Sunday, November 19, 2006

Don't Throw Out The Baby With The Bathwater

It is easy to make a case that we think in discrete steps when trying to move from uncertainty to decision, and often each step can involve a binary choice: Is it this, or is it that? A left turn at the bridge, or a right? Fries or baked potato? The sort of thinking many of us, including myself, regard as the best the human mind can produce is the merciless process we call scientific reasoning, which is of this discrete kind. However, this wonderful method of either/or can become a ruthless weapon in the hands of those who start from unexamined premises, and demand that any opponent stand, or preferably fall, based on the inexorable conclusions.

My point, if I still have it, is that we must be clear about any position that is up for a "yes" or "no". History, whether of philosophy, or religion, or empires, or families, records that many a "no" threw out all sorts of promising implications that were never considered. Truly Thoreau's "Simplify, simplify" has been much abused.

Gravity, which seems as obvious as an apple falling off a tree, looks quite a bit more complicated when we consider that it holds together the solar system, with its elliptical orbits, each of them falling smaller as time goes by. Anyone bitten by a "vicious" insect can think badly of insects, while enjoying no end of fruit made possible by insect-enabled fertilization, not to mention honey from bees, or the beauty of flowers whose function is to entice these insects to do their jobs.

If the oft-muttered wish, "Rain, rain, go away", were actually to be granted, the consequences would be dreadful, and ultimately fatal, as a desert climate crept over the earth. The counterbalancing maxim has also been spoken over and over: "Be careful what you wish for -- you might just get it". Or, as I'm fond of saying, "It's not that simple".

So the lesson is to identify your premises, and then proceed logically to a conclusion. In other words, make clear what it is you are really talking about.


At 4:29 PM, Blogger refuter said...

So ,all this scientific thought,does this make you an atheist?

At 4:57 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

who created science?

At 5:53 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...


Fun read. Congratulations on making it onto!

-- 55-year-old Yank whippersnapper

At 6:30 PM, Blogger Chancy said...

Hi Don I am visiting here via

At 8:50 PM, Anonymous beth said...

Hi Don - I came here via BoingBoing as well. My Mother is in your age group and is also blogging.

You might want to check her blog out -


I have been reading your blog and enjoying it very much.

At 9:51 PM, Blogger Donald Crowdis said...

Thanks for the feedback, everyone. Ruth, is your mother listed under the "ageless project"?

At 10:16 PM, Anonymous Caz said...

Another boingboing disciple passing through your hallowed writing halls, dear sir.

I consider this serendipity in motion to have found your blog; your thoughts resonate and your writing is a thoroughly enjoyable journey for the mind! 'Tis a pleasure to meet you, sir!


At 11:02 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Awesome blog. I learnt about you from boingboing. I am in Toronto too. It is absolutly fun to read your blog. I am going to come very often here ;O).


At 11:37 PM, Anonymous nathan said...

bb reader here. most of the time it's too painful to listen to old people talk, but i really like your blog. perhaps there's less memory tangents and reminiscing when old people write instead of talk. please keep translating the wisdom of time and keep us young pups from our 20-something pretentiousness, thanks.

At 11:42 PM, Blogger Kiki said...

I just found your blog and am very happy I did. I'll be back daily. It is SO hard to find worthwhile blogs, I find.


At 5:04 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

what a condescending attitude

At 10:22 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi Don,

Hello from Tokyo. Came here via foregoing. Interesting reading. I like your blog a lot.


At 10:23 AM, Blogger said...

How did BoingBoing become Foregoing?


At 11:08 AM, Anonymous martin said...

hi don, i'm a swedish 29-yearold visiting via boingboing. i added your blog to my favorites :D

At 11:39 AM, Blogger Benji said...

Excellent blog sir. I agree (whimsically) with your stance on cannibalism especially as an efficient way of obtaining protein. I always take this stance with vegetarians. A cow eats grass so therefore eating a cow is merely a quick way of ingesting plants. Keep it up.

At 1:27 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I recently found a very interesting website:
There you can purchase ad space for your Blog etc.

At 1:39 PM, Blogger anomalous4 said...

Hi, just another boingboinger bouncing in.

Whenever I come into contact with someone who's 90+ and still going gangbusters, I think of my grandma, who's 95 and still goes bowling 4 times a week. She went to work as a civilian truck driver and aircraft mechanic on an air force base during WWII and was one of the minority of "Rosie the Riveters" who kept their jobs afterwards. (They couldn't afford to get rid of her; at 5 feet tall and 90 pounds in combat boots, she was about the only person who could get into some of the tight spots on some of those planes. Then again, maybe they knew better than to try; grandma with a bee up her butt is pretty scary, even now!)

She was president of the Arkansas state AARP during Clinton's term as governor (never say a bad word about the guy in her presence; she'll knock you into Missouri!) and successfully lobbied to have a bridge built that replaced an ancient ferry and cut as much as 25 miles off the drive into town - a godsend for ambulances, school buses, and anything else bigger than a station wagon.

When Grandma gets it into her head to do something, you either get in line or run for cover.

Sad to say, she doesn't have a blog. But if she did, it would be something to see! I wish she'd write her autobiography, but she won't. She doesn't think she's anything special. Guess everyone's wrong about something at least once in their life!

Keep on truckin'. I've signed up for your RSS, and I'll be watching.

Just 2 brass farthings' worth from a new fan.............

At 2:19 PM, Blogger qubit said...

I call the sometimes dangerous process of reducing things to a binary level a hazardous dichotomy.
I created a symbol to warn of a hazardous dichotomy, and I think just like some labs have radio active signs, certain books and philosophies should have the symbol plastered on them, warning us of the danger.

At 2:24 PM, Blogger anomalous4 said...

refuter said...
"So ,all this scientific thought,does this make you an atheist?"

Why should it? Science and faith are two completely different animals. Science deals with the mechanics of how we (and everything else) got here and how it all works. Faith (or philosophy, if you prefer) deals with issues of why we're here and how we should act in response.

The two ways of knowing don't overlap per se, but the answers interact, and the way we integrate and use the knowledge we gain from each is essential to our lives (and the universe's). We can - and should - explore both fully, and in the process come to both a thorough physical understanding and a solid ethical base, each of which supports the other. To neglect either is to risk falling into extremes of either stupidity in the name of faith on one hand, or inhumanity in the name of science on the other.

Just 2 brass farthings' worth from a 50-something Christian-by-faith and scientist-by-training, who can't imagine a life in which both ways of knowing aren't equally honored.........

At 2:38 PM, Blogger anomalous4 said...

Hey qubit, how's about a link to your "hazardous dichotomy" symbol? If you put it out there, I'd be surprised if it didn't go viral within a month!

At 3:33 PM, Blogger qubit said...

hey anomalous4,

Here is the hazardous dichotomy link

Its a photo of a print - I will rework it.

At 4:37 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Wow, Nathan. Condescending is right. If it's too painful to listen to old people talk, perhaps you should work on your listening skills.

At 4:40 PM, Blogger anomalous4 said...

Beautiful, man. I just grabbed a screen shot of the thing, copyright notice and url included, for my reference, and with your permission I'll start passing on the url. If it's not OK by you, I won't. Fair enough?

At 4:57 PM, Blogger qubit said...

Yes anomalous4, pass the link on.

It would be a lot of fun if it did go viral as you say.

At 5:11 PM, Blogger anomalous4 said...

qubit - watch out what you ask for, you just might get it. I just added the following to my profile:

Check out this link to the "Hazardous Dichotomy Symbol": (hat tip to fellow Blogger "qubit")

At 7:32 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

great stuff, grandpa. youre an inspiration. rock on.

At 8:12 PM, Blogger kinziephoto said...

ahh of course. :) all things in moderation?


At 8:47 PM, Blogger Sand said...

Hi Don, I Stumbled upon you while poking around google, looking for family. My family hails from Cape Breton, and I've heard tales of one of my great uncles who was in a hospital and had a piece of debris from a ship sail though his window due to the Halifax Explosion. Thought i might grill you on extended family and see where we match up. Great blogs by the way. Sandi Crowdis

At 5:02 AM, Anonymous James Mark said...

Feeling peckish after that article;)- round about the time for a midnight snack... nice read, Don.

Just finished David Suzuki's autobiography and was interested in your hosting of the Nature of Things...any links online to your days there?

At 5:05 AM, Anonymous JB (London) said...

Hi, Don

Great Blog. Many more I hope to come :)

BTW. You where linked via on BBC news website today. Good going.


At 8:51 AM, Anonymous John said...

Wonderful blog don, keep it up from a satisifed Irishman.
I found you thanks to the wonder of BBC linking the BoinBoing comment, did you ever imagine you would make it to the BBC with this?
Its in the tech section of the BBC
in the right hand bubble tagged "from the blogosphere"

At 10:04 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Also found you via the BBC website and BoingBoing. Your blog certainly livens up the dull parts of the day, i really am enjoying reading your writing which rings with echos of philosophy lectures gone by during my last few years of school.

A mere 21yr old Englishman

Andy F

At 12:00 PM, Anonymous Ook said...

Of course, the more one attempts to clarify ones point--if they still have it--the more inexorable things get.

Science being a case in point.

The argument that the world must be flat or we would fall off at once denies and acknowledges its own premise, gravity. We would fall off a flat surface too.

Although the debate spanned many generations, gravity wouldn't be understood until centuries after the debate was resolved. And it still would not be understood as the force that holds the Universe together for yet another 2 centuries.

What issues have we been pondering lately for which we may spend centuries waiting for the truth?

Gravity comes to mind.

Gravity has recently been premised to be a component part of something else we can't detect or explain that is actually tearing the Universe apart.

At 8:38 AM, Anonymous Tania, Sofia said...

Hi Don. It's inspiring to read your posts. Keep up the good work!

At 1:11 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...


At 4:56 AM, Blogger Nevin said...

Hi Don,

To think in binary logic more often than not, is to severely limit yourself. Binary is the language of the limbic system; Reason requires 3 dimensions, as does effective communication about subjective experience. The dimensions roughly map out to the dimensions of a wave: frequency, amplitude, and duration.

Once analog reasoning is used along with digital logic, to give at least 3 choice answers to any real problem you might encounter, then opportunities for learning new things reopen.

2/3 is definitely the worst way of problem-solving. It makes beasts out of people and their laws.


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