Science, Rock, and Jelly

The great fear of many rationalists today is that a wave of religious zealotry is sweeping over the world, poised to undo the progress of both science and liberal democracy. The intellectual enemy is rigidity of thought, a kind of mental fascism. But many people in Western society who describe themselves as “spiritual” are not rigid at all. Recently I found myself debating with some cuddly New Agers. Its like trying to nail jelly to the wall.

When you log in at wordpress.com the front page displays an array of latest blog posts in various categories. You can dip your toes in many different ponds at random which is strange and refreshing for a few minutes each day. So a few days back the headline “Whats Happening in Science” linked to something about The Vetruvian Man. Intrigued, I clicked over and found something that was all about golden rectangles in Da Vinci’s pictures, and the cosmic significance of this. Alright in its way, but I found myself a bit disgruntled that this was labelled as the hot new thing in Science. Even stranger, the post was tagged “Quantum Physics”. So I left a somewhat sarcastic comment. The owner of the blog, Kristina, replied politely but confusingly, and a rather strange thread continued for a short while. (I think she has stopped accepting my comments… ) Well, it was quite rude of me to be so pushy in someone else’s world, but if you take a short look, you will see what I mean about the jelly thing.

So does this matter ? I have had many hippy/new-age/moon-crystal kinda friends over the years and if you switch off certain parts of your brain they can be lovely to be with – just sit on the carpet, hold hands, drink tea, stare at the mandala, chat and drift, and time vanishes. Peace, harmony, joy. But then you realise you’ve got be somewhere and they’ve lost the keys again. aaagghhhhhh.

So fundamentalist religion is like a rock, and new age spirituality is like jelly oozing through your fingers. At first you think you have a hold of it, but a few moments later your fingers are sticky and the carpet is wet.

So what is the right metaphor for Science ?

p.s. for our American chums, remember that jelly=jello and jam=jelly. And as for wearing your vest on top of your shirt, well what can I say.

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14 Responses to Science, Rock, and Jelly

  1. Dave Pearson says:

    So what is the right metaphor for Science ?

    Lego(TM)? You build something. Someone else comes along and builds on it. Then you find a few bits under the sofa and build some more. Sometimes someone knocks over your creation…

    I’ll get my coat.

  2. andyxl says:

    Hmm. I quite like that. Sometimes you realise its all wrong and you pull it apart and start again. Sometimes there’s only four-ers and no eight-ers left and you can’t figure out how to do it.

    • Michael Merrifield says:

      Have you noticed (unless you have a six-year-old around the house, probably not) that Lego bricks are getting more and more specialized: far fewer generic 8-blocks these days, and far more weird-shaped bricks designed with the sole purpose of providing scales for the dinosaur, or the exhaust of the rocket ship, or whatever specific kit you happen to have bought, but of little use for anything else.

      Wow, it really is just like science!

      • andyxl says:

        My kids range from eight to eighteen, but even the eight year old is past the Lego stage. In fact, he’s learning Javascript from his big brother. But the Lego stage was recent enough that I know exactly what you mean Mike. What really bemuses me is the Lego character versions of Playstation games.

      • Michael Merrifield says:

        The simulated lego models in the Playstation games would be Carlos’ department…

  3. ClapSo says:

    “So fundamentalist religion is like a rock, and new age spirituality is like jelly oozing through your fingers. At first you think you have a hold of it, but a few moments later your fingers are sticky and the carpet is wet.”

    It seems to me the science you of the academy practice is just as much jelly as anything else. You give credence to this by agreeing above:

    “Sometimes you realize its all wrong and you pull it apart and start again.”

    That is what the “new agers” do. They are experimenting.

    I have had many academic intelligentsia kinda friends over the years and if you switch off the part of your brain that questions the “rock” that is their insistence that no one should think and speak outside the rigid box the ivory tower has conditioned them to believe is correct, they can be lovely to be with. Just go the the faculty cocktail party, watch as they throw their PhD weight around, but then you realize that you have to be somewhere and they have forgotten where they parked the car again. Aaagghhhhhh.

    “So what is the right metaphor for Science ?”

    It is in academic hands the wind. Ever shifting to the next hot new fashion trend of an idea.

    Science uninformed by spirituality is as dangerous as religion uninformed by science.

    There must be a balance of wild creativity and empiricist limitation in order to reach new conclusions. Some peoples balance point is just off to one side or the other from yours due to the weight of their personal experience.

    This is what you, as a practitioner of a soft art called Astronomy, referred to as the “sociology of science” on Kristina’s blog. You should take note that sociology IS a science, although I’m sure you would refer to sociology as a soft science hehehe. As a science, the sociology of science is just as “scientific” as all else.

    I hope you can see that too rigid a set of limitations on science, can lead to over zealous, extreme limitation, and that “letting your hair down” can bring you to new insights.

    The scientifically impossible I do right away
    The spiritually miraculous takes a bit longer

  4. andyxl says:

    Dear ClapSo – welcome !

    I am all for creativity and letting your hair down, and yes academics have their own attitude problems that can impede the search for truth. Pride and back-biting mostly.

    I recognise that New-Agers are “experimenting”. In parts it is a strange simulacrum of the scientific process, which I can respect because it does spring from a genuine desire for insight. However, like mainstream religion, this desire is frustrated by the desperate need to believe. Insight comes from scepticism, testing, and hard thought.

    A proper science of sociology is in principle possible and indeed very desirable. Much of sociology in practice however is pseudo-scientific mumbo-jumbo, precisely because of the weaknesses of academic life that you allude to. People can be concerned with publication record, invites to conferences, respect of peers etc than actually arriving at firm and testable truths. Its not that sociologists are more disreputable than physicists, but the science of behaviour of complex sentient organisms is much much much harder than studying the behaviour of electrons.

    From your last comments I see that you are clearly quite a modest chap…

  5. […] tags. This was the origin of my strange brush with the world of mystic rectangles, as desribed in this recent post. Kristina filed her post, about finding Golden Rectangles in Leonardo’s pictures, as follows […]

  6. Dapsissuems says:

    Everyday classify hosting use Rapidshare ( http://www.rapidshare.com ) has been slapped with a $33.4 million nice alongside a German court and ordered to adopt stricter regulations as a service to its uploaded contented, according to disparate reports.

    The lawsuit was brought not later than German royalties gatherer GEMA, who called on the Regional Court in Hamburg to uniformity the case hosting service to refrain from it from hosting 5,000 music tracks on its neighbourhood in return download.

    GEMA released a disclosure in German addressing the court’s ruling:

    “The judgment states that the hosting secondment itself is for the time being responsible in the direction of making positive that none of the music tracks responsible are distributed via its platform in the future. This means that the copyright holder is no longer required to accomplish the ongoing and complex checks.”

    The court concluded that Rapidshare and other be like queue sharing sites had not taken the gentlemanly measures to abort copyright disobedience from occurring via the advice

  7. andyxl says:

    Well, I guess spam is a sociologically complex phenomenon. If this had been attached to my post on internet radio, it would have looked almost sensible. Obviously a political campaign rather than spam. But when you click on “Dapsissuems” you go to a strange website that seems to be a mixture of political news and internet dating. Bee-czar.

  8. telescoper says:

    Great post.

    I love your blog.

    (Just testing)

  9. andyxl says:

    Hmm. WordPress is dead clever. How did it know that wasn’t spam ? Peter, try again with a pseudonym and new anonymous gmail address.

    ..spam spam spam spam … spam spam spam spam …. SPAM !!!! Wonderful spam !

  10. telescoper says:

    I tried one before that with the same message and from the same address but mentioning a certain cure for male erectile dysfunction, which it bounced..

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