Thursday, April 24, 2014

Most Americans Don't Accept the Big Bang: Are They Dumb Or Uneducated?

As regular readers of my blog know, I have zero tolerance for people who proffer opinions about scientific theories if they have never even taken a basic course in the  related discipline or area themselves.  Thus, if you are going to spout off about evolution you need to have at least taken a college Biology course (two semesters).  If you are going to opine about the Big Bang or global warming, then I expect you will have at least taken a high school physics course - again, two full semesters.  In an earlier blog post I even posted a basic thermal physics test for those who dispute anthropogenic global warming. See e.g.
The diagram below shows two bodies of equal mass (A and B) within a thermally insulated material. A has a thermometer inserted to take readings. A was initially at a temperature of 100C and B at 50 C when placed in thermal contact.
a) Find the temperature of the system of two bodies in thermal equilibrium. Is this the same as the reading of A’s temperature? (Show work, explain)
b) Which body undergoes a positive change in entropy?
c) Which body undergoes a negative change in entropy?
d) What is the total entropy change for the system, A + B?
Sadly, it is doubtful that even one of the ordinary folk who opine that global warming "doesn't exist or isn't driven by humans"  would be able to do this single problem. Since the Big Bang is ultimately concerned with thermal aspects of physics as well, expansion of plasma in space and time,  it is likely they wouldn't be able to do any of these problems or related ones, e.g.
a) One mole of a gas has a volume of 0.0223 cubic meters at a pressure P = 1.01 x 10 5 N/m2 at 0 degrees Celsius. If the molar heat capacity at constant pressure is 28.5 J/mol-K find the molar heat capacity at constant volume, C v.,m.
b) 20 g of a gas initially at 27 C is heated at a constant pressure of 101 kPa (kiloPascals), so its volume increases from 0.250 m3 to 0.375 m3. Find:

i) the external work done in the expansion

ii)  the increase in the internal energy U
Now, the preceding dismal take is confirmed in a new Associated Press poll that has yet more depressing news for those of us already appalled at the diminishing quality of science education in this country. As noted in the attendant report:
A majority of Americans don’t believe in even the most fundamental discovery of 20th century physics, which 99.9 percent of members of the National Academies of Sciences do: that our universe began with an enormous explosion, the Big Bang
51 percent of people in a new AP/GFK poll said they were “not too confident” or “not at all confident” that the statement “the universe began 13.8 billion years ago with a big bang” was correct.
[T]he Big Bang question data was enough to “depress and upset some of America’s top scientists,” the AP said.

 If so, they haven’t been paying attention to the data about the scientific knowledge that Americans possess. The National Science Board (a part of the National Science Foundation) has produced an annual survey of American beliefs about science called the Science and Engineering Indicators since the 1980s.   Americans - as reflected in the AP survey -  both seem to find the Big Bang confusing and worse, to have faith-based conflicts with the scientific conclusions of cosmology.
I attribute a lot of this to fake scientists - actually pseudo-scientists (like Jason Lisle) - who gain a peanut gallery as well as prominence in the fundagelical religious sphere then profess to spiel on scientific issues like the Big Bang and the age of the Earth, confusing and undermining their followers. See e.g.
In this case, it's not surprising to behold the other shaky scientific investments of Americans, including: that the universe is at least 13.8 billion years old, that life on Earth came about by natural selection, and that the Earth orbits the Sun not the other way around.
In most cases the observed 'shakiness' or lack of confidence in the scientific findings is partly to do with not having the necessary science background or education. Thus, the person without a decent physics education will tend to doubt the Big Bang theory, just as the person without an adequate biology education (which means no exposure to natural selection)  will lack confidence in natural selection and hence evolution.
But what about the educated person who still rejects the Big Bang (as Jason Lisle does), or global warming engendered by humans (as Richard Lindzen does) or evolution (as Jason Lisle also does)? In this case one must factor in pre-existing cognitive distortions such as the confirmation bias. This occurs when one selectively looks for and finds confirmatory evidence for strongly held, entrenched beliefs. Interestingly, this phenomenon is almost exclusively tied to those with conservative political and religious beliefs. Hence, their beliefs dominate their cognitive maps and outlooks and pave the way for the confirmation bias.
It isn't that they are 'dumb' but rather that their brains are contaminated by a bias which prevents them from seeing things objectively.  
The sad conclusion for the scientist looking for a hint that Americans are more open to modern scientific finds?  Don't hold your breath because the factors that engender American doubt in those finds isn't going away anytime soon. Even the best science education (at least to the baccalaureate degree level) may mitigate it, but if the person is steeped in religious convictions that inveigh against the findings there will be no progress. Distortions such as confirmation bias will work against it.
See also:

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

"Online Readers Are Too Picky! Too Much Skimming, Scanning!" Really?

The essay in last Sunday's Denver Post ('Skimming and Scanning Online News') was curious for presuming to be enlightening but it really wasn't. Author Michael Rosenwald noted an earlier article he wrote for The Washington Post in which he asserted that too much "skimming and scanning" of online news as well as blogs  was "messing with our ability to read deeper and longer works."

He then observed in the current article that his earlier piece "had gone viral"  (including inciting Twitter and Facebook debates - ironic in itself) and "even on Craig Ferguson's CBS 'Late Late' Show".   Rosenwald, noting all this, then asked:

"But here's a question for the digital age: Did all those readers actually read the story? Lots of people joked about this on Twitter, with variations of 'I skimmed this'"

I interject here that Twitter isn't really designed for an in- depth discussion given its text limits. Hence, it is the ideal medium for encouraging flighty, sound bite attention spans. Facebook isn't much better, but at least it allows more space for comments - not that a serious person would post any examination of political or economic events there. Again, it's more a social schmooze site. If you want to explore Obamacare in depth, or the unwise Obama decision to send U.S. troops to eastern Europe in the wake of the Ukraine crisis, FB is not the place to do it. Instead you create a blog and then expatiate, preferably disclosing your reasoning at each point.

Given this background, Rosenwald's next observations make eminent sense:

"The good folks at Chartbeat, which tracks how people read digital content, performed an analysis and found that 25 percent of readers didn't even scroll past the headline and photograph to the text of the article. A smaller percentage of readers dropped off somewhere toward the middle of the story. And 31 percent made it all the way through (I have a lollipop for that group)."

But again this ought not be astounding news. Anyone who runs any kind of serious blog - as opposed to one featuring favorite recipes, wrestling babies or kitty-doggy boxing matches, can see the same trend.  Most people simply don't want to invest in any  extended, brain-demanding account or post. They prefer the shorter variants and not too much heavy stuff.  Keep it fluffy and light with large dollops of yucks.

Rosenwald's consult with Chartbeat's chief data scientist, Josh Schwartz, confirms this.  Schwartz informed him that on average one -third of news readers never make it to the end. In some cases, up to 90 percent say goodbye without even reading. Schwartz added that "most people don't read the article they land on." The same trends apply to serious blogs, with mostly serious (including scientific content).

As an aside, there can be remarkable exceptions. For example, my first post on the applications of differential equations last year already has more than 1200 reads and still counting. But this may merely show a large proportion of college age readers who are doing differential equations at university and found the application examples useful. Most other math blog posts barely reach 25-30 reads.

Taking this to heart, Rosenwald writes, concerning the skimming, scanning folks:

"They look for key words and if something excites them, they read. If not, they scamper around.  There is apparently a lot of scampering. This is how we deal with the superabundance of information online."

He then describes how this flightiness has crept into his normal reading, to the extent of starting to read novels and other longer works - then putting them down.

Is any of this really amazing? Not really! It was originally elaborated by Mark Bauerlein in The Dumbest Generation,   Bauerlein mainly zoomed in on the under 30 crowd who were  "foregoing knowledge-based maturity to wallow in a self-confected, solipsistic, social mirror world" of their own egos and selves. The fallout included their not even meeting basic standards of knowledge for employment, far less earning a degree that actually means anything. (A survey- test circulated at the time the book was released found a majority of Harvard grads flunked a basic test on American History.)

The general takeaway was that the digital media used, whether Facebook,Twitter or just  cell messages all contributed to an artificial solipsistic world filtered by the egocentric dispositions of the users. Instead of being a channel of information and knowledge consolidation, the monitor screen becomes a mirror of the young users’ own limited selves and under-developed psyches.
So, all the things that bother and bore them are blocked out. The people they don’t know and don’t want to know they can exclude at the touch of key. A new bomb may have been developed by Iran, and an earthquake may have killed thousands in China, but in the case of most Facebook and Twitter  users it’s the old monkey show: “hear no evil, see no evil, speak no evil” .

A delimited reality is  thereby confected which deliberately excludes the harsh outside world, and confines the personalized reality to chirpy “how r ya’s”, or gossip, mainly in deformed English which Bauerlein ranks just above the reading level of pre-school children’s books (determined by the median frequency of rare or difficult words per 1000 – with print newspapers at the top with 68.3 and pre-school books at 16.3).

This is illuminating. Because if most scanners and skimmers are only at the level of  recognizing 20-25  difficult words per page they will not be able to handle a newspaper story (or a serious blog post) with 68-75 difficult words per page. No surprise then that most newspaper stories will not be read, and only titillating stories get attention.

Of course, this means the same people can vote, and one must be concerned how informed they are when they do. Beyond that, are they even able to read a lengthy ballot properly?

Rosenwald adds at the end:

"Cognitive scientists are worried about this trend. And they should be."


Tuesday, April 22, 2014

How Global Warming Deniers Get the Better of American Brains

The graphic shown above depicts one of the classic examples of anti-global warming  twaddle I've encountered over the years.  The most incredible aspect is that it didn't emanate from your ordinary clueless, under-educated dummy, but from a member of Mensa. A guy by the name of Evan J. Wright. He firmly believed  I was "writing nonsense" (in one Mensa Bulletin letter) because I noted the much higher absorption of CO2 in the oceans. According to Wright: "That's preposterous! If the oceans absorbed carbon dioxide they'd all turn into carbonated liquid, or soda pop! Does anyone see that? NOOO!"

One wonders how some folks ever got into Mensa! One further wonders how Wright (and his equally know-nothing offspring, Jon Wright, who rushed to his dad's defense, equally uninformed) manage to account for the documented fact of higher acidity of the oceans, arising directly from....tada.....the absorption of enormous amount of CO2 since the onset of the Industrial Revolution. There is now about 30% higher acidity as a result of the chemical reaction: H2O + CO2 -> H2CO3, in other words, the production of carbonic acid.

But the Wright's follies are small potatoes compared to the ways the anti-global warming establishment has used well-defined tactics to attempt to bamboozle the American people. The sad fact is that they actually seem to be working given how 10-12 percent fewer Americans now accept anthropogenic global warming compared to 10 years ago. It is instructive therefore to examine some of these methods:

1) Distorting and framing Uncertainty:

This is perhaps the biggest tactic in use and has to do with what has been called 'agnotology'.  This term,  derived from the Greek 'agnosis' - the study of culturally constructed ignorance- is achieved primarily by sowing the teeniest nugget of doubt in whatever claim is made (and as we know NO scientific theory is free of uncertainty).  Stanford historian of science Robert Proctor has correctly tied it to the trend of skeptic science sown deliberately and for political or economic ends .

The agnotologist and his ilk succeed once the following trope is emitted and embraced by the power structure:

There is still so much uncertainty, we shouldn’t invest money to solve the climate problem,’

But this is egregious on so many levels that it boggles the rational mind. First, any modern scientific pursuit must - by virtue of being science - include uncertainty. Uncertainty is acknowledged every time I perform a measurement - say of the solar diameter- and express it with plus or minus kilometer values. It signified that final measurement cannot be presumed free of measuring error which is inherent in all our physics.

The matter of "too much uncertainty" is also the wrong way to look at the issue for any scientific model or measurement, because they can as easily UNDER-estimate a potential threat or occurrence as over estimate it. Let's take the case of city -busting asteroids which were the topic for discussion today on the CBS Early Show,  with physicist Michio Kaku.  Kaku reported that in fact we have had to readjust our estimates of asteroid impacts based on new observations. Where we once expected a city-buster (say one that could take out a city like New York) every 150 years, we now have to expect it such a killer every 30 years!

In a similar vein, the uncertainty attached to climate models could also be in the direction of under-reporting or under-estimating the full impacts. Thus, the uncertainty could well be such that the runaway greenhouse effect could erupt fifty to one hundred years earlier than previously thought. Or the rising of the sea level owing to melting Arctic (and Greenland) ice sheets could incept a 10m rise as opposed to a 3 m one. This is why uncertainties are expressed as plus and minus values at the end of the measurement.

My point is that the trope expressed above doesn't take into account that the uncertainty implies that the problem is more likely to be worse than expected in the absence of that uncertainty.

It is for this very reason that one would be more justified in applying Dick Cheney's "one percent solution" to the case of both asteroids and global warming. (Cheney's one percent solution was that even if there is a 1 percent chance of a terror attack we must go all out to defend against it).  The reason for adopting the 1 percent solution to climate change and asteroids is because the consequences - should the event occur - would be so horrendous that the costs of repair would vastly exceed the costs of precautionary preparation.

Uncertainty, especially as the asteroid example illustrates, is therefore a reason to do much more to protect against the occurrence as opposed to delay or doing much less.

2) Misrepresenting Consensus on Anthropogenic Global Warming (AGW):

This tactic has worked because too many Americans are not aware of the real consensus among real climate scientists that anthropogenic global warming is a FACT that must be acted upon. Perhaps the first researcher to scientifically and statistically establish this was science historian Naomi Oreskes - who first published an initial survey of global warming literature, entitled  “Beyond The Ivory Tower: The Scientific Consensus on Climate Change.”

Oreskes analyzed “928 abstracts, published in refereed scientific journals between 1993 and 2003, and listed in the ISI database with the keywords ‘climate change.’” She found that 75 percent of papers accepted the consensus view “either explicitly or implicitly,” while “25 percent dealt with methods or paleoclimate,” and took no position on AGW.  Remarkably, she found that none of the papers disagreed with the consensus position.  

Later studies have found a small sliver of dissenting views, but the more the consensus has been studied, the sturdier it appears, while the dissenting literature is dogged with repeated problems. For example, in Eos Transactions, Vol. 90, No. 3, p. 22 , P. T. Doran and M. Kendall-Zimmerman found that (p. 24)

the debate on the authenticity of global warming and the role played by human activity is largely non-existent among those who understand the nuances and scientific basis of long-term climate processes.”

In their analytic survey for which 3146 climate and Earth scientists responded, a full 96.2% of specialists concurred temperatures have steadily risen and there is no evidence for cooling. Meanwhile, 97.4% concur there is a definite role of humans in global climate change.

A 2010 paper, Expert credibility in climate change, reconfirmed the 97 percent consensus figure, and found that “the relative climate expertise and scientific prominence of the researchers unconvinced of ACC [or AGW] are substantially below that of the convinced researchers.” A 2013 paper, Quantifying the consensus on anthropogenic global warming in the scientific literature, examined “11,944 climate abstracts from 1991–2011” and found that “97.1 percent endorsed the consensus position,” while a parallel self-rating survey found that “97.2 percent endorsed the consensus.”

Despite that, another Mensan (what's with these characters?) Marty Nemko, in a prominent Mensa Bulletin piece in 2010, actually posed these questions:

- Why does the media imply that the IPCC report reflects the consensus of thousands of scientists, when – as reported by CNN – there are dissenting scientists, like Richard Lindzen of MIT?

- If there’s consensus, why on Dec. 20, 2007, did the U.S.  Senate Committee on the Environment and Public Policy issue a report that 400 scientists now believe the evidence doesn’t support that “consensus"?

Nemko interprets “consensus” in these questions to mean 100% agreement, but this isn’t the case at all.  A consensus in the accepted English definition means the concurrence of an overwhelming majority. We have always known a certain minority hard core of scientists (the contrarians – who probably want more attention than being lumped in with others) have existed. People like S. Fred Singer of the University of Virginia and Richard Lindzen of MIT.  These outlier oddballs will always exist because it's in their interest to object, since either they are part- funded by the fossil fuel industry (Singer) or they are able to carve out a contrarian niche in a field otherwise dominated by concurrence (Lindzen).

But by confusing the meaning of "consensus" they seek to try to make the public believe the issue isn't settled when it is.  It would be analogous to a fundie claiming there's no consensus that the Earth is 4.5 billion years old because a few oddball naysayers, like Jason Lisle and D. Russell Humphreys, choose to differ. This despite the fact that we can actually use radioactive decay to obtain an excellent estimate that puts the Earth's age at 4 1/2 billion years.

As for Nemko's second question, the answer ought to be obvious: it's because the Senate is largely comprised of people who lack any credentials in climate science – and hence are not informed or educated enough to offer a professional scientific opinion – only a political one. Thus, they would not have been able to recognize that most of the 400 scientists "who don't believe the evidence supports a consensus" were not climate scientists.

3) Conspiracist ideation in science rejection:

To summarize this one: when all else has failed in trying to knock down a scientific consensus, then pull out the conspiracy card.  Indeed, when one looks at the history of science denial, there is plenty of evidence that a firm scientific consensus drives deniers into postulating conspiracy — from the opposition to tobacco and industrial chemicals and contamination (as in the Erin Brockovich case) to climate change.

Thus, for the firm climate change consensus, the rejoinder is : "CONSPIRACY! All the scientists are in it together that's why they agree!"   Of course, these pinheads will then look for any supporting "evidence" to support their whacky claims, and no surprise they found it - or what they wrongly thought qualified - in the leaked emails some years ago at East Anglia, and the Univ. of Pennsylvania, which became known as "climate gate".   (Think of Watergate, as in Watergate conspiracy.)

Fortuitously, a voice of reason soon sounded. It arrived with Myles Allen of Oxford University and delivered in a  public comment (Financial Times, July 29, 2010) that it was clear from the accumulated work of climate scientists that human-engendered greenhouse gases was the problem. and in his words (ibid.):

"Climategate never really brought climate science into question at all."

In other words, a storm in a teacup. No "conspiracy" at all. The product of a paranoid embolism erupting in the brains of the ....paranoid!   The leaked emails themselves were simply attributed to an understandable hyper-reactionist tendency in the scientists - tired of seeing their work maimed and misrepresented by the flat Earthers.

A second reason conspiracist ideation crops up  and is invoked in resisting science is that it has greater explanatory reach than science, because it’s not constrained by “the criteria of consistency and coherence that characterize scientific reasoning.”  The recent news that according to a new Associated Press-GfK poll  51 percent question the Big Bang theory discloses that scientific reasoning is alien to most 'Muricans. Indeed, I doubt that any of those who question the Big Bang theory even took a high school physics course.

Getting down to cases, it's interesting that as one source put it:

Deniers will claim in the same breath (or within a few minutes) that (a) temperatures cannot be measured reliably, (b) there is definitely no warming, (c) the warming isn’t caused by humans, and (d) we are doing ourselves a favor by warming the planet. The four propositions are incoherent because they cannot all be simultaneously true — and yet deniers will utter all those in close succession all the time.”

Yet, any such string of statements ought to be obviously incoherent to any critical thinker - even one who's never taken a physics course. For example, if (a) is granted as true then how in the hell can (b) be accepted? If you can't measure temperatures reliably how can you assert "there's definitely no warming"?   And if you grant that statement (c) is true - warming exists but not human-caused, how can you also assert (b) is true? It's total poppycock!

Finally, conspiracist ideation is also  immune to falsification, because contradictory evidence (e.g., climate scientists associated with 'climategate' being exonerated of accusations) can be accommodated by broadening the scope of the conspiracy (exonerations are a whitewash), often with considerable creativity.

Until and unless we can effectively parry these tactics it will become increasingly difficult to get the public to support concerted action.

EARTH DAY 2014: What Needs To Be On Everyone's Radar

Earth Day 2014 is today, and it is well - given the parlous indicators - to be aware of some of the more pernicious threats we face. If this planet is to be in any way salvaged for future generations - as opposed to being used up by this one - then action needs to be taken. (I will get around to some concrete actions Americans can take at the end.)

Now, what needs to be on every sentient citizen's radar:

1) According to a new study published in Nature, climate-change will “lock” into place by the year 2047 (plus or minus 14 years, when the uncertainty is factored in). Once that happens, every year after 2047 will be hotter than even the current hottest year on record.

By 2047, the study concludes, our current record temperatures will become the new normal temperatures.    The point was brought home in the first episode of Showtime's 'Years of Living Dangerously' where NASA scientists at the JPL showed progressive temperature maps for the next 50-70 years with Fargo, North Dakota seeing the same regular high temperatures as Phoenix (in the 100s) by the end of the century.

2) Population continues to increase to critical catastrophic levels. While four years ago we were consuming the resource equivalent of 1.5 Earths per year  it is now approaching 1.6 because of the added humans - more than eighty million per year (1 million added every 4.5 days according to Alan Weisman).  No surprise then that population growth is at the core of 90 percent of our environmental problems - from the greenhouse effect, to mounting air and water pollution to reduced food quality via overuse of GMO foods and nitrogen fertilizers.

Most experts (e.g. Alan Weisman, ('Countdown: Our Last, Best Hope for a Future on Earth' ) believe our numbers are nearly 3.5 times greater than Earth's carrying capacity - that is, the capacity or numbers that can be supported in a sustainable way by the existing, finite resources.

One cannot be a conscientious environmentalist and at the same time ignore population growth or the need for dramatic family planning. This would be roughly analogous to professing one is against war, but having mostly defense industry related funds in one's investment portfolio. It doesn't add up and betrays cognitive dissonance and philosophic inconsistency.

Even now, 1 billion people live in water-stressed conditions, meaning that renewable water supplies have dropped below 1,700 cubic meters per capita. One notable ‘State of the World’ report (2000, pp. 46-47), warned that the ever increasing water deficits will likely spark “water wars” by 2025. We are already seeing low level water wars emerge here in the mountain West, with fracking competing for scarce water in a severely drought prone region.

3) The fracking craze continues - it is not your 'friend':   

The insane practice of fracking, spurred by fossil fuel industry propaganda, continues to rend communities apart as half usually sell out while the other half fights to retain property rights. Meanwhile, bought out state legislators from Pennsylvania to Texas are considering laws that "pool" fracking properties after a majority agree to sell-  and which can  then override any citizens that object.

Beyond this, pols and poltroons are pushing the trope of fracking's  energy "promise" and helping to solve global warming - but this promise is false. Snake oil!   Kerogen is the product emerging from shale oil, for example.  As Richard Heinberg notes (Snake Oil: How Fracking's False Promise Imperils Our Future', page 110 ):

"Kerogen is not oil. It is better thought of as an oil precursor that was insufficiently cooked by geologic processes. If we want to turn it into oil, we have to finish the process nature started: that involves heating the kerogen to a high temperature for a long time. And that in turn takes energy- lots of it, whether supplied by hydroelectricity, nuclear power plants, natural gas, or the kerogen itself. Therefore the EROEI in processing oil shale is bound to be pitifully low."

As for fracking for natural gas, that's no savior either. As Heinberg puts it (p. 116):

 "No evidence suggests that the technology of fracking has actually raised the EROEI for natural gas production. It temporarily lowered prices but only by glutting the market."

4) Too many Americans continue to be hoodwinked by Climate change deniers:

By 'deniers' I mean the whole constellation of blowhards - many on talk radio - who claim that there is no 'proof' or that the consensus of climate scientists isn't "real" or is some kind of PR stunt pulled off by the scientists themselves, to get more research money. I will deal with this in a separate blog - later today.

Sadly, and incredibly, these deniers even appear on education sites supposedly dedicated to addressing questions on science, such as A number even  operate in the astronomy question forum - if you can believe it. Thus, while I might provide correct answers to questions, these propagandists undermine those efforts with their codswallop and distortions at every turn.

5) Americans continue to be the world's biggest 'energy gluttons, and are doing little or nothing about it.  What do I mean? Well the graphic below can provide some insight, including what you can actually do to mitigate carbon deposition. One example of what you might do: turn your router off when not in use, especially at night! Otherwise, it uses more kilowatt-hours per year than the average Tanzanian does for all his energy needs.

Energy use by Americans.
The graphic above shows the energy output of typical appliances used by Americans. This ought to give some clue of what else can be done to reduce energy gluttony, and hence carbon deposition. Short of very high carbon taxes imposed on all energy use, not likely to come about given our bought out political establishment, it's up to each of us to voluntarily do what we can to mitigate CO2 into our atmosphere.

Monday, April 21, 2014

Denver MJ ''Smokeout' Is Mellow - No Riots or Mass Murders!

One of the thousands in Denver yesterday, blowing smoke.

As most of us expected, the 4/20 annual marijuana smokeout occurred uneventfully yesterday with thousands gathered peacefully in a sun-drenched Denver Park, to the rhythms of trip-hop music played through booming speakers. Perhaps a third or more were tourist MJ users, who made the pilgrimage to Denver to partake of legalized weed (though, technically, it isn't supposed to be used out in the open - only in your little domicile.).  

As of 5 p.m. Sunday, Denver police had written only  47 marijuana-consumption citations. On Saturday, they issued 22 pot tickets. Though signs warned against smoking out in the open and organizers instructed people not to puff up, the predictable cloud of marijuana smoke arose like clockwork at 4:20 p.m Sunday.  Clearly, the laws that specifically forbid pot smoking in the park were not being enforced, and even the normally staid Denver Post proclaimed: "And that is how it should be at a pot rally with tens of thousands of people."  Indeed!

Despite the rising MJ mushroom puff cloud, the world didn't stop, the crowd didn't suddenly become a riotous mass of stoners, nor did they mutate into mass murdering zombies - as some hysterical voices predicted. (This, after a father of three shot and killed his wife in a tony Denver suburb three days ago, after consuming marijuana candy. More on this below). Nor did masses of the stoned climb up to the top of  buildings and dive off. (This was forecast after an African college student consumed a whole MJ cookie a few weeks ago and jumped off a four story landing.)

 Short of mayhem and suicide, the Nervous Nellies  fretted that the  nation's press would flock to the rally and photos from the big smoke-out would become the iconic image of Denver as they circulated around the web and the 24/7 cable world.. But lo and behold, Denver did not become a laughingstock and police didn't barge into the crowd to write $150 citations to anyone and everyone they could nab.

By all accounts this first major smoke out since Amendment 64 passed went even better than the most optimistic could forecast. The event, originally heralded as a rally for marijuana rights,   was really a celebration. Activists numbered among the crowd and they still believe there are matters to protest surrounding pot, even with legalization (such as whether Colo. employers can fire workers who smoke MJ on their own time, and whether landlords can prohibit it). But few who came to the park on Saturday and Sunday seemed to have activism in mind. This was a victory dance and one that will be taken note of in other U.S. cities.

"Give us this one day," said Lily Berryman, 18, of Fort Collins, who sported marijuana leaf sunglasses.

"Weed smokers aren't the type to get up all in your face," she said. "We do it at home or behind closed doors. So we just want this one day to smoke and have fun."

 This may well be so but issues still need to be dealt with in terms of MJ  content standardization, especially of edibles like cookies and candies. Also, more high profile warnings need to be made about mixing pot edibles with prescription drugs.  This came to light after a 44 year old mother of three was shot in the head several days ago even while she was on the phone to 911 reporting her husband's aberrant behavior.

Her husband had not long before purchased a bag of MJ candies and gobbled them down, despite having taken a powerful pain killer earlier.  Suddenly he went into hallucination mode - thought he saw "demons", and begged his wife to take the gun from his hand and shoot him. We don't know exactly what he saw but it's a good bet the mixture of drugs, THC and his weapon didn't add up to anything pleasant. Suddenly, as his wife reported to 911 he was pointing the gun at her, and he fired it. Since that incident, shrill warnings have erupted about MJ's dangers ....and maybe legalization wasn't such a great idea after all.

Which, of course, is nonsense, since the same thing could have occurred had the guy downed a fifth of Bourbon and mixed it with the same drugs. But when these alcohol-related incidents occur you barely hear about them,

The other aspect that needs to be addressed is the matter of standardizing potency of all edibles, in terms of the active MJ component, THC.  For example, the African college student had come to Colorado to partake of an edible MJ cookie, with his mates. He (and they) were warned by the store proprietor that each cookie contained 6 1/2 servings - based on the active component, THC. Hence, they were advised to break each cookie into six pieces and consume only one piece at a time. The college student instead took the whole cookie back to his room and gobbled it. (He had claimed he felt no effects, so kept on eating  -not waiting for the effects to surface).  He was unable to sleep properly and then at some point, awakened and jumped out his fourth floor hotel window.

Both these incidents are sad, and never should have happened. But they don't prove that Amendment 64 was a bad law, or that MJ stores ought to now be shuttered and banned. What they do show is that people need to show more discretion in their consumption of these products, and those who make them need to take more care to ensure the same amount of THC in an MJ cookie, is also disclosed in an MJ candy, and that proper lab tests have been conducted to ensure the quality is the same. Something is amiss if a person is left hallucinating after taking a half an MJ candy with 10 mg THC, but his bud has nothing happen to him having consumed the same. (In some recent press reports proprietors have admitted that the potency can and does vary wildly.)

New users, especially, have been advised to take it easy, especially with edibles.

Meanwhile, both wifey and I have agreed we've no intention to try anything "out of curiosity" or "to see what it's like".  We have our own 'drugs' of choice, namely ice cream and biscotti nibbles - with our coffee each morning.

That is about as radical as we plan to get, though we do wish the state's MJ experiment the best in proving to the nation it can work.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Science Can't 'Disprove' God - But It Doesn't Have To

"The modern scientist is not so naïve as to deny God because he cannot be found in a telescope, or the soul because it cannot be revealed by the scalpel. He has merely noted that the idea of God is logically unnecessary. It does not help him to explain anything or to make verifiable predictions"- Alan Watts, in  'The Wisdom of Uncertainty'

Alan Watts' words above are timely on this Easter Sunday, and possibly might incite more thoughtful Christians to consider the question of the existence of God, as well as the concept of emergence. In fact, in a recent article : Science Doesn't Disprove God: Where Richard Dawkins and the New Atheists Go Wrong, author Amir D. Aczel considers these questions and declares Dawkins and the New Atheists far far from disproof of any divine Being on account of their over simplified narrative.

While Aczel touches on evolution, his primary focus is on consciousness, which admittedly has been over-simplified by too many atheists (new or old) and with the quality of emergence denied. Referencing the work of Daniel Dennett, for example, Aczel writes:

"Dennett and his collaborators consider the human mind from two problematic viewpoints: looking at the brain as a kind of computer, and looking at the brain as the result of animal evolution. The human brain is far more than a computer: computers have no consciousness. And to think of the brain as simply something that has evolved out of animal ganglia and primitive brains is also a mistake: there is a giant leap from the brain of a monkey or a dog to the brain of a human being."

This is correct, and I already gave the example of Michio Kaku being a victim of a similar brand of reductionist thinking in his own model of mind:

Therein I pointed out the inherent problem in all New Atheist thinking (also highlighted by Aczel), whether of Kaku, Victor Stenger or Richard Dawkins:

Monistic physicalism in its most rudimentary form can be summarized by Victor Stenger’s comment (cf. God and the Folly of Faith, 155) :

It does not matter whether you are trying to measure a particle property or a wave property. You always measure particles. Here is the point that most people fail to understand: Quantum mechanics is just a statistical theory like statistical mechanics, fundamentally reducible to particle behavior.

In other words, all are victims of a form of scientism which interjects a kind of scientific "dogma", i.e. all of nature must be reduced to the particulate and mechanisms based on it.   This is why Aczel is led to next state:
Neither approach explains Leonardo’s Mona Lisa, Picasso’s Guernica, Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony, or the palaces on Venice’s Grand Canal. Neither do they explain Einstein’s general theory of relativity or Freud’s invention of psychoanalysis. Both the mechanistic and animalistic views of the brain fall flat in their attempts to explain any of these great historic achievements of the human mind.
By 'either approach' he means simplistic "rat-o-morphic" evolution (the human brain is just a more complex version of the rat's or lemur's), or the notion that human consciousness can simply be reduced to computerized components.  In neither case is emergence allowed, or tolerated. For example, Stenger is on record as criticizing one of the foremost physicists (and a 1977 Physics Nobel Prize winner), Philip Anderson, for his challenge to ardent reductionism, appearing in an article in Science with the title ‘More is Different’.  Basically, Anderson had the courage to question the indiscriminate extrapolation of reductionism to all phenomena by his peers. Stenger  then took umbrage noting: [1]:

the fact we cannot derive these emergent principles from particle physics  does not prove that everything cannot be just a collection of particles.

This is true, but only to the extent reductionism has been consciously chosen as the best way to not only analyze problems, but also interpret them. It is in the interpretations that the real problems inhere. For example, David Bohm’s holistic physics as wonderfully outlined in his Wholeness and the Implicate Order, is a majestic work that discloses all that fundamental quantum mechanics can do in exposing our eyes and other senses to higher dimensions – not taken into account. 

Anyway, this hyper-reductionist narrative pushed by the likes of Dennett, Dawkins and others is what prompts Aczel to remark:

An alternative explanation is that God gave us the mental abilities and that extra something we use in making decisions and in creating great works of art, sublime music, magnificent architecture, beautiful literature, and science and mathematics. Our incredible brains can do all these things because they contain some ingredients that science has not yet found or explained and whose origin remains one of the deepest mysteries in all of science.
The problem here is that "God" is not really an alternative explanation. It's what we call employing an argument from ignorance or invoking a "god of the gaps". So because Aczel can't fathom a scientific explanation he goes right to the supernaturalist one (assuming he believes, like most believers, "God" is a supernatural Being).
But as I pointed out in my recent book, Beyond Atheism, Beyond God, this isn't needed. Emergence, then, is enabled by the simple expedient of integrating quantum mechanics into brain function, as physicist Henry Stapp has insisted (but which most reductionists don't accept, or the New Atheists who embrace reductionism).   Stapp has pointedly noted that uncertainty principle limitations applied to calcium ion capture near synapses shows they (calcium ions) must be represented by a probability function. (Stapp, Henry, P.: 1993, Mind, Matter and Quantum Mechanics, Springer-Verlag, p. 42.)

More specifically, the dimension of the associated calcium ion wavepacket scales many times larger than the calcium ion itself. This nullifies the use of classical trajectories or classical mechanics to trace the path of the ions.  It thereby opens the door to quantum mechanics.  Once quantum inputs are permitted, the emergence of all the phenomenal human traits Aczel references can manifest, and no supernatural cause is required. Explanations thereby remain entirely in the physical realm.

By the use of such a full integration the late David Bohm provided a putative basis for a holistic quantum consciousness which he referred to as the Holomovement. This was done by positing a hyper-dimensional reality (e.g. 5- dimensional) in which mind was enfolded as part of an implicate order. To enable a unified mental field within this higher dimensionality, Bohm appealed to hidden variables obeying Heisenberg  uncertainty relations such that:

(d p)( d q) > h/ 2π

where p, q denote two hidden variables  underlying a sub-quantal scale indeterminacy relation. From this (leaving out lots of details) he developed an agent to assist in the nonlocal action of distal variables, and called it the "quantum potential", defined:

VQ=   {-ħ2/ 2m} [Ñ R]2 / R

for a wave function, U = R exp(iS/ħ)

where R,S are real.

If one then fully applies Bohm's Holomovement model to physical reality it is possible to show the relation of explicated individual forms to the universal aggregate  (or Holomovement) - which might be depicted:




The relation is holographic in the sense that each of the individual forms contains the information of the whole holographic field. The Dirac Ether is equivalent to Bohm's Implicate Order, or what he calls the holomovement, and is a pure frequency domain. If one imparts to it a universal consciousness (as Bohm does) it would also be the "Universal Mind". The difference from the  "God" that Aczel references is that this Universal Mind is impersonal and physical, as opposed to personal and supernatural.   Meanwhile, the ripples on Bohm's Dirac sea are the distinct material forms perceived as separate entities in the universe because we are generally unaware of the implicate order.  But - to the extent we become aware, whether by learning the applicable quantum mechanics, or using meditation - yes, we emerge as conscious forms manifesting the Whole.

Emergence of the type Aczel describes is enabled and indeed demanded by the relationship between the relatively localized ensembles of energy (in individuals or explicate forms) and the vastly larger whole which contains vast energy in each cubic centimeter of space.

At the same time the use of the word "God" becomes unnecessary, redundant. Since logically "God" can't be extracted as a separate entity from the oceanic reality i.e. which enfolds all the explicate forms, it makes no sense to call the word out or use it. You can't separate it out any more than a wave from the ocean. By extension, it makes zero sense for atheists to joust at it, because they are inveighing against a redundancy, a superfluous verbal construct. They effectively become like Don Quixote tilting at windmills of their own mind.

Once all and sundry agree the word "God" is only a regulative ideal of the mind, a verbal symbol to represent a concept that can't be really processed or extracted (differentiated) as a separate reality, then we move away from false onto-theology and useless polarizations - say between "believers" and "unbelievers".

In this context, Aczel is wrong for failing to see the futility of marking out "God"  separately via language and assuming one needs it  as a separate supernatural cause to account for emergence and all the wondrous talents humans  disclose.   The New Atheists and all the reductionist scientists are wrong for being mesmerized by their over-simplistic (explicate) particulate models which prevent them, or more accurately - blind them - from perceiving oceanic reality that binds the cosmos at its most fundamental level.  The simple expedient of integrating quantum mechanics into brain function would obviate this, but they won't hear of it - and hence this dogmatic refusal becomes scientism.

Physicist Bernard d'Espagnat advises caution for all those who'd willy -nilly hitch their wheels of reality to it: (In Search of Reality, p. 56):

If scientism were correct, or more precisely, if the view of the world it proposes so forcefully, that of a world ultimately consisting of myriads of small localized objects merely endowed with quasi-local properties were correct, then such an evolution of our mentality would admittedly be excellent. It is always good for man to know the truth! But on the other hand, if the ultimate vision of the world which scientism proposes is false, if its conceptual bases are mistaken, then this development is – on the contrary –quite unfortunate.

He continues by noting that in his estimation the presumptions of “common scientism” are false and he bases this not on subjective opinion but on specific scientific facts, e.g. the nonlocality disclosed in the (1983) Aspect experiment, and the existence of de Broglie waves as revealed by the Davisson -Germer experiment.

Aczel ends his essay thus:

Symbolic thinking allowed human beings to create amazing art many thousands of years ago. It brought us language, science, art and everything that makes us uniquely human. Neither computers nor animals can do any of these things. So the emergence of consciousness and symbolic thinking remain one of the most formidable hurdles in the path of atheism. We have no good explanation of how consciousness and symbolic thinking came about. These may well be described as divine gifts.

Or, we may more logically and rationally describe them as natural, physical offshoots of assimilating consistent quantum mechanics into brain dynamics. For those atheists (like me) who have already done this, neither consciousness or symbolic thinking pose a hurdle, and we don't buy the trope that "there is no good explanation of how they came about".  While not every nuance or particular  facet can be explicated, we do have a general idea - predicated on the quantum-based models of mind proposed by David Bohm and  Henry Stapp.  Also the singular one I advanced in my recent book, combining aspects of both Bohm's and Stapp's models.  The fact a reasonable physical conjecture exists, avoids the fallacy of ignotum per ignotius  which Aczel falls victim to.

The reader can make up his own mind, but s/he needs to be aware that there does exist a path, a rational way,  between the extremes of supernaturalism and reducing the cosmos to a mere assembly of particles and humans to animated meat.


In other words, there does exist a progressive atheism that has moved beyond the myopic version now on offer from the "New Atheists."


[1] Stenger, God and the Folly of Faith, 208