Matthew T Grant


Tall Guy. Glasses.

Scientific Bias

I heard someone on the radio yesterday say, “That’s the scientific bias: If you don’t know what causes something, then it doesn’t exist.”

That is not the scientific bias. The scientific bias says no more and no less than, “If you don’t know why something is happening, then you should develop a hypothesis about why it’s happening and devise controlled experiments to test your hypothesis.”

This is not a bias; it is a model for separating plausible hypotheses from their opposite.

The unscientific bias, by contrast, says, “If I can’t clearly articulate my hypothesis, or testing my hypothesis would be difficult or impossible (because it depends on the existence of immaterial beings that cannot be detected by our senses or any instruments we may possess), then science must be wrong.”

You don’t have to be “scientific” or apply the scientific method to the problem you are hoping to solve.

Choosing not to follow this approach, however, does not vindicate your belief or highlight the shortcomings of a method you implicitly subscribe to every time you start your car, boot up your computer, or turn on your microwave.

It only shows that you have decided to eschew the truly scientific bias: rigor.

In General

All generalizations are either false or tautologous.

The goal of science is to create new generalizations.

The goal of philosophy is to demonstrate that said generalizations are either false or tautologous.


Reality Is My Religion

I can’t say that I believe in God, but I do believe that there is a real reality.

Yes, I’ve heard about relativity and multiple universes and even the astral plane. And, yes, I understand that seen at a certain scale, “reality” gets kind of indeterminate.

But at this macro-level, there is usually one and only one way that things are: my car is parked in my driveway; this skull-and-crossbones pin sits atop a pile of business cards; Abraham Lincoln was shot in Ford’s Theater; etc.

Needless to say, and once again depending on scale and perspective, it is not always easy to perceive the way things really are and it can be equally difficult, if not more so, to establish the way things really were in a certain time and place in the past.

In fact, it is thanks to this inherent “concrete unknowability of the real in its totality,” that I call reality my religion. Reality can be known to a degree, but not absolutely. When you cannot absolutely know something, but you assume that it is this way or that way, and in fact act, without thinking, as if it were so, then you are said to believe it is so.

Thus, I believe in reality, the really real that I cannot ever know in its entirety or infinite complexity, and I ask reality everyday to allow me to draw closer to it, to know it better and conceive it more deeply, to the real limit of my mortal consciousness and to the ultimate capacity of my mortal will.

What’s your religion?

Check Out the Levels

I have a friend who, when I first met him, spent a lot of time making trompe l’oeil drawings (well, really doodles in the margins of lecture notes he was taking).

One night he was showing us some of these and every now and again, impressed by his own ability to conjure faux three dimensionality from two dimensional lines on paper, he would exclaim, in a kind of wonder, “Check out the levels!”

Now, if you teach anything like literary theory or film studies or music appreciation or what have you, this imperative sums up your endeavor. In fact, what you quickly find is that, for many students, the fact that there are levels at all, and not just the plot and the characters, is a kind of revelation.

This revelation can quickly spread into all aspects of life and is part of the natural, cognitive maturing process, I believe. When we make the transition from childhood proper to adolescence and adulthood after, for example, a big part of that proces is the realization that our childish worldview, as complete and self-sufficient as it seems to us while we are living in it, is limited, circumscribed by our ignorance, experience (or lack thereof), and the information that our environmental wardens have deigned (or not) to pass along to us. You can see this most obviously when speaking with teens who have become aware of things that their younger siblings just obviously don’t get. Read the rest of this entry »

Let It Rot

457867889_6e0e2a9631_mSome mad scientists treated wood with obscure fungi to decrease its density and thereby change its acoustical properties. They then had some violins built with this en-funginated wood and the sound produced therewith rivaled that of a Stradivarius.

While I had always thought, wrongly, that the sound of instruments created by the Stradivarius family depended on the mysterious, alchemical processes they used to create their varnishes, it turns out that the real secret ingredient was the wood of trees which grew during the “Little Ice Age, a period of abnormally cool weather between 1645 to 1715.”

The intricate grains of some woods used in furniture and musical instruments are produced by various sorts of disease and infestation and, of course, some believe the flavor of meats to be improved by aging, which is really like a controlled rotting.

What in your life or work could be changed for the better by introducing the organic chaos of infection, decay, or even disaster?

Image Courtesy of dingbat2005.

Is Science Satanic?

“Oh, who can wonder at that old reproach against science, that it is atheistical?” – from The Confidence-Man, by Herman Melville

126871387_bd10728463_mFor a long time I’ve harbored the notion that enmity towards the Devil stems not from the bad things of which he is capable or to which he drives men. Rather, it arises from the fact that the Devil, in his infinite relativism, questions the hard-and-fast division of acts and events into “good” and “evil.” Thus, the truly satanic perspective says, “There is a reality prior to your ethics, even your perception, and it knows neither good, nor evil; good and evil are post-hoc projections onto this neutral stuff.”

Of course, this is precisely the view of science which suggests that all matter is built up from fluctuating, quantum states of energy (or something like that – look, I’m not a scientist.) Science does not see any particular moral value inscribed in the hierarchy of electron shells, Avogadro’s number, or Planck’s constant. Ethical norms are epiphenomenal.

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