On Science and Religion

Monday, 19 April 2010

On Science and Religion

Bringing god[1] into a conversation totally misses the point of Science.

Science is a system of acquiring knowledge based on scientific method, and to the organized body of knowledge gained through such research. In other words it is the act of testing theories and gaining information from those tests. A theory proposes an explanation for an event, that's all it is. This theory may or many not be useful; a useful theory is logically consistent[2] and can be used as a tool for prediction.

If I throw a ball and I notice how it move through the air I may propose the following theories:

  • God moved the ball, it was his will.
  • All objects always travel in a parabola
  • Thrown balls move in a parabola
  • All objects move according to Newtons law of gravity

It doesn't matter which one is correct, they all explain the action; hence they are all valid theories (at this point). Now if we were to do further testing we might see that bullets travel pretty much straight, helium balloons and magnets don't really follow any of the above rules. From here we can refine the theory. None of the ideas are completely thrown out; we know that for that ball, in one experiment, all those theories could be true. As we perform millions of experiments on thousands of things our confidence in the theory goes up.

The second theory proposed above can be dismissed as it is not consistent with a lot of experiments. In the same way we should dismiss saying that it was god's will; yes it is logically consistent but it provide no ability for prediction. Stating that something is gods will is useless as a theory and it is for that reason that it should be dismissed.

What we are left with is an understanding of the world that we know might be wrong, but there is overwhelming reason to believe it. Yes, Newtons law of gravity doesn't work in certain conditions, that means we have to study those conditions and find a theory that does fit. But, in the mean time it makes sense to say that Newtons law of gravity is true.

The same applies to Maths, it doesn't matter if Complex Numbers exist, they are useful. They are the easiest consistent way to work certain things out.

Following the same line of reasoning, Evolution is the easiest consistent way to explain the fossil records with the added bonus of all the extra understanding that accepting Evolution brings.

You can also apply the same line of thinking to "that just how the world is". That doesn't help us understand anything and should be discarded.

So should the theory of God's will be taught in schools? No, it serves such little value as a theory that it is irrelevant. Unless we can use this knowledge as a prediction tool or practically then it has no purpose.

[1] By god I mean any creator(s) or supernatural being(s).
[2] By logically consistent I mean that it doesn't contradict any other generally accepted theories.

From here the logical question to ask is 'what is the evidence for the age of the earth, and what alternative theories have been proposed?'. You might come across carbon dating, plate tectonics, and the big bang theory. When you have each bit of evidence you can evaluate it. Remember to keep in mind that if a theory is accepted by the science community that many people have devoted their lives to working out the best theories to explain that phenomena.

From here the logical question to ask is 'what is the evidence of evolution?'. Well a quick google search gave me the following website: evolution.berkeley and wikipedia, I suggest you check them out.

More Schooling

Tuesday, 9 February 2010


General knowledge of the world is important

Firstly a quiz: How many kings can you name. What about wars. Tell me about the Tudors, the industrial revolution, the capital cities of Italy, Germany, Poland. What is the basic plot in a book you had to read at school. If you felt knowledgeable about all of them then I'm impressed (was that knowledge you gained at school or after); I would imagine most children wont be able to tell you much.

Next, when did you last find it useful to know this sort of stuff. If you knew no Geography, History, English literature, Biology, or Art History would you be able to cope. I certainly could, I do cope.

The other side to the coin is that these subjects will be taught but not in the same way. The teacher might set a task for every child to pick a part of history and say how daily life was different from now. Each child has the choice to pick an era they are interested in so that they are more engaged in the subject. They will come out with a memory of a few specific topics that they studied in detail.

If you combine that with the idea that after every project each child had to present it to the others then they all get taught a wide variety of topics.

It wouldn't work; the teachers aren't good enough

True, I don't think that you could re-train all the teachers to this method. It could still work with an independent school where the teachers know what they are getting into and want the changes.

It will produce an unbalanced curriculum

Most normal subjects will be covered by projects; all depending on the interests of that particular student. The idea is to encourage children to want to learn and by letting them have more decisions you let them choose what they find interesting.

Where is art, music, drama; anything that brings creativity

Two points:
1. Creativity will be taught.
2. art, music and drama are bad at teaching creativity to the uninterested student.

Creativity is a very important skill and like any other skill it can be practiced. Edward DeBono has done a lot of work on how to teach creativity and this is how it should be done.

How would the child get to University without A-levels (or equivalent)

This is a problem. I guess that they would have to take time to do whatever the prerequisites are.

What about problem students

Hopefully there would be less. A more engaged student and a more interested student is less of a problem. There will always be persistent troublemakers but if they are given the choice of say sitting in a room with nothing to do and doing a project they enjoy many will be cooperative.

It will cost too much to implement

Possibly, I haven't done the sums. The cost it mainly for the changeover not because it is inherently more expensive.

There is no evidence for it

True, but if you agree that most of what is taught in school is pointless or quickly forgotten then it's not going to be a step backwards. It's worth trying in one school.


Group teaching

Have the children sat in mixed ability groups. Try to get it so that each group is as good as the others. Then encourage the students to teach each other.

Be the best, be the worst

If any child stands out in a subject then let them have an extra class in it. That extra class should be made up of only the best (or worst). That way every child has a chance to mentor and be mentored by their peers.

Career finding

When 16 to 18 (A-level age) the focus should be moved onto longer projects with the aim of finding a type of career that each child likes. This could involve placements at a builders, artist, local business. Or presentations by University lecturers, social workers, business men, etc.


Wednesday, 3 February 2010

I think most of what is taught to children is pointless.

That said, I think that the fact that they are taught is very important; it teaches them how to learn. Here are the things that I consider vital:
  1. Learning (Teaching, Memory)
  2. Communication (English Language, Presentations)
  3. Research (Scientific Method)
That is it, if they come out knowing nothing else these things should be excellent in all pupils. The main aim of education up to 18 years old should be to teach people to learn and think for themselves. They should be able to:
  • Critically analyse a newspaper article then teach peers (Check sources. Fact check. Hi-light misleading passages. Decide if the author is biased).
  • Perform a literature review on a topic then teach peers.
  • Conduct a scientific valid study and then teach peers.
  • (Teach peers using a mix of verbal presentations, written literature and one-to-one tuition)
The next things are much easier learn at a young age:
  1. Sport, Nutrition & Health
  2. Maths
  3. Foreign Languages
  4. Using a Computer
These should be taught. In fact I think that most of these things can be brought in to every bit of schooling if done correctly. If that is done then we should have a lot of time to focus on fitness and maths.

Here is a few that I have considered as non-vital: art, textiles, history, science, geography, drama, religious education, music, design tech (workshop), business studies, finance.

emacs rocks

Tuesday, 2 February 2010

I had a boring text editing task. I'm using a text file that refers to components by a number and after writing it I realised that I need those component numbers to be incrementing.

I had:

Bus.con = [
 101   138  1  0  2  1;
 102   138  1  0  2  1;
 124   138  1  0  2  1;
 201   138  1  0  2  1;
 202   138  1  0  2  1;

Shunt.con = [
 106  100  138  60  0  -1  1;
 206  100  138  60  0  -1  1;
 306  100  138  60  0  -1  1;

I wanted:

Bus.con = [
  1  138  1  0  2  1;
  2  138  1  0  2  1;
 24   138  1  0  2  1;
 25   138  1  0  2  1;
 26   138  1  0  2  1;

Shunt.con = [
  6  100  138  60  0  -1  1;
 30  100  138  60  0  -1  1;
 54  100  138  60  0  -1  1;

One problem is that the component number might be the same as a parameter (which I don't want to change). Two tools here:

  1. re-builder - interactively build a regular expression. 
  2. (query)-replace-regexp - replace a regexp with another 
  3. elisp in regexps - do anything with a regexp
This led to the following three replacements:
replace " 1\([0-2][0-9]\) " with " \1 "
replace " 2\([0-2][0-9]\) " with " \,(+ 24 string-to-int \1)) "
replace " 3\([0-2][0-9]\) " with " \,(+ 48 string-to-int \1)) "
by doing it as a query I made sure I was only replacing the correct stuff. 

I even had time to write this blog post. 


Wednesday, 30 December 2009

In terms of evolution the fittest is the one that replicates copies that are also fit. This can be counter-intuitive; being stronger is better as you can win more fights, but you will have a higher energy use so it is a disadvantage when food is scarce. check out stick insects or slice cell anaemia for some intersting facts about evolution.

As organisms evolved so did the creatures that preyed on them. This causes a genetic arms race, a battle against resources and power. This is predator/prey evolution and it seems to have the effect of focusing and pushing a specialisation to it's limit.

Here is the crux of conciousness. When nerves appeared on the scene they were a paradigm shift. They can quickly react to something, they can change what they react to, they learn. At the start one can imagine the immense reactive nature of an organism with these nerves. They associate a certain type of thing with sometihng else and you have the ability to avoid predators.

It's useful to be psychic. Nerves can store information and match patterns very well. If they were joined together just right we could see prediction, e.g. ___ happened last time so it probably will again.

We develop a mental model of the physical world as we see it. Physics became a known concept. If a rock is thrown we know where it will land, this doesn't require thinking as such, just a plain input/output, reacting on it is the same old reactive part of the brain, wired up to these new parts.

As altruism develops we need a new model for dealing with these objects that don't obey our model of basic physics, animals. The way to do that is to have a model of what another animal is likely to do. It's then plugged in to the same old brain as before. We have a model of physics and of animals brains.

The thing is we are one of those animals. All we have is a few input processing modules, some reactive modules, and a couple of prediction modules. With that we can think about animals. It's still all input-memory-output based, there is no thinking or reasoning. We have no idea why we are doing anything, it's just the way we are wired.

The strange things is if we decide to reason about ourselves we can start to guess why we did something. The actual reason was the inputs and memory were such that it had to be. But it might be better to say that because red things cause pain we become aggressive when we see red.

This mental model of ourself allows real thought, a thought process. Because we can think "there is another person who is doing XXX therefore he will do ..." we can do "what if I did XXX, what would happen then".
  • brains react
  • brains predict (mental model of physics)
  • brains predict other brains (mental model of a brain)
  • brains can think about them-self
  • we become self-aware
If we accept this model of conciousness then we can draw some interesting points. One, the reason we acted like we did in most situations is that we didn't think (in the higher brain, self-aware sense) we acted. Only on reflection after the even can we guess why we did something. So when someone says for instance, why did you punch him, you can respond with:

"it was the only thing I could of done. I didn't think and couldn't 
given the time frame. Looking back it was probably because he was 
threatening me. If the situation came up again I would have acted 
differently but that is only because I now have had time to think 
about how to deal with it."

Not that I think this should change laws to reflect this. 

Secondly, we have a whole new paradigm of research for artificial intelligence. Can we make a creature self aware by applying these rules. It's far from an easy task, but at least with this we know where to look.

It also tell us a lot about other creatures. How self-aware is a dog? Well, how much do you think it understand of why other dogs are acting like they do. It probably doesn't have the level of reflection to understand. Judging from my dogs anyway. 

Now, there is a further complication brought about by disorder called autism. Autistic children can have a poor mental model of other brains, yet they can reason about why they did something. unfortunately I'm not an expert on Autistic Spectrum Disorders but think it would be a great area of study "does the level of Mind-blindness or Alexithymia correlate with a lack of reasoning about one's self". It could be explained with the fact that human reasoning has become massively important and as we are such social and communicative creatures we have a need for a separate "reasoning about one's self" part of the brain. If we are to accept this then to test the previous theory would require looking back in our genetic history to see how their level of self reasoning correlates with mind-blindness.