Saturday, March 22, 2014

Intuition, thought control and a recent conversation

A conversation I had yesterday, summarized.

Friend: I don't think the speed of light is the real limit.
Me: Oh?
Friend: Yes. I think we're going to find a way past it eventually. Just like how we found ways past other supposed limits and barriers in the past.
Me: Fair enough.
Friend: But, I shouldn't say that.
Me: Why not?
Friend: I'm not a physicist.
Me: So? You have a tentative idea based on intuitions and knowledge you have. Nothing wrong with that.
Friend: Okay, then the world is only 6000 years old and relativity is a lie! :P
Me: You realize that the options here aren't 'take what you think scientists said as gospel' and 'yammer wildly and put complete trust in any inkling that comes to mind', right?

The conversation switched soon after that, but what struck me was that the very idea that a person could have so much as a tentative, qualified view that may run against the scientific consensus was alien to this person. To say 'I don't find the evidence I've encountered compelling thus far' was as heretical as questioning whether Mary was a virgin is to the hardened Catholic. In fact, possibly moreso.

This is not 'a person who trusts in and accepts science.' This is a bizarre, creepy mentality encouraged by people who should be fighting it.

16 comments:

Craig said...

Hm. Does this happen outside of science? Does it happen among scientists? Does it make a difference if the scientists are expressing opinions withini their field v. some other field?

Science is particularly vulnerable to the modern Cult of the Expert. In history (my avocation) or law (my profession is, er, adjacent to the law) everyone's used to the idea that considered judgments are going to come out different. I think the variation among expert opinion is also more widely appreciated among the public as a whole than it is for (many parts of?) science.

But of course in both fields, there are some areas of consensus that are so solid that dissenters are viewed as the same category as pseudoscientists (homeopaths, say).

Crude said...

Craig,

I think what's happening is that people are trying to piggyback all other issues onto imagined scientific authority. I've encountered, multiple times, people who will scream 'anti-scientific' if a person opposes gay marriage, on the grounds that the APA says it's fine.

I don't have a problem with a person who has a wrong opinion on science ('homeopathy has been shown to work!') being so exposed by data and arguments. But that, I think, is where I differ from a lot of people: the data and arguments have to do the job. But nowadays, those are almost seen as a waste of time. What should be sufficient is 'scientist says so'.

Creepy.

Gyan said...

I would say that your friend was correct to say that "I shouldn't say since I am not a physicist".

1) This is an unreasonable belief:
."I think we're going to find a way past it eventually. Just like how we found ways past other supposed limits and barriers in the past."

Esp when one knows nothing (by self-admission) about the limit that physics imposes by the speed of light.

One should know something about what the experts are talking about before feeling entitled about offering opinions.

Otherwise, it is just repeating "Impossible is not a word in my dictionary".

As CS Lewis observed in Miracles, that to expect something to happen merely because it happened earlier is the mark of not rational but non-rational animal behavior.

Animals form expectations based upon what has happened previously, but people can reason about the why's and how's and form model about what should happen.

Essentially, there are different modes of prediction. Astrologers predict, so do astronomers and so do astrophysicists. But the principles of prediction are different.

Crude said...

Esp when one knows nothing (by self-admission) about the limit that physics imposes by the speed of light.

They didn't say that they knew nothing. They said they weren't a physicist.

One should know something about what the experts are talking about before feeling entitled about offering opinions.

They knew what the experts said.

As CS Lewis observed in Miracles, that to expect something to happen merely because it happened earlier is the mark of not rational but non-rational animal behavior.

CS Lewis was an expert on animal behavior?

And, are you a physicist?

Gyan said...

CS Lewis was a theorist of Divine Reason though. He did write about animal sentience in The Problem of Pain too.
He did gave the Argument from Reason.

Gyan said...

The reason your friend gave for disbelieving in the ultimate limit imposed by speed of light IS not a reason within the context of physics community.

That is, he did not provide a theoretical or empirical reason but a vague hope that this limit would be transcended as some other limits have been transcended in past.

Did he know why physicists maintain that the speed of light is limiting speed for material objects?

------------
I would not presume to call myself a physicist. I am just a modeller.

Crude said...

CS Lewis was a theorist of Divine Reason though.

Yeah? They hand out degrees for that?

He did write about animal sentience in The Problem of Pain too.

Oh yeah? That suffices to make him an expert?

The problem here, Gyan, is that you attacked the very idea that a non-physicist could so much as have an opinion, based on what they read, about a question that the discipline of physics is concerned with. CS Lewis' example is probably going to end up far more in my column than yours as far as evidence goes.

There is nothing wrong with having a provisional opinion based on the knowledge one has, properly qualified, even if it runs against apparent expert consensus. And to be dead honest? Half the time expert consensus on particular questions isn't even known.

Crude said...

The reason your friend gave for disbelieving in the ultimate limit imposed by speed of light IS not a reason within the context of physics community.

I didn't record their reasoning. I stated what they thought would happen - they didn't explain their reasoning in my summarized communication of the conversation.

Do you find it at all ironic that you're criticizing someone for having an opinion based on supposedly inadequate knowledge, and so far the knowledge you've taken away from this short passage is actually mistaken?

Did he know why physicists maintain that the speed of light is limiting speed for material objects?

Good question. Do you think this would have been the sort of thing you should have asked before criticizing them for offering their opinion, rather than this late in the game?

I would not presume to call myself a physicist. I am just a modeller.

So I should regard your opining about the topic of physics as worthless, right?

Gyan said...

Whom I have criticized for offering opinion?
I wrote that
"I would say that your friend was correct to say that "I shouldn't say since I am not a physicist". "

Now who is a physicist?

A physicist is a person that does physics i.e. engages in the discourse of physics.

Trivially, if one seeks to contribute in a particular discourse, one should learn about the subject matter first.

And by the way, the physicists have strong incentives to break consensus. Not all science is like climate research.

Crude said...

Whom I have criticized for offering opinion?

You've supported that my friend shouldn't have so much as speculated, given the knowledge they had, if it ran contrary to the perceived consensus of physicists.

A physicist is a person that does physics i.e. engages in the discourse of physics.

No. A physicist is someone with a degree from an accredited institution placed in a formal role in which they are recognized as or explicitly given the title 'physicist'.

If 'engaging in the discourse of physics' was sufficient to make one a physicist, I'd be a physicist tonight.

And by the way, the physicists have strong incentives to break consensus.

It depends on the time and the place, and the particular consensus.

Gyan said...

Einstein was employed in Swiss Patent officer when he published his revolutionary papers in 1905.

Still today, you do not require any formal degree or employment to publish papers in physics journals.

Crude said...

Einstein was employed in Swiss Patent officer when he published his revolutionary papers in 1905.

And what was his education?

As I said, if the requirement to be a physicist is 'engaging in the discourse of physics', then my friend was a physicist anyway.

Gyan said...

Engaging in the discourse implies that one argues along with the discipline.

It is not a license to free-form speculation, but disciplined speculation, using reasons that are accepted in the given discourse.

Crude said...

It is not a license to free-form speculation, but disciplined speculation, using reasons that are accepted in the given discourse.

Accepted by whom? According to what? And on what grounds did you determine that the person I was quoting was not within the discourse? Wait, let me guess - 'I thought they were using a completely idiosyncratic definition!'?

Look, Gyan, let's get down to the brass tacks here. You jumped the gun on this one in an attempt to play shining knight for academia that you either feel part of or beholden to. It was a mistake. Your imaginary rules about who does and doesn't have the right to speculate, however qualified, based on the knowledge they have is exactly that - imaginary, or at best, your opinion. I happen to reject it.

Scary and terrifying, I know. Why, people may come to their own conclusions based on their own knowledge and understanding rather than trust and be beholden to the people you want them to trust and be beholden to. I assure you - the world will still spin, the sun will still rise, and the world will find a way to function. In fact, it may well function better than it does under the current popular mantra.

Gyan said...

Please, I myself question the standard Big Bang scenario. I think that the argument for the mediocrity principle (that we are located in a nowise special region of space) to be unconvincing.

But I understand that my objections must be made in the language and the style other people appreciate.
The ethos of the discourse must be maintained, otherwise we will not be having in discourse presently.

The word "scary" does not scare me. I have worked with a person who questioned quantum mechanics fundamentally and simultaneously publishing papers in Physical Review. I know this community. They prize speculations. In particular, particles faster than speed of light are old topic--google tachyon.

"And on what grounds did you determine that the person I was quoting was not within the discourse"
1) By the self-admission
2) The only reason for the speculation you mentioned was not a
reason in physics but in history. Limits have been crossed in past, so this limit might well be.

This is not a speculation in physics, but a speculation in futurology.

Crude said...

But I understand that my objections must be made in the language and the style other people appreciate.

No, they don't. Not when you're just expressing your own view. Now, to *convince* someone else, sure. To state one's own view, it's not necessary.

Put another way - I appreciated their point.

I have worked with a person who questioned quantum mechanics fundamentally and simultaneously publishing papers in Physical Review. I know this community. They prize speculations.

Congratulations, you be befriended someone who wrote papers, quite possibly on arxiv. And the entire point of what I'm talking about here is that I really don't care what 'the community' thinks or what they value in and of itself. I do not care if someone's opinion 'offends the community' or if, in fact, it even ultimately turns out to be wrong. What I care about is a culture of, pardon me, ass-kissers and wanna-bes who are perpetuating a culture of needless intellectual cowardice in the face of any academic because they alternately think that A) acting like a lapdog for academic consensus gives themselves some kind of authority and/or B) they hope to be part of that community someday.

1) By the self-admission

There was no self-admission of anything but 'I am not a physicist', which you ran off with in some inane idiosyncratic interpretation to mean 'Derp, I no read anything bout this, derp'. Once again, I find it funny that you were so quick to turn up your nose at someone daring to give their opinion about a topic you thought they knew nothing about, when you knew nothing about the person in question or the relevant knowledge they had.

Physician, heal thyself.

This is not a speculation in physics, but

And my reply is that you are not criticizing anything but a hobgoblin that doesn't exist outside of your own mind. Next time, inquire. Qualify your statements. And please, remember this: the community you think so highly of? I don't give a shit about their consensus views. Their value exists solely in terms of what evidence they can provide for one or another claim, and what they can materially do that's useful. And if they can't do the latter in any capacity, there's a good chance that whatever they do in the former belongs in the 'Who cares?' box, or it will need to be augmented by philosophical argument to make it of value anyway.