Paradigm Wars

Last time I wrote about rectification of names, the importance of using correct terminology and not fooling ourselves with self-proclaimed labels. However important that concept is, on its own it doesn’t move the discussion along – who has never heard of reds being called a misguided and manipulated mob? What good has ever came out of it?

Today I want to present some reasons why it is so, why, despite all the efforts on all sides to communicate with each other, nothing substantial has been ever achieved.

Let’s consider one of the most cliche expressions out there – “paradigm shift”. Ever since MBA and marketing people adopted it, it has turned into one of those meaningless proclamations no one pays attention to. Forget those guys, go back to the original, intended meaning.

About fifty years ago Thomas Kuhn wrote a book, “The Structure of Scientific Revolutions”, and he used “paradigm shift” to describe development of science. We all know that scientific theories evolve, that they eventually replace each other, but Kuhn presented some very interesting observations of how it actually happens.

For one thing, paradigm shifts have very little to do with accumulating scientific data and knowledge per se, or with validity of new theories, there’s a lot of human element involved, too, and paradigms describe not just prevailing theories but entire world views that come with them.

When one theory achieves dominance and a paradigm evolves around it, it gives scientists the direction to develop it further, it gives them new problems to solve, it gives them new knowledge to solve these new problems, provides them with tools to solve them, it gives them determination and tenacity and recognition, but, on the other hand, it also restricts the development to certain areas only. It identifies new goals, but also sets limits to what goals can be pursued, it sets boundaries, it sets areas where scientists simply cannot go or even contemplate. It sets rules how to deal with those areas – either dismiss them altogether, discount as simple errors, or postpone for the future consideration. That’s the period of “normal” science.

Eventually some unresolvable problems accumulate and become too obvious and annoying enough to push some “revolutionary” scientists to look for other, unorthodox tools, methodology and theories to try and explain them. They might try something totally new, they might pick up some ideas discarded earlier and turn them around, try whatever works.

Finally, they come up with a completely new theory that explains previously unresolved phenomena, and also explains how previous theory achieved its results without contradicting this new theory. They prove that their new theory is overall better, and so the new paradigm is born. Then they flesh it out with new methods, new tools, new rules, new areas of research, and new areas you are not supposed to even think about.

And then it starts all over again.

The transition from one paradigm to another is not a peaceful time, however, and it doesn’t happen overnight.

Take Copernicus, for example. He came up with the idea that Earth rotates around Sun but his calculations were not correct enough to challenge the prevailing Ptolemaic system which still predicted planetary positions better, and no one had taken Copernicus seriously. Then Galileo came up with his telescopes and Jupiter moons, and paid dearly for that, then Kepler, who introduced ecliptic orbits, a whole bunch of other guys helped, too, in the end it was only Newton’s work, some hundred and fifty years later, that enabled Copernicus theory to finally become dominant.

Here we have a combination of religious dogma and a lack of precision in the theory itself that delayed the adoption.

Then there’s example of Darwin who killed the idea of the Creator altogether. Chemists didn’t accept the idea of atoms right away, either, Einstein’s relativity took quite some time to kill off electro-magnetism, Big Bang theory took decades to prove itself and so on.

The interesting observation that Kuhn made was that, as a general rule, proponents of one paradigm do not convert to a new one, they just die out, of natural causes. They are so heavily invested in their own paradigm, as human beings, that conversion becomes practically impossible – remember that paradigm defines them completely. It defines their core beliefs, their values, their methods, ways of thinking, approaches to problems, and the problems themselves, and generally, they have enough material to go on until the end of their natural lives.

New scientists adopt new paradigms, old dogs don’t do new tricks.

It’s not that there’s no communication between adherents of the new and old paradigms, but, Kuhn observed – they just can’t agree on anything. One of the reasons is that their language becomes different. The arguments that old school insists on are irrelevant to the new way, and the arguments that new school uses to prove itself makes no sense to the old guys, as they simply do not share the new methods to prove things and do not even have the vocabulary for that – they were not provided by the old paradigm they grew up with.

Two existing theories become incommensurable – that is you can’t use one paradigm to prove or disprove another, each is good only on its own terms. Each one is practically self-contained, without any overlapping areas, they simply talk past each other.

That was all ages ago, we all naturally assume that now the society and science are far more mature to fall into those old pitfalls. So, let’s take look at some currently ongoing case study and see how it works in the modern age, and there’s nothing better for that than good old fashioned Darwinism.

Darwin traveled the world, observed great many animals, checked their hooves and claws and wings, looked at the colors of various butterflies, checked behind the ears, and came up with the idea of evolution through natural selection. That was greatly offensive to many at that time – descending from monkeys? No, thank you – natural human response, but one of the most important points it scored was that it ruled out God the Creator. God had already been banished from the universe, now Darwin killed off his last remaining role as the one who could have created it. That was the final victory and the strongest point for the new, Darwinian paradigm.

It has defined development of biology ever since, the way all new data and new fossil finds are interpreted.

All well, but look what happened a hundred years later, with advent of genetics, biochemistry and molecular biology. Darwin had no idea those little things even existed, he never observed them, yet biologists within Darwin’s paradigm already knew that these completely new areas of science must comply with “evolution through natural selection”. It was not “observe and form a theory” process, it was “make sure your observations fit”.

In the beginning no one made a lot of fuss anyway – people were just too busy trying to find out what those genes and proteins are and how they work. Even today the question of how exactly they could have been developed is simply beyond the scope of current research.

Any disagreement immediately marked one as being a hidden creationist. That is the strongest point of Darwinism, rejection of God, and it’s fully at work. The world is exactly black and white – if you doubt Darwin, you support religion. It’s hard to find a third position, and the fact that many creationists deliberately obscure their position by claiming to be something else, like “intelligent designers”, is not helping. Dissenters are immediately get lumped with those loonies somewhere in Kansas who try to sneak Bible back into schools and go to courts over it.

Nevertheless, just as any paradigm before and after it, evolution through natural selection has collected plenty of problems that it can’t explain adequately. Gaps and missing links between species, lack of fossil evidence, mismatching timings and the like, but I want to give an example from molecular biology that Darwin was completely unaware of.

What you see is a diagram of a flagellum, a sort of a tail sticking out of some bacteria. The bacterium has a motor inside that rotates this “tail” and so it acts as a propelling mechanism. It can change the direction of rotation so that the bacterium can move forward and backwards and so on.

This is one of the most common examples of the so called “Irreducible Complexity”, which means that you can’t make this motor, consisting of some forty parts, in gradual, working steps. You have to get all the components, in exact shape and size, together at once and assemble them in only one particular fashion, otherwise it wouldn’t work.

That flies in the face of natural selection that postulates that evolutionary steps must be gradual and each one must improve the system or it would simply die out.

In bacteria terms it means that adding each component one by one and going through various possible shapes and sizes must improve the system overall at each step otherwise it would be a waste of time, resources and energy and the wasteful specimens would die out in competition instead of evolving.

If an engineer were to design such a motor he would spend a considerable amount of time and go through a considerable amount of failures to eventually produce a working motor that would recoup the investments in the end, but natural selection does not allow for investments and sacrifices. If you add one screw somewhere and the machine doesn’t immediately become better – you’ve wasted a screw, DIE!

It is theoretically possible to describe how to build a motor like this in gradual steps – means you can’t prove that it is impossible, but so far, some fifteen years after it was first publicized, no one still has a slightest idea how to go about that, and there’s absolutely no evidence of any half built motors in bacteria either.

There’s a kind of sting that looks roughly the same and is used to inject poison into other organisms but still no sign of motor, still some thirty parts missing, and some have argued that the need to inject poison, evolutionary speaking, came a lot later than the need to propel yourself in water, and was clearly added later in bacteria that have both functions.

There’s absolutely no chance it could have come out by chance either. There are calculations that give out numbers in range of ten to the hundred power, which, translated into years, (bacteria has a life span of about half an hour) gives us untold trillions and gazillions, and our whole universe is only 14 billion years old. And that is just a small part of one of the simplest life forms, and the stuff it does on molecular level, for example the “machines” used for handling and replicating DNAs folded hundreds of thousands of times in order to fit inside the cell, makes it far more complex that anything our technological progress has ever achieved.

No one would look at models and diagrams of those things and claim to show how they came out through natural selection of trial and error, with each step being better than the previous. It just not the most obvious observation to make, to be generous to the idea, but, being prisoners of Darwinian paradigm, all scientists are obliged to dance around the issue, and those who dare to speak are drawn into taking sides and throwing mean punches at each other, which was probably not their intention in the beginning, but we are all humans…

Consider this opening paragraph of one paradigm prisoner refuting flagella argument.

Almost from the moment The Origin of Species was published in 1859, the opponents of evolution have fought a long, losing battle against their Darwinian foes. Today, like a prizefighter in the late rounds losing badly on points, they’ve placed their hopes in one big punch – a single claim that might smash through the overwhelming weight of scientific evidence to bring Darwin to the canvas once and for all.

You can immediately see that’s it’s not going to be about science, the war is about God and religion first and foremost, the truth will be sacrificed, if necessary, for the other side cannot be allowed to win.

You can also see that this guy is never going to give up on his paradigm, no matter what hard and irrefutable evidence you put before him.

So that’s an example of how far the scientific community progressed since modern ages. We don’t burn people at stakes, but sure as hell we won’t provide funding to those religious fanatics hiding under various innocent looking labels who want to destroy our faith in Darwinism.

Faith, make no mistake, as we are asked to believe that despite all the shortcomings in evidence and proof department, eventually all will become clear and properly explained. The world is too complex for us to see right now, but, in the end, Darwin, who had a “revelation” of sorts, will prevail, you just have to believe, work very hard, and don’t get distracted.

Every new paradigm starts with a faith, btw. In the beginning no one can possibly see that the new theory would produce enough positive results to justify itself, they work on faith, and the old school science persevere on faith, too, even when evidence against it keeps multiplying.

The ever present human element.

Isn’t it ironic how God has again become the dividing issue in science. I’m sure Copernicus or Galileo or Bruno were NOT against existence of God per se, but once their theory even suggested that God doesn’t exist in a way the prevailing paradigm had prescribed, all their ideas were summarily rejected.

Nowadays even a remote hint at the existence of God, even by non-religious people, gets a complete and total ban from mainstream science. If someone pleads “I’m for Intelligent Design, not religion” it won’t matter – the damning label has been stuck already, all forms of dissent against Darwinism is pro-God by definition. By definition of Darwinian paradigm, that is.

I’m not speaking in absolute terms, mind you, new paradigms do find ways to prove themselves, they managed even in sixteenth century, so nothing is lost forever, there’s a way forward, though it might not be pleasant for all.

Well, that should round it up nicely for today. Applying this paradigm model to current Thai politics definitely needs another sitting.

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Random thoughts

Can’t find enough time to write a full size entry on any particular one, even though they all deserve proper attention.

So here it goes, in no particular order.

Thaksin’s new pix from his facebook:

Montenegro flag

This is Montenegrin flag. Pic dated Monday 26 but uploaded on Wednesday 28. Facebook link

And the latest one:

In Russia

Facebook link.

This is in Russia, judging by cyrillic on the sign. Someone noted that the shade is missing, I’m not convinced, though, not as clear cut case as with temple in Seychelles. If you didn’t see it, here is the thumbnail for “now you see him, now you don’t” trick.

Now you see him, not you don't

Temple in Seychelles

We are talking about officially released photo on Thaksin’s own facebook page.

Gives some weight to the theory that Thaksin is in fact in coma in Brunei. Abhisit thought he could sit it out but, as Thaksin refuses to die, his camp needs to release some pix and videos, delaying breaking the news to his faithful.

A temple in Chiang Mai associated with his family is, reportedly, has been contracted to hold a fake funeral ceremony, the idea being that after a fake funeral the karma would be cleared and there’d be no need to hold a real one. Gosh, makes him more difficult to kill than Lord Valdemort with his seven Horcruxes.

Suppose Thaksin really died, what would the impact be on the current crisis?

Change in ideology and demands is unlikely but the players behind the protest would certainly need to readjust their strategies, preparing for post Thaksin Thailand.

Would they call the dogs off? Possibly, but not guaranteed. It would depend on how secure they feel without the full scale revolution. As for rank and file proxies in politics, they’d need to reassess their ability to get elected on their own and whether backing the revolution would serve them any good. There is probably a hundred of those in parliament now.

That brings me to another thought – has the red movement outgrown Thaksin. Everybody says it is so, even Nation’s Thanong in his blog.

Well, what does it really mean, “outgrown”? Are they able to fight on their own, without his input? Yes, it appears to be so, there are several layers of command between him and the people by the red stage and they’ve got enough battery power left to continue for a while.

On the other hand, he is undeniably has been their main source of inspiration, and don’t forget that reds on the street is only one part of his movement, other parts and especially the leaders have been a lot more connected to Thaksin than the folks on the ground. Who knows what they would do without him.

Right now they are clearly winging it, they had no idea whatsoever that their protest would last this long and degenerate into open calls for civil war. You could say they have been successful so far but at a cost of losing all democratic legitimacy – the only way they can win is total overthrow of the state with arrest warrants against them nullified in the process. They can’t hope for bail anymore – most of them are already on bail for the last Songkran riots, it’s either jail or victory.

Would Abhisit promise them amnesty if they surrender? Possibly for some of them but people like Arisman and Kwanchai can forget about it.

Or would they force Abhisit to resign and have him begging for amnesty? They’d like that but they need a really big massacre for that to happen, and a clear proof that Abhisit gave the order to kill, otherwise it would be viewed as the army or police screw up rather than political responsibility, just as it happened after April 10.

Anyway, back to red rally size – have they outgrown Thaksin in any other sense?

From Thaksin’s point of view they are still doing exactly what he needs. Of course it’s a lot of mayhem and destruction to serve just one man, but, whichever way you look at it, it’s the only way to get him what he wants. Without overthrowing the state he can’t hope to get neither the money nor lost status and prestige nor avoid jail.

All he needs is to make sure reds are not deviating from this course. He can’t allow them to give up and enter the constitutional process. Have they outgrown him if they are still playing to his tune?

Just think about it – civil war is not in their interests at all. Even if they win, at a great cost to themselves and to the country, they’d still have to make a deal with their enemies – generals, ammarts, elites, yellows, multi-color, Democrats, middle classes – they are not going to go away, reds will still have to share the country with them one way or another.

Despite wide held delusions Thailand is not Burma, it’s insane to go through civil war because reds can’t wait a year and a half for the next election campaign which they believe they’d bag easily anyway.

So here they are, still dancing to Thaksin’s tune against their own interests. Have they outgrown him? Or have they fallen prey to a bunch of rabid Maoist revolutionaries instead?

What is Abhisit to do about this misguided bunch? Yellows and some multi-colors want him to get tough and show no mercy. Reds have pissed off a lot of people and arm chair warriors, the anger is out in the open and at times they look as mad as reds.

He has all justification for a crackdown he would ever need.

The other day I posted a comment somewhere about the latest HM the King’s speech about duty and that made me thinking.

I remembered Bhagavat Gita, the book central to most of Hindu religious schools. There are great many interpretations of what it actually mean but one thing stands out in the connection to the current Thai crisis.

Some background on that book – it’s just one chapter in a monumental epic Mahabharata, second only to Ramayana in size and fame. The whole story is about two parts of a family fighting for a throne. The “good” ones were cheated and sent to exile and when they served their time and came back the “bad” ones didn’t want to return them the throne. Eventually the situation escalated to the point when war was inevitable and the whole nation was divided. Cousins against cousins pulled all they could to their respective side. Some sons were faced against their fathers, disciples against their teachers and so on. Everybody belonged to one camp or the other.

So everything was ready for the battle, armies were facing each other in the field, all preparations completed.

That’s when Bhagavat Gita starts. Arjuna, leader of the “good” ones, confides in his closest friend Krishna that he has no guts to fight his relatives. He looks across the field and sees familiar faces he loved from his childhood and he just doesn’t have the stomach for it.

He argues that the war would bring destruction to the whole country and the victory won’t be worth the price, he doesn’t want the sin of killing people on his hands and therefore he offered to resign and spend the rest of his life as a monk.

Krishna didn’t buy any of it. He said that as a warrior it was Arjuna’s duty to go and fight to the best of his abilities to return what was taken to their rightful owners. Abandoning his duty would be a bigger sin, and, as for poor victims, they are already dead, so to speak, Arjuna just doesn’t know it yet. It’s not Arjuna’s worry to think who deserved to die and who doesn’t, as long as he sticks to doing the “right thing”.

Then Krishna explains the logic behind his argument and reveals that he is actually God himself and it’s him who kills people and administers their karma, not Arjuna or anybody else.

This part of the book is where all philosophy is and everybody understands it differently but the first, introductory chapter is rather clear, despite various allegories associated with it.

So, would it mean that Abhisit has to go out and kill those reds left and right and “let God sort them out”, as they say in the movies?

Not at all. Bhagavat Gita was Gandhi’s bible, too, and he clearly didn’t think violence was the answer. The key is understanding what the duty actually is. Arjuna was a warrior, Abhisit is a politician, Gandhi was Gandhi.

In yesterday’s interview with CNN and BBC HardTalk Abhisit expressed his duty as “to find a political solution in tandem with solving problem of law enforcement”. He is tempted by yellows to go and fight but that won’t bring a political solution so he has to stay put and test his resolve to find a way where there’s apparently none.

Will he be victorious? Arjuna, after all, took Krishna’s advice about duties, went out, killed those who needed to be killed, and ruled the country with his brothers happily ever after. Shouldn’t Abhisit be rewarded, too?

Not at all. I bet there were thousands of people on that day praying for divine advice, getting the same “do what you have to do” answer, but they got killed anyway!

That’s another trick – the rewards for doing your duty are not of earthly order but of spiritual. Earthly results might or might not come, one shouldn’t be thinking of results when doing his job to spare disappointment, or develop attachments, which are root of all misery even by Buddhist standards.

So, Abhisit should think carefully what his duty is, so far it looks reasonable even though improbable, and he should follow all the developments closely, resorting to the use of force only when there’s no other choice. Sometimes his supporters might feel the waiting is unbearable but he should be firm and keep emotions out of this one.

Reds are hell bent on starting a civil war, he should try to avoid that at all costs while maintaining the integrity of the Thai state and honor of his office.

Thaksin death could be a “deal breaker” here but the rumors of his demise are probably greatly exaggerated. Either way, it doesn’t look as quick a solution as it appeared last week.

People are getting used to red rally at Rajprasong, btw. It’s not a news anymore, reds need another escalation but so far haven’t found any working to their advantage.

That’s gone for too long and I’m hungry now, forget proofreading, maybe tomorrow.

Cheers

Avatar screener

Just downloaded new Avatar DVD screener.

First impression – where are the colors??? I know the final DVD/Blueray versions will look a lot better, but without those vivid blues and greens the movie feels really pale.

Just goes to show how much the movie loses when viewed on inferior media – no 3D, low resolution, pale colors – the “wow” factor has gone completely. I hope the story is still as engaging, but the visual feast is just not there anymore.

Earlier I generally dismissed Pandora’s civilization and its people, arguing that we, earthlings, have passed this stage thousands of years ago. It clearly is unsuitable model for us, we are not going to live on the trees anymore.

On the second thought, however, I wonder what the purpose of having civilization and a certain way of life really is. We, the earthlings, have clearly lost all sense of it. For us it’s just a natural battle for being better, stronger, having more things and so on – our “western” civilization follows Darwin’s theory of evolution, and it has no particular goal and no destination.

I can’t speak for Pandorians with any confidence – they are an imaginary race, after all, but our asian civilizations are markedly different from the western model. Hindus goal of life is some kind of liberation, moksha, Buddhist goal of life is nirvana. Consequently the society is organized in such a way that makes moving towards those goals easier. Anything is ultimately judged by how it affects people’s progress towards moksha (or nirvana). Monks are given higher status and respect because they guide the rest of the society, kings’ main duty is to preserve dharma/dhamma, all communities are centered around temples and so on. Thais invented “middle way” and “sufficiency” to accommodate earthly desires and still stay on the spiritual path.

When faced with aggressive west these asian values and societies generally crumble, though we are from giving out a final verdict on which model is more sustainable in the long run, what with rising China and bankrupted US.

The point is – Pandorian life of balance and restraint works for them, and, at least on this occasion, they managed to preserve it.

As for us, we should probably rethink our value system. It is rooted in Christian values but those have very little relevance to a modern life. Atheist/scientific approach might have offered us logic based substitutes but those haven’t got much ground yet. People still judge what is right and what is wrong based on what they feel in their hearts, not on complex benefits vs. loss calculations. In real life those calculation never really give you an absolute answer anyway.

Destroying Na’ve clearly feels wrong, for example, and I can’t see an easy way to calculate any immediate damages to us if we go out and suck that planet dry.

So here is our first task – how to reconcile what we feel is wrong with what we calculate as right. Do we need to legitimize these feelings and give them protection? They were legitimate and protected when religion was dominant but that era is gone forever. Do we need some moral substitute for religion? Lots of people would not even hear about it, but, on the other hand, show me someone who didn’t feel it for Pandorians?

Hello world!

Let’s go over some fundamentals first.

 

The world is perfect, Thai politics are perfect, there’s nothing to improve. Really.

 

The world and Thai politics in particular serve their purposes just fine. The problem is that we want something different out of it.

To the folks who’d protest that it can’t be fine, that people are suffering as a result of this mess, my answer is – people would suffer anyway. In Bhagavad Gita there was this guy, Arjuna, and he was going into a battle against half of his relatives. So he hesitated – people he cared about very much would be killed.  He was given a simple, and profound answer – they are already dead, you just don’t know it yet. Your job is to go out and do whatever you have to do, and don’t worry whether they live or die – God will sort it out himself, that’s his job, and he is better than you at balancing people’s karma anyway. In fact he is perfect at whatever he is doing, by definition.

 

So, having this attitude in mind, what should we do about Thai politics?  On one hand, if there’s God’s design for it and he’s watching over – then everything is fine, he can’t be wrong. On the other hand, if it sounds so fatalistic – why should we, I, bother at all? Well, I feel like I’m doing something useful here, that it’s kind of “my job”, so, regardless of the outcome, I’m happy I’m doing this, just for the sake of making effort. I’d feel inadequate writing a blog on flowers, or motoring, or scuba diving instead. It just wouldn’t be right.

 

Generally I apply the same standard to anything else – if people are doing something  because they genuinely feel like they have to, that it’s the “right thing” – I support them wholeheartedly. If they have ulterior motives – that’s the reality of life. Everybody has ulterior motives, all the time, the difference is in the degree and people’s own awareness of what is right and what is wrong, of the voice of their own consciousness, even if they are too weak to follow it.

 

So, the task is to keep the absolute, unattainable goal in mind, and navigate the dirty world of politics at the same time, making choices and backing one side over another.

 

Let’s see how it goes.