Thursday, November 17, 2005

Say it aint so Scott...

Scott Adams, author Dilbert, of one of my favorite cartoons ever (i swear he had a webcam pointed at me when i worked in a big company and each joke was merely an edited documentary of my previous day's encounters), seems to have gone off the deep end.

He's written a book (free for download here) that basically scorns everything that science is currently doing. I spent 10 mins skim reading it (that sounds more impressive than it is, the font is so big that 144 pages is about 10 pages of A4 Times New Roman) and it basically revolves around the fact that Scott has trouble understanding the current state of play of everything from string theory to evolution.

The story is set as a conversation between omnipotent-level 5-avatar (sounds like a scientology reference) and a well-intentioned delivery guy. It's very Socratic in it's delivery (but that presupposes the Socratic figure knows WTH he's talking about). Skip to the Science and Evolution chapters if you want a quick flavour of the rest of the book.

I'm not sure what to say about this, anyone that has read his funny book 'The Dilbert Principle' and made it to the last chapter has probably thought 'eccentric' since he honestly believes writing down a wish on a piece of paper ten times every day will make it come true within a couple of weeks. I haven't seen any peer-reviewed studies on this but if it turns out to be statistically significant you'll win a Nobel prize and a million bucks from the Randi foundation, good luck with that...

The only conclusion that i can come up with is Mr Adams now has enough money to do whatever he wants for the rest of his life and has surrounded himself with people that think this is earth shattering stuff. He's in good company Huxley, Tesla, Pauling, Wolfram(?who knows, that guy is smart enough that he may actually be right) have all gone off the deep end.

The only thing i'll say in physics defence of field theory is that if you read enough of the pop-sci (especially Feynman) you'll quickly realise that even they don't 'believe' that their equations are necessarily 'true', since 1900 they've re-defined 'truth' as being 'prediction' i.e. if your model is based on little green dwarfs driving morris minors around on a rolled up 18 dimensional space-time racetrack, knock yourself out - just so long as it encompasses all the known data and predicts unknown facts that can be tested.
I don't like quantum physics or string theory purely on aesthetic grounds (that and a complete lack of mathematical talent) that the disciplines rapidly become mathematical navel gazing with untestable outcomes (we chemists don't get that luxury...) but QT certainly predict outcomes to staggering levels of detail so what the hell do i know?
Truth? who cares, it's prediction that counts, the rest is just philosophy and we all know how well thats been getting on for the last 4000 years.


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