The Problem with Pre-history

It is very common to read matter-of-fact statements about how long ago our prehistoric antecedents lived and in such and such a manner.  The date ranges are given without a hint of humility or doubt as to the limitations of our ability to know things about our prehistoric past.  Natural ‘history’ is more of the same.  Radiometric dating is only reliable if all the underlying assumptions are true.  Because we don’t know the underlying assumptions are true, it is likely many, if not most, of them are not true.  The likelihood of them all being true is remote.  But any comment about the ‘guesswork’ aspect of radiometric dating will elicit howls of indignation.  You will be called a ‘science denier.’  You will be dismissed as ignorant of the scientific integrity of the scientists practicing the ‘art’.  But they will never call it an ‘art.’  It is science.

Looking forward, as climate models do.  You must make assumptions and then force the assumptions to act as place-holders for all you can not know about the future.  And that of course is quite a bit.  The climate models have never had any skill.  They don’t work.  But we are supposed to believe in them anyway because the future they are now predicting will surely come to pass as predicted, because the models are scientific.  You are a ‘science denier’ if you observe the model failures.

It seems rather simple to me.  If you have to guess, you will sometimes guess wrong.  If each guess is in fact a layering of guesses stitched together, then the probability you are wrong is exponentially increased (depending on how many guesses depend on other guesses being right).  In casinos and on the stock floor where the guesses can be kept to a minimum: Heads, tails; red, black; price moves up or down; we have a laboratory to experiment with our guessing.  It is brutally repeatable: you can’t know the particulars about the future.  You know stocks go up and down, generalities.  You can’t know when a particular stock will go up or down.  The coin will be heads or it will be tails when it lands, but you can’t tell which.  Likewise looking backwards – you can know there will have been an approximately equal division in history of coin tosses between the binary choices, but you can’t reconstruct pre-history.  If it isn’t recorded as history, you can’t know the particulars.  Radiometric clocks are not records, and they won’t work without assumptions about uniformity.  Any evidence that is non-conforming invalidates the assumption.  When elemental C14 is repeatedly found embedded in rocks thought to be tens or hundreds of millions of years old; it invalidates radiometric dating.  When protein molecular structures are repeatedly found in dinosaur fossils it invalidates the dating methods.   They are no longer valid.

When a model fails; it is kaput.  It doesn’t work.  You need a model that works.  You shouldn’t tweek the model and declare you have fixed it.  You must build a model that works.  And even then you should be prepared to acknowledge the model will only work until it doesn’t.  Then its over. Done. Finished. Kaput.

The history of modeling is a humble one.  Models don’t ever work reliably, even when they work.  You can’t know your model assumptions are true.  You can’t know your model won’t fail; that it won’t blow up.  You should assume your model will fail – that is the safe bet.  If you assume your model will fail – what must you assume about its predictions?

None of this is likely going to give the model-makers or the model-believers pause, but if there ever was an Emperor without clothes,  our computer modeling of the past and future is there to behold: Aren’t you going to believe your own eyes?

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The Addict: Dedicated to Ambrosia, wherever we may find it.

I am addicted to an idea.

I recently read an article in the journal  First Things, titled American Carnage – The New Landscape of Opioid Addiction by Christopher Caldwell.  The United States has a horrific problem with Opioids. Over fifty-thousand American souls quit breathing every year because the lethal dosage of an opioid suppresses their breathing to the point – they go to sleep forever. In 2009 drug overdose surpassed motor vehicle accidents as a cause of death. If trends continue, by 2019 annually twice as many will die from opioid overdose as from auto accidents.  A terrible carnage without trauma.  No gore, no violence, no rending of the body, just sleep.

I reproduce here a couple concluding paragraphs of Caldwell’s article:

In 1993, Francis F. Seeburger, a professor of philosophy at the University of Denver, wrote a profound book on the thought processes of addicts called Addiction and Responsibility. We tend to focus on the damage addiction does. A cliché among empathetic therapists, eager to describe addiction as a standard-issue disease, is that “no one ever decides to become an addict.” But that is not exactly true, Seeburger shows. “Something like an addiction to addiction plays a role in all addiction,” he writes. “Addiction itself . . . is tempting; it has many attractive features.” In an empty world, people have a need to need. Addiction supplies it. “Addiction involves the addict. It does not present itself as some externally imposed condition. Instead, it comes toward the addict as the addict’s very self.” Addiction plays on our strengths, not just our failings. It simplifies things. It relieves us of certain responsibilities. It gives life a meaning. It is a “perversely clever copy of that transcendent peace of God.”

The founders of Alcoholics Anonymous thought there was something satanic about addiction. The mightiest sentence in the book of Alcoholics Anonymous is this: “Remember that we deal with alcohol—cunning, baffling, powerful!” The addict is, in his own, life-damaged way, rational. He’s too rational. He is a dedicated person—an oblate of sorts, as Seeburger puts it. He has commitments in another, nether world.

Yesterday, Larry Boshell wrote in a post, “Jesus believed a lot of erroneous stuff…”  I replied,  “But I don’t believe that about Jesus. The part about Him believing a bunch of erroneous stuff…”

If I do, the entire edifice of faith disintegrates.  I don’t go there. I must not go there. I am addicted to an idea about Jesus of Nazareth.  Larry, about now, says – “I told you so” or something like that. Because Larry has always argued that all the people are erecting decrepit edifices of faith and belief that are unhinged from reality and fact: Himself included – Larry is just self-aware.  This self-awareness lets Larry dwell in carefree fields of Ambrosia, where one assumes, he feasts with the gods.  Larry has never been real specific on what he does in Ambrosia-land.  But he doesn’t want to lose his pass, his membership card. He has found rest for his soul there.  I do observe Larry clings to his shibboleths as tenaciously as I do mine.

Here is the cornerstone idea that I am addicted to:  That the man, Jesus of Nazareth, believed he was the Messiah foretold in Jewish Scripture.   To Jesus, it was all about Him.  The scriptures, Abraham, Israel, Moses, King David, the whole world and all  its history were mere preludes to his coming.  His success was totally hinged on his faith never failing, on Him never doubting Himself.  His cry, “Eli Eli Lama Sabachthani”  is prophetic verse spoken in messianic drama.  It is not doubt.  An honest reading of the scriptures, of Jesus’ sayings and teachings leads to only two possible conclusions. He was either the only begotten Son of God, the Jewish Messiah & the True King of Israel, or he was a deluded megalomaniac.

My belief in Him is bound up with Jesus of Nazareth’s belief in Himself.  I am undone if Jesus believed a lot of erroneous stuff. I am totally committed to His idea about His perfect self.

The sordid tales of addicts serving their addiction will make your ears burn.  Think of those works as offerings on the altar of their god.  The pathos of their ruin, the betrayal of all affections, the will to embrace even death in their quest, their purpose.  I think I understand.

But my tale is not sordid.  Addiction to the Jesus idea leads to goodness and life. He taught us the service we do to the ‘least of these my brethren’ is the service he desires.  I am supposed to disrobe.  To bend down and wash the feet.  He has set us an example of service. I am to forgive, even as He forgave.  I am to embrace pain and suffering.  Like Him I will forego the mingled gall.  There will be no escape from death, I will embrace that too.  But I will cling in faith to my belief that Jesus Christ rose from the dead.

Larry, what idea am I supposed to trade up to?  I can’t figure out this world; I can’t ‘define the universe’ as Justice Kennedy suggests I must.  I can see the limits of science: science is such a narrow way of looking at things – and only the things before us. Is truth limited to what we can experiment on and experience?  Is Nietzsche right?

The individual has always had to struggle to keep from being overwhelmed by the tribe. If you try it, you will be lonely often, and sometimes frightened. But no price is too high to pay for the privilege of owning yourself.” – Friedrich Nietzsche

I’m addicted to the idea that I belong to God.  I am afraid to believe otherwise. I am afraid that I might will it to be so and I would be alone and undone.