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Author Topic: Science, magick, and their limits (was EP267: Planetfall)  (Read 1519 times)
yicheng
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« on: December 22, 2010, 04:30:09 PM »

I have to disagree with the characterization of "science" as predictable and "magic" as not.  With respect, that over-simplified sentiment smells of the smugness of dogma and a lack of understanding of non-scientific-based beliefs.

To me, the difference between mainstream "Science" and what might be called "pseudo-science" (e.g. holistic medicine, meditation, traditional chinese medicine, acupuncture) is more nuanced than that.  Many of those systems are indeed "predictable" in that if you can do "ABC" then you will get "XYZ", but the rub comes because in many of those systems the observer affects the observation, and specific factors can not be easily isolated for a double-blind test.  For example, if you have a migraine headache and dry tongue, that's considered a completely different thing in Traditional Chinese Medicine than if you have a migraine with a stomach ache, and mixing treatments can result in exasperating the symptoms.  Similarly a trained Shaolin Monk going through a series of meditational exercises can affect his body with observable and predictable results, where as a complete newby going through the same exercises may have not observable affects.  More so, many of these systems require a non-rational non-logical intuitive understanding of the world, e.g. shamanistic vision quests ala Carlos Castaneda.  

As for the story itself, I found it generally enjoyable.  I did think that the Loban must have been an automated probe, the only logical way to explore the universe given the resource-intensiveness of inter-stellar flight.  Which means that the Loban must have been transmitting information back home at least intermittently, and which means that more Lobans would definitely come to investigate the disappearance of the probe, along with first contact with a new race, and an unknown power source.
« Last Edit: March 10, 2011, 01:25:33 PM by eytanz » Logged
Wilson Fowlie
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« Reply #1 on: December 22, 2010, 04:41:00 PM »

... mixing treatments can result in exasperating the symptoms.

I think you mean exacerbating the symptoms.
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yicheng
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« Reply #2 on: December 22, 2010, 04:52:50 PM »

... mixing treatments can result in exasperating the symptoms.

I think you mean exacerbating the symptoms.

Yes.  Sorry, sometimes I fail at english.   Smiley
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Dave
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« Reply #3 on: February 12, 2011, 03:17:58 PM »

I have to disagree with the characterization of "science" as predictable and "magic" as not.  With respect, that over-simplified sentiment smells of the smugness of dogma and a lack of understanding of non-scientific-based beliefs.

To me, the difference between mainstream "Science" and what might be called "pseudo-science" (e.g. holistic medicine, meditation, traditional chinese medicine, acupuncture) is more nuanced than that.  Many of those systems are indeed "predictable" in that if you can do "ABC" then you will get "XYZ", but the rub comes because in many of those systems the observer affects the observation, and specific factors can not be easily isolated for a double-blind test.  For example, if you have a migraine headache and dry tongue, that's considered a completely different thing in Traditional Chinese Medicine than if you have a migraine with a stomach ache, and mixing treatments can result in exasperating the symptoms.  Similarly a trained Shaolin Monk going through a series of meditational exercises can affect his body with observable and predictable results, where as a complete newby going through the same exercises may have not observable affects.  More so, many of these systems require a non-rational non-logical intuitive understanding of the world, e.g. shamanistic vision quests ala Carlos Castaneda. 

Again, "magic" is just science we haven't figured out yet (or in the Clarkian mode, science we no longer understand). Observation-affected phenomena are not nonscientific. Quantum physics is full of phenomena affected by observation.

Pseudo science that has provable, predictable results is no longer pseudo, it's science. Of course people can make synecdochal observations of phenomena and make pseudoscientific claims, even mimicking or appropriating the language and methodology of science without actually understanding or following it through completely. This does not change the fact that real things are real, and nonreal things are not real. If you can observe, quantify, study, repeat, or manipulate it, it is real, and therefore falls under the purview of science. If you can't do any of those things, then what are we even talking about?

Scientists are not infallible. They make errors in judgment, jump to conclusions, misunderstand evidence, and may even discount phenomena because it "seems improbable" or "unscientific". This is a failure of the person, not of science itself. Science does not make judgments based on assumptions, it makes judgments based on observations. People, however, have a hard time ignoring their assumptions, and scientific breakthroughs have indeed been delayed or ignored because of this.

This doesn't change the fact that science deals with reality, fact, and observation. Everything that exists has an explanation, whether or not we currently understand it.

Oh, and by the way, if spirits, gods, aliens, magic, fairies, ghosts. chi, demons, loas, etc exist? They're science too.
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yicheng
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« Reply #4 on: February 14, 2011, 12:53:23 PM »

I have to disagree with the characterization of "science" as predictable and "magic" as not.  With respect, that over-simplified sentiment smells of the smugness of dogma and a lack of understanding of non-scientific-based beliefs.

To me, the difference between mainstream "Science" and what might be called "pseudo-science" (e.g. holistic medicine, meditation, traditional chinese medicine, acupuncture) is more nuanced than that.  Many of those systems are indeed "predictable" in that if you can do "ABC" then you will get "XYZ", but the rub comes because in many of those systems the observer affects the observation, and specific factors can not be easily isolated for a double-blind test.  For example, if you have a migraine headache and dry tongue, that's considered a completely different thing in Traditional Chinese Medicine than if you have a migraine with a stomach ache, and mixing treatments can result in exasperating the symptoms.  Similarly a trained Shaolin Monk going through a series of meditational exercises can affect his body with observable and predictable results, where as a complete newby going through the same exercises may have not observable affects.  More so, many of these systems require a non-rational non-logical intuitive understanding of the world, e.g. shamanistic vision quests ala Carlos Castaneda. 

Again, "magic" is just science we haven't figured out yet (or in the Clarkian mode, science we no longer understand). Observation-affected phenomena are not nonscientific. Quantum physics is full of phenomena affected by observation.

Pseudo science that has provable, predictable results is no longer pseudo, it's science. Of course people can make synecdochal observations of phenomena and make pseudoscientific claims, even mimicking or appropriating the language and methodology of science without actually understanding or following it through completely. This does not change the fact that real things are real, and nonreal things are not real. If you can observe, quantify, study, repeat, or manipulate it, it is real, and therefore falls under the purview of science. If you can't do any of those things, then what are we even talking about?

Scientists are not infallible. They make errors in judgment, jump to conclusions, misunderstand evidence, and may even discount phenomena because it "seems improbable" or "unscientific". This is a failure of the person, not of science itself. Science does not make judgments based on assumptions, it makes judgments based on observations. People, however, have a hard time ignoring their assumptions, and scientific breakthroughs have indeed been delayed or ignored because of this.

This doesn't change the fact that science deals with reality, fact, and observation. Everything that exists has an explanation, whether or not we currently understand it.

Oh, and by the way, if spirits, gods, aliens, magic, fairies, ghosts. chi, demons, loas, etc exist? They're science too.

With respect, I'm not sure you know what I'm talking about.  "Provable" is a relative term.  Provable to who?  Traditional Chinese Medicine, for example, is a highly scientific process that involves a lot various factors, with results that can be easily repeated and demonstrated.  I'm not an expert by any means, but I've personally seen patients that went from barely being able to walk without becoming out of breath, to being able to perform flying jump kick in a few months.  Yet, TCM, acupuncture, and Chi Gong fails to gain acceptance in majority of mainstream scientific and medical circles because it can not be adapted to double-blind tests.

BTW, I'm not sure what value it is to separate "science" from "scientists".  If the majority of "scientists" seem to practice "science" with certain interpretations, then doesn't that say something about the "science" they choose to practice?  I'm not trying to attack science or rationality, but I think such linear separation between "real: and therefore science" and "non-real: and therefore hocus-pocus" is: 1) a bit ham-fisted and 2) a bit arrogant, as if modern humans are the pinnacle of human knowledge and achievement (and therefore everything that before us must have been more ignorant and less accomplished).
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Gamercow
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« Reply #5 on: February 14, 2011, 04:35:24 PM »

Scientists are not infallible. They make errors in judgment, jump to conclusions, misunderstand evidence, and may even discount phenomena because it "seems improbable" or "unscientific". This is a failure of the person, not of science itself. Science does not make judgments based on assumptions, it makes judgments based on observations. People, however, have a hard time ignoring their assumptions, and scientific breakthroughs have indeed been delayed or ignored because of this.

The best example of this that I give is Albert Einstein, and the cosmological constant.  While developing his theory of general relativity, he found that he needed to add in this "cosmological constant" to achieve a universe of constant size.  Come to find out, all the red shift data indicated that indeed the universe was expanding, and the cosmological constant was much different than Einstein suggested.  Einstein the scientist flubbed, cosmology the science did not.
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Dave
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« Reply #6 on: March 09, 2011, 09:30:41 PM »

With respect, I'm not sure you know what I'm talking about.  "Provable" is a relative term.  Provable to who?  Traditional Chinese Medicine, for example, is a highly scientific process that involves a lot various factors, with results that can be easily repeated and demonstrated.  I'm not an expert by any means, but I've personally seen patients that went from barely being able to walk without becoming out of breath, to being able to perform flying jump kick in a few months.  Yet, TCM, acupuncture, and Chi Gong fails to gain acceptance in majority of mainstream scientific and medical circles because it can not be adapted to double-blind tests.

BTW, I'm not sure what value it is to separate "science" from "scientists".  If the majority of "scientists" seem to practice "science" with certain interpretations, then doesn't that say something about the "science" they choose to practice?  I'm not trying to attack science or rationality, but I think such linear separation between "real: and therefore science" and "non-real: and therefore hocus-pocus" is: 1) a bit ham-fisted and 2) a bit arrogant, as if modern humans are the pinnacle of human knowledge and achievement (and therefore everything that before us must have been more ignorant and less accomplished).

Gamercrow pretty much covered it in his post. "The failure of the scientist = the failure of the method" is synecdoche.

Scientists are human and therefore fallible. Science is a method by which we can come to understand the universe, which can be applied poorly or improperly by humans, and the results of which can be misunderstood and subjected to cultural bias. There is no reason not to study, for example, acupuncture, and try to understand why it appears to produce the results it does; any more than there is no reason not to study the efficacy of any other drug, method, treatment, or hypothesis. If there is evidence to suggest that any given thing works in a reliable fashion, then that evidence should be given due diligence.

There are many prior achievements of those who have come before that have continued to stand up under modern scrutiny, just as there are many that have crumbled under the lens of modern testing methods and technologies. Reality is not subject to era, it just is what it is, and we understand it to a greater or lesser degree at any given point.

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Wilson Fowlie
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« Reply #7 on: March 10, 2011, 12:38:36 PM »

I would like someone to point me to a properly controlled, double-blind study (i.e. neither the practitioners nor the patients know who is a control and who is not) that demonstrates any evidence that acupuncture works.  Anecdotal evidence like yicheng's can easily be ascribed to the placebo effect (which scientists are discovering to be more powerful than they would ever guessed), in which case it's no better than voodoo.
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« Reply #8 on: March 10, 2011, 01:00:23 PM »

I would like someone to point me to a properly controlled, double-blind study (i.e. neither the practitioners nor the patients know who is a control and who is not) that demonstrates any evidence that acupuncture works.  Anecdotal evidence like yicheng's can easily be ascribed to the placebo effect (which scientists are discovering to be more powerful than they would ever guessed), in which case it's no better than voodoo.

How would the control group work?  Instead of hiring a trained acupuncturist you just hire someone to poke the subjects randomly with knitting needles?  A control group for a drug is easy--just give them a pill that looks the same but is just a sugar pill.  I'm not sure what the equivalent would be for a procedure where the patient is awake for the duration.

I'm saying it's a bad idea, or that it can't be done, I'm just not sure how the control group would work--you'd have to convince the patient that they are receiving acupuncture, but without actually administering acupuncture.  And it'd be even harder to find a way so that the practitioner wouldn't know the difference--give them some authentic acupuncture equipment for some and something that looks the same but somehow negates the procedure for another??
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Bdoomed
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« Reply #9 on: March 10, 2011, 01:17:02 PM »

I would say use an actual trained acupuncturist for both groups.  The control group's acupuncturist would just do it wrong.  He would intentionally miss the spots that are supposed to be good (or whatever, I have no idea how that stuff is supposed to work) without hitting the bad spots (again, no idea).  The other group would receive actual acupuncture.
« Last Edit: March 10, 2011, 01:21:11 PM by eytanz » Logged

I'd like to hear my options, so I could weigh them, what do you say?
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tinygaia
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« Reply #10 on: March 10, 2011, 01:32:22 PM »

You just missed my reply on the original thread when you moved this.

(mod note: added)

I have small experience with acupuncture so let me offer my insight. I took a cruise a few years ago and they showed us the spa on the ship's tour the first day. They offered acupuncture and said it was totally painless. Everyone on the tour scoffed, so they offered a free massage to anyone who would step up and get poked with needles in front of the group to demonstrate, so I tried it. They put several needles in my arm and I didn't feel a thing. (Though some of the spectators winced like I was being tortured before their eyes.)

So! For the purposes of this study, you take people with lower back pain. You demonstrate the method for them first ("See, there are needles in your arm, and you can't feel it. So you won't feel anything on your back either.") then put them face-down on the table. Some folks get needles, some don't.

Epilogue: The massage was awesome and it was free.
« Last Edit: March 10, 2011, 01:39:07 PM by eytanz » Logged
Devoted135
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« Reply #11 on: March 10, 2011, 01:35:06 PM »

I would say use an actual trained acupuncturist for both groups.  The control group's acupuncturist would just do it wrong.  He would intentionally miss the spots that are supposed to be good (or whatever, I have no idea how that stuff is supposed to work) without hitting the bad spots (again, no idea).  The other group would receive actual acupuncture.

I agree, that's about as close to a perfect study as I can think of, but it's still not a double blind. For a double blind, it's imperative that the person administering the placebo not know if they are giving the real treatment or the control. Unless you went back a step and incorrectly trained people as acupunturists? Tongue That way they wouldn't know that they were administering the placebo.
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stePH
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Cool story, bro!


« Reply #12 on: March 10, 2011, 01:42:09 PM »

Oh, and by the way, if spirits, gods, aliens, magic, fairies, ghosts. chi, demons, loas, etc exist? They're science too.

...but a story containing them belongs in the fantasy genre, not science fiction.
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tinygaia
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« Reply #13 on: March 10, 2011, 01:44:11 PM »

I agree, that's about as close to a perfect study as I can think of, but it's still not a double blind. For a double blind, it's imperative that the person administering the placebo not know if they are giving the real treatment or the control. Unless you went back a step and incorrectly trained people as acupunturists? Tongue That way they wouldn't know that they were administering the placebo.
Lie to the acupuncturist about which ailment they're meant to be treating? So they'd be doing real acupuncture but in an unrelated spot?
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eytanz
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« Reply #14 on: March 10, 2011, 01:45:56 PM »

I would say use an actual trained acupuncturist for both groups.  The control group's acupuncturist would just do it wrong.  He would intentionally miss the spots that are supposed to be good (or whatever, I have no idea how that stuff is supposed to work) without hitting the bad spots (again, no idea).  The other group would receive actual acupuncture.

I agree, that's about as close to a perfect study as I can think of, but it's still not a double blind. For a double blind, it's imperative that the person administering the placebo not know if they are giving the real treatment or the control. Unless you went back a step and incorrectly trained people as acupunturists? Tongue That way they wouldn't know that they were administering the placebo.

You could make it a double blind by keeping the identity of the patients obscured from the acupuncturists somehow (cover them with a sheet revealing only the stretch of skin that the needles will go into?) They will know whether each trial is real or placebo, but they won't be able to match trials to subjects.
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Devoted135
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« Reply #15 on: March 10, 2011, 03:33:41 PM »

I agree, that's about as close to a perfect study as I can think of, but it's still not a double blind. For a double blind, it's imperative that the person administering the placebo not know if they are giving the real treatment or the control. Unless you went back a step and incorrectly trained people as acupunturists? Tongue That way they wouldn't know that they were administering the placebo.
Lie to the acupuncturist about which ailment they're meant to be treating? So they'd be doing real acupuncture but in an unrelated spot?

My thinking was much more nefarious, as in actually training them to put the needles in correctly, but in all of the wrong spots if that makes sense. So they would think that they were delivering acupunture when they were actually just sticking people randomly with needles. Tongue

@eytanz: that could be another possibility as long as all contact between the patient and acupuncturist was eliminated. But doesn't that have a name other than double-blind? I'm drawing a blank right now.
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Gamercow
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« Reply #16 on: March 10, 2011, 09:13:59 PM »

How would the control group work?

There was a story on my local news recently, about a study done investigating acupuncture to help menopause symptoms.(just looked online for the story)  53 patients were used, some got acupuncture, the others got what they thought was acupuncture, but in fact the needles did not go into the skin.  Turns out the ones who actually got punctured had fewer symptoms than the ones who didn't.  It's not double blind, and small, and somewhat arbitrary, but it is a start.

http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/03/110307184640.htm
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« Reply #17 on: March 10, 2011, 09:20:58 PM »

I think the real issue is that, as homeopathy has shown, even once science has thoroughly debunked something, there will still be a certain percentage of the population that simply will not let it go.  I haven't seen anything terribly convincing regarding acupuncture yet, but I could see some of it being useful or effective, potentially.  (I tend to suspect that simply having a practitioner paying attention to you and massaging you in a soothing environment probably accounts for most of the positive effects.  There is something to be said for soothing mood-based therapy in itself, though.)
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