On Ice, Sea Levels and Brain Models

Cross-posted as a long comment on WattsUpWithThat, on its post entitled Antarctic ice models “not correct,” sea level rise “complicated”:

This is the way of learning new things: At first (IMHO the first century or five) simplistic ideas pop into mind, and we think we have a basic understanding of a phenomenon, and later on we learn of complications that tell us we have to add complexity to our understanding.

It isn’t that we are stupid, but it IS because we think that the model we have conjured up in our heads matches the reality. And once the brain model takes form, it is that which we are seeing when we see the phenomenon’s evidence being unveiled over time – we color our perceptions by the expectations that we have about our brain model, that it will prove out to be correct. So we keep crowbar-ing the evidence to fit the model.Some of us will see the Emperor’s New Clothes and push for modification of the model/paradigm/construct, against some level of resistance by the rest. Progress does get made, but those brain models keep fighting for their very lives.

…ALL brain models are wrong, in that they oversimplify. The real reality is much more complex than we will admit. So far, every step forward in information manipulation (i.e., computer CPU speeds and capacities) we believe that now we can get the complexity figured out. But IMHO we are centuries away from having the CPU/brain power to handle the complexities. Of course, the programmers and the scientists don’t want anyone else to know any of this; they make a living off people who think the programmers and thinkers are equal to the task. But good programming and good thinking need enough evidence and very solid methods in order to know the right approach. We are making a good effort, but we simply are too early in the game to do more than find new questions to ask.

And that is a GOOD thing, to get to asking those new questions. But we are only a very short way along the continuum. No, the programmers and the scientists don’t want people to know that we are a long way from really knowing what is going on. Our human hubris screams, like a 2-year-old, “I can do it myself!”

But in reality, we are only stroking ourselves and our vanity. Science is best approached with humility. Someone please tell Michael Mann that.

The AGWers are doing their bests, but their brain model is wrong. The skeptics’ brain model is wrong, too – but at least we admit it. And we can see to a good degree how wrong theirs is, too.

This study flat out craps on the simplistic idea that they understand what the ice cores mean. Everyone – inside their circles and outside – knows that the “understanding” of ice cores is based on an assumption. Now we find out about ONE of the complexities that muddies the water. Others will come…


3 responses to “On Ice, Sea Levels and Brain Models

  1. I found this quote in the book, “A Revolution in the Earth Sciences” by A. Hallam
    “We only see what we know”

  2. You said: ALL brain models are wrong, in that they oversimplify. The real reality is much more complex than we will admit.
    I do disagree. Sometimes, reality is much more simple than our brain models.

  3. Herman, I will agree to disagree on the simplicity or not of the brain.

    I also don’t really agree with Hallam, not because he is on the wrong track, but because I think he doesn’t go far enough. There is so much that goes on around us (literally) that we are blind to, even at the macro level of our normal awareness, that we simply do not perceive at all. it just goes right over our heads. I often talk of neighbors living in parallel universes; our worlds are THAT much different – and yet they coexist, right next to each other.

    But I also think that learning new things takes what I describe as a four-step process.

    1. We accidentally experience something, and don’t know what it is or where it fits into what we think is reality.
    2. We experience it again and recognize that we have experienced it before, and then we begin to think about where it fits in.
    3. We get enough of a handle on it that we can begin to consciously incorporate it into our world.
    4. After some number of trials, we might actually acquire some facility/skill in applying it.

    At least some of us can, if we are so disposed, extend ourselves beyond our shells, but usually IMHO only a little bit. What Hallam calls “what we know” I would equate with what I just called “our shells.” But he gives us no credit at all, if he thinks we are incapable of only experiencing what we know.

    I give credit to artists in general (though not all) for actively pursuing “what lies beyond”, for stretching our world view. I actually wrote a poem about it, but won’t bore you with it.

    If he is talking about scientists, I would agree with Hallam in general. It is VERY, VERY difficult for scientists to think outside the box – even though IMHO that is their job. Going beyond the frontier is what they are supposed to be doing. Unfortunately, far too many of them believe that all the “big ideas” have been thought, and that it is their job to fill in the gaps. Let’s not forget that 130 years ago a Congressman wanted to close the U.S. Patent Office because everything that was going to be invented had already been thought of. There are always those among us who think small, who think life should be about safety or “the known.” In contrast, there are others who think life is all about going and growing beyond the current frontiers. Most of us are some mixture of the two. Many of civilization’s conflicts are between the two groups, as one group feels stifled by “too much” stability and the other one is scared by “too much” change/growth. I understand where both are coming from. In general, I agree with the group that seeks to grow.

    I would say that, in itself, growth, any growth – of knowledge, of experience, of capacity – argues against Hallam. But there are forces (I consider them voices of the fear of the unknown) who would want him to be correct, and sometimes those forces – like in Hitler’s Third Reich – will go to great lengths for him to be correct. So it was, too, with the Salem witch trials, the Albigensian Crusade, and with jihads. For them, anything that is not “the known” (Hallam’s “what we know”) is to be avoided, to be shunned, to be driven away, and if those don’t work, to destroy.

    Sometimes, scientists are vicious in the way they also act toward the not known. I have not read Hallam’s book, but I would make a guess that it had to do with the non-acceptance of Wegener’s moving continents and continental drift. It is far from the only example in the recent history of science.

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