Sunday, March 16, 2014

From Pseudo-Science to Real Science

It's an interesting question.  I have lots of friends involved in the sciences and it seems to be a common, though not universal, experience.  If you follow a number of science and skepticism blogs and podcasts, you sometimes hear similar stories from individuals involved in the movement.  It may be more anecdote than data, but it appears many individuals involved as adults in the science and skepticism movement had their own phase of fascination with strange claims.

I had my own phase, probably covering my years from about 7th to 10th grade.  I was a big fan of science fiction before that and followed many of the Gemini and Apollo missions.   But for a time, I was consuming everything I could on UFOs, Velikovsky's "Worlds in Collision", Erich von Daniken's ancient astronauts, psychic phenomena, pyramid power (Wikipedia), and more.

I had been involved with local churches, mostly mainstream Methodist congregations, but even there I was exposed to stories such as claims that Joshua's missing day had been found by NASA (Snopes), as well as the notorious Jack Chick publications (Wikipedia).  Occasionally I would join up with more fundamentalist congregations which introduced me to various flavors of Young-Earth Creationism.

I completed high school with no problems, but was aimless for a number of years, with no defined plans for a college degree.  But I did start taking college physics courses with no degree program.  Eventually I transitioned to degree-seeking, and studied particle physics and relativity, eventually reaching a level of study that most students would not reach until graduate school.  But eventually I dropped out when the load of 2-3 courses plus a near full-time job became too much.  I dropped out with about a year needed to complete a degree.

Yet today I have a Doctorate in Physics & Astronomy, and while not active as a researcher, still actively work with scientific data collected by NASA missions. 

And then there's THIS site, going after others making many of the same claims I once followed with enthusiasm.

So what happened?  What were the influences that shaped this transition?  Were they all external, or internal influences?

Was I from a more affluent family compared to others?  Not really.  Both of my parents were blue-collar.  Both had attended, but never completed college.

Did I have an 'inside track', or 'connections' that facilitated my entry into the scientific community?  I spent most of my life in farm towns, often traveling between towns one or more times per year because my father had a seasonal job.  There is some question that I might be related to the Nobel laureate Percy Bridgman (Wikipedia), but if such a family connection exists, its common point is prior to the 1800s.  I have been approached at various physics-related social functions and asked if I am any relation.

Was I more motivated than others?  Eventually, but it was stop-and-go a lot of times.  When I graduated high school, I had no college plans.  My first try at an undergraduate degree ended with me spending five years as a college drop-out.  I finished my undergraduate degree when I was 32 years old.

Did I receive more encouragement from teachers or other mentors than others?  Perhaps.  I recall a number of little things, but nothing really stands out.  There was one pivotal point, where a friend suggested over lunch that I ditch the 'safe' route I was taking to complete my undergraduate degree, and go full-tilt to complete it and transition to graduate school.  I do regard that event, and choice, as very transitional.

Did I have more opportunities than others?  Perhaps, but many would not been available without self-motivation which put me in the right place at the right time.  Luck is where opportunity meets preparation.

Was I genetically pre-disposed to having a more scientific mindset and the previous activities were just youthful dalliances?  I don't know.

Is my experience unusual?  Or typical?

How this transition occurred is not an idle question.  It goes to the heart of whether efforts such as my web site and others are even worthwhile, or is it fighting an ultimately losing battle against a rising tide of arrogant ignorance?

But for me, it also raises another interesting personal question.  Had it not been for that decision to complete my degree, would I be on the other side of this issue?

Comments describing similar experiences, with or without the transition, welcome.

4 comments:

Jeffrey J. Wolynski said...

A pseudoscientist is an unchained mind.

A scientist is a mind which already believes it has solved the big mysteries, but is only filling in the holes.

I would rather be a pseudoscientist.

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

To Mr. Wolynski,

Real scientists turned the motions of the planets and objects falling on Earth into the ability to travel to the Moon and other planets.

Real scientists took the behavior of 'indivisible' atoms and turned it into everything from an understanding of the composition of stars to the ability to manipulate atoms at a sub-atomic level to make things like semiconductors and consequently computers on which you are reading this.

Real science works whether you believe it or not.

Pseudo-scientists, minds 'unchained' from reality, have

- bilked investors with loads of failed technologies (Wikipedia: Energy pseudosciences)

- have resulted in the deaths of many by false medical remedies (WhatsTheHarm.net, Wikipedia: Health pseudoscience)

- have resulted in the deaths of millions by bad agriculture (Wikipedia: Lysenkoism),

- have resulted in the deaths of millions by various anthropological 'sciences' claiming racial 'superiority' (Wikipedia: Racial pseudosciences)

If you wish to be associated with pseudo-science, that is your choice.

Jeffrey wolynski said...

Very well, I, Jeffrey J. Wolynski, am a "pseudoscientist".

Look at my rational wiki article!

http://rationalwiki.org/wiki/Jeffrey_Wolynski

I can feel the hate already. I am letting the power of the dark side flow through me!

-Jeffrey J. Wolynski





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

To Mr. Wolynski,

I debated whether to release this one since it is difficult to distinguish your statements from the rantings of a juvenile troll or someone with serious delusions. Posting does allow others to coordinate your behavior with other information…