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A comment on Joel's anti-VC essay

Joel argues that venture capitalists are basically pretentious idiots.  I agree.  However, this fact shouldn’t surprise anyone.  Chernavsky's Law (yes, I’m a pretentious idiot, too) states that highly respected institutions never live up to their reputations.  Three examples follow.

1)  Look behind the smoke and mirrors of Wall Street, and you’ll find that securities analysts -- even the honest ones (or, rather, _especially_ the honest ones) -- couldn’t predict the side of a barn.

2)  Listen carefully through your doctor’s stethoscope, and you’ll find that modern is based as much on tradition and witchcraft as on hard science.  Remember how hormone replacement therapy was supposed to be the bee's knees?  Oops.

3)  Peek under the vestments of the Catholic Church, and you’ll see that the Church may not be totally corrupt, but is certainly more concerned with protecting its assets and prestige than in serving its parishioners (recall the recent pedophilia scandal).

Actually, come to think of it, Chernavsky's Law is probably just a special case of Sturgeon's Law: 90% of everything is crud.

Alex Chernavsky
Wednesday, June 04, 2003

I wrote: "...modern is based as much on tradition..."

That should be, "modern medicine".

Alex Chernavsky
Wednesday, June 04, 2003

I'd agree on VCs, Wall Street and religion but not medicine.

pb
Thursday, June 05, 2003

I interviewed at this company that said they got a valuation that was 10 times higher pre-bust than post-bust. The valuations were seperated by like 4-5 months, but the numbers were drastically different.

I think anyone who peeks behind the curtains behind any giant instituation will find some really rich people trying very hard to make themselves richer and everyone poorer.

"How can we seperate more people from their money?"

www.MarkTAW.com
Thursday, June 05, 2003

Alex, if I could paint my house with the brush you're using, I'd be done in 5 minutes.

My JOS Alias
Thursday, June 05, 2003

I dealt with VC's for about 4 months. They suck.
I find them to be all about laundering money from institutions into their own pockets under the gise of "investment".

ie: Sure we will give you money, if this friend of mine is the ceo, you buy your hardware from my cousin and you are happy for you %% to be diluted to bugger all of bugger all.

Siffice to say, Im not jaded by the experience at all.

Regs,

James Ladd
Thursday, June 05, 2003

>>"I'd agree on VCs, Wall Street and religion but not medicine. "


Doctors are just the same.  They pretend they know it all, we just (usually) don't know enough to call them on it.  Doctors are taught to have this air of infallibility.


EXAMPLE #1
Talk to someone who's gone through fertitility treatment.  (My wife and I have been. Succesful on 1st try thank goodness).  It's bloody witchcraft. 

The fact that reproduction is a mystery to doctors isn't that surprising. What is FRIGHTENING is that they can ACT like they understand it.

EXAMPLE #2

I have a  brother-in-law that is a doctor AND owns a software company.  In a discussion of his software I noted that it didn't expand to fill the screen.  I said "gee autosizing would be nice". He said 'THAT IS IMPOSSIBLE". 
I asked "why?".  He said "because the program doesn't know what to resize".

HE said all of this with an air of amazing confidence.

Then when I quietly explained HOW you'd resize it, he said "oh, maybe I don't understand it". My wife said she'd NEVER, in 25 years, heard him admit he didn't know something.

He's really a great guy, but Doctors are just TAUGHT to act like god so they can keep the patients calm, I guess.

Peter Parker
Thursday, June 05, 2003

Peter - probably true.

Every time I go to a hospital, I remind myself that doctors are just people who went to school for a really long time.

www.MarkTAW.com
Thursday, June 05, 2003

There is a reason that a large number of the 'financial analysts' in the City of London come from a long line of barrow boys (market traders).

Simon Lucy
Thursday, June 05, 2003

Sorry pb, but he is right on. There is a reason that, for example, witches used to tell people to chew the bark of the willow tree to relieve head aches - it relieves pain in the same way as aspirin. The difference is in payment - people paid witches by burning them at the stake, in modern life doctors get paid shed loads of money to do the same thing. They might even dance naked with goats for all I know.


Thursday, June 05, 2003

"I dealt with VC's for about 4 months. They suck"

People pay for that kind of thing you know ;-)


Thursday, June 05, 2003

Peter,

When somebody is just about to stick a knife in me a slice me like a fish I want them to appear very very confident.

I want them to say 'Were just going to fix you up as good as new' not 'Gee, I hope this doesn't go wrong like last time.  Since my wife left me I've just not been able to concentrate.'

To be honest, I've used the authoritive developer voice myself.  It can save so much time in meetings.

Ged Byrne
Thursday, June 05, 2003

Ged! You rock!

R C
Thursday, June 05, 2003

Alex,

You hit the nail right on the head. I have very little respect for folk whose only kudos is being a member of a profession.

Like my mates who are doctors say, "Medicine is not and exact science!" We are all familiar with the phrase "I think xyz, but please seek a second opinion. "

tapiwa
Thursday, June 05, 2003

[doctors are just people who went to school for a really long time.]

First, they don't go to school for all that long, just 4 years of college + 4 years of medical school, plus interning.
And during that time they are taught a lot of things that are wrong. Worst of all, they are not taught anything about scientific reasoning. Medical researchers who have an MD but no PhD have done some incredibly stupid research.

And, on top of all that, they are taught that western medicine knows it all, and that nature is mindless.

The Real PC
Thursday, June 05, 2003

"Nature is mindless" - what does that mean?

Curious
Thursday, June 05, 2003

Curious,
There is a prevailing philosophy in western science and medicine that nature is "mindless." I am contrasting this philosophy with the belief held in primitive and ancient cultures, and by modern holistic scientists, that all of nature is alive and conscious.
Many people with a western education will be scornful of this idea, since they know nothing about holistic science, and also can't imagine that primitive or ancient cultures could have known anything that western science does not.

Believing that "nature" has wisdom and consciousness results in a very different approach to health and medicine.

The Real PC
Thursday, June 05, 2003

Ged wrote:

"When somebody is just about to stick a knife in me a slice me like a fish I want them to appear very very confident."

I couldn't disagree with you more.  When I talk to my doctor, I want him or her to give me the straight dope, with all the uncertainties, risks, caveats, and possible pit-falls.  I don't trust people who pretend that even routine medical procedures are very safe and effective.

Alex Chernavsky
Thursday, June 05, 2003

As an actual doctor I feel compelled to respond to some of these comments but it is very difficult do do so without calling people names- especially the guy who thinks nature is alive and conscious and that modern science cannot understand things that primitive cultures did.  We can understand them perfectly.  They happen to be wrong in most cases.  Anyone is welcome to engage in magical thinking; to hold ideas which cannot be verified or disproved via experimentation and logic.  The point is that such things are irrelevant to science.  My question is, since you clearly are fine with arbitrary belief, why focus on the beliefs of ancient cultures?  Why not just make up your own?

As for the guy who claims medicine is based as much on tradition and witchcraft as science, the best I can offer is "phooey".  This is a nonsensical assertion and you offer no evidence.  The truth is that medicine is not science.  It cannot be.  It uses information gained from science in much the same way that engineering does.  It takes a few techniques from science for what is called clinical research, but due to the basic immorality of experimentation on humans, and the complexity and diversity of humans, the best they can do is what economists do.  They get their best information on an extremely complex system and then mostly rely on what has been tried in the past and what has resulted in the past.

The fact that hormone replacement therapy was originally seen as a boon and now, as, on balance, not good, should indicate to you that medicine is not witchcraft or tradition.  Either of those would dictate that we continue the hormone replacement therapy because that is the way it has always been done.

Of course there is a great deal of this in medicine.  Many things (especially surgical procedures) are done because they seem to make sense but have never been verified in a scientifically rigorius way as the best treatment for a given condition.  This is because, once again, it is impossible to do good scientific experiements on human populations.

As for the person who pointed out that aspirin comes from trees, this sort of thing is true of many of our original medicines.  The trick of western medicine is that we take that basic concept and use science to discover what it is in the tree which relieves the pain and inflammation.  Then we purify it.  Sometimes we modify it to imporve it.  Suggesting that this somehow makes western medicine a fraud strikes me as a non sequitur.

Yes doctors don't know everything.  Yes doctors are taught in medical school and residency to hide this fact. Yes, most of them will deny it.  Yes there is as much variety in ability in the medical profession as elsewhere.  The bottom line is if you have one of the several medical conditions for which we have treatments, your chances of health are greatly improved by seeing a modern western medical doctor.  Contrast this with, for example stock analysis.  Two thirds of mutual fund managers, historically, are unable to beat the market average long term. 

The lesson here?  I don't know.

Erik Lickerman
Thursday, June 05, 2003

your chances are even better if you see 4 or 5 doctors and then triangulate (quadrangulate?).  The variance might not be much but you want a high confidence for such things.

doobius
Thursday, June 05, 2003

Dr. Lickerman wrote:  "As for the guy who claims medicine is based as much on tradition and witchcraft as science, the best I can offer is 'phooey'.  This is a nonsensical assertion and you offer no evidence."

I have particular disdain for psychiatry (I used to interview psychiatrists when I worked in the marketing-research department of a pharmaceutical company).  I maintain a page about witchcraft in the mental-health industry:

http://www.astrocyte-design.com/pseudoscience/

As for the rest of medicine, see this article from the "New York Times Magazine".  The article is called, "What Doctors Don't Know (Almost Everything)", and it's reproduced on this page:

http://www.annieappleseedproject.org/whatdocdonkn.html

Alex Chernavsky
Thursday, June 05, 2003

Erik:

Well said.

Tim Sullivan
Thursday, June 05, 2003

"I couldn't disagree with you more.  When I talk to my doctor, I want him or her to give me the straight dope, with all the uncertainties, risks, caveats, and possible pit-falls.  I don't trust people who pretend that even routine medical procedures are very safe and effective."

I couldn't disagree with you more. This sounds like it's coming from a supreme know-it-all.

pb
Thursday, June 05, 2003

pb wrote: "This sounds like it's coming from a supreme know-it-all."

Yes, well, I already admitted my short-comings in the very first post.

Alex Chernavsky
Thursday, June 05, 2003

Hmm, let's compare the record of modern medecine with that of witchcraft shall we? Lets examine their cure rates for:

Polio, smallpox, TB, cholera, rickets, scurvy, gangrene, mumps, yellow fever, typhoid, appendicitis, blindness due to corneal clouding, diabetes, haemophilia, kidney failure,malaria, hepatitis, detatched limbs, heart failure (which herb is it that makes a transplant unnecessary?), brain tumour,....

Of couse witchcraft has been around a lot longer than modern medecine, so we should handicap modern medecine when comparing cure rates....

Need I go on?

David Clayworth
Thursday, June 05, 2003

Wow, into a doctor argument.
There are clear benefits of modern medical science.
However, there are many many doctors out there who speak with authority on things they know nothing about.

People turn to alternatives, be they secondary 'modern' types (chiropracter, phsycial therapist, nurse) or 'traditional' types (nataruopath, witch, whatever) because they also have real backgrounds but are often much more sympathetic. Most don't even deride 'allopathic' medecine as a concept, just the way it's practiced.

Just like computers. Modern computer science and practice has built many wonderful things. But there are many practitioners who claim expetise and charge for it, and deliver less than what you had before.

mb
Thursday, June 05, 2003

After reading through this thread I surfed off to another web site and came across this essay, which seems somewhat relevant: http://www.embedded.com/story/OEG20030604S0042

mackinac
Thursday, June 05, 2003

Alex -

I skimmed your page and some of the links (no time to read everything at work). The main gist of what you have seems to be, "Some people believe what they are told about research instead of following it up or validating the results themselves".

You have riddled the page with lots of insinuation and a few specious arguments. You have found about 10 published articles which agree with your point of view and have linked to them.

I sincerely doubt that you have followed up the claims in the articles you use to support your position.

If you are deriding an entire group as unscientific, you should at least not present your argument in the same fashion.

Devil's Advocate
Thursday, June 05, 2003

Do doctors understand the role of tradition in their work?  For one thing, there's a strong biasing factor in favor of conservatism due to lives being at stake and long training times.  If tradition were not a problem with "western medicine," something would be amiss.

Also, witchcraft is a misnomer for charlatanism.  Witches and their books were efficiently burnt.  (Hardly a scientific thing to do, but certainly a western thing.)  The branch of medicine which grew into what we have today may not have been objectively the best, but we have pretty good communication systems now, and we pump a huge amount of organized investment into it.  It will have decent results.

We may brag about our white, "western" medicine's superiority, but poor nations of any culture are rife with quackery.

Tj
Thursday, June 05, 2003

Sri Lanka has many Ayurvedic clinics, and people come from all over the world to be treated in them.

The locals of course all make a point of going to the doctor.

Though I will say one thing about Ayurvedic medicine. They have one preparation on sale that is pure concentrated marijuana, is of course quite legal, and sells for a couple of dollars a bottle.

Stephen Jones
Thursday, June 05, 2003

Um, Tj, burning books is not a "Western thing."  It's been practiced in many cultures for the past several millenia.

Brent P. Newhall
Thursday, June 05, 2003

Conventional western medicine is good for certain things, very bad for many others. Because of modern technology, there are some excellent techniques for surgery and diagnosis.
As for treating and understanding most chronic diseases, western medicine is practically useless.
Immunization and surgery have decreased infant and child mortality. The health and longevity of adults has not been improved, and the typical modern lifestyle is increasingly deadly.

Our medical and drug industry makes extravagant claims about how they have improved our health, and they are lies. Well they may not know they are lying, because they believe it themselves. It is not true.

I know people whose lives were saved by western medicine, and I am not trying to claim it's worthless. It just is not what you probably think it is.

The Real PC
Thursday, June 05, 2003

The RealPC wrote: "Our medical and drug industry makes extravagant claims about how they have improved our health, and they are lies. Well they may not know they are lying, because they believe it themselves."

No, they often know full well that they're lying.  See, for example:

======================

Hidden Risks, Lethal Truths

Warner-Lambert won approval for Rezulin after masking the number of liver injuries in clinical studies

By DAVID WILLMAN, Los Angeles Times Staff Writer

SUNDAY REPORT: June 30, 2002

WASHINGTON -- Newly obtained internal documents show that Warner-Lambert Co. executives who promoted the diabetes pill Rezulin masked early indications of the drug's danger to the liver from federal regulators and later delayed sharing information about its lethal toxicity with family doctors.

The newly acquired materials show that company management rebuffed employees who questioned liver-injury totals from clinical studies that excluded 38% of the cases. At the time, Warner-Lambert was assuring doctors nationwide that the drug was as safe as a placebo, the harmless pill used as a control in medical testing.

========================

http://www.astrocyte-design.com/pharmaceutical/rezulin.html

David Willman, the reporter who wrote the article above, went on to win the Pulitzer Prize for his work on exposing abuses in the pharmaceutical industry.  There are lots of other stories similar to the Rezulin one.

Note to Devil's Advocate:  I get e-mails similar to your message all the time.  However, my opponents rarely want to get down into the nitty-gritty of discussing specific issues.  Instead, they just spew generalities: "Your web page sucks.  Your arguments are specious.  You don't know what you're talking about.  The research you cite is all flawed."  Etc., etc., etc. 

Alex Chernavsky
Thursday, June 05, 2003

David Clayworth,

You probably shouldn't go on unless you intend to post something that's actually accurate.  For example, there is no cure for smallpox and the vaccine (that's where the word came from, in fact) was discovered over two hundred years ago!

SomeBody
Thursday, June 05, 2003

Are we seriously having a debate about whether or not there have been significant advances in medicine in the last century?  Compared with when women routinely died of childbirth.  When an infection from an injury could kill you.  etcetera.  etcetera.  etcetera.

Stop quibbling over semantics.  Take it somewhere else.  What happened to the discussion on VC's?

Voice of Rationality
Thursday, June 05, 2003

Dear Somebody,
                        There isn't a cure for nitpicking either.

---"As for treating and understanding most chronic diseases, western medicine is practically useless."----

If there was a cure for them, they wouldn't be chronic would they? They'd go away pronto. It's a bit like saying, "Well doctors are OK while you're alive, but they're f-all use when you're dead!"

Stephen Jones
Thursday, June 05, 2003

Dear Voice of Rationality,
                                      May be you could choose a more appropriate example tnan women dying in childbirth.
                                      One of the greatest breakthroughs in medical science happened in Austria when doctors at a maternity hospital were puzzled as to why so many more upper and middle class women died in childbirth than working class ones. Strange theories had been postulated along the grounds of the lower classes being nearer to animals and having more brute stength, but the answer was that the workking class couldn't afford to go to hospital to have their babies and had them at home. The result was that they avoided all the germs from the other patients.

                                    Rigourous disinfection with bleach, both of the hospital and of wounds was introduced, and the result was that the number of deaths in hospitals plummeted.

                                  Strangely enough it's back on the rise now. The normal two reasons given are contracting out the cleaning which used to be done by the nurses under the orders of ferocious Scottish matrons, and the rise of pathogens immune to anti-biotics.

Stephen Jones
Thursday, June 05, 2003

>>>Are we seriously having a debate about whether or not there have been significant advances in medicine in the last century? <<<

That does seem to be the case or at least something like that.  Some of us might be impressed by the advances in medicine over the past century, but others will only look at what problems that remain unsolved and conclude that little has been accomplished.  Sort of a pessimist/optimist kind of dichotomy.

mackinac
Thursday, June 05, 2003

This thread has jumped the track and is careening out of control into a quasi-religious religion vs anti-religion class of argument.  Anyone wanting to talk about VCs will have hit reset and start a new thread.

z
Thursday, June 05, 2003

Alex:
As I am not an expert in the field of psychiatry, I have no idea whether your comments have any validity, nor do I have any basis for judging the quality of your sources.

However, I do know what makes a compelling/good essay, and I am forced to agree with D.A. that your offerings ain't quite there. 

One thing that would help a great deal is citing your sources.

For instance in your Psych essay, you claim "Contrary to popular belief, scientists have never been able to find a consistent biochemical, genetic, anatomical, or other functional marker that can reliably distinguish healthy people from the mentally ill." But then you don't bother to back this up.  Since I don't know you personally, and I haven't been particularly impressed with your logic skills, I'm somewhat skeptical of this claim just from you.  Even if said statement were true, it is not *obvious*, and thus needs some sort of supporting justification.

You pepper your text with assertions such as "Again, the actual data is complex, partly contradictory, and generally less than convincing."  But then you don't give examples, or back up your point.  When you comment that Wellbutrin has little effect on serotonin (source?) but is no less effective according to "studies" (which? conducted when? by who?) - it's not enough - you need to then draw your conclusions.

In fact, that is your essay's second biggest problem.  You leave all the real work up to the reader.  Here are some rather broad, sweeping conclusions, you say.  Here are a couple of facts thrown in, it should be obvious how they relate to my conclusions.  And if not, "read this book".

Phibian
Thursday, June 05, 2003

As for a particular disdain for psychiatry, I can understand this, especially if you lump psychiatry in with psychotherapy which I must admit, in many forms strikes me a very witch-crafty.  You need to give a little handicap to psychiatry though.  Mental illness is inherently trickier then non-mental disease.  For example, I think it was reletively recently that poeple accepted that schizophrenia is probably something physically wrong with the brain, as opposed to say, being raised by an overbearing mother.  Still we have made some strides in the pharmacological treatmetn of schizophrenia and considering how horrible that disease is, I am glad of it.

What's the matter Alex, did a psychiatrist give you a diagnosis you didn't like?:-)  Just kidding.  Please don't hunt me down and hack me to bits.

Erik Lickerman
Thursday, June 05, 2003

Anyone who hasn't should run out to the local bookstore or library and read a book on basic logic & argumentation. Especially if you're discussing something as serious as the medical industry, you really need to back up your claims with proof.

www.MarkTAW.com
Thursday, June 05, 2003

It is kind of depressing isn't it.  How often do we read some newspaper article about how badly students do on standardized tests of math and science, or how many people can't find Iraq on a world map.

But there seem to be few, if any, similar reports of how well the general population understand basic logic, logical fallacies, propaganda, etc.  And what is the level of understanding of such topics as economics and politics.

Yet which of these classes of information is more important?  Only the specialist really needs to understand evolution, the special theory of relativity, or how to solve differential equations.

But in a democratic society everyone will be expected (even if they don't) to vote for politicians offering up all sorts of snake oil solutions to our economic problems.  Or they'll be bombarded by propaganda from all sorts of special interest groups.

Enough of a rant.  I don't expect things to improve.  Especially considering the state of affairs among this group that might be better educated than average.

mackinac
Thursday, June 05, 2003

CAN WE PLEASE GET BACK ONTO THE TOPIC OF VC's ???
IF YOU WANT A DOCTORS THREAD, START ONE !!!!

James Ladd
Thursday, June 05, 2003

For those interested in the psychiatry debate, check out http://www.szasz.com  but don't use Netscape 7.0.

JL: This thread is permanently off track.  To discuss VCs, try starting a new thread.  Sorry.

mackinac
Thursday, June 05, 2003

Alex's argiuments about psychiatry seem perfectly reasonable to me.

It seems you're asking much too high a standard pf proof of him.

He certainly doesn't need to prove there is no clear dividing line between mentally ill and healthy. It is up to the others to prove the contrary and I suspect they will have a very hard time of it.

The number of people diagnosed as mentally ill in any society is directly proportional to societies abiltiy to pay a psychiatrist.

As for Erich's point about schizophrenia only recently been accepted as having a physical cause in fact we see that the pendulum has been swinging both ways since 1904.

And bear in mind that schizophrenia is not a disease in the sense that cholera or pneumonia is; it is the name given to a collection of symptoms like feeling cold, or having a cough.

Orthodoxy now says that drugs cure it, but in the 1940's the same orthodoxy said lobotomy did. The theory had a sligit set back when the Portugeese doctor who discovered and popularized lobotomy as a cure was murdered by one of the patients he had lobotomized.

Stephen Jones
Thursday, June 05, 2003

The pendulum has swung back and forth for a century or more but recently the pendulum has stopped swinging.  It is clearly something physically wrong with the brain.  Also, schizophrenia is not a syndrome.  There are several types of schizophrenia but, for example, paranoid schizophrenia, is a disease just as, for example influenza is.  Sure there are many types of influenza viridae but the flu still doesn't qualify as a syndrome.

Also, we have not cured schizophrenia and, I would wager, will not do so during my lifetime.  We have drugs which help but they have pretty harsh side-effects and many patients choose to go off meds when they feel better.

Possibly VCs are schizophrenic.  Maybe that would get us back on topic.

Erik Lickerman
Thursday, June 05, 2003

Yes schizophrenia has physical causes, and yes drugs may cover up symptoms but do not cure it.
Schizophrenia will never be understood by conventional medicine because conventional non-holistic science/medicine does not understand what kind of machine the brain is.

The Real PC
Thursday, June 05, 2003

>>
CAN WE PLEASE GET BACK ONTO THE TOPIC OF VC's ???
IF YOU WANT A DOCTORS THREAD, START ONE !!!!
<<

Judging from the relative popularity of the other current threads on VC, I'd say that more people are interested in talking about doctors : )

Also, if you read the original post, nothing in this thread is off topic (other than your post, maybe).

SomeBody
Thursday, June 05, 2003

Phibian wrote:  "One thing that would help a great deal is citing your sources. "

All the assertions you quote are explained in the book ("Blaming the Brain") cited at the end of the section.  I agree that I could have been more explicit in indicating that essentially the whole section came from the book (though I could have cited other sources for the same information).

Alex Chernavsky
Thursday, June 05, 2003

(Yeah Brent, I sometimes go overboard on antiwestern stuff when I'm in a silly mood.  It's actually a good sign for our medical system that I've met people in med school who are interested in non-modern thinking, and they go about it with rigor.  For example, they're very interested in holistic practices, and are interested in what in our society keeps us from more preventative medicine.  Or that is how they explain it to this layman.)

Tj
Thursday, June 05, 2003

Anyone interested in the real world of physicians should read Atul Gawande's _Complications: A Surgeon's Notes on an Imperfect Science_. My one-paragraph review is at http://www.mindspring.com/~teleri/julian/books/short.html#complications

Julian
Friday, June 06, 2003

Real PC - glad to see you back on the board.  I was worried for you last month when the Bad Darkness Wolf ate the Moon Virgin.

Ethan Herdrick
Friday, June 06, 2003

Dear Erik,
                I am highly suspicious when people say the pendulum has stopped swinging. That has been claimed at other times.

                In Western medicine we normally consider something to be a disease once we have either identified the cause (viruses in the case of influenza or HIV or the common cold, bacteria in other cases, or toxic substances in the environment in others). In the case of cancer we have a clearly harmful phenomenum even if we don't know the root cause or causes. We can't say of somebody with the symptoms of cancer that maybe he just has these tumours but is perfectly well, or maybe he has cancer. But a person with eidectic vision can be perfectly sane or a "clinical schizophrenic".

                  We have long known that chemicals can affect the brain and people's  perceptions; people wouldn't smoke ganja, drink bourbon, swallow magic mushrooms, patronize Starbucks or snort cocaine if this weren't true. Science has also quite an astounding idea of the way the brain works - pseudo-(real?)mystical experiences can be triggered in the laboratory by stimulating certain areas of the brain, but it is also that most changes will have untoward effects.

                  The basic problem is that with known diseases it is clear that the person is ill. You might decide to start a treatment just in case - it actually takes two months to be sure that a subject has TB but you start the triple-therapy treatment immediately because the effects of waiting for full confirmation would be dire However with mental diseases it is not at all clear where the line between being clinically ill, and not being so, lies.

Stephen Jones
Friday, June 06, 2003

[Science has also quite an astounding idea of the way the brain works - pseudo-(real?)mystical experiences can be triggered in the laboratory by stimulating certain areas of the brain]

No, Stephen, this is another one of those misconceptions. Brain scientists know that if they destroy or damage a particular area of the brain, a particular disorder may result (actually, they don't destroy or damage human brains, for obvious ethical reasons, but observe cases already damaged). They also experiment using electrical stimulation, as you mentioned.
When an area of the brain is damaged, or electrically stimulated, or whatever, and you observe the results, you cannot claim that the damage, or electricity, caused the result.
Brain scientists do not understand how the brain works, and they can only make indirect inferences. It would be easier if they were free to damage healthy people's brains, but even that would not provide an understanding of how the device works.
A schizophrenic, or a person on certain kinds of drugs, for example, may experience hallucinations. A materialist scientist would conclude that the diseased or drugged brain has generated the hallucinations. A different interpretation might be that the disease or drug (or electrodes, etc.) has disrupted the normal functioning of the brain, and the hallucinations are a symptom of a disrupted brain.
I hope that helps.

The Real PC
Friday, June 06, 2003

[Real PC - glad to see you back on the board.  I was worried for you last month when the Bad Darkness Wolf ate the Moon Virgin.]

It was rough, but I have ways to get through it.

The Real PC
Friday, June 06, 2003

No, Real PC, this is another one of those misconceptions.  Scientists know that if they destroy or damage a particular area of a CPU, a particular disorder may result (actually, they don't destroy or damage good CPUs, for obvious ethical reasons, but observe cases already damaged). They also experiment using electrical stimulation, as you mentioned.
When an area of the CPU is damaged, or electrically stimulated, or whatever, and you observe the results, you cannot claim that the damage, or electricity, caused the result.
Scientists do not understand how a CPU works, and they can only make indirect inferences. It would be easier if they were free to damage good CPUs, but even that would not provide an understanding of how the device works.
A damaged CPU, for example, may experience errors. A materialist scientist would conclude that the damaged CPU has generated the errors. A different interpretation might be that the damage has disrupted the normal functioning of the CPU, and the errors are a symptom of a disrupted CPU.
I hope that helps.

Devil's Advocate
Friday, June 06, 2003

"All the assertions you quote are explained in the book ("Blaming the Brain") cited at the end of the section."

When you are writing an essay that is going to be taken seriously (as opposed to an essay that is completely your opinion and taken as such), it isn't good enough to say - the assertion is in the book. You need to cite the page. 

Stephen wrote: "It seems you're asking much too high a standard pf proof of him."

Backing up one's points and specific sources are basic elements of an essay of that nature, if the author expects it to be taken seriously and not merely as conjecture and opinion.  Given that the author was complaining that people dismiss his opinions "all the time" without explaining why...

Stephen:" He certainly doesn't need to prove there is no clear dividing line between mentally ill and healthy. It is up to the others to prove the contrary and I suspect they will have a very hard time of it."

If you are writing an essay on any topic, you need to provide your base assumptions to the reader and *back them up*.  It's no good to leave that up to the reader (or "others"), because in that case the only people you will reach are those with domain knowledge and who already agree with you or those lacking critical thinking skills and looking for reinforcement of their world view.

So if the essay makes the assumption that there is no clear dividing line between mentally ill and healthy, he needs to cite where he got that interpretation from (as he did not present himself as an expert in the field, he can't just say it - just as you can't just say it - and automatically expect readers to believe it).  Call me a skeptic, but if you want my opinion, most people believe whatever they are told without any justification whatsoever (a point that the author was making as well...).

Incidentally, the section about the "law of thirds" sort of goes in the right direction towards proving this.  The biggest problem with that section is that it comes across as picking three random, different studies and then saying they are all related.

"Here's a study on the placebo effect" (would be more compelling if you cited multiple studies, btw)

"Here's a study on faith-healing" with the same proportions of effectiveness as the placebo effect study.

"Here's a study on [whatever you were trying to prove - can't remember anymore and too lazy to look it up]" with the same proportions etc. 

My first reaction to the same proportion thing is: "so what?"  Statistics are all well and good, but since I don't know whether the 1/3, 1/3, 1/3 statistic is generally accepted as an indication of the placebo effect, I can't take this as fact on its face, nor does anything you say really provide a basis for allowing me to take that statistic for granted.  OTOH, I do know that statistics can be manipulated to mean whatever you want them to mean.  Frankly, I think the example about faith-healing is out of place.  You want to prove that your statistic

<example>
Furthermore, say that I (your reader) am convinced of the effectiveness of faith-healing.  I accept your statistic about the placebo study on its face.  I see that a study about faith-healing has the same effect (and btw not that I'm saying anything about faith-healing, but there are other studies out there showing higher effectiveness).  All of a sudden, your third statistic at best doesn't prove anything to me, and at worst, makes me wonder why you are proving the opposite of what you are saying you are proving.
</example>

Bottom line: unless I believe you are an expert and are basing your opinions on something concrete (eg your past twenty years of clinical studies), if you make a statement of fact - you need to back it up.

Prove to your readers that you are correct!  If you don't, then it's a great deal easier to challenge your opinions.

Phibian
Friday, June 06, 2003

Devil's Advocate,
They don't try to figure out how computers work by destroying parts of them! There are better ways of finding out, since you can ask the designers.
There are no laws against destroying animals' brains, by the way, so scientists have been free to cut out any part and see what happens, and they still don't understand how the thing works.
There is research being done in alternative science, however, and that's where the progress will be made, I believe.

The Real PC
Friday, June 06, 2003

"A materialist scientist would conclude that the diseased or drugged brain has generated the hallucinations. A different interpretation might be that the disease or drug (or electrodes, etc.) has disrupted the normal functioning of the brain, and the hallucinations are a symptom of a disrupted brain."

This makes no sense at all; both interpretations are entirely consistent with a naturalist - or materialist, or empricist - philosophy.

On the subject of screwy science, why pick the softest of sciences which are in general ever so hard to advance for general lack of ability to subject hypothesis to empirical tests - unless, of course, one wishes to reach a pre-conceived conclusion? Why not instead pick Physics, Chemistry, or Biology? They are far older, far more mature, and extremely amenable to reproducible empirical examination, and are typically what it seems most people think of when one says "Science".

Furthermore, to claim that these soft scientific fields have not managed to fully, completely, reliably explain some of the most complex phenomena available for consideration, and then based upon that draw the conclusion that the philosophical underpinnings are therefore defective, is...well, defective, and simply illogical. The whole 'point' of science, if I may opine, is that it is forever open to new information and the replacement of old theories for newer, better ones (as has happened countless times in the past, and will continue on countless times into the future - though almost never without great effort, as humans have a tendency to get attached to their present ways of thinking and doing).

However, does the "competition" - the alternatives - do the same thing? In Traditional Chinese Medicine, for instance, it matters little if modern science proves, beyond all doubt, that some such remedy, like tiger liver, does none of the sorts of thing it is said to do; the beliefs and practices of religion, folk-anything, and tradition are almost never - as a part of the belief/action system itself - constantly, or even occassionally, critically evaluated, claims put to the test, and things which then are found to be false discarded. This is the gold standard of what Science is and/or should be; anything that claims to be science, but does not forever test it's claims and challenge it's assumptions, claims an honor it is not due.

Put simply, the power of science is never it's current state, but it's potential - and drive - for improvement. Science, when done properly, is forever and infinately amenable to reason and evidence. However, I am aware of nary a religion, folk or traditional practice, or metaphysical belief system or philosophy which, as an absolutely fundamental core principle, does the same (they have, however, with the passage of time grown increasingly impossible to pin down, and in general make less and less claims which can actually be empirically tested or verified).

Plutarck
Friday, June 06, 2003

Real PC -

Science is not served by questioning the designers, as they may be wrong (e.g. Pentium FDIV flaw). It is served by forming and testing hypotheses. It is possible to discover the workings of a microchip with nothing more than a set of wires in and a set of wires out (e.g. the IBM PC BIOS). Science is served not only by validating good hypotheses, but also by dismissing invalid ones.

It is true that there is still much unknown about brain function, but neurology, neurophysiology, etc. are still young fields. It took many centruries for astronomers to conclude that the Earth goes round the Sun.

All people (including scientists) take some reports of discoveries on faith. This is simply because there is not enough time in one's life to reproduce every experiment in every field of science. Some of these discoveries turn out to be bogus (e.g. cold fusion). The only way we learn of these cases is when other scientists attempt to reproduce these results and fail.

These are not black eyes for science. The whole point of science is to reject hypotheses which do not stand up to the scrutiny of experimentation, their publicity notwithstanding.

Devil's Advocate
Friday, June 06, 2003

Phibian wrote:  "So if the essay makes the assumption that there is no clear dividing line between mentally ill and healthy, he needs to cite where he got that interpretation from"

I never made that claim (Stephen Jones did, I think), though I suppose it's true enough.  For what it's worth, there's no clear dividing line between normal blood pressure and high blood pressure, either.  In any case, this issue isn't terribly relevant to the major points raised in my essay.

As for the number and quality of citations you require, I consider your standards to be unreasonably high.  I might feel differently if I were writing a review article for the New England Journal of Medicine, but I'm not.

Alex Chernavsky
Friday, June 06, 2003

I am not arguing against Science. In fact, I believe the scientific method is the best method humans have devised for discovering how nature works.
Ancient and primitive people were not very good at science, that is true. They were as intelligent and observant as we are today, but access to information was limited, and they had nowhere near our level of knowledge and understanding.
What I am arguing against is the philosophy of Materialism, and this is not at all the same thing as Science. The problem is that these two concepts are associated for historical reasons.
Ancients and primitives, and all modern people who follow a religious or mystical tradition, are not materialists. There are many scientists who are not materialists, although they may follow the materialist philosophy in their work.
And then there are scientists who are not materialists. They are sometimes called "alternative" scientists, as non-reductionist medicine is sometimes called alternative medicine.
Alternative scientists and medical practitioners combine the advantages of modern technology, knowledge, and the scientific method, with and non-materialist, non-reductionist approach to studying nature. Unlike ancient people, who probably accepted whatever beliefs were passed down from their ancestors, modern alternative scientists are just as skeptical and empirical as conventional/materialist scientists. They use the same scientific method. The difference is that they are not tied to the materialist philosophy.
What exactly do materialists believe, anyway? Originally, they claimed that only things which can be perceived by the physical senses are real. Now science is full of concepts that cannot be perceived by our senses, and require special equipment to detect. There is nothing in modern science that suggests that all the substances, particles, fields, and forces that could possibly exist have already been discovered and detected. Modern physicists suspect there are more dimensions than the three spatial and one temporal dimension we are familiar with.
Alternative scientists are working on new theories of how the brain works based in modern physics, rather than in 19th century materialism.

The Real PC
Friday, June 06, 2003

Hey Alex, it's no skin off my nose whether you cite your essay or not.  I was just explaining why I find your essay less than credible.  I'll grant you that it is more work to write a credible essay (where you back up your points and cite your sources) than it is to simply slam together a couple of random conclusions and recommend a few books.  However, provided that the conclusions you state are based on facts rather than something you "believe", going through the essay to back up each conclusion with the help of your handy-dandy reading list (so that you can immediately cite your sources) shouldn't take more than a couple of hours.  Also, you don't need to cite your conclusions, just anything that isn't "innate" knowledge.  You can also skip citations if your point is based on knowledge acquired through personal experience, but then you do need to mention this (<madeup example> "When working as a door-to-door salesperson, I observed that many homeowners neglect to paint their front door..."</madeup example>), unless it would be obvious to the reader that your observation is based on your personal knowledge.  Pretty much everything that Joel writes falls into this category.

Furthermore, until you do cite your essay and back up your points, you will continue to find it difficult to convince readers of your essays that you are not just spouting nonsense, unless they already agree with you.  If this doesn't bother you, then next time someone like Devil's Advocate comments that they are not convinced by your essay - I hope you will not flame back that "noone" has ever taken the time to give you specific recommendations for improvement :)

Incidentally, I disagree that my standards are unreasonably high.  Didn't you (and Stephen too?!?) go to high school?  I was unfortunate enough to suffer through the Ontario Public School System for high school, but even my grade nine papers were held to a higher standard of citations and backing up one's points than these papers.  And I wasn't making controversial claims about medical matters...

With respect to writing an article for medical journals, I mean no disrespect when I say that merely citing your sources and backing up your points would not be sufficient in order to get your paper to a publishable standard.  It would, however, make your essay much more convincing.

Finally, speaking of controversial claims, medecine and essays - the following paper (also not publishable in a medical journal) follows a format that is much more convincing than yours - http://www.quackwatch.org/01QuackeryRelatedTopics/emf.html.  The writing style is a tiny bit more formal, but that is not what provides the surface credibility.

Notice that despite being a Ph.D with domain expertise, Dr Farley quotes other researchers to back up his opinions, as well as citing his sources. He also picks the points he wants to make, backs up each point one at a time, and then draws a conclusion.

Phibian
Saturday, June 07, 2003

Real PC -

"What exactly do materialists believe, anyway? Originally, they claimed that only things which can be perceived by the physical senses are real. Now science is full of concepts that cannot be perceived by our senses, and require special equipment to detect. There is nothing in modern science that suggests that all the substances, particles, fields, and forces that could possibly exist have already been discovered and detected. Modern physicists suspect there are more dimensions than the three spatial and one temporal dimension we are familiar with."

I am confused by the dichotomy you propose re: materialists. Galileo, as the father of modern science, invented the specialized equipment (a telescope) to detect what was undetectable by the senses alone. This predates the supposed change in your described materialist philosophy of science.

What modern Physics (or more appropriately Mathematics) has shown is that a higher-dimensional model is consistent with all of the phenomena observed in our lower-dimensional universe (and the algebra is a little cleaner). To my knowledge the higher-dimensional models hold no more predictive power than the ''classical model' and have not been experimentally verified.  Thus there is currently no advantage to using one model over the other (save some simplified algebra). If you can define an experiment which could decide the matter, more power to you.

I gather from your post that 'alternative science' concerns itself with 'substances, particles, fields, and forces' which have NOT been 'discovered or detected'.

This portion is problematic. If we have not detected something which forms the basis of a theory, we cannot hope to design a repeatable experiment to validate that theory.

The scientific method repeatability of experimental observations. If we can't detect something, we can't observe its influence, and we sure as hell can't repeat the experiment in a meaningful way.

Furthermore, any well designed experiment which is repeatable /serves as a detector/ for the experimental condition.

I can hypothesize that my eggs were undercooked due to a concentration of Bogons over my stove. If my stove consistently undercooks eggs when my neighbor's does not (under the same experimental conditions-- same pan, same time, same heat, etc.) then I will have demonstrated a stove-egg-based Bogon detector. If my stove does not consistently undercook eggs compared to a control stove, then I will not have validated my hypothesis that such a concentration exists.

Any theory based on undetectable phenomena cannot be validated according to the scientific method.

Devil's Advocate
Saturday, June 07, 2003

Dear Phibian,
                      Your link gives a 404. Still in High School in Ontario they probably didn't teach you to check out the links

Stephen Jones
Saturday, June 07, 2003

Stephen: that's an artefact of the JOS software: try removing the trailing '.' from the link.

Christopher Wells
Saturday, June 07, 2003

Devil's Advocate,

If you are not hostile to the non-materialistic scientific approach, and are not horrified by the thought that the kind of supernatural powers most humans everywhere have (and still do) believed in might in fact be real, then I don't mind continuing the discusssion. I am not interested in trying to convince people whose minds are closed on the subject.
Materialists (according to my observations) cherish the sense of superiority they get from feeling they know something the less educated masses are unable to grasp. The special wisdom of the materialists is that gods, devils, ghosts, spirits, magic, miracles, special powers of all kinds, are all just nonsense believed in by ignorant people who cannot except reality, whose minds are overrun by fantasies and hallucinations. The materialists see the human brain as something that spontaneously generates all kinds of nonsense. Unless people are taught the "truth" of materialism, the nonsense generated by their brains, and by the brains of others, will convince them that the supernatural (nature on some higher and/or different level) actually exists and paranormal events actually occur.

Materialists, according to my observations, have made up their minds regarding the supernatural. Theories from contemporary physics and evidence from parapsychology is a threat to their sense of certainty and of superiority.

Materialists share one trait with religious fundamentalists -- both cherish their sense of certainty. There is no point arguing with a fundamentalist Christian; rational arguments just make them hostile. Similarly, there is no point arguing with someone whose sense of certainty and superiority is grounded in 19th century materialism.

If you are not a fundamentalist I will continue this conversation. Of course, fundamentalists often pretend to be open-minded and scientific, until their certainty is threatened by facts and logic. Then they tend to become enraged.

The Real PC
Saturday, June 07, 2003

Christopher,
                    Is it a bug or has the full stop been put in.  Strange because the 404 message actually came after I took off part of the URL to get back to a parent folder.

                  Anyway the link does work if you take off what the web site appears to add to the .

Stephen Jones
Saturday, June 07, 2003

Dear PC,
              We don't feel in the least threatened by you. Amused rather.

              Indeed you could be right. Could you recommend a good exorcist to debug my code?

Stephen Jones
Saturday, June 07, 2003

> Is it a bug or has the full stop been put in.

I called it an artefact; the full stop has been put in. If I type text which appears to be an URL like this http://foo.invalid then the JOS software converts the text to a hyperlink; and if after the URL I type the full stop that would end a sentence then the hyperlink includes the full stop.

Christopher Wells
Saturday, June 07, 2003

Stephen,

I am not claiming that every crazy idea must be true. I am saying that ideas that do not confirm your materialist preconceptions should not be dismissed without consideration.

Human beings -- all of us -- have good and bad ideas, true and untrue opinions. The challenge for all of us is to sort them out, so that our understanding can evolve and improve.

Primitive and prehistoric humans had good and bad ideas, and the same is true of modern philosophers and scientists. The progess of science depends on the gradual sorting out of ideas.

A person who, for example, is certain that ghosts are hallucinations has made up his mind based on materialist indoctrination.
On the other hand, a person who is certain that ghosts are real and who believes every ghost report is true, is gullible and unscientific.

It is because I am skeptical and scientific that I am willing to pay attention to evidence suggesting our world is far more strange and complex than the world described by 19th century materialism.

The Real PC
Saturday, June 07, 2003

Yea, obviously. Everything is hyperlink until there is a space. Word doesn't do that but that is because it is acting "intelligently" which is something most people complain about.

I actually click on links I post just to check they're correct.

I wouldn't normally comment, but when people start giving you BS about how they "did better stuff when they were in 9th Grade", then they deserve all they can get.

Stephen Jones
Saturday, June 07, 2003

Dear PC,
              We're talking 21st century materialism. You're the one taliking nineteenth century materialism.

                I'd love to see a scientific explanation of ghosts from you. How was their existence sciientifically proven? What exactly are they composed of? Presuming that they are more loquacious then the chat show corpses in the Monty Python sketch, invited to answer the question *Is there life after death?" , what did they say about the hereafter?

Stephen Jones
Saturday, June 07, 2003

Stephen,

There is a vast amount written on the subject of ghosts, and many other paranormal phenomena. Some of it is the raving of lunatics, some is the wishful thinking of people who like to believe the world is ruled by a Nice Guy in heaven. What interests me is the ideas of real legitimate respectable scientists.
Often when a respectable scientist starts believing that some of the reports of ghosts, UFOs, near death experiences, whatever, may have some validity, they are no longer considered so respectable.
It's a catch-22 situation. If a scientist with all the right credentials goes over to the "other side," the fundamentalist materialists decide his credentials, intelligence and past reputation are no longer worth anything.

At this particular moment I am interested in what's going on in New Physics, and ideas about quantum consciousness. Unfortunately, although I am a scientist I am not a physicist and can't hope to really understand the bewildering math behind these ideas. All I can do is read the plain English statements, and that is a big disadvantage.
This does not completely disqualify me from having opinions on the subject. And no one except the individuals directly involved in the research is able to really understand it. Advanced physics is highly specialized and even physicists cannot completely understand work being done outside their own area.

However, a scientific and logical person can get a general grasp of the progress occurring in various areas. Fortunately there are summaries available for the non-expert.

Over the course of my life I have tried to become familiar with various branches of science, at least on a general non-expert level. I wound up focusing on cognitive science, because I believe that it encompasses many branches of science. My degree is in experimental linguistics, as I have mentioned.

There is too much information available for any one person to assimilate more than a small fraction of it. I do my best, while also having to make a living. I suspect physics is on the verge of a breakthrough which will at last confirm certain of Jung's ideas, for example.

The Real PC
Saturday, June 07, 2003

rPC,  for some reason I have been trying to follow this discussion and it is hard to pin down just what you are saying.  Let me ask the following:

What is "New Physics" and how does it differ from the modern physics of the 20th century?

Do you believe in quantum physics?  It is even more materialist than 19th century physics in insisting that theory be based on observable phenomenon.  (Even if instrumentation is required).

mackinac
Saturday, June 07, 2003

[Do you believe in quantum physics?  It is even more materialist than 19th century physics in insisting that theory be based on observable phenomenon.]

You don't understand what materialism is. It is the philosophy that Mind is a product of Matter. It is the belief that matter and consciousness are different things, that consciousness is generated somehow by the brain. This belief is not the equivalent of the scientific method, where assertions must be supported by evidence.

Scientists who are not materialists do the same kind of controlled experiments and make the same kind of observations as scientists who are materialists. Some of them participate in the same respectable journals and institutions as materialist scientists.

The Real PC
Saturday, June 07, 2003

You didn't answer my questions.

mackinac
Saturday, June 07, 2003

I would say the big difference between "new" science and "old" science is the former is a more "holistic" approach. New sciences are influenced by things like the theory of relativity, complexity and chaos theories. New scientists are likely to believe that consciousness pervades the universe, and/or is in some way the substance of the universe. None of this is at odds with quantum physics.

The Real PC
Saturday, June 07, 2003

My first exposure to modern physics was reading Gamow's "Mr Thompkins in Wonderland" as a teenager.  Now, taking a quick look over my book shelves and noting such titles as Merzbacher, "Quantum Mechanics", Waldrop "Comlexity", Gleick "Chaos", Holland "Hidden Order", etc., etc., and noting the thickness of dust, I realize that I have been spending most of my time over the past few years with my head stuck almost entirely in CS books.

One of my favorite concepts during that period of reading was spontaneous order.  This is the idea that agents interacting on the basis of simple rules can produce complex ordered behavior without the order being imposed externally.  The idea can be applied to biological evolution or a free-market economy.

These are all interesting ideas, but I don't recall anyone who  made the claim that any of this implied that conciousness pervaded the universe.  Well, maybe I forgot some references to it.  It was never very important to the issues being discussed.

This is why I have been having a hard time figuring out what you are really thinking and have asked these questions to try to figure it out.

I think I am talked out on this subject, but it does make me think I have to spend a little more time on general reading.  That will have to wait untill after I get a new job though.

mackinac
Saturday, June 07, 2003

I didn't have time for general reading either, for over 10 years I guess. I have found time for it in the past couple of years. And thanks to Google and Amazon I can find all kinds of things I couldn't when all I had was the library.
For example, yesterday I found that Sarfatti (a "New" physicist) has a theory about consciousness in sub-atomic particles. It seems like he's starting to get some of his ideas accepted by mainstream physics.

The Real PC
Sunday, June 08, 2003

---"I found that Sarfatti (a "New" physicist) has a theory about consciousness in sub-atomic particles. It seems like he's starting to get some of his ideas accepted by mainstream physics. "----

Not that one though!

Stephen Jones
Sunday, June 08, 2003

Ok, but it looks like he's getting his foot in the door.

The Real PC
Sunday, June 08, 2003

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