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What Do You Believe Even If You Can't Prove It? 2353

An anonymous reader writes "That's what online magazine The Edge - the World Question Center asked over 120 scientists, futurists, and other interesting minds. Their answers are sometimes short and to the point (Bruce Sterling: 'We're in for climatic mayhem'), often long and involved; they cover everything from the existence of God to the nature of black holes. What do you believe, even though you can't prove it?"
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What Do You Believe Even If You Can't Prove It?

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday January 05, 2005 @02:15PM (#11265351)
    Yes. Both capitalized intentionally.

    Check out for a study on how leading evolutionary biologists manage to co-exist peacefully with religion - which is a bit of a surprise since science generally requires absolute proof and religion generally can't be proven either way. The results are quite interesting.
  • by jhines0042 ( 184217 ) on Wednesday January 05, 2005 @02:18PM (#11265412) Journal
    Its not a very easy philosophy to live by. I find the hardest part is when someone is mean to me. It is very difficult sometimes to let "thoughtless" meanness go. To realize that someone isn't being mean to me specifically, just ignorant of the fact that they are not the center of the universe.

    Usually I can just let that kind of stuff go and not have it ruin my mood. But sometimes its impossible.

    So, hang in there.

  • Re:WMD (Score:5, Informative)

    by geomon ( 78680 ) on Wednesday January 05, 2005 @02:36PM (#11265736) Homepage Journal
    It is unfortunate that the rest of the world believes that killing a quarter of a million people with gas is acceptable.

    The US seemed okay with gassing the Kurds as well. We provided the satellite intelligence to Saddam's military so that they could evaluate the efficacy of their operation.

    We didn't make too much noise as long as Saddam continued to pound the crap out of Iran.

  • Re:homosexuality (Score:5, Informative)

    by digital bath ( 650895 ) on Wednesday January 05, 2005 @02:36PM (#11265752) Homepage
    nothing like homosexaulity exists in other animals.

    Wrong. []
  • Re:That's easy (Score:2, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday January 05, 2005 @02:38PM (#11265782)
    Then the question becomes "why would a man fake one"? Probably the same reason a woman will - because she wants it to be over with.

    Or you have another date later.

  • Re:homosexuality (Score:3, Informative)

    by cephyn ( 461066 ) on Wednesday January 05, 2005 @02:41PM (#11265834) Homepage
    except that youre completely wrong -- homosexuality has been documented in many primates as well as many other animals.

    I believe homosexuality is genetic. It's simply a random mutation, occurring about 10-20% of the time. And it's independent from heterosexuality -- hence, bisexuality. It hasn't been weeded out because its probably a mutation on a gene thats related to other, necessary functions in a complex, though not direct way -- in other words, its related to reproductive gene-work, but it doesnt interfere with those genes, its off to the side, so to speak. I'm simplifying the hell out of it, of course, but thats how it seems to work, as far as I can see. By your logic, people would never have genetic abnormalities like CF or Down's Syndrome because they'd have been weeded out by now. That's simply not true, becuase the genetic reasons for those diseases are complex and they occur on necessary parts of the genetic framework that cannot be weeded out.
  • Re:homosexuality (Score:3, Informative)

    by Decaff ( 42676 ) on Wednesday January 05, 2005 @02:43PM (#11265892)
    I believe this is the reason why nothing like homosexaulity exists in other animals.

    Nonsense! It's extremely common in large numbers of species. In one of our closest relatives the Bonobo chimp, same-sex coupling is an important part of their social behaviour.
  • One thing: we did find at least one artillery shell with traces of Sarin gas, so there were, strictly speaking, WMDs found in Iraq.

    Did we find many? No. Are we 100% certain that Iraq actually made the shell? Not that I know of (although I haven't tracked the story in months). Was it more than a miniscule amount? No. Does (found-wmds-p "Iraq") evaluate to t? Yes.

  • Re:homosexuality (Score:2, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday January 05, 2005 @02:53PM (#11266073)
    Of course, if it were genetics, according to Darwin, it would be a trait that should have been wiped out long ago since homosexuals cant reproduce.


    Nice analysis, but you forgot to mention one thing. If it was genetic, and even if homosexuals couldn't reproduce, and even if it wasn't recessive you *still* could get a recurrent population of homosexuals.

    There is a genetic disorder (Hutchinson-Gilford Progeria syndrome []) which causes you to age prematurely, in most cases causing death before age 16. This is a dominant trait, so if you got it from your parents, they'd also have the trait. The genetic defect arises from spontaneous mutation in most cases and is not passed down from parent to child. Even despite the lack of heritibility, there is a recurrent instance of 1 affected individual in 6 million births.

  • Re:homosexuality (Score:5, Informative)

    by Decaff ( 42676 ) on Wednesday January 05, 2005 @02:57PM (#11266139)
    yeah, show me exclusive homosexuality in other animals i mean like humans do, not like confused dogs humping a tree.

    Many animals show homosexual activity which includes full mating rituals and sex, not just 'tree humping'. This is know to occur in dolphins and wales, apes, rodents, deer, goats, sheep, and birds. In all, it been observed in hundreds of species. As for cases of exclusive homosexuality, this has also been seen in many species. For example, in japanese Macaque monkeys around 9% of all adults exclusively mate and pair-bond with the same sex.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday January 05, 2005 @02:57PM (#11266146)
    I believe in the gods, all of them. Woden, Zeus, Ball Zebub, Chin 1, Herohito, Allah, Jehovah, all of them. I just don't believe that the word 'god' means 'infinite space pixie'.

    While some of the gods may be just fictional myths, the majority are most likely based on real people: warlords, charismatic leaders, the kings and emperors of their time. The Pharohs were 'god kings', Chin 1 certainly was considered a 'god', Herohito was a 'god' until 1945.

    The Kim dynasty may as well be called 'god' by the North Koreans, the followers of Idi Amin probably still think of him as 'god'.

    The Baals were territorial warlords that protected their areas and taxed the peoples. One of these was Baal Zebub, which was probably a title for a succession rather than an individual's name.

    I have no doubt that there was an exodus of a group of people from Egypt and they eventually met with the local warlord named, or titled, Jehovah, who granted them a part of his territory in exchange for following a set of his rules, including that he must be their leader.

    Prior books are mostly myths and exageration, but much of the old testament can be understood better if 'god' and 'lord' are substituted by 'warlord' then the mysticism is stripped off and it can be seen as a story about real people.

  • by Scrameustache ( 459504 ) on Wednesday January 05, 2005 @02:58PM (#11266157) Homepage Journal
    WHen the gassing occured the UN wanted to sanction Iraq. The US blocked it. Why? Because we gave saddam the gas, we gave him intelligence, we gave him technology and we basically told him to gas people.
    March 1988 "chemical assault" on the town of Halabja, in which the number of dead, according to Human Rights Watch "exceeds 5000".

    Think about that.
    At least 3,000 people died when a gas leak occurred at the Union Carbide factory in
    Bhopal on December 3, 1984 [] and more than half a million people were seriously injured.
    At least another 10,000 deaths have been linked to the disaster

  • by cryptochrome ( 303529 ) on Wednesday January 05, 2005 @02:58PM (#11266158) Journal
    No offense, but I feel sorry for any woman you date.

    Why, because I can tell if they're enjoying themselves and work for it? I don't think it would be fair to them if I were the one having all the fun. They certainly weren't complaining about it.
  • by the_rev_matt ( 239420 ) <slashbot&revmatt,com> on Wednesday January 05, 2005 @03:11PM (#11266389) Homepage
    You're citing Michael Crichton for your evidence against global warming? That's like citing Pauly Shore as an authority on Non-Euclidean Geometry. Newsflash: Crichton is not a scientist. He makes up the science to suit the story. He writes some good books, but he's hardly someone to be taken seriously on something outside his area of expertise (which is telling a good story).

    Note that a vast majority of *real* scientists concur that global warming is happening, though there are myriad theories of WHY it is happening.
  • by the-matt-mobile ( 621817 ) on Wednesday January 05, 2005 @03:15PM (#11266459)
    Why is this modded insightful? It's a complete misinterpretation of the Establisment Clause. There is no "prohibitions against teachign{sic} religion in public schools". The only thing the Establisment Clause prohibits is a state sponsored religion.
  • by frankie ( 91710 ) on Wednesday January 05, 2005 @03:31PM (#11266720) Journal
    Depends on your definition of scientist. He's actually Michael Crichton, MD, graduate of Harvard Medical School (and a BA in Anthropology). At minimum, he used to know a decent amount of biochemistry.
  • Re:Someday (Score:3, Informative)

    by chainsaw1 ( 89967 ) on Wednesday January 05, 2005 @03:38PM (#11266842)
    Only if:

    a) Stars have an infinite amount of lifespan. This is known to not be true
    b) One star is created for every one that is destroyed with equivelent amount of energy to give off. This we don't have enough information on this to make anything other than an educated guess.
    c) There is no dark matter / nebulae / black hole that is absorbing the light
    d) It is not possible that things beyond the fringe of the known universe are just so far away that the light hasn't had time to reach us yet
    e) It is not possible that things so old as to be outside the fringe of the known universe emit so little light/radation that we cannot detect them yet.

  • Re:Someday (Score:3, Informative)

    by halfelven ( 207781 ) on Wednesday January 05, 2005 @03:42PM (#11266904)
    It hit me that the universe can't expand inside of nothing... if nothing existed when the universe was infinitesmally small, not even nothingness itself, how can the universe expand into that? it doesn't exist.

    Multiple fallacies.

    By the same token, how can the Universe exist at all "inside of nothing"?
    It gets even worse: why should it have any particular size and be limited to it, instead of being "free" to change it?

    Your problem is that you believe that a finite Universe must exist inside of "something". It doesn't have to. It could be self-contained.
    There are multiple geometries which are compatible with the "non-limited yet finite" Universe. E.g. the hyper-spheric geometry (although STOP NOW and don't imagine a sphere because that will get you back to your initial puzzle of "what contains that sphere?").

    You're simply thinking of a particular geometry which has the property that, if you keep on walking straight indefinitely, you keep on seeing indefinitely many new places. Most of the Big Bang models simply state that, if you keep on walking straight long enough, you get back from where you departed.
    That model does not require it to be contained in anything. It's just a play of attributes of the space.
  • by raehl ( 609729 ) <raehl311@yahoo. c o m> on Wednesday January 05, 2005 @04:28PM (#11267640) Homepage
    What's simpler:

    "The electron lies in a potential well"


    "God did it."

    Looks like God is winning this one.
  • by doublem ( 118724 ) on Wednesday January 05, 2005 @04:41PM (#11267861) Homepage Journal
    While logically, the phrase "Intelligent Design" should refer only to "Architect Created it this way" models of origins, the common usage of the phrase has come to include a wide variety of Models that include generous amounts of evolutionary behavior.

    A strict interpretation of the "Intelligent Design" phrase can't even be taken seriously today, as it ignores the MicroEvolution that's been observed. Claiming that NO changes take place and there is no alteration over time, is counter to what has been observed in the human species alone, let alone what can be seen over time with other species, not to mention the fact that there's a lot of confusion, even in scientific circles, over the difference between directed breeding and MicroEvolution.

    Mind you, it's been close to a decade since I was reading the "Creation Science Quarterly" (Yes, a real publication, and yes, I read it for years) but "Intelligent Design" is generally used to refer to any theory that includes even the smallest component of divine intervention. Mind you, not many people at the conservative end of the Creationist scale are happy with this state of affairs. The claim is made that using the phrase to refer to ideas like "God set up the rules and let it go" dilutes the phrase and muddies the waters.

    In a sense, your statements reflect the views of many Creationists, but even they tend to ignore the apparent misuse of the phrase. It really is trivial to the overall debates over God's level of involvement in the form of the living organisms on planet Earth.

    Damn it, I just responded to an AC. What a waste of time, no on will even read this.
  • by bill_mcgonigle ( 4333 ) * on Wednesday January 05, 2005 @04:49PM (#11267997) Homepage Journal
    Oh, and I also believe that Dick Cheney is a cyborg.

    That much is provable. He has an implanted pacemaker, or an artificial SA node. Ergo, cyborg.

    The other part of your post is bunk - Harris certified the election according to Florida state statue. That their election system is crap is true, but she adhered to the law as required by her oath of office.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday January 05, 2005 @05:24PM (#11268569)
    Hello Dan

    You don't have to believe in god(s) to value friends/family/other things in life.
  • Re:Someday (Score:3, Informative)

    by jaoswald ( 63789 ) on Wednesday January 05, 2005 @06:53PM (#11269839) Homepage
    No, your post cited material which *claims* he made that claim. Which is no more convincing than material which claims he is divine. It is evidence, but to my mind not convincing, because the source is irretrievably biased. Any text where Christ was quoted as saying "no, I'm an ordinary guy" would have been weeded out by the process of determining the Christian canon.

    Most importantly, the people who wrote the Gospels wrote *to encourage others to believe in Christ.* They are not impartial historical accounts.

    You also apparently can't tell the difference between Santa Claus and Jesus Christ, because you mix up which I was speaking about in my post.

    There is *much* more evidence, both physical and textual, for the existence of Benjamin Franklin, than there is for the existence of Jesus Christ as a human being as opposed to a religious figure. Mostly because Franklin lived much more recently, and because printing presses and so forth existed in Franklin's time, but not in Christ's.

    For instance, we can go to the National Archives and see papers with Franklin's signature on them. I'm confident we can go into the dusty archives of Philadelphia and see records of his property transactions. We can see the building in which the Declaration of Independence was written. However, there is not a single physical artifact that is known to be associated with Jesus himself.

    You will probably retort that "these are just written documents like the Gospels", but they are not. Franklin's records and documents have a tremendous amount of extraneous stuff that connects them to a coherent reality: there are dozens of other signatures on the Declaration, and we can go do the same exercise on each one of the participants to develop evidence that *they* existed. Along with the records of Franklin's property transactions, we would find a huge number of other property transactions, almost all of which are credible and make sense.

    For the Gospels, the independent evidence for most of their statements is scarce, and only tenuously connected to the crucial points of Jesus's life and works.
  • Re:Mob psychology (Score:3, Informative)

    by njh ( 24312 ) on Wednesday January 05, 2005 @06:58PM (#11269889) Homepage
    Actually, there was a New Scientist article recently that gave evidence that mobs are smarter than the average.
  • by Wraithlyn ( 133796 ) on Wednesday January 05, 2005 @09:11PM (#11271180)
    "The odds of the universe being very nearly flat are 1 in 1, since we wouldn't be around to calculate those odds if it didn't pan out that way."

    You are incorrect here, there is nothing about a curved universe that would prevent us from being here, in fact I believe Einstein predicted a curved universe. The fact that there is precisely the right amount of matter in the universe to make it flat (ie Cartesian), remains an unexplained statistical wonder.

    You're right about the constants needed for the universe to support life, of course.
  • Stuart A. Kauffman - Biologist, Santa Fe Institute; Author, Investigations, says []:
    Consider this, the number of possible proteins 200 amino acids long is 20 raised to the 200th power or about 10 raised to the 260th power. Now, the number of particles in the known universe is about 10 to the 80th power. Suppose, on a microsecond time scale the universe were doing nothing other than producing proteins length 200. It turns out that it would take vastly many repeats of the history of the universe to create all possible proteins length 200. This means that, for entities of complexity above atoms, such as modestly complex organic molecules, proteins, let alone species, automobiles and operas, the universe is on a unique trajectory (ignoring quantum mechanics for the moment). That is, the universe at modest levels of complexity and above is vastly non-
    ergodic [].
    The short story: the levels of complexity we see in life around us are well beyond impossible. Stuart wants to invoke a mystery principle to explain this, but doesn't want it to be God.
  • Re:Someday (Score:2, Informative)

    by mindstrm ( 20013 ) on Thursday January 06, 2005 @12:18AM (#11272383)
    You are making a common perceptual mistake. You are thinking of a 3d explosion, in which everything is moving away from some 3 dimensional point... you expect that towards the center things should be more dense, towards the edge more spread out, maybe slower, etc, and that there is an actual 3d point we could extrapolate as "where it happened".

    The big bang postulates a 4d explosion that brought into existence spacetime. (space + time). Our 3d universe is the surface of an expanding 4d bubble, so everything is moving away from everything else, there IS no center in 3 dimensions.

    Draw a bunch of points on a balloon, then add more air, notice every point moves away from every other, there is no center.

    This is why we look in EVERY direction and eventually see the beginning of the universe.. because looking further away is, due to the speed of light being limited, looking further back in time. Eventually we look far enough back that there is nothing else to see.

    You aren't looking at the edge of the universe, you are looking back in time. There is no edge as you are thinking of it.
  • Re:Someday (Score:3, Informative)

    by Bootsy Collins ( 549938 ) on Thursday January 06, 2005 @02:06AM (#11272996)
    It is perhaps the best CURRENT explanation. But it is not as good a theory as it was even a few years ago. There are questions that the Big Bang theory has no explanation for.


    Before going any further into your post, it's important to to remember that there is an enormous difference between the (Relativistic Hot) Big Bang model, and the standard cosmological model (of which the Big Bang model is a component). There is more to the standard cosmological model than just the Big Bang model, which really only describes the evolution of the spatial scale factor and the dynamics of the fluids contained in space. This is an important point: all three of the "issues" you reference (flatness, the acceleration of the expansion, and the so-called horizon problem) are not problems with the Big Bang. Well, the middle one (the accelerating expansion) isn't a problem at all, of any sort, and someone who suggests it is doesn't understand physical cosmology. The other two may indeed turn out to be problems for the standard cosmological model, but most emphatically are not problems with the Big Bang model, since they lay outside its domain.

    It's a bit like suggesting that there must be something wrong with the round-Earth model because it doesn't explain why we get tornados. It's not part of the domain of applicability of the Big Bang model to answer the question of why the flatness and horizon problems exist. OTOH, our overall model of cosmology had better explain the flatness and horizon problems. If it doesn't, and is superseded by something else, that something else will almost certainly contain within it a description of the dynamics of the expansion that looks just like the Big Bang model.

    As for your statement that the Big Bang model "does not explain the increasing evidence that the expansion of the universe is actually accelerating" . . .this is a bizarre statement, since it seems to suggest that the Big Bang model somehow predicts or requires that the expansion of the Universe not be accelerating. This is not true. Under the Big Bang model, the dynamics of the expansion are determined by a set of properties of the Universe (e.g. the density of the Universe in normal matter, the density of the Universe in relativistic fluids such as photons, the vacuum energy density of the Universe, etc.). The Big Bang model does not make predictions about the values of these parameters; it merely provides a mathematical framework that allows you to deduce "if these are their values, then this is what will happen." Non-zero cosmological constant models with accelerating expansion are not only permissable under the Big Bang model, but have been actively considered by theorists in different contexts for a very long time, since long before Bob Kirshner and Saul Perlmutter's research groups started turning out their data on the high-z Hubble diagram using Type Ia supernmova data. In fact, if you were to ask Kirshner or Perlmutter or Adam Riess or Brian Schmidt or anyone else associated with these projects, they'd tell you that one of the neat things about their evidence of acceleration is that they place constraints (which are non-zero) on the vacuum energy density of the Universe; those constraints come from the Big Bang model.

    Your statement about fine-tuning in the context of the flatness problem is a little off. What would have been more disturbing to cosmologists is if the Universe were not flat, but were near flat. A Universe which is flat at early times stays flat; a Universe which is even slightly positively or negatively curved is driven away from flatness very very quickly. This was the fine-tuning problem that worried cosmologists before the BoomerANG and MAP results -- data seemed to suggest that the Universe was only slightly negatively curved, which in turn implied at very early times a Universe infinitely close to flat but not flat. There are a variety of physical theories out there to explain why the Universe would be flat; to explain w

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