brainwagon "There is much pleasure in useless knowledge." — Bertrand Russell


Flying Objects!

SimplyPhysics has a nice page of objects which have close encounters with the magnets inside MRI machines.   Now I know why people with stints and other metal in their bodies can't have MRIs. 🙂

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Intelligent Design Isn’t the Future

As some of you might know, I'm fascinated by psuedoscience. When I was a young child, I had a deep interest in all sorts of strange stuff. I remember reading Von Daniken's Chariots of the Gods and musing about ancient astronauts. I read books about UFOs. I read books about pyramid power. ESP.

But, by the time I was fourteen, I got over it. I realized that it was entirely rubbish, that the people who promoted such ideas were perhaps sincere, but were not the clever, free thinkers they imagined themselves to be. Furthermore, I realized that some weren't even sincere: they were trying to exploit the gullibility of ignorance of their fellow man.

Which, of course, brings me to Intelligent Design.

As the recent court case Kitzmiller v. Dover, amply illustrated, Intelligent Design is nothing more that a ruse designed to allow the promotion of certain religious ideas as science. I monitor a number of related blogs and websites just to see what's going on, and what's going on is largely drivel like the stuff spewed by Jonathan Witt below:
Intelligent Design the Future: Why Trust a Monkey Mind?

Witt quotes Darwin as saying:

With me the horrid doubt always arises whether the convictions of man’s mind, which has always been developed from the mind of lower animals, are of any value or at all trustworthy. Would any one trust in the convictions of a monkey’s mind, if there are any convictions in such a mind?

This quotation was produced by Joe Carter and is meant to imply that it is illogical to believe that human brains could be undesigned and yet reliable: that to trust our monkey brains is illogical unless they are designed.

Can anyone spot the problem with this argument?

The problem is that it's actually not illogical or even impractical for us to trust our monkey brains. Why? Because the evidence is simply that they work (or at least can work) rather well in practice. It's easy for ID theorists to lose sight of this, because ID actually has no practical implications whatsoever. Whether our minds are the results of natural, unguided physical processes or intelligent design, they do appear to work.

And, of course, there is the other practical reason. Why trust our monkey brains? Because those are the only brains we've got, silly.

Addendum: The quote by Darwin above is seldom provided with a proper citation, it appears in one of his letters to William Graham, author of the book The Creed of Science, which Darwin was apparently reading. If you click through the link, you'll see the complete text. It's interesting how often creationists cite this particular sentence, but ignore the surrounding text. Here's a taste:

You would not probably expect any one fully to agree with you on so many abstruse subjects; and there are some points in your book which I cannot digest. The chief one is that the existence of so-called natural laws implies purpose. I cannot see this. Not to mention that many expect that the several great laws will some day be found to follow inevitably from some one single law, yet taking the laws as we now know them, and look at the moon, where the law of gravitation-and no doubt of the conservation of energy-of the atomic theory, etc. etc., hold good, and I cannot see that there is then necessarily any purpose. Would there be purpose if the lowest organisms alone, destitute of consciousness existed in the moon? But I have had no practice in abstract reasoning, and I may be all astray.

Typical of Darwin's self-deprecating nature. He continues....

Nevertheless you have expressed my inward conviction, though far more vividly and clearly than I could have done, that the Universe is not the result of chance.* But then with me the horrid doubt always arises whether the convictions of man's mind, which has been developed from the mind of the lower animals, are of any value or at all trustworthy. Would any one trust in the convictions of a monkey's mind, if there are any convictions in such a mind?

I find it interesting that Charles Darwin makes the same argument as Witt and Clark, but with the opposite conclusion. Darwin here is not questioning his own science, he is questioning the conviction that Graham has: that the natural laws imply some greater purpose or intelligence. It is that conclusion, unsupported by scientific evidence or metholody that Darwin mistrusts, not his own attempts to reveal the workings of the universe through science.

I don't think that's what Witt wanted you to know.

Addendum: I'm curious about another thing. The blog above doesn't allow comments. What's up with that?

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Dot Matrix Printers as musical instruments…

Another of those musical projects, this one comes via the Make blog. Paul reprograms old dot matrix printers (does anyone younger than me actually remember these?) to play musical notes. His description of the project:

I've got an ongoing project, reprogramming the firmware in these 1985 Epson LQ-500 printers to turn them into musical instruments. I originally just wanted to make a sort of homemade mellotron, but it's evolved into a much deeper project.

Nutty. Check out his writeup of three iterations of this project, and be sure to check out some of his other synth projects.

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