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15 Responses to Climate change? My thoughts.

  1. Are you saying there’s considerable uncertainty as to whether climate change is happening, or that you’re not persuaded it’s anthropogenic, or that you don’t know anything about the issue at all?

    • drfreddy says:

      All of the above. I think. No wait. Damn… can’t decide on whether climate change is a known unknown or an unknown unknown.

      Does anybody else share this experience: The older you get, the LESS certain you get about everything. I was so damn wise when I was 20. Now, I dunno.

  2. First things first, then: climate is changing. Global temperatures are increasing year on year. Are you happy enough with that as a starting point?

    • drfreddy says:

      Very first things first: Climate has always been changing. The summers of the 17th century were hotter than those we have now and I bet the winters of the Ice Age were pretty icy too. My point being: There is too much information available for anyone person to speak with absolute certainty about anything. I came to science for answers, and I have indeed gotten a few, but in them, many new questions. The topic, climate change or not, is irrelevant to what I’m really trying to communicate. The more you learn and the more you question, the less you know for absolute sure, IMHO. I can’t be alone feeling like this? I was cocksure about my political views and so forth when I was 20. The world was black and white then, divided between obvious good and bad. I see colors now. Everything is complicated.

  3. Philosophically, two points:
    1. Strictly, you can never *prove* any hypothesis in science. Nonetheless, the accuracy and abundance of data can be sufficient in some cases that it shows something proven as near much as it will ever need to be. (Evolution is a good example.)
    2. Epistemologically, you cannot disprove that you didn’t come into existence 10 minutes ago along with memories that merely make it seem like you’ve been around for a lot longer.

    Such academic pursuits in philosophy have little bearing on climate change so let’s stop with the “you can never be certain about anything” line; that’s not going to do any good. What will do good is if we consider the evidence, as good scientists should.

    My second point would be on causality: Yes, climate has been warm in the past – that does not mean that what caused the warmth then is what is causing it now. So discounting anthropogenic global warming (AGW) on that basis is a non-sequitur. You have to consider what is the cause of the present warming.

  4. drfreddy says:

    I don’t think we disagree, really. I have university credits in theoretical philosophy, for what that is worth, and you seem pretty up to date as well. I believe the only theory truly proven so far is the one about one’s own existence (“I think, therefore I am.”) Everything else, strictly speaking, is still hypotheses. (Some more likely correct than others.)

    Regarding anthropogenic climate change: As I see it, the jury is still out. Having said that, I don’t think we should wait and see either. Too much risk involved.

    Luke, I would love to hear your personal views on the topic I’m trying to highlight: Do you at this stage in life feel more or less certain about things in general, compared to when you were 20?

  5. Briefly on the first two points:
    1. Even “I think, therefore I am” can be doubted. I won’t expand on that now. For a bit of fun check this out: http://www.simulation-argument.com/faq.html
    2. On climate juries: I have to disagree, the “jury” is not out. The probability that current climate change is driven largely by human activity is overwhelming, and you can see this from looking at the multiple corroborating data sets. Again, not enough time do the subject justice here, unless you’re sufficiently interested to pursue it, but we know that CO2, methane and other gasses are increasing in conc. in the atmosphere, we know from isotope distributions they’re from human activity, e.g. fossil fuel burning, we have excellent satellite data, ever-improving models… it goes on… By contrast, if you look at the “arguments against AGW, you find people just making stuff up to suit their cause (e.g. volcanoes emit more CO2 than humans (untrue), or even lying to people about basic thermodynamics – http://goo.gl/mROhw). They wouldn’t need to do this if there was a genuine case against AGW. On the point about certainty I’ll reply in the next comment as I don’t know how long one comment is allowed to be…

  6. To answer your question about certainty and youth/aging: I think when I was younger I was more easily persuaded of particular viewpoints by people whose manner impressed me. In particular, on religion, psychology and philosophy I was taken with people who were obviously intelligent but also offered something outside the mainstream. Only a portion of the views I adopted from those people remain things I still hold as valid. Those that were rejected were rejected for two main reasons: I looked deeper into the evidence surrounding their claims, or otherwise the explanations I originally accepted, as elegant and attractive as they were, were often divorced from reality. In particular, my views about religious belief were elaborate in the past, to the point where I struggled to explain them well to people. I held that religion was a valid “realm” of experience, a valuable one, but which should not be conflated with literal reality. (There was more to it than that, even more than Gould’s NOMA hypothesis.) But ultimately, people don’t work the way my model of religion described their faith to work, so for the sake of parsimony I had to drop it. Other things I’ve held onto, rather idealistically. My political opinions, for example, are idealistic in the sense that what I would most like politics to do accords with theory more than historical success. How I vote or participate in politics generally is informed by my idealism, but tempered by the realisation that things go step-wise, in increments, and that one has to do the best with what one is given, rather than angrily protest the absence of perfection.

  7. On the question of certainty, I would say that I am less certain about some things and much more certain about others than I was when younger. I hope the extent to which these have changed are more and more to do with a consideration of the evidence, but part of that also involves recognizing that humans aren’t entirely rational creatures and it would be stupid for me to pretend I am an exception.
    An example of something I feel justified in being more and more certain about: I’ve always pretty much believed human beings are an evolved species, as are all species, but every study in biology seems to confirm this belief more. So I feel justified in being more and more certain that evolution is true (as I say, not that I doubted it much to begin with, perhaps excepting a few months after I read Phillip E. Johnson’s books and before I sought the scientific answers to his nonsense).
    Some uncertainty slips in from philosophical considerations. Philosophy has the innate capacity to inject doubt into anything. So for example, old chestnuts like free will and so on… I always doubt my views are valid in any ultimate sense. And so they are on moral theory, or on the nature of democracy of the uses of torture for “greater goods” and so on. I find that the extent of my certainty at any one time is proportional to the extent I’ve been dealing with discussions that cast doubt on that particular issue.
    The largest uncertainties and where I fluctuate the most are things to do with my personal desires. Do I want to settle down instead of postdocing? Do I want to set up a family or not? How hard do I want to try for this career rather than another? And there are personal regrets too: what felt like a sure-thing to do 10 years ago I might look back at today and cringe, and I’m particularly bad at knowing what people think of me, and therefore I’m uncertain as to how to react to them. But these are more about character than knowledge.
    Anyway, excuse the unstructured ramblings. These are just thoughts pouring out. I’d summarise by saying there’s certainty in things you can know and certainty in decisions one can make. I both cases they fluctuate, and I’m not sure I could say I feel more certain today or less certain today than I was 10 years ago. Perhaps a fair statement would be to say that I feel more certain about some things but I’m less assertive in claiming them to be true (unless I’m utterly convinced they’re important things to shout about). I don’t know how much more I could say without you to pinpoint anything in particular that you’d want to know about.
    I get the impression from what you say that you’re going through a period of increasing doubt. About what kinds of things?

  8. I can’t help notice that all this uncertainty talk came from you under the climate change post. Is that something your certainty has gone down on? I’d be interested to know on what basis, if so.

  9. drfreddy says:

    Re: Climate change. Can we at least agree that there are a great deal of nutcases (*cough* Fox News *cough*) and a decent amount of extraordinarily credible scientists on both sides? (A list of serious doubters.) I am not personally ready to pick sides just yet.

    To answer your direct question: No, I am personally not that invested in the climate change debate. OK to just leave it?

    I wouldn’t say I’m going through a particularly skeptical phase right now. I was born with doubts, for good and for bad. But I do notice that with increasing age, I become less and less convinced about a great deal of things. An optimistic interpretation would perhaps be: I am becoming more sympathetic. Maybe.

    Finally, I can say one thing with absolute certainty (taste that, Descartes!): I would be the worst politician ever.

  10. Being a bad politician probably means good things about you.

    Could I ask about help with the blog theme (I posted a comment on your first entry about it). Appreciate if you know anything about it. Thanks.

  11. In that case why write a blog post about it?

    On becoming more sympathetic, I completely admire that, if it’s true. I’ve found that I have a mode of behaviour that really bothers me: when I find that someone says something really stupid on some really obvious topic (something for which the evidence really points only in one direction), I get really wound up. I then get really keen to discuss all the evidence with them, but more often than not what I don’t realise is that it’s my manner and tone that seems to count more than what I’m saying. I get far to enthusiastic about showing them logic and evidence and far too careless about how I sound. I think there’s a pity here on two levels: 1) my point doesn’t get across, which points to the irrationality of the person I’m discussing with; 2) people misconstrue me as aggressive and/or arrogant, which is not at all what I want or mean – I mean to defer to something far beyond my ego: the evidence and logic of the situation!
    So to reply to your point about sympathy: There is a lot to be said about learning to perceive things from others’ perspectives. There’s an additional thing, of learning how to persuade others without alienating them instead. I find it hard to reconcile myself to the fact this is necessary, since it implies salesmanship is more important than content – and that makes me feel pessimistic.
    My challenge is how to both get to grips with the sympathy requirement and temper how I come across.

  12. Sorry, didn’t mean that last one to be a reply to the previou one. Just a general one.

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