Archive for July 26th, 2008

One of my great friends and confidants has pointed out, in a non-chiding way, that one of my favorite authors, Ben Stein, has been doing and saying some disturbing and annoying things lately. This phase of his career started to get weird with the movie he produced and starred in called “Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed.”

Six Things in Expelled That Ben Stein Doesn’t Want You to Know …

Apr 16, 2008 In the film Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed, narrator Ben Stein poses as a “rebel” willing to stand up to the scientific establishment in
http://www.sciam.com/article.cfm?id=six-things-benstein-doesnt-want-you-to-know – 159k – CachedSimilar pages

The Big Picture | Farewell To Ben Stein

Let us not forget that Ben Stein thinks that Nixon could have won the Vietnam War, and defeated the Kamar Rouge, but not for the dastardly deeds of Woodward
bigpicture.typepad.com/comments/2008/01/farewell-to-ben.html – 181k – CachedSimilar pages

Well, the movie was panned. It is not at all good or entertaining, or informative. But now his reinforcers come increasingly from Fox faculty and from those who have a lot to lose if things continue to move in several different directions…. In education, government, free speech, the courts, the reduction of the imperial presidency, science, etc.

He has some points of fairness but some of the reviews in Scientific America were scathing. He benefits by being on the shows of bull dogs ‘cause he is a known entity. But where is it going? He can’t be looking for another TV gig, can he??!! He has some agenda. Stay tuned…

The people that he, BS, pushes in academia have some good and some mediocre value to science… but, in a peer review based community they don’t do well at all so they don’t get the tenure tracks, the research $$, etc. The free speech argument is impotent if no one is listening! It’s like it was for the black panthers: People hear it but don’t listen twice… even if it was true.

Say that 5 or 15 scientist have a point…well, it is chalkboard science rather than electromicrosopy level stuff so the shock jocks are the only ones that BS gets to visit because a guest lecturer series at MIT would or U. of Kazakhstan would not be entertained. His movie assures that!

Free speech per se is not part of academic freedom any more than racial epitaphs are part of the schick in a comedy club. The guy that posed that World Trade center focus on 9/11 was retaliation for 120 years of subjugation and abuse in the Middle East by Westerners, from the U. of Colorado was bounced. Nothing to do with data… just research grants and academic respect.

It may be more about BS then the profs that question evolution. Like Darwin work churned for 150 years to get traction, these belly-ache-ers are being used by BS and will have to fight to make their point. A media blitz works against it, so… what’s his agenda? Stay tuned!…..

They know what they are doing in academia. BS knows what he is doing in media mud. Both are faced with an uphill climb and a) getting someone in science in some country that doesn’t recognize voodoo to bridge their work to what we know about that is basic to chemistry, anatomy, paleontology, etc. that is more powerful than man and money having 99.997% of the same DNA… and b) getting BS to account for his loopiness or give him a show on conspiracy theories in the vein of John Stossel on 20/20 on ABC.

I can just see it now… he gets on TV with a hard-hitting conspiracy angle… and starts in on ‘morality of stem cell research’, intelligent design, elder care and extension of life and then ‘Self termination criteria you can live with’ and the ratings go over the top…. New reality based TV… a series: CSI – Geriatrics, or “Make a Wish in Area 51” and… oh, the horror…..Oh, Ben… Don’t be that way…

Don’t ask… No, I didn’t see the movie. I also didn’t see “Ol Yeller.” I am as good at ‘suspending disbelief’ as the next guy but I didn’t need the practice that bad.

However, I was heavy into what was going on with him and the scientists.


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A couple of posts ago I asked if real numbers exist (like pi).

It really doesn’t matter. and I’ve come back around (one of these mental oscillations…) to the conclusion brought to my attention on the NKS blog.

Here is the key statement:

Mathematics is a symbolic language — you can argue that none of its elements “exist” in physical reality, yet they can be used to communicate information about things which are real.

I found another statement to this effect in the classic “What is Mathematics?” by Courant & Robbins, revised by Stewart.

Through the ages mathematicians have considered their objects such as numbers, points, etc., as substantial things in themselves.  Since these entities had always defied attempts at an adequate description, it slowly dawned on the mathematicians of the the nineteenth century that the question of the meaning of these objects as substantial things does not make sense within mathematics, if at all.  The only relevant assertions concerning them do no refer to substantial reality; they state only the interrelations between mathematically “undefined objects” and the rules governing operations with them.”  What points, lines, numbers “actually” are cannot and need not be discussed in mathematical science.  What matters and what corresponds to “verifiable” fact is structure and relationship, that two points determine a line, that numbers combine according to certain rules to form other numbers, etc.

I often forget that the abstraction is not the thing.  The metaphor is not the thing.  The symbol is not the thing. Mathematics never makes assertions that it is the thing.  It is an abstraction – a description of relationships devoid of many of specific objects’ and environments’ properties.  This abstraction (and simplification) is required to make progress.  If mathematicians were to create theory that was specific to every situation, object, and environment, the world would run out of shelf space for storing all the math books and we’d gain nothing over flat out recording keeping.  In a sense, mathematical abstraction is a wonderfully useful compression of information.  The application of mathematics to a specific situation is the decompression of the abstraction.

This abstraction is so useful because it lets us focus on key relations and make progress on understanding despite our lack of complete knowledge of specific objects, environments, and situations.

This abstraction is also dangerous and/or limiting.  Not all situations in the universe are able to be described by a simplified mathematical theory.  In fact, a surprising number of very simple phenomena (theoretical, biological, physical, financial, etc.) are not mathematically compressible.  That is, a purely mathematical theory will not be sufficient for understanding in many situations.

What a relief!

Some mathematicians already experienced this relief from needing to describe the universe in some ultimate truth.   That’s far too big for any discipline to bear.

Not all mathematicians and a majority of economists, business people, vcs, media, and lay people do not recognize this limitation of mathematical theory (heck, and many other theories!).  In the US (perhaps elsewhere), business models (pro formas), stock indexes, indicators, projections, forecasts, formulas dominate our thinking on very complex phenomena.   We’ve explored this issue many times on this blog.

Understanding the universe we experience requires a combination of theories.  Math can sometimes point the way and get us going, keep us focused, or help us communicate.

Whether the real numbers exist doesn’t really matter.  The real numbers are useful for moving us forward on some problems in the real world.  Pi, as a compression of a really long number and challenging concept in geometric forms, is useful in helping us make wheels, explore space, and so much more.  That is what makes math great, even if it isn’t objective, ultimate truth.

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