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Carl Sagan and Crackpottery

How life, the universe and everything got here. God? Nature? Both? Chew it over here. This is also the place for discussing any theories or views which run counter to mainstream science.
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Carl Sagan and Crackpottery

Post by lpetrich » Tue Aug 08, 2017 7:22 am

The late Carl Sagan had had a long history of involvement with various forms of pseudoscience and crackpottery.

This dates back to his first public appearance, when he testified at the trial of UFO contactee Reinhold O. Schmidt. In Intelligent Life in the Universe (1966, with I.S. Shklovskii), CS gave ROS the pseudonym "Helmut Winckler". CS testified about the implausibilities in ROS's accounts, like the Earth's spin axis having an abnormal tilt and Saturn being habitable by us.

He concluded that UFO contactees practiced a thinly-disguised religion with their contacts as the religion's deities. However, he seemed unfamiliar with many UFOlogists being very skeptical of the contactees. But eventually, these contactee skeptics came to find UFO abductions very convincing, something that he didn't notice either.

But in that book, he cautiously speculates about extraterrestrial visitors having arrived here early in humanity's recorded history. Erich von Däniken would make that notion famous, but it is much older than him.

In The Cosmic Connection (1973), he described getting letters featuring astrology, UFO's, Erich von Däniken's ancient astronauts, palmistry, Tarot cards, and the like. A woman wrote to him how inhabitants of the planet Venus talked to her through her shower head. Also, a certain gentleman described his search for "the ancient and legendary gods of old." He found some of them in a mental hospital, and he even found "God Almighty" there.

UFO's: A Scientific Debate (1974, with Thornton Page) contains contributions from believers and skeptics about Unidentified Flying Objects, contributions that were originally presented at an American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) symposium in 1969.

In The Dragons of Eden (1977), he describes astrology as "the view that which stars, one hundred trillion miles away, are rising at the moment of my birth in a closed building affect my destiny profoundly" and stated that pyramidology included "the view that my razor blade stays sharper within a cardboard pyramid than within a cardboard cube."

That year, he and some others published their contributions to a 1974 AAAS symposium on Immanuel Velikovsky's recent-Solar-System catastrophe notions in Scientists Confront Velikovsky. Unfortunately, IV and a supporter were unwilling to contribute to it. My favorite part of it:

I can remember vividly discussing Worlds in Collision with a distinguished professor of Semitics at a leading university. He said something like “The Assyriology, Egyptology, Biblical scholarship and all of that Talmudic and Midrashic pilpul is, of course, nonsense; but I was impressed by the astronomy.” I had rather the opposite view.

In Cosmos (1980), he slammed astrology. He checked some newspaper horoscopes for the same sign and the same day, and he found that they stated that "a compromise will help ease tension" and that you must "demand more of yourself". Vague and very general bits of advice.

But like many astrology debunkers, he seemed unfamiliar with a key part of astrology: correspondence between celestial and terrestrial entities. Thus, the several traditional planets correspond to the seven traditional metals and the seven openings in our heads. Curious that CS did not mention Francesco Sizzi's infamous "disproof" of the existence of the recently-discovered moons of Jupiter, arguably astrology's greatest "scientific triumph". FS argued that Jupiter could not have the moons that Galileo discovered, because that would break the correspondence of celestial bodies and the openings in our heads.

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Post by lpetrich » Tue Aug 08, 2017 8:28 am

I must step back a year to discuss Broca's Brain (1979).

In "Night Walkers And Mystery Mongers: Sense And Nonsense At The Edge Of Science", Carl Sagan started with Alexander of Abonutichus (150 CE, what's now northern Turkey), a charlatan who claimed that he could receive messages from a god named Glycon. He got into the advice business, peeking inside sealed envelopes to find out what his clients were asking. He even blackmailed some of his richer clients.

My favorite part was something that CS had neglected to mention. Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius asked him what to do about some Germanic tribes called the Marcomanni and the Quadi across the Danube River. Throw two lions into the Danube, and a great victory would result. But it was the Marcomanni and the Quadi who won the great victory.

He then mentioned a certain M. Lamar Keene, someone who had made a living off some similar bunkum as the pastor of a spiritualist church, and who later confessed what a faker he had been.

Then astral projection. He proposes a simple test. A friend can place a book on a high shelf, and the next time you go on an astral journey, you can find out what that book is.

Spirit rapping is about what began the spiritualist movement. In upstate New York in 1848, two girls, sisters Margaret and Kate Fox, claimed that they could get ghosts and spirits to show up and knock on tables. Some forty years later, Margaret Fox confessed that she and Kate had been faking it the whole time, cracking their ankle and toe bones much like cracking one's knuckles.

Yet some spiritualist believers became convinced that she was forced to confess to faking what she had done.

Then the Cardiff Giant. It was a stone statue "discovered" in 1869 in Cardiff, western New York. When P. T. Barnum wanted to exhibit it, he discovered that its owners were unwilling to part with it -- they were making too much money off of it. So he commissioned a copy of it and displayed that copy, making a lot of money off of it.

Clever Hans, the Mathematical Horse. In Berlin around 1900, a certain Wilhelm von Osten wanted to teach animals human language, and his only success was with a horse. The animal would respond by tapping the ground with a hoof some number of times or else by moving his head back and forth.

Psychologist Oskar Pfungst was sent to study this remarkable horse, and he found out what was going on. The horse would get the right answer only if he saw his questioner. The questioner would give unconscious hints, like getting tense, hints that the horse recognized. So WvO had inadvertently trained his horse to recognize some of his body language. OP then went on to do experiments where he played the part of Clever Hans.

I must note that poker players have a way of avoiding unconsciously giving away one's assessment of one's hand of cards: giving themselves an expressionless "poker face".
I have chosen the foregoing cases for another reason. They are all closely involved with everyday life—human or animal behavior, evaluating the reliability of evidence, occasions for the exercise of common sense. None of these cases involve technological complexities or arcane theoretical developments. We do not need an advanced degree in physics, let us say, to have our skeptical hackles rise at the pretensions of modern spiritualists. Nevertheless, these hoaxes, impostures and misapprehensions have captivated millions. How much more dangerous and difficult to assess must be borderline claims at the edge of less familiar sciences—about cloning, say, or cosmic catastrophes or lost continents or unidentified flying objects?
After mentioning ancient astronauts, he noted
Once I spied a bright, “hovering” UFO, and pointing it out to some friends in a restaurant, soon found myself in the midst of a throng of patrons, waitresses, cooks and proprietors milling about on the sidewalk, pointing up into the sky with fingers and forks, and making gasps of astonishment. People were somewhere between delighted and awestruck. But when I returned with a pair of binoculars which clearly showed the UFO to be an unconventional aircraft (a NASA weather airplane, as it later turned out), there was uniform disappointment. Some felt embarrassed at the public exposure of their credulity. Others were simply disappointed at the evaporation of a good story, something out of the ordinary—a visitor from another world.
Later on,
... The proponents of such borderline beliefs, when criticized, often point to geniuses of the past who were ridiculed. But the fact that some geniuses were laughed at does not imply that all who are laughed at are geniuses. They laughed at Columbus, they laughed at Fulton, they laughed at the Wright brothers. But they also laughed at Bozo the Clown.
Some of them even claim that they are being treated like Galileo or Giordano Bruno.

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Post by lpetrich » Tue Aug 08, 2017 3:23 pm

More Broca's Brain:

"White Dwarfs and Little Green Men". About how the Dogon people of Africa knew about Sirius B. They most likely learned it from us, and they incorporated that bit of gossip into their traditional lore.

CS then noted that "This full-cycle return of a myth to its culture of origin through an unwary anthropologist might sound unlikely if there were not so many examples of it in anthropological lore."

Then "Venus And Dr. Velikovsky", a slight rewrite of "An Analysis of Worlds in Collision" from Scientists confront Velikovsky".

"Norman Bloom, Messenger Of God" is about someone who has found numerous numerical relationships, complete with inferring that they are not coincidences but designed -- and designed by you-know-who.

Like how the Sun and the Moon have an angular diameter of half a degree of 1/720 of a circle -- 720 = 6! = 6 * 5 * 4 * 3 * 2 * 1

Seems to me that he tried numerous numerical relationships, and pointed out his successes while ignoring his failures.

I've known of people who have tried to derive the fine structure constant or the electron-proton mass ratio or similar quantities in similar ways.

About astronomy in 1900,
Then, as now, astronomy was besieged by “paradoxers,” proponents of fringe or crackpot ideas. One proposed a telescope with ninety-one lenses in series as an alternative to a telescope with a smaller number of lenses of larger aperture. The British in this period were similarly plagued but in perhaps a gentler way. For example, an obituary in the Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society (59:226) of Henry Perigal informs us that the deceased had celebrated his ninety-fourth birthday by becoming a member of the Royal Institution, but was elected a Fellow of the Royal Astronomical Society in 1850. However, “our publications contain nothing from his pen.” The obituary describes “the remarkable way in which the charm of Mr. Perigal’s personality won him a place which might have seemed impossible of attainment for a man of his views; for there is no masking the fact that he was a paradoxer pure and simple, his main conviction being that the Moon did not rotate, and his main astronomical aim in life being to convince others, and especially young men not hardened in the opposite belief, of their grave error. To this end he made diagrams, constructed models, and wrote poems; bearing with heroic cheerfulness the continued disappointment of finding none of them of any avail. He has, however, done excellent work apart from this unfortunate misunderstanding.”

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Post by Hermit » Tue Aug 08, 2017 4:20 pm

[quote=""lpetrich""]Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius asked him what to do about some Germanic tribes called the Marcomanni and the Quadi across the Danube River. Throw two lions into the Danube, and a great victory would result. But it was the Marcomanni and the Quadi who won the great victory.[/quote]
Might that be an adaptation of an earlier story?
Croesus, king of Lydia beginning in 560 B.C., tested the oracles of the world to discover which gave the most accurate prophecies. He sent out emissaries to seven sites who were all to ask the oracles on the same day what the king was doing at that very moment. Croesus proclaimed the oracle at Delphi to be the most accurate, who correctly reported that the king was making a lamb-and-tortoise stew, and so he graced her with a magnitude of precious gifts. He then consulted Delphi before attacking Persia, and according to Herodotus was advised: "If you cross the river, a great empire will be destroyed". Believing the response favourable, Croesus attacked, but it was his own empire that ultimately was destroyed by the Persians. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Oracle

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Post by lpetrich » Tue Aug 08, 2017 5:26 pm

Now for The Demon-Haunted World (1995).

He started with how the news media likes to feature pseudoscience and crackpottery, and then gets into pareidolia with the man on the Moon and the face on Mars.

He then gets into UFO's and ET contacts.
Occasionally, I get a letter from someone who is in "contact" with extraterrestrials. I am invited to "ask them anything." And so over the years I've prepared a little list of questions. The extraterrestrials are very advanced, remember. So I ask things like, "Please provide a short proof of Fermat's Last Theorem." Or the Goldbach Conjecture. And then I have to explain what these are, because extraterrestrials will not call it Fermat's Last Theorem. So I write out the simple equation with the exponents. I never get an answer. On the other hand, if I ask something like "Should we be good?" I almost always get an answer. Anything vague, especially involving conventional moral judgments, these aliens are extremely happy to respond to. But on anything specific, where there is a chance to find out if they actually know anything beyond what most humans know, there is only silence.* Something can be deduced from this differential ability to answer questions.

* It's a stimulating exercise to think of questions to which no human today knows the answers, but where a correct answer would immediately be recognized as such. It's even more challenging to formulate such questions in fields other than mathematics. Perhaps we should hold a contest and collect the best responses in "Ten Questions to Ask an Alien."
(Wikipedia)Lists of unsolved problems in mathematics -- most of them are rather arcane, but the (Wikipedia)P versus NP problem is important for computational complexity, like for algorithms often used in cryptography. Many cryptographic algorithms depend on undoing some operation requiring much more computation than the operation itself, so making such undoing much easier would make the operation useless.

A good non-mathematical one is, I think, exoplanets. Searches for them are very time-consuming and require high-resolution equipment, so it is reasonable to conclude that they are far from complete. But advanced ET's will likely have made a big catalog of exoplanets known to them, and we can check on whether we can observe any of them.

It is hard to think of others, but here are some:
  • Controlled nuclear fusion
  • The "Island of Stability" of atomic nuclei, something a little beyond the heaviest elements made so far. The champion is currently oganesson, element 118.
  • Metallic transitions of nonmetallic substances. Not just hydrogen, but *every* one is expected to do that at sufficient pressure. That's because of (Wikipedia)Degenerate matter, a metal-like high-pressure state. I also note that this transition has been observed in some cases, like with iodine.
  • Supersymmetric or other Beyond-Standard-Model particles that are accessible by experiment, if they exist.
Geological, biological, and social issues have the problem that many of them are likely specific to our circumstances.

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Post by lpetrich » Tue Aug 08, 2017 5:44 pm

lpetrich;675455 wrote:Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius asked him what to do about some Germanic tribes called the Marcomanni and the Quadi across the Danube River. Throw two lions into the Danube, and a great victory would result. But it was the Marcomanni and the Quadi who won the great victory.
Might that be an adaptation of an earlier story?[/QUOTE]
(Croesus and the Oracle of Delphi and how the great empire that fell was his...)

A of A's biographer, Lucian of Samosata, did indeed point out that similarity. Complete with A of A offering the same excuse: the god had indeed predicted a victory, but he did not say who would have that victory.

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Post by lpetrich » Tue Aug 08, 2017 8:46 pm

More on The Demon-Haunted World. He mentions George Adamski briefly, saying
He published a book—it caused quite a sensation, I recall —in which he described how in the desert nearby he had encountered nice-looking aliens with long blond hair and, if I remember correctly, white robes, who warned Adamski about the dangers of nuclear war.
His memory was incorrect, and he could easily have found a copy of Flying Saucers Have Landed and read the appropriate parts of it. For added fun, he could also have read Inside the Spaceships. In the first one, GA claims that he encountered only one flying-saucer pilot, a gentleman with long blond hair, but wearing a dark-brown jumpsuit.

Then the Betty and Barney Hill abduction case -- and hallucinations in general.
But after the canals were shown to be illusory by Mariner 9 in 1971, and after no compelling evidence even for microbes was found on Mars by Vikings 1 and 2 in 1976, popular enthusiasm for the Lowellian Mars waned and we heard little about visiting Martians. Aliens were then reported to come from somewhere else. Why? Why no more Martians? And after the surface of Venus was found to be hot enough to melt lead, there were no more visiting Venusians. Does some part of these stories adjust to the current canons of belief? What does that imply about their origin?
Then demons and witchcraft.

Then true vs. false visions, including false memories implanted by hypnosis. Like memories of UFO abductions. Also how Ronald Reagan vividly remembered liberating Nazi concentration-camp victims, despite spending World War II in Hollywood.

CS got into apparitions of the Virgin Mary and other Catholic saints. He found some similarities with UFO-abduction stories, although IMO they are better compared to friendly-contact ones. Like appearing in out-of-the-way places to very limited sets of witnesses.

Then Satanic ritual abuse, something that seems to be totally figments of certain people's imaginations. Abuse allegedly often featuring killing and eating babies.
Lanning then offers a long list of belief systems he has personally heard described as Satanism at such conferences. It includes Roman Catholicism, the Orthodox Churches, Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism, Mormonism, rock and roll music, channeling, astrology and New Age beliefs in general. Is there not a hint here about how witch hunts and pogroms get started?
Not surprising that Xian fundies are the biggest in making such claims.

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Post by Tubby » Tue Aug 08, 2017 8:56 pm

[quote=""lpetrich""]Lanning then offers a long list of belief systems he has personally heard described as Satanism at such conferences. It includes Roman Catholicism, the Orthodox Churches, Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism, Mormonism, rock and roll music, channeling, astrology and New Age beliefs in general. [/quote]

The golden age of Bob Larson's call-in Christian radio program was when he was doing battle against all of those things. I still remember him saying on the topic of aliens that there cannot be any because "when Adam and Eve sinned, a wave of corruption sped throughout the universe, preventing life from forming anywhere out there."

{That won't quite be verbatim after these decades, but it captures the essence.}

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Post by lpetrich » Tue Aug 08, 2017 10:18 pm

"The Dragon in my Garage"

CS imagined someone wanting evidence of it and him explaining how the proposed ways of revealing it will fail. "Now, what's the difference between an invisible, incorporeal, floating dragon who spits heatless fire and no dragon at all?"

Something like Bertrand Russell's interplanetary teapot and the Invisible Pink Unicorn.

Then "The City of Grief", repeating many responses that he got from a Parade magazine article.
Many letter writers concluded that since I had worked on the possibility of extraterrestrial life, I must "believe" in UFOs; or conversely that, if I was skeptical about UFOs, I must embrace the absurd belief that humans are the only intelligent beings in the Universe. There's something about this subject unconducive to clear thinking.
One of them made an analogy between UFO abductions and wildlife-biologist activities as experienced by the animals that they study. That's an analogy that has occurred to me also.

"The Fine Art of Baloney Detection"
How is it, I ask myself, that channelers never give us verifiable information otherwise unavailable? Why does Alexander the Great never tell us about the exact location of his tomb, Fermat about his Last Theorem, John Wilkes Booth about the Lincoln assassination conspiracy, Hermann Goring about the Reichstag fire? Why don't Sophocles, Democritus, and Aristarchus dictate their lost books? Don't they wish future generations to have access to their masterpieces?
Reminds me of what happened when physicist R.W. Wood met a medium who was channeling the ghost of a certain physicist. RWW asked the medium some questions about mathematical physics, but the ghost was silence.

Another channeler claimed about Albert Einstein that his lack of physics knowledge was due to the death experience having erased it.

Then JZ Knight and Ramtha and how one might be able to tell that Ramtha had lived some 35,000 years ago.

Then the kit itself:
  • Wherever possible there must be independent confirmation of the
  • Encourage substantive debate on the evidence by knowledgeable
    proponents of all points of view.
  • Arguments from authority carry little weight.
  • Spin more than one hypothesis (multiple working hypotheses).
  • Try not to get overly attached to a hypothesis just because it's yours.
  • Quantify.
  • If there's a chain of argument, every link in the chain must work
    (including the premise) —not just most of them.
  • Occam's Razor.
  • Always ask whether the hypothesis can be, at least in principle, falsified.
Then a list of fallacies:
  • Ad hominem (Latin: to the person).
  • Argument from authority.
  • Argument from adverse consequences.
  • Appeal to ignorance.
  • Special pleading.
  • Begging the question, also called assuming the answer (related to circular reasoning).
  • Observational selection, also called the enumeration of favorable circumstances.
  • Statistics of small numbers.
  • Misunderstanding of the nature of statistics.
  • Inconsistency.
  • Non sequitur (Latin: it does not follow).
  • Post hoc, ergo propter hoc (Latin: after it, therefore because of it).
  • Meaningless question (like what happens when an irresistible force meets an immovable object).
  • Excluded middle, or false dichotomy.
  • Short-term vs. long-term.
  • Slippery slope, related to excluded middle.
  • Confusion of correlation and causation.
  • Straw man.
  • Suppressed evidence, or half-truths.
  • Weasel words.

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Post by lpetrich » Tue Aug 08, 2017 10:21 pm

The golden age of Bob Larson's call-in Christian radio program was when he was doing battle against all of those things. I still remember him saying on the topic of aliens that there cannot be any because "when Adam and Eve sinned, a wave of corruption sped throughout the universe, preventing life from forming anywhere out there."
I'd once posted on how many Xian fundies believes that the Earth is the only planet inhabited by sentient entities because the Bible describes God as being concerned only with us and not with any ET"s.

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Post by lpetrich » Wed Aug 09, 2017 12:11 am

Now for a gripe about Latin names for fallacies. Many of them that I've seen are composed on the model of argumentum ad hominem (argument to the person). Like argumentum ad baculum for argument from the stick (force). Since that is the argument to the stick, more suitable Latin would be

argumentum ex baculo (argument from the stick)
argumentum baculi (argument of the stick)

I myself have composed argumentum ex bellis picturis (argument from pretty pictures).

Back to DHW. Carl Sagan then discussed tobacco companies' denials of the health dangers of their products' smoke.

"Obsessed with Reality" CS first noted that Xian fundies reject a lot of crackpottery because of their Bible-believing. Then he noted the case of a psychic who appeared in Australia in 1988. A certain Jose Luis Alvarez channeled a certain "Carlos". It was very impressive, at least at first. But it was soon revealed to be a hoax, created to see how easily people could fall for such things.

Then James Randi, exposer of faith-healing charlatan Peter Popoff. Then a lot of stuff on faith healing -- and people apparently and unconsciously postponing death until after big events in their lives.

Back to the Carlos hoax. Jose Luis Alvarez had practiced rather intensively, and he had a small earphone for listening to hints from James Randi.
Sixty Minutes and Randi stressed that the Australian media had made no serious effort to check any of "Carlos's" bona fides. He had never appeared in any of the cities listed.
As I described earlier, British hoaxers confessed to having made "crop circles," geometrical figures generated in grain fields. It wasn't alien artists working in wheat as their medium, but two blokes with a board, a rope, and a taste for whimsy. Even when they demonstrated how they did it, though, believers were unimpressed. Maybe some of the crop circles are hoaxes, they argued, but there are too many of them, and some of the pictograms are too complex. Only extraterrestrials could do it. Then others in Britain confessed. But crop circles abroad, it was objected, in Hungary for example, how can you explain that? Then copycat Hungarian teenagers confessed. But what about. . . ?
Then some cold reading.
At times you are extroverted, affable, sociable, while at other times you are introverted, wary, and reserved. You have found it unwise to be too frank in revealing yourself to others. You prefer a certain amount of change and variety, and become dissatisfied when hemmed in by restrictions and limitations. Disciplined and controlled on the outside, you tend to be worrisome and insecure on the inside. While you have some personality weaknesses, you are generally able to compensate for them. You have a great deal of unused capacity, which you have not turned to your advantage. You have a tendency to be critical of yourself. You have a strong need for other people to like you and for them to admire you.
Just about everybody will recognize this statement as at least partially true for them.

Astrologers often work like that, often constructing forecasts that are very general and very likely to be true of everybody. Thus, it is possible for many people to recognize themselves in a horoscope of a serial killer, an experiment that someone had actually performed.

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Post by lpetrich » Wed Aug 09, 2017 4:48 am

When astrological predictions fail, astrologers claim that the stars incline but do not compel. But statistical testing is for testing for influences that incline without compelling, and astrology fails badly there.

"Antiscience" starts out with a summary of many New Agers' beliefs.
There's no such thing as objective truth. We make our own truth. There's no such thing as objective reality. We make our own reality. There are spiritual, mystical, or inner ways of knowing that are superior to our ordinary ways of knowing. If an experience seems real, it is real. If an idea feels right to you, it is right. We are incapable of acquiring knowledge of the true nature of reality. Science itself is irrational or mystical. It's just another faith or belief system or myth, with no more justification than any other. It doesn't matter whether beliefs are true or not, as long as they're meaningful to you.
There is an amusing bit where some House Un-American Activities Committee members once tried to link physicist Edward Uhler Condon to political radicalism on the ground that he helped develop a radical new theory: quantum mechanics.
Condon, quick on his feet, replied that the accusation was untrue. He was not a revolutionary in physics. He raised his right hand: "I believe in Archimedes' Principle, formulated in the third century B.C. I believe in Kepler's laws of planetary motion, discovered in the seventeenth century. I believe in Newton's laws. . . ." And on he went, invoking the illustrious names of Bernoulli, Fourier, Ampere, Boltzmann, and Maxwell. This physicist's catechism did not gain him much. The tribunal did not appreciate humor on so serious a matter.
Carl Sagan then described all the math that one would need to learn before one can have a good understanding of it -- it's a LOT of math.
Now suppose we were to approach some obscure religion or New Age doctrine or shamanistic belief system skeptically. We have an open mind; we understand there's something interesting here; we introduce ourselves to the practitioner and ask for an intelligible summary. Instead we are told that it's intrinsically too difficult to be explained simply, that it's replete with "mysteries," but if we're willing to become acolytes for 15 years, at the end of that time we might begin to be prepared to consider the subject seriously.
What's the difference? Attitudes toward testing of theories, for starters. Do woowoomeisters ever try to do the sorts of tests that mainstream scientists routinely do?

Philosopher Morris Raphael Cohen noted another difference:
To be sure, the vast majority of people who are untrained can accept the results of science only on authority. But there is obviously an important difference between an establishment that is open and invites every one to come, study its methods, and suggest improvement, and one that regards the questioning of its credentials as due to wickedness of heart, such as [Cardinal] Newman attributed to those who questioned the infallibility of the Bible. . . Rational science treats its credit notes as always redeemable on demand, while non-rational authoritarianism regards the demand for the redemption of its paper as a disloyal lack of faith.
CS listed times where he was wrong, like believing that Venus's clouds were mostly water and that Venus's surface pressure was something like 10 atm. But they are concentrated sulfuric acid, only about 25% water, and the surface pressure is about 90 atm. Also when he proposed that Mars has plate tectonics, when it turned out to have hardly any. Etc.

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Post by Worldtraveller » Wed Aug 09, 2017 11:22 am

I've read DHW, but I should get some more CS books to read. I think the only hard copy of a CS book I have is Cosmos (and it's signed by CS himself, when I met him back in '94). :D

My wife and I have had fun a couple times (when visiting Sedona, AZ) going to some of the psychic type stores and whatnot. We both know it's bunkum, but it's fun to visit and they usually have a nice collection of polished stones.

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Post by lpetrich » Wed Aug 09, 2017 12:09 pm

CS described Lysenkoism, where Trofim Lysenko attacked mainstream genetics as un-Marxist Mendelist Weismannist Morganist idealism -- and got the support of Communist Party leaders, including Joseph Stalin himself. He himself believed that there is no genotype-phenotype distinction, that all parts of an organism contribute to its heredity, and that acquired characteristics can be inherited.

Biologist Hermann J. Muller had moved to Moscow in 1922 and he tried to set up research into genetics there. But in the 1930's, Trofim Lysenko became head of the Academy of Agricultural Sciences, and HJM delivered an address there in 1936:
If the outstanding practitioners are going to support theories and opinions that are obviously absurd to everyone who knows even a little about genetics—such views as those recently put forward by President Lysenko and those who think as he does—then the choice before us will resemble the choice between witchcraft and medicine, between astrology and astronomy, between alchemy and chemistry.
Three months later, a letter purportedly coming from him featured him denouncing "Mendelism-Weismannism-Morganism". He concluded that it was a forgery and he angrily blamed TL himself for it. HJM fled Moscow the next day, barely escaping the Soviet secret police.

Other biologists were not so lucky, being sent to prison camps or worse. One of the casualties of enforced Lysenkoite orthodoxy was the great biologist Nikolai Vavilov. He located centers of origin of several domesticated-plant species, by looking for where they had the most variety and for where their closest wild relatives lived ((Wikipedia)Center of origin). But despite that good work, he was found guilty of being a British spy and he died in a Soviet prison.

Another notable Soviet biologist, Dmitry Belyayev, escaped that fate by moving into Siberia so he could do experiments on animal domestication, by breeding foxes to be tame. He successfully escaped persecution for believing in the existence of genes, however.

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Post by lpetrich » Fri Aug 11, 2017 12:17 am

"Newton's Sleep" -- referring to what some people consider excessive rationalism. Also reductionism -- all the Universe's behavior reduced to a few natural laws.

CS then discussed vitalism, though without naming it. It's the notion that living things are alive not because of some emergent behavior of nonliving matter (the mechanistic view), but because of some life-stuff, some "vital force" that nonliving matter lacks. That was a very common view before the last century, but it has been discredited with the rise of molecular biology -- the discovery of mechanisms that previous generations had had no access to.

"When Scientists Know Sin"
In a post-war meeting with President Harry S Truman, J. Robert Oppenheimer—the scientific director of the Manhattan nuclear weapons Project—mournfully commented that scientists had bloody hands; they had now known sin. Afterwards, Truman instructed his aides that he never wished to see Oppenheimer again. Sometimes scientists are castigated for doing evil, and sometimes for warning about the evil uses to which science may be put.
Isaac Asimov once discussed this issue in his essay "The Sin of the Scientist", and he concluded that that sin was developing weapons of mass destruction. "Greek fire", a sort of marine napalm used by the Byzantines, poison gases, and nuclear weapons.

Science makes possible both good things and bad things, and we must try to have the good things and not the bad things. As CS notes,
Sometimes scientists try to have it both ways: to take credit for those applications of science that enrich our lives, but to distance themselves from the instruments of death, intentional and inadvertent, that also trace back to scientific research.
But as Isaac Asimov noted, the emergence of spoken language made us all liars.

Then CS discussed Edward Teller. His family had been deprived of its property by Bela Kun's Communist revolutionaries a little after WWI, and he had a leg in permanent pain from a streetcar accident.

He refused to work on nuclear bombs in WWII because he didn't think that they would be big enough to satisfy him, and after that war, he pushed for such a bomb: the hydrogen bomb. His design ideas turned out to be flawed, and several people worked on the first successful design.

He objected to test-ban efforts and he proposed nuclear weapons to do such heavy earthmoving as digging harbors and canals. CS speculated that he seemed desperate to find uses for nuclear bombs.

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Post by lpetrich » Sun Aug 13, 2017 7:45 am

"The Marriage of Skepticism and Wonder" mentioned how some skeptics look down on believers in pseudoscientific and paranormal things, even to treating them as enemies.
The Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal is an organization of scientists, academics, magicians and others dedicated to sceptical scrutiny of emerging or fullblown pseudosciences. It was founded by the University of Buffalo philosopher Paul Kurtz in 1976. I've been affiliated with it since its beginning. Its acronym, CSICOP, is pronounced 'sci-cop' - as if it's an organization of scientists performing a police function. Those wounded by CSICOP's analyses sometimes make just such a complaint: it's hostile to every new idea, they say, will go to absurd lengths in its knee-jerk debunking, is a vigilante organization, a New Inquisition, and so on.
But CSICOP has been valuable as a place for the news media to go to for skepticism.
In the middle 1970s an astronomer I admire put together a modest manifesto called 'Objections to Astrology' and asked me to endorse it. I struggled with his wording, and in the end found myself unable to sign, not because I thought astrology has any validity whatever, but because I felt (and still feel) that the tone of the statement was authoritarian.
"Objections to Astrology" and responses from Carl Sagan and Paul Feyerabend including criticizing it for saying that there is no mechanism that can make astrology work. PF also compares it tho the late medieval Malleus Maleficarum, "Hammer of the (Female) Evildoers" -- witches.

But one can get around that problem by asking if there is any empirical support for astrology, and as far as I know, there is none. Astrologers often respond with "the stars incline, but they do not compel" (in Latin, “astra inclinant, non necessitant”). Yet there is a big field of applied mathematics for testing for the occurrence of influences that incline without compelling: statistical testing. So do the stars incline at a statistically significant level?

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Post by lpetrich » Sun Aug 13, 2017 9:39 am

"The Wind Makes Dust"
Alan Cromer is a physics professor at Northeastern University in Boston who was surprised to find so many student s unable to grasp the most elementary concepts in his physics class. In Uncommon Sense: The Heretical Nature of Science (1993), Cromer proposes that science is difficult because it's new. We, a species that's a few hundred thousand years old, discovered the method of science only a few centuries ago, he says. Like writing, which is only a few millennia old, we haven't gotten the hang of it yet - or at least not without very serious and attentive study. Except for an unlikely concatenation of historical events, he suggests, we would never have invented science:

This hostility to science, in the face of its obvious triumphs and benefits, is . . . evidence that it is something outside the mainstream of human development, perhaps a fluke.
Looking at writing, it was independently invented only a few times, in Sumer in 3100 BCE and in Central America in 300 BCE, and possibly also in Egypt in 3100 BCE and in China in 1200 BCE. But writing systems have not only been copied, they have also been invented as a result of learning of other writing systems -- stimulus diffusion.

So while spoken language is universal, written language is a recent invention, and a difficult-to-invent one at that.

Theoretical science was apparently invented only once, in Classical-era Greece, and it flourished there, in the post-Alexander Hellenistic world, and in the early Roman Empire until the Crisis of the Third Century, a period of strife and economic downturn.

CS speculated about that issue, but he did not come to a clear conclusion.

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Post by lpetrich » Sun Aug 13, 2017 5:29 pm

"No Such Thing as a Dumb Question"
Every now and then, I'm lucky enough to teach a kindergarten or first-grade class. Many of these children are natural-born scientists - although heavy on the wonder side and light on scepticism. They're curious, intellectually vigorous. Provocative and insightful questions bubble out of them. They exhibit enormous enthusiasm. I'm asked follow-up questions. They've never heard of the notion of a 'dumb question'.

But when I talk to high school seniors, I find something different. They memorize 'facts'. By and large, though, the joy of discovery, the life behind those facts, has gone out of them. They've lost much of the wonder, and gained very little scepticism. They're worried about asking 'dumb' questions; they're willing to accept inadequate answers; they don't pose follow-up questions; the room is awash with sidelong glances to judge, second-by-second, the approval of their peers. They come to class with their questions written out on pieces of paper, which they surreptitiously examine, waiting their turn and oblivious of whatever discussion their peers are at this moment engaged in.
Part of the problem is how education works. It's easier to teach rote memorization than problem solving, and that's been a problem for a long time. Science Education - the same criticisms for over a century - Secular Café

CS continues with "I find many adults are put off when young children pose scientific questions."

Then he notes the poor scientific literacy of much of the adult population.
Children need hands-on experience with the experimental method rather than just reading about science in a book. We can be told about oxidation of wax as the explanation of the candle flame. But we have a much more vivid sense of what's going on if we witness the candle burning briefly in a bell jar until the carbon dioxide produced by the burning surrounds the wick, blocks access to oxygen, and the flame flickers and dies.
Not the best chemistry. It's not the CO2 that does it, but the using up of O2.

Then he describes an exercise in learning about the US Constitution. Divide a class up into state delegations for a Constitutional Convention. What Constitution would they devise?
We need more money for teachers' training and salaries, and for laboratories. But all across America, school-bond issues are regularly voted down. No one suggests that property taxes be used to provide for the military budget, or for agriculture subsidies, or for cleaning up toxic wastes. Why just education? Why not support it from general taxes on the local and state levels? What about a special education tax for those industries with special needs for technically trained workers?
CS wrote that in the early 1990's, and it only continues. Consider Scott Walker's war on Wisconsin teacher unions. The result has been teacher shortages. More generally, the obsession with getting rid of "bad teachers". Who will replace them? How will one attract "good teachers" and make it worth their while to stay on the job?

Upstairs Downstairs - How Children Get Raised - Secular Café
From there, the children go to school, where higher-income children are given opportunities to work independently, think creatively and ask questions. Their parents take an active role, challenging practices that they disagree with. Their teachers treat them like adults and reward students who speak up and take initiative.

Lower-income children usually find themselves in a more regimented environment. They walk through metal detectors and aren't trusted with basic classroom equipment. Their parents want to be involved, but they don't assert themselves. Their teachers demand respect and reward students who show deference.
So upper-class education approaches CS's ideal much more than lower-class education.

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Post by lpetrich » Mon Aug 14, 2017 1:22 am

"House on Fire"

Starting with responses to a version of his earlier chapter.
All in all, these students don't think there's much of a problem; and if there is, not much can be done about it. Many also complained that the lectures, classroom discussions and homework were 'boring'.

... But spending three or four grades practising once again the addition, subtraction, multiplication and division of fractions would bore anyone, and the tragedy is that, say, elementary probability theory is within reach of these students. Likewise for the forms of plants and animals presented without evolution; history presented as wars, dates and kings without the role of obedience to authority, greed, incompetence and ignorance; English without new words entering the language and old words disappearing; and chemistry without where the elements come from.
Most adults who wrote thought there's a substantial problem. I received letters from parents about inquisitive children willing to work hard, passionate about science but with no adequate community or school resources to satisfy their interests. Other letters told of parents who knew nothing about science sacrificing their own comfort so their children could have science books, microscopes, telescopes, computers or chemistry sets; of parents teaching their children that hard work will get them out of poverty; of a grandmother bringing tea to a student up late at night still doing homework; of peer pressure not to do well in school because 'it makes the other kids look bad'.
Then he talks about a welcome change in science and natural-history museums: displays where children can touch and manipulate stuff.

He recalled from his youth how the Hayden Planetarium had scales that showed one's weight on different planets -- and that that was about as far as it went back then.

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Post by lpetrich » Mon Aug 14, 2017 2:16 am

"The Path to Freedom"

CS talked about how antebellum-South slaves were kept from learning how to read, and how a slave ended up doing so anyway -- and escaping. Frederick Bailey renamed himself Frederick Douglass and he became a very notable antislavery activist.
If you grow up in a household where there are books, where you are read to, where parents, siblings, aunts, uncles and cousins read for their own pleasure, naturally you learn to read. If no one close to you takes joy in reading, where is the evidence that it's worth the effort?
Recent research shows that many children without enough to eat wind up with diminished capacity to understand and learn ('cognitive impairment'). Children don't have to be starving for this to happen. Even mild undernourishment, the kind most common among poor people in America, can do it.
It even affects their brains. Poverty shrinks brains from birth : Nature News & Comment
The stress of growing up poor can hurt a child’s brain development starting before birth, research suggests — and even very small differences in income can have major effects on the brain.

Researchers have long suspected that children’s behaviour and cognitive abilities are linked to their socioeconomic status, particularly for those who are very poor. The reasons have never been clear, although stressful home environments, poor nutrition, exposure to industrial chemicals such as lead and lack of access to good education are often cited as possible factors.
Back to DHW.
Instead of showing an enthusiasm, a zest for learning as most healthy youngsters do, the undernourished child becomes bored, apathetic, unresponsive. More severe malnutrition leads to lower birth weights and, in its most extreme forms, smaller brains. However, even a child who looks perfectly healthy but has not enough iron, say, suffers an immediate decline in the ability to concentrate. Iron-deficiency anaemia may affect as much as a quarter of all low-income children in America; it attacks the child's attention span and memory, and may have consequences reaching well into adulthood.
I wouldn't be surprised if their IQ scores are lower.

Then he mentioned lead poisoning.
Violent Crime from Lead Poisoning? - Secular Café
Is Lead The Real Culprit? - Secular Café
Brain injuries and crime - Secular Café
The British Royal Governor of the Colony of Virginia wrote in 1671:

I thank God there are no free schools nor printing; and I hope we shall not have [them] these [next] hundred years; for learning has brought disobedience, and heresy, and sects into the world, and printing has divulged them and libels against the best government. God keep us from both!
In its early years, the United States boasted one of the highest - perhaps the highest - literacy rates in the world. (Of course, slaves and women didn't count in those days.) As early as 1635, there had been public schools in Massachusetts, and by 1647 compulsory education in all townships there of more than fifty 'households'. By the next century and a half, educational democracy had spread all over the country. Political theorists came from other countries to witness this national wonder: vast numbers of ordinary working people who could read and write. The American devotion to education for all propelled discovery and invention, a vigorous democratic process, and an upward mobility that pumped the nation's economic vitality.
However, other nations are now doing at least as well.

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Post by lpetrich » Mon Aug 14, 2017 7:16 am

"Significance Junkies"

He talks about using basketball to teach principles of mathematics and science, like statistics and Newtonian mechanics.

Then lucky and unlucky streaks, like having a "hot hand" in basketball. They are a natural consequence of randomness, but they don't seem random.

It seems to me that a common stereotype of randomness is continual alternation between possibilities.

I recall from somewhere that that caused trouble in ESP testing. One participant viewed a card and another participant (the ESPer) tried to determine which card it was. The viewer picked the cards in seemingly random order -- but an order that alternated among cards. The ESPer picked up on that, thus seemingly having ESP.

Then "mad scientists".
Many of these so-called scientists - judging from the programmes I've seen (and plausible inference about ones I haven't, such as the Mad Scientist's 'Toon Club) - are moral cripples driven by a lust for power or endowed with a spectacular insensitivity to the feelings of others.
CS then complained about "a profusion of credulous, uncritical TV series and 'specials' - on ESP, channelling, the Bermuda Triangle, UFOs, ancient astronauts, Big Foot, and the like." Then about how paranormal stuff is almost always real on "The X-Files". He wished that there was an adult version of the children's series "Scooby-Doo", with its good skepticism.

Then "Star Trek" bad biology like crossbreeding between species from different worlds. It must be noted that those species' resemblance to humanity is explained in-universe in TNG "The Chase" and some other episodes.

He complained about the shortage of good science TV programming. "I can't even recall seeing an accurate and comprehensible description on television of how television works." There are a few good ones, he conceded, like "Nova" and Bill Nye's "The Science Guy". He then closed with some ideas for improved science programs.

It must be noted that some cable-TV networks had promising origins, like The History Channel and The Learning Channel, they also have degenerated.

The rise of the Internet has made science TV programming much more accessible, even if doing so sometimes has doubtful copyright status if not outright copyright violation. But the Internet has succeeded where the TV networks have failed, as evidenced in pages like How does television (TV) work? - Explain that Stuff and How Television Works | HowStuffWorks.

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Post by lpetrich » Mon Aug 14, 2017 1:17 pm

"Maxwell and The Nerds" starts with
Why should we subsidize intellectual curiosity?

Ronald Reagan,
campaign speech, 1980

There is nothing which can better deserve our patronage than the promotion of science and literature. Knowledge is in every country the surest basis of public happiness.

George Washington,
address to Congress, 8 January 1790
What a difference. On the latter side, we can also list Thomas Jefferson, Teddy Roosevelt, and Herbert Hoover.

Our current president? "Ivanka! Ivanka! What is this? Explain it to me!"

CS then talked about how there were not very many women in science, and how a common argument back then was that women were not very suited to doing science. The evidence? Not many women in science.

But that has changed, happy to say, though we still have a way to go.

Then the stereotype that skepticism is male and paranormal credulity is female.

Then scientists as nerds, complete with lack of social skills, and also being oblivious or indifferent to that lack.

CS then gets into the question: why subsidize nerds' arcane interest? Why not direct research to what has unmistakable practical value? Senator William Proxmire included some scientific research in his "Golden Fleece" awards for wasteful government spending.

As he points out, a lot of discoveries had no clear practical value when they were made, even though they eventually led to inventions with great practical value. He uses the example of radio and TV as proposed to Queen Victoria at the height of the British Empire in the middle of the nineteenth century.

CS then described electric fields and magnetic fields, electric fields being produced by electric charges and magnetic fields by electric currents -- and electric and magnetic fields being interrelated (Faraday's law). James Clerk Maxwell, a rather nerdy gentleman, then put all these pieces of the puzzle together to produce his famous equations. In the process, he added an extra term to make his equations work properly, his "displacement current". His equations are roughly

(space and time variations of the electric and magnetic fields) = (electric charge and current densities)

JCM then considered what would happen in a vacuum, and he found a wave solution, one that moves at a constant speed. He calculated this speed, and he found it to be close to the speed of light in a vacuum. It seemed too close to coincidence. Light had some additional features that suggested an electromagnetic nature, like polarization and the Faraday effect: a magnetic field making light's plane of polarization rotate as it travels through some material.

JCM developed a mechanical model for electromagnetism, but it did not go anywhere. So physicists accept electric and magnetic fields as more-or-less irreducible. It's very counterintuitive, it must be noted. Furthermore, electromagetic fields have been joined by several other kinds of elementary-particle fields in the Standard Model of particle physics and its extensions.

But JCM's work made possible something very practical: radio and TV broadcasts -- radio waves are low-frequency, long-wavelength relatives of visible light.
The communications media - the instruments of education and entertainment that James Clerk Maxwell made possible - have never, so far as I know, offered even a mini-series on the life and thought of their benefactor and founder. By contrast, think of how difficult it is to grow up in America without television teaching you about, say, the life and times of Davy Crockett or Billy the Kid or Al Capone.

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Post by lpetrich » Mon Aug 14, 2017 11:57 pm

"Science and Witchcraft"

Back during the witch mania of late medieval Europe, some people became skeptical of the judicial proceedings involved in the witch trials, like torturing accused witches until they confessed to whatever their torturers wanted them to confess to.

"Real Patriots Ask Questions"
'Science and its philosophical corollaries,' wrote the American
historian Clinton Rossiter

were perhaps the most important intellectual force shaping the destiny of eighteenth-century America . . . Franklin was only one of a number of forward-looking colonists who recognized the kinship of scientific method and democratic procedure. Free inquiry, free exchange of information, optimism, self-criticism, pragmatism, objectivity - all these ingredients of the coming republic were already active in the republic of science that flourished in the eighteenth century.
Then CS mentioned one of his heroes, Thomas Jefferson, someone very interested in science.

After some discussion of the issue of freedom of speech,
When permitted to listen to alternative opinions and engage in substantive debate, people have been known to change their minds. It can happen. For example, Hugo Black, in his youth, was a member of the Ku Klux Klan; he later became a Supreme Court justice and was one of the leaders in the historic Supreme Court decisions, partly based on the 14th Amendment to the Constitution, that affirmed the civil rights of all Americans: it was said that when he was a young man, he dressed up in white robes and scared black folks; when he got older, he dressed up in black robes and scared white folks.

In "Acknowledgements", he described teaching a critical-thinking course, that included some debates at the end.
A few weeks before the debates, however, they are informed that it is the task of each to present the point of view of the opponent in a way that's satisfactory to the opponent - so the opponent will say, 'Yes, that's a fair presentation of my views.'

That's the end of The Demon-Haunted World.

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Post by lpetrich » Tue Aug 15, 2017 1:25 am

"Billions and Billions" is a posthumously-published book of some of Carl Sagan's essays. It started off with that phrase attributed to him.

In "Croesus and Cassandra" he mentioned some perils of prediction: believing overly optimistic interpretations and refusing to believe bad news.

Croesus was King Croesus of Lydia (ca. 595 BCE -- ca. 546 BCE), in what's now western Turkey, an area that used to be Greek. He was known for having great wealth, at least by the standards of the time. Our main source on him is Herodotus's History (Histories (Herodotus) - Wikisource, the free online library, links to the original Greek version and to three English translations).

Like many of his contemporaries, he consulted oracles for advice on various issues, and he once asked for advice on whether to fight the Persian Empire. The Oracle of Delphi told him that a great empire would fall if he did so (History I.53).

However, the great empire was his, and when he asked that oracle about that defeat, that oracle stated that he ought to have asked which empire (History I.91).

Some 700 years later, Alexander of Abonutichus offered pretty much the same defense for a similar prophecy outcome. Or so we are told by his only biographer, Lucian of Samosata.

In Greek mythology, the god Apollo gave the gift of prophecy to a certain Cassandra. But when she then refused to have sex with him, he cursed her with the curse that none of her prophecies will be believed. During the Trojan War, she predicted that Troy would fall, but none of the citizens of that town believed her -- even though that town eventually did.

I went through the trouble to hunt down those references in Herodotus's History, because I don't want to repeat unsupported claims.

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Post by lpetrich » Tue Aug 15, 2017 3:48 am

More BaB: some stuff about chlorofluorocarbons and global warming.

In "The Rules of the Game", CS lists various moral rules.
  • The Golden Rule: treat others in ways that you would like to be treated.
  • The Silver Rule: do not treat others in ways that you would not like to be treated.
  • Brass Rule: treat others in ways that they have treated you.
  • Iron Rule: treat others however you like, before they treat you like that.
  • Suck up to those above you, and abuse those below -- the Golden Rule for superiors and the Iron Rule for inferiors.
  • Nepotism Rule (kin selection): Give precedence in all things to close relatives, and do as you like to others.
  • Tit-for-tat rule: Be nice, then follow the Brass Rule.

One of CS's last writings was "In the Valley of the Shadow", about death.
I would love to believe that when I die I will live again, that some thinking, feeling, remembering part of me will continue. But as much as I want to believe that, and despite the ancient and worldwide cultural traditions that assert an afterlife, I know of nothing to suggest that it is more than wishful thinking.

I want to grow really old with my wife, Annie, whom I dearly love. I want to see my younger children grow up and to play a role in their character and intellectual development. I want to meet still unconceived grandchildren. There are scientific problems whose outcomes I long to witness—such as the exploration of many of the worlds in our Solar System and the search for life elsewhere. I want to learn how major trends in human history, both hopeful and worrisome, work themselves out: the dangers and promise of our technology, say; the emancipation of women; the growing political, economic, and technological ascendancy of China; interstellar flight.

If there were life after death, I might, no matter when I die, satisfy most of these deep curiosities and longings. But if death is nothing more than an endless dreamless sleep, this is a forlorn hope. Maybe this perspective has given me a little extra motivation to stay alive.

The world is so exquisite, with so much love and moral depth, that there is no reason to deceive ourselves with pretty stories for which there's little good evidence. Far better, it seems to me, in our vulnerability, is to look Death in the eye and to be grateful every day for the brief but magnificent opportunity that life provides.
This idea of an afterlife as consolation presupposes that it will necessarily be a nice place. But it could be a dull place, like Hades or Sheol where one has an almost disembodied existence. Or even a very nasty place, like Hell -- horrible torture forever and ever and ever. How much of a consolation is the prospect of eternal damnation?

Another possibility is reincarnation, that one had previous lives in this Universe and that one will have more such lives in the future.

He continued,
Many of them have asked me how it is possible to face death without the certainty of an afterlife. I can only say it hasn't been a problem. With reservations about "feeble souls," I share the view of a hero of mine, Albert Einstein:

I cannot conceive of a god who rewards and punishes his creatures or has a will of the kind that we experience in ourselves. Neither can I nor would I want to conceive of an individual that survives his physical death; let feeble souls, from fear or absurd egotism, cherish such thoughts. I am satisfied with the mystery of the eternity of life and a glimpse of the marvelous structure of the existing world, together with the devoted striving to comprehend a portion, be it ever so tiny, of the Reason that manifests itself in nature.
His widow Ann Druyan wrote an epilogue.
Contrary to the fantasies of the fundamentalists, there was no deathbed conversion, no last minute refuge taken in a comforting vision of a heaven or an afterlife. For Carl, what mattered most was what was true, not merely what would make us feel better. Even at this moment when anyone would be forgiven for turning away from the reality of our situation, Carl was unflinching. As we looked deeply into each other's eyes, it was with a shared conviction that our wondrous life together was ending forever.
Thus joining famous infidels like Thomas Paine, Charles Darwin, and Christopher Hitchens with their lack of deathbed conversions.

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