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Looking for help with an electricity tax-swap idea

Filed under: — group @ 3 March 2021

Guest commentary from Yoram Bauman

Everyone from Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen to Elon Musk thinks that putting a price on carbon is an important step in tackling climate change. Politically, however, carbon taxes and cap-and-trade systems face an uphill battle, in part because they could drive up the prices of household basics like gasoline and electricity. There are many worthy proposals for addressing this concern, mostly focused on the idea of using carbon pricing revenue to pay for things like per-capita dividends, green investments, or reductions in payroll taxes. 

But what if you could put a price on carbon without driving up consumer prices? In California, for example, the impact of the cap-and-trade system on residential electric bills is reduced substantially by the semi-annual Climate Credits that households receive on their bills. 

The purpose of this post is to invite feedback on and ask for help with an even more direct way to do this that might work in about 20 states, some cities, and perhaps in other countries as well. The gist is that many jurisdictions impose taxes on electricity consumption—sales taxes, gross receipts taxes, value-added taxes—and that replacing these existing taxes on electricity with a carbon tax on fossil-fuel generated electricity can come close to delivering a carbon tax “for free”. 

Table 1 shows some preliminary numbers for 18 states (and two municipalities, New York City and Washington, DC) that have significant taxes on residential electricity. The table shows that in Alabama (for example) the existing 4% state sales tax on electricity is the rough equivalent of a $12 carbon tax on electricity. By “rough equivalent” I mean that in 2019 those two taxes would have generated about the same amount of state revenue and so would have had roughly the same impact on consumer prices. 

Alabama4.0%$12Michigan4.0%$10NY State2.0%$19
Arizona5.6%$12Minnesota6.875%$15North Carolina7.0%$19
Arkansas6.5%$10Nebraska5.5%$9Pennsylvania5.9%$19
Florida2.56%$6New Jersey6.625%$36Rhode Island4.0%$18
Georgia4.0%$12New Mexico5.125%$11South Dakota4.5%$8
Illinois$0.33$9NYC (sales)4.5%$31Washington DC$0.70$13
Indiana7.0%$10NYC (util.)2.35%$16Wisconsin5.0%$10
Table 1: Jurisdiction, tax on residential electricity, carbon tax replacement rate.  Here are general data sources, with additional details on some states linked below.

Details and Caveats

  • The main impact of carbon pricing in the electricity sector is changing utility behavior rather than changing consumer behavior, i.e., making renewables more attractive than fossil fuels rather than reducing the amount of electricity consumption. This situation is arguably unique to the electricity sector, so this tax-swap idea is probably not applicable in other sectors.
  • These carbon prices—mostly in the range of $10-$20 per ton CO2—are modest but not insignificant. A $10 carbon tax is approximately 1 cent per kWh of coal-fired power, half that for natural gas, and nothing for non-fossil sources. 
  • The analysis above focuses on residential consumption of electricity but could be broadened to cover commercial consumption of electricity (and in rare cases even industrial consumption) as long as they also pay existing taxes on electricity that could be swapped out for a carbon tax. Note that many jurisdictions exempt entities like industrial consumers, schools, hospitals, and government agencies from existing electricity taxes; these same exemptions could be carried over to the carbon tax.  
  • In the short run, the carbon tax rate could be set to generate roughly the same amount of revenue as the sales tax or other existing tax that it’s replacing. In the long run, carbon tax revenue would decline as carbon emissions decline. It’s possible to reduce these losses—for example, by increasing the carbon tax rate over time, or by reinstating the existing sales tax after, say, 20 years—but there’s also a strong case for simply sunsetting taxes on electricity. For one thing, the push to “electrify everything” will be easier if electricity is cheaper. Perhaps more importantly, most states exempt grocery store food from sales tax because of regressivity concerns about impacts on low-income households, and taxes on residential electricity are even more regressive. The revenue loss from sunsetting taxes on residential electricity would be roughly onethird of the revenue loss from existing tax exemptions for groceries.
  • The carbon tax would ideally be based on the carbon content of electricity consumed by each utility’s customers in the state (e.g., on data similar to what’s in these ESG reports) rather than on the carbon content of electricity generated in the state. As a result, the tax swap works best in states where electric utilities have similar carbon profiles. To the extent that they have different carbon profiles, there would be a net savings for customers of low-carbon electricity and a net cost for customers of high-carbon electricity. 
  • It might be possible to pursue similar ideas at the municipal level—where there are often extremely high taxes on electricity—but municipalities may be limited by state law regarding the types of taxes they can impose. Municipalities may also have a stronger reliance on this revenue than states. 

How you can help: Do you have questions or concerns that aren’t addressed in the Details and Caveats? Can you think of a good analogy to help explain this idea? Do you live in any of the states listed above and if so do you want to help push this idea forward with legislators or NGOs or perhaps even (if applicable) with a ballot measure? (FYI I’ve been involved in ballot measure efforts in Washington State and Utah and am exploring “24/7” opportunities for 2024 ballot measure efforts in at least 7 states.) If you live outside the USA, can you say if there’s VAT or other taxes on your residential electricity bill and if so do you want to help explore this idea in your country? I’ll do my best to engage in the Comments section and I’m also available via email

103 Responses to “Looking for help with an electricity tax-swap idea”

  1. 51

    (PLEASE NOTE: CAPITALS ARE FOR EMPHASIS, IN THE ABSENCE OF ITALICS AND BOLD FONTS!)
    Apologies for the length of this, there is a lot to say, and I don’t plan to keep coming back here, I am making a one off point that is serious and deadly.

    The above article reads …

    “Politically, however, carbon taxes and cap-and-trade systems face an uphill battle, in part because they could drive up the prices of household basics like gasoline and electricity.”…

    You say that like it’s a bad thing!

    1) THE OPPORTUNITY: LAST CHANCE SALOON!

    That is the POINT of taxes, in this context, its raising the ‘backstop’ to make things like solar and wind more competitive, by internalising the environmental impacts. It is a well-known, fairly well understood device, in Environmental Economics.

    Taxes can be used to subsidise widespread installation of Solar PV – or, even better, HYBRID Solar PV-T (PhotoVoltaic-Thermal)- on domestic and commercial buildings, ***ABSORBING solar heat as the Thermal cooling is used to increase PV efficiencies, as well as provide space and/or process heat, but also preventing the “heat island” effect and removing reflected solar thermal inputs form the Global Warming equation!*** – a factor ALWAYS left out of the conversation about PV-T.

    But also other, promising emergent Renewable Energy technologies pop up regularly:

    • Microwave water boilers (https://www.heatwayv.com/);

    • Aluminium-Air Chemical car “batteries” that gives a 1500 miles autonomy and can be replaced in minutes(https://www.metalectrique.com/);

    • the latest H2 Fuel Cell technologies…
    https://phys.org/news/2021-03-secret-catalysts-fuel-cell-efficiency.html

    https://www.businessweekly.co.uk/news/cleantech/new-fuel-cell-tech-promises-cleaner-more-efficient-energy

    https://www.sciencedaily.com/news/matter_energy/fuel_cells/

    We need not one OR the other, BUT ALL these technologies to be deployed simultaneously, and for that to happen WE MUST STOP SHYING AWAY FROM DRIVING UP THE COST OF FOSSIL FUELS! ONLY FACING THOSE INCREASES WILL FORCE INDUSTRY AND HOUSEHOLDS TO MIGRATE TO THE NEW TECH!

    We need to ramp-up ALL R&D and come up with standardised CONVERSION KITS for diesel and petrol cars, at the very least converting to waste-derived gas, as happened very successfully in the 1970s-80s with LPG (my dad, in Italy, had his car converted and saved a fortune, as well as a modest amount of emissions).

    But there are also opportunities for conversions to Li-On or H2FC conversions that could kick off a mass migration for automotive businesses, helping a huge number of garages to transition, by offering conversion services, either to battery-powered or directly to H2 and FCs, OR Al-O2 chemical batteries… or WHATEVER… and so retrain for a new business landscape that includes multi-tech expertise… Li-On batteries, H2FCs, Al-O2 and electric motors.

    And the recyling of existing motors will create jobs too, in the stripping, melting, and re-manufacturing into new products, some in the automotive supply chains, some of it not.

    Production of “Green Hydrogen” by Renewables is not only feasible, but potentially lucrative, using a variety of synergistic technologies, to drive up efficiencies – admittedly not exactly great by themselves.

    What’s more H2 promises other benefits, that have commercial value, and so can cross-subsidise production: Electrolytic by-production of O2, and H2FCs ‘waste’ byproducts, pure water, commercially valuable for industrial, pharmaceutical and surgico-medical applications, as well as heat.

    There are still issues to address, like the embrittlment of metals, but I, for one, do not believe that the stellar range of nascent AND mature technologies cannot work to address these, perhaps using new materials, and even ones made from wastes, like the gigatonnes of plastic floating around in our oceans or littering our lands.

    Some of you are important people, who can choose whether to stand with us, who fight for our children, whose only choice is what we BUY… YOU can help us make the right choices, by being our voices, the men and women who stand between the millenial paradigm of “profits first” and annihilation.

    ———————————————————————————–

    2) THE ALTERNATIVE: WHAT WILL HAPPEN IF WE DON’T TURN THIS AROUND

    I AM JUST A 65 YEAR OLD GRANDMOTHER, IN THE UK, who read BSc Hons. Environmental Quality and Resource Management (essentially Env. Sci plus management of human impacts), back in 1995-1999, to help me survive the death of my 9 year old son, of a diabetic hypo, and motivate my suicidal 15 year old daughter, who had also been assaulted and battered, aged 13 – just two years after losing him – and had all but given up on life.

    As a bereaved, broken single mother in low-paid call-centre jobs, who had been a carer for my diabetic boy – but also an Environmental Activist whohad become aware of the ‘Global Warming” threat, from the 1982 UNEP Climate Conference at County Hall, London – I was desperate for hope. The 4 years of intense studies, to get us all through a heavy curriculum of sciences AND technologies, faced me with a reality that was the opposite of hope: in my mind it sounded like the air raid sirens of WW2!

    And yet, back then, most of our textbooks predicted that SOME of the impacts of ‘Golbal Warming’ – as it was termed, then – would start manifesting around the 2100s.
    So I redoubled my participatory effort, campaigning, lobbying, petitioning, organising.

    Well, I don’t need to tell you, learned ladies and gentlemen, that those prediction were WAY too ptimistic, and that we are now well into an Extinction Event, and that RUNNING OUT OF TIME TO KEEP TO 2ºC!

    The Scientific Community needs to move away from the cautious narrative that “hitting gasoline prices is bad”. This is last Millennium thinking, and it seems to be a residual US “thing”, that has the scientific community afraid of offending the Gasoline-guzzling SUV and RV American mainstreamers.

    THE CONSEQUENCES, FOR US, THE OLDER GENERATIONS,PARENTS AND GRANDPARENTS, WILL COME ***LONG*** BEFORE SEA LEVEL RISE AND OTHER PHENOMENA ‘BITE’!

    The militancy that a few years ago saw just a few thousands of students, environmentalists and green activists scattered around the world, calling for urgent action around the world, is now spreading to ALL youth, who witnessed Apocalyptic scenes on their TV screens, of Australian, Siberian, African, Califiornian, South American and even European forest fires; plastic gyres in their oceans; biodiversity losses that amount to extinctions, all around the globe.

    The likes of Greta Thunberg (Sweden), Autumn Peltier (Canada), Nicole Sophia Phocas, Kezia Gerosano and Haven Coleman (US), Vanessa Nakate (Uganda), Karida Niode (Indonesia), Shivam Singh (India) – to mention but a few youth leaders – are leading a groundswell of Youth Engagement and Activism that campaigns on the basis of REAL AND ACTUAL global temperature rise; the disappearing Arctic and crumbling Antarctic ice shelf; the disappearence of up to two thirds of the Earth’s Biodiversity.

    THIS IS THEIR FUTURE THEY ARE WATCHING MELT, CLRUMBLE AND DIE!

    AS THEIR ELDERS, WHO SHOULD WE STANDING BETWEEN THEM AND DISASTER, DO WE REALLY THINK WE CAN KEEP APPEASING THE FOSSIL FUEL LOBBY WITHOUT ANY CONSEQUENCES?

    WHAT DO WE THINK THE WORLD’S YOUTH WILL DO WHEN THEY READ THAT IT’S OVER, THAT WE HAVE OVERSHOT THE NARROW WINDOW OF OPPORTUNITY TO SAVE THEM FROM A FUTURE OF DESERTIFICATION, THAWING GLACIERS, RISING SEAS POLLUTING ALL GROUNDWATERS, AND BUBBLING UP THROUGH MILLIONS OF LANDFILLS AND UNDERGROUND WASTE PITS, SEWERS, CEMETERIES, AND ALL MANNER OF TOXIC WASTE WASHING OUT ONTO THE COASTLINES, KILLING ALL LIFE ON REEFS, BEACHES AND ROCKY SHORES… THE NURSERIES OF THE SEAS? THAT THEIR SEAS WILL SOON BE STREWN WITH FLOATING DEAD FISH AND SEA BIRDS DEAD FROM EATING THAT GLUT OF POISONED FOOD?

    MAKE NO MISTAKE PEOPLE: ***WE*** WILL FACE A ZOMBIE DAWN OF GRISLY REVENGE, BY A GENERATION THAT WILL HAVE ***NOTHING TO LOSE***! BECAUSE THEY WILL HAVE NO HOPE, NO FUTURE! NO PROMISE OF LOVE, MARRIUAGE, CHIDREN AND A LITTLE HOSUE WITH A PICKET FENCE!
    THEY FACE A FUTURE THAT HAS ***C A N N I B A L I S M*** IN IT!

    BE VERY CLEAR ABOUT THIS, THEY WILL NOT SIMPLY GO HOME, CURL-UP AND DIE!

    BELIEVE ME WHEN I SAY THAT THEY WILL DISEMBOWEL AND BURN ALIVE ALL AND ANY OF US THEY CAN GET HOLD OF, IN THE PUBLIC SQUARE FOR BETRAYING THEM SO TOTALLY!
    ***A N D R I G H T L Y S O!***

    So please, those of you who live in the rarefied – and privileged – atmosphere of academia, PLEASE stand with us, we are fighting for our children, YOUR children and all life on earth!

    STOP PANDERING TO CHEAP GASOLINE AND COAL-GENERATED ELECTRICITY AS A HUMAN RIGHT!

    TAKE IT FROM AN OLD LADY WHO’S TRAVELLED THE WORLD, LIVED ON THE ROAD AND MET THE UNDERBELLY OF HUMANITY… ***WE*** WILL BE THE FIRST VICTIMS OF A CLIMATE APOCALYPOSE!

    V^^^V

  2. 52
    Mal Adapted says:

    zebra:

    True free markets have two characteristics:

    1. Competition.
    2. Internalized costs.

    And “competition” covers multiple factors…

    That’s a good, concise definition. You use the example of utilities as requiring collective (i.e. government) intervention to counter anti-competitive market forces. I’d add that for carbon fees/taxes to work, there also have to be credible carbon-neutral alternatives, that are competitive against fossil carbon with its social cost internalized. The astonishing price drops for wind and solar energy in the last decade have surely enhanced their credibility as competitive at the margin. That, in turn, presumably affects the political environment for carbon pricing. Some voters may understand that raising the price of fossil fuels on some schedule will drive decarbonization that much faster, and vote in favor; others may adopt the lukewarmist position that decarbonization is already proceeding nicely, so government intervention (beyond the piecemeal measures already in place) in the price of carbon isn’t needed, and vote against. And then there are the reflexive tax haters. It’s anybody’s guess which position gets a plurality in a particular election. As Yoram observed previously:

    NOBODY KNOWS ANYTHING.

    Least of all me 8^(!

  3. 53

    Ms. Massari,

    I’m sorry for all the horrible things you and your family have gone through, and I admire the way you dealt with it. I hope your daughter is better these days.

    I agree completely about driving up the cost of fossil fuels; the whole point is to make them no longer competitive with renewables. Thank you for posting here.

  4. 54
    Susan Anderson says:

    I’m thankful to find a wonderful site:
    https://planetcoop.info/
    from Antonella Massari (~51) and a nice cross ref to one Yoram from Mal Adapted, arbitrarily separated from the usual crosswinds encountered here by the pagination system. Thanks to you three! Yoram makes a clear point about the obstruction of the “left” preventing legislation from happening. (His effort lost 49 to 51, the GND people’s lost 47 to 53; nobody won.)

    As long as I’m here, I don’t agree that one must assume “science” only exists as it is currently defined. (How did Stonehenge align with the solstice? Observation as a basis for action.) And as far as I know Arabic numerals and a good deal of other science comes from other cultures. It is nonsense to assume that the university, Anglo/European, or even US version is the only way to look at things, and judging by results, dangerous as well.

    Antonella, if you’re interested, you can bold and italic by making front (upper case comma symbol, which won’t show up here) end closing (upper case period symbol) preceded by a backslash (/) around b for bold and i for italic. Here’s one link that explains better than I did:
    https://www.homeandlearn.co.uk/WD/wds2p4.html

  5. 55
    Mal Adapted says:

    Susan Anderson:

    As long as I’m here, I don’t agree that one must assume “science” only exists as it is currently defined. (How did Stonehenge align with the solstice? Observation as a basis for action.) And as far as I know Arabic numerals and a good deal of other science comes from other cultures. It is nonsense to assume that the university, Anglo/European, or even US version is the only way to look at things, and judging by results, dangerous as well.

    This is an argument about the definition of ‘science’. Like most of the words we use here, it has a ‘dictionary’ definition, presumably a consensus of lexicographers. We can look it up on the Internet! How about good old Wikipedia:

    Science (from the Latin word scientia, meaning “knowledge”) is a systematic enterprise that builds and organizes knowledge in the form of testable explanations and predictions about the universe.

    Good enough? Eh, not without some unpacking, IMO: the Wikipedia article does so at length. For one thing, both the word and the cultural phenomena it’s attached to have histories. The modern enterprise of ‘science’ evolved from precursors, that propagated across time and space somewhat haphazardly. Many RC regulars are well acquainted with the historiography of science, so I won’t try to unpack it here. I’ll point out, however, that for knowledge to accumulate reliably over generations, it must be recorded in a shared language on durable media, for transmission with high fidelity to future investigators. The invention of writing was thus a great leap forward. Printing was another. And so on.

    Another approach is to ask how you and I build and organize our own presumed knowledge of the universe. I, for one, think of science as a way of trying hard not to fool myself. Per Feynman’s dictum (“The first principle is that you must not fool yourself — and you are the easiest person to fool”), it’s a fundamentally collective enterprise of rigorous empiricism combined with intersubjective verification by trained, mutually-disciplined skeptics; as well as the accumulating body of verified, useful knowledge it generates. It has deep historical antecedents, but passed an inflection point in the 16th century CE, with the emergence of the Scientific Revolution within the European literati. Yet the knowledge it makes available is globally useful. Our verified understanding of the physical causes and effects of AGW, a matter of life and death everywhere in the world, was built by iterative consensus among trained, disciplined skeptics of many nations, all standing on the shoulders of Copernicus, Galileo, and their successors. Today’s peer community of climate specialists is as global as its topic.

    IMHO, the growth of both the human population and its aggregate material wealth since the 16th century demonstrates the superiority of science, so defined, to divination, prayer, and all other previous systems our species has invented for explaining and predicting the universe. Its self-correcting, cumulative character makes it perhaps our only truly progressive cultural adaptation to date. That’s not to say either that science is perfect or that other “ways of knowing” are worthless; but it’s hard to argue with the numbers!

  6. 56
    zebra says:

    Mal Adapted #55,

    Since you praised my brevity earlier, I will fulfill my assigned role as frenemy and point out that your discourse, which starts well, falls apart under its own weight as it continues to grow. A couple of points, but let’s begin with what you say at the end:

    I would point out that this growth of population and prosperity that seems to coincide with the European ‘Scientific’ Revolution also coincided with the Industrial Revolution, powered by the steam engine and coal, which is obviously the primary source of that growth.

    But if you’ve been following the definition debate over on FR, you will see that for some, inventing stuff doesn’t count as “science”, and what you write seems to put you in their camp. So I would argue [from that camp’s definition] that the people who gave us our wonderful current over-population and over-consumption were engineers and entrepreneurs and the like… not those effete snotty intellectual science guys you praise so much.

    The other problem with your claims:

    that for knowledge to accumulate reliably over generations, it must be recorded in a shared language on durable media, for transmission with high fidelity to future investigators. The invention of writing was thus a great leap forward. Printing was another. And so on.

    But as I pointed out in FR #185, and Susan observed here, preliterate human cultures certainly made great gains in knowledge about the universe, and retained, transmitted, refined and expanded that knowledge. I use the no-pottery to pottery transition as an example, but less durable technology observed in recent existing cultures is also clear evidence of the application of Scientific Method and sharing of information. How much math and physics do we “unpack”, as you say, when we look closely at woven baskets?

    So you start out saying “it’s about defining”, but then you (like the others in your camp) beg the question by simply describing the Euro-centric experience.

  7. 57
    Susan Anderson says:

    How oblivious/dumb of me not to appreciate and respect that this guest post’s author is Yoram. Moving on …

    Re boiling water and microwaves, I had to ask someone who knows more about the actual science to confirm that in a broader context, it’s still not the best way to go about it. During Sandy, I discovered that boiling water in a kitchen microwave (a different mechanism, of course) uses vast amounts of energy compared to direct flame (charcoal grill) or convection oven (we had to use a generator as both parents needed help); luckily it was not as cold as it was recently in Texas. I think that might be worth knowing.

    Re ‘improvement’ due to science, it’s a mixed bag. Meanwhile, I’m not on board with attacking people’s faith as it puts their backs up and closes their minds (it’s complicated, I know); on the whole, lately, I observe that there’s no “smiting” of people who have formed god in their own image in a shockingly inhumane and dangerous way, which is a good argument for the nonexistence of a personal deity. But most people need to think there’s a force that is on their side to get through the day.

    This, I think, is not just a solution but a problem: “the growth of both the human population and its aggregate material wealth since the 16th century” (not to mention armaments) is a long way from positive these days. It is not “self correcting” as far as I can see. Quite the reverse.

    Convenience, plastics, waste, toxicity, income inequality, all lead to serious problems. Marketing and media combine to overwhelm reality and lead us headlong over the cliff of envy, hatred, malice, and all uncharitableness in our defense of possessions and clever distraction (all too often on a little palm rectangle, but huge screens as well).

    We have passed our hospitable planet’s carrying capacity and divide into people who wish to share and care versus people who want to exclude, blame and kill. Unfortunately, the latter are better armed, thanks to said progress. Sadly, the former are also blinded by convenience and the bombardment of excess.

    Re Feynman, I fondly remember our weekly jam sessions (MIT Student Art, after Sunday life drawing sessions, mid 80s, when he was at Thinking Machines) and he was all about having fun and living to the fullest. As to science versus reality, that was the topic of many dinner arguments between mother and father (PWA); she was more focused on nature and ecology. He never questioned the science of climate change, but was more interested in his areas of physics, while his politics were more about fighting nuclear proliferation. He wasn’t unwilling, but would tune out a bit when his friends and I went on our rants about the climate. Understandable at his age: his race was run.

    But despite my education deficit relative to his vast understanding, our instincts were more or less the same. If it seems too good to be true, or has to be bent into multiple shapes to work, it’s unlikely.

    Returning to my own voice, I have one quibble with fancy science, which I share with Bill McKibben: vast sums spent on extending individual lives and vast explorations can be ego trips, and vast wealth allows people to focus on themselves rather than lifting everyone.

    I think until every human on the planet has, at the least, access to clean adequate water, $billions spent on pet projects are dangerous. And there is no way that space is going to be a refuge if we don’t fix our once lovely home first. Walls and death to our enemies will not work.

  8. 58
    nigelj says:

    Zebra @56

    Zeb: “But if you’ve been following the definition debate over on FR, you will see that for some, inventing stuff doesn’t count as “science”

    Nigelj: To me inventing stuff isn’t really the same as science. Self evident surely? Inventing stuff aims to create useful things, and science aims to understand how things work and come up with testable theories about the universe. Very different things. Inventing stuff is about engineering. Science and engineering are quite different activities, disciplines and ways of thinking. You can however apply scientific knowledge to engineering design, and engineers sometimes do science and vice versa, but not as their primary roles.

    MA “that for knowledge to accumulate reliably over generations, it must be recorded in a shared language on durable media, for transmission with high fidelity to future investigators. The invention of writing was thus a great leap forward. Printing was another. And so on.”

    Zeb: “But as I pointed out in FR #185, and Susan observed here, preliterate human cultures certainly made great gains in knowledge about the universe, and retained, transmitted, refined and expanded that knowledge. I use the no-pottery to pottery transition as an example, but less durable technology observed in recent existing cultures is also clear evidence of the application of Scientific Method and sharing of information. How much math and physics do we “unpack”, as you say, when we look closely at woven baskets?”

    Nigelj: There is evidence that ancient people were clever, and accumulated knowledge, and sometimes thought in scientific ways, but thinking in scientific ways does not mean they were doing science by any modern definition of science. I think their version of both science and the scientific method was very basic, and not the same as the modern definitions. At best they were doing a primitive form of science or a precursor to science. I don’t see why that would be a controversial statement.

    The ancient peoples did not have reliable ways of transmitting knowledge from one generation to the others, like paper. The key word in MAs rant was “reliably” and this is obviously an essential component of science in the modern sense surely?

  9. 59
    Mal Adapted says:

    zebra:

    Since you praised my brevity earlier, I will fulfill my assigned role as frenemy and point out that your discourse, which starts well, falls apart under its own weight as it continues to grow.

    You’ll notice I qualified my praise; I, for one, would rather say too much than too little. Your point is nonetheless taken. You’re right, my last comment wasn’t my best. Neither is this one. Feel free to scroll right on by.

    z:

    I would point out that this growth of population and prosperity that seems to coincide with the European ‘Scientific’ Revolution also coincided with the Industrial Revolution, powered by the steam engine and coal, which is obviously the primary source of that growth.

    But if you’ve been following the definition debate over on FR, you will see that for some, inventing stuff doesn’t count as “science”, and what you write seems to put you in their camp.

    Well, I for one am happy to cede authority to Wikipedia, not having done the lexicographic scholarship myself. One thing it makes clear is that science, so defined, has “deep historical antecedents”. I envision a curve of verified, useful knowledge accumulating over time, ‘punctuated’ by episodes of rapid acceleration. Historians of ‘science’ have more-or-less arbitrarily placed its origins at one such juncture: 1543 CE, when Copernicus published the heliocentric theory. That’s good enough for me. Why would I prefer a different arbitrary date for definition purposes?

    After I posted, though, I realized I shouldn’t have made recording on durable media a requirement for science, because weaving, pottery, metallurgy and other early technologies can be considered results of hypothesis formation and testing to generate verified, useful knowledge in pre-literate cultures. That knowledge accreted in the brains of individual humans and passed to successive generations by speech and example. Indeed, I consider invention “applied science”, and pre-modern research and development, erm, “proto-science”. The emergence of written language was a punctuation event, because it allowed high-fidelity propagation of new knowledge to researchers remote in space and time. I’ll leave the arbitrary circumscription to recognized authorities, who’ve already given the name ‘science’ to a recently-emerged form of human group behavior, and also to the body of justified knowledge produced, though its foundations have been known for millennia.

    Yet science as behavior, so defined by historians, is IMHO distinct from its antecedents. YMMV, but I’d say it’s the recognition that the easiest person to fool is yourself, and your consequent dependence on review by peers as well-trained in rigorous logic and empirical methods as you are. AFAIK, the requirement to publish your empirical findings and methods, then justify them against aggressive skepticism by other subject-matter experts under formal rules of evidence and debate, was new in the modern era.

    When the metrics are global numbers of humans or material wealth in dollars, certainly we see that science wasn’t the only forward leap, and its net social utility hasn’t always been positive. Apparently I gave you the impression I approve of more people and money in the world, whereas I’m actually ambivalent about both. Aren’t you? I’m still not trusting my health to hepatomancy, though.

  10. 60
    zebra says:

    [resubmitted]

    Mal Adapted #59,

    Well, of course this one is much better… since you are essentially agreeing with me and others of like mind like Astringent. My very first comment on this was to make the distinction between Scientific Method and the enterprise of science.

    The concise way to state it is:

    -The Scientific Method… what individuals do… is both necessary and sufficient to advance our knowledge and understanding of our universe. The pottery shards tell us that unequivocally.

    -The enterprise of science… credentials, writing, publication, and so on…is neither necessary nor sufficient. Take away the Scientific Method, with its empirical core, and what you have is just philosophy and speculation.

    Which may give some credence to your “proto-science” terminology, depending on how it is interpreted.

    I also wonder, while not necessarily taking issue with your position, about how we use “applied science”… is it about intent? I don’t know; was the laser “invented” or “discovered”?

    And I’ll just mention again that the Industrial Revolution, with its socioeconomic, geopolitical, and technological changes, must have had a very very big effect on the progress of knowledge… perhaps much more than formalizing the rules of the game in the Castalia of “science”.

  11. 61
    Mal Adapted says:

    zebra:

    I also wonder, while not necessarily taking issue with your position, about how we use “applied science”… is it about intent? I don’t know; was the laser “invented” or “discovered”?

    Good question, I’ve wondered about that myself 8^). I think an “intent to invent” does distinguish both applied- and proto-science from “pure science“. According to Wikipedia, in which I’m provisionally confident: Certain materials turn out to have the ability to amplify and re-emit light when stimulated by an external source. Under the so-called standard model of cosmology, their ability to lase emerged, without evident intent, from the properties of their constituent atoms when combined in particular thermodynamically stable configurations. Those atoms were previously created, also without evident intent, by stellar nucleosynthesis subsequent to the sarcastically named “Big Bang”. The Big Bang may or may not have been intentional. Science can only investigate as far back as the initiation of space-time in the primordial singularity; we can obtain no data ‘before’ that, so no presupposition or hypothesis regarding intent can be intersubjectively verified. I, for one, am therefore constrained to regard the Big Bang as the first cause, itself uncaused, from which the knowable universe proceeds without intent.

    Moving along: It took approximately 13.7 billion years for Einstein to discover the theoretical possibility of lasing, by intentional mathematical calculation from previously-discovered properties of atoms in materials; it took 40 more years for one or more persons*, all with explicit intent, to invent the first working laser device. In the cosmic scope, the whole achievement seems kind of mediocre, but YMMV ;^D!

    How does that sound? No doubt I’ve left some holes, but I’m out of time for today!

    * Quoth Wikipedia: “The question of just how to assign credit for inventing the laser remains unresolved by historians.”

  12. 62
    Mal Adapted says:

    zebra:

    The concise way to state it is:

    -The Scientific Method… what individuals do… is both necessary and sufficient to advance our knowledge and understanding of our universe. The pottery shards tell us that unequivocally.

    -The enterprise of science… credentials, writing, publication, and so on…is neither necessary nor sufficient. Take away the Scientific Method, with its empirical core, and what you have is just philosophy and speculation.

    Well, that’s a little too concise for mee, zee 8^). AFAICT, if I, as an individual trained in empiricism, am doing research for publication, what I do must be verified by other trained, skeptical individuals, because even with training I am still the easiest person to fool. If I persist in my claims despite their rejection by my peers, I’m likely to be fooling myself! And once the accumulated body of intersubjectively verified empirical knowledge is too much for any individual to comprehend in its entirety, a scientific enterprise such as you describe, i.e. “a systematic enterprise that builds and organizes knowledge” as defined by Wikipedia, is required for further accumulation, or what I would call “scientific progress”.

    IOW, individual empiricism is necessary, but not sufficient without intersubjective verification, or “peer review” in the broadest sense. That necessitates an enterprise of science, for better or worse.

  13. 63
    nigelj says:

    The principle of laser light is a scientific discovery. Building a useful working laser is applied science. These things are obvious. You guys argue about things for the sake of arguing! Yes ok Im a hypocrite.

  14. 64
    zebra says:

    Mal Adapted #61, 62,

    if I, as an individual trained in empiricism, am doing research for publication, what I do must be verified by other trained, skeptical individuals, because even with training I am still the easiest person to fool. If I persist in my claims despite their rejection by my peers, I’m likely to be fooling myself!

    How is this different from what my Neolithic empiricist who got her culture from no-pottery to pottery had to do?

  15. 65

    #62, Mal–

    Yes, IMO. There is a reason why the first rule of research is “check the literature.”

    Actually, there are a couple. You’ve articulated the first, which is to check self-delusion, to which scientists are nearly as prone as all the rest of us. (Indeed, there are some really spectacular examples in the historical record, which presumable is what underlies the famous dictum that science advances one funeral ‘at a time.’) And that factor is more than worth the ‘price of admission.’

    But wait! There’s more!

    For one, there’s resilience in the face of cultural decline. What jump-started the Rennaissance? The surviving literature from the Classical world. (Although, TBF, the disinclination to use empirical testing on the part of some Classical writers–yes, I’m looking at you, Aristotle! Would it have been too much to actually count women’s teeth before opining?–provided rather the reverse of a jump-start in the development of the modern scientific method.) And, to take a negative example, how was it that ancient marvels such as the Antikythera mechanism had to be reconstructed–insofar as that project has been completed so far–from one ruined example, found by chance?

    For another, there’s the efficiency of the diffusion, and consequently the development, of knowledge. Partly that’s technological: pre-printing-technology bookmaking was extremely labor intensive and hence slow and expensive, so it’s hard to imagine how anything much like a scientific journal could have existed before printing. But if it could, might not someone have tumbled to the fact that Heron’s aeolipile could be induced to do useful work?

  16. 66
    Ray Ladbury says:

    Nigel@63
    Actually, a Nobel prize in physics was awarded for both the quantum theory underlying lasers (Einstein’s treatment of spontaneous and stimulate emission) and for the development of practical lasers, and rightly so. There was a lot of good science that had to be developed to make a practical maser/laser.

    A somewhat flippant take on the subject comes from Richard Hamming: “In science if you know what you are doing you should not be doing it.
    In engineering if you do not know what you are doing you should not be doing it. Of course, you seldom, if ever, see either pure state.”

    I am a physicist, but I work on a very applied subject in an engineering division. A scientist looks for an interesting problem to work on and hopes that someone will pay him to solve it. An engineer tries to find interesting solutions to a problem someone is paying him to solve. And an applied scientist finds the aspect of the problem he/she is being paid to solve and concentrates on the portion of the problem that interests him the most. Fortunately, today, most problems are sufficiently complicated that all three types of problem solving are required.

    As to what constitutes science, it is clear that something fundamental changed from 1550-1650. Zebra claims that it was the harnessing of coal power, but the coal deposits had been known going back into pre-history. What changed was our understanding of mechanics and motion and material properties. That changed as a result of science. One of the fundamental changes was that science became a collective rather than an activity for individuals savants. By the 1660s, even the crowned heads of Europe recognized the change, chartering the Royal Society in 1662 and the French Academy of Sciences in 1666. This was also the period when scientific journals began to be published.

    The collective character of science is not simply a matter of convenience or an accident. It is central to the modern scientific method.

  17. 67
    Ray Ladbury says:

    Zebra: “How is this different from what my Neolithic empiricist who got her culture from no-pottery to pottery had to do?”

    Give a citation for the work and I’ll let you know.

  18. 68
    Astringent says:

    Ray @63 Asks for a citation as proof of Neolithic science. I can’t go to the Neolithic, but you can certainly find citations in Roman technical literature. And I bet you haven’t got through your education without citing a Greek mathematician or two.

    Those of us on the ‘nothing new under the sun’ side of this argument aren’t saying that the modern ‘structure’ of science isn’t a wonderful thing, and better than staring at tea-leaves for divine revelation. But we are saying that it doesn’t represent some step change in the way human’s minds work. We don’t have preserved Neolithic libraries with Nature – but that doesn’t mean that the potter didn’t sit around with other potters, explain their argument, and that other potters didn’t go away and try it for themselves – and maybe come back and say ‘well done’ or maybe come back and say ‘no – you are wrong’.

    The scientific bonfire that was kindled in Europe in the Renaissance has been a wonderful thing that transformed the world – I’m a fully signed up acolyte within the cult of science – I just don’t think that we invented a new way of looking at the world. And I don’t think the idea that ‘collective’ activity was a modern invention holds up. Universities predate the Renaissance, and schools have presumably existed since the first day that Neolithic potter said ‘I’ll show you how’ to a group of interested children.

  19. 69
    Mal Adapted says:

    Thanks, Kevin and Ray, for backing me up 8^). Full disclosure, however: I’m mostly backing up Yuval Noah Hariri’s exposition of the Scientific Revolution, in Part Four of his book Sapiens: a Brief History of Humankind (h/t nigelj). Although no brief excerpt does the book justice, I emailed myself the following from my Kindle (emphasis in the original):

    Humans have sought to understand the universe at least since the Cognitive Revolution [Part One]. Our ancestors put a great deal of time and effort into trying to discover the rules that govern the natural world. But modern science differs from all previous traditions of knowledge in three critical ways:

    a. The willingness to admit ignorance. Modern science is based on the Latin injunction ignoramus – ‘we do not know’. It assumes that we don’t know everything. Even more critically, it accepts that the things that we think we know could be proven wrong as we gain more knowledge. No concept, idea or theory is sacred and beyond challenge.

    b. The centrality of observation and mathematics. Having admitted ignorance, modern science aims to obtain new knowledge. It does so by gathering observations and then using mathematical tools to connect these observations into comprehensive theories.

    c. The acquisition of new powers. Modern science is not content with creating theories. It uses these theories in order to acquire new powers, and in particular to develop new technologies.

    The Scientific Revolution has not been a revolution of knowledge. It has been above all a revolution of ignorance. The great discovery that launched the Scientific Revolution was the discovery that humans do not know the answers to their most important questions.

    Hariri is impressed with the impact of the SR on humanity’s numbers and wealth, without ignoring net social disutilities like WMDs and AGW. I found his interpretation persuasive, as it largely overlaps my own 8^). I won’t speak for him further, so read the book if you have questions.

  20. 70
    Mal Adapted says:

    Hmm, the Wikipedia article on Hariri’s book contains:

    4. The Scientific Revolution (c. 500 BCE, the emergence of objective science).

    Although zebra might prefer the earlier date, the book actually dates the SR’s onset to “about AD 1500”. Meh. Not everything on teh wikithing is reliable.

  21. 71
    Killian says:

    62 Mal Adapted says:
    24 Mar 2021 at 5:25 PM

    zebra:
    The concise way to state it is:

    -The Scientific Method… what individuals do… is both necessary and sufficient to advance our knowledge and understanding of our universe. The pottery shards tell us that unequivocally.

    -The enterprise of science… credentials, writing, publication, and so on…is neither necessary nor sufficient. Take away the Scientific Method, with its empirical core, and what you have is just philosophy and speculation.

    Well, that’s a little too concise for mee, zee 8^). AFAICT, if I, as an individual trained in empiricism, am doing research for publication, what I do must be verified by other trained, skeptical individuals, because even with training I am still the easiest person to fool.

    You are making a logical error. Zebra is correct. Science can be done, meaning successfully in that new things are learned, by anybody with or without peer review, and is. Science does not require peer review to exist. No peer review, still science. However, the opposite is not true. You can have peer review yet get wrong conclusions. We know the world is not flat, but learned people long thought it was. With peer review, we have completely altered the ecosystem to be poisoned to the point we ingest a credit cards-worth of plastic per week, every human and every part of Earth is full of the stuff. Same for pesticides. We’ve devastated forest ecosystems, we’ve decimated natural populations of everything, are overheating the planet, etc.

    Science didn’t prevent any of this. Listening to the Kogi would have. Further, the Kogi “discovered” climate change all on their own via their own ways of doing science and figured out the solution: Live simply.

    Peer review makes science more efficient, but is not necessary to do science and certainly does not guarantee good outcomes. The Kogi’s, on the other hand, do science, complete with peer review (they sit and think deeply on things and discuss them exhaustively), but maintain the cultural, philosophical, and principled framework that shapes what they do with their knowledge to avoid any damage to the ecosystem.

    Still, science can and will be done with or without peer review, but it is not peer review that is *necessary* for science to be done. I would argue, in fact, that the “modern” form of peer review and the desire for a pristine science removed from social, political, cultural and ethical bounds has gotten us where we are. So let me set this up simply:

    * Science exists in and of itself.
    * Peer review makes science advances faster, but is not necessary for science to be done.
    * Science of any kind unbound from ethics, beliefs, culture, principles, is dangerous.
    * Science bound by those same factors seldom results in great harm to the ecosystem, inclusive of humans.
    * The Kogi and Permaculture Ecological Engineering both illustrate this.

    FYI, Permaculture was promulgated by a lecturer and grad student at CSIRO via the scientific method (Mollison was in no way, shape, or form a “tree hugger” or a “hippie”):

    What is the origin of permaculture?

    Permaculture was created in the 1970’s by Bill Mollison, an Australian ecologist and University of Tasmania professor. He had spent many years out in nature as a wildlife biologist observing how natural systems work and became very distressed at the destruction that he saw going on around him. He decided that instead of being angry about what was happening and reacting against the destruction he wanted to work on creating a positive solution And he thought the solution would be living based on the patterns he had observed in nature.

    By observing nature, Mollison came up with several important insights. He observed that natural systems, such as forests and wetlands, are sustainable. They provide for their own energy needs and recycle their own wastes. He also observed that all the different parts of a natural ecosystem work together. Each component of the system performs important tasks. For example, bees help to pollinate, birds provide pest control, certain plants pull nitrogen out of the air and fix it into a form that other plants can use. So everything does useful work. He applied these and other insights to design and create sustainable agricultural systems.

    Observation: Nature works better than human solutions (beaver dams vs human dams, e.g.)

    Hypothesis: If we tease out the principles of natural systems, we can design in harmony with Nature.

    Research: Observe, compare, measure.

    Results: Permaculture Principles and Ethics.

    Test: Permaculture-based designs.

    Peer Review: 1. Inadequate in response volume, i.e. ignored by science till recently; 2. beyond the scope of typical single-variable science, i.e. systems cannot be adequately measured by single variables and must be evaluated more broadly (weather vs climate) so most of the peer review reaches false conclusions.

    Results: Regenerated/improved locations. 3Increases in yields, soil health, SOM, microbes and other biota, etc.

    Conclusions: It works.

    In the case of permaculture, pure science peer review has *prevented*/*slowed* the spread and acceptance of the system, which is an effect of peer review we have seen time and again.

    What makes permaculture work are the principles. What makes it “right livelihood” are the ethics: Human systems must 1. improve the ecosystem, not destroy it; 2. improve the lives of humanity; 3. be fair.

    Imagine if science were done within the same ethical boundaries. Yes, you can argue that is a matter of implementation, but that is only partially true. There are too many examples of science being done with specific goals in mind that ignore all three ethics.

    At the very least, I would hope we could all agree that the application/implementation of scientific knowledge should be bound by these three ethics.

  22. 72
    nigelj says:

    Zebra @60 , seems to be saying that ‘science’ is defined by the scientific method. This doesnt sound quite right. Science is defined by wikipedia as “Science (from the Latin word scientia, meaning “knowledge”)[1] is a systematic enterprise that builds and organizes knowledge in the form of testable explanations and predictions about the universe.[2][3][4]”. This obviously isn’t quite the same as the scientific method.

    Wikepedia defines the scientific method as ” the PROCESS by which science is carried out. As in other areas of inquiry, science (through the scientific method) can build on previous knowledge and develop a more sophisticated understanding of its topics of study over time.”

    And its clear the scientific method is a tool that can be widely applied as follows “The Scientific Method steps can be adapted to solve everyday concerns. First, recognize a problem, gather data, list possible solutions, test solutions, and then select the best solution, implement the solution and follow-up to see if it solves the problem. … So remember, the Scientific Method is not only for Science.”

    https://www.calverteducation.com/parent-teacher/the-scientific-method-not-just-for-science

    I don’t think anyone would argue that solving everyday concerns is doing science. Inventing a paper clip is not doing science although it used scientific knowledge about materials. These activities are about making things not increasing the knowledge base of how the world works. The scientific method can be used for many things, so cannot define what science is. Its just the main tool science uses but it is not the only tool.

    ———————————

    Ray Ladbury @66

    Sounds right to me.

  23. 73
    nigelj says:

    Ray Ladbury @66, sounds right to me. Its hard to see the connection of coal for home heating with the explosion in science around 1600. Use of coal sounds more like a simple technology and a substitute for timber. And the explosion of scientific knowledge and the development of the publication process around 1600 was probably due in part to the medieval Catholic Churches monopoly on knowledge weakening after the reformation and renaissance, and obviously the expansion of the printing press.

  24. 74
    nigelj says:

    Astrigent @68

    “Ray @63 Asks for a citation as proof of Neolithic science. I can’t go to the Neolithic, but you can certainly find citations in Roman technical literature. And I bet you haven’t got through your education without citing a Greek mathematician or two.”

    Roman technical literature and maths are not science by any definition I’ve seen. Refer to the definition of science on wikipedia.

    Neolithic people didnt do science by any reasonably modern definition like on wikipedia. They arguably did an “early version of science” or precursor to science and nobody should doubt their cleverness and imagination.

    “And I don’t think the idea that ‘collective’ activity was a modern invention holds up. Universities predate the Renaissance, and schools have presumably existed since the first day that Neolithic potter said ‘I’ll show you how’ to a group of interested children.”

    RL basically said that the publishing and peer review process in science was an innovation of a collective nature dated around 1600. And I would say that is obviously different from some ancient university, or people simply discussing things. I dont think you can take a vague similarity of process from before 1600 and say “thats essentially equivalent ” to the modern publishing and peer review process.

  25. 75
    nigelj says:

    Zebra @60 said “-The Scientific Method… what individuals do… is both necessary and sufficient to advance our knowledge and understanding of our universe. The pottery shards tell us that unequivocally.”

    The scientific method is not entirely necessary to advance our knowledge of the universe and do science. The theory of plate techtonics is science, but the experiment part of the scientific method is obviously missing in any meaningful sense. The same goes for various other scientific findings. Plate techtonics theory is the result of observation and deduction and requiring an explanation that excludes the supernatural. Yet its predictive and its science, isnt it?

  26. 76
    Richard Caldwell says:

    Mal: That’s not to say either that science is perfect or that other “ways of knowing” are worthless; but it’s hard to argue with the numbers!

    RC: Yep. And the numbers SCREAM, “Science as currently configured is pathetically slow, so slow as to create an existential threat.”

    So keep clinging to “slow and fatal”. Why not?

    Perhaps “survival”?

  27. 77
    Richard Caldwell says:

    Mal: That’s not to say either that science is perfect or that other “ways of knowing” are worthless; but it’s hard to argue with the numbers!

    RC: Good post but you ended on an eyeroll. “Numbers” are the easiest things to argue against.

    Humans exist. Humans think like humans. Numbers are a tool that can be used to serve any purpose, including devastating whatever you Mal, personally hold dear and true.

    “Truth” as proven with numbers is no defense. Heck, it is barely an argument since your opponent is free to make up totally devastating numbers that completely destroy your position.

  28. 78
    zebra says:

    Astringent #68,

    Thanks; very, very, clearly articulated. I think those who don’t “get” what we are saying are suffering a kind of cherry-picked/tunnel-vision of history. (And perhaps are unwilling to take on a challenge that involves thinking like a scientist, since they have made no attempt to refute the hypothesis about the development of pottery.)

    There were, during the Middle Ages, as there always had been, both the study of philosophy, and the practice of the Scientific Method to understand and influence the material world.

    The philosophy, natural and other, was done in those universities you mention, with all the academic trappings… the specific curriculum reading/evaluating all the previous works, granting credentials, and so on.

    Meanwhile, and this is what seems to be ignored by those claiming some seismic shift in the 17th century, real-world technology was constantly improving. Clocks were being made, lenses were being ground, metallurgy, ceramics, glass, were all moving along from the previous (European) low points. Machinery was getting more precise. This was all the result of observation, incorporating existing practice, forming hypothesis, testing hypothesis, rinse and repeat.

    So, for example, creating telescopes that enabled breaking free of previous misconceptions about the cosmos was not some stroke of genius enabled by some new conceptual paradigm, but rather the culmination of the same kind of process by which ‘Modern Science’ gave us the laser.

    I’ll stop there for now.

  29. 79

    Astringent:

    But we are saying that [modern science] doesn’t represent some step change in the way human’s minds work.

    Hold up, hoss! From my reading of the foregoing discussion, I don’t think anyone else is saying that, either. Insofar as the “Scientific Method(tm)” is in fact a method, it cannot also be a deep psychological modification of the human mind, because as soon as such a change occurred, the need for the method qua method would (largely) go away. (However, the SM(tm) may represent a step change in how human *culture* works. Or not; I’m not sure the jury is in on that one.) But your comment overall seems quite sensible to me, and raises some germane points.

    Speaking of which: To me, we seem to be a point at which various parties to this discussion are essentially insisting that their definition of science is the correct one. They are wrong, IM-anti-Platonic-O, because definitions are conceptual models, and at the risk of wearing out poor old George Box’s welcome–say it with me!–All Models Are Wrong.

    But models can, just as naturally, be useful. (Thanks, George! You can go now, if you like.)

    So, I wonder, what are the characteristics that should, or should not, apply to “Science” and/or the “Scientific method” in order to arrive at an optimally useful though still partially erroneous description? I think of three pre-eminent facets:

    –Empiricism (the “does it work” test)
    –Extension of empiricism to others (the “does it work for everybody” test)
    –Extension of empiricism to the exploration of larger implications (the building of conceptual models, ie., “understanding”)

    I think it would be an interesting exercise to compare and contrast that with the Hariri list that Mal gave above, but I’m not going to indulge in that here. I will, however, comment a bit on the ways in which my model impinges on various comments above (including some of mine).

    First, we all seem to agree that empirical testing qualifies as such a characteristic. So far, so good–and there’s apparently nothing to add on that head.

    Second, the aspect of socially shared knowledge also seems to be widely accepted, albeit not without differences of application in practice. On the one hand, Astringent cites the hypothetical Neolithic potter–who, by the way, may well have been a woman–and that chimes, I think, with various points made by others above as well.

    On the other, I’ve previously pointed to the role of formal publication, and Ray and Mal have also emphasized it, perhaps more than I have. But speaking only for myself, I’d be open to the notion that formal publication and its iconic institution, the journal, are less intrinsic as universal characteristics of science/scientific method, and more a representative but particular case of the social sharing of knowledge and its modes of production and development. (I’m thinking here of the often formidable achievements of communities of craftspersons; clearly the development of thin film decorative or functional coatings, to take one example, was a multi-generational enterprise.) In this respect, and thinking of the European context specifically, it seems indicative that the decline of the Guild system begins more or less at the time that the technology of printing is arising. Did the availability and affordability of printed exposition outcompete personal tutelage (although not to the completion extinction of the latter, of course. Even within science, mentors remain important.)

    From this perspective, the scientific journal is just a way station one the road of the socialization of knowledge; one might wonder what the next stages in that road may turn out to be, should social conditions continue to support such things. The journal is certainly visibly morphing today, right before our Internet-besotted eyes.

    But at any rate, we’re still talking at this point about applied science, at most. IMO, until you add in the third leg of the stool–the commitment to the search for higher levels of understanding–you aren’t fully in the realm of Science-with-a-capital-S. This isn’t unique to science, to be sure; Medieval scholarship (to take just the European case) certainly embodied in some ways the valuing of knowledge for its own sake, irrespective of utility. (The fact that in the absence of consistent empirical testing quite a lot of it ended up being pseudo-knowledge isn’t to the present point.)

    One last thing. It seems important to me to differentiate clearly between accurate description and ethical norming. Killian raises essentially ethical points in his #71. And they are good points, ones quite pertinent to both our little discussions here and to society writ large. I fully agree that there are numerous examples of the use of science in destructive and unethical ways.

    But IMO, they are extrinsic to science per se. Ethics are intrinsically bound to values, and values arise from the irrational–and I intend that word in a completely non-pejorative way!!–and instinctive side of humanity–however rationally and systematically they may be developed, mythologized or adumbrated. (I’d locate their source in our biological nature, myself, but what do I know?) So the project of integrating ethics into science that Killian seems to be proposing–and if he’s not, well, then I’m wrong again!*–seems not the best fit to me. FWIW, seems to me that the scientist needs to be ethical not specifically as a scientist, but globally as a human. The specifically scientific piece, IMO, should be simply clarity that the scientist is subordinate to the human–even if an awful lot of time, effort and focus necessarily goes toward the specifically scientific part of the practitioner’s life.

    *(Perhaps Killian’s position is more accurately that permaculture is a system of thought and practice that incorporates both ethical and (applied) scientific principles. Not for me to expound, of course; he’ll no doubt speak for himself.)

  30. 80
    nigelj says:

    Zebra @78 says “Meanwhile, and this is what seems to be ignored by those claiming some seismic shift in the 17th century, real-world technology was constantly improving. Clocks were being made, lenses were being ground, metallurgy, ceramics, glass, were all moving along from the previous (European) low points. Machinery was getting more precise. This was all the result of observation, incorporating existing practice, forming hypothesis, testing hypothesis, rinse and repeat”

    Nobody to my knowledge is “ignoring” this. The jump in the advance of science in the 1600s was driven partly by advances in technology which is kind of obvious. I’ve mentioned that myself. But its probably not the ONLY reason. The Church was losing its influence on knowledge. The publishing system was introduced. One thing fed on another, and things became self reinforcing.

    “So, for example, creating telescopes that enabled breaking free of previous misconceptions about the cosmos was not some stroke of genius enabled by some new conceptual paradigm, but rather the culmination of the same kind of process by which ‘Modern Science’ gave us the laser.”

    Nobody has suggested that. The statement was that SCIENCE underwent a conceptual change of some sort. Telescopes are technology, and are a product of a bit of applied science, pure science, engineering and invention same as the laser.

  31. 81
    nigelj says:

    Oh yes lets “hurry up’ science and take various shortcuts and make even more assumptions. That will end really well (sarc). The fact is science (and maybe a bit of permaculture type thinking) has already identified the existential threats. The PROBLEM is motivating people to do something about it!

  32. 82
    nigelj says:

    Kevin Donald McKinney @79

    “To me, we seem to be a point at which various parties to this discussion are essentially insisting that their definition of science is the correct one. They are wrong, IM-anti-Platonic-O, because definitions are conceptual models, and at the risk of wearing out poor old George Box’s welcome–say it with me!–All Models Are Wrong.”

    I’m not making up my own definition of science. I referred to wikipedia, but there are many similar definitions of science available. A definition can be a short version or a long version. Surely a long version of science in the modern sense would include publishing and peer review? Its an accepted part of doing modern science. The wikipedia definition I posted was the short version that science is knowledge that can be used to make testable predictions about the universe and must exclude supernatural explanations. This is science stripped to the bare essentials. How is that wrong? Can you think of anything better or shorter?

    No definition of science will be perfect because things are always changing and we dont need to fuss too much over them. But its important to have something to ensure that not just anyone can claim they are doing science.

    I dont see that a definition is a conceptual model. A conceptual model is a representation of a system. How is a definition a representation of a system? Doesn’t look like one. Isn’t a definition of a field of interest like science just a description of what activities the field of interest usually undertakes? If I look up biology or chemisty or capitalism that is what a dictionary tells me.

    Science is about knowing and technology is about making. Even if you use a rough version of the scientifc method in that making. I think thats where Zebra is possibly wrong, although its true the lines have become blurred in recent years.

    Agree about the rest of what you said, more or less. Although scientists would probably have some code of conduct on things unique to how science is carried out. Most professions have that. I would be interested to know.

  33. 83
    Ray Ladbury says:

    Kevin, Actually, I do think that the scientific method is a qualitatively different mode of human thought. Humans are wired to fool themselves. Our brains will work very hard to lie to us and preserve our illusions. Science is like a corrective lens letting us look at the Universe and see it more closely to how it is.

    Consider this: Johannes Kepler said of his discoveries and insights: “I think God’s thoughts after him.” George Box said, ” All models are wrong. Some models are useful.” So, somehow, from the seventeenth century to the early twentieth century we want from thinking of Truth as the mind of God to truth as utility, as predictive power. Somehow, we went from a situation where adding complexity to a model was acceptable if it upheld the status quo to Occam’s razor, and even to quantitative interpretations of Occam’s razor in terms of information theory.

    The scientific method is not just a simple progression from observation to hypothesis to test to hypothesis…

    Quantification and control of errors is an essential component of the method. That brings in statistics, and statistical thinking is a relatively new way for humans to think. It means that we have to accept that our perception of reality is inherently fuzzy.

    Publication, and the review of ones ideas is also an essential element–what you refer to above as “does it work for others”, and that brings in replication (which may differ from repetition). It brings in peer review (is this useful–knowledge as utility again). It brings in consensus. And ultimately, if the idea represents something fundamental, it brings in consilience, where the truth the idea represents is so essential that it is necessary for understand a broad range of human experience of the natural world.

    What Zebra and others are referring to as “science” in the ancient world lacks these characteristics. It is qualitatively different from modern science.

  34. 84
    Mal Adapted says:

    Astringent:

    Those of us on the ‘nothing new under the sun’ side of this argument aren’t saying that the modern ‘structure’ of science isn’t a wonderful thing, and better than staring at tea-leaves for divine revelation. But we are saying that it doesn’t represent some step change in the way human’s minds work.

    Thanks for the pithy affirmation of the mediocrity principle. I, for one, wouldn’t say “step” change, unless the appearance of every new type of stone tool in the fossil record was a step change also. I’d say “punctuation”, rather. Somewhat like Darwinian evolution, cultural evolution appears punctuational only at coarse historical resolution.

    According to Wikipedia, then, heliocentrism was proposed by Aristarchus of Samos in the 3rd century BCE, apparently drawing on manuscripts by Pythagoras. Late Medieval scholars were far better acquainted with Ptolemy’s geocentrism, however, in part because of Christian doctrine: Heliocentrism was literally heretical. Gutenberg’s newfangled technology allowed Copernicus to study previous work, before plunging into the laborious mathematical calculations that proved Earth and the planets revolved around the sun. He published his own preliminary work decades before his larger opus, in 1543. Will you grant that his completed mathematical explanation for the observed planetary motions was new? For one reason or another, that date is widely recognized by historians of science as the beginning of the Scientific Revolution.

    Astringent:

    We don’t have preserved Neolithic libraries with Nature – but that doesn’t mean that the potter didn’t sit around with other potters, explain their argument, and that other potters didn’t go away and try it for themselves – and maybe come back and say ‘well done’ or maybe come back and say ‘no – you are wrong’.

    IMHO, one important difference is that the potters didn’t record how they arrived at their ingenious products. That meant anyone who didn’t have access to the pioneering potters’ memories had to reverse-engineer their pots or figure it out from scratch: I offer the modern example of Maria Martinez. Imagine an astronomer today having to recapitulate all prior work since Pythagoras, before she can discover something no one else has.

    Astringent:

    The scientific bonfire that was kindled in Europe in the Renaissance has been a wonderful thing that transformed the world – I’m a fully signed up acolyte within the cult of science – I just don’t think that we invented a new way of looking at the world.

    Define ‘new’! Hariri says “modern science differs from all previous traditions of knowledge”. Having put the research time in, he’s entitled to his opinion. I’m finding it well worth $14.99 US for the Kindle version. Maybe you should write a book ;^).

  35. 85
    zebra says:

    Mal Adapted #84,

    IMHO, one important difference is that the potters didn’t record how they arrived at their ingenious products.

    Mal #59:

    I realized I shouldn’t have made recording on durable media a requirement for science, because weaving, pottery, metallurgy and other early technologies can be considered results of hypothesis formation and testing to generate verified, useful knowledge in pre-literate cultures. That knowledge accreted in the brains of individual humans and passed to successive generations by speech and example. Indeed, I consider invention “applied science”, and pre-modern research and development, erm, “proto-science”.

    I think you got it right the first time. Writing, as with several other things being mentioned, are general cultural phenomena.

    -Are we going to say that pre-literate compilations of previous events transmitted verbally are “not history”?
    -Are pre-literate patterns of sounds played on instruments and transmitted by example “not music”?

    More to follow.

  36. 86
    zebra says:

    Mal et al, continuing from my #85,

    Mal:

    Gutenberg’s newfangled technology allowed Copernicus to study previous work, before plunging into the laborious mathematical calculations that proved Earth and the planets revolved around the sun.

    Except, he certainly didn’t ‘prove’ anything, and his method did not improve prediction. The ‘Copernican Revolution’ happened because telescopes allowed better empirical observations, and Kepler did the better math, before Newton.

    You have certainly gotten closer to a reasonable synthesis with the term proto-science and reference to evolution than someone like Ray, who is clearly mired in an engineer-mentality’s parochialism/provincialism.

    But making lists of superficial characteristics that are simply cultural doesn’t at all refute Astringent’s clearly written hypothesis… humans have always employed the practice of the Scientific Method to understand and influence the material world.

    This is the constant through all of the changes in the content of that understanding. If you suddenly have telescopes and microscopes, you obviously see ‘new’ things. So sure, the content of what we call “science” evolves.

    But… humans haven’t evolved since the Neolithic, we share our humanity with them just as we share our humanity with our contemporaries who look different and have different cultures. And that humanity includes wonderful curiosity and creativity, the capacity for abstraction and quantitative reasoning, (and unfortunately, the tendency towards really awful behaviors towards each other.)

    And if you think about it, much of ‘scientific progress’ in the European tradition has been motivated by that last characteristic. Investment in ‘pure research’ is a lot like venture capitalism.

  37. 87
    Ray Ladbury says:

    Actually, I don’t think you can view ancient histories in the same light as what we refer to today as the discipline of history. In preliterate days, it took a considerable effort to remember the details of a historical incident. That is one of the reason why many of the earliest historical references are in terms of poetry–the rules of poetry were served to jog the memory. Only the great and powerful could afford such services, so the main purpose of “history” then was to flatter and legitimize the great and powerful.

    The advent of writing didn’t change things appreciably, as scribes were still few and expensive. However, writing did free up the forms history could take, so we start to see more than the ballads of great battles. You even start to see occasional diaries.

    In the present, history is a discipline. There are rules for producing a good, definitive history–e.g. avoiding single sources, consulting original sources as much as possible–and consensus is as important in history as well as in science. By this definition, most of the crap produced by the Faux News crowd doesn’t qualify.

    Music is something else. There are many different kinds of music, and even defining what constitutes music. Probably the best thing I’ve come across was from Duke Ellington: “If it sounds good, it is good.” However, this would rule out a lot of what passes for music (not just pop, but much of modern classical, as well).

    Are you familiar with the British historian, Paul Johnson? I certainly don’t agree with everything he writes, but he is a damn good writer, and has written some thought provoking and entertaining popular histories. In “The Birth of The Modern,” he contends that were we to meet someone from the 16th century, we could barely communicate with them, because our modern perspective would be incomprehensible to them. I think there is merit in this view. The scientific revolution is part of that difference.

    The word “science” did not even exist in its current sense until the 19th century–and we can point directly to the invention of the term “scientist” in 1833 (by Whewell). What people did before the 17th century is best referred to as natural philosophy, while science evolved mainly from that point forward.

    I would urge you to read Novum Organum. It is surprising how relevant Bacon’s writing remains even today. He viewed science not just as the accumulation of reliable knowledge, but also as a way of countering the inherent human tendency to fool ourselves. That is what was now about the scientific method.

  38. 88
    Ray Ladbury says:

    Zebra: “But… humans haven’t evolved since the Neolithic, we share our humanity with them just as we share our humanity with our contemporaries who look different and have different cultures.”

    What an astoundingly narrow conception of human development–as if our speciation, genetics and physiology determine our destiny. This is less true of humans than it is of any species. You are ignoring the fact that the tools we use change us. The things we do change us. The way we think changes us.

    A person who spends a lifetime doing science is a very different person than he/she would have been if they’d spent their life tilling the ground. Not better, now worse, but different.

    And you have utterly ignored my arguments that science is not an individual, but rather a collective activity.

  39. 89

    #82, nigel–

    I wasn’t necessarily thinking of you first, nigel, when I talked about folks insisting on ‘their’ definition of science!

    I dont see that a definition is a conceptual model. A conceptual model is a representation of a system. How is a definition a representation of a system? Doesn’t look like one.

    Well, I don’t wish to get too dogmatic on this–it would be rather ironic, after all. But in response, I’d say that the term ‘model’ to me encompasses quite a wide range of mimetic functionality. Take climate models for example; some strive to be the closest thing computational practicality allows to a climatic Theory of Everything; others are ‘simple’ energy balance models.

    And, more generally speaking, there are models that don’t attempt to imitate the functionality of the topical ‘object’ at all; they merely serve to make easily comprehensible its structure. I’d claim that definitions fit that class of conceptual model. As you put it:

    Isn’t a definition of a field of interest like science just a description of what activities the field of interest usually undertakes? If I look up biology or chemisty or capitalism that is what a dictionary tells me.

    That listing of salient activities and interests is, IMO, intended to make easily comprehensible the structure of the discipline in question. Hence, it is a “model” in the schematic sense I just laid out. I hope that clarifies my perspective.

    #83, Ray–

    Kevin, Actually, I do think that the scientific method is a qualitatively different mode of human thought. Humans are wired to fool themselves. Our brains will work very hard to lie to us and preserve our illusions. Science is like a corrective lens letting us look at the Universe and see it more closely to how it is.

    I don’t think you are actually disagreeing with me. I didn’t denigrate the importance or the potential transformative power of the method; I just insisted that as “method”, it didn’t represent a change in the human mind itself. (That last is what Astringent seemed to be ascribing to you, incorrectly IMHO.) As witness to my distinction, I’d point to your words above:

    “Humans are wired to fool themselves. Our brains will work very hard to lie to us and preserve our illusions.”

    Quite right, and amply attested to yet again by the events of the last year!

    My perspective: the potentially transformative power of method is new, and highly important. But the human mind per se remains fundamentally the same.

    To be sure, there’s a bit of wiggle room in Astringent’s phraseology. To recap, the sentence in question was this:

    But we are saying that [modern science] doesn’t represent some step change in the way human’s minds work.

    It would arguably be reasonable to say, as presumably you would, that one following the scientific method was actually using her or his mind in a significantly different way–some sort of ‘step change.’ I find the assertion a bit dubious–though not clearly wrong–because it seems to me that the methodical difference kicks in most drastically at the cultural level, not the individual level. It’s when a proposition is critiqued in the research community that the rubber really meets the road. (Your past remark about the same ‘kicking the shit’ out of each hypothesis comes to mind here.) Yes, the individual’s commitment to the norms and ethics of that community is relevant, as nigel hinted in the comment that I responded to above. (And which perhaps I should have remembered more clearly in my #79, as well.)

    But despite the ‘wiggle room’ here, I doubt the actual cognitive processes in play during what I’ll globally term ‘analysis’ are really qualitatively much different today than, say, those used by Aristarchus of Samos to arrive at his heliocentric model–it seems to me that the cultural frame, however, is. And I think it can be quite as decisive as you claim. (After all, Aristarchus’ model did not triumph in its own time, as I recall, unlike the outcome during early modern times when scientific method was rapidly coalescing.)

    https://www.ancient.eu/Aristarchus_of_Samos/

    There’s another point, though, which is the implication inherent in the term ‘step change’ of irreversibility–at least over some time scale (though not necessarily eternity.) Seems to me that humans as presently constituted can choose every day, even every minute, to use the scientific method, or not–scientists included. That doesn’t seem to me to chime well with Astringent’s “step change” formulation. And at this point I would still be doubtful that it is an implication you would embrace, either.

  40. 90
    zebra says:

    Ray Ladbury #88,

    So you think that Neolithic individuals were not endowed with

    wonderful curiosity and creativity, the capacity for abstraction and quantitative reasoning, (and unfortunately, the tendency towards really awful behaviors towards each other.)

    ?

    Wow. It’s not exactly racism… timeism?

    And yet, as Galileo might have mumbled… pottery appeared!

  41. 91
    nigelj says:

    Zebra @86 said: “humans have always employed the practice of the Scientific Method to understand and influence the material world. (Zebra quotes ancient peoples making fired pottery)”

    Yes they have. But imho they were not doing science, not by any remotely modern understanding. Wikipedia defines modern science as “Science is a systematic enterprise that builds and organizes knowledge in the form of testable explanations and predictions about the universe…The earliest roots of science can be traced to Ancient Egypt and Mesopotamia in around 3000 to 1200 BCE….” Inventing fired pottery didn’t do that, although neolithic people were clever and arguably did an “early version” of science.

    You can obviously apply the scientific method, or parts of it, to all sorts of things including inventing pottery. That does NOT LOGICALLY mean you are doing science. The scientific method is just a name for a series of commonsense steps used before we even had the word science.

    “But… humans haven’t evolved since the Neolithic,”

    No. We have evolved culturally.

  42. 92
    nigelj says:

    zebra @90, “so you think….” Huge strawman and falsehoods. All of it.

  43. 93
    nigelj says:

    Kevin Donald McKinney @79, yes a definition is a model, but not a “conceptual model” (your original contention) and where all conceptual models can be wrong. The point being we can be certain definitions are correct or incorrect, for all practical purposes. We could at least have a consensus on such an issue.

  44. 94
    nigelj says:

    Kevin Donald McKinney @79, “I just insisted that as “ (scientific) method”, it didn’t represent a change in the human mind itself. (That last is what Astringent seemed to be ascribing to you, incorrectly IMHO.) As witness to my distinction, I’d point to your words above:”

    Maybe, maybe not. The scientific method used regularly might actually fundamentally change brain structure at a physical level. Here are some examples where brain structure has been changed in various ways:

    https://www.inc.com/amy-morin/how-to-train-yourself-to-think-differently-permanently-rewire-your-brain-according-to-science.html#:~:text=Studies%20consistently%20show%20CBT%20creates,dysfunctions%20of%20the%20nervous%20system.

    “Studies consistently show CBT creates measurable physical changes in the brain. Neuroimaging shows CBT modifies neural circuits involved in the regulation of negative emotions. Studies consistently show CBT can change dysfunctions of the nervous system.”

    https://www.huffpost.com/entry/how-your-thoughts-change-your-brain-cells-and-genes_b_9516176

    “How Your Thoughts Change Your Brain, Cells and Genes”

  45. 95

    Ray, #87–

    Music is something else. There are many different kinds of music, and even defining what constitutes music. Probably the best thing I’ve come across was from Duke Ellington: “If it sounds good, it is good.” However, this would rule out a lot of what passes for music (not just pop, but much of modern classical, as well).

    Way OT, but I’m going to respond anyway, since music is actually what I’m trained in.

    So, yeah, there is no generally accepted definition of “music”. It used to be said with apparent dogmatic certainty that “Music is composed of melody, harmony and rhythm,” but even I as a child (when I first encountered that dogma) could readily see that it was problematic–evidently incomplete since at minimum it completely ignored the whole discipline of orchestration and arranging, and at the same overly prescriptive.

    Definitions along the lines of “sound organized with esthetic aims in view” have been proposed, but foundered over the likes of John Cage and others who abjured “organization”–and also, from a more specifically scholarly perspective, over the observation that music was more than its sonic materials (since it also embodies specific cultural meanings and practices, both internally (as in the specifics of how music is made and experienced, for example instrumental or vocal technique, or the processing of notation, nomenclature, or the sonic materials on music) or externally (as in the way music is experienced with a particular culture, or the sociological functions it may serve.)

    “If it sounds good, it is good.” However, this would rule out a lot of what passes for music (not just pop, but much of modern classical, as well).

    Pop clearly “sounds good” to many–that is, after all, implicitly the definition of ‘pop’–and modern classical, while far from popular, still “sounds good” to some (including me). So the issue becomes “good to whom?” and Duke’s dictum boils down to a defense of subjectivity. That’s logical enough in the marketplace, and democratic in its way, but not much of a definition, really.

    The other thing is that what “sounds good” to a large proportion of the population clearly changes over time. Wagner–now another fusty old bust in the pantheon (unless one focuses on his less than admirable personal life and racial views)–was a musical revolutionary in his time. His embrace of dissonance as expressive device is probably what prompted Mark Twain to quip that “The music of Wagner is much better than it sounds.” (Who knows? Duke may even have been playing off that quip when he articulated the ‘sound good’ dictum–though as far as I know there is exactly zero evidence to that effect.) Heck, in his day even Mozart was dissed by the “sounds good” criterion–another composer of his day was sufficiently disturbed by his chromatic experiments as to call him a “pianist with spoiled ears.”

    So, just FWIW, my test is, does a particular music evoke a significant response from listeners? Does it in some way provoke? I don’t feel a need to create a hierarchy of values based on the specifics of the response–be it outrage, exhilaration, disgust, amazement, sadness, or plain old booty-shaking–though that has been done often enough. But one can certainly observe the relations that may obtain among musical means, audience responses, and implied values. To me, the primary purpose of criticism is to enhance appreciation; therefore, knowledge or at least reasonable inferences about what the composer/musician(s) may have been trying to accomplish is useful. You can’t appreciate game strategy without knowing the rules… and while music doesn’t have ‘rules’ that transcend particular subsets of the art, it does have contexts and aims. From them artistic strategies arise. The one constant over time seems to be to be an ongoing process of ‘surfing’ the breaking line between satisfaction–which is produced by the fulfillment of expectations–and surprise–which is produced by the contravention of the same. Extra points if you can do both simultaneously!

  46. 96
    zebra says:

    What Would Sir Francis Bacon Do?

    Pretty much what zebra does at #60.

    From Wikipedia, on Novum Organum:

    Approach to causality

    The method consists of procedures for isolating and further investigating the form nature, or cause, of a phenomenon, including the method of agreement, method of difference, and method of concomitant variation.[5]

    Bacon suggests that you draw up a list of all things in which the phenomenon you are trying to explain occurs, as well as a list of things in which it does not occur. Then you rank your lists according to the degree in which the phenomenon occurs in each one. Then you should be able to deduce what factors match the occurrence of the phenomenon in one list and don’t occur in the other list, and also what factors change in accordance with the way the data had been ranked.

    So we observe that, in the case of Neolithic pottery, there is no enterprise of science. The transition from no-pottery to pottery, which involves a remarkable advancement of our understanding of the natural world, occurs without the formal Academy, or any of the modern technologies or practices. It involves only the Scientific Method.

    And perhaps Sir Francis might suggest that some here suffer from at least #1 and #4 Idols Of The Mind. In more modern terms, I think of these as parochialism and lack of curiosity/imagination.

    (We can also make use of Bacon’s method as in #78, where we see that the Academy (the enterprise of science) does exist in that time period, and examine its degree of influence relative to the Scientific Method, which was always there.

  47. 97
    Ray Ladbury says:

    Zebra@90, Oh, the strawmanity (not to mention the ad hominems)! Dude, resorting to logical fallacies is, or at least ought to be, beneath you. Moreover, it’s utterly illogical! The tendencies of humans to treat each other poorly has sweet fuck all to do with the scientific method. As to the rest:
    “…wonderful curiosity and creativity, the capacity for abstraction and quantitative reasoning…”

    Hmm, let’s see, Gwyneth Paltrow certainly has wonderful curiosity and creativity. She certainly has the capacity for abstraction. And presumably, she must have some capacity for quantitative reasoning if only to count up the millions she harvests from gullible rubes. Does that make her a scientist? One could likely say the same of Alex Jones. Is he a scientist?

    Those very qualities that you equate with “science” can be–and more often than not are–harnessed to delude oneself and others.

    Tell ya what. Get serious. Or better yet, read Novum Organum. Because the crap you’re posting right now really isn’t even worth countering with rational argument.

  48. 98
    John D. Wilson says:

    I have access to a Canadian utility’s analysis of carbon shadow pricing on its dispatch. It is a very, very significant tool. Irrespective of the overall merits of carbon tax policy, utility regulatory policy needs to result in utilities including a carbon price of some kind in dispatch operations. If the policy is too far removed from dispatch operations, very low-cost emission reduction opportunities will be missed. We need to see the big investments made to make big changes, but we shouldn’t miss the easy stuff along the way.

  49. 99

    nigel, #93–

    …a definition is a model, but not a “conceptual model” (your original contention) and where all conceptual models can be wrong.

    If it’s not “conceptual,” then what the heck is it?

    The point being we can be certain definitions are correct or incorrect, for all practical purposes. We could at least have a consensus on such an issue.

    YMMV–in fact, apparently it does–but to my mind we can only ever demonstrate the INcorrectness of a definition, for the same reasons we can only ever falsify, not ‘prove,’ a scientific proposition. Typically consensus only happens because of the ‘will to consense’, not because of the compulsion of evidence.

    That is, people say in essence, “Well, it’s still not exactly right, but it’s more important to be getting on with it.” (Perhaps that’s your “practical purposes” making their entrance.)

    #94–

    …examples where brain structure has been changed in various ways…

    Yes, that’s a good point. In fact, music is another area in which this happens; the first 2 years of music school are in fact typically–I say “typically” because it does depend on the student’s level of musical development coming in–an exercise in brain rewiring, such that musical materials are learned to be processed in more parts of the brain, especially those associated with speech and symbol use. (That’s logical because the point is to make consciously accessible the relationships among tones, for instance by recognizing a major seventh chord when one hears it. And part of that is naming tones and chords, which is obviously a linguistic as well as musical activity.) This has been investigated using fMRI technology for decades now, for (random) instance:

    https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/12902019/

    I had a friend in music school for whom this had, at least for a time, the unfortunate result of musical anhedonia: he became so habitually involved with the symbolic processing of music that its actual enjoyment became inaccessible to him. That’s not been my experience, thank goodness, but it is true that the nature of one’s appreciation changes: the enjoyment of music has become less an experience of “oceanic feeling” and more an experience of gamesmanship (in the best sense).

    That latter sounds trivializing, but it’s really not; I mean that I often feel as if I’m ‘in the head’ of the composer or performer. Kind of an “I see what you did there!” thing, and as such it’s a pretty strong social experience. There’s also sometimes a real challenge to perceptual and interpretive abilities. As with any instance of challenge, it’s deeply satisfying when you feel you’ve met it. That’s one aspect of modern classical music “sounding good” to me: it’s a famously challenging repertoire, especially in its mid-to-late 20th century manifestations. (More recent composition has rather tended to retrench a bit, as far as I can tell what the trend is.) One tiny bit of evidence that the gamesmanship angle is not by any means unique to me: Paul Hindemith’s title “Ludus Tonalis“–“The Game of Tones.”

    Anyway, turning back to the case of use of the scientific method, I can think of my former father-in-law, a senior research meteorologist in the Canadian establishment (then the Atmosphere & Environmental Service). He certainly brought his scientific skepticism & hypothesis testing methods to bear in a pretty pervasive manner, including some times when it would have been socially quite preferable not to. Good thing he was a likable guy to start with!

    On the other hand, that reflexive proposition testing didn’t always stop him from fooling himself, either, any more than my abilities to recognize chords by ear always stop me from doing the same. So quantifiable change in brain organization and function due to training is definitely real. But is it a qualitative change in human nature, so called?

    One more thing: note that what we’ve been talking about is the reorganization of individual brains. As such, it certainly does NOT represent what was referred to in various comments above as a “step change” in humanity; it lacks the quasi-permanence required. Presumably, that would require genetic change, not just constantly renewed phenotypic/functional brain remodelling. Over evolutionary time scales, in theory the interplay of culture and reproductive success could conceivably bring about such a result, though it would take an extremely successful culture to remain stable long enough to do it, I suspect.

  50. 100
    nigelj says:

    Gwyneth Paltrow promoted women putting a jade egg in ther vagina to improve muscle tone, hormonal balance and increase feminine “energy”. Now that got your attention didnt it! What an interesting application of the scientific method. The great scientist Gwyneth Paltrow (sarc).