Objectivity vs Subjectivity

It is very easy for those of us with some kind of STEM background to appreciate objectivity. In the sciences and mathematics, subjectivity, generally, has no place. Things need to be objective, if we are to get at the truth of the natural world. Thus, many times in discussions subjective details are left out and seen as unimportant. However, subjective experiences are part of being human. Thus, I would argue that people should not see subjective experiences as irrelevant or unimportant in all areas of life.

Now, this is not to say we need to add subjective thinking into the STEM fields. That would be an extreme mistake. However, what I am saying is that humans are not robots, and there is a time and place for understanding people’s subjective experience and not simply pushing those experiences aside.

To say that a conservative’s subjective views on abortion doesn’t matter, would be a grave mistake. The conservative might know people that regretted having an abortion. Certainly, there could be objective studies showing how most women tend to feel about their abortions, whether it be positive or negative. This is where people in the conversation tend to want to point out studies and use other scientific tools, as this conservative doesn’t have a large sample size of women who  had abortions. However, how the conservative feels certainly does matter and so does the women who regretted having the abortion. Their feelings and experiences do matter whether or not they speak with the strength of a study.

In this case, the conversation is about social standards, morality, and the effects abortions have on women. Even if most women don’t regret abortion, it is certainly worth noting that some women do. Additionally, what is a good social standard and what our morality should be should be up for debate, and while, objective science can help one cannot forget the subjective experiences of all the people effected by this debate. A philosophy that cannot be practiced in the real world is useless, even if some like the particular arguments of the philosophy.

Note: I’m not trying to answer the pro-life/pro-choice debate.

As always, let me know what you think!


A Time Before Science

Currently, I am imagining living in a different time, a time before modern science. I am laying out beneath the stars, and as the night turns to day, I hear the birds chirping and see them fly. Squirrels are scurrying among the trees, and I ask myself where all of this majesty of nature came from.

Now, I’m wondering how I’m going to answer this. Evolution and the Big Bang haven’t been discovered yet. Would I attribute all of the beauty of nature to a deity? It would seem very tempting. Would I be able, in a world less literate, to fall back on philosophy to aid me? I don’t know.

The intricacies of even bugs and insects cry out for an explanation. Would I resort to religion? I often say, now, that you don’t necessarily need science to become an atheist. Reason will do, but on this earth teaming with life, would that be enough? Or, would I succumb to the temptation for an answer, at a time without science?

Reflections on Psychotic Disorders

Many people, including mental health professionals, see how severe psychotic disorders, such as schizophrenia, can be and instantaneously presume it is mostly biological. Now, most do believe in the value of talk therapy, and it is widely recognized that schizophrenia often starts with a stressful trigger. These triggers can include things as normal as a first year of college or as terrible as a trauma such as a sexual assault. Now, I’m not doubting genetic factors or other biological factors exist in those of us with psychotic disorders, but I have a pet theory on what these disorders are. While, I admit the following is more of a personal opinion than science. I, also, doubt it would be considered complete pseudoscience.

I think it is at least possible that mental disorders are an over reaction to stimuli. (There has been scientific discussion on this.) For example, it is normal to be anxious about an exam. It is not normal to have a panic attack over an exam if one is well prepared. Still, people see psychotic disorders, and think psychosis is so strange it has to be an exceptional case. Well, maybe it is not so different. People without psychotic disorders do have hallucinations on occasion. For example, a person who is sure they heard their phone ring when it wasn’t, in fact, ringing. Now, this doesn’t rise to the level where most people would be bothered, and, yes, people with psychotic disorders have a greater level and frequency of these hallucinations.

In earlier times, certain aspects of mental issues (notice not I didn’t say disorder) were probably more beneficial than they are today. Think about anxiousness. It might be good to be anxious when someone thought they heard footsteps at night. It could have been a dangerous animal. Even, if someone gets anxious half a dozen times when there isn’t a good reason, the fact that this person is on edge might help them realize a real threat with greater frequency. It is better to be wrongly anxious half a dozen times, than wrong about a deadly threat once. Similarly, it might be good to be wrong about, actually, hearing a growling bear a few times and then, always be on the look out and be right once. This is especially true if the person has some previous experience where they felt at risk (stressor.) Now that there person has previously experienced a terrible event, there mind is on the look out.

Now, I am not suggesting that in ancient times mental disorders were a good thing. I’m saying what any mental health professional will tell anyone. We all have aspects of mental disorders. We all can get too anxious sometimes. We all can have some hallucinations. Still, some people are so chronically anxious or hallucinate chronically, and these people can’t function normally. My point is this: psychotic people aren’t as different from the norm as people think. Anxiety disorders might be over reactions, and I, personally, think we shouldn’t look at psychotic disorders any differently.

I, highly, doubt most of what I have said about anxiety is that far away from what a lot of people in psychology say about it, but it has been my experience that as soon as someone says something about psychosis people back away. They can’t see how psychosis could work the same way. Well, I disagree.

Can Religion and Science Coexist?

There have been many refutations of the Christian creation story via science. Evolution through natural selection science supreme in explaining how species have come to be what they are currently. We now know the age of the Earth. We know the age of the universe, and we know the Big Bang occurred and brought about the existence of our universe. That being said, there are still important questions, related to existence, that remain. However, it is exceedingly unlikely, in this day and age, that the Biblical teachings on creation will ever be proven to be a better explanation than science we have now. There may be a few corrections in science, and hopefully we will find answers to the questions that remain. Still, the basic features we have now in biology and astrophysics are unlikely to change, so where does this leave the believer?

Well, if the believer thinks the Bible needs to be taken literally, I’m sorry to say the believer is just plain wrong, and no, there beliefs cannot coexist with science. However, some Christians have moved on. Some claim that the creation story was meant to be metaphorical. Of course, this is problematic due church doctrine. Most Christians seem to accept the original sin concept which was based upon Adam and Eve sinning in the garden. In this case, the believer must jump through some mental hoops to get their religion and science to be in agreement. I, for one, am not willing or think it sensible to jump through those hoops.

Finally, there are believers who see their scriptures as not literal or inerrant. They see the Bible as, simply, inspired. It is fairly simple for these believers to just say the writers of the scriptures erred on occasion, and they were wrong on creation. For these believers, no, there is no issue with their religion and science coexisting. Some of them even make an interesting point. They argue that some people who take the Bible as inerrant and literal are in fact idol worshipers. They worship the Bible over God! However, there is one crucial problem. How, exactly, does one figure out which passage were in fact wrong? It doesn’t seem like everyone is receiving the same message from God on this.

Does Science Disprove God?

Does science disprove God? If you’re a young earth creationist who thinks the Bible has to be taken literally, then absolutely. Sorry about your luck. Still, I did not, actually, start writing this post to give a science lesson or talk about how great the scientific method is. I think there are some good arguments to be had on the science vs. religion debate. Meanwhile, many religious people see no problem compromising their religion in order to accept science.

What’s my point? There is a lot of material on the science vs. religion argument. There is, however, very little popular material on the improbability of a deity on other grounds. One does not necessarily need to have science in order for atheism to be rational. When one combines omnibenevolence, omnipotence, omniscience, and being the greatest possible being, it becomes clear that the western monotheistic god does not make sense. Can God create a rock so big he can’t lift it? If he can’t, then he’s not omnipotent. If can, then he can’t lift the rock, so he is, once again, not omnipotent. If God knows suffering is happening and can do something about it (omnipotence), then how can he be omnibenevolent? Now, I’m not saying theists don’t have responses to the previous questions, but I think they are faulty. Furthermore, there are more of these types of issues when discussing God.

My point: Can science disprove God? Answer: Perhaps, but it doesn’t need to in order for a deity to be unlikely.

Skepticism: Faith and Authority

Most are not 100% skeptical all of time. For example, I consider myself a skeptic, but I don’t spend my time questioning whether the grass is really green or whether water is composed of H2O. I could, but I am fairly certain my original position that grass is green and water is composed of H2O is the correct one. There are certain people who will blatantly say that is never okay to take things on faith and authority, and when the idea that many people take, say science, on faith they try to weasel their way out.

However, taking things on faith and authority, in a very limited way, can be acceptable in certain situations. I think blind faith is generally a bad idea. Still, we need to consider non-blind faith. In other words, we need to consider faith that has a basis to exist. For example, I’ve studied evolution to some degree and I know some of the major findings supporting it. I don’t know a lot of the more complex studies having to do with evolution, but I generally accept most the mainstream findings of scientists. Why? Because, “faith” in these scientists is not blind. It is based on something factual and objective about this science in the first place. Also with science, I know the method. I trust the method; because, it’s method does weed hoaxes and the like. It is open to change and scrutiny. Is this improper? Given it’s record, I don’t think it is. I know how the scientific method works, and as far as can tell, it is working quite well at the moment. If, for example, I had actual knowledge that every part of Catholicism was true but I just wasn’t sure whether the deity was triune, I might take it on faith that my priest was right about God.

Also, I think it is appropriate to take things on authority sometimes, but it depends on the authority. Is the authority reliable/trustworthy? Does the authority have a good tract record? Does the authority have the knowledge to dispense a particular claim? Does the authority have his/her mental facilities in good working order?  Is the authority unbiased? These are questions that need an affirmative answer. The problem is that a lot of people depend on an authority who does not meet the previous qualifications. I’m not going to ask my tv repair man what’s wrong with my car. Likewise, I’m not going to ask a science question to a cleric.

I think most skeptics would agree with. Although, they might argue with how I’ve treated faith. They might say that what I’m arguing isn’t faith at all, but I’d like to hear an argument on why faith should be redefined. People don’t seem to realize that we greatly depend on faith and authority a good portion of the time. It isn’t always universally wrong to do so, but we should question ourselves from time to time about what ideas we’re accepting and why.

Rant: The Lack of Women in STEM, from my Experience

There is a big discussion going on about the lack of women in the STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics) field. There has been a lack of women for a LONG time, and there have been many tries at a solution for this. Some have said that maybe the lack of women is due to women preferring jobs working with people. Many say it is due to outright sexism. Most are just clueless. My academic career has mainly been towards mathematics, but I was originally a physics major. (Physics and engineering have the lowest percentage of women.) In my opinion, there is a lot more going on besides sexism and gender roles.

First off, I think there are differences, at least in my society, between what is typical “woman behavior” versus “man behavior.” (I’m not saying these are genetic. I’m not qualified, and I’m not necessarily deeply concerned about psychology, for my purposes.) (The following is anecdotal, and it is not meant to be an empirical account of how all physics majors act. ) Physics, for example, is considered the brainiest subject one can go into. There is a bit of chip on the shoulder when one is doing well in these courses. Still, if one is asking a male student about a particular subject, it is common for them to be condescending. (Doesn’t matter if the questioner is male or female.)( In fact, sometimes they will give an incompetent answer due to pride, if they don’t know the answer.) If a student asks a female physics major, they are more likely to get a caring and non-egotistical reply. However, there are very few female physics majors. That has been my experience, and this huge part of the reason I switched to math.

On top of that, I have witnessed physics majors being condescending to anyone who was not a physics major. I have heard them state, to other students, that the only real science is physics, and the rest isn’t important. (This includes biology and psychology, where there are more women.)

In fact at one point, I was the only female in a particular physics class. (I expected this to happen at some point. I wasn’t bothered.) However, at times I felt stared at. I would briefly look around. There would always be a few men looking at me as if they hadn’t seen a woman in ages. (My eyes are up hear gentlemen.) I’m not sensitive. It was just mildly uncomfortable. That is until I was alone with one of them in the hallway. He actually hissed at me. (That may not seem like a big deal to most, but if, like me, you’ve been a sexual assault victim repeatedly, then you’re always on alert.) I’m sure that guy had some issues, and that this wasn’t normal, still.

Furthermore, I think a big problem with the lack of women in STEM fields is simply due to the lack of women. I think role models are important. A department that has all men is likely to draw mostly men. People, whether they admit it or not, like to have real life examples. It is much easier to see yourself as a physicist if a college has physicists in your gender. I’m not saying that some can’t break the cycle. I’m just saying it is harder.

I’m sick of the “solutions” that are supposed to solve the demographics issue. You can put a pretty woman on a pink cover to a popular math book all you want. I’m a human first and a woman second. I actually find this type of advertising patronizing and annoying. Talk to me like a HUMAN. Tell me the benefits of STEM. Don’t patronize me. Don’t belittle me. Talk to me. I don’t know, maybe, have actual feminine women talk to young girls about it. I’m done with my rant. Feel free to send me hate mail.