Science of Discworld 4

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Re: Science of Discworld 4

Postby raisindot » Mon Nov 26, 2012 2:06 pm

I just started reading both SOD #2 and # simultaneously (one is reserved for the gym).

I, too, find the science parts long-winded and while somewhat useful, I've gotten extremely annoyed at the some of the presumptions of the science writers, particularly in their views on evolution. If they don't agree with a certain point of view, they simply say it's wrong, and they state assumptions as if they were facts. For example, they claim that Stephen Gould's very sensible opinion that if evolution were 'rewound' to the beginning that life would have evolved in totally different ways is wrong without providing any good evidence why this is so. They claim that just because certain features are common in many species that it was inevitable that these features would develop. While admitting that string theory is completely unprovable, they nevertheless totally buy into the huge mass of mumbo jumbo that the string theorists have thrown out there to create a totally half-baked hypothesis that our kind of universe is not only inevitable, but probable. They try to discredit Dawkins and other biologists while not particularly well proving their own counterarguments.

As far as the 'non-science' bits go, I don't find the stories or dialogue anywhere near Pterry's best.
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Re: Science of Discworld 4

Postby Dotsie » Mon Nov 26, 2012 6:58 pm

They talk like that in real life too, but they seemed harmless so I didn't have a go in public. When I asked Jack about the validity of some of his statements, he said they didn't have time to go into detail :roll: Sensationalist pop science is worse than no science at all.
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Re: Science of Discworld 4

Postby raisindot » Mon Nov 26, 2012 9:10 pm

Dotsie wrote:They talk like that in real life too, but they seemed harmless so I didn't have a go in public. When I asked Jack about the validity of some of his statements, he said they didn't have time to go into detail :roll: Sensationalist pop science is worse than no science at all.


I wonder, though. Their arguments that evolution would have gone the 'same way' if it were rewound and restarted or that the emergence of true modern human sentience is based on the ability to transmit 'stories' rather than anything else (how do we know early humans weren't telepathic, or that our ability to start fires or use tools wasn't a genetic mutation? After all, chimpanzees and certain kinds of birds use tools as well) could be used by creationists as 'proof' of intelligent design. They also complete ignore Gould's very valid argument that while humans may technologically dominate the planet (and could ruin it), 99% of the life on this planet consists of bacteria, and that even if we launched every nuclear missile in existence and wiped everything larger than a breadbox off the face of the planet, the truly tough bacteria that lives deep in the oceans or within rocks will still be there, and will be there for billions of years after. Or, that if these same bacteria suddenly 'learned' how to exhale arsenic and cynanide into the air and water, it could easily kill of us off within a fortnight.
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Re: Science of Discworld 4

Postby Dotsie » Wed Nov 28, 2012 7:10 am

Happily for us, there are bacteria that will use arsenic and cyanide, so could mop up any toxins produced. It's methane release that worries me, since there'd be too much to cope with. But yes, bacteria will definitely be the last ones standing. When you look at the fossil record, and examine the reasons for mass extinctions, it boggles the mind that any 'scientist' could imagine it would all go the same way a second time.
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Re: Science of Discworld 4

Postby raisindot » Wed Nov 28, 2012 1:31 pm

Or that just because we're carbon based lifeforms that live on water and that the system works for us that all life has to be similar. We've all seen enough bad SF movies and TV shows to appreciate that it's quite possible that life in our universe exists in other forms that are completely beyond what we can imagine, or that other lifeforms may experience our universe entirely differently. There might be some kind of sentient species out there that live in the "quanta reality," perceiving the stuff of our universe not as "assembled bits of matter' but as individual molecules, atoms, photons, quarks, strings or whatever, making their universe a completely interconnected infinite bowl of quanta soup. With no Kardashians. We can dream, can't we?
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Re: Science of Discworld 4

Postby Jan Van Quirm » Wed Nov 28, 2012 4:53 pm

Dotsie wrote:It's methane release that worries me, since there'd be too much to cope with. But yes, bacteria will definitely be the last ones standing. When you look at the fossil record, and examine the reasons for mass extinctions, it boggles the mind that any 'scientist' could imagine it would all go the same way a second time.


But they don't necessarily say that do they? I've listened to the 'What would an Alien look like?' talk about 3 times now and certainly what Jack Cohen says about methane in particular is what you've just said Dotsie - that we'd be totally buggered if global warming really kicked in and currently frozen methane escaped. :?

The Alien lecture goes on to cover why 'rewind' evolution could vary wildly with even tiny changes like the famous 'wrong way around' oesophagus and trachea arrangements (so we couldn't choke when eating and drinking which effects nearly all air-breathing vertebrates)? The message I always come away with from their talks at least, is that life wouldn't ever evolve in the exact same way again anywhere or, indeed, anywhen :shifty:

The Science of the Discworld series is about the evolution (geological, biological as well as social and intellectual thrown casually against astral physics and string theory etc) we've had to create Roundworld as we know it, so from that POV they're interpreting evolution in the Milky Way and in the Sol system as we have it, not how it might have been and how it contrasts with a 'crazy' universe where magic is science and so other laws apply...? Our developing future science now deals in 'what ifs' more than ever to allow for the 'idea' of the maverick, rather than the 'it is so and so it ever shall be' of the giant beard in the sky brigade, but we still only have what we know for sure to hold up against the new fangled theories that constantly unroll and Science of the Discworld, whilst of course being populist, is also trying to challenge what is really weird and to how fantastic a degree that could be taken to, using words that most people can get a grasp of. And the story within all the Science is to explore how Discworld mirrors (in a carnival sense ;) ) and twists the parallels with our own as we currently experience it and so far as we can, look into the future. In the 1960s we'd all supposedly be wearing silvery garb and some of us would be commuting to work on the Moon and/or Mars in the early 21st Century and look how that's turned out? :lol:


Discworld is absurd and so therefore is it's Science - long may it remain so ;)
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Re: Science of Discworld 4

Postby raisindot » Wed Nov 28, 2012 5:20 pm

Jan Van Quirm wrote:
The Science of the Discworld series is about the evolution (geological, biological as well as social and intellectual thrown casually against astral physics and string theory etc) we've had to create Roundworld as we know it, so from that POV they're interpreting evolution in the Milky Way and in the Sol system as we have it, not how it might have been and how it contrasts with a 'crazy' universe where magic is science and so other laws apply...?


That would be fine if the writers of the science bits only interpreted what has happened, rather than what might have been. The fact that they are refuting theories from far more reputable biologists (like Dawkins and Gould) in such a deterministic way without providing solid (or any) evidence for their value judgments is what bugs me. Even a strong string theory advocate like Brian Greene will admit again and again in his books that in spite of the 'mathematical' evidence, there are still enough holes in the theory and the problem of nearly impossible observable evidence to prove it (at this point in tome) that it may never be anything more than a theory.
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Re: Science of Discworld 4

Postby Jan Van Quirm » Wed Nov 28, 2012 5:59 pm

I think that might be more to do with their advanced age and academic status that compounds the 'we know what we're talking about more' attitude.

They were/are both 'proper' scientists in their day so perhaps that's where the nuance comes from. Ian Stewart is a mathematician more, but he's done a lot of seminal work in the 'catastrophe theory' field, so presumably knows something about the cosmic order (more than Noel Edmonds anyway :lol: )

Jack Cohen's extremely eccentric and vastly entertaining in his nearly octagenarian way, but he's been very influential in his chosen field of reproductive biology and has taught highly regarded scientists who went on to get Nobel prizes, as well as helped Anne McCaffrey sort her dragons out properly ;) .

I guess it's simply what perspective you want to read the Science series from. If you're looking for hard factual but digestible science then I'd say it's asking a bit too much from a set of book dealing with a fantasy universe that feeds largely off comedic devices? :P When you're dealing with science on the basis of 'lies to children' or telling it like 'story-telling apes' perhaps it's consequently vital to take the voice(s) of authority with a strong dose of salts at all times :shifty: :lol:
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Re: Science of Discworld 4

Postby Dotsie » Thu Nov 29, 2012 11:10 am

Jan Van Quirm wrote:They were/are both 'proper' scientists in their day

I'm a proper scientist too :P It's not their knowledge I was contesting however, but their scientific method was seriously lacking and a first year could have seen it. They admitted as much, but said it was because of the time they had (no it wasn't, it was because they were being sensationalist - nobody wants a dull lecture, they want to go "wow!!" a lot). Still, science would be a lot more boring if we were all agreeing all the time ;)
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Re: Science of Discworld 4

Postby raisindot » Thu Nov 29, 2012 2:13 pm

Jan Van Quirm wrote:Jack Cohen's extremely eccentric and vastly entertaining in his nearly octagenarian way, but he's been very influential in his chosen field of reproductive biology and has taught highly regarded scientists who went on to get Nobel prizes, as well as helped Anne McCaffrey sort her dragons out properly ;) .

I guess it's simply what perspective you want to read the Science series from. If you're looking for hard factual but digestible science then I'd say it's asking a bit too much from a set of book dealing with a fantasy universe that feeds largely off comedic devices? :P When you're dealing with science on the basis of 'lies to children' or telling it like 'story-telling apes' perhaps it's consequently vital to take the voice(s) of authority with a strong dose of salts at all times :shifty: :lol:


You do have a good point there. Honestly, I don't care who Cohen has taught. Fred Hoyle taught a lot of people, too, and a huge amount of what he said was bunko as well. I had never heard of Cohen before this, and from his views here I'd say he's a complete and utter nitwit whose conclusion are based on what he pulls out of his, er, earhole. I just finished the section in SOD #2 where he repeats the most astonishingly idiotic claims about ritual torture being a key driver of human evolution and throws out some totally unsupported (and, frankly, borderline anti-semitic) assumptions about Jewish genetics and culture. After that bit, I've decided not to read another word of the science stuff. Which doesn't leave all much to read.
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Re: Science of Discworld 4

Postby Dotsie » Thu Nov 29, 2012 2:38 pm

His field is reproductive biology, not evolutionary biology, so he can spout bunkum all he likes, it just an opinion! I'm teaching a generation of scientists myself, doesn't make me right all the time (I am right all the time, but that's just not the reason ;) ).

Fred Hoyle actually came up with a lot of useful stuff, so it's a shame he's widely remembered for the rubbish (evolution of noses, flu from Mars, scoffing at the Big Bang etc).
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Re: Science of Discworld 4

Postby Tonyblack » Thu Nov 29, 2012 2:47 pm

Scientific ideas change as more proof or evidence is found. That's the amazing thing about science - it does change. It doesn't stick to strict dogma that must not be questioned.

I recently watched the box set of DVDs of Carl Sagan's 'Cosmos' that was made in the 80s. In several cases, Sagan had added a bit to an episode in the form of a scientific update ten years after the series aired. In these he pointed out that new evidence has since been found that, in some cases, made a bit of a nonsense to the ideas in the original show. I dare say, if he was still alive today, he'd be able to make a lot more corrections and updates to the show.

That's Science - very few things are constant. The scientist's default setting should be: I don't know.

Look at some of the ideas that were put forward about such planets as Venus and Mars that we now know are laughably wrong. But those ideas were pretty much accepted as fact in their day. :)
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Re: Science of Discworld 4

Postby Dotsie » Thu Nov 29, 2012 2:53 pm

I found a very old astronomy textbook in a secondhand shop that talked about canals on Mars, volcanoes on the moon, and the distinct possibility of lush vegetation on Venus.

ETA scientific method doesn't change though, so ignoring it is always bad science.
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Re: Science of Discworld 4

Postby Jan Van Quirm » Thu Nov 29, 2012 4:12 pm

raisindot wrote:I just finished the section in SOD #2 where he repeats the most astonishingly idiotic claims about ritual torture being a key driver of human evolution and throws out some totally unsupported (and, frankly, borderline anti-semitic) assumptions about Jewish genetics and culture.

Having shared a taxi to the Irish DWcon with Jack he's kind of on the backswing of atheism now in that he has good friends in clerical or general 'spiritual' circles and enjoys ritual, although he's still highly critical of some Jewish cultural traditions, but then he's more than 'lapsed' in that respect so he would be I suppose?

As a lapsed Catholic I'd certainly agree that the ritual torture thing when taken purely within clerical circles (not the Spanish or even Omnian Inquisition :P ) does hold some water. Self-flagellation and fasting, taken to improper extremes, make for interesting hallucinatory experiences/insights, especially when you consider that most medieval Abbeys and Friaries very often operated as breweries, or vineyards, or even dispensaries with an 'on the fly' approach to medications and some very dodgy pharmacopeia even by Borgia standards...? :shifty:
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Re: Science of Discworld 4

Postby raisindot » Thu Nov 29, 2012 5:01 pm

Dotsie wrote:His field is reproductive biology, not evolutionary biology, so he can spout bunkum all he likes, it just an opinion! I'm teaching a generation of scientists myself, doesn't make me right all the time (I am right all the time, but that's just not the reason ;) ).


*Soapbox on*

I know, I know, context is everything. The problem is that people who read these books might take his bunkum seriously. If I wasn't reasonably well-read as a completely unscientific person on different theories of evolution, physics and cosmology, I might accept this bunkum verbatim, since, after all he is a Well Known Scientist (at least in Britain), and what he's writing is posing as science education, even if it is 'science entertainment.' The problem is that "This is so because I so say so" attitude is scary in many aspects.

I worry, for example, that non-Jews will conclude from his bunkum that Jews 'evolved' to become more intellectual because hundreds of years ago Jewish women only married Jews who had done well at Bar Mitzvahs (when, in fact, the Bar Mitzvah didn't exist until a couple hundred years ago and that, historically, the vast majority of Jews were uneducated, illiterate, and poor) or with this assertion that circumcision is a form or ritual torture (it isn't; the purpose of torture is to cause pain; that isn't the purpose of circumcision, any more than the piercing of ears or a tattoo), or that the genetic makeup of Cohenim are due to their women having sex with both their 'rich' Cohenim husbands and their servants (not true either, since the "Cohenim" priestly class became completely meaningless after the Romans destroyed the Temple in Jerusalem in 69 CE and they quickly became absorbed into the general population and were neither significantly wealthier or poorer than any other Jews.

Cohen, like Dawkins, seems to want to upset the apple cart for the sake of upsetting the apple cart. The God Delusion aside, at least in Dawkin's popular science books he goes out of his way to try to prove his claims about the selfish gene and the falsehood of intelligence design by using logic and evidence. Cohen, on the other hand, at least in this book, writes with the authority and integrity of a conspiracy theorist.

*Soapbox off*

Anyway, Dr. Dotsie, I would be FAR more likely to believe anything YOU taught in your class. :D
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