Wednesday, June 27, 2012

The Structure of Scientific Revolutions

“Everyone” knows this book, even those who have not read it.  “Paradigm shift” is an idea within our common culture. This month, I made the time to read it (third edition) cover-to-cover and make notes, both marginalia and on eight pages from a notepad.  The Wikipedia summary (here)  is accurate.  What I took away – and what you find – is necessarily different. 

In the Postscript answering his critics (and supporters), Kuhn points out that his thesis resonates with similar ideas from other fields, such as art and politics.  Those other fields informed his view of science.  That thesis may appear to have been assimilated broadly considering the common understanding of paradigms today. But having completed classes in sciences several times since I first read the book for a community college seminar in 1976, we still do not learn about science this way. 

Standard textbooks in physics – Sears and Zemansky (and the successors), Tipler, Halliday and Resnick – and the professors who lecture from them, do not admit to the existence of paradigm shifts. They deliver the intellectual development of electricity and other topics in the traditional mode.  In the freshman lab, we have the electroscope, but not as a Leyden jar to collect electric fluid.  Kuhn’s claim that Maxwell’s Equations and even Ohm’s Law were not accepted on their merits finds no voice in the typical college classroom. 

Kuhn cites "Resistance to Ohm's Law" by Morton L. Schagrin (American Journal of Physics, July 1963, Volume 31, Issue 7, pp. 536. ) The abstract at American Association of Physics Teachers here  says:
“It is argued that the usual account of the discovery and subsequent rejection, or criticism, of Ohm's law is both a misleading and an inadequate explanation. A close logical examination of Ohm's experimental work reveals a conceptual structure quite different from that of the electrical science of his time. As a result of this analysis, it is claimed that the conceptual shift in Ohm's experimental work was the basis for the reaction of his contemporaries.”

Kuhn also points out that while art evolved past representation, painters today still create realistic portraits, still lifes, and landscapes.  No physicist or chemist investigates phlogiston.  Kuhn also identifies the fact that debates in social science are rooted in incommensurable paradigms.  Here on Necessary Facts is a list of about 30 different theories of crime. 
Some can be reconciled to each other, especially in context.  Most cannot. Also here on Necessary Facts is Rom Harre's Great Scientific Experiments. Some reflect paradigm shifts; others reinforce Kuhn's suggestions about "normal science." Some of them - Robert Norman on the dip of the magnetic field; and Konrad Lorenz on imprinting - offer contrary evidence that does not decide between rival paradigms.

Those cannot invalidate the facts cited here.  Kuhn is clear about his commitment to objective reality.  He argues against interpreters who accuse (or praise) him for subjectivism and relativism.  We do perceive differently, but we do perceive something, not just anything.  Moreover, the supposed weakness in circularity and tautology, are only identifications: A is A, as another philosopher put it.  Kuhn is clear that not just anything can be an identification. Between the perceptions, he says, are gaps, or lacunae, or nothing: conceptual and perceptual voids against which or contrasted with which we perceive.

Last night coming home from work on the bus, I sat next to a man reading The IliadThe Structure of Scientific Revolutions is that kind of book: if you have not read it (for some years passed) you deserve the opportunity.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Nerd Nation 4.5

We actually had cable-tv in the 80s and 90s; but from about 1996 on, it was just an offering on the glass wire that brought the Internet.  We were never much for television.  If I did not have CNN and Reuters for my home pages (PC and Mac), I would never know about Survivor or Dancing with the Stars.  But small screen cinema is a valid medium and we often browse the stacks at the library and even had Blockbuster cards.  

I found Big Bang Theory at the Ann Arbor Public Library.  Mostly we were wait-listed to view it.  Truth to tell, my wife could not watch it at first because it was too embarrassingly like the people she worked with.  But she got over that and we became fans; and came pretty much up to speed via (where we also followed NCIS) Enjoyinging Season 4 on discs here in Austin courtesy of the library (again long wait-lists) we viewed one of the special features.  In a tet-a-tet with show star Jim Parsons, Mayim Bialik said that she studied neurobiology.  That was interesting.  

Her biographies on IMDB and Wikipedia say that playing young Bette Midler was her “most famous” role.  I’ll take their word for it.  She also acted in something called Blossom, a role that first made her “famous” they say.  

We are living in a Renaissance, if there is a “rebirth” at all, and not the continuation of the long trajectory of civilization.  It actually raises the question of what a “dark age” is.  The Bronze Age collapse (1200-1150 BCE) is easy enough to see. The contraction of Rome in the fourth and fifth centuries CE was less dramatic.  Catastrophes happen.  It may be that the European Renaissance was not an exception, at all, but the norm.  Be that as it may, clearly, our electronic age is at once an effect and a cause of cultural complexity.  

Mayim Bialik’s doctoral dissertation at Google Books here (Hypothalamic Regulation in Relation to Maladaptive, Obsessive-compulsive, Affiliative, and Satiety Behaviors in Prader-Willi Syndrome by Mayim Chaya Bialik; ProQuest, 2007; 285 pages.)


Art as Ordered Narrative

Book Review: When Writing Met Art by Denise Schmandt-Besserat (Austin: University of Texas Press, 2007. $45.00.)

We accept it as given that a painting tells a story.  It was not always so. Before the invention of writing, representational art was not spatially oriented.  Moreover, we expect that writing conveys speech.  That, too, was a secondary development.  The civilizations of Mesopotamia 8000 to 2500 BCE slowly evolved literacy from numeracy: counting – actually, accounting – was the impetus for writing.  From tallying debts, writing eventually appeared on statues to announce the subject or object of devotion.  The neat lines of cuneiform served as a model for painting.  The unordered presentation of activities such as hunting, became the left-to-right, top-to-bottom mapping we now expect specifically because this is how temple records presented the quantities of wheat and counts of animals owed to them. 

“Schmandt-Besserat then demonstrates art's reciprocal impact on the development of writing. She shows how, beginning in 2700-2600 BC, the inclusion of inscriptions on funerary and votive art objects emancipated writing from its original accounting function. To fulfill its new role, writing evolved to replicate speech; this in turn made it possible to compile, organize, and synthesize unlimited amounts of information; and to preserve and disseminate information across time and space.” UT Press here. 
Preliterate art

Post literate art

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Astronomical Symbols on Ancient and Medieval Coins

Book Review: Astronomical Symbols on Ancient and Medieval Coins by Marshall Faintich; McFarland & Co., 2008, 232 pages, $55.00

Working with fellow student Bradford S. Wade, whom I met in “Ethics in Physics,” at Eastern Michigan University, I placed reviews of this book in The Numismatist (Vol 124 No. 1, January 2011), The Mich-Matist (Vol XLVI No. 4, Autumn 2010), E-Sylum(Volume 13, Number 45, November 7, 2010, Article 4), The Centinel (Vol. 58 No. 3, Fall 2010), The Celator, and the Bulletin of the Society for the History of Astronomy (Issue 21, Autumn 2011).  They ran in a range; and as a consequence of our criticism, we exchanged some emails with the author who demanded retractions which we did not publish.  We stand by our work – as he stands by his.  This is science.  Overall, the book is important and valuable.  It does have its weak points.  They do not detract from the major thesis: astronomical events appear recorded in the long history of coinage. 
Symbolic Messengers webpages here

Today, we are not always certain about the motives of the people of those distant times.  The indicators that we easily read as conjunctions and eclipses – and not so easily as comets and other events – may be the mint master’s controls, or a simple statement of time, or (as Faintich hypothesizes) claims of divine grace and heavenly favor.  Read them as you will, “stars” of many kinds have appeared on metal monetary media since the invention of coinage 2600 years ago.

That is the first challenge.

Common to both Karl Marx and Ludwig von Mises is the hilarious presumption that coinage evolved from bullion, which evolved from bartering for commodities.  Those who do not question this fantasy have not investigated the problem.  The earliest records written in cuneiform on clay – which, according to Denise Schmandt-Besserat, evolved from tokens for debt – indicate divinity by placing a star above a person or the name of the person. That seems natural to us who place our God(s) in Heaven.  (Those who identify their goddess with the earth have another narrative.)  Thus, when coins were issued as bonus payments to mercenaries about 600 BCE, they often carried stars in many forms.  In addition to the obvious “floral bursts” the coins of Croesus (Kroisos) show a bull confronting a lion.  (Other coins of the same time show a "hairy wart" on the nose of the Lion.) Does that symbolize Taurus and Leo?  And if so, in what context?  And where is the Scorpion?  The Bull, the Lion, and the Scorpion were the first points of the so-called “zodiac” of the ecliptic that was finalized only in Roman times when the Claws of the Scorpion became Libra to make 12 Constellations, analogous to the 12 months – and the 12 Olympians. 

But none of that is in Faintaich.  His focus is the European Middle Ages.  Strong evidence supports the choice.  First, we have the coins.  In the years between Charlemagne and Columbus, perhaps a thousand issues are known.  Many have astronomical symbols.  Moreover, rather than being a “Dark Age” these were times when events were recorded in books stored in monasteries.  Those events also appear recorded on coins as a common medium of communication.  Therefore, it is only desk work to rely on modern astronomical software to run the clock back and look at the sky in medieval England, France, and Germany – and then compare those results to the attested times and places of mintage for coins with astronomical symbols.

Faintich builds a strong case.

At times, he over-reaches.  And with good reason.  Brad Wade and I talked this out in the context of the ethics in science.  On the one hand, Faintich’s thesis is not completely defensible: some of his facts are not facts.  On the other hand, he would have been remiss in not citing all the evidence, in only presenting the “points” that fit his “curve.” 
For example, he speaks entirely of secular authorities: counts, dukes, princes, kings and emperors.  Never does he address the bishops (including the bishop of Rome and the archbishop of Canterbury) who issued coins.  Faintich repeatedly states his major premise by referring to “the divine right of kings” a concept alien to the Catholics of the Middle Ages, but nicely enunciated to the English Parliament by the Protestant statesman, King James VI of Scotland.  By not examining coins issued by ecclesiastic authorities and by ignoring the actual conflicts of church versus crown, Faintich undermines the theory that pellets, annulets, stars, mullets, crescents, combs and bars were intended as symbols of divine favor for mundane rulers.   Bulletin of the Society for the History of Astronomy (Issue 21, Autumn 2011.)
Trained in mathematics (BS) and astronomy (MA and PhD), Faintich does more than argue his point. He offers four criteria that must be met to show that the astronomical events correlate with the intent of the coin.
“First the date of the coin bearing an astronomical symbol must be ascertained. Second, the astronomical symbol must be the first such occurrence for that coin design or a reintroduction of the symbol after a substantial period of time to rule out immobilization of the design. Third, the occurrence of the astronomical event must be established. Fourth, and most difficult to ascertain, historical evidence must be presented that supports the observance and importance of the event.”
Generally, he succeeds. Philip Augustus was king of France 1180-1191; and in 1186, the five planets – Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn – were in a close conjunction, a cluster of only 6° at sunset; and we have a coin of Philip Augustus with five pellets in the center of the obverse. Faintich does this repeatedly for eclipses of the sun and moon, comets, and conjunctions. (The Mich-Matist (Vol XLVI No. 4, Autumn 2010)
Astronomy and numismatics are both fields where accomplished amateurs contribute alongside academic professionals.  This book intersects both studies.  Correlating celestial events with terrestrial history may be the best path for reconciling the calendars of the past.  In other times and places New Year’s Day might have been what we call Halloween, or Christmas, or Easter.  In the 16th century, “April Fool’s” were behind the times, though May Day had been New Years elsewhere and elsewhen. Midsummer’s Day is actually the Solstice, not August 4 (Walpurgis Night).  So, when medieval women and men recorded their lives in diaries, we can too easily misunderstand their statements of time.  Comparing their skies with their coins can help us bring everything into alignment.  That is just one potential use for this overlooked but significant work.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Laissez-faire Criminology

Of the many theories of crime, none is based on doing nothing. Every theory assumes that someone has a duty to act to punish wrongs or remediate harms or save the sinner. Traditional studies of victimology come closest to a laissez faire theory that problems in our social environment are only analogous to problems in our physical environment: we protect ourselves from the elements; but we do not seek to punish storms, either for their own good or as general deterrence to any other bad weather.

Altruism informs criminology. Even more than the golden rule, the parable of the Good Samaritan tells us all that we are our brother’s keeper. And no one is kept better than someone in prison.

When Sir Robert Peel formed the London Metropolitan Police Service in 1829, crime was a political problem outlined by morality based in religion. Today, criminology resonates within sociology. A hundred years ago, Marxists criticized Max Weber in particular and sociology in general for being concerned only with church, family, and state. Today, those critical sociologists and critical criminologists control the content of most university programs: racism and sexism are caused by capitalism; end of story.

Even libertarians and objectivists who generally do not care what you smoke or with whom you sleep insist on the enforcement of property rights specifically as the punishment of those who violate the rights of others. Within those circles, self-identified “anarcho-capitalists” engage in long arguments with advocates of constitutionally limited government (“minarchy”) attempting to prove that a completely free market in protection and adjudication would still bring justice in the form of punishments to wrong-doers. No one says, “So what?”

That should seem peculiar. Is it not self-contradictory to claim that you are completely responsible for your own life unless you can complain about someone else?  A completely consistent criminology based on individualism is centered on victimology: understanding your risks in society and taking preventive and preparatory actions to avoid losses.

Altruism has a range of definitions. Objectivists and libertarians cite the inventor of the word, Auguste Comte, and take him literally. Comte was a political Platonist who advocated for a secular civic priesthood to rule a common humanity that was united in complete concern for others – and no concern for self. Comte was explicit. Later philosophers softened this. After all, Jesus commanded us to love our neighbor as we love ourselves. Self must come first before benevolence can be extended to others. Today, altruism is mere politeness and civility, common grace, and simple decency. That seems harmless enough.

But what happens when that fails?

I am a fan of public transportation and ride one or more buses to work or play most days. “Pardon me”, “excuse me”, and “sorry” are important acknowledgements of small harms. Criminal justice is based on the expectation of larger and more complicated apologies for harms of greater consequence.

We generally understand others as extensions, projections, reflections, or reiterations of ourselves. “Do unto others as you would have others do unto you” assumes that others share your values. More deeply, it assumes that others think as you do – even that they think at all. Our propensity for copying the behaviors of others runs far deeper than “monkey see, monkey do.” In point of fact, researchers found that given a puzzle and a ritual, and later shown the short-cut, chimpanzees abandon useless actions, while humans repeat them for no apparent reason. Thus, everyone seems to be able to learn how to drive a car (or ride a bus), use a computer or a cell phone, and learn a foreign language. So, when you are harmed by someone else, you assume that like you they had no intention and having committed a transgression, they are remorseful, and cannot be content until they have rebalanced themselves with some propitiation.


And if that other person has no such inner needs, where do we find the motivation (“political right”) to redirect that person’s body, mind, and soul?

Why do we feel differently about losses caused by other people than we do about losses caused by storms?  If we protect ourselves from nature, why do we not also protect ourselves from human nature?

Design of a "speed bump" (USA) or "sleeping policeman" (UK)

Monday, June 11, 2012

Integrating Criminologies

Crime is the sine qua non problem of every society.  What a culture regards as harms and how people respond to harm defines them even more than their achievements.  

In the Bible and Hesiod’s Theogeny, human error is given.  Modern criminology, originating in the Enlightenment with Cesare Breccaria’s Crimes and Punishments (1763), assumes that crime is exceptional and remediable because human nature is perfectible.  Even recent theories –the “critical” school (i.e., Marxists) and post-modernists – claim that crime is a natural response to capitalist oppression and that if we did away with property (and those who own it), we would all live happily ever after.  No laissez faire criminologist asserts that what we mistakenly were told were harms and crimes are only the benefits of an Invisible Hand of Human Action.  

Integrative Systems Theory (Robinson) and Integration Theory (Barak) attempt to bring order to the many theories of crime.

Most integrators of crime and/or punishment agree that integration involves connecting, linking, combining, and/or synthesizing the relations and fragments of other models and theories into formulations of crime and crime control that are more comprehensive than the more traditional and one-dimensional explanations that have been perpetually elaborated on for some forty years. Despite this abstract agreement on the meaning of integration, actual approaches to integration vary significantly. -- "Integrative Theories, Integrating Criminologies" by Prof. Gregg Barack on his website here.

Integration is a formidable task because different hypotheses rest on different assumptions. Criminologists argue past each other because they are expressing different paradigms.
Integrative criminology correctly identifies what all harms have in common. It resolves conflicts within the individuals involved, as well as remediating their externally apparent problem, and integrates the actors into their society.

Different schools of thought stem from different sets of data.  The collection of data has always been driven by theory.  Unlike scientists who discover some previously unperceived phenomenon – nebulae through a telescope; germs via a microscope – criminologists absorb their social contexts long before they learn methods of investigating their own and other cultures at university.  From the medieval lecturers to online interactions, academic cultures always range within the collectivist models based on the assumption that only altruism defines ethics because it is identical with morality. Those rest on erroneous epistemologies.  Among the few islands of individualism in the sea of unquestioned assumptions are Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics, Abraham Maslow’s Theory of Human Motivation, and Ayn Rand’s Objectivist Ethics.

In his apologia for chemistry, The Same and Not the Same, (Columbia University Press, 1995) Nobel laureate Roald Hoffmann asserts that no two hemoglobin molecules are identical. So-called “identical twins” are not. Individualism is objectively real: both empirically knowable and rationally explainable.  Yet, even the proposed integration criminologies do not take this fact into account.

Epistemological integration is the unifying of discrete elements into a single concept.  The individual person is the unit of society.  Therefore, successful criminology begins with the individual.  Most often, crimes are identified when individuals are united by a shared harm.  However, the state’s compelling interest in the welfare of the individual recognizes the problem of self-harm.  Diagnosed with a terminal illness, you have the right to end your life when you choose.  You do not have a political right to do that by jumping from a building. The difficulty is not the violation of the building owner’s right to property and contract; and it is not the violation of laws against littering the sidewalk.  Any individual who chooses such an obviously harmful public display is internally conflicted and lacking integration.  Thus, other people (via the police power of government) have a compelling interest to act.

When individuals come into conflict, one of them (certainly) and all of them (likely) are internally unintegrated or else the problem would not exist.  But not all problems are solvable. Whether a dishonest accountant is genetically cursed, or the product of a broken home, or differentially associated with a criminogenic corporation, or simply chooses to gain at the expense of others may be the bottom line.  It ends there.  Whether we can walk away from the harms and accept them as metaphysical facts is the essential problem of criminology
Some Theories of Crime
The Classical School - The Positive School - The Chicago School - Rational Choice
Lifestyle - Cognitive - XYZ Chromosome - Sociobiology
Social Learning - Modeling/Imitation
Differential Association - Differential Conditionality - Differential Identification
Differential Reinforcement - Differential Opportunity 
Social Learning - Psychoanalytic - Moral Development - Criminal Personality
Strain - Social Strain - General Strain - Social Disorganization - Anomie
Subculture - Culture Conflict - Subculture of Delinquency
Techniques of Neutralization = Subculture of Violence - Focal Concerns  -Routine Activities
High Delinquency Areas  - Labeling  -Tagging
Primary & Secondary Deviance
Developmental Career Model
Radical Non-Intervention - Social Control  - Containment - Social Bond  - Opportunity     
Power-Control - Instrumental - Low Self-Control 
Peacemaking  -Reintegrative Shaming  - Radical Feminist  - Conflict - Marxist          
Social Reality - Liberation

Saturday, June 2, 2012

Nerd Nation 4.0

The young woman cutting my hair said that she likes science, and is pretty good at chemistry based on the licensing requirements and corporate training for her trade. Maybe that is an anomaly and she is an outlier. But The Best American Science and Nature Writing 2010 includes an article from GQ. As trendy as you can be with your 3-day beard shadow, greasy locks and sultry pout, if you don’t know science, you are not getting laid.

When the Facebook initial public offering did not break all (or any) records, hands were wrung and one of my libertarian colleagues spun a link to a claim that the White House was behind the failure in order to gain control of the Internet.  Twenty years ago, there as no 

Today the US Department of Justice prosecutes hapless capitalists who fall victim to its jaws for collusively selling things that did not exist when they were born.

In one sense, it is an old story. Carolyn Marvin (see here) is famous for When Old Technologies Were New: About Electric Communication in the Late Nineteenth Century.  In the late nineteenth century, although telephone, radio, and the potential of television promised much, the compelling paradigm was the entrepreneur, not the technician. Edison’s success was measured in his millions of dollars of earnings.  In our time, we expect that brains bring profits.  When that fails, we believe that something is wrong. 

We reward intelligence with profits from IPOs. …… and a strong fan base… or we like to think we do.

From the Necessary Facts archives:

Felicia Day
 Gregg Barak, Young Kim and Donald Shelton found, broadly, that in fact, the "CSI Effect" is really just a "tech effect." 

One of Danica McKellar's three math books for girls
Successful actresses have Erdös numbers.

Natalie (Portman) Herschlag co-author of two peer reviewed scientific journal articles
"How Dungeons & Dragons Changed My Life" by Ethan Gilsdorf.