October 1, 2017

What Field Hockey can Teach us About Science

I had almost completed writing a post that responded to many of individual questions raised in the comments to two (1, 2) posts regarding B. Allen Wallace and his appearance on a couple of different skeptical podcasts a few years ago. Yet the format of answering questions didn’t make for the most interesting or easiest of reads, but through the act of writing those responses I did come to a unifying comparison that encapsulates many of those responses.

Field Hockey Vs. Science

I will compare the rules for the game of field hockey which were created in the Australian dessert in an attempt to limit Canadian dominance of sports with hockey in the name and the rules of science. Take for instance this comment from Andree,

On Eastern there are a plethora of explanations about consciousness based on introspection observation, and this is also falsifiable method just like looking through a microscope. But to reproduce an experiment you have to be trained with this instrument, meditation, just like a scientist have to be trained with microscope to see a cell. But Western science just reject meditation as a consciousness observation method, and prefer to find the answers through correlation between physical properties of brain and mental phenomena. The last method is not wrong, but why reject a direct method?”

There are multiple things to address as a few interesting points are being made in that comment. The first question is, is introspective observation a falsifiable and measurable method, equivalent to looking through a microscope? To his point when someone looks through a microscope and comes to a conclusion they are seeing something subjective and independent, which is similar to someone undertaking the act of introspection and making observations. The only difference is the person is ‘the microscope’ in his example, but there is a barrier of effort that limits scientists to becoming the microscope that Eastern people sometimes dedicate themselves into becoming. Further there could be years of experience needed in recognising the results observed by looking through the microscope that doesn’t allow someone else to see those results, the same way that a person wouldn’t be able to understand the subjective introspection.

I think this is a very strong argument, but first hand reports of subjective experience don’t exist with the same reliability as something seen under a microscope. Someone can be standing by and confirm the observation in a way that is simply not possible for subjective experience. It may be argued that each person would require training and the finding wouldn’t be able to be verified by anyone else, but a picture or video can be taken of the microscope results which can be examined thoroughly multiple times by numerous people in a way that subjective experience cannot be examined. A person can undergo the same training and experience something like what that other person is describing in the eastern tradition but this wouldn’t be the same as the examination of the same microscope results. That person would be experiencing their own version of that phenomena and not, as with the microscope, viewing that same material. This would, admittedly, be harder for something like pain, but there are still correlates which can be looked at.  

While I point out reasons to doubt the microscope to personal introspection analogy as being successful, it does leads to the more fundamental question, are the methods of science biased against eastern understandings? This is where field hockey rules can add to the understanding of science and bias.

Field hockey was created with the intention of keeping the Canadian's from taking over the sport. There was a process of which had Trey Parker and Matt Stone, in a collaboration with Australia, purposefully make the rules of field hockey to be biased against Canadians. The Australians and South Park creators knew that research has shown that Canadian hockey players are more likely to be left handed shots, so they made it so field hockey has the rule where only right handed sticks are legal.  

Similarly science could be seen has having rules that are purposefully biased against eastern knowledge or ways of finding knowledge. Both field hockey and science are biased, as field hockey hates Canadians and science doesn’t accept eastern knowledge.

Yet there is an important distinction that can be made, field hockey rules are purposefully biased against Canadian’s in an attempt to keep Jean McMaplepoutine down and science's rules are basic and limited in nature. While, it is the case that field hockey could have left handed sticks without changing the game and it would work, the same isn’t true about the broadening of the scientific method.

Science can be stripped down to being based on falsifiability and measurability. To be able to test, measure and retest, rules of which cannot be broadened to include other methods that are subjective and/or largely unmeasurable as their inclusion would change science in such a way that it would no longer be science. To that end science isn’t biased against eastern understandings in themselves it just can safely ignore them as interesting, but not science until there are ways of testing them with measurability and falsification. Take for instance the claim that with mediation there isn’t the need for food or water, that’s interesting, testable, result of the subjective experience and has been tested. Claims of a similar nature have been made by 'the Iceman' Wim Hof which are very interesting in the regulation of body temperature, but also in other areas, although they seem to be exaggerated.  There was a reasonable skepticism about those claims, but they can and were tested in the same way any other claims would be.

This shows two different systems, one where rules exist in a way that are purposefully biased for arbitrary reasons and one where the opposite is true and rules exist in a purposeful non-arbitrary way.

Bonus Take! –  Psi Will Never be verified by Science due to how it is ingrained with materialism which disallows it or it will never be verified because it is so biased against Psi that verification is impossible

I think many of the commentators to previous posts have the attitude that expressed in that description. I am not attempting to make a straw man, so if that isn't a fair summary than I am willing to change it, but I think that kind of arguments by psi proponents fundamentally underestimates the amount that scientists want to prove phenomena to be true, psi included. Any substantial finding in that area would instantaneously cause fame and fortune as it would be one of the most important findings in the history of science.This is why Daryl Bem and his tests received so much attention. Those tests were fairly well done and came to surprising results, but they failed to be replicated. 

The argument could even be made that science, as it currently exists, is biased in such a way that it would lean towards the proving the existence of psi-phenomena, due to there being a huge publishing bias towards new interesting results and the lack of interest in the publication of replications of other studies. Far from being ‘ingrained in materialism’ or having a system that works against Psi, the system is set up in favor of proving Psi, so long as it can be measured. I think this fact is a huge condemnation of the field, because if it existed in the way in which many people think it does then it takes a grand conspiracy to explain why it hasn’t been scientifically observed, on the scale of the level of conspiracy needed to believe in ‘chemtrails’ or ‘flat earth’.  The type of conspiracy so large that it falls apart under its own weight. 

September 29, 2017

NFL Players Shouldn't Kneel During the Anthem, but Not for the Reasons you Might Think

In my past posts when I’ve picked a topic to write on I’ve usually done a fair amount of research and came to a conclusion where, while possibly wrong, I had a fair amount of conviction that I was on the ‘correct’ side. This topic is an interesting one, as I don’t possess that same level of certainty, but I do have a few interesting ideas and some evidence that support my ideas. The position I’m going to take is that Donald Trump has picked a smart battle in his opposition to NFL players kneeling during the national anthem and this is above any beyond the topic being a distraction from the more serious topics. It a good topic for him due to the differential moral reaction in relation to sanctity.

To understand that claim is in necessary to understand the studies of Jonathan Haidt (Mapping the Moral Domain) on Moral Foundations Theory shows which breaks down moral concern into five different individual moral concerns (Harm/care, Fairness/Reciprocity, Ingroup/Loyalty, Authority/respect and Purity/sanctity). When moral concern is broken down in such a way and people are asked moral questions in relation to those categories a trend develops where conservatives and liberals are shown to have different levels of moral concern for the different moral categories of action. Liberals put higher values and are more sensitive to acts related to Harm and Fairness, while conservatives have higher concerns for acts related to Ingroup, Authority and Purity.

Understandably kneeling during the anthem wasn’t a pressing issue when Moral Foundations Theory was being created, so it wasn’t examined, but something analogous was tested in the permissibility of flag burning. These are both acts of protest, while flag burning seems to be the more extreme, both are acts where the sanctity of the act is the major moral component. A livescience article quotes Haidt as saying, “The best predictor of how much a conservative will hate flag-burning is how strongly he or she feels that some things are sacred, he said.”

Kneeling during the anthem is a great topic for Trump due to the disproportionate level of passion from the sides of the debate, where there is the potential for conservatives who value sanctity highly being very impassioned, but where the liberal side would care to a lesser degree. The liberal issue is the freedom to protest, and, more specifically, the freedom to protest by kneeling during the anthem.
Three factors further complicate the issue and point to it being a good issue for conservatives.

      1. The sanctity of the anthem is a constant, while protest can be done in an array of different ways. This means that anyone is bothered by the act of kneeling during the anthem will be motivated to be angry at the act, yet the right to protest is not the same. The right to protest isn’t universally in question, which means that some people, likely people who value sanctity highly, will face the conflict of supporting the right to protest, but preferring that it way performed in some other way. This fractures the group that would be in support of the act of kneeling in an act of protest during the national anthem.
      2. Kneeling during the anthem is able to be conflated with meaning many different things unconnected to the act or anthem. Take for instance an awful article written in the National Catholic Register, which equates the act of kneeling during the anthem to represent, “[a] show contempt for their country”, “…a slap in the face to people who risked their lives for our country or lost loved ones doing so.”, which, “Corrupts the usually fun and patriotic atmosphere before a football game.” And quotes a facebook post stating, “They dishonor the real MEN who fought for our country and Died so these boys could act like the babies they are.” This deeper meaning, unconnected, but attributed to the act further broadens the group of people who would be morally troubled by the kneeling during the anthem and how egregious the act is viewed.

      3. It isn’t clear if this is the case or not, but the degree in which people are bothered by the perceived disrespect of kneeling during the anthem seems to be disproportionate to the support to protest in that specific way. If there is the large difference that seems to be apparent than it would amount to people being very angry about the act vs. people being mildly or moderately in support of the act.  The result is that people who disagree would say something like. “It’s his right to make a peaceful protest and I support his ability to do so” vs how those disagreeing might say, “That guy is a son of a bitch who is disrespecting our country, the people that died for America and the heritage of the United States.”  

      It is for those three reasons that I think this is a great issue for Trump as long as he sticks to the act being disrespectful and keeps the opposition fractured by not making it about the overall right to protest. This approach keeps the opposition both at the lowest level of motivation and keeps that opposition group to its smallest population. This is the type of issue that seems great for one side in partisan politics and the type of issue that Trump should take advantage of…conversely I think the NFL players should stop kneeling for those reasons and find a different avenue for their protests, not because I think the act is wrong (I agree with and have no problem with their actions), but simply because it is an approach that minimizes the positives of their protest.