Pathetic Science

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Pathetic Science: PBS’ Required Anthropomorphic Fallacies

This theme may gather examples to great length, but first let’s make the one point bold and blunt: PBS’ function seems to be pour into their version of science all of the gooey fallacies squeezed out of literature by the modern academics. The staring fallacy is of course the pathetic fallacy: the human tendency to personalize and to anthropomorphize the cosmos: as though the earth, as though events, were not only an animal, but human: as though thunder and darkness had a purpose directly related to your mood; or, existed principally to foreshadow events. Here comes a cloud: Heathcliff will now murder the neighbors.

You wouldn’t know it from PBS but science had been laboring mightily to clarify assumptions, to winnow out unexamined assumptions. PBS uses the power of television to pour them right back in: so the dummies can feel right at home in this dreadful world.

Every once in a while something electrifying happens: Muddy Waters moves north and finds an audience in Chicago. Elvis lets his hair down, shows his groin. In the world of television David Attenborough led the conception for multiple hour subjects distributed weekly over a season: Civilization, Life on Earth

Attenborough, Life on Earth
thanx, David, for everything

That latter Attenborough, now Sir David, wrote and narrated himself. And responsible intellect was much on display. American PBS carried the BBC products. Money was volunteered for culture, for nature, for science … so PBS ran out and found George Page. All the bullshit Attenborough had filtered from TV’s normal Disney-world view got flushed right back in, big time. I hear George Page’s voice and I abandon the TV. I’d rather watch a game show. Actually, I’d rather watch George Page, but with the sound turned off: so I can see the raccoon, the elk, the mountain goat, but not hear George’s pathetic fallacies.
Actually I have not seen or heard of Page recently: but PBS seems able to clone him right and left. What stimulated this module the other evening was a PBS offering called Origins, presented by Neil deGrasse Tyson. I’d seen it before, but blessedly had forgotten quite the degree to which it saturated facts about the solar system and theories of its history with pathetic-fallacy prose. Tyson is presented as an astrophysicist, but what I notice is the George Page pathetic-fallacy unguentine. Four billion years ago, he says, the planet was “hostile.” Hostile? What meaning can “hostile” have apart from living, sentient creatures? creatures who act and intend meaning with their actions? Who acted or intended anything four billion years ago? The planet may have been molten rock, so what? Who was harmed? and how did the planet intend the harm?

Remember at all times Gregory Bateson’s distinction between Pleroma, the physical universe, and Creatura, the universe of life. (I, as those links illustrate, distinguish further by dividing Creatura into Sentiens and Persona: the worlds of intelligence, self-awareness … personhood.)

Stop, Knatz. Too many words. Get to the meat.
However common the pathetic fallacy in PBS prostitutions of science, what really drove me crazy about Origins was its unexamined assumptions. At no point was the familiar assumption that life originated on earth examined. That life exists is not an assumption; it’s an observation. That life exists on earth is likewise an observation, not an assumption. It is however entirely an assumption, an unwarranted assumption, that life originated on earth. That everyone assumes it doesn’t make it less an assumption.

(pk notes that it is further an assumption that life began at all: how do we know it isn’t infinite?) (I don’t take that latter point too seriously, and you needn’t either. I DO assume that life had a beginning, but I also note that it’s an assumption.
More eventually, but right now: note, the earth is theorized at c. 4.6 billion years of age; the universe is theorized at c. 14 billion years of age. Let’s accept those estimates just enough to ask: if the universe is ten billion years older than the solar system, why should we assume that life began here? Certainly it COULD have begun here, but I find it likely that it was seeded here. There’s an orange tree not far from my window here in Florida. Yes, there are oranges in Florida, but oranges did not originate in Florida!

2015 02 09 Netflix allows me to stream videos, I can sample by the dozen, pause, bail out, whatever. I just sampled a couple of “science” shows, some from a “History” channel — so much happens behind my back, since I don’t have a functioning TV, haven’t in a decade. I’m watching a History of Mankind. The other day I fled something similar but this isn’t too bad: I check my temper, my contempt to make one point: The narrator says that the earth is “the only planet we know of “geared for fire to burn”. Later: earth is “the only planet we know of” such that we have some other essential condition … If you’re ignorant enough, you might think that science knows of hundreds of planets, maybe thousands, millions. No, no: earth is the only planet we know at all well. It’s only recently that we looked for planets. Never forget the trouble Galileo got into when he studied other planets, he almost lost his balls.
(2015 11 02 Apparently Galileo put his balls to good use in his lifetime, siring lots and lots of red-haired children. So did the popes, the cardinals, but not quite so blatantly.)

The last couple of years we’ve found dozens of planets, candidates for study. But we’re lucky if we “know” that they’re gas giants, that they’re so-and-so many earth-distances from their star … It sure ain’t as though we know a lot.

Wildest Duplicate
20017 02 01 I am currently consuming similarly meretricious trash in a series with “wildest” in every title: Wildest China, Wildest Islands. I love the subject, the photography, the zoology; but not only do I despise the anthropomorphic-raddled text, I cordially despise the nancy-ennunciating narrator, Paul McGann.

Meretricious Hidden Secret
Pathetic Science


About pk

Seems to me that some modicum of honesty is requisite to intelligence. If we look in the mirror and see not kleptocrats but Christians, we’re still in the same old trouble.
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