Science for Non-Scientists


Dec 24

First we must define the term “scientist.”

Did you know that a college level biology student is a scientist? Yes, anyone who studies science is a scientist.

This is quite different for other areas of interest. Studying art does not make you an artist. Studying philosophy doesn’t make you a philosopher, though I’m sure many philosophy students would challenge that.

When we hear the term “scientist,” we all seem to think “research scientist.” However, your high school chemistry teacher was a scientist according to the definition.

Here is a definition you could all find if you just Googled: a person who is studying or has expert knowledge of one or more of the natural or physical sciences.

As you can see, there are gradations of scientists, from students, to experts, to research scientists.

As for your humble author, I am a student and teacher of science, and in college I have performed and critiqued the statistical analysis of research, and one time I performed a double blind study to test a substance for our readers.

But for the sake of our discussion, I’m am going to create a new kind of scientist, and that is a Consummate Scientist.

When one makes up a term, one must define it, so here goes.

A consummate scientist is a scholar who has gathered years of experience examining theories, testing theories, and examining the world we live in with an erudite, tempered approach. A consummate scientist is a bit of a philosopher.

A consummate scientist does not use the word “prove” in its common meaning, but rather in its original meaning “to test.” The finality of today’s definition of the word prove is unacceptable, or as the phrase goes, “beyond the pale.”

A consummate scientist knows that what we have tested and shown to be true is only in the here and now; that it is transitory and even ephemeral because given additional input, any truth we have accepted could well be obsolete and succeeded by a new truth.

A consummate scientist is always questioning, hypothesizing, failing at times, but passionately continuing that quest for a better, more beautiful truth.

Buckminster Fuller is a scientist I’ve admired greatly, and he once said, “When I am working on a problem, I never think about beauty but when I have finished, if the solution is not beautiful, I know it is wrong.”

And scientists can be wrong. Einstein was wrong when he claimed that God did not play dice. It turns out God does, and sometimes the dice seem loaded.

Oh and this God thing.

Lately people have been proclaiming that one does not “believe” in science, one simply accepts the facts. That there is no room for belief in science.

But scientists, many of them, do hold beliefs; beliefs they’ve formed from years of investigation. Einstein believed in a God, but not a standard, commonplace God.

When I’m asked if I believe in God, I reply simply: “Not yours.”

There are some wild and wonderful beliefs that have come from scientists, and one particular scientist, who also happens to be a philosopher, took Einstein’s universe of matter and energy and condensed it into only energy: a knowing energy.

Take the subject of evolution. It has been demonstrated incontrovertibly to be a real thing. The mechanism of evolution, however, has yet to be described. And science (and scientists) are broken into two camps: those who believe it is mechanistic and those who believe otherwise. And this is where philosophy comes in. It examines the nature of our reality, abounding in theories but founded in epistemology, or how we know what we know.

It’s quite exciting, actually. The mechanism of evolution is controversial because of the limits of what we know and what we can determine.

Arthur Koestler was a journalist, author, and also a scientist and philosopher who felt that evolution progresses with a “guiding hand.” David Bohm would agree. And yet many disagree. And it is this kind of controversy that makes science exhilarating.

The Non-Scientist and Science

There was a great spate of tweets recently that stated something like, “Not long ago everyone was an expert on Constitutional law who are now all experts in epidemiology.”

Not long ago I wrote about the Spanish Flu, but I am no expert in epidemiology. I just did some damn good research.

On the internet, everyone’s an expert.

But there are very few Consummate Scientists.

I would like to show you something I found on the web and critique it using my knowledge of science. Although I am a scientist, I am not quite a Consummate Scientist. I’m a budding philosopher and epistemologist, but I have a distance to go before I can label myself a Consummate Scientist.

First off, no Consummate Scientist would use the term “proves” or “disproves” in this manner. This kind of meme comes from a dilettante.

Adam and Eve

One does not need a degree in biology to know that the story of Adam and Eve is mythology. You see, there are over 200 creation mythologies that have been handed down. Anthropology is the study of human societies and cultures and their development. Mythologies are just one segment of anthropology.

Fundamentalists take the story of Adam and Eve as fact, but they seem to be a minority, a minority of Christians. There are many religions in the world. And anthropologists are the ones who root out their beliefs and how they’ve changed over the years.


Yes, cosmology is the study the origin, fundamental structure, nature, and dynamics of the universe.  But what the meme hasn’t told us is that cosmology has had to evolve to reach this point.

The Catholic Church had been in charge of cosmology for a long time, and it was dissidents like Galileo Galilei who challenged the church. But it wasn’t until Edwin Powell Hubble came along that cosmology became a branch of astronomy.


Intelligent design is defined as: the theory that life, or the universe, cannot have arisen by chance and was designed and created by some intelligent entity. (Thank you OneLook.)

Do you remember from above David Bohm’s “knowing energy?”

As a scientist, I cannot and will not tell you that God came down and created the earth and all its inhabitants at the same time.

But to say that there is no intelligence behind the construction of the atom and its particles, and how they spin, and appear and disappear, or even the things we’ve yet to discover, or how living creatures formed from unliving matter and evolved into complexities modern medicine is still studying and will continue to discover, is a bit of nonsense to scientists siding with Bohm, and even Einstein. Therein lies the exuberant debate between camps.

And genetics is but a fraction of what we know about the development of species. Unraveling the human genome will take us a bit longer, believe me. That’s the great thing about science: it’s a journey.


Allow me to tell you a personal story.

In high school, I spent my time staring out the window dreaming of weekends and vacations. High school was not made for me. I barely graduated with a 1.8 average, or as my family put it “below c level.”

After Vietnam, I had to sit down with the dean of the college to get accepted into the University of Minnesota. He put me on probation.

In my first advanced math class, on opening day, the prof spent about five minutes talking to the class and then dismissed us saying, “On Monday we start on chapter three. I approached him and asked, “What about chapters one and two.” His response was: “You should have learned that in high school.” So that weekend, after 11 hours of hitting the books, I got me a high school education in algebra.

I had a brilliant and lovely girlfriend that year, and we took the class together. On every test she beat me by one or two points. The last segment of the class focused on some business math that it seemed nobody in the class got. I studied together with my gal for the finals and I noticed her going over that section. I just shook my head. I said, you can work on that. I’m going to work on the parts I actually understand.

We were on campus one night after the finals to see a movie or a concert or something. I forget now. But as we were walking by the math building, we saw a sheet posted on the back door with one lightbulb above it. We knew it was our grades. We raced up the stairs and stopped. At the top of the list was my name. Her name was just below mine. I’d topped her by a few points.

This was followed by a really difficult phase in my life. You see, my family was in medicine and I just could not go into human medicine because it didn’t seem ethical to fix someone’s arm and leg and then charge them an arm and a leg for it.

I’ve always been the animal lover in the family. Dogs were constantly following me home. I raised ducks and a rabbit and learned animal husbandry raising mice in my bedroom. Hundreds of mice, it turned out. They breed like rabbits!

I had decided to start at the U in pre-veterinary medicine. But it slowly hit me that though I loved animals, I did not like doctoring. Thus I entered into a phase of existential angst, having lost my identity. I’d always seen myself as a doctor. Yes, I’d had experience teaching, and I had other interests. I discovered literature in Vietnam, having read only a handful of books prior to enlisting. But when you abandon your definition of self, you stand naked on shaky footing, void of a definition and quite paralyzed. It was about that time that I won the university-wide short story contest. In fact, my girlfriend was my editor because I was a lousy speller and I had really crappy attention to details. She had been my editor all through those early college days.

But I needed change.

I hopped on a motorcycle to matriculate at the University of the United States of America, and two or three years later, having washed windows in a boiler room, painted a motorcycle shop, humped cement for a construction company, and drove cabs in Anaheim, I wound up in Chico, California, registering for my third semester of college. The cost was $100.50 per semester, and the GI Bill not only paid for that, but also paid for my room and board. It was there that I blew through something like seven majors. I just didn’t know what I wanted to be when I grew up. Or I just didn’t want to grow up. I eventually graduated in Honors English in the top two percent of the school.

But there was a semester when I’d had no more requirements to take and I thought, how about statistics? Statistics is one of the scariest courses you will ever study. Ask anyone in college. And it had been a while since I’d really challenged myself.

Boy was it a bear. The looks on fellow student’s faces was precious. Everyone was lost. I found a tutor. I don’t even remember where I found the time to study and be tutored since I was tutoring both French and English, and typing out papers and dissertations for a bit of spending money, but one day it hit me.

The clouds opened and understanding rained down. I pulled off an A in statistics. And I was more surprised than anyone.

Oh, and I didn’t attend the Dean’s Brunch. He’d invited all those in the top 5% of the university to his yearly brunch. But he was a Mormon, and I wasn’t about to attend a brunch that didn’t serve Bloody Marys. Yeah. I was that guy.

Why Statistics

I learned in college that within just a piece of a hologram lies the entire hologram.

I’ve just realized that I have never checked this out. I do not know if it is true. But I like it. I like the metaphor.

Within the acorn lies the mighty oak. Within the child lies the adult. See? It’s a great metaphor, and it tells us the purpose and the beauty of statistics.

Statistics takes a limited sample of people to make accurate and intelligent conclusions about a population. And especially in epidemiology (a subject in which everyone today is an expert) statistics can predict outcome. Medicine requires the proper data to create the statistics to predict outcome.

All physicians play the odds.

Yes, probability is an important and integral segment of statistics.

There is a clown with an MD on YouTube (we’ll call him Dr Bozo) who demonstrates that masks are worthless by smoking, then covering his face with a mask, and blowing out the smoke, which goes everywhere. And all the internet’s experts use this video for their “gotcha moment.”

But it is statistics that confirm that Dr Bozo is a moron.

During our COVID pandemic, demographics confirmed the effectiveness of wearing masks and maintaining social distancing quite simply, though for us math nuts, quite spectacularly.

Communities with comparable demographics were compared based upon the use of masks. Those communities that mandated the use of masks and social distancing experienced fewer cases, fewer hospitalizations, and fewer deaths.

It is that f’n simple. The conclusion is masks and social distancing work.

When you attend a physician, your doctor will play the odds. Your prognosis is statistically calculated as well as your treatment.

Medicine plays the odds.

And today, because of the data that has been gathered for decades, scientists have determined the probability of societal collapse within a few decades, followed by an extinction event not that far off in the future.

And since we’ve been warned repeatedly over decades, probability tells us that for the most part, many nations are being run by very rich morons who value profits over people.

Aren’t statistics fun?

Just One More Thing Concerning Statistics

All the internet “experts” have been pointing out that there’s only a 1% chance of dying from COVID, so why worry?

It makes me wonder if they’ve actually done the math. Obviously they’ve not kept up with the statistics the CDC has been reporting.

First off, 1% of Americans is 3,295,000 deaths.

Whereas the actual IFR (infection fatality rate), last posted, is .68% and that turns out to produce 2,240,600 deaths.

Because data has been tracked around the world, we’ve learned that the infection fatality rate increases in those with chronic illness, is very low in children and younger adults, and increases with the elderly over 60: age 65 it’s 1.4%, age 75 it’s 4.6%, and at age 85 it’s 15%.

And never forget that there are exceptions. Quite a few college age kids, in good health, have lost their lives to this damn bug. No one wants to fall into that category, unless you’re the exception that lives.

So, let us discuss some statistics referring back to the above meme.

“There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio,
Than are dreamt of in your philosophy.”

I too once believed that prayer, meditation, etc were all hokum. But that was until I encountered a physician who served in Vietnam about the same time I had served. His name is Dr Larry Dossey.

Like most medical doctors, Larry is also a scientist. And he has investigated subjects considered by many to be “fringe science.” He introduced me to the Spindrift Experiments that brought prayer into the laboratory. He pointed out studies that demonstrated that our minds are not local. That our minds reach out, and like Jung’s collective unconscious, lead us to conclude that all are one.

It’s all fascinating stuff and everyone should read at least one of Dossey’s books, but I’m going to focus on this for now:

The Maharishi Effect

Baby boomers will recognize the name Maharishi Mahesh Yogi. He was the spiritual counselor for the Beatles. In fact, it was the Beatles who made him famous and brought him to America. He’s responsible for developing and popularizing Transcendental Meditation or TM.

He claimed that if only 1% of the population meditated and experienced “pure consciousness,” the remaining 99% would be affected.

For sake of argument, let’s assume that prayer and meditation are the same thing, in fact, a Catholic priest once told me that prayer is talking to God, and meditation is listening. Thus the goal of each is connecting to one’s higher power.

Now it’s easy to make a claim, but proving it? That would be difficult. But that’s what sociologist Garland Landrith set out to do: test for the Maharishi Effect.

He took demographic data from cities with populations of 25,000 or more people and found eleven of them in which 1% or more of its inhabitants practiced TM. He selected, for his comparison, eleven cities that closely resembled (demographically) the eleven 1% TM cities.

When comparing crime rates, Landrith discovered that the eleven non-TM cities followed the nation trend of crime rate that increased an average of 8.3% each year. In the TM cities, the crime rate decreased by 8.2% each year. Dossey states, “The likelihood that these findings could have occurred by chance was less than one in a thousand.”

Many people repeated this study with the same results, but there were still critics who could not accept the findings. So Professor David Orme-Johnson re-did the study using sophisticated statistical analysis techniques, and this time the probability that these results were a coincidence was one in 5 billion.

Statistics. Don’t use them if you don’t understand them and the creator of this meme certainly did not do their homework on this one.

The Great Flood

Now we’ve hit a subject that the meme creator knows absolutely nothing about.

Geologists have found signs of a huge flood in the Middle East. They know it happened, but can only theorize how it happened. One theory was it occurred at the end of the ice age, some 7,000 years ago.

The hypothesis is that the European glaciers melted and the Mediterranean Sea overflowed with a force that was  200 times greater than Niagra [sic] Falls. That would be an incredibly fast-moving wall of floodwater. There is physical evidence that supports this theory, including stone age structures under the Black Sea.

There are other theories I’ve read about, including a comet strike. This theory comes from an examination of the tectonic plates. The plates are supposed to fit together, but there seems to be places on the edges of the plates that appear carved out and circular. They could easily have been created by comet strikes, and would have splashed a lot of water into the air and onto the land masses. [Ref1] [Ref2]

Then there’s the simple fact that flood mythologies exist in some 400 cultures, even within our Native American cultures. Student’s of mythology know that these stories come from “something.” And allow me to show you how.

Do you have someone close to you, a family member, or a friend who loves to tell stories? If so, then you might have heard their stories a number of times, and most of the time you’ve watched the stories grow with the telling. These mythologies have been passed on the oral tradition for centuries and of course they grow. So, yes, there was a flood and it was big. Many people died. And then 4,000 years later, stories tell us that the flood was really, really big, and wiped out nearly everyone.

Stories grow with the telling, but they had a start, and geologists know there have been, in the past 7,000 years, some pretty huge floods.

The Soul

To test something (prove or disprove) one must first define that something. If you cannot define it, then you cannot test whether or not it exists.

In ancient China some 4,000 years ago, the energy meridians in the human body were discovered. Around 1994, if memory serves, Western Medicine discovered those same meridians using high tech equipment that read minute currents of energy.

How did these primitive people discover the course of energy through our bodies? There is an anthropological theory that what we are taught at a young age defines our sense of perception. Native Americans talk to their ancestors. Most of us believe that to be a lot of hooey. But then we are not Native Americans and they’ve been talking to their ancestors for centuries.

The existential writer and philosopher John Paul Sartre writes about this. He points out that people raised in a jungle see things differently than those of us raised in cities. We see a lot of straight lines, and when perspective was first experimented with by the artists of the renaissance, they represented perspective quite differently than would tribes from various parts of the continent of Africa. And this was tested.

A westerner stood on a road and was asked to draw that road as it headed off to the horizon. The result looked like this.

Then a tribesman, who’d never seen a road before, was given the same task and it looked like this.

It appears that the tribesman was looking through a bubble lens.

What does perception have to do with the “soul?”

Something must be perceived before it can be described. The Western concept of the soul comes from the Old Testament, the Book of Genesis.

Let’s begin with the Bible’s explanation of the “soul.” The usual word for “soul” in the Old Testament is the Hebrew word transliterated by the letters nephesh or nepes. We will use nephesh. This word occurs over 750 times in the Old Testament. We find one example in Genesis 2:7: “The Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul [nephesh]” (King James Version). The New International Version says “man became a living being.”

In Hebrew the word for soul, nephesh, also means breath. Thus we see that for the Jews, and in fact for Jesus, the soul came into the body with the first breath of life. This was their perception of the soul.

Getting back to the ancient Chinese, they believed that life begins with a life force, and that life force is known as qi or chi. Interestingly enough, the Chinese believe we have two souls, one that stays with the body after death, and one that, like the life force, leaves after death.

In their ancient study of medicine, no one ever examined a cadaver because there was no life force. The entirety of Traditional Chinese Medicine dealt with caring for the life force and there was no life force in a cadaver. It wasn’t until they were introduced to Western Medicine that their medical schools began examining cadavers.

And in both cultures, Western and Eastern, the soul and the life force leave the body at the moment of death.

So what does neurology (more correctly neuroscience) have to do with the soul. Here is an abstract that sums it up pretty well.

The development of fMRI techniques has generated a boom of neuroscience research across the psychological sciences, and revealed neural correlates for many psychological phenomena seen as central to the human experience (e.g., morality, agency). Meanwhile, the rise of neuroscience has reignited old debates over mind–body dualism and the soul. While some scientists use neuroscience to bolster a material account of consciousness, others point to unexplained neural phenomena to defend dualism and a spiritual perspective on the mind. In two experiments we examine how exposure to neuroscience research impacts belief in the soul. We find that belief in soul decreases when neuroscience provides strong mechanistic explanations for mind. But when explanatory gaps in neuroscience research are emphasized, belief in soul is enhanced, suggesting that physical and metaphysical explanations may be used reflexively as alternative theories for mind. Implications for the future of belief in soul and neuroscience research are discussed.

The thing is, the definition of the soul to neuroscientists is the “mind,” and as far as science is concerned, we’ve only just started to examine the mind and still it has not yet been fully defined, since many experiments have found the mind to be “non-local,” or not necessarily just a part of an individual’s body or brain.

Once again we find that neuroscience has neither defined the soul nor has it disproved its existence.

Near Death Experiences

This is just a minor digression, but I think it’s pertinent. (I recently tweeted: “I’ve often wanted to write a book on the art of digression . . . but it never really went anywhere.”)

We’ve posted at this site the Near Death Experience of Mellen-Thomas Benedict.

It’s an amazing story, and you might want to click and to read it, but allow me to sum it up.

He died in a hospice; his body was filled with cancer. An hour and a half later, he resurrected and his body had no cancer.

This has all been well documented. And you can bet it was a life changing experience because he remembered everything that took place to him while he was out of his body.

You can say that he was dreaming, but exactly how does a dead person dream?

At death, neuroscience tells us the mind dies. The Jews tell us the soul leaves the body with its last breath. The Chinese tell us the life force and the hun (spiritual, ethereal, yang soul) leaves the body.

So what or who went on this fabulous trip through the universe to beyond the big bang? into that singularity?

Sorry, non-scientists. You’re not about to prove anything, for there is and probably will be for a very long time a great debate on this fascinating subject.

God is a Human Invention

The Bible tells us that God created humans in His own image, and many atheists love to tell us that humans created God in their own image.

Above I told you when I’m asked if I believe in God, I reply simply: “Not yours.” And there’s a really good reason for that.

On social media I often see the meme that 80% of us believe in God and if you do, pass this meme on.

The thing is if you ask that person posting this meme how many Gods there are, the time honored response is: There is only one God! And call him Jehovah, Yahweh, or Allah, there is only one God.

My go-to response is usually, “You say it Yahweh, and I’ll say it mine.”

But did you know that in the Christian West there are actually four Gods?

There’s a wonderful book, America’s Four Gods by Christopher Bader and Paul Froese. And here they are, along with the percentage of Americans who believe in that particular god.

31% 24% 16% 24%

Whether one believes strongly that there is or there is no God, we do not have enough data to demonstrate that one either way, and I don’t know who said it first, but “In the end, we are all agnostics. No one knows for sure.”

And everyone is free to believe anything they want to . . . as long as they don’t try to force their beliefs onto others.

There is a quotation circulating which has been attributed to Maggie Smith: “My dear, religion is like a penis. It’s a perfectly fine thing to have and take pride in, but when one takes it out and waves it in front of my face we have a problem.”

We just don’t have the data to confirm anything concerning a creator, but you can bet that the conceptualization of a higher intelligence by Einstein or Bohm is starkly contrary to religions everywhere, except perhaps in some Native American beliefs: The Great Spirit.

Postulate: given the non-local mind, the Maharishi Effect, Mellen-Thomas Benedict’s NDE, and all the unanswerable questions, the Creator could easily be his/her creation, the sum of all spirits in the universe. It’s an interesting concept, and one that puts all of us back in charge and responsible for what we’ve done to our home the earth and to each other. If just 1% can affect the rest, imagine what 100% together could accomplish.

Sure, religions are created by humans, but that’s all we know.

Religious Fundamentalisms

I think Voltaire was the first to say it: “Common sense is not so common.”

And to say that something is bad for society, ignores all those who feel it’s actually good for society.

If you want to look at the good and bad of religious fundamentalism, it’s history, not common sense that reveals the answer.

We could easily take a sheet of paper, run a line down the middle and label one side bad and one side good and then start categorizing actions and events in cultures throughout history as good or bad and then add up both columns.

And then there are both the narrow definition of fundamentalism and the broad definition.

However, historically speaking, those cultures that adopt religious fundamentalists’ ideas and laws behave to outsiders (and sometimes to their own citizens) as fascists. Fascism suppresses all opposition.

Since we believe in democracy (yet hardly practice it), fundamentalism would be abhorrent to us, even though there is a great fascist movement afoot in this country (USA) and others presently. The middle East is torn apart by religious fundamentalism and fanaticism. The Bible has been used to advocate for slavery and perforce racism.

Thus with a look into history, yes, those outside the grasp of religious fundamentalism would find that sort of thing to be bad while maintaining that freedom of religion is good.

The overwhelming conclusion should be: don’t force your beliefs off on others.

Critical Thinking

Whenever I hear someone start off with, “Most people think . . . .” I say to myself, “Most people do not think.”

Facts are strangers to many, for it’s what they believe that counts, even though they’ve taken on those beliefs out of force, fear, and repetition.

Some will never admit to being wrong, when being wrong is a human trait. All too human, in fact.

It takes an open mind to accept new data and admit to being wrong.

I will leave you with something I found long ago and have saved, so I cannot reference where I found it, but here it is:

Norepinephrine is a neurotransmitter that triggers a protective state when we believe our thoughts have to be protected from others. One who is attached to a belief system who comes up against arguments contrary to that belief system experiences a rush of “fight or flight” chemicals such as adrenaline, noradrenaline and cortisol, normally associated with survival. In this defensive state, the primitive part of the brain interferes with rational thinking and the limbic system knocks out most of the working memory, physically causing narrow mindedness.

Try to keep an open mind. Try to think rather than react. And most important, try to remember that we are all part of each other.

Maybe we can save humanity.

Further Reading

On Defining Spirit

Mysterious Light: A Scientist’s Odyssey

Through the Light

Studies Show . . . .