Groucho Marx

Blog Archive – January 2008

Click here for translations

" Labour is blossoming or dancing where
The body is not bruised to pleasure soul
Nor beauty born out of its own despair
Nor blear-eyed wisdom out of midnight oil
O Chestnut-tree, great-rooted blossomer,
Are you the leaf, the blossom or the bole?
O body swayed to music, O brightening glance
How can we tell the dancer from the dance? "
W B Yeats

" All life is only a set of pictures in the brain, among which there is no difference betwixt those born of real things and those born of inward internal dreamings, and no cause to value the one above the other. "
H P Lovecraft

" We read the world wrong and say that it deceives us. "
Rabindranath Tagore

January 21 2008

It's all in the spin

Which way is the dancer turning? Clockwise or anticlockwise?

According to the Perth News site which this image originally appeared on, if you see her spinning anticlockwise then you tend to have your left brain functions predominating. A clockwise spin indicates more of a right brain dominance.

Spinning dancer

The left side of the brain is associated with processing that is logical, detailed, factual, practical, reasoned, linear, sequential and expressed in language. It controls the right (L. dexter) side of the body. The right side deals more with processing that is intuitive, non-verbal, imaginary, holistic, random, symbolic, relational, philosophical, and spatial, controlling the left, (L. sinister) side of the body.

Rather than being any indication of brain functioning dominance however, logic would say this is just a simple, though very nicely executed, optical illusion which calls on the same image and spatial interpretation functions in the brain regardless of which way we see the dancer turning. The image has been doing the rounds for a few months now. Most people responding in comment sections seem able to make the dancer change direction at will after a bit of practice, and most seem to see her rotating clockwise initially.

What I find more interesting than any putative brain dominance diagnosis is the number of comments from people utterly convinced the dancer's change in direction is programmed into the image file and that the whole thing is a fraud. It's not – it's just a 34-frame animated gif which cycles through the images (anticlockwise) in a continuous loop – but it shows very nicely the extent to which we're willing to believe reality is "out there" rather than constructed in our heads.

(Occasional stutters in the image rendering can be sufficient to break the illusion and 'cause' the dancer to 'change direction', but it's all in the brain.)

January 21 2008 | | | Permalink

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"We have also arranged things so that almost no one understands science and technology. This is a prescription for disaster. We might get away with it for a while, but sooner or later this combustible mixture of ignorance and power is going to blow up in our faces."
Carl Sagan

"In the Garden of gentle sanity may you be bombarded by coconuts of wakefulness."
Vidyadhara Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche

January 20 2008

Irrational rationality

We seem to be in the midst of a retreat from rationality. At least, so say many commentators in the media at present, and judging by the online comments to their articles, many people appear to agree with them. They point to the rise of 'New Ageism' and other assorted 'illogical' beliefs like complementary and alternative therapies, bemoaning the failure of Joe Public to take on board the principles of robust science and calling for ever more stringent controls on the spread of such 'preposterous nonsense'.

In many ways they seem to be right. Though whether this is any kind of 'retreat', who can say? Throwing the spotlight on areas that have been lurking in shadow often creates an illusion of some kind of a trend when really things have always been that way. We just didn't see them before.

But as to where the 'new' irrationallism is evidencing itself, well that's another matter entirely. More and more it seems as if the accusatory finger ought to be pointing straight at its owner's own reflection in the mirror.

As Holmes et al wrote in a 2006 paper entitled Deconstructing the evidence-based discourse in health sciences: truth, power and fascism. International Journal of Evidence Based Health 2006; 4: 180–186,

"... the evidence-based movement in the health sciences is outrageously exclusionary and dangerously normative with regards to scientific knowledge. As such, we assert that the evidence-based movement in health sciences constitutes a good example of microfascism at play in the contemporary scientific arena. The philosophical work of Deleuze and Guattari proves to be useful in showing how health sciences are colonised (territorialised) by an all-encompassing scientific research paradigm – that of post-positivism – but also and foremost in showing the process by which a dominant ideology comes to exclude alternative forms of knowledge, therefore acting as a fascist structure."

Such behaviour might be understandable, but it's neither rational, nor scientific. The scientific method dictates that theory must always give way to evidence and that, no matter how successful the theory, if the evidence challenges it, then it's the theory that must adapt.Successful theories must be able to explain and predict events which they attempt to describe with precision. Yet increasingly we're seeing attempts to preserve scientific orthodoxy by denial of conflicting evidence.

At this point in time we're presented with a situation summed up very well in a 2002 paper by Richard Shoup, Anomalies and Constraints:. Can Clairvoyance, Precognition, and Psychokinesis. Be Accommodated within Known Physics? Journal of Scientific Exploration, 2002; 16; 1, pp3–18.

"Arguably, nowhere in the history of mankind has common human experience so strongly conflicted with mainstream scientific opinion."

The paper refers to psi phenomena, but Shoup could just as well have been writing about medicine. Crtically, since science can only ever reflect a uniquely human understanding of a uniquely human experience of existence, this discontinuity throws into stark relief the extent to which science is failing its own precepts. Science has become scientism.

It's interesting too, in this context, that we're seeing a rise in fundamentalist interpretations of scientific theory which seem to closely parallel the rise in religious fundamentalism. Both are pursued with missionary zeal by some very noisy and angry people. Both seek to make their points of view "the rule" for everyone else to abide by.

Perhaps this is no bad thing in some ways – such attempts to enforce rules which make little sense to large numbers of people generally result in people rejecting them in favour of something more sensible. It doesn't take too much imagination to see that the fundamentalists could soon end up as marginalised minorities while the rest of us adopt a more pragmatic and humane approach to a genuine congruence with experience in both science and spirituality.

January 20 2008 | | | Permalink

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smeddum.net – Blog: Confessions of a Serial Prover. Weblog on homeopathy, health and related subjects by homeopathic practitioner Wendy Howard