Microsoft made a quantum leap.

The clue:
   "Quantum jump (leap)" is being used to mean a very large change.

Missed:
   The "quantum jump" of quantum mechanics is the absolutely smallest change physically possible.  No smaller change is possible because the "in between" values can't exist.  This discontinuous spectrum of the values of variables is the great discovery of quantum mechanics.

And...
   Quantum mechanics presents us with a weird world image because our perceptions and information processing mechanisms didn't evolve to deal with the quantum mechanical world.  So we do what we can with what we've got.  We've got mathematics.  Few master math sufficiently to “see” the quantum mechanical—to the extent that is humanly possible.  In our world if some parameter jumps instantaneously, that is an energetic process.  A leap!  We easily extrapolate that “leap” to something big.
   But the quantum mechanical jump isn't like that.  It’s more like a “buzzing oozing” from one value to another.  Oozing because things are in both or neither states at once, like an octopus oozing through a small opening between spaces.  Buzzing because the matter is wave-like; it has a frequency, and it diffracts, cancels and reinforces, and does all the other things waves do.
   All this goes unseen, and the quantum jump becomes Quantum Leap and means in the minds of most a big change.  That’s the exact opposite of its true meaning.
 
 

What year did NASA reveal the dark side of the moon

The clue:
    The dark side of the moon is said, the far side of the moon is meant.  What's more, look HERE (Thanks to Al Christians!)

Missed:
    The side of the moon we see is the side we always see.  The side that is always away from Earth goes through the same illumination cycle as does the side we see, but with opposite phase.  It is fully illuminated when we see an unilluminated "new moon."

And...
    We tend to retain a little bit of the "egocentrism" we are born with but generally grow out of as we mature.  The far side of the moon is "in the dark" only to our eyesight.    RTN
 

Earth rise on the moon

The clue:
    Sitting on the moon, we see Earth always in the same place in the sky.

Missed:
    The moon always shows the same side to Earth.  It's spin has gotten synchronized with its orbital motion about Earth.  Sitting on Earth we see the moon rise and set because the orbital motion of the moon is not synchronized with the Earth's spin.  That would be a pretty odd thing to happen, but what we actually have is not that odd.  The moon's mass distribution is lopsided and the energy of it's spin managed to get dissipated though tides and friction (in both solids and liquids).

And...
    We have seen movies of the earth rising on the horizon of the moon.  They must have been taken from an moon-orbiting satellite approaching Earth in its orbit.  Imagining the view of things from a viewpoint different from our own is often at the edge of (easy) human comprehension.  RTN
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

Everybody thought the moon's surface was frozen lava.

The clue:
    In 1959, only the most naive still believed the craters on the moon had anything to do with volcanos.  The big worry then, by those who had to worry about such things, was that a moon lander might sink into a thick layer of surface dust (from meteor impacts).  The writer's sense that academic "plodders" have a significant influence in guiding the directions of science.

Missed:
    The nature of science and of scientific understanding, in general.  The dangers of applying the "prove anything ploy" (PAP), and, possibly, the fact that PAP is a common poison in human perception.

And...
    This slightly rephrased quote is from a writer for a major national newspaper who demonstrated many of the errors which wave red flags signaling pseudoscience!  Here are a few of those flags; watch for them:
 

A short lesson on one of modern science's simple but powerful "seeing" tools.
Peer Review
one guard against PAP

     The writer was extoling someone whose "far-out" hypotheses are often rejected by the majority of those who are actively advancing the relevant field.  (Consistent rejection by the majority of peers is one of Martin Gardner's criteria for pseudoscience.)  Furthermore, the author tried to present: 

  1. an extraordinary hypothesis without extraordinary evidence; 
  2. presented it, partially, on grounds which "might be" and through mechanisms that "might work" (observation was secondary to desirability, and logical connectivity was ignored);
  3. opposing views using pejorative adjectives and his champion's desirable view using glowing adjectives (for example, the opposition "sniffed" disapproval and his champion was associated with "prestigous" institutions); 
  4. a version of the "Galileo" argument ("Galileo's revolutionary ideas were brilliant advances of knowledge, and he was rejected by the establishment; my revolutionary ideas are rejected by the establishment; therefore, my ideas are brilliant advances of knowledge"). 
     These are errors of elementary logic, but logic that is often not "seen."

     Furthermore, he depicted "establishment" science, and it's peer review, as rigid, narrow, and irrationaly defensive of current beliefs. Peer review is a guard against the fact that remarkably few individuals really understand much, if any, of the simple basic principles of modern science, and very few individuals thoroughly understand concepts far from their own area of concentrated study. Furthermore, the new understandings that constitute most breakthroughs of the past few centuries lie in directions that are "unseen."  A simplistic—or flat-out wrong!—substitute usually replaces the correct concept.

    (Perhaps most people still do unconsciously associate the craters on the moon with volcanic craters on Earth: science, on the other hand, long ago understood the statistics of meteor impact and the implications of impacts on a body without an atmosphere.  The author only assumed that his champion saw the truth while "everybody" else was naive—perhaps he began to see how widely different understanding can be.)

     While there are stodgy, narrow people doing science, the majority of those who truly advance any field usually seek—not avoid—"far-out" ideas and radical hypotheses that have broad implications over many disciplines.  That's the excitement of science.  But they also recognize many kinds of absurdity, absurdity which is seen only when looked at in those "different" ways that are "at the edges of (easy) human comprehension."

     This author did not recognize that most notions of the science principles of the past few centuries are misconceptions of ideas which require that we look in directions most people have yet to look into,  Even those doing science often miss points, and peer review is the best guard we have against the resulting errors.  Very few correct revolutionary ideas have been rejected by the peers for very long.  At a hint of something really revolutionary, most competent scientists will tear off in remarkably radical directions of their own and try to bag that Nobel prize before any one else can get there.

     It's the newspaper author, not his champion, who is turning on the red warning flags of pseudoscience here. His approach to science is common in "post-modern," anti-scientific argument. The champion appears to be competent as scientists go, although he's well known to be brash.  His enthusiastic supporter has made a bad case with an all too familiar recipe for pseudoscience:

Marionate the reasoning in PAP, then smother it in a flood of widely believed misconceptions.

     (When a TV network covered this same story, the date for this "champion's" suggestion that the craters on the moon are not volcanic was stated as 1949, not 1959.  I don't know if that's the approximate time that the craters became widely recognized as due to meteor impacts.  It was probably much earlier—the difficulty of small bodies having vulcanism is a piece of this puzzle, and I believe that was much earlier.  Nevertheless, this champion may have contributed to this insight.  The difficulty in this example comes from the journalist, not his champion.)

      RTN




















The epicenter was two miles deep...

The clue:
    "Epicenter" is placed underground.

Missed:
    "Epi" means "on the surface."  Earthquakes occur underground, so we need to distinguish between where the action is and where we experience the effect.  We experience on the surface, above the actual action. We are at the "epicenter."

And...
    “Epicenter” is often used to point to where the action is when the “action” is a big event.  (Earthquakes are big events!)   I suspect it often gets used by a speaker hoping to sound erudite, a little more erudite than he's going to be seen by a person familiar with the word.  More subtle is the problem many people have conceptualizing three dimensional phenomena: two dimensional mechanics troubles most physics students who have more than enough trouble grasping one-dimensional physics.  Three-dimensional physics happenings often stymie, especially when mathematical abstraction needs to be used.  Rotational physics, which is decidedly three-dimensional, is well past the edges of comprehension for most.  Geologists use “epicenter” because an earthquake is fundamentally an event in three dimensions.  When the word slips into colloquial usage, its true meaning falls out of sight.   RTN
 

Special interests tried to exceed the parameters

The clue:
    "Parameter" is being confused with "perimeter," an outer limit.

Missed:
    A parameter is one of possibly many variables that make multiple contributions, often in complex ways..

And...
    Someone once suggested, "If you want to impress someone, use the word 'parameter' often; nobody knows what it means, and everyone will think you are a genius."  William and Mary Morris, in Harper’s Dictionary of Contemporary Usage call “parameter” a “vogue word,” one used to show off that you have acquired it.  Harry Shaw, in the Dictionary of Problem Words and Expressions, is less kind.  He suggests it’s a “fad word…constantly being misused by persons who apparently think it means ‘limits’ or ‘perimeter’ or ‘boundary-line’.”  We suggest its problems run even deeper.  Parameters are the mathematical aspect of multi-element complexity.   This is the core of much that goes persistently and pervasively missed and constitutes the raw material of much at, and a little beyond, the edges of human comprehension.  [THE SINGLES So the things “parameter” represents aren’t “seen” and we have a word which for many has no vivid referent, much like “orange vs green” has no perceptual referent for a person without red cones on his retina (protanopia).   Watch for this kind of difficulty in the other “simple but difficult” concepts buried in the “statements which give little clues that something wasn’t quite understood.”  RTN
 

The most unique innovations

The clue:
    "Most unique,"  an illiterate usage according to most dictionaries.

Missed:
    "Unique" means "the only one."  (It derives from uni, meaning "one.") It has no comparative or superlative forms.  Abe Burrows describes “most unique” as coming from “a weakening of a great and useful word.  Or perhaps I should say a ‘most divine’ word and ‘most perfect.’”  Also, to use it to mean "unusual" confuses one with several, an all too common error of elementary logic.

And...
   This slip of the mind is another one of the errors of the logic of multiple, interacting elements.  That so many people persistently confuse one with several is very often used by advertisers as a dodge of “Truth in Advertising.”  “Doctors recommend (insert just about any pharmaceutical here).”  All too often, what is communicated is “All doctors recommend…”  The pharmaceutical company can feel it’s covered if the only doctors who actually recommend it are a couple of doctors in their research labs.  “Unique” has a unique meaning.  Today, when we hear it used, we often can’t tell from the context whether the speaker really means what he says, or is trying to overstate something, or simply doesn’t clearly sense a real distinction between  “one” and “many” and “all.”  The word is in its death throes. RTN
 
 

95° heat

The clue:
    The temperature is 95°.

Missed:
    Heat and temperature are very different entities, even though in colloquial speech they are more often confused than not.  (The editor of American Journal of Physics suggests that "heat" never be used as a noun.)

And...
    Thermodynamics, about 150 years old now, was a major advance in human understanding of much of the world, even of life itself.  Understanding the relationship between heat and temperature is a necessary starting point for understanding these major advances in human knowledge.   Understanding of entropy [see the science of silt] came from this 19th century  science, and it's statistical nature tells us far more about the question "What is life?" than understanding of "energy," in the colloquial sense of that word.  RTN


 
 

the wind brought the real temperature down to...

The clue:
    "Wind chill factor" is not a temperature but rather an attempt to oversimplify by conflating multiple, interacting parameters into a single parameter.

Missed:
    The scientific meaning of "temperature," a statistical parameter which determines the quantity of heat (stochastic transfer of energy) between two regions.   Also missed is an adequate distinction between those separate factors which contribute to transfer of heat.  Wind does increase the rate of transfer, but so does much else, such as humidity and the way surfaces are exposed to the wind. Furthermore, "wind chill factor," as what you "actually feel," assumes that you are naked.  (The concept of stochastic as refering to a process immersed in randomness is important, too.)

And...
    The concept of "wind chill factor" comes from studies in Antarctica in which containers of water were frozen, and the influence of wind on speed of freezing was measured.  Television weather people have embraced "wind chill" with enthusiasm, probably because it spices things up.  But it's an exageration that takes advantage of the very poor understanding of temperature by most viewers.   Nevertheless, if the temperature is 33° and the windchill factor is 20°, water will not freeze; windy air at 33°—no matter how high the wind—cannot cool anything to a temperature lower than 33°.  That is the second law of thermodynamics.  (Unless something like evaporative cooling occurs, but that is yet another factor to be considered.) RTN
 


 
 

...costs one third less...

The clue:
    Because of a peculiar common mathematical misunderstanding, we don't really know what this speaker means: if the price was $120 this time last year, is the price now $80 or $40?  The statement actually means that the current price is $80.   Nevertheless, many people will use that statement to mean that the current price is $40.

Missed:
    If the current price is $40, the speaker figuratively put a comma after "one third."   He failed to properly iterate the "one third of" and "less" meanings within his sentence.

And...
    This is another example of multiplicative operation upon an operation, Piaget's definition of "formal operations," the highest mental developments he described in his "genetic epistemology" studies.RTN
 
 
 
 
 

Can't use energy more than once.

The clue:
    We frequently use energy more than once.  The heat (correct usage as a noun) output of appliances can be used to heat the house, for example.

Missed:
    The "energy" of common language is very different from the energy of physics.  To say we can't use it more than once, is to say it isn't conserved.  The energy of physics has virtually no property other than the fact that it is conserved.  The irreversibility of happenings comes from unavoidable entropy increase.

And...
    Understanding the differences between the colloquial and the scientific energy is a major step in understanding how science relates to life.  It was the Oregon governor's energy advisor who stated, "According to the laws of physics—they're known as the first and second laws of thermodynamics, and there are no known exceptions to them—you can't use energy more than once."  On the other hand, The Feynman Lectures on Physics has a superb discussion on, "What is energy?" (Vol I, page 4-1.)  In conclusion he says, "...in physics today, we have no knowledge of what energy is," and then points out that it is essentially no more than a conservation law about a very abstract, and very real, thing.  That's typical Feynman: incredible insights that are "perfectly obvious" when Feynman explains them, but, nevertheless, insights that no one else finds obvious until Feynman points them out.  And then, a few weeks later that clear path to the obvious seems to have become overgrown with obscuring weeds.

Try this puzzle approach to understanding "What is energy?": Twenty Questions
RTN
 
 

Conserve energy; why, there's even a law

The clue:
  The law of conservation of energy is the observation that nothing we can ever do can prevent its conservation.

Missed:
  The different "energies," above.  The concept of "conservation," one of the broadest and most powerful concepts of modern physics.

And...
  Understanding why we "must conserve energy resources" is necessary to meet these important goals.  Understanding of some elementary thermodynamics is essential.  RTN
 
 


Energy is

The clue:
    We should take to heart Richard Feynman's statement, "...we don't know what energy is."  (The Feynman Lectures on Physics I, p 4-2. Addison-Weseley, 1963)

Missed:
    If you wouldn't define "vegetable" with "A vegetable is a potato," you shouldn't define "energy" with, "Energy is capacity to do work."  Both statements make the same two errors:  1) They claim a relationship of equivalence where the actual relationship is (Boolean) implication; and 2) the implication as stated is backwards.   A wordier explanation... (Click "Back" to get back here.)

And...
    Here is a good example of an exemplar for a very important correction of an very prevalent and pervasive oversimplification.  The vegetable case is easy to see; the more abstract energy case is more subtle. RTN
 
 





...falsifiable if inconsistent data is not found

The clue:
      Falsifiability is a logical question, not a question that can be answered by experimental data.

Missed:
    The abstraction  falsifable as opposed to the more concrete false.   The statement also suggests that proper meaning of negations of negations is being missed, as well as the distinction between an implication and its own inverse.

And...
     A hypothesis that is not falsifiable is not logically crafted—usually said to be "not scientific."  On the other hand, validity is checked by observation (gathering data).  Logic and validity are separate issues.  This author's statement confuses validity and logical consistency so thoroughly that it will remind many a working scientist of the story about the physicist who looked at a graduate student's thesis and declared, "That isn't even wrong!"  We see here some of the misunderstandings that make pseudoscience so prevalent over real science.  Two very persistent and pervasive logical errors are: 1) failure to properly sense the meaning of negation of negation, 2) failure to sense the difference beween an implication and the inverse of the implication.  If a clear sense of negation of negation were more common we would see much less use of "I could care less" to mean the opposite of what it says.  If a clear sense of the distinction between an implication and its inverse were more common, Wason's card selection problem would not be an impenetrable mystery to so many who attempt to solve it.

This author's statement seems to convey these concepts:

If no inconsistent data are found, then this hypothesis is falsifiable.
If this hypothesis is falisfiable, then it is valid.
If no inconsistent data are found, then this hypothesis is valid.
None is correct.  (Furthemore, competent scientists pretty consistently use "data" as a  plural noun; "datum" is the singular:  "Data are found.")    RTN
 


 
 
 
 
 
 

no depth perception

The clue:
    Animals which have no stereopsis because the vision of the two eyes have no overlap, nevertheless can have superb depth perception.

Missed:
    We have over two dozen different depth cues.  Stereopsis is a rather minor one.  Believing the implication relationship, "If depth perception, then stereoscopic vision," is an improper inversion of the correct implication, "If stereoscopic vision, then depth perception." (Have you been missing the many stereoscopic backgrounds throughout this Web site?) —however, this isn't one of them.

And:
    Again, inversion of implication is a very common error of interpreting elementary logical relationships.    RTN
 

Solar eclipses are harmful to the eyes

The Clue:
    This one is hard to fathom, but it really happened.

Missed:
    The reasons solar eclipses can be harmful to the eyes: namely that people might be tempted to look directly at the sun.  Of course, it would be even more harmful to look at the sun when it isn't eclipsed, and there really are school days here in Portland, Oregon when the sun is not hidden by dense cloud layers.  This day care center teacher did not even consider keeping her flock  inside during days when looking at the sun would be dangerous, and she really believed that something about the light—even light filtering down through a very dense, dark layer of clouds—was hazardous, simply because the sun was eclipsed by the moon.  (It was a total eclipse, and we, fortunately, watched it from an airplane above the clouds.  No eye damage reported from occupants of the plane.)

And...
    This is an extraordinary example of extraordinary "scientific illiteracy."   Or is it?  What fraction of adults see what's wrong here?  What fraction would argue that the teacher was right?   What reasoning would they give?  Here, we see "danger" being seen as something so diffuse and so disconnected from the real world as to be merely an alarm signal to respond in blind, ritualistic ways.  A rare, wondrous experience was denied the children, and they got a vivid lesson that easily could teach reactive irrationality in the face of danger.

    We remember learning about absurd and superstitious beliefs held by primitive peoples of centuries past.  We may have learned to ridicule such beliefs.  However, ridicule is not a lesson for the learning.  The sense of absurdity must come from understanding deeper that just learning. That is a lesson taught by this incident.    RTN
 
 

Do unto others

The Clue:
    The statement is not faithful to the original.

Missed:
    The Golden Rule expresses a mutually reciprocal relationship.  It recognizes the place for interpersonal cooperation, but that sometimes gets replaced by a (possibly antagonistic) competition.

And...
    Implications of mutual reciprocity seem to lie at the edge of (easy) human comprehension.    George Bernard Shaw expressed mutual reciprocity in his "Maxims for Revolutionists" in this way:  "Do not do unto others as you would they should do unto you.  Their tastes may not be the same."  And, "The golden rule is that there are no golden rules."   RTN
 
 





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