Science and Nonsense

From: Richard Loosemore (
Date: Sat Dec 31 2005 - 07:51:00 MST

For anyone who, like me, is really fed up with the recent debate about
parapsychology, I want to make some comments about science and nonsense,
and also make an announcement.

Science is about finding out the truth. You do this by asking
questions, then going out and finding empirical answers by means of
experiments, which you then try to organize into a theoretical framework
that ties the experimental results together.

I was trained as a physicist, and for some reason I don't understand, we
were so thoroughly drilled in this idea that we really took it to heart.
  You know one way this appears? I am fairly sure that I read somewhere
that there are more physicists who are comfortable with the idea that
there is empirical evidence for parapsychological phenomena, than there
are in other sciences. People in other sciences (as well as many
nonscientists) tend to prejudge the issue or make casual accusations of
fraud. Many physicists I know, when told there might be reliable
experimental data, respond with open curiosity. They ask questions and
try to think of other explanations, but when they get some acceptable
answers to their questions, they generally accept that it is a real
possibility. They don't often get abusive. Some of them are intrigued
enough that they try to do some experiments themselves, to see if it
will work for them (that is what happened to me). In fact, among the
people who got involved in the Cambridge University Society for
Psychical Research, a surprisingly large percentage were physicists.

If this were just an observation about psi, it would not be of much
relevance to this list (except inasmuch as people here debate the nature
of consciousness a lot), but my real point is that this kind of attitude
to science applies to other things like the debate about how to build
artificial minds. Frequently I find myself confronted by people who
assert their beliefs about Artificial Intelligence as if those beliefs
were facts, just because many people accept them. And when I try to
point out ways in which such "facts" could be open to challenge or
investigation, the abuse starts.

I am amazed by this attitude, and I wonder if it is just a feature of
the particular individuals who dominate this list, or if it is
widespread among software people, or singularity people?

Either way, I am close to the end of my tether.

I have better things to do than teach the basic rules of scientific
conduct to a small group of noisy people who should know better.

In the next few days I am going to set up a forum where singularity
issues can be debated and investigated in a more mature form.

Richard Loosemore.

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