A Bulletin Board for O4R Da Vinci Days Ideas 2003

Da Vinci Days
Oregonians for Rationality booth


Vampire Mirror


How do our eyes fool us?
How do our ears fool us?
How do others fool us?
How do we fool ourselves?
2003 ? What's new?

Handouts . . . Treasure Hunts . . . Mystery Maps

"Pseudoscience"is a good term for a problem that infects society very broadly and with potential harm that could be very serious.  It's what O4R and CSICOP are organized to counteract.  Pseudoscience is belief in a lot of things that today's science knows to be wrong or at the very best extremely improbable.

In the studies of K-12 science textbooks by the most competent reviewers (Feynman in the 60's and John Hubisz in May, 2003) ALL of the textbooks were found to be  unscientific.  Almost NO concept from our knowledge starting with about Galileo was presented correctly.  Rather, the pre-scientific misconceptions prevailed.

Only rarely is the breadth and depth of this problem recognized.  Not by the general public.  Not by the teachers in the public schools.  Not by the media of communication that disseminate knowledge.  Not even by much of the skeptic movement.  The state of those textbooks is telling us something and almost noone is listening.

Science (including math) is different.  The teachers and students using those texts are not seeing the difference between pre-scientific knowlege and the real science of today.  The textbook authors didn't either and neither does most of the rest of the world. 

Furthermore, the textbooks do not improve.  Year after year, decade after decade, the errors remain intact, and public knowledge of science remains unchanged and unscientific.  Hubisz has noted that time has brought not improvement, but just "dumbing-down" of the books.  (In an earlier study, Hubisz noted that high school texts had improved accuracy–but with "dumbed-down" language–compared with earlier years.)

O4R has an opportunity at Da Vinci Days to illuminate the nature of pseudoscience and to draw out some of the problems that underlie pseudoscience. 

Science is not what it seems at first glance: more looking is required. 

(In physics, a quantum jump is the 
smallest change physically possible.)
Science is more subtle than familiar stuff, and "seeing" it requires a little hard work. 
(A parameter is a mathematically 
defined constant or variable.)
The subtlties of science are often undeniable in unfamiliar ways. 
(Energy cannot be defined as the capacity 
for doing work for the same reasons that a 
vegetable cannot be defined as a potato.)
Wishful thinking tends to encourage us to stop looking once we've found what we like: that leads to self-deception.
(Science succeeds because it seeks the whole truth. 
And advertising, by far our greatest source of influential 
information, succeeds because it avoids the truth, 
the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.)
Science is subtle.
Science is hard, but rewarding, work.
Science sees certain logical necessities.
Science sees self-decepton and tries hard to sidestep it.
We feel that the puzzles and posters from Knowledge for Use should
be developed as effective tools for counteracting pseudoscience.

The pseudoscience problem
Outlines for handouts
Da Vinci Days 2002

Is the above overstated?  Understated?
Look at the intellectual developments that Jean Piaget found to be at the forefront of human evolution and to underlie scientific thinking; then, the stark absence of science found by Hubisz in the textbooks begins to make sense.  Among these "formal operational" insights are:

Ratio and proportion, 
Extrapolation to unattainable limits
Sorting relevance from irrelevance
Eliminating logical contradiction
Recognizing Boolean relationships
Systems of multiplicative negations ("INRC")

Newton's Laws of Motion–which were the gateway to modern science and which seem to be a locked gate to so many modern students of science–require good insight into the first two.  The first two Laws of Motion are about velocity and acceleration, and Newton invented calculus to do calculations with these two measurable quantities.  Velocity is the time rate change of position and acceleration is the time rate change of velocity.  Both of these "deravitives" are the extrapolation to a limit of a ratio.  The first brick wall of math the young and developing intellect hits in grade school is fractions; that is, ratios.  Many never quite get over that wall, and surprisingly few grow up to become adults who can solve simple problems of proportional distribution or of conversion of units. 

The development of Newton's laws into a theory useful for making things happen the ways we want requires pretty good reasoning with the tools of the above list.  American schools have, especially in the past few decades, developed not good formal operational reasoning but rather a culture of anti-intellectualism.  Dumbing-down is a virtue in the eyes of many.  Those intellectual developments appear most easily between about fourth or fifth grade up through high school and early college. Because scientific concepts are much more powerful than pre-scientific ideas, the difference between understanding and not understanding is extreme.  And dumbing down in high school sets up future adults that will easily get kicked into the gutter for the dumb by the juggernaut of a high-tech society based on the discoveries of scientific thinking.

Furthermore, modern science, especially modern physics, is human knowledge of the simplest things.  Social interations are far more demanding of our understanding of multiple-parameter interactions.  It's easy to discover the clarity with which a person recognizes such relationships.  The 25 years of "Mathematical Games" by Martin Gardner in Scientific American gave us a lot of such discoveries.  They were a road, a veritable superhighway, to discovery.  (Or should that be "virtual superhighway.")

Discover the Unexpected!