Monthly Archives: April 2012

Neil Degrasse Tyson Doesn’t Know What Science Is

"Do the one about black holes!"

I don’t mean, of course, that he doesn’t really know what science is. If someone were to prod him to unpack what he thinks I’m sure he could make a coherent case, but the quote is nonsensical.

Science is a method and a process that’s neither true nor false. There’s nothing about it to “believe” in, unless maybe you’re talking about what a subset of a subset of Christianity thinks of the scientific conclusions concerning evolution, or what an academic with a chip on his shoulder thinks of a colleague’s methodology.

Science isn’t, by itself, a proposition that can be labelled true or false, but it does yield propositions which have been determined to be true, i.e., the freezing point of water is 32 degrees Fahrenheit. Substitute the word “fact” in this quote and now we’re cooking with gasoline.

Epistemically, science is not a category of basic knowledge by itself (I don’t think, at least), but a combination of inductive logic and sense perception, two basic building blocks of knowledge-gathering. There’s no way one could not believe in science because by doing so one will end up using induction and sense perception to get there. We all do “science” in little spats every day in this sense, but most of what we call “scientific knowledge” cannot be taken as such by 99% of us. It’s taken on reliable authority since we do not conduct the experiments ourselves. And, unless you have a scientist you can talk to directly, you’re getting this knowledge 3rd or 4th hand.

But arriving at true propositions—”facts”—are not the sole domain of science, or this one-two punch of induction and the senses. We know things legitimately through memory, deduction, reliable authority, sympathy (pdf link). These things aren’t scientific ways of knowing things but they are very rational. The fact that I ate bacon this morning is true whether you accept it or not (for me it’s memory, for my wife it’s sense perception, for everyone else it’s reliable authority), but we would hardly call it “scientific”.

Tyson, for all his good qualities, fast approaches the Saganite trap of making statements outside of his expertise (Sagan’s grasp of religious history wasn’t strong). In Tyson’s case it’s epistemology, but most anything a pop scientist will say outside of their profession will get a free pass by uncritical “freethinkers”.

Some homework: an interesting thing about modern science. We use instruments created by others who have used the scientific method to create them, who used other instruments used by others to create them. Modern science utilizes a many-generational result of the scientific process, and if this isn’t circular reasoning it comes very close to it. How can something like this reconciled, epistemically?

Edit for crowdsourcing: was trying find the origin of this quote. Was it from one of Tyson’s books?

Edit two: it was said on Bill Maher’s show. Can’t find another source. Eh.

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Cops Shut Down Criminal Drummer Playing in Public

Halper, who plays in the band Periphery, is sponsored by Mapex and had the neat idea of setting up his set out in the busy streets during the music industry gathering SXSW. Thank God the police were there to stop this immoral act from continuing. The look of horror on everyone’s faces is heart-wrenching.

This really isn’t a sarcastic rant against law enforcement. I just love watching drummers play, especially good ones like Halpern (notice how “big” he makes a stripped-down kit sound). It’s also a great way, in this case, to nudge the more drunkward of us into realms of mild embarrassment.

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In Which I Bloviate About Melt-Banana

I first heard Melt-Banana when a fellow grocery store warm body lent me their Scratch or Stitch release. It held my interest for a few listens: an album full of layered ray gun guitar effects, fuzz bass pounding, ADHD drumming, insane cat-bark yipyap vocals, song titles bordering on Engrish hilarity. Something that was experimental but not boring or self-indulgent. Even if that sort of thing repulses you, you just kind of have to listen for a little bit to experience the trainwreck.

But there were some fatal flaws to keep me from really enjoying it. It was lo-fi and I was in the midst of an obsession with metalcore, a genre that tends to enjoy higher production values. Additionally I was going through an irritating yet mild “Christian-only music” cloistering phase—a fever that neophytes to the scene can easily catch.

I forgot about them until recently, when for some reason I listened to “Cracked Plaster Cast” from Bambi’s Dilemma once, and the once turned into listening to the whole holocaust of an album about a few dozen times and counting. And this turned into exploring their back discography. They had changed into a more accessible rock sound while retaining the weirdness aesthetic.

Please bear in mind, though, that this is a relative change. They are no more traditional than they were in their loopy years. It’s more accurate to say that their songs can be slightly longer and have more structure. That’s about it. Yasuko’s vocals have more diversity but are still not quite punk, not quite rock, not quite grindcore, not quite rap. It’s like she just said, “You know what? F— it. I’ll keep doing it but someone else figure it out.”

Below is a short documentary and live set from a recent tour. Hit play and fall in love with the time-traveling plasma rifle rainbow.

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