Saturday, March 29, 2014

COSMOS Brings Back the Wonder!

Cosmos_Carousel-carousel-360x282I hope you all have been enjoying the remake of COSMOS(Sundays: Fox Entertainment and Mondays on National Geographic.) While episodes one and two were merely very good -- with some stretches of preachiness -- we were awed by the third installment, which was stunning on a par with… even exceeding… the Carl Sagan original.

Yes, all right, I'm biased: Edmund Halley has always been one of my heroes and the depiction of comets (so well-executed by show science director Andre Bormanis) seem to have been taken from my doctoral dissertation!

(See below about the controversial earlier choice of Giordano Bruno as the historical centerpiece of episode one.)

== What's wrong with us? ==

But none of those elements mattered next to the awesome vistas and deeply-moving messages of this exciting and enlightening show, so well delivered by Neil deGrasse Tyson. If you have not watched… and heavily proselytized… this event, then you must have simply fallen into a torpor. Wake up!  It's time to restore our civilization's confidence and sense of can-do wonder.

Just ponder one absolutely amazing fact.

Last week, it was announced that a telescope on the south pole, financed by your tax dollars, just mapped out the inflation event that occurred in the first trillionth of a trillionth of a second of the Big Bang.  Is that the amazing thing Brin is referring-to? No, it is not.

mars_curiosity_1_r640x453Or was it last year, when your taxes paid to send a capsule threading the narrow atmosphere of of a distant planet. A capsule that then -- in the exact-right millisecond -- deployed a parachute, that precisely deployed a rocket, that used a crane to gently lower a complete, mobile science lab onto %$#! Mars… was that the amazing thing?

Nope, nor was it the discovery last week of an asteroid with rings, or finding a new mini-planet beyond Pluto, nor the announcement of seven hundred new planets beyond our solar system (see below.)

No, the amazing thing is that YOU, when you heard about these things… and dozens more, in just the last year… , did not run outside -- (even naked) -- grabbing every random person you met, telling them about it, bursting with pride and shouting "I am a  member of a civilization that DOES stuff like this!"

Admit it.  You didn't do that. Now admit it reveals that something has gone very wrong with us.

Yes, restoring that sense of confidence and joy is what COSMOS is about.

== One small fret? ==

sagan-diskAs one of the show's side-endeavors -- and a way cool one -- kids all over the world have been invited to use an online drawing tool to scrawl "messages to extraterrestrials" on a stylized version of the Sagan-Lomberg "Golden Record" that is carried aboard the Voyager space probes. Have a look: some of them are endearing and give hope for the next generation. A worthy activity that stimulates thought!  However…

…there is this rumor going around, that some of the producers -- perhaps Neil himself -- plan to announce a surprise stunt to "beam" some of these messages into space by radio dish.  And if it turns out to be true, well, that would be a major blunder.  Ever increasing numbers of prestigious scientists are coming out against such "METI" stunts, which arrogate a peremptory right to change one of our planet's major observable characteristics without ever exposing the endeavor to critique by scientific peers.

There are no good reasons to do such a thing, without discussing it with humanity's greatest sages and with the public involved.  Indeed, a number of us have come up with some very good reasons not to! So please, Neil, just in case the rumor is true, stay scientific and don't do it. And if you do it anyway, recall that a Klystron can transmit at very low power.  Talk to us…all of us. You're doing a great job at that. Leave such stunts for a later, more-knowing generation.

== Oh, in keeping with the spirit of Cosmos… ==

FALL-IN-LOVE-WITH-SCIENCE…see this very moving essay: "It's time we fell back in love with science," which bemoans how British attitudes toward science are becoming crazier… as in America.

"When science used to tell us things we didn’t want to hear, we listened. Now we stick our fingers in our ears and say “lalalala” before finding someone who will tell us what we do want to hear." writes Alex Proud in The Telegraph.

==Was Bruno the best choice? ==

Interesting articles spin online, about how COSMOS producers chose in episode one to focus so long and hard on Giordano Bruno, whose immolation in Italy cast into stark focus the fear and wrath provoked by heretical beliefs.  (I was surprised that Tyson did not pose next to the statue of Bruno that now towers over the square where he burned.) Although I speak of Bruno often, I never portray him as a saint of science. Rather, he was a paladin of confrontation… the top contrarian of an era that was just learning how to accept the prodigious benefits of open and fair argument.  And this fellow contrarian appreciates him in that ornery spirit.

Statue-Giordano-bruno-romeAs far as science goes, well, this article (Did Cosmos Pick the Wrong Hero?) compares Bruno to the Englishman, Thomas Digges, who was quietly doing much more to bring the ideas of Copernicus into the  mainstream of European thinking, without the accompanying in-yer-face theological dross that Bruno added, that multiplied his troubles.

Oh, certainly, I am more like Bruno, I suppose.  But with just enough maturity to know that civilization is actually pushed forward by more modest men and women of science.

== More compact!  Yet cogent ==

Less flashy than Cosmos, the "inFact" series by science journalist Brian Dunning, aims to offer net-era brevity to snappy-but-wise riffs on science for the interested layman.  I especially recommend the short piece on global climate change which aims -- above-all -- to calm folks down and get us no longer making science decisions based upon our political party.  Compact enough to get your crazy uncle to watch!  Oh, also see his video about Tesla!

Kind of impressive.  I would have added a couple of notes… e.g. that the mavens of weather forecasting make vastly more money than climate scientists and have no vested interest. They are the geniuses who transformed the old, 4 hour joke of a "weather report" into a ten day miracle. They know their stuff and have no reason to foist a scam on us… their "grants" are safe. Yet all of them agree we should take reasonable steps to become more efficient and reduce the worst effects of climate change.

Still, a very compact and cogent missive.  I recommend it highly, especially as a bridge for all your crazy uncles, out there.

== And yes, we live in a time of wonders, this month! ==

RIPPLES-BIG-BANGHave you been paying attention to the news just in recent weeks?

Again, let me reiterate… a special polarimetry telescope (at the south-freaking pole!) has tracked the subtle light twists that may show the gravity wave echoes of the first pico-pico-second of the Big Bang?  (Formerly, the cosmic background studies could only penetrate to about 300,000 years AB (after bang.)  Your taxes paid for this.  An earlier, science friendly Congress voted to be the kind of civilization that invested in such glories.  Run into the street about this!

Better yet… make sure science-friendly folk aren't lazy about voting, this year! Think of the Supreme Court and get busy!

And in the same month: we tracked an asteroid passing in front of a star and found it had rings!  And also… we (you and me and others) discovered a new dwarf planet out there beyond the Kuiper Belt.

A little more than a month ago, Kepler scientists have confirmed the existence of 715 new exoplanets — four of which are located within their star's habitable zone. It's the single largest windfall of new confirmations at any one time. That's a 70% increase... in just one announcement.

astro_graph_And we're all taking part. See a chart of astronomers and physicists who have the most twitter postings and followers. And how many years they've been at it. All told, I suppose I score pretty well (@DavidBrin on Twitter). Especially since I don't tweet that much… and science is not all I talk about!

Still, I won't compete with Neil deGrasse Tyson.  The New COSMOS is a wonder.  Drag everyone you know into watching. It is a tonic for a scientific civilization, fighting to save itself from those agitating for a new Dark Age.


John said...

Third installment was indeed awe inspiring! What a great way to bring together history, science, and Calculus. Love the notion of Halley bringing Newton out of a 7 year slump! Never knew Newton was such a whacko! Love Cosmos!!!

Tom Crowl said...

Great series... and it brings to mind all those lists of "greatest inventions"...

Maybe we should put the scientific method itself and the ideals of the Enlightenment pretty high up on that list!

They are cultural creations.

Rational thinkers have been born in every age... but as a 'central cultural meme' its only arisen occasionally...

and has not tended to last for the culture as a whole.

Tony Fisk said...

Unfortunately, 'Cosmos' is not being viewed free to air in Australia, so I'm not sure when I'll catch it.

However, the ABC offered us plebeian tightwads a consolation prize: Richard Hammond Builds a Planet.

It's actually quite good, packing a lot of information (and mad science, of course) into an hour. Certainly amusing to compare Tyson manning the sleek Ship of the Imagination to Hammond scrambling up and down the gantry ladders of his viewing tower. Star Trek vs Doctor Who.

David Brin said...

Tony, sorry Cosmos isn't in Australia yet. Isn't Fox and aussie company?

At least you have the ongoing missing airplane show centered now on Perth!

Could you glance thru the comments section under the previous posting? Two people had suggested additions to the predictions registry!



Tony Fisk said...

Cosmos is showing in Australia on National Geographic channel... Pay TV, which I can't justify given the amount we watch.

Still, apart from Hammond presiding over the formation of the Solar System and pondering why his galaxies keep flying apart, we've had Attenborough describing the Rise of Animals and pterosaurs (my daughter's favourites). Currently watching a series describing ice age fauna, featuring real, live, *female* scientist/presenters! So, we're not too badly off :-).

I missed the two prediction refs (dolphin snarks and autism?). I had been thinking I should add an 'Existence' section, but had lent my copy out and have only just got it back.

David Brin said...

Tony, my next blog will have a big registry hit!

Alex Tolley said...

@Tony Fisk - you might try this:
1. Use a proxy to get a US IP address.
2. View Cosmos via

I use Hola Unblocker, which allows me to watch BBC tv from the US. I think it should work to allow you to view US tv from Aus by selecting teh right script.

Paul451 said...

Alex Tolley,
The BBC is an easy one. They don't actively hunt down people spoofing their location. (I use a simple X-Forward header with the BBC's own IP address, no need for actual proxies.)

For some reason, Hulu is ruthless at hunting down methods people use to bypass Hulu's regional restrictions. Even if they have a paid account. Even if they are only viewing free or ad-supported shows. Even if it's just an embedded clip in a blog post.

Lots of work-arounds pop-up, but unlike other providers, with Hulu they don't stay worked-around.

I guess there's always Pirate Bay.

Tom Crowl said...

From Salon:

Plutocracy without end: Why the 1 percent always defeats the middle class


A ubiquitous, opt-in, user-owned, for-profit Internet-based network for at least some forms of transaction may offer an urgently necessary counter-balancing institution.*

For reasons including but reaching beyond its catalyzing roots in the micropayment.

*note: I'm talking public institution... not a typical business... but with some built-in profit potential for good reason. If Arthur C. Clark's "universal unemployment" is going to ever be a fruit of technology... then we need some new economic mechanisms. This is one of them.

Such an institution may not be seen to be in the immediate self-interests of those needed to make it a reality... though I thing they should view it differently.

Since its essentially a demand for a ceding of some power to virtually everyone and a loss of concentrated control.

Which is just what's needed.

Alex Tolley said...

@Paul451 - Thanks for the info on Hulu. I did not know that they were so "unpleasant". I should have guessed, as they are owned by Murdoch's Fox and Disney.

How does Hulu stop you using a VPN or proxy service - shut down the service or block the proxy addresses?

It's good that the Beeb is so laissez-faire. I gather that it is the US cable companies leverage over BBC America (what dross it has become) that stops the Beeb from offering a paid iplayer service in the US.

Alex Tolley said...

@Tom Crowl - Piketty's new book "Capital in the Twenty-First Century" posits that we will continue on that road to plutocracy if economic growth stays low. I fear Larry Summers' "great stagnation" is little more that preparing the population for this "inevitable" trend. Interestibgly, a number of economists have criticized this analysis because it assumes that no socio-political changes can/will occur. It seems to me that the US is already ensuring that the status quo will remain in place, even though it should be against the interests of the vast majority of the population. Like frogs, we sit in heating water, hoping something will change.

David Brin said...

I do not mind the top 1%. Let tax rates be progressive and charge them a nice fee for the benefits and protections and public funded infrastructure and research and educated employees that allow their small businesses to thrive.

Heck, some years, I squeak close to their ranks. Rarely.

We have got to find another term than "one per centers." It makes the nation's small business owners allies of the real danger… the "0.0001% ers."

Not all top earners are plutocrats and oligarchs and proto-lords or conniving circle-jerking cartel CEOs or Wall Street cheaters. I'd make allowances for producers of goods and services… or those who increase jobs in a year… or increase exports… or plop $ down for R&D or capital equipment… things that either invest in our future or increase money velocity.

Cartel-cheating interlocking directorates that vote each other hyper-inflated "compensation packages" should end. Cartels of "seated members" running a lordly scam on equities investors must stop. Monopolies should be broken up to competitive units. Duh?

Acacia H. said...

So in other words, you hate the 1%. After all, if you liked them, you'd give them massive tax cuts and have the 99% support them because everyone knows it's the 1% who create all the jobs that everyone else needs. So they need our every last cent in taxes so they can flourish.

Socialist. Communist.

Rob H., being tongue-in-cheek

DP said...

The Bruno cartoon was a perfect example of clumsy propaganda. I was very disappointed at its heavy handed approach. The reality was far more subtle and nuanced.
Let's talk about some of these martyr's to science, shall we?

Giordano Bruno,

Who was not burned at the stake for advocating the idea that there were other inhabited planets orbiting around other stars. He was condemned for being a pagan advocate for the hermetic tradition. Hermetic writings treated the sun as a god, and the rest of the universe as moving, and hence alive. This it turns out is the real reason Bruno was attracted to Copernican helio-centricism. His belief in the sun's divinity nicely dovetailed with a heliocentric world view. Bruno was a martyr to pagan mysticism, not scientific inquirer.

What was done to him was wrong, but to make him out, like Cosmos did, to be some sort of scientist persecuted by the evil Catholic Church is a load of crap.

Galileo Galilei,

Whose friends and admirers included the Pope and Jesuit college in Rome. There was much more involved in Galileo's trial then a simple confrontation between religion and science. Ironically, the majority of church intellectuals were on Galileo's side while the clearest opposition came from secular ideas of the academic philosophers (see "The Crime of Galileo" by Giorgio de Santilanna).

The truth is, on the whole, the Church had no argument with Galileo's theories on science.
Their objections lay with his attacks on Aristotelian philosophy (as formulated for the Church by Thomas Aquinas' Scholasticism) - and all the metaphysical, spiritual and social consequences associated with it. Aristotle's philosophy was thought necessary for the formulation of religious and moral laws. Galileo was also caught up in an intellectual power struggle between the older secular elites which ran the universities and had a vested interest in defending Scholasticism and a new generation of pragmatic young Turks like himself. The Church, being threatened by Protestantism felt it imperative to defend Aristotle.

His friends in the Jesuits in effect told Galileo, "We know you're right, but give us time to break the news to the masses. The middle of a war with the Protestants is no time to be undercutting what was considered the basis of our faith. So please publish in Latin for the elite and not in the vernacular for the masses." Not only did Galileo ignore the advice of his Jesuit friends, his "Dialogue Concerning the Two Principle Systems of the World" includes a dim witted buffoon named Simplicio, a thinly disguised caricature of the Pope who had been Galileo's friend and admirer. Is it any wonder that the Pope and the Jesuits turned against him?

In short, Galileo was being a total dick.

In spite of this Galileo never repudiated his faith and remained a devout Catholic. Only Galileo's determination to remain within the Church can explain his determined efforts to convince the Church hierarchy and why he declined all chance to escape to the safety of the Venetian Republic.

Kopernick (Copernicus),

Whose helio-centricism was proposed without a single shred of empirical evidence. Such evidence would not be available until Galileo saw through his telescope that Venus had phases like the moon. A mechanical explanation for planetary orbits would await Newton's "Principia". (Newton, BTW would remain a devout Christian who spent more time in Biblical study than in scientific pursuits). What motivated Copernicus wasn't science but neo-Platonist philosophy which taught that the sun was symbolic of God's ability to create and therefore deserved primacy at the center of the universe. This was in opposition to the Aristotelian view which dominated the Church as Thomas Aquinas' scholasticism) which assumed that the Earth was the center of the universe.

DP said...

Furthermore, Copernicus' initial heliocentric system was MORE complicated than Ptolemy's and lacked any supporting evidence. See paper by Owen Gingrich:

Many simple historical accounts of the Copernican revolution emphasize not the accuracy but the simplicity of the new system, generally in contrast to the horrendous complex scheme of epicycles-upon-epicycles supposedly perpetrated by pre-Copernican astronomers. This tale reaches its most bizarre heights in a recent Encyclopaedia Britannica, 7 where the article on astronomy states that by the time of Alfonso in the thirteenth century, forty to sixty epicycles were required for each planet ! More typically, we find what Robert Palter has called the "80-34 syndrome"-- the claim that the simpler Copernican system required only thirty-four circles in contrast to the eighty supposedly needed by Ptolemy? The Copernican count derives from the closing statement of his Commentariolus: "Altogether, therefore, thirty-four circles suffice to explain the entire structure of the universe and the entire ballet of the planets. ''9 By the time Copernicus had refined his theory for his more mature De revolutionibus, he had rearranged the longitude mechanism, thereby using six fewer circles, but he had added an elaborate precession-trepidation device as well as a more complicated latitude scheme for the inner planets. Even Copernicus would have had difficulty in establishing an unambiguous final count? ° A comparison between the Copernican and the classical Ptolemaic system is more precise if we limit the count of circles to the longitude mechanisms for the (Sun), Moon, and planets: Copernicus requires 18, Ptolemy 15.11 Thus, the Copernican system is slightly more complicated than the original Ptolemaic system

David Brin said...

Daniel Duffy thank you for your input. And yes, if we tone down your intensity and axe grinding by a factor of 50%, yes, on most counts. Without a doubt, the most refined ptolemaic versions had lower error bars than the erroneously circular Copernican orbits which lacked Keplerian insights.

Yes re "simplicio" etc. But you are wrong to imagine that Galileo's problems arose solely from his impractical pushiness.

Tony Fisk said...

Not having seen Cosmos yet, I presume the intent of the Bruno sequence was to highlight what scientific inquiry can be up against if the questions become too... inconvenient?

In some ways, Johannes Kepler would have made another good, if muted, science martyr.

His breakthrough thesis was to identify a divine geometric ratio between the orbits of Jupiter and Saturn. He was lauded for it, although nobody had any idea of its significance (orbital resonance would need Newton's equations, nearly a century later.)

He earned his living writing ... personalised horoscopes. (to this day, the public mind still confuses astronomers and astrologers. Hmm! Do *you* put a nom-de-plume to a weekly column, David? ;-)

His research was severely impacted by a need to travel several hundred miles back to his home town (by foot) in order to defend his mother from... charges of witchcraft.

A devout Lutheran, intent on discovering the Will of God, he was eventually excommunicated for his pains.

The outbreak of the Thirty Year War didn't help him either.

Nevertheless, he was still able to delve into the minutiae of measurement that Tycho Brahe had left him, and make startlingly clear sense of how the planets moved in the heavens.

David Ivory said...

"Never knew Newton was such a whacko!"


I've a problem with the third Cosmos episode. The animation depicted Robert Hooke in an appalling light. He is the true hero of the age, as much as Halley.

Tyson did a good job of describing Hooke's achievements and yet the animations showed him as some twisted warped savage creature bent on doing down Newton. The overall tone of the episode was overly sympathetic to Newton, condescending (at best) to Hooke, even as it was rightly idolising Halley. A better balance really have been made between the three men.

Robert Hooke was the first professional scientist. He was the first to ever make his living as a scientist - the other scientists of the age were men of wealth. It was their subscriptions to the Royal Society that paid for Hook's researches. He was an employee of the Royal Society and as such looked down on by the wealthy members.

But have no doubt about Hooke's achievements. It really is only due to Newton surviving him that Hooke was so maligned in subsequent years.

And the implications in Cosmos that he stole from Newton in order to set up some dramatic rivalry between the two - really? Hooks was a methodical researcher and did do work in colour theory and the motion of planets. His work was influential and certainly played a part in Newton's breakthroughs.

Newton's famous quote: 'If I have seen further it is because I stood on the shoulders of giants' - is a backhanded acknowledgement of Hooks's contribution to his work. Backhanded as of course Hook was both a giant in science and a man of small stature physically. This quote is typical of Newton's brilliance - smart and superior but mean spirited in equal measure.

Hooke really needs to have a more positive treatment. Read

Cosmos instead sank to a dramatic low when disparaging Hooke.

Tyson didn't even comment at the end when showing Newton smugly tossing Hooke's portrait on the fire - Tyson could at the least have acknowledged that it was also Hooke's legacy that Newton damaged - enough that Cosmos largely continued that treatment. If it was not for Tyson's admiring but brief litany of Hooke's achievements it would have been wholly reprehensible in its portrayal of Hooke. It would not have diminished Newton at all to have Hooke as a worthy foil.

Yes Newton was a brilliant (nutjob) thinker - but Hooke was the World's First Modern Scientist. He should be celebrated as such.

rseed42 said...

If you are tired of the oversimplified, micro-content "science" tv shows nowadays, you can always watch Leonard Susskind's lectures on YouTube. The point of Cosmos is to inspire children and hopefully it does that just fine.

Tony Fisk said...

In a belated bout of whooping and shouting "I am a member of a civilisation that does this"...

The ICJ has just ruled that Japan's whaling program is *not* for scientific purposes.

OK, So maybe it's not quite landing exploration vehicles on other planets. But, we've become too used to watching high authority handing the keys over to large corporations. And, hey! Cetaceans!

DP said...

My apologies, Dr. Brin for my harsh tone. I get very tired of the old "the Catholic Church hates science" lie. One thing the Church is not, is anti-science:

"Today, almost half a century after the publication of the encyclical, new knowledge has led to the recognition of the theory of evolution as more than a hypothesis. It is indeed remarkable that this theory has been progressively accepted by researchers, following a series of discoveries in various fields of knowledge. The convergence, neither sought nor fabricated, of the results of work that was conducted independently is in itself a significant argument in favor of this theory."

The RCC believes in reading two books: the Bible and the Book of Nature. The RCC has never been opposed to scientific discovery or inquiry. We therefore view the world as a scientific wonder but also have a God to impart meaning and purpose to Existence.

As a Catholic, this worldview allows me to avoid both the Scylla of Fundy ignorance and the Charybdis of Atheistic nihilism.

Jacob said...

Another way to refer to the 1%...


It even has a little Pyramid in it.

matthew said...

A brief compilation from Cory Doctorow at Boing Boing regarding the increased prevalence of the use of spyware by domestic abusers.

It's the message at the end that is the important meme, IMO. Increasingly, all kinds of forces want to control what you are legally allowed to do to modify your own computers.

David Brin said...

Daniel Duffy you keep making good points… and spoiling it with absurd exaggerations.

Yes, the RCC is adaptable and has declared peace and accommodation with science in many realms. Notions of plurality of worlds have received friendly attention from more recent theologians, who see no scriptural reasons to insist that creation only happened once. Catholic theologian Corrado Balducci often discussed the question in Italian popular media, and in 2001 published a statement UFOs and Extraterrestrials - A Problem for the Church? – a question to which he replied with confidence.
"Believing that the universe may contain alien life does not contradict a faith in God,” said the Rev. Jose Gabriel Funes, the Jesuit director of the Vatican Observatory, where another brother, Guy Consolmagno, wrote a book about the implications of alien life, Turn Left at Orion. Protestant and Jewish philosophers have also speculated in this topic that – conveniently – has no known subject matter.
Likewise, the Jewish Talmud states that there are at least 18,000 other worlds, though the commentators never specify whether they are physical or spiritual. Based on this, however, the 18th century exposition "Sefer HaB'rit" proposes that extraterrestrial creatures must exist, and that some may well possess intelligence.
Plurality notions are inherent in Mormonism.

On the other hand, to simply arm wave away the centuries of vicious conservatism and conformist-repression simply by claiming that today's adaptable accommodation wa ALWAYS the case?

No no. That does not fly.

Tom Crowl said...


The 1% vs. the .1%

It's true! The ballooning in the wealth chart occurs at the very top... and is a real problem.

Helvetian War anyone?

Where Does the Real Problem Reside? Two Charts Showing the 0.01% vs. the 1%

Tom Crowl said...

or more accurately the top .00etc.1%

Jumper said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Jumper said...

Brin mentions this often, and I try to keep up. This article will likely get some attention.

LarryHart said...

Robert (tounge in cheek):

So in other words, you hate the 1%. After all, if you liked them, you'd give them massive tax cuts and have the 99% support them because everyone knows it's the 1% who create all the jobs that everyone else needs. So they need our every last cent in taxes so they can flourish.

Something just occured to me recently. How do the 1%-ists (who whether they themselves are rich or not, assert the above without the tounge in cheek) reconcile two seemingly-contradictory premises of theirs?

1) That the wealthy create value rather than taking it away from others. In other words, there is not a fixed pie that the wealthy grab away from everyone else, but rather their productivity increases the size of the pie itself.

2) Gold (or maybe now bitcoin) is the only true currency. Printing more dollar bills "debases" that currency.

If, for example, Bill Gates produces an invention which provides new value for everyone else, and he deserves to acquire a huge share of the nation's (or world's) gold because of that, then he is keeping other people from having access to that gold.

If the number of dollars in circulation can't increase to reflect the society's newfound value, then there really is a fixed pie and a zero-sum game.

Am I missing something?

locumranch said...

I do not wish to renew my sense of wonder, restore my faith in or 'fall in love' again with science because emotionalism has little or no place in empiric science, being better suited to religion & mysticism.

You forget that the Big Bang theory is just a theory, that the theory of 'inflation' is similarly unproven, that the findings of the special polarimetry telescope at the 'south-freaking pole' may or may not be related to gravity waves 'echoes', yet you tell us to accept this reworked version of 'creation ex nihlo' on Faith, and then its a short trip to believing anything, like a 'Big Gang Bang' being the formative event in a multiplex universe.

Screw faith. I have no use for it. Wonder, amazement and infatuation: These are childish emotions, best suited to describe the miracles of 'got your nose', that detachable thumb thing or the similarly ridiculous idea that the wealthy create value.


David Brin said...

What… a… marooon.

No knowledge at all of science, he spouts science-y nostrums and sophomorisms and presumes that none of the real scientists doing all of this and engaged in this supremely competitive contact sport aren't aware of all that third-grade stuff.

Awwww…. how cute…

Alex Tolley said...

If the number of dollars in circulation can't increase to reflect the society's newfound value, then there really is a fixed pie and a zero-sum game.

1. I don't think that the wealthy assume there is a fixed amount of gold. We can and do add to the gold stock by mining.

2. A fixed amount of gold is not inherently a problem - it just buys more and more of the goods and services in the economy, i.e. it is deflationary. For folks who want a perfectly stable currency, based on gold, then the amount of gold must increase as GDP increases. When gold was THE measure of value, the Spaniards went looking for it in the new world. (Unfortunately they found too much and caused massive inflation). Today we know that deflation is not conducive to a growing economy, and arguably worse than modest inflation (but not high inflation).

locumranch said...

After David puts aside his fictional expertise in alien cultures and details all the 'real science' he currently engages in, perhaps he can prove that the 'Big Gang Bang' formation theory of the multiplex universe is less valid the currently dominant single 'Bang' view and, if not, perhaps he will tacitly support my universal theory of 'intellectual inflation'.

Snarkiness aside, David is too smart an individual to thoughtlessly rubber stamp the currently dominant 'Big Bang' theory in such an reflexively consensual manner when other theories like the 'Big Bounce' (Steinhardt and Turok’s cyclic cosmology & my fave), the Multiverse theory, the Steady State model or even the Timelessness hypothesis, all of which are as supportable as the 'Big Bang' theory, minus the 'popularity' of the latter.

Or, is popularity considered good science now?


David Brin said...

Alex, the argument goes back to Free Silver more than a century ago, when the populists wanted all the silver pouring from mines to be minted and put in circulation. Yes, it would inflate value from the gold owners, but the simple aim was just to get cash into circulation so that it could achieve what we now call "velocity."

It was correct (though for none of the exact reasons the populists maintained) and the gold hoarding elites were the conniving oligarchs of their time. And yes, that oligarchy seemed easily as dire as the one attempting its putsch today.

locum I am not your physics 1a instructor. Moreover, your third grade understanding of the PHILOSOPHY of science… what constitutes "proof" and when a hypothesis becomes a theory… then a contending model… then the leading model… then the paradigm Model of the World…

…then starts attracting the relentless poking of Young Guns eager to find holes and flaws and improvements, in order to make their reputations… and occasionally toppling the whole thing…

.. is obviously way, way way over your head. Parroting the Fox-ism that "if a bunch of story, ingroup-thinking, conformist scientists proclaim something to be true -- then it can't be!"

Yay rebels who know so much more than people who studied stuff all their lives!

Vleah. Try actually meeting some scientists.

locumranch said...

"Perhaps you are appalled that people can so much as think such things. Perhaps you think less of me for bringing them up. These are dangerous ideas — ideas that are denounced not because they are self-evidently false, nor because they advocate harmful action, but because they are thought to corrode the prevailing moral (or hierarchical) order".

Steven Pinker, "In Defense of Dangerous Ideas"

You remember Pinker, don't you, the sociologist who can do no wrong?


Karl said...

I think that the choice to use Bruno was an active tactical decision- if my guess is right, he wasn't picked as a paragon of science, but as a way to subvert close minded religious objection to the facts. PErhaps some of the other good choices might have be able to be similarly employed, but Bruno's quote about an infinite universe being the only possible way to reflect the glory of an infinite creator seems like it's something that, especially in this day and age would be hard for the pro-ignorance side of the equation to coherently attack without doing as much, if not more, damage to themselves in the process.

Could better people have been used to get the point across and celebrate real achievement to an unbiased audience? Sure. But I don't think that was the goal here, I think the goal was to get under the skin of the most unreceptive portion of the overall audience and prevent them from being able to simply dismiss the facts on the basis of being atheistic attempts to lead them astray. There were certainly other clergy even that could have been represented, but it's hard to imagine someone for the same general period than Bruno, given the quotes used, for making the argument that, for the religious, the wonders of science should be seen as a celebration of their faith, not something that runs is opposition to it, transforming any argument against it into an implicit belittlement of faith that would reject it.

Karl said...

On a not completely unrelated note, I hope to live to see the day that we regard the "taxpayers pay for" model as just as outdated and overly complicated as Aristotle's geocentric universe.

When you move to a frame of reference outside the system, it becomes much more clear that the Federal government creates money when it spends it into existence and destroys it when it collects in in taxes and fees. (On the most basic initial state, how could it collect any money in taxes to pay for things if it hadn't already created money to actually collect)

It may seem like a minor quibble, but the degree to which it makes the entire monetary system easier to understand, and exposes what is, at best, bad logic, if not outright deceptive manipulation, would make an astounding difference in our overall ability to coherently discuss public funding issues. We don't need to tax money away from people that are already having trouble making ends meed to fund great science. We don't' even need to tax it away from people that are likely to put it to productive use. We simple have to collectively decide that we have the physical and human resources needed in sufficient supply to justify creating additional money to fund them. And, instead, we should only use taxes as a deterrent to what is clearly bad behavior or as away of letting those who control significant potentially productive resources prove that they're putting them to sufficient use to continue to respect the communal decision to respect and devote resources to protecting their property claims on them.

Jumper said...

Here's a writer who has a low opinion of Cosmos, and I have to say he is onto something in his examinations!

LarryHart said...

Alex Tolley:

1. I don't think that the wealthy assume there is a fixed amount of gold. We can and do add to the gold stock by mining.

But the two things (gold stock and value available to purchas with it) are independent. We can increase the supply, but not because it makes sense to do so economically. There's no relationship between money supply and goods/services to demand with that money.

2. A fixed amount of gold is not inherently a problem - it just buys more and more of the goods and services in the economy, i.e. it is deflationary. For folks who want a perfectly stable currency, based on gold, then the amount of gold must increase as GDP increases.

The point I was just trying to make is that it (almost self-evidently) does not increase (or decrease) with productivity. The two variables are independent.

Now, you are correct in that it could just be written off as "the value of gold varies over time". But that's almost diametrically opposed to the reasons that Randist gold-bugs want gold-backed currency. They claim that gold represents "objective value", and is superior to dollar bills which are subject to government "debasement". You've just demonstrated that gold can be debased just as well.

Alfred Differ said...

A sense of wonder drives all the best scientist. I suspect it drives us all. There is simply too much effort required up front to learn this stuff and get good at it for there NOT to be a primal motivator urging us onward.

Alfred Differ said...

Value is inherently a sujective measure. We create it when we do the silliest of things like obligate ourselves to a future action in exchange for a present benefit. Buy my lunch today and I'll buy yours tomorrow. Every time we do that we sense value, create it in terms of our 'currency' and then demolish it in the future. The money we have in our banks is just a fraction of it all and its persistence is an illusion connected to our perception of persistent value of other things.

I really don't understand how anyone can think value measurements can be objective. We barely manage this feat with science data through the use of data handling customs and conventions. Show me the social rules governing such things for asset value and maybe it will finally get through my thick skull. 8)

LarryHart said...

Money is like one half of a transaction. In an idealized economy where everyone earns what they deserve, if you possess money, you have created value that you have not yet consumed. I think I could make a case that dying with lots of money is a losing strategy rather than a winning one, even from a Randist selfish perspective. It means you created more value for others than you made use of yourself. The real "winner" of that game is the one who dies owing billions of borrowed dollars that he spent on a high living standard.

David Brin said...


Anonymous said...

The point of Cosmos is to inspire children and hopefully it does that just fine.

Can't it be accurate and still do that? Hooke deserved better.

On the other hand, to simply arm wave away the centuries of vicious conservatism and conformist-repression simply by claiming that today's adaptable accommodation wa ALWAYS the case?

No no. That does not fly.

I do kind of wonder - does every one of those worlds require its own Jesus?