Just So Stories, and an Unpleasant Thought

How life, the universe and everything got here. God? Nature? Both? Chew it over here. This is also the place for discussing any theories or views which run counter to mainstream science.
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lpetrich
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Just So Stories, and an Unpleasant Thought

Post by lpetrich » Mon Dec 04, 2017 12:54 pm

Rudyard Kipling's (Wikipedia)Just So Stories are some origin stories that were inspired by the numerous origin or etiological stories that people have invented. In "How the Leopard Got His Spots", it was because someone painted them on some leopard long ago. That is rather obviously Lamarckian inheritance, inheritance of acquired characteristics, and the rest of that book's stories also feature it.

It's been hard to find a good collection of such stories, so I'll give what I can find.

In Greek mythology, one finds that the Ethiopians got their dark skins from someone driving the Sun chariot too close to them, burning their skins. According to Etiological myths, there is a story from somewhere that rhinoceroses have no hair become some rhinoceros caught fire and went into some water to extinguish it. That burned off all the animal's hair and rhinos have been hairless ever since.

In the second Genesis creation story, God orders a certain mischievous snake to crawl on its belly, and that is why snakes do that. I've found a much more recent story that Manx cats are tailless because some ancestor's tail got caught in the door to Noah's Ark.

All Lamarckian, and the Bible even has some Lamarckian genetic engineering in Genesis 30.

Though named after biologist Jean-Baptiste Lamarck, this form of inheritance is an age-old bit of folklore. So one may reasonably conclude that it is common sense.


Now my unpleasant thought.
Postmodernist Creationists and Lewontin vs. Sagan - Secular Café
Lewontin vs. Sagan again - Secular Café
Geneticist Richard Lewontin celebrates some creationists as the Southern proletariat rebelling against the Northern bourgeoisie, slams the results of modern science as grossly contrary to common sense, and states that some rural-Texas woman "sensibly" refused to believe that we got any TV broadcasts from the Moon because she can't get anything from Dallas.

According to that argument, one ought to believe in Lamarckian inheritance rather than in Mendelian inheritance, and if one does so, then RL's career is totally destroyed.

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Jobar
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Post by Jobar » Wed Dec 06, 2017 4:05 pm

Loren, I've reviewed all those links, but I have to admit I'm not understanding your 'unpleasant thought.'

I would say that Lewontin's remarks-
Our willingness to accept scientific claims that are against common sense is the key to an understanding of the real struggle between science and the supernatural. We take the side of science in spite of the patent absurdity of some of its constructs, in spite of its failure to fulfill many of its extravagant promises of health and life, in spite of the tolerance of the scientific community for unsubstantiated just-so stories, because we have a prior commitment, a commitment to materialism.

It is not that the methods and institutions of science somehow compel us to accept a material explanation of the phenomenal world, but, on the contrary, that we are forced by our a priori adherence to material causes to create an apparatus of investigation and a set of concepts that produce material explanations, no matter how counter-intuitive, no matter how mystifying to the uninitiated. Moreover, that materialism is absolute, for we cannot allow a Divine Foot in the door.

The eminent Kant scholar Lewis Beck used to say that anyone who could believe in God could believe in anything. To appeal to an omnipotent deity is to allow that at any moment the regularities of nature may be ruptured, that Miracles may happen.

-make it plain that Lewontin does not understand the tentativity of scientific hypotheses/theories; that they are always 'works in progress', and are not meant to be unquestionably accepted, like some religious dogma. I've seen the exact same problem with creationists and believers of all sorts, who do not seem to see that science simply doesn't accept absolutes; given some real, physical evidence of gods, or God, then there would be scientific theories concerning such beings, or being.

Sure, there are scientific theories, such as evolution, that are so thoroughly demonstrated that we should be willing to accept them as truth. But given some new evidence of sufficient power- the classic 'rabbits in the Precambrian'- then the whole structure of evolutionary theory would be thrown into question.

But I'm still not seeing how Lamarck affects Lewontin. Can you expand?

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Post by lpetrich » Thu Dec 07, 2017 4:00 am

[quote=""Jobar""]Loren, I've reviewed all those links, but I have to admit I'm not understanding your 'unpleasant thought.'

(LP: snipped for brevity)

But I'm still not seeing how Lamarck affects Lewontin. Can you expand?[/quote]
He grumbles about how grossly counterintuitive some mainstream scientific theories are, and how he feels that we must accept them instead of more common-sensical and pleasant hypotheses like supernatural ones.

My point is that Lamarckism hits very close to home for him. He is professionally a geneticist, and he could moan and groan about how as a geneticist he is supposed to reject Lamarckian inheritance, despite it being more common-sensical than Mendelian inheritance.

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Ozymandias
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Post by Ozymandias » Thu Dec 07, 2017 2:00 pm

The fact that Lewontin has these views says to me that we scientists need to do a better job at explaining our science. These seemingly counterintuitive ideas are actually not counterintuitive at all - they have just been badly explained. This emphasises how important it is to provide better funding for the public understanding of science.

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Post by Sey » Thu Dec 07, 2017 11:36 pm

Reality has always been counterintuitive.

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Jobar
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Post by Jobar » Fri Dec 08, 2017 3:27 am

[quote=""lpetrich""]
Jobar;681832 wrote:Loren, I've reviewed all those links, but I have to admit I'm not understanding your 'unpleasant thought.'

(LP: snipped for brevity)

But I'm still not seeing how Lamarck affects Lewontin. Can you expand?
He grumbles about how grossly counterintuitive some mainstream scientific theories are, and how he feels that we must accept them instead of more common-sensical and pleasant hypotheses like supernatural ones.

My point is that Lamarckism hits very close to home for him. He is professionally a geneticist, and he could moan and groan about how as a geneticist he is supposed to reject Lamarckian inheritance, despite it being more common-sensical than Mendelian inheritance.[/QUOTE]

Ah- you mean your thought is unpleasant for Lewontin, not for those of us who see his errors here. Gotcha. I was trying to figure out why *we* should find it unpleasant.

Another thing I find problematical with Lewontin's statement: "...in spite of its failure to fulfill many of its extravagant promises of health and life...". I want to know just what "extravagant promises" he's referring to, and who the hell made them?

Sure there's plenty of things we old science fiction fans have hoped to live to see; flying cars, moon colonies, starships, on and on. And there have been plenty of scientists whose speculations on the possible benefits of science have proved to be in error, or at least premature. But *science itself* makes no promises.
Ozymandias wrote:The fact that Lewontin has these views says to me that we scientists need to do a better job at explaining our science. These seemingly counterintuitive ideas are actually not counterintuitive at all - they have just been badly explained. This emphasises how important it is to provide better funding for the public understanding of science.
Ozy, I want to offer three quotes here, which AFAIK are all genuine.

"If you think you understand quantum mechanics, you don't understand quantum mechanics." -Richard Feynman

"If you are not completely confused by quantum mechanics, you do not understand it." -John Wheeler

"If quantum mechanics hasn't profoundly shocked you, you haven't understood it yet." -Neils Bohr

I have to admit that after considerable study, (Wikipedia)Bell's theorem still seems about as counter-intuitive as it was to me when I first encountered it back in the mid-seventies. If you can explain it (with or without math) so that it is intuitively clear to me, I'd be truly grateful. (However, if you decide to take that on, let's make a new thread for it.)

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Post by lpetrich » Fri Dec 08, 2017 6:06 am

[quote=""Jobar""]
Another thing I find problematical with Lewontin's statement: "...in spite of its failure to fulfill many of its extravagant promises of health and life...". I want to know just what "extravagant promises" he's referring to, and who the hell made them?

Sure there's plenty of things we old science fiction fans have hoped to live to see; flying cars, moon colonies, starships, on and on. And there have been plenty of scientists whose speculations on the possible benefits of science have proved to be in error, or at least premature. But *science itself* makes no promises.
[/quote]
I'm baffled by that also. I can only guess at what he has in mind.

He claims that it is improved sanitation that deserves the credit for extending our lives and not modern medicine. But there is a reason why that improved sanitation was built, and it was to avoid diseases spread by contaminated water.

Many infectious organisms get their hosts to transmit them to other hosts. Ways like inducing coughing and diarrhea. The latter is induced by a wide variety of organisms: viruses, bacteria, protists, and parasitic worms. Some of them are very nasty, like the bacterium that causes cholera.

When a cholera outbreak occurred in London in 1854, physician John Snow tracked it down to a well in the city. This was clear evidence that the disease was transmitted by water, and counterevidence for a long-held theory that many diseases are due to a kind of bad air called miasma. In fairness to that theory, some diseases are indeed spread aerially, though by organisms carried by that air.


Even so, modern medicine has succeeded in driving some disease organisms to extinction, the smallpox and rinderpest viruses. Some others are now close to extinction, like the polio virus and the Guinea worm. I don't know what RL thinks about that.

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Post by Hermit » Fri Dec 08, 2017 7:54 am

Statistically, it is probably true that measures such as sewers save more people's lives than modern medicine, but I wonder if anyone had cottoned on to the need for huge investments to systematically construct them if it were not for scientists like Antonie van Leeuwenhoek.

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Post by Ozymandias » Fri Dec 08, 2017 2:34 pm

[quote=""Jobar""]
Ozy, I want to offer three quotes here, which AFAIK are all genuine.

"If you think you understand quantum mechanics, you don't understand quantum mechanics." -Richard Feynman

"If you are not completely confused by quantum mechanics, you do not understand it." -John Wheeler

"If quantum mechanics hasn't profoundly shocked you, you haven't understood it yet." -Neils Bohr
[/quote]

These are all quite old quotes though. I think most physicists understand Quantum Mechanics pretty well now.
I have to admit that after considerable study, (Wikipedia)Bell's theorem still seems about as counter-intuitive as it was to me when I first encountered it back in the mid-seventies. If you can explain it (with or without math) so that it is intuitively clear to me, I'd be truly grateful. (However, if you decide to take that on, let's make a new thread for it.)
I have a PDF I could share on this, which is an OK explanation, but I can't figure out how to attach files to the forum. Maybe we can't?

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