Posted January 2nd, 2009 in Philosophy. Tags: Introductory-Phil., No Equations, Pedagogy, Quickie.
I have a tendency to get attached to my beliefs, because in a very real sense they’re the only possessions which can’t be taken from me. I’ve poured countless hours of effort into them, whether I derived the belief independently or found them in another person’s writings. I find it easier to be an intellectual parasite in this sense, because independently deriving beliefs is much harder. But some beliefs can’t be easily falsified, so critically examining them is often just as difficult as independently discovering them. Either way, the prospect of abandoning any of my beliefs is painful because it involves admitting I was wrong. I always find that difficult; the shame of admitting my mistake and the difficulty of re-aligning my worldview pose serious challenges. (more…)
Posted April 7th, 2012 in Physics. Tags: Climate, Diagrams, Intermediate-Science, No Equations, Pedagogy, Physics, Quickie.
The overwhelming majority of scientists endorse this statement:
“Most of the observed increase in global average temperatures since the mid-20th century is very likely due to the observed increase in anthropogenic greenhouse gas concentrations.” [IPCC Summary for Policymakers, 2007]
Here, “most” means at least 50% of the 0.55°C rise since 1950. Some mistakenly call this an “alarmist exaggeration” but it actually understates the human contribution because it’s easy to incorrectly conclude that the other 50% of the trend might be caused by natural forcing variations: (more…)
Posted February 9th, 2013 in Science. Tags: Climate, Diagrams, Graphics, Introductory-Science, No Equations, Pedagogy, Physics.
Before the Industrial Revolution in the 1800s, the concentration of carbon dioxide (CO2) in the atmosphere was about 280 parts per million (ppm). This means that for every million molecules in the atmosphere, about 280 of them were CO2.
However, climate.nasa.gov shows that we’ve burned so much coal and oil that atmospheric CO2 is now approaching 400 ppm. It hasn’t been this high for millions of years. The last time Earth’s atmosphere had this much CO2, our species (and many others) hadn’t yet evolved. (more…)
Posted October 21st, 2008 in Physics. Tags: Introductory-Science, No Equations, Pedagogy, Physics, Pseudoscience.
After years of serving as a physics teaching assistant at several public American universities, I’ve come to an alarming conclusion: students in today’s general physics courses (i.e. courses that don’t require calculus, intended for non-physicists) aren’t being taught physics. They might be learning how to mechanically calculate answers, but they’re learning very little about the actual scientific process of inquiring about the nature of reality. They aren’t learning how these physical laws were deduced in the first place– which is far more important than the intricate details of those laws. I think this educational deficiency contributes to widespread misconceptions such as the belief that the Earth’s seasons are caused by variations in the distance from the Sun, and the curious notion that toilets flush in opposite directions on different sides of the equator. (more…)
Posted November 26th, 2008 in Philosophy. Tags: Intermediate-Phil., No Equations, Pedagogy, Religion.
I don’t believe in anything with absolute certainty; I always allow room for doubt. How much doubt, though, depends on the type of statement:
Level 1 – Least doubtful
In my opinion, Descartes uttered the least doubtful statement ever: “I think, therefore I am.” I’d have no sense of self without making this assumption, so I definitely couldn’t inquire about anything else. (more…)
Posted December 1st, 2008 in Philosophy. Tags: Introductory-Phil., No Equations, Pedagogy, Quickie.
I enjoy civilized debates, but only rarely get a chance to engage in them. That’s because in my experience nearly everyone assumes they’re correct, so they only debate to beat their viewpoint into the other person’s head at all costs.
In other words, most people argue to win… and I can’t stand it. Whenever I mention this pet peeve, the response is almost always “Oh, so you argue to lose, huh?” (more…)
Posted December 31st, 2011 in Psychology. Tags: Introductory-Science, No Equations, Pedagogy.
When I mention Dumb Scientist, a common reaction is “Wait… you called your website WHAT?” I usually deflect this question by joking that irony is all the rage these days, but the truth is that I chose this pseudonym because I think many people accidentally imply that intelligence is fixed at birth. For instance, many parents praise their children by saying they’re smart, but this tactic backfires:
Since Thomas could walk, he has heard constantly that he’s smart. … as Thomas has progressed through school, this self-awareness that he’s smart hasn’t always translated into fearless confidence when attacking his schoolwork. In fact, Thomas’s father noticed just the opposite. “Thomas didn’t want to try things he wouldn’t be successful at,” his father says. “Some things came very quickly to him, but when they didn’t, he gave up almost immediately, concluding, ‘I’m not good at this.’” With no more than a glance, Thomas was dividing the world into two- things he was naturally good at and things he wasn’t. [The Power (and Peril) of Praising Your Kids]
My early education was similar to Thomas’s, and it seems we’re not alone: (more…)