Rhetorical

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I saw Particle Fever the other night. My movie buddy didn’t like it as much as I did: she thought the music was intrusive, and she didn’t learn anything new about the science. I did— I learned that Supersymmetry and the Multiverse were mutually exclusive theories, which had somehow failed to sink in even after all the popsci articles and books I’ve read on the subject— but it didn’t matter. The movie wasn’t just about the science anyway.

It was about the scientists.

If anything, I should have had more to complain about than Leona. Having once been a scientist myself, having hung around with scientists most of my adult life, there wasn’t much the film could tell me on that front that I didn’t already know first-hand. But it was just so goddamn refreshing to see a movie convey some sense of what it’s like to be in science, the giddy, kid-in-a-candy-store enthusiasm of discovering stuff. Even if none of my colleagues ever discovered anything so fundamental as the so-called God Particle. Even if the most I ever did was learn how to read the sun and the wind, and predict when a hauled-out harbor seal would overheat enough to wriggle back into the water.

ParticleFever4

You can see the resemblance, right?

Particle Fever conveys the intensity of the pursuit, the joy of the discovery, better than any other film I’ve seen. You can’t watch post-doc Monica Dunford— think Katee Sackhoff’s Starbuck with a PhD, a hardbody cyclist and rower and runner given to intermittent high-energy explosions of her own— you can’t see her spread her hands and exclaim “Okay, first off— data is fucking awesome!!!!” without breaking into a big goofy grin. At least, I couldn’t.

Perhaps my favorite scene in the whole movie was the Data Orgasm Sequence. That’s what I’m calling it, anyway: the supercollider’s first successful supercollisions, particle trails blooming like fireworks across the monitors, data leapfrogging out of CERN into a thousand daisy-chained servers across the globe, experimentalists and theoreticians alike rapturous almost unto ululation— all to the strains of “Ode to Joy” blasting from the speakers at a hundred fifteen decibels. But that wasn’t the only high point. There was also the official announcement that the Higgs had been nailed, 4.9 and 5 sigma, no chance in three million that it was just a random fluke. All those people arrayed in tiered rows— in Geneva, in Princeton, at MIT and Johns Hopkins— rising to their feet in spontaneous applause, hugging, slapping each other on the back, tears in their eyes. A rapture borne of the fact that we know more now than we did then, that a central piece of the puzzle has been made to fit. That a shitload of models have just been thrown out with yesterday’s mayonnaise, and that others have been born again.

That we are beginning to understand.

Tell me this wasn't built by the Krell.

Tell me this wasn’t built by the Krell.

I loved this movie. I loved the massive science-fictional machinery, straight out of Forbidden Planet. I loved these hard-science strangers whose souls I relate to, although I will never meet them in the flesh.

And I hated the rest of humanity, so much duller and pettier and nastier when thrown into high contrast with those happy few.

Because these people show us what we can do. Ten thousand scientists from a hundred countries, scientists from countries that are mortal enemies (Israel and Iran, come on down!), seemingly oblivious to the petty hatreds and rivalries that define so much of human existence.  It boggles the mind. Thousands of people, decades of investment, billions of Euros: all devoted to a goal of simple, abstract enlightenment. Early in the film an economist (I can’t help but suspect that he might have been a deliberate audience plant, for dramatic purposes) asks one of the project leads about what possible financial return could be expected from the consumption of all these resources. After the usual recapitulation of the economic potential of basic science (“radio waves weren’t called radio waves because there were no radios; they had no economic potential when they were discovered”), the scientist resorts to concise honesty: “Possibly nothing, except understanding everything.”

We can do this. We are doing this. A few of us, anyway.

The rest— who have pretty much the same synapse count, the same computational complexity, the same potential for curiosity— the rest don’t give a shit. They’re too busy shooting schoolgirls, or throwing hissy-fits over Neil deGrasse Tyson’s set piece on evolution, or getting out the pitchforks and torches for anyone who suggests that our fossil-fuel habit might be throwing the world on its side. They’re too busy worshipping sky fairies, or insisting that the all-too-real laws of physics are somehow subordinate to the all-too-imaginary laws of Economics. They’re too busy letting their kids die of preventable diseases (although there’s at least the hint of a silver lining in that last example; if there’s any genetic component at all to intelligence, increased mortality among the children of antivaccinators might at least result in some small increase in the mean IQ of the species).

How is this possible? How can the same species encompass both such passionate intelligence and such vicious stupidity?

Of course, I’m being rhetorical here. There’s nothing unexpected about variation between individuals, nothing cryptic about distributional curves. Even the nonnormal skew of that curve, the prevalence of morons in the mix, is no great mystery. I’m not even really asking a question here. I’m just lamenting the answer.

Maybe Particle Fever is pure propaganda. After all, it’s not as though science is free of pettiness and rivalry; I haven’t forgotten that to a large extent, science depends on those things. Maybe physicists are just a little purer than the rest of us. Or maybe the old saw that Academics fight so much because so little is at stake has a corollary: When a lot is at stake, Academics don’t fight so much. And the discovery of the Higgs— yeah, that’s a lot. Possibly nothing, except understanding everything.

A reflection, for the first goddamn week of spring.

Photo from Wikimedia Commons

Photo from Wikimedia Commons

This entry was written by Peter Watts , posted on Friday March 21 2014at 06:03 am , filed under ink on art, rant . Bookmark the permalink . Post a comment below or leave a trackback: Trackback URL.

44 Responses to “Rhetorical”

  1. Say what you want, I thought the harbor seal haul-out stuff was really cool shit…working for you on part of that project is one of my highlights in a life spent doing research stuff, at least in my diary (not to mention your stories about being a researcher being influential in my own later research). Understanding physics stuff is “meh” as far as I’m concerned, it’s *so* much fucking harder really understanding biology stuff. To each their own….

  2. My favorite ‘movie’ about science has been this episode of Horizon: The Race for the Double Helix. Well worth a look if you haven’t seen it.

    http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0093815/

  3. You know, I could totally go see this tonight, with a Q&A after with Dr. Sheldon Glashow and Mark Levinson, the director. Or I could not and get the giant pile of things I have to do worked on.

    Hm. Time to decide. Argh.

  4. I just ordered the streaming version for when they release it, since the only city it’s playing in that I will be near is Austin, and I won’t be there the week it’s playing. Looking forward to it. There are a lot more than ten thousand humans who are into this stuff. The problem is, if anything, that we aren’t sufficiently pushy, because we are busy doing interesting and useful things rather than fighting over which version of sky fairy is the right one.

  5. I think those bright lights require the dull masses
    Who wants to spend their life mining rare earth elements?
    who wants to watch their kids toil in the mines?
    Everybody wants to be a neuron,
    nobody wants to be an inflamed prostate.

  6. @Seruko: Nice. ;)

    @Peter Watts: I think the thing is culture — family and neighborhood culture — rather than neuron count, it’s something in the upbringing. Even though I am not possessed of a high forehead and the sort of neurology that make me dream in 12-dimensional color-coded math with hypertext footnotes, ever since I was a little kid, I always wanted to be a scientist. Maybe it was the daily matinees of mad-doctor movies on the one TV station we could receive so far out in the sticks. Maybe it was living out there where half of the folks were techs at the pitchblende and helium refineries and the other half were medical types trying to figure out why all of a sudden all of the Indigenous folks had weird cancers. My early childhood was full of people who had the time and knowledge to endlessly try to answer a kid who never stopped asking why.

    Maybe where all of the scientists come from is from families where nobody ever says of a three-year-old asking “why why why”, that “it’s just a phase, thank goodness it’ll be over soon”.

    I am looking forward to this film arriving at my DVD-rental and streaming video subscription company.

  7. I read about this movie on Ebert’s site a few weeks ago and was instantly interested. Happy to discover you enjoyed it too, Peter.

    My take: science is democracy, eroding every primitive baseline humanity couldn’t otherwise overcome, while religion is dopamine fascism. I agree it’s wonderful to root for people who work so hard, get so little credit, yet hundreds of years from now, will be the ones who changed everything.

    I’d definitely like to see this film too.

  8. I think it has to do much with culture, and upbringing, as the poster above me has said.
    As a kid, I was always fascinated by animals, and how things in nature worked, and I wanted to know how it all worked. I also loved the discovery channel, back in the old days when they ran tons of nature documentaries. I absorbed it all.

    I suppose it’s also got to be in the person to WANT to learn and find answers, and for the parents to be willing to go he extra mile to nurture that curiosity.

    I have been among people who could care less about anything other than their immediate lives, and I just don’t get it. There seems to be an awful lot of them, which depresses me when I think about it.

  9. Maybe Particle Fever is pure propaganda

    If so, that’s fine with me too. And if any human endeavor needs more propaganda, it’s science, which seems to fall behind seemingly every other endeavor in the propaganda department.

  10. And I hated the rest of humanity, so much duller and pettier and nastier when thrown into high contrast with those happy few.

    I don’t follow.

    How are the 99.9% people who don’t have the capability nor the learned ability to understand the physics involved .. pettier or nastier than those happy few? Does physics make people nobler, that is, moreso than involvment in it makes people lack the time to cultivate nasty attitudes?


    How is this possible? How can the same species encompass both such passionate intelligence and such vicious stupidity?

    Well, there’s the variation in natural intelligence , conformism and the human need to ‘believe’, to seek authorization from something greater than oneself.

    Don’tcha know that people who do so are mentally healthier than those who don’t?
    ;-)

  11. Y.: Well, there’s the variation in natural intelligence , conformism and the human need to ‘believe’, to seek authorization from something greater than oneself.

    Uh, right. “Y”, you might want to read until the end of a post before you comment on it. Or even, you know, the very next paragraph below the one you’re responding to…

  12. I find this piece juvenile in its starry-eyed admiration for scientists, and borderline disgusting for it hinting at the worst forms of social darwinism. If you think that even the majority of scientists are like the Gernsback-continuum inhabitants you describe above, you have clearly been out of the loop for too long, because they are the same warring, greedy, egocentric and petty fools like we all are.

    Furthermore, the abstract idea of “intelligence” you propose in this post does not at all correlate to immunity to the sort of stupidity you attribute (correctly) to anti-vaccinators. I see highly decorated physicists spending their spare time trying to disprove Einstein with mirrors and flashlights, botanists searching for ley lines, and universities offering classes in dowsing rod utilization.

    Peter, I admire you for your qualities as an author, and as a staunch defender of the scientific method. But the scarcely hidden wish gleaming through this post of a world where those who do not abide by the law or rationality weeding themselves out, leaving “hardbody” scientists to work their accelarators and bicycles, I find very disturbing. Here, you are hate-mongering with the rest of them.

  13. And I, Neil, can’t help but wonder why two people in a row don’t seem to have actually read this post before being compelled to comment on it. If you had, you might have noticed my use of the word “propaganda”. You might have noticed my admission that science is rife with the same kind of pettiness and bullshit that afflicts any other human endeavour — you might have even followed the embedded link to an earlier post in which that very subject was explored in detail (a post which got enough attention to end up as one of the Open Laboratory Project’s “50 Best Science Blog Posts of 2009″). You would, in short, have realized that your whole first paragraph was a classic leap-before-you-look dive down a very wrong alley.

    And yet. My own trumpeting of their human failings notwithstanding, I’m pretty sure that all scientists haven’t shriveled down into black-hearted Voldemorts in the few years since I spent time in the lab. I can’t speak to your experience with physicists, but I can tell you first-hand that there are plenty of scientists out there — hard-bodied and otherwise — who have every bit as much giddy enthusiasm for discovery as I saw on display in that movie. I had such giddy enthusiasm, once upon a time. It is a thing. It is worth praising. The fact that you find my high regard for such folks “disturbing” — and your apparent inability to actually read/internalize the very post you’re objecting to — suggests that you’re responding not so much to the substance of the argument as to certain keywords and phrases which provoke a response in you regardless of context. You may have some issues of your own you haven’t addressed.

    I do hate, though. Frequently and intensely. I’ll give you that much.

  14. Peter Watts:
    The fact that you find my high regard for such folks “disturbing” — and your apparent inability to actually read/internalize the very post you’re objecting to — suggests that you’re responding not so much to the substance of the argument as to certain keywords and phrases which provoke a response in you regardless of context.

    It is not your regard for scientists I found disturbing, but

    Nevil Clavain:
    the scarcely hidden wish gleaming through this post of a world where those who do not abide by the law or rationality weeding themselves out

    I admit to disregarding the fact that you put your praise of scientists in perspective, however weakly. But by my criticism of the trench warfare tonality I get from this, I stand.

    Also, I feel my own words were certainly harsh, but related to your writing, not to you as a person.

    Peter Watts:
    You may have some issues of your own you haven’t addressed.

  15. Peter Watts:

    I do hate, though.Frequently and intensely. I’ll give you that much.

    Which is why I so highly regard you writing!
    It’s pretty easy to go get some grim dark out there, with bad people being marginally less bad than their situation.
    But for triple distilled well aged passionate thoughtful rage at life’s petty vicissitudes, you’re the only game in town.
    Keep hating :)

  16. the scarcely hidden wish gleaming through this post of a world where those who do not abide by the law or rationality weeding themselves out

    Do you have no respect for the evolutionary processes?

    The only reason there is an LHC, or this blog, or technology is – that in the past those who couldn’t hack this ‘rationality’ thing, those who weren’t smart or able enough didn’t make it.

    Ever read that only ~60% of human males who ever lived left no descendants?

    That ‘weeding out’ is what made humanity what it is. Unpalatable but true. And we’re lucky that genetic engineering is finally getting practical, because the dysgenic trend became a reality in the 20th century. Fortunately it’s been quite sluggish (0.75 IQ point per generation).

    Which leads to this..

    Peter Watts:
    if there’s any genetic component at all to intelligence,

    Why if? How can a biologist of all people be unsure of that?

    Selection for a trait can only happen if there is genetic variation in it. If it’s the same in all members of the population it won’t be changed by evolution.

    So if intelligence was only environmentally determined – that’d mean it has not changed at all in the course of human evolution. Which doesn’t make any sense.

    Unless you postulate that evolution is bunk and the fossil record a rather comprehensive joke we’ll never get.

    Peter Watts:
    I do hate, though. Frequently and intensely. I’ll give you that much.

    What sense does that make? You don’t believe in free will. Therefore, assholes are assholes because they act in accordance with their nature and experience. They can’t help themselves, can’t be different..

    So, your hatred is useless – unless it’s expressed in pro-social ways such as beating assholes bloody and/or leaving their severed heads dangling from traffic lights in the hope that such an example might improve future behavior of other assholes through fear and anxiety.

    Maybe though, you have no choice but to hate, even though it makes no sense.

  17. Jeff,
    My take: science is democracy

    How is a system of gov’t based on fucking popularity contests and tons of bullshit(waves at Obama) in any way comparable to a contest of ideas in which bullshit is eliminated by testing it against reality in experiments.

  18. Oh crap.

    Y.: Ever read that only ~60% of human males who ever lived left no descendants?

    ^^ correction. Ought to to read ‘managed to procreate’.

  19. I think I know where our esteemed host is coming from, so to speak. I have these moments myself, far more frequently than I would prefer. That the moments are inspired by facts of life entirely outside of my control — or very nearly so — only makes me the more annoyed/upset/outraged.

    But first, tech note on the wordpress: going to the raw URL http://www.rifters.com/crawl/ and clicking the “previous” link at top of page, and it takes you back to posting number 2. Let’s head to the Wayback Machine, Sherman. ;)

    Re: Social Darwinism and Happy Scientists and Those Whose Ignorance Provoketh Not Ye Bliss, In Themselves Nor Others…

    I am not a happy camper and it’s for about the same reason that a lot of literate, informed, and science/nature-interested people are not happy campers. We live in an overpopulated biosphere which we have damaged to the point of being irreparable in terms of it ever being the place that evolved us to be what we are today. It’s been suggested that sometime right about now, we stop being in the Holocene and start being in the Anthropocene, with the major distinction being that in the Holocene were extirpated species after species without really knowing any better or understanding quite what we were doing, and in the Anthropocene most of us understand pretty well what’s happening and what is causing it and how to stop it and what might be the results if we don’t take pretty drastic action. See also for comic relief an article from the Guardian (UK), the Climate Change Deniers Have Won.

    There are other people who are not happy campers, but that’s basically because they honestly have no idea WTF we are talking about when they decide to cyberstalk the neighborhood freak and the neighborhood freak is wittering on and on in the internet about significant disruptions to the global thermohaline circulation now becoming apparent in the southern Pacific/southern Indian oceans. At best they are gleaning the notion that these neighborhood freaks are getting all panicky over a coming El Nino event and everyone knows that El Nino doesn’t amount to a fat turd on a hill of bullshit in terms of whether or not they themselves can afford to take the family out to see the new Disney movie. Anyway (to continue in the voice of the “normal” person), it seems clear that the neighborhood freak is about to get all erratic and snippy so be sure to lock up the daughters and not ask the freak how they like the weather because after all they might give you an answer about how they like the weather.

    Now we the reasonable and scientifically semi-literate and literate persons might be asking ourselves, WTF could possibly be wrong with talking about the weather? The thing is, both we and the Mundanes tend to forget that we quite commonly speak the same language with entirely different sets of vocabulary. Most of the Mundanes know what they know and have little to no interest in learning anything new which doesn’t immediately or in-near-term translate into more income. They might make an exception if it’s Ginger Zee or some comparably briliant weather-lady, but most of them only watch the weather report on the evening news because it’ll be over soon and there’s no need to change the channel. Most won’t watch even the Weather Channel unless it’s Disaster Week (24/7 films of floods tornadoes and suchlike). It’s too technical for the majority to even try to understand that wind blows from high pressure to low pressure.

    And here we are, me or Peter or “whoever” or yo uor you or you, wittering on about the Deep Greenland Downwelling and we might as well be birds chirping for all of the sense that can be garnered from our utterances.

    It’s very hard for them to remember to understand that speaking in the vocabulary of science is not the babblings of insanity. They think we’re fucking crazy because they cannot understand us in the way we understand ourselves and our work and the work of our colleagues and peers.

    Now I do have my mental issues and in my opinion anyone who lives in the modern day and is paying any attention at all will have mental issues, depression at the very least. But when the majority of people we encouter cannot understand that we are depressed for good reasons, they are not understanding the good reasons because it’s not something they understand from their lives such as grief over a death in the family etc. They are only understanding that you are depressed “for no understandable reason”, and who knows what such a depressed person could do. And they don’t actually understand how to deal with depressed people whose depression stems from something outside of their own life experience. Calling up all of their friends and telling them to be annoying to the neighborhood freak — or at least be really blatant about keeping an eye on them — seems like the best approach to some folks.

    It doesn’t help the situation any at all when one cannot tactfully state anything more direct than “please try to not confuse your lack of my education/experience with me being insane.” It’s the same thing as saying “I’m not crazy, you’re ignorant”, and it’s the same kind of situation where both the innocent and the guilty deny committing a crime. In one case it’s a deeply insulting accusation and in the other case it’s water off a duck’s back, so to speak. On the other hand, sometimes you really do have actually insane people saying that sort of thing to people who are in fact too stupid to discern between madness and education.

    I can’t think of anything to do about this which is the least “constructive” or “helpful” unless I were to try to play it like Neil DeGrasse Tyson, who seems detemined to cheerfully try to educate anyone and everyone. That’s his personal character and he evidently has endless patience. I would call this virtuous. I would also call it deeply consuming of time and personal energy. Not everyone can do this… or they can’t do it all of the time.

    It’s also not really helping any that there really are fairly hardcore Social Darwinists out there who seem to be increasingly less shy about expressing a leaning towards um suppressing the Mundanes at some unspecified yet-none-too-distant future date, and it’s helping even less that the Mundanes are quite aware of it.

    BTW I highly recommend “Divegent” as a fine summer film for any young-adult audience members, and for people who are thinking of writing for that market.

  20. Y.,

    I’m not talking about the illusion of democracy manufactured for public consumption by corporations and politicians — i.e. the Machine — who pretend to give a shit about those they represent. I’m talking about actual democracy.

    Every scientific breakthrough that’s ever been accepted by humanity withstood — and is still fending off — massive criticism. The democracy here is that anyone alive can challenge any theory or process through the scientific method.

    As opposed to religion, which delivers all the answers, all at once, and allows no fundamental challenges to its rigors. It’s happy fun time for human social gathering, not a bridge of any kind to actual knowledge of the universe.

    Science pushes toward truth. Religion doesn’t.

    This is why I’d like to see “Particle Fever.” I root for scientists — most of them, anyway — in whatever field they’re working. Watching their discovery and eventual confirmation of the Higgs boson will definitely make me smile. And maybe tear up a little bit.

  21. Jeff:


    I’m talking about actual democracy.

    You could talk about unicorns. Those are equally real. Democracy we have is an utter failure – it postulates that the judgment of fools and idiots is as important as that of people who have a clue.

    Actual democracy might work among a peer group which doesn’t exhibit much variance.

    In reality, you get Chavéz or Mugabe and the like.
    You get a time-horizon of four years, you get endless Nimbyism. At best you get non-immediately fatal failures, so the debt-fuelled decline can go on a few more years.


    Every scientific breakthrough that’s ever been accepted by humanity withstood — and is still fending off — massive criticism. The democracy here is that anyone alive can challenge any theory or process through the scientific method.

    Really? Last time I checked, the only people who were challenging say, theory of electromagnetism or relativity were cranks and no one is taking them seriously.


    The democracy here is that anyone alive can challenge any theory or process through the scientific method.

    Only very few people can actually accomplish anything in science, due to the difficulty of the process. Doesn’t sound democratic at all. In fact, it seems to me science is a distinctly elitist field.

    Comparing science to insurgency would be equally valid.

  22. My apologies for last posting, I need a better keyboard, less arthritis in finger joints and less dyslexia, and more time to edit. And maybe more equinamity.

    “Y” wrote, in-part:

    Comparing science to insurgency would be equally valid.

    Some people like to contrast and compare science and religion. Now we’re getting into comparing science and politics or at least we may want to consider the intergrade of any pair or of all three, religion, politics, science.

    Science is inherently elitist but it is seen to have restraints on the elitism, at first glance; the peer review process should be thought to allow the community to constrain authoritarian pronouncements of irrefutable doctrine as might be expected in religious pontification. Yet, some would ask, who grants credentials to the peers who do the review? Why, some might ask, should we believe them? Why entrust such power of credential to people of whom we may know little or nothing, other than that they occupy the position of granting credentials? Additionally, isn’t the weak point in the “democratization of science” the (possible) power of editorials of journals to withhold publication of critiques or even publications of notices of un-reproducibility of this or that study?

    Democracy is, thus far, probably the most egalitarian form of government know, yet it of course has its problems. The tendency of the voters to empower whomever will best (and occasionally most foolishly) pamper them is well known and well-documented going back at least to the day of Julius Caesar and the urban Mob. In the modern day we have substituted Constitutional Republics for raw Democracy, with restraints on the powers of both the voters and the elected officials. We have Party systems which are supposed to send to the forefront of voter scrutiny only those individuals who are actually qualified (or approach as closely as possible such qualification) for the profession of governance. Yet selfish interests in Party subvert that system to promote only the most sycophantic to the platform, and selfish interests in campaign financing subvert political campaigns and re-assign the loyalties of candidates from the Republic or the People unto their financiers or the Party which handles both eligibility to campaign and the financing of such campaigns. What is the fate of Democracy? Corruption from within.

    Can we say that Science won’t comparably, if not so extensively or quickly or visibly, become corrupted? Contrast and compare the impoverished freedom of the pure academic researcher, versus the well-supplied and well-compensated researcher in the corporate proprietary and patentable trade. In that conflict, isn’t one ultimate fate to be expected, a return to Guilds of Trade Secrets offering high quality products superior to any others, doomed to be lost should the Guild be destroyed or its secrets-keepers killed? Look at the history of concrete… only in the last 20 years have we been able to develop concrete with durability equal to that laid down by the Romans in their best years. We could drift into a world where anyone can access vast reams of knowledge about river dolphins or tundra flowers but nobody knows how to wind a stator coil unless they’re a sworn journeyman of the Electronics Guild. I think we’re headed there already; it’s incredibly difficult to bridge between general-level texts (on many matters) and the texts available to the post-graduate scientist or engineer. Where are the texts that provide the bridge? Those are college textbooks… which by themselves aren’t much use. Intentionally, I believe, they are meant to be useful only to those actually attending college lecture.

    Ideally, in my humble opinion, science should undertake a course which is deeply subversive to the powers-that-be. A radical insurgency, in the sense “Y” is using it, might be less a democratization of science and more of a popularization of it. Anyone should be able to involve themselves in it to the limits of their knowledge, and a comprehensive path to self-education made public. Write and publish bridging texts which move and inform directly through the subjects and material ordinarily only accessible through enrollment in college. Otherwise, in the same way that Party can become subverted to its own political ends and forward to the polls only a plethora of sycophants and party hacks rather than the best-qualified most-rounded-out candidates, Academia in service to Corporatia may foist upon the future a plethora of guild researchers with no taste for raw knowledge, working mostly in secret only towards proprietary ends. And in that direction, my friends, lies the new Dark Age, in my humble opinion.

    Let the scientific insurgency begin.

  23. You’re being troll-ish asshole, Y.

    I guess it comes down to: are you having a bad day? Because it really fucking sounds like you are. Every argument you’ve failed to win in real life is showing up with clench-teethed wrath here.

    So to be nice, I’ll let you win.

    You win.

    Feel better?

  24. Jeff,
    Calling out someone who is spouting nonsense isn’t trolling.

  25. I am reminded, when mixing science, religion, politics, evolution, and revolution of the start of two communities. Both were early Christian civilizations. One embraced knowledge as being part of the Creation and therefore studying it to be part and parcel of Worship. The other drifted towards superstition, fear, sacrifice, and zealotry. The former was also largely pacifist. The latter, not being so, invaded and mass-murdered the former. The historical lesson, at least one of them, was that this is what made religion what is has been since: too often the enemy of reason, knowledge, and the search for solutions beyond Us v Them. According to the historian(s), this is why we are so warlike, explains every perverse mass act such as selling of indulgences and the Inquisition.

    Side note/request: I had some links to a few writings on this but lost them twice. If anyone recalls the details, names of those communities, and even which century it was in, that’d be awesome. Thinking the pacifist place began with an “I” but don’t recall much else. Second century, maybe?

  26. Mr Non-Entity,

    Your fingers may be arthritic, but your brain’s language processors are shiny. :-)
    (btw, do you have a blog?)

  27. whoever:
    Thinking the pacifist place began with an “I” but don’t recall much else. Second century, maybe?

    Err, 2nd century AD would be somewhat too early for a Christian civilization, the first country adopting Christianity wholesale was Armenia in the late 3rd one:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Armenian_Apostolic_Church

    Which IMHO leaves us with quite some other posibilities; first of, there is the conflict between what was to become mainstream Christianity and the Gnostics. Which is somewhat complicated, while the early Christians were no saints (err, lame pun intended), the Gnostics were not that much paragons of scientific inquiry either, quite often being somewhat weird. How weird? Well, maybe somebody here has read PKD’s Valis. Maybe even parts of the exegesis. OK. Now imagine a religion that makes both look sane in comparison. OK, given extant religions, not that much of a feat, still…

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gnosticism

    In this case, the times would be about right.

    Later on, we have the clashes in Christianity late Neoplatonists like Hypatia got caught in:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hypatia

    That would be the second possibility. Problem is, quite a lot of Neoplatonism was incorporated into Christianity, not necessarily to the better. There is a similar issue with the Gnostics, BTW. Think about every bit of disdain for “the flesh”, mortification etc. Post-Nicene Christianity is famous for. OK. And now remember that compared to the Gnostics and Plotin, that was the option more flesh-friendly.

    Third of, the “I” might be “Ireland”, and you might be thinking about “Celtic Christianity”, which, to be somewhat sarcastic, for me seems to be an idea usually acquainted with some Protestants and New Age guys. Err, I might be mistaken somewhat, though wiki says Corning agrees somewhat with me.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Celtic_Christianity

    Problem is, first of, the idea of a conflict between Latin Christianity and Celtic is somewhat counterfactual. Second of, err, let’s just say just anybody mentioning “Celtic”, double so if some New Age guy makes me don my armour, procure my “carrus” and go in for some headhunting

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Roquepertuse

    and female sex slaves

    http://ojs.tsv.fi/index.php/scf/article/download/7439/5788

    Third of, err, usually Pelagius gets thrown into the mix, where Pelagius stressing the value of good works is exactly the thing the Reformators went against in the RCC, so actual Pelagians might make for some interesting vallue dissonances:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pelagius

    TL;DR, I guess the Christian group that pervailed through Nicene, Chalcedon and like was not that much better, but also not that much worse than the other ones. And somewhat more rational than some.

  28. BTW, to do a selfie…

    TrottelreinerThird of, the “I” might be “Ireland”,

    Also note it might have been the Latin name for Ireland, (H)ibernia.

    And, err, to put my bad mood splash

    Trottelreiner…err, let’s just say just anybody mentioning “Celtic”, double so if some New Age guy makes me don my armour, procure my “carrus” and go in for some headhunting and female sex slaves…

    somewhat into, err, perspective…

    BLOOD FOR THE BLOODGOD! SKULLS FOR THE SKULL THRONE!

  29. @Trottelreiner:

    Thanks! Entirely possible sites were Gnostic or similar and whitewashing history, I suppose. Definitely not Ireland.

  30. whoever,

    Actually, the Gnostics were not THAT bad. I like to imagine most of them like some of the more sympathetic New Age guys, not that much drinking from the deep well, but not that much of a concern either, sometimes somewhat annoying, yes…

    OTOH, we don’t know much about these guys, and the sources are quite biased, but if we extrapolate from their theology, err, we get into sick (read: often, but not necessarily good) RPG territorium:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cainites

    Actually, there is a RPG quite heavily influenced by Gnosticism called KULT,

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kult

    though our group ended up with Fuel-Air explosives (don’t invite too many students of chemistry to a RPG involving anything above gunpowder) and drug orgies. Err, the latter ones in RL, I don’t remember the actual number of wine bottles, but we usually had a good buzz on the way home. For other details, what happens in a student appartment stays in a student appartment. ;)

  31. whoever,

    Another possibility might be Catharism:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Catharism

    Problem is, we know little about them, quite a lot might be wishful thinking. The wiki part on the role of women starts with stressing their “proto-feminist” ideas, followed by noting one’s last reincarnation had to be male, woman impeded man’s spiritual ascent, Adam and Eve lived celibate…

    I think the crusade against them one of the biggest, err, sins of the RCC, but framing it as the RCC against a more sensible Christianity, well…

  32. I understand why there is such a temptation to say that all of religion is guilty of the same tendencies, since basing a life on a lie leads to all manner of curious mental diversions.

    But I think the key difference is not whether the objects of belief are imaginary or material, but whether the mode of belief operates in wonder or security. People who believe in fairy gods of little reknown who also exhibit wonder towards people and ideas are likely not going to want to kill, harass, or ignore the suffering of people who live and think differently. But it’s not out-of-bounds to imagine a person who believes in a thorough-going metaphysical naturalism who also obsesses over in-group/out-group borders among ideas and cultures is likely not going to have a difficult time killing, harassing, or ignoring the suffering of people who live and think differently.

    It’s not about the content of the beliefs when it comes to appreciation for what diversity brings through us into the world. It’s about the wonder that any group of people can have towards what they believe in and what others believe in.

    I think that’s what’s special about movies such as this work of propaganda: what we need to get people on the side that lets us live peacefully and argue well and at the end of the day share intoxicating substances—to include really great poetry or passages in works of fiction—together are narratives in whatever form where wonder is a virtue again.

    Not so much awe, but wonder. Both evoke the silent, sometimes muttering life of working out problems through mental contemplation, and contemplative silence is not compatible with murderous frustration. Yet one urges cessation and settling; the other urges exploration and engagement.

    So, whatever religion or indifference one embraces, let’s encourage the adoption of any one praising wonder over awe.

  33. Trottelreiner:
    whoever,

    though our group ended up with Fuel-Air explosives (don’t invite too many students of chemistry to a RPG involving anything above gunpowder) and drug orgies. Err, the latter ones in RL, I don’t remember the actual number of wine bottles, but we usually had a good buzz on the way home. For other details, what happens in a student appartment stays in a student Apartment.

    Goddammit. For the first time ever, I regret not doing grad school.

    And I think you just added something to my bucket list, as I’ve never played an RPG and had it end in an orgy or anything stronger than beer.

  34. It was a great movie for reminding me that experimental physicists existed. The theoreticians have hogged most of the bandwidth of late… so it was good for that. I can also see it being a good movie for getting young adults interested in STEM subjects. And, I can also see it being a good movie for all kinds of people who do not work directly in scientific disciplines, but might now start thinking about how they could bring their skills to bear in those fields (as administrators, assistants, reporters, project managers, finance and accounting managers, and so on). So ultimately the people and their work roles caught and held my interest more than the physics content and LHC itself.

    [mild SPOILER]
    And speaking of roles: I found it telling how Higgs himself was almost just a random witness in that large auditorium, at the final unveiling of results… while the person who presented the actual results, and who got to bask in the glow of all that sustained applause, was the lady who managed the operation/project (?) and wasn’t even (as far as I could tell) one of the physicists working directly on the experiments. I found it a little odd. I would have naively (and perhaps and old-fashionedly) done the heavy-lifting and the let the ‘ole chap come to the front and present the last slide or something. The boson *is* named after him, after all… lol. But yes, there is a sense in which it’s everyone’s boson, so there’s nothing wrong with the way it went down either.
    [/mild SPOILER]

    And on the whole science vs religion thing: my, this whole decade (century?) is turning out to be the frigging Festival of the Non-Dualities, isn’t it? While we count the bifurcated worldviews and run out of numbers, just remember what another commenter mentioned earlier about having a sense of wonder. If you cannot muster genuine (not condescending) wonder about the ‘other’ viewpoints, not only can you not hope to learn anything, but no-one — however misguided or stupid you may be convinced they are – will be learning anything from you. I’ve seen so many instances of what could have been constructive dialogue shot down because someone took a condescending tone.

  35. whoever: Goddammit. For the first time ever, I regret not doing grad school.

    Err, it sounds better than it was. Also note I’m using the term “orgy” in a somewhat broad sense, and the only one into “hard drugs” at those meetings was me, since the end phase somewhat overlaps somewhat with me starting methylphenidate[1]. Let’s just say IMHO drugs compromising short term memory and RPG don’t mix that good necessarily, one of the problems of me abstaining from the gaba- and cannabinergics were minor discrepancies in where exactly we were, erspecially if the gamemaster partook in the consumption. “Err, were we not supposed to be on deathrow in Israel after some mook of some archont from the kabbalah got killed[2]? So why are we still in Germany?”

    [1] “No, I’m not that quite because I’m on minor or major tranquilizers, thank you. No, I don’t abstain from drinking and smoking because of the interactions, I just don’tr feel like it. Thank you.”

    [2] It makes sense in context. Somewhat.

  36. Leona,

    Let’s just say mixing science and religion is usually bad for both sides. Though the issue is somewhat complicated, somewhat falsifying both the conflict theory and other naive ideas.

    To use an example, the RC church stressed while you needed Jesus’ grace to be saved, human reason could take you some way, also with regards to ethics, which lead to the Christian idea of Natural Law, though the “nature” in this is more along with the definition of the Stoa

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stoicism#Basic_tenets

    than modern Naturalism. Which might lead to a somewhat positive attitude towards early science, but…

    Problem is, the science they incorporated, not without some problems, BTW, was Aristotle, which is not that bad, well, given for its time. Makes for some problems if we learn more.

    As for Natural Law, one of the things coming out of this was that besides religious law binding only for Catholics, there is also Natural Law binding for anyone, which is quite interesting and diverse, thouh for some reason everybody, the RCC included, usually only keeps to the sexy parts, and since the RCC hierarchy thinks it’s not religious but “natural” (again, using the Stoa definition, not the Naturalism of anybody with any idea of ethology[1])…

    [1] Though then, even ethologists get it wrong quite often. May I remind everybody of Konrad Lorenz?

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Konrad_Lorenz#Politics

  37. Y.: Why if? How can a biologist of all people be unsure of that?

    Yeah, you’re right. I was soft-peddling. Maybe I’m getting too meek in my old age. Gotta keep an eye on that.

    Maybe though, you have no choice but to hate, even though it makes no sense.

    Yes. That’s what I was going to say.

    Mr Non-Entity: But first, tech note on the wordpress: going to the raw URL http://www.rifters.com/crawl/ and clicking the “previous” link at top of page, and it takes you back to posting number 2.

    Yeah, I think “previous” in this case means not to the previous posting, but to the previous posting that doesn’t show up on this particular page even if you scroll all the way to the bottom.

    I can’t think of anything to do about this which is the least “constructive” or “helpful” unless I were to try to play it like Neil DeGrasse Tyson, who seems detemined to cheerfully try to educate anyone and everyone. That’s his personal character and he evidently has endless patience. I would call this virtuous. I would also call it deeply consuming of time and personal energy. Not everyone can do this… or they can’t do it all of the time.

    Tyson said something relevant to this that I found a bit disturbing: he said he wouldn’t even lobby against creationist, climate-change-denying politicians because they had been “democratically elected” and were just doing their job. His job was to reach out to the constituents and try to educate them so they’d elect better politicians.

    It seemed a strangely naive view for such a smart guy to take; as though he’d never even heard of gerrymandering electoral boundaries or vote suppression, much less more esoteric things like backfire effects and conformation bias. He seemed to think that Cosmos, for all its reasonably high production values, was somehow on an even playing field with Rupert Murdock and Sheldon Adelson and the Koch Brothers when it comes to controlling the narrative.

    I wanted to ask him about that, but the lineups at the microphones were way too long.

  38. Jeff: Every scientific breakthrough that’s ever been accepted by humanity withstood — and is still fending off — massive criticism. The democracy here is that anyone alive can challenge any theory or process through the scientific method.

    I don’t agree. Seems to be that a fundamental tenet of democracy involves “majority rules”. The whole point of science is that majority opinion doesn’t count for shit: you win if you have the evidence on your side, even if nobody votes for you.

    Granted, as Mr. Non-Entity has pointed out, the practice is somewhat rougher around the edges than the theory…

    Science pushes toward truth. Religion doesn’t.

    You know, I’m gonna go out on a limb here and argue even with this. I actually believe you on a gut level, but there’s a case to be made that just because science works doesn’t mean that it’s getting us closer to the truth. A model of the solar system which explains retrograde motion by saying that planets are stuck onto little spinning crystal spheres embedded in bigger ones certainly provides better predictions than a simpler one which just sticks the planets on the bigger spheres and leaves it at that mdash; but it’s no closer to the “truth”. As far as we know.

    All we can really say is how well our models fit the data. Stuff like truth gets iffier.

    Trottelreiner: Let’s just say mixing science and religion is usually bad for both sides.

    Oh man. You’re gonna hate Echopraxia…

  39. Speaking of criticism of scientific discovery:

    ‘Star Trek’ actress lends her gravitas to film promoting idea that sun revolves around Earth
    http://www.rawstory.com/rs/2014/04/07/star-trek-actress-lends-her-gravitas-to-film-promoting-idea-that-sun-revolves-around-earth/

    I’m convinced some of this shit is just to make people waste time, energy responding.

  40. “Trottelreiner: Let’s just say mixing science and religion is usually bad for both sides”

    Maybe it’s better to mix incrementally from one extreme to the other. As a science-loving, non-scientist atheist, I’ve found religion + culture / sociology a pretty handy starting point when talking to religiously-inclined folks. The interactions between religion and culture are interesting for everyone, it seems… as long as you don’t get off implying some cultures are superior to others… that’s a conversation/exchange killer right there, lol. I dunno. Now I’m horriby off-topic… so I’m going to leave this lovely thread in peace!

  41. Mr Non-Entity,

    The stranglehold capital has on both the identity of the questioners and the types of questions asked, as well as the dissemination or suppression of the answers.

    This is an element of the complex of problems that bring practices like vaccination into question: Who is funding the research? Who is winning? As a guy with an autistic son and some questions about vaccinations, I can’t find clean answers. Pharma’s money is everywhere.

    I find it profoundly frightening that we have put all our eggs in the science basket, and now are busily levering the basket apart. I feel like good science represents the sum total of our power in the universe, and now it is subordinate to shareholder profit, its output malleable using PR campaigns?

    What the hell are we gonna do? Scientific insurgency indeed…

  42. Peter Watts:Oh man.You’re gonna hate Echopraxia…

    ,
    Well, if you want a negative review, you know, there is no such thing as bad publicity, I wouldn’t mind an advance copy. ;)

    Though if the “hate” is similar to “Blindsight”, I wouldn’t count on a negative review, exactly.

    That being said, I take refuge into the “usually”, I wouldn’t be that surprised that the awe I feel when seeing Sacchalina and usual crabs and tunicates and vertrebrates (complexity driven up and down in evolution) was quite similar to what happens in the brains of my more religious relatives. I just think that mixing the two is, err, tricky, just as mixing different human endeavors in other areas. Let’s just start with definitions:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Entropy_(disambiguation)

  43. Peter Watts,

    Well, if you want a negative review, you know, there aint no bad publicity, I wouldn’t mind an advance copy. ;)

    That being said, may I make a refuge to the “usually”?

  44. Anonymous,

    Err, in case somebody might wonder, the anonymous message was an earlier attempt by me; after posting it, it didn’t even show up as “in moderation”, and so I thought it lost and wrote a second, somewhat shorter message. sorry for the confusion.