The Problem with Physics

Sean Carroll has a pair of posts up, one of which is aptly titled “Physicists Should Stop Saying Silly Things about Philosophy“. Both posts are concerned with the reasons physicists often give to dismiss philosophy as a discipline and why those reasons are wrong. Both are worth reading.

It is also worth pointing out that Carroll is not focusing on physicists simply because he himself is a physicist who relies on the work of philosophers. It’s a problem common to a lot of physicists and more common among physicists than it is among scientists of other disciplines. Think of three well-known physicists, then check Carroll’s list of dismissive big names. Look at the amount of overlap between the two lists. Now come up with another group of people educated in a single topic who are similarly dismissive of philosophy.

As I said elsewhere when James Croft pondered the proper response to Neil deGrasse Tyson’s comments on philosophy.

I’m not even so sure I see it as *his* failing as much as I see it as a common failing of a physics education. Modern U.S. physics education at the college level and beyond is notorious for producing scientists who can’t manage the complexities involved in biology, much less the social sciences. Bob Park once told a physics professor friend of mine that there is no pseudoscience so ridiculous you can’t find a PhD physicist who will support it. (Though in retrospect, I’m guessing he would have made an exception for the crankery that gets mailed to physics departments all the time.)

There is a simplicity to physics, in the sense of limited variables, that there isn’t in most of the rest of the world. In many places, that simplicity is embraced as scientific superiority, and that sense of superiority is passed on with the basic knowledge of physics. It is entirely unsurprising that we continue to see physicists saying silly things about philosophy.

Not that this tells me anything about how to address the problem.

Holler if you have any ideas.

The Problem with Physics

Nick Cave: A Long Wait

It was 2001, September. I had tickets to see Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds at the end of the month for my birthday. Then something a little bigger than a concert happened, and air traffic into the U.S. looked (rightly) like a very bad idea. The U.S. tour was postponed.

Those of us with tickets were told we could get a refund then or hold our tickets to be exchanged when the show was rescheduled. I chose to wait, though I had no idea how long it would be. As it turned out, it was a very long time indeed. Oh, it was only another six months before the rescheduled concert, but I was never notified of the new date. Being busy with my job, I didn’t stumble across the information on my own. I found out about it by reading a review in the paper the day after it occurred.

I thought about that recently, when I received the confirmation that I had press credentials to see Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds June 21, 2014 at the State Theater. It felt like righting an old (if petty) wrong.

I thought about it again when we stopped at the box office last night to pick up our tickets and no one could find them.

I reviewed Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds for the Twin Cities Daily Planet over the weekend. It wasn’t the easiest concert review I’ve written, though not for anything like writer’s block. You can read the review here.

Nick Cave: A Long Wait

Counting Down the Days

Do you live in the Los Angeles area? Are you a woman looking for for an atheist group that you don’t have to worry will be unfriendly to women or to feminist viewpoints? You only need to hang on one more week.

The Los Angeles Women’s Atheist and Agnostic Group (LAWAAG) is a group for people who primarily identify as women who live a secular lifestyle or are in the process of leaving religion. LAWAAG focuses on building community and friendship among freethinking women and organizes activist and community outreach art projects. We welcome new members at our monthly meetup.

LAWAAG was formed in 2014 by multi-media artist, Amy Davis Roth with the goal of fostering a safe and supportive space for those who primarily identify as women, who are leaving faith, or who already live as part of a secular community.

Our group meets the first Tuesday of every month at 7pm at  The Center For Inquiry, Los Angeles. Along with regular monthly meetups, the group also organizes art, activism and outreach projects and works towards building community and support for women without faith.

In order to foster a safe space that acknowledges and can focus on the specific issues women encounter and deal with in a secular community, we currently only accept members who primarily identify as women. However, we often participate in and sponsor co-ed events. We welcome new members at our monthly meetup and welcome all to attend our publicized co-ed events. Please go to our events page for a list of upcoming and current events.

The group is free to members but has costs to run. Amy had a sale over the weekend to benefit the group and, being Amy, she’ll probably have another. Still, you can donate at the group’s site to help them fund their activities.

Counting Down the Days

Meeting Users Where They Work

When I told friends I was starting a new job automating data processing, they wanted to know what language I’d be using. When I told them I’d be working with Visual Basic for Excel, I received more than one funny look. When I told them what kinds of problems I’d be solving, several people told me that Access or an SQL database was designed for doing those things.

Yes, this is absolutely true. I’ve used databases extensively for just these sorts of things. However, that’s missing the point entirely.

Not everyone who has to work with data is a data person. Continue reading “Meeting Users Where They Work”

Meeting Users Where They Work

The Reading List, 6/22/2014

I share a lot of links on Twitter and Facebook that I don’t blog about because I don’t have much to add. The reading list is a periodic feature where I share those links with my blog audience too. Of course, you’re still welcome to follow me on Twitter.

Around FtB

  • Sadomasochism isn’t a dirty word.–“And today over at #SexEd, Planned Parenthood opponents were up in fucking arms because professionals who are trusted to offer open and shame-free advice about sex were “caught on tape” offering open and shame-free advice on kink – a type of sexual expression.”
  • What it’s like to cough so violently that you can’t inhale–“Collected from your comments on the several pertussis posts I did over the weekend.”
  • Submit Your Panel Proposals for #FtBCon by July 22!–“FtBCon 3 is fast approaching: August 22-24, 2014. As always, we’re going to have a full weekend of panels, talks, and Cards Against Humanity.”
  • How to skeptic–“Saying you should ‘keep their intentions and goals in mind when someone is imperfect’ about ‘your side’ only is simply to embrace the fundamental attribution error in a permanent bear-hug.”

The Wider Web

  • Thirteen ways of looking at a narrative.–“By the end of this essay, I expect I will have ruined Hollywood movies for you forever.”
  • talking about like ”””neckbeards”””–“it is that, over the course of my life, the men who have harassed me, bullied me, done sexualized things to me without my consent, or directed misogyny at me have usually been Pretty and Popular and Well-Liked sorts who went to parties on weekends”
  • An uncommon household: The history of an early American same-sex marriage–“The women were pillars of their community for four and a half decades, living together in a small house, running a tailoring business, teaching Sunday School, and acting as surrogate mothers and caregivers to hundreds of nieces and nephews. They were also, according to their own understanding and that of those around them, a married couple.”
  • Ta-Nehisi Coates and the boundaries of legitimate debate–“But the piece is part of a larger project, a redefinition of what counts as a legitimate conversation about race in the United States and an attempt to define what intellectual credentials are required to enter that debate.”
  • The Promise of The Green Line: A Family History–“I am told I rode on one of those last University Avenue street cars in 1954, a four-year-old carried on the lap of my Irish-born grandmother (She would have approved of a ‘Green Line’) who learned when my father was a baby that a brief street car trip up and down University Avenue was the perfect sleeping tonic for a fussy baby.”
  • Helter Skelter: connecting some of the dots of white supremacist violence–“The myth, created and nurtured by white supremacy, of the savagery and inherent criminality of black people has resulted in repeated violent backlash against black communities. Backlash, incidentally, not against actual harms or danger, but against the fear of harm and danger that never seem to actually bear fruit.”
  • The Devil Made Me Do It: How Christianity Enables Sexual Abusers–“There was no difference in their eyes between two teenagers ‘falling into sin’ by having a consensual sexual relationship and one person sexually assaulting another – both were simply sexual sin.”
  • Living as a woman in a science fiction future–“Science fiction lied. As I got older, not only did I see the insidious cracks in the futures I loved (the clothes, the endless kissing of Kirk, the problematic nature of some of McCaffrey’s ideas) I also saw how rare these women were.”
  • “Game of Thrones” fails the female gaze: Why prestige TV refuses to cater erotically to women–“I’d add that the realist position falters if one accepts that hemorrhoids, measles, miscarriages, pinkeye, and hot consensual sex involving fully visible male members were all probably more common than orgies, brothels and rapes, and yet they play a considerably smaller role.”
  • We’re losing all our Strong Female Characters to Trinity Syndrome–“Then she all but disappears from the film, raising the question of why the story spent so much time on her in the first place.”
  • Where Art Meets Abuse: Terry Richardson and #AbuserDynamics–“Even those performers who are part of scenes of extreme violence, such as rape scenes, describe the need for plenty of rehearsal, a safe environment, trust, as well as space for figuring things out in the moment.”
  • Auctions for Science: DIY Plague Doctor Mask & Photo Shoot for 4 at CONvergence–“We do not get a cut of ticket sales or charge anything extra for what we offer. We do not profit. At all. This is why we need your help.”
  • SKEPTIPROM–“Join us the Saturday night of Skepticon for what is going to be the best prom ever as we’ve taken out all the raging teenage hormones and added a crapload of glitter and skepticism.”
  • “What Can I Do To Help”?–“Existing with painful emotions is actually a skill and a difficult one to learn. But if you want to help someone learn it, what you can do instead of asking how you can help is suggest concrete things that allow someone to tolerate distress.”
  • Will Louisiana Help The U.S. Gulf Become An Abortion-Free Zone?–“It seems as if every week we read another ‘The worst anti-abortion bill to be signed into law’ story, yet each law truly does top the last in scope and impact on limiting abortion access to near non-existence.”
  • Silence is Complicity–“First, some history, It was widely known–in some circles–that Marion Zimmer Bradley was complicit in the sexual abuse of children by her husband, Walter Breen.”
  • Why I Support The Helsinki 2017 Worldcon Bid, by Elizabeth Bear, age 42 2/3–“Have you noticed that they’re managing to get liqueurs that taste like pine tree sap (strangely delicious, actually) as well as scrumptious smoked fish to every corner of the United States?”
  • Autopsy Contradicts the Official Story–“Cohen’s autopsy report, released on June 12 by Lockett’s attorneys, disputes Oklahoma prison officials’ reports of Lockett’s veins “blowing out” during the execution.”
  • Atheism has a big race problem that no one’s talking about–“But when we look to atheist and humanist organizations for solidarity on these issues, there is a staggering lack of interest. And though some mainstream atheist organizations have jumped on the “diversity” bandwagon, they haven’t seriously grappled with the issue.”
  • What the Theory of “Disruptive Innovation” Gets Wrong–“The strength of a prediction made from a model depends on the quality of the historical evidence and on the reliability of the methods used to gather and interpret it. Historical analysis proceeds from certain conditions regarding proof. None of these conditions have been met.”
  • Dear Marc Andreessen–“The debate is, as ever, really about power. So let’s set robots aside, and with them your black and white dichotomy of pro-growth, pro-tech heroes versus regressive Luddites.”
  • Turning anti-gay hate into love with a Loring Park memorial to Joel Larson–“In the late-1980s and early 1990s, a rash of hate crimes hit Loring Park and other areas of the city where LGBT people gathered. 1990 alone saw 112 ‘gay bashings,’ a number that spiked to 130 for just the first half of 1991.”
  • In landmark decision, Patent Office cancels trademark for Redskins football team–“In the previous case, the team’s attorneys argued that losing trademark protections and the exclusive right to their brand would cause ‘every imaginable loss you can think of.'”
The Reading List, 6/22/2014

Saturday Storytime: The Case of the Passionless Bees

Another from the Women Destroy Science Fiction issue of Lightspeed Magazine. I’m glad this, by Rhonda Eikamp, is one they chose to make publicly accessible, and not just because I’ve been reading Holmes pastiche lately.

“Your televoice mentioned bees,” I began.

“Miss Segalen was highly sensitive apparently. She’d said nothing about it, and her death would have been written off as a terrible and tragic accident if there had been only a single errant bee involved, rather than what one must assume was a basketful introduced into the room deliberately. And if the door had not been locked from the outside.” The servos of his mouth ground through their tracks, clenching his jaw. A sigh of steam escaped his neck-joint. “The stings on the corpse were too many for Dr. Culpepper to count. I believe that with her last air before her throat closed up entirely, Katharina Segalen had hoped to smash a window with one of the pots and make her exit or at the least draw someone’s attention to her plight. A handsome woman, Watson, though you would not have known it had you seen her in death—the swelling had disfigured her so. And intelligent. She would have known she had but seconds to live after the first few stings.”

“And your housekeeper Mrs. Hudson, you say, has been detained. But that is surely absurd!”

“Mrs. Hudson found her. She touched nothing, assessed that Miss Segalen was dead, and came directly to me. Not one to seize up in the face of death, Mrs. Hudson. Years of service with me have conditioned her and—well, I’ve made a few changes to her programming over the years, removed the worst of the housekeeperly fluttering her line’s manufacturers insist on adding. I require reason and nerves of my servants above all else. Strictest confidence, eh?”

This last of course was in reference to the prohibition against any amalgamated meddling with the programming of another. I would never have betrayed him. The very fact that Gearlock Holmes, out of all the amalgamated with which we surround ourselves in our homes and stables and coaches, enjoyed special status by royal decree, was allowed to own property and employ amalgamated servants of his own, namely a housekeeper and a gardener, was due to his unique cogitating skills in service to Her Majesty. Holmes’s creator Joseph Bell had left no notes before his death as to how he had obtained this altogether greater level of cognizance in the one amalgamated designed by him. I only know it left Gearlock Holmes, in spite of his blank metal face and shiny limbs, closer to a fleshly man than any amalgamated I had ever met. And if he was a breaker of rules that had not been made to apply to the likes of him, I would certainly not out him.

“No,” Holmes continued, “I’m afraid I am at fault for suspicion falling on poor Mrs. Hudson. I was too fastidious in my investigations, Watson.”

Keep reading.

Saturday Storytime: The Case of the Passionless Bees

"Greece v. Galloway", Linda Stephens on Atheists Talk

In November of last year, the Supreme Court heard arguments on the government-sponsored prayer case, Town of Greece v. Galloway. Susan Galloway, who is Jewish, and Linda Stephens, who is an atheist, argued that the Christian prayers sponsored by the town of Greece, NY were a discriminatory exclusion of non-Christian citizens who attended town council meetings in order to do business with the city. On May 5, the court narrowly ruled that these sectarian prayers did not discriminate because they were “traditional”.

This Sunday, we’ll speak with Linda Stephens about her experiences with the council and her involvement with the case.

Related Links:

Listen to AM 950 KTNF this Sunday at 9 a.m. Central to hear Atheists Talk, produced by Minnesota Atheists. Stream live online. Call in to the studio at 952-946-6205, or send an e-mail to [email protected] during the live show. If you miss the live show, listen to the podcast later.

Follow Atheists Talk on Facebook and Twitter for regular updates. If you like the show, consider supporting us with a one-time or sustaining donation.

"Greece v. Galloway", Linda Stephens on Atheists Talk

Historical Note on Skeptic Magicians

Apropos of nothing in particular, it’s worth reminding ourselves why stage magicians were originally considered experts on the topics classically adopted by the modern skeptic movement. They really were experts in their topics once upon a time. Their expertise consisted of determining how people could hide their behavior from observers.

Harry Houdini really was an expert on spiritualism because he understood how people could manipulate their environments while appearing to have their motion restricted. Have a “medium” who is producing strange sounds and apparitions while holding hands with people in the dark? Bring Houdini in to determine the ways your subjects could be cheating, set up your situation so they can’t cheat, then test them again.

James Randi really was (and presumably still is) an expert on how people can communicate invisibly. Have someone who claims to be getting message from God or a “psychic” partner? Bring Randi in to determine the ways your subjects could be cheating, set up your situation so they can’t cheat, then test them again.

Magicians are not some sort of all-purpose skeptical experts. There’s no such thing. Skepticism requires subject-matter knowledge to be effective.

Magicians are very narrow experts in the ways that humanity can disguise their behavior from naive observers. Outside of that, they have no more expertise in skeptical matters than anyone else.

This is worth remembering. Trust them to some degree when you need their expertise. Treat them like any non-expert when you don’t.

Historical Note on Skeptic Magicians

TBT: Why “No Means No”

This was originally posted in June 2009.

One of the tangential issues that came up in the rape thread that would not die is the statement “no means no.”

I really hate to have to point this out, believe me… but sometimes a simple “I’d rather not,” “I shouldn’t,” or even “no” isn’t clear enough. I won’t try to guess at numbers, I’m not qualified, but there are most certainly women who enjoy that particular game. Keep in mind that we’re talking about college kids here. Boys and girls in their late teens and early twenties for the most part, and clear communication about sex and relationships is going to be fairly uncommon. Again, I’m not even going to pretend to put numbers on it, but I’m absolutely certain that sometimes it is honest miscommunication.

“No means no” is a simple slogan, but it just doesn’t reflect reality. Imagine stopping only to be yelled at because your partner was getting into it and you ruined the mood. Imagine it happening when you’re young and still inexperienced and emotionally fragile. How many times do you think that has to happen before a person is capable of mistaking a sincere “no” for a repeat of the previous situation, if only for a short time?

I’m not trying to say it’s common… I’m just saying I’d be amazed if it never happened, and that I’d be amazed if there aren’t piles of similar ways a misunderstanding could happen in a moment of passion. If the “victim” says that it was a misunderstanding, I’m inclined to believe her unless there’s some other information to imply otherwise.

I’m going to assume that this is an honest statement of confusion, not an attempt at rape denialism or some kind of justification. Continue reading “TBT: Why “No Means No””

TBT: Why “No Means No”

Hidden in the Stairwell

The building I work in is a repurposed warehouse. Two of them, actually, each with their own passenger elevator. The elevator for the side of the building I work on only goes down to the second floor, however. That means that when I enter the building on the first floor, I’m looking at two elevator rides to reach my floor.

Needless to say, one of the first things I did on starting work there was find the stairwell that lets me skip the ride between the first and second floors. Even if I didn’t mind using mechanical means to accomplish something it takes me less time to do under my own power, elevators and I don’t always get along. Too many elevator rides in a short period of time, and I’ll spend a day or two feeling like I’m riding them.

These stairs are…not great otherwise. They’re steep, the treads aren’t very deep, and the height is not entirely even from one step to the next. They were obviously made to be used in a pinch in a warehouse, not to coddle office workers like me.

However, building management did something smart to make the stairwells more appealing. Continue reading “Hidden in the Stairwell”

Hidden in the Stairwell