Monday, March 30, 2009

The dress-up box.

What do you do with a wearable skirt Liz outgrew in her youth? Or a sequined shawl? Or a brightly colored tutu? Simple, you keep them in a box in the play room where any child can dress up with them as their spirit moves them.

The harder question is how to keep it in tune with "For the Strength of Youth"?

Happy Birthday, Liz

After being married for nearly 40 years, Liz and I know what to expect from each other in many cases. So her birthday present from me was not a great surprise, but it was well received. Now that it has been given, I can relate the sad story of the Japanese teapot lid. Early last year I happened upon an antique store in an out of the way place and discovered a treasure trove of antique (more or less) teapots at very reasonable prices. It was a delightful find. I chose one or two, and then found another one too good to pass, and another and soon I had an armful. When I finally had all the ones I couldn’t live without, I started towards the front of the store to check out. My arms were full to overflowing with teapots and when one shifted, I adjusted a little, which overbalanced the little Japanese teapot and the lid fell straight onto the tile floor and shattered into millions of little shards. I was devastated. Of them all, I think I liked that one the best because of the fineness of the the painting, the shading, and the overall care taken in its simple design. It is the one in the center of this photo.

But the lid was in pieces. I took the rest of my haul up to the register and returned to gather up the shards. They had scattered to a remarkable degree and I found pieces in at least four of the little display cubicles near where it dropped. So that’s my sad story.

We had a nice dinner and party with a special guest, Uncle Keith, who recently burned up his kitchen, was tired of eating steak every night at the insurance co.’s expense, and was in need of a home-cooked meal. The party was in celebration of both Liz and Joe’s birthdays.

The birthday heroes

Joe got jerky and some fishing lures for his lake from his parentals: Liz got makeup from her mother.

Joe got a boot from his espouse: Liz got a very nice new casarole from all her children.

Joe got new pants from parentals, but they were too small: Liz got teapots from her most special, true love, the hero of all time, her knight in lustrous, shining armor.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

An essay on Science

Let us start with asking, “What is science?”  Science is a method for regulating the gathering of knowledge.  It has a Method, and it has a rule.  The method is very simple.

  • You decide to learn about something, so obviously you have an interest in it.
  • You observe all you can.
  • You form a hypothesis (a theory, or educated guess) about the truth of what you are observing.
  • You devise a way to prove your hypothesis, and you perform the test.
  • At this point one of two things will happen
    • If the test does not verify your hypothesis, you go back a few steps and try again
    • If the test verifies your hypothesis, then you publish it and become famous (at least in your close, scientific field).

This is the point where the rule come in.  The rule is that scientific knowledge is only accepted as fact when other scientists can review your work, perform your test, AND get the same outcome, repeatably.  If your results cannot be duplicated, your hypothesis is not considered to be knowledge - it is only a theory and while you still get credit for it, it is not considered to be scientific fact.  This failure to become fact might be because you failed to publish your theory and test results, or it might be because nobody else gets the same results.  There are a few special cases I’ll discuss later.

What is not obvious until you think about it for a while is that science does not give us a method to discover facts.  Instead, what it gives us is a method to evaluate discovery methods (which lead to the discovery of facts).  Scientific Method is what helps us distinguish facts from theories, which lets us know what is really knowledge and what is somebody’s unproven idea. 

Another non-obvious thing about science is that it forces us to share information, thus improving all of mankind in a uniform way.  The fact that the scientific method requires us to publish our results before our theories can become scientific fact means that scientists everywhere have to know what other scientists are thinking.  Governments and military leaders are sometimes bothered by this openness when ideas of a dreadful nature are published.  For example, in 1932 Sir John Cockroft and Ernest Walton formed a nuclear reaction by splitting atoms.  Other scientists built on their work and others built on it further until atomic bombs were developed in 1945, only 13 years later.  The United States did not want other countries to get atomic weapons because they did not want to be threatened by them (and who can blame us?), but scientists the World over already had all the information needed, except for details on how we actually constructed the bombs.  The knowledge was already available to scientists everywhere.  Many people fervently wish knowledge had not been shared in that instance, but scientific method demands it.  The positive results of this sharing outweigh the negative many times over.

On the other side of the scientific sharing of information coin is the internet.  The internet was developed by scientists and educators specifically to improve the ability to share scientific information of all kinds.  The first efforts were slow, but productive.  As computers became more capable, the internet also became more capable until suddenly it exploded out into the world at large and now it is readily available to everybody in almost all parts of the World.  With it came all kinds of junk, but scientific knowledge has never before been so available to so many people.  We have proved over and over that scientific concepts such as open sharing of information gives us tremendous capabilities to increase our knowledge of the World around us, so the internet will surely be ranked as one the most important developments in science ever.

Special Cases:  There are a few cases where a hypothesis remains a theory because it can’t be tested.  The most famous example of this is evolution, the theory about how there came to be so many species of animals on Earth.  We have never witnessed and documented the origin of a new species, and there are very good reasons why we do not want to invent new species, even if we could.  From what we observe in nature and the fossil record, new species arise at random times, and as frequently as a few times per thousand years, so keep your eyes peeled.

An essay on the origin of life and Evolution

This largely an extract from an email I wrote to my brother.


It is argued that life sets aside the concept of entropy in certain ways, including the step from primordial soup to life.  It is argued that life originated in a warm, chemically active environment stirred by volcanic action and intense radiation where chemicals became more and more complex until some of them came together and voila, there was life.  After that, this first life had only to replicate itself in the most elementary way and evolution took over, leading inexorably to you and I.

  What bothers me is the theory that chemicals that might BECOME life somehow set aside entropy.  That's the point that seems far fetched to me.  Entropy doesn't care what will become.  It only cares that everything decays.  Even though chemicals sometimes combine to form more complex, rather than less complex new chemicals, that is still a monstrous step away from forming life.  Even microbial life is complex.  It's not just a chemical joining with another, it is a huge number of specific chemicals combining in just the right way. 

  So the theory that a primordial soup spawns life is very much like that old story of putting thousands of chimpanzees in front of typewriters and eventually one of them bangs out a novel like "War and Peace".  Cute story, but does anybody really believe it?  It's also like the old story of putting explosives around metals of various kinds, and in the resulting explosion they come together to form a watch.  It's not just a single mingle, it's a huge merge.  So, in my humble opinion, there had to be a nudge.  As a man of religion, I think this nudge came from God, but it makes no difference if it came from some other source.  I don't care if it was aliens, or a meteor with life already on it, or whatever.  I just don't think it happened spontaneously.  Spontaneous generation of life has been a popular theory for hundreds, perhaps thousands of years, but it is scientific nonsense, at least between the popular, stylish outbursts.  I'm a conservative guy, so I don't buy into the stylish and popular, so I still think spontaneous generation is nonsense.  Prove me wrong and I'll buy it, but all the evidence points to entropy winning in a lifeless soup, primordial or not.

  It would be nice if we could count Mars as example of life #2, but it is premature to do that.  There was a lot of excitement over a meteoric rock originating on Mars that looked like it had bacteria fossils embedded in it, but it turned out to be something else.  There is a lot of excitement about Mars in the debate over life in the Universe, but it is not that we know about life on Mars.  It is that there is great evidence of water on Mars, and if there is/was water maybe life could have formed there out of its own primordial soup.  (Here we are, back in the soup.)  So far, we have zero evidence of actual life on Mars but we still have very little evidence of any kind.  It is exciting because it is the first place where we have a good chance of finding out, not because it seems like it really happened.  So no, the count is still only 1. 

  Then the next question if we find evidence of life having been on Mars, will be whether it is the same life as on Earth and was transported from one to the other via a cosmic interaction like what happened to the meteorite with the bacteria-looking formation.  In other words, was one the nudge for the other?  That will be a tough question to answer, but it will be fun and productive to try.



Before you can discuss evolution, you should discuss the special status human beings currently enjoy in the scheme of things.  Evolution really does not apply to human beings because we have the ability to ensure survival of so many who would otherwise die, and because we all have breeding opportunites.    All humans survive to breed.  The quarterback may mate with the cheerleader, but their offspring have no survival advantage over anybody else's offspring in today's World.  And yet, with no advantage, the species still changes.  And even though the species is changing, it is still good old Homo Sapiens.

  I don't reject evolution per se, but I don't hold to the popular view of it, either.  Darwin's book is a great thesis, but it hasn't held up to scientific scrutiny and his morphing theory of evolution is only held by the masses arguing over whether to teach it in school.  In case that isn't clear, perhaps it will help to define it a little better.  The morphing theory of evolution is that those individuals of each species with the best survival attributes survive to pass on their genes.  Over time, those survival genes are concentrated in a population and it slowly changes.  Small changes, generation after generation add up until the species is no longer what it was - it is a new species.  It is "morphing" because between every old/new pair of species there are innumerable individuals that are somewhere between the old and the new.  That is the theory Darwin proposed, and brilliantly so.  But science does not bear that out.  Further study showed that we just don't see that slow change, the morphing, when looking at species.  When we look at the fossil record, what we see is that before our duckbill platypus, there was a pre-platypus that was distinct in certain ways.  It bears a resemblance to our platypus, but isn't one.  And before that, there was some other beast, perhaps similar to, but distinctly different than the pre-platypus.  We find those, and nothing in between.  And the end of one does not often match up with the beginning of the next one.  And therefore, the morphing theory / survival of the fittest / Darwin evolution is not scientifically valid.

  Instead, what we see is that new species erupt at irregular intervals, fully formed - already distinct from other species.  We surmise that there are hundreds, thousands, or perhaps even millions of other potential species that erupted but did not survive.  At this level, there is survival of the fit.  If they are fit enough to compete and breed in their environment, then the species lives on.  If not, they die out very quickly.  We see these “possibles” quite frequently, but we have not yet seen one of them live on to form a new species.  The possibles we see are aberrations like three-legged chickens and two-headed snakes and people who can do incredible mathematical solutions in their heads, but can't tie their own shoes.  But it isn't a question of the "fittest" surviving.  Whether a possible new platypus is fitter then regular platypi is irrelevant.  The only relevance is whether it is fit enough to survive, and oh yeah - it also has to be capable of passing on its genes with a mate, which must surely, in the vast majority of times, be one of the old specie because what are the odds of having two identical aberrations, male and female born at the same time and place?  And if, after the mixing of genes, the offspring isn't still the new kind of critter, then it didn't pass the "fit" test and Daddy was just an aberration, a "sport", a singularity. 


  So, given the above, I find it amusing that so many people spend so much time and angst arguing over whether to teach creationism or scientific Dawinian evolution in school.  I say we should teach them complete, solid science, instead.  And real science, by the way, having no proof of the origin of life, will explore all possible theories, counting none of them as more "scientific" than another because we don't know what is the correct answer.  In this case, as in any other, science says to explore all avenues to knowledge, and some young, budding scientist of the future will have to prove which theory works best.  It's not for us to say the only choices are God or Darwin, or one and not the other.  It's far better to teach them that we don't know how it happens.  We'd certainly teach them what Darwin thought, and that it didn't hold for these reasons.  Along those same lines, and for the same reasons, you would teach them what other people thought, including religious thinkers, and the reasons those thoughts don't hold up to scientific scrutiny.  Science says you examine the facts, you form your hypothesis, then you attempt to prove it however you can.  In education you'd teach them as much as you can, then challenge them to form their own hypotheses and turn them loose.