Archives for category: Science

During the school year when I should be writing papers, catching up on my academic readings, or beginning any number of projects that need to get finished, I am as usual overthinking completely irrelevant and useless pieces of knowledge. In this instance, it has been the Monty Hall problem.

For those that don’t know, the Monty Hall problem is a mathematical brain teaser that proves that up is down, black is white, and chaos is the fundamental nature of the universe. To briefly summarize, there are three doors, and behind one of them is a prize. You pick any door, and without revealing anything, one of the remaining two doors will be opened to unveil the not-prize. You are asked to choose again, and there is now a 2/3 chance the prize will be behind the last, unpicked door. You have a better shot of getting the prize if you switch your answer from the original choice. Like I said, chaos.


From Wikipedia: Maths!

Anyway, this voodoo of probability increases with additional doors. So if you pick between ten doors, and eight of them reveal the not-prize, you have a 9/10 chance of getting the prize if you switch your answer. What if we increase the number of doors to infinite? There are infinite doors, you pick one, and then all but two doors are eliminated: the one you picked, and a second door. Maths say that there is a 100% certainty of the prize being behind the other door. Now, we could use this as a point of contention in the never-ending 0.999… equals 1 debate, or we could just accept that it is literally impossible to not be behind the second door.

What this means in practical terms is that when you are faced with a universe full of opportunity and choices, you will, with mathematical inevitability, make the wrong decision. Thanks Maths!

The traditional worship of the gods of the Greek pantheon has all but ended in our scientific modernity, yet their influence has never waned. They have merely slipped from memory, bygones of a superstitious era when humans were believed to be primitive in their comprehension of the universe. However, the governance of our universe still remains in their divine hands. For what is 299 792 458 m/s if not shining Helios, riding his chariot across the universe, illuminating our world. Who is unseen Hades if not 6.626070040(81)×10−34 J⋅s, the ruler of the underworld, governing its chaos. Although his time as the lord of all the Olympic gods has concluded, mighty Zeus still hurls his thunderbolts as 1.6021766208(98)×10−19 C. Uranus, father of Cronus, holds together the heavens as 6.674×10−11 N⋅m2/kg2, while his wife, 9.80665 m/s2, mother Gaia, rules our home of Earth. Though much less capricious, these immortal and immutable gods still define our understanding of the universe surrounding us. We still worship them in awe and wonder, we’ve just forgotten their names.

Of course, the only reasonable way to measure science would be scientifically; that is to say, objectively. So how do we measure science scientifically? Well, by subtracting all value, science could only be measured quantitatively. We know x about the universe, we know how to do y, and we know how z happens, and we add those up and that is the measure of science. Science is really just a series of notches on humanity’s belt. Unfortunately for science, even this measure is flawed because scientific data tends to be paradigmatic and something we learned today could very well be considered false tomorrow. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing as recognizing science’s fallibility is often celebrate by the scientifically minded, but since valuing fallibility is a value, it can’t be taken into account by our measure of science and must be discarded. The scientific measure of science ends up being mostly disappointing.

Luckily, we don’t measure science scientifically. I don’t think many people would equate the invention of the printing press with the invention of the slinky, as a quantitative approach would mandate. Collectively, we tend to value the spread of information more than we do the warped physics of spirals and staircases. We value penicillin because we happen to enjoy being alive. We value the observation of space because we tend to be a very curious species about the universe surrounding us. We value sliced bread because doing the slicing ourselves is always just such a mess. We aren’t looking for the cure for cancer because we think it would be a neat little factoid, we are looking for a cure for cancer because we value not dying from cancer. Obviously each person’s values will be different and people will value some scientific discoveries higher than others, that is just the subjective nature of individuality. In the end though, we measure science by our cultural values, and then somewhat ironically celebrate science for abstaining from participating in those same cultural values. So it’s a curiosity to me that we tend to ignore the measure of the process with which we measure everything else.

Today we live in something that I heard one time and loved: the Christian hangover. What this means is that Christianity in the West was kind of a big deal right up until God died, and then we mostly forgot about it. However, parts of it carried on and we’re using a bit of the hair of the dog to tide us over. What this means for our value system is that the old Christian values still remain without any of the God backing them up. We still consider murder and stealing bad, for example, but the reason nobody questions why is because we still assume the absolutist nature of morality that is associated with Christian belief, even though the ‘why’ is gone.

So why is murdering somebody a bad thing? Maybe people get as far as that we shouldn’t harm others, but then you have to ask further questions like, what constitutes harm? and WHY shouldn’t we harm others? Do we adopt the social contract model where I won’t harm you so you don’t harm me? Do we consider this self-interested approach a valid basis for morality?

Unfortunately, by not asking these questions, or by tacitly ignoring those who do, our baser nature has seeped into our cultural values and infected them. We celebrate greed and selfishness by declaring the ultimate goal of individuals in society to be succeeding financially at any cost. We’re taught not to go into the arts, but into something that will get us a job. To compete with our peers rather than cooperate with them. Our science reflects these values and most scientific development centres around product enhancement and resource extraction, or ultimately just something to eventually sell. We sacrifice our passions so that we can live according to values begotten by an amnesia of how we got to this point in the first place.

I don’t mean to suggest that during the Christian era there was a mightier moral fibre, but that there was a guideline (created by a grassroots organization, mind you) against which things could be effectively measured. Today, with that guideline gone, we’ve essentially allowed the dominant power group to define the new set of guidelines against which everything is to be measured. Unfortunately, we are too blinded by our scientific mindset which alienates moral questioning with its dismissal of values to efficiently retaliate for a more effective cultural value system.

I don’t plan on proselytizing my own value system to replace the current one (in this blog, anyway), I merely want to illuminate what I perceive to be a fatal flaw in the scientific worldview: namely its avoidance of values and the consequences that follow from that.