Google’s Thesis of Data

17 07 2008

In a well researched article Wired’s Chris Anderson tells us that the scientific process is drowning, it seems unable to ‘tread data’:
http://www.wired.com/science/discoveries/magazine/16-07/pb_theory
It is followed up with some excellent examples:
http://www.wired.com/science/discoveries/magazine/16-07/pb_intro

Sixty years ago,” he says, “digital computers made information readable. Twenty years ago, the Internet made it reachable. Ten years ago, the first search engine crawlers made it a single database. Now Google and like-minded companies are sifting through the most measured age in history, treating this massive corpus as a laboratory of the human condition.

forget Terabytes – we are now in the Petabyte age and we have the Google-geek tools to surf the waves of the data oceans, picking what we want from the bounty.
In the process the vehicle of science has been forced to install and run a hybrid engine, and it is getting much more mileage out of the ‘data’ part than it ever did out of the ‘hypothesis’ part.
By default humankind has discovered that with data and Google, no one needs a theory any more. With the right info, hardware and software engines; professorships, theories and published peer-reviewed papers are becoming obsolete.
It calls for an entirely different approach, one that requires us to lose the tether of data as something that can be visualized in its totality. It forces us to view data mathematically first and establish a context for it later.

It’s an interesting development, but it’s hard to imagine it as progress. What concerns me is that humankind is being asked… no it is being demanded of humans, that we think less than we ever have before, and that we reserve our imagining for our entertainment only.
We are handing our very selves over to untethered information, and no one is asking why and by whom it was tethered in the first place.
One can see this quite plainly one looks at the plethora of human data. We are ‘chopped and diced’ into a million pieces depending of how the machine desires to look at us: dna determined destiny subjects, poll influenced voter trendsters, brand infused identity grabbers, demograph earners, gene coded fatalists, epidemic distributors, mass trend drivers, uba-consumers, culture catchers… the list is literally endless.

You see I think that data has always had a context, indeed data without context is Frankenstein. I don’t think that there is a community on earth that should be so data addicted that we look for a context after we’ve had our fix… that’s tantamount to mass drunk driving.
We’ve been blinded by science, now science has been blinded by data. I’m holding out for the return to logic again. And my advice is this: just think it through before you swallow it.

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The Current Tsunamis

3 05 2008

I was thinking the other day about what we occupy our thinking energy with. Most of it is very futile stuff. Stuff that will not matter even in a decade. Quite naturally and very quickly, what we occupy our thinking with becomes what we occupy our physical energy and time with.
Can I earn more money? Are humans ruining the planet? Should we arrange a national lottery? Should I have kids? Where can I get a safe abortion? Which party should I vote for? Can I look younger? Am I pregnant? Can I get thinner? How can I make my staff more productive? How do I get an advantage over my competitors? How do I get to have more sex, safely if possible? Does this make me look fat? Do I have BO? Are we there yet? I wonder what they think about me? …
These are the kinds of questions we have been trained to ask. And we ask them all day long, and most of the night too… But they are the least important questions. The really important questions we do not ask, but why? Could it be that we unconsciously avoid the real questions? I think so, and, as I have said, we have been trained to ask the frivolous questions, and to ask them only.

We humans have always been open to abuse by religion, science, popular culture, peer pressure, the media, and a myriad of other things. It did not matter so much 100 years ago because ideologies were relatively isolated. Ideas would ripple slowly across the planet, doing an equal amount of good and evil. Today they travel with the force, speed and impetus of a tsunami; an ethos tsunami. Or rather an unending series of ever shorter wavelength ethos tsunamis.
Drip feeding new ideas at the rate of generational growth can be wonderfully stimulating, but to be smashed with wave after wave of ideas is devastating. We must force ourselves awake, to think; to look up from the little questions which threaten to drown us. I’m not suggesting that little questions are invalid; little questions are equally valid, they are just secondary. And as CS Lewis pointed out “you cannot get second things by putting them first. You can only get second things by putting first things first.

The word ‘tsunami’ is a good example. I remember about 10 years ago Leonard Sweet produced a book called ‘Soul Tsunami’. When I heard the title I had to look up the word, today very few people, who can read, need to look up the word ‘tsunami’, it has swept over the continents carried on the susceptible and fluid oceans of the world media.
Another example, with much more impact, is our liberal South African Constitution. Influenced and applauded by current ‘democratic’ super-powers. Yet lacking even the simple redemptive processes that would make it a truly democratic constitution (I wrote a post about it, if you don’t know what I mean: Cry the Beleaguered Country)

So, what are the really big questions?
Someone I asked recently said “Why me? More specifically, why am I so special? Why am I alive? What is the REASON for ME as a person to be here on this planet?
I would regard this as the fundamental question of all questions.
Steven Hawking in “A Brief History of Time” said about this question: “If we find the answer to that, it would be the ultimate triumph of human reason – for then we would know the mind of God.
Hawking’s problem here is that the knowledge he is speaking of is intellectual, categoric knowledge. But scientific ‘knowing’, as we have already established, is not the only way of knowing; and answering the question “what is the reason for me?” is hopelessly outside the self-confessed reaches of the scientific method.
If you have even the slightest inkling of an answer to the question “why me?”, the other questions would just about answer themselves.

Here’s another fundamental question: “What’s the point?”
I would rate this question as number 2 on the list of important questions to answer before you die. Let me give you a reason why.
At some point someone asked “Are humans ruining the planet?” Some scientists said, “we might be,” and activists and politicians said “that’s good enough for us and here’s a bunch of rules and guidelines to stop it from happening.” And the Bureaucrats and popular TV talk shows adjusted their song sheets to the key of the new tune.
Now if, instead of getting into a frenzy of activity, someone asked, “what’s the point?” we would have a very different set of behavioural responses.
The planet is doomed anyway, what is the difference if it is now or in a million years? Someone may answer that this may be be the only planet with life. To which the answer is again, “so what?… What’s the point?
It is not a long walk to the most depressing fatalism once we start asking this question. The Stoics and the Epicureans concluded that suicide was a legitimate means of exit… their answer to the question.
Augustine argued the case against suicide using the example of Lucretia the much lauded lady of Roman fable who took her own life after being raped “There is no way out of the dilemma.” Says Augustine. “If she is an adulteress, why all the praise? If chaste, why did she kill herself?” Fatalism is not an acceptable answer to the question. “There is no point” equally cannot be the answer.
Philosophy,” said Dr Michael Eaton recently, “is just an ever increasing scepticism… Post modernism simply means that we are sure that we don’t really know anything… The more you know the more you wish you knew nothing.
The grand conclusion of philosophy is that there is no point to be found in time and space. Possessing intelligence and consciousness is not an end in itself. But this asks more questions than it answers. Why then do we feel such a desperate need to be the object of some purpose larger than ourselves? Why is in not ‘OK’ to simply say “So what, let’s use up the planet ourselves, why restrain ourselves for the sake of some future generation who we don’t even know. The whole planet may be taken out by a meteor anyway and it is going to be destroyed eventually despite our best efforts“?
It’s all in Ecclesiastes if you want to read it, thought through by Solomon 4000 years ago. “There is nothing new, nothing to be gained, no advantage, under the sun.” (“under the sun” is Solomon’s way of saying “here on earth”) and he’s quite right there is no point here on earth, absolutely none. I challenge you to find one that cannot be refuted by logic alone.
Now here’s the clincher: If there is no point at all why do we behave as if there were? As if somehow our reputation will actually matter in a million years.
What’s the Point?” I want to tell you that more people ask this question that you imagine. Now you may be thinking, “didn’t you say that people don’t ask these questions, and this is number 2 on the list.
Yes I did say that, but most people only ask, “what’s the point?” from inside the dilemma of the other questions, they have been trained not to think outside of it. “What’s the point if I can’t earn any more money?” “What’s the point if I can’t have more sex?” “What’s the point if I am fat?” “What’s the point if they think I’m an idiot?” “What’s the point of saving the planet?
People seldom ask “What’s the point of me, us, everything?” We don’t take the question far enough.

Our view of science is the key here. Our view of science will either keep us asking the little questions or force us to ask the big ones (legitimate as the little questions are).
Science claims to deal only with what is provable, or falsifiable, which is a noble pursuit. And so scientists claim to say nothing about what is not provable, or falsifiable. But science does, all the time. There is always a lot of necessary assumption in the science world because of the issues that science is dealing with. Current science has metaphysical implications and requires metaphysical assumptions; and these assumptions rub off, through the current bombardment of idea tsunamis, on absolutely everyone.
Intelligent Design may not be what is defined as ‘science’ but neither is science within it’s own definition anymore. We don’t want intelligent design in the science classroom but are happy to give science as much metaphysical jurisdiction as it wants.
Science can not show how it is that life started nor how it is that reason evolved. How then can it show when a life ends? Yet it is necessarily assumed in science that biology is the same thing as life. Science cannot show how the universe came into being nor it’s purpose. So its beginning is necessarily assumed and it is assumed to be purposeless (I’ve always wondered why having a beginning to the universe is more important than having a purpose to it). We are trained to think in terms of assumptions, to accept them without requiring evidence.

Here are some other fundamental questions:
When I die (not if, when) is that the end of me?
Will anything I do matter in a million years?
Why is there something rather than nothing?
Why are there many, not just one?
Is there a God?
Richard Dawkins attempts an answer to this last question, he says that God is “not very likely“. It is a singularly unhelpful and small minded attempt. Dawkins attempts to answer a big question as if it were a little one. He tries to use science in the form of statistics to answer something with is neither provable nor falsifiable, and for that he wins approval?!?
Every conception is also very unlikely, life itself is highly improbable, universal order is also extremely unlikely; yet here they all are, observable and measurable. The unlikelyness of God is utterly irrelevant to the question, it does not serve as an answer and the sooner we recognise that the better.

So you think that I am trying to convince you to believe what I believe. I am not. I am asking you to ask the questions we have been trained to believe there is no answer to; and to ask them sincerely. I am also asking you to ignore the noise and the distraction of the current idea tsunamis, to lift your head out of the chicken feed and imagine again, beyond your wildest dreams.

Dr RT Kendall said recently, “God offends the mind to reach the heart.
Here is a little question: “How can a just God let people suffer?” Now if God exists only a fool would deny that He does let people suffer, even ‘good’ people; maybe especially ‘good’ people. The Greeks attempted to answer that question by humanising the gods. They imagined their gods having all these powers but subject to their own character weaknesses, these weaknesses translate to the random doses of suffering and blessing we observe.
Dr Kendall’s statement is an excellent, experiential and relational answer to the question; and, like it or not, Kendall’s right.

In Paul’s letter to the Romans (chapter eight) he quoted the Ecclesiastes theme that the whole world, indeed the universe, is subject to meaningless vanity… If you discount God.
Someone once said” “God has the key of all unknown but He will not give it to you, So you had better trust him to open all the doors.
If we leave out God – we are just animals. When we take away from the human the image of God all you have left is animal.

From His hand” is the Ecclesiastical contrast to “under the sun“.





One god further

16 12 2007

I was listening to a talk given by Richard Dawkins the other day; Richard Dawkins, if you don’t know, is a Professor of Biology at Oxford who calls himself a militant athiest. In his talk the Professor made a number of statements that got me thinking. One of them was this: “We are all atheists about most of the gods humanity has believed in, some of us just go one god further.

He was speaking about all people, including theists and he is, in the first point, quite right. We are indeed all atheists about most of the ‘theos’, the supposed deities, that men have believed in over time.

But I disagree with his second point, “some of us just go one god further.” I think Professor Dawkins is not being very honest, the truth is that we all go ‘one god further’, even Professor Dawkins goes, as he says ‘one god further’.

Instead of putting himself into an new enlightened position as he supposes, the Professor has instead put himself back at the beginning. I’d like to suggest that this stance is merely a development dressed up as progress, it is not progress at all. In fact evolution, by definition, denies progress altogether. Evolution is a philosophy of development, rolling out of one change and rolling into another, going somewhere while going nowhere. It is a thought older than history itself and instead of revealing something new it simply shuffles the hand we’ve been dealt.

 

A little while ago I was in Washington State in the USA and I caught one of those marvellous ferries from Bremmerton to Seattle, these ferries are like floating malls they each carry about 50 or 60 cars, perhaps more, and I’m sure they could carry more than a thousand people. One thing which struck me was that when one boards the ferry one is not too sure where the ferry itself starts and where land ends. There is a complicated system of rails and ramps, and the boat (if I may call it that) is so big that the waves don’t make it move enough for me to be sure that at any time I have left the land. One has the urge to go further onto the boat just to make sure one is actually on it.

I think that illustrates Professor Dawkins’ position quite well. He assumes that he is on the land speaking to all the people on the boat and he’s calling all on the boat who are unsure of it’s destination to come off of it to where he is. But he is mistaken, what is really dry land is much further back from where he is standing and it is getting further away while he is standing still. This is so because if he were to take an honest look back, he would see that not only is he in the same boat, but also the vessel has already been launched from the docks and is sailing off.

 

Complexity,” says the professor, “is the problem which any theory of biology has to solve, and you can’t solve it by postulating an agent that is even more complex thereby simply compounding the problem.” But has the professor not done exactly the same thing? If one were to ask him what it is then that he believes he would not answer, “I believe in nothing for I can prove nothing.” Many thousands of years ago the Greek Cynics began to answer the question exactly like that. Using my illustration that stance would be indeed to remain on the shore or to jump off the boat and attempt a swim back.

The true cynic does not call all other cynics out of hiding because if one calls ones-self a “respectable cynic” (who is guided by some impulse to be an honest voice in the community, saving people from errors of the past) then one is no cynic at all. If the Professor is not a cynic then he must have a belief. He calls it a theory but don’t be blinded by the semantics, a theory is simply a belief. I say ‘don’t be blinded by the semantics‘, I do not mean ‘don’t be blinded by the science‘. The science is not what concerns me at all. In fact what I wish is that the evolutionist adherence to the rules of English were as rigid as their adherence to the rules of science.

 

A theory of biology, or any other theory, does not solve anything, neither does it have to to remain a theory (a bad theory is just as much of a theory as a good one). Professor Dawkins says it does. In the same way the belief in a deity does not bring that deity to life (a wrong belief is just as much a belief as a right one). A theory may legitimately exists without there being any way at all of proving it either way, and we are called every day to reject hundreds of them, in the same way that mankind has been asked over the centuries to reject hundreds of ‘theos’.

What is it that makes professor Dawkin’s theory ‘the one to believe‘? It must be all the proof, the fact that the theory solves the complexity problem and so graduates from theoryhood to become truth… But it is not presented with such proof, or have I missed something? I have yet to read of evidence, and even if I had, on what grounds should I believe it. What I have heard is a lot of suppositions, suppositions that would turn Socrates over in his grave.

Here are some examples: 

Dan Dennett says about sheep’s symbiosis with man that it is a “clever move of natural selection itself.” I would like to know how it is that a process is able to make a clever move? Perhaps he is a closet Jedi, expressing his belief in Mediclorians? He goes on; “The designs discovered by natural selection are brilliant, unbelievably brilliant… but the process itself is without purpose, without foresight, without design… The design is there in nature but it’s not in anybody’s head, it doesn’t have to be, that’s the way evolution works.” Well, this Natural Selection character is sounding almost as much like a person as I have been lead to believe that Evolution herself must be; if it does not ‘create’ then it is able to ‘discover’ Not even animals discover. “that’s just the way evolution works,” is a statement of faith in the same category (or boat) as “you are the Christ, the son of the living God.” Mr Dennett it seems has as much faith as Professor Dawkins.

Professor Leslie Orgel who died this year said “evolution is cleverer than you are.” Well if that is the case then Evolution must be more of a person than I am. Unless one takes the Buddhist stance that we are in the process of becoming God along with everything else and that God is the sum total of everything, which is precisely nothing. If that is the case, we come all the way back to that troubling old word ‘God’; concept, person or both and we have to answer a very silly question: How can nothing do so many brilliant, and clever things?

Paul Mccready says   “Over billions of years on a unique sphere chance has painted a thin covering of life, complex, improbable, wonderful and fragile. Suddenly we humans a recently arrived species no longer subject to the checks and balances inherent in nature have grown in population, technology and intelligence to a position of terrible power. We now wield the paint brush.” I feel a little like a child told about Santa for the first time who asks ‘but how does he get round the world in one night?‘ I’d ask Paul Mccready 2 questions: 1. How is it that chance managed such a complex and wonderful living painting with inherent checks and balances (none of which I deny)? You see, when I leave my car, my dog, my garden, my work or anything else to chance it seems to go in quite the opposite direction (he does not dignify chance with a capital letter even though he treats her as a person, when I went to school proper nouns were always spelt with a capital; I wonder if his ‘chance’ character ever gets mad?). Perhaps his answer would be that there is chance and there is Chance, but he’d probably like to avoid looking like he’s trying to appease her. Perhaps he’s Buddhist in which case he’d much rather appease you and I who, after all are becoming God. The only other answer I could imagine he would give is that this statement is only a theory, by definition incomplete, and that one should not jump to faith conclusions based on flowery English, that for all he knows chance could very well be a person, by his language she certainly acts like one. But then he should say so should he not? 2. The other question I’d ask is this: How can something as sublime as this chance, be so clumsy at to hand the brush over to us humans?

 

My concerns are language and logic concerns, not scientific ones. Perhaps all of these faith statements (Christian preaching included), like cigarette packets, should carry a health warning. “Listening to these theories could induce you to believe them as fact.” But that is what all honest theistic preaching does. It calls people to faith when faith is all they can have. It does not, like the preaching of the non-thiest, call true what is yet to be established and so, by poor English alone, hide in the small print the faith deposit required to believe the theory.

 

I think it is worthwhile debating weather or not Darwin’s theory (or any other) is true, what I cannot live with is a theory that denies faith in anything and then asks people to assume it’s true while still calling itself a theory. It is like saying “Faith is a concept we intellectuals have grown out of, except faith in our theory which must be true because we’re intellectuals.

If a theory’s job is to answer a problem then only upon answering it satisfactorily to the rigourous demands of logic does it graduate. It is then no longer a theory but a fact.

This is a very difficult thing, the Existentialists demand that the only theory to have done it is the theory of self. The Christians say that the theory of Christ has done it and in so doing He has qualified a number of other theories as fact. And the Athiests seem to be swaying (because sway they must) towards evolution’s theory. These are all unestablished theories, all of them requiring faith in a concept that becomes more and more a person the longer one looks at it. Only one of them is honest enough to admit to requiring faith in a super-natural person right from the start.

Evolution’s theory described as a myth would look something like this: Evolution is very much like a benevolent, super-relaxed, all powerful, active yet unconscious female goddess. She has a daughter called Natural Selection who seems slightly more conscious but unable, it seems, to ask “where am I? who am I?” Everything is kept in some order, despite their dream status, by what can best be described as a third person, a spirit, the spirit of Nature who keeps house, keeps the other two from bumping into things and causing too much damage, points their wands in the right directions and such. Nature is either mortally afraid or incapable (no one is sure which) of waking them, but she has no real power of her own. They form, in fact, a trinity related somehow, one would think, to the Adams family… Looking at evolution this way it is clearly a religion too. It’s easy to poke fun at a myth one does not believe, but doesn’t one gets offended when fun is poked at a myth one does believe?

 

Dawkins admits it himself when he says: “When athiests like Stephen Hawking and Albert Einstein use the word god they use it of course as a metaphorical shorthand for that deep mysterious part of physics which we don’t yet understand.” I use the word God as a metaphorical shorthand for the deep mysterious person which I have no hope of ever really understanding. Both of these postulations require a measure of faith my friends; and neither of them solve the complexity problem. Mine requires less faith because it does not pretend or even attempt to solve the complexity problem, the atheist’s postulation does pretend to solve it.

Even belief that there is truth as opposed to non truth is a theory. A concept that only the cynics deny. In fact the cynic can be defined as one who is an ‘atruthist‘, which is more of a problem for him than it is for the sceptic who says that his reason causes him to doubt his reason. The cynic says that his reason causes him to deny his reason. That is like presenting with stomach juices so strong that they dissolve even one’s stomach. It is an agonisingly fatal position.

The evolutionist is no cynic, he has spent too much time and money at school to take such a position. But the evolutionist’s disciples will have no such advantage to take for granted. They will be true cynics.

Evolution says that authority exists but is perpetually sleeping. How long then until its stewards attempt what they think will be an easy coup? It has been attempted before.

 

Personally speaking I battle to believe this evolutionary theology, I think there are better theologies; so I am an Aevolutionist and I am calling all those closet Aevoltuonists out there to nail their colours to the mast; to refuse to be bullied by a vigilante theory of the intelligencia, who, like a self-appointed clergy, have moved into the neighbourhood offering an intellectual protection that the average man fears to refuse. An IQ Mafia with 180+ thugs who threaten to ridicule the 100 man. We must protect future generations from an age darker than the world has ever seen. Where every every ‘right’ is called “stupid irrationality” and every ‘wrong’ is called “pragmatic” by the priests of the spirit of Nature.

 

I think that kitchenware is wonderfully useful stuff, what I cannot tolerate though is a used pot calling a kettle black.