Yet another frustrating conversation: why talking science to “skeptics” is a hopeless endeavor

Candle in the darkSome time ago I related a frustrating conversation I had with one of my relatives, an intelligent and educated person, who however holds onto what I consider hardly rational views not just in politics (where there is usually ample room for disagreement), but also about conspiracy theories, and more broadly the nature of the world. Recently, I’ve done it again. This time spending days on and off having a conversation via social media with a person I’ve never met and will never likely meet. Let me tell you what I learned from it.

First, a disclaimer: I usually do not engage in any one-on-one debates, either via email or on social media, simply because not only they tend to be fruitless, but they are also incredibly time consuming. And the older I get, the more I’m jealous of my time. This story, therefore, is to be considered as a rare exception, and not as an encouragement to send me private messages to try to repeat the experience. That’s why I have two blogs (this one and howtobeastoic.org), so that we can have fruitful public discussions that may benefit a number of people.

The range of topics of this new episode was much narrower than the preceding one, and also far more close to my own areas of expertise: evolutionary biology and philosophy of science. I felt, therefore, like I really knew what I was talking about, providing not just a reasonably intelligent and somewhat informed opinion (as, say, during informal discussions on economics, or politics), but an expert one, based on 35 years (shit!) of studying the subject matter at a professional level.

It didn’t help. Not in the least. My interlocutor — let’s call her Curiosa — is an intelligent woman who has read a lot of stuff on evolution in particular, and science more generally. She has also read several of my blog posts, watched some of my debates, and even bought one of my books on evolution. She discovered me by way of reading Michel Denton’s Evolution: A Theory in Crisis, which cites me several times as a reluctant critic of evolutionary theory, i.e., one of those people who know that there is something seriously wrong with “Darwinism,” and yet somehow can’t let go of the orthodoxy and embrace the revolution.

My actual position is easy to check online, in several places. For instance in these two recent blog posts for the Extended Evolutionary Synthesis initiative. In a nutshell: evolutionary theory has evolved by way of several episodes beginning from 1859 (original Darwinism) to the 1930s and ’40s (the Evolutionary Synthesis) through current times (the Extended Synthesis), and it will likely continue to do so. There is nothing wrong with Darwin’s original twin ideas of natural selection and common descent, but we have added a number of other areas of inquiry, explanatory concepts, and of course empirical results over the intervening century and a half. End of story.

Not according to Curiosa. She explained to me that Darwinism is a “reductionist” theory, apparently meaning something really bad by that term. I explained that reductionism is a successful strategy throughout the sciences, and that when it is well done (i.e., it’s not what Dan Dennett characterized as “greedy” reductionism), it is pretty much the only game in town to advance our knowledge of the world.

But, countered Curiosa, how do you then explain the bacterial flagellum? This was obviously a reference to the infamous Darwin’s Black Box by intelligent design creationist Michael Behe. You know, Behe is a scientist! With a PhD!! Working at a legitimate university!!! How do you explain that, Prof. Pigliucci?

Simple, I said, you will always find legitimate academics who will position themselves outside of the mainstream. It actually is a healthy aspect of the social enterprise we call science. Occasionally, some of these people go way outside of the consensus opinion, into territory that is highly questionable, or even downright pseudoscientific. They may do it for a number of reasons, from the fact that they consider themselves rebels and mavericks to their tendency to put their (usually religious, but sometimes political) ideology ahead of reason and evidence. As in fact is the case for Behe, a fervent Catholic who simply can’t wrap his mind around the conclusion that life originated and differentiated by purely natural means, no gods required.

Ah!, continued Curiosa, if that’s the case, how come there is so much disagreement among scientists about evolution, and even the origin of life? Well, I replied, let’s begin by separating those two:

To begin with, there is no such thing as widespread disagreement about “Darwinism” among evolutionary biologists. Pretty much all professionals I know accept the idea, and the disagreement is over the shape of the current theory, just like physicists disagree on the cutting edge of their discipline, not about Newton, or even Einstein.

Moreover, the reason there are indeed so many theories about the origin of life, and truly no consensus, is because we just don’t have enough information left for us to zero in on one or a small subset of hypotheses. The historical traces of those events are, unfortunately, forever erased. We don’t have, and likely never will have, fossils documenting what happened at the onset of life, which means that our ideas about it will remain speculative. Indeed, even should we one day be able to recreate life from scratch in a laboratory, we will have no guarantee that the path we followed under controlled conditions was the one historically followed by nature on our planet. But so what? Science never promised to answer every question, it only promised to do its best. Sometimes its best is not good enough, and the wise thing is to accept human epistemic limitations and move on.

Not at all satisfied, Curiosa shifted topic again: didn’t you hear of Roger Penrose quantum mechanical explanation of consciousness? Doesn’t that imply that consciousness is everywhere, that it is a holistic property of the universe?

Hmm, I said, with all due respect to Sir Roger, I doubt physicists have a clue about consciousness, which so far as I can see is a biological phenomenon, whose explanation is hence best left to biologists. Besides, I told her, beware of any “explanation” that invokes quantum mechanics for anything that is not quantum level phenomena, even when done by an actual credentialed physicist like Penrose. At any rate, I concluded, even if Penrose is right, what does that have to do with Darwinism and its alleged failures?

I think you get the idea, so I won’t bore you with additional examples of the many increasingly frustrating and downright useless exchanges between Curiosa and me, which continued until I politely pointed out that we were going in circles and that perhaps it was time to call it a day.

What did I learn from this exchange? A number of things, none of them boding too well for the advancement of rational discourse and public understanding of science.

First, let me remind you that Curiosa is a smart, well read, and genuinely curious person. She ain’t no country bumpkin, so to speak.

Second, precisely because she reads widely, she can’t help herself putting what I write — or what truly eminent evolutionary biologists, like Stephen Jay Gould, write — on the same level with the sort of fluff that comes out of the Behes and the Dentons of the world. She simply has no way to discriminate, since all these people have PhD’s, and they all have affiliations with reputable universities.

Third, while we always assume that knowledge is an unqualified good, it turns out that a bit of knowledge may do more harm than complete ignorance. When someone as intelligent as Curiosa thinks she understands enough to draw conclusions, she will not hesitate in doing so, rejecting expert opinion outright. When this has to do with the status of evolutionary theory, no much harm is done. But when it has to do with, say, climate change, or the safety of vaccines, that’s an altogether different, and far more dire, story.

Fourth, Curiosa has fallen for the well known technique of spreading doubt on mainstream science, enough that people cannot genuinely make up their minds about what is going on. This was the deliberate strategy of the tobacco industry in its absurd (and lethal, for many people) denial of a link between smoking and cancer, so well encapsulated in the book and documentary Merchants of Doubt. The same approach has then been used to saw doubts about climate change, vaccines, and so forth. And of course it has also been the main strategy behind the so-called intelligent design movement.

Fifth, and rather ironically, Curiosa has absorbed and internalized the vocabulary of skeptical (i.e., pro-science) organizations, accusing me and others of engaging in all sorts of logical fallacies, a convenient shortcut that saves her the trouble to actually engage with my arguments. When I pointed out — reasonably, seemed to me — that Discovery Institute Fellow Jonathan Wells is a member of the Church of Reverend Moon, and that his antipathy toward evolution is entirely ideological in nature, I of course “committed” an ad hominem. When pointed out plenty of reliable sources on evolutionary theory, I was engaging in confirmation bias. And so on.

Lastly, Curiosa’s spirited discussion with me was very clearly fueled by her pride in taking on Big Science and its Orthodoxy, in favor of open mindedness and revolution. She saw herself as David, and I was the Goliath to be slain.

There is nothing I or anyone else can do for the Curiosa of the world. If, and it’s a big if, they will ever manage to get their head clear about what is and is not legitimate science, they will have to do it on their own, painfully and slowly. The resources are out there, easily at their disposal. But they have no psychological incentive to do so.

What can, and ought to, be done instead is act at two levels: i) engage in public outreach aimed at those who are still not as far gone as Curiosa, hoping to retain them and even strengthened their resolve to support sound science; and ii) to do a far better job than we do now with the next generation. It is children that we should target — just like, not at all coincidentally — creationists write lots and lots of books for children. But there is little incentive for scientists and science popularizers to do so, because children literature is seen as somehow inferior to that aimed at adults (even though it is arguably harder to pull off), and because we won’t see the results for decades.

Science, and reason in general, thus remains — in the beautiful metaphor proposed by Carl Sagan — like a candle in the dark. Our urgent job is for it not to be snuffed out by the forces of darkness.

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Categories: Public Philosophy

234 replies

  1. Are you claiming to be God or that engineers at SLAC never use “sub-optimal” design?

    I’m not claiming anything. All designs are sub optimal; God does not exist which gives him an excellant excuse.

    But if somebody had the view point that an obviously sub-optimal design was optimal (not that we had to settle for it because it’s all we could afford — a trade of engineers have to make all the time).

    Anyway you take the comment too seriously and don’t get the point.

    It referees to a passage in the old testament (I forget exactly which one) in which God says something like,”My ways are not your ways, my good is not your good.”

    Well, if it involve pain and death and such, we have a name for that too; it’s ‘bad’ or even ‘evil’.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. brodix: ‘It’s a normal effect to act on information we receive’

    Yes. That strikes me as very insightful point. It appears that when awash with information in a complex environment where people feel they must have an opinion on everything from Trump to heroin, we have no choice but to become experts on everything. It does seem to affect information-rich people such as academics than information-poor people as well. I suspect it leads them to confuse their specialist knowledge with as being transferable to much wider issues. Add ego and stir and you have a real problem on your hands.

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  3. All the evidence suggest that the world is ontologically unified (ontological supervenience physicalism), and if that holds then one would get into huge problems is epistemology were not unified.

    = = =

    This is exactly, precisely, 100% false. As Massimo and I have fruitlessly explained again and again and again.

    Oh, and the world is not ontologically unified either. Currency exists and is not reducible to any physical kind. Liberal democracy exists and is not reducible to any physical kind.

    I know, I know … “Supervenience physicalism!!” It doesn’t get you what you think it does. If you actually studied the issue, you’d know that.

    At best, a kind of Token Physicalism is true. And that entails exactly nothing — zip — about epistemic unity.

    I don’t say this for your benefit, but rather for those poor sods who might be miseducated by the stuff you say about ontology and epistemology. Folks: There is a reason they don’t pay astrophysicists to teach this stuff.

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  4. Dan,

    This is exactly, precisely, 100% false. As Massimo and I have fruitlessly explained again and again and again.Oh, and the world is not ontologically unified either.

    Well, it’s clear by now that “the world” is not the same thing for Coel and for you (and me).
    Personally I feel that “supervenience physicalism” is worse than true or untrue. It’s pointless, at least for much that is part of “the world” (as I see it).

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  5. Hi Dan,

    Oh, and the world is not ontologically unified either. Currency exists and is not reducible to any physical kind. Liberal democracy exists and is not reducible to any physical kind.

    For the 23rd time, I am not espousing the doctrine that you call “reductionism”. No-one in science is. I am espousing the doctrine of ontological supervenience physicalism.

    I know, I know … “Supervenience physicalism!!” It doesn’t get you what you think it does.

    Yes it does, it gives me exactly what I think it does and it exactly what I want it to give me, nothing more and nothing less. (And no, I am not wanting the doctrine that you call “reductionism” including bridge-laws etc.)

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  6. Coel: Forget about bridge laws and reductionism. That there are indefinitely many possible physical instantiations of currencies shows that ontology is not, in any interesting sense, unified.

    As I said, the remark was not for your benefit, but for those whom you miseducate.

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  7. Hi Haulianlal,

    No Coel, it is an inductive argument you have, …

    Inductive arguments and perfectly good in supporting ideas, so long as one accepts that all science is provisional, which everyone does. Hume’s argument only refute the idea of induction being 100% reliable.

    Anyone disagreeing is challenged to a bet over whether the sun will rise tomorrow. I’ll give you odds of a million to one that it will.

    i don’t even see how the theory of plate tectonics gets unified with either chemistry or physics, if by “unification” you mean the statements in plate tectonics are ultimately derivable from physical theories

    No, I do not mean that. I have explicitly stated what I mean. I mean unified in the sense of no inconsistencies! That’s all. See my jigsaw-puzzle analogy. Did I assert that the picture on one side is derivable from the picture on the other? No I did not. What I asserted is that each piece has to be consistent, in the sense of no contradictions of shape or picture. And I also stated that this concept gets powerful when considering adjacent pieces.

    Why do people keep attributing to me much stronger claims than I am making, even though I explicitly state what I in fact mean? And yes, everyone, I do indeed realise that this no-contradiction thesis is a vastly weaker one than the one you are trying to attribute to me!

    a lot of theories are consistent with each other without being unified as a “seamless whole” (for example, relativity theory is consistent with both continental constant and drift hypothesis, and the phlogiston theory in chemistry does not violate any quantum mechanical principles).

    Now add in the requirement that we also have to fill in all the pieces of the jigsaw in-between those pieces, and that each of those needs to be consistent with its adjacent piece, and that it is that requirement, at every point in the whole, that then makes the whole concept powerful!

    I don’t see how this TOE will be unified with theories in biology for example, or even much of chemistry. yes, consistency is very easy to get

    And consistency is all I’m asking for! (Really, it is!) And no, it is not that easy to get when considering adjacent pieces of the jigsaw!

    but logical entailment or instantiation (either of which i suppose is what you mean by “seamless whole”)

    Nope, I do not mean that. I mean a “seamless whole” in the way that a correctly completed jigsaw puzzle is a seamless whole, with no contradictions in it. That’s all.

    And, again, I did not try arguing that one half of the picture could be calculated from knowledge of the other half! I have never for a moment supposed anything along those lines.

    so long as you adhere to this, it means that much of our stock of current scientific knowledge is not a collection of truths, since we do not have a seamless whole yet.

    It’s a provisional approximation to the truth, and often near-enough the truth for many purposes. Again, I did state that.

    i shall however state this: a theoretical web may be entirely consistent without being true at all.

    Yes, agreed. But can such a web be self-consistent AND have the property of technological mastery over the “world as it appears to be”, and still not be at all true, not even a provisional approximation to the truth? (Where, in asking that, I’m presuming my account of “truth” as meaning: “correspondence with empirical reality”.)

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  8. What I never understand is what is your alternative to ‘physicalism’ or some other unified metaphysics. Science makes no sense to me w/o some ‘ding-an-sich’.

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  9. Hi Dan,

    That there are indefinitely many possible physical instantiations of currencies shows that ontology is not, in any interesting sense, unified.

    There is unification in the sense that there would be no inconsistencies between two true accounts, one a high-level description (at the level of currencies) and the other a low-level one (about atoms).

    We may be disagreeing about whether that is “interesting”, but, as I’m arguing, that does get interesting and powerful when (and only when) one tries to fill in every in-between piece of the jigsaw.

    It may not be interesting from the perspective of someone who doesn’t even try to fill in every in-between piece because he views different areas of knowledge as distinct and disparate domains.

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  10. Synred: I accept a very minimal Token Physicalism. But Type? Absolutely not. Currencies exist, but they are not physical types. And though they are all instantiated in physical tokens, those tokens need have nothing interesting in common other than their bare physicality.

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  11. Coel: When people like Fodor and Massimo and I argue against the unity of the sciences and for the heterogeneity of explanations, they are not suggesting that higher level and lower level accounts are inconsistent. So whomever you are arguing against, it isn’t us.

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  12. The idea of currencies is not physicals Actual specific currencies whether gold, shells, paper or bits are physical.

    You have to use something; it doesn’t matter much what.

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  13. Coel,

    There is unification in the sense that there would be no inconsistencies between two true accounts, one a high-level description (at the level of currencies) and the other a low-level one (about atoms).

    OK, let’s assume there are no inconsistencies. Now what?
    When I read you about “supervenience physicalism” I sometimes think about the following scenario.
    Great-Britain devalues its currency after the Brexit. You discover in the shop that you have to pay more for imported goods. You mention this to another shopper. “Ah,” she says, “but £ 1 plus £ 1 still is £ 2, isn’t it?”
    Yes, of course it is. But now what?

    Liked by 1 person

  14. Hi Haulianlal,

    first, this very example demonstrates why physical laws and constants should be held constant, and what happens when we do not. The reason this conception was abandoned is because you’d have to rewrite the whole of cosmology …

    No, it was abandoned because it didn’t work as well! And, yes, we might have to rewrite cosmology. So what? We re-wrote cosmology when we moved from a steady-state model of the universe to a Big Bang cosmology. We re-wrote gravity in going from Newton to Einstein. We re-wrote classical physics into quantum mechanics.

    What are you suggesting? That we say: we refuse to re-write cosmology, even though there are indications that it might work better, because we prefer to stick dogmatically to some meta-physical principle about uniformity? No way! What we do is we compare uniform and non-uniform models and pick the one that works best!

    its saying instead that if these fundamental laws are altered, all our knowledge of the past (which are depending on these laws) will have to be completely altered too,

    Well that might indeed be the case! But we shouldn’t be afraid of that possibility! Are you really saying that we should reject the possibility that we are seriously mis-interpreting the past owing merely to some metaphysical principle that philosophers tell us we should stick to? Sorry, but scientists don’t think like that! They try to get the best model regardless of metaphysical preconceptions.

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  15. Hi Dan,

    Coel: When people like Fodor and Massimo and I argue against the unity of the sciences and for the heterogeneity of explanations, they are not suggesting that higher level and lower level accounts are inconsistent. So whomever you are arguing against, it isn’t us.

    Excellent! And indeed this is a point I’ve made repeatedly, that what I am espousing (and what, indeed, most scientists espouse) is not the doctrine that the philosophers argue against!

    But — at the risk of over-repetition — this “no inconsistencies” doctrine does have powerful consequences if one tries to fill in the in-between parts of the jigsaw. Such as, for example, filling in the in-between pieces between meta-ethics and evolutionary biology (to pick an example that we’ve crossed swords on before).

    I do agree that if one doesn’t attempt that then the thesis is too weak to be interesting. But part of the scientific perspective is always to try to fill in those in-between pieces, since that’s where much interesting stuff comes from.

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  16. You know, and Dan will possibly appreciate this, some of this discussion reminds me of issues in semiotics.

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  17. Coel: I don’t see what interesting things it gets you. That there is nothing inconsistent between evolutionary biology and ethics doesn’t mean that evolutionary biology has much if anything of interest to tell us about ethics.

    If all that you mean by explanatory unity is what you mean by ontological unity, then I’m afraid it is completely uninteresting. A “no, duh” proposition. And I don’t know any serious, contemporary philosophers, with a few very rare, eccentric exceptions who disagree with it. Certainly, what Fodor and others mean by the disunity of the sciences is consistent with it.

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  18. synred:

    ‘The idea of currencies is not physicals Actual specific currencies whether gold, shells, paper or bits are physical.

    You have to use something; it doesn’t matter much what.’

    No. You are thinking of cash. Most currency or money in our economy is just patterns in computer systems. The non-cash money supply greater exceeds the cash and has no physical tokens associated with it except temporary patterns of electrons moving through our global computer infrastructure.

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  19. Hi Dan,

    And I don’t know any serious, contemporary philosophers, with a few very rare, eccentric exceptions who disagree with it. Certainly, what Fodor and others mean by the disunity of the sciences is consistent with it.

    Excellent! I like agreement!

    That there is nothing inconsistent between evolutionary biology and ethics doesn’t mean that evolutionary biology has much if anything of interest to tell us about ethics.

    My argument is that, if you try to fill in all the in-between pieces between evolutionary biology and meta-ethics, and if you ask all the possible questions about how those in-between pieces relate to each other, then the only account of meta-ethics that can slot in consistently is emotivism. Anything else produces unanswerable questions (=> there is no adjacent piece) or inconsistencies.

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  20. My argument is that, if you try to fill in all the in-between pieces between evolutionary biology and meta-ethics, and if you ask all the possible questions about how those in-between pieces relate to each other, then the only account of meta-ethics that can slot in consistently is emotivism. Anything else produces unanswerable questions (=> there is no adjacent piece) or inconsistencies.

    ===

    Well, this is an assertion, not an argument. And I’ve never heard you make an argument that would even come close to establishing this. And you’d have to know a hell of a lot more about the available ethical theories in order even to try.

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  21. Mulling over my discussion with Haulianlal on my walk home, and as part of my ongoing attempts to understand how philosophers think, I suddenly realised one of the reasons for mutual bewilderment between philosophers and scientists.

    To a philosopher, what is actually “real” is everything that does not have empirical manifestation. Everything what does have empirical manifestation is merely superficially real or illusory, and thus is not really real.

    Whereas, to a scientist, everything that does have empirical manifestation is what is “real”, whereas not having empirical manifestation seems a pretty good qualification for being “not real”.

    [NB This comment is intended somewhat flippantly 🙂 ]

    Liked by 1 person

  22. Coel: What you just described is a Platonist, not a philosopher.

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  23. Dan: So, this is Idealist Scientism?

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  24. I as usual fall back on my favorite example: thermodynamics.

    Thermodynamics does not reduce to ‘atoms’. Something must be added to atoms to explain behavior of gases, etc. namely statistics. Thermodynamics is explained by atomic theory+statistics known as statistical mechanics. Atomic physicist consider their contribution as more ‘fundamental’, but I don’t think that is the case (arrogant physicist one could say) [a].

    You can simulate a bunch of atoms in a box, but you don’t understand it w/o statistical concepts.

    Non-the-less w/o atoms (or ions) there would be no thermodynamic behavior of gases, etc.

    [a] I once bought into this ‘more fundamental’ notion and partially chose particle physics instead of ‘solid state’ as a result (that and almost blowing myself to Kingdom come silver soldering some microwave guides one summer), but out grew it.

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  25. Bunsen,

    I don’t know that most people think a little knowledge makes them an expert, so much as it elicits opinions. It is the very function of the mind to make decisions and judgements, even when we try not to. (Judge not, least thee be judged.)

    Dan,

    In the balance between the extremes of tyranny and anarchy, I don’t see myself as an anarchist, though I might lean a little more that way, than the other, but I view that as more a consequence of nurture, than nature. Order has its uses.

    If I may offer an observation about the ongoing debate; Knowledge is a function of both transmission and reception. There is no universal, ‘God’s eye’ point of view, so yes, the sun rises tomorrow, but at different times on different longitudes. Similarly all fields of knowledge are nodes in a larger network, but there is no universal node from which all is known. The absolute state would be the basis from which complexity rises, not an ideal from which all has fallen. We still haven’t escaped the shadow of God.

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  26. And though they are all instantiated in physical tokens

    But Tokens physically exist? We don’t disagree much then. You just have a somewhat more abstract idea of what currency is than the general public.

    I would say it is a Token that a group of people of have agreed to use measure of value (of real value itself) itslef — well something like that.

    https://goo.gl/VeIJnr
    Here is my explanation for the ‘value of money as the protection racket’ <:_)

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  27. If Toyota stops making cars out of steel and uses say plastic instead I suspect I will still call the physical object I paid 40K for a car. I wouldn’t pay 40K for the idea of a car, but might have paid a lot more for the patent.

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  28. ,> filling in the in-between pieces

    The book we are reading for the Martin Perl Book Club

    Pross, Addy. What is Life?: How Chemistry Becomes Biology (Oxford Landmark Science) (Kindle Location 36). OUP Oxford. Kindle Edition.

    Tries to ‘fill the gap’ between Biology and Chemistry. I suspect it is hype, but have got to the actual gap filling chapter yet.

    So far Pross’ grasp of biology and Darwin,seems weak and he seems to confused about teleology vs. teleonomy as well as the thermodynamics of life (a hot bunch of gravitating rocks and gas, some radioactive, with the sun shinng on it is not going to reach equilibrium for a long time). It seems to me quite a poor book despite the glowing reviews.

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  29. Dan, if the ability to have ethics and culture did not evolve where did it come from?

    If it did evolve there are likely some constraints on it as a result. They may be very weak (as hinted by the big variations in cultures). They are certainly currently pretty useless – just so stories don’t cut it.

    I suspect ‘fear of the alpha’ is a component, but that’s just a story for the moment and it’s certainly not the whole story. And ethics still can be studied w/o figuring it out.

    I am very suspect of any claim that a specific ethical rule evolved, but the existence of ethics is another matter.

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  30. No. You are thinking of cash. Most currency or money in our economy is just patterns in computer systems. The non-cash money supply greater exceeds the cash and has no physical tokens associated with it except temporary patterns of electrons moving through our global computer infrastructure.

    Currency predates computers by some 1000s of years, maybe more. Bits in a computer are just another form. I f you pay with debit card that is still ‘cash’ only tokens are bits on a memory chip rather than pieces of paper or hunks of metal or wampum.

    In ‘Ordinary Language’ nobody distinguishes between currency and the tokens that represent it.

    cur·ren·cy

    noun
    noun: currency; plural noun: currencies
    1.
    a system of money in general use in a particular country.
    “the dollar was a strong currency”
    synonyms:
    money, legal tender, cash, banknotes, bills, notes, coins, coinage, specie
    “foreign currency”
    2.
    the fact or quality of being generally accepted or in use.
    “the term gained currency during the second half of the 20th century”
    synonyms:
    prevalence, circulation, exposure; More

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