Two excellent contributions to the "pseudoscience FAQ"

Well, it’s not a real “FAQ” – but perhaps it would make sense to create a page which links some of the more egregious questions to the blog postings which best demolish them. Here are two examples.
First Phil (the Bad Astronomer) addresses the old canard “Is science faith-based?”

Science is not based on faith. Science is based on evidence. We have evidence it works, vast amounts of it, billions of individual pieces that fit together into a tapestry of reality. That is the critical difference. Faith, as it is interpreted by most religions, is not evidence-based, and is generally held tightly even despite evidence against it.

And then Sean nails telekinesis, and the rest of parapsychology, in a piece called “Telekinesis and Quantum Field Theory”. This is long, but well worth your time. He considers claims about spoon-bending, and points out:

* Spoons are made of ordinary matter.
This sounds uncontroversial, but is worth explaining. Spoons are made of atoms, and we know what atoms are made of — electrons bound by photons to an atomic nucleus, which in turn consists of protons and neutrons, which in turn are made of quarks held together by gluons. Five species of particles total: up and down quarks, gluons, photons, electrons. That’s it.
There is no room for extra kinds of mysterious particles clinging, aura-like, to the matter in a spoon. That’s because we know how particles behave. If there were some other kind of particle in the spoon, it would have to interact with the ordinary matter we know is there…

Of course what applies to spoons also applies to brains. Sean’s arguments against spoon-bending also work against telepathy:

It’s a little bit less cut and dried, because in the case of telepathy the influence is supposedly traveling between two human brains, rather than between a brain and a spoon. The argument is exactly the same, but there are those who like to pretend that we don’t understand how the laws of physics work inside a human brain. It’s certainly true that there is much we don’t know about thought and consciousness and neuroscience, but the fact remains that we understand the laws of physics in the brain regime perfectly well. To believe otherwise, you would have to imagine that individual electrons obey different laws of physics because they are located in a human brain, rather than in a block of granite.

(My emphasis.)
Indeed. And yet supposedly eminent scientists and philosophers like Roger Penrose argue for some mysterious form of “quantum mind”. It seems as if some people just need a certain amount of mystery in their lives, and for them subatomic physics provides a satisfactory alternative to supernatural forces. In spite of this:

The philosopher David Chalmers half-jokingly claims that the motivation for Quantum Mind theories is: “a Law of Minimization of Mystery: consciousness is mysterious and quantum mechanics is mysterious, so maybe the two mysteries have a common source.”

I think it’s more to do with conservation of mystery than minimization; when one kind of mystery looks like evaporating try to exploit another, unrelated mystery.

3am in the ER

watching the third bag of saline drip doing its thing… the aftermath of a nasty stomach bug that hit Merry ((I got it 24 hours earlier, but much less severely)) and provoked several hours of vomiting
meanwhile the drinks vending machine is broken, so a nurse brings me a jug of iced water
UPDATE: starting the fourth litre of saline, 4:47am
starting the fourth litre of saline, 4:47am

Free Tor books and the Kindle

If you read SlashDot, or A-list bloggers like John Scalzi, you’ll have seen that the sci-fi publishers Tor are giving away PDF versions of some of their most popular books. Sign up at Tor.com. Yesterday I received the download link for the first of these: Brandon Sanderson’s “Mistborn”, and the first thing I did was to email it to my Kindle. Even though PDF is not officially supported ((Complex PDF documents wind up looking really bad.)), this worked well: I read the prologue and first chapter last night. One (obvious) suggestion: rename the PDF file to something meaningful, rather than the numeric string that Tor uses, before sending it to the Kindle.
Next week it’s going to be John Scalzi’s “Old Man’s War”. W00t! I just finished his “The Android’s Dream”, and I loved it.

"Heere Bigynneth the Tale of the Asse-Hatte"

From iowahawk, the perfect commentary on L’affaire Cantuar – with apologies to Geoffrey Chaucer:

1 Whan in Februar, withe hise global warmynge
2 Midst unseasonabyl rain and stormynge
3 Gaia in hyr heat encourages
4 Englande folke to goon pilgrimages.
5 Frome everiches farme and shire
6 Frome London Towne and Lancanshire
7 The pilgryms toward Canterbury wended
8 Wyth fyve weke holiday leave extended

And so on. Absolutely brilliant.

One final bit of ++ABC for the day

I’ve been getting (over)involved in the discussion of this topic on a thread at Jake’s Place (posting here, comments here). When it all looked as if it was going to end in tears ((Leaving a lot of us rather confused about the positions that some of us had taken)), I decided to visit the blogs of some of the other contributors. I found the following gem over at Lady of Silences:

Whether and when civil law in a democratic society should accommodate fundamentalist religious views may well be a serious topic for discussion. But what person in his or her right mind could take seriously as a working hypothesis for the legal accommodation of Muslim and Christian fundamentalist religious views,
“the construction of a moral framework which could expand outside the boundaries of particular narratives while, at the same time, respecting the narratives as the cultural contexts in which the language … is learned and taught”?

Only someone hopelessly lost in a post-structuralist fog.