BaalChatzaf

Asimov on Scientific Certainty.

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Here is a lecture on Asimov's view of science and scientific progress. It is rather good (when did Asimov every produce anything bad?).

I find Asimov a trifle too charitable, but he makes some good points.

In looking at incremental results he tends to minimize the changes in the underlying logic and mathematical structure of advancing theories. The underneath part of Einstein's Theory of Relativity (a theory of gravitation) is as different from Newton as Green is from Red.

In any case what primarily counts is getting the correct results relative to the means of measurement.

Being right is not the main thing, it is the only thing.

Ba'al Chatzaf

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It's déjà vu all over again.

Yogi Berra

In what way?

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Isaac Asimov is on the list of suggested reading I give to patients who have been kept in the dark and are eager to learn. However Asimov wrote so many books that it is hard to decide just which ones would be best to recommend. I would appreciate any thoughts on the subject if anyone has favorites.

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Why not just bump the old thread?

Whooooops. A senior moment.

Ba'al Chatzaf

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> Isaac Asimov is on the list of suggested reading I give to patients who have been kept in the dark and are eager to learn. However Asimov wrote so many books that it is hard to decide just which ones would be best to recommend. I would appreciate any thoughts on the subject if anyone has favorites. [gulch8]

Are you asking about fiction or non-fiction?

In both areas -- and apparently on almost any subject, Isaac Asimov's signature strengths are a beautiful, diamond-like lucidity of exposition and a stringing together of logic so relentless it almost takes your breath away.

In "hard" science fiction, a genre specializing at its best in both logic and clarity, he is perhaps the best of the classic "big three" from the fifties in those two traits. As the decades passed, his fiction got sloppy or self-indulgent. Too damn many books --- the failing of many big shot writers who think their your know what don't smell bad**. His plots are always a strength. His characterization can be relatively cardboard. But that's a frequent problem in genre fiction such as SF. "The Foundation Trilogy" has wonderful twists and turns, but I wouldn't start anyone on a trilogy - better choices would be the precursors to that universe - "Pebble in the Sky" and "The Currents of Space" are both good, although I personally love (for it's idealism) "The End of Eternity", which is not really set in exactly that same universe. Most of the robot books (again, the earlier decades like "I, Robot") are good as well, but for reasons I'd have to think about more I rate them lower.

In non-fiction, I've always thought of him as the best and most gripping (and clear) explainer and popularizer of science that it was possible to be****. Absolutely brilliant and, as far as I know, he's the James Bond of science writing (Nobody Does it Better...Makes me Feel Sad for the Rest...Nobody Does it Half as Good as You...) He has a dozen or more 'collections' of his science essays written across the decades. The title is usually the name of one of the essays contained. My personal favorite is "View From a Height", not least of all for the title essay.

** Ayn Rand made the point in one of her writing courses I sat in on recordings of (I don't know if it made it to the reduced tapes or the further butchered - I mean "edited" - book form) that hack writers tend to "write themselves out". I'd say that that can also be a problem for good writers like Asimov. (Tom Clancy or Niven and Pournelle anyone?)

****However, I'm currently stalled in the middle of "Understanding Physics". I usually find Asimov at his best when he moves around and attempts to 'covers the waterfront' of many different sciences, but this thick two-volume "textbook" is trying to completely lay out quite a difficult and often technical field, one where he is not his usual unparalleled "Renaissance genius" self, and he doesn't simplify and essentialize as brilliantly as he usually does.

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Asimov's non fiction turns out to be rather middle-brow.

Somewhat better than dumbed-down but not presenting much of a challenge to those who wish to go deeper.

His fiction is rather well written but is not psychologically deep with respect to his characters. It was that way with Arthur C. Clarke also. I think the reason is that both Asimov and Clarke were technical to the bone.

Ba'al Chatzaf

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"middle-brow". "not presenting much of a challenge to those who wish to go deeper"

Patronizing and condescending. Maybe your'e just not bright enough to appreciate the 'challenge' offered by Asimov's writing?

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"middle-brow". "not presenting much of a challenge to those who wish to go deeper"

Patronizing and condescending. Maybe your'e just not bright enough to appreciate the 'challenge' offered by Asimov's writing?

I have read all of his science fiction and most of his science popularizations. I know more than you do, Sonny Boy.

Ba'al Chatzaf

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"middle-brow". "not presenting much of a challenge to those who wish to go deeper"

Patronizing and condescending. Maybe your'e just not bright enough to appreciate the 'challenge' offered by Asimov's writing?

I have read all of his science fiction and most of his science popularizations. I know more than you do, Sonny Boy.

Ba'al Chatzaf

Bob:

Have you read his two (2) works on the Bible? I found them to be excellent.

Issac Asimov isn’t a name you would normally associate with genres that lie outside the pale of science fiction (he is the author of such novels as I, Robot and The Bicentennial Man), but his forays into non-fiction are often brilliant and very readable masterpieces.
His Guide to the Bible is no exception. Asimov begins from the first book of the Old Testament (Genesis) and ends with the last book of the New Testament (Revelations). Although a self-proclaimed agnostic, his guide is neither irreverent nor condescending. He approaches the scriptures with a historical bent, an aim he makes clear from the very beginning. Thus, readers do not expect a treatise on the miracles of the Bible, but a broadening of the secular dimensions of the Biblical world.

http://salafiwatch.com/2011/05/review-issac-asimovs-guide-to-the-bible-issac-asimov/

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He approaches the scriptures with a historical bent, an aim he makes clear from the very beginning. Thus, readers do not expect a treatise on the miracles of the Bible, but a broadening of the secular dimensions of the Biblical world.

http://salafiwatch.c...e-issac-asimov/

And that is what he delivers.

No, I did not read his work on biblical material but I have heard good things about them.

All of his books that I have read are well crafted. His scientific popularizations are aimed at a rather broad audience so they cannot be to "heavy". They are meant to be readable by those not specifically trained in the physical sciences or mathematics.

The physicists Sean Carrol and Lee Smolin have written books on science not specifically aimed at scientists.. But they are written at a somewhat more demanding level than Asimov's stuff.

Ba'al Chatzaf

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> I have read all of his science fiction and most of his science popularizations. I know more than you do, Sonny Boy.

1. First logical point: You have no way of knowing how many Asimov book I've read. All you are able to know is how many -you- have read.

2. Second logical point: If A has read thirty books and B has read thirty plus three, that doesn't mean B "knows more". It's a question of who -understood- more from what he has read.

Quality not quantity: Sort of like your "reading up" in quantum mechanics or physics or Objectivism - and your repeated crackpot posts about how much you've read in -those- areas.)

Got it straight now, "Logic Boy"? :cool:

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Bob,

I loved the video.

That is my approach. I believe you feel the same.

So I don't understand.

I have no idea how one goes from there to claiming that Aristotle is responsible for hindering the advance of science. Following the pattern Asimov laid out, Aristotle moved the ball much further down the field than where he found it.

Michael

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Bob,

I loved the video.

That is my approach. I believe you feel the same.

So I don't understand.

I have no idea how one goes from there to claiming that Aristotle is responsible for hindering the advance of science. Following the pattern Asimov laid out, Aristotle moved the ball much further down the field than where he found it.

Michael

Perhaps not Aristotle, but surely his followers. Aristotle's main flaw was not checking carefully enough or even checking at all. He suffered from the "Greek Disease", that is regarding any argument that sounded logical and right to be true. Aristotle was not the only Greek philosopher who was in thrall to the Logos. Plato and Pythagoras were even more so. We did not achieve genuine empiricism for another 1700 or 1800 years following Aristotle. The lest vestiges of Aristotle's erroneous notions of matter and motion were not purged from natural philosophy (i.e. physical science) until Newton. Aristotle's physics completely missed the mark insofar as it had no proper notion of inertia and momentum. The first glimmerings of these concepts did not show up until the Middle Ages. (see http://en.wikipedia....John_Philoponus) and Newton finally nailed it. He was able to account theoretically for Kepler's empirical findings.

Here is an excerpt from the article on Philoponos:

"But this [view of Aristotle] is completely erroneous, and our view may be completely corroborated by actual observation more effectively than by any sort of verbal argument. For if you let fall from the same height two weights, one many times heavier than the other you will see that the ratio of the times required for the motion does not depend [solely] on the weights, but that the difference in time is very small. ..." —John Philoponus' refutation of the Aristotelian claim that the elapsed time for a falling body is inversely proportional to its weight[

At last! The first glimmerings of a correct view of matter and motion. That was about a

thousand years after Aristotle's lifetime. All beginnings are hard.

Ba'al Chatzaf

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Perhaps not Aristotle, but surely his followers.

Oh, God...

Miracles exist!

:smile:

Michael

Aristotle's main flaw was not checking carefully enough or even checking at all.

Aristotle was in the thrall of the Logos.

Ba'al Chatzaf

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> Aristotle's main flaw was not checking carefully enough or even checking at all. [baal]

All he could do in many cases is hypothesize or try to integrate with causes he saw around him because he didn't have telescopes, microscopes, and other instruments. More fundamentally, he didn't have a vast body of scientific knowledge to build on.

In such an early context, it's not unreasonable to suppose the universe is built out of four substances -especially when you see them all around you and as components of much you can detect, from direct observation (and no knowledge of air resistance) it's rational to note that heavier objects fall faster, it's reasonable to surmise that the stars are embedded in a transparent shell which is why they seem to rotate together with the seasons. And he doesn't know what the heart does - Harvey would not come along for nearly two thousand years - or how and where the nervous system operates so how could he be expected to properly locate the psyche or source of thought?

Even when Aristotle was wrong he would usually offer causal explanations. And as far as checking things in general, he was in many ways the father of empirical science. He wouldn't just guess about how fish gave birth or how animals looked inside. He'd open them up.

,,,,,,,,,,

ASIDE: Baal, I probably should have bitten my tongue and not posted my original swipe at you in post #9 - your unfair slam at Asimov that I was responding to really ticked me off. It would be better to not react to your belittling word choice so viscerally.

(By the way though, you are now doing the same thing with Aristotle -- dismissive, contemptuous, and highly unfair - and it's just as anger-generating. But in this case, my post here simply contents itself with pointing out what you overlook about the man you are critiquing.)

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> Aristotle's main flaw was not checking carefully enough or even checking at all.

All he could do in many cases is hypothesize or try to integrate with causes he saw around him because he didn't have telescopes, microscopes, and other instruments. More fundamentally, he didn't have a vast body of scientific knowledge to build on.

John Philoponos did an experiment in the 7 th century which disproved Aristotle's dictum of heavier bodies falling faster than light bodies. Anything Philoponos did in the 7 th century Aristotle could have done. There was no technological barrier there. Hell a ten year old kid could have dropped a heavy weight and a light weight from a height and proved that bodies fall at the same rate provided the air does not interfere.

Aristotle didn't bother to check. Shame on him. He could have also counted the ribs of women and men. Also he could have counted the teeth of women and men. But he didn't, did he? Why? Because he believed deduction was good enough. But it isn't, is it?

Ba'al Chatzaf

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Here is the original essay, posted by the Tufts U. chemistry dept, which previously appeared in The Skeptical Inquirer Fall 1989, Vol. 14, No. 1, Pp. 35-44. According to Wikipedia here, this essay first appeared in Asimov's column for Fantasy & Science Fiction magazine before being anthologized in an eponymous volume, Asimov, Isaac. The Relativity of Wrong,. Doubleday, 1988.

Our YouTube comrade, C0nc0rdance, has a nice speaking voice, but you can read the actual essay faster than he summarized it. Also, of course, you get the intention of the original author, rather than a summary.

As noted, Asimov is a middle-brow writer. He never promised more, nor needed to. If you want to know the mainstream of anything, you can read him with confidence. However, he, too, only summarized the works of others.

To review the book Astronomical Symbols on Ancient and Medieval Coins by Marshall Faintich, I read about medieval astronomy. Again, these were summaries, not orignal manuscripts. At some level, you have to be satisfied. But I did find a book of facsimiles of Dark Age manuscripts showing the motions of the planets. So, that helped me to validate the summaries ... and summaries of summaries... up to Asimov.

I will say here and now that many Objectivists have an absolutist view that denigrates the Middle Ages. And they are not alone. As 2010 was the 400th anniversary of the Trial of Galileo my university's astronomy department hosted a math department "debate" on Galileo versus the Church. Actually, solving the problem of Easter provided a fundamental motivation for good astronomy by church doctors.

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Age manuscripts showing the motions of the planets. So, that helped me to validate the summaries ... and summaries of summaries... up to Asimov.

I will say here and now that many Objectivists have an absolutist view that denigrates the Middle Ages. And they are not alone. As 2010 was the 400th anniversary of the Trial of Galileo my university's astronomy department hosted a math department "debate" on Galileo versus the Church. Actually, solving the problem of Easter provided a fundamental motivation for good astronomy by church doctors.

Particulary Fr. Clavius who was an earlier sponsor and admirer of Galileo. He wanted a telescope pronto so he could recalibrate the calendars. Clavius was a voice of reason and science -within- the Church. Eventually a crater on the Moon was named for him.

Ba'al Chatzaf

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Also he could have counted the teeth of women and men. But he didn't, did he? Why? Because he believed deduction was good enough.

Bob,

Are you 100% sure? If so, how do you know that?

Maybe Aristotle was just too busy trying to go through all the details of all of existence to sit down and count teeth. He didn't have enough time in light of the size of the task before him.

That sounds a lot more reasonable to me than proclaiming that he was systemically against counting teeth for verifying the number of teeth.

Michael

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Also he could have counted the teeth of women and men. But he didn't, did he? Why? Because he believed deduction was good enough.

Bob,

Are you 100% sure? If so, how do you know that?

Maybe Aristotle was just too busy trying to go through all the details of all of existence to sit down and count teeth. He didn't have enough time in light of the size of the task before him.

That sounds a lot more reasonable to me than proclaiming that he was systemically against counting teeth for verifying the number of teeth.

Michael

Michael and Bob:

And maybe Aristotle did count the ribs and the teeth. Maybe he did the experiments Bob claimed he should have made. And maybe, since we do not have Aristotle's original works, but notes and drafts of his writings as taken down and revised by his students.

As noted here:

Of the writings attributed to Aristotle (384-322 BC), the polished essays and dialogues which he intended for publication have been almost completely lost, with the exception of a few fragments. The great body of Aristotle's thought that has come down to us is in the form of "treatise" on various subjects, such as logic, physics, ethics, psychology, biology, and politics. It seems that these treatise began as notes on (or summaries of) Aristotle's lectures at the Lyceum in
Athens
. He continued to edit and revise them throughout his life, as his views evolved, but never brought them to a state of completion for publication. Subsequently they were edited and organized into "books" by his students, and then the whole corpus was transmitted through a series of transcribers, translators, and commentators.

Can you imagine what we would know of the thoughts and ideas of Bob if all we had weres the notes of what OLers were able to jot down as to what he actually thought and believed?

Adam

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Also he could have counted the teeth of women and men. But he didn't, did he? Why? Because he believed deduction was good enough.
Bob, Are you 100% sure? If so, how do you know that? Maybe Aristotle was just to busy trying to go through all the details of all of existence to sit down and count teeth. He didn't have enough time in light of the size of the task before him. That sounds a lot more reasonable to me than proclaiming that he was systemically against counting teeth for verifying the number of teeth. Michael
Michael and Bob: And maybe Aristotle did count the ribs and the teeth. Maybe he did the experiments Bob claimed he should have made. And maybe, since we do not have Aristotle's original works, but notes and drafts of his writings as taken down and revised by his students. As noted here:
Of the writings attributed to Aristotle (384-322 BC), the polished essays and dialogues which he intended for publication have been almost completely lost, with the exception of a few fragments. The great body of Aristotle's thought that has come down to us is in the form of "treatise" on various subjects, such as logic, physics, ethics, psychology, biology, and politics. It seems that these treatise began as notes on (or summaries of) Aristotle's lectures at the Lyceum in
Athens
. He continued to edit and revise them throughout his life, as his views evolved, but never brought them to a state of completion for publication. Subsequently they were edited and organized into "books" by his students, and then the whole corpus was transmitted through a series of transcribers, translators, and commentators.
Can you imagine what we would know of the thoughts and ideas of Bob if all we had weres the notes of what OLers were able to jot down as to what he actually thought and believed? Adam

Good point, Adam. It's a crying shame that so little survived.

I predict a short silence from Bob - nope, what am I saying? After all, consider how many more mistakes

Aristotle MUST have made in the totality of his work...

;)

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