WickedEye's Quotient

12/16/2005 at 07:09

Love Song For A Narwhal

I stated below that I worship and adore the scientific method, but now seems like a good time to explain why.

They’ve just discovered what the narwhal’s tusk does.

It’s amazing. Incredible. This is an object that has been sought and sold and beatified and bought, that has had theories and tales and legends and lies form around it for more than a thousand years. During all that time, no one has known what purpose it served.

But now we know. And we know because of scientific research on the narwhal.

I first read about narwhals when I was 7. I was glutted with the Brothers Grimm and Hans Christian Andersen (another of my hobbies is collecting myths and fairy tales) and Charles Perrault; we had an entire Encyclopaedia Britannica, so I looked up unicorns. And after reading that “unicorn horns” were really narwhal tusks, I looked up narwhals. Even at 7 I was mystified and intrigued by the fact that no one really knew what purpose their horns served, but after I delved more deeply into evolutionary theory, I more or less dismissed the whole thing as the whale version of a panda’s thumb.

Not so. The narwhal’s tusk is a sensory organ of extraordinary sensitivity, with an atypical configuration (nerve exposure to extreme Arctic conditions, lessening of nerve density from tip to base) that is uniquely adapted to convey a great deal of information. Theories about its sensitivities include salinity measurements, sound wave detection, and electrical sensing through a piezoelectric effect generated through the unique dentin structure of the horn. Fabulous- and unguessed at, until now.

To deviate from the flow of this discussion for a moment, I’ve always said that everyone has a religion- a way they explain the world to themselves and make it make sense. In that sense, I consider science- the scientific method- to be the only religion I have.

The scientific method is actually laughably simple- far simpler than many other religions I’ve encountered. It specifies that, in studying a given phenomenon, you must:

Characterize:
Observe and measure that phenomenon as accurately as possible.

Hypothesize:
Form a specific and limited hypothesis about the cause or effect of the phenomenon. The hypothesis must propose the simplest mechanism- consistent with known fact- possible (Ockham’s razor).

Predict:
Formulate a prediction, drawn from the hypothesis, which is concrete and capable of being proven wrong (falsifiable).

Experiment:
Design and perform an experiment designed to test the validity of the prediction. Results produced must be capable of being replicated by other scientists when they conduct the same experiment.

Rinse and repeat.

That's it. Simple. Not easy- some of the theories and information and experimental setups arising from this theory are mind-bogglingly complex, but- and more on this later- nowhere is it written that the results of this very simple method should be easy to comprehend. Sometimes they are; more often they are not; those results range over the breadth of the universe and have the specificity of subatomic particles, but they are not easy. (Again, more on this at another time.)

If your theories do not fit all of the above criteria, then what you are doing, thinking, theorizing, writing, speechifying on, is not science. (On these grounds alone, the Intelligent Design crowd is a pack of liars. Not a single premise of theirs is falsifiable, and therefore it is not science. If it is not science, it does not belong in a classroom. Quod erat demonstrandum.)

See where this fits? My Blogger profile says that I believe science to be the best tool for evaluating the world. It is far, far more than that. It is the method that has produced more results, more knowledge, than any other in the history of humanity. It is the single greatest factor behind our technological- and organizational- progress.

It is, in short, our greatest accomplishment as a species.

And, as a devout Pastafarian (no, that’s not a contradiction- see link at right), I’ll end this paean of praise properly:

Raaameeeen.




Anonymous Haxton Bricks said...

I believe in Creation, one God who made the universe in six literal 24-hour days. What you call the scientific method is only a study of what already exists. It does nothing to bring us closer to knowing how things came into existence in the first place. I must assume, then, that you also believe in the theory of evolution. That is all that is, though: a theory. There is no scientific way of knowing with any kind of certainty that the Big Bang occured at all, and all the events that led up to the formation of the chemical soup that brought forth life. One must have faith in this theory, because there is no proof of it. It is not falsifiable, and as you said: "therefore it is not science. If it is not science, it does not belong in a classroom."  

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Blogger Scientiae said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.  

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Blogger Scientiae said...

The comment above is a perfect example of what I said I'd go into later: people who obviously have no basic scientific education making asinine statements which they assume are true because they wish that it should be so.

The pivot of this- er, person's- statement is that none of the above theories- and what, precisely, constitutes a scientific theory also deserves another, later entry- is falsifiable. Since he/she/it is completely wrong about that, the above paragraph is pretty much hissing and spitting.

But at least it's not misspelled.  

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Blogger Carissa said...

I need to respond to the "heifer" Haxton. First of all, where does it say in the Bible that a day was only 24 hours. No one could calculate time back then...who is to say that a "day" wasn't 200, 400, 1,000 years? No where in the Bible does it say that God created the Earth in six "literal" days. Only God knows how long a "day" was when He first created the Earth. Also since we have "evolved" as humans who is to say that God didn't let the earth evolve as well. We have scientific proof that dinosaurs once roamed the earth...but there is no mention of them in the Bible. How do we explain that? Something you could think about.  

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Anonymous Braxton Hicks said...

How would you define "scientific education"? I am educated, according to any average layman's definition, but science has little to do with these comments. Science cannot prove the Big Bang, the origin of species, the evolution of one organism into all living things. I do wish and believe the account of creation as told in the Bible to be true, but does not the atheist also wish and believe the Theory of Evolution to be true? So, then wouldn't what we both believe be considered religions? Why is believing Creation religious but believing Evolution scientific?

To respond to Carissa, each day in the story of creation could not be a figurative day meant to represent 1000 years. That line of thinking is a weak attempt to merge two opposing theories of how the world came to be. According to the Bible, trees, grass, and herbs were created on the third day, the sun, moon, and stars on the fourth day, and land creatures on the sixth day. If the days were even 100 years, the plants could not have survived without sun or reproduced without the land animals. As for dinosaurs, the word was not coined until 1842. The earliest English Bible was translated and hand-written in the 1380's. The King James Bible we use today was first printed in 1611. Obviously, the word "dinosaur" could not be used yet. So, they used the word they knew then to describe these great creatures, and it appears many times in the Bible: dragon.  

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Blogger Scientiae said...

If "Haxton" had bothered to read the original post, he/she/it would have realized that science has nothing to do with "proving" things. The only thing science can do is attempt to disprove testable predictions- once again, more on this in a later entry.

I never used to have sympathy for scientists who insisted that responding to Creationists was useless; why give idiots unrebutted airplay? But I'm starting to understand it now.

Here's the formal notice: Anyone is free to post here. As the blog owner, I'm also free to respond, and/or delete comments when they are inappropriate, too lengthy, or otherwise pointless. This is my blog; I don't write here to educate anyone, or to change the minds of those with very little claim to them.

As this applies specifically to you, "Haxton":
It's clear that you have your mind made up, and that you're not interested in the facts pertinent to your beliefs or in being further educated. You're welcome to express your opinion, but your second post was needless and lengthy. If you wish to rebut every response made to your opinions, post to your own blog. If you post any further comments to this entry, they will be deleted as unnecessary- your first comment made your opinion clear.  

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