destruction, and this is no new thing – all wars, battles of knights and gladiators, all tales of god’s apocalyptic cleansings, are fantasies of this unbridled power. Even Kant wonders if perpetual peace might be boring. A plane crash or a house on fire, a three-car pile-up on the side of the road, these things are terrible but not usually draining or depressing; they tend to widen the eyes and get people talking rather than cause silence and dismay.

But when the first tower fell, reality set in, in a way which could never turn back. That building was part of my home, my skyline. It was a place I’d been that no longer existed – I watched the transition of the tower, from solid reality to dust and ashes, and as it crumpled into mere waste, the truth of the plane became much more clear as well. This wasn’t a show, that cabin had been full of helpless screaming naked apes with families and ideas and plans for the future, human beings hoping desperately that they might live, unprepared for death when all they’d expected was some mediocre food and maybe a movie before landing…

I know that people who really were there or lost close relatives sometimes feel that having all of NY mourn is disingenuous. And I know that New Yorkers often feel that the having the entire country waving flags in memory is inauthentic. No one quite knows what another feels about these kinds of events, in the end. I think of the day first of all as a personal tragedy for those directly affected, and count myself a few tiers removed, even though somehow the loss of architecture, the haze of smoke that settled into our island, really did affect me (and everyone in NY for a few weeks) quite directly. But eight years later, the wound is much more healed than I imagine it is for some.

it’s been a while

August 18, 2009

This blog is stirring, momentarily, to link to something I wrote on Revolving Floor. Terrible, since some portion of the people who are reading this probably only came here because they clicked on the link from the bio of that page. But there may be a few people with RSS feeds who have forgotten about me, and will shrug and go take a look, so. I figured it was worth figuring out what my password was to give it a try.

Maybe now that I’ve stretched my legs and seen that the system still works, I’ll make an effort to be a little more active in the future…

Also, as the wicked witch so rightly notes, the Floor’s a site full of exciting stuff to read and comment on, so, go click around and respond to stuff obsessively. No, seriously, there are a lot of interesting pieces. Anyway, it’s not like you’re getting any work done or anything.


November 23, 2008

Some fun with maps, although of course, not to be taken too seriously. One should not take words too seriously, after all. (“True” names? Would that be like we would recognize the place and know the name without hearing it, being destined to live there forever?) No, it’s just fun to look at etymologies and think about the meanings of place-names. But I appreciate the debunking too.

plato called it

November 12, 2008

very funny though perhaps actually quite depressing video behind the scenes at the daily show, on interviewing voters in this election. It’s further reminder that these systems don’t work not because of some particular disorder regarding the method or implementation or dynamic of power, but simply the force of that power itself, the intelligence of human beings. Hopefully we will muddle through with all our checks and balances 🙂

happy election!

November 5, 2008

I voted in downtown manhattan, where my ballot for barack would hardly make a difference, and I know several people who voted third party or write-in to make a point (at least one even after having campaigned in PA for Obama) but I enjoyed being a part of history. I had intended to vote the D ticket for months, just because I don’t think third party ballots mean anything (if you want to change the system that’s not how to do it) but I only got excited about it in the last couple weeks, and I really was elated after coming out of the booth.

I realize Obama is just one guy, who will certainly run into trouble when it gets down to nuts and bolts and everyone expects different things from him, but at the same time, there is a symbolic importance to this that is transcendent, and there is the possibility of some real work getting done, even if only a very small portion of what some people imagine or hope for. But just getting people excited and involved will make a difference…

Still upset about Proposition 8, though. I hope that somehow doesn’t last long…

This is an interesting little piece on one mr ayers, friendly neighborhood terrorist… who in an interview, I have to admit, it is hard to stay upset with. Power of rhetoric or has he been misunderstood the whole time? Anyway, not that it’s an issue now, just a funny bit of trivia.

Moderate repubs, like Rice and McCain, took the news well & graciously, but some of the bloggers were much less appealing…

another break.

October 24, 2008

It is already halfway through fall – unbelievable. The election is two weeks away, and I’m feeling more calm about it generally (did you know Obama played fantasy football?). But, I think I’ve reached a turning point in my own work that means I’ll be offline a bit more (I know I say this from time to time, but … well, I’m saying it again. but I think I have better motivation this time, since I’ve figured out an important component in what I’m doing…)

Here are some links so you didn’t waste time visiting …

This is an interesting story about Einstein.

Here is science about sunspots.

Plus, slate reviews books about English.

The undecided voter

October 21, 2008

Colin Powell’s endorsement of Obama is being given a lot of attention as a powerful move, a thoughtful speech, and a painful jab to the right wing. But one thing that struck me about it was the fact that Powell basically admitted to being one of those many undecided voters the media has been chastising and the comedy shows have been mocking. He said on Meet the Press that he’d been watching carefully these last few weeks and finally chose Obama. But he apparently wasn’t sure until just over two weeks to the election, when voting has already begun in some states. Yet the press still respected and adored him.

He didn’t say he had to decide whether to come out and state publicly that he would vote for Obama; he said he had to decide for himself whether to vote for Obama. He personally just wasn’t sure what to do until he had had time to watch them in action this fall. Does that mean we should think less of Powell or more of undecided voters? Well – that’s up to you. I’m just pointing out the overlap.