Paper examines ‘unconscious assumptions that have impeded scientific progress in the past’

Scientist emphasizes importance of multi-level thinking in atmospheric science

From the INSTITUTE OF ATMOSPHERIC PHYSICS, CHINESE ACADEMY OF SCIENCES

An unusual paper “On multi-level thinking and scientific understanding” appears in the October issue of Advances in Atmospheric Sciences. The author is Professor Michael Edgeworth McIntyre from University of Cambridge, whose work in atmospheric dynamics is well known. He has also had longstanding interests in astrophysics, music, perception psychology, and biological evolution.

The paper touches on a range of deep questions within and outside the atmospheric sciences. They include insights into the nature of science itself, and of scientific understanding — what it means to understand a scientific problem in depth — and into the communication skills necessary to convey that understanding and to mediate collaboration across specialist disciplines.

The paper appears in a Special Issue arising from last year’s Symposium held in Nanjing to commemorate the life of Professor Duzheng YE, who was well known as a national and international scientific leader and for his own wide range of interests, within and outside the atmospheric sciences. The symposium was organized by the Institute of Atmospheric Physics (IAP), Chinese Academy of Sciences, where Prof. YE had worked nearly 70 years before he passed away. Upon the invitation of Prof. Jiang ZHU, the Director General of IAP, also the Editor-in-Chief of Advances in Atmospheric Sciences (AAS), Prof. McIntyre agreed to contribute a review paper to an AAS special issue commemorating the centenary of Duzheng YE’s birth. Prof. YE was also the founding Editor-in-Chief of this journal.

Professor Michael McIntyre gave a talk at the symposium to commemorate the life of Professor Duzheng YE in 2016.CREDIT Institute of Atmospheric Physics, Chinese Academy of Sciences

One of Professor McIntyre’s themes is that we all have unconscious mathematics, including Euclidean geometry and the calculus of variations. This is easy to demonstrate and is key to understanding not only how science works but also, for instance, how music works. Indeed, it reveals some of the deepest connections between music and mathematics, going beyond the usual remarks about number-patterns. All this revolves around the biological significance of what Professor McIntyre calls the “organic-change principle”.

Further themes include the scientific value of looking at a problem from more than one viewpoint, and the need to use more than one level of description. Many scientific and philosophical controversies stem from confusing one level of description with another, for instance applying arguments to one level that belong on another. This confusion can be especially troublesome when it comes to questions about human biology and human nature, and about what Professor YE called multi-level “orderly human activities”.

Related to all these points are the contrasting modes of perception and understanding offered by the brain’s left and right hemispheres. Our knowledge of their functioning has progressed far beyond the narrow clichés of popular culture, thanks to recent work in the neurosciences. The two hemispheres automatically give us different levels of description, and complementary views of a problem. Good science takes advantage of this. When the two hemispheres cooperate, with each playing to its own strengths, our problem-solving is at its most powerful.

The paper ends with three examples of unconscious assumptions that have impeded scientific progress in the past. Two of them are taken from Professor McIntyre’s main areas of research. A third is from biology.


The paper: https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007%2Fs00376-017-6283-3

This article is published with open access

 

 

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34 thoughts on “Paper examines ‘unconscious assumptions that have impeded scientific progress in the past’

  1. Pity my computer skills are sufficiently bad to not even attempt using an online translation program. The article seems interesting.

  2. After a quick scan it appears the professor is making very theoretical arguments to bolster his belief that CHC’s caused the ozone hole ()he was directly involved in supporting arguments and research) and CO2 from human activity causes dangerous global warming. He does so without presenting relevant supportive evidence, It is all pretty much theory and models. I don’t find any of this convincing though the raft of highly technical terminology is almost certainly impressive to many.

    • Or from a theological viewpoint one of those “unconscious assumptions” is that there is no God who would grant free will (out of love) and then make the choice moot by providing incontrovertible evidence of his existence. Overwhelming power is the persuasion f a tyrant not a loving God.

      So the practice of science can act on the simplification of “There is no God” as the evidence will not prove the opposite. Unless there is a God who happens to be not loving.
      But in that case there is no reason to assume the rules of the universe would ever be consistent or comprehendible. A loving God is a pre-requisite for a universe with a workable science. There is no anthropomorphic principle that enforces it.

      Although it might still work anyway out of pure, outrageous serendipity. Because otherwise the Tyrant God rule kicks in again.

      • Since the fall, who is “the god of this world”? (Do I need to quote the verse?) Free will? Definitely. The “new heaven and earth” will only be filled by those who have chosen to accept God’s solution heaven and earth’s problem.
        Lucifer had free will. So did Adam. Christ Jesus was/is the just remedy to both disruptions.
        (God had given dominion of the Earth to Adam. As Lucifer had done, he fell. It was transferred. It was justly regained via “the last Adam”, Jesus. He chose to obey to the end.)
        “Tyrant God”? No. A loving God who provided The Way for Man to, justly, get himself out of the mess we are in. (And, in the meantime, took care the all remnants of Lucifer’s original mess.

        I think we are encroaching on the sometime “fuzzy line” that is site policy here at WUWT? Perhaps, here, let both views lie? (or is it “lay”? Never could keep those spellings straight.8-)

      • Yes, let’s let it lie.
        We can talk logically about these matters. But the basis are the axioms of our logic. And in theology they are rooted in faith, not empirical evidence.

        Philosophically that is fine. Observations can be as false as one’s heart.

        That is not the scope of this site’s comment policy, though.
        Let’s let it lie.

      • In God We Trust, but when it comes to Science, Public Policy and Justice, please show me the evidence.

      • Gunga Din stated:

        Since the fall, who is “the god of this world”? Free will? Definitely.

        Sorry bout that but there is no such thing as a person possessing what is referred to as “free will”.

        The literal and/or biological fact is, ….. “You are what your environment nurtured you to be”, …… acting in conjunction with your inherited “instincts” obtained via your biological parents.

        One’s conscious mind, ……. which many believe is the source of said “free will”, ……. Is subservient to one’s subconscious mind. The primary purpose of the conscious mind is to “make choices” ………. if and when the subconscious mind presents it with more than one (1) entity to choose from.

      • Well put. Genuine love requires the opportunity to choose to not love.
        An obvious God would be loved and respected without question.

        There would be no free will about it, and hence no love.

        This non-obvious aspect of God helps explain why there can be very intelligent people who both believe and don’t believe in God.

  3. Read this. Found it less than profound, and when reduced to the essence, mostly obvious common sense. For example, the Newton Earth as a point mass example. Anyone with any physics/calculus background not only knows the calculations proceed from the center of mass of all bodies, but why. And as other examples the three logical fallacies and the illustrations therein. Nice as a commemorative lecture on Prof. Ye. Not much to chew on, otherwise, stripped of jargon.

    • The Newton’s example is only clear in retrospect. Newton’s genius lay not only in coming up with the law of gravitation and in discovering (or inventing depending on your beliefs) calculus but also in combing the two to show that an inverse square law meant that you could treat particles as point masses. He was also brilliant enough to know when this was not valid and was thus able to explain the tides.

      The point of the argument was that although these points might be obvious in retrospect they were not at the time and the reason is due to the unconscious biases that our brain introduces.

      • As you state, it is amazing what clarity hindsight provides.

        The fact that countless billions of humans lived prior to Newton, including some very great mathematicians, suggests that The Newton’s example is only clear in retrospect

  4. This paper is a good example of why physicists should retire once they reach the point where they can no longer concentrate for more than fifteen minutes. If you still want a job then become a dean or chairman of the department or something. But don’t write pseudo-philosophical papers — they are embarrassing. If you are going to lecture someone, then lecture the people in your field — don’t pick on people in an entirely different discipline where you are not expert..

  5. MacIntyre’s foray into climate science produced a colossal misunderstanding:

    I think most of us also recognize that the climate system is an amplifier, albeit slowly-responding, very noisy, very nonlinear, and fearsomely complex. The input signals include small injections of CO2, and small changes in the Earth’s orbit. The response, over long time scales, is huge.

    Is the climate really poised to set out on runaway excursions of warming or cooling in response to relatively small intpus? No, it’s the opposite. The earth over the whole phanerozoic, 600 million years, has remained quite stably within the narrow limits allowing multicellular life, despite large external inputs such as the sun getting about 5% hotter over that time, flood basalts, bolide impacts etc.. And life has existed for 4 billion years during which the sun has got 25% hotter. The biosphere has even modified the planet to keep temperatures habitable – Lovelock’s Gaia hypothesis.

    MacIntyre is picking up the wrong end of the stick by looking at the Quaternary only (Pleistocene) in which the earth is crossing a threshold into glaciation and is inevitable during transition close to a balance point between glacial and nonglacial. Nonlinear chaotic attractor behaviour then allows the system to flip-flop between glacial and nonglacial from small Milankovich forcings. But to generalise from this special transitional scenario to a generalisation about climate always being a sensitive amplifier, is a big mistake. More of the time its a damper, and with the oceans, a capacitor.

    • Your mis-spelling of the name ‘McIntyre’ makes it appear as though you are condemning the debunking of Mann’s hockeystick. In the past you have not sounded so…. misled.

      Please clarify.

    • Prof. McIntyre,
      How can your small injections of CO2 cause huge change in climate when ice core data show CO2 lagging increase in temperature by hundreds of years? It seems you learned climate science from Al Gore’s 1st film. How can the effect be leading the cause? It seems you believe time flows backward. Did you learn physics watching Bill Nye the Science Guy?

    • Ptolemy2

      You dig up a good point. Over the past 600m years the sun brightened by 70 Watts per sq m and CO2 was anything up to 7000 ppm, yet there was no ‘runaway’.

      Increasing CO2 from 280 to 500 ppm and ‘forcing’ by 3 W/m^2 is going to do nothing detectable, given the measurement uncertainties.

      It is unfortunate there are those who view the climate system poised on a knife edge about to ‘tip’ into an unrecoverable Hellish heat. Why is melting so bad? Sounds good to me.

      It is quite possible that the large ice mass on East Antarctica will pull the Earth’s poles slightly to the side, changing the tilt or uprising it. All the insolation charts go out the window and we may have a permanent warm period for a few million years. I think this is more likely than CAGW. I understand from reading that Einstein thought this pole-move was a real possibility.

  6. “One of Professor McIntyre’s themes is that we all have unconscious mathematics, including Euclidean geometry and the calculus of variations. This is easy to demonstrate and is key to understanding not only how science works but also, for instance, how music works. Indeed, it reveals some of the deepest connections between music and mathematics, going beyond the usual remarks about number-patterns. All this revolves around the biological significance of what Professor McIntyre calls the “organic-change principle”.”

    On a related note, I might recommend a lovely book that my dear old mom surprised me with:

    Quadrivium: The Four Classical Liberal Arts of Number, Geometry, Music, & Cosmology

    https://www.amazon.com/Quadrivium-Classical-Liberal-Geometry-Cosmology/dp/0802778135

    It is delightfully insightful, and with it’s layout of an idea on one page and related image on the opposing page, it is a perfect little coffee table book that you can pick up for a moment or two and learn something new every time. I’ve given several copies as gifts.

  7. I was intrigued and downloaded the paper because I thought it would be about the initiation of an idea, like Newton’s (probably made up by somebody) observing something simple like an apple falling from a tree sending one on a journey to discovery of something fundamental. It was very disappointing. It was a self aggrandizing, disorganized bundle of somewhat non sequiturish stuff peppered with psychological mumbo jumbo that would impress post normal clones. It is a poorly concealed way of asking one to conclude he is a polymath, rambling comfortably across the whole range of science and social science. It looks written by a computer program.

    He uses it to insult people who question the orthodoxy of ozone holes (ahem…that “I” worked on!! ) and CO2 hype re catastrophic global warming based on the very bottom up, right-hemisphere – brained stuff he criticizes. It is thoughtful sceptics who have brought the more holistic viewpoints to bear and, apparently, this small percentage (3%?) has caused the defeat of the orthodoxy (97%), although the flopping and leaping chicken with severed head energy is taking longer than sensible to bring to a stop. This guy has clearly had a humdrum career and wants to go out as a post normal philosopher. He probably wears two different colored socks as part of the act.

    .

  8. Excerpted from the above article:

    One of Professor McIntyre’s themes is that we all have unconscious mathematics, including Euclidean geometry and the calculus of variations. This is easy to demonstrate and is key to understanding not only how science works but also, for instance, how music works. Indeed, it reveals some of the deepest connections between music and mathematics, going beyond the usual remarks about number-patterns.

    Well now, iffen we all possess the above stated mental attributes that Professor McIntyre claims that we possess, ……. then the only way that could be possible is iffen said attributes are encoded in the genetically inherited DNA or RNA of one’s biological parent(s).

    Which brings up the big question of, …… just what purpose would the inherited traits/attributes of “mathematics, Euclidean geometry and/or calculus” …… serve to insure “survival of the species”?

    There are several “inherited survival instincts” that are quite easy to demonstrate, beginning with newborn babies ……. but mathematics, including Euclidean geometry and calculus are mental attributes that must be nurtured by one’s environment.

    • Try catching a ball or bating away a fast moving predator if your brain cannot predict where that projectile will be. Note, your vision is all an invention of your brain as you may think you are staring at an object but your eyes are actually scanning in various ways and of course you were blinking while you read this but were unaware of that till you read these last words. So fighting, throwing spears accurately at moving targets, and avoiding spears and leaping predators all require the inherited traits/attributes of “mathematics, Euclidean geometry and/or calculus” …… serve to insure “survival of the species”.

      • So saidith: Ian W – August 21, 2017 at 9:42 am

        Try catching a ball or bating away a fast moving predator if your brain cannot predict where that projectile will be.

        Sorry bout that, ….. Ian W, ……. but your brain-mind does not predict anything such as you suggest.

        Environmental stimuli (info/data) that is uploaded via one’s sense organs is stored in the DNA of the brain’s neurons and that data/info is recalled when needed thus permitting one to “catch a ball” or to “bat away a predator”. And that is exactly why it is claimed that “Practice makes perfect.

        Also saidith: Ian W

        Note, your vision is all an invention of your brain as you may think you are staring at an object but your eyes are actually scanning in various ways and of course you were blinking while you read this but were unaware of that till you read these last words.

        Sorry bout that also, ….. Ian W, ……. but I am far, far more aware of how my brain-mind functions than you give me credit for …….. so let me tell you a few things about how your own brain-mind functions that will most likely bedazzle and amaze you so much that you will probably consider me idiotic at best, …. to wit:

        Ian W, …… “your conscious mind …… did not see …… what you are now reading on your PC monitor.

        Your optic nerves transmit two (2) channels of streaming video which they received via reflected/radiated light that entered the pupil of your eye(s), passed through the lens and struck the back of your eye. These inverted images are then transmitted to your subconscious mind which combines the two images and with only the center portion of said image being in focus. If reading, only the word or portion of word that you are concentrating on is in focus. Everything else that you can detect in your “view”, …… on the monitor, off the monitor, up, down, left or right is “out of focus”. You know it is there ….. but you can’t see it plainly.

        Your conscious mind is permitted to “see” this image …… but it “sees” this image right-side-up. As you read each of the words in this sentence, as you are (hopefully) doing this very second, …… your subconscious mind is “telling you” everything you need to know about each word, selected from a “list” of everything that you previously learned about said word (its meaning, pronunciation, usage, etc,) and thus permitting you to easily Euclidean read this paragraph.

        Now, did you notice that “interrupt” that confused your subconscious mind when it encountered the word “Euclidean”. Now be honest, tell us what your subconscious “told you”. Didn’t it make you stop reading, back-up and try figuring out what it was doing there in the middle of that sentence?

        If your ears pick up the sounds coming from another room in you house, ….. how do you consciously know it is your spouse talking rather than your dog barking? You can’t see what is generating the noise. How do you know it is even your spouse that is the person talking, you can’t see him/her?

        If you can’t “consciously” see …… what is causing the noise …… how do you know for sure, …. exactly, … absolutely, ….. positively …….the source of said noise?

        The answer is a simple one. Your subconscious mind has thousands of different “sounds” and what each one is ……. stored in your “memory”. And when your ear picks up a sound ….. your auditory nerve transmits that sound to your subconscious mind, which also tells your conscious mind, but it also attempt to match it to one of the “stored sounds” and if it finds a match …… it will inform your conscious mind what produced the sound. If your conscious mind is asleep when the sound is heard ……. your subconscious mind will make a determination of its importance ……. and will “wake up” your conscious mind if so warranted.

        A simple “Time to get up honey” will not arouse one from a deep sleep on a Saturday morning …… like the loud sound of “FIRE” will.

        Ian W, the above commentary was copied from the “preface” of a published commentary that I am the author of and which it titled ……. A View of How the Human Mind Works ….. and which can read HERE …… iffen you choose to do so.

        Cheers, Sam C

  9. As pertaining to AGW, the preconceived bias is that all the forcings add to each other.
    And while the non-condensing gases do, the condensing gas operates on it’s schedule, and has a non linear relationship.

    Water vapor regulates most of any excess forcing out to space at night.

  10. I think most of us also recognize that the climate system is
    an amplifier, albeit slowly-responding, very noisy, very nonlinear,
    and fearsomely complex. The input signals include
    small injections of CO2, and small changes in the Earth’s orbit.
    The response, over long time scales, is huge.

    It was quoted above , but it did nit sit well after reading it. Hansen used Bode et al to justify his belief of the near unstable climate as a positive feedback caused from a small input in his original thesis and this author is paying homage to Hansen, pure and simple. He probably needs to read the latest from Monkton on the mistakes made in calculating this instability, and Pat Franks analysis of Hansens early work as well as Carl Otto Wiess on Fourier analysis of the data rather than simplistic curve fitting. https://sites.google.com/site/nzchinatravels/climate-change/statistical-analysis-1

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