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[P]
Is Astrology a Science?

By Liar in Science
Mon Apr 13, 2009 at 07:37:53 AM EST
Tags: (all tags)

Answer: probably not. This essay will attempt to explain the "probably".


Science suffers from what is known as the demarcation problem--the problem of demarcating science from anything else. What we'll find during this exploration is that almost any criteria or groups of criteria we propose will either demarcate too loosely by including things that we presume are not science or it will demarcate too tightly and exclude things we presume are science, sometimes doing both at the same time. Many of you think you already know the answer (falsification, right?), but when we take it seriously, we find problems. Overall, the demarcation problem is somewhat the same problem as pornography, and we rightly find it frustrating when people say they only know it when they see it.

To a degree, the demarcation problem doesn't matter. A scientist needs a clear demarcation as much as baseball pitcher needs physics, both the scientist and the ball player can continue doing their respective activities without a clear understanding of demarcation or physics. And lately, established scientific disciplines have been winning the courtroom battles against established pseudo-scientific disciplines such as creationism. Most legal cases which have established the non-scientific merits of intelligent design have relied on falsification which, as we'll see, is neither a necessary or sufficient criteria. But it is a problem, an interesting one at that, and one which captured the imagination of some of the more influential minds of the 20th century. Demarcation matters even though it likely will remain an intractable problem.

For the record, I am not making an assertion that astrology is a science, only that it is very difficult to say exactly what science is.

Verification

One of the more effective attempts to answer the demarcation problem developed from a group called the Vienna Circle who put forward a philosophy of logical positivism. Under logical positivism, a meaningful statement was one which could be verified. If it could not be verified, then it was not meaningful and--needless to say--not scientific. A popular example to mock was Martin Heidegger's dictum, ""Das Nichts nichtet." Loosely translated, this means "The nothing nothings." Even when you figure out what Heidegger was talking about, this claim cannot be verified, and positivists would conclude that it's not a meaningful statement. The challenge to verificationism is that it cannot itself be verified. How does one verify the verification criterion to indicate that it's a meaningful statement? Early positivists felt that it was a matter of time before the idea could develop adequate support but this never really happened. There is also a problem of universality: while we may be able to say, "this swan is white", it's not clear that we can verify that "All swans are white for now and all time." The challenge here is that we want to say things like "Helium is and always will be an inert chemical element" and we are denied the ability to verify that. Another difficulty is that evidence is cheap. If every time I walk under a ladder, I get injured, that doesn't indicate that walking under a ladder leads to injuries, in spite of my ability to verify it. One solution to these problems was presented in Karl Popper's attempt at the demarcation problem: falsifiability.

Falsification

Under falsifiability, we need only attempt to indicate that a particular statement could be false. So long as it is not shown false, the statement may endure. Once it is contradicted, it may be abandoned. Falsifiability is an alluring proposition: it encourages boldness and even a degree of heroism--a form of "what doesn't kill me makes me stronger" model for scientific propositions. However, when we look at what scientists do, abandoning a falsified theory is seldom the reaction. Consider the scientists of the Ptolemaic school who modeled the heavens by placing earth in the center. If earth is in the center and the sun and planets move in perfect circles around it, there were planets which moved forward, then backward, and then forward again across the night sky in contradiction to the basic theory. This anomaly didn't result in the abandoning of Ptolemy: epicycles were proposed which corrected the model to fit the observable data. And before we suspect that these types of modifications are what differentiates a pseudo-science from science, we repeated this tactic in the 1800s to good effect. Long after we accepted the Copernican model of a sun-centered solar system, when planets were not in the location that Newtonian physics predicted they would be, we did not abandon Newtonian physics--we instead posited the existence of another planet which inevitably was discovered and named Neptune. No science is free from anomalies and it's not very useful to say that anomalies alone suggests that a discipline is a pseudo-science.

And this is the problem with falsifiability: it's quite simply not what scientists do. Falsifying a hypothesis doesn't automatically imply a false hypothesis--it may only suggest an incomplete hypothesis. A good example of this is the Copernican model that the sun was the center of the solar system. When it was proposed, it was a less reliable model to Ptolemy's model because it came before the observations of people such as Kepler who improved the Copernican model until it was better than Ptolemy's. Should we then conclude that Copernicus was not engaged in science? Similarly, Galileo's model was inferior to the contemporary Kepler model; was the church right in preventing the spread of his pseudo-science? Clearly, we reject these ideas, so the falsification criterion is too strong, excluding work that we'd like to think of as science.

But we like the falsification criterion, so maybe we can salvage it. As demonstrated, it's not a necessary criterion for science, but is it a sufficient idea for science? Is the fact that something is falsifiable (whether it's shown false or not) a sufficient justification to label an idea scientific? Not really. Astrology is the whipping boy of the pseudo-scientific world but assuming falsifiability is our criterion, then astrology must certainly be a science. A bad science, perhaps. But a science nonetheless. It makes positive claims constantly--just open today's Times and find your horoscope. My horoscope today says, "Now is the best time for you to stand up for something you truly believe in." Maybe I have evidence that today is the worst day like if I'm on crutches--it's hard to stand up at all (I say tongue firmly in cheek). Nonetheless, the statement is capable of being falsified. The fact that a horoscope may be accurate only to the statistical probability of flipping a coin may be merely coincidental, it may just be an incomplete science and further understanding may improve its predictive power. Similarly, I doubt we want to reject meteorology simply because the weatherman has the same reputation as the tarot card reader. If we want to exclude astrology and include meteorology, falsifiability may not be the way to do it. Much as we may like the idea of falsifiability, it isn't the simple answer to the demarcation problem.

Models and Theories: Kuhn and Quine

If we're having difficulty in developing an abstract criterion, perhaps we can approach this more pragmatically. Perhaps science is merely what scientists do and as long as we go along with that, we're operating in a science. This was the insight of two philosophers: Thomas Kuhn and W.V.O. Quine, both approaching the answer in different ways. Let's look at Kuhn first. Kuhn was foremost a historian of science and he presented his case in The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, which is an engaging book that is easy to recommend to non-philosophers. Kuhn adopted a phrase from linguistics ("paradigms") to describe how a science operates. A paradigm is a model for understanding how a particular field works. Within that paradigm, there is an amount of normal science which can be performed: under the Newtonian paradigm, we can go out and look at how fast apples accelerate when they fall to the ground, we can apply it to planets passing through the heavens, and so on. However, from the application of Newtonian principles, some anomalies may result. The normal reaction is to find solutions to these anomalies within the paradigm (like Ptolemy's epicycles) but after a critical point, a new paradigm may emerge which displaces the old paradigm. In the modern case, anomalies at the subatomic level have given rise to a somewhat incompatible quantum mechanics. Kuhn called these displacements "paradigm shifts". This model of paradigm shifts implies that a science is based on both predictive as well as explanatory qualities. If a paradigm resolves an anomaly in an unsatisfactory manner, and a new paradigm accounts for it better, holding on to that old paradigm is non-scientific. So, creationism once may have been useful as a model, but the evolutionary model better explains the differentiation of the species and can predict future differentiation more accurately.

Several problems emerge from the paradigmatic model. For one thing, it requires competition. To go back to an earlier example, I'm not sure there is a science which can better predict on which days it's better for me to stand up for something I truly believe in. Therefore, astrology may provide the superior paradigm for such predictions. For that matter, I'm not sure what theory could compete with Time Cube, and yet I have a hard time accepting it as a science. Also, the reliance on explanatory power seems insufficient. Long before gravity fields were understood, Newton was able to do a great deal of research on gravity. He couldn't explain at all how the moon was affected by earth's gravity, just that it was. It would be difficult to suppose that "God's hand pushes the moon in its orbit" to be the superior scientific paradigm for Newton's time. So, at the same time, Kuhn's paradigmatic criterion includes astrology and excludes Newton, so it's simultaneously too strong and too weak.

In Two Dogmas of Empiricism--arguably one of the most important papers of the 20th century--W.V.O. Quine proposed that there was no distinction between synthetic statements and analytic statements. All statements ultimately are synthetic. Let's break through this jargon to see what this means and its impact on science. Especially since the 1700s, philosophy has recognized a difference between synthetic and analytic statements. A synthetic statement is one which we can demonstrate to be true: Some bachelors eat ramen. An analytic statement is one which is true by virtue of its meaning: All bachelors are unmarried. We have to do research to find out if the synthetic statement is true, while we can think out the truth of analytic statements. Quine argues that this is a presumption. At one time, a witch was defined as an insane woman. Nowadays, a witch is someone who practices wicca. Meanings change over time such that a definition we once held before is different now. And this is something more than mere semantic drift, it's a problem of science. If we doggedly hold on to the idea that a witch is an insane woman, we can be presented with counter-examples that demonstrate the problem with the definition, such as a male witch or an insane woman who is not a witch. Our meaning has changed, not necessarily because society has moved, but because experience forces us to re-evaluate our definitions. "1 + 2 = 3" seems like an analytic statement, but it also is subject to the trial of empirical observation. If we found in nature that "1 + 2 != 3", we would attempt to build a math based around that fact. What matters for Quine is the web of belief and how all of the propositions which we hold relate to one another within that web of belief. Meaningfulness only has relevance insofar as things are difficult to dislodge within that web. So, I have an idea of red to which many different experiences attach: the color of blood, communism, that it possesses a particular wavelength, etc. Therefore red is a highly meaningful concept. Grue, however, is less meaningful since it attaches only to Zork and a philosophical argument that posits its existence between green and blue depending on time. If someone asserts that "red does not exist" it will be difficult for me to dislodge the notion of red from my web of belief and I'm more apt to reject the "red does not exist" proposition. But for grue, I may happily abandon the idea of grue.

The result of this for science is that science must be regarded as a holistic exercise placed upon the entire web of belief, that all scientific statements are subject to an individual's ability to integrate it into their web of belief. In other words, there is little demarcation between science and pseudo-science if a person's web of belief can stretch far enough to accommodate the propositions of both the proposed pseudo-science and observation. As an example of this, it's possible to still be a flat-earth proponent if one dismisses all of the evidence as elaborate hoaxes. To be fair to Quine, he presents pragmatic strategies to limit what type of qualifications we should apply such as the law of parsimony--more often known as Occam's razor. We probably use this term all the time, but to define it, it's the law that indicates that its unnecessary to include more than the minimum which is needed to establish a fact. So, if "evolution" sufficiently explains the differentiation of the species, then "evolution (with God)" is unnecessarily complicated by the factor of "with God". As a needless aside, most people mis-characterize Occam's Razor as "the simplest explanation is best" but the real Razor cuts better: it only removes unnecessary complexity rather than arbitrarily preferring simplicity. But it's not entirely clear that parsimony must necessarily be a fact of nature nor that it must find a strong presence in any web of belief. Certainly, it's easier to navigate within our web of belief if we employ parsimony but Quine can only leave it to individual experience and consideration.

Needless to say, Quine doesn't present a satisfactory demarcation. Quite the contrary, he makes it possible for all pseudo-science to be a science.

Against Method: Feyerabend

Going back to Karl Popper and falsification, one of his students explicitly rejected any demarcation at all. Paul Feyerabend proposed what he referred to as epistemological anarchism. This is both a sociological position as well as philosophical. Any rule which indicates how science must operate is repressive. To put it in its most argumentative form, unless we do exactly the activities in the Western European model, we disparage the many valuable contributions which do not (perhaps cannot) come from that tradition. We reject rain dances, for example, because they do not bring rain but neglect the importance of the rite to the people from that community--a feature which science cannot explore. As a result, Feyerabend was able to detect traces of elitism and even racism with the scientific approach. Instead of dispassionately explaining the world, it's used to re-create it in the scientist's own image, much as both late 19th century German and French scientists attempted to find out who has bigger brains: Germans found evidence of larger Teutonic brains, while their Gallic counterparts claimed the same. In the Americas, experiments consistently showed the diminished capacity of Blacks, Native Americas, and Southeastern Europeans. We may think ourselves enlightened right now because we have a superior notion of science, but maybe that's only because we are in the majority. However, on a more philosophical level, a method of demarcation limits our ability to accept and understand data. Feyerabend reminds us that, at a powerfully fundamental level, information wants to be free.

Other Considerations

The above outlines the major theories and proponents of various demarcation positions presented through the 20th century. However, there are other arguments that occur from time to time which also have problems.

The first is that science only deals with the natural as opposed to supernatural phenomena. This begs the question in assuming there is a useful distinction here, let alone what one or the other means. In a simplified example, we live in dimensions 1, 2 and 3. Perhaps God and souls exist in dimension 4, 5 and 6 and future science can show evidence for the existence of these. Even if it be the case that there is no interaction between these two sets of dimensions, it may be true nonetheless even if we cannot, like Russell's teapot, detect anything there. While one could question the usefulness in positing a being in dimension 4, 5, and 6 with whom we cannot interact, we may still be discussing natural phenomena. Further, if we want to argue that we can only do science on 1, 2, and 3, we begin to run afoul of verificationism. And finally, we frequently propose extra dimensions whenever the math requires it for the more demanding calculations in physics; it seems arbitrary to exclude any other phenomena from also functioning in a similar manner. So, the natural versus supernatural distinction isn't as clear as we presume.

Another idea is that science must show progress, but this is clearly not satisfying. Chemistry, by and large, hasn't really progressed too much in the last 100 years. We've filled in corners and supplied some missing details but it is not a robust and active enterprise at the level of physics. Meanwhile, the discovery of new planets does get incorporated in the latest astrological tables, so there appears to be some evidence of astrological progress.

Perhaps we should require that a clear mechanism be proposed in order to say that things are a science. This, too, fails to account for Newton's work in gravity when he neglected to describe the mechanism under which gravity operates. It also bars Darwin from being able to claim his work as scientific because he was unfamiliar with genetics.

Peer review, then? The esteem of the scientific community? Is that what constitutes science? If anything is a pseudo-science, the theories of Trofim Lysenko should qualify, regardless of its popularity in the Soviet universities of its day, so a sociological basis doesn't seem re-assuring.

The motives of the proponents? Can we dismiss the creationist because of their belief in God? In that case, every scientist who works for money has ulterior motives as well, and so it is dissatisfying to dismiss their efforts on the basis of their motives.

"Science must propose laws," some people may argue. If so, then classifying between domain, kingdom, phylum, class, order, family, genus and species become non-scientific enterprises.

On the whole, this sums up why demarcation is a problem. There are good reasons why we might want to dismiss astrology as pseudo-science but that's a far different thing than putting it into actual words which at the same time preserves our feelings with regards to other things that we want to consider science. In some ways, today's fights against creationism and intelligent design in the courts are using yesterday's arguments to discredit it, even though those criteria have themselves been discredited. We may not feel comfortable with that realization, but I never promised you a comforting answer. All I promised was an explanation of that original "probably".

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Display: Sort:
Is Astrology a Science? | 27 comments (23 topical, 4 editorial, 0 hidden)
Pointless nonsense? In my queue? (3.00 / 9) (#1)
by yuo on Fri Apr 10, 2009 at 07:22:23 PM EST

It's likelier than you think.

I wish I had thought of pants pants pants pants pants pants pants pants.

Falsifiability (3.00 / 3) (#2)
by curien on Fri Apr 10, 2009 at 11:22:15 PM EST

I don't follow you here:
But we like the falsification criterion, so maybe we can salvage it. As demonstrated, it's not a necessary criterion for science, but is it a sufficient idea for science? Is the fact that something is falsifiable (whether it's shown false or not) a sufficient justification to label an idea scientific?

You have not demonstrated that falsifiability isn't a necessary criterion for a scientific hypothesis. You have demonstrated that proving a hypothesis false does not render it completely useless, and perhaps that failure to prove one false does not guarantee its truth. Those are very different statements from "falsifiability is [not] a necessary criterion".

I argue that your titular question is meaningless. Is physics science? There are myriad claims in the realm of physics that are completely unscientific -- everything from perpetual motion machines to Velikovskian fantasies. Fields are neither scientific nor unscientific; science is a process that one applies to a class of problems in order to solve them (any high-school science text will describe this in its first couple of chapters). History can be approached scientifically; chemistry can be approached unscientifically. One could approach astrology scientifically, (and it has been done), but the conclusion is usually that the claims made do not appear to stand up to scientific scrutiny.

--
Murder your babies. -- R Mutt

Liar doesn't give Popper much discussion... (none / 1) (#11)
by anaesthetica on Sat Apr 11, 2009 at 08:33:24 PM EST

...but generally Popper's criterion of falsifiability is held as too strict or looking in the wrong direction. You can find an insufficient overview at Wikipedia as usual.

—I'm the little engine that didn't.
k5: our trolls go to eleven
[A]S FAR AS A PERSON'S ACTIONS ARE CONCERNED, IT IS NOT TRUE THAT NOTHING BUT GOOD COMES FROM GOOD AND NOTHING BUT EVIL COMES FROM EVIL, BUT RATHER QUITE FREQUENTLY THE OPPOSITE IS THE CASE. ANYONE WHO DOES NOT REALIZE THIS IS IN FACT A MERE CHILD IN POLITICAL MATTERS. max weber, politics as a vocation


[ Parent ]
The point (none / 0) (#14)
by maniac1860 on Sun Apr 12, 2009 at 01:17:02 PM EST

If the fact that a hypothesis is false doesn't invalidate said hypothesis then using falsification as a criterion of the scientific is pretty useless. To use the example of the article, take astrology. Now let's create a new field of study called astrology' where every hypothesis in astrology'_i has a corresponding hypothesis in astrology_i such that astrology'_i = astrology_i AND false. All these hypotheses are falsifiable; they are in fact false. Since this can be applied to any hypothesis, there is nothing than can not be transformed to fit this criteria of scientific.

[ Parent ]
clarification (1.50 / 2) (#24)
by Liar on Mon Apr 13, 2009 at 03:07:40 PM EST

Sorry for the slow reply--thought I had time to edit this on the next day but ended up nursing sick wife and baby. Mia culpa.

I'm not nearly as interested in the truth of various propositions but whether or not those propositions constitute valid science. Whether science has a better epistemic claim to truth, that's a different (though related) issue to the demarcation problem and it would take an equally sized article to cover that. I'm already covering this problem at a too-brisk of a pace. Rather, I'm looking only at demarcating science from non-science, and in that way, I think I did say enough to say that falsifiability wasn't a necessary component of science.

I'll elaborate on the example I used in the article: when we observed that Uranus' orbit didn't match the expected location that the Newtonian physical model indicated, we didn't declare Newtonian physics as falsified and abandon it. Instead, astronomers appealed to other principles which said that not all anomalies are problems with a theory. In fact, astronomers didn't modify Newtonian physics at all, they posited another planet which turned out to be Neptune. So, even though they encountered data which falsified their model, that wasn't enough to invalidate it. In other words, under some set of conditions (whatever they happen to be) an idea may be scientific yet be exempt from falsification. Hence, falsification isn't a necessary requirement of all scientific propositions.

So, there were propositions that we exempted from falsification but yet we continued to hold as scientific (like Newtonian physics from 1821 to 1846). Perhaps because it was a temporary relaxation of falsification, we were more comfortable accepting the exemption. But we have to ask ourselves what would our reaction have been if Neptune wasn't there yet the perturbations in Uranus' orbit continued to be observed. It's likely we would have continued to hold on to the Newtonian model (because it was better than its predecessors) and have proposed an epicyclic band-aid to make the math work. But at that point, we're beyond falsification as being a necessary condition. It would be an oftentimes useful condition but other considerations hold precedence before it under the right circumstances--and I think the argument advanced by Quine demonstrates why we hold on to some arguments longer than others. Newtonian mechanics was extremely useful, well established, applied to many different circumstances, and the problem with Uranus wasn't systemically dangerous enough at the time the problem emerged so we held on to Newtonianism. By comparison, the caloric theory of heat was not nearly so entrenched and had only 15 years before significant problems emerged which is why it was so easily discarded.

As to your last paragraph, when you say that "science is a process", I assume you mean the scientific method, no? If we accept the idea that "only processes which use the scientific method are valid science" that reduces again to falsification, doesn't it? If so, the problem there is that falsification isn't how all science is done. Consider this thought: do we accept as scientifically valid the proposition that a butterfly in Venezuela can cause a tornado in Kansas? How do we go about evaluating the merit of that claim? And if we can perform an appropriate experiment, how do we reproduce it? Alternatively, do we really wish to declare chaos theory as unscientific since any empirical test must necessarily include noise which cannot be accounted by the initial test conditions? We use statistics to validate that a random data point is a tolerable deviation from the predictions of the model. Without even talking about clear cases of pseudo-science in this case a too strict reliance on falsification, I think, does more harm than good in advancing human knowledge.


I admit I'm a Liar. That's why you can trust me.
[ Parent ]
How does that reduce to falsifiability? (none / 1) (#27)
by error 404 on Wed Apr 22, 2009 at 10:22:33 PM EST

If we accept the idea that "only processes which use the scientific method are valid science" that reduces again to falsification, doesn't it?
I don't see how - there is a lot more to the scientific method than falsifiability. The basic process: observation, hypothesis, test, rinse and repeat. Sure falsifiability is a key component, but it isn't the whole story. Astrologers don't do the process. They observe the apparent positions of astronomical objects as seen from Earth and manipulate symbols, with little or no verification of results. It ain't science. It don't look like science, it don't smell like science, it don't deliver like science.
..................................
Electrical banana is bound to be the very next phase
- Donovan

[ Parent ]
Metaphorical representations as theories (none / 0) (#28)
by ChemicalCastrator on Fri Feb 17, 2012 at 07:38:10 PM EST

"Consider this thought: do we accept as scientifically valid the proposition that a butterfly in Venezuela can cause a tornado in Kansas? How do we go about evaluating the merit of that claim? And if we can perform an appropriate experiment, how do we reproduce it? Alternatively, do we really wish to declare chaos theory as unscientific since any empirical test must necessarily include noise which cannot be accounted by the initial test conditions?"

The butterfly effect has nothing to do with that.  That is a metaphor adopted to make it more understandable and less boring (i.e. mathematical to the layperson).  It is a mathematical theory that has been tested many times and is applied often.  

Also, in regards to Chaos theory, you once again take the metaphorical representation and use it try and justify your position.  If you want to properly scrutinize Chaos theory then I suggest you study topology far more.  


[ Parent ]

a major bibliographic shortcoming (none / 0) (#3)
by N0574 on Fri Apr 10, 2009 at 11:36:15 PM EST

of this piece is that you didn't consult T. Adorno's Stars Down to Earth, which is quite surprising since it's one of the best critiques of Astrology available.

Otherwise great article, +1FP, etc.

- NCCTG N0574 CANCER PROTOCOL

In the same sense that climatology is a science (2.00 / 3) (#5)
by QuantumFoam on Sat Apr 11, 2009 at 06:12:06 AM EST

That is, it is a discipline that fails to create a model with predictive power, but is nevertheless believed by a large number of people because they want to believe.

A gullible moron reads the astrology column and will attribute any event remotely resembling the horoscope to the genius of the astrologer and fail to notice the majority of events that have nothing to do with the prediction.

Likewise, when a summer day is abnormally hot, the climate change believer will attribute it to AGW despite the fact that AGW is usually described as a rise of average temperatures, not necessarily peaks. However, when a freak blizzard happens in May, it will not even cross his mind to incorporate this data point into his anecdotal data repository. Or better yet, he can chalk it up to the more ambiguous "climate change", which is pretty much going to happen regardless since our climate has never before been static over significant periods of time.

Some people want to believe in astrology because they want to believe that the universe has more of a cosmic purpose. Some people believe in climate change because they want to institute international communism. Both are equally irrational.

- Barack Obama: Because it will work this time. Honest!

Ah, yes (3.00 / 5) (#10)
by Vampire Zombie Abu Musab al Zarqawi on Sat Apr 11, 2009 at 08:06:47 PM EST

Climatology isn't science because you can attribute poor understanding of the climate to fictional "believers". That's some powerful debunking right there.

Yet more anecdotal evidence that you're a moron.

[ Parent ]

Oddly, I have noticed the opposite effect (none / 0) (#15)
by localroger on Sun Apr 12, 2009 at 02:01:53 PM EST

On any unseasonably cold day the climate change deniers who listen to FOX news all day long like to mutter "so much for global warming." Most of the climate change believers I know understand that it's a big messy system and that when you knock it out of kilter you're going to get both unseasonably hot and cold events in certain locales. IME it's the deniers who are much more likely to blow it all off based on today's outside temperature reading.

And that is what is so great about the internet. It enables pompous blowhards to connect with other pompous blowhards in a vast circle jerk of pomposity. -- Bill Maher
[ Parent ]
or Economics even. (none / 0) (#17)
by tdillo on Sun Apr 12, 2009 at 10:10:22 PM EST


The stories and information posted here are artistic works of fiction and falsehood.Only a fool would take anything posted here as fact.


[ Parent ]
Actually Helium isn't really inert (none / 0) (#6)
by MichaelCrawford on Sat Apr 11, 2009 at 04:35:00 PM EST

Surprisingly, there is a chemical compound of which Helium is a member.

And yes, its discovery was quite unexpected.

There are two usual ways by which an atom may be bonded to others: ionic bonding, in which an atom either gains or loses an electron, and sticks to another atom by electrical attraction, and covalent bonding, in which the wavefunction of an electron expands to envelope neighboring atoms, and so is able to reach a lower energy level. This because particles don't like to be constrained into small spaces.

But the Helium molecule involves a little cage made of some other kinds of atoms, with a Helium atom trapped in the middle.

It's a mechanical bond. That is, it's stuck in there because it won't fit through any of the holes in its little molecular cage. There is no electron exchange involved at all.

Sorry, I don't have a link, the formula or even the name of the molecule. I read about this in some science book about thirty years ago.


--

Live your fucking life. Sue someone on the Internet. Write a fucking music player. Like the great man Michael David Crawford has shown us all: Hard work, a strong will to stalk, and a few fries short of a happy meal goes a long way. -- bride of spidy


Depends on what you mean by inert (none / 1) (#7)
by curien on Sat Apr 11, 2009 at 05:24:41 PM EST

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Helium#Compounds

It looks like HgHe might be what you're remembering; it "is apparently only held together by polarization forces." The reference cited is "Encyclopedia of the Chemical Elements", published 1968.

--
Murder your babies. -- R Mutt
[ Parent ]

are you talking about fullerenes, you bloody idiot (none / 1) (#22)
by th0m on Mon Apr 13, 2009 at 04:29:56 AM EST



[ Parent ]
No. This was discovered long before fullerenes. $ (none / 0) (#23)
by MichaelCrawford on Mon Apr 13, 2009 at 07:23:14 AM EST


--

Live your fucking life. Sue someone on the Internet. Write a fucking music player. Like the great man Michael David Crawford has shown us all: Hard work, a strong will to stalk, and a few fries short of a happy meal goes a long way. -- bride of spidy


[ Parent ]

I think you're full of shit. (none / 0) (#8)
by Enlarged to Show Texture on Sat Apr 11, 2009 at 06:38:44 PM EST

+1FP anyway, well written


"Those people who think they know everything are a great annoyance to those of us who do." -- Isaac Asimov
The cold hard truth. (none / 1) (#12)
by Pentashagon on Sat Apr 11, 2009 at 08:56:06 PM EST

Philosophy doesn't matter.

Science is part of the evolutionary process that allows organisms to adapt to environments more effectively.  Humans currently label many activities and ideas "science", but you are right that it's mostly an arbitrary label.  What matters is that it works.  Like genes, the memes of science compete for survival, but their environment is the collective mind of humanity, and the selection pressure favors ideas that yield the best results for the humans who think them and are able to apply their knowledge.

Your problem, I think, is anthropomorphizing science.  Science is the activities left when you remove the uniquely human elements and are left with a suitably abstract rational being.

the unexamined life isn't worth living (none / 0) (#18)
by channel on Sun Apr 12, 2009 at 10:29:13 PM EST



-==[[[ SIG OF DESTINY ]]]==--
[ Parent ]
I know some very happy retards who disagree $ (none / 1) (#20)
by Pentashagon on Sun Apr 12, 2009 at 11:29:02 PM EST



[ Parent ]
shorter answer: no $ (3.00 / 2) (#21)
by th0m on Mon Apr 13, 2009 at 04:26:48 AM EST



longer answer: (none / 1) (#25)
by jolt rush soon on Tue Apr 14, 2009 at 07:00:53 AM EST

nnnnnnoooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo
--
Subosc — free electronic music.
[ Parent ]
Feyerabend: (none / 1) (#26)
by Wen Jian on Wed Apr 22, 2009 at 07:45:53 AM EST

"I think that science has been undermined by politicisation! To solve this, let's politicise science!"

This dickwickle is basically a fore-runner of all that grabasstic social science shit where people present and then attempt to justify a position that they find pleasing and think will shock and at the same time make them popular - feminism, I'm looking at you.
It was an experiment in lulz. - Rusty

Is Astrology a Science? | 27 comments (23 topical, 4 editorial, 0 hidden)
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