Science is a Random Walk

Rain on asfalt.

“Science is a random walk of accumulated literature.”

What do I mean by this compact claim is that the scientific code and its instrumentation evolve organically within an ecosystem of ideas and objects.

By scientific code I mean its language, terminologies and formulations, as well as their results and interpretations. And by its instrumentation I refer to the science-making technologies; tools and instruments.

The scientific code in its evolving journey is profoundly sensitive to its initial states as well as randomness along the way. Random elements of all kinds such as mistakes and accidents, cultural bias, geographic self-reinforcement among the scientists, charisma, manipulation by power and even the order of discoveries. All of these factors have potential to deviate scientific claims to drastically different directions.

We are limited beings trapped in a narrow set of interpretations that we call reality and therefore we are not using our imagination as much as we can to realize how things could have been otherwise. More interesting, useful, truthful alternatives do not get the chance to be seen or discussed in the dictatorship of the scientific enterprise. And scientists are behaving very politely with a fear of being abandoned, excluded or fallen in the blacklist of pseudo-sciences determined by the dominant story. And things doesn’t have to be this way.

Now speaking of the chaotic self-organized nature of the scientific random-walk, we would like to believe that there is an objective truth out there that functions as an external field and leads the scientific endeavor to get closer and closer to an “attractor” of the ultimate truth, neutralizing the effect of its random fluctuations.

This is not obvious.

How do we know that we are dealing with a controlled random walk, that there is an attractor? There may be many attractors. There may be none. There may be infinitely many with a different cardinality even. If we are destined to one thing is that we belive in destinty. And we think of science as having a destiny too. This may be an unwritten assumption but widely accepted that there’s a naturally truthful science. It may be randomly deviating people admit, but it is moving towards the attractor of the holy truth. In my experience the common claim is that not only that truth exists, we are also approaching it rather effectively. And so how can you even dare to argue over this when you are wittnessing the fantastic discoveries and the ground breaking achievements of science?

I am not unfamiliar with this world-view and can comprehend their logic, but have a completely different idea. I am saying that the myth of a naturally truthful science should be debated because it undermines the profound chaotic nature of the evolution of the scientific code and its instrumentatlity. It should be questioned because it ignores how fundamentally trapped we are in our cognitive tunnel and left alone with a very narrow and specific set of wide-spread stories that we have made about the reality.

And let’s say that the attractor of reality does exist in a sense, and that we humans are getting there because we have launched an honest journey with a solid plan. Even if so, I think without bringing up discussions like this post, such a goal is unattainable and navigating towards such a truth is impossible. We can not be sure we are on the right path, let alone the only path, if we suppress any effort to overcome our blindspots, simply because we don’t see them.

So this is what I summarize in the compact claim that science is not about the truth. Science is about the instrumental growth of the human ape, developed and expanded collectively and in a deep sense accidentally. Science is developped with the help of the limited capacities of our brain and its selfish interaction with the environment, ultimately for the sake of survival. We are fundamentally trapped in this thinking organ and besides that we do not try to keep in focus what our hard-wired biases are, as much as we should. We don’t even ask simpler questions such as how our cultural biases shape the way we think often enough. The answers can be sometimes really surprising if we dare to digg into this.

While it is still a meaningful topic to question for example how science would look like for some alien intelligent life form, I will not go that far here. I am claiming that even with the very same structure of the human brain, in a parallel version of our – let’s say – post-agricultural civilization, branched out as late as five thousand years ago and formed with a different throws of dice, the scientific code could have looked very very differently. And at this point only imagination can speculate on this important question about “how else” things could have looked like in an alternative human society. Let’s just specualte a bit. This is pure contemplation:

I think we may not have come up with Newtonian mechanics and then two theories of relativity later on, very unlikely. Instead we could have had things in between or completely different models that would still work. For example with a whole new set of definitions angular momentum did not necessarily have to imply rotation and who knows may be not a single scientist of that parallel world would have even heard of the analogy that some particles rotate around others similar to our planetary system. Imagine the possibility that Einstein’s idea of spacetime was thrown earlier than anything like Newtonian mechanics, simply on a different food diet or given another set of conflicts, power shifts and revolutions.

Imagine Which parts of Algebra would look different beyond its symbolic representation. And then to explain our cosmos how would we expect more complex formulations – such as string theory – to have formed similarly out of a completely different context? The whole axiomatization of our mathematics and how it would state its open problems could look different. It stil can. My personal hope is that it could look more fractal, and more transcendental in a sense. Or not. But we may have not had the Euclidean dominance on our early geometries, the following Cartesian coordinates and thus the use of complex numbers in some form of electronics or any technologies that would give us functionalities similar to smartphones or chip implants. Instead remarkably different tools and languages would serve a similar purpose.

The most solid pillars of our sciences shake if we think in these terms. Even the idea of evolution itself which is the support story behind this post could be told differently. Darwinism and Lamarckism wouldn’t be exposed as distinct theories with a form of epigenetics as their compromise. Other good functioning legends could be told with a different order of discoveries and their marketing.

Well, and on the other hand some core ideas and theories could have been told similarly. And it is not quite impossible to contemplate and guess which of them. It’s very difficult to place a bet for me here but I think we would still have numbers in a sense, and mathematical constants. We would somehow know the families of π and e. We would have had telecommunication and eventually at some point we would sequence our genes and hack ourselves to the next level.

What would remain intact and what would change? This is an important question for all sciences and we do have the tools and resources to make a move towards some answers these days. It’s not necessarily expensive in terms of research fund nor environmental footprint to get on to this. Imagine we live in a world when a comprehensive digitized copy of our scholarly literature is publicly available with all sorts of accessible algorithms. We can now supervise machines to evaluate a whole body of the scientific literature in a matter of days if not shorter. Machines can now reveal contradictions and fallacies in proofs and arguments, detect and neutralize the marketing bias in scientific work to extract the quality, detect and promote ignored nobel ideas and bring up the missed gems, deconstruct existing notions to come up with new ideas, and simulate the future of the whole science itself in multiparallel versions.

None of rhis is any longer farfetched. For those of you who love brands and abbreviations, I came across SSK and SSI, one in many posssible projects of meta-science in this regard. They stand for sociology of scientific knowledge (SSK) and its complementory, sociology of scientific ignorance (SSI). The maturity of these projects were the dream of philosophers such as Fayerabend and Kuhn long before the age of Big Data. That idea didn’t take off and was suppressed by other dominant codes which could make more money and thus stood the selection pressures of the scientific enterprise better, to address its demends.

Fair! They were too vague and not regirous enough. And they were not affordable at the time. Our processing power is now millions of times bigger and the immediate availability of pretty much every important scientific idea that have been created is not a dream anymore. So we can get on to such a project again.

And those of you who love stories about AI take over, would agree that if we don’t do this, at some points machines will go ahead and do it for us; or for themselves. This one is not a new story anymore, since we have probably read a piece of fiction journalism on a similar idea lately. So, crazy ideas don’t seem that farfetched when they are repeated enough or endorsed by the public.

Science is an amazing achievement and the fact that its pioneers have constantly used it to transcend itself with new paradigms, ideas and breakthroughs is simply beautiful.

Science deserves to be better than an idiocracy. While, despite its core values of a truthful struggle, like other human achievements that have become old enough in a rigid framework, it seems attracted in to that direction now. People who rightfully claim that science is white or masculine are only scratching the surface.

If you love science, care about it. Try to see its fundamental limits and so transcend it. You may still call it science and I won’t argue over terms. I think it will still not be about finding the truth; however, it is a neater struggle to serve such a purpose.

P.S. I am not viewing this post as a truthful post, either. This is just a code. It’s a rather unconventional idea in the sphere of ideas out there. Your human brains recieve it; some relate to it and some object. The process of understanding something is a set of biochemical algorithms; Logic and reasoning have that shady characteristic in common with emotions and feelings. This is why there is so much disagreement out there in the world. It’s not that people are almost always wrong. It’s because folks are different and the evolution of their worldviews take totally different pathways and so different things make sense to them based on their previous experience and knowledge. From these many ideas out there some of them get lucky enough to survive, take over and dominate for a period but it is not necessarily an indicator of their truthful. Truth may be non-monotonic in a very deep sense. It is alarming when we realize that even if the external field of reality or the attractor of truth had not existed, we would still assume them. And what I have said here has been said before in different tones and terminologies. The scientific climate has not been so friendly to those ideas and they have not got enough exposure or resources. All instances of similar claims that I managed to find have faded out due to what I think as a form of early exposure. This post is not about the truth either. You can view it as a mutation that I would like to promote. This time around it may take off somewhere around here.

Challenges on the road to Democracy in the Middle East

SAIH Trondheim in collaboration with Amnesty arranged a debate meeting with Café Nord-Sør about the situation and the ongoing happenings in the Middle East.

Three speakers were invited to tell more about the Arabic spring and the role of religion in the geopolitics of the region:

1. Ulrika Mårtensson: She is a professor at the Department of Archaeology and Religious Studies, NTNU, Trondheim, and an expert on Islam. She talked about the challenges of drafting new constitutions, with special focus on the Islamists (Muslim Brotherhood and Salafis). She focused on two cases within the Arab Spring, Egypt and Tunisia, which have so far been successful to overthrow their previous dictators.

2. Mahmood Amiry-Moghaddam: He is a Norwegian-Iranian neuroscientist and human rights advocate and an international prize winner in both fields. As a spokesman of IHR (Iran Human Rights), he talked about the dilemmatic choice between the secular dictatorship and theocratic democracy, in the region. He gave a history of contemporary Iran and the process by which the Islamists, despite their promises, took over the 1979 revolution in Iran after removing the King.

3. Souhail Mahdi: He is a Syrian-Norwegian political economy student at NTNU. He gave a brief summary of the problems faced in three current democracies of the region: Iraq, Lebanon, and Gaza Strip and he finished by updating the people with the situation in Syria and the potential prospects, from a “ground”-perspective.

The three speakers presented different cases linked together with the Arab spring and the Iranian winter (referring to what eventually came out after the Iranian Spring in 1979) which is much less discussed.

After the meeting it was time for questions and answers. The questions that were asked at the end of the meeting created an interesting debate about how much religion can be trusted not to interfere with politics in the newly changed governments of the Arab spring. The debate were between the speakers and also between the audiences. A well-established debate meeting that gave new information to the situation in the Middle East. Approximately 60 people showed up during the event and as usual cake and cofee was served for the hungry and thirsty audience, Hungry for information and thirsty for learning.

Reposted from SAIH, Trondheim.

Internet and Organizing Student Protests in Iran

After more than one year that I hadn’t left the city of Trondheim, for a couple of days eventually I traveled to Oslo. This was to give a talk at the event Human rights, democracy and the students’ struggle in Iran, organized by SAIH. Not to cover the story from one side, the opposition, the Iranian embassy’s representatives were also invited to give a speech at the event, but they chose not to take part.

Iran is essential to development in the Middle East in the years to come and may both solve and aggregate existing and future conflicts in several countries. What are the interests of the Islamic Republic?

Iranian students have a unique position in the current geopolitical environment. What is it like to be a student in Iran? The participation in the development of a republic of 80 million inhabitant and several large ethnic minorities are underreported issues in Western media. Students advocating democracy and human rights often do so at great risks to themselves and even their families.

To further understand these issues, we invite you to this seminar where the current political situation in the area will be debated.

The panel

  • Mahmood Reza Amiri Moghaddam – Iran expert and researcher at the Institute of Basic Medical Sciences, UiO
  • Nima Darabi – data scientist, Zedge
  • Josef Asad Taghizadehnaser, politically active Azerbaijani

You can download my presentation “Internet and Organizing Student Protests in Iran”. It won’t be so useful, however, as most of the information was carried out orally.

Freedom of Expression in Iran, Transfering the Memes of Democracy

A Rising Hope – The People Have Spoken The human rights situation in Iran

  • Where: Samfundet, Klubben, Trondheim, Norway
  • When: Wednesday 13.10.2010, 19:00 – 21:00

Why is one of the most educated countries in the Middle East constantly troubled by Human Rights abuses and suffering? Can they change this? Can we change this? Amnesty International Student Network in Trondheim welcomes you to a theme meeting about the past, presence and future of Iran and democracy development. Speakers:

  • Ulrika Mårtensson (PhD) – Assistant Professor in religious studies at NTNU. Spesializing in Islam.
  • Nima Darabi (PhD student, NTNU) – Student activist and blogger from Iran.
  • Mahmood Amiry-Moghaddam (PhD) – is an Iranian human rights activist, University of Oslo, Norway. He was awarded the Norwegian Amnesty International’s Human Rights Prize in 2007.

I just had a talk at the event “A Rising Hope – The People Have Spoken” held by amnesty international in Trondheim. You can download my presentation entitled “Freedom of Expression in Iran, Transfering the Memes of Democracy” here: