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Everything posted by Godot

  1. Godot added a post in a topic The Demarcation Problem for Illiterates   

    Hugo, I'm surprised that you didn't point out that I neglected to provide any refutation of Lakatos or Feyerabend! I think that your point can be expanded to describe each of the criterion that I discussed: none of them adequately describe how science is actually done. PKF probably comes closest to reality, but even he is off the mark. Each area of science has its own culture and subculture(s) that describe their real and imagined histories and the methods and methodologies that have fallen in and out of favour over time and work in different fashions according to the prevailing trend (I deliberately chose not to use paradigm). What is considered to be the ultimate methodological standard in one field may be the pseudoscience of another and vice versa. No grand unified theory encompassing the disparities and discrepancies of the tendrils of science will ever or can ever eventuate. I think the only safe things we can conclude (with appropriate caveats in place, of course) is that scientists (as the practitioners of their art, however else defined) are honest and inquisitive and seek to learn more about whatever their particular field may be. The physical, intellectual and philosophical tools will differ considerably, but will be applied towards increased knowledge or understanding.

    I tried to hint at the political impact of demarcation when alluding to Scopes & Dover. Realistically, I could spend just as much time discussing the funding criterion of granting organisations wishing to see fully fleshed out research programmes with a proven track record in exploratory proposals, or their timidity to fund anything outside of incremental steps (a la Kuhn). Equally interesting to explore would be how through the popularisation of science via Sagan et al. that the general public sees double-blinded randomised crossover studies as the only acceptable gold-standard in science (particularly in medical research).
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  2. Godot added a post in a topic The Demarcation Problem for Illiterates   

    I appreciate the feedback, Peter. My apologies for going walkabout for a week.
    That may just be a failure on my part to write clearly enough. My intention was provide a primer on the demarcation problem and to illustrate that demarcation is a practical and tangible issue that we cannot easily solve. Any proffered solution is, by necessity, flawed in some manner or another and will leave a critical audience wanting for something better. I had hoped to help dispel the idiotic notion that science is some monolithic entity with clearly defined boundaries and rules; I find it far more appealing rough around the edges.

    On the one hand, I can handwave away your point by stipulating that I was sorely limited for space and would hardly have enough room to articulate these differences and still hit the points I was aiming for. But that would be cheap and no fun. It has also been suggested to me that the epistemological / sociological distinction you propose rides shotgun on a presumed division between the history and philosophy of science. Any such distinction would also need to be justified in those same terms.
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  3. Godot added a topic in History and Philosophy of Science   

    The Demarcation Problem for Illiterates
    I"m enrolled in a science writing class this semester. One of the assignments was to write 1000 words about science. I decided to take the directions literally and write about science: I chose the demarcation problem.

    The target audience for these short papers is expected to be completely naive, so I kept it very high level and necessarily simplistic. I finished off at 982 words and submitted the first draft (to be critiqued by the class) Monday night. The Heretic has already read it for me and suggested that I put it up here.


    What is Science?

    Science surrounds us and infiltrates all aspects of our lives, yet is surprisingly difficult to define in a sufficiently inclusive manner. The Scientific Method is largely considered to be the pinnacle of human achievement: a robust method of exploring, uncovering and understanding the secrets of the natural world. But how do we define science?

    A simplistic definition might be to consider science the pursuit of knowledge. But this definition is excessively broad, as it would permit the paranormal and supernatural to don the mantle of science. A more robust definition in common use is to view science as a systematic and repeatable series of methodologies that seek to learn about the natural world via experimentation and rely upon testable hypotheses. This definition too has flaws: counterintuitively, it is worded such that cooking would be considered science and that String Theory would not.

    These two quick examples demonstrate the difficulty in defining our boundary conditions, or what are more commonly referred to as our demarcation criteria.

    What is the Demarcation Problem?
    Quite simply, the demarcation problem is an argument in the philosophy of science that seeks to distinguish the boundary criteria between science and nonscience. Others may refine the argument slightly to define it as the boundary between science and pseudoscience. Any distinctions to be made between nonscience and pseudoscience are not germane to this paper and both terms herein will be considered synonymous.

    What Relevance is the Demarcation Problem?
    The demarcation problem is not exclusively an academic concern. There are real world consequences at stake. Prevalent in the news in recent years has been the ongoing saga in the United States where evangelical groups continue to try to force creationism to be taught in schools. The rulings in both the 1925 Scopes Trial and the 2004 Dover Trial found that creationism and its pseudoscientific analogue, Intelligent Design are not scientific.

    Proposed Demarcation Criteria
    Over the years, many demarcation criteria have been proposed to define the fuzzy boundary between science and nonscience. While hardly exhaustive, the following list of criteria provide a high-level summary of the scholarship in this filed of philosophy over the last century.

    Verification / Confirmation
    Verification and its modern cousin confirmation posit that the truth of a theory can be determined by axiomatic logical relationships. Put another way, a theory that can be arranged in an axiomatic fashion in syllogistic form can be verified (or confirmed). This fails as a demarcation criterion, as nearly any nonsensical statement can be written into a syllogism and thus “confirms” a theory even when it bears no relationship to the theory at all.

    Introduced by Sir Karl Popper in 1934, falsification proposes to define as scientific any endeavor that makes a testable claim. Non-testable claims thus are by definition, non-scientific. Although roundly endorsed by many practicing scientists and popularizers of science as being the pinnacle of demarcation criteria, it does not attain as a criterion. As proposed, falsification only determines whether a theory is testable and says nothing whatsoever about whether the theory is meaningful. Thus, the question “Am I wearing socks?” is scientific, but String Theory is not (with our present level of technology). Furthermore, pseudosciences like phrenology and astrology would become scientific by dint of being testable and falsifiable; that they are thoroughly refuted and discredited are immaterial.

    Kuhnian Paradigm Shifts
    In 1962’s The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, Thomas Kuhn divorces the scientific process into “normal science” and “revolutionary science.” He describes “normal science” (aka “puzzle-solving”) as the series of regular activities, rarely challenged through Popperian “conjectures and refutations” whereby science grows through the slow accretion accepted facts and theories. Conversely, Kuhn defined “revolutionary science” as a “non-cumulative developmental episode in which an older paradigm is replaced an incompatible new one.” In this view, adherence to the old paradigm during the ascendance of a new paradigm may delve into pseudoscience. Criticism of Kuhn suggests that his dichotomization of science does not attain as a demarcation criterion; many pseudoscientific endeavors could be viewed as “puzzle-solving.”

    Lakatos’ Methodology of Scientific Research Programmes
    In response to both Popper and Kuhn, Imre Lakatos, in 1978’s The Methodology of Scientific Research Programmes, defines a research programme as a core of assumptions or ideas that cannot be altered or abandoned without eschewing the programme. Lakatos was focused on explanatory power. Any evidence that challenged the core of a programme was termed an auxiliary hypothesis and a programme was further described as either “progressive” or “degenerative” according to whether or not the auxiliary hypotheses increased or decreased the explanatory power of the programme.

    Feyerabend’s Epistemological Anarchism
    In his 1975 book Against Method, Paul Feyerabend sidestepped the demarcation problem by declaring it irrelevant. According to Feyerabend, science is an anarchistic process guided by no single unifying methodology. For him, attempting to provide a rigid definition for science prevents science from growing or advancing in any non-prescribed fashion. Taking a series of examples from the history of science, Feyerabend demonstrated that science progressed in leaps and bounds in ways not dictated by any strict methodological adherence. In light of this narrative, a rationalist is forced to conclude that, in science, anything goes.

    The philosophy of science has discussed the Demarcation Problem at great length for over a century. The examples presented above are merely a highlight reel through the major arguments put forth in that time. The consensus in the field is that the Demarcation Problem is insoluble.

    In practical terms, however, we are still often required to make a precise demarcation between science and nonscience. How you choose to draw that line (if at all, à la Feyerabend) will likely depend on a series of ad-hoc rationalizations that may or may not incorporate some of the arguments presented above. If anything I’ve presented piques your interest at all, I would encourage you to seek out the primary literature written by these fine minds.
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  4. Godot added a post in a topic NHL 2012 Stanley Cup Playoffs: Round 1   

    I've been too busy procrastinating... I'll start a new thread for the second round.
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  5. Godot added a topic in Play   

    NHL 2012 Stanley Cup Playoffs: Round 2
    The second round of the playoffs has gotten ahead of me much in the same way as the first round did!

    To recap:

    in the East:
    Ottawa put a scare into the Rangers and forced game 7 only to fall short. The Caps pulled off a huge upset of the Bruins (this is probably the first time in NHL history where the previous two Finalists lost in the first round). Philly embarrassed the Pens and the Devils snuck past the Panthers.

    in the West:
    L.A. pulled off a massive upset of the Canucks while the Preds pulled off a lesser upset of the Red Wings. Mike Smith stonewalled the Coyotes past the Blackhawks and the Blues made short order of the Sharks. This is a small mercy for Sharks fans as they can now get on with the rest of their lives rather than waiting another month for the inevitable collapse.

    Going forward into Round 2:
    (Despite each series already being two games in, I'm still going to call as I saw it before the series started)

    Eastern Division
    Rangers vs. Capitals - Rangers are the stronger team, although the Caps may be playing better as the underdog. Rangers in 6.

    Flyers vs. Devils - The Flyers laid a pretty serious beat down on the Pens in Round 1, they may not have as easy a time of it against a more seasoned goalie in Brodeur but I think they are the stronger team.

    Western Division
    Blues vs. Kings - On paper I would give it to the Blues. Unfortunately, with a number of injuries piling up, they're pretty thin on the ice. The Kings are looking very solid out there and and Quick is playing hot. I expect them to ride him into the Conference Final, but my call would have been for the Blues in 5. Down 2-0, I think the Kings may sweep it.

    Coyotes vs. Predators - The Predators are a strong team and have done well this season while the Coyotes limped into the playoffs, only clinching the third seed due to the retarded NHL ranking system. The Coyotes play a very disciplined, defensive brand of hockey and Mike Smith has been unstoppable. Shots on goal show that Phoenix have been outshot in every single game by a double-digit margin in some cases. In teh long run this trend will bite them in the ass hard, but not this round. I would have thought the Preds would take it in 7, but I suspect that the Coyotes will do it in 5.
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  6. Godot added a post in a topic NHL 2012 Stanley Cup Playoffs: Round 1   

    What an amazing group of games this weekend!

    Nashville finished off Detroit, St. Louis finished off San jose, Philly finished off Pittsburgh and LA finished of Vancouver.
    New York, New Jersey and Chicago are all in trouble.

    In other hockey news, Raffi Torres was given a 25 game suspension for
    hit on Marian Hossa. The NHL has been trying to cut down on headshots and dangerous plays in general this season (and post-season). Torres is a repeat offender for playing on the edge of dirty. 25 games sends a clear message to the rest of the league about what will and what will not be tolerated, but is it excessive?
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  7. Godot added a topic in Play   

    NHL 2012 Stanley Cup Playoffs: Round 1
    Better late than never, eh?

    davidm and I have been talking hockey in chat since the playoffs started and we both discussed who we thought would advance. As surprising as how a few of the series have been played thus far, the biggest surprise has been how intense most of the games have been. Things tend to ramp up the closer you get to the Finals, but at this rate they'll all be sucking wind by the third round!

    Rather than go into any sort of lengthy discussion explaining my picks this round, I'm just going to state them, warts and all.

    Eastern Division

    Rangers vs. Senators
    Bruins vs. Capitals
    Panthers vs. Devils
    Penguins vs. Flyers (yeah, right)

    Western Division
    Canucks vs. Kings
    Blues vs. Sharks
    Coyotes vs. Blackhawks ()
    Predators vs. Red Wings (sorry Dave!)

    Although I don't have a clear favorite to carry the Cup, I expect it will be Nashville or St. Louis out of the West and New York or New Jersey out of the East.

    Anybody else have any predictions?
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  8. Godot added a post in a topic What books are you reading now?   

    I greatly enjoyed The Name of the Rose and Foucault's Pendulum, but found Baudolino and The Island of the Day Before to be substandard. I saw this one on the shelf last time I was in the bookstore. Please let us know what you think, Michael.

    As for myself, I'm nearing the end of Feyerabend's Against Method (I'm enjoying it immensely and probably will even more on subsequent readings).

    A friend also recommended to me Randy Pausch's The Last Lecture (as the tale of a dying man sharing life lessons, how good a life he had and how he regrets not being there as his young family grows up, it is very easy to become emotionally invested in the story and feel moved by his upbeat attitude and demeanour. If you look at it a bit more objectively, the various life lessons aren't anything we all haven't heard previously. Ignoring the impact of his personal situation, the book rates a solid ...meh).

    Depending on how heavily I become bogged down in coursework between now and July, I'm hoping to read both Guy Gavriel Kay's and Iain M. Banks' newest novels (both received for Christmas). I expect to delve into Pratchett's Discworld series as a reward this summer.
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  9. Godot added a post in a topic NFL Super Bowl 46   

    I've never followed the draft, so I can't speak to that with any intelligence. However, I did catch a discussion on SportsCenter where the talking heads (Steve Young, Ron Jaworsi, Trent Dilfer, and random non-football guy) were all in agreement that Peyton would not be back in Indy next season, irrespective of whom Indy takes in the draft.
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  10. Godot added a post in a topic NFL Super Bowl 46   

    That was a surprisingly low scoring game! We were having diner with the in-laws, but I was able to watch most of the game with the sound off. We left just after the Giants scored. I haven't watched any of the post-game stuff; is there any explanation available for what Bradshaw was doing there at the goal line with falling backwards into the end zone? I mean, it looked like he was trying to stop short in order to keep the clock running and maybe kick the field goal. Any other thoguhts?
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  11. Godot added a comment on a blog entry Elbow Pain   

    I'd recommend seeing a physio first and foremost to obtain an accurate diagnosis and appropriate management and rehab.

    If biceps work is currently aggravating it, more biceps work won't solve it either. If the pain arises from a loaded extension of the elbow during pressing movements (but not in a tricep extension) it may reflect something with the joint peoper or ligaments. The tingling in your forearm and hand is a strong indication of at least nerve aggravation / impingement.

    More work will not solve this problem. Rest, ice / heat, perhaps some massage and time to heal are what you need. Continuing to workout in this fashion will only exacerbate the current problem. See a physio.
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  12. Godot added a post in a topic NFL 2011 Playoffs round 2 picks   

    I make no comment about your point spread predictions, but I'm going to disagree with you on the Saints 'Niners game. If the Saints get rolling, I don't think the Niners offense can keep up in a shootout.

    A buddy of mine down in the mailroom at work is a huge Broncos fan. He doesn't expect them to beat the Pats either, unless they pull out another perfect storm of a game like they did last week.
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  13. Godot added a post in a topic NFL 2012 Playoff picks   

    I'm going ot disagree with two of your picks. I don't think any of the animal-themed teams will win this weekend. Bengals Texans will be close, but I expect the Texans to eke out the win. Either way though, I wouldn't expect either team to get past the semifinal next week.

    Giants Falcons could go either way depending on which team decides to show up. Both teams have looked pretty bad at times in the regular season, but the Giants have a better track record in the playoffs.
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  14. Godot added a post in a topic Gaining Weight and Strength Training   

    I've been a gym rat for many a year and I have to agree with this. The only thing that ever bugged me (and still does) about newbs in the gym is how some of them are proudly ignorant of gym etiquette. If you come in and do what you can, great. If you don't know what you're doing, ask or be receptive to people that offer you advice. Don't act like a giant self-important douche. I'm most annoyed when you see 3-5 guys commandeering a wide swath of the bench area, all chatting and none lifting (or lifting essentially warmup weight when they do). [/end rant]

    Keep up the good work with the lifts though! Be sure to keep pushing the rep limit as well as upping the weight.
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  15. Godot added a post in a topic NFL 2011 Week 6 Picks   

    Nicely done.

    And in other news, fire sale in Denver! Lloyd has been traded to the Rams for a bag of used footballs. Six weeks in and they're already throwing in the towel on the season...
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  16. Godot added a post in a topic NFL 2011 week 1 picks   

    I watched that game and thought that Belichick made the wrong decision at the time. Turns out it was wrong, but for the wrong reason. Respect for Manning is one thing, but what that showed was fear: they had far more faith in Manning's ability to win the game than in their own defense to stop him. The more conservative option that most teams would have chosen would have been to kick the ball and force the Colts to go as far down the field as possible rather than take a long shot 4th down conversion and giving them a short field.

    Had the game stayed close down to the wire, I'd totally agree with you. But when Welker took that one pass for 99 yards, the game was over. It took the wind out of the Dolphins sails. There was no reason to keep Brady in the game any further at that point, let alone to be throwing the ball that aggressively that late into the game. The Pats could just as easily stuck with the run and managed the clock. If the Dolphins were to stop them, then you force them to score two touchdowns or two field goals and a touchdown to win. Damn unlikely to happen in the NFL in that short of a time frame (different story in the CFL though...).

    I understand sending a message to a rival, particularly a divisional one. The greater the beatdown you can put on them now, the better things look for you in terms of a potential tiebreaker come playoff time, not to mention the psychological advantage it can bestow. I think this is more acceptable when it's the underdog getting the better side of things. I don't necessarily like it any better, but can certainly understand it.

    But I don't think the Pats show much respect to anybody on either team when they act in this fashion. They fail to show any respect to their own defense's ability to hold the line. They fail to show any respect to the opponent's defense or in the defense's ability to stop the Pats passing game by being so pathetically one-sided in their attack. You have to devise and execute a gameplan to neutralize your opponents biggest threats and to exploit their weaknesses to best effect in order to win the game. Ramming the ball downfield constantly is one way of doing that, but it has all the sophistication of Jackass. Maybe it just galls me that it works so damned well.
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  17. Godot added a post in a topic NFL 2011 week 1 picks   

    That was a crazy weekend.

    Biggest surprises (at least for games I was able to watch) were just how badly Pitt and Indy were manhandled.

    I was also surprised with how much of an old-school running game the Raiders came out with.

    I was also reminded of how much I dislike the Pats. I can understand the mentality of defying your opponents to stop you, even after the game is well enough in hand, but the Pats take it to 11. Late in the 4th with a heavy lead and they still are passing the game trying to score? It's one thing to beat a team, another to blow them out and yet another to intentionally rub salt into the wound. Being competitive and wanting to win is expected, but so is showing some degree of respect for your opponent. The Pats may be the single greatest technical squad in the last decade, but they could certainly do with some class.
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  18. Godot added a post in a topic So I went to a protest   

    I woke up this morning and realised that I forgot to address this point.

    The ability to go on strike is not a defining characteristic of a union, despite what popular perception may be. Two of the three union shops I worked in (don't know about the third as I wasn't there long enough to bother reading the contract) had language written into the contract that specified that in the event that we were without a contract due to lengthy negotiations, we would continue to work under the terms of the previous contract until a new one was ratified and that we would not take any strike action.

    Further, here in the province of Alberta, there are classes of union workers that are designated as essential services and are prohibited by law from taking strike action. These people include nurses, hospital support staff, EMS, firefighters and police, etc. I don't know if government employees have been included in this or not, but I suspect that they have been.

    Ultimately, a union is a group that has come together for a common purpose to be represented en bloc as a unit for greater bargaining power and to establish common standards in the workplace.
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  19. Godot added a post in a topic So I went to a protest   

    Up front I will admit that I work in a union and have worked in a couple of different union environments for most of my adult life. That said, I'm not particularly impressed with how unions operate and I generally feel short-changed as a result.

    Implicit in the idea of collective bargaining is that the position of the worker relative to the employer will be far stronger if presented as a common front. Rather than being individually responsible for negotiating rates of pay, raises, benefits, working conditions, etc., representatives of this united front will meet with the employer's representatives to seek concessions / bargain for various improvements collectively for those people they represent. The idea is that by doing so, a greater number of benefits can be achieved for all as a result; equality and solidarity of the workers and all that.

    I might be mistaken when it comes to union forming, but I'm under the impression that if a workforce decides to unionise, the motion carries by a simple majority and is binding on all people that would be members of the collective bargaining unit, even if they voted against the union. If a workplace is already unionised, becoming a member of the union is a condition of employment; you cannot work in a unionised environment, doing the same work as a union member (and accruing the same benefits) without being a member of said union.

    Unions negotiate contracts on behalf of workers. In addition to the items to be negotiated mentioned above, the language of specific items in the contract can be negotiated. The length of the contract itself can be negotiated. If, for whatever reason, the opposing negotiating teams cannot come to a mutually acceptable agreement to bring to the union members for a vote (i.e. they are at an impasse and can only agree to disagree) after a long enough period of time, or if the members vote against the contract being offered or if one side or the other simply walks away from the negotiating table, either party can move to submit the contract to an arbitrator. The arbitrator is an impartial third party that adjudicates the conflict and will decide on the terms of the contract. Non-binding arbitration is essentially little more than a suggestion of what a third party thinks would be a fair deal for all involved and can be rejected by one or both parties. Binding arbitration is more of a crap shoot. When both sides submit to binding arbitration, the decision that the arbitrator makes is final and both parties agree to be legally bound by said decision in advance. The threat of binding arbitration ensures that both parties enter into negotiations fairly. Eliminating this right, as this bill proposes, shifts the balance of power more firmly towards the employer, particularly with the added caveat of preventing negotiating for benefits. In our most recent contract, the employer was not interested in paying across the board wage increases even though that is what the union sought. The negotiated settlement that both sides agreed on was to provide all union members with an additional 3 paid days leave annually in exchange for a raise in the first year of the contract. This type of arrangement is not possible when negotiating benefits is off the table.

    You only need to look as far as Wisconsin to see that you've hit this one on the head. The budget deficit that castrating union rights was meant to solve was created earlier in the year when the same governor cut business taxes by the same amount. Talk about a manufactured crisis!

    I admit that this statement bothers me a bit. People in the private sector generally get better paid for commensurate work than unionised public employees. Greater job security and perhaps a more substantial negotiated benefits and pension package are the trade off for the lower rate of pay. As someone with small children at home, the increased job security I have for being part of a union environment is a meaningful intangible benefit.

    I think a problem here is in how the issue is being framed. As you mention, "balancing the budget" at the expense of unionised public employees is little more than sleight of hand to pursue an alternate agenda. If politicians in general are sincerely interested in balancing budgets and trimming the fat from expenditures, the two areas to cut that will have the greatest impact on the bottom line (by orders of magnitude) are their own rates of pay and defence spending. Permitting the debate to be framed in terms of the chump change to be gained at the expense of the worker instead of the pork barrel patronage at the top guarantees that we all lose.

    I'll finish with a tangentially related joke I heard recently:

    A public union employee, a tea party activist, and a wealthy industrialist sit down at a table that has a plate with a dozen cookies on it. The industrialist immediately takes eleven of the cookies, then turns to the teabagger and says, "Watch out for that union guy. He wants a piece of your cookie."
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  20. Godot added a post in a topic NFL 2010, week 1   

    For the most part I was disappointed with week 1. Not only were most of the games generally poor, those that were aired live here were terrible. Who in their right mind would want to watch the Bills play?

    The Packers/Eagles game looked somewhat decent, only I didn't get an opportunity to watch that much of it. The Cowboys and Jets both looked terrible for teams that many were picking to win the Super Bowl.

    Obviously things will get better as the starters shake off the rust. I just hope that it starts by next week otherwise I won't be watching much this year.
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  21. Godot added a post in a topic Linux   

    Probably the single most important piece of advice I was given prior to starting with a linux build was to partition your hard drive such that /home is it's own partition separate from /root. That way, when you bugger something up along the way (note: when, not if), you can always reinstall the distro (and hopefully solve the problem) without touching your profile settings or the rest of your precious data.

    And unlike everything else I've learned about linux, I didn't learn that online (although it took me a catastrophic failure or two before I learned it the hard way).
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  22. Godot added a post in a topic World Cup   

    I only got to watch the closing minutes of the game, but Germany lost to Serbia! Klose was sent off in the 37th minute - was it justified? What's going on here? There's definitely going to be some upsets this year.
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  23. Godot added a post in a topic World Cup   

    I didn't get to watch any of the Brazil game, but it seems like it was a fairly close affair. Are the North Koreans that strong or were the Brazilians taking them lightly, or what?

    More importantly than that however is how the hell am I currently leading the fantasy pool?
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  24. Godot added a article in Articles   

    How to do research
    By Steve Nakoneshny (2010)

    All research begins with an idea. Whether the idea arose as a result from previous research, from a suggestion/direction provided by someone else or a eureka-like intuitive leap is ultimately irrelevant: the idea is the starting point for any endeavor. Since ideas that begin their life sufficiently robust to commence research are rare enough to be nonexistent, the next logical step is to further refine the idea. In some cases, the initial idea may be too narrow and will require fleshing out. In others, it will be necessary to pare away some of the extraneous details to reveal the kernel hidden within.

    The first step towards undertaking your research or refining your question/idea begins with a search of the available literature. Whether your ultimate goal is publishing in an academic journal, writing a paper for school or even simply increasing your personal knowledge, you really should take the time to seek out the extant body of literature on your pet subject to find out what's already been done. After all, if somebody else had the same idea as you and has already gone to the trouble of writing up their findings, there may be very little need for you to do the same. When such a scenario arises, your task is far from finished. You can read that work and see whether your idea was explored to your satisfaction.If it was and you disagree with the conclusions drawn or consider the work done to be sloppy, you can refocus your idea as a response to that other work. Perhaps the results of that research suitably explored your idea but raise further questions that you feel need to be addressed. This new direction becomes the focus for your investigations. Once again, you would see what the extant literature has to say (if anything) on your refined topic, ad nauseum until you have a very focused and attainable thesis. Yes, this process can very quite laborious and is frequently tedious but I feel that due diligence at an early stage results in less strife later on and also reduces the likelihood of you looking like an idiot for not knowing the topic material sufficiently well.

    The next step is to consolidate your sources of information that you will use as evidence/support in your research.Some of these will have been identified in the earlier process of refining your topic, but chances are you will be looking further afield for more data. To be effective, it will help if you create a search strategy to both keep you on track as well as provide an audit trail of where you've gone. This way, not only can you be sure not to duplicate your previous steps, but you can methodically show to others how you arrived at your end point (if need be). Keyword searches are the most obvious starting point. However, where you employ your searches will often be determined by the topic, target audience and quality of information you seek. University libraries have access to a great many print and electronic journals, not to mention a plethora of books geared for an academic audience. Public civic libraries also have excellent access to books and some journals and magazines that aren't geared for an academic audience.Simple web searches can yield many results, the calibre of which is sometimes dubious. When using sources that cite their references, sometime sit can help to follow those up directly. Not only will you get a better feel for what the original actually said, it too can point you down other search avenues.

    Working in an academic setting, I admit bias in my preferences for sources but that largely applies to work-related activities. If all you are hoping to generate is a working knowledge of a topic to discuss with your peers, there's nothing wrong with using Wikipedia, a magazine/newspaper article and a blog post or three. If you're hoping for a more exhaustive delve into a topic, you'll probably be best served by even a brief look at the academic literature.
    In contrast to how I've worked in the past, this year I have been introduced to using an evidence table as a tool to assist in the consolidation of all the material I've read for a given project. Rather than having to rely on memory to recall the pertinent details of a given source, the evidence table allows me to record publication details, keywords, main findings and my own comments in a spreadsheet which I can retrieve at my own convenience.

    So far, we started by identifying a topic of interest.and then refined the topic through a series of progressions. Based on our topic, target audience and desired depth of discussion, we then identified areas where we should commence our literature search. Then, with the appropriate sources identified and obtained, we set to the task of reading our source material and consolidating our notes into an evidence table.

    So what should be the next obvious step? Writing? No.

    I strongly recommend a period of reflection to think about what you've read thus far and to attempt to assimilate and internalise the knowledge thus gained. Even then, you should take some time to consider the structure of the paper you intend to write. What do you intend to say? What tone should you use? Given all that you've read and the tentative conclusions you have reached thus far, what points do you need to make and in what order do you need to make them? Once the general structure of your paper has taken shape in your mind, only then should you move on to putting your thoughts to paper.
    How you choose to write is best determined through trial and error. Maybe you prefer writing free-form (much like how I've written this) only to have to go back later to edit and insert headings etc. Maybe you prefer starting out with a more rigid framework to assist you in hitting all the points you wish to make. Both are perfectly valid techniques and both can be used to good effect in the appropriate setting. All you can do is play around and find out what works best for you. Any need you may have for further revisions of your paper will be determined by the purpose of your writing.
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  25. Godot added a article in History   

    The Complexity of Newton
    By Steve Nakoneshny (2007)

    In the most simplistic of terms, religion is an attempt to discuss the nature of the universe with thoughts of a Deity being central. Science is an attempt to describe the nature of the universe simply as the physical, expressed characteristics of brute matter. As different as these two belief structures may appear to be, they are both essentially nothing more than alternative assays at explaining the ‘true’ nature of the universe. The works of “so important a scientific luminary as [sir] Isaac Newton,”[1] which encompasses a diverse variety of topics such as science, theology, and alchemy, were all written with the same design in mind: to explain the ‘true’ nature of the universe as it was created by God.

    This viewpoint is challenging to the modern day skeptic scientist, to say the least, but it is a common thread that pervades all aspects of Newton’s work. In fact, he himself has stated that “the primary goal of scientific investigation is to reveal the ultimate cause of creation.”[2] Logically, the ultimate cause of anything can only be the First Cause. For Newton (and his contemporaries), the First Cause is equivalent to God. Therefore, all science is an attempt to better understand God. This is consistent with the Natural Philosophy view that the study of the Book of God’s works is as much an act of worship as the study of the Book of God’s word.[3] For these people, little distinction could be made between theology and science as one would frequently lead to the other and both would lead to God.

    Scholarly endeavors into this realm of late appear to have accepted this inter-relationship as fact, for in “having divided up the scholarly work of studying Newton into areas congruent with modern academic interests, we had inadvertently divided up Newton.”[4] Westfall understood that “the relationship within Newton’s own mind between his scientific work and his religious work was a complex network of mutual influence.”[5] Thus, it is necessary to study all aspects of Newton’s works in order to (hopefully) be able to best understand the underlying theme that pervades it all. This writer is of the firm opinion that the underlying theme is none other than God.

    The main problem when studying the body of Newton’s work is to mistakenly view it through a modern bias. He was a seventeenth century natural philosopher who was a deeply devout man to whom questions of religion and theology truly mattered in the most profound of ways. In as much as we are all products of our environment, it is necessary to recognize Newton’s indigenous environment lest we expect to understand his intentions. Very little mainstream knowledge of Newton’s theological works exists. “That he would not publish these writings in his own time, because they showed that his thoughts were sometimes different from those which are commonly received, which would engage him in dispute.”[6] In fact, when sent for posthumous publication, the vast majority of his manuscripts were deemed unfit for printing. Otherwise, we may have ended up with a distinctly different conception of the man that was Newton.

    Much of his theological investigations focused upon a search for the ‘true’ religion. His research in this endeavor lead him to read many ancient texts including alchemical manuscripts. The latter he read mainly “for the purpose of drawing out its religious content and thereby obtaining insights into ancient religion or into primitive Christianity.”[7] He sought out these ancient insights in order to be better able to comprehend man’s relationship to God, and by extension, his own relationship with God. Possibly, he even sought them out I order too determine if they held the key to a less corrupted version of the ‘true’ religion.

    Whether it was his research that led to his unorthodox views or if his unorthodox views fueled his need to search for the ‘true’ religion is not the purpose of this paper.[8] Suffice it to say that the conclusions that Newton reaches are the result of meticulous and arduous study of both scripture and texts of antiquity. In his manuscript entitled “A Short Scheme of the True Religion,”[9] Newton declares that the true religion is based upon the adherence to two basic tenets: (1) our duty to God; we must love him, fear him, honour him, trust in him, pray to him, give him thanks, praise him, hallow his name, obey his commandments, and set times apart for his service, as we are directed in the third and fourth commandments.[10] (2) our duty to man; “we must be righteous, and do to all men as we would that they should do to us.”[11] Of this religion, he suggests that it is corrupted by man over time, and that the prophets are sent to us from God in order to remove the corruption and restore us to the original, true faith. Influenced by this belief in the importance of prophets and prophecy (which is central to Christian theology), Newton penned a substantial (also unpublished) manuscript entitled “The First Book Concerning the Language of the Prophets.”[12] In it, he discusses the results of his study of prophetic writings, which is a more arduous task than I care to contemplate. Without delving into the minutiae of that manuscript, it is readily apparent that this subject was of great concern to Newton. This concern likely formed out of the standard Christian view that the first coming of Christ was actualized by the fulfillment of prophecy by Jesus and that the second coming of Christ has been prophesized as well. By studying prophecy, an adept may better be able to interpret the signs that foretell the second coming of Christ. Unfortunately, the second coming also heralds Armageddon, but I guess that you can’t have it all.

    In a line of thinking tangentially related to his interest in prophecy, is his interest in Christ and his denial of the Trinity. For in his manuscript entitled “Twelve Articles,” he states that there is “one mediator between God and man, the man Christ Jesus.”[13] Implicit in this statement is the belief that Christ Jesus is distinct from both man and God. Jesus was “a true man born of a woman”[14] and “Christ [who] came not to diminish the worship of his Father.”[15] Newton felt that Jesus was an intermediary between man and God and that “the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy, and Jesus is the Word or prophet of God.”[16] This and his other anti-trinitarian views arise from his study of the works of church fathers. In the two manuscripts, “Queries regarding the Word Homoousios” and “Paradoxical Questions,”[17] Newton discusses the source of corruption to the true religion and the cause of its introduction. His argument is long and tedious, and I will content myself to say that he proved to himself (if no one else) that the corrupt doctrine was the doctrine of the Trinity. His argument is more forceful because of its thoroughness; the same attention to the slightest detail, and rigorous methodology that is so characteristic of his scientific endeavors is equally visible here. Thus, by no means can his theological works be dismissed as anything less than a serious scholarly body of work. They are integral (no pun intended) to an understanding of Newton beyond the scope of preeminent scientist.

    The crown jewel of Isaac Newton’s academic career was the publication of The Mathematical Principles of Natural Philosophy. The Principia was a mechanistic philosophy of nature by which all objects within the universe are subject to certain immutable laws. This much is known to all whom have studied classical physics. For us, a self-perpetuating universe is acceptable, unfortunately, that was not Newton’s intention. His correspondence with Richard Bentley upon the subject begins with the sentence: "When I wrote my Treatise about our System, I had an eye upon such principles as might work with considering Men, for the belief of a Deity, and nothing can rejoice me more than to find it useful for that purpose."[18] It is this part of Newton’s science that is frequently overlooked; he had written it with one eye upon the earth and the other to the heavens. It should be noted that he admitted that he did not have the answers to all of the workings of the world. He attributes the cause of these phenomena to God: the idea of reducing the world to “meer natural Causes”[19] is clearly abhorrent to him.[20] According to Newton, planetary motion and the motion of comets through the universe can only have been derived by “the Effect of Counsel.”[21] His argument to this effect is not so much deriving the conclusion from the evidence presented, as it is deriving the evidence that supports the conclusion. For Newton though, the workings of God as creator of the universe is a fait accompli; he sees no need to debate about the verity of a subject that is, to him, patently obvious.

    Central to his theory of the universe is the concept of gravity. The inverse square law of gravity revolutionized the manner in which people perceived how the world operated. He waffles a bit on the subject though, for while he says that “the Cause of Gravity is what I do not pretend to know, and therefore would take more time to consider of it,”[22] he does not hesitate to speculate that the Cause is none other than God. He denies that gravity is an inherent property of matter. If it were an inherent quality, then there would be no need for an externally imposed Cause. It would self-regulate itself irrespective of a God. But since there necessarily needs be a God ordering the actions of the universe, He cannot do so with a universe populated with autonomous matter. Therefore, gravity is not inherent to matter, it has an external cause, and that cause can be none other than God. This is a perfect example of how Newton’s theological suppositions guide the direction and strength of his scientific inquiries.

    In the Scholium Generale of the Principia, Newton attempts to explain the interaction of God and the universe: "This Being rules all things not as the soul of the world (for he has no body). . . He is Eternal and infinite. He endures for ever and is everywhere present: for what is never and nowhere is nothing. Can God be nowhere when the moment of time is everywhere? Certainly. He is omnipresent not only virtually but substantially, for virtue cannot subsist without substance, the substance is already imagined. In him are all things contained and moved, yet God and matter do not interfere. God suffers nothing from the motions of bodies, and these suffer no resistance from the omnipresence of God."[23] For Newton, the existence of God does not interfere with the workings of the universe, and the existence of the universe in no way interferes with the workings of God. Certainly he believed that matter could be affected by God directly, if He so chose, but matter was not affected simply by the existence of God. In this manner, Newton allows for both the existence of a mechanically ordered universe and for the means by which Divine Providence can operate within the world (for who are we to tell God what He may or may not do?).

    With respect to miracles, Newton says that they "… are not so called because they are the works of God, but because they happen seldom, and for that reason create wonder. If they should happen constantly according to certain laws impressed upon the nature of things, they would be no longer wonders or miracles, but might be considered in philosophy as a part of the phenomena of nature notwithstanding that the cause of their causes might be unknown to us."[24] It appears as though Newton is hedging his bets. Miracles come not from God and aren’t natural in origin, but at the same time we know not their cause. It seems as though he is taking an intermediary position here. Miracles are infrequent, but may be affected by natural laws exclusive to themselves and it may also be possible that their occurrence is affected by the will of God (albeit indirectly). Certainly unorthodox, and somewhat cryptic, this statement nevertheless supports Newton’s desire to explain all things in the world with respect to either his natural philosophy or to God.

    Finally, there are the Queries with which Newton concludes the Opticks. For the most part, they deal with the physics associated with Newton’s discoveries in the field of optics. However, towards the end, they begin to show his interest in chemistry, and also contain some reflections upon God and the creation of the universe. He claims that "it is unphilosophical to seek for any other origin of the world or to pretend that it might arise out of a chaos by the mere laws of nature, though being once formed it may continue by those laws for many ages."[25] For Newton, the elegance with which the universe presents itself is argument enough for the existence of a Deity. For him, the formation of the universe must have been guided by the hand of an omnipotent God, else it would not have formed in the manner that it had. This argument derives its conclusions through circular reasoning, and is thereby flawed, but it is not so in Newton’s mind. He believed that by expanding the boundaries of natural philosophy, “the bounds of moral philosophy will be also enlarged.”[26] In so doing, mankind will be able to ascend to a greater religious truth than what has ever existed. This in turn will result in a more accurate representation of the ‘true’ religion, and therefore render our worship of God greater. Ultimately, all of Newton’s works aim to create a closer relationship between mankind and their God.

    - By Steve Nakoneshny (2007)


    [1] Lindberg, D.C. The Beginnings of Western Science. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1992. p.4
    [2] Westfall, R.S. science and Religion in Seventeenth Century England. David Horne, ed. Miscellany 67; New Haven: Yale University Press. 1968.,p.194
    [3] Brooke, J.H. Science and Religion. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1991. p.22
    [4] Dobbs, B.J.T. the Janus Face of Genius. Cambridge University Press.,1991. p.251
    [5] Westfall , p.194
    [6] McLaughlan, H. Sir Isaac Newton’s Theological Manuscripts. Liverpool: University Press, 1950. p. 2. The above quote is from Newton’s friend John Craig shortly after his death.
    [7] Dobbs, B.J.T. The Foundations of Newton’s Alchemy, or “The Hunting of the Greene Lyon”. Cambridge University Press, 1975. The context of this full statement is an interpretation and refutation of the opinions of one Mary S. Churchill. A position which Dobbs repudiates in the Epilogue of “Janus Face of Genius.”
    [8] This particular line of questioning is further developed in the introduction of McLaughlan’s “Sir Isaac Newton’s Theological Manuscripts” and in McGuire and Tamny’s “Certain Philosophical Questions: Newton’s Trinity Notebook.”
    [9] McLaughlan, p.48-53. This same argument takes form in the “Irenicum”, p.28-35.
    [10] Ibid. p.51.
    [11] Ibid. p.52.
    [12] Ibid. p.119.
    [13] Ibid. p. 56.
    [14] Ibid. “our religion to Jesus Christ,” p.54.
    [15] Ibid. “Articles,” p.56.
    [16] Ibid. p.56.
    [17] Ibid. former, p.44-47; latter, p.61-118.
    [18] Cohen, I.B. Isaac Newton’s Papers & Letters on Natural Philosophy. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1978. p.280. Also, for a ‘modern’ English translation of these same letters, see Thayer’s Newton’s Philosophy of Nature. p.46-58.
    [19] Ibid. p.282.
    [20] McLaughlan, “A Short Scheme of the True Religion,” p.48.
    [21] Cohen, p.282.
    [22] Ibid. p. 298.
    [23] Hall, A.R. & Hall, M.B., Eds. Unpublished Scientific Papers of Isaac Newton. Cambridge: University Press, 1962. p.359-360. This quote was taken from one of the unpublished manuscript versions of the Scholium (ms. C, to be precise).
    [24] McLaughlan, p. 17-18.
    [25] Thayer, p. 177.
    [26] Ibid. p. 179.


    Bibliography and Works Cited

    Brooke, J.H. Science and Religion. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1991.
    Cohen, I.B. Isaac Newton’s Papers & Letters on Natural Philosophy. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1978.
    Dobbs, B.J.T. The Foundation of Newton’s Alchemy, or The Hunting of the Greene Lyon. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1975.
    Dobbs, B.J.T. The Janus Face of Genius. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1991.
    Hall, A.R. & Hall, M.B., eds. Unpublished Scientific Papers of Isaac Newton. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1962.
    Lindberg, D.C. The Beginnings of Western Science. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1992.
    McGuire, J.E. & Tamny, M. Certain Philosophical Questions: Newton’s Trinity Notebook. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1983.
    McLaughlan, H. Sir Isaac Newton’s Theological Manuscripts. Liverpool: University Press, 1950.
    Thayer, H. S. Newton’s Philosophy of Nature: Selections from his Writings. New York: Hafner Press, 1953.
    Westfall, R.S. Science and Religion in Seventeenth Century England. David Horne, ed. Miscellany 67; New Haven: Yale University Press, 1958.
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