Empiricism versus madmen
I would like you to find 20 minutes to watch an insane video in which
the picture is a series of basic diagrams with text on, and the sound a
voice-over by a man claiming to prove
- that the force of gravity does not exist
- that the earth is flat
I trust that you do not belong to the crazy global subculture that believes the conspiracy theory maintaining that scientists, governments, the military and NASA have all lied to us for generations about the shape of the planet, in claiming that it is a globe and that we are on different sides of it so that people in Australia are diametrically opposite those of us in north-western Europe, so at the other end of a line that goes down through the 8000 mile diameter ball with their feet pointing towards us up on the north European side because they are on the bottom with their heads hanging down into space where “obviously” if this was true they’d fall off into space (according to the flat earthers).
These are among the people Sir Terry Pratchett satirizes in his fantasy series Discworld: they claim that the earth is a flat disk and that all the atlases, never mind the globes which represent the NASA model in 3D, tell this alleged “lie” about the shape of the planet, and the nature of the objects we see in space through telescopes, and what they do at NASA. The video recordings of trips into space, and to the moon, are (according to this theory) of course all done using special effects people and filmed in the Nevada desert in the night time, like Hollywood’s science fiction movies.
So imagine this: a group of teenagers come to you and say that they have watched this video, and are concerned to find out that everything they have been told at school about geography, and physics, and in particular gravity, and how rivers flow downhill to the sea, and how the earth is a globe and not a flat disk, is a lie, and that the whole school science system, and all the books, are full of lies, and everything from NASA about space travel is made with special effects by Hollywood. “The whole education system tells lies! Is that not right, Miss?”
If that happened, how would you explain to them how this video is utter rubbish, and how all the bogus supposed “mathematics” presented in it, the false claims to “common sense” and “logic”, are so much rubbish and hot air, and convince them that the earth really is a globe?
Just a challenge for the school holidays ...
The claims of quite a lot of people who say that establishment
science and medicine continue to deny the validity of their
alternative views about what is true because of “vested interests” and
“unreasonable conservatism” are conspiracy theories of this kind. And
they are just as mad. With medicine, clearly many people
cannot tell established science from fantasy. The only way to decide
what to accept as probably provisionally credible is empirical
evidence available so far; however everything is subject to possible
future modification — or even dismissal — if new empirical evidence
emerges from research.
I hope that you are thoroughly content with the standard scientific model of the world, and of the other planets, the sun, the other stars in the galaxy, the other galaxies, and the force of gravity that holds everything in the various scales of orbits; of electricity, and particles, and radiation, the wave-particle duality of photons and electromagnetic radiation from long wave radio up to light and the ultraviolet and all that; and that there are things we do not know but they are working on those at CERN and so on. The point is that the standard model of medicine is very incomplete too, much more so than physics; but we have established some things; and it is 99.999% certain that some categories of alternative medical remedy have no possible basis in reality, and you should not waste good and hard-to-come-by money on them, any more than you should believe that the earth is a flat disk (whether or not this guy claims it rests on four elephants standing on the shell of the giant turtle).
Mind you, for all I know the man who made (and spoke) the above video
did so as an extreme form of satire, to make the point I am making
about the flat
earth society people. Or maybe he really belongs to the insane
end of that group. I have no time to try to find out. But there really
are such people; they are not just joking like Terry Pratchett’s
novels. The thing is that one must accept that there are billions of
people who believe insane fantasy (look at the membership of the
religions, of all of which all the supernatural beliefs are infantile
fantasy) and one must not remain among them. The only truth is
provisional, never absolute (apart from some existence statements and
negative generalizations) what is empirically established by science.
Hang on: what are they?
- Existence statements — example: there are some swans that are not white; there are black swans in the form of the species found in Australia
- Negative generalizations — example: it is not true to say that all swans are white, which was believed to be a true statement before Europeans explored Australia
These statements will never be shown to be false unless the world
situation changes. For example, if the black swans of Australia ere
hunted for food to extinction (by the Aborigines or the white
Australians) so that they died out, the situation would have changed.
But without something like that, the truth of those two statements
about the characteristics of the category of bird to which the name
“swan” applies is unlikely to change in the future simply through more
empirical research, either on that subject or on any other.
But other than particular cases of statements in certain epistemological categories like this, all empirical statements about the nature of reality and the world and the universe are subject to change if new empirical evidence emerges from research that requires it. However, no competent scientist insists on not changing the standard model of the description of anything in reality for other reasons than the evidence, or because evidence contradicts a theory that somebody holds to be immutable for some mystical reason, or because some previous famous scientist or other sage said or wrote something. That is not how science works, however often people writing articles in newspapers or magazines might claim this, or might themselves make such assertions to defend refusal to accept new evidence. What one does have to do is to examine all evidence and see whether it was obtained using reliable methodology. If new supposed evidence is brought that contradicts a hitherto well-established theory, people have to look at how the new evidence was obtained, and the conditions of the observations and/or experiments it came from, and perhaps try to reproduce the observations and/or experiments to confirm that those who report whatever contradicts established theory were competent in their work and in their reporting of it. But that is different from simply refusing to listen to new claims on the grounds of it conflicting with established models without trying to investigate further how the new reported evidence arose.
All of these processes have been followed in investigating various categories of claimed alternative medicine, and those categories have been dismissed as unable to be shown to have any effect, or any basis in agreed established biochemistry, physiology and so on.
That is the situation I take as my view of what works.
On my endocrinology problem, the situation is that daily life is too busy to be able to get to a condition where I can have my blood adrenaline measured reliably, because if I let it get high by not drinking enough, I cannot sleep; and if I have not slept and have high adrenaline (if that is what it is) it is unsafe for me to drive to the hospital to have a blood sample taken and analysed and the adrenaline measured. So when I did drive to the hospital, no high amount was found.