Chapter 0: So what are we doing here?” • My goal, give you example and practice in how science thinks and how we arrive at knowledge – astronomy is the setting • The text gives a little on the process of science and clear thinking, but not enough to my way of thinking • I wrote my own “Chapter 0” just for you! And, maybe to stir some action in the room as we throw some icewater on snake-oil salesman and other foes of clear thinking
The Nature ofThinking Clearly “The most incomprehensible thing about the universe is, it is comprehensible” – Albert Einstein Poetry, or did he mean us to take this literally?
The brain/mind is a product of nature It has evolved by natural selection • Natural Selection: we are not all equal. Those better able to survive and prosper leave more descendents, who to some extent, inherit genetically this higher “fitness”, and therefore in turn leave more offspring as well.
Each Species is Distinguished by Having a Distinctive “Edge” So, What makes us, homo sapiens, good competitors for the resources necessary for life?
How do you Know when You’ve Understood Something? • What is the actual experience of understanding? • What is / are the experiencial cues that signal understanding?
The Light Bulb Feeling! • The “light bulb feeling” – Too many of us did not have teachers or parents who pointed out how important it is to recognize it and to seek it. • It is the gold standard for a genuine grasp of Reality.
The “Light bulb” goes on… …when new understanding is integrated into previous understanding in a non-contradictory way. Reason – the art of identifying facts about reality without contradictions.
Getting to the Light Bulb Feeling • Requires caring. Requires mental effort. Focus. • Curiosity is nature’s built-in motivation to give thinking a try. And reward is the “lightbulb feeling” of understanding – it feels good! As it should, it’s concrete expression of your power. • If you’re not curious, learning will be very very difficult for you! Re-connect with your native curiosity (otherwise – you’re doomed!)
Hey, it’s all we’ve got! • The authoritarian mindset – arghh!! • Rote memorization of undigested factoids. Gah! • This is not (yet) “1984” – no lightbulb?, then nounderstanding! • Don’t let yourself be brow-beaten into accepting the undigestable by “authorities”. Ask – why do you say so?
New Age thinking … • There’s brilliantly insightful New Age thought, and then there’s nonsense. Really need a good “BS” detector here!… a bit too fuzzy for the most part! • PseudoScience…Tarot cards, pyramid power, past lives, homeopathy… the list is almost endless!
Astrology – is within the reach of science! By that I mean – it’s testable, and… it fails miserably! How interesting that so few astrology followers have any interest in this telltale fact! Psychology, rather than a desire for truth, seems to be what’s going on.
Reality = that which exists. • Everything fits together without contradiction, by logical necessity... Because the alternative is your brain doesn’t work. Then nothing you say can be trusted, including the claim there’s more than ONE Reality • See? Claiming multiple realities is self-contradictory!
Natural vs. Supernatural • If the mind works, then there’s ONE Reality. Reality = that which actually exists. • The idea of the “supernatural” provides no explanatory power. It’s giving up on a non-contradictory explanation. • If we can’t explain it, we work harder till we can. “Supernatural” is either a claim no natural explanation is ever possible (and it’s logically self-contradictory to make such a statement), i.e stops all thought and effort, or it’s wishful thinking. • And it’s a statement that your brain doesn’t work. Self Contradiction – a nonsensical statement!
Respecting Your Own Mind • Top priority – a respect for facts, for what Nature says is true! • “What is the evidence?” “Is this reasonable” “does this conflict with other observations or knowledge I hold?” – asking these questions regularly gives self confidence. • Putting other considerations first…(do I want to believe this? Will this make me unpopular? Does this force me to confront things I don’t want to confront?) …. is the path to towards a mind learning to distrust itself. Anxiety, depression… yow! Cultivate a proper Method, a proper Orientation to Reality, if you want good self respect, confidence. • It’s OK to acknowledge “I don’t know”. Be clear on what you have understood, what you know to be false, and what is still not understood by you. Don’t be so quick to grasp at a false explanation. Genuine understanding takes effort, takes careful investigation, takes perhaps advances in technology… takes TIME! Patience!
3 modes of representing reality in internal experience • Visual (pictures, movies) • Auditory (sounds) • Kinesthetic (a visceral sensation using your proprioceptive system) • Practice all three. Physical sciences best understood using the visual mode.
Scientific Method – The most efficient way we’ve found to get that “lightbulb” feeling of genuine understanding • Observations… generate questions “how does…?” • Come up with a hypothesis of “how” • Imagine the meaning of the hypothesis, to come up with ways of testing. “If X is true, then we ought to see Y” – go look for “Y”. • Test and test again. Ask Nature herself if your hypthesis is valid. If it fails then you’ve “RULED it OUT”. Time to find a new hypothesis. • If it passes every test put to it, a hypothesis graduates to the status of a THEORY
Occam’s Razor • “Given two or more ideas, all of which are consistent with current observations, the one which is simplest (least conflicts with current knowledge) is most likely to be true” • It’s an efficient guide to finding decent hypotheses… • Note – “most likely”: Nature isn’t obliged to obey your notions of simplicity. But it’s a good bet for allocating scarce resources of scientific time and money
A quote from Carl Sagan’s “The Demon Haunted World”… • “If we can't think for ourselves, if we're unwilling to question authority, then we're just putty in the hands of those in power. But if the citizens are educated and form their own opinions, then those in power work for us. In every country, we should be teaching our children the scientific method and the reasons for a Bill of Rights. With it comes a certain decency, humility and community spirit. In the demon-haunted world that we inhabit by virtue of being human, this may be all that stands between us and the enveloping darkness." –Carl Sagan • My own feelings – most of the scientists I know and have worked with are profoundly spiritual people. But they see spirituality in a deeper sense than the conventional sense. A connection with the Universe that has mystery, grandeur, profund respect for the human person and for a world that is “subtle, but not malicious” (Einstein). • No secret I’m not fond of western religions, but I do have respect for spirituality, and especially the ancient wisdoms of some Eastern philosophies. Zen, Taoism, have found ways of casting the spiritual life in ways that do not include the fundamentalist notions of Original Sin or that humans are mere servants for the supposed will of God.
Key Points – Chapter 0 and Scientific Thinking • All of “Chap 0” is important (after all, I wrote it!) So, read it thoroughly • The steps of the scientific method • The nature and psychological issues of pseudo-science. • Occam’s Razor • Modes of representing reality in our minds • The fatal flaws with supernaturalism
The Universe Revealed by Science is magical! • Astrology and other New Age bogus’ities? C’mon – it’s time let go. Let’s evolve… • You want to go slack-jawed with awe? Study quantum mechanics, study modern cosmology, inflation theory! • Science is much MORE magical because it’s Nature herself talking to us. (When you see a great, inspiring film, isn’t it much more inspiring when you learn at the end that it was a true story?) • And the best reason… science is just plain FUN. • So: toss dogmatism, learn to be humble (don’t dictate to Nature what she is and is not!), and to re-assume the responsibility of independent thought. Get comfortable with uncertainty, be open minded… • - but not so open minded that your brains fall out.