Biting Off More Than I Can Chew – Part One – the redacted reply

The E.M. Smith ‘theme’ image, a new PhotoShop hatchet job by Atani         [©Atani Studios-2012]

[You will note that we now have a Musings from the Chiefio theme image at the top of the post.  We will be using this image as a kind of ‘flag’ whenever we have a post based upon E.M. Smith’s blog – and can’t come up with anything better that is unencumbered by copyright ~Ed.]

Once in a while I find that, intellectually, I have bitten off more than I can chew in one bite and have to spit it back out so I can cut it into a more manageable mouthful.  Unfortunately what is left lying on the plate is usually not very appetizing, and you really don’t want to put it back in your mouth.  I have had one of those two-half messes sitting in my WordPress drafts folder for the past several days as I’ve been working up the courage to pick them back up off the plate and start chewing again.

Since I’ve already put in a fair amount of time on the subject I’m loath to let the mental effort go to waste – this may have something to do with my yankee waste-not-want not upbriging about not wasting food.  So, I will be a good boy and attempt to clean my plate.  Hopefully in the process I can produce something appetizing for your intellectual apatite.

Isaac  Bashevis Singer once said:

The waste basket is the writer’s best friend.

No doubt true, especially in the days of the manual typewriter and yellow legal pads, the ability of the writer to look critically at his own work and stop wasting time on an unworthy effort can be invaluable; however, I’m also very hip to the archeological notion of mining the midden for useful information, so the office trash receptacle could really be more some kind of a recycling bin or cache for potentially useful bits of intellectual fodder.
So, first things first [or begin with the easiest part] – I seem to be on a Steven Covey memorial kick this week, I see he died recently.
E.M Smith who blogs at Musings from the Chiefio has a recent “mind pleaser” Dust, Zodiacs Queen (the band), which touches on the subjects of how contact with various forms of pop-culture have been interacting with some of his current ‘techno bit’ investigations.

In the discussion E.M. ranges far and wide.  After he reminisces about the old PBS/BBC TV show Connections, and a new way to think about history.  He’s off to the races on what we think is the subject at hand:

I’ve been trying to move forward the horizon of understanding just a bit on “cold spikes” in our Holocene History, with some particular emphasis on the 8.2 Kiloyear Event and honorable mention for The Dark Ages and the 6.2 Kiloyear Event. It cycles around cycles and occasionally blazes with a comet or two… [E.M. Smith, Musings from the Chiefio]

Almost immediately we lose the thread about Holocene climate and start following a series of ‘tangents’ further and further from the original investigation. First its hard core science vs popular science and academic punctuated equilibrium vs S. V. M (Victor) Clube and William Napier’s account of “coherent catastrophism” [which is a more specific astronomic impact theory within the broader realm of catastrophism]  Next he passes through the rock band Queen, as he references Brian May’s [very late] doctoral thesis on Radial Velocities in the Zodiacal Dust Cloud  [36 years ABD???, that has to be some kind of a record] and a discussion of the possible influences of Zodiacal Lights and rogue [possibly] transneptunian giant comets.  Finally before he leaves us for some personal glam-band reminiscences he veers off into the New Age.

Wondering how much of the Ancient Wisdom and New Age stuff “has legs” in a poetic kind of way.  [E.M. Smith, Musings from the Chiefio]

What follows is an excerpt from a 2006 paper by Amanda Laoupi, linked to at Disaster Pages:


Amanda Laoupi

Centre for the Assessment of Natural Hazards and Proactive Planning

(National Technical University of Athens)(NTUA), GREECE

Presented at the International Symposium on SCIENCE AND TECHNOLOGY – IN HOMERIC EPICS, 27-30 August 2006, Ancient Olympia, Greece

Naturally I had some thoughts.  I was very good though, I actually cut out a lot from what I had written and wanted to say over at E.M.’s blog.

So here is my comment as it appeared over at Musings from the Chiefio:

How did this thread start again? – Connections [TV series] – I confess I had to look that one up. Now that we’re finally in the internet age, its probably worth going back and having a look-see. I’m pretty hip to the concepts presented in the series by James Burke [though not him in particular]. All all about non-linearity, complexity, and “Alternative Views of Change” what I would refer to as a ‘fractal view of history’.

I have to applaud you for your interest in trying to, “…move forward the horizon of understanding just a bit…” even if its something as relatively obscure as Holocene “cold spikes”. Anything that tends to move the horizon of understanding, as opposed to mere pedantry, has to be applauded. Good luck with it.

Its an interesting subject, how various solar and cosmic processes feed[back] into earth’s systems: climatological, evolutionary, biological, and cultural [all four]. It almost goes without saying that these ‘local’ cosmological cycles have ‘something’ to do with our climate system. Question is, is it significant? Given enough [quality] data and proper application of The Method, and I’m sure you have a good a possibility as anyone of making some useful discoveries, even if the discovery is that the zodiacal lights, or whatever, are not significant in their impact on Earth’s climate.

I’m noting a bit of irony inherent in that process. Uncle Terrence used to paraphrase his brother Dennis as saying something like, [there were several versions of this bit of ‘lazzi’] “Have you noticed that as you build the bonfire of Knowledge ever brighter that the surface area of Mystery revealed grows ever larger?”

Personally what I find interesting is that we, as a species, are ever able to make any real progress in “understanding” AT ALL given our biological propensity towards bias and systematic errors in reasoning. One of the most interesting aspects of this notion has to do with the unique non-linear way the human brain processes information. We as humans are quite literally able to detect [create] patterns out of almost ANYTHING. On the one hand almost everything new and significant that is discovered, comes as a ‘funny idea’ of some kind and the effort to try and pour reality through that ‘funny idea’. On the other hand the reality is that most of those ‘funny ideas’ turn out to be completely wrong, or mostly wrong, or significantly wrong, or partly wrong… you get the picture.

This is where I think a lot of people, academic scientists included can lose their way with The Method, namely not taking the null hypothesis strongly enough and not designing an experimental approach that tries to eliminate the working hypothesis from possibility and ‘prove’ the null hypothesis. It seems to me to be the case that often trying to ‘confirm’ the hypothesis leads to confirmation bias in results.

This morning doing my rounds of the blogosphere I was reading Richard Landes over at paraphrasing Nietzsche, “Nietzsche once compared thinking to diving into an ice-cold pond and seizing a stone lying on the bottom. Time to wet more than our feet.”

You’ll notice immediately that in comment I completely ditched the subject of Amanda Laoupi and her theory about “Homeric/Hephaestos, I was already realizing that I had more in my mouth than was safe to chew in a single comment so I left it out, even though it was the issue that most attracted me to comment in the first place.

I will attempt to tackle that issue, at least in a limited sense in Part Two.

~ Wygart

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