THE WONDER explores perspectives, rituals, and observances of modern, naturalistic, Earth-revering Neopagan religious paths. Naturalistic Pagans embrace the world as understood by science (that is, without gods, magic, or the supernatural), and enhance our lives with myth, ritual and activism. Hosted by Mark Green (author of ATHEOPAGANISM: An Earth-Honoring Path Rooted in Science) and Yucca (formerly of The Pagan Perspective YouTube channel, and of the Magic and Mundane channel). All opinions are those of the speaker, not necessarily those of The Atheopagan Society. Named #3 in the top 20 Pagan podcasts for 2023! https://blog.feedspot.com/pagan_podcasts/
Monday Aug 28, 2023
Monday Aug 28, 2023
Monday Aug 28, 2023
Remember, we welcome comments, questions, and suggested topics at thewonderpodcastQs@gmail.com.
Mark: Welcome back to The Wonder, Science Based Paganism. I'm your host, Mark,
Yucca: And I'm Yucca.
Mark: and today we're talking about truth and reality.
Yucca: Yes. So, there's a lot to talk about here.
Mark: There is, there is, and that's, that's why we chose this topic, right? Because a lot of the places where we come into friction with other parts of the pagan community, and certainly friction with other religious perspectives other than atheism, is in the question of what is real and what is true, right?
Yucca: hmm. Mm
Mark: And I think what I want to start out with... The problem is that we have terrible language for this stuff.
Mark: Very imprecise language that uses one word to describe a lot of different things.
Yucca: Right. I want to start also with with a little story from something my father used to say when I was little. And I don't know where he got it from, but when he would tell a story, and I would ask him, I'd say, Dad, is this a true story? He would say, Yes. The events didn't happen. But this is a true story.
Mark: Mm hmm. Mm hmm. Yeah, like fables,
Mark: Fables that illustrate moral principles. The moral principles may be something that we want to subscribe to, but that doesn't mean that the story about the chicken that was afraid that guy
Yucca: sky was falling, or that nobody would help her make bread, or... Oh, there's a lot of chicken ones.
Mark: are there?
Yucca: Yeah, right?
Mark: You would know more than me.
Yucca: But, so, when we say that word true, It can mean so many different things, right? Sometimes we mean it as, is it correct as in, you know, a mathematical problem, right? Is 2 plus 2 equals 5? Is that true or not, right? But we can also mean, is it true in that more, does it have importance, does it have meaning?
Mark: or even in very broad philosophical senses, like, is it true that supply side trickle down economics benefits everyone in the society? And some people will say yes, that's true. I think the evidence is that it does not, but ultimately it comes down to what you believe and what your, what the underpinnings of that belief are, what your philosophies are, right? So when I see Truth. I used to just mean the objectively factual, the verifiable, right?
Yucca: right, so sort of like a positivist approach to truth, right? So what is real can be verified empirically, and the best approach to find it is the scientific method. Right? That would be our positivism, yeah.
Mark: that is true of phenomena in the objective universe outside of our skins. The earth is round ish, it's not flat. Doesn't matter what you believe about it, it's still round ish and not flat, right? We have overwhelming evidence that this is the case. And so, it's not 100% sure, because nothing in science is ever 100% sure, but there's so much evidence that it's not considered an open question at this point.
It's considered settled science. It's a fact, right? But when you get to truths like... Justice and morality and good. There are truths in there too, but they're much more rooted in the philosophy and belief system of the person that's expressing them in the culture that they grew up in
Mark: than it is about something that can be measured and factually checked. against other alternatives, right?
Yucca: Right. And while we're giving things labels that would be more of a constructivist philosophical approach, right? That those beliefs are constructed from the society that you're part of and your experience and your species and that all of those things are building on each other to create reality or to create truth.
Mark: Right, right. Your, your familial ideological context, all of those, all of those things accrete to form something that more or less hangs together as a, as a philosophical belief system, right? So, that I think is a part of the reason why it becomes very difficult to talk about what is true. Because as you say, the story, the events, May not have happened, but the story can still be true, and that's why myth is so important to us.
Yucca: Mm hmm.
Mark: You know, we are the storytelling apes, as we've said before, and telling stories, even science tells stories, science, you
Yucca: Oh, absolutely. That's what it's about. There's very strict rules about how you tell that story, but that's what we're doing. Yeah.
Mark: it tells, you know, chronological procedural steps, events that take place, where, you know, something becomes something else, or something comes into being and, and so it's important for us to recognize, I think, The value that storytelling has for us in the abstract,
Mark: because just because something is not objectively factual doesn't mean that it can't be emotionally moving morally instructive eye opening in perspective,
Mark: You know, broadening your, your understanding of the human condition and the life that we live. So, all of those things are, are true, right? And none of them is, you know, can be subjected to a grass, a gas chromatograph.
Yucca: Mm hmm.
Mark: You can't, you, you can't measure those kinds of things.
Mark: So, I actually made a little Venn diagram using the wrong tool for making Venn diagrams. I used Microsoft Word earlier today. And I've got four circles. I've got objectively verifiable facts. I've got believed truth, cultural truth, and then what overlaps all three of those is personal reality.
Yucca: How are you distinguishing between the believed and cultural?
Mark: Well, here's a good example. The cultural truth of the United States is Christian.
Yucca: Mm hmm.
Mark: It is, you know, that, that is, You know, the cultural truth is what I would call the over culture,
Mark: whereas the individual's personal reality might vary from that, the believed truth. You know, so we don't subscribe to many of the values or or even cosmological beliefs of the cultural truth.
But we do. And so we have our own believed truth.
Mark: That make sense?
Yucca: does, yeah. So just getting a sense of how you're using those words.
Mark: Yeah. And this, once again is where language is just really not very useful. I mean, having to use all these qualifiers for words, words like truth and real and fact and things like that is, it's frustrating. And because I have spoken a couple of other languages, I know that it's not entirely capturing what I'm trying to say.
Mark: We don't have quite the right words in our language to capture what I want to say.
Yucca: So I don't know if any language, some might have words that are, that are better fit, but, but language is just something that we're trying to to, to communicate these ideas, but the ideas are, language isn't enough. Right? And so I think that it's helpful for us to try to articulate it anyways, because that forces us to clarify our thinking around it, right?
We can't just throw a word on it and say that's, that's what it is, right? We have to really think about what are we trying to actually say. And that's tricky, because we're trying to think about, we're trying to think about our own process of thinking.
Yucca: more challenging than it sounds like on the surface and then put down, and think about other people's approach to it, and of course we are just these limited, limited beings, right?
We don't experience everything, we only get to be around for, exist for a very short period of time, and most of the time that we're existing for, we're not even conscious for.
Mark: Right. And our brains constantly edit, massage, invent fill in the blanks. of our perceptual array filter our perceptions in order to create an inner model of the universe that we can interact with, right? And so we can determine that things are true when there's very little evidence that relates to them.
Even, even people conclude that things are objectively true, like ghosts and... Spirits and gods and stuff like that with very little evidence, but they will conclude that it's true because they have experiences that are filtered through their own filtration process that will make what appears to be evidence for them.
Mark: And while I tend to be very, very skeptical about those kinds of processes and skeptical, you know, when I have an experience that strikes me as violating the laws of physics, and I have had a few,
Mark: um, My immediate question is, okay, you know, what went wrong with my sensorium? You know, how am I, how did I misperceive this and misinterpret what it meant?
Others may not do that.
Mark: And one thing that I also wanted to talk about today is the way that we relativistically value certain kinds of truth relative to other kinds of truth, which is a cultural thing, and I think that, particularly in the West, with with our domination of of science and technology and, you know, the, the kind of linear thinking.
What's the word I'm looking for? When you take things apart. Reductionist. That's what I'm looking for. The, we, we tend to,
Mark: We tend to place that which can be verified up on kind of a pedestal. As being somehow more important than the other flavors of truth, the other varieties of, of truth
Yucca: Mm hmm.
Mark: that we experience in our lives.
And what's weird about that is that in an actual human life, that's not how it works at all. I mean, yes, when you're young, it's useful to be able to determine, you know, what a fire is so you don't burn yourself with it. But as we get older, the questions that we ask ourselves are, what does this feel like?
Mark: You know, does this feel like the right thing to do? Is this, is this moral? Is this just? Is this kind? Those kinds of questions, and those are things that there is no meter to measure.
Yucca: Mm hmm. Mm. Mm
Mark: So I think, for example, about, like, take the Lord of the Rings, right? This is a semi sacred text to many people you know, there, there are lots of folks out there who read it every year and are, you know, deeply steeped in the whole lore of,
Yucca: My family read it every single year.
Mark: Huh. Huh, you know, just immersed in the beauty of and the drama of Tolkien's imaginary world. Now, Middle earth doesn't really, I hate to break this to you, but Middle earth really doesn't exist to our knowledge in any material sense.
Yucca: Right. It was, you know, loosely based off of Europe, but not in the sense that of an actual book. You can't go and say, oh, you know, Mount Doom is Vesuvius or something, like it doesn't actually line up.
Yucca: It was meant more to be spirit, right, than in physical body.
Mark: Right. Right. Right. But it can be profoundly impactful on us emotionally and even in terms of our thinking about Ethical questions, moral questions, you know, what would Galadriel do? So I think that the discounting of the mythological, the, you know, the fictional, but still containing kernels of, of meaningful human knowledge, narratives that we have, And certainly the the the culturally developed principles like fairness and justice and so forth.
I mean, these are very important. And what, even though you can't measure them, they're, it's still very important. And I think that we, especially as atheists, we can get accused of over, overemphasizing
the, the material positivist verifiably, Extant stuff
Mark: relative to the rest.
Yucca: I think there has to be a balance, too, though. Because so many times we have seen people's that reality that approach being valued over some of what's objectively happening, right? We think in ecology, right, there was a cultural belief about predators being bad. And we went and got rid of the predators.
That did not help the ecosystem, though. Objectively, the predators had to be there. Same thing with the grazers, right? We take the grazers out, we take the predators out, the system falls apart. No matter how much you believe about, oh, the poor little deer, Right? Like, the system still falls apart if you take the predators out.
Yucca: so I think that it's a tricky balance when looking at and trying to, to figure out how to make choices how to balance what knowledge we're looking at, what, how are we approaching the, the cultural versus some of the objective, and not saying that one is better than the other, but that there are places for each of those.
Mark: Yeah, that, that's exactly where I'm going with this, because what I'm, what I'm expressing is that I think that we need to elevate the value of the mythic, but that's not an excuse for scientific illiteracy.
Mark: You know, we having a good story about the nature of reality is not the same thing as having good knowledge about the nature of reality.
And, unfortunately, there are an awful lot of people out there who simply choose, okay, I'm gonna go with this story, I'm gonna go with this story about, you know, this resurrection and original sin and virgin births and all that kind of stuff, or I'm gonna go with a story about Odin, or I'm gonna go with a story about, you know, anyway, name, name your divinity of choice, right?
Yucca: Well, and I and I would like to say that I don't think it's just within believing in deities or things like that. But people will also do things, stories that don't really line up with current scientific understanding, but is they like their version of, and I see this with a lot of like the really a great aggressive atheists who like they get this idea of like, this is what science says.
And it's like, yeah, that's That's like an 18th century understanding, like, science has progressed, you know, significantly since then, but you're going with this one story and you're deciding that that's what it is and not deviating. Like, that's not, that's not how science works.
Mark: And similarly, many critics of science will point back to scientific thought and statements from a hundred, a hundred and fifty years ago and say, well, science is just racist. It's a colonialist, racist ideology, and that's all that it is, so you can discount it.
Yucca: Yeah. Which is, no, it, the people who were doing science Existed within a cultural context and sometimes abused the tools to their own end yeah. And that's happening today too, right? But our responsibility as informed citizens and as scientists is to not let that happen
Mark: Mm hmm.
Yucca: we see it, hmm.
Mark: Absolutely. And so, as I am so fond of saying, the solution to bad science is more and better science. It's, it's not to throw that whole system out and say, okay, let's just go with the story we made up. That being said, and understanding that You know, deliberately choosing to believe in a world that is populated by invisible beings and has, you know, invisible forces that you can manipulate in order to affect the course of events and stuff like that.
I mean, I can understand why that's attractive in some ways. It's very um, romantic. That's exactly the word. But it doesn't really reflect what we understand. And. My paganism, my spirituality, is deeply rooted in the idea that I want to be here.
Yucca: Mm hmm.
Mark: I love the stories, I love the movies, I love the, you know, all that stuff, but I want to be connected with the reality of what this life experience is as best I can and to celebrate and be wowed by that.
Yucca: Right. And that's something that we've talked about a lot on the podcast, and we should do another Wow and Wonder episode, right, where we share some of that stuff, but that, that our reality is unbelievable. It is amazing. It's whatever scale you look at, it, I mean, just wow.
Mark: Mm hmm.
Yucca: Right? And you can just go down and down into the single drop of water, and all of the complex, incredible interactions and creatures that exist in that single drop of water, all the way up to the scale of the observable universe.
It's just, there's so much, and we could spend every moment of our waking life discovering more and more, and still not even begin to scratch the surface. And it's just... It's incredible. Everything that, every day when I learn a new thing, it's just amazing. It's just, wow, wow, wow. This is, so personally, I don't feel like I need the invisible beings. Like, and if they're, if they're there, that's cool. Like, could, I'd love to discover them. But in the meantime, like, I'm, I'm pretty happy with tardigrades. It's pretty amazing, right?
Mark: they sure are. Yeah, I feel, unsurprisingly, I feel the same way. The... If there are, if there is a supernatural dimension to reality,
Mark: or a dimension in which the kinds of things that theists and believers in magic subscribe to, whether or not it's natural, you know, maybe there are other physical laws that apply in that context or something.
There's little enough evidence for it that I can ignore it. I, I will cheerfully pay attention to the stuff for which there is abundant evidence.
Yucca: Mm hmm.
Mark: You know, I don't, I don't have time in this life to go sifting through all of that, much less deal with stuff that may or may not be there. So, I mean, it's, it's a, it's a very sort of pragmatic decision to make as well as a, as a philosophical one, right?
It's just like, well, you know, I wouldn't want to spend a whole lot of time on something that turned out not to be there. So I'm, I'm. I'm just going to look at this gigantic pile of amazing
Yucca: hmm. So, pragmatic critical realism? Is that where we're getting into?
Mark: something like... Yeah, something like. But I do want to say that I think, I mean, part of the problem that we have, I think, with religiosity at least certainly in the United States, is that people are subscribing to religion and then, and then turning off any curiosity and, and deliberately resisting any curiosity from a scientific standpoint.
You know, how does this work? What makes this that, that way? And they just, they've got this. There's a magical wand that they wave at it that said the gods did it, or God did it, and what that enables them to do then is to fill their, their world perspective with stuff that clashes vehemently with the evidence that we have, like people that are climate change deniers and, you know, flat earth folks and, you know, those kinds of things.
Yucca: The second one is the one that always just makes, like, I can understand the first one about the climate change one, right? But the flat earth one, like, like, you, you can see it,
Mark: Only if you believe that we've ever launched anything from earth.
Yucca: but, like, you can see the horizon.
Yucca: Like, that's the, that's the one that I'm like, well, but you can literally see it with your own, like, the climate stuff, you've got to like, you've got to trust that the data that's being collected is, you know, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, right? But, but you can use your own eyes to verify that the Earth is not flat, that it's not spherical, right?
And that's the one that I've just... It gets me. I'm just like, it's just, y'all, this is not,
Yucca: that you're saying that you don't want to trust all of these, like, crazy, that we're all in on some huge conspiracy to, like, trick you and make Photoshop documents and stuff, but, like, you can do the trick with a laser and, like, shine it over distance, you can see through the horizon when you're at the sea, like, you can go up in an airplane, like, you know, it's, you can see it.
Mark: yeah. I think that what Flat Earthism is about fundamentally is just a rejection of science as a whole.
Yucca: Yeah, and getting attention.
Mark: yes. Yes. The whole idea of expertise, right? Like, I'm not going to believe those people. I'm going to do my own research, and my own research involves, you know, digging two pages deep on Google as opposed to spending years studying meticulously the, the, the data and the analysis that's been applied by people who are very knowledgeable in these subjects
Yucca: For thousands of years, by the way,
Mark: For thousands of years, yes.
I mean, not, not just in the context of Western laboratories and stuff, but I mean, indigenous people know how all the plants work because they did trial and error and experimented and figured it out,
Mark: you know, it's, the, the idea that the scientific method is something that doesn't belong to all people just doesn't hold up very well in my,
Yucca: no, the scientific method is a, is based on human, the way that humans instinctually, all humans think, right? It is, it is grown out of that and there are, there's a specific Western tradition, right? But that is one tradition. Out of the thousands, right, that led to, that just gave names, right, like, okay, we've got some Greek names that we're using, but it's not like, you know, here in the Americas, we weren't using those same methods, right?
Mark: right, right. And, mm hmm. Now, now we get into the trouble about, well, what do we mean by science? Do we mean the scientific method? Do we mean the accumulated body of knowledge that has, that has been accreted by the scientific method? Or do we mean institutions that that are scientific? And the institutions certainly have been, they, they've had their problems.
Mark: they, they've been informed by cultural biases and,
Yucca: And they still are,
Mark: And they still are. And in some cases, they've been influenced by where their funding comes from
Mark: which is another problem. And, you know, I think it's important for all of us to acknowledge that and to apply critical thinking and skepticism to what we see.
But critical thinking and skepticism doesn't mean I reject the opinion of all experts,
Yucca: yeah, yeah,
Mark: or I'm going to find experts who confirm what I already wanted to believe. What it means is Having knowledge about how methodology works, understanding what actually, being able to parse out whether a conclusion that's drawn in a paper or a statement actually has any meaning.
Coherence with the,
Yucca: you would be really surprised at how often they don't.
Mark: I wouldn't.
Yucca: Well you get,
Mark: But, but I think many would. Yeah,
Yucca: many, and there's certain fields that it's more of an issue in than others, but you read the conclusion, then you look at the data and you go, that's not no
If you were my student, I'd fail you. How did you get published?
Mark: you didn't, you didn't prove that. And then usually there's a sort of clickbaity headline in the title of the paper or certainly the press release that is sent out about the paper that then further distorts the conclusion that was drawn by the paper.
Yucca: So yeah, , the science journalism is an area with some real challenges. Right now and there's so much that goes out there. It's just like, that's just not, it's, they're just falsehoods. This is not what was said in that paper, first of all and, you know, just, so I, I, I understand where some of the frustration with the science as the institution is coming from.
But then it just gets, and I think that the way that social media is structured right now doesn't help it because it will, people kind of get wrapped up in this, these groups that are forming identities around objecting to science or othering some particular group or some, you know, kind of extreme position or You know, things that are just not supported by the science or are being represented as science, which really aren't scientific, get incorporated into the mainstream.
And people go along with these beliefs about, oh, this is what the science says, and it's not.
Yucca: me a single paper. Nope, you
Mark: Well, and, and you, you, you complicate and extrapolate that when you have leaders who are hucksters, who, who articulate these falsehoods, like from the pulpit,
Yucca: Mm hmm.
Mark: and encourage everybody to disbelieve in anthropogenic climate change, encourage people to, you know, not to believe science, not to believe in evolution, these kinds of things.
Yucca: And then you have got folks using a lot of that for whatever their particular platform is. When it's not, you know, where they're making certain claims or exaggerations that isn't really supported by the science.
Mark: Well, one thing that, one thing that I have thought about recently is that we really need to make a distinction between skepticism, which is a process of inquiry, and cynicism, which is just the desire to tear everything down that isn't consistent with what you wanted to believe in the first place.
Mark: And there's an awful lot of people out there including in the atheist community, many of them, who call themselves skeptics, and what they really are is just cynics. You know, they're, they're not even trying to have an open minded inquiry into what's likely to be true, so much as they are just trying to tear down everything that, that they don't like.
In our lives. In our, you know, in our entertainments, in our in our politics, in our in our religious rituals, we, we do something that we often call suspension of disbelief. But I think what it is more is suspension of skepticism. We choose to turn off that analytical lens that says, like, have you ever sat next to somebody in a movie and they're like, no, the, that light angle isn't right, this was done with CGI.
You know, they're, they're constantly, like, breaking the, the spell. Of the movie? Very frustrating.
Yucca: My partner won't watch sci fi with me for that reason.
Yucca: I have to keep my mouth shut. I'm like, nope! Gravity doesn't work like that! Stop it!
Mark: I, I mean,
Yucca: not to do it in a movie theater, though.
Mark: okay, well, good, good. Then we can still be friends.
Yucca: My lip, but...
Mark: all right. So, suspen suspension of skepticism. I do that when I do my, my atheopagan rituals. I certainly do that, you know. In that moment, I, Who am I? You know, I'm a wizard. I'm a, I'm a manipulator of grand forces in the world, you know, who's making, you know, who's expressing wonder and awe and gratitude for this amazing life and putting out that I hope that these things will happen in the world.
And that doesn't have to be undercut by all the little niggling voices that might try to cynically suck all the juice out of that moment, right? You know, I don't go to the Grand Canyon and think, well, it's only a hole in the ground.
Yucca: Huh. Mm
Mark: That doesn't, it doesn't feed me in any substantive way. And so I think that the, the excessive elevation of the technological and the scientific in certain circles anyway I mean, it may not be quite as bad as the elevation of uninformed religiosity, but it's still.
Generally, you know, reason, rationality science are, generally in our society, they're viewed by important people, by the, the people that are, that are in the newspaper and are telling us the news and all that kind of stuff as being important. the mythic, and the mythic is not given that as much.
Yucca: Right. I think there's irony in that, though, that I think that there's overall very poor scientific literacy within our culture,
Yucca: right, and so we do elevate that, you know, the science and the rationality, but that I think that we do so in a way that puts it more in that, like,
Yucca: in the mythic box, right,
Mark: Yeah, because we don't understand how it works.
Yucca: Yeah, so we just like, you know, switched what the particular thing is that we're being told to believe.
And said, oh, it's because it's science, right? But without really understanding, without understanding science in any of the three ways that we just used the term, right?
Mark: yes. And certainly there is little effort to foster scientific literacy in the United States, certainly. I think that's less true in some other places. And so we're kind of forced to treat science as this magical black box that answers questions for us and that technologies fall out of that we then get to use and buy and enjoy.
Yucca: fonts and colors associated with it, and yes, and you know, beep boops and sounds like that, right?
Mark: Huh. Yeah, absolutely. And we insist on that, right? We, there's a particular kind of look and feel to a computer that will sell a computer, and there's a look and feel that will not sell a computer, and the people that make computers know very well what the difference is.
Yucca: Right? And if you are... If you're a college kid going into one of those fields, you are expected to look and behave a certain way and,
Yucca: Not another way, right? And that gets taught to us from when we're itty bitty.
Mark: Yeah. Yep. Well, and, and this is part of the challenge, because we have accumulated enough knowledge now that no one can Encompass all of it.
Mark: It's just not possible within a lifetime in one human brain. So you kind of have to specialize, especially if you're really going to go into a subject, you have to specialize.
But for a general scientific literacy, it's... It's a work of many years. It's a work of a lifetime, honestly. I mean, you, because there's always new stuff being discovered. So, you know, I'm always reading sciencedailyandnature. com and scientificamerican. com just to kind of keep up with the very tiny crust on the surface of all the stuff that's being done out there.
Yucca: Hmm. This is actually the subject that, assuming that they approve it, that I'm doing my dissertation in for my doctorate in STEM education is... Scientific literacy, public literacy, yeah.
Yucca: So there's not as much research in the area as you would think there would be.
Yucca: When I started looking into it, I was like, oh, this is, this is gonna be a saturated field.
But it's not. There's very little.
Mark: Well, new paths to scientific literacy would certainly be welcome. I mean, I know that you're a very strong critic of the traditional American education system. I am too. But the question is, how then do people absorb
Yucca: Right. And I'm definitely looking at it from the...
Yucca: So, because we do most of our learning as adults,
Mark: Mm hmm.
Yucca: right? Certainly, most kids in this country go through a school system, and there's a lot of people working on that, and, you know, we could do a whole episode on that. critiques that I have of the system of school itself and how we've confused that with education and, you know, what the purpose of it is, but as a, as a scientist, I learned a few things in school, right?
I learned some, how to do some processes and things like that, but the vast majority of what I know happened just because I was interested in the topic and just continued to learn it. And I think that most people learn. That way as well.
Mark: Yes. Yeah, that's certainly true for me. I mean, you know, it's all been about deep dives into stuff that I, that I'm curious about. I mean, one of the atheopagan principles is curiosity, understanding that there's always more to be learned, right? And learning is a wonderful process. It's a pleasurable process. It's not only that it informs you more, but yeah. It's, it's joyful.
Mark: And joyful things are things we're in favor of. So,
Mark: go out and learn something today.
Yucca: Well, learning is something that we continue to do no matter what. We are humans and that's part of what we do, but we can be intentional about it or unintentional about it, right? So
Mark: Yeah. So, talking about truth and reality
Yucca: you did, before we started recording, you did, we were talking a little bit about quantum mechanics and you said you wanted to touch on the idea that measurement
Mark: oh yes, yes, this is,
Yucca: how we, I don't know how to tie this in
Mark: You can hear the exasperation in my voice as, you know, when this comes up because there are so many people. There are people in the pagan community, people in the New Age community, people in in, you know, various other kind of religious communities for whom quantum mechanics, which they usually call quantum physics, is a
Yucca: in for magic?
Mark: Yes, yes, it's a, you know, you, you wave your hands vaguely in a gesture at this, and what you mean is we don't understand it and therefore it is the cause of the thing I want to believe in. And one of the, one of the experiments and findings in quantum mechanics that is most misinterpreted is the idea that an observation affects The, the, the decoherence of a superposition particle, particle, wavicle phenomenon,
Mark: um, and that's not what observation means in physics.
What an observation means in physics is a measurement, and a measurement necessarily requires an interaction, and that's what causes decoherence. That's what causes A quantum body to be affected is interaction with its environment. So it's not that your consciousness is changing anything in the quantum world.
We have no evidence ever that that is true. It's that in the act of trying to figure out what one of those particles is doing, you have to interact with it. Soon as you interact with it, it decoheres.
Mark: then, you can take a measurement, but You're not measuring the thing that you originally were reaching towards with your measuring stick, you're measuring what it became after the interaction.
Yucca: So let me give a kind of an analogy on a larger scale. So I want to know, I want to see where something is, right? Well, in order for me to see it, Light has to bounce off of it, and that has to go into my eye. So it had to interact, that photon had to interact with it in order for me to be able to see it, right?
So that's on a bigger scale, but that's going to apply on our small scale as well.
Mark: Exactly, exactly. And unfortunately, there was quite a lot of gobbledygook published about quantum mechanics early in its history, which has sort of, Mucked up the waters and created a lot more of this sense of, wow, quantum mechanics is very weird and mysterious. Well, it is weird and mysterious, but it's not nearly as weird and mysterious as a lot of people seem to think it is.
We've, you know, we've learned a good bit about it. The big mystery, of course, is where's the theory of everything? How do you get classical physics, you know, relativistic physics, to, to work with quantum mechanics because they clash?
Mark: So, that's the big mystery. There's a lot of very smart people working on it, and maybe someday we'll know the answer to that.
Yucca: It's delightful because each of those different approaches are very very good at explaining specific Phenomena, but completely fall apart when trying to explain other ones, so we know they're both wrong,
Yucca: right? And that's delightful, that's really fun to think
Mark: We know that both of those systems are flawed, and to the degree that we understand them at all, we understand that they don't mesh. Very well, they contradict one another.
Yucca: But they are still useful,
Mark: Oh yeah,
Yucca: right? And this happens in physics all over the place, you know, we're going to calculate the path of the baseball that I throw, and I'm not, like, I'm not including all of the different Little pieces of information. I'm not going to get it exactly, but I'm going to get it close enough to what I need for it to be useful, and I'm just going to use, do what I need for it to be useful, right?
Yucca: I was going to say,
Mark: oh go ahead,
Yucca: what you were saying with the, you know, a lot of the gobbledygook that's been published about it, there's also a lot of things That, that I come across, especially when teaching, where there's a lot of confusion between what are some really cool ideas, like when people talk about like multiverses or things like that, that, like those are very interesting ideas, but they're not science.
Right? And there's a, you know, and do we know whether string theory is correct, or things like, you know, or a few months ago, you know, the, speaking about the bad reporting, saying that, you know, oh, scientists created a black hole, and it could, like, no, they didn't. There was a computer program that they ran with, conditions that were slightly different than our universe, in which they were able to simulate and show that a black hole would...
form under these conditions. Right, like, so, there's a lot of stuff out there that is science fiction that may one day become science, right? But it's not science until it's falsifiable, right? Can't falsify, but it's not science right now, and it gets treated like it is, right? And it's and it, it can be so, so confusing.
Mark: yeah, exactly, and when you have a population of people who, to begin with, aren't very scientifically literate, but are looking for an answer. Kind of mysterious forces that might serve as an explanation for things that they choose to believe in. Well, quantum mechanics is a pretty good candidate because it has a little weirdness about it.
And it's, it's at a scale that's invisible to us with the naked eye, so we don't actually have to deal with it at all. We can just sort of use it as this placeholder for the magic thing that I wish existed.
Yucca: And there are a few things that, when you hear about, they kind of do sound a little... Magick y, you know, quantum tunneling sounds pretty magick y to me, right, when you think about it, or you're like, okay, yeah entanglement, that sounds pretty
Mark: yeah, Bell's theorem you know, the, the simultaneous snapping into identical spin of particles that are separated by parsecs, right? So, yes, I mean, there are things that are, that are mysterious and weird, and they, they point in the direction of new learning that we need to do,
Mark: If the data's good, because it's possible that our instruments are not perfect, too,
Yucca: Or that we're, that we're missing something, that we're really, we're interpreting something in the wrong way,
Yucca: is always possible. So, something that I think a lot about is are you familiar with the idea of the ether? It's luminiferous aether. Okay, so we used to think, it was quite common to think that there had to be some sort of substance that light was traveling through, because all the other waves that we knew of went through something, right?
Sound goes through the air, ocean waves go through the water, so what's light going through? So there was this assumption that there was this something permeating. And I'm trying to remember the names of the two gentlemen who set this up, I'm going to look this up real quick so that I get the name of it right.
So, okay. The Michelson Morley experiment. Right? So, it was trying to measure the relative motion of the Earth in the aether. And they did it over and over again, and they kept not finding the aether, because we don't think it exists today. Right? And they said, okay, maybe we need to make it bigger and bigger and bigger, maybe, you know, it's just too small.
That experiment is... The setup for it is almost identical to how LIGO works, which is the gravitational wave observatory. So, if we had somehow been able to make it large enough, that it would have been able to pick up gravitational waves, we would have interpreted the gravitational waves at the time as being evidence for the
Mark: Or the ether.
Yucca: So, who knows, today, what we've found that we're interpreting as being evidence for one thing, which is, is something completely different. And we're just, we're going off in some direction, and we're totally wrong about it. You know, science is a self correcting process, so at some point, hopefully, we'll circle back around and correct it, but I personally suspect that most of what we think we know we're wrong about, but we don't really have a way of knowing that yet, so. But that particular example just delights me that, you know, if we had been able to make it four kilometers long, we would have detected gravitational waves instead of ether,
Mark: On a completely unrelated note ether is a very useful trope in steampunk
Mark: design and fiction and all that kind of stuff. My partner and I did a an etheric explorer's ball party,
Mark: party that was so much fun. This must be 10, 12 years ago now, but oh, God, what a good time.
Yucca: I think I've seen some photos of you in your outfit
Mark: Oh yes, Commander Basterton,
Yucca: Yes, oh, that's a great name.
Mark: conquered Mars for the Empire.
Mark: Yeah, Raleigh Houghton Basterton whose men call him Really Rotten Basterton.
Yucca: that's great.
Mark: Yeah, pretty fun. I have, I still have some of the business cards. You know, Commander of Her Majesty's Imperial Ship Improbable.
Yucca: Mmm, that's a good one. Yeah, well there's a lot of, there's a lot of good material for sci fi out of all this stuff.
Mark: Yeah, yeah. And once again, that's the mythic. I mean, one of the things that's great about speculative fiction generally, science fiction and fantasy, is that it, it speculates, right? It it reaches out into the future or into alternate realities that. Put human or human like figures into different contexts and and then conjectures about well, what would it be like?
What, what would happen? What, you know, what, where would we go? And those are wonderful rides to take and they're often very illuminating. When you, when you take those rides and you learn something more about humanity itself by seeing it reflected in that kind of a mirror.
Yucca: mm hmm, mm hmm.
Mark: So I guess, you know, because we've been talking for a while now I guess to sum up, I both feel that we need a lot more emphasis on the verifiably, factually, objectively true in the way of increasing scientific literacy and curiosity, but we also need to elevate the mythic and the emotional and the passionate, you know, there's so much discounting of, I mean, you know, arguably the rudest thing you can say to someone is you're just being emotional, right?
Yeah, I'm being emotional, I'm angry!
Yucca: yes, which is so interesting when we, because it's one of the things that And of course, other animals, turning out, seem to share most of the, the closer they are to us, the more things they seem to share with us but that's one of the things that we pride ourselves about, oh, that's being so human, right?
And then, oh, look at you, shame on you for being so human
Yucca: but I, I think that we, that it would really benefit us to focus more on thinking about thinking.
Yucca: Whether that, whichever type of thinking or the purpose, but just being more conscious of, what our beliefs are, why we have those, and, you know, learning to reflect upon those.
Mark: Well, yes I mean, Socrates, right? Know thyself. Self inquiry is, for one thing, it's an amazing journey. Because each of us really is unique and you will discover unique and amazing things about yourself, right? And since we don't come with an operating manual, it can be very helpful to know what your predilections are, what your prejudices are, what your confirmation biases are and to work
Yucca: that you want to change them, You've got to know what they are to be able to make those, to direct the change of them. They may change over time, they probably will, but if you want to influence where they go, you need to be aware of them.
Mark: need to know what they are. Yeah, it's, it's the full denial of inquiry that I think is the... Really the pernicious problem that we contend with, and it's not just among, say, fundamentalist, you know, evangelical Christians. It's, it's among some in the pagan community as well, you know, who know what they know and are not asking questions anymore.
Yucca: Mm hmm.
Mark: I'm, I don't know, I can't stop asking questions. I'm just too curious.
Yucca: Yep. Well, this is fun. I think this is a topic we should circle back around to in the future. And I think it'll, it, it's related to so many things we talk about, but it's important to think about, you know, what is, what do we mean when we say real and true and reality and, and what's all that stuff?
Mark: Yeah. Because it's, it's at the core of everything, right? I mean, we act based on what we believe is real. You know, what we believe is likely to be the, the truth of the outcome that we project. We, we get ourselves scrambled and confused most when we do something and we get a completely random response that we can't provide.
Doesn't fit our projection of what we thought was going to happen,
Mark: So knowing what we believe and knowing why we came to believe it becomes very important.
Yucca: right. And if we want to change it,
Yucca: how do we, knowing that it's there so that we can, we can choose and have that, that agency in our own lives, and not just be, you know, being blown along. The path. All
Mark: It's a, it's a choose your own adventure, either that or you can just be washed around.
Yucca: Just trademarked, by
Mark: Is it?
Yucca: the way. They yeah, the company goes after people for using that. So it has to be choose your own story, or write your own adventure. So.
Mark: Oh, man. Let's not get started
Yucca: All right. Well, Mark, this was fun.
Mark: that's a whole other topic. Ha, ha, ha, ha. Alright, well, it's great spending time with you as always, folks. It's great spending time with you, Yucca. And we'll see you next week. Yeah.