Total Drek

Or, the thoughts of several frustrated intellectuals on Sociology, Gaming, Science, Politics, Science Fiction, Religion, and whatever the hell else strikes their fancy. There is absolutely no reason why you should read this blog. None. Seriously. Go hit your back button. It's up in the upper left-hand corner of your browser... it says "Back." Don't say we didn't warn you.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

A comic for the girl genius in your life...

The other day I was having a polite conversation with a saleswoman and she remarked that she had trained in acupuncture at a chiropractic college and that acupuncture was an extremely effective cure for asthma. My reaction to this was- believe it or not- to show polite interest in what she was saying. It would have been rude, after all, to respond in my usual fashion. I was not more than politely interested for three simple reasons: (1) acupuncture doesn't seem to work quite as advertised, (2) there's no vaguely rational explanation for how sticking needles into the skin could influence a respiratory disease and, (3) if acupuncture were that effective, I doubt that China would have the highest asthma mortality rate in the world. I'm just sayin'.

Nevertheless, the pseudo-medical advice from a saleswoman reminded me of the excellent webcomic Girl Genius, which is as you might guess about a young woman with a rather robust intellect. Particularly, she's something of a science and engineering prodigy, which makes her if nothing else an excellent role model for other young women. Well, in some ways. In any case, in a recent issue* the titular girl genius, Agatha Heterodyne, came up with a rather interesting variation on Clarke's Third Law. Clarke's Third Law states that "Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic." Agatha, on the other hand, employs a rather excellent corollary that is similar to the one developed by Larry Niven:

Specifically, "Any sufficiently analyzed magic is indistinguishable from science." And this, I think, is ultimately the neat thing about science. Some folks like to depict science as this horrible evil empire that systematically eradicates alternative approaches in favor of whatever idea it wants to push. And it's true that scientists can be arrogant people- hell, look at me.

The thing is, though, that the scientific approach emerged out of the long dominance of magical thinking. It is, in effect, the product of applying systematic observation and analysis to what was previously thought of as magic, thereby leading to reproducible, controllable results. In a sense science is magic, it is simply understood, explored, harnessed magic rather than the sort of feel good woo that we usually associate with the word 'magic'.

So the next time you're thinking about the evils of Western science, just take a moment to wonder if maybe, just maybe, science really is magic. Or more to the point, it's magic that actually works.

* At the moment Girl Genius is in the midst of a version of Cinderella for the holidays, but I do recommend the main plot. Start at the beginning and work your way forward.

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Blogger Plain(s)feminist said...

Interesting. I'm going to start acupuncture in a couple of weeks to help with chemo side effects, and my oncologist thinks this is "an excellent idea". So I wonder if it is more effective for certain things than for others, or what - I will have to see. Specifically, I'm having it done to prevent neuropathy. I'm also hoping it will help with other aches and pains, but that is the main reason, and I've heard from the oncology nurses that it is a good tool for that specific issue.

I have to say, though, that I'm fairly suspicious of chiropracticology (is that the right word?).

Friday, December 26, 2008 3:00:00 PM  

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