Knowledge and subjectivity. Origin of life

Discussion in 'Biology & Genetics' started by mjs, Mar 17, 2014.

  1. exchemist Valued Senior Member

    The Higgs boson? The double helix? Penicillin? Buckminsterfullerene? Or, going further back, to the era before science became a mass-employer, the charge on the electron? The Michelson-Morley experiment? Were these investigations motivated by society's questions of the day? It seems to me they were not.
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  3. notanumber Registered Member

    I mean a flexible fabric or sheet, which bends the light around it, to hide the object inside. I saw nothing like that before HP, and a sudden rash of inventions and advances after it, eg-

    2007 - Purdue University

    2009 - Berkeley University

    The fabled "Quntum Stealth", which hasn't been verified as real

    And plenty more, if you research it (these are from a quick google).
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  5. notanumber Registered Member

    Tell me what motivated each of those, to demonstrate your argument.
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  7. Dywyddyr Penguinaciously duckalicious. Valued Senior Member

    Oh right.
    So you simply conflated the two in your own mind.
  8. notanumber Registered Member

    It seems you can't even be civil. Is your rudeness a replacement for being right? I am guessing you're just an arrogant kid.
  9. Dywyddyr Penguinaciously duckalicious. Valued Senior Member

    I'm not interested in being civil: I'm interested in facts.

    Uh what?
    You have yet to show that Harry Potter had anything [sup]1[/sup] to do with "real world" invisibility cloaks [sup]2[/sup].
    So far all you've shown is that they were revealed to the public sometime (on the order of a decade) after the book was published.
    Correlation is not causation.

    Guess all you like.
    That leaves me certain that you're incapable of looking at a profile.

    1 Flippant remarks and press hyperbole excepted.
    2 A more likely reason for the coincidental (and somewhat forced) timing is the rise in available computing power in the late '90s.
  10. Aqueous Id flat Earth skeptic Valued Senior Member

    The motivations for science are as diverse as people are. But I don't think that speaks to exchem's point, which is that science in general is done within organizations, since few individuals with the training could possibly afford to fund their own research and/or development work. When it comes to choice of project, that usually has more to do with the organization's charter than any individual's lifelong ambitions. Once inside the organization, dynamics takes over. Everyone responds to priorities. If there is an urgent need for some specific problem to be solved, the folks who have plausible solutions in mind may offer them for consideration, and several may be funded to proceed in parallel. This is a huge generalization. There are all kinds of working environments. The point is, the activities that are driving the organization (business prospects / funding prospects, perceived or stated need, scope of work vs resources and time constraints, yada yada) influence the direction individual contributors take.

    This gets back to the exchemist's point, to which I think all practicing technical people will agree: that Science doesn't set out to, for example, "disprove a religious claim". The discoveries of the Dead Sea Scrolls were accidental, and the curation and analysis of them has involved a small army of experts. Same with the thousands of artifacts recovered from Mesopotamia. And obviously this entails a lot more than the physical sciences.

    Since a lot of funding is driven by grant money, contracts, internal R&D, etc., then the culture that grows up around technical projects is subject to the specific nature of the clients' epxressed needs. I can't think of a case where, for example, an organization set out disprove religious claims. Nobody woke up one morning and said "Today I am going to prove the universe created itself." What happened was that spectra were discovered in stars (specific frequencies of light which fingerprint the elements) and over time, as many of the spectra were being collected, it was noted that they were similar but not the same. Edwin Hubble took up the project of doing a comparative analysis, and discovered that they have red shift. This was huge in its implications for physics. It meant the universe was expanding. Therefore it must have once been small and dense. This led to the explanation that there must have been an expansion from the dense beginnings (singularity) and Big Bang Theory was born. BBT did not begin with the premise "religion is based in superstition, myth, legend and fable. Therefore let us prove that the universe was not created my a mythical god." Just as exchem said, it began with empirical evidence. That evidence (for BB) was compelling, hugely so. The nature of the puzzle itself created the project; and since Hubble was the first to take interest in the question of the spectra, it's only natural that, once he discovered all the objects were receding, it should have been him who took up the task of explaining it.

    I mention this because it's very common to encounter posters who believe that "science" has set up some kind of task force to disprove religion, just as many people (who typically are also religious) believe that climate science involves a task force (IPCC) dead set at shutting down economies (based on some indefinite rationale).
  11. notanumber Registered Member

    I'm new here. Maybe I am missing something, but your profile only shows your posts and a few statistics.
  12. notanumber Registered Member

    Good explanation, thank you. So it seems that the people setting the direction are - mainly - the various funding bodies. Perhaps also rich self-funding organisations. But also, historically, rich individuals who can follows their own ideas. The motivations I've tried to explain can be attributed to them, not to the rank-and-file scientist employed by big companies.

    Those motivations are real, and they come from somewhere. Even for an accidental discovery like the red shift, there are motivations which guide how that discovery proceeds; allowing more funding for related studies etc, according to the desires of certain people who call the shots. Also note what I wrote here about the mechanisms -

    I'm not a climate change denier, nor do I think there are secret task forces set up against religion. I am a very reasonable person, who likes to follow everything that goes on and connect up the dots. Quite often, the forces at work are very subtle but undeniable, and (imo) they guide the direction of science in many ways.

    I also see that over the centuries, science has gradually conquered the territory previously held by non-scientific beliefs. The boundaries of science expand all the time, often guided by these subtle forces, and sometimes by luck.

    Not being a scientist, I have little idea of the politics and dynamics within science. I simply observe it and watch the developments, study the principles of the theories here and there, and put that together with everything else happening in society. That enables me to see patterns in the big picture, that may escape many of the everyday scientists within it. The patterns I see are not provable things (I'm not rich!), but lend themselves to emerging philosophies and ideas of my own. So I am proposing a few of them here, to see what you guys make of them.
  13. wellwisher Banned Banned

    A good example is viagra for men. This science discovery was motivated, in the board room, for making money. Once the goal and motivation was created ,from above, the scientists in the trenches do good science by the book. They are mercenary soldiers of science and can't decide their own direction in that environment.

    Another example of trickle down science, is manmade global warming. Most of the money is going to one side of the argument. This choice of sides is in line with the political divide, and the party in charge. If we have two points of view, and one gets 90% the funding, it has the best science, by default, to become the consensus. It may not be the best idea, but it has the most data and it is where more scientists can earn a living satisfying management.

    In astronomy, the big bang is the standard model, which means it has most of the money. There are alternate science theories, with data support and math models, but due to lack of proportional funding, they can't compete. If all the money went there, even for political reasons like a new administration, this would be the new bad wagon and have the most new data.

    The question I asked myself, if money and resources can commission science to generate the preponderance of the data, anywhere you need, and this data preponderance can be used to politically or economically favor any POV, how do you get at the truth? You need people asking questions.
  14. exchemist Valued Senior Member

    I don't need to. It is your contention that advances are motivated by society's questions of the day, so it up to you to provide evidence for your contention.

    But, for what it is worth, I would think the motivations were various. Penicillin is a well-known story of serendipity, while the Michelson - Morley experiment was conducted in an attempt to resolve one of the (several) momentous problems that bedevilled c.19th physics. Buckminsterfullerene seems to have been a result of a synthetic chemist's curiosity, while the Higgs boson was an obscure prediction arising from quantum physics, understood only by a portion of the physics community, let alone wider society.

    As for the double helix, there is a potted history of molecular biology here:
    I've read this and do not see in it evidence that "society's questions of the day" inspired the work.
  15. Dywyddyr Penguinaciously duckalicious. Valued Senior Member

    When will you learn to stop posting your uninformed opinion as if it were fact?
    Viagra was discovered by accident: It started life as plain old UK92480, a new treatment for angina.

    Something YOU consistently fail to do.
  16. notanumber Registered Member

    This is really getting to the heart of the issue. For instance -

    - how much of science funding comes from commercial companies?

    - how much is funded by political campaigners, or to support political views?

    - how much of the above is discarded when it comes out "wrong"?

    - how much - realistically - is faked, for money?

    - how much is luck? (very little?)

    And how much is a trickle-up-and-down (or whatever) from society at large, as part of a genuine curiosity, or a need to improve on old-fashioned, inaccurate or "plain wrong" knowledge?

    I was thinking mainly of the last one. But ... ?
    Last edited: Sep 13, 2014
  17. Aqueous Id flat Earth skeptic Valued Senior Member

    When you say "decisions" it's not clear what you mean. Boeing "decided" years ago to make the 777 aircraft. New science projects were launched. Somewhere among 500 encyclopedia size specifications is new procedure for applying paint to aluminum surfaces. What is the motivation? The new paint is cheaper, lighter and more durable. The result? Profit. And the team that pulls it off gets richly rewarded. That's a typical science application in a blue chip corporation. But that by no means defines science at large. Nor does it touch on the scope and diversity of reasearch and development projects around the world in every discipline conceivable.

    The person putting your artery back together is calling the shots. And the balloon stint he designed to prevent hemorrhage is motivated by the morbidity from not using a stint, or from using the model that creates more turbulence in the blood and more clotting. He will get paid either way, but the bean counters are pressuring the doctors to find safer procedures because the payout from wrongful death lawsuits is eating their lunch. Market driven pressures are not necessarily a bad thing, nor are checks and balances like licensing exams, inspections, safety reviews, and of course science symposiums, lab and field trials, and technological innovation. I'm not sure what you're getting at.

    I doubt that the impact of cultural beliefs on pressing matters of science can be precipitated out of solution here. Cultural beliefs may include the culture at one chip manufacturer to stick with MicroSoft, and another to hand itself on Google. These kind of decisions can completely define the science of designing chips, but this is inconsequential to society. Nobody even notices that the chipset in my iPhone differs dramatically in the physics of what is taking place on the substrate as to the chipset in my Android tablet. A raft of highly esoteric technical articles may ensue, and someone may even report some phenomenal breakthrough with Gallium Arsenide -- but so what? At the global level it probably doesn't matter.

    That's good. But do you acknowledge that the Right is manufacturing propaganda to the contrary this very moment, and that their operatives are beating down the doors of legislators, promising campaign financing, in return for laws to reduce federal regulations and to limit abortions and gay marriages? And several of them and their sock puppet task force are installed as members on this very site, as if this is some arm of academia that can be remotely controlled by propaganda.

    I'm not sure what that means. "Science" is too broad a term to generalize. The closest I can come to addressing this is the disaster of the Dubbya years. Here we saw top science agencies, and in some cases universities, being infiltrated by Right Wing operatives, in the form of an outright coup d'├ętat. We have seen government policy changes affect science and industry, but never had we seen an ideological battle being played out by the direct attacks of major institutions like this, particularly the personnel changes and manifestos that followed. It was unparalleled and has gone down in history as something tantamount to an insurrection. The fabricators of climate-gate cut their eye teeth on this kind of ideological warfare. The science community -- of all people, the specialists at places like NOAA -- were completely blindsided. Never in their wildest nightmares did it occur to them that they could be vilified by the public display of their day to day technical chores. And the damage from that attack still lingers today. It was the nuke that the Bushies and the Tea Party had hoped to detonate inside the National Academies. And it ended up getting them more mileage because it was easy to joke about the weather with their constituents. Climate change is slow, over the lifetime of a human being. So it's not within our common experience that it's taking place. And this compares to evolution, so the bitter cynicism about teaching evolution has found some parallels in the minds of the idiots who swallow the propaganda hook, line and sinker.

    You mean religion. First came the Copernican revolution, and with it several inquisitions. A century later the Enlightenment would demote God, relegating him to an impersonal non-interventionist status. The next major event was an outcome of the Industrial Revolution, which saw many excavation projects associated with things like canals. Geology was born in the recognition that they were digging through sediments of different kinds. This very promptly overturned Catastrophism (God repeals the laws of Nature at will) since it was evident that there had been multiple natural catastrophes (extinction events) as well as the subduction produced by tectonics. It was Darwin's good luck to have been born right after Geology was the new hot topic of science. Genetics was being played out in Mendel's pea garden, but a little too late for Darwin to be aware of it. When the Beagle caught sight of the Galapagos islands, Darwin immediately recognized that they had risen from the sea floor only millions of years ago, at a time the native species of S America had established themselves. The existence of adapted forms of those species on this late-appearing archipelago spelled out the unavoidable conclusion that the origin of all species is through genetic modification, subject to natural selection. It's not fair to say that this cut at the heart of religion, but it certainly cut at the heart of Christian fundamentalism. And the response was vociferous - the first attack coming at the Scopes Monkey trial, and second wave, really a by-product of televangelism, taking root in the Reagan years when the alliance between Republicans and fundamentalism was effectively written in blood.

    Not sure what if anything is guiding science at large. Particular enterprises may be guided, but it's impossible to speak for science at large. I see science through the lens of the science sites, the universities, the industries and the journals. Science is huge and it's organic. It feeds on information, so it exists everywhere information exists. It's not easily influenced by anything but new information. Other than that I'm not sure what you mean.

    I don't think of scientists at large as Pollyannas. There are the absent minded professors who don't often see past their own noses and then there are the rock stars. And everything in between. On average they are average people, except they have that education that makes it pretty hard to fool them. On average, it's safe to say they are not naive.

    I have lost track of what those proposed patterns are. I guess I'll stay tuned.
  18. Aqueous Id flat Earth skeptic Valued Senior Member

    You would have to define what you mean. There is internal R&D funding, through the tax incentive, there is collateral science that takes place in industries consequent to something like a manufacturing process (e.g. robotics) and there is government and private sourced grant money. A substantial portion goes to universities, which may go to bed with corporations to do something difficult, there may be loose coalitions that form behind some strong funding incentive, like the genome project -- and along the way a monolithic enterprise evolves -- and the corporations will often go directly to the universities for resources. The Government also puts out white papers soliciting bids on all kinds of technical projects. These get awarded to universities, corporations and small businesses according to some poorly understood heuristic principles.

    Change the word "political" to "economic" and you're getting somewhere. Contracts are often let in the districts where it gives the legislator visibility among constituents that she is creating jobs. I have no idea what a political science project entails. If you can think of one, feel free to mention it.

    Science evolves through natural selection. The public telephone network was for nearly a century the lifeline of the US economy. The science that created it using devices like those Einstein's father designed -- large iron cores with heavy copper coils -- were made highly reliable. It was extremely rare to have a telephone outage. But the race to put multiple phones in every home and business created a demand for denser cheaper circuits during the Baby Boom -- when the transistor was making portable radios possible. A huge infrastructure change ensued, and the technical journals are just stuffed with all the new discoveries that accompanied this surge in science. But as soon as the dust settled the integrated circuit was promising huge gains in density and the advantages of digital telephony. As soon as that retrofit was underway, fiber optic cable became available, but initially it was something like $100/ft. It took years before the price fell and the decision to invest in fiber optic cable production. It would be about 20 years before the fiber optic retrofit began. By this time cell towers were popping up everywhere, AOL was emerging, and the rest is the mushroom cloud we recognize as technical innovation.

    Science? How do you fake science? There have been very few scams in the journals in several hundred years of their existence. This is a system that corrects itself. If someone publishes an error, it is usually quickly detected and corrected. You do often see errata insets in the journals to handle that. The next level of correction is the overturning of a theory by new information. These are extremely rare too, since most scientists are careful enough not to generalize too much. Even Darwin embedded hundreds of caveats into his theory. So the later discovery of, say, genetic drift and horizontal gene transfer, dovetail with what he published, not to override it or render it obsolete. Some obsolescence may occur, although it's hard for me to recall any examples within say the last century. Most of the obsolescence is in writings prior to the Industrial Revolution.

    Your question is asking about the ethics of science. Science is not a person, so it can't think ethically. People think ethically, and when they trying to solve a specific problem, there is nothing more counterproductive than to try to cheat the truth. Instead they try to cheat something else -- to take shortcuts around a slow process, to get results faster, to use fewer resources, that kind of thing. It's very hard to lie, cheat and steal and succeed as a scientist. Any person, idea or project will immediately become radioactive. I suppose it's possible for this to happen in small cabals where conspiracy is feasible, but I can't think of any examples. The only things that come to mind do not involve faking science -- just outright cases of corruption here or there, but at the level of the enterprise, not science.

    Depends on what you mean. Scientific enterprise begins with resources. Those resources bring expertise suited to the task. Either that, or there is a management failure and it implodes. So assuming that nearly all scientific enterprise is matched to its resources, then very little luck is involved in general. The cases for luck at some fine level of detail are large. The Curies got exposure of their "Sun rocks" by accidentally leaving them near a photographic plate. Alexander Fleming, while trying to develop an acid that would kill bacteria, accidentally spilled some penicillin into a culture dish and the next morning discovered a cure for common infections. Bell accidentally spilled battery acid, and when he yelled, the amplitude of his voice crossed threshold for the pressure needed to vibrate the carbon granules, and the telephone became feasible. These are the pop science stories we hear in school so we have some idea of the prevalence of windfalls in science. Without a doubt, a great deal of success is owed to luck wherever research into the unknown is involved, but it nearly always entails the application of expertise. Otherwise the prelude to a happy accident wouldn't be in place, and the results wouldn't be noticed.

    Probably none. I can't think of how science at large attacks problems by assuming a pre existing solution is incorrect. If the task is to build a bridge over a congested traffic area, and the established science is to use concrete fabricated to a particular formula, and instead the idea that the formula might be wrong pops into someone's head, they are not going to change the formula the night before they pour the concrete, since they risk collapsing the bridge over hundreds of cars below. The formula change would come as the result of new information, and it would be subjected to stringent testing before being used.

    There are exceptions. The human genome project was received something like the moon landing. Public appreciation for the perceived benefits of success breathed a kind of urgency into the project. Funding was unprecedented, and so was the availability of state of the art processing hardware. It was a perfect storm of concerted effort to succeed. By contrast climate science was coming under attack and those folks were being caricatured, bullied and dragged into court. It's impossible to say how many years we lost due that distraction, but I think this is the level that society affects scientific progress. When science is perceived as the panacea then society gets behind the innovation and the football team scores goal after goal in thunderous appreciation and a sense of newfound prosperity. When society trashes science and kicks it around like a back alley mutt, then science suffers, and the intangibles are forever lost.
  19. notanumber Registered Member

    I don't have time to thoroughly investigate the examples you put forward, but I can produce links/discussion to support my own examples.

    I am thinking about this. Might review my theory. Perhaps I see things that support the idea, without knowing about the other methods at work.
  20. notanumber Registered Member

    I used the word "direction", not "decision". Vast numbers of decisions may be taken, but only in line with the direction that has been set by specific people at the top. In your 777 example - the direction is to improve profits, and perhaps an overriding motivation such as connecting up the planet, in the belief that it is good for mankind; and the need to stay ahead of their competitors, so that their ideas will dominate. Or perhaps it is simply a way of getting rich, and there is no social philosophy.

    In doing that, they are ignoring other things - eg. purely as examples - the pollution caused by the new technology, or the natural world that suffers for it, or the workers who lose/gain from it.

    If "profit" is the main guiding force, all the advances in technology are done for that purpose; and it is for the shareholders, and everyone involved who wants more money and power. That is itself a reflection of the moral compass of the people involved, and a result of their upbringing in this society.

    It is a tricky thing to figure out. Maybe the surgeon is motivated purely by helping people, and maybe by money, or by duty (a medical tradition in his family), or fear of the authorities, or he is inspired by something he saw on TV or in a medical journal, or something someone said. It would become evident if you look at how he operates, and the decisions he takes. Those values are instilled into him by society - advertising, literature, family or peers, prevailing medical ethics, etc - from a young age.

    It may matter far more thn you realise.

    I live in the UK. I know that kind of stuff happens in Amerika! - it is a sad aspect of an otherwise great nation. I was amazed recently to read about US political campaigners spending 100s of millions of dollars on their campaigns, and vowing to spend more - because in Amerika (as opposed to America, by which I mean the good bits) money and greed call the shots more than anything. It's not that great here, mind. But in the USA, it is extreme. Any amount of reasonable debate that could be had, for the benefit of the nation, is subjugated to the ego and the wealth of the people running for election.

    That obsession with wealth drips down into the population, and sets the direction for a lot of stuff. Meanwhile, vast numbers of people in poverty are sidelined and ignored.

    No, I mean "almost everything". Example - we are seeing a rapid spread of science in any academic/teachable subject you like. Geomorphology, astronomy, religion (kind of); biology, neuroscience and psychology (a little), management, language, technology (of course) and the nature of materials; hygiene and medicine. You can now learn about the chemistry of cooking, and professional cooks regard it s basic information: people have cooked for eons, never knowing much about chemistry. Science is, piece by piece, overhauling the sum of all knowledge. Maybe in another million years we will have a new paradigm.
  21. exchemist Valued Senior Member

    I'd be interested to see and discuss the examples you have in mind.

    I can quite see a case can be made for technological advances to be linked, indirectly at least, to the topics preoccupying a society. But regarding discoveries in science itself, it seems to be that that marches to the beat of its own drum, namely the topics that the science community considers to be the cutting edge at a particular moment, which may have nothing to so with the current preoccupations of society at large.
  22. Aqueous Id flat Earth skeptic Valued Senior Member

    So for example, Darwin not only did not set out to discover evolution, but he was not enthused about being the Beagle's science officer until he negotiated into the deal that he could keep all of his specimens. Not only was the British public at best only vaguely aware that the Crown was sending an expedition in search of breadfruit, but they would have had no idea that his motives were entirely selfish -- in the sense that he only cared about his personal voyage into Nature, or rather, that a voyage into Nature be undertaken. There wasn't any pressure for or against the discovery of evolution, because no one had any idea what he would find at Galapagos, and certainly not Darwin. It might be argued that he secreted his discovery away from society for decades out of a fear of turmoil or reprisal of some kind. Maybe he feared both fame and notoriety. But he sure did love collecting specimens. So if society influenced him at all, it could only have been as an impediment to publishing his findings.

    Using what you said, we can establish that the military, commercial and political will of England was to rule the seas. Science was needed to support that mission, and that involved some botanical research. A project was funded and launched with those goals in mind. Society was in vague general support of the mission, but had no opinion one way or the other about the details. But along the way, an windfall discovery was made, which forever changed the human perspective of the natural world.

    Of course every case is different.
  23. Aqueous Id flat Earth skeptic Valued Senior Member

    In any case these are business decisions, which are independent of the type of work the tecchnical staff are assigned to do. If you take a job at Boeing doing metal fatigue analysis, you can expect that this is the level of science you will be involved in regardless of whether Boeing joins a cause to lower greenhouse gas emissions, or some other ethical cause.

    That would be a business decision, not a scientific one. The scientist would always be looking for the cleanest solution, unless for some reason other priorities demand it. For example, a helicopter may be regarded as having too high a carbon foorprint to be used for delivering parcels between two offices of some scientific enterprise. But if the goal is to get the kidney from one operating room to another with minimal opportunity for necrosis, then this may be chosen over ground transport in order to arrive at an optimal solution. Note "optimal" generally means sacrificing some goal to some degree in order to achieve another. It's actually an area of mathematics called Operations Research (OR). So a lot of the thrust of your questions falls into how, when and why scientists exploit the techniques of OR to "do no harm", which really means "to optimize a multivariate problem, such that harm is minimized among a set of other constraints".

    The large corporations are usually already experienced in environmental impact studies. Depending on the nature of the enterprise, it may be a necessary part of doing business. If it's not, they may still elect to do them. But these are business decisions, not usually scientific ones.

    For-profit corporations do exist for profit and for the enrichment of shareholders. I think you pigeonholed "all advances in technology" here. First "All" would mean "all within the set of all technologies pioneered by the enterprise in question" which depends on the enterprise. Not all enterprises who do science are engaged in developing new technology. For example a fertilizer company that has been making the same product for 50 years may employ chemical engineers, but they may never be involved in advancing the formula for fertilizer, assuming that technology has stabilized at say, anhydrous ammonia, and is not expected to ever change. Companies that manufacture microprocessors, on the other hand, will continually attempt to invent a faster, leaner, smaller product and their scientists will be tasked around new development projects, even on a daily basis. Their goal is profits and their sciences cluster around the technical problems the new technology presents. If they solve them, and break some perceived barrier with the new better product, then odds are their profits will increase.

    Maybe it is and maybe it isn't. Every permutation of conditions is possible. Maybe maximizing profit invokes ethical questions and maybe not. I can't think of any generalization that applies.

    I suspect if you took a poll, most would say they want to save lives and prevent disease, that sort of thing. The motivation to make a certain amount of money usually is made when she accepts the position.

    Maybe so.

    I agree that people are acculturated at a young age into the norms of society. But people, and especially these highly educated folks, are also in possession of an intellect. Provided they took care of it up until the time they became doctors, then it won't matter too much what influenced them when they were younger.

    I may realize more than you think; the question is whether we can narrow this down to specifics, otherwise I'm left to only realizing whatever the assumptions lead me to realize.

    Great! That means you're made of the same good cultural DNA that exchem is made of, which has proven time and again to produce a scientific mind of the highest caliber. No wonder you guys produced Stephen Hawking and far more than your share (per capita) of the world's leading geniuses. Great place, all the better if Scotland decides to stay in the club.

    Yes and in translation this would be the infiltration of the Tories into science agencies across the UK, such that scientists and academicians feel the scourge of an inquisition. This is how bad American religiosos got, especially after fleeing the various conflicts in England, and then being thrust into the wilderness of the early US, where they grew up without schools and books and became the world's most ignorant Christians on record. Of all things, rather than giving credit to Darwin, they chose instead to maintain the British religious traditions of Darwin's era. (Victorian Christian principles.)

    The issue is grave. By sheer luck, the Right Wing has been able to stack the Supreme Court, and it was the appalling and unprecedented decision they rendered a few years ago, giving Corporations "the right of free speech" solely reserved for individual citizens, at least that's what the majority called it, by which those Corporations are allowed to spend as much as they want in advertising a candidate of their choice for office. It's ruling that I believe will be overturned only if our left and center oriented voters get up off their asses and turn out to vote. For this reason alone everyone in the US should vote straight Democratic ticket until the death of the last Republican appointed justice (one of the worst, the young Chief Justice John Roberts). That may take 30 years or more.

    We've had waves of extremism. We saw it in the founding of the KKK, in the John Birch Society and the Cold War Inquisitions against liberal celebrities who were accused of being "card-carrying" Communists. But the most pervasive elements have been the Christian fundamentalists. What makes them particularly dangerous is their high number of illiterate members. Just to understand how bad that is, even the really nasty justices they put in office fear them, occasionally issuing rulings to protect against "mob rule".

    That's the huge travesty we must live with pursuant to the deplorable Supreme Court ruling.

    So true. This became profoundly obvious early in our own Industrial Age. Many of the victims of negligent and belligerent employers were principally immigrants, women and children who had no voice and were not respected as human beings equal to white men. Of course the legacy of ignoring the poor was slavery. Once you equate a person with chattel, then all bets are off when it comes to sheltering them, making sure they have food, clothing and blankets, and of course adequate medical care. What is so outrageous about this is that it's perpetuated today largely by the political action of the Christian fundamentalists, who have managed to exempt themselves from the Bible's command to provide those very same necessities to the needy, through a loophole taken from the epistles which minimizes "salvation by works" and maximizes "salvation by faith alone". It's this huge glaring hypocrisy, meanness and selfishness which makes them so detestable. And of course the wealthy corporations have allied with them, so grateful to have a grassroots support for stripping away the protections of public assistance, with the expectations of lowering corporate taxes as the deficit declines, It's criminal by every principle that we purport to hold sacred. But this is a huge segment of the population, and they're dumb, naive as hell, and easily convinced of anything the Right Wing propaganda machine feeds them.

    Ah I see. I tend to agree that society is exposed to certain kind of technical facts never before considered necessary for general consumption. My opinion is that it's mostly very low stuff. But it's likely that the societies of the near future will have much higher technical skills in the future, since the kids being raised exposed to the internet will discover that just about every question they can ask has been asked and answered, that all kinds of technical information is at their fingertips. I recognize that this hinges on some new fad or technology that draws them away from facebook and twitter feed, and all things recreational.

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