The Storm of Alternate Science

A while ago I bumped into Tim Minchin’s YouTube wonder, Storm.

Part of the poem states “Do you know what they call Alternative Medicine that works?”


“Medicine.”

By extension, do you know what they call magic that works? Science.

This prompted me to think quite heavily about my view of paganism, magic, the world, wonders and how I see my spiritual, tree hugging hippie views where I always seek to not be contained by other peoples views and limitations in contrast to, well, what the world would look like if magic did exist and it is called science.

Arthur C Clarke stated “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.” Consider our science and how people of five hundred years ago would view it. They would call what we do now magic. Flying through the skies? Magic. Talking to people on the other side of the world? Magic. Seeing what people are doing beyond the horizon? Magic. Making houses taller than the trees? Magic. Healing the sick from near death, or even bringing them back from the dead? Magic. Just because the explanation makes sense to us now does not make what we are doing any less amazing and wonderful. It is just that we have refined magic down to things that work and that we mostly understand and we call it science.

There are two dichotomy views incorporated in science and magic. On one side, believing only in what science has proven and rigidly denying what it has not is just as foolish as the flip side of believing in an idea despite evidence to the contrary. Both can be harmful and dangerous. A balance must be achieved between these two false dichotomies.

So here is my balance. It may not be yours.

* If science has investigated an idea and dis-proven it, then accept that it is dis-proven. If it has not dis-proven an idea, then it is fair game, but also doesn’t necessarily mean that it is true either. A non-dis-proven idea just means that either it hasn’t been tested yet (there is only so much time and resources), or the current batch of tests were insufficient to give a real conclusion. Or it could be the idea is true.

* Extraordinary claims need extraordinary evidence. If your “why and how” includes something very odd rather than something down to earth, then it is probably wrong because it is unnecessarily complicated or too big a leap. Look for simple, earthly, likely answers that don’t require a supernatural solution. These mundane solutions may seem boring, but they are far more likely to be true and usable. One of the side effects to finding external supernatural solutions to problems is that you can’t do anything to alter them, dissempowering yourself from affecting your world.

* Science tests the validity of ideas that explain the world. Just because the why behind a correlation turns out to be wrong doesn’t mean the correlation does not exist or is not linked in some way that the idea failed to pick up on. However returning to the first point, if the idea you had was proven to be wrong, then accept that this idea was wrong. Similarly if science shows that there is no correlation, then accept that this is probably also correct.

* Science is a finite field of possible solutions, built on a couple of basic assumptions that have been rigorously tested and are likely to be true. This has some interesting implications. Firstly, the limited set of basic assumptions only allows science to consider a certain space for valid ideas and it assumes that anything outside of that space is invalid. This is not true, however the further away from the science field a proposed solution is, the morel likely it is to be in error. Not all true basic assumptions are included in science. It only slowly increases its idea space after rigorous testing by many, which gives credence to an increase in the base assumptions and thus the science field of answers. This means that while truth can be found outside of science space, if it is not true it will quickly be proven to be false, while if it is true it will create an actual crisis of science until science adapts and includes that idea. This crisis of science (usually in a small limited field, since “science” is a collection of fields) is often not portrayed in the media at all (what is dark matter really? Is the universe made up of strings, bubbles or foam? Do neutrino’s travel faster than light, or is the speed of light in a vacuum not quite what we thought it was?), and any crisis that public media discusses (climate change, evolution, genetically modified food) is generally made up and without real substance (as in – that climate change is a crisis of science is made up, rather than climate change is made up – to be absolutely clear, climate change is real, the crisis is with the world and political groups, not with the scientists).

* Medicine leans heavily upon science, but is also an art because not all people are the same. However if you want to know what will probably work, ask a doctor and believe that they are probably right. The odds are highly in the doctors favour about how your body will react to various illnesses, drugs and so forth. By the same token, the philosophy of medication is not necessarily the best philosophy for all human experiences. For example, if I have a broken arm, I want a doctor to fix it and I trust the doctor will give me the best advice, medication and treatment. This is not a thing that bodies tend to differ on in any significant way. If I have diabetes, I would rather try to manage the symptoms by changing my life style first and relying on drugs as my back up. If I have a mental condition, I would rather seek a solution by changing my life style first and rely on drugs as my back up. Often doctors will reach for the script pad before suggesting that you change your life. This is mostly because people refuse to stop hurting themselves with the lifestyles they have chosen, so it is quicker to give you medical relief than argue with you to minimise self harm. I prefer to argue with you.

* If you find that you are denying researching a topic when you refuse to listen to an expert, then you are choosing to be ignorant and ignorance can be dangerous to both you and those around you. If this is the case, then wake up. Either do the research and become an expert or believe the expert. An expert is someone who has studied for at least 10, 000 hours – usually a 4 or more year course in a recognised science. If you don’t like the expert you have found, find another. However if the average expert is giving you the same story, either you need to become an expert yourself, which means spending 10,000+ hours, or accept that they are probably right. Now work with what you know is probably right rather than what you would like to be right.

I remind you that this is how I have reconciled things. I know that I still hold onto unproven non-scientific thoughts and that is okay. I often look to see what options I have beyond the suggested scientific list, knowing that science gathers more and more evidence for hypotheses, turning them into theories and eventually laws every day. The idea I have that is not on the menu tonight may be on it tomorrow night.

When push comes to shove though, I go with what I know will work most repeatedly. And that, folks, is what is defined as science.