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Indistinguishable from Magic

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  • Roger Anderton
    Here s an interesting article I have written explaining how some people employ faulty thinking to cover things up in the sciences. Regards Roger
    Message 1 of 1 , Apr 15, 2006
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      Here's an interesting article I have written explaining how some people employ faulty thinking to cover things up in the sciences.

      Regards
      Roger





      Indistinguishable from Magic



      Here's an interesting article called "Science and sensibility" by Richard Dawkins based up one of his lectures. He talks about Quantum theory, chaos and other things but I cut to what I am interested in for the moment:



      Dawkins: "In my attacks on millenarial superstition, I must beware of Kelvinian over-confidence. Undoubtedly there is much that we still don't know. Part of our legacy to the twenty-first century must be unanswered questions, and some of them are big ones. The science of any age must prepare to be superseded. It would be arrogant and rash to claim our present knowledge as all there is to know. Today's commonplaces, such as mobile telephones, would have seemed to previous ages pure magic. And that should be our warning. Arthur C. Clarke, distinguished novelist and evangelist for the limitless power of science, has said, "Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic." This is Clarke's Third Law.



      Dawkins: "Maybe, some day in the future, physicists will fully understand gravity, and build an antigravity machine. Levitating people may one day become as commonplace to our descendants as jet planes are to us. So, if someone claims to have witnessed a magic carpet zooming over the minarets, should we believe him, on the grounds that those of our ancestors who doubted the possibility of radio turned out to be wrong? No, of course not. But why not?





      Dawkins: "Clarke's Third Law doesn't work in reverse. Given that "Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic," it does not follow that, "Any magical claim that anybody may make at any time is indistinguishable from a technological advance that will come some time in the future."





      In the statement: "Any magical claim that anybody may make at any time is indistinguishable from a technological advance that will come some time in the future."



      The Important word is "will" it implies that something will happen. And given that we don't know what might happen in the future, the statement that something will definitely happen is false as Dawkins goes on to point out.



      Hence a magical claim does not definitely mean that a technological advance will eventually make it possible.



      A less definite word instead of "will" such as "may" could make the statement true, i.e.



      "Any magical claim that anybody may make at any time is indistinguishable from a technological advance that MAY come some time in the future."





      is a true statement.



      And what Dawkins says up to here is correct. He continues.



      Dawkins: "Yes, there have been occasions when authoritative skeptics have come away with egg on their pontificating faces."



      And he is correct up to here as well, he continues.



      Dawkins: "But a far greater number of magical claims have been made and never vindicated."



      This is also correct, but maybe the provisio should be added at the end: "up to now." because in the future what are present day unvindicated magical claims might be vindicated, who knows.



      Then he says.



      Dawkins: "A few things that would surprise us today will come true in the future."



      OK by me.



      Then he says.



      Dawkins: "But lots and lots of things will not come true in the future."



      This Stumps me; up to now we have been working on the idea that we don't know what is going to happen in the future, now somehow he knows what will happen in the future and says "lots and lots of things will not come true." This is suddenly flawed logic, how can he suddenly know what will happen when he claiming earlier that he did not know.



      He then continues.



      Dawkins: " History suggests that the very surprising things that do come true are in a minority."



      Yes, the problem here though is our history is only up to this present time, some magical claims have come true, but the magical claims that have not come true yet might do so later, who knows because we are working under the premise that we do not know what will happen in the future.



      He then says.



      Dawkins: "The trick is to sort them out from the rubbish - from claims that will forever remain in the realm of fiction and magic."





      Yes, that would be a good trick, but there is nothing here in the article showing how to perform that trick.



      He continues.



      Dawkins: "It is right that, at the end of our century, we should show the humility that Kelvin, at the end of his did not."



      He refers here to a claim made by Kelvin that is generally thought of as false.



      He continues.



      Dawkins: "But it is also right to acknowledge all that we have learned during the past hundred years. The digital century was the best I could come up with, as a. single theme. But it covers only a fraction of what twentieth-century science will bequeath. We now know, as Darwin and Kelvin did not, how old the world is. About 4.6 billion years.





      It is claimed by many scientists that the world is about 4.6 billion years old. However there are maverick claims that this 4.6 billion years is wrong. Dawkins is a defender of Darwinian theory (now transformed into a neo-Darwinian form from its original conception by Darwin) to him it is obvious that the age is 4.6 billion years because it fits in with his theoretical beliefs. But how does a person decide which claim is correct - his or the maverick's; and by the earlier premise of the article we do not know the future, so his mainstream point-of-view claim might be overturned by a magical maverick claim in the future for all we know.



      He continues on the theme of "what we know" but are really just claims by the mainstreamers, and I have made my point namely that those claims might be wrong and overturned later by what he calls magical claims.



      Dawkins did do a magical trick in the article, but it was an illusion created by faulty logic: he switched over from claiming not to know would happen in the future, to claiming he did know what would happen.







      (Richard Dawkins article in Magazine Title: Free Inquiry. Volume: 19. Issue: 2. Publication Date: Spring 1999.)







      c.RJAnderton2006



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