virus: Building Faith in Science

Reed Konsler (
Fri, 12 Feb 1999 19:33:48 -0500

>Date: Thu, 11 Feb 1999 10:47:06 -0600
>From: "carlw" <>
>Subject: RE: virus: Science and faith
>I was lucky. I was home taught by skeptics and raised on a mixture of
>classics, history, literature, maths and physics.


>So far as I remember, I
>was not asked to accept things "on authority" but was lead into questioning
>most everything through a combination of historical backgrounding and an
>interrogative teaching process.

What is "historical backgrounding"? Could you describe the process?

>The classical Alcohol/Water molar mass/volume experiments were enough to let
>me figure out that there was something to molecular theory. Electrolysis was
>I think, the other experimental platform that clinched it. The answer
>(today) for that kid is to show them SEM images and computer models. So much
>easier to grasp than intellectual models.

Magritte once said "this is not a pipe".

An SEM *image*? A computer *model*? Both are pictures on a TV screen. Have you seen any TV recently? Is that real, or fiction? An energetic skeptic wouldn't buy a TV image as the truth. You have faith in the apparatus and the principles on which it is designed. You believe it is an accurate representation of what you cannot see with your own eyes. When the 8 year old asks you "How do I know this isn't made up in Adobe Photoshop?" what are you going to say? How many years do you have...and how does the eight year old know the truth of your words from Greek Mythology?

Nevermind...if the picture is flashy enough, the kid will never even ask. You didn't. I didn't. We played at questioning, but in the process we absorbed more than anyone could have convinced us to accept on faith alone. As McLuhan said, "the medium is the message"...what neither of us questioned was everything implict in the questions we were encouraged to ask. We accepted a frame of reference, a scientific worldview, the moment we tried the first experiment.

Showing young children pretty pictures and colorful models doesn't bring them closer to reality, it just puts a more sopisticated layer of media between them and the substance of the issue. When one points to the moon, only a fool focuses on the finger.

The experiements which any single person can do (like electrolysis and mixing alcohol and water) in a lifetime are the thinnest slice of all that would be required to prove exaustively even the existence of something simple like atoms. If your experiments were like mine, they began with an explanation and what the experiment was going to show (or what questions you were supposed to ask) then told you how to do it. Finally, there would be a discussion section where the explaination was given and sources of error contemplated. You were given the "frame of reference" to begin you made the inevitable conclusions...all according to that "Good Book".

Having practiced as a scientist and engineer, you know the difference between that illusion-experience and a legitimate experimental foray into the unknown. I'm speaking of the unknown which noone knows, and for which there is no "frame of reference". It is a different kind of thing entirely to design and build novel insturments from scratch to do formerly impossible things...when there is no authority figure (be it a person or a book) to guide you.

If you had really learned everything empirically then I would expect you to have a much different language to describe the phenomena you encountered. Even translating observational results from one language to another requires creativity and finesse...not to speak of the conclusions. But you are very articulate. You sound like a scientist, like an engineer, like a philosopher.

Sure sign of indocrination. What is the chance that you would randomly arrive at all the some words and concepts which have traced such a tortured path through history? Home schooled or not, your use of language leads me to deduce that you've bought much more than you've questioned.

The medium is the message. You use the medium, ergo, you've been infected by our message. I'm floored that you think you made all this up yourself.

[grand gesture indicating the meta-culture]


  Reed Konsler