[lit-ideas] Re: Le Pesa nteur et la Gr âce

  • From: Paul Stone <pas@xxxxxxxx>
  • To: lit-ideas@xxxxxxxxxxxxx
  • Date: Wed, 11 Aug 2004 15:03:52 -0400

>M.C. Interesting to see Brian Greene ranged among P. Stone's list of=20
>scientific ignoramuses.

Where did you see me say that Brian Greene or Zukav or Capra was a 
scientific ignoramus. You must have read that in from your OWN bias Mike. I 
merely said that they popularized a specific was of looking at science. I 
don't think that's really debatable as a fact. Greene has UNDOUBTEDLY 
popularized his branch of science with his two best-sellers.

>That would be the Brian Greene, the Rhodes

{list of accomplishments snipped}

>On the face of it, one might have assumed that Professor Greene =
>know *almost* as much about science as P. Stone, and just possibly a teensy
>  bit more.

I would never argue with Dr. Greene's credentials. He OBVIOUSLY is one of 
the foremost "authorities" on String Theory. But that's like being the 
foremost authority on time-travel. It's interesting, but can't I just read 
his books and come to my own conclusion that I don't buy what he is saying? 
It's the Romanticism that I find difficult, not the math. It's the peppy 
optimism of a TOE that draws me to books like his, but perhaps ironically, 
it's the very same thing that usually turns me away in the end.

>Oh, and by the the way, there is not one word about Eastern =
>mysticism in The Elegant Universe, which is about string theory. You might try
>reading it.

I have read it. As I have the other books I mentioned. I never said that 
Greene 'mentions' Eastern Mysticism, but he sure mythologizes string theory 
and the very title "elegant universe" is new-agey. He certainly DOES 
attempt to demythologize his science and I find that the search for a 'one 
inch formula' that tells all is a bit silly. And trying to mythologize 
science is to render it quite useless. Have you read Wilson's "Consilience" 
or Gould's "The Hedgehog, The Fox, The Magister's pox". I think the jury is 
still out on whether the two very broad areas (liberal arts and science) 
can be brought together in the ways some authors try to do. I'm just 
keeping an open mind ;-P

>M.C. Problem is, not everybody agrees with *your* conception of

IT damned well should! JK

>What you're saying is equivalent to "I'm willing to entertain
>any scientific theory, as long as it corresponds to my basic
>assumptions about the nature of reality".

No. "Entertaining" is giving something a chance. I would never read these 
books if I didn't want to entertain. Just because I don't agree with 
something doesn't mean that I haven't given it a chance.

>It follows from this that
>since one's notion of "proof" is a function of one's notion of
>"reality", no theories that challenge P. Stone's conception of
>"reality" can possibly be "proved", because proof *just is*
>correspondence with the views he already holds.

The ONLY reality I have is the one I have. Can you fault me for that? If 
you can, then YOU are the one with the intolerant reality.

>People like P. Stone have thus very effectively eliminated even the 
>theoretical possibility
>that they might ever have to change their views;

There is NOTHING in this world that I would welcome more than to be able to 
live through a 30-40 year period of tremendous sea-change. To be around and 
intimately involved with something as revelatory as Darwinism, or when 
Einstein came up with his stuff, or when the bomb was being made would have 
been tremendously enjoyable. I just don't know whether these theories (SST, 
LQG, TOE, UFT) are every going to be completed in my life time. I think I 
have maybe 30 years left. I've got my fingers crossed, but I'm not sure 
that I'll be alive to witness the Kuhnian shift.

>perhaps this is the sense in which it's said that ignorance is bliss.

It's very funny to  me that you are unwilling to admit what gravity is and 
yet you feel quite sure (to within 11 decimal places) that Quantum Theory 
holds. That's very, very funny. You pomoism is more po than mo.

>         Once again, Kuhn's theory is confirmed : the way that scientific
>paradigms change is that the believers in the old paradigm eventually
>die off. Kind of like the dinosaurs.

Isn't that a bumper sticker somewhere?

>M.C. Yeah,, right. Even though quantum physics is, together with
>general relativity, the best-confirmed theory *ever produced* - it
>contains, for instance, effects which can be computed to be accurate to
>about one part in 10 to the 11th power (Penrose et al., The Large, the
>small, and the human mind, Cambridge 1997, p. 51) it's probably just
>fluff. Why?

It's interesting. It's even very good science in many cases, but it's not 
in any way understandable in human, experiential terms. Certainly nowhere 
near as concrete as what we know of as 'gravity'. By the way, I love 
Penrose and even et al.

>Because P. Stone says so, along with  "many "real"
>[...scientists]".  Who are these scientists, by the way? Can you name
>just one?

Freeman Dyson is sort of famous. Sheldon Glashow is probably not famous in 
"that" sense, but he's got a nobel prize. John Horgan.  Myron Evans, 
director of the Alpha Foundation Institute for Advanced Study, (look that 
one up, probably no more reputable than that silly site that Lance was 
going on about) many believers in LQG (loop quantum gravity) Or even Sam 
Pinansky's blog. I know there are others.

The only reason I was raising this whole line of inquiry (originating from 
Ms. Weil's grace/gravity thing) is because of a book that may have possibly 
used some awkward scientific metaphors. I was objecting to them. I don't 
like the perpetuation of useless language which distorts the way people 
think {I'm sure I'll get another screed based on just those last 14 words, 
but It's summer time and I've got lots of energy to argue, so go for it}.

It's very easy to pull the wool over people's eyes when it comes to 
science, because very few people understand it. I'm not saying that _I_ 
understand anything better than Brian Greene does. My only contention is 
with his attempt to popularize something, he has probably done it a 
disservice. But what's he gonna do? He's staked his whole very substantial 
career on it so far. Better science will not get done because of Greene's 
two popular books. He might inspire people to read more about string 
theory, but the people who are inspired will probably start with and follow 
a path that leads to even more nebulous books.

Never mind superstring theory, what  worries me is that people are unable 
to make change at the store without looking at the numbers on the register 
or figure the gas-mileage on their car without a computer. Sure, the whole 
world is wired, but most don't even have a clue as to how a computer works. 
Fundamental inaccuracies in simple science grate on my last nerve and I was 
just mentioning that. I care less about what Mr. Greene has to say about 
superstring theory than what I hear public speakers say about science that 
is completely false. When I hear "caustic" being used to describe an acid 
in a spill on the news, it worries me. There are hundreds of examples a day 
and Weil's "wings to the second power" is one. That continues to be my 
major point.


Paul Stone
Kingsville, ON, Canada 

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