Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Alien science

It's commonly said that Christians should follow the evidence wherever it leads. And sometimes that's good advice.

However, Van Tilians have noted that raw data doesn't necessary point in any particular direction. We interpret the evidence in light of other beliefs about the nature of the world. Debates over methodological naturalism, the argument from silence, the burden of proof, the uniformity of nature, &c., illustrate the value-laden nature of assessing where the evidence leads. 

That doesn't mean it's subjective, so long as we can justify our beliefs about the nature of the world which feed into how we assess the evidence. Of course, there's a degree of circularity here. For our interpretation of the evidence figures in our beliefs about what is actual, possible, or impossible–just as our beliefs about what is actual, possible or impossible figure in our interpretation of the evidence. In that sense, there's no starting-point from one to the other. You must have a sense of both. 

This issue was forcibly impressed on my when I intercepted a communiqué between two aliens from Torona IV, one of whom was stationed here as a covert observer, in preparation for first contact. He was being debriefed by his supervisor. 

The covert alien observer was attempting to infer the rules of soccer (and related or analogous games) from watching soccer games. From observing players, fans, and the like, this is what he concluded. 

(I'm translating directly from the original Jaradan language.) 


Supervisor: What did you study?

Spy: Sports. Many earthlings are obsessed with games or athletic contests. Therefore, I thought that might be a good way of finding out what they value and how they reason.

Supervisor: What sports did you observe?

Spy: Mainly soccer, ice hockey, and golf. 

Supervisor: What did you discover?

Spy: To judge by their behavior, the objective of soccer is for a team to avoid kicking the ball into the goal. 

Kicking the ball into the goal is an error. Errors are displayed on the scoreboard. The higher the score, the more errors. The team with the highest score loses.

If a team begins to rack up a higher score in relation to the rival team, that makes it much harder for the high-scoring team to recover. 

Supervisor: How did you draw that conclusion?

Spy: Because they rarely kick the ball into the goal. 

Supervisor: It is possible that they are aiming for the goal, but simply miss most of the time?

Spy: I considered that alternative explanation. However, tens of millions of earthling boys practice soccer. Of that number, only the most talented become pro soccer players. They receive special coaching. They practice incessantly. 

It's inherently implausible that players who are supposed to be that good would miss that often. So it must be the other way around. They intentionally avoid kicking the ball into the goal.

Supervisor: Yet they sometimes fail?

Spy: On rare occasions they accidentally kick the ball into the goal. That happens when players on the rival team maneuver them into a position where they can't avoid it. 

Supervisor: Do you have any collaborative evidence for your interpretation? 

Spy: Yes. In soccer there seems to be a disqualification phase. The best team is the team that wins the very first time. It wins by having the lowest score. The fewest errors. 

Having won, it can sit out the rest of the season. Take it easy. 

But the losers must keep playing more games. That's because they need more practice in how to avoid kicking the ball into the goal. The worst teams, who are slow learners, end up in the finals. What earthlings call the World Cup. 

Supervisor: You said you studied other sports.

Spy: Yes. Golf is analogous to soccer. It's unmistakably clear from repeated observation that objective of golf is to not hit the ball into the hole. Indeed, it's set up to make that virtually impossible. A player begins by hitting a ball from a ridiculous distance. Earthlings have poor distance vision. The terrain is uneven. The turf is soft. There are obstacles along the way: ponds, sand traps. The implements they use ("gold clubs") are singularly inefficient. 

As an earthling statesman once quipped: "Golf is a game whose aim is to hit a very small ball into an ever smaller hole, with weapons singularly ill-designed for the purpose."

If the objective was to get the ball into the hole, they'd simply pick it up and drop it into the hole. They'd enlarge the holes. And if they insisted on using clubs, they'd at least have hard flat surface. 

For instance, Tiger Woods used to be the world's worst golfer. He took the fewest stokes get a ball into the hole. But with diligent practice, he's gotten ao much better. 

No comments:

Post a Comment