Which Science is the Most Fundamental?

FundamentalScienceWhich of the sciences is the most basic? Physics might be considered the most fundamental of all sciences, for all others derive from basic principles of forces, motion, electromagnetism and thermodynamics. And yet, physical laws are mathematical models of the world; however, mathematics itself is abstract, deriving from theoretical constructs of philosophy. But, philosophy arises out of theories of mind, or psychology. The mind itself depends upon the biology of the brain….which is nothing but chemical reactions of molecules, such as neurotransmitters and proteins. And of course, chemistry depends upon the behavior of atoms and forces, which is constrained by physics. You’ll enjoy my YouTube riff on the eternal loop.

Actually, philosophy and logic and “reason” are looser versions of the same madness that is suffered by mathematicians… actually believing that you can prove anything with words or symbols of scribbles on paper.  The pragmatic (anglo-scots-american-yiddish) branch of the enlightenment (as opposed to the franco-germanic-italian wings) emphasizes the “show-me” dominance of objective over subjective reality. Let me stress that I am loyal to the pragmatist wing. Because it is the only system that ever shouted “ALL INCANTATIONS ARE 90+% DELUSION!”

Yes, even (especially!) Plato’s so called “reason.” Delusion is humanity’s greatest talent, source of our great art, source of much of our love! But also nearly all our crimes. It has only, ever, been stymied from harm-doing by enlightenment methods.

And yet… we’d be nothing without our inacntatory arts. (What is sci fi?;-) And reason, in its proper place, serves as an important partner to science. Together, mathematics and logic and reasoning ccomprise be the great HYPOTHESIS GENERATING SYSTEM. Hypotheses that real science can then test.

Of course, having said that, let me reiterate that all of their practitioners – all of those who actually believe in their metaphors, or that you can prove things on paper, or that “left-versus-right has any real meaning – are… well… completely mad. Almost as mad as sci fi authors! (Except we’re honest about it.)

A Look at Scientific Research

Wrong_FreedmanWhy Scientific Studies are so Often Wrong: The Streetlight Effect, by David H. Freedman, from his new book, Wrong: Why Experts Keep Failing Us — and How to Know When Not to Trust Them.  The fundamental error cited here is based on an old joke: One night a policeman finds a drunkard crawling around under a streetlight. “What are you doing down there?” the officer asks. The man explains that he lost his wallet — across the street. “Then why are you looking over here?” asks the officer. “Because the light’s better over here,” replies the man. Similarly, scientists may have a tendency to conduct their research where the light is better — quantifying and measuring what they can, on subjects that are available, on projects that can get funded. Freedman takes on the inaccuracy of economic predictions, the ever-shifting health and medical studies.

Might “Culture War” Have a Biological Cause?

“Toxoplasma gondii, a parasite of cats is able to reproduce only inside the gut of a cat. It needs to find a cat. Usually it does so by finding something that cats eat, such as rats. Inside rats, it makes its way to the brain where it causes the rats to be attracted to the smell of cat pee, which they would ordinarily avoid (who wouldn’t). A rat that follows cat pee ends up in the cat’s gut, where the Toxoplasma gondii can finally mate. But T. gondii also makes its way into humans (It is because of this parasite that pregnant women are urged to avoid cat litter). In fact,  sixty million Americans are estimated to be infected at any one moment.”  Does T. gondii also affect human behavior? Preliminary research suggests yes. Scientists find it triggers the release of chemicals in our brains that make us more anxiety prone, decrease our reaction time and make us more likely to end up in dangerous situations.  Males and females react differently.

Which makes me wonder… might a plague such as this one (or one as-yet unknown) be partly responsible for the surge of irrationality one sees in America, today?

Is “Peak Oil” A Myth?

Australia has what appears to be a duplicate of the Bakken field with current estimates of 5-11 billion barrels of recoverable oil based on current tech.

Paris basin could have more recoverable oil than the Bakken oil field. (Yes, that is Paris, France, all the way to Belgium.

Iraq oil production now over 2.7 million barrels per day. It increased about 350,000 barrels per day over the last two weeks. Iraq is targeting 12 million barrels per day in about ten years. Some think they may only get to 6 million barrels per day in ten years.

It appears that ancestral critters were very very busy transforming into hydrocarbons. The question is, will the current oil czars let their current power be undermined? And what do we do with the carbon?

A Snapshot of Doctoral Programs

Stunning statistics from the Pew Research Center: Only 6% of U.S. scientists are Republican, while 55% claim to be Democrats, 32% Independent, and 7% uncommitted. As American politics becomes increasingly polarized, science should be a middle ground of reason and rationality. And yet — the Gingrich Congress erased and banned all scientific advisory panels from Capitol Hill.   Culture War is not about left versus right.  It is about riling up populist, know-nothing rage against all the people in society who actually know stuff.  All the folks who might challenge a return to feudalism.

Who is earning Science Ph.D.’s these days? For a wealth of data on doctorate degrees, see this NSF Study: Life sciences take the largest share (23%) of science PhDs. For the first time (2009), more women than men earned doctorates. Women earn 67% of doctorates in Education, 58% in Social Sciences, 31% in Engineering. Overall, women earned 42% of doctorates in Sci & Eng, up from 29% in ’89. Non U.S. citizens earn 31% of doctorates, with the majority going to students from China & India. Minorities are still under-represented: Blacks 7%, Hispanics 6% of doctorates.

And yet, only 57% of doctoral students complete their PhD within ten years of beginning – due to lack of funding, poor supervision, or overall fatique. Even for those who finish, prospects are poor. Supply overwhelms demand: 100,000 received doctorates in America between 2005-2009, while there were only 16,000 job openings for new professors.

Space News

Scientists find evidence that multiple  universes exist. Four circular patterns in the cosmic microwave background radiation may indicate multiple waves of Big Bangs.

President Obama challenges NASA to come up with a less expensive mode of launch: In response, NASA Engineers propose combining a Rail Gun with a Scramjet — requires two miles of track, an airplane that can fly at Mach 10.

Voyager 1, launched in 1977, has reached the edge of our solar system – and is no longer receiving a push from the solar wind. After an epic journey passing by Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus & Neptune, Voyager 1 is travelling at a speed of 38,000 mph, escaping the sun’s heliosphere, & heading off to interstellar space – where no probe has gone before. V-ger? (In Star Trek, V-ger was actually Voyager 6). Voyager is providing fresh data on the nature of the solar wind.

Smash an asteroid or comet into Earth on your computer – and calculate the resulting damage. Impact: Earth! is an interactive website used by NASA and the Department of Homeland Security. Enter the diameter, density & velocity of the incoming object, its angle of entry and target on Earth – and Bam! Each day, Earth is bombarded by over 100 tons of extraterrestrial debris, with large events occurring every hundred years or so.

And finally… the coming decade…

May it be one of ambition, adulthood, negotiation, science, curiosity, adventure, freedom and pragmatic, can-do problem solving.

1 Comment

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One response to “Which Science is the Most Fundamental?

  1. While I appreciate your discussion of the sciences as an ouroboros, when you open up the possibility that science is affected by the nature of our minds, you bring in an unstated other field: myth. Human beings are fundamentally storytellers. As a teacher, I have seen many times how my students learn something better when I can form the information that I’m trying to impart into a narrative. We have always explained the world in stories. Logic came later.

    The point here is that we shouldn’t call this delusion. We do need to be clear about what we’re doing–gathering data and forming interpretations or telling stories–but both are valid ways of understanding the world in their own terms.

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