Archive for the ‘science’ Category

flowers and medicine

April 23, 2009

I just answered a wonderful little reference question.  See, there’s all these flowers all over the office because yesterday was Assistant’s Appreciation Day or something.  So, of course, it takes me twice as long to walk anywhere because I have to stop and admire and smell everything.  One woman had these great little berries in her arrangement and she said she just wanted to eat it!  So I offered to find out what it was for her. 

I live for this stuff.

I searched for berries on flower shop websites and quickly found Hypericum, which looked just right.  Then I followed up and discovered that St John’s wort is a variety, so I looked into that since “St John’s wort” is a more interesting answer than “Hypericum genus.”  St John’s wort (so named because it tends to flower and be harvested on the saint’s day in June) has been demonstrated to be effective in treating depression and may also be an abortofacient (I wish I knew how to pronounce that).  Also, if you’re trying to identify a plant you’ve got in your hand, it is supposed to produce a purplish-reddish stain when you crush it.  So of course I smashed the berry, and it’s vaguely purple, but I think that was supposed to be identification for the flower.  Oh well.  I tasted it too and it tasted like green and a little spicy.  (It’s only harmful in really really large doses, like when your livestock get into it and eat it for a week before you notice their skin peeling off.)

And I realized…

I am in awe of the ancient people who smashed, ground, infused, boiled, and combined plant bits, and then tried them on different symptoms until it did something.  How many thousands of years did it take?  And how cool is it when modern science can verify it?– because often, traditional medicines are shown to be pretty much worthless.  But still, all that experimentation!  All that curiosity and observation and note-taking and passing it down to the children.  Us humans really are amazing.

Or, from another perspective, we’re exploitative sons of bitches, but oh well.  It’s still a wonderful world.


id, ego, me

February 17, 2009

Every so often, when I’m wandering around my large home, or eating whatever I want from groceries I bought from down the street, or when I’m going off about how being a godless heathen is the best thing since sliced bread… I think to myself, “Boy, I’m sure glad I was born at this time and place.”

And then I realize… I don’t believe in the soul anymore.  Obviously.  But then, if I didn’t exist before I was born, then how much of an “I” am I really?  I am a product of my time and place and genetics and parents and everything.  I couldn’t have been born somewhere else because my consciousness is a result of my body chemistry, not my soul.

How would this happen, this being someone else?  Maybe God could accidentally me to a womb out of order?  Maybe I should have been second-born?  Or could God have put me in a different womb; the neighbors, or some random 300 BC Greek woman?

That’s just silly.

It’s a little weird, though, the idea that I am no more than my physical body.  I can’t quite grasp it.  Which is sortof backwards from how it should be, but maybe the human mind just isn’t able to fully comprehend it.  Like quantum physics. 

Is this what “I think, therefore I am” means?

Hrmm.  I will meditate on this.

Belief in science

February 5, 2009

I’ve been thinking about a statement in one of the comments on a previous blog:

Acceptance of science as a provider of answers is exactly the same as faith in god, as long as you don’t understand the science. And that’s the difference.

I disagree with this. I don’t “believe in” science. I use it. Science is a tool for understanding the universe; it’s a way of thinking, and maybe even a way of living.

Someone using science says, “I think such-and-such is true because of a, b, and c. If this is true, I would see something very specific [include a description of this thing]. If it were false, I would see something different [include another description]. I will test it using the following method [description]. I will record my results, see what other people have discovered on similar questions, and come to a provisional conclusion based on the data available. I will continue to seek out confirming and disconfirming evidence, and I will amend or discard my explanations as the evidence requires.”

Someone who believes stops after “I think such and such is true because of a, b, and c.”

So when someone (like me) says they agree with the findings of science, it’s not so much a belief in science as it is a confidence in the soundness of the scientific method. The closest I come to belief is that I believe in the people who use the method.

Furthermore, if I don’t understand the science or I don’t believe the scientists, I can go to college or join an apprenticeship program or read a bunch of books in order to understand it.  I can gather data and apply to have my findings published in a peer-reviewed journal. The findings of science are comprehensible (with the possible exception of some areas of physics. Those people are just freaks.) (Kidding!) If scientific findings are not comprehensible, it probably isn’t really science.

Meanwhile, back to the Bible and theology. Sure, your mind can understand the words and ideas. You can read the works of great religious men and women, apply your mind and reason, and see if you agree. But you haven’t dealt with much (if any) evidence. The good news is that once you’ve got evidence, you can start making real claims and observations about the world. There are ways to test the claims religions make. But you test them scientifically. You can’t go to Heaven or call up the Lord and ask him.

I would venture to say that most religious people would not wager their faith on a scientific test designed to measure the accuracy of the things they believe in. I however, would be more than happy to wager my beliefs on such a test.

And that’s the difference.

It’s a mystery.

January 30, 2009

Do you ever get annoyed when, during a debate with a theist, they retreat into “God is mysterious; we just can’t understand him,” when they are confronted with something contradictory or un-answerable?


So then, you say, “But you’ve just told me all this stuff about God; how can he be unknowable?  Either you know him or you don’t.”


And then the reply is, “We can only understand what he has revealed to us,” and maybe, “Humans are incapable of fully understanding the mind of god.  We’ll get to learn everything in heaven.”


And that’s pretty much a conversation-stopper.




Were you ever in conversation with a theist who tried to stump you on what banged the big bang?  “Maybe,” they say, “it was God?”


And you say, “No, look, just because we don’t know all the details about something doesn’t mean God did it.


And they respond, “But you should consider the possibility, if you are as open-minded as you say you are.”


So you say, “Of course I will consider it if we find evidence to support it, but we don’t have that.”  (Hopefully, during this discussion, you have already defined “evidence” and explained how a hypothesis needs to be testable, repeatable, and disprovable.)  “Besides, everything we know now about the way the world works was once a mystery that we solved because we found evidence.  So even if something is unknown now, it isn’t unknowable, and we will learn about it someday.”


And this may also be a conversation-stopper, though I don’t think it needs to be.  We can talk a lot more about science than we can about Heaven and where it is and how we get there and what we find when we get there.


But it occurred to me that these two arguments are very nearly the same; they both simply say, “We don’t know yet.”  If one is invalid, shouldn’t the other one be?


Plus, do we really want “conversation-stoppers”?  I’d rather end a discussion with something we agree on rather than one party slinking away wondering why they couldn’t explain the reason the other party’s logic was faulty, and then coming up with a really good reason at 3 AM that night.

Scientific endeavor

December 12, 2008

Well, I guess this is about as much of a scientific experiment as my name is Alice. But I am doing an experiment on myself.

I am coming down with a cold right now, and I am going to affirm, as often as I think of it, that being cheerful and smiling and enjoying myself (responsibly, of course) will help my body fight off infection and get well quickly.

Think it’ll work

I’m going to a nice steakhouse with my coworkers for our holiday luncheon this afternoon, so I’m off to a good start.

Creationism + Christianity 4 ever

November 18, 2008

I got an email forward from a coworker with a lot of those cute questions like, “Why do you park on a driveway and drive on a parkway?”  And one of them was, “If man evolved from apes, why are there still apes?”


My response, that I replied-all to, was, “We didn’t evolve from apes; we share a common ancestor with modern apes.  That’s why there’s both.”


My coworker emails me: “And who or what would that ancestor be?”


Australopithecus africanus, for one.  Probably Pierolapithecus catalaunicus also.”


Her response: “I was made in the image of God!  Not ape!”


Once the exclamation marks start coming out, the conversation is over. 


She gets the last word for now since I work in close proximity to her and would like to keep that peaceful.  Looking back, I should have said that regardless of what God did or didn’t do, it wouldn’t hurt to know what the theory of evolution actually claims.  You can’t really reject something unless you understand it, after all.

Going to hell

October 23, 2008

My coworker E started choking just now because she was drinking water and it went down the wrong pipe.  She starts blaming B, who denies responsibility, and then I said, “You should blame whoever put those pipes so close together.”  She goes on coughing for a minute, then says, “Hey, that is really bad design!  Fish are designed better than we are!” 

I say, “Yeah, that’s the best argument for evolution ever.”

“Why is the trachea… that’s horrible design!” E is saying.  We’re both giggling.

“Bad idea,” I agree.  “Someone screwed up.”

And B says, “Ya’ll are both goin’ to hell.”

We all laugh and laugh and laugh.

And just now I realized, wow.  If anybody really took hell seriously as a place of eternal fire and torment, would we everdare say to anybody that they are going to hell?  Is that really funny?  Of course not.  I would even say that nobody possessing any imagination whatsoever, including my fiend B, is truly convicted of the reality of hell.

Scientific awe

September 5, 2008

I experienced my first ever moment of scientific awe.


I realize that sounds a little ridiculous.  What is scientific awe?  Well, here’s an example.


I was reading Dawkins on the train to work this morning, and he was explaining the factors that make this universe friendly to life, and how this planet in particular is situated quite nicely so that life can develop here.  He wrote, “The massive gravitational vacuum cleaner of Jupiter is well placed to intercept asteroids that might otherwise threaten us with lethal collision.”  And I had a little moment where I felt aware, on some physical level, of how all these little things are doing something completely innocent (by innocent I mean that Jupiter isn’t out there blocking asteroids on purpose) and perhaps because of it, here I am.


Just now I wonder … will anything I ever do measure up to Jupiter, just spinning around the sun, taking asteroid hits so that life could develop on Earth over few billion years?