An Aversion to Certainty

Published by: Gerry on 7th Aug 2017 | View all blogs by Gerry

A recent blog by Whisks, ‘An Aversion to Italy’, occasioned much discussion, including a rather approximate quotation from me on scientific open mindedness. The original, I find, on consulting the ever-knowledgeable Wiki, comes from Max Planck: ‘A new scientific truth does not triumph by convincing its opponents and making them see the light, but rather because its opponents eventually die, and a new generation grows up that is familiar with it.

Or, in a paraphrased variant, ‘Science advances one funeral at a time.’

 

There was some speculation whether scientists are always so blinkered (obviously not always, but sometimes yes) in which context I call to mind an exchange on Desert Island Discs. On Friday 7th July this year, Kirsty Young’s 9 a.m. guest was the theoretical physicist Professor Carlo Rovelli, one of the founders of Loop Quantum Gravity theory and international best-selling author of ‘Seven Brief Lessons on Physics.’ (Click on http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b08wmmwn if you want to hear the programme yourself.)

 

At various times Kirsty Young emphasised Rovelli’s open-mindedness. For instance, after just one minute she told us that, “According to my guest the foundation of science is an acute awareness of the extent of our ignorance.” Then, seven minutes in, she quoted him as saying, ‘The search for knowledge is not nourished by certainty. It is nourished by a radical distrust in certainty.’

 

So far so good, but at 34 minutes the following exchange took place:

Carlo Ravelli: I think that life is short, is finite, there is nothing after it.

Kirsty Young: There is nothing after it?

Carlo Ravelli: Yeh, it seems totally obvious to me that there is nothing after it, and er that’s why it’s precious, that’s why it’s beautiful, that’s why it’s fantastic.

Kirsty Young: It’s inter – you seem very definite on that, and yet throughout the morning as we’ve been talking, you’ve said, well you know, well this is what I think, and this is what it looks like, and it may be there’s – and yet you’ve just said no, there’s no, there’s no afterlife. You seem very definite on that.

Carlo Ravelli: Well, we do have things we consider pretty obvious and reasonable, even if we are not sure about anything. So I will be very, very surprised if after dying I would wake up and find I don’t know what, big old man saying Hey you been good, go that way; you been bad go that way. No, I don’t believe that.

 

This, to my mind, shows an astonishing lack of logic on the part of an otherwise admirable scientist. He has confused two questions and addressed only the second. Here is the first question: is there an afterlife? Here is the second: what is it like?

 

What he does is consider the standard heaven-hell dichotomy, presided over by a divine judge, and he rejects this as obviously wrong. He doesn’t consider whether the ideas, presumably widespread in his native Italy, are meant to be literal or metaphorical. He doesn’t consider different views across different cultures, and doesn’t therefore speculate whether post-mortem perceptions depend on what the observer has been taught to expect.

 

Nope, he says, in effect, the Catholic picture is silly, therefore human consciousness does not survive death.

 

Uh?

 

Let’s take a parallel case, UFOs. I don’t know whether they exist or not, but if I came across a particularly silly case of alleged UFO activity, could I say, “Aha, one silly case; therefore all cases are silly”?

 

Let’s get back to Max Planck. There’s a nice page full of his quotations on https://en.wikiquote.org/wiki/Max_Planck

Here’s a goodie to finish with: ‘I regard consciousness as fundamental. I regard matter as derivative from consciousness. We cannot get behind consciousness.’

 

 Oh okay, one more: ‘In the last analysis, we ourselves are part of nature and therefore part of the mystery that we are trying to solve.’ That’s the spirit: there can’t be any ‘Theory of Everything’ unless we include the observer. And the observer’s consciousness.

 

As for whether that consciousness survives bodily death, I wouldn't ask Professor Rovelli...

Comments

94 Comments

  • AlanP
    by AlanP 4 months ago
    Food for thought, as ever, Gerry. We should all remain open to new evidence and accommodating it when it appears and is shown to be genuinely new evidence. I suppose the thing that speaks against afterlife, for me at least, is evidence and psychology.

    Given that there are enormous numbers of people who have lived, enormous numbers currently living and the desirability of afterlife you might think that hard evidence would be less scarce and fleeting than it is. Why would the custodian of that afterlife in most belief systems, God, make it such a hard thing to believe? No evidence, quite improbable, but you have to believe it to get it.

    And that, I think is at the heart of your last quotation from the constant Mr Planck. It's a sort of accommodation of the Uncertainty Principle (Heisenberg) in which you have to incorporate the effects of the observer and his measuring equipment on the measurement you make. So on this afterlife question, is the perceived likelihood affected by the desirability of the thing itself to the people assessing that likelihood.
  • mike
    by mike 4 months ago
    I heard that programme. You have to take the view of someone who has such appalling musical tastes with extreme caution.
    There are two new plays doing the rounds in which Heisenberg features. One is at the NT and is sold out. Michael Frayn sorted this all out years ago. I wish to enter the debate, I have only two weeks to enter a competition. It is a horror story.
  • Dolly
    by Dolly 4 months ago
    I dismissed the God, supreme being answer many years ago, as I was expected to believe the unbelievable without any proof whatsoever, and believe a book that had dubious origins because my parents and their parents, in fact everyone's parents going back nearly two thousand years believed it, If I questioned it, and I did, frequently, I was told to have faith, and I would get my reward in heaven! I ask you! I've got to die before anything happens! No one knows if there is anything after death, and as far as I am aware, no one has come back and said there is.
    I certainly believe that everything that makes up my body comes from the stars, in fact some parts of me were created in a super nova, and the only difference between me and a tree are a few numbers in my DNA, which is, to say the least, bloody mind blowing. I don't go along with some scientists who claim it all happens by chance, or its a slice of incredible luck, but nor do I believe there is some supreme being doing it all, that's daft! Think of the intelligence needed to create a blade of grass! Beyond the reach of humans. I don't know what it is, but I think there is something very profound going on right under our noses.
    As for the question, is there anything after death, I don't know, and neither does anyone else, and I think I'll cross that bridge when I come to it. In the meantime, I'm more interested in what's happening to me while I'm alive!
  • Clytemnestra
    by Clytemnestra 4 months ago
    Dolly is correct in asserting that we are all made of stardust. Of course we are. That has been the work of scientists to prove since Galileo invented a lens to observe what his evolved eye could not see. Scientists have been picking us apart since forever ... identifying every cell in the human body. Microbiologists name the good bacteria helping us to digest our food and the the baddies that make us ill.

    The greatest mystery of all: "What is Life?" is a question for philosophers.



    The greatest mystery of all is what makes that collection
  • Yo
    by Yo 4 months ago
    It all goes blank versus...

    meeting loved ones on a crystal white beach, turquoise waters lapping at your toes and hula girls placing a garland around your neck as they gently kiss you on both cheeks.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vS8qE-Z41Wk

    In my last moments, I don't want to be thinking like Dawkins...and I guess, neither will he.

    So, I don't think it matters whether there's a God or not and I don't care if it's proven to 100% certainty that there is no God. I'm having a nice last 5 minutes, thank you very much!
  • Clytemnestra
    by Clytemnestra 4 months ago
    That sounds like a wonderful last five minutes to me, Yo :-D
  • Daedalus
    by Daedalus 4 months ago
    Interestingly in view of the nature of the discussion, the Uncertainty Principle has nothing to do with Observer Effect - Heisenberg thought it did when he first noticed the phenomenon, but it's really an inherent characteristic of all wave-like systems. In other words, it doesn't matter how much we improve our techniques for measuring particles, we *can never know* precisely both the momentum and the location of a particle. Somehow the physical universe incorporates characteristics that cannot be known.

    I think that's beautiful and terrifying.

    My view on the god/afterlife question is that anything beyond our current state of existence is fundamentally incomprehensible to us within it. The crude models humans have developed to explore the possibilities of some kind of state of being not related to the current one have not really kept pace with our understanding of the universe. A scientist who prides himself on his open-mindedness but instantly leaps to the mediaeval model of post-human existence ought to be embarrassed.

    I'm still wrestling with the question of why a consciousness in this plane of existence requires a machine host but might not in another, but in fairness, that is somewhat beyond my pay grade.
  • Clytemnestra
    by Clytemnestra 4 months ago
    Daedalus, even Einstein's theory of General Relativity falls apart at sub-atomic level. He knew nothing of Quantum Physics yet Buddhist philosophy recognized the observer effect; called it 'The Oneness' centuries before Heisenberg noticed. There is nothing in the material world we can ever give up on knowing. Every leap in the dark is born of inspiration.

    It may be that for you the inherent characteristic of a wave-like system leads you nowhere in understanding the precise location of a single particle but for me a wave-like system provides a route to understanding the hitherto unknown. Never mind the single particle, take my hand and I'll show you a whole new dimension
  • Daedalus
    by Daedalus 4 months ago
    I'm not sure I follow, Clytemnestra. I was not talking about the Observer Effect and neither was Heisenberg (though he thought he might be) - the Uncertainty Principle is quite a different phenomena that functions whether or not anyone observes it. That's the beauty of it. The precise momentum and the precise location of a particle cannot, together, ever be known - the more of one you know, the less certain you can be about the other. That's true for me, for you, for everyone, whether they are aware of it or not. The universe has ineffability hardwired into its subatomic structure.

    For me, that's a good enough reason for never knowing where my keys are.
  • Gerry
    by Gerry 4 months ago
    Yes Dolly, religious instruction can be very disappointing. And also ‘No one knows if there is anything after death, and as far as I am aware, no one has come back and said there is.’ Well yes and no, there are many reports of returning relatives, sitting on the edge of the bed or whatever, and saying hello – and guess what, just at that moment, far away in Canada, that’s exactly when the relative died. Right then. Amazing.

    Except, of course, it’s anecdotal evidence, and anecdotal evidence is a bit Hmm.

    That didn’t stop Gurney and Podmore putting together ‘Phantasms of the Living’ back in 1886. I have Volume 1 by me just now – facsimile edition – and it runs to 573 closely packed pages, ram jam full of fascinating anecdotes. I’ve only read a few – and daren’t even contemplate buying Volume 2 – but it’s very clear that weird experiences were superabundant in Victorian times. They probably still are, but diligent researchers like Gurney and Podmore are no longer to be found.

    Well, actually there’s Dr Sam Parnia. (I’ve just googled him and found this YouTube video https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tHcZc-JJEFw
    So he’s still on the go, that’s good. Not sure how he’s getting on. Better watch the video, I guess.)

    Anyway, back to Gurney and Podmore in 1886. At the front of their book is a list of people associated with the Society For Psychical Research, including amongst the Vice-Presidents, Arthur Balfour (later Prime Minister) and Lord Rayleigh (later Nobel laureate in physics); and amongst the Honorary Members, Gladstone, Ruskin, Tennyson, Alfred Russell Wallace (who wrote down the Theory of Evolution before Darwin did); and amongst Corresponding Members, William James (Professor of Philosophy at Harvard) and Charles Richet (later Nobel laureate in medicine).

    An impressive gang *proves* nothing in itself, but it does suggest there was something worth investigating.

    And that’s pretty much how it goes. Proof is unlikely to be conclusive, but some data may be, let us say, interesting.
  • Daedalus
    by Daedalus 4 months ago
    It is often said that 'the plural of anecdote is not data'. For my money, there's a missing 'necessarily' in that.
  • mike
    by mike 4 months ago
    A.N. Wiison wrote a long article in the London Evening Standard' last week in which he outlines a thesis that Charles Darwin i a fraud - though his argument seems more on the lines that Darwin was not an original thinker which is rather irrelevant. It seems rather unfair that Wilson should be given a whole page to promote his own book.
    In my opinion gender politics has done more to undermine the Bible than science -but maybe not other sacred texts. But this has little to do with an afterlife. The Tudor Court was aware of Islam. Through political expediency, Islam and the rising Lutherian faiths were considered compatible. This was due for the need to trade in the Mediterranean. (Its all a bit complicated but had more to do with competing with the Spanish Catholic empire). So religion was not set in stone at that time,as it seems to be now.
    The phrase 'almost certain' occurs quite frequently. Keat's Negattive Capability' is used on both sides of the debate but I prefer to quote Anya - 'A shot in the dark' Richard Holmes has cover the relationship between science and the romantic movement in several books.
    MY grandfather's odd book about mad monks and a tv thought screen raises these issues. Should these mad monks use their fiendish devise to explore the human mind? A television thought screen joined to s human skull can read a human mind. I did got through the book and removed the words 'subconscious mind' as often as I could, Freud, Darwin an Einstein were the gods of the interwar years. But the book is almost certainly a load of rubbish.
    That the book considers this issue is one of the reasons why It can be considered a minor classic of gothic romance. But I am a voice in the wilderness!
  • Gerry
    by Gerry 4 months ago
    Yup Daeds, data objective, anecdotes subjective. Originally I used the word 'evidence' but backed off from disputes it might occasion. Wonder what the best word is. Answers on a postcard...

    Mike, I googled Anya, a shot in the dark, hoping for enlightenment. Alas, I was unsuccessful but I did get a link to an episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, so can't grumble. (Used to love Buffy...)

    Alan, I meant to ponder your 'on this afterlife question, is the perceived likelihood affected by the desirability of the thing itself to the people assessing that likelihood.' I've come across something like this before: i.e. we'd like an afterlife, therefore there can't be one. (Well, you don't put it so crudely but others have. Okay, sixth formers at Leeds grammar School.) I wonder if this is a widespread view. Maybe it is.

    Back to Daeds: the observer effect. Not sure what your conclusion might be. Is Shrodinger's cat alive after all? A happy but disappointing ending. (Maybe he dies in the sequel...)

    Oh, and Dolly: 'Think of the intelligence needed to create a blade of grass'. Yonks ago I wanted to write a blog on intelligent evolution. It seemed obvious to me that the 'War on Science' (as a scarcely objective programme on Channel 4 put it) was between two sets of fundamentalists: hard-core Darwinians (far harder, I suspect, than the great man would have been) and hard-core creationists. Another way of looking at it would be under the heading (yet again) of Consciousness. I suspect the whole universe is conscious, from rocks and crystals (admittedly a rather slow-motion form of consciousness), through blades of grass and mighty trees (though not, alas, Ents, unless they have contrived to remain hidden till now), through all those fiendishly clever microbes that find ways of frustrating our antibiotics, and those fiendishly clever insects that find mind-bogglingly unlikely ways of predating on each other, and chimpanzees that can have tribal wars as effectively as humans, and birds that can inventively use whatever tool they find lying about, and so on. And that's just the Planet Earth contingent. The medievals (not entirely benighted) covered a lot of this under the heading of nature spirits – undines, sylphs, gnomes, salamanders, and others whose names I've forgotten – whose job it is to help along their own particular patch or species. Not that this rules out any overarching deity, it just fills out an otherwise rather empty cosmology of beings. The Protestant revolution swept away such nonsense. Or was it street lighting at night? Hard to be superstitious when you’ve got ready sources of light. And noise. And TVs. But wait for the next Carrington Event (solar flare so powerful it wipes out the entire electric grid). Then we’ll see what creatures emerge from the shadows. Mwa ha ha

    Time I stopped this reply...
  • AlanP
    by AlanP 4 months ago
    These blogs are food for thought when they get going, aren't they? One of the greatest engineers this country has ever produced, Sir Eric Laithwaite, once said that if you set an engineer the problem of draining a swamp it's pretty certain the delivered solution would not be an oak tree - or words to that effect.

    Accident or clever design? It's all very hard to know and it still doesn't explain how you evolve an eye.
  • Daedalus
    by Daedalus 4 months ago
    David Attenborough dealt with the 'how do you evolve an eye' question in a few moments. Basically, the full range of sophistication from simple light-sensitive cells that allow something like a jellyfish to move away from a threat to the eye itself is present somewhere in nature today, and once you observe all the stages between one and the other, you start to gain an understanding of how natural selection, with millions and millions of years to work at it, can get from one to the other. The fact that we had pretty good eyes long before we had the current human brain suggests that the latter was harder to come up with.

    Schrodinger's cat is everywhere in the universe at once, we just don't know how fast it's going.

    Sometimes I suspect dreams are visits to my quantum linked other selves in alternative universes.
  • Woolleybeans
    by Woolleybeans 4 months ago
    Daeds, I am now thinking the Cheshire Cat is at the very least a relative of Schrodinger's cat, in that case.
  • Gerry
    by Gerry 4 months ago
    I seem to remember eye evolution was one of the areas of dispute between creationists and evolutionists (another, I think, was a flagellum, though what that was I can't recall). It seemed to me a bad choice of battleground, at least for the creationists, because there are always going to be fresh discoveries of potential in-betweeny stages of quasi eyes (or indeed, quasi flagellums).

    Behaviour struck we as a far likelier area for dispute, because we all know a bit about behaviour even if we're hazy on optics (or flagellumics). How blister beetles ever came up with their ingenious scam on digger bees is a tough one to answer. Evolution? I'd give it a 5% chance. God's will? Hmm, God so hated the digger bee 'He' decided to give it a hard time via blister beetles? Um, 1% likelihood. The hive mind of the blister beetle worked it out? Now we're getting somewhere. If it looks, tastes and smells like a scam, maybe it is a scam. Anyway, Attenborough explains it on this clip (from about 3 and half minutes in):

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uppwVyUd5S0
  • AlanP
    by AlanP 4 months ago
    The eye thing. As I recall it the problem comes in the evolutionary leap to developing the ability to focus an image on a light sensitive medium and read the image, rather than light sensitivity per say. As a dedicated non believer I accept that it happened and as an engineer I can kind of see a parallel with a trick we used to do to make a light sensitive switch. Back in the seventies you sawed the top off a power transistor and you had a single light sensitive cell that you could make practical use of in limited circumstances. That was the basis of the modern CCDs that are in digital cameras today. But we knew that a CCD receptor device was desirable and set out to make one.

    It's just that, trying to see both sides of an argument, an eye being a useful thing to end up at before it becomes an eye, is one of the better arguments the creationists have, even if I don't believe it myself.
  • Berks
    by Berks 4 months ago
    Ah Religion. The one subject i don't talk about with people I barely know, for fear of causing upset. An interesting read though, so thanks for that!
  • BellaM
    by BellaM 4 months ago
    "So I will be very, very surprised if after dying I would wake up and find I don’t know what, big old man saying Hey you been good, go that way; you been bad go that way. No, I don’t believe that. "

    To be fair, Gerry, there probably wasn't time for him to go into the question on that programme and consider all the things you say he should have done. To me the words "I don't know what" absolve him of at least some of the criticism levelled against him. Surely he is simply saying he does not expect to wake up and find anything. He's given the Christian god as an example. He could have said "a purple-headed snake" and the point would have been the same.

    But this is a very interesting blog, as is the discussion of it, so thank you. For what it's worth, I'm not expecting to wake up either. In fact I rather hope I don't as there's a few people I am glad to have seen the back of.
  • Mashie Niblick
    by Mashie Niblick 4 months ago
    Alan Watts, The Wisdom of Uncertainty is worth a read. By and large I know what I've experienced but I can only tell you a story about it. 'What happens after we die?' Even the question is immaterial. All answers to it are just stories. They have no certainty, because we don't know. I know people who say they do know the answer, but I believe they are deluded. Everything in the past and future becomes a story, a construct of the mind, nothing more, and there is freedom and beauty in that.
  • AlanP
    by AlanP 4 months ago
    Just a totally boring point of fact. Although Desert Island Disks is not scripted, the castaway is given a list of all of the topics and questions that the interviewer will ask. So Prof Rovelli almost certainly wasn't taken by surprise by the question and said what he thought. He probably didn't give it much thought, though.
  • Dolly
    by Dolly 4 months ago
    I've been asked, as most of you have, do you believe in God? My answer to that is usually, it depends what you mean by God.If you are referring to the God I was brought up with that enabled Moses to part the Red Sea with a bit of wood, while a few million Jews crossed from one side to the other, (I wonder how long that would have taken?) my answer is yeah, right, oh come on!
    Yet there is a tree that grows outside my window, and it catches the sun, and as I said before, it grows, breathes and lives the same as I do, and the only difference is some numbers in my DNA. So I think there is something very profound going on, and its nothing to do with Moses, or Lot's wife being turned to a pillar of salt, because she wanted to take one last look. So if there is an answer to all this its within me, because its happening to me while I'm writing this. In fact, it will keep on happening until I pop off and find out one way or the other, or not.
    In the meantime, while all this philosophising is going on, I need to go and get some milk as I fancy a coffee. I don't need any sugar, although I might buy a cake, which in itself is fathomless, and 'passeth all understanding!'
  • Gerry
    by Gerry 4 months ago
    On top of my piano is a 'Rock From Space!' as the fossil shop I bought it from in Whitby describes it. It's a small piece of iron meteorite from Campo del Cielo in Argentina, and is dated 4500 years ago. A more likely date, I would suggest, is 2354 B.C. That's the date arrived at by Mike Baillie, Emeritus Professor of Paleoecology at Queen University Belfast, through his study of tree rings on Irish Bog Oaks (and checked against, mm, I forget, some Californian Bristle Cone Firs, I think, plus Greenland Ice Cores and calibrated Carbon 14 dates). His conclusion is that there was severely limited sunlight from 2354-2345 B.C., most likely as a result of a Bolide Impact (i.e. meteorites) throwing up dust into the air.

    Checking historical, cultural, archaeological and geographical records, he concluded the meteor probably broke up and spread its debris across a wide swathe of the planet, some arriving at Campo del Cielo.

    Two places I suspect the debris may have hit are the ancient cities of Sodom and Gomorrah. For this to idea work we’d have to take the very earliest alleged chronology for Abraham who, as I recall, entertained two ‘angels’ en route to the two cities.

    Dolly’s mention of Lot’s wife brought this to mind. Not sure what state Mrs Lot would be in if standing at the right distance from a fiery explosion, but might she be mistaken for salt..?
  • Daedalus
    by Daedalus 4 months ago
    I have a piece of the same meteorite Gerry. Fascinating info
  • Monica Handle
    by Monica Handle 4 months ago
    On the topic of consciousness, I highly recommend Douglas Hofstadter's 'I am a strange loop', in which he outlines his view that what constitutes 'I' is a our ability to think about selfhood; to be self-perceiving and self-referential. That is the crudest of summaries, unworthy of the elegance, subtlety and depth of the book itself. He is also the author of 'Godel, Escher, Bach: an Eternal Gold Braid', a tour de force if there ever was one, and the wonderful Metamagical Themas column in Scientific American, among many other publications (and musical compositions!). The slightly disturbing element in Strange Loop is that, if you follow his reasoning, you have to accept that there's a kind of hierarchy of 'souls' among other living things with nervous systems, and that this may explain why we are squeamish about killing, say, a dolphin (or some of us are), but generally not too fussed about swatting a wasp. Needless to say, Hofstadter is a vegetarian. Anyhow, I found the book profound and, in the end, deeply affecting, as the later discussion concerns his relationships with his sister, who has a learning disability, and his wife, who died young. The themes of cognition, memory and personhood feature throughout, and even if you disagree vehemently with his views, I am certain (can I use that?) you will be entertained.
  • Caducean Whisks
    by Caducean Whisks 4 months ago
    Just seen this. Want to read this thread but up against it atm, and too addled tonight and can no longer concentrate. Just saying.
  • mike
    by mike 4 months ago
    Whopps, it was Toyah. "Ish a mystery' 'A shot in the dark' must be one of the most used lyrics

    It's a mystery, it's a mystery
    I'm still searching for a clue
    It's a mystery to me
    A shot in the dark
  • Caducean Whisks
    by Caducean Whisks 4 months ago
    Interesting debate. I agree with you Gerry, that all things have some sort of consciousness, which I'd measure by rate of vibration. A rock vibrates very slowly, a plant a bit quicker, then animal and finally spirit. That's what I think when I believe such things, anyway, which isn't all the time.
    Regarding perception, eyes, etc: we make a grave mistake in thinking that what we can perceive, is all there is to perceive. The electromagnetic spectrum is much wider than the small range we're sensitive to: the colours of the rainbow. But off both deep ends, are ultra-violet, infra red, gamma rays, X-rays, radio waves and so on. Other species of plants and animals *are* sensitive to different ranges and so their perception of the world is entirely different. Bees, for instance, see ultra-violet clearly, and some flowers have ultra-violet markings on them to show the bees the way in. I've noticed with my foster foxes, that their primary sense is scent. For instance, I'll throw some food to within a foot of them - they'll see it quite clearly - yet navigate towards it by nose, sniffing their way in. We all know dogs can detect molecules of this and that that are beyond most of our human range. What must it be like, to live in a scentscape? It'd be a whole different world.
    Sonar. That's another one, that we're not naturally good at. Yet to bats and whales it defines their world.
    I sometimes hear, 'Can it be an accident, that this planet is exactly the right distance from the sun, with just enough water and oxygen to support human life?' To me, that's getting the argument backwards and my answer is 'Yes!' If the gases and temperature and pressure and whatnot had been different, then we wouldn't have been here in the form we now are. We define 'life' in terms of us. Fair enough, I suppose, since we don't know any better - but we could be just a complexity of chemical reactions and cause and effect.
    To contradict someone earlier (sorry - I read it and forgot) - there are plenty of books documenting an afterlife. They more-or-less have to be anecdotal, unless you want to experiment on people. Although there have been experiments on animals. Lyall Watson wrote 'The Biology of Death' which I found interesting and upsetting by turns.
    But all religions tend to agree on the basics of the peri-death experience: tunnels of light, life review, meeting those gone before, some kind of judgement. It could be exactly that, or it could be an excitation of the brain in response to dying - oxygen starvation and the body shutting down. i.e. more chemical reactions going haywire and leading to visions.
    Oh I dunno. I think myself round in circles and don't know what I know or believe, and wonder what the difference is, anyway.
  • Clytemnestra
    by Clytemnestra 4 months ago
    Gerry, mischievous of you but on a postcard: 'Experience'.

    Data is considered objective; science dictates it must be proven by scientific means while personal experiences are seen as subjective and may be dismissed as anecdotal. A truly open, exploring mind dismisses nothing for, no matter how amazing the human brain seems, it will need to evolve a lot more before it becomes capable of understanding everything the Cosmos has to offer.

    Dolly: what stirs within your organic being is Life itself which, along with Consciousness remains a mystery tested to the Nth degree by philosophers and more recently psychologists since homo became sapient. If there is wonder in a blade of grass, how much more wonderful was the mysterious spark that set a single cell multiplying by division to set evolution running?
  • Daedalus
    by Daedalus 4 months ago
    "Data is considered objective; science dictates it must be proven by scientific means while personal experiences are seen as subjective and may be dismissed as anecdotal" - Not at all Clytemnestra. There is a substantial body of scientific research based around qualitative practices, where the personal experience is paramount. Science 'proper' recognises that statistical data can never tell the whole story - do not confuse science with scientism.

    Whisks - I was considering making a similar point about vision. While the human eye may seem miraculous (by which I mean too useful to be attributable to the mundane process of evolution by natural selection) we tend to forget that in many wavelengths and conditions of ambient light, we are completely blind.

    Monica - That book definitely sounds worth a look.
  • Clytemnestra
    by Clytemnestra 4 months ago
    Whisks, your thoughts on vibrations chime with my own belief that levels of Life may be sensed by the intensity of vibrations we are capable of feeling. In the material world there are four levels.

    Rock vibrates slowly as in deep slumber; we may sense its low hum in the darkness of a still night. There is radio-activity in rock that we may use for good or ill but there is also the harmony of music.

    Vegetation dreams at a higher intensity; farmers and gardeners try to redirect those dreams but Nature has been around for longer and always knows best.

    Animals are conscious; we are animal and recognize the animal needs we share.

    Our kind has an evolved brain with the capacity to know.

    So ... Life 'slumbered' in rock, 'dreamed' in vegetation, was 'conscious' in animals and 'knew' itself in our kind. At every stage of evolution Life has been growing stronger.

    The next step is to go beyond the material and explore the non-material.
  • Woolleybeans
    by Woolleybeans 4 months ago
    All brains are evolved.

    I read today about how some Octopuses and cuttlefish adapt via changes to their RNA instead of their DNA. Every time I learn something else about Octopuses (who get a capital because of awesome) they are revealed to be stranger and more interesting.

    I have no idea what Octopuses think about an afterlife, but if any creature on Earth has secret knowledge of one, it'd be them. Or maybe jellyfish.
  • Clytemnestra
    by Clytemnestra 4 months ago
    Of course, all brains are a product of evolution, Woollybeans but I doubt that an octopus or a cuttlefish or a jellyfish brain - even if they were all given a capital letter because of awesomeness in your eyes - would give a fig whether or not you value your place at the top of the tree of knowledge.

    You have the capacity to understand them more that they have the capacity to understand you.
  • Woolleybeans
    by Woolleybeans 4 months ago
    You don't know that, Clyte. They are amazing and capable of much. One learnt to take photographs, all by itself. I know a bunch of people who can't manage that. Sometimes, I am one of them. ;)

    But it also isn't the point I was making. I just wanted to mention something about how one creature deals with adaptations, given evolution had been discussed. I don't actually know how you got anything about my view of any place on a tree of knowledge relative to anything else in creation from what I said. Or how having the capacity to understand them has any bearing on their absolute status as awesome beings. Which they are.

    But seeing as you agree all brains are the product of evolution, we aren't the only ones with an evolved brain, which was your statement.

    I also don't agree that life grows stronger, not per se. What measure are we using for that? Life adapts or is extinguished, but adaptations can lead to a dead-end when the environment changes again. We're all just paddling to keep above water and grabbing whatever floatation device our genetic mutations provide.

    Less so for an Octopus, because of how awesome they are. (I in fact have no idea about that - but I will now go and research it)

    And as I said, I didn't say anything about a place on the tree of knowledge, but for all we know they have full self awareness.

    I am not saying they do. I am saying, which seems in keeping with this blog, that we don't know.

    We are discovering all sorts about different creatures all the time. Far too often, it's that we can manage to wipe them out, too. But also we keep finding other ways in which various birds and other fellow lifeforms are more intelligent or more aware or more capable of communication etc than we had previously thought. Which is also awesome, in the old sense of making me feel full of awe.

    Anyway, I'm pretty sure a raven is at the top of the tree of knowledge. It's proably spying for Odin. And it probably has a communication ongoing with an Octopus.
  • Daedalus
    by Daedalus 4 months ago
    I definitely concur on the awesomeness of the octopus. Cephalopods are pretty amazing in general, and evolutionarily very different to primates in terms of the development of their intelligence, which I gather we understand relatively little about. Certain species are capable of sophisticated co-operation and communication using chromatophores. They have the biggest ratio of brain to body mass of any creature, so they're evolving for smartness. If we manage not to poison the seas or upset ocean salinity before the inevitable decline of humanity, I can imagine something like cuttlefish becoming the dominant intelligent species on Earth.
  • Woolleybeans
    by Woolleybeans 4 months ago
    And far rather them than the insect nation!

    Mr WB was listening to a podcast earlier (I was frantically trying to make it seem like we had not had dogs in the cottage we had paid to have dogs in, because they insist you make it look like they were not there even though you pay extra...) as he packed up the car to go home, and one expert was talking about insects and what counted as being more successful.

    One guest on the show protested that sheer numbers should not be the measure, as there are no doubt more insects in his house than humans, but he feels he has had more success in that, at the very least, the house is his. And he has a BAFTA. And as far as he knows the insects do not.

    The expert pointed out that every single other form of life combined still does not add up to the range that exists in the insect nation. So, if we're talking numbers or variety, they are more successful.

    Got to define your terms before you come to a conclusion about success.

    I for one say best wishes to the future cuttlefish nation. May you do better with the planet than we have.
  • Clytemnestra
    by Clytemnestra 4 months ago
    You are talking nonsense, Woolleybeans Perhaps because Mr WB was listening to a pod cast earlier?

    If you believe that - no matter how great an advantage our species was handed in the brain league we are less capable than insects of finding a solution to the world's ills then maybe a cuttlefish could be your saviour.

    Like it or not, it will be a very long time before a cephalopod gets a grip on your life and tells you how to live.
  • Clytemnestra
    by Clytemnestra 4 months ago
    It may be that a cephalopod will come up with a definitive answer on whether there is life after death but I have no way of communicating with one such.
  • Athelstone
    by Athelstone 4 months ago
    I agree with Woolleybeans; the whole notion of success is wedded to achieving a particular objective or set of objectives. This is not nonsense but simply understanding how the word is used. It may not suit sweeping polemical arguments, but then these usually have a purpose other than pursuing an argument.
  • mike
    by mike 4 months ago
    As a photographer, one is a aware of shadows - or the effect of them. I would try use shadows as part of the composition. The brain compensates for these shadows and the camera does not. Well, some digital cameras do, Presumably, the digital camera is more accurate because it compensates for shadows as the eye does? I had often been complimented on my landscape photography, but my compositions were influenced by painters who did use shadows for their effects. David Hockey once made some tv documentaries about the relationship between photography and art.
  • stephenterry
    by stephenterry 4 months ago
    I have experienced being reborn in that I now know how I died, and who my partner was before. That's why I have an aversion towards horses, and why I found my soul-mate.

    Of course, most people would think I'm crazy.
  • mike
    by mike 4 months ago
    Ghostbusters 11 was on the telly last week. I must confess I gave up after about twenty minutes, though I did find Ghostbusters funny. This is, presumably, how the supernatural world is viewed?
    I had not read Walter De La Mere before and I found his stories rather difficult to place. I think the supernatural stories I read were, perhaps, closer to the ;Turn of the Screw' than the Ghostbusters.
    I rather mucked up my education so I don't fit into the academic world but I wonder of De La Mere viewed life from a religious mind set and viewed the paranormal from this perspective?
    Gerry, from blog, you would seem to be a fan of Wallter De La Mere? If you are not, you ought to be. I very nearly gave up on the book which has no introduction but it seems the only one viewable on google. The books are, copyright but not in Canada! 'All Hallows' is rather long but there did seem to be something of Poe in the story. The easiest story to read is 'The Picnic;' followed by the 'Nap;
  • Barb
    by Barb 4 months ago
    The planet is a closed system that recycles everything so why not us. Not just the physical aspects but the essence / soul of us as well.

    ST, now I have the Billy Thorpe song stuck in my head - the Keith Urban version anyway.
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1Qj5Zt53gQs
  • SecretSpi
    by SecretSpi 4 months ago
    Fascinating debate. For my part, I got involved in parapsychology during my time at university. The main thing that sticks in my mind from that time was the question: are we right to attempt to measure, quantify, prove the existence of the unknown with the tools and methodologies of the known? On the other hand, what choice do we have if we want to go beyond/behind/before belief and assertion?
  • Clytemnestra
    by Clytemnestra 4 months ago
    Lots of interesting ideas here. I'm not sure how Woolleybeans concluded that I believe the human brain alone was a product of evolution. When did I suggest that? The brain was destined to evolve through every mutation throughout the evolutionary process and the greatest leap forward in its development was the introduction of sexual reproduction.

    Mother Nature decided that a tango works best with two dancing together and in her wisdom provided an 'other' for the female; otherwise destined forever to multiply by division in an organic soup. The male provided the Y chromosome in order that evolution of the species may progress more rapidly via a greater gene pool.

    Correct me if I'm wrong but didn't sexual reproduction allow female mammalians to give birth to foetuses with a progressively larger head (to contain the progressively larger brain) because they were protected during the birthing process by another of her own kind with an interest of their own?
  • Jillybean
    by Jillybean 4 months ago
    Clyte I can only assume you're referring to the fact that humans give birth to young whose brains are not fully developed. Hence humans having one of the longest cycles of actual parenthood - investing a lot of time in their young - because humans give birth to young that literally cannot care for itself for years. This is an evolutionary factor yes but you seem to have a confused notion of how that came about. Basically environmental pressures select for or against a certain mutation in an organism. Those mutations selected for go on to pass on those mutations to their own offspring and those selected against by those same environmental pressures die. This is a very potted version of survival of the fittest, Humans are interesting in that due to a genetic quirk that caused out ancestor austhralopithicus afarensis to walk upright, we developed opposable thumbs. This in the fullness of time led us to utilise basic tools and work in groups. The introduction of greater quantities of meat into our ancestors diets led to greater development of the frontal lobes of the brain which was selected for environmental pressure wise because a greater ability to reason, deduce and work in teams allowed our ancestors to catch greater numbers of prey. This mutation became part of a positive feedback loop with no other selection pressure to check it. In time babies heads became larger causing more difficult births and more deaths in childbirth. Those mothers who gave birth to young prematurely had a greater chance of surviving to reproduce again and pass on their own genes. Those mothers who gave birth early and cared for the young best increased that chance even further. And those who had mates that also invested in the care of the young gave their genes the greatest possible chance of survival overall. We know this was a successful trait given at what stage our ow young are born today in terms of brain development. Basically it had little to do with an altruistic motivation and everything to do with an animals selfish (in the evolutionary sense) need to spread its genes. Survival of the fittest in humans takes an interesting turn because anything that gives birth to utterly helpless young and doesn't develop a nurturing instinct is doomed to extinction. As for the male chromosome, there's a fair body of evidence to suggest that it was actually originally a mutated X chromosome that was obviously extraordinarily successful in terms of its original possessors being selected for rather than against. I'm afraid any sentence starting with 'the brain was destined ...' tends to give those of us who studied genetics a nervous tic...
  • Clytemnestra
    by Clytemnestra 4 months ago
    Jillybeans, I did not suggest that humans give birth to young who's brains are not fully developed but that humans MUST give birth earlier in the foetus's development because the brain is so developed it requires a larger skull to contain it. A skull so large it requires a series of disjointed plates to compress and overlap in order to pass (not at all painlessly) through the mother's birth canal.

    Present it in as complex a way as you wish but when a human child is born, its brain is fully primed to learn and - once it's eyes find focus - it is endlessly curious. Only the body is weak. It inherits physical features from its primate forebears but is quite naked with an over-large head. The vertebrae in its neck are not sufficiently developed to support such weight and it cannot cling to its mother's pelt for she has none. Hence the over-long length of time human parents need to invest in rearing their young to successful adulthood.
  • Woolleybeans
    by Woolleybeans 4 months ago
    Evolution has got absolutely nothing to do with destiny. It is an emergent system, not a predetermined one. It's the response to changes in environment and not a grand plan.
  • Gerry
    by Gerry 4 months ago
    Just a whimsical thought, folks, but the blog generating these comments is called 'An Aversion to Certainty'.
  • Clytemnestra
    by Clytemnestra 4 months ago
    Of course, Gerry, but I find it extraordinary how Nature seems to be following a pre-designed plan, don't you?
  • Clytemnestra
    by Clytemnestra 4 months ago
    The idea that evolution has absolutely nothing to do with destiny is a certainty too far for me. I would rather wait and see what next evolution has in store for us :-)
  • Woolleybeans
    by Woolleybeans 4 months ago
    Fair enough, Clyte. But stop telling other people it 'is' Mother Nature and destiny if you have an issue with someone else saying it is not. You saw fit both to tell me I was speaking nonesense and to assert your views as fact, including your views on my views, which you misread anyway.
  • Daedalus
    by Daedalus 4 months ago
    An aversion to certainty is fine, every good scientist should have a healthy dose of it, but saying we can't be certain should not be used as a smokescreen for ignoring the vast weight of evidence that points in certain directions. There are people who still think the Earth is flat, after all. If nature is following a pre-designed plan it's one that is remarkably tailored to changes in a vast range of environmental conditions. The 'modern' human evolved in a period as short as 50,000 years, a blink of an eye in the three million year history of recognisably human species, this following close on the heels of dramatic changes in the climate. If, as Gerry's original post suggests, science moves forward one funeral at a time, then the archaeological record shows that evolution moves forward one cataclysm at a time. If there's a plan in evolution, it involves periodic environmental catastrophes. The chances are that if there is to be a step forward in the immediate future, most of us won't live through whatever event spurs it to see how it plays out.
  • Clytemnestra
    by Clytemnestra 4 months ago
    Mea culpa. I accept that I am assertive in my own views but if debate is worth anything at all it should lie in a willingness speak out while learning from the arguments of others. Nothing I have written here demands that you believe a word I say.
  • Woolleybeans
    by Woolleybeans 4 months ago
    No. It does not. Nor is there any need to term my words nonesense or to denigrate what I say. Your phrasing was not assertive - it was patronising. It was also dismissive.
  • Clytemnestra
    by Clytemnestra 4 months ago
    Whoops!
  • Daedalus
    by Daedalus 4 months ago
    False equivalence. Evolutionary science as it currently stands has had to go through a rigorous process of hypothesis, testing and peer review. This simply isn't one of those cases where one opinion is as good as another. Total certainty can never be reached but it's the difference between 95% certain and something a lot closer to zero.

    I don't know anyone commenting on this blog who works in primary education, btw.
  • Athelstone
    by Athelstone 4 months ago
    OFP, it may seem to some that WB was simply expressing a point of view forcefully because it is a strongly held conviction - added to which, when she earlier expressed a point of view in a rather more light-hearted manner, she was told (somewhat rudely I thought) that she was talking nonsense. I must congratulate you on your elaborate second paragraph which manages to defend the perceived rudeness while at the same time adding to it by dismissing what WB has to say, or the manner of it, as the result of he being a particular sort of person: a teacher of primary education (I think it's actually secondary). Then there are the veiled references to 'concerns' which mean that, having had your say, you have decided to withdraw - ever the gent.

    You regularly terminate these interventions with a post to the effect that you are just pushing buttons, having a bit of fun, that you are bored - at a certain point - talking with closed minds and so on. To my eyes it is all starting to look a bit predictable as though you cannot resist weighing in when certain people post and that you do not simply argue the point, you attack them personally and dismiss their thoughts as merely representative of a type.

    You can and often do write beautifully. We have met and enjoyed booze and each other's company. We managed to negotiate all this without pain. In fact I would happily do it again. That's why it puzzles me that when I see blogs across a wide range of topics I feel that a certain point they will become sour and personal. This is a writer's forum. There's no restriction what the blogs are about -obviously we should write about everything. This is an interesting topic and will attract a range of views. It's not the strength of view or whether it's expresses as an absolute that's the problem - or whether people get cross -or any of that. It's when it gets personal.
  • Barny
    by Barny 4 months ago
    OFP - so apparently for you "withdrawing from further conversations" (which I imagine most people would interpret as NOT SAYING ANYTHING ELSE) involves you continuing in the conversation, trying to claim that you are playing nicely, and then you base this on unfounded personal implications citing other unnamed sources. Nice. Not. And not helpful either.
  • Mashie Niblick
    by Mashie Niblick 4 months ago
    If we had one rule here it should be to use non-violent communication. It seems despite all our wonderful evolution we can become offensive when we feel defensive. Anyway, predestination and evolution are two models of species development. We can get so caught up in proving one against the other, we can forget that, like all human knowledge, these models are just human constructs, and so should allow for some uncertainty (ref this blog). Polarisation seems to occur in threads like this, and elsewhere, when views are presented as certainties. The problem is, of course, that if you are certain your view is right, then you are certain that other views are wrong, and the people who hold that other view are 'stupid',' stubborn',' limited' - these are all violent words. They are received as violence. So however certain we are of our views, we still have a responsibility to be kind. As a rule, I see certainty as limitation.
  • Daedalus
    by Daedalus 4 months ago
    There have been numerous views presented as certainties in this blog, by numerous people, on different sides of various arguments, some more politely than others. As Gerry quoted Carlo Ravelli in the original post, 'Well, we do have things we consider pretty obvious and reasonable, even if we are not sure about anything.' Can we be entirely certain about anything? No. But we can be far more certain about things that have been subject to controlled, rational experiment and observation, and the findings peer reviewed and subjected to the scrutiny of the scientific community. These things are not equivalent to pseudoscience or mythology.

    As far as I'm aware, a good many people who follow the Abrahamic religions accept the scientific consensus on evolution by means of natural selection without difficulty or offence. Render unto Darwin the things that are Darwin's, and to God's the things that are God's.
  • Barny
    by Barny 4 months ago
    But by continuing to write and include these personal implications, and I quote "I have been asked by mutual friends not to engage in direct conversation with you as they have concerns about you" is exactly what you have done. In a public forum. Where the person you are making implications about is reading. And where the friends and peers of that person are reading. In my book, those are bullying tactics.

    A conversation is about highlighting alternate views and discussing them like grown ups - there may well be no "winner". However, your method of "winning" appears to be that if the other person doesn't shut up you stick the knife into that person. And if that doesn't work you twist it. That's not grown up behaviour. Grow up.

    And no I won't be PMing you.
  • Gerry
    by Gerry 4 months ago
    Oh dear, this is getting a bit hot. First of all, I love Prop, and if he gets a bit emphatic occasionally, well, that's Prop, and I think we all - most of us - love him. And I love Woolly, and if she gets a bit emphatic occasionally, well, that's Woolly, and I think we all - most of us - love her. And Clytemnestra is a new friend, and she too gets a bit emphatic occasionally, but it's great getting to know her - and out of knowing grows love.

    I remember Amarantha (indeed at one stage I wondered if Clytemnestra was Amarantha returning under a different name) and she could certainly be emphatic, but gosh how I miss her. (Ama, if you're listening, please come back, we love you!)

    As regards knowledge and belief, well, I tend to think opposites are often compatible. For instance, evolution strikes me as a really neat way for a divine mind – or minds – to arrange a process of continual creation. Can’t prove it. Don’t really want to. But, to get fictional about it, if I, as first person narrator and controlling minor deity, wanted to speed up human evolution, I might arrange for a few ice ages to put the squeeze on the species. That’d sort them out quick enough. I might even look at the present situation and lean over to some of my pals in weather control and say ‘Let’s go hot for a while, make a few deserts, shrink the coastlines. This bunch need a good shake up.’

    Not good from a life-saving point of view, but a controlling minor deity isn’t likely to be too concerned about keeping everyone in physical incarnation. Why would he/she? Being out of incarnation, he/she would regard that as a perfectly acceptable way to be.

    As I say, fiction. But fiction can be fun. And you can try out a few scenarios, see how they sound.
  • Gerry
    by Gerry 4 months ago
    And lawks, it got even hotter while I was writing this. Now, come on everyone, behave, or I'll send the great big cuddle monster and force you all to kiss and make up.
  • Mashie Niblick
    by Mashie Niblick 4 months ago
    Daeds - I agree there are degrees of certainty. The scientific community are defined as what? A community who believe in science? A community who agree in the parameters of scientific thinking? A community who make their living or publish books about science? But 'science' isnt an actual thing, is it? It's a way of looking at and modelling the world. It is limited by its own parameters. Newtonian physics was limited in the same way Einsteinian physics is now. The models fit reality until they don't. No-one agrees what happened at the beginning of time and the universe, with theories including its appearance in multiple dimensions, in the same way that subatomic particles are believed by some to operate in these same dimensions. Multidimensionality, if it is to be considered seriously, must be considered in all areas of science, and yet, because we don't understand it, all science must have a degree of uncertainty. Science, one could argue, is doomed by definition to lag behind reality because of its limitation as a model of reality. In the same way it cannot 100% prove anything, there are some things it can't disprove, like fairies, ghosts or God. The same, it has to be said, is true of religion. People created our religions, not God. If God is omniscient, then he/she is the only one who has any certainty round here. I am lucky to have a spiritual practice, and therefore world outlook, which embraces uncertainty.
  • Barny
    by Barny 4 months ago
    Nope. Bullying is not funny. Personal attacks are not acceptable behaviour.
  • AlanP
    by AlanP 4 months ago
    Knock it off, guys. Please.
  • Barny
    by Barny 4 months ago
    that's exactly what I'm saying to Prop. Knock off the personal attacks.
  • Daedalus
    by Daedalus 4 months ago
    Quite, Barny. This is not six of one and half a dozen of the other.

    Mashie - science is a thing. It's a series of methods for exploring the physical universe, and it is the best system we have for doing so. Because it is based on rigour, control, experimentation and challenge, it is objectively better as a way of explaining natural phenomena than anything that doesn't take a similarly thorough approach. And that's the thing - science only works if you have an open mind. Science is about looking at all the testable possibilities and establishing the best one until a better hypothesis or better data is available. The closed minded are those who jump to a conclusion and stick to it regardless of any evidence presented. I read about some research this morning establishing how dung beetles navigate. It was beautiful. Both the result and the way it was established, assuming nothing, unafflicted by unhelpful certainties.
  • Daedalus
    by Daedalus 4 months ago
    And a fascinating article here on consciousness in Octopuses, featuring some equally interesting stuff on certainty - https://qz.com/1045782/an-octopus-is-the-closest-thing-to-an-alien-here-on-earth/?utm_source=parAO
  • Barny
    by Barny 4 months ago
    "knifing" is a metaphor for your behaviour - it's your behaviour on this (and other) blogs, where you attack the person rather than the argument.
  • Mashie Niblick
    by Mashie Niblick 4 months ago
    Ah yes the dung beetle - was that the experiment where the scientists de-polarised light so that the dung beetle couldn't find its way back to its hole? If I recall, moonlight is sufficiently polarised to orient the beetle's navigation. There should be a whole thread for the dung beetle (of which there are a number of varieties and reasons for making dung balls I also recall).

    I'm still not sure science is a thing, in the way this computer is a thing. You have called it a series of methods, and a system. I'd call it a self-evidencing human construct - an agreed methodology, let's say, to which the scientific community are its adherents. Don't think that I am anti-science, rather the opposite (witness my shared interest in experiments on dung beetles). But it is nevertheless limited by its own parameters. There are spheres of human experience which science cannot, in my experience to date, encompass - the joy I find in words, paranormal experiences, a sense of belonging to a group. There are other methodologies which are better at this.

    Science may prove that a dung beetle uses polarised light to navigate, but the beetle doesn't need this proof. There's something else bigger going on that escapes the grasp of science. I would say science is an activity, not a thing - a verb, not a noun.
  • Daedalus
    by Daedalus 4 months ago
    Interesting. The word science just means knowledge, but the modern discipline was broadly created in the 19th century as a series of conscious decisions as to which areas of study to include by organisations such as the British Society for the Advancement of Science. Methodology is I suppose the best available description. I agree that there are spheres of human experience that it is not best placed to explain. What I struggle with is people dismissing science in areas where it is well placed, or presenting false equivalences in which methods based on little or no rigour are presented as of equal value.

    The dung beetle study was I think building on the 2003 one that established the polarised light navigation. This one, also by Marie Dacke, indicated that they were capable of orienting themselves by the Milky Way in moonless nights. She observed the beetles in a planetarium so she could control every variable. The wonderful thing about that was that on some level the lowly dung beetle has an awareness of the galaxy.
  • Gerry
    by Gerry 4 months ago
    Talking of schoolteaching, as somebody did earlier, I can remember a few occasions – decades ago now – when I’d try to sort out two quarrelling urchins. I’d reckon one of them maybe had a point but the other might have a bigger point. However, I couldn’t say so for fear of setting the first one off again. So I’d say something calm and all-encompassing (and hope for later chance to say something more useful).

    I’ve an idea that international diplomacy works on the same lines. Well, Trump and Kim haven’t blown each other up yet. And the rest of us.

    I wonder how much hope there is for the world, though

    (As regards octopuses, I know almost nothing. Must catch up...)
  • Mashie Niblick
    by Mashie Niblick 4 months ago
    Daeds - There is a Glastonbury Zodiac. It has twelve points with Glastonbury Tor at its centre. Each point represents an astrological sign. The landscape for some is overlain with astrological significance. The zodiac was 'discovered' by someone shortly after aerial photography 'took off' so to speak. The fact that one of the points turned out to be a haystack is not sufficiently clear evidence that the zodiac was invented rather than discovered. I was corrected recently for not calling Dundon Hill 'Gemini Hill'.

    Her position on this was a good example of confirmation bias, which I think you are referring to when people argue against clear evidence. Some people think that God put fossils on earth. What can you say?
  • Daedalus
    by Daedalus 4 months ago
    Glastonbury Zodiac is a fascinating case. I have a rather large book on the subject which, to my shame, I have only ever skimmed. It seems far fetched (confirmation bias would also seem to be a plausible explanation for the notion that Silbury Hill represents the pregnant belly of a goddess figure who becomes visible when the surrounding fields flood) but I know too little about it to offer an opinion.
  • The WordCloud
    by The WordCloud 3 months ago
    Hello Cloudies,

    It's come to our attention that this comment thread recently became quite heated, and that some Cloudies are being made to feel uncomfortable. We wanted to step in and remind everyone that The Word Cloud has always been a supportive and harmonious writing community. We encourage users to help foster this environment, to make friends, have debates, seek inspiration, share tips and generally to enjoy yourselves. This also means to treat other users with respect and ensure that enjoying yourselves isn't to the detriment of others. Please ensure that your comments are representative of the friendly and respectful environment that we all wish the Word Cloud to remain.


    - The Cloud
  • Mashie Niblick
    by Mashie Niblick 3 months ago
    It speaks!
  • Yo
    by Yo 3 months ago
    Grammarly says there shouldn't be a comma after heated. Tut! Tut!
  • RichardB
    by RichardB 3 months ago
    Then I would suggest that Grammarly is talking out of its backside. There are times when you really ought to use a comma, times when you really ought not to use a comma, and times when it's optional and depends on what stress and rhythm you want in the sentence. This is one of those times, and such are too subtle for a computer program to appreciate. Personally, I would have used that comma.

    Anyway, isn't the message here rather more important than subtle points of punctuation?
  • AlanP
    by AlanP 3 months ago
    I should just like to welcome The Word Cloud to what may be one of its only posts, at least in my experience. I couldn't have put it better.
  • Yo
    by Yo 3 months ago
    @RichardB

    Of course, just a little gentle 'ribbing' for Mr WC!
  • Barny
    by Barny 3 months ago
    Or Mrs/Ms WC
  • RichardB
    by RichardB 3 months ago
    Ah. No sensa yuma, 's my problem. It is actually a valid point though, at least in fiction writing: you can't put all your trust in these 'mechanical' aids. Punctuation, and even grammar, can be as much an art as a science.

    Alan, hear hear.
  • SecretSpi
    by SecretSpi 3 months ago
    According to its profile, The Word Cloud is currently floating over the Bavarian/Czech border. According to my laptop, at any rate.
  • Catasshe
    by Catasshe 3 months ago
    The Word Cloud, wherever it is, speaks sense. I sometimes wonder how some of the Cloudie regulars get any (creative) writing done at all, as of late some appear to spend most of their time in slanging matches on here. Albeit, erudite, informed and, at times, entertaining slanging matches. ;-)
    Glad to see Mr WC is prepared to step in when necessary (commas or no).
  • Catasshe
    by Catasshe 3 months ago
    (Or, indeed Miss or Ms W...)
  • Dolly
    by Dolly 3 months ago
    Since last weekend I have been involved in a music project, which I've just about got my head round, so I thought I'd take a look at the cloud, to see what had transpired since I last looked, and lo and behold, this blog is still alive and well, and creating debate, speculation and quotations from various sources. Well, I'm afraid the only way any of us are going to find an answer to this particular conundrum, is to die, which I for one, am not in any hurry to do, and leave it at that.
  • Daedalus
    by Daedalus 3 months ago
    Hard to disagree with what Ms/Mx/Mr Cloud says, though a pity it has to be pointed out. Dolly - ay, there's the rub
  • Clytemnestra
    by Clytemnestra 3 months ago
    Disappointed to find that one word used by me: 'nonsense' could destroy so wide-ranging and interesting a discussion. I'm so sorry for that, Gerry; you wrote a thoughtful, exploratory blog and deserve better.

    I have many times in my life been told that something I have said or written is nonsense and have never been so precious as to regard this particular 'N' word (as opposed to the other infamous one) as offensive to my person. Honest criticism, no matter how emphatically expressed, is far more valuable to me than patronage. I am not a child and do not need to be spoken to nicely.
  • Gerry
    by Gerry 3 months ago
    Not to worry, Clytey, things often turn out a bit unintended. What would we find to write about if they didn't? I'm glad to hear you're resilient in debate, but people do vary, and writers - for better or worse - can be very sensitive. My missus, for instance, would never join a forum like this, even though she's a published novelist, because she takes things far too much to heart. Whenever she asks me to look at something she has written, I have to think carefully how to respond.

    As regards this blog, I think its natural life ended some time ago. It's tempting to add another spurious post or two to bring the comments up to a century, but I think, all in all, it's best to tuck the thing up in bed and whisper 'Night night'...
  • Gerry
    by Gerry 3 months ago
    Night night...
  • Mezz
    by Mezz 3 months ago
    As my lovely Mum always used to, and still does, say; "RIGHT! That's enough! I don't care WHO started it. I'M ending it, Now go out to play"
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