Sunday, December 27, 2020

The limits of science


The Kid, from the lofty heights of 12 years on this rock, informed me that "God is bunk".

Well, actually, he told me that "Science" is his religion. God may, or may-not exist. But since it was not something that can be tested by science, it was of no interest to him.

Such cynicism!

I left it alone with just the subtlest of pokes-and-prods. Yep. That is what he believed.

Interactions

On the trip out to where we were havesting firewood I asked him if he thought SCIENCE could answer all problems.

"Sure enough, Mr ERJ" he cheerfully answered.

I was silent. 

He has me figured out. "That means you think it can't."

"Interactions" I said. "The problem is interactions."

"Do you know what interactions are?" I asked.

"No" he reluctantly admitted. At least he didn't know what the word meant in the context of this conversation.

"What happens if you combine air, gasoline and a lit-match?" I asked.

"BOOM!" he answered.

"What happens if you have air and gasoline but no match, does anything happen?" I asked.

"Nothing happens" the Kid admitted.

"What if I doubled the amount of gasoline?" I asked.

"Still nothing" he said. 

"What if you have a room full of air and throw in a lit-match. Then you pick the lock on your dad's shed to get the can of gas and come back five minutes later and add the gas? What happens then?" I asked.

"Maybe it explodes, maybe it doesn't" he reluctantly conceded.

Permutations and Factorials

"Do you know what factorials are?" I asked. He is very sharp at math.

"No" he replied.

Then we did the "How many ways can you and your buddies Tommy, Timmy, Tabouli and Tammy and.... order themselves in the lunch-line problem."

1! (one factorial) = 1

2! (two factorial) = 1 X 2 =2

3! = 1 X 2 X 3 = 6

4! = 1 X 2 X 3 X 4 = 24

5! = 120

.

.

.

8! = 40,320

Then I brought up the problem of Covid. "Why do you think nobody is investigating the effectiveness of Vitamin D combined with Zinc combined with Ivermectin combined with sunshine combined with exercise....?

If scientists had eight factors that MIGHT interact in a positive way then they would have to run a minimum of +40,000 combinations.

Then add the fact that they would need to run multiples at each combination to have any certainty that the outcome was not biased by external factors. Since it is not ethical to expose people to Covid, you might need a thousand people per mix of factors. 40,000 X 1000 = 40,000,000 experimental subjects.

It is not that science cannot sort through the issues but that it cannot do it economically. How many nurses would have to be hired to track all of the experimental subjects? Half a million?

Catalysts

Catalysts are factors that change the speed of a reaction. They can speed it up or they can slow it down or even stop a reaction.

Consider the combination of a human toddler and deep water. Science tells us that a toddler's center of gravity is above his center-of-buoyancy. If a toddler tumbles into deep water (even a five gallon bucket) or slips down a steep slope into deep water, there is a +99% chance the toddler will drown. Given the ubiquitous nature of deep water and toddlers, we should be losing thousands of toddlers every year to drowning.

Yes, it happens. But if you read the accounts carefully, you will see that the drownings always occur when a catalyst is absent. That catalyst is "an attentive adult".

So what happens if you nearly finished running your 8-factor, full interaction experiment when you realize you forgot to include the possible presences of a catalyst? Surely it is just a tiny adjustment, after all, you included eight-of-the-nine factors?

No such luck. In round numbers, 9! is 360,000. You ran 40,000. That means you need to run an additional 320,000 combinations (times however many replications per combination) to "understand" the science of the situation.

Non-linear responses

Homeopathic remedies defied scientific understanding for a long time. The scientific method is a way of "seeing" the universe. Unfortunately, it is not very sensitive to relationships that are non-linear in cause-effect.

Many homeopathic remedies are non-linear in their dosage. A little bit is good. A lot is bad...very bad.

Another example of nonlinear relationships involves medicines that saturate certain chemical pathways. They are of minimal therapeutic value until the vast majority of the pathways are  "blocked" or "locked out" by the drug. Examples of this class of drug include certain antibiotics and drugs used to modify the chemistry in the gap junction between neural ganglia.

That increases the number of variables by 50%. You now have a null level, a low level and a higher level (assuming you can make intelligent guesses regarding low and high levels) to sort through. 8! became 12!.  40,320 becomes 480,000,000 combinations. That is about 50% more than the population of the United States. And that does not even comprehend the need for multiple replications to wash-out random variables.

Time-lag

Another quirk that stymies traditional "science" involves time-lags. 

Suppose I worked in a factory as a Dimensional Engineer and I moved a locating pin 1.0mm. I would naturally expect the very next part to be welded to the sub-assembly 1.0mm +/- 0.2mm in the direction I moved the pin.

If the tooling had been hit by a robot and needed to be adjusted, it should not take long to move the various pins and clamps to bring the assembly back to nominal.

If only.

Suppose somebody has the bright idea to not heat-treat the steel locating blocks that squeeze the part to the sub-assembly before welding. Or maybe they substitute a cheaper, low-carbon grade for the O-1 tool-steel that was specified. Then, the block would be no harder than the sheet steel instead of 55 Rockwell C. By comparison, knife blades are usually 58Rc and springs 40Rc.

In time, steps would wear into the blocks and any attempts to locate the parts by moving the pins will result in the part flexing as it attempts to overcome the step that traps the edge. A large move or a move on a tool where the steps were not pronounced might have the pin move register after running twenty parts. Smaller moves or on tools where the steps are deeply eroded might never show up while the average might be two hundred parts before the move "takes".

Conventional, two-shot vaccines are structured around a 3-to-6 week gap between the two shots. The first shot sets up the "tooling" in the lymph nodes to manufacture antibodies. The second shot convinces the body to go into full-bore production of those antibodies.

What if the 3-to-6 week gap is longer than that? That is a big deal for flu which mutates rapidly but would it be a big deal for a virus or bacteria that might mutate more slowly? A viable, therapeutic vaccine with lower (or slightly different) formulation might work just fine but "Science" will miss it.


The point

The point of the conversation I had with the Kid was that "religion" and "God" are ways of seeing the universe and a code for interacting with it.

Science is another way of understanding the universe and getting a handle on how to interact with it to get results that are more to our liking.

The two are compatible. Science, contrary to what non-scientists WANT to believe, has limits.

Religion (and God) are more concerned with TRUTH than with FACT. TRUTH does not have a half-life while FACT's half-life is embarrassingly short.

Religion is about questions. Science is about answers.

Science's main shortcomings are that it cannot see what it is not specifically looking for and it crashes full-tilt into economics when the questions get too complicated.

9 comments:

  1. So beautifully put Joe. Wish I could frame discussion that well.---ken

    ReplyDelete
  2. Replies
    1. I only gave him the arguments about interactions. Nobody had ever suggested to him that there are problems where science "runs out of gas".

      The Kid wants the surety of absolutes: Blacks and whites with none of those bothersome grays. He thought Science was an absolute.

      Delete
  3. At age 18 just prior to leaving for college out of state, I taped my denunciation of the Church and general rejection of God to the church door. A mere 12 years later, after much soul-searching and scripture searching, I realized that God exists and Jesus is real.

    In other words, give the kid time and a healthy lead of line. Just keep up with the thoughtful nudges as the opportunity arises, and one day his heart will bring his head into alignment with Cosmic truth.

    ReplyDelete
  4. Good experiment design can greatly ease the burden of dealing with interactions. It's not my field at all, but search on the term "roman square".

    ReplyDelete
  5. The not-sciencey-enough way to test the Ivermectin cocktail is to just try it and see what happens. Which is what happened in Dominican Republic, Peru, Venezuela, Brazil, Bangladesh, Uttar Pradesh India, parts of Australia, parts of Florida, and others. And tens of thousands of people were quickly cured, hospital stays were much shorter, tons of people didn't get the virus at all. Medical workers in the Covid wards in Bangladesh got one pill a month, and 93.1% never got infected, even with daily exposure. Meanwhile, dozens of trials and observational studies are slowly finding out the same thing, along with field reports from hundreds or thousands of doctors. Ivermectin does the job. Zinc, D, C,B1, magnesium, cuercetin, melatonin can help, but it's the Ivermectin that's the work horse. Even works alongside HCQ, but the "importin alpha beta 1 nuclear import inhibitor" action is what makes it happen. The virus can't fool your cells, so it can't get in, and thus it can't replicate. Think of Ivermectin as a Trojan Horse shooter outside the gates of Troy.

    Thank you for helping spread the message. Ivermectin is the cure, and it costs pennies. Hardly anyone in the USA is aware of this.

    ReplyDelete
  6. The not-sciencey-enough way to test the Ivermectin cocktail is to just try it and see what happens. Which is what happened in Dominican Republic, Peru, Venezuela, Brazil, Bangladesh, Uttar Pradesh India, parts of Australia, parts of Florida, and others. And tens of thousands of people were quickly cured, hospital stays were much shorter, tons of people didn't get the virus at all. Medical workers in the Covid wards in Bangladesh got one pill a month, and 93.1% never got infected, even with daily exposure. Meanwhile, dozens of trials and observational studies are slowly finding out the same thing, along with field reports from hundreds or thousands of doctors. Ivermectin does the job. Zinc, D, C,B1, magnesium, cuercetin, melatonin can help, but it's the Ivermectin that's the work horse. Even works alongside HCQ, but the "importin alpha beta 1 nuclear import inhibitor" action is what makes it happen. The virus can't fool your cells, so it can't get in, and thus it can't replicate. Think of Ivermectin as a Trojan Horse shooter outside the gates of Troy.

    Thank you for helping spread the message. Ivermectin is the cure, and it costs pennies. Hardly anyone in the USA is aware of this.

    ReplyDelete