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Chapter 17: The marriage of skepticism and wonder 
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Post Re: Chapter 17: The marriage of skepticism and wonder
Fair enough. And I went overboard by saying that the methodology of SETI is not scientifically based.
That's not entirely correct.

Formulating a sound hypothesis is part the methodology.

If the Drake equation has poorly defined terms, or terms that can only be based on sheer guess work, how is that a starting point for a scientific hypothesis?

And how about taking a shot at what I asked in my post prior to this one.

Were "in luck" if one alien civilization is thinking the same thing we are??
I think a bit of faith is called for here.



Sun Feb 15, 2015 12:18 am
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Post Re: Chapter 17: The marriage of skepticism and wonder
ant wrote:
Were "in luck" if one alien civilization is thinking the same thing we are??
I think a bit of faith is called for here.


I don't have faith in SETI. I highly doubt they'll detect anything. If they do, I'd say we got lucky.


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Post Re: Chapter 17: The marriage of skepticism and wonder
Lucky? As in science hopes to get lucky with its search for alien intelligence attempting to communicate with us?
Okay.

What this seems to be entirely based on is the following reasoning:
when asked to justify why it is we think life must exist somewhere in the cosmos its often said that the universe is so vast there simply MUST be life and intelligence somewhere out there.

Unfortunately, the aforementioned reasoning contains a logical fallacy of confusing a necessary with a sufficient condition.

Saying there are countless habitable planets is not the same as saying they are inhabited.



Last edited by ant on Sun Feb 15, 2015 9:21 pm, edited 1 time in total.



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Post Re: Chapter 17: The marriage of skepticism and wonder
ant wrote:
when asked to justify why it is we think life must exist somewhere in the cosmos its often said that the universe is so vast there simply MUST be life and intelligence somewhere out there.


No, not must.


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Mon Feb 16, 2015 11:39 am
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Post Re: Chapter 17: The marriage of skepticism and wonder
I'm happy, of course, so long as you gentlemen aren't squabbling and hurling insults, but I feel I'd like to change the subject since this chapter isn't about SETI or contacting alien civilisations.

There is a paragraph which struck me in this chapter:

Quote:
In a life short and uncertain, it seems heartless to do anything that might deprive people of the consolation of faith when science cannot remedy their anguish. Those who cannot bear the burden of science are free to ignore its precepts. But we cannot have science in bits and pieces, applying it where we feel safe and ignoring it where we feel threatened - again because we are not wise enough to do so.


This is such a patronising paragraph, Carl. I am interested in science, and because I am not as educated as you were, or I daresay as intelligent, I have to take the formulas and mathematics on trust, but really I don't just ignore it when I feel threatened. There are different kinds of proofs than mathematical formulii. Experience can lead us to belief in the reality of our souls and spirits - I cannot deny the validity of a spiritual life, because I have had too many proofs to the contrary. The trouble is, you cannot write experience down on paper, it tends to be personal. But it is still proof.

Today, we went for a visit to Rode Hall, a mansion house near here, really to see the snowdrops in the landscaped gardens. Whilst wandering around the grounds, we came upon an old stone Saxon cross - all covered in lichen - it dated from the 9th century.
I just had to stroke it because it was so beautiful and I thought about the people throughout the ages, when life was often short and brutal, who would have found comfort in its very presence - long before we had scientific advancement.


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Wed Feb 18, 2015 2:26 pm
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Post Re: Chapter 17: The marriage of skepticism and wonder
Quote:
but I feel I'd like to change the subject since this chapter isn't about SETI or contacting alien civilisations.


I've gotten carried away with the entire "Is SETI science" question mostly because I wanted to discover if Sagan is being as skeptical about just how scientific a SETI hypothesis is, considering how much time he devotes to debunking psuedoscience in this book.
So I am guilty as charged for changing the subject in this direction.

I'm thinking of getting one of Sagan's books that is entirely SETI related. I've already started reading Paul Davies ' The Eerie Silence"
Davies is on the chair of SETI: Post-Detection Science and Technology Taskgroup of the International Academy of Astronautics..

I think Davies was nominated by SETI to be the first person to speak on humanities behalf should back and forth contact with ET ever occur.
I think he's a great choice. Personally, he's my favorite science author. He is well-balanced, open minded, respectful, ultra humble, and razor sharp.

Davies makes clear that the methodology of SETI is unquestionably scientific, whereas our reasons (admittedly based on zero evidence and justifiable speculation) for searching for intelligence in the Cosmos may not be as sound as we'd like them to be.
Presenting in an open and honest manner what is highly doubtful when considering the existence of ET, the questions/thoughts presented by Davies are leaving me doubtful that SETI is based on a scientific hypothesis.

I needed a more robust treatment of this issue and have learned a lot just by reading the first couple of chapters:

-- the "Drake Equation" is not really an equation at all (my words, NOT Davies). Perhaps all its variables are pure guess work.

-- The "Planet of the Apes" Fallacy is something that's committed too often. Interbane was guilty of committing this fallacy recently.

-- science can not be considered something that automatically follows the rise of "intelligence"

-- although a couple of billion years seems like an enormous amount of time, when considering the rise of life AND intelligence, it's actually a rather small window because of the average life span of the supporting star.


So far it's a great read.

Sagan's presentation of SETI seems to be purely emotional.
Some scientists don't bear down skeptically on their own beliefs.

ET is very much like a religious belief for Sagan.
He's replaced one religion for another.
For example:

Sagan starts of a discussion about SETI by saying "We are a little lonely"

Sagan is undoubtedly speaking of an existential gap that can not be filled by fellow human beings. So Sagan is looking up to the sky in hopes that the gap can be filled by something not of this world.

We can speculate that is what religion does as well.



Last edited by ant on Wed Feb 18, 2015 5:55 pm, edited 3 times in total.



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Wed Feb 18, 2015 5:43 pm
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Post Re: Chapter 17: The marriage of skepticism and wonder
Thank you ant for taking my 'change of subject' seriously.

I think it is because I am female - or it might be because I'm not American, or it might be because I am really quite old......but I don't see that belief or hope for ETI is anything like as relevant as the search for the meaning of human life.

After all, if we don't understand why the hell we are here, how the heck are we going to respect the reason for the existence of extra-terrestrial life.

If we think life is pointless.....we would then, presumably, think that alien life is equally pointless.....and if those aliens see life as meaningful and dynamic.......who could prove what to whom??

The buzz word in the book seems to be 'Counterintuitive'

Quote:
If something is counterintuitive it means it's the opposite of "intuitive" — in other words it's not easily understood in an instinctive, unconscious way. A red light for "go" and a green light for "stop" would be highly counterintuitive, for example.


Now, when I see a red light.....to me red is about energy, force......and I want to go....go...go

and green is about relaxing and letting go......and no hurry..........

But then, I think a man must have designed traffic lights. :lol: :lol:


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Post Re: Chapter 17: The marriage of skepticism and wonder
Quote:
After all, if we don't understand why the hell we are here, how the heck are we going to respect the reason for the existence of extra-terrestrial life.

If we think life is pointless.....we would then, presumably, think that alien life is equally pointless.....and if those aliens see life as meaningful and dynamic.......who could prove what to whom??


Those are some very good points.

The idea of SETI is inherently anthropocentric.

Even worse (for some people), if an intelligent alien civilization reasons that a Creator is responsible for the all that is Reality within our Cosmos, it would be interesting to witness some of our self enlightened skeptics arguing with ET that they are wrong.
To them, ET is likely to be an atheist that would vote democrat. :P



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Post Re: Chapter 17: The marriage of skepticism and wonder
Penelope wrote:
After all, if we don't understand why the hell we are here, how the heck are we going to respect the reason for the existence of extra-terrestrial life.


Asking "why" presupposes that there is a reason we are here. I doubt there is any reason. We are the product of forces, not intelligence(s).

The same applies to the "reason" for extra-terrestrial life. Who says there is a reason? Can't something exist as the end result of causal processes? Why must there be a reason?


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Post Re: Chapter 17: The marriage of skepticism and wonder
Penelope wrote:
Thank you ant for taking my 'change of subject' seriously.

That made me laugh. Ant took your comment so seriously he dove deep right back into the subject you were trying to change! :chatsmilies_com_92: (Ant made good comments, but we digress again.)
Carl Sagan wrote:
In a life short and uncertain, it seems heartless to do anything that might deprive people of the consolation of faith when science cannot remedy their anguish. Those who cannot bear the burden of science are free to ignore its precepts. But we cannot have science in bits and pieces, applying it where we feel safe and ignoring it where we feel threatened - again because we are not wise enough to do so.

Back to Penelope's new subject... Hmmmm... I like the quote, but can see why folks have problems with science because the paradigms change so frequently. We are probably in for gigunga (Tm) changes in the realms of Einstein Vs. Quantum mechanics, Higgs-Boson Vs. smaller particles, Big Bang Vs. ??? etc.... Applying something that changes so frequently doesn't sound reliable. Perhaps it all depends on one's comfort zone:
Life as Perpetual Change Vs. the Eternal Truths of Faith that are impervious to evidence.


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Post Re: Chapter 17: The marriage of skepticism and wonder
Quote:
ant wrote:

if an intelligent alien civilization reasons that a Creator is responsible for the all that is Reality within our Cosmos, it would be interesting to witness some of our self enlightened skeptics arguing with ET that they are wrong.
To them, ET is likely to be an atheist that would vote democrat. :P


Well, I don't believe in a Creator as such. I am much more convinced by the idea of Brahma as in Hindu philosophy.....which is that Brahma is everything.....We are all aspects of the creative life force.....rather like we are drops of water in a wave in the sea.....part of that force.

I like the title of this chapter. It conjurs up exactly the right metaphore, but not in the way Sagan intends. Skepticism is the role of science and rationality....and wonder is the role of our spiritual and intuitive life. And our need to integrate the two.....and it is a need not just a desire.

Quote:
Interbane wrote:

Asking "why" presupposes that there is a reason we are here. I doubt there is any reason. We are the product of forces, not intelligence(s).


I do respect your attitude although I don't share it. We are the product of forces, AND we are the intelligence.....We are what life means.

Quote:
Landroid wrote:

Perhaps it all depends on one's comfort zone:
Life as Perpetual Change Vs. the Eternal Truths of Faith that are impervious to evidence.


But if we are spiritual beings.....and the spirit is alive and growing.....then life is perpetual change.....there is nothing stagnant about sprituality....It is not the same as religious dogma.


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Post Re: Chapter 17: The marriage of skepticism and wonder
Penelope wrote:
I do respect your attitude although I don't share it. We are the product of forces, AND we are the intelligence.....We are what life means.


I meant that if we are the product of forces, it can't be said that there is a reason for our existence. Because a reason implies a reasoner.

We are intelligent, of course. We are not the products of intelligence, but of forces.


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Post Re: Chapter 17: The marriage of skepticism and wonder
Today, in The Guardian - our daily newspaper, appears the weekly page of 'Notes and Queries' which always is thought provoking. However, today there came the answer to a question which put beautifully succinctly what I have been trying to say....much more clumsily:-

The Query was:

Can computers detect irony?

Quote:
And the wonderful reply was:

If computers could detect irony, they could probably produce it as well, in which case they would pass the Turing test for AI. (In this case AI meaning Artificial Intelligence, not alien intelligence). But they can't, because it's impossible to reproduce the unanalysable human intelligence, of which humour and irony are a brilliant product. The Turing test hasn't been passed, despite the recent claim, and never will be. Google's pet futurologist forecasts AI by 2030: they're getting oodles of free publicity from gullible media, but they'll never get AI - or artificial irony.

Now, I know that we could go on arguing, when I say that we can't analyse everything, you will say 'yes, we can'. And we would go on like children saying can, can't, can, can't.

And when I say they'll never get AI, you will say, 'yes they will' and likewise we could go on arguing.

But I just want to use this example to put my point accross - which is that we simply cannot analyse 'everything'. But just because we can't analyse it.....doesn't mean it doesn't exist.


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Post Re: Chapter 17: The marriage of skepticism and wonder
In relation to the origin of life, as in intelligent life, consider this;

Not knowing the origin of life is one thing; when and how life achieves autonomy is an entirely different matter.

No one should tell you that neither of the above has been explained.

AI is a fascinating topic. I'd love to see this achieved in my lifetime.
Unfortunately, my money is betting that it won't happen in at least a few hundred years.



Thu Feb 19, 2015 10:45 am
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Post Re: Chapter 17: The marriage of skepticism and wonder
A prudent balance between mysticism, superstition, and science or the marriage of skepticism and wonder. CS asks the reader to lose dogmatic attitudes toward the opposing view, to have a full understanding of that opposing view, to have empathy, (seems reasonable), that there's two sides to every story. This chapter is the authors compromise, his recognition that spirituality matters.

Quote:
CS: "Have I ever heard a skeptic wax superior and contemptuous? Certainly. I've even sometimes heard, to my retrospective dismay that unpleasant tone in my own voice."


If this guy was an atheist, his expression of it was soft.



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