Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Understanding, Faith, and Gravity

This essay is in response to the video below.

Resisting the urge to explore why it is everything with an 'intellectual' feel has to be presented by someone with a smug English accent (Q Perhaps?) I'd like to explore a serious oversight with this position generally. IE that you must go the degree/education/peer review route to understand something with sufficient strength to attack it.

What they are saying amounts to you must be one of us before you an disagree with us, and if you were one of us you'd not disagree. That's sounds a bit familiar.

Understanding as a matter of faith.

I'll cut through all of it and restate what I hear in different ways whenever scientists like to talk about lay people attacking their work.

The basic claim is that before you can effectively attack a given view, you must first "understand" the view you are attacking. A rational version of this is to say that before you can write a program you must learn code.

That's all well and good but the way most scientists use this attack amounts to an intellectual pissing contest and pulling rank based on time investment rather than any sort of rational refutation or objection. This amounts to an argument from authority. (Your objection is invalid because I have a PHD.)

That may sound absurd on the surface, but consider what is meant by the word understand. All fields over lap at some point. We only live in the one reality. Every frog is connected to every star. Thus, true complete understand is impossible for us presently, perhaps totally if you're a fan of the uncertainty principal being a reflection of ontological reality. IE being unable to observe reality to such and such degree actually limits reality.

So you have to draw a line. You have to apply boundaries. Sometimes these boundaries are very clear, such as exploring the logic of a card game. But as set study shows us, its not always that simple. You can see this yourself when you start a conversation about dogs and end up talking about astrophysics. Dogs>park>park at night>stars.

The point is that you may completely understand something only within bounds, if at all, and where you apply those bounds is your choice ultimately. In addition, since context alters meaning, that understanding can be rendered useless with external and non conflicting data coming from outside those bounds.

Hypothetical: I've shot someone in the head. I'm also being tried for murder. You can fully understand both facts, but do you claim to completely understand the situation from those facts alone? What more data do you need? Consider the true scope of the question. To fully understand you'd have to perfectly master history and psychology at the very least, and perhaps the human brain if an insanity by mental defect defense is used, that would radiate out to physics since the brain is an electrochemical mechanism, and philosophy since you'd also have to define "person"See what I mean? You have to draw a line somewhere, and the key word is you.

So while the argument sounds good there is one insurmountable problem for claiming any scientific claim is totally objective. How you define "understand" and where you put boundaries are themselves subjective decisions.

For the record I don't care if I'm the only person who thinks this way. I don't care that you built a shuttle or this computer. Accomplishments don't denote absolute knowledge and agreement does not alter reality. Contrary to what O'Brian may claim he cannot levitate. But of course this is merely my belief, my faith if you will, in gravity.

Sure you may feel you have good reason, you may even feel you have evidence ,but the rule always applies, your understanding of those reasons and your understanding of that evidence is also subject to applied bounds and is therefor subjective. This extends to understandings of both refutation and prediction. The extends to understanding of experiments. This extends to the very nature of knowledge. Thus science, itself, in a very fundamental way, is subjective. Sound familier?

Ultimately science can be understood as a religion which changes its dogma based on interpertations of clergy derived from what they call experimentation, observation, and prediction.

To dismis this similarity with older faiths is dangerous to the integrity of science.

Reality is in fundamental paradox. There are questions that cannot be answer with the scientific method. But that's another paper.

My point is that I don't need complete understanding of a theory to attack it. It's like chopping down a tree, I don't need to see the whole tree to cut it down, the trunk will do.

If you're a scientist I'll let you make my arguments for me. What If I said understanding Christianity extends to memorizing the KJV bible letter for letter? What if I said you don't understand it enough to attack it or any claim it or I make about it until you have? Would you not immediately attack my definition of understanding? Would you not try to convince me or others that where I put my bounds is somehow invalid compared to where you put your bounds? What if I then said you didn't understand my definition of understand which I said stems from my understanding of the KJV?

We both rationally make the same claim: I don't need to read all your books and records to attack your claim.

The irony of scientists making this claim to religious people is staggering. Never forget, religion gave birth to science they will always be related, as both are effort to understand and predict a world that in some ways is forever mysterious, and unpredictable.

All of reality is in fundamental or harmonious paradox like this at same level.

All of knowledge is suspect (thanks Kant) and the degree to which we accept it is a matter of faith, that fact must be understood by scientists if they wish to avoid turning into a cult. This is both true and unprovable. Thanks Godel.

So I guess in closing what I'm saying is before science can attack religion it needs to understand philosophy and epistemology. :)

Bet the lab coats in the crowd are objecting already, and all I have in response is a question.

Are you sure you understand?

The war between religion and science is futile. It's the left and right had attacking the face. There is a derogatory slang term for that kind of behavior. Retarded.

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I'm a politically and culturally subversive author with obsessive tendencies and a lot of free time. I feel a sense of personal responsibility for the fate of my species. My writing is the result.

My primary blog is at but this G+ profile is a far more active representation of my viewpoint.

Generally I feel the answer to society's ills are technological in nature not political or cultural.

Having said that, I do have political positions of course and I strongly feel that we need to embrace nuclear power and deploy a universal basic income.