What happened?
Twelve years!
You hit me with a cricket bat!
Ha! Twelve years!

Wednesday, November 30

Rant

The Worst Website In The World

International Illustrator.

It makes an artform out of awfulness. Every page you stumble across scales unexpected pinnacles of unfriendliness. Apparently they have an online store. I sure as hell can't find it.

Look at this, which is a subsite of the above train wreck. There is exactly one link on the page, and it does nothing.

What the hell? I mean, seriously, what the hell? If this had somehow languished on someone's server since 1996 and I'd just now stumbled across it, I could understand, but the copyright dates are this year (and often, next year).

International Illustrator brings you all the best tubes, tuts, images, fonts, filters, tags and more!
Now you're just making things up. You sound like my granddaughter, and I know she makes that stuff up.

Minus thirty trillion Pixy Points. Reformat your server, install Linux and, say, Joomla, and start again from the beginning, because what we have here is a failure to communicate. [You were going to say something with the word "fuck" in it, weren't you? You could tell? Well, yeah.]

Posted by: Pixy Misa at 08:36 AM | No Comments | Add Comment | Trackbacks (Suck)
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Saturday, November 12

Rant

It's Not Science!

An argument I often find myself drawn into with adherents of astrology, creationism, dualism or other such fairy tales is the definition of Science. I use the capital letter here because these arguments are about the over-arching structure of the scientific system rather than any one scientist's efforts or any one scientific theory.

To save myself some time, I'll post my argument here, once, so that I can simply point any bewildered netizens I encounter back to it and say, read this.

What is Science? First and foremost, it is an attempt to understand the world. That is not surprising, but even in this there is a buried statement. If you are making an attempt to understand the world, you are making the statement that the world can be understood, that it is not random or arbitrary. This is shared by all attempts at understanding, even primitive concepts like animism and misapprehensions like the Cargo Cults.

Science sets itself apart from other such attempts in that it constructs a system, a rigorous framework, in which we can build our understanding. The framework is based on metaphysical naturalism.

For Science does not permit of just any explanation. Science seeks to explain the world in terms of the world. For any event we observe, Science seeks an explanation in terms of other events we observe. Events that we cannot observe are precluded from our explanations.

So, for example, we observe that if we leave a piece of rotting meat lying about, after a few days we find it crawling with maggots.

Hypothesis: Maggots spontaneously form from meat if it is left undisturbed.
Hypothesis: Maggots are planted in the meat by invisible immaterial demons.

We have two plausible explanations, but they can't both be true. Why does this matter? Well, it matters because we want to know which explanation is the correct one. We can perform tests - experiments - to see if our Theory of Spontaneous Maggotation is true. We can put the meat in a tightly sealed jar and see if our maggots generate.

And, as it turns out, they do not.

We can repeat the experiment, and we find that while maggots appear in unprotected meat, meat in the sealed jar remains maggot-free. We can vary the experiment, and find that even if we do not seal the jar, but merely cover it with a cloth, there are still no maggots.

This means that the first hypothesis is incorrect. This hypothesis required only meat and time, which have both been provided, but with no maggots resulting.

What about our demons then? Well, they are invisible and immaterial, so they clearly would not be stopped by something as simple as a cloth. But a cloth does prevent maggots. What does this mean in demon terms? It means that we have observed intances where demons do not create maggots.

And that's all we can say.

The difference here is that we know the first explanation to be incorrect. We know it for certain. It is wrong. It is false.

The second explanation? Well, maybe sometimes the demons are busy inflicting cholera on the people of the next village. We don't know.

The difference is that the first is a natural explanation, and the second is a supernatural one. Natural explanations derive from natural causes, and we can control natural causes. Supernatural explanations derive from supernatural causes, and we cannot control those.

The meat is there. We gave it time. No maggots appear, so spontaneous generation is false.

The demons may or may not have been there. They are supernatural; we cannot preclude them; we may not even be able to detect their presence. We do not know, nor can we ever know, whether the demons are the cause or not.

The Theory of Spontaneous Maggotification is a scientific theory, and it is wrong. The Theory of Devilish Wormonising is not a scientific theory, because we can never know whether it is wrong.

Science's utility lies in its unique ability to throw out its trash. This is known as falsification, and although it has been acknowledged since the dawn of science, it was not until last century that Karl Popper fully explained its role.

For a hypothesis or a theory to be considered scientific, it must be falsifiable, that is, we must be able to determine if it is false. On the other hand, there is no requirement for a scientific theory to be provable, and indeed they are not. A scientific statement can be provable; the predictions made by theories are a good example of this.

Einstein's Theory of Relativity predicted that gravity would bend light in a certain way and by a certain amount. Observations by Sir Arthur Eddington confirmed this; the prediction was proved correct. This did not prove the Theory itself. It lent support to it, certainly, but that is all.

However, had it turned out that light was not bent by gravity, the Theory of Relativity would have been proved wrong, and discarded. It would have been falsified.

Now, back to our invisible demons. We know that if we cover the jar with a cloth, we don't get maggots. Is the cloth blocking the demons? That would make no sense, since the demons are supposed to be immaterial. Cloth or cork or wax stopper, all prevent the maggots, but none should present any barrier to our demons. (And we can note that wrapping people in cloth does little to prevent cholera.)

We can't say whether the demons are stopped by the cloth or just slacking, because we can't observe the demons. In fact, we have no direct evidence that the demons exist. We have postulated their presence from the existence of maggots, the corruption of wholesome meat. But now we have no maggots. Perhaps that flimsy layer of gauze really is an impassible barrier to maggot-demons.

Only... Now that we have no maggots, we have no reason to postulate the existence of demons at all. We haven't proved they're not there. The only sign we might have had of their presence is gone, but we said from the beginning that they were invisible.

And that's the problem with the Invisible Demon Theory. You can't ever know for sure that you're wrong.

Science, as we have said, is a systematic attempt to explain the world. And we know that for an explanation to be useful, we must be able to depend on it. Knowing that s = ut + ½at2 sometimes isn't really a big help.

But you can't prove that it's always correct. You can't test every situation, because there are infinitely many situations in which any theory might apply. A theory is supposed to tell you what to expect, so if all you ever do is test it, it's not much good.

You can't prove your theory, but what you can do is disprove it. We say, s = ut + ½at2 always. And we look for cases where it isn't. We can't ever hope to prove it true, but just one counter-example will prove it false. And if, over time, we find no such examples, we gain confidence in the theory. We would gain confidence too from a mass of confirming evidence, but there is a critical difference: In one case, we were trying to prove it right, and we didn't happen to stumble across anything to the contrary. In the other, we were actively seeking counter-examples, and despite our best efforts we couldn't find any.

Failure of falsification can offer much stronger support than mere confirming evidence.

So falsifiability inevitably arises as a key requirement if you wish to construct a rigorous system for explaining the world. You have to test your ideas, and this is the only reliable way to do so.

But falsification is impossible for theories deriving from the supernatural. Which means that any rigorous system for explaining the world must be naturalistic. It must preclude all supernatural causes, and forbear trying to explain supernatural events, because the former cannot produce useful explanations and the latter... cannot even be detected.

So Science, from humble beginnings as simply a concerted attempt to get the right answer, turns out to necessarily require both metaphysical naturalism as its foundation and falsification as its primary tool in seeking truth. And it is unique. There is only one Science. A system based on naturalism and using falsification to test ideas is Science. A system that fails of either of these is not.

Posted by: Pixy Misa at 04:43 AM | Comments (33) | Add Comment | Trackbacks (Suck)
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