the trouble with rigid ideology.

LabRat recently posted some observations about the short-sightedness of Nazi Germany, which expelled and expatriated the world’s most important physicist because he was a Jew, and dismissed his work as “Jewish physics”.  The physicist in question emigrated to the United States, and convinced Roosevelt to spring for a Really Big Science Fair Project that would have helped Crazy Adolf quite a bit with that whole “world domination” agenda.

I was reading the Wikipedia entry on renowned mathematician Emmy Noether, who was bounced from her teaching job at Goettingen University by the Nazis because the students wanted “Aryan mathematics, not Jewish mathematics.”  That made me think of the main flaw in any ideology that contradicts science:

If your ideology holds that the members of Group X are worthless, you must by necessity dismiss any and all work coming from members of Group X, no matter how good or beneficial, because doing otherwise would contradict the claim at the core of your ideology.

(That’s one of the reasons why Spain fell behind in world influence during the Enlightenment–they were so staunchly Catholic that the Spanish crown even banned books written by Protestants, even if the subject was not related to religion…like ship design and engineering.)

You know someone is completely full of crap when they talk about <ethnic/religious/racial> <scientific discipline>.  Science is impartial–it’s only the description of observable reality, and reality doesn’t change based on the observers religion, race, or dietary preferences.

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44 thoughts on “the trouble with rigid ideology.

  1. theflatwhite says:

    That is an excellent observation.
    Might I fill in the blank for Group X?


    If your ideology holds that the members of Group X (unborn children) are sub-human, worthless, inferior beings worthy of extermination, you must by necessity dismiss any and all [future] work coming from members of Group X (unborn children), no matter how good or beneficial, because doing otherwise would contradict the claim at the core of your ideology.

  2. Marko says:

    tfw,

    have you ever considered that someone may have a reason for going through with an abortion that *doesn’t* involve thinking of the unborn child in that way?

    (Also, turning this into an anti-abortion argument requires stretching it so far that it may snap and pop someone in the eye. Not *everything* is applicable to your pet social cause.)

  3. kbiel says:

    I would quibble with your title. The trouble is with bigoted ideology not rigid ideology. For example, I rigidly adhere to my libertarian leaning conservative ideology (think Fred Thompson), but I embrace a good idea regardless of the source. In other words, even the Democrats have a good idea or policy every once in a while (e.g. getting rid of Larry Craig or Ted Stevens). But, what determines if the idea is good or not, in my book, is if it fits within my preference for smaller government, devolved government, fewer taxes, less taxation, fewer restrictions of freedom, and less corruption (among other things).

  4. theflatwhite says:

    So, should we start of list of people or groups of people to which Group X doesn’t apply?

    I have a hard time condemning Nazi Germany and their policy of total genocide while condoning any ideology that embraces, without qualification, a total decimation of our next generation.

  5. Marko says:

    “Total decimation of our next generation” is a bit of hyperbole, don’t you think?

    I have two members of the next generation playing in the living room behind me right now, and they’re not in danger of extermination.

  6. theflatwhite says:

    Hyperbole? Hardly.

    Decimation literally means 1 in 10, taken from the Roman practice of executing 1 in 10 soldiers in a company of troops who demonstrated cowardice.

    In 2000, there were 4 million babies born in the US. There were 1.3 million abortions.

    If anything, decimation is an understatement.

  7. caillean says:

    Wonderful! I think you’ve managed to channel your grokking of this into a readily understandable and usable statement.

    I whole-heatedly agree.

  8. Marko says:

    You know, TFW, I didn’t post this to have an abortion debate with you over it. Now kindly change the subject, because I’m not interested in continuing this particular discussion. I’m pretty sure I won’t change your mind on the subject, and I guarantee that you won’t change mine, so all that can come out of this is hard feelings and a bad taste in both our mouths.

    You want to talk abortion, you go find yourself a different venue.

  9. caillean says:

    Rereading, I feel the need to clarify. I was referring to the article, not TFW’s comments.

  10. Marko says:

    No worries, caillean. I figured you meant the original post.

  11. “reality doesn’t change based on the observers religion, race, or dietary preferences”

    you are obviously unfamiliar with the principle of perceptions (aka beliefs) equalling reality…big mistake.

    i think your exchange with tfw illustrates one of your misgivings about palin…others?

    jtc

    jtc

  12. ChrisB says:

    While Nazi-worshippers usually will dismiss the work of any non-Nazi I don’t see why that doctrine necessarily dictates that stance, I mean, why can’t a broken clock be right every now and then? The Romans believed themselves superior to those they conquered but they also didn’t have the slightest problem borrowing ideas or technology from conquered peoples.

    Humility is the first step on the road to superiority:)

  13. Marko says:

    jtc,

    I am familiar with the school of thought that claims perception to influence reality, but I don’t think it’s an accurate view of the universe.

    Surely you don’t agree with the people who claim that there’s an “emotional reality” to something? (“If I feel that something is racism, it is.”)

  14. MarkHB says:

    you are obviously unfamiliar with the principle of perceptions (aka beliefs) equalling reality…big mistake.

    I’m familiar with it. I hold it in utter contempt. Wishing does not make it so. The universe works on objective fact – regardless of the desires of a tiny only-sometimes-sentient species in an insignificant corner of the galaxy.

    All that such a delusional belief system can win is suffering. Thinking that stating a falsehood often enough, in enough numbers makes it true is to embrace the Dark Ages and the horrors it brought, but to back them up with modern technology.

    The only true facts are objective facts, multiply observable and multiply testable. Opinions are not data, beliefs are not facts. The universe, and all that’s in it, works on provable laws. To refute them, and to claim that “perception alters reality” is inexcusable in the educated person.

    I’ll find my nomex undies, I think I’m going to need ’em. The chorus of the Road Song of the Bandar-Log’s deafening right now.

  15. ChrisB says:

    “To refute them, and to claim that “perception alters reality” is inexcusable in the educated person.”

    Perhaps you should read up on Quantum Physics, observation does alter reality.

  16. Stingray says:

    Just to nitpick, Mr. HB, perception and observation can alter reality. It’s just that the phenomenon doesn’t scale well above sub-atomic particles. 😉

  17. Stingray says:

    Damn you ChrisB! Damn distracting multitasking!

  18. MarkHB says:

    Yeah, I studied physics at degree level, thanks. At the quantum level, interactions are only observable by disturbing the setting in which that you try to observe is based, such as by bouncing a photon off it.

    That, I can prove with mathematics. That doesn’t apply at the macro scale any more than Mars being in the ascendant when I was born affected me more than the obstetrician did. Square law on gravity, you know.

    Wanna get scientific about this? I’ve got lots of science.

  19. MarkHB says:

    Jinx, Stingray! Owe me a Coke!

  20. MFH says:

    Hrm…

    Just my two cents on the quantum bit, but considering the entire idea of perception altering reality at a quantum level stems from the uncertainty principle, I still relegate 90% of what that field is churning out to “hypothetical B.S.”

    We can’t measure the speed and position of an electron (nevermind that the electron as it stands is just a model) at the same time, ergo, we chart out all the places it could potentially be, given a particular speed and initial point of reference. A probability cloud, it is called. Then someone comes along and says that, until measured / observed, it exists in various states at all of those points at the same time until that indetermination is resolved. Always seemed to bother me that the fundamental concept here was that something is moving at speed X, and we’re bouncing something that is speed X or slower off of it to measure speed and position. You have the same problem throwing a tennis ball at a tennis ball in motion to see where it’s at. I have trouble accepting quantum theory, since the uncertainty principle is technically a question of measurement rather than objective, demonstrable fact.

    …so the whole perception thing kind of breaks down there.

    On a somewhat related manner, anyone want to give me some good evidence for the the atomic model as a point of accuracy (y’know, the proton/electron/neutron thing)? I’m still waiting for a chemist or physicist to give me something better than, “Well, it works out mathematically for this, this and this case… um.. but not this one.” 🙂

  21. LabRat says:

    MFH- because frankly, particle physics experiments would not work if it weren’t reasonably accurate. And they do. Same goes for quantum, really, though it helps to think of it from a purely mechanical perspective and consider the overarching theory portions (like things only happen if they are observed, which very people really believe) more like speculation.

  22. MarkHB says:

    Speculation, LabRat? Isn’t that sort of … you know… Opinion Flavoured? 😉

    Sorry kids. If I can’t see, smell, taste, hear or feel something – or at least infer it from a good particle accelerator run – it’s not a fact. And wishing won’t make it so.

  23. DJK says:

    But wait, what about Black Liberation Theology??

  24. MFH says:

    Mm.. going to have to go with MarkHB. I’ve looked into the explanations and, honestly, I just haven’t come out with anything substantive. What I do see, most often, are statements of the effect that, “This must be accurate because all of our tests and experiments which assume a particular model give results that we’d expect from that model.”

    Chemistry is a pretty good example of this. I used to enjoy finding chemists in engineering positions or fifteen years into tenured positions and hand them a chemical equation – something similar to those left-hand-side equations you’re always forced to balance in early Chemistry courses. Then I’d ask them to tell me what would happen on the right side. Oddly enough, I couldn’t find anyone who could tell me what would happen without trying it, which to me seems indicative of a failure in the fundamental model.

    Yes, the models work, or at least produce useful or potentially accurate results. My issue is that these models are pushed as accurate in and of themselves.

    Most texts and thesis papers on quantum physics read like a freshman philosophy major’s post-modernist paper. Lots of relativist, big picture statements drawn from a minimal set of experiments which assume the things that they are often trying to demonstrate.

    Coming from a background of engineering and mathematics, I have trouble taking a field that leaves a model to speculation seriously 🙂

    Then again, I also have issues with a lot of scientific fields that are more obsessed with classification and nomenclature than they are establishing demonstrable fundamentals. 🙂

  25. theavidpenguin says:

    TFW-
    With cognitive skills like that, I hope that you have a serious change of heart before you go about populating the next generation. You are an idiot.

  26. LabRat says:

    I’m not really sure I made myself clear- I was trying to distinguish the results of various experiments that explicitly depend on certain core aspects of theorized quantum mechanics being accurate- or, for that matter, particle physics- from the theorizing and sometimes frank philosophizing that goes into trying to interpret the wider implications. Simply not enough is understood about the subatomic world to make any such serious extrapolation, but as scientists are human, that hardly stops them. Humans are wired to want and need narratives.

    Now filter through a layer of laymen writing for a popular audience and you get unmitigated bullshit.

  27. Stingray says:

    My issue is that these models are pushed as accurate in and of themselves.

    And thus far, the models *are* accurate. The fun arises though that when dealing with serious scientists trying to dig down to the bottom of Things, every time a model is pushed as accurate, the pushing eggheads are also metaphorically strapping on their most trusted stainless steel jock straps and hoisting a giant neon sign over their delicate bits flashing “TARGET HERE! COME AND MAKE YOUR NAME BY KNOCKING ME DOWN!”

    Naturally, this tends to leave feelings a tad sore when a really good shot comes along that *does* change things, and more than a bit of debate (which may bear closer resemblance to two angry cats in a sack) as to whether the shot is accurate (reproducible, didn’t forget to carry the 2, etc) which in turn leads to some really epic flamewars in the journals, but the point remains: attached to any “We’re serious about this” scientist’s claims rides the implicit boast of “Go on. Just try to do better, punk.” If and when something is found inaccurate, when the dust settles, it gets worked into things.

    Successive parades of punks keep refining and pushing things along. Either we eventually wind up with a theory of gravity (seriously, some of the stuff from the early days of that one could fit right at home with some of the quantum stuff with only minor tweaks) , or some SuperPunk comes through and knocks the whole house of cards down with a better way. So far, the quantum models still work.

  28. Stingray says:

    Oh, and also keep in mind that a lot of those thesis and papers have to be dumbed down some if they’re going to an audience that hasn’t spent the last non-trivial portion of life immersed to the point of no longer remembering how to tie one’s shoes* focusing on the behavior of a certain particle in a certain environment on the third Tuesday of July.

    *You think I’m joking. We live with people just like that. They’re kinda scary.

  29. MarkHB says:

    Mmmph. This is why the Peer Review Process is so very important. There’s little percentage in having one’s Theory of Inverse Cromulence judged by people who say “well, the math checks out, but it makes me feel neither fuzzy nor wuzzy, so I’m going to write it off”.

    Or even worse “I didn’t understand the math, so it can’t be right”.

  30. Tam says:

    Too true!

    That would be almost as silly as saying “I don’t like some of what’s coming out of particle physics these days, so it must not be so.” 😉

  31. MarkHB says:

    Stupid Higgs boson. Stupid LHC. Stupid stable strangelets. 😉

  32. Sara says:

    Kudos to Marko for a great post.

  33. holy crap, when the brains in the outfit start throwing around subatomic shit, i know to get my ignorant ass out…or else to return to the concerns of “sometimes sentient beings in an insignificant corner of the universe”…

    perception equals reality…when enough bozos blow hot air into the balloon that is (was) the real estate market…when the majority of an electorate project their wishin’ and wantin’ onto an empty but charismatic vessel of a politician…when an entire race of people are convinced that their only true salvation lies in the elimination of another race…and when education supplants humanity to the point that some “can no longer tie their shoes” and causes them to deny that which their education itself has not evolved enough for them to understand.

    jtc

  34. Stingray says:

    MarkHB: No no no! Not “boson,” bosom!

  35. MarkHB says:

    *sob*

    I’m a failure! That’s it, I’m hanging up my labcoat and lead codpiece.

  36. tonymharris says:

    This was an awesome post and is very much relevant today.

  37. poetreearborist says:

    I must suggest (as has been suggested before) that reality does indeed change with perspective. Reality is a concept defined by observation, but it is the tools of observation that make reality undeniably subjective.

  38. dot says:

    Not really much to masticate over, after all the other commentaries.

    Just wanted to note that you appeared to have left out discussion of the other major source of single-minded malignant mantras, politics.

    The Nazi’s were a political party, the Jews a cultural lifestyle, and the Protestants, well, they were a bunch of anti-establishment religious zealots, at least as far as the contemporaneous orthodox ecumenical perceptions were concerned… It’s all a matter of perceptions, and unfortunately perceptions are dangerous when they are the sole basis of actions not vetted and normalized through discourse and disclosure by other more disinterested perceptions. No?

  39. MarkHB says:

    Dogma bad, freethink good. Long story, very short.

  40. Marko says:

    Everybody thinks of themselves as freethinkers, and the people with conflicting viewpoints as dogmatic.

  41. MarkHB says:

    Naw. I only call people who tell me how to think dogmatic.

    I realise I may occasionally embrace dogmatic thought on things like Objective Reality and the like, but that’s because it’s a logical hardwall. A Limiting Factor, if you will.

  42. Vaarok says:

    The book “The True Believer: Thoughts on mass movements” by Eric Hoffer touches on this syndrome in an interesting manner, both the emotional reward to the person who is a skeptic because of his affiliation, and the threat a new idea poses to the skeptic.

  43. Justthisguy says:

    I recall reading, in the bookstore, a book of letters to and from Richard Feynmann. Some Jewish gal wrote him a letter asking if he wanted to be included in a list of famous Jewish scientists, and he wrote back, refusing.

    He rejected the Jewish ethnic consciousness. I think she was disappointed. I do think that some Jews and some Japanese compete for the title of “most racist ethny on the planet.”

  44. theavidpenguin says:

    thought you guys might like this last post

    http://theavidpenguin.wordpress.com/2008/09/10/mark-driscoll/

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