The Scientific Method

One of the things that pushed me away from the religion I grew up with was the intrusion into the scientific realms. My religion tried to explain the dinosaurs, genetic diversity, the planets, geology, etc. But, when I encountered the scientific reasoning for the theories and the evidence my religion couldn’t hold up. Faith couldn’t trump evidence for these things. I’m not saying that science has all the answers at this point, and they may not ever have all the answers. There may always be a need for spirituality or religion, but more and more people are going to turn away from churches if they spend their time and energy trying to contradict science.

Anyway, I’ve occasionally heard that my feelings about science are really just “faith” in science instead of faith in god. This is a misunderstanding of what the scientific method is. I don’t read an article about evolution and have faith in the author, it is that I trust that the scientific method is the best way that we’ve come up with to understand the natural world. The scientific method has natural checks and balances that push towards truth. There are plenty of dead-ends and misunderstandings, but the general direction of scientific inquiry is towards truth.

The same can’t be said of religion where new information is not analyzed critically, instead it is suspect. Tradition and a few ancient texts are said to be the final word on truth. New understandings of the world are rejected and considered an enemy to the divine truth. When new scientific discoveries are made this is often portrayed as proof that science doesn’t know what it is doing, or that it can’t be true because things keep changing.

It isn’t the natural world that is really changing, it is our understanding of it. Take, for example, the 1977 issue of Time Magazine that discusses “Global Cooling”. This issue is often shown as “proof” that climate change is some sort of a conspiracy. Why would we call it global cooling one decade, global warming the next, and then climate change after that? Isn’t that proof that there is a secret cabal of communist scientists who want to hijack the world and establish a Marxist utopia all under the guise of saving the planet?

Well, no.

The global cooling, global warming, and climate change labels are an example of the strengths of scientific inquiry. It is science’s ability to change as new information and research becomes available. This isn’t flip-flopping, it is learning.

Now, maybe someday soon, scientific research will see that the climate change we are experiencing is a weird natural cycle that has nothing to do with humans. Or maybe research will show that it is partly to do with humans. I really don’t know, it isn’t my area of expertise (though, I tend to think it is likely that humans are having an impact on our environment). One thing science doesn’t really do is tell us what the best policy positions are to alter our environment or if we should do that even if we have the capability.

Anyway, I love science. I love that our understanding of the world changes with new information. I love that nothing is really off limits for science, at least in an ideal world. Scientists are humans and many of them are resistant to new paradigms that would overturn their life’s work. The Scientific Method is generally able to push past human desires, it eventually evolves new theories and hypothesis to explain the world, even if individual humans resist. Religion can’t do that, and it should really stop trying to push it’s method for discovering truth into the world dominated by science.

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It’s all in my head

It’s been a shitty two days.

Yesterday, it basically rained all day. That is no good on a bike tour, it creates a snowball effect of suck that beats down on my mood and motivation. First, the rain turns roads into mush, particularly unpaved bike paths. The wet debris from these roads get in our gears and messes with the shifting. Then, the rain starts to screw with my phone, which I need to navigate. Add that to being cold and wet and knowing that our tent is going to be miserable to sleep in and it just gets me down. Also, it pisses Higgins off and he gets really uncomfortable, and when he gets uncomfortable he whines non-stop. I don’t know if you’ve ever had a dog whining behind you for three hours but it is a terrible sound. It is annoying and frustrating to know that you can’t help someone you love feel comfortable.

We had planned on sleeping at a campground but due to the rain (and closed roads and everything) we were running behind, we called one campground and they didn’t allow dogs. We called a second campground and they only had one spot left that they wouldn’t reserve for us. I knew it was unlikely the spot would still be free when we arrived around 2 hours later so we just decided to find a stealth camping spot on the side of the road.

Well, do you know what terrain is difficult to find a good camping spot in? Yep, swamps. And Louisiana is filled with swamps. We ended up biking around for way too long looking for a spot before we finally found something that would work underneath an interstate overpass about 20 miles from New Orleans. By time we arrived and set up the moisture from the rain and humidity had destroyed the battery on my phone. We were safe though, which I guess is something to be thankful for.

In fact, we had a lot to be thankful for. At some point today I was able to meditate a bit on my situation and turn my mood around. I was reminded again that my mood is under my control, even when a thousand things are not. I can’t control the rain, Higgins mood, the crazy drivers on the road, the construction on the bike path, or the shitty no dog or no reservations policies at campgrounds. But I can control my mood.

So, I took some deep breaths and recited over and over the words that always seem to calm me: This is the situation I am in. I can’t change the past but I can change the present.

I recite this chant a dozen or so times and my mood calms. I’m not happy, but I’m at peace. I start to focus on the amazing world we live in. The beauty of the natural world… the mountains in the background, the flowers in the sidewalk cracks, the birds chirping all around. The awe that comes from seeing what man can create… a plane flying high overhead, a building taller than every tree in the area, the levee I’m on holding the mighty Mississippi at bay.

The world is all around for us to be in awe of, if we allow ourselves. I fail daily to really appreciate what this world has to offer, and I am the one to suffer because of my limited ability to appreciate.

Interesting Things – Wednesday (11/13/13)

Here is today’s collection of things I found interesting online.

Intimacy: Another city has a professional cuddler in it. Portland is the most recent in a string of “cuddle parlors” that have opened up to provide non-sexual intimacy with people. Personally, I love this. I think it is a shame that society so often discourages expression of intimacy, love, and affection outside of our romantic partners. I also think men often face pressure to not be emotional and a safe environment like this gives them a chance to be anonymously vulnerable. (http://www.oregonlive.com/portland/index.ssf/2013/11/professional_cuddler_samantha.html)

Religious Hypocrisy: A Kansas City Mission has decided to prevent atheists from serving food to the homeless on Thanksgiving. I am not sure how they are living according to Christ’s principles when they are explicitly preventing people from helping those in need. It seems that they are choosing hate over love. (http://www.rawstory.com/rs/2013/11/11/christian-rescue-mission-bans-kansas-atheists-from-volunteering-at-thanksgiving/)

Police: A former police officer outlines how to avoid getting arrested. Some of the tips are good but my biggest takeaway is how subservient we must be to men in badges in modern America. When it is recommended that you cry or wet yourself when you encounter these “public servants” there is a serious problem. (http://www.businessinsider.com/how-not-to-get-arrested-2013-11>

Sex: Today is national birth control day, be safe out there and use vegan condoms like Sir Richard’s.
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Nature: Here is a video of a dolphin masturbating with a decapitated fish. Nature is a cruel funny beast and we are all really just here to get our rocks off. (http://io9.com/this-is-a-video-of-a-dolphin-masturbating-with-a-decapi-1463711897)

Economics: Using game theory one can increase their odds of winning on the price is right. Economic principles can have a huge impact on life in general. For me ideas like sunk cost have actually changed my behavior. Everyone should understand the basics. (http://www.slate.com/articles/arts/culturebox/2013/11/winning_the_price_is_right_strategies_for_contestants_row_plinko_and_the.html)

Russia: A new promotion for the winter Olympics allows people to do squats instead of pay money for their train ride. I find this incredibly interesting and could be a way to both encourage fitness and provide transportation opportunities for low-income people. (http://mashable.com/2013/11/12/russian-subway-squats/?utm_cid=mash-com-fb-main-link)

Police State: For some reason Americans continue to assume the best out of the bureaucracy that operates our National Security agencies. Despite generations of rights violations, domestic spying, and abuse at the hands of both political parties people still kind of trust the system that is rife with abuse. It baffles me. (http://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2013/11/why-does-anyone-trust-the-national-security-state/281429/)

Leg 2: From Mounties to Mormons

The second leg takes us over the Rockies into Calgary and south along a rocky path towards the Great Salt Lake. I’m estimating 30 days and about 1800 miles for this but I think that is too short. We only have 5 locations where we are staying multiple days (Calgary, Missoula, Yellowstone, Idaho Falls, and Salt Lake City) but with all the mountains we may not be able to pull loner distance days. Here are some of the highlights:

  • Shuswap Lake Monster
  • My brother, sister-in-law, and niece (yep, there is another generation of Neigers)
  • Hot springs
  • Blayne Bennett
  • Yellowstone National Park
  • Largest collection of vacuum devices
  • Salt Lake

Leg 2

If you have recommendations for this approximate route I’d love to hear them… or if you want to host or know someone with a soft couch we are also always looking for new friends and family.