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The Edge annual question 2006 – What is your dangerous idea?

The Edge website asks many scientists and philosophers a question for the new year and publishes their responses. In 2005 the question was What do you believe is true even though you can’t prove it?. This generated a lot of interesting responses and arguments 🙂

The 2006 question is What is your dangerous idea? Responses are now available. Should make interesting reading. Think I’ll start with Richard Dawkins.

Telling it like it is

I’ve long been an advocate for calling a spade a spade when it comes to the way the fallacies spouted by most religions are demonstrably false and counter to the way the Universe actually works, as shown by the scientific method over the last 400 years. I hear people use the argument that people, especially when addressing the audience in the USA, should be less like Dawkins and more like Miller. I reject this view utterly. Watering down or sugar coating the direct conclusions that arise from discoveries of science is a recipe for disaster. We need to shout from the rooftops whenever something exposed by religions is demonstrably false.

PZ Myers has a nice piece on this very subject over at

There was much rejoicing

The intelligent design proponents (or IDiots as they are known) lost big time in the court case about the teaching of ID in Dover. Happy days. The Judge didn’t just rule against them but went out of his way to show that ID is just repackaged creationism. You can read the ruling in the PDF available here. There is a good summary of responses at The Questionable Authority.

Hapiton theory

Thesis: happiness is carried by a fundamental particle, hereby known as the hapiton. When there are lots in your vicinity you are happy. When they are scarce you are sad.

Hapitons can be made to cluster around you by consuming alcohol, talking with friends, eating good food, listening to music etc. Listening to Intelligent designer creationists, other creationists, fundies and other religious bigots can release anti-hapitons. Hapitons and anti-hapitons annihilate when they come into contact releasing a photon of pure rage.

Must be a research grant in there somewhere. So how would we test this?

Experiment: Set-up some social situation in a room where people will interact and be happy. Maybe a small party. Introduce music, food, Guinness, Tiger Beer and other favourite drinks.

Let party develop.

Open two previously covered thin slits in one wall of party room. If hapitons are being generated by party they should flow out through slits [1]. Directly opposite the slits, on the outside of the party room, line up approximately 20 people parallel with the wall containing the slits and at right angles to a line joining the wall with the line of people. The distance between the line of people and the wall with the slits is unspecified and should be varied during the course of the experiment.

Question the 20 people in the line as to their state of happiness [2] on a scale of 1 (very sad) and 100 (ecstatically happy, maybe even giddy) during the course of the party. Vary the distance from the wall and repeat questioning for duration of party [3]. Perform questioning with no slits open and then with one slit open and then the other.

Analyse results from questioning, after party, to see if there is any pattern that would suggest quantum mechanical interference as the hapitons pass through the slits. Was there a happy, sad, happy, sad, happy sad… pattern? Did the pattern disappear when only one slit was open? What about when both slits where closed? How did the distance from the wall effect the happiness of the subjects. Did any of the subjects get annoyed when you asked them the same bloody question over and over when they could have been at a party?

Enquiring minds want to know the answer! Sensible people want to be at the party and not in the line outside!

[1] Ensure that walls of room are not transparent to hapitons.
[2] Question subjects before the start of the experiment so as to get a baseline happiness reading.
[3] Ensure that sounds of merriment coming from party does not influence those in line. Perhaps earmuffs should be used.

Even more on Aerial

Still listening to this more or less all the time, depending on what I’m doing. I’ve made a concession to the office. Parts of it elicit pure emotional responses from me. The hairs on the back of my neck stand up, I get goose bumps and am moved to tears in various passages. Amazing. Isn’t music one of the best things ever?

There is a PDF of a Nature article on the evolution of our brains and why we like music in the files section of the TalkScience mailing list.

Kansas board of education shoots itself in the head

The Kansas board of education voted 6-4 today to adopt rewritten science proposals that mandate kids in Kansas are taught lies about how life on Earth evolves. Evolution is a fact. If that pisses off some fundamentalist christians whose faith is so weak that they can’t accept reality then tough. More details at

In better news all 8 of the board members who introduced a statement about “intelligent design” into the curriculum in Dover, Pa. have lost their seats in the recent elections. That case went to court and the Judge will rule in January whether it violated the US constitution separation of church and state clause. On the evidence presented it should be a major defeat for the ID movement. Once that happens then those kooks in Kansas should get sued big time.

Update: More info at New Scientist.