22 Apr 2009

Qi is a Human Construct Says Feng Shui Expert

Qi is a Human Construct. It’s also an assumption. That is to say, it’s just made up. Of course, we always knew that. But now we’ve had it confirmed by Howard Choy, a Feng Shui practitioner, and practising Feng Shui Architect.

"There are quantifiable qi like tianqi (weather) and qixi (breath), etc. The there are also unquantifiable qi like gua qi which is a human construct but we still use them because it is a useful tool by experience, like art, philosophy and religion."

from Skeptico.

This strikes me as one of those philosophies that has tried to expand into the external universe something that is entirely within the human body or experience - see the Body Electric by Becker. What really needs some investigation is the chakra system, which is also within the Taoist system.

21 Apr 2009

Inductive Reasoning In Science

I’ve been debating with a friend about the nature of science, and he brought up the following argument:

1. All inferences from experience to conclusions about the future presuppose the principle that the future will resemble the past. (Principle of the Uniformity of Nature)
a. If we suspect that the course of nature may change and that the past is no guide to the future, then all experience becomes useless and does not support any conclusion about the future.
2. Therefore, no argument from experience can support the principle that the future will resemble the past.
3. No deductive argument can establish the principle that the future will resemble the past.
4. Therefore, the Principle of the Uniformity of Nature cannot be rationally justified.
5. If the Principle of the Uniformity of Nature cannot be rationally justified, then inductive reasoning in science cannot be rationally justified.
6. Therefore, inductive reasoning in science cannot be rationally justified.

Your thoughts?

The reply is at NeuroLogica.

However, one issue not discussed, probably as does not appear as one of the questions, but which is also often aired is that induction requires a leap of faith. Therefore science is no better than religion in requiring faith. In this case it is more revealing to look at mathematical induction, in which case it is necessary to start with one statement of fact then to show that a second fact is true, after which the method of induction proves the general case. Note firstly that induction is also used to prove the general case false, for example, in the proof that there are an infinite number of prime numbers we start off with the conjecture, or hypothesis, that there are only a finite number of primes. Secondly, induction requires that established facts are used to then drive the general case. In religion there are no such empirical facts and therefore is not subject to the method of induction, save as a metaphysical device to generate more metaphysical truths from initial metaphysical premises. In such cases religion has jumped off into faith well before the inductive steps.

11 Apr 2009

Celebrity Pseudo-Science Exposed... kinda!

"Behold, the most serious challenge to the Royal Society in that august body's 350-year history - the medical musings of Madonna, Gwyneth Paltrow and Stella McCartney. These women are not just singers, or actresses, or fashion designers. They are distinguished professors at the University of Celebrity, and are coating your understanding of science like a totally amazing organic body oil.

On top of this, they are best friends, so we can say their pronouncements are peer-reviewed in the best sense of that term. Can you imagine their gatherings? It must be as if Isaac Newton were taking antioxidant tea with Robert Koch and Marie Curie." Strident stuff from Marina Hyde.

OK, we've got the picture, now where's the organic meat on the bone? Madonna's Kabbalah water... yep, that's flakey! "And then there's Stella, who launched her organic skincare range with the warning that "lots of skin products use the same petrochemicals as the antifreeze in your car!", and is one of those celebrities who thinks they eat "chemical-free" food and use "chemical-free" products. I beg you not to tell her that water and trees are made of chemicals. The shock could finish her off." Here Marina Hyde is on shakier ground. Surely anybody but the purest pedant knows that "chemicals" here stands as a short-hand for synthetic and most likely toxic chemicals. Yes, everything is made up of chemicals, it's just that some of them are not very good for human beings.

So what's Gwyneth Paltrow's crime? Well, her concern is, yet again, those nasty chemicals and the inability for young children and foetuses to metabolise them. "The research is troubling; the incidence of diseases in children such as asthma, cancer and autism have shot up exponentially ..." Hyde yet again shoots down our celeb by stating that "there has been very little change in the rate of childhood cancers detected in recent years". How "recent" is that then Professor Hyde? So the impression given is that we shouldn't worry ourselves about the environment being polluted to the point that it is unfit for human habitation. After all, our scientists are doing a jolly good job looking after us, so these celebs should just get back into character and stop impersonating science writers.

Science Punk also quotes the above story but adds that Kelly Osbourne believes that microwave ovens cause cancer. How we laugh at such superstitious nonsense! Except that the Soviet Union banned the sale of domestic microwave ovens because of their carcinogenic effects. Once the FSU turned capitalist they dropped the ban as sales are more important than health.

What strikes me is that most of these celebs are unable to properly articulate any science that they may have learnt and so it comes out as opinionated ramblings. Most of their concerns have legitimate scientific research to back them up - apart from Madonna, who is just morphing into a new species. That they may not always be mainstream views shows the power of corporate science rather than that those concerns are unfounded.

also posted at TrendWagon.

10 Apr 2009

Imaginary Phantom Limb and Our Delicate Grip on Reality

The brain can be a freaky thing. We live in this illusion of reality created for us by our brains. This is not to say there is no objective external physical reality - there is as far as anyone can tell - but our experience of ourselves and the world is a neurologically generated illusion.

The brain processes sensory information so that it is a useful, and not necessarily accurate, depiction of the world. This sensory input is also highly selective, giving us that slice of reality that proved to be most evolutionarily adaptive. That part of our brain that pays attention then attends to a tiny slice of that highly processed selective sensory information and mostly ignores the rest.

This neurogenic cacophony of data and information processing are woven together into a seamless narrative we experience as our waking consciousness. It is a useful and adaptive approximation of reality - but it is not reality.

I think those words need rereading and digesting. We don't really know what's going on most of the time.

The bulk of the article is about one particular phenomenon that happens when this neurologically manufactured reality breaks down - supernumerary phantom limb. It is one of several types of disordered that have been described after a stroke leading to neglect of the paralysed limb - the lack of recognition the limb. These can include simple lack of recognition that the weak limb belongs to them, the belief that the limb belongs to someone else, or the false belief that the limb is normal and functional.

One striking example of how internalist is our world view comes from the claim that someone scratching an itch with their phantom limb actually relieves that itch! Great article, and worth being reminded of how tenuous our grip on reality really is. The concluding paragraph sums up how this leads to a serious problem when discussing so-called religious, or just plain weird, experiences.

Further, this means that when people have bizarre experiences that are far outside what they are used to, especially when they involve features that are now known to be neurological, it must first be considered that their experiences result from altered brain states - not external reality. However, we seem to have evolved to make the opposite assumption - that whatever we experience is real. This disconnect is one of the primary fuels for belief in the paranormal.

Complete article at Neurologica.

9 Apr 2009

Atheism on the Rise Among Canadian Teens

Project Teen Canada has been conducting surveys on the religious affiliations of teenagers since 1984. Its latest findings show that Canadians are becoming more polarised into believers and non-believers. The number of faithless has grown almost three-fold whereas Christians have dropped below 50% for the first time. There has also been a steep rise in believers of other faiths, although this is largely due to immigrants. One minor point is that the new data for 2008 only adds up to 93% rather than 100%.

One interesting trend is that the grey area of uncommitted believers and agnostics is emptying out leaving the two poles of practising believers on one side and atheists on the other. The article writer obviously thinks this is a "bad thing", but that just exposes her own beliefs. Indeed there is a huge statistical blunder near the end of the piece. "For instance, 95 per cent of young people who “definitely” believe in God or a higher power also think this entity “expects us to be good to each other,” while just three per cent of atheists agree. As the percentage of religious teens falls, Bibby wonders just how that will affect our ethics and behaviour."

It doesn't seem to enter the writer's mind that as atheists do not believe in God then they can hardly then agree that God "expects us to be good". Indeed, perhaps 3% of atheists didn't understand the question, or perhaps as is seen in other surveys the category of atheist hides a lot of different philosophical positions.

Sadly, the article seems to think this is a worrying trend and the road to moral corruption. A tired and boring argument that somehow a carrot-and-stick deity is the best humanity can do to live a civil life. As one commenter says, kids nowadays want to be smart, they want to know, they want to be rational and scientific - I hope the Canadian education system satisfies these desires. If at some point in the future these kids also need to look inside themselves for some esoteric knowledge, then that too can be done scientifically without recourse to a phantom in the skies.

8 Apr 2009

Texas on the Road to Idiocracy

"Originally in the Texas school standards was this phrase: "concept of an expanding universe that originated about 14 billion years ago." However, board member Barbara Cargill thought this wasn't good enough. It was too definite. The standards now read, "current theories of the evolution of the universe including estimates for the age of the universe." You can bet that the age of the earth is not listed in the Texas curriculum as about 4.5 billion years old -- in spite of the fact that most of the people my age and older have known (or rather, estimated) this for years."

from Physorg via Pharyngula.

As Myers says, what science classes really need to teach is methodology, logic and mathematics (on the assumption that the maths classes are also not up to speed - no joke, I've had to do this too!) Some things may well be out of date by the time the student leaves school. So what? That's the point; to equip the student with a discriminating rational faculty to understand what changes and what stays the same. Swallowing myths from religious propagandists will just lead to a nation of morons.

7 Apr 2009

Obama Says U.S. Not a Christian Nation

Despite whatever shortcomings Obama may have, it is nice to have a president with some knowledge of history and recognition that he is tasked with representing all Americans and not just the Christian ones.

Thanks to Atheist Revolution.

This flipping around trying to be everyman may well come to haunt Obama if he ever lays himself open to being pinned down under questioning. He is, of course, historically correct; the USA as a nation was not founded as a Christian state. This does not preclude it from being hijacked by any religion.

A World Beyond Belief Aggregated