Saturday, June 04, 2011

The Man Who Changed the Universe

by Len Hart, The Existentialist Cowboy

The year 1564 is noteworthy for several reasons. John Calvin and Michelangelo died. Shakespeare and Galileo Galilei were born.

It was Galileo, upon the shoulders of great Renaissance artists and Neo-Platonists who preceded him, who may have ignited the beginnings of the Scientific Revolution early in the 17th century. He demonstrated the extraordinary effectiveness of the experimental observation of nature and coupled that with the analytical power of mathematics.

The revolution is still underway, still challenging entrenched orthodoxies, fallacies, and medieval mindsets.
Galileo believed that nature was inherently mathematical, that mathematics was the language of nature, and that mathematics was the key to understanding the reality behind the appearance of natural phenomena--for example, accelerated and parabolic motions.
--Prof. Joseph W. Dauben, The Art of Renaissance Science: Galileo and Perspective
A Revolution in Thought

Galileo revolutionized physics before Newton. He showed how observation and careful measurement may lead to "hidden causes". For Galileo, those "hidden causes" represented the pervasive mathematical unity underlying the Universe itself. Einstein is most often associated with the concept of the curvature of space-time. But, in fact, Einstein might not have thought about it so clearly had not Galileo laid down a framework, a 'scientific method', within which both Newton and Einstein would later flourish.

Consider, for example, Galileo's contribution to our understanding of the curvature of space-time. To do so, we must understand the "parabola:"
Parabola, plane curve consisting of all points equidistant from a given fixed point (focus) and a given fixed line (directrix). It is the conic section cut by a plane parallel to one of the elements of the cone. The axis of a parabola is the line through the focus perpendicular to the directrix. The vertex is the point at which the axis intersects the curve. The latus rectum is the chord through the focus perpendicular to the axis. Examples of this curve are the path of a projectile and the shape of the cross section of a parallel beam reflector.
Before Galileo, a cannon ball was thought to either fall abruptly upon "losing impetus" or that it described "some sort" of curve. But no one knew what kind of curve or even if it was a curve. It was Galileo who understood that a projectile fired from a cannon is a falling body. Simply, a falling body describes a curve over time even those apparently falling straight down from a fixed point. This is so because the "fixed point" is merely theoretical. The entire universe and everything in it is in motion.

A Glimpse of Space-Time

Galileo's work --his measurements of the rate of acceleration of all falling bodies --that made it possible to imagine orbiting bodies literally "falling" about a larger one in predictable orbits --the moon around the earth, the earth around the sun, the sun about the center of our galaxy, the Milky Way. All orbits can be described and the results are consistent with Galileo's findings.

Fast forward to the 20th Century. Einstein equates gravity with the curvature of space-time, an insight that reprised in another context, another paradigm, Galileo's discovery that the paths of missiles and projectiles are curves, specifically, parabolas.

Einstein went cosmological, envisioning a falling elevator with a hole in the side admitting a beam of light. The graphed path of the traversing light beam --over the time it takes to traverse the falling elevator --is Galileo's parabola. Thus —in two monumentally important paradigm shifts —Galileo and Einstein —-we glimpse the very curvature of space-time itself.

Newton may have posited a "force" to explain "falling" but the equation describing the rate of falling bodies —a curve if graphed horizontally over time —is Galileo's. It was Einstein who understood that the same curvature may describe space-time and render moot Newton's "force", a force that literally reached out into space and acted upon another body instantaneously. For Einstein, gravity was not a force that 'reached out an grabbed ya'; it was, rather, the very shape of space-time. In a sense, Einstein, like Galileo before him, had 'changed' the universe.

Of Space, Time & Einstein

With this insight, the Universe is changed —seen in a completely different way. This is important in at least two ways:

  • it changes our understanding of the Universe hitherto thought of as a clockwork in absolute space;
  • it illustrates the very nature of creativity.
Both Galileo and Einstein were able to perceive previously unknown relationships in seemingly unrelated phenomena.

The Big TOE of Science

The current search for TOE (Theory of Everything) is a culmination of this turn of thought. And the verdict is still out on whether the Universe is "closed" and will ultimately implode, or whether it will simply go on expanding forever, perhaps swallowed up by infinite and empty space. But these areas of inquiry would have been forever closed had not Galileo and others opened the door.

Renaissance artists, Leonardo da Vinci in Italy and Albrecht Durer in the North, had evinced an interest in the realistic depiction of nature from the early 15th century on. Leonardo's notebooks, for example, are a revelatory fusion of intuitive and cognitive thinking. Da Vinci was especially skilled at analytical and verbal descriptions of natural events while depicting them "artistically" in detailed sketches, paintings, and analytical diagrams.

It is the path from Leonardo to Galileo that unites the burgeoning interests in science and art under an umbrella of shared values: humanism. It is here that free thought flourished in the very shadow of ignorance, superstition, and the Inquisition. Were it not for that, even now, we could not walk in the sunshine.

Monday, May 30, 2011

How Sarah Palin Could Prove Darwin Wrong by Becoming the Stupidest President in History

by Len Hart, The Existentialist Cowboy

The most recent scuttle-butt, the smart-money, the self-appointed pundits, those in-the-know as well as those who don't have two clues are making the safest bet on the planet: Sarah Palin wants to run for President.

What if she succeeds?

Her "election" (or "selection") to that high office would be cited as proof that Darwinian 'natural selection', often mistakenly called survivial of the fittest, is absolutely wrong. She will have proven that merit is not rewarded! She will have raised the question: why frickin' bother? She may have become an inspiration to drop-outs and fuck ups all over the world. She may have legitimized incompetence. She will have inspired several generations of goof-offs, lay-abouts, dumb-asses and run-o-the-mill jerks and YouTubers! I have not yet mentioned thousands, perhaps millions of inmates of various kinds of 'institutions' who must be turned loose upon an unsuspecting world should S. Palin continue to roam free!

Think about it --is it fair or even legal to keep petty screw-ups locked up when Sarah Palin has her finger on a button that could destroy the world? The wrong folk are behind bars or asylum walls!
Indeed, Sarah is on a mission --but not from God. She seems out to prove that stupidity is its own reward, that morons can ruin if not run a country, that huge amounts of money may be saved by following the example of Bush/Perry Texas with respect to education. Again --why bother educating people when morons acquire all the rewards of productive work done by other folk?!

In Texas, for example, the victims of the Bush/Perry war on education are literally warehoused in corporate owned/operated prisons. It's a payoff to the corporate-owned prisons for their support of the Texas GOP. It's the GOP/moron way! It's the Fascist way! There's big money in it! The big corporations will love her.

An Inspiration to Idiots and Drooling Morons All Over the World

Palin is in a position, then, to prove conclusively that "survival of the fittest" is dead wrong. Both sour cream and idiots will rise to the top in her wake! Ground will have been broken! A Brave New World will have been hatched from odious pods! Idiots everywhere will be similarly inspired to "...try and take over the world!" [apologies to Pinky and the Brain]

In times like these, I am inclined to believe that the right wing would stoop ...uh...stop at nothing to discredit Darwin while getting a certifiable kook in the White House to prove him wrong. Instead, they will have proven the 'Peter Principle' that in a heirarchy of any sort, each employee rises to his/her level of incompetence. I would suspect exactly that had not Palin already risen to her level of incompetence. I am sorry for those who no longer have a goal to pursue. (not really!)

Of Darwinism and Social Darwinism

by Robert B. Reich 
The Conservative Movement, as its progenitors like to call it, is now mounting a full-throttled attack on Darwinism even as it has thoroughly embraced Darwin’s bastard child, social Darwinism. On the face of it, these positions may appear inconsistent. What unites them is a profound disdain for science, logic, and fact.
The modern Conservative Movement has embraced social Darwinism with no less fervor than it condemned Darwinism. Social Darwinism gives "conservatives" a psuedo moral justification for rejecting social security and supporting tax cuts for the rich. "In America," says Robert Bork, "‘the rich’ are overwhelmingly people – entrepreneurs, small businessmen, corporate executives, doctors, lawyers, etc. – who have gained their higher incomes through intelligence, imagination, and hard work." Any who is not a part of the ruling elite should be indignant and rightly so! Bork has implied that if you are not rich, you are not worthy; if you are not rich, you are not smart; if you are not rich, you have no talents worth saving or even exploiting. This idiot should have been roundly grilled and excoriated for those vicious, stupid and utterly fallacious comments!
The only consistency between the right’s attack on Darwinism and embrace of social Darwinism is the utter fatuousness of both. Darwinism is correct. Scientists who are legitimized by peer review and published research are unanimous in their view that evolution is a fact, not a theory. Social Darwinism, meanwhile, is hogwash.
"Bastard Child" at the very least! Social Darwinism does not follow from "Darwinism" and, worse, it attributes to Darwin positions he never took. Interestingly, the term "survival of the fittest" was never used by Darwin. Though it has been variously attributed, Hofstadter traced the phrase to rail road men and other early "robber barons":
Railroad executive Chauncy Depew asserted that the guests of the great dinners and public banquets of New York City represented the survival of the fittest of all who came in search of fortune. They were the ones with superior abilities. Likewise railroad magnate James J. Hill defended the railroad companies by saying their fortunes were determined according to the law of survival of the fittest.

—Hofstadter, Richard; 1959; Social Darwinism in American Thought, Braziller; New York.
Elsewhere, the term is attributed to Herbert Spencer who clearly inspired a generation of radicalized, latter-day "industrialists" all of them lacking the "...quality of mercy" so immortalized with but a few words by Shakespeare.
[Herbert] Spencer said that diseases "are among the penalties Nature has attached to ignorance and imbecility, and should not, therefore, be tampered with." He even faulted private organizations like the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children because they encouraged legislation.
Social Darwinism and American Laissez-faire Capitalism 
An equally fallacious corollary to "Social Darwinism" is often phrased: the rich are rich because they are better, work harder and are more intelligent." To be expected, George W. Bush put it more crudely: “The poor are poor because they are lazy!” In the same vein, the conservative economist Joseph A. Schumpeter likened recessions to a "douche"! That leaves on to wonder: who decides who gets "douched"? Indeed, millions were douched by R. Reagan. Many never returned to steady employment! Reagan "douched" their jobs, their unions, their families, their futures!

Only sociopaths believe that a tiny and shrinking elite should be empowered --to the exclusion of everyone else --to decide matters of life and death and well-being! It is unconscionable that by its pursuit of obscene riches, just 1 percent of the nation may with its purely fiduciary interests decide matters of life or death for millions, indeed billions all over the world.

It is difficult not to conclude that New Orleans after Katrina is but the disastrous consequence of this kind of "blame the victim" bullshit!!! It is insane and unconscionable to believe that because short-sellers, Wall Street insiders, quick buck artists and robber barons have gotten in front of a wave that they are justified in asserting a right --by virtue of wealth --to make decisions that threaten human life, indeed, a global future.

It is not surprising that Spencer's influence continues, not in the field of biology, but in economics, specifically those theories associated with the right wing: the American apologists, William Graham Sumner and Simon Nelson Patten.

No doubt, Spencer’s ideas received a major boost after Darwin's theories were published, but the issues were muddled at the outset and have remained so since. It is unfortunate that the application to social thought of the terms "adaptation" and "survival of the fittest" became known as "Social Darwinism". In fact, they are neither "Darwin" nor are they "Social".
More recently, the work of John Nash, the subject of the motion picture, A Beautiful Mind, argued persuasively that not only games but societies and economies benefit from cooperation and community more than they benefit from competition which is often disastrous in its many effects among which are poverty. I would have supposed that "business" would have welcomed a more prosperous middle class. A more prosperous middle class buys more stuff. If the robber barons cannot figure that out, they are not merely crooked and evil but STUPID!

Spencer, and Social Darwinists after him, took another view. Spencer believed that because society was evolving, government intervention ought to be minimal in social and political life --nevermind that government is but a function of society! It is then unreasonable that government should be responsible to society overall.

Influenced by Spencer, many describe American capitalism in terms of the “rational man” making rational decisions in a free and "rational" market. In practice, however, economic decisions may or may not be rational and free markets are merely hypothetical, existing only in charts, curves and diagrams. It is a mistake to believe that "rational self-interest", said to work collectively behind Adam Smith's "invisible hand", has had anything but an irrational effect. In most cases --a harmful if not tragic effect!

"Social Darwinism" and other defenses of robber baron practices may sound good in theory. Despite despite conservative efforts to force reality into a mold, bad theory is still bad theory. Models must describe reality —not the other way round. The right wing are incurable "theorists" proposing unworkable fantasies like supply-side economics [trickle-down theory] and other failed schemes.

Nash proved that cooperation is often more successful than competition, leading to the inevitable conclusion that societies which rationalize discrimination, income disparity, and social injustice on a fallacious basis are apt not be so successful themselves. In fact, they rarely are. The utterly failed administration of Ronald Reagan is the specimen that proves it! Only the administration of George H.W. Bush had worse figures for both job creation and GDP growth. In fact, every Democratic President since WWII has a better record. The nation could not afford another Bush but, thanks to election fraud in Florida, it was stuck with yet another one.

It was a mistake to reward the "losers" with another "Reagan", another chance to cheat the people, another opportunity to wage aggressive war for the purpose of stealing oil and other resources.
In the motion picture, A Beautiful Mind, Nash, portrayed by Russell Crowe, is in a favorite watering hole with two colleagues, later termed "negotiants" in his theories. The three young males were distracted by three unattended, attractive females. Among them, a blonde, was seen to be most desirable, i.e, "hot"! Nash immediately saw a mathematical certainty of failure should all three males "hit on" her. Equally certain, mathematically, was rejection by the remaining unattended females who would then be insulted, becoming "second and third choices." Some fifty years later, Nash still polishes and refines the mathematics behind the "hustle", the logic that favors cooperation over competition. is more desirable to be accepted than to accept
(!), so with there being reduced pressure to avoid the penalty of the {0,0,0} payoff when there is failure at the first step then the players naturally adapt at equilibrium by becoming "less accepting" and "more demanding." (The demand parameters...rise as the acceptance rate quantities decrease, but this turns out to be at a logarithmic rate).

...the players can be viewed as in a sort of "continuous auction" process where...the players are able to "bid"...and get into the process of cooperation. And this continuous version of the voting process seems probably to be good for generalization to any number of players. --John Nash from a published email [emphases mine, LH] The word "theory" is either misunderstood by the right wing or it is perverted for it's propaganda value. There is nothing wrong with "theory" per se, though the word is exploited by the right wing as a pejorative except, significantly, when it is applied to Spencer and, more recently, Milton Friedman or Arthur Laffer. Accurately, the negative connotations implied are simply not to be found among those who use the word "theory" academically or in science. This linguistic abuse is propaganda.

It must be noted that Einstein was, likewise, a "theorist"; so too, Newton. Einstein has been confirmed no more times than Darwin; Newton is close enough for mundane applications or "government work". Significantly, neither "theory" has been challenged in court —though both theories may one day be replaced or reconciled with a "theory of everything" [TOE]. The problem is simple: there is a political agenda behind the campaign of attacks on Darwinism even as the same constituency supports Intelligent Design --a monicker designed to "sound Darwinian" though it clearly is not!

Theories are never of a final form. Unlike ideology, real science is self-correcting as new facts emerge from research. Darwin's theories were confirmed by Mendel, accommodated Mendel which, in turn, tended to confirm Darwin. The science of genetics and the discovery of "mutations" confirm Darwin beyond any reasonable doubt. And, along the way, no one, no real scientist ever hired a consulting firm, a focus group, a PR agent or a K-street lobbyist.

The anti-science right wing is more interested in how best to "spin" a lie, how best to 'couch' a crock-o-crap, how best to gull the gullible, how best to dump a load!

Future discoveries will modify our view of Darwin, but that does not discount Darwin nor our views. Theories of evolution themselves evolve. Our view of Einstein, for example, is already modified but in no way discounted. In the main, he is confirmed. And when a unified field theory is achieved it will be the result of many scientists each of whom will owe much to Einstein.

No one ever sued because Einstein is at odds with a particular dogma. No one has dared picket a school for daring to teach "Relativity". It is certain, however, that no future discovery will confirm "intelligent design" —a logical fallacy on its face and quite beyond any confirmation of any kind!
"Facts" tend to be narrowly phrased; theories, by contrast, embrace a wide but finite set of related facts. Darwin and the sciences that followed him are entirely consistent with new discoveries in the field of genetics. [See: Science and Human Values, Jacob Bronowski]

Intelligent design is of a religious nature; people have a right to believe it, a right guaranteed them in the U.S. First Amendment. But "intelligent design" explains nothing! Worse than a circular argument, it is beyond proof, in fact, meaningless. It raises other issues, themselves either unexplained or unexplainable. For example: who designed the designer? The question itself assumes a designer --a circulus in probando fallacy. People are free to believe fallacies, but they must not be free to impose lies or fallacies upon other people at tax payer expense! And who is this 'designer' if not 'God'? 'Intelligent Design' is 'stealth religion', a Trojan Horse, that tries to pass itself off as 'science'. It was hoped that an unsuspecting school system would sneak it into the science curriculum. The problem is: 'intelligent design' is NOT science!

A fact, for example, is the equation that describes the acceleration of falling objects; examples of theory are both the Newtonian and the Einsteinian view of "gravitation" —though 'gravitation' is conceived of differently by both. The entire science of genetics confirms Darwin who, interestingly, did not have the benefit of Mendel's research when he wrote Origin of the Species and the The Descent of Man. It was Mendel's research that described the very mechanism by which Darwin’s “traits” are --indeed --passed on to succeeding generations. Darwin --despite the lies about this theory --has been confirmed! Evolution is an observable fact! Accurate predictions are, in themselves, evidence in support of theories. [See: Evolution in Action, Julian Huxley]

Evolution is a verifiable fact!

Any organism which survives long enough to procreate passes on its genes to another generation. Random changes in genetic code are variously attributed [mutations] but are statistically significant, dictating the very speed with which evolution occurs. Every farmer who has deliberately bred for specific characteristics knows the truth of evolution. Every cowboy who has ever said --never kill a slow roach; you just improve the breed --is a Darwinian.

It could be said, however, that no one has yet produced a new specie by selection. But they have indeed done just that! Consider wheat! Wheat does not grow in the wild. Related to ancient grasses, wheat is clearly the result of an ancient application of "artificial selection." Had wheat evolved naturally, it would be found growing wild like prairie grass. But it isn't and it didn't.

If God effected a "special creation" for every biological entity in his cosmos, how are we to account for wheat? The original ancestor became extinct --also an ancient and undocumented event. As human beings had not yet evolved, no one was around to document the extinction of the progenitor of "wheat".

Evolution is often considered to be so true as to be trivial: what survives survives. Critics of Darwin will often cite the tautology though it does not support them; it supports Darwin. Organisms which survive pass on their genes as well as mutations. Getting to pass on your genes is nature's reward for having survived long enough to do it. This is quite beyond debate.

Adaptation! Natural Selection! Evolution!

Some of the more subtle critics of "Darwin" say that "survival of the fittest" is a circular argument: the fittest are those who survive, and those who survive are deemed fittest. There are some problems with that:
  1. Darwin never used the term "survival of the fittest"! That dubious honor belongs to Herbert Spencer, a "Social Darwinist" who never understood Darwin, nor was he "social"!

  2. Even if the term "natural selection" is more properly substituted for the bogus term "survival of the fittest", the argument is circular only if the invalid conclusion that "only the fittest survive" is added! The invalid value judgment –survival of the fittest –is falsely attributed to Darwin.
There is nothing circular about the observed fact that in any given generation, some organisms survive and procreate, others do not. Defining traits are thus passed from one generation to another. Over time great changes often occur over numerous, multiplying lines. Over longer periods of time, greater changes are evinced. This has been computer modeled with real world numbers.
One of the greatest examples of "evolution in action" is Carl Sagan's memorable episode in which he cited and demonstrated the example of the Heikegani Crab. The Heikegani Crab, native to Japan, is famous for a carapace resembling that of a human face, specifically, a Samurai warrior.

As Sagan told the story, the crab are found near the scene of a significant battle involving Japan's storied Samurai warriors. The Samurai were defeated, their bodies succumbed to the waters as Sagan relates. Many years later, humble fisher folk, recalling the historic battle, threw back into the waters those catches whose carapace most resembled a human face, especially the fierce face of a Samurai. In Darwinian terms, the resemblance thus acquired "survival value". Like Nash's equilibrium, "survival value" can be quantified. If you are a crab and your carapace looks remotely "human" to those who might otherwise stir-fry and eat you, you have much better chance of surviving. Those crab most resembling Samurai warriors today are the descendants of those who had been "thrown back". There are no descendants of those more ancient crabs that were caught, boiled and/or basted before they could begat little crabs.

The proponents of "intelligent design" have erected several straw men. Evolution, for example, has nothing to do with "coming down from the trees". [See: Richard Leakey's "The Origin of Humankind" ; also: Answers to Creationist Nonsense!]

Social Darwinism, clearly, is one of many ideas that have harmed mankind. It has provided a rationalization for the perpetual, deliberate impoverishment of large segments of our society. Social Darwinism has done so with a baseless theory, a theory fallaciously associated with Darwin. Darwin would have had nothing to do with it! In simpler terms, the philosophical basis for the American right wing is this:
"Are there no workhouses? Are there no prisons? Then let them die and decrease the surplus population."