Nov 13

A short history of nearly everything

I just finished A Short History of Nearly Everything by Bill Bryson and the unstated theme of all science is that the theory is strong but the evidence is weak.  We are here to understand, but nothing is here to be understood.

Oct 07

For your Halloween reading

Via McArdle, the physics of Halloween Monsters.

Sep 07

The mystery of the bees…

It might have been solved, or so says Ron Bailey in Reason. It’s Israeli acute paralysis virus about which I know nothing.

May 07

The oldest living tree

From this article

The oldest known tree is “Methuselah”, which is 4,789 years old. To keep Methuselah from harm, this tree isn’t labeled, as the other trees are. An older tree called Prometheus was killed shortly after it was discovered in 1964.

May 07

A telling point in the Boyd biography

I’m currently reading Boyd: The Fighter Pilot Who Changed the Art of War and I read a telling passage that stated (approximately) that autodidacts crave approval from conventionally educated academics and professionals. For those who don’t know fairly obscure word, it’s Google defines the word as

Autodidacticism (also autodidactism) is self-education or self-directed learning. An autodidact is a mostly self-taught person (also known as an automath), or someone who has an enthusiasm for self-education, and usually has a high degree of self-motivation.

(tip, if you type in “Define:Word to be dined” into Google it defines the word for you.

This seems to be a good explanation for a lot of the tensions in the blogsphere. It also seems to be a natural healthy thing. As I put it in a previous post, science advances funeral by funeral. It follows that if left to their own devices, any field of thought or industry will spend it’s time polishing the corpse of some grand new idea that is mutually agreeable to all (think of the US auto industry before the Japanese came along.

Apr 07

Science and truth

Via this episode of BloggingHeads, I came across an interesting article about the philosophy of science, specifically that of Thomas Kuhn. Money Quotes:

Scientists, as Kuhn describes them, are deeply conservative. Once indoctrinated into a paradigm, they generally devote themselves to solving “puzzles,” problems whose solutions reinforce and extend the scope of the paradigm rather than challenging it. Kuhn calls this “mopping up.” But there are always anomalies, phenomena that the paradigm cannot account for or that directly contradict it. Anomalies are often ignored. But if they accumulate, they may trigger a revolution (also called a paradigm shift, although not originally by Kuhn), in which scientists abandon the old paradigm for a new one.

Denying the view of science as a continual building process, Kuhn asserts that a revolution is a destructive as well as a creative event. The proposer of a new paradigm stands on the shoulders of giants and then bashes them over the head.

In other words, science advances funeral by funeral.

On the first day of my Advanced Macroeconomics class in 1994 the professor (I forget his name, I think that was the last class he taught before he retired) said that we should think of the truth as “the consensus of informed opinion”.

In other words, for practical purposes, the truth is the state of the art, as of right now, and we should expect it to change over time.