Sunday, January 26, 2014

The Negotiability of Objective Truth

I recently had the good fortune to be the guests of friends of The Lady's for supper - a truly delightful meal punctuated with thought-inspiring comments that would have been cause for intensive discussion were it the place or the time. As it stood, it's gotten me thinking for the better part of a full 24 hours.

One of our party was under the distinct impression, or more accurately, of the opinion, that today's world "relies to heavily on science", that the average person "puts too much into it". I found both of these statements extraordinary, but in a manner that was at once entirely unlike me and apropos, shrugged the comment off and turned the conversation back to the matter at hand, which was the differences between western-style eggs and tamago.

Both parts of the statement, however, are surprising. The idea that a world governed by scientific understanding and provided for, at least in the Developed World, entirely by technology, which is to say applied science, could ever be said to "rely too heavily on science" is absurd. Surely, a person eating foods made possible only by refrigeration, wearing cotton-polyester blend, wearing a digital watch wasn't about to insist that science was somehow a negative, and yet, there it happened. Not that anyone should be faulted for it, certainly. We are all entitled to opinions, and no one position is any more or less right than another, with the colossal caveat that two positions are fully logical.

So, how can I say we don't rely too heavily on science, given things such as Fukushima Diaichi, GMO foods, vaccination, and global warming fearmongering? Probably because I understand enough about physics to know that the first three of those things aren't worth fearing, and that the final is objectively true. Fukushima was a horrific disaster, the ultimate environmental harm caused by which is ultimately negligible. Actual radiation levels in the exclusion zone are chronic health hazards. Outside the exclusion zone, even in downwind fallout areas, the radiation elevation is less than or comparable to taking a flight. Fukushima poses the exact same health risk as Chernobyl, which was locally not outstandingly good, for a rather small locality, and globally insignificant.

Genetically Modified Food? I admit I'm leery of the prospect, but I am leery on principle, for the same reason I generally tend toward organic. I'm a perfectionist, a purist, a bit of a luddite when it comes to the arts, and cooking is an art which I like to see perpetuated in the older forms rather than the new. I don't see anything wrong with modifications to make foods more naturally unattractive to pests, or have a longer shelf life - so long as I get to see data showing a lack of health impacts first. What I don't think is necessary, or even desirable, are self-terminating organisms.

Vaccination? Non-issue. Anyone who understands a drop about the process and can actually read knows there's no serious health risks associated with vaccination programs and a huge amount to gain by adhering to them. Personally I think vaccination for certain particularly nasty strains should be compulsory, but I don't live in a society that allows for compulsory medication. Shame.

And Global Warming? Well, climate change, in the form of rising oceanic temperatures, is objectively true. The truth of the matter is very hard to determine - you have to look at temperature data. The IPCC produces very nice reports every year collating the data for you - not because you can't be trusted with the raw data, but because even very smart people suck at statistical math.

But really, the problem isn't that people are ignoring scientists. The problem is the idea that somehow we're in an ideological war between the scientifically minded and not-science. The problem is the idea that even people who insist on absolute objective truth fear, despise, or are otherwise averted to the genuine quest for the objective truth.

Now, I don't mind people not taking scientific assertions on faith, because you aren't meant to. The correct reaction to OPERA's superluminal neutrinos, even with my bet of "faulty equipment" working out to be correct, was not "That can't have happened because Einstein said this." The correct response was "Let's get someone else to try doing it too", and then, if it had actually worked, "Cool, Einstein was wrong."

As near as I can tell, people who are averted to using science to understand the practical world - the same people who love their cellular telephones, portable music, and continued existence of being both clothed and fed at the same time - find that aversion rooted in the terrible truth of science, which is to say that Science is never right.

Put one way, we can say that there are two kinds of ideas in science: Theories and Hypotheses yet to be proven wrong, and those which have been. What can be certain, however, is that no matter what you believe about the ephemera - regardless of religion, theology, or philosophy, the objective truths of science simply aren't negotiable. The universe isn't a few thousand years old. There was no Great Flood in a literal sense. Raven did not steal fire from the other spirits to give to the humans. Vaccines do not cause autism. Carbon Emissions are cause for alarm.

So on a personal level, in a level that's relevant to this blog, Science and Religion aren't contradictory. They aren't involved with one another, really, in the slightest of possible ways.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Back to Work

I have always enjoyed titles that ring true on multiple levels. In this sense, I can think of at least three which spring readily to mind, which of course means there are likely several more that will come to me only well after the fact.

The first and most interesting layer of meaning is that I am once again employed - I won't say where precisely but it's an industry in which I consider myself proficient and to which I am simultaneously proud and reluctant to return. I can guarantee that all of you who don't previously know the truth of the matter will guess wrong, but that's okay, because today is 22 January and it is as good a day as any to be wrong about something, and what could be of less consequence to be wrong about than the profession of some pseudo-anonymous blogger whom you don't know and who can't even organize himself well enough to give the blog a coherent theme.

Which brings me to the second and most relevant news item to all the various readers I may or may not still have and that is that I am, as you probably guessed, continuing, or rather, re-starting my work here on Auditor and a Gentleman. Since writing is how I handle my thought processes best and I'm going to be consume drive space somewhere by doing so I figured it is best for everyone's general entertainment to do so openly, and for me if those helpful readers occasionally clicked that little donate button up in what I believe is still the top-left corner, that I would use up some of Google's massive data storage capacity rather than cluttering up my own plentiful drives.

Because I am coming back to a blog which had a stated purpose and never followed it, I thought it might be fun if I narrowed the scope of the work here just a tiny bit. While no old material will be removed, going forward we will focus a bit more on that subtitle up there, which is an announcement in two parts: firstly, I'm going to finally find a way to reconcile my philosophical waffling, and secondly, I will be starting a new essay series in the very near future here entitled Ladies and Gentlemen which will not be, as it sounds, a regression to Victorian gender politics but an advancement of the principles of the gentleman into a modern age which doesn't care what gender you are.

The third layer of meaning to the title is that I have been getting back at my fiction writing. A new collection of moderate-to-hard Science Fiction tales is in the works and will be published free of charge through a service yet to be determined, once it's actually together.

Lastly, and not at all related to the title, I am presently in the process of moving to a new city, largely because of the first layer of meaning, but also because I have been away from the Lovely Lady for entirely too long to be tolerated any further. So again, I'm going to ask for everyone's patience while I get my business sorted out, and if you could find that nice orange button and give it a click to help defray the costs, I would be thankful.