Anda di halaman 1dari 23

7/17/2015

RabbiDr.DovidGottlieb:ScienceMattersforthenonscientist

RABBIDR.DOVIDGOTTLIEB
T O R AH I S S U ES

T U ES DA Y , J U NE 23, 2015

ABOU T ME

ScienceMattersforthenonscientist
ScienceMattersforthenonscientistpart1
Iamindebtedtoapersonwhopreferstoremainanonymouswho
transcribedshiurimofmine.Thisvirtuallyuneditedversionwillserve
somepurposeIhope.

ScienceMattersforNonScientists
RabbiDovidGottlieb
Sciencemattersmatterscanbeeitheranounoraverb
forthenonscientistthatmeanseverythingwillbeexplained,
hopefully in clear enough terms that if you have no science
backgroundyoullbeabletounderstand.
Oneofthereasonsthatitsimportanttolookatscience
isbecauseoftheenormousprestigethatscienceenjoysinour
society, the common western culture. That prestige has effect
far beyond what I think people appreciate, and it was
graphically revealed by a series of experiments initiated by
Stanley Milgram of Yale University in the 60s, although he
interpreted it differently and he had a different purpose for it
fromthemoralthatIwilldraw.Ithinkyouwillbeabletosee
thatthemoralthatIdrawisatleastasappropriateashis.
The experiment works like this: there are three people
whoareinvolvedintheexperiment.Theonewhosrunningit,
whos called the experimenter, and theres someone whos
supposedtobelearningandtheresateacher.
http://blog.dovidgottlieb.com/2015/06/sciencemattersfornonscientist.html

RabbiDr.DovidGottliebisasenior
facultymemberatOhrSomayachin
Jerusalem.Anauthorandlecturer,
RabbiGottliebreceivedhisPh.D.in
mathematicallogicatBrandeis
UniversityandlaterbecomeProfessor
ofPhilosophyatJohnsHopkins
University.HisbookOntological
Economy:Substitutional
QuantificationandMathematicswas
publishedbyOxfordin1980The
InformedSoulwaspublishedby
Artscrollin1990,andhasrecently
beenreprinted.Heisaregularlecturer
atkiruvconferencesandknownfor
hisstimulatingandenergetic
presentationsonphilosophicalissues
ofJewishinterest.

CO NT A CT ME
1/23

7/17/2015

RabbiDr.DovidGottlieb:ScienceMattersforthenonscientist

Now, this is the way it looks it looks one way, the


realityisanotherwaybutthisisthewayitlooks:twopeople
present themselves as volunteering to participate in this
experiment. Psychological experiments on campus are very
common and youd pay students, in those days it was two
dollars an hour, and they did whatever you wanted sorted
shapes or listened to sounds. And they are told that this is an
experiment in learning, and in particular its using negative
feedback. In other words, someone is supposed to learn
somethingandhellbetestedonit,andwhenhefailshellbe
punished,toseetheeffectofpunishmentontheabilitytolearn.
Hereshowitsdone.Whatheslearningiswordpairs.
Thelearnerisinoneroom,theteacherisinadifferentroom.
Theycantseeoneanother,thoughtheresawallbetweenthe
tworoomsand,asyoullsee,itspossibletohearthroughthe
walls,butyoucantsee.Theteacherspeaksintoamicrophone,
thelearnerhasearphones,andtheteacherrecitesalistofword
pairs.Andthenhegoesbackthroughthelistonebyoneandfor
each first member of the pair he then gives four options to
choosefromandthelearnerchoosesoneoption.
Ifhegetsitrighthegoesontothenextentry.Ifhegets
it wrong, the learner is punished by an electric shock. The
teacher administers the electric shock. That is to say, the
teacherhasacontrolwhichhasvarioussettingsforvoltageand
pressesabuttonthatadministerstheshock.Itstartswithfifteen
volts and then each time the learner makes a mistake, the
voltagegoesupfifteenpoints.Ifhegetsitrighthejustgoeson
tothenextpair.
Before the experiment starts, the teacher is given a
shockfromtheinstrument,afifteenvoltshock,whichistrivial,
justsohefeelsthatitsreal.
When the two volunteers present themselves, the
experimenterhandseachoneaslipofpaperandtheyaretold,
on one slip of paper is written the word teacher and on the
http://blog.dovidgottlieb.com/2015/06/sciencemattersfornonscientist.html

dovidlib@gmail.com

VI S I T MY W EB S I T E

DovidGottlieb.com

S U B S CR I B E VI A EMAI L

Enteryouremailaddress:

Subscribe

S U B S CR I B E V I A NEW S FEED

Posts
Comments

LAB ELS

"higher""education"(1)
000baaleiteshuva(1)
200(1)
apleaforrationalconsiderationof
opposingviews(1)
Afterbirthabortion(1)
againstrelativism(3)
antileftontruth(1)
asthestars(1)
assumptionsastronomersmake(1)
2/23

7/17/2015

RabbiDr.DovidGottlieb:ScienceMattersforthenonscientist

otherslipofpaperiswrittenthewordlearneritspresented
tothemasifthechoiceofthepieceofpaperisarbitrary.Then
the learner is taken off into another room. Now, the learner
makesmistakes,andforeachmistakehemakeshegetsanother
shockandthevoltagegoesup.
Atacertainpoint,thelearnerstartstomoanandgroan
inpainandatacertainpointhestartstoyellandscreaminpain
andthenhestartsbangingonthewallsaying,Stopthis!Stop
this! And as you could imagine, the teacher begins to show
signs of discomfort and hesitation, at which point the
experimenter encourages the teacher. The first statement of
encouragement is Please continue, and if he still shows
hesitation, hes told, The experiment requires that you
continue.Andifhestilldoesntdoit,thethirdstatementis,It
is absolutely essential that you continue. And if he still
hesitates,hestold,Youhavenootherchoice,butyoumustgo
on. If after all four of those encouragements the teacher still
refusestogoon,theexperimentisstopped.
Now,thatsthewayitlooks.Thetruthis,thereareno
electric shocks and nothings being taught and the guy in the
other room whos designated as the learner is an actor whos
trained to act as if he were getting shocks and the yells and
screams are recorded and theyre being played back from a
recording. And the two slips of paper both have the word
teacher written on them, so it guaranteed that this schnook
overhereistheteachertheotherguywhostheactorsayshe
got the piece of paper with the word learner on it, but of
courseitisnttrue.
Theonlysubjectinthisexperimentistheteacher.How
far will he go? How far will he go in administering electric
shocks to someone who, for all he can tell, is really suffering
from these shocks? The top voltage is 450 volts, which is
certainlyfatal,andiftheteacherwilladministerthree450volt
shocks in a row then the experiment is also stopped in other
http://blog.dovidgottlieb.com/2015/06/sciencemattersfornonscientist.html

behavioralstudy(1)
bewareofrumors(1)
Bewareorgandonation(1)
Biblicalarchaeology(4)
byoneauthoroftheoriginalstudy(1)
childrenwillbringtheirparents(1)
climate"science"(2)
climatescience(1)
comparewithyeshivaorseminary(1)
critiqueofstudentboycott(1)
Darwinandeuthanasia(1)
daysofcreaton(1)
Diraconoriginoflawsofnature(1)
evolution(39)
factsetc.(1)
failuretoreplicateresults(2)
FriendsofIsraelInitiative(1)
GuideofthePerplexedIndex(1)
hedgingbets(1)
Influenceofthesunonradioactive
decay(1)
interactivediagramofphysicalsizes
(1)
Israel'srighttoexist(1)
ItineraryforOct25toNov14(1)
Jewishsurvivalanduniqeness(1)
kiruvinBoroPark(1)
KuzariPrinciple(1)
liberalmisunderstandingsof
chanukah(1)
limitsofmaterialism[atpresent](1)
3/23

7/17/2015

RabbiDr.DovidGottlieb:ScienceMattersforthenonscientist

wordshiscontributionisstopped.
Thefirsttimehedidit,hediditwithYalestudents.He
asked random Yale students and his colleagues in the
psychology department, What do you think the result of the
experiment will be? How many will go to the maximum
voltage? Both his colleagues and other Yale students said it
would be one or two percent. As a matter of fact, 65% were
willingtogotothemaximumvoltage.
Ofcoursetheyhadtobeencouragedandtheydidshow
signs of discomfort and at one point they would ask, Maybe
weshouldstop?andsoforthandsoon,but65%wenttothe
maximum voltage. And this experiment was repeated in other
universities and other places around the world and the results
wereconsistent.Theoneswhowerepreparedtogoalltheway
to fatal voltages were 6166 percent, regardless of time or
place.
Furthermore, as another observer of these experiments
pointedout,eventhose,the30%orso,whorefusedtogotothe
fatalshocks,noneofthemsaidtheexperimentitselfshouldbe
stopped.Theydidntprotest,theydidntthreatentogointothe
newspaperstohaveitshutdown.Theydidntwanttodoit,but
they didnt threaten to shut it down. Nor did any of them
initiategoingtocheckontheconditionofthesupposedlearner
whosthevictimoftheshockstoseeifhesokay.So,although
they stopped short of administering fatal shocks, they didnt
threaten the experiment itself they just didnt want to go that
farthemselves.
Now, Im giving out some of the other variations that
weretaken,butwhatwasthepointoftheexperimentandwhat
explanation or what interpretation did Milgram and his
colleaguesputonit?Itwastestingobediencetoauthority.This
was right after the Eichmann trials in Jerusalem and they
wantedtoseehowpeoplerespondtoauthoritycouldaperson
be so influenced by authority to give up his otherwise moral
http://blog.dovidgottlieb.com/2015/06/sciencemattersfornonscientist.html

limitsonloyalty(1)
medcine(1)
medicalhalacha(1)
messianiccilmatology(1)
Nagel(1)
newfashionsinphilosophy(1)
noevidenceforanimallanguage(1)
noredshifts(1)
notallbloodisthesameontheleft(1)
notathotelforPesach(1)
nothingcomesfromnothing(1)
ObamaonIsrael(1)
Obama'sNobelPrize(1)
originoflife(1)
peaceinourtime.....(1)
prayerforthenewyear(1)
quotefromEinstein(1)
Rambam(1)
readallthewaytotheend(1)
readifyouhavethestomachforit(1)
religion(1)
scienceandphilosophy(4)
scientificshenanigans(6)
secularIsraelipress(1)
seculartrainingproducesperjudice(1)
snopesmissedthisone(1)
studentantisemitism(1)
the"new"holodayofsuccos(1)
thedeathofSteveJobs(1)
theilliberaltreatmentofreligionby
professors(1)
4/23

7/17/2015

RabbiDr.DovidGottlieb:ScienceMattersforthenonscientist

convictionsnoneofthesepeopleweassumewouldrandomly
inflictpainonotherpeopleandcertainlynottothepointofa
fatal shock, but here, in this circumstance they gave up their
own convictions. With misgivings and with worries, yes, but
theydidit,theycarrieditouttotheend.65%carrieditoutto
theend.

theminimalistscrashagain(1)
TheNewAtheism(6)
thenextclassic(1)
thepromisessciencemakes(11)
theSokalhoax(1)

Now,Milgramsayshewasanalyzingresponsetoauthority.Andone

torahanytime.comandinnernet.org.il
(1)

couldapplyittotheNazisandonecouldapplyittovariousauthority

tryquestioningevolution(2)

structures.Thatswhathesays.Butbetweenyouandme,heonlytried

twonewbooks(1)

onesourceofauthorityandthatisthescientists.Hedidnttrythe

valuableinsightsintothepresentstate
ofID(1)

governorofthestate.Hedidnttrythelocalsubwaydesigner,hedidnt
playersheonlytriedscientists.Todrawconclusionsconcerningthe

welcomerevisionofarcheological
prejudices(1)

natureofresponsetoauthorityingeneralfromanexperimentthatonly

WhoislikeYourpeople(1)

tryamathematician,hedidnttrychessplayers,hedidnttryfootball

testedscientificauthority,Ithinkisabigjump.
AndIamnotalone:InhisbookIrrationalExuberance,YaleFinance
ProfessorRobertShillerarguesthatotherfactorsmightbepartiallyable
toexplaintheMailgramExperiments:[People]havelearnedthatwhen
expertstellthemsomethingisallright,itprobablyis,evenifitdoesnot
seemso.(Infact,itisworthnotingthatinthiscasetheexperimenter
wasindeedcorrect:itwasallrighttocontinuegivingthe"shocks"
eventhoughmostofthesubjectsdidnotsuspectthereason.)

BLOG ARCHIVE

2015(4)
June(2)
ScienceMattersforthenon
scientist
ReproductiveDisordersMichael
Fumentohttp://inf...
April(1)

I dont know how they wouldve responded in a


democraticcountrytoelectedauthorities,whereapersoncould
bepresidentoftheUnitedStatesfor8yearsandafterthathes
justyourlocalTom,DickandHarry.Ofcoursehegetspaid2
milliondollarsforeverylecturethathegives,butotherthan
thathesjustanotherperson.YouseeBillClintononthestreet,
youre not going to bow down to him, and if he offers an
opinion,youcouldtellhimtohisfacethatshewrong.Hewas
http://blog.dovidgottlieb.com/2015/06/sciencemattersfornonscientist.html

January(1)
2014(4)
2013(15)
2012(31)
2011(24)
2010(51)
5/23

7/17/2015

RabbiDr.DovidGottlieb:ScienceMattersforthenonscientist

president,buthesnobodyanymore.
I think that this indicates narrowly the enormous
prestigethatsciencehasinourculture,totheextentthatwhen
ascientistpressuresapersontodosomethingwhichotherwise
wouldviolatehismoralnorms,theyarepreparedtodoit.
Andbytheway,theexperimentwasdonewithmenand
withwomenandtheresultswerethesame.Andindeed,inone
casewheretheytriedtovarytheexperimentanduseadogas
the subject rather than a human being, there all of those who
refused to participate to the end were men the women
participatedallthewaytotheend.Soifanybodyhasanysexist
presuppositions as to whether women will or men will, thats
aninterestingvariationontheexperiment.
Ithinkthatthismakesanexaminationofscienceandits
status, its reliability, and its place in our general thinking an
extremelyimportantmattertoinvestigate.
Some of the things that I want to discuss with you. I
want to take a look at the reliability of scientific findings,
though,aswewillsee,thatwordisprejudicial,theassertionsof
science,whatsciencesaysithasdiscoveredthatwordisalso
prejudicialaswellseetoseehowreliabletheyare,science
andscientists.Wewilltalkabouttheageoftheearthandwell
talk about evolution. Well talk about the status of science,
given the Jewish picture of how the world really runs. Since
God is creating the world at every moment, the world is
running on a foundation utterly different from that which
sciencethinksitisdescribinganddiscovering.Ifsoweshould
ask what position science has, what relevance it has, what
statusithas.
Iwillspendsometimetalkingaboutscientificevidence
for the soul scientific evidence for the soul, as opposed to
againstthesoul,whichpeoplewouldthinkwouldbethenatural
finding. I think theres considerable evidence scientific, as
understoodphilosophicallyandwelltalkaboutthataswell.
http://blog.dovidgottlieb.com/2015/06/sciencemattersfornonscientist.html

2009(18)

6/23

7/17/2015

RabbiDr.DovidGottlieb:ScienceMattersforthenonscientist

Now, Im not trained in science, so if I make an


assertion about science itself, I will always be quoting a
recognized authority on science. But I am trained in
philosophy, and I have published research in philosophy,
particularly philosophy of mathematics. And I have studied
philosophy of science, and when its a matter of the
philosophical implications of the scientific material then I
consider myself competent to report my own judgments,
though of course I will be trading on the judgments of other
philosophers as well I will not go out on a limb and take a
position thats unique and against what the rest of the
philosophicalcommunitywouldsay.Thatsanintroductionto
whereweregoing.
Question:Inanexperiment,theexpertisthescientist,
soobviouslytheyregoingtolistentotheexpert.Ifyoutooka
different situation where a rabbi was the expert, of course
somebodywouldlistentohim.Maybeitsnotjustbecauseits
thescientist,butjustbecausehesanexpertinthatfield.
Answer: Maybe. But Im asking what the experiment
shows. The experiment shows that scientists have this kind of
enormous authority it doesnt show that rabbis have the
authority.Itseemstome,oneoughttodoanotherexperiment
withrabbistoseewhetheritllbetakenthatwayornot.Thats
whyIsaid,ademocraticelectedofficial,whohasauthorityin
the democratic country, might not have the same kind of
responsefrompeoplewhohetellswhattodoIdontknow.
Maybesaretoocheap.Iwanttoknow,whatdoesthe
evidence show? He wanted it to be an indication how people
responsetoauthoritystructures.Impointingoutthattheonly
authoritystructurehetestedisscientificauthority,thatsallwe
knowabout.Maybetheotheristrue,maybeitisntletsleave
itatamaybe.
When I was teaching at Johns Hopkins, there was a
professorinthephysicsdepartmentwhodiscoveredaparticle.
http://blog.dovidgottlieb.com/2015/06/sciencemattersfornonscientist.html

7/23

7/17/2015

RabbiDr.DovidGottlieb:ScienceMattersforthenonscientist

Okay,themore energyyouhave,themoreparticlesyoufind.
Theremaybeaninfinityofthemitsnotsoterriblyamazing.
Buthewasconsideredtobeatop,topphysicist.Sothestudent
newspaper interviewed him for his views on religion. Well,
theyprintedthearticle,somebodyinthephilosophydepartment
cutitoutandputitonthebulletinboardwiththecaption,see
howmanymistakesyoucanfindinthis.
Hestrainedinphysicshesnottrainedinreligions.So
why would anybody be interested in his views on religion?
Becauseifhesaphysicist,hessupersmart,superrationaland
therefore his views are super right, even if they arent about
physics.
AndwhenItellittoyouthatway,itsoundsstupid,asit
should,buttheeditorsoftheHopkinsstudentnewspaperdidnt
see it that way. They thought it would be of relevance and
important for people to know what this physicists views on
religionare.Butofcourseitsjustnonsense.
I think that kind of attitude, which people do have,
showsthatsciencehasenormousauthority,carriesauthorityin
thesocietythisexperimentcertainlysupportsthatcontention,
and thats why I think its important to examine exactly what
sciencecanandcannotdo.
WhatIwanttostartwithisscientificinformation.You
could divide science broadly into a method and results. The
scientific method is a matter of gigantic controversy. Therere
somephilosopherswhosaythereisnomethodtoscience,and
ifyouinventamethodyoureputtingitunderconstraintsthatit
doesntdeserve.Youregoingtoshacklepeopleandtheywont
be able to find new theories. Theres no method at all to
science.Andthereareotherswhothinkthatthereisamethod
and they describe it in various ways. Its a gigantic, difficult
subject. Why the method should be successful is a difficult
subject. Im not talking about that, Im not going to go into
that.
http://blog.dovidgottlieb.com/2015/06/sciencemattersfornonscientist.html

8/23

7/17/2015

RabbiDr.DovidGottlieb:ScienceMattersforthenonscientist

What I want to talk about is information that science


presents as discovered, found, scientific findings
scientifically verified information. And I want to ask: how
reliableisthatinformation?Whatyougetinthenormalscience
textbook. If you go to a science museum, a science museum
presents you with exhibits which acquaint you with how the
worldgoes,whatitis,howitsmade,whatitsmechanismare.
I remember, when we were living in Baltimore, the
science museum had an exhibit about how the continents got
theirshapesandtheirrelativepositions.Theyhadpeoplefrom
history,eachpersonwasacartoonfigurewithacartoonbubble
withhisviewobviouslymakingfunofthemandfinallyyou
havetheexhibitofplatetectonics.Platetectonicsisthecurrent
description of how the continents got their position and their
shape. Of course the idea was, look at all these people in the
pastwithgreatnames,whomadesuchfoolishremarksaboutit,
andnowweknowthetruth.
If I had been designing that experiment, I would have
hadanotherpanel.Iwouldhavedatedit2050andIwouldve
putaquestionmark:thisiswhatweresayingtoday,butwhat
will be in 2050? They dont have that in science exhibits in
sciencemuseums.Theyshowyouthetruth.Ay,itmaynotturn
out that way? Theres no uncertainty, theres no worry that
maybe the foundation might not be correct, its just a
presentationofinformation.
Now, I want to look at this information that science
presents, what you get in the New York Times science
supplement:Wereporttoyouthatthelaboratoriesfoundthis
andtheastronomersfoundthat,andseewhatthereliabilityof
thisinformationis.Ithinkitisofvariablereliability.Notallof
it is the same: some of its more reliable some of its less
reliable.
Iwoulddividethisinformationintofourcategoriesona
continuumfrommosttoleastreliable.Iwilldescribethefour
http://blog.dovidgottlieb.com/2015/06/sciencemattersfornonscientist.html

9/23

7/17/2015

RabbiDr.DovidGottlieb:ScienceMattersforthenonscientist

categoriesandshowyouwhythefirstismorereliablethanthe
second,secondthatthethird,thirdthanthefourth,andthenwe
will draw a moral from this distinction of different level of
reliability.
The best case is repeatable, observable phenomena.
Things that you can observe with your own senses over and
over and over again. And where science says, when you
observeXyoucanexpecttoobserveY.Thesethingsareeither
thingsthathappenbythemselvesspontaneously:thesuncomes
up,thesungoesdown,thestarscomeout,theseasonschange,
theplantsgrowinthespringandtheydieinthefall,ifyoure
in the northern climate, animals reproduce and grow and
develop and die, human beings are born and grow and die.
These are things which you can observe because they happen
over and over again, theyre repeatable and observable. Or
theyre things you can make happen. You could hard boil as
manyeggsasyouwant.Heatupthewater,puttheraweggin
andwatchithappen.Youcanbreakglassasmanytimeasyou
want. You can bend metal. You can plant seeds in different
environments and check how they grow, because you can
controlit.
Repeatable, observable phenomena. And science says,
when you have this particular observed feature then you can
expect that particular observed feature because they go
together.Thatswherescienceisatitsstrongest.Buteventhere
it could make mistakes. Even when its its strongest it could
make mistakes. Water boils at a hundred degrees centigrade.
But, gosh, I was mountain climbing, and when I tried to hard
boilmyegg,ImadeafireandIputthepotwiththewateronit
andbroughtthewatertoaboil,Iputitinfor5minutesandI
tookitoutanditwassoftboiled.Itwasnthardboiled,asIam
usedtoathome.
Answer?Notonamountaintop.Onamountaintopthe
waterdoesntboilatahundreddegreescentigrade,itboilsata
http://blog.dovidgottlieb.com/2015/06/sciencemattersfornonscientist.html

10/23

7/17/2015

RabbiDr.DovidGottlieb:ScienceMattersforthenonscientist

lower temperature. So it doesnt really boil at a hundred


degreescentigrade,itboilsatahundredcentigradeatsealevel.
Okay,letsputthatin.
You know, I tried it again and this time the egg came
out hard boiled after three minutes! Thats because you used
salt water. With impurities, the water wont boil at a hundred
degreescentigradeitllboilatahighertemperature.Oh,ithas
tobepurewaterokay,Illputthatintherule:purewateratsea
level.
You know, I tried it the other day and it didnt work.
Wellthen,tellmeaboutyourwater.Actually,Ihadthewater
on a potters wheel and it was spinning around. No, no, the
waterhastobestill,itcantbespinningarounditwontwork
ifitsspinningaround.Oh,soitsstill,pure,atsealevel.Now,
how many other conditions do we need? We wouldnt have
knownthatithastobestillunlesssomeonehadtrieditonthe
potterswheelanddiscoveredthatitdoesntwork.Howmany
otherconditionsarebeingusedthatwedontknowabout?Do
weeverhaveaguaranteethatwefiguredoutalltheconditions?
Heres another experiment. Take a container full of
waterintheshapeofacylinder,flatbottom,andinthecenter
of the bottom theres a hole with a stopper. A small, circular
holerightinthecenter.Fillthecontainerwithwateritsopen
onthetopletitsitforawhile,afewdays,andthenremove
the stopper from the bottom, so the water will drain out the
bottom.Andasitsdraining,thewaterwillstarttorotateina
counterclockwisemotionthatisinfactwhatitwilldo.
Now,Itriedthis,someonewilltellyou.Itrieditin
New York, in London, in Paris, in Munich, in Moscow, in
Jerusalem, in Teheran, in Beijing, in Tokyo, and the
PhilippinesIreallyworkedonthis.Itrieditinadozenplaces
separated by thousands of miles, east and west, and it always
didthesamething.SoInowbelieve,Ihaveverygoodreason
to think, that thats what it does: when you have a cylindrical
http://blog.dovidgottlieb.com/2015/06/sciencemattersfornonscientist.html

11/23

7/17/2015

RabbiDr.DovidGottlieb:ScienceMattersforthenonscientist

container and you let the water sit for a while so it still, it
doesnthaveanymotionofitsown,andyouhaveaholeinthe
center,youtakeoutthestopper,asitdrainsitsgoingtostart
moving in a counterclockwise motion. And then we try it in
Johannesburg,andthereitgoesclockwise.
Gosh,didyouthinkthattheequatorisaborderlinefor
fundamentalforcesofnature,thatbelowtheequatorthingsare
goingtobedifferentfromabovetheequator?Iwouldnthave
guessed that. It just turns out that thats the way it is. You
wouldnothaveguessed,havingtrieditinalltheinitialplaces,
that Johannesburg will be different it just turns out that it is.
You have to recalculate what it is thats doing it and why it
happens. Do we ever know that we have all the relevant
conditions? How would we know that? We would have to try
testingallpossiblevariations.
So, even when were dealing with repeatable,
observablephenomena,wherewereatourmostconfident,we
cantbesurethatwehavetriedallpossibilities.
They discovered that a bird thats hatched in the nest,
andgrowsupnormallythewaybirdsdo,willbuildanestnext
year, even though it never saw a nest built. And we do not
believe that the chirping of the parent bird is giving them
instructions for next years construction project. But a bird
thatshatchedinalaboratoryandfedandreleasedtothewild
will not build a nest. Something about being hatched in nest
causes the gelling of a particular part of the brain which
containsthecapacitytobuildanestnextyear.
Nobodywouldhaveguessedthatifwehadntobserved
it.Wewouldhaveassumedthatnestbuildingishardwiredinto
the brain of the bird, thats why it doesnt have to see a nest
build in order to be able to do, and since its hardwired it
doesntmatterwhereitdevelops.Butitturnsoutnottobetrue.
Now, how do we ever know that we have all the
conditions?Weneverknowthatwehavealltheconditions.So,
http://blog.dovidgottlieb.com/2015/06/sciencemattersfornonscientist.html

12/23

7/17/2015

RabbiDr.DovidGottlieb:ScienceMattersforthenonscientist

evenwithrepeatable,observablephenomena,wherescienceis
atitsstrongest,theresstillthepossibilityofmistake.
The next step is whats called interpolation.
Interpolationmeansthis:letssayIamtestingsomethingandI
test it a number of time under slightly different conditions to
see how it works when I change the conditions. So, if I think
abouttheconditionsItested,Iknowwhathappens,andIhave
reason, well take for granted, to assume that when I try it
again,underthesameconditions,itwillhappenagain.
What happens when I try a new experiment when Ive
changedtheconditions,whatdoIknowaboutthat?Onecould
beveryhardheadedhereandsay,Nothing,youhaventtried
it yet, so you dont know anything about it. But lets take a
particular case. Heres what Im doing. Im taking a cube of
sugar and dissolving it in a glass of water, and Im charting
how long it takes for the sugar cube to dissolve in the water.
And Im trying it at different temperatures of the water: 10
degrees centigrade, 30 degrees centigrade, 50 degrees
centigrade, 70 degrees centigrade, 90 degrees centigrade. Of
course,youknowwhatwillhappenthewarmerthewater,the
fasteritwilldissolve.But,Imtalkingaboutexactlyhowfastit
dissolves.Itrieditabunchoftimesat10degrees,andittakes,
inthisglassofwaterandthissizelump,2minutes.AndItried
itat30degreesandittakesaminuteandtwothirds.At50,a
minuteandonethird.At70degrees,aminuteandat90degrees
two thirds of a minute. Something like that. The rate it
dissolvesgetsfasterandfasterasIgoupthescaled.
WhatwillhappenifItryitat20degreescentigrade?I
havent tried it at 20 degrees I tried 10, 30, 50, 70 and 90, I
didnttry20.So,asIsaid,ahardheadedpersoncouldsay,I
dont know, I havent tried it yet, wait till we try it. But, no
scientistwilldothatwhathellsayisthis:makeagraph.This
is the temperature, this is the rate of dissolving and the dots
look like this. They go up because it dissolves faster at each
http://blog.dovidgottlieb.com/2015/06/sciencemattersfornonscientist.html

13/23

7/17/2015

RabbiDr.DovidGottlieb:ScienceMattersforthenonscientist

time.10,30,50,70,90.Now,drawalineconnectingthedots.
You know, little kids do that, connect the dots. Now, ask for
20, for which theres no dot. 20, where does it intersect the
line?Andthatlltellyouhowfastitwilldissolveat20.
Inotherwords,Illuse10,30,50,70and90topredict
20onthegroundsthatitchangedregularlyandthereforewhen
itgoesthroughthe20point,itllberightwherethelineis.
Thats called interpolation. Its called interpolation
because I have the 10 and the 30 on both sides, this is in
between thats what interpolation means put something in
betweenotherthings.
Some imaginative people have pointed out, you have
therefivedots.Therearealotofdifferentwaystodrawaline
toconnectthefivedots.Lotsandlotsofways.Whosaysithas
to be a straight line? You could draw wavy lines, like a sine
curve,oracosinecurve,whichistheopposite,oranykindof
scribble to join them. And of course, if you draw a different
lineconnectingthedots,thepredictionfor20degreesisgoing
to be different. It will depend upon where 20 degrees hits the
line.Ifitsasinecurveitllbeveryhighupandyoullpredict
that itll be dissolving very fast, if its a co sine curve itll be
very far down another one will have a different shape. How
did you pick the straight line to connect the dots? And the
answer of course will be, what you all know, that its the
simplestlineconnectingthedots.
Yes, it is the simplest line connecting the dots, and
thats definitely the right answer. Its just that, as of now,
anyway,theresnoagreedupondefinitionofsimplicity.What
exactlydoessimplemean?Howshouldsimplebedefined?Its
a subject that people have thought about and discussed and
debatedandtheresnosatisfactorydefinitionofwhatsimplicity
means.
Numbertwo,whyshouldthesimplerlinebepreferred?
Why?Ihavereadpeoplewhowrite,itsjustaestheticallymore
http://blog.dovidgottlieb.com/2015/06/sciencemattersfornonscientist.html

14/23

7/17/2015

RabbiDr.DovidGottlieb:ScienceMattersforthenonscientist

pleasingIlikeitbetter,itsmoresatisfying.Isntthatareally
extraordinary thing to say? Im predicting whats going to
happenintherealworld.Imgoingtodropthiscubeofsugar
into20degreesandbeforeIdosoImgoingtopredictthisis
how long its going to take to dissolve. Why? Because I like
thatlinebetteritsmoreaestheticallypleasingtomeitsmore
satisfying I get warm fuzzies when I look at that line, and
thatswhywhenIdropthesugarintothewater,thatshowfast
its going to dissolve. Isnt that a little anthropomorphic to
thinkthattheworldcareswhatsaestheticallypleasingtome?
So, just to sum up and then Ill take your questions.
Thisiswherewestand:thejudgmentsofsimplicityareusually
agreed upon. And when we test them, the judgments of
simplicityusuallyturnouttobecorrect.Wejustdonthaveany
definition of simplicity and we dont have any explanation of
why simplicity should be relevant. But those are merely
philosophicalconcernstheydontaffectthescientificpractice
inthismatter.
ThereforeIamgoingtodescribethiscategory,category
number two, interpolation, as very secure not as secure as
repeatable, observable phenomena, because there you actually
saw what youre predicting but its very secure its just
slightlylesssecurethantherepeatable,observable,phenomena.
Question: If you can test the simple line, then why
challenge it? If you take the simple line and connect the dots
and see where 20 is and then test that, if its correct then
obviouslythesimplelineisthebestthingtouse.
Answer:Letssee.Youhadfivedotsandweobserved
that theres actually an infinity of different ways of drawing
lines to connect the five dots. Now you say: lets test the
simplestlineandwetestit.Butnow,theresalsoaninfinityof
ways of connecting the 6 dots, and every one of those was
equallytestedbyyourtestofthe6thdotbecauseeveryoneof
themisonyour6thdot.
http://blog.dovidgottlieb.com/2015/06/sciencemattersfornonscientist.html

15/23

7/17/2015

RabbiDr.DovidGottlieb:ScienceMattersforthenonscientist

Lets say it in detail. We have 10, 30, 50, 70, 90, and
were testing 20. Now we say: before we test, lets make a
prediction.Whatpredictionscouldwemake?Astraightline,or
the wavy curve, which give different answers for 20. Youre
thinkingoflotsandlotsofdifferentlineswhichgivedifferent
answers for 20. And I say, Okay, here we are. We have the
straightlineanswerfor20andalltheseotherweirdcurvesand
they give different answers for 20. Lets test it and see what
happens.Correct.Sowetestitanditturnsoutthatthestraight
lineisthecorrectone.Thestraightlineiscorrectagainstallof
the competitors which gave different answers for 20. What I
want to point out to you is that when you add a 6th one, you
couldrepeatthesameproblem.Considerallthedifferentways
ofjoiningthe6dots,includingthe20dot.Youmaydoitagain,
butinthemeantimeyouhavenoevidencetopredictwhichone
you should pick. You only ruled out the crazy lines which
differ at 20. There are lots and lots of crazy lines that dont
differat20youdidnttestthose.
Question:Ifyoutestitforthe5thoneandthenyoutest
forthe6thoneandyoutestitforthe7thone,andallthreeof
thosework,thenyoucouldfigurethatthe8thone,the9thone,
andthe10thonearealsogoingtowork.
Answer: But you understand, when I draw the crazy
line,itfitsthe6th,7th,and8thalsoitfitsallofthem.Sohow
doIknowwhatitpredictsiscorrect?Itfitsthestraightlineand
all the other crazy lines that go through all eight. It fits all of
themsothequestionis,howdoyoupickwhichonethatfitall
eight.Anyfinitesetofpointscanbedrawninanuncountable,
infinityofways.Sowheneveryoudoit,trueyouveruledout
some thats correct youve ruled out all the crazy ones that
differat20buttheresaninfinityofcrazyonesthatagreeat
20,andyouhaventruledthoseout.
Question:Iftheresafiniteamountofdotswhichcan
http://blog.dovidgottlieb.com/2015/06/sciencemattersfornonscientist.html

16/23

7/17/2015

RabbiDr.DovidGottlieb:ScienceMattersforthenonscientist

be placed, that wouldnt imply that theres an infinite amount


of ways to draw the dots, because you would eventually get
everysinglepossibledot.
Answer: Its not a question of implying its a
mathematical fact that theres an infinity of dots. What you
could do, theoretically, is do so many experiments that its
impossible to physically discriminate the inputs anymore that
couldbedone,butitwouldbeagigantic,giganticexpense.Its
neverbeendone,andwemakepredictionsconfidentlywithout
doing that. The goal here is to explain how we make our
predictionsandwhattheyrebasedon.Inthatcase,youwould
reduce case two to case one thats true. But that would be
somethingthatnoonehaseverdone.
Question: So youre saying, why would you use a
straight line, only for the simplicity of it. If thats true, why
would you draw on any other formula ever? They govern
certain different laws that youre trying to figure out one way
oranother
Answer: There are times when I try and I get the
oppositeresult.Itrythestraightlineandmyobservationsruin
thestraightlinetheyviolatethestraightline.Forexample,ifI
chart radioactive decay, its not going to work out with a
straight line its going to be a decreasing curve. Or
acceleration if you're taking about accelerating speed or
motion,thenitsnotgoingtoworkoutthat.ThenImgoingto
havetotalkaboutthesimplesttypeofcurvethatfitsthepoint
for this type of phenomena, where its not a linear
phenomenon.
Question: In the thing youre dealing with its pretty
clearitstwovariables.
Answer: youre quite right. If you have an algebraic
representationofthegraph,thenyouvealreadydecidedwhich
curve you want. Were trying to induce that from the data.
ThatswhyIsaidyoucouldhavealinearlineorasineoraco
http://blog.dovidgottlieb.com/2015/06/sciencemattersfornonscientist.html

17/23

7/17/2015

RabbiDr.DovidGottlieb:ScienceMattersforthenonscientist

sine.Theyarealgebraicallyverydifferentfromoneanother.To
decideanalgebraicrepresentation,istoalreadyhavechosena
particularwayofjoiningthedots.Myquestionis,howdoyou
choosethewayofjoiningthedots?
The number of variables isnt the issue here in
radioactive decay, you only have one variable. You have the
number of radioactive atoms as a percentage of the totality of
thesubstance.Theresnoothervariablesthere.Anditstillhas
anonlinearcurve.Itsnotthenumberofvariablesthatcounts
its the type of phenomenon that it is. We know from
experimentthatthedifferenttypesofphenomenagetdifferent
types of curves and the way it curves. All that is after Ive
decidedtoanalyzethedataonewayratherthananother.
Thekeytoallofthesedecisionsultimatelyissimplicity,
and as I said, Im not challenging simplicity as the right
criterion it is the right criterion Im just pointing out that
there are two subsequent philosophical questions that dont
have answers, but Im inclined to say thats not so important,
even though Im a philosopher. We do use it. Theres very
regular agreement as to which is the simpler interpretation.
Well,maybeIshouldstopandexpandthatalittlebit.
I should say that when we talk about simplicity, Im
talkingaboutthesimplicityofjoiningdotsonapieceofpaper.
When youdealwith explaininghowthe worldworks,itsnot
so easy. You want to know what makes a typhoon, or what
causestheeconomytogoupanddownandsoforthandsoon.
Somebody proposes a theory and somebody proposes another
theory, and people say, in general you should choose the
simplest theory. There its much worse. What makes a theory
more simple than another theory? So here people talk about
Occamsrazor.Occamwasamedievalphilosopherandhesaid
ofcoursetheyresayingintranslation,itsnotclearwhathe
said,butitsusuallyreporteddontmultiplyentitiesbeyond
necessity. When you say youre going to explain how it
http://blog.dovidgottlieb.com/2015/06/sciencemattersfornonscientist.html

18/23

7/17/2015

RabbiDr.DovidGottlieb:ScienceMattersforthenonscientist

happens, you say, Well, there are atoms and then there are
molecules,andthenthereareforcesbetweentheatomsandthe
molecules,andthenthereareparticlesThatsalotofstuff.
Dontputanystuffinunlessyoureallyneed.Ifsomebodycan
get by and explain it with less stuff, its a better explanation,
becauseitssimpler.
Butthensomepeoplewilltellyou,itsnotthenumber
ofthingsyouputititsthenumberofassumptionsyoumake.
Howmanyforcesarethere?Forcesarentthingsforcesarent
stuffforcesarehowthingsreacttooneanother.Now,letssay
youhaveonetheorywitch17thingsand3forcesandanother
theorythathas5thingsand9forces.Whichoneisthesimpler
one? Do forces and things count equally? Is one more
important than the other? Not a clue. And some people count
the number of fundamental concepts and others count how
familiartheconceptsareandonandon..
Again, in concrete cases, people are pretty confident
and theres pretty widespread agreement which count is the
simpler theory. But if you ask why, and you try to concoct a
definition of what counts as the simpler theory, its very
difficulttocomeby.
Also it may reflect your commitments. Stephen
Hawking writes that when they discovered the universe is
expanding and the natural thought was, Gosh, if its getting
bigger, than in the past it was smaller that sounds right
and if you go further back in the past, it gets smaller and
smaller. Theres got to be a limit to this it cant get smaller
than zero. So, its got to have a beginning. If its really been
getting bigger and bigger and in the past it was smaller and
smaller,itsgottohaveabeginning.
Well,asamatteroffact,inthe1930stheyavoidedthat
conclusion. They found a way to describe a universe thats
expandinginsomesenseorotherandnevergoesbacktozero.
Infact,letmesayitalittlemorecarefully,accordingtotheir
http://blog.dovidgottlieb.com/2015/06/sciencemattersfornonscientist.html

19/23

7/17/2015

RabbiDr.DovidGottlieb:ScienceMattersforthenonscientist

theory, things are getting further and further away from one
another,butthewholeisalwaysstayingthesamesize.Howdo
youdothat?Yousayitsinfinitelybig.Spaceisinfinitelybig
there are no limits. And its filled with an infinity of stuff
scattered around. Its true, things are rushing away from one
another thats what the red shift shows. Everything is getting
furtherandfurtheraway.Buttheresplentyofroomyourenot
goingtorunoutofroom,becausetheresinfiniteroom.Ay,our
world doesnt seem to be getting thinner and thinner? Thats
because everywhere new stuff is coming into existence out of
nothing, ex nihilo, in order to fill the spaces. That was the
SteadyStateTheorytheuniverseisinfinitelybig,everything
isrushingawayfromeverythingelse,butnewstuffiscoming
ininthemiddle,anddontworrythatyoudontseeitbecause
in a cubic meter of space, in a hundred years or so, one atom
willcomeintoexistence.Soitsnotasifyouregoingtohave
new petunias in your backyard over night the rate of
appearanceofmatterisvery,veryslowwellneverbeableto
observeit.
Whydidtheyoptforthat?Infinitelybigworldandnew
stuff coming into existence out of nowhere? Because, as
StephenHawkingwrites,wedidntwantabeginning,because
a beginning smacks of supernatural intervention those are his
words. And therefore we opted for a theory that avoids a
beginning. Which theory is simpler? An infinite space, which
you dont observe, and new stuff coming into existence
everywhere in the universe, which you dont observe arent
youmultiplyingthingshere?Youremultiplyingnew,creative
episodesallovertheuniverse,whichyoudontobserve,andan
infinityofspace,whichyoudontobserve,toavoidwhat?To
avoidabeginning.Isabeginningsoterriblycomplicated,thatit
deserves to be avoided by postulating infinite space and new
stuffcomingintoexistenceallovertheuniverse?Idontknow
whetherthatsanobviousjudgmentofwhatsmoresimpleand
http://blog.dovidgottlieb.com/2015/06/sciencemattersfornonscientist.html

20/23

7/17/2015

RabbiDr.DovidGottlieb:ScienceMattersforthenonscientist

whatslesssimple.Thatsoundslike,ashesays,wedontwant
abeginning.
Question: Thats just because you raise up questions.
Itsnotsimplythebeginning its something likewhereis the
beginningandwhatstartedit.Itsbecausetheydonthavethe
answersforthat.
Answer: If youll ask the parallel questions about the
infinite universe, like where is the stuff coming from thats
coming into existence ex nihilo throughout the universe? I
thinkifyouregoingtoaskabouttheoriginatthezeropoint,
yououghttobeaskingabouttheoriginofallthisstuffthatjust
appears from nothing throughout the universe. And you could
askwhatsustainstheexistenceoftheuniverseasawhole.Its
notobviousthatthequestionsarenotparallel.Imjustpointing
out that these are delicate judgments. I think its very
remarkable that when people make these judgments, they
agreeeventhoughyoucantspelloutwhatyourcriteriaisyou
cant spell out what your definition is, people do agree. Since
theydoagree,Isayitsreasonabletorelyupon.ThatswhyI
say its very reliable not as reliable as repeatable, observable
phenomena, but very reliable, and Im not going to issue any
critique of this second category, just to point out that its got
questionmarksaboutitsbasis.
Question:Assumingthatthewholethingyouresaying
is true, that the universe was started from zero and its
continuallygettingbigger,wouldthatdenotethefactthatasit
getsfartherawayorasitgetbiggerthingscomeintoexistence
faster?
Answer: You mean according to Steady State Theory.
Steady State Theory was canned in 1965 because they
discovered the background radiation which indicated the
universedidhaveastartfromaverysmallstate.
Question: That doesnt get rid of the Steady State
Theory.
http://blog.dovidgottlieb.com/2015/06/sciencemattersfornonscientist.html

21/23

7/17/2015

RabbiDr.DovidGottlieb:ScienceMattersforthenonscientist

Answer:Butthenyoudontneedit.Theideaofthings
comingintoexistencewasonlytoplugahole.Ifyousaythat
spaceisinfiniteandthingsarerushingawayfromoneanother,
andyoustopthere,thenthingsoughttobegettingthinnerand
thinner through time. The conglomerations of matter ought to
begettingthinnerandthinnerthroughtime.Thereoughttobe
bigger and bigger distances between items through time. We
dontseethatwedontobservethat.HowdoIcounterthefact
thatspaceisnotthinningout?Answer:newstuffiscomingin
throughout.Wedidntobservethat,butwerejustusingthatto
plugtheholeofhowcomethingsarentthinnerandthinner.
Onceyougiveuptheideathatspaceisinfiniteandthingshave
been expanding and running away from forever, and you say
theuniversehadabeginning,andabeginningafiniteamount
of time, I dont need to plug the hole with that. It was a
speculationputinjusttoplugahole.
Question:Isitthatfarfetchedtothinkthatthingscome
intoexistenceoutofnowhere?
Answer: We never see that in fact, according to
contemporaryscienceyouhavethelawofconservationofmass
energywhenyoustartanexperimentandendanexperiment
you have the exact same quantity of mass energy at the
beginningandtheendthatneverchanges.
Question: Im talking about the bare things that come
inandoutofexistence.
Answer:Idontknowwhatyoumeanbyexistence.Ifa
thingcameintoexistence,theninthatboxtherewouldbeanet
gaininmassenergy butitneverhappens.Herewere talking
aboutanetgain.Thatsneverbeenobserved.Everyexperiment
that we have performed and every observation weve made,
mass energy remained constant. If you will discover a change
inmassenergyofanexperimentyoullwintheNobelPrize,for
sure.Yournamewillbewritteninthesciencebooksforatleast
100years.Andbytheway,thatwasntsosolid150yearsago
http://blog.dovidgottlieb.com/2015/06/sciencemattersfornonscientist.html

Facebook
Twitter
Email
Print
Gmail
Favorites
More...(294)
AddThis
22/23

7/17/2015

RabbiDr.DovidGottlieb:ScienceMattersforthenonscientist

they though mass never changes and energy never changes.


Bothofthoseturnedouttobewrongitsthesumtotalofmass
energy that doesnt change thats because of Einsteins
relativity.
Tocreateatheoryinwhichnewmassenergyiscoming
into existence throughout the universe all the time, when in
everyexperimentandeveryobservationwemaketheresnever
anychangeinmassenergy,isagiganticstep.Theideaisjustto
plugaholetoavoidabeginning.

P O S T ED B Y DG A T 9: 30 A M
LA B ELS : S CI ENCE A ND P H I LO S O P H Y , S CI ENT I FI C S H ENA NI G A NS , T H E
P R O MI S ES S CI ENCE MA K ES

Home

OlderPost

http://blog.dovidgottlieb.com/2015/06/sciencemattersfornonscientist.html

23/23