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Feb 282008
 

First of all, a little apology … I’m no expert Mathematician, was pretty dire at Physics, and I’m no great name in Computer Science. In fact the “physics” here could be any science that makes use of mathematics as a tool. Now for the really scary part … I’m going to be talking about equations.

At least some of the unpopularity of Physics has something to do with the equations that can be found in it. There is no getting around it, Physics and other sciences cannot be really called “science” without equations. But I do believe that physicists do make their equations a little too mysterious :-

e = m c ^ 2

(apologies for not using real symbols there)

Now that is one of the better known equations from physics, but were it one that was less well-known the general reaction would be “eh?”. Does the obscurity of the variables here help ?

When I was learning to write programs, I quickly came to the realisation that using descriptive variables was the start of writing understandable code and went some way to documenting what was going on. It is all very well writing a piece of code with less expressive variables but it makes understanding what you wrote some weeks (or months) ago much harder.

The use of obscure variables come from Maths where you start with equations like :-

x ^ 2 = 9

Now Maths (as I understand it) is basically a set of puzzles that have to be solved using the techniques of Maths; those techniques and the puzzles are divorced from any real problems. The use of deliberately inscrutable variables is by design.

Which way should sciences that use equations go ? The way that Maths goes with inscrutable variable names, or the way of software engineering with descriptive variables ? Historically sciences have gone down the route in common with Maths; understandably enough, but why not try descriptive names. Isn’t an equation like :-

Energy = Mass * Speed of Light ^ 2

… far more understandable, and possibly just a little bit less scary to those put off by equations ? If changing to descriptive variables brings a few more young people into the study of science, is that a good reason for using them. I think so.

Jun 302007
 

There are some knuckle-dragging Neanderthals (and I’m being insulting to Neanderthals making that comparison) who when they can stop drooling, parrot some nonsense about how they have come up with a “scientific” demonstration of how the evolution hypothesis is wrong and that the ages old creation myths given a quick paint of pseudo-science is a suitable explanation of how life came to be.

There are supposedly several arguments for “Intelligent Design” …

The first of course is the dumb religious prejudices of those who support “Intelligent Design” in that they cannot bring themselves to believe that the theory of evolution is compatible with a creator. This is principally a failure of imagination. Assuming you go with the Genesis creation myth, the dumber believe that God created the world exactly as depicted in Genesis. Just imagine for a minute, God trying to explain how he created the universe to a less educated man of pre-history … he would almost certainly resort to a simplistic explanation to avoid having to spend years at the task. If the Genesis myth is real, then it is most likely to be as described … a simplification suitable for man. There are many religious people who accept this and accept evolution as a reality.

The second argument is that evolution is an unproven theory over which there is considerable debate amongst the scientific community. Well the scientific community is wondering where all the argument is. As to whether evolution is unproven, well of course it is. There is supporting evidence, and nobody (with any credibility) has disproved evolution. It is the currently accepted theory as to how life came to be as is now.

There is also the complexity argument … those who argue for a “designer” claim that there are elements in life which are too complex to have evolved and this demonstrates that a designer was necessary. Not so … believing that a system is too complex to have evolved is again a failure of imagination. We may not understand how something could have evolved, but that does not mean it did not evolve.

Those in favour of “Intelligent Design” are anti-scientific bigots (it has been demonstrated again and again that there is no science in the “theory” of “Intelligent Design”) who want to turn back the clock to a time when anyone wondering about nature would be told “God made it that way” and to stop wasting their time. They want us to return to the dark ages.

Laugh at them. Spit on them. And ignore them.

And if you live in a country where they are corrupting the education system, fight that corruption!

Apr 022007
 

Firstly I’ll point out that I don’t really believe that the types mentioned in the headline really exist … all people have artistic sides and scientific sides even if they deny them. I know! I thought I was purely scientific without an artistic bone in my body, but couldn’t stop writing (incompetently) and now I’m obsessed with creating pleasing images (unsuccessfully). However many people do believe that they exist.

I have just finished a book where a literary woman insists that her father is ignorant because he doesn’t read despite the fact that he is a neurosurgeon (which does involve lots of reading) and is a serious music listener. There is enough clues in there for some to guess the book and the author, but I won’t name either because it is a relatively common tendency to run down the knowledge of “scientific types”.

Why? I mean any kind of knowledge is valuable and deciding what knowledge is more valuable than the rest is the kind of game that only the foolish indulge in. Of course “scientific types” have been known to think the opposite … that “artistic types” are the ignorant ones, although for some mysterious reason we don’t get to hear this point of view in the media or great literature.

It is too easy to think of someone who does not spend time learning your knowledge is lazy and ignorant without considering that they may spend a great deal of time learning other stuff that is valuable to them. I don’t as a rule read great works of literature because I either don’t have the time or I am too tired to do the work justice. That doesn’t mean I don’t read.

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