What is to be gained by denying science?

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Andrian
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Re: What is to be gained by denying science?

Post by Andrian » December 15th, 2016, 10:56 am

Ormond wrote:
1) Knowledge gives us power, that's why we like it.

2) As knowledge development accelerates we get greater and greater powers at a faster and faster rate.

3) Some of these powers will be of existential scale, where misuse and mistakes can bring down civilization, such as nuclear weapons.

4) As knowledge development accelerates we will develop more and more existential scale powers at a faster and faster rate.

5) All that is required is that ONE of such existential scale powers run out of control just ONE time, and the game is over. As example, it takes only one bad day with nuclear weapons to collapse civilization.
My criticism of this model would focus on criticizing points 4 and 5.

My criticism of point 4 is that we don't know how many of these "existential scale powers" as you call them are actually possible. It could very well be that we could find all of them within, say, the next hundred years, and then after that point there would be no new ones. Not a very comforting fact, I know, but the fact remains that we don't know whether there is an infinite or finite number of such powers.

My criticism of point 5 is that what may be an "existential scale power" today may not be tomorrow. If, for example, we develop space colonies of some kind, nuclear weapons become a much less credible threat to all of civilization.

I understand where you're coming from with your belief that "more is better" when it comes to knowledge might need to be changed, but I think that it's not actually practical to adopt any other approach. First, it's hard to know in advance which discoveries will lead to which applications. Who could have predicted, for example, that studying bird feathers under a microscope would lead to the invention of velcro? In addition, knowledge is sort of a "high risk, high rewards" kind of game. Our knowledge of radioactivity may have led to nuclear weapons, but it's also brought us nuclear medicine, nuclear power, insights into astronomy and astrophysics, and radiometric dating.

In addition, I don't think it's feasible to try and restrict the kinds of things we research. If the USA suspects that research into some area might lead to a new civilization-destroying weapon and bans it, there's no guarantee that another country such as China or North Korea won't discover it on their own, reaping all the benefits of this new area of research and leaving the more cautious country well behind in technological development, at least in that area.

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Re: What is to be gained by denying science?

Post by Fooloso4 » December 15th, 2016, 3:06 pm

There is a distinction between rejecting science in toto and rejecting particular claims such as global warming or evolution. There is also a distinction between rejecting scientific knowledge and rejecting a scientific worldview or its authority as it extends beyond its field of expertise.


Many cultures have myths regarding the dual edge of knowledge, its benefits and dangers. It is the problem that can only be resolved if knowledge is guided by wisdom. But the wise use of knowledge is an open and ongoing question, not a solution. Knowledge is not wisdom but there cannot be wisdom in the absence of knowledge, and so those with the relevant knowledge must play a central role in determining how best to proceed. The law of unintended consequences cuts both ways. Oversight of scientific endeavours with the intent of curtailing potential dangers may result in curtailing potential benefits.


Andrian:

However, there is a lot of science denial out there, and it makes me wonder what exactly is to be gained by denying our best empirical theories and the methods of skepticism and rationality in favor of creationism, faith healing, homeopathy, and New Age woo.




It is largely a matter of resistance to any threat to a particular worldview. There are some who believe that science destroys mystery and wonder. And some who wish to maintain hope when the facts and evidence leave no room for it. And some who prefer magic. And some who prefer unpredictability and unforeseen possibilities (but usually only those that confer some kind of benefit). And some who may be included in one or more of the above who do not understand or trust science for what they imagine the “evil scientist” is about to concoct.

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Ormond
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Re: What is to be gained by denying science?

Post by Ormond » December 15th, 2016, 5:28 pm

Andrian,
My criticism of this model would focus on criticizing points 4 and 5.
Thanks for addressing the topic, I do appreciate it.
My criticism of point 4 is that we don't know how many of these "existential scale powers" as you call them are actually possible.
That's true, agreed. But then we only need one such power, and we already have one. Genetic engineering and nano-tech come to mind as possibilities. And your argument can just as easily be used to support my case as challenge it. Not knowing how many such powers will emerge could also mean there will be many.

Consider the environment all new powers now operate in. At the turn of the 20th century most humans lived on the land and knew how to garden, hunt, forage etc. Now most humans are urbanized, and few know how to do more than swipe a credit card at the grocery store. In a crisis great masses of people will hit the panic button with days of the disruption, and that can become an existential power in itself. Point being, we are far more vulnerable than we were previously, thus it now takes less power to upset the civilization apple cart.
My criticism of point 5 is that what may be an "existential scale power" today may not be tomorrow. If, for example, we develop space colonies of some kind, nuclear weapons become a much less credible threat to all of civilization.
Ha, ha! This comes up a lot. I first heard it from some real scientists on a science forum, who were absolutely sure we definitely could NOT edit our relationship with knowledge, but were confident of colonizing the galaxies. :-)

But to address your point, it's true, and has already been granted, that we very well may successfully manage a number of existential powers. However to focus on that is to miss the point entirely. Again, all that is needed for chaos is that one existential power run out of control one time. Should that happen, it won't matter a bit that a hundred other such powers are being safely managed.

What you're really proposing, as is everyone else who comments on this topic, is that we can create an unlimited number of powers of existential scale and successfully manage them every day forever. Respectfully, there is simply nothing in human history that suggests such a perfect record of success is at all realistic.
I understand where you're coming from with your belief that "more is better" when it comes to knowledge might need to be changed, but I think that it's not actually practical to adopt any other approach.
We've already done it with food. For endless centuries we had a "more is better" relationship with food, due to chronic scarcities and hunger. Then we entered a revolutionary age where food is plentiful across wide swaths of the planet, and now we are learning to adopt a new more nuanced relationship with food. Eating as much as we can as often as we can is now seen to be a major threat to health.

Again, you're making all the same mistakes that are always made on this topic. You've thought about this for a few minutes and don't see a solution, and thus are concluding no solution is possible. Next you will ask me if I have a solution, and when I tell you I don't, that will close the deal and you will walk away satisfied that the status quo is correct. But, the fact that nobody currently has a solution simply doesn't prove that we don't have a problem.
First, it's hard to know in advance which discoveries will lead to which applications. Who could have predicted, for example, that studying bird feathers under a microscope would lead to the invention of velcro? In addition, knowledge is sort of a "high risk, high rewards" kind of game. Our knowledge of radioactivity may have led to nuclear weapons, but it's also brought us nuclear medicine, nuclear power, insights into astronomy and astrophysics, and radiometric dating.
And on the day that the nukes arc over the poles, or some other existential scale power runs wild, all of the benefits of the science age will vanish. Those who argue for the status quo are casually putting all those benefits at risk, nearly guaranteeing their destruction.
In addition, I don't think it's feasible to try and restrict the kinds of things we research.
Nature has a very simple but ruthless rule.

Adapt or die.

We live in revolutionary times which will only become ever more revolutionary at ever faster rates, due to the exponential nature of knowledge development.

The critics of this theory are essentially saying, let's not adapt to this radically new environment, let's keep doing things the same way we always have. The great irony is that they see themselves as supporters of change and progress, when really they are clinging to an outdated stagnant mode of thinking that can only work so much longer.

In it's essence this theory is incredibly simple.

Why do we not give guns to kids? Because we know if we did it would be only a matter of time until something catastrophic happened, due to the scale of power a gun provides, where one mistake can spell the end.

As adult members of the modern world, we're in exactly that situation. No one can say how or when, but if we keep giving ourselves bigger and bigger powers at faster and faster rates sooner or later someone will make a mistake.

I have adjusted my view over the years after having discussed this so many times. I now have little hope we can reason our way out of this box, and so instead pray for a near miss that will wake us up and give us a chance to learn and adapt. If the near miss is scary enough we might see a radical change in global consciousness at an impressive rate.

Thank for enduring my rant! :-)
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Re: What is to be gained by denying science?

Post by Burning ghost » December 16th, 2016, 3:14 am

How can anyone deny that the temperature has rose and that evolution happens. Just show them. It is not difficult.

Note: Someone representing Trump mentioned that the history of the Earth is only 5500 years ...
AKA badgerjelly

Anthony Edgar
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Re: What is to be gained by denying science?

Post by Anthony Edgar » December 19th, 2016, 1:16 am

Burning ghost wrote:How can anyone deny that the temperature has rose and that evolution happens. Just show them. It is not difficult.

Note: Someone representing Trump mentioned that the history of the Earth is only 5500 years ...
More like 5777 years, as published on the front page of The Jewish Chronicle. Not much time for all that evolution to occur, is it?
---------------
Based mainly on the ridiculous "evidence" of some coral atolls sinking (which is nothing unusual for coral atolls), we are to believe that the seas are rising. Some gullible suckers actually believe everything that climate-change scientists tell them.

The earth has a history of warming up and cooling down, but this inconvenient fact is ignored by the myth-makers. "The sky is falling down! We must warn the king and the rest of the town!" - Hennie Penny.

Evolution and anthropological global warming - the two greatest hoaxes in history. Prepare ye the way of the Antichrist.

-- Updated December 19th, 2016, 1:18 am to add the following --
Anthony Edgar wrote:Evolution and anthropological global warming - the two greatest hoaxes in history. Prepare ye the way of the Antichrist.
Please be advised that preaching isn't allowed on this forum.
"There are some ideas so absurd that only an intellectual could believe in them." - George Orwell

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Ormond
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Re: What is to be gained by denying science?

Post by Ormond » December 19th, 2016, 10:30 am

Anthony Edgar wrote:Please be advised that preaching isn't allowed on this forum.
Please be advised that preaching is pretty much the only thing that ever happens on this forum. :-)

-- Updated December 20th, 2016, 10:19 am to add the following --

We can observe how my thesis above has not been either accepted or debunked. This is completely normal, a routine I've seen again and again for years.

When readers realize that there are no rational arguments for unrestrained knowledge growth, and that they can't defend the foundational premise of science culture, they quietly vanish. Not just on this forum, on all forums, and throughout our culture, to the highest levels.

We can handle overthrowing the authority of the religious clergy. But we still need some authority to turn to, we still need to feel that someone is in charge and knows what they're doing, and that they're leading us to a better place. And so we understandably turn to the "science clergy" and establish a relationship with them that is not that unlike the relationship we used to have with the religious clergy.

And then some annoying blowhard comes along and pulls the rug out from under the science clergy too. Readers can't defeat this challenge to the science clergy, and can't accept it either, because to accept is to have no authority to rely on.

What if nobody really knows what's going on, what if no one is really in charge, what if no one is leading us to a better place?
If the things we want to hear could take us where we want to go, we'd already be there.

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Re: What is to be gained by denying science?

Post by Fooloso4 » December 20th, 2016, 3:19 pm

Ormond:
We can observe how my thesis above has not been either accepted or debunked.
I was not aware it was a thesis. I took it as wry humor. It is, in my opinion, far too simplistic to be taken seriously. Having and defending a point of view is not preaching. Questioning the claims of others is not preaching.
When readers realize that there are no rational arguments for unrestrained knowledge growth, and that they can't defend the foundational premise of science culture, they quietly vanish.
Actually, that is not the case. I have written on this forum that anti-foundationalism is the necessary condition for philosophizing. That, of course, is not an original claim. It is something that many philosophers have stressed.
And so we understandably turn to the "science clergy" and establish a relationship with them that is not that unlike the relationship we used to have with the religious clergy.
This is a rather skewed assumption. There are more than a few of us here who have emphasized the provisional and self-correcting nature of scientific investigation. As far as popular opinion there are many who disregard research findings on health, nutrition, and the environment, and in some cases with good reason. Those of us who have been around long enough know that over the years we have been given conflicting evidence.
And then some annoying blowhard comes along and pulls the rug out from under the science clergy too. Readers can't defeat this challenge to the science clergy, and can't accept it either, because to accept is to have no authority to rely on.
You overestimate the importance and originality of your position and catactiture and underestimate the knowledge and awareness of other contributors on this forum. You will find several who are both knowledgeable about and skeptical of science because they know that science, like philosophy, is a skeptical endeavour.
What if nobody really knows what's going on, what if no one is really in charge, what if no one is leading us to a better place?
Then we would be exactly where we are. No one really knows what’s going on, no one is really in charge, and no one is leading us to a better place because we do not know what that would be or how to get there. You are not the only one who acknowledges that.

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Re: What is to be gained by denying science?

Post by Anthony Edgar » December 21st, 2016, 2:23 am

Greta wrote:You claim that belief in evolution was the cause of WWII atrocities is noted
I stated that the World Wars weren't religious wars. I linked evolution with comminism -nothing to do with the the Worlds Wars. [ad hominem attack removed, warning issued - mod]
"There are some ideas so absurd that only an intellectual could believe in them." - George Orwell

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Re: What is to be gained by denying science?

Post by Steve3007 » January 26th, 2017, 10:34 am

Ormond:
When readers realize that there are no rational arguments for unrestrained knowledge growth, and that they can't defend the foundational premise of science culture, they quietly vanish. Not just on this forum, on all forums, and throughout our culture, to the highest levels...
I feel like diving into this one again, and will try not to quietly vanish, although I can't guarantee to always be able to reply immediately.

Obviously, as we know, this is your central theme which you come back to frequently. But I don't think it's true of everyone that they quietly vanish because they can neither accept or debunk it. I think a lot of people probably quietly vanish because they just don't know where to go with it. You make a good argument that our exponential growth in knowledge will be our downfall. But, as far as I recall, I don't think we've ever got to a point in the discussion of this subject where we've established anything concrete that ought to be done about it - something that could be discussed. If we don't yet know of anything concrete that can be done about it, but just want to get the idea out there for people to consider, then it's not surprising that people go quiet. There's nothing more that can really be said, is there? Perhaps they're just quietly considering it? Perhaps your message has reached a lot further than you think it has?

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Re: What is to be gained by denying science?

Post by Fooloso4 » January 26th, 2017, 4:08 pm

Steve3007:
You make a good argument that our exponential growth in knowledge will be our downfall.
This is a story with ancient roots. It is echoed in the story of the tree of knowledge, the story of Prometheus, Frankenstein (and the mad scientist as evil genius in general) and elsewhere. It is a claim that emerges with every technological advance.
But, as far as I recall, I don't think we've ever got to a point in the discussion of this subject where we've established anything concrete that ought to be done about it - something that could be discussed.
The problem is that typically the analysis of dangers takes the worse case scenario as the paradigm case, and in many cases there is no way to properly evaluate the actual risk. On the other hand, we cannot evaluate the benefits that a particular knowledge might yield if we prevent it from developing.

And then there is the problem of unintended consequences, which cuts both ways.

The only way in which I can see making any progress on this issue is first to drop any pretense of the superiority or wisdom of ignorance, and second, to discuss specifics. Where are limits to be placed and why?

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Re: What is to be gained by denying science?

Post by Steve3007 » January 26th, 2017, 5:04 pm

Fooloso4:
This is a story with ancient roots. It is echoed in the story of the tree of knowledge, the story of Prometheus, Frankenstein (and the mad scientist as evil genius in general) and elsewhere. It is a claim that emerges with every technological advance.
It is indeed. But I don't think that means we should see it as just another variation on that story. There is a certain danger to the "nothing new under the sun" idea that the stories of history repeat themselves. You can hear it from people who say that about climate change, for example. I think Ormond does have a point in saying that the unique thing about the stage we've reached in the last few decades is that our knowledge is now giving us the ability to quite easily destroy ourselves. It's hard for most people to imagine that, because it hasn't happened yet. And by the time it does happen, it will be too late. We naturally think inductively. We use the patterns of the past to try to predict the future. The global nuclear war, if it happened, would be the ultimate "black swan event". With no swans of any colour to follow it.

But, having said that, I pretty much agree with your post, particular the part about specifics. It's difficult to discuss this concept of limiting the exponential growth of knowledge without getting specific.

I'll leave the floor to Ormond.

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Re: What is to be gained by denying science?

Post by Ormond » January 30th, 2017, 9:05 pm

Steve3007 wrote: But I don't think it's true of everyone that they quietly vanish because they can neither accept or debunk it. I think a lot of people probably quietly vanish because they just don't know where to go with it.
Fair point. As usual, you have the knack for undermining my excessive rhetoric. That said, I don't know where to go with it either, and that doesn't stop me from demanding we look at it.
You make a good argument that our exponential growth in knowledge will be our downfall. But, as far as I recall, I don't think we've ever got to a point in the discussion of this subject where we've established anything concrete that ought to be done about it - something that could be discussed.
Discussing it is something we can do about it, thus I thank you for doing so. I am happy to agree that challenging the "more is better" relationship with knowledge is aiming at something fundamental in human beings generally, and in our modern culture particularly. Thus, I don't have the expectation that we'll just reason this out and then quickly change habits of thinking that have been thousands of years in the making.

Perhaps the beginnings of a solution might be to focus on the fact that, while I often put it poorly, I too am arguing for more knowledge, that is, more knowledge about our relationship with knowledge, more knowledge about the revolutionary nature of the times we live in. So if a reader wants more knowledge, let us agree to have it, in that direction.
If we don't yet know of anything concrete that can be done about it, but just want to get the idea out there for people to consider, then it's not surprising that people go quiet. There's nothing more that can really be said, is there?
I don't seem to be having any trouble finding things to say about it. :-)

I see knowledge as an element of nature, like water or electricity. Human beings have typically been quite confident and bold about trying to take control of the forces of nature and bend them to our will. We don't say, "that's a river and there's nothing we can do about it". Instead we say, "let's build a dam and create a lake", and then we roll up our sleeves and bend the river to our will. A huge amount of thought and experiment had to go in to the invention of dams. We didn't shrink from the challenge, we tried again and again and again until we got it right.

We might think of knowledge as a river that has over run it's bank and is threatening to flood the town. Let's be human beings and not just sit on our ass saying, "Oh gosh, nothing can be done, we don't know what to do".

How about this?

Let's take 50% of all science research funding and redirect it at finding some method of managing knowledge development so that we are in control of knowledge, instead of knowledge being in control of us.

What is the point of that science research anyway if it's all going to go down the drain forever when an out of control knowledge explosion finally brings the house down?

So, there is something we can do. Over to you, go for it...
If the things we want to hear could take us where we want to go, we'd already be there.

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Re: What is to be gained by denying science?

Post by Ormond » January 30th, 2017, 9:26 pm

Fooloso4 wrote:The only way in which I can see making any progress on this issue is first to drop any pretense of the superiority or wisdom of ignorance, and second, to discuss specifics. Where are limits to be placed and why?
The wisdom of ignorance is very relevant to the knowledge explosion. A primary driver of the knowledge explosion is the lack of peace within ourselves, which keeps us always on the hunt for more, more, more. We're already the richest most powerful people in history by far, but that doesn't satisfy us, we still demand more, and more, and more. There's no end to it because...

There's a psychic hole inside of us that we're trying to fill. That hole is created by the nature of thought. Thus, we can't think our way out of the hole, because to think is to dig the hole deeper. The wisdom of ignorance is to see this, and stop digging. That's what fills the psychic hole, and relieves the need for endless more, which can convert the development of knowledge in to a sensible, measured, practical process, instead of a car careening wildly down the highway.

Ignorance is not superior to knowledge, it is the other side of the coin which is needed to balance knowledge. As example, eating is good, necessary. But not eating all day long everyday, that will kill you. So it is with knowledge. Some knowledge is good, necessary, essential. But not more and more and more and more without end, that will kill you.

I know you're making a sincere well intended argument against ignorance. The irony is that you are actually arguing for ignorance, of the value of ignorance.
If the things we want to hear could take us where we want to go, we'd already be there.

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Re: What is to be gained by denying science?

Post by Eduk » January 31st, 2017, 8:30 am

As adults we would lock our guns up so they didn't fall into the hands of our children.

Unfortunately technology does pose huge risks. Indeed we have already done untold damage, I'm not sure how many millions/billions of people will be displaced rather shortly but I imagine the carnage will be huge.

At the same time it depends on the long term goal. If the long term goal is to replicate for ever then science is the only hope for that as ultimately whatever happens we will need to leave the planet.
Unknown means unknown.

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Re: What is to be gained by denying science?

Post by Fooloso4 » January 31st, 2017, 4:02 pm

Ormond:
The wisdom of ignorance is very relevant to the knowledge explosion. A primary driver of the knowledge explosion is the lack of peace within ourselves, which keeps us always on the hunt for more, more, more.
Without the desire to know we would still be sitting in caves, provided the species survived to this point. And at our age we would probably no longer be among the cave dwellers. Of course we would be lucky if we found something burning that we could use to transfer fire to the cave, but then again, even that would only be possible with knowledge. We would be lucky to have a dead animal to drag into the cave to eat, but we would have to eat it raw and tear its flesh apart with our hands and teeth.

Or would you prefer to draw the arbitrary line of where knowledge should be thwarted somewhere further down the line? And that is a question that must be addressed if one is to call for limits.
There's a psychic hole inside of us that we're trying to fill. That hole is created by the nature of thought.
I don’t buy it. There is no knowledge sized psychic hole to be patched or filled any more than there are other holes to be filled by whatever it is that we may desire. We do not scratch an itch to fill a hole. The desire to know is not something we have created, it is something with which we create. There is no life without desire. It is fundamental. Some find the pursuit of knowledge desirable, some do not. Some find pleasure in it, some do not. We do not seek pleasure because of some psychic hole, but because it is pleasurable.
The wisdom of ignorance is to see this, and stop digging.
That is symptomatic of what Nietzsche calls the last man. One who does not strive to overcome himself, but is tired of life and seeks only safety, comfort, and contentment. It characterizes not only individuals but societies. We strive not because we are not content, not because something is missing, but because we delight in what we can do, what we can accomplish, what we can make of ourselves and our world.
Ignorance is not superior to knowledge, it is the other side of the coin which is needed to balance knowledge.
Ignorance is a condition. It is not needed to balance knowledge, it is the absence of knowledge, and can be destructive of knowledge when it thinks itself a counterbalance. We should not seek out those who are ignorant of medicine, for example, to provide balance to medical advice. We should not seek out those who are ignorant of climate change to provide guidance as to what we should do. And yet, there are many who do just this, to their own detriment.
As example, eating is good, necessary. But not eating all day long everyday, that will kill you. So it is with knowledge. Some knowledge is good, necessary, essential. But not more and more and more and more without end, that will kill you.
Eating more than we need does not benefit us and is detrimental. The same cannot be said of knowledge. There is no amount at which we are able to say that more knowledge will not benefit us and can only harm us. Knowledge continues to save us from the things that in the past have killed us and it will continue to do so.

Do we know enough to know when we have enough knowledge? Or is that for the ignorant to decide? As we ponder these questions there are many advances being made that will prolong and improve our lives and the lives of those around us. But not all knowledge is applied or practical knowledge. We will discover things about ourselves, life, and the universe we will marvel and wonder about. We will discover new worlds and things that we cannot yet imagine.

None of this is without its risks, but as some want nothing more than to sit before a cozy fire, others desire adventure, to explore, to challenge themselves to reach new heights. It is perhaps, as with other things, largely a matter of temperament. While some are afraid that opening the door will create a draft, others see the door as an opening.

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