David Berlinski interviews self, calls self “crank”

| 94 Comments

Over on the “ID the Future” blog, they are posting David Berlinski’s interview with himself. Interestingly, Berlinski doesn’t fare well:

… Mr. Berlinski, you have frequently been accused of being a crank, someone more generally participating in what has come to be called crank science. I know that …

DB: So?

… Well, is the accusation one that you accept? …

DB: Sure. It’s obviously true in essence, although I prefer to describe myself as an iconoclast, one whom history will vindicate …

… No doubt …

DB: But the point is the same, whatever the terms. But speaking of terms, maybe I spoke too soon. Look, it’s one thing to say that someone like me is a crank. That’s fine because it’s true. It’s quite another thing to talk about crank science.

… Surely crank science is what cranks do? …

DB: Surely. [snip – read the rest and decide for yourself if there is an actual point to all this somewhere.]

This might be an obscure in-joke or something, and Berlinski is actually being incredibly sophisticated and ironic (or just pretentious – take your pick). But with Berlinski, as with antievolutionists generally, parody is often impossible to distinguish from reality.

94 Comments

I started to read one Berlinski book one time. After about a page he was mocking the other kids in Gauss’s elementary school who didn’t have Gauss’s insight. I realized I was reading a book by a creep, and stopped.

The idea that there is out there a physical world which just happens to lend itself to mathematical description has always seemed to me to be incoherent. There is only one world — the universe, in fact, and it has the essential properties of a mathematical model. For reasons that we cannot even begin to understand, that model interacts with out senses, and so without measuring devices, allowing us to pretty much confirm conclusions antecedently reached by pure thought.

This is pure solipsism. It seems inconceivable that the “interview” could go downhill from statements like that. And yet, it does.

Not excited by Newark, NJ, eh? I guess Professor Berlinski didn’t enjoy his time teaching philosophy there (where I had him in an Intro to Philosophy course in Fall of ‘72).

The problem with Berlinski is that he’s really really smart but viscerally feels the need for the NY Times to carry a headline, above the fold, that states: “David Berlinski Is Really Really Smart”. At least once a week. Forever.

Unfortunately, it’s hard for a peripatetic mathematician/philosopher to make that kind of name for himself as a populizer of science for the hoi-polloi and unnoticed novelist. Hence his contrarian dabblings as the only ID-affiliated “Jewish agnostic” instead of the heir to Einstein that he seems to wish he was.

Sad in a Terry Malloy, “coulda been a contendah” kind of way.

I moved a comment about “worst human being” to the Bathroom Wall. Let’s not get carried away here, there is plenty of territory to cover just in pretentiousness and crankiness…

But Mr. Berlinski, no one would deny these points? GR is an extension of Newtonian mechanics. It goes further and because it does, we see better … DB: An extension, maybe, but a consistent extension? Never. Consistent? If so, then Newtonian mechanics and GR must be satisfied in the same model by the compactness theorem. But how can a single mathematical model satisfy the postulates of both theories? It just can’t be done. No, no, I’m not appealing to anything like a paradigm shift. It’s perfectly possible to compare Newtonian mechanics and GR. One theory is better than the other. It explains more. It reaches for deeper principles. It is more elegant. I’m talking about Newtonian mechanics, of course. But the intersection of the set of sentences in both theories is inconsistent and so satisfied in no model whatsoever.

What…the f***…

Has this guy actually taken any physics? Or read a book about general relativity?

Or even spent ten minutes looking for decent sources on the web? Maybe minor details like

The EFE (Einstein Field Equations) reduce to Newton’s law of gravity in the limiting cases of a weak gravitational field and slow speed relative to the speed of light.

For gravitation, the relationship between Newton’s theory of gravity and general relativity is governed by the correspondence principle: General relativity must produce the same results as gravity does for the cases where Newtonian physics has been shown to be accurate.

The geodesic and field equations simply are a restatement of Newton’s Law of Gravitation as seen from a local frame of reference co-moving with the mass within the local frame.

…or inconvenient articles with titles like “Newtonian foundation of general relativity.”

Why is it so hard to understand that most of Newton’s ideas are still a valid subset of GR? Certainly there are assumptions and aspects of Newtonian theory that are incongruent with general relativity, but these are discarded because GR makes the more accurate predictions (which was the whole reason for GR in the first place!). To imply that they are somehow mutually exclusive or completely inconsistent with each other is total hogwash. And to say Newtonian theory “explains more” - I can’t think of any context whatsoever in which this would not be a flat-out lie.

It boggles my mind that this could come out of the mouth of a mathematician.

But in a mathematical sense they are *not* equal.

Sure, in some frames the terms get very very small and get very close to each other, but they are *never* equal.

Ask him if it is OK that sin theta = theta for small theta. 8^)

… as with antievolutionists generally, parody is often impossible to distinguish from reality.

You’re telling me. I started to parody Uncommon Descent, but I couldn’t come up with anything more outrageous than the real thing.

Ask him if it is OK that sin theta = theta for small theta. 8^)

Hell yes sin theta = theta. Especially in optics.

;-)

You’re telling me. I started to parody Uncommon Descent, but I couldn’t come up with anything more outrageous than the real thing.

Seriously. No matter what you did, you’d go to Uncommon Descent and see DaveTard ask whether the church arsonists were Panda’s Thumb regulars, and you’d throw up your hands.

(no, I’m not kidding. I would link to it, but at the moment Uncommon Descent is down, so I’ll C&P:

March 9, 2006 Panda’s Thumb Denizens?

These three guys been reading the hate speech at Panda’s Thumb too long?

Filed under: Intelligent Design — DaveScot @ 2:59 am .

It’s thread number 901, and I’ve a saved copy in case it gets deleted)

This might be an obscure in-joke or something, and Berlinski is actually being incredibly sophisticated and ironic (or just pretentious — take your pick).

All I can figure is that he really wants to hold forth with his profound opinions really bad, yet none of the people who are sympathetic to him are smart enough to ask the kind of questions he wants to answer. Hence, the business of ‘interviewing’ himself.

But with Berlinski, as with antievolutionists generally, parody is often impossible to distinguish from reality.

Or they literally become one and the same. That always seems to happen when one makes the deliberate choice to sever one’s connection to reality.

Hence his contrarian dabblings as the only ID-affiliated “Jewish agnostic” instead of the heir to Einstein that he seems to wish he was.

Very carefully worded. Berlinski may be ID-affiliated (senior fellow at the DI’s Center for the Renewal of Science & Culture), but he is not ID-endorsing.

David Berlinski, a mathematician and senior fellow of the Discovery Institute’s Center for Science and Culture and a sharp critic of neo-Darwinism, also signed the statement of dissent. But in an e-mail message, Berlinski declared, “I have never endorsed intelligent design.”

Newtonian mechanics and GR must be satisfied in the same model by the compactness theorem

What does Berlinksi think his audience is? Mathematicians? If it’s the ID creationists, then he’s in luck, because they’ll eat up stuff like “the compactness theorem” when it’s unleashed on their behalf (whatever it may actually be!). After all, they like the second law of thermodynamics without understanding it, so why not cheer on their mathematical minion when he uses his math background to blow smoke? It is not particularly mysterious that Newtonian mechanics is a limiting case of GR, but Berlinski prefers to fog it up. It’s his stock in trade, as he amply displayed in the Firing Line debate of 1997. I posted some excerpts and links here.

Sounds like Larry. (shrug)

But to tell you the truth, I’m not at all sure I understand my own views, remarkable as they are. … I’m sure that in this you are not alone, Mr. Berlinski …

I guess that about sums it up.

Compactness theorem? What the blazes is a theorem about propositional logic doing in a discussion of metrics, for christ’s sake?

Somebody please shoot me before part III comes out.

Maybe this is just another April fools essay like he wrote for the Daily Cal last year. It is just a little early. The fact that you can’t tell makes you wonder why the Discovery Institute still lists Berlinski as a senior fellow. It has to be embarassing to have given this guy something like over a quarter of a million dollars in stipends and then to have him come out and claim that he never bought into the ID junk before the Dover trial.

The only thing that I’ve seen from Berlinski is regurgitation of old failed creationist scam arguments. This junk piece could be about as original as Berlinski has ever gotten. He should probably have kept to regurgitation.

The fact that you can’t tell makes you wonder why the Discovery Institute still lists Berlinski as a senior fellow.

“If you cannot convince them, confuse them.” Harry S Truman

(Or, as someone else once said, “If you can’t beat ‘em with brains, baffle ‘em with BS.”

Bill Gascoyne Wrote:

(Or, as someone else once said, “If you can’t beat ‘em with brains, baffle ‘em with BS.”

That would be W. C. Fields. :)

While Berlinksi’s ego is at least as large as Dembski’s, he’s a heck of a lot more fun. My guess is the DI keeps him around for kicks. They surely aren’t using him in the research department.

He obviously has an identity crisis, he calls himself an “Agnostic Jew” a bit like a non-practicing heterosexual or an anti-evolutionist who doesn’t support anti-evolution. Why not just an agnostc?. An enigma wrapped up in paradox or not .…or maybe he’s not sure. A true credit to philosophy smirk.

Being “Jewish” can refer either to religious practices or ethnic background (or cultural type, but that’s not relevant here).

It most certainly is possible to be an Agnostic Jew. Whether it’s a good idea to conflate all those meanings is another matter, but as things stand, it’s a valid and meaningful statement.

While Berlinksi’s ego is at least as large as Dembski’s, he’s a heck of a lot more fun. My guess is the DI keeps him around for kicks. They surely aren’t using him in the research department.

Why not? the research department is a large room with a beer fridge and a ping pong table

“But in an e-mail message, Berlinski declared, ‘I have never endorsed intelligent design.’”

Here’s the thing. That’s really just like David Irving saying he has never actually denied the holocaust. It’s just semantics.

What does Berlinksi think his audience is? Mathematicians?

If I may presume to speak on behalf of mathematicians for a moment, then I would like to say:

Noooooooooooooooooo :O

Conflation was my point Caledonian. Does being an “Agnostic Catholic” or an “Agnostic Chinese” make sense? How about an “Agnostic Atheist”? On the surface an Identity Crisis. And interviewing himself? …how Dante-esque …Dr Pangloss sees his shrink (who is himself) and pronounces himself sane. Neither fish nor foul.Pointless. However note the subtext, consider the context and the intent. He is a religious apologist and a literal objectivst who believes or at least accepts perhaps unknowingly that goddidit. That is what he projects. Tremendously brave.

Zeno Wrote:

It is not particularly mysterious that Newtonian mechanics is a limiting case of GR

Yes, but unfortunately Berlinski’s interviewer failed to mention this. He should really arrange to be interviewed by more competent people–they’re clearly far too thick-headed to properly engage his genius.

> It most certainly is possible to be an Agnostic Jew. Whether it’s a good idea to conflate all those meanings is another matter, but as things stand, it’s a valid and meaningful statement.

Yes, it always irks me when ignoramuses whine about supposed contradiction of being Jewish and not belonging to Judaism proper.

Ron Okimoto Wrote:

Maybe this is just another April fools essay like he wrote for the Daily Cal last year. It is just a little early.

With these IDiots every day is April fools’ day.

Conflation was my point Caledonian. Does being an “Agnostic Catholic” or an “Agnostic Chinese” make sense?

Yes, of course it makes sense to be an “agnostic Chinese”.

PTers are not exactly shining in this thread, babbling ignorantly about Jewish agnostics (many Jews are agnostics or atheists) and GR and Newtonian physics being compatible (they aren’t – they make different predictions). Rather than criticizing Berlinski on what he is right about, how about criticizing him on what he is wrong about, such as that Newtonian physics is “better” than GR, a conclusion that can be reached only by ignoring the most important criterion for the “goodness” of an empirical theory – namely that its predictions correspond to observation. Where GR and Newtonian physics produce measurably different predictions, GR has the better of it. We can also criticize him on his final statement: “No one cathedral is really built on top of the other.” For a “really really smart” guy, this is an incredibly stupid statement. When Newton said he was standing on the shoulders of giants, he didn’t mean it literally (in the correct, not Clouserian, sense). And actual cathedrals are connected by the knowledge relationships of their builders, not by physical contiguity, one balanced on the spire of another. GR is an extension of Newtonian physics, not in the irrelevant mathematico-deductive sense of not contradicting it, but in they relevant sense of being more accurate. Berlinski appears to be the sort of mathematician who actually believes that a stopped clock is better than one that loses a nanosecond per minute because the former is correct (in the exact mathematical model sense) more often than the latter. I suggest that being “really really smart” isn’t just a matter of having intellectual capacities, but that it has something to do with applying them effectively. I can’t think of many mathematicians that I would want to fix my car, or be stranded with on a desert island.

“Clouserian”

I didn’t miss that. Brilliant.

Tancrède Plasma Wrote:
wikipedia Wrote:

The compactness theorem is a basic fact in symbolic logic and model theory and asserts that a set (possibly infinite) of first-order sentences is satisfiable, i.e., has a model, if and only if every finite subset of it is satisfiable.

So if GR is a satisfiable set of first-order sentences, and CM is another, then their union is satisfiable too.

A union of satisfiable sets needs need be satisfiable. For example, Euclidean geometry, with an axiom that says space is two-dimensional, is satisfiable. So is Euclidean geometry, with an axiom that says space is three-dimensional. Their union is not satisfiable.

I’m not sure if this is your misreading of the compactness theorem or Berlinksi’s, but nothing in the statement refers to the union of two theories. It refers to the union of all possible finite subtheories of a given theory.

I’m not a physicist, but it’s certain that you can find a consequence of GR that is in contradiction to a consequence in CM (even if the two sentences are very similar). So the conjunction of the two theories doesn’t have a model if they are first order theories. (A model is an interpretation of a theory in a mathematical or physical structure under which the theory is true.)

The compactness theorem is for theories within a given first-order language. There is no a priori expectation that CM and GR as theories, even if somehow expressed in first-order terms, would use the same first-order language. This is the issue of reducibility which you bring up, and which Berlinski just barges through blindly.

So Berlinsky use an old positivist doctrine that not many philosophers would still endorse together with (if W E Emba is right) false premises.

The philosophical aspect of the IDiots’ arguments are all “written in jello”, unfortunately. I certainly agree that there are important and difficult problems in the philosophy of science, and about the only thing I’ll put my foot down and insist is correct is that the philosopher’s job is to explain how science works and that it cannot dictate to scientists how to do their job. Unfortunately, this leaves a lot of wiggle room for amateurish and discredited philosophy for the Idiots to wallow around in. I prefer the irrefutable takedown of showing their mathematics is provably incompetent.

I said:

So if GR is a satisfiable set of first-order sentences, and CM is another, then their union is satisfiable too.

W E Emba Wrote:

A union of satisfiable sets needs need be satisfiable. For example, Euclidean geometry, with an axiom that says space is two-dimensional, is satisfiable. So is Euclidean geometry, with an axiom that says space is three-dimensional. Their union is not satisfiable.

I agree. Torbjorn Larsson’s remark made me realize that I made an error (and a big one, to put it slightly). I corrected this error in the post preceeding yours (it’s here).

There is no a priori expectation that CM and GR as theories… would use the same first-order language.

Maybe you’re right about this. I was trying to see what happen to Berlinsky’s argument if they do, but as I said I am not a physicist nor a philosopher of physics.

about the only thing I’ll put my foot down and insist is correct is that the philosopher’s job is to explain how science works and that it cannot dictate to scientists how to do their job.

I am half in agreement with you. There is work to be done in methodological questions, but there are no heaven in which the philosophers can read the Rules in a way that is totally independant of actual scientific practice. In fact good philosophy often is in continuity with science, when it is not done by scientists or in collaboration with scientists. Look at the work of Elliott Sober or Patricia Churchland for instance.

William and Tancrède,

I would like to thank you both about teaching me more about theory basics, and how to think about them. It seems one must have a deeper view on theories and their different formal languages. This was especially helpful for me which has very little knowledge in this field. (Disclaimer: I’m not a philosopher.)

TPlasma said:

I’m not a physician

**snort, chuckle**

I hope that was a typo.

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This page contains a single entry by Nick Matzke published on March 10, 2006 3:29 PM.

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