House Rules Re: [FoRK] The drum beat continues

Dr. Ernie Prabhakar < drernie at > on > Fri Nov 17 12:05:32 PST 2006

Hi Stephen,

On Nov 17, 2006, at 10:19 AM, Stephen D. Williams wrote:
> Dr. Ernie Prabhakar wrote:
>> As a physicist, I have great faith in the scientific method and  
>> the power of mathematics to explain the universe, but I am fully  
>> aware that this is something I *choose* to believe. And I work  
>> extremely hard to ensure my faith in God remains just as  
>> theoretically rigorous and empirically sound as my other beliefs  
>> (and vice versa).
> I think we covered this a couple threads ago.  You can only have  
> "faith in the scientific method" if you have seen no proof that it  
> tends to work / be true.  After that point, you have a solid, fact- 
> based probability estimation.

Um, no. I  think you're fundamentally misrepresenting the nature of  
scientific  discovery.  Even probability estimations *themselves* --  
if applied to the future -- require non-paradigmatic assumptions about:

a) the Bayesian prior < 
b) which variables are consistent/different between past and future  
c) the underlying nature of reality

Sure, we can have *confidence* in our assumptions if we've seen them  
proved true _within_ our realm of experience, but to extrapolate  
beyond them is *always* an act of faith -- because, as we well know,  
sometimes we discover that those extrapolations are invalid.

Engineering is art of applying what we have already proved to be  
true; science is the leap of faith to peer over the edge in the hope  
of finding something new.

For an example of how these sorts of beliefs impact "real" science, I  
suggest you take a look at:

>  Faith in God is completely different as you never get proof that  
> can be explained only by the existence of God.

And how is that different? Last I checked, science never gets "proof"  
that we have the "one right" answer, we just invent hypotheses that  
explain the facts better than anything that precedes them -- and  
worse than everything that succeeds them. :-)
> Hawkins Law: Progress does not involve replacing one theory that is  
> wrong with one that is right, rather it involves replacing one  
> theory that is wrong with one that is more subtly wrong.

I fully concede that my conception of a divine Principle behind the  
universe is at least "subtly wrong", I just find it a more powerful  
hypothesis than any alternatives I've seen to date.

>   If you have empirically sound evidence in God, then let's hear  
> it.  I think we examined and disposed of what you mentioned earlier.

That is a far larger topic than I can cover here, but if you really  
want to know, you can look at: 

These aren't enormously coherent,  or complete, but it should at  
least give you a flavor of how I think. (If you want to go there,  
please start another thread :-).

The short answer (which even if trite is still true) is that I  
believe in Christianity for the same reason I believe in science:  
though deeply flawed, both work much better -- for a longer period of  
time -- than any of the other alternatives that have been tried.

> Science, logic, and related bodies of knowledge and experience are  
> qualitatively different from faith.

That is itself an article of faith on your part, since I (and many of  
the founders of modern science) fundamentally disagree with you, and  
you haven't proved your ability to refute every possible argument.   
And as far as I can tell, your statement rests solely on the  
*presupposition* that you are better at critical thinking than I am.   

> I think it's important to separate lack of interest in social  
> feelings management from correctness and correctness estimation.   
> Someone with social graces can avoid appearing egocentric when they  
> actually are and someone with no interest and/or skill at the  
> social level can appear egocentric when they are not.

Sure.  I consider House egocentric *not* because he's harsh in the  
pursuit of truth, but because he sometimes deliberately hurts people  
for no higher purpose.

>> I think the evidence -- including his own statements -- are far  
>> more consistent with his *primary* drive being "to the need to be  
>> right" (which, speaking from experience, is a drug more powerful  
>> that Vicodin :-).  Sure, we're all glad that he's in a profession  
>> where that drive usually saves lives, but (as in last year's  
>> season finale) I think even he realizes that sometimes his  
>> obsession causes a great deal of unnecessary pain.
> I'm not sure what you're saying that conflicts with what I said.   
> Are you saying that he would be just as happy to be right even if  
> it didn't involve positive life or death benefit?

Yes, like [SPOILER ALERT] when he diagnosed the researcher a few  
hours before (helping?) kill him. The only positive outcome is that  
House got to find his answer, albeit at great cost to many others.  
Sure, he was sad the old guy died, but not as sad as if he'd died  
sooner (with less pain) without knowing the answer.

>   That the pursuit is shallow for him and therefore not commendable?

No, I did NOT mean that, and it is a crucial distinction.

I'm not necessarily saying House was wrong to do what he did, but  
let's be honest about his motivations.

Wanting to be right -- even knowing that you ARE right -- is a worthy  
goal, and to that extent commendable.

Having the *need* to be right is an obsession, and (speaking from  
personal experience) can justify a lot of damaging behavior.

Let me be clear.  I love the character House precisely *because* I  
identify so much with him, and admire his tenacious pursuit of  
truth.  His willingness to sacrifice lesser things in pursuit of  
truth is a breath of fresh air which I seek to emulate.

What I hate about him -- what I hate about myself -- is that  
sometimes we use those skills to cloak our own motivations and needs  
by attacking others in a way that *hides* the truth.


House is relentless in pursuing the truth about others, but cowardly  
in facing the truth about himself.  The latter doesn't take away from  
the former, but the first doesn't excuse the last.

-- Ernie P.

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