velvetpage: (chalice)
An extremely cool video promoting the type of spirituality I see in science and have fed in the UU - but I think it's applicable to pretty much everyone regardless of creed.

From [livejournal.com profile] cargoweasel.

velvetpage: (earth harmless)
Or, How Roger Scruton has Missed The Boat in This Article

Everyone who engages in this type of debate sooner or later decides to argue why raising children in their own faith, or at least some faith, is preferable to the perceived alternative. Both Scruton and the person he was responding to, Danny Postel, have fallen victim to this, though Postel wonders if it's an ill-conceived notion.

The problem is that in rebutting Postel's article, Scruton has made the mistake of presuming science to be devoid of faith, and has therefore postulated that in order to be raised with faith, children must be raised with religion. Postel doesn't clearly articulate the point of view I suspect he was aiming for, so I will.

The first quote to cause me problems was this one: It seems to me that humanists should wake up to this point, and be careful when they seek to deprive their children of enchantment, or to replace their spontaneous fantasies with the cold hard facts of empirical science.

To be blunt, anyone who sees in science only cold hard facts lacks either imagination, the ability to synthesize, or the will to use one or the other. Faith is integral to science, but it's not faith in anything that could be called God. It's not even really faith in humans, except in the sense that we are the vehicle for its discoveries. It's faith in the natural universe as a knowable entity, as something we can (or will eventually be able to) wrap our brains around, understand, and ask more questions about. If the fundamental question of religion is "What is truth?" then the fundamental question of science is, "What happens if?"

In the scientific method, humans have developed a way to answer that question, test the answer for its validity, and from that answer develop new questions. It looks like cold hard facts to those who stop with the answers generated, but to someone with the desire to follow each train of thought further than it has been followed before, it requires immense creativity and faith. The scientist needs to believe first that there is an answer; second that he will recognize it when he sees it, and be able to comprehend it; third that the answer will lead to more questions; fourth that all the answers will either fit in with the paradigm we work with currently to understand natural laws, or alternatively lead to the development of an entirely new paradigm. (Imagine the excitement of the first person to realize that the atmosphere ends, that gravity holds it in place, and that beyond is not ether but vacuum. That person created a paradigm shift in science, made a discovery that changed everything we thought we knew about the sky.)

Scruton goes on to make the fundamental error of the non-scientifically-minded person: he states that because something is unknown, it is a void destined to remain unfilled, and furthermore that it needs to be filled with some form of certainty. The point he's missed is that a scientific worldview doesn't see a scary, formless void where faith should be; it sees unanswered questions, and it sees questions to ask and pursue. If nobody put us here for a specific purpose, that doesn't stop us from the self-actualization of creating our own, and where better to start than in knowing our universe? The existence of the void is its own purpose, and our job is to push our understanding out into it.

The video I posted this morning is a reworking of a variety of quotes, mostly by Carl Sagan. He was a scientist, but he was also an author and a creative force. He spent his life reaching his brain into the cosmos and into the human psyche, outward and inward. The tribute video is really an anthem to the faith of the scientist. (I would love to see an arrangement in SATB for a Unitarian choir.) It expresses his faith that there is a universe of elegant truths still awaiting discovery, and that we are poised to discover them.

I'm not sure if that kind of faith is at odds with traditional faith; I believe it's at odds with the more dogmatic aspects of religion but not necessarily with the faiths themselves. I do know that when scientifically-minded people give in to the notion that faith and science don't mix, they're ceding ground where they should hold it. Science does not eliminate faith; it directs it both outwards and inwards, into the facts beyond the facts we know, into possibilities and probabilities that will keep us interested and exploring for the duration of the human race.

Teaching a scientific worldview to children does not mean teaching them to doubt. It means teaching them to have faith in the ability of the human brain to make sense of its universe in all its beauty - however vast that might be. In this, Scruton was absolutely right: the doubting comes later, and is conquered eventually by the human will to search for truth. The scientist has this much in common with the Unitarian: the answer is to question.
velvetpage: (Default)
13 Things You Never Knew About Your Weight
The fascinating facts behind the new fat-busting science.
By Joanne Chen
From Reader's Digest

Read more... )
velvetpage: (cat in teacup)
In this article, the original Milgram studies (about how far someone can be induced to follow instructions even when causing pain to another person) are discussed and analyzed.

I've read about these studies before, of course. But this was a new take. Two important points came out of this article for me. The first was that one-third of participants chose to stop at the point where the subject asked to be let out, saying they didn't want to do it anymore; their decision was that the subject's right to refuse to continue trumped the experimenter's right to make them continue. That's an issue of human rights, and seeing the subject of the experiment as a human being who has those rights. The other was the issue of responsibility. People who stopped were taking personal responsibility for the pain they inflicted; people who didn't stop were putting that responsibility onto their superiors.

I think - and of course, I can't be sure, because I've never been tested this way - that I would have stopped either at 150 volts, or shortly thereafter if I were off-balance enough to not process what was happening quickly. Both of the reasons above hit home for me. I believe in human rights, and I believe in accepting personal responsibility. The hardest situations for me to deal with are usually the ones where my perception of my personal responsibility is beyond my means of actually influencing events. For example, I felt extremely guilty for letting down my teaching partner when it came to preparing for the grade five graduation, even though I had realistically done all that I could before I went away (in fact, I was the one pushing HER to get things done the two weeks before I went away, so that as little as possible would be left for her and my supply) and all that I could the day I was back before the graduation. In situations where the course of action that represented accepting responsibility was crystal-clear, as it would be in that experiment (pull the switch or don't) I wouldn't have that problem. It would be within my power to stop.

In any case, an interesting article.
velvetpage: (Default)
About a very old study that nevertheless proves something most fat people would love to believe: obesity is mostly genetically determined and cannot be controlled by willpower as it is applied to diet or exercise.

http://junkfoodscience.blogspot.com/2008/02/how-weve-came-to-believe-that.html
velvetpage: (Default)
http://www.sciencefriday.com/program/archives/200804115

The link is to a radio program about the connections between sleep deprivation and various behavioural disorders, including ADHD. I have no problem believing that there's a connection, and that in some cases, it's a causal connection; that is, the lack of sleep is causing the symptoms that are diagnosed as ADHD. I have at least one student right now who is not diagnosed ADHD, but definitely exhibits many of the behaviours associated with it. The student has access to three different video game systems in his bedroom, and plays them until all hours of the night. I know this because he comes to school the next day boasting about how late he stayed up. I'd be surprised if he's getting five hours of sleep a night on average, and according to standard pediatric wisdom, he needs about double that. Meanwhile, he's a smart kid who should be getting B's and instead is getting C's and D's. Furthermore, I've never known an ADHD student who slept well.

Now, for my questions: I would like to see a study done on a wide variety of kids, some of them with ADHD diagnoses already in place, to find out if the sleep deprivation is causal or not; I'd like to know if there may be times when ADHD is causing the sleep deprivation rather than the other way around, and how much of that is due to environmental factors (such as the presence of video games or TVs in a child's bedroom.) I know plenty of parents - indeed, I am one - who have trouble getting their kids into a sleep pattern that would fit the bill for "enough sleep," according to prevailing wisdom: that is, eleven to twelve hours for a child under five, ten to eleven hours for a child five to nine, and nine to ten hours from then until the late teens, when most kids will start to settle into an adult sleep pattern of seven to eight hours a night. Is establishing a sleep pattern early in life essential to our children's long-term mental and physical health? At what point do we seek medical help to get them to sleep more - assuming they're exhibiting symptoms of sleep deprivation?

I predict that this series of studies will revolutionize not just the treatment of ADHD and other chronic childhood disorders, but also parenting books. Until now, a lot of sleep problems have been met with: "Give it time, and it will likely sort itself out. If you're not willing to wait it out, try this." I'm wondering if that advice is going to change to: "If your child doesn't have a good sleep pattern by X date in their development, they are at substantially increased risk for X, Y, and Z disorders. Here are some suggestions that parents REALLY NEED TO FOLLOW to prevent that." (For the record, this research has been building up over the last five or ten years, which is not very long in medical terms; a lot of it has been driven by adults diagnosed with ADHD as children, who come in for sleep studies. When a sleep disorder is diagnosed, the adults often find that their ADHD symptoms clear up.)

Thanks [livejournal.com profile] catsarah for the link.
velvetpage: (exterminate)
For all you astronomy buffs out there: Our solar system has been absorbed borg-like into the Milky Way. Link courtesy of Q, whose username always confuses me when I try to type it, so I don't. :)
velvetpage: (turtleOMG)
You'd think Scientific American would know that. I mean, really. Two little words: OUTSIDE FACTORS. Talk about bad scientific reporting.

Link courtesy of [livejournal.com profile] urban_homestead.
velvetpage: (Default)
Apparently, the rock underneath Asia contains as much water as the Arctic Ocean, making Asia particularly susceptible to earthquakes. The link is here.

Link courtesy of [livejournal.com profile] etherlad.
velvetpage: (OMG)
An educational video. No, really. (Thanks [livejournal.com profile] snobahr for the link.)

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