Sunday, April 29, 2012

Elitism in Reality

There are many forms of mistakes. Some are made in grammar or spelling, of which I am guilty. Some are made while explaining something, and getting it wrong. And some are made in an never ending cascade of mistakes, of which we are all composed  because of natural selection.

It doesn't matter whether you believe in evolution or creationism or whatever else, because reality is what it is regardless of what you or I believe (except in a kind of silly world where we all invent our own little reality with no regard to others). Reality is a harsh master and cares little for our wishes.

I have read many scientific journals pertaining to cosmology, physics (6 kinds!) and many others dealing with psychology, computer science and chemistry. All of them suffer from one form or another of elitism. Especially in the formation of language and names for various entities.

It used to be that only priests or scribes could read the holy scriptures. This was true for thousands of years, since the majority of people could not read and those who could were not allowed to be taught to read the holy symbols. These symbols have survived to the present day in some cryptic religions, whereas Roman Catholics finally dispensed with the Latin mass some years ago.

However, in the realm of science, things have only gotten worse. 

Every time a new law of physics is formulated, and especially whenever a new force or particle is discovered, one or more new symbols are used to represent those entities in math equations. Much of the time they are Greek symbols, although I would imagine that we are running out of those very quickly, so that a Capital Greek and Small Greek pair must be used for some. 

It is understandable for mathematics to reduce all information down to its smallest formal representation, since there is often a massive amount of noting, scribbling and conjuring that must go on during the solving of great mathematical puzzles. 

Personally, even though I use mathematics everyday and must symbolically express all my work just the same as any other mathematician, except that I use computers rather than note pads for all work. This means that I must use a great number of other symbols unrelated to math itself but to the language used to describe math to computers. It is enough to drive me crazy.

 For instance:

// returns the absolute value when dividing the square of x by y
int yfunc(int xpar,int ypar)
    int tpar = xpar*xpar; 
    if (tpar<0) tpar= -tpar; 

Any C programmer will know what that means. But if I tried to describe that to a child it would whoosh right over their head. In fact most people are unwilling to sit long enough to a long winded description of what that means. A C programmer can also find a fault in the program, but it is subtle enough that often it will go unnoticed until a computer actually runs the code.

Now, if instead of a few lines of code for a computer, imagine that was an entire book full of equations attempting to describe all the chemical and subatomic interactions comprising a fish, including all the activities in its brain and other organs. The book would be thicker than any book I could physically lift.

Any general theory of a fish might actually be written in a much smaller book, however it might attempt to simplify the work by modeling aspects of the fishes brain as black boxes of signal processing  elements. This is much like modeling the sun as a giant fusion reaction turning hydrogen into helium. Indeed the sun is doing that, however the sun also is contaminated with nearly every kind of element that exists, which complicates the physical process of fusion.

A general fish is also not a specific fish which may have been exposed to mercury or a host of other toxins in its life. It is also not describing the entire process of a fish from the creation and fertilization of an egg to its death by old age (a rare form of death for a fish.) Even describing the DNA of a fish is difficult, and no one that I know of has actually described the entire process by which the DNA is transcribed like a computer program or cake recipe into a living fish.

So the complexity of science transcends the complexity of our actual ability to think about the implications. The symbols are too many, the categories of science are too varied, and the laws of physics are too fraught with footnotes (such as 1. we don't really each and every law of physics) . So like priest in ancient tribes, our scientists today must learn to speak in grey-goo-speak, to the point where not every scientist can really understand the entirety of what other scientists are saying.

To be fair, the "simple" world of philosophy and religion, given to a smaller set of books for guidance, did not always result in universal agreement. All one has to do is read the very first chapter in the Bible, in the Book of Genesis, and get confused. None of those statements makes sense on their own, so that everyone reads into them whatever cultural ideas that accompany them. "Let there be light!" is very much like "The Big Bang!" to a cosmologist. Yet, in the "real" Big Bang, so far as we can tell, there was no light until sometime after the bang itself, when matter was able to form and photons of certain frequencies could be radiated.

But, at least for most stories in religious texts, they can be explained to people of all ages and intellectual capabilities. You cannot explain everything to children until their minds have developed to a certain point, and for some people, born with abnormalities or injury, their brains may not ever be capable. But so long as there is some priest or witch doctor around to read the words of the ancients, they can be told as stories that people can usually relate to.

Exceptions to this can arise, such as in the Book of Revelation. That text suddenly bursts forth with all kinds of symbolic and descriptive mutations. Who can relate to a beast with ten heads? It has been explained that a book such as that was written in a kind of code when Christianity was being hunted down like a rogue elephant during the last stages of the Roman Empire. So, OK. There are sometimes codes and symbols used in non-scientific ways, and they have been used throughout history.

In almost every case, the symbols are used to further some kind of elitism. Maybe this is unavoidable.

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