Dawkins, Reductionism, Gravity

Harvey Newstrom (duening@oss1.cba.uh.edu)
Tue, 10 Mar 1998 08:19:23 CDT

A posting on Richard Dawkins wrote:

||A few years ago, I took Dawkins seriously. I stopped doing that
||when he was on a BBC TV programme Newsnight when he was
||poo-poohing astrology. | | Is this a sufficient reason for not
taking Dawkins seriously?...I haven't |bothered to do the math
either...but I easily concede Dawkins might be wrong |here...more
likely would be that the nearest Star (other than the Sun) exerts
|less gravitational force on a human body located on earth than does
the person |next to you....the Moon obviously has considerable
gravitational effect here on |earth! | | However, though Dawkins
may be goose stepping with an anti-Astrology |paradigm in this
instance, it does not mean he is necessarily not making a valid
|scientific contribution in another field, say in the field of
memes...... | ||In that programme he said forcefully that ||there was
more gravity generated by the person sitting opposite ||him, than by,
in his example, the moon. || ||Well, I did the math, and he was wrong.
*very* wrong. For those ||that can't or won't do the math, think about
the earth's ||sea-tides. Dawkins was not a good advert for science on
that ||programme. ||


I am disappointed with this level of analysis. Dawkins's reference
to gravitational effects was correct. He was referring to the
instant that a person of mass x is sitting in sufficient proximity
that the gravitational effect of that single mass of x is,
mathematically, more important than the effect of the moon. The sea
tides reflect an entirely different, collective phenomenon. It may
be the case, for example, that while I'm in the ocean, I have a
greater gravitation effect on the molecules near me than the moon
*tidal* effect, if you will. But that doesn't mean that it will be
as measurable as the tides. The point is a *mathematical* one,
subtle and correct.

Astrology is a dead horse, I agree. It shouldn't be taking up the
valuable time of a thinker as powerful as Dawkins. But he is
performing a valuable service by debunking pseudo-science in a
popular forum. Extropians should whole-heartedly support that