Is there a place for woo in science?

Discussion in 'General Philosophy' started by Magical Realist, Aug 17, 2014.

  1. Magical Realist Valued Senior Member

    Richard Dawkins: "The feeling of awed wonder that science can give us is one of the highest experiences of which the human psyche is capable. It is a deep aesthetic passion to rank with the finest that music and poetry can deliver. It is truly one of the things that make life worth living and it does so, if anything, more effectively if it convinces us that the time we have for living is quite finite."-- Unweaving the Rainbow. London: Allen Lane. 1998. ISBN 9780713992144

    Do we sell ourselves short by denying ourselves a sense of wonder and mystery when studying science? Granted there are many sources of what I call "fake woo". New age metaphysics, religion, and mysticism may all generate feelings of transcendence and awe in their believers. But anyone who properly understands reality thru the great magnifying lens of science will not require these artificial ploys to be inspired. They will find the universe quite a marvel in itself, so intricately worked with complex patterns, bedazzling structures, and surprising laws that any other kind of woo frankly falls way short of the mark. There' something to be said for being amazed at the baroquian complexity of reality, as well as the emergence of a consciousness to appreciate it. Therein lies more mystery and magic than any religion could ever aspire towards building with it's overarching cathedrals and thunderous hallelujah choruses.

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  3. C C Consular Corps - "the backbone of diplomacy" Valued Senior Member

    The scientist herself can personally indulge in a secular sacredness, or emotions that whirl around a formal or informal awe. But the practice of science itself, or carrying out the supposed methodology (as if singular) is a slow, robotic step-by-step procedure that cannot brook intuitive leaps over research, accumulation / study of detailed data, and peer review. No free pass for affairs of the heart like "this proposed explanation or expectation just feels so right". The dogged determination of historic figures might have had internal engines of passion driving their successes [and failures], but the systematic plan of action itself strives to be quantitatively and functionally sterile. Liberated from certain qualitative phantoms supervening on electrochemical processes in human skulls. [The rest of the "phenomenal, subjective stuff" may nevertheless be considered indispensable until an android scientist in the future, with zombie consciousness, can validate that experiences are unnecessary for "evidence" that inferences and extrospections of empirical facts and test results are transpiring.]

    Of course, the idealized conception above is more applicable to physical sciences that are less affected by market / consumer interests, industrial employment, politics, and funding shortages. It's an increasing given that the social sciences, medical / health research, and even some special interest forays into the stricter / purer fields will be less stable / unreliable in terms of what they output / promote. Related: Publish-or-perish: Peer review and the corruption of science
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  5. dumbest man on earth Real Eyes Realize Real Lies Valued Senior Member

    CC, quite an interesting article, and TOO TRUE!!
    Many of my associates have been caught up in this since the late 90's...Money!...Money!...Money!

    At any rate, have you thought of perhaps starting a Thread about this?
    It would be interesting to see what other Members of SciForums think of the "Publish or Perish" issue as it exists in Academia these days.
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  7. cosmictraveler Be kind to yourself always. Valued Senior Member

    I wonder how many of them plagiarize others works.
  8. Dywyddyr Penguinaciously duckalicious. Valued Senior Member

    I would have thought a more pertinent, and far more accurate, question would have been "Do we deny a sense of wonder and mystery when studying science?".
    In my experience, and reading, the answer is found -resoundingly - from Betteridge's Law.

    Edit: I fail to see what "a sense of wonder and mystery when studying science" has to do with woo.
  9. Magical Realist Valued Senior Member

    Woo, as often used in a derogatory sense, implies someone holding a belief or having an idea out of overly spiritual or mystical motivations. It's as if there is an ethic somewhere assumed that any theory or concept that excites one with feelings of profundity, or a connectiveness to a transcendental mystery, or a hope for creative possibilities, is automatically suspect and cannot therefore be based on reason. And yet much of the strides in the history of science have been motivated by precisely this aesthetic sense of the spiritual unity and inherent harmony of the cosmos. It's my feeling that many science defenders wrongfully take the sense of woo or magic of certain ideas as inherently wrong and self-indulgent when a true appreciation of science exposes us precisely to a sense of the miraculous nature of reality and it's empirically supported aspects. You may not agree with this generalization of woo to a sense of spiritual or aesthetic wonderment, but it seems to me to be the case. What's your definition of woo?
  10. Dywyddyr Penguinaciously duckalicious. Valued Senior Member

    Try this for a start:
    Woo: someone holding a belief or having an idea with zero credible evidence.

    Er, yeah... presumably you're using "miraculous" to mean "not a miracle" here.
  11. Sylvester Registered Senior Member

    Well...we learn from woo too and I think we can all agree Richard Dawkins has a fair amount of WOO.
  12. Magical Realist Valued Senior Member

    So it has nothing to do with the feeling one has by doing this? It's just the intellectual fallacy of unevidenced belief? Why did they choose the word "woo" then--as in "woo this is amazing."

    Miraculous in the sense of seemingly improbable yet fortuitous happenings. "That she survived the crash was a miracle." NOT the theistic version of a god intervening into natural cause and effect.
  13. Sylvester Registered Senior Member

    Woo is in the eye of the beholder.
  14. Magical Realist Valued Senior Member

    Here's a quote with woo factor of about 7:

    “Think of an experience from your childhood. Something you remember clearly, something you can see, feel, maybe even smell, as if you were really there. After all you really were there at the time, weren’t you?
    How else could you remember it? But here is the bombshell: you weren’t there. Not a single atom that is in your body today was there when that event took place .... Matter flows from place to place and momentarily comes together to be you. Whatever you are, therefore, you are not the stuff of which you are made. If that does not make the hair stand up on the back of your neck, read it again until it does, because it is important.”
    ― Richard Dawkins, The God Delusion
  15. Dywyddyr Penguinaciously duckalicious. Valued Senior Member


    I have no idea, since I wasn't there when that word was chosen, but Wiktionary suggests "woo woo" is intended to imitate the eerie background music of sci-fi/horror films and television shows.
    As in the oft-evidenced tendency for the woo woo to assume, almost automatically, that what they have stumbled upon is not only "mysterious" and "unexplained" but, more often than not, also "inexplicable to science" and therefore "evidence" of something super/ supra-natural.

  16. paddoboy Valued Senior Member


    Scientists are part and parcel of the human race, including all its faults and short comings.
    The over riding issue is that the scientific method and peer review systems are the best we have, despite some evidence of human short comings.
    Being the best we have, it's also very obvious how the peer review system, is used in most aspects outside of science to ensure, or at least, to facilitate that quality of various work/s is at its best.

    Perhaps if and when any better system comes to light, then that will be accepted by science and its many disciplines.
    Other than that, the scientific method and peer review is what needs to be maintained to assure quality control, to the best of our ability.
  17. Magical Realist Valued Senior Member

    If I believe there are intelligent lifeforms on other planets, would this make me a woo woo? Cue creepy 50's sci-fi music...
  18. Magical Realist Valued Senior Member

    Why do you think people believe things that aren't based on evidence? Do you have any beliefs not based on evidence? For example, I assume you believe you will be alive next week. But what evidence do you have for that? Is that an example of woo?
  19. C C Consular Corps - "the backbone of diplomacy" Valued Senior Member

    You've got my okay or feel free to introduce such yourself, DMOE. I rarely start significant threads since I feel that I visit here too irregularly to properly tend to them (granting that their activity would ever surpass snail-pace, anyway).

    Should there be some overarching theme to be abstracted from them as a contribution, here are links to a few more related articles I gathered from my cluttered "Saved Pages" news archives. Largely assorted "gathering clouds on the horizon" and public misconceptions simply put-to-right type affairs.

    Science is in a reproducibility crisis: How do we resolve it?

    New Truths That Only One Can See

    Should institutions invest in changing the behavior of scientists found guilty of violating research rules and ethics?

    Why Almost Everything You Hear About Medicine Is Wrong

    Study finds statistical error in large numbers of neuroscience papers

    Under the guise of furthering debate, scientists foster public ignorance

    Primed by expectations – why a classic psychology experiment isn’t what it seemed

    Scientists 'bad at judging peers' published work,' says new study

    In Physics, Telling Cranks from Experts Ain’t Easy

    Study vs. Study: The Decline Effect and Why Scientific 'Truth' So Often Turns Out Wrong

    Problems with scientific research - How science goes wrong. Scientific research has changed the world. Now it needs to change itself

    Nine ways scientists demonstrate they don't understand journalism - If reporters wrote stories the way some scientists seem to want, few people would read science coverage

    Media Bias About Studies - The Media's Gas Problem

    Self-Delusion Is a Winning Survival Strategy, Study Suggests
  20. Balerion Banned Banned

    Following the link drrwyywrddr put in nis post would have answered these questions. But since you're not likely to do that, woo is specifically the belief in the unscientific, pseudoscientific, paranormal, or occult. You know, crank stuff. Believing you'll be alive tomorrow doesn't really count, unless you've got good reason to believe otherwise. Likewise, intelligent life on other planets is a safe bet, given the amount of planets there are and our own existence.

    Your belief in ghosts and the paranormal, however, would be textbook woo.
  21. Dywyddyr Penguinaciously duckalicious. Valued Senior Member

    That depends.
    Do you believe that it's likely (or even very probable) or do you believe that it is a certainty there are intelligent life forms on other planets?
    If the latter do you believe they there only or that they've also been here?
    If you believe that they're certainly there but haven't been here then how does that belief affect your life?

    Various reasons.
    It's comforting.
    They haven't given it much thought and casually accept it.
    They were taught to believe it and haven't questioned it.
    Their experiences led them to believe this is the case (without realising that uncorroborated personal experience is not a genuine indicator of "reality" or by selectively [but not necessarily consciously] ignoring the counter examples).
    Pick one. Or more. Or add your own.

    I have a number of beliefs based on "evidence" (see 4th one down for example), which I either accept (if they don't affect my life to any significant degree) or attempt to expunge (if/ when I become consciously aware of them).
    As for "being alive next week" that's a combination of "evidence".
    People don't generally die suddenly.
    People have "normal" number of years of living (I'm not close to an "expected" age for dying yet).
    I don't indulge in life-threatening risks (for the most part anyway).
    The probability is that I'll live to see next week. (And, since Doctor Who returns next Saturday [sup]1[/sup] dying would annoy me).
    I'm human [sup]2[/sup] we have a tendency to not consider our own demise - especially with regard to not thinking it's going to be before the end of the week. (Certain parameters excepted: were I currently in hospital on life support then I'd maybe think otherwise).

    1 Already seen it, but not the finalised complete episode.
    2 Surprising as that admission may be to some here.
  22. paddoboy Valued Senior Member

    What would lead you to believe there are intelligent lifeforms on other planets?
    Would it be the logical assumption that Earth/Solar system does not hold any special place within our galaxy and Universe?
    Would it be the fact that Abiogenesis had to have taken place, somewhere, sometime after the BB?
    Would it be the fact that the stars that synthesis the elements that go to make up our bodies are present throughout the Universe?
    In my opinion, the belief in ETI is a logical assumption, and not woo.
  23. Sarkus Hippomonstrosesquippedalo phobe Valued Senior Member

    Who denies themself that sense? Every scientist (be it physicist, biologist, chemist) I know has that sense of awe when studying what they have chosen to study. It is that sense of awe that fuels their very desire to study, to understand.
    The issue is when that sense alone informs their claims.

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