Archive for December, 2007

Dec 31 2007

Deep Nonsense from Deepak

Deepak Chopra is one of the biggest names in dualist woo nonsense. His arguments are particularly vacuous and poorly thought out, and in his recent two-part article in the Huffington Post he remains true to form. (Part I and Part II) This time he is trying to argue from some recent developments in neuroscience that the mind is separate from the brain, but his argument is little more than a thinly veiled leap of faith.

He writes:

One need only turn to the work of the late Dr. Paul Bach-y-Rita from Mexico, who attracted general scorn thirty years ago when he suggested that the brain was capable of “sensory substitution.” That is, a blind person could learn to “see,” for example, by substituting the sense of touch for the sense of sight. Braille already gave a clue that something akin to this audacious idea was possible, but Dr. Bach-y-Rita went much further. By the time of his death at 72 last year, he had developed a mechanism known as a “Brain Port,” a small paddle that fits on the tongue. Using a grid of 600 electrical points attached to a camera, the Brain Port can deliver a picture to the tongue of whatever the camera sees. This picture consists of electrical impulses that activate touch, yet after some practice, the blind person’s brain actually sees the image.

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Dec 28 2007

Debate With Hollow-Earth Proponent – Neal Adams: Part 4

Neal Adams responds:

Logic…….evidence …….and methodology…….Logic ….rifts and spreads LOOK LIKE pulled apart land under the ocean (flat plate ….precipitus drop….flat wide bottom to the other side ….Precipitus rise to a flat plane.) There were shallow seas on the land, and no EVIDENCE of the existence of deep oceans anywhere on Earth. Then ancient rifting and spreading happened in the shallow seas. When the shallow seas drained into the new deep oceans it left the “skeleton” of the ancient shallow seas,…..the shallow rifts and spreads,….and this is exactly what you see.

That’s what these landforms are, by simple process of elimination. You don’t observe spreading that stopped 100 million years ago, Steven. How else does one explain these landforms. There is no other explanation. “The evidence” is EVERYWHERE.

Steven. In every monkey, chimp or ape EVERY SINGLE BONE AND MUSCLE AND LIGAMENT matches human anatomy 100%. Nobody noticed this before Darwin???? Sure they noticed!………did they make the connection?

You would have said, “But, scientists would have noticed.” Then you would say “Scientists are smarter now.”

If nobody SAYS it, the random “Oh, isn’t that interesting” doesn’t become, “MY God, that must mean…” Don’t ask me why this is.

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Dec 27 2007

Debate With Hollow-Earth Proponent – Neal Adams: Part 3

This is the third part of a point-counterpoint debate between Neal Adams and the author.

 

Neal Adams responds:

Regarding Einstein:

Thank you, You’ve made my point perfectly. This is exactly what I’m doing, point for point.

Steve wrote: Also, Darwins Origin of the Species is not just the presentation of an idea, most of the book is a painstakingly detailed presentation of evidence.”

As are my painstakingly detailed maps.

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Dec 26 2007

Debate With Hollow-Earth Proponent – Neal Adams: Part 2

Neal Adams writes (quotes are from Steven Novella’s previous post):

Steven,

Regarding my theories and mainstream scientific acceptance:

I’m not aware of displaying the hostility toward “scientific” criticism. Nor do I need to be told how “science works.” Nor do I wish the approval of the “court of scientific opinion” and finally there is no marginalization beyond the position I found myself in. It’s far better now and I’m sure it will get only better still, so please have no concern for me. I am at a stage, and the stage is surprisingly good. Call it the debate stage.

I “dismiss explanations because they don’t make sense.” Hmmmm. Yes, that’s true. Emphasis on the “don’t make sense.” And I will test that philosophy
with a the opinions of the great minds of history.

“And you support your own alternative because they do make sense.” Again ….YES!

“But making sense is not sufficient to establish that an idea is correct.” NO,….but it is a very, very good starting point and sooner or later “it must make sense, one way or another.”

“You have not established…” ONE….does not “establish”. Einstein did not establish ANYTHING. He postulated a theorum. It was for many others to “establish “!

“…the details necessary to actually disprove the standard models, nor haveyou provided empirical evidence to support your alternatives.”

You are categorically incorrect in this statement and I am shocked that you would have not pre-edited this. You had limited exposure to this theory as you take great pains to explain. What could you possibly know of my postulates and how they prove out? You presume outside of your exposure. You have heard very little. Isn’t that correct?

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Dec 24 2007

Debate With Hollow-Earth Proponent – Neal Adams

I will be on vacation and away from a broadband connection for the holidays, so for this week I will post a written debate I had with Neal Adams following his interview on the Skeptics Guide podcast. Each day (not including the 25th) will cover one exchange, with Neal’s arguments followed by my response. Each exchange covered a number of topics, but I will try to keep organized to make it easier to follow. Also, for full disclosure I have edited the format of Neal’s posts (at his request) to make them more readable. I changed punctuation and formatting only, not content.

Merry Christmas for those who celebrate it. Best wishes of the season to all of my readers. I will resume my regular posts on January 1st.

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Dec 21 2007

How the Brain Interprets Language

Published by under Neuroscience

Blogging on Peer-Reviewed ResearchI have mentioned before that we are in the midst of a pulse of exciting neuroscience research involving the use of functional MRI scanning (fMRI) to see which brain structures are involved with which cognitive activities. We are thereby reverse engineering the brain. A study just published in the journal Neuron uses fMRI to look at a specific aspect of how our brains process language. (doi:10.1016/j.neuron.2007.09.037; Uri Hasson, Jeremy I. Skipper, Howard C. Nusbaum and Steven L. Small, Abstract Coding of Audiovisual Speech: Beyond Sensory Representation, NeuronVolume 56, Issue 6, , 20 December 2007, Pages 1116-1126.)

For background, the language center of the brain (Wernicke’s area in the dominant temporal lobe) is the “dictionary” of the brain – translating words into concepts and concepts into words. Wernicke’s area has input from auditory and visual areas of the brain, which makes sense. In essence, Werkincke’s area hears speech and then translates those sounds into words that have abstract meaning.

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Dec 20 2007

Remembering Sagan

Published by under General

Carl Sagan, noted astronomer and science popularizer, died 11 years ago today, on December 20th 1996. Beginning last year, on the 10th anniversary of his death, and continuing this year (and hopefully into the future) there is an informal Sagan blog carnival, honoring the memory of the man who meant so much to so many of us.

As I wrote last year, Sagan was a critical early mentor in my personal journey to understanding the nature of science and its role in society. In part, this blog is a manifestation of both the personal effect that Sagan had on my life and also the tradition of promoting the public understanding of science that Sagan so successfully nurtured.

One of the things I admired about Sagan’s style was his ability to step back and look at an issue from a broader, dare I say cosmic, perspective. I remember in an interview he was asked about his religious beliefs. He responded by pointing to a map of the known universe. He said (I am paraphrasing) “See this map, this is the universe. There are hundreds of billions of galaxies in the known universe. See this one galaxy – there are hundreds of billions of stars in this galaxy. On the edge of one of the arms of this galaxy there is an ordinary star. Around that star there are nine planets and on one of those planets there live people who think they are the center of the universe.”

Sagan made it cool to popularize science, to be enthusiastic about science, and his enthusiasm was contagious. I hope the tradition of science for society and for the people that Sagan promoted continues to thrive, and I will continue to do my small part in keeping it alive.

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Dec 19 2007

My 1 Year Blogiversary

This blog entry concludes exactly one year of the Neurologica blog. I wanted to take the time to look back at my first year of science blogging.

It has been a wonderful experience overall. First, I am proud that I managed to maintain 4-5 posts per week for the entire year. Statistics vary, but about 80% of all new blogs are abandoned within a month. The average blog has the life expectancy of a red blood cell – about 120 days. There are now an estimated 12 millions blogs in America alone, but most are not maintained and/or have few readers. I have been averaging several thousand readers per post, so by all measures I think my first foray into blogging has been a success.

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Dec 18 2007

Natural vs Artificial Selection and ID Propaganda

Published by under Creationism/ID

Evolution News & Views is the propaganda blog for the misnamed Discover Institute, the also misnamed “think tank” for intelligent design (ID). I only occasionally bother to correct the nonsense spewing forth from that institution, lest I risk being sucked into a bottomless pit of logical fallacies and misinformation. But this recent blog entry by Casey Luskin caught my attention, partly because it is a good example of sloppy thinking but also because I predicted that exactly such an argument would soon appear on this blog.

On a recent episode of the Skeptics Guide I mentioned that the press release for this study of St. Barnard evolution was one of the silliest and most irresponsible science press releases I have seen. It said that the study looking at the morphological change in St. Barnards over time “cast doubt on the theory of creationism.” This is like saying that new satellite measurements of the earth cast doubt on the flat earth theory. First, creationism is not a theory and did not deserve to even be mentioned, and second the press release failed to even point out exactly how this new evidence even related to evolutionary theory. I predicted the ID crowd would exploit the careless press release to take a jab at evolutionists, and I was right. Luskin directly writes:

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Dec 17 2007

Creating Artificial Life

Published by under General Science

“Life, life….I have created life!!!” – Dr. Frederik Frankenstein

We are on the brink of one of those watershed developments in science that changes the rules of the game, opens up new possibilities that at first we can only scarcely imagine, and has the potential for being truly transformational. We are rapidly developing the ability to make artificial life from scratch (well, more or less). More specifically I am talking about the ability to synthesize a completely artificial DNA.

Noted geneticist J. Craig Venter has already created an artificial chromosome – a long strand of DNA that exists as a discrete unit. He has also created living cells by inserting a naturally occurring chromosome into a cell whose own DNA was removed. All that remains to be done now is to insert an artificial chromosome into a cell to see if it survives and reproduces, making a viable cell line. And, voila – artificial life.

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