Chilled out by disposition

For the next decade, we were told this week by the most dignified scientific authorities, that global average temperatures will not increase. My first instinct, if I had any free money to blow in, would be to bet that they will rise: less from a betting impulse than from greed, because I’ve noticed that a lot of money has been made betting against the agreement of the authorities in my lifetime, and a lot lost on assuming that it was sound.

I might hesitate though, because from the little I know about world climate — enough to dismiss global warming alarmists, but not enough to make my own confident predictions — a cooling trend is more likely than a warming one, in the predictable future, for two big reasons. First, earth weather seems to track space weather, and the solar magnetic activity cycle seems to be entering some sort of a relaxation mode.

Secondly that we have, as everybody agrees, regardless of their views on greenhouse warming, just passed through a decades-long phase of faintly rising global temperatures, that followed a few decades of slightly falling temperatures. The rise ended about 1998, a record warm year. We’re at the top of the roller coaster now. Experience should tell us: hang on for the plunge, baby!

Another analogy might be to trends in breathing. It would not follow that the reader of this will never inhale again, from the fact that he is exhaling now.

The news that I got a hold of was on my beloved Discovery Channel and was from the Leibniz Institute of Marine Sciences, in Kiel, Germany, prominently played in the international science journal, Nature. The authors of the study applied existing knowledge of oscillations in ocean temperatures, especially in the North Atlantic, to computer models of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change that show consistent upward trends. This had not been done before, and when it was, the IPCC’s predicted 0.3C rise in global atmospheric temperatures over the next decade was cancelled out. (Yeah try remembering all of that @ 3:20am)

On the contrary, information about human contributions to the world’s climate is only too plentiful, thanks to the global craze for gathering economic statistics. We have all the reason to believe it is fairly small, yet the sheer availability of mountains of data about it confers a systemic bias on any computer modeling, as on any other kind of statistical analysis. You go with the numbers you have, and draw very big conclusions from very narrow assumptions. Right? … Right!

This is the one routine flaw in all modern scientific thinking, which scientists themselves are reluctant to consider, just as we all are reluctant to consider facts of life that must tend to make us very, very humble. To be generous to the scientists who take the pay of the IPCC — though only for the briefest moment — myopia is a universal human condition. We all imagine that what we know is intrinsically more significant than what we don’t yet know, or even cannot know.

This is the very reason why the empirical outlook of science needs balancing against the philosophical outlook, which demands context obviously, and seeks breadth. It is incidentally also why the superior advances in scientific understanding are frequently made by rank amateurs — people like Einstein working in places like Swiss patent offices, who can see the forest in spite of all the trees.

It is also why such an uneven number of the greatest theoretical advances have been made by “research junkies” like me — from the evangelical Newton, to the Catholic fundamentalist Galileo, to monks such as Copernicus, Mendel, and Lemaître — people chilled out by disposition, with a majestic view of nature and her infinitely distant, but tran-substantially present, God. Without such vision, we all tend to become simply panicked data crunchers.

I was struck hard this week by another science story, in Nature magazine. The tech boys at Hewlett-Packard have successfully fabricated “memristors,” a fourth building block for electronic circuits (after capacitors, resistors, and inductors). The feat promises momentous advances in computer memory and processing.

The possibility of memristors was first established by Leon Chua, a professor at Berkeley, in 1971. He said this week, “I’m thrilled because it’s almost like vindication. Something I did is not just in my imagination, it’s fundamental.”

I cant help but to love the implicit faith and humility in that statement. This man is thrilled because he didn’t really invent anything after all, merely discovered something already there, in nature or “the mind of God.”

And THAT is where authority comes from. Not from “scientists.”

One comment
  1. Interesting post. I don’t know if I am a global warming alarmist – but I do take it VERY seriously – partly because I live in a country that is fueled by energy consumption, shamelessly polluting the world’s environment while arrogantly refusing to sign the Kyoto treaty – much to our shame. “Bushites” in the US love to point to philosophical arguments about the matter NOT because they believe them but because they give them an EXCUSE to do nothing.

    Just my thoughts – I appreciate your insight.

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