[This is in response to a post at WUWT by Willis Eschenbach on Feb 8th, entitled Slow Drift in Thermoregulated Emergent Systems. In it Willis talks about forcings (causes) in climate and how maybe they are not the governing factors, that maybe there is an inborn regulatory thermostat in climate that is mostly independent of the inputs (causes/forcings), and maybe it is a series of multi-factorial thermostats, with many backups/redundancies. — My paraphrasing may not do Willis’ idea justice…]
Yes, Willis. Asking the right questions is the first step toward getting the right answers. Everyone here at WUWT is, in one way or another, aware that the wrong questions have been asked by those controlling the dialog on climate. And we others haven’t quite seen those right questions, either.
In simple systems it is easy to find the right questions. The more complex the system the more difficult it is to find those questions. And when questions are asked that have (seeming) non-answers or when they keep on not affecting the answers, it is time to ask, “Are we asking the right questions?”
The existing paradigm controls/dictates the questions. If the paradigm is wrong, the right questions will never get asked.
Thinking outside the box of a current paradigm that is getting us nowhere is the only way to break out of the box and get to where the right questions can be asked. It isn’t that all of a sudden we will see that the questions asked are better. When we are barely out of the box – the current paradigm – our questions are still being affected by our “in the box thinking.” When we are looking outside the box of the current paradigm we need to TRY to get way outside the paradigm, to ask, “What if <fill in the blank> is the real case? What then?” Of course, in the full process anything inside or outside the paradigm still has to then be falsifiable and pass.
To ask such questions as “What would a sea spray droplet do?” or “What if the system is acting like an intelligence of its own?” IS a way of breaking out.
Good questions lead to answers – but that can happen only if we can recognize when the answers are worth a damn.
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The Reductionist approach to science has worked for some time now, so we can’t really blame the climate guys for thinking that forcings. Reductionist, bottom-up, always looks for forcings, because in Reductionism the whole is always the sum of the parts. “When you do A, then B follows” thinking means that they are thinking that “If B, then there must be an A causing it.”
But can Reductionist thinking even work when addressing chaotic systems? When everything affects everything else, where is the bottom? What are the starting points? What are the pieces of which the whole is made, when A flows into B flows into C flows into D, . . . into A, and it all happens in blendings, not discrete steps? And which is the first?
As an engineer I know that even in the very discrete cause-and-effect world of machines the questions can be hard to find, and when working with the wrong question(s) the right answer is not going to show up.
So, yes, what should be happening is not a Reductionist approach (which is getting no one much of anywhere) but a Brainstorming Session, where all questions are on the table, where no judgments are made. New questions may not in themselves be the right questions, but they can lead to the right questions. (It does depend on the inquirers’ flexibility. Reductionism does not allow for much in the way of flexibility. Sometimes that is a strength. So far in the complex world of climate one might argue that )
Look at all the areas in which questions have been asked – tree rings, ice cores, corals, SST, AMO, PDO, ENSO, Laurentian ice sheet melting, UHI, cosmic rays, . . on and on. Right questions are NOT that easy to come by.
Without the right questions, the right answers are impossible.
At this point, who knows what the right questions are? It is clear that continuing to ask the same ones and expecting them to inform us properly is insanity.
With such an enormous chaotic system, we are – so far – in over our heads. Finding the right paradigm which will dictate better questions is the way to go. Maybe we can’t find that better paradigm until some of the right questions fall out of the sky on us.
Go, Willis. Keep asking. If nothing else, you are brainstorming and you might lead someone else to ask the right first question.
Maybe you already have. Maybe the system itself acts like an intelligent, self-regulating being. If we rule that out, we may be ruling out ever understanding it. I’ve seen so many times where researchers say that we just don’t have the computing power, that the complexity is too much for our computers. Our computers, however, are built on the Reductionist principle. Maybe that in itself is the roadblock.
If the system is in itself intelligent (in a way we can’t fathom or accept now), by accepting that as a possibility, we might find that first right question that opens up the floodgates.
How do stem cells know what type cells to become? DNA is a Reductionist fundamental. But stem cells are directed by something to become one type of cell in one part of the body and another in another part of the body, and can be ANY type of cell. The directing of which to be – is that Reductionist? Does it come from protrusions on neighboring cells that trigger the stem cell? Or does the gestalt of the body act in a coordinated way, informing organs when to do what and stem cells to become whatever? In fact, what IS the thing we call the autonomic nervous system, or the subconscious, too? Are they intelligences, regulating and informing?
Is climate the same?
Are there intelligences existing that Reductionism doesn’t allow for, and which are beyond it?
Are these too metaphysical of questions to be asking? In a Reductionist world like science is now, certainly. But is Reductionism holding back science in this case? The scientists – deep in the Reductionist paradigm – may be the wrong ones to ask. Metaphysicians are not the ones to ask, either, because they don’t have their feet on the ground enough.
Willis, you are posting an entirely new start here. Let’s hope you are triggering a bit of a revolution. New sciences may be possible out of it, maybe new maths. You may be opening Pandora’s Box. But until it is opened, no sense can be made of chaos or chaotic systems. The science is inadequate at present. The math is, too. The modelling programs cannot be written without adequate math and paradigms. Some day the models WILL exist. But not till the underlying system intelligence is found – WAY outside the present (non-Pandora’s) box.