Monday, October 10, 2011

Pseudoscience and the Technomystic

One of the key themes that I try to emphasize in this blog is the unity of science and modern technology.  

The science of cosmology is really just the extension of the same physical principles we have discovered on the Earth and have incorporated into our technology.  See some of my previous posts on this topic: 
In some cases, the physical principles were understood from cosmological evidence before they were testable in the laboratory.

The Cosmos In Your Pocket: Expanded & Revised

The technological leadership the United States enjoyed in the post WWII era was due in no small part to the emphasis of science in the U.S. educational system in that time frame.  The decline of U.S. leadership in these fields can easily be tied to the decline of science understanding among the general population and pseudo-science has certainly been a component of that decline. 

One of the problems run into by pseudo-scientists is that when they deny some well-established aspect of modern astronomy or cosmology, such as the energy source of stars, etc., they are denying a knowledge base is tightly connected to the same understandings of nuclear physics, atomic physics, electromagnetism, etc. used in technologies we use every day. 

To defend their ignorance, the pseudoscientists eventually reach the point that they must deny how a number of well-established technologies work.  In the process, they sometimes manufacture alternative explanations which they try to make consistent with whatever alternative 'framework' they are trying to maintain.  For all intents an purposes, their alternative explanations evokes a quote from Arthur C. Clarke:
“Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.” - Arthur C. Clarke (wikipedia)
For lack of a better term, I'll call such an individual a technomystic.

Here's a few examples:

* Geocentrism: Our ability to travel in space depends on Newton's laws of motion and gravity, theories which do not define an absolute origin in space.  These equations are invariant under translation and rotation - the interactions between planetary bodies and spacecraft depend only on their RELATIVE positions, and not on any absolute spatial reference frame.  This is why we can use the exact same mathematics to get a spacecraft in orbit around other planets in the solar system as we use to orbit the Earth.  Some Geocentrists go so far as to deny space flight even takes place (such as claimed at Moving World - Deception).  The equivalence of all reference frames is built into modern star trackers used in the navigation of satellites (see Ubiquitous Aberrations) so this theory is actually tested 24/7 on satellites around the solar system.

* Relativity Denial: This is often a component of Geocentrism but it is also often invoked by Electric Universe supporters and some Young-Earth Creationists.  A number of modern technologies require high-precision measurement, with accuracy on the nano-second time scales, where relativity has already been demonstrated to become important in technologies such as the GPS system.  Most of the deniers invoke claims by researchers who are, at best, peripherally involved with GPS technologies, and I have yet to find one that has actually done the critical clock synchronization and/or signal time-of-flight analyses.  (see Scott Rebuttal. I. GPS & Relativity, GPS, Relativity & Geocentrism)

* Space Weather: The Electric Sun model advocated by the Electric Universe supporters, claims the region of space from the Sun to the heliopause is radically different from the conditions discovered by mainstream astronomy.  Conditions in this region can be hazardous to the operation of satellites and even the lives of astronauts.  Yet while mainstream astronomy and heliophysics understands the environment sufficiently to setup forecasting systems to protect assets in space (Space Weather Prediction Center), EU supporters evade demonstrating an equivalent capability, even when the data to do it are all publicly available.

* Young-Earth/Young-Universe Creationism: Young-Earth creationists try to get around technology implications of their 'science' by moving their changes back in time or far in space, such as the work by Barry Setterfield (see A Changing Speed of Light?).  However, this still creates problems for atomic/nuclear physics & applications as we detect a number of nuclear and atomic spectral lines in distant space with the same characteristics in Earth laboratories.  In this case, the safest theology are various flavors of Old-Earth Creationism (such as advocated by Reasons to Believe, etc.).

In most cases, it is difficult to get these technomystics to explain HOW many of the affected technologies actually work in their 'worldview'.  Short of claiming the technology itself is an outright fraud, the only clear answer we can get from them is that the technology does NOT work the way the physicists and engineers who designed and built the critical components say that it work and documented in many textbooks and design specifications.  I have found no examples of these technologies being developed and built by those who deny the fundamental physics, though we have many 'reinterpretations' of how these technologies work from those who, at best, were peripherally involved in the development.

Next: More exploration of the science & technology connection...


Anonymous said...

One approach which at least some EU groupies use is the "we don't need no stinking physicists; engineers can make perfectly good {insert technological item of interest here} without needing to know, or use, relativity/quantum mechanics/whatever".

An example: Quantum Electrodynamics (QED), the most precisely tested theory in physics (as of today), incorporates Special Relativity (SR). It is the basis for such things as semiconductors, lasers, and MRI imagers. When it is pointed out that you need SR to explain how these things work (via QED), many EU proponents will say that that's a lie; engineers can make such things without even needing to study QED, let alone apply it!

In one sense, this is as clear an example of technomysticism as one could ask for.


W.T."Tom" Bridgman said...

When I was exploring engineering and physics texts in high school, I noticed how many of the engineering texts would have equations with numerical coefficients like 4/5 or some floating-point number. When I looked into the physics texts, they would show how those equations were derived from more fundamental principles and that those numbers came from either geometric aspects and/or products of Boltzmann's constant, the fundamental charge, etc.

This discovery made it easy for me to choose physics over engineering.

While engineering could only apply the equation in its range of validity, physics revealed the underlying mechanism which enabled you to extend the range of validity. Imagine using F=m*g for the gravitational force for going into earth orbit or beyond...

Torque said...

Hi Nereid and Tom;

Nereid said .. "When it is pointed out that you need SR to explain how these things work (via QED), many EU proponents will say that that's a lie; engineers can make such things without even needing to study QED, let alone apply it!

My view is that the fundamental source of such Creationism, arises from the inseparable coupling of ‘belief’, from who we are as individuals. Not wanting to delve too deeply on the psychology side, a nice illustration which distinguishes this is a famous quote that says: “Even the truth, when believed, is a lie”.

As Tom has illustrated, (many times), when fundamental physical science theories ultimately result in engineered technologies which work, it allows us to experience the reality of those technologies AND the fundamental theories.

Creationism depends on belief in a story .. any story, told by anyone. To an EU Creationist, scientific theories are just another story to be believed, or not believed, depending on a whim.

A Scientist however, experiences the truth about the theory. An Engineer experiences the truth about the technology. Neither has a need for belief.

Mathematics and objective science, makes belief redundant.


Anonymous said...

There's another example of EU technomysticism, one which brings out a deep similarity with creationism: stellar evolution.

Take, for example, Scott's Stellar Evolution webpage ( ).

As Scott makes very clear, all stars shine (in the EU view) by virtue of giant, external currents. These may change, at any time, resulting in the formation of a binary (if the current increases greatly) or the star ceasing to shine (if it stops).

As these giant currents have not been characterised quantitatively, there is no way to estimate things like the rate at which they change, the age of any star, the likely fate of our own Sun, etc.

A situation, therefore, perfect for creationists: if they adopt something like the EU view, then the age of the Sun - and the cosmos as a whole - can be anything they want.

Oh, and given the dramatic implications, of these inconstant currents, for our continued existence, you'd think EU proponents would be working frantically to understand their workings better, so as to prepare for a (possibly quite) imminent end of our world.


W.T."Tom" Bridgman said...

To Nereid,

Don Scott makes a brief mention of this issue on page 184 of The Electric Sky. Considering the Sun's importance to life on Earth, it is strange that he only addresses the topic in a handful of sentences. But then EU exhibits a similar disregard for human life in their evasion of space weather implications of the Electric Sun model which I've mentioned here repeatedly.

Torque said...

It seems Siggy_G chose to respond to Tom's above blog in a post at Thunderbolts:


Torque said...

Having read Siggy_G’s response to all this, I offer the following points for consideration.

A phenomenological theory in science is developed to explain observation and experimental data, without necessarily providing a description of a mechanism which results in those observations/data.

General Relativity (GR) is a phenomenological theory, so it doesn’t explain the mechanism behind gravity. The apple falling from a tree was explained by gravity, but Newton’s theory of Gravitation didn’t explain what gravity was. GR treats gravity as an example of Newton’s Third Law in operation. GR thus views gravity as a phenomenon.

The effect of gravity on light however was predicted by GR. Direct observation of the bending of light did not result in GR theory development. Bending of light is thus not viewed as a phenomenon of GR. It was a verified prediction of GR.

Dark Matter (DM) is treated as a phenomenon of GR and Newtonian Mechanics. The amount of DM, when added to galactic rotation curves, also then matches measured, (quantitative), galaxy velocity dispersions, gravitational lensing and gravitational redshift for galaxy light emitted from within a galaxy cluster. These are examples of the empirical, phenomenon basis for DM. No explanation of what constitutes DM is called for (for same the reasons as gravity explanations are not called for in Newtonian gravity).

That the composition of DM is not yet explained, and yet has empirical, observationally measured quantitative data behind it, results in its status as a phenomenon being similar to gravity.
Does Siggy_G refute the existence of gravity ?

If we couldn’t directly observe Neptune, but from looking at Uranus’ orbit, Neptune’s presence can be viewed as a phenomenon of gravitational theory. Would Siggy_G refute the existence of Neptune ?

If in both cases he does not refute these, then why does he refute the phenomenon of DM?


johnmartin said...

Newton's laws of motion and gravity are actually based upon the assumption of an absolute space, with a universal velocity of zero. As such, if space travel is based upon relative velocities, then they are ultimately based upon velocities relative to an absolute of space. This is similar to the geocentric absolute of the stationary earth, which according to the velocity claim made by Tom, is nothing more than a transform from the absolute of space to the absolute of a stationary earth.

It seems to me that if Tom had any big claims against geocentrism he would have brought them out a long time ago. As such, Tom is merely playing word games for his audience.

Geocentrism ever remains the bane of atheists and secularists who cannot stand that modern science falls squarely into the lap of the divinely revealed truth of the created universe, with its stationary earth.


Anonymous said...

"Geocentrism ever remains the bane of atheists and secularists who cannot stand that modern science falls squarely into the lap of the divinely revealed truth of the created universe, with its stationary earth."
Read: blah blah blah, I'm a ignorant believer, blah blah blah
Always funny to see how much useless blah without any content believers are uttering.