Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Otherwise, It'd Stop.

I was recently introduced to an article by Carlos Cunha called “The Myth of Infallible Science.” It’s easy to spot these bullshit “Well, science doesn’t know everything, therefore god” arguments from a mile off, but for funsies, I gave it a read. And thanks to the magic of the intertubes, you can too. (In case that link is no longer working:
He makes the mistake, very quickly, of bringing up the time when people thought that the Earth was flat. I love this story, because it’s one the best, most accessible stories on why science kicks so much ass. Let’s imagine a person living thousands of years ago who thinks the Earth is flat. Is she accurate? If we phrase this question as “yes/no” then, no, she’s not accurate. However, what if we asked, “How accurate is she?” Well, she’s about 99.9874% right.

Huh? How the hell can you say that the Earth is flat and still be mostly right? It’s pretty easy, so get ready for a “Hey kids, try this at home” moment. Look as far as you can into the horizon. Does that shit look curvy to you? No sir, that motherfucker be flat. In fact, the Earth curves about 8 inches for every mile. That's one inch downward for every 7,290 "flat" inches. So imagine looking a mile down an empty stretch of road and being able to see a Stretch Armstrong doll. The curvature of the Earth is extremely subtle, about 0.0126% subtle, actually.

So, our hypothetical person who thinks the Earth is flat is not 100% accurate, but she is completely correct in her thinking that the Earth is flat. She has used all the known methods of observations (in this case, her eyes) and has drawn the logical conclusion: the Earth is flat because it looks that way. Cunha is correct in stating that science is responsible for claiming that the Earth is flat. But he has neglected to mention that this actually damn good science. Had someone came along and said, “The Earth is round,” but could provide no evidence of it, he’s technically correct, but this is shitty science and nobody would take him seriously. The person who thinks the Earth is flat has observable, repeatable evidence, even if that evidence is “Just look at it, jackass,” so this is good science.

Of course, we got a little bit better and stated that the Earth was a sphere. Then we got a little bit better and stated that the Earth was a spherical obloid. Then we got a minuscule amount better and stated that the Earth is…some sort of shape that I believe doesn’t have a name, but always seems to include the word “pear-shaped”. And even that probably isn’t the end of the line. We will most likely revise that even more in the future. Anyway, there are two conclusions to be drawn here. The people who thought that the Earth was flat did not have their positions reversed, but instead revised. Remember, on the surface of the Earth, there are many, many more horizontal inches than there are vertical inches. We can say that science tends to make statements more accurate. Another point, one that I think that should have been very simple to grasp for a New York Times writer, is that science is based on evidence. When the evidence suggests that the Earth is flat, you have no choice but to go with that. If not, you’re just guessing.

And that’s another point I wish to make. Science is not infallible, sure, but guessing is just a big fucking rubbish heap. There have been a vast, vast number of bad guesses, and if you don’t use science, if you don’t follow the evidence, you’re left thinking that the world sits on the back of a turtle, or thousands of years ago the world was covered in a sphere of ice, or that Noah hung out with dinosaurs. In other words, science isn’t perfect, but she’s by far the best we got.

He brings up dark matter, which is actually not such a bad thing for his argument as the flat Earth thing. (I've even talked about dark matter before, and why it's a strange thing to think about.) Dark matter has only been indirectly observed. That is, nobody's ever seen anything from it besides the force it exerts on other objects (in this case, galaxies.) Personally, I think there are not enough reasons to declare that dark matter is real. However, it's still solid science, based on evidence and not guessing. So consider it like thinking the Earth is flat. Are we accurate in explaining this phenomenon? Probably not. Actually, most definitely not. However, we're correct in this line of thinking, because we have a theory that is in line with all observations. Give it a couple years and we're going to figure out something cool about galaxies that should change our minds about dark matter.

I hate to keep flagellating this deceased equine, but let's talk about the quote from Erik Verlinde that "Gravity doesn't exist." Now, at the time of this writing, I don't know what he's been working on to make him say this, but I can make a couple of good assumptions. First, Cunha is using this quote out of context to make it sound like scientists don't know anything. Oh shit, gravity doesn't exist, ergo everything we know is wrong. Cats and dogs living together, etc.. It's bullshit and anyone can see it. Second, I have a very good guess that Verlinde is referring to the force of gravity. It's not actually news that the force of gravity has been called into question, that is, the assertion that gravity is just a fundamental property of things, in the way that positively charged hair attracts to a negatively charged balloon. There's something called the Grand Unified Theory, which states that 3 of the 4 forces of nature are, in fact, the same force and the remaining, gravity, is some sort of loser oddball. There is also the theory of gravitons, which states that gravity is just the interaction between these particles and not really a force.

However, whether it's a force or a particle or the higgs boson or fairies, there is definitely something going on when an apple drops from a tree and hits the ground. Whatever is going on, we understand the rules well enough to put a man on the moon and a robot on Mars. A motherfucking robot on motherfucking Mars. And where how did we understand all these rules. Well, god gave them to us, bestowing the scientific knowledge that only a god can understand and sharing them with us in Genesis, Chapter 30. Oh, wait. That didn't happen. Turns out it was motherfucking science.

The mention about dinosaur bones reminds about some sort of point Cunha was trying to make about evolution. He says that usually these arguments come from Tea Partiers and creationists, and I agree. I’m not sure how you felt about yourself before you wrote this article, Cunha, but congrats, you’re in the company of these dumbasses now.

Anyway, he says that Darwin can't provide an adequate explanation of why some animals practice mimicry, looking like other animals. He's right, Darwin never really explained this, but then he overestimated humanity's intelligence and didn't think that she should have wasted everyone's precious time on something that I have literally taught a classroom of five-year-olds. Look, I even simplified into a little HTML-embraced graph for you:

Things that don't die ----> Things that have babies

Things that die ------X

Ok, it's a beautiful chart, I know, but dammit, Warzala, what does it mean? Well, let's break it down piece by piece. The first part says "things that don't die." Unfortunately, I have just hypocubed the situation by using a complex a phrase. I should have went with "Alive Stuff" to help you out more. Anyway, if a delicious animal looks like a scary animal, it doesn't die (it is now "Alive Stuff") and has a baby, which, through a series of chemical events that would be easiest explained by when you notice that your fucking parents fucking look like you, the baby now looks like a scary animal.

But let's go onto the second part of the graph, but this time with real world examples. I recently learned that the Atlas Butterfly can have wings that look like snakes. This protected it for enough moments for it to have a very special moment with a lady butterfly and then they made the sex and babies and so on and so forth. Now, let's say that at some point in the distant past, we had a butterfly with pattern on its wings, but instead of a snake, it now looks like a BLT. I think you'll agree that we don't see many BLTflies these days, and for good reason.

When people like you bring up dumbass arguments like these, it's usually because they have failed one too many middle school biology classes, and have a hard time understanding how a butterfly "randomly" looks like a snake. I'll try another method. It's like a game of roulette. For argument's sake, let's say you randomly place your chips on a number to place your bet. I say "for argument's sake" because there are only 27 numbers on a roulette wheel, and you might favor a particular one. In your sake, it would be your IQ. Anyway, the bet is placed randomly and the ball lands randomly, but can you say that one "randomly" wins, like money just gets thrown at people for no reason? Not quite. You have randomly acquired a benefit (the number you bet on) in a situation (the number the ball landed on), and, through the rules of the game, have won (sex).

I liked my old chart, but looking at how simple this point is and wondering how you could have possibly misunderstood it, I would like to modify it:

Things that don't die ----> Things that have babies

Things that die ------X

Things that didn't die, but should -----> Carlos Cunha

Moving on, to the most annoying part of the article.

At the end, he states that science can't answer two questions: "What is our purpose?" and "Why is there something instead of nothing?" This annoys me right off the bat because it's rhetorically inconsistent. Why did you spend an article talking about "Science thought X, but it's really Y," just to ask these two questions? Not only did they have nothing to do with everything else you wrote, but now I have to waste more of my (admittedly worthless) time arguing over them.

There's an important note I'd like to make, but I'll make it at the end. Let's instead talk about what does it mean that science can't answer these two questions. Actually, I would like to know, what does it mean if science can't tell me why there's something instead of nothing? Does that mean that science is completely broken? That means the laptop I'm typing on will stop working because it can't tell me what my purpose is? All airliners will plummet from the sky. Sorry Timmy, I know you were really looking forward to that insulin, but I don't know the purpose of your insulin, so...

Dear Carlos Cunha, you probably didn't catch onto the fact that I was being sarcastic during most of that last paragraph, so I'll answer my own question: nothing. Nothing will happen if science can't answer these questions. Everything will keep on working as it always has, despite douchefucks like you spreading your retardation to the far reaches of the pear-shaped Earth. We are still playing by the rules of the game by using science, and not knowing our purpose or why there's something instead of nothing will not change that.

Furthermore, just because something had an answer to this question does not necessarily make it a good one. If I say, "There is something instead of nothing because Zues/Allah/Yahweh/Whatever made it," is that satisfactory? What does that tell us, and how could you prove it? The reason that science is awesome is because it doesn't claim to know everything and because it tries to. It uses evidence instead of dumb guesses and claims that can't be refuted to learn about the way things work and keep gaining accuracy in its assertions. Saying, "There is something because of nothing because god made it so," is just a place-filler, and a boring one at that.

The most important point that I wish to make about these questions is this: They are dumb questions. Take "Why is there something instead of nothing?" It's easy to point out how pointless it is to ask this by trying to ask the reverse, "Why is there nothing instead of something?" If god is so smart, why make any empty space in the universe at all? BAM! Religion is broken! You're welcome, Hitchens.

I think a big problem is that people don't understand that the universe does not have feelings on the matter. For some reason, we tend to qualify "something" as being better than "nothing" but truly, Mother Nature does not give a fuck if there's something there or not. The thing's "purpose" is to do what the rules say it should do. If there is something there, then it will do X. If there is nothing there, it will do Y. That's all there is to it.

I'll make one final point before putting this idiot article into its moron bed. Let's say you see a rock on a beach. You wouldn't ask, "What is the purpose of this rock?" but instead "What can I do with this rock? What are its capabilities?" I want you to remember this example next time you try to ask about humanity's purpose.

This article has already crossed the 2,000 word mark, and my blood pressure cannot rise anymore without killing me, so goodnight.