Monthly Archives: January 2013

Robert Anton Wilson redux

One of the persistent search terms that leads outsiders to my blog seems to be Robert Anton Wilson. For whatever reason, people still read his stuff and google him…but then, the man had quite a cult following in his day.

I wrote a piece about him back in 2011 that gets some hits, but it’s usually my critiques of his books The New Inquisition and Quantum Psychology that garner the most traffic – and the most arguments from his defenders. Poor misunderstood genius. Aren’t they all?

Quantum Psychology is a mix of quantum mechanics overview and amateur psychobabble, and Wilson lays it on pretty thick with his psychobabble. That’s a shame because he did a pretty good job summarizing the physics. Despite the author’s stated purpose, The New Inquisition is really just a rant on skeptics and a long diatribe against CSICOP – the Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal, now just called CSI, or Committee for Skeptical Inquiry. Wilson lays it on pretty thick in that one, too. Logical fallacies abound throughout, but the key thread in many of his arguments is the supposed dismissal of pseudoscience (not his term) out of hand as unscientific. I was rather harsh in my detailed criticism, but in my defense, little he said made sense.

Wilson argued that mainstream science fails to consider … acknowledge… out of the norm claims as valid science; that scientists dismiss them due to some massive fraternal conspiracy to exclude people and ideas …not … like … them. He, and other fringe defenders use the same, tired arguments – that mainstream science can’t disprove the claims, mainstream science is wrong, and out to get them. But the burden of proof is on the claimant, and as popularized by Carl Sagan, extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. Further, as Martin Gardner said in Fads and Fallacies in the Name of Science:

…scientists cannot be expected to stop what they are working on and write detailed refutations of every theory and pseudo-theory that comes along.

No. They can’t. They’re doing real work. Work that can be predicted, tested, refuted, confirmed, refined.

Real science.

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Paramedics, sports cheating, and good beer

Our son Colin graduated from paramedic school this past Thursday. As valedictorian (shameless plug from a proud parent), he was asked to give a speech to his class. He quoted part of another speech by attorney – and paramedic – David Givot. You can read the text here if you’re interested. I highly recommend it – excellent observations from one who’s been there and how being a paramedic is the most significant job there is. I’d like to share one part of the speech:

Unlike even other EMS providers, it is the paramedic who willingly puts himself or herself smack in the middle of tragedy. It is the paramedic who willingly seeks out life’s worst moments and brings hope and comfort. It is the paramedic who willingly faces the absolute worst that human kind has to offer and takes control with a level head, a firm voice, and gentle hands.

Think about that for a minute. “…willingly seeks out life’s worst moments…” It takes a special person to do that. It takes a special person to want to do that. And our Colin is one of those special people.

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On weather, creating art, and other general thoughts

I grew up in New England (southeastern Connecticut) and heard many times as a young man, “If you don’t like the weather, wait a minute.” Someone attributed it to Mark Twain, but it was probably around longer than that. We lived in Oklahoma from 1989 to 1992, and I heard the same phrase (this time attributed to Will Rodgers.) Some years later, living in Korea, I heard that they had the same phrase…for about four hundred years.

Christmas Eve brought us four types of precipitation in 15 hours: hail just after 1:00 a.m., rain through most of the night/morning, sleet in the early afternoon and accumulating snow by 3:00 p.m.

So, after living in Texas for the past six years, I can say those other locations were pretenders. It was in the 70s on Friday and heading south of 34F right now.

Art creation

We discovered last year that Andrea and I do not collaborate well on her art. I can make the boxes and frames she needs but my creativity and hers do not align. Not so with son Brandon. He has a knack for paper placement Andrea sometimes uses in her mixed media works. See here for progress photos. I do get a kick out what has become my role in her brainstorming process: “What about…?” is usually met with “No. but thanks.” So, I contribute by helping Andrea eliminate the things she doesn’t want to do!

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Thumbing my nose at Big Brother Apple

Before I dive into the subject of the post title, an observation:

Tuesday, January 8th, is Stephen Hawking’s 71st birthday – amazing given that 50 years ago, he was told he’d have maybe two more years to live. I just finished rereading A Brief History of Time in December and hope to get to both The Universe in a Nutshell and The Grand Design this year. The picture/graphic below appeared on a Facebook page (as quoted in John Boslough’s Stephen Hawking’s Universe) and it made me rethink a position I’ve held for many years.

Hawking - Simple Goal

I generally think that “why” is not a question science need answer. If someone really wants to explore “why”, then take on religion or philosophy. The word I prefer is “how”. “Why” seems to lead to meaningless queries such as “Why am I here?” followed by time-wasting searches for answers beyond the obvious fertilization of an egg by a sperm. I have little use for philosophy as an adult. Just the facts. Opinions are like… (Including mine.)

“How”ever, I can understand the use of “why” in the context of “why the universe is as it is”. I am a little concerned over Hawking saying “…why it exists at all.” Oh, I see that as a consequence of examining time arrows and singularities, but I fear that such a simple phrase can be perverted by the ignorant, much the same as Einstein’s dicey objection to quantum physics and uncertainty. Still, it is an admirable goal, although one he knows is impossible. At least from a 2013 perspective.

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