Today, I was thinking about earthquakes. This made me far more fortunate than people in New Zealand who were in the midst of one, with all the fears and uncertainty that accompany the solid ground below you being far less certain than you would wish it to be.
A few days before, I had been reading The Age of Earthquakes (Basar/Coupland/Obrist).
This is a collection of images, sentences and aphorisms predominantly based around internet action and interaction.
“technology often favours horrible people”.
“photographing your salad turns it into a ghost”
“before the internet we had a few memes a year. Now we get hundreds a day”.
It is laid out in a similar style to Marshall Mcluhan’s The Medium is the Massage and other art, science, social science collage like books of that time, such as Carl Sagan’s Cosmic Connection and Buckminster Fuller’s I Seem to be a Verb.
The Age of Earthquakes opens with tsunami images and the information that the loss of weight of ice on the earth will lead to greater and more frequent earthquakes. I was reminded of this when I saw the news today, and so I tweeted.
“Read something (in a non science book) suggesting increased earthquake activity due to sped up climate change, anyone have research on this”.
I was confused when someone replied, ‘”read in a non science book’ are you being ironic?”
I presumed I was missing a joke and asked what he meant, then followed it up with the explanation of my intended meaning.
“I meant I read in a book where the idea would be considered anecdotal”
My point was that, from memory, I don’t recall the idea of earthquakes increasing due to climate change was attached to a footnote or reference in the book that would allow me to check its verisimilitude within the text. I had made sure I said “non science book” to avoid people thinking I was giving credence to the idea, but I did wonder if it was something worth giving credence to.
And so came back – “the that’s where it stays…anecdotal”.
I was communicating with someone who considered atheism and common sense their hallmarks, but I thought this was a far from common sensical reply. Now I was annoyed and, like the stupid dog tearing pointlessly at a rag, I could not let go. I could have used this time to ogle the clear Autumn sky or read a book of Baudelaire, but instead, I argued with the internet AGAIN.
Brian Cox often sighs as he sees me refuse to let go, physicists have a calm that I envy. I may have been annoyed because I realised that I was seeing a fairground mirror version of myself in this man.
I explained again that I was asking if there was a factual link to the anecdote.
“you should research in the ‘science’ books for your fact!!!???”
I think he thought he was a sort of cos-play Richard Dawkins.
At these points, I get apoplectic because I can’t understand how someone can’t understand so few words. My head is bluster, my eyes pop. I could not understand how he couldn’t see the simple idea of hearing an idea and wondering if that idea was attached to evidence.
My “I’ll break it down :”I read a thing. but there was no evidence for the thing, interested to know if anyone has any” (though I wrote “of” not “if” as my fingers were getting fatter with rage)
And answer came their back , “Just like every religious person has said for centuries…come on!! please!!”
Right eye explodes, retinal remnants land on the other side of the room. This is an atheist who doesn’t imagine that the starting point of “hey, why is this like this?” can lead to both science and religion. I mentioned Feynman’s anecdote about the monk who told him, “the keys to heaven also open the gates to hell”. This Atheist found it hard to believe that Feynman might believe that. I tried to explain that both Feynman and the Monk were using this as a metaphor, neither were really going to Timpsons.
I tried to explain that it was him who seemed more religious in his behaviour, with his no room for doubt and questions, and so it went on.
I tried to explain that even science “facts” when they really are facts aren’t always let into science, such as Semmelweis’s research into infection and ideas of plate tectonics (Alfred Wegener).
He could not understand why I was asking for a scientific answer “to something you read in a non scientific book. Odd”
I tried to explain that anecdote is apace where many ideas can come from. Science does not start from science fact, it starts from many things including hunches and stories, how odd it would be if scientists said “hey, I’ve just come up with a fact”. “let’s test it”. “no point. it is a fact. I don’t deal with anything doubtful”.
And then it petered out, with him still doggedly believing that if you hear an idea in anything but a science book, why would you wish to question it more.
It seemed a pity, as I think what can be handy about atheism or a universal agnosticism towards facts, is you can question and doubt and seek tools that are the most effective for investigation.
But it was okay, it turned out that they weren’t repeating an episode of Columbo today, so i didn’t miss anything. As for the earthquake thing, it seems the best place to start is Bill McGuire. He’s here. I know this, because I asked a question and I looked stupid to some, but I didn’t mind. The price of appearing ignorant to some was rewarded with finding out a little more about the world. Some derision can lead to more fascinating skies.
Book Shambles is back. Latest episode is Alexei Sayle, and before that it was the brilliant carpentactor and Parks and Rec star, Nick Offerman. They are HERE (and Alan Moore, Noel Fielding etc etc)
A new volume of Dead Funny, with ghost stories by comedians and Alan Moore, is out now.