Re: [tied] Re: *dan-

From: Piotr Gasiorowski
Message: 5625
Date: 2001-01-18

Dear Stefan,
The Nostratic hypothesis is not pseudoscience, because scholars who work on Nostratic, or at least the more serious among them, accept the methods of comparative linguistics and conform to the standard procedures. The results are controversial, to be sure, which is why many linguists (including me) reject Nostratic reconstructions, but highly speculative hypotheses are nothing new in science. It's a "fringe" hypothesis (no offence intended), but not an inherently lunatic one.
I love fractals and I know a few things about chaos theory, but I fail to see their immediate relevance to the matter in hand (it was the similarity of words in languages belongig to different families).
I reject what I call _pseudoscience_ because as one goes along doing _science_, one grows sensitive to critical differences between the two. Do you really think it takes a number of years to judge if something is a scientific theory or not? Life is too short and time is too preciuos to be wasted in this way. Fortunately, it isn't necessary to read the collected works of Erich von Däniken to form a fair opinion about him. I dare say a few pages suffice (though I actually read more once upon a time, just out of curiosity, till I got bored and disgusted).
Double-blind tests (I could easily provide you with up-to-date references, if you're interested) involving famous astrologers and dowsers have not confirmed their paranormal skills. My own experience with psychics has not convinced me that they are capable of anything extraordinary. Why should I "believe" in their psychic powers against common sense?
Why do people employ dowsers, then? The answer is very simple: because people, including hard-headed businessmen, are superstitious and easily impressed by things psychic -- plus, drilling is indeed more expensive (if also more effective). I need not go to Canada to meet a dowser who makes a decent living with his rod and pendulum, thanks to the suckers who hire him. Let me tell you two AUTHENTIC anecdotes from my own experience.
During the 1992 US presidential race one of the most famous Polish astrologers (not one of those tabloid weirdos but a serious and ostensibly respectable "scientist") appeared on TV to announce his predictions. He consulted the planets, constructed horoscopes for both candidates, and concluded that George Bush would easily win. Did he appear again after the election to admit his failure and apologise to his fans? No, we're all fallible, so why bother? I've seen him on TV a few times since, still a media celebrity, and certainly not ashamed to show his face in the public. People quickly forget if they want to. But *I* remember.
The second story, sad but instructive, is from last month's papers in Poznan, where I live. Just before Christmas, a young woman disappeared, apparently while driving home from work in Poznan to a nearby town where she lived with her parents. After an anonymous phone-call the police found the burnt-out wreck of her car in the woods, but there was no body. For a few days the police could find no other clues, but as they went on doing their job, the desperate parents consulted two eminent psychics and dowsers. As they took their fees, one of them said that the girl had been murdered and was buried in the woods. He specified the approximate location, so the family and friends of the missing girl spent the next few days there, searching for the body. The other expert divined that the girl was alive but had been kidnapped and abducted across the border to Germany. About two weeks later the police, who had adopted a less paranormal approach consisting in checking and comparing the alibies of the girls' acquaintances, arrested two men who soon admitted to having murdered her. They had disposed of the body by weighing it down and dropping it from a bridge into the River Warta.
Would you say that the first dowser was partly right because he "knew" she was dead? Would you predict that either of those scrupleless swindlers will suddenly lose his credibility and his clients? I need no divining-rod to guess they won't. Please, don't tell *me* that dowsing works.
----- Original Message -----
From: stefan
Sent: Thursday, January 18, 2001 3:03 PM
Subject: [tied] Re: *dan-

From: "Piotr Gasiorowski" <gpiotr@...>

Dear Piotr,

I am encouraged by the fact that you remain interested in physics
and, especially, maths. Perhaps, you are aware of the "chaos theory"
which is studied at many universities (there are some fantastic
fractals on the web)? Well, its founder was a professor of
mathematics who started his life as an engineer -
Prof. Ralph Abraham. His lectures (available in txt form on the web)
can be very enlightening - he is a scientist but also belongs to
that small group of people whom you cannot understand because they
are interested in "weird" things.

I have great respect for your knowledge of linguistics and I am
learning a great deal from your emails as well as from those of
other experts in various disciplines on this list (eg I find
Etruscan cryptography entrancing!). But - correct me if I am wrong -
you seem to reject what you call "pseudoscience" on the basis of
what? have you studied those pseudosciences over a number of years
to give your unbiased view of them?
Audiatur et altera pars? or are you happy with a bird's eye view of
subjects you don't approve of or regard as science.?

Astrology of the popular press predictions is nonsense; but a French
statistician Gauquelin spent many years studying correlations
between people's occupations and the position of planets in their
horoscopes. To say the least his findings  should have make
scientists look for some explanations rather than dismiss the
finding as a lot of codswallop.

Dowsing? how much do you know about it? I know our compatriot in
Canada who is making good living by dowsing for minerals and oil for
giant corporations. Why would they employ him  instead of making
expensive drillings on the advice of geologists? I tell you why -
because dowsing *works*. And that's something when you think of
hard-headed businessmen.

I have been just reading some acerbic exchanges on the Linguists
list on the thorny subject of Nostratic. One of the well known
professors of linguistics reluctantly admitted (with many
reservations) that the role of chance in all those coincidences is
"rather pervasive", though "we lack a yardstick for evaluating the
effect of coincidences of lexical similarities."
Hmm, dr Ramer, dr Dogopolsky and even Bomhard could
have allowed themselves a wry smile. Yep, chance is a chancey
problem but IMO it should not be lightly dismissed as a "mantra".:-)

Well, my advice would be -let's  study the chaos theory because, as
in everything else in this universe of ours - chaos and order must
be equally balanced and taken into account if we are to get anywhere
in our search for truth.

Please carry on regardless and forgive my intrusion into your
learned discourse.As a journalist I am interested in science,
pseudoscience and even in the effect of fractals on our wonderful
language :-)