Objectivity

By Sean Carroll | October 26, 2005 6:22 pm

K.C. Cole, moving force behind the Categorically Not! meetings that Clifford has blogged about, has left an interesting comment on Clifford’s post from September on Point of View. It’s provocative (and I largely agree with it), so I thought I would reproduce it here on the front page.

Now that it’s time for our October Categorically Not!, I finally have a moment to respond to objections some people raised about my September blurb on the subject of Objectivity, or Point of View.

As a journalist who writes about science, I thought my colleagues could learn a thing or two about the nature of “objective truth” from physics. Objectivity is a word that journalists use a lot—but in my experience, scientists don’t, because it’s not a very useful term. Journalists believe that it’s possible (and desirable) to have zero point of view—that is, to look at the world from some privileged frame through which they see the unvarnished “truth.” What makes science strong, in my opinion, is that it doesn’t fall into that trap. What scientists say is: I made this measurement, and I got this result. Or, I solved an equation, and I got this solution. To say you have a “result” or “solution” without saying how you got it is meaningless. Even when I say the sky is blue, it’s understood that I am a human being whose retina is detecting certain wavelengths of light which are then being interpreted by my human brain in very specific ways. The sky is not “blue” to a snake or a dog or a bee (or if I look through a red filter).

Similarly, if I say the universe was created in a Big Bang (never mind the details) 13 billion or so years ago, there’s no reason anyone should believe me unless I point out that this particular “objective reality” is based on evidence from several very different points of view (cosmic microwave background, expansion, nucleosynthesis….). Journalists often fail to explain this—which is one reason I believe the whole ID issue has been so badly handled in the press. It’s not enough to say “most scientists think evolution is correct….” That leaves the reader in the position of choosing who to believe—the NAS, or the president, for example. It’s not so difficult, I think, to explain that evolution is an answer to specific questions about the fossil record, morphology, DNA, embryology, etc. But it’s rarely done.

What really seemed to get people’s goat (goats?) was my statement that how you look at something determines what you see. I fail to understand the problem. If I look at light with a certain kind of apparatus, it’s a wave; if I look with another, it’s a particle. Reality is always reality, but how we choose to ask the question does determine the answer. So the only way to get an “objective” answer to is say how you asked the question! (And if I’m viewing the world through the eyes of an educated middle aged white woman living in LA—which I am—then I’d better take that into account as well.)

An astronomer friend told me he was upset because my wording played into the hands of the “relativists” (not that kind); that it was understood as “code” to mean “there’s no reality,” or some such. But I’m really tired of other people telling me what my words mean—whether the subject is objectivity, “family values,” “culture of life,” “liberal,” “feminist,” or any of the rest.

So, yes. Objectivity—meaning looking at a situation from a supposedly privileged frame from which you can see the unbiased “truth” —is, as I said, “not only unattainable, but intrinsically fraudulent and ultimately counterproductive.” Science understands this; it’s journalism that has the problem.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Philosophy, Science
  • http://www.cis.upenn.edu/~pereira Fernando Pereira

    I almost totally agree with K. C. Cole’s comment on the importance of process, except for “how you look at something determines what you see”. That is indeed confusing, because it suggests that the question predetermines the answer. A better phrasing would be that the question you ask/how you look at something determines the type of answer you get.

  • http://arunsmusings.blogspot.com Arun

    Well, there is one piece of objectivity that K.C. Cole misses – which is, given a way of looking at something, do you get repeatable results?

  • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/cosmicvariance/clifford/ Clifford

    Thanks Sean! I was just going to do exactly what you did when I spotted your post. Excellent!

    -cvj

  • fyodor

    She thinks that whether you see a particle or a wave depends on whether or not you are an educated white middle aged los angelina. Case closed.

  • erc

    fyodor: I think that is a little harsh.

    K.C. Cole said that whether you see a particle or a wave depends on the equipment you use. However, as a journalist, her remit is not to establish whether things are best described as waves or particles, but to write about the world. Her comment about being white, middle-aged etc was in reference to her own job. The Categorically Not! meetings are not just about physics, and neither was this comment.

  • spyder

    and the crux of the matter is????

    “But I’m really tired of other people telling me what my words mean…”

    Of course you are. Why would anyone wish to use words, syntax, grammar, punctuation to express one’s conscious awareness/opinions of realities, when all one need do is, say, point in a general direction?

    The blessing of language is that we have the opportunity to establish lexicons replete with ever increasing connotative references for all those lovely “words,” through which we consensually converse, acknowledging that we know what the words we are choosing to use mean to one another. If we have questions about the semantical constructs we inquire. If we have conflicts, we ask that our referential meanings be used to avail ourselves of greater understanding to whata we hear/read being expressed.

    If one wishes to retain totalitarian control over one’s public semiotic expressions, then i guess that person is choosing to isolate themselves from the commons. Such a statement, as the one above, nullifies any consensual relationship with the reader, arbitrarily demanding that my understanding, of what i might think the words Cole used mean, is void of value.

  • Gyan

    So, yes. Objectivity—meaning looking at a situation from a supposedly privileged frame from which you can see the unbiased “truth” —is, as I said, “not only unattainable, but intrinsically fraudulent and ultimately counterproductive.”

    Are you objectively sure about this?

  • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/cosmicvariance/clifford/ Clifford

    erc – I would not bother. Obviously, Fyodor’s way of dealing with a reasoned response to his or her earlier remarks (see other thread here) is to resort to even more content-free personal attack than in the original remarks. Impressive debating skills you’ve got there Fyodor! Keep up the good work.

    -cvj

  • Chris W.

    While I think it is undoubtedly valuable for journalists to understand how scientists understand “objectivity” and why they have little use for the term, one should also acknowledge the differing problem situations of scientists and journalists.

    In the world that most journalists (and people) operate in, concern about objectivity means in substantial part concern about various forms of calculated, rationalized, or delusional deception. After all, Feynman characterized advertising as “lying”. He was referring to the kind of thing I’m talking about — manipulative distortion and withholding of information (spin, fudging, you name it). At their best — increasingly rare, I know — journalists are trying to cut through that fog. Without them, we have to do it ourselves and with the help of people close to us that we trust. Most of us (perhaps) can’t do it as well, because we don’t have the time, skill, or energy, and must look after our own interests. In this context, objectivity means the resolute and resourceful effort to avoid getting caught up in routine patterns of deception of oneself and others.

    That said, journalists would do well to understand why the (alleged) Baconian ideal of pure observation untainted by theoretical presuppositions has been largely abandoned by scientists (to the extent that they ever held it). The problem is not to get rid of presuppositions, but to make them conscious, and learn to ask penetrating and fruitful critical questions about them. For most people that effort is tough; it costs things they may prefer to spend in other ways, or not at all.

  • http://history-science.blogspot.com Doran

    Great post! I believe journalists and the public have an idealized version of science melding an odd Cartesian dualism and 19th century positivism. Scientists whether they are physicists, chemists, biologists or whatever else have outgrown this rather naive view of the scientific enterprise. The problem seems to lay in the uninquisitiveness of the questioners (journalists for example) who wish to merely be told whether something is “absolutely true” or not. Science no self-respecting scientists would be willing to make such an assertion, the questioner views this as equivocation and the “subjective irrationality” of scientists.

    Sorry about rehashing the same comments as above. Maybe there needs to be a few science articles that try to explain to readers the language a scientist uses, and how “objectivity” is a bit outmoded these days in research parlance.

    Also, how does one have trolls for a posting as innocuous as this on a physics blog?

  • http://history-science.blogspot.com Doran

    Looks like Chris beat me to my own point

  • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/cosmicvariance/sean/ Sean

    Trolls like Fyodor are just in it for the attention, and they’ll take it any way they can get it. Ignoring them is the only strategy.

  • http://eskesthai.blogspot.com/2005/09/cft-and-tomato-soup-can.html Plato

    how you look at something determines what you see

    This presupposes a certain base of knowledge, so indeed, with that knowledge, you would see a certain way. Non?

    I don’t see the problem with that.

    Now I wonder, if one “internalizes” lets say the idea of GR and momentum in curvatures, what would you call that sense. “Empathy” for GR? :) Tell us Sean, you remember don’t you?

    Or, if you get this sense of a continuous nature, instead of discrete jumps in quantum gravity modes as monte carlo method like cubism(?), you would then call it, topo-sense? A guy, who drinks coffee and has donuts?

    Hmmmm… maybe this is a philosophical discusssion about objectivity that can lead into the requirements of science? Forgive me A layman, “intuitively” sensing to get it right?

    “the unbiased truth” sort of takes you back though? If you had knowledge of the events you measure, then how would you “not effect” that something, which determines what you see? After all, you are setting up the measures are you not?

    Some people have argued that in addition to the conditions humans can observe and the rules they can deduce there are hidden factors or hidden variables that determine absolutely in which order electrons reach the screen.

    So to get to such a “plateau of unbiased truth” would seem to me be like taking out the predeterminism, pointing to this “clear sense” of objectivity. If it seems there are untold pathways and it is confusing, it is :)

    Hidden Variables?

    God, this all sounds so familiar and I know I am going to regret it, for it will come shortly. Copenhagen Interpretation. “No, it’s a particle,” while another saids “no it’s wave,” but no, we have to have someone who has a polarized view, eh? Sees em, as she calls em?

    Wasn’t their a dream of Einsteins and reference to cows jumping two perspectives on a wire?

    So what’s your angle? In Taking off the sun glasses K C we know who you are. There are no spooky actions here, just people who have become “Quantum entangled?”

  • http://eskesthai.blogspot.com/2005/09/cft-and-tomato-soup-can.html Plato

    determinism should read as this link

  • http://history-science.blogspot.com Doran

    I don’t post often enough online to keep fresh on the ways of net-trolls, so thanks Sean for the amusing link.

  • Quibbler

    Excellent post!

    there is certainly a problem with how science is presented to the public if people think that teaching ID will allow people to make up their own minds about what to believe.

    i think Chris made a good point:

    ‘While I think it is undoubtedly valuable for journalists to understand how scientists understand “objectivity” and why they have little use for the term, one should also acknowledge the differing problem situations of scientists and journalists.’

    i agree.

    i also think that scientists who communicate science to the public often take for granted that when they talk to other scientists, some things are understood, like “i did this and i got this result”. because scientists do sometimes say “i got this result”: without saying how or where. other scientists fill in the “doing” part mentally, but the public may not. as Plato said, this presupposes some knowledge

    a journalist or schoolteacher might not fill it in mentally, so the only part that is being transmitted to the public is “i got this result”, and without knowing where or how the result was obtained, the public is asked (implicitely but sometimes explicitely — i have read letters to newspapers from scientists that say stuff like “well, i am the head of xyz, and *i* say that ID is nonsense.”) to take the result on trust, thus removing the result from the realm of science and placing it in the realm of belief.

    it would be extemely valuable if not only journalists and teachers, but also scientists were to explicitely understand how scientists understand “objectivity.” many scientists do already, but it would be great all around if *everyone* understood it.

    –Q

  • Arun

    NYT columnist David Brooks was on the WNYC (NPR) radio show with Brian Lehrer. He had an interesting comment – when he was with the Wall Street Journal, in charge of book reviews, he found that reporters made excellent summaries of the books, but wrote poor book reviews, because, according to Brooks, they are unable to make judgments – the reporter is trained to keep an open mind.

  • fyodor U.

    Erc said:

    K.C. Cole said that whether you see a particle or a wave depends on the equipment you use. However, as a journalist, her remit is not to establish whether things are best described as waves or particles, but to write about the world. Her comment about being white, middle-aged etc was in reference to her own job. The Categorically Not! meetings are not just about physics, and neither was this comment.

    Of course, I was joking. But clearly KC Cole wants us to get the impression that there is some kind of parallel between doing the double-slit experiment and writing journalism. That seems pretty laughable to me. Hence the joke. Note to cvj and Sean: “jokes” are these things that are often designed to make a point in a pithy way. They frequently take the form of “one-liners”. KC Cole’s article is really very lame. I didn’t think an extended exegesis was necessary.

  • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/cosmicvariance/clifford/ Clifford

    Note to fyodor U: I’m afraid your defintion is wrong. “jokes” are these things that are often designed to make people laugh. (Have a look here for more information.)

    Nobody laughed.

    But although I disagree with you, I do respect your right to your opinion about the article, which you expressed much better on the second try. Well done.

    cheers,

    -cvj

  • http://mandersonbubble.blogspot.com mRa

    Clarifying the notion of “objectivity” is definitely something that needs to be repeatedly done, and more often, in all walks of life. In contrast to KC Cole, I often feel that it is science which bears the scourge of claims of objectivity. Real scientists, of course, know that things observed are a matter of perception on the part of the observer. But there seems to me sometimes that there is a conceit with lesser scientists in thinking that the process of research is objective and impartial. It reminds me of researchers who were studying a dolphin, when they realized that the dolphin, being a highly sensitive and intelligent creature, was performing specifically for the researchers in order to please them. It revealed to them that their research had not been objective at all–they were seeing what they allowed themselves to see.
    I agree with Quibbler, it is really the public at large which must understand the terms of “objectivity,” and make their own informed decisions about the information they consume.

  • http://eskesthai.blogspot.com/2005/09/cft-and-tomato-soup-can.html Plato

    I had my own views on Induction and deduction that as a layman I am trying to get a handle on.(it might be a coffe cup)? ;)

    But in regards to objectivity….

    John Baez:The problem of course is that in the standard modern picture, science is empirical, based on induction, and tends to favor a materialistic ontology, while mathematics is non-empirical, based on deduction, and tends to favor a Platonist/Pythagorean ontology… yet somehow they need each other!

    http://www.math.columbia.edu/~woit/wordpress/?p=286#comment-5594

    So if as a reporter, you combined good theoretical judgement in relation to let’s say “string theory,” you have reached a better plateau of understanding and hence a better disemminator of the “general concepts” derived from string theory?

    You know what I think? Okay, I’ll tell you anyway :)

    Some are not very “creative,” even if they were very good abstract people at using mathematical frameworks. Can they help the general public percieve what is taking place. Non? Oui?

    So part of the effort would be to invoke internal valuation(dialogue) with current ideologies that come from string theory. I have seen the dark side, so let’s not be foolish about this.

    “Without shadows what use would the sun be?” That’s all I got for “one liners,” Is that okay?

  • Pingback: KC and USC | Cosmic Variance

  • Quibbler

    mRa: it would be good if the public understoond “objectivity”, but i think what i’m saying is that a lot of the public doesn’t. and while most scientists (not necessarily “greater” or “lesser”) probably have an implicite understanding of “objectivity”, that understanding needs to become explicite. only when the communicators of science (scientists, journalists, teachers) explicitely understand “objectivity” and communicate in a way that is pitched to a public that does not understand it, will there be effective science education.

    –Q

  • Gavin Polhemus

    An astronomer friend told me he was upset because my wording played into the hands of the “relativists” (not that kind); that it was understood as “code” to mean “there’s no reality,” or some such. But I’m really tired of other people telling me what my words mean

    Not to be difficult, but if that is not what your words mean, would you mind telling us what they do mean?

    You point to a very real challenge for both science and journalism, which is understanding the limitations of our “point of view.” There are two ways to respond to this challenge. One is to conclude that the challenge is insurmountable or even fundamental; that there is no way for us to discover the truth or that there is no truth at all. The second is to respond by working really hard to overcome our limitations and find that truth anyway.

    Having read both your original post and this post, I concluded that you were taking the first choice, arguing that the challenge is insurmountable. But I must admit that I may be reading too much into the frequent use of quotation marks around words like “truth,” “objective reality” and “blue.” Could you clarify?

    This hits close to home for scientists because we generally are proponents of option two, the idea that with hard work you can find the truth. In your mention of the big bang, you describe exactly how we do it. We approach the problem from many different points of view and find out what remains constant. This is not an easy process, but our experience is that it is possible. Eventually you get to something that doesn’t change no matter how you look at it. This is the truth about objective reality.

    Your description of the problem is quite articulate, but you only give hints of a resolution. Since you don’t like us reading between the lines, perhaps you could tell us what to conclude.

    Gavin

  • Gavin Polhemus

    Let me give one example to explain why I might have been confused by these comments about truth and point of view. From the original post:

    Instead, the lesson of both relativity and quantum mechanics is that “truth” emerges only when “point of view” is inserted squarely into the equation.

    Certainly one of the lessons of relativity and quantum mechanics is that, if you take the classical newtonian description of the world seriously, then your results will depend on your point of view. The time elapsed on a clock depends on your speed, and the particle or wave nature of light depends on the experiment.

    But that is not the end of the story. When scientist get results that depend on their point of view they get to work trying to fix the problem. Because the point of view matters, classical newtonian physics is wrong. Relativity and quantum mechanics don’t just point out the problem, they fix the problem by giving us a new description (“truth”) that is independent of the point of view. The lesson of relativity is that space-time is a manifold with Lorentzian metric governed by Einstein’s equation. The lesson of quantum mechanics is that the state of a system is a Hilbert-space vector which evolves according to Schrodinger’s equation.

    When I write Einstein’s equation and Schrodinger’s equation I don’t insert “point of view” (linearly, squarely, cubicly or otherwise) into the equation. These equations contain only terms like curvature and the stress-energy-momentum tensor that are independent of the point of view. It seems to me that the lesson from physics is that truth emerges when you figure out how to remove point of view from the equation.

    I think that basic physics instruction is often to blame for this “point of view” confusion. We spend three quarters teaching classical newtonian physics as a consistent, predictive theory. Then in the final quarter we introduce relativity and quantum mechanics as a pile of paradoxes with no resolution. However, there is a resolution, but it is complicated. These modern theories are just as objective and point-of-view independent as classical newtonian mechanics, but students don’t get that sense from the way it is taught.

    Gavin

  • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/cosmicvariance/clifford/ Clifford

    Gavin Polhemus wrote:

    Relativity and quantum mechanics don’t just point out the problem, they fix the problem by giving us a new description (“truth”) that is independent of the point of view. The lesson of relativity is that space-time is a manifold with Lorentzian metric governed by Einstein’s equation. The lesson of quantum mechanics is that the state of a system is a Hilbert-space vector which evolves according to Schrodinger’s equation.

    I don’t understand: Down to what distance scale does this “truth” hold? So you need to insert a statement about when energy scale you’re working up to…. sounds like a “point of view” to me.

    When I write Einstein’s equation and Schrodinger’s equation I don’t insert “point of view” into the equation. These equations contain only terms like curvature and the stress-energy-momentum tensor that are independent of the point of view.

    What?! I don’t understand this. Writing an equation does not finish the job of doing physics. What happens when I make a measurement? Don’t I then need to specify a frame? Isn’t that a “point of view”?

    Seems to me that this is not very hard to understand at all. It’s pretty easy in fact. “Not rocket science”, as they say.

    …But then I don’t go in for all the fancy philosophy, so maybe I’m missing something “deep”.

    -cvj

  • http://mandersonbubble.blogspot.com mRa

    “only when the communicators of science (scientists, journalists, teachers) explicitely understand “objectivity” and communicate in a way that is pitched to a public that does not understand it, will there be effective science education.”

    Well said, Quibbler. I think this is maybe what I wanted to say in a roundabout way. The manner in which science is taught and conveyed by the media often does not allow much room for creative possibilities. It’s like whenever some new research comes out about how many spiders we eat while we sleep or about how Cheerios decreases heart disease risk or something, it’s like it’s some deep truth come revealed, until some research comes out later debunking it, of course. Like that whole thing with eggs and cholesterol. You’re right, media definitely has a big role in disseminating false conceptions of objectivity in both science and journalism.

  • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/cosmicvariance/clifford/ Clifford

    Wait…. hold on there. How many spiders are we eating while we sleep?! I totally missed this “news”. And -oh no!- what does this mean for my diet!? I’d been so carefully cutting down on the spider component of my meals…. ;-)

    -cvj

  • Gavin Polhemus

    Clifford,

    I’m not arguing that point of view doesn’t exist. I’m arguing that this is not the lesson of relativity and quantum mechanics. She could have said

    The lesson of the meter stick is that “truth” emerges only when “point of view” is inserted squarely into the equation.

    After all, a meter stick only measures distance relative to the end of the stick. There is no “absolute position;” it is all relative. So her claim doesn’t really have anything to do with relativity or quantum mechanics, it is part of the whole measurement story back to ancient times. So I totally agree with you. This is “not rocket science.” It is not modern physics at all. Since it is so easy to understand, why are we getting modern physics involved?

    So we are all in agreement that point of view is very, very, mega-super-important and must be taken into account when doing measurements. The question is where do we go from there. Is the meter stick useful because it allows us to make this profound observation about the point-of-veiw dependent nature of position? Do we conclude that “truth” is unattainable, that “objective reality” is just a construct of our point of view?

    That’s not how I use my meter stick. I use it to find the length of things in a way that is objective. Some people think I’m tall, other people think I’m short, but they all agree that I am 1.86 meters from head to foot. That is the point-of-view independent truth about my height, thanks to the meter stick.

    Of course high velocity observers have a different view of my height, which is why relativity introduces the notion of invariant distance, which everyone can agree on. Quantum mechanics introduces new challenges, but the wave function interpretation resolves them. This back and forth from confusion to resolution to confusion again is how science moves ahead. The amazing thing about science isn’t that it keeps dishing up confusion (any half-baked religion can do that), it is that science keeps dishing up resolutions. Planets don’t go in circles, but they do obey Newton’s law of gravitation. Time between events is measured differently by different observers, but invariant separation same for everybody. Electrons are not fully described as either waves or particles, but they are described by wave functions.

    You know a lot of physics, Clifford, so you can point out why every resolution I gave in the last paragraph has fallen to a new confusion (as you did earlier by changing the subject from quantum mechanics, which does not require an energy scale, to quantum field theory, which does). But my point is that each iteration is bringing us closer to the objective truth. Most people would not view my claim to being 1.85 meters tall to be point-of-view dependent, but I don’t have a lot of friends who travel at near light speed. My invariant height is more objective because even high speed friends could agree. If we figure out the beta-function for my height, then we could correct for everyone’s choice of renormalization scale, etc.

    The lesson of science is not that the objective truth is unattainable, it is that the objective truth is attainable, at least asymptotically. If science was just point-of-view dependent mush then we wouldn’t need all of this training to do it.

    Gavin

  • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/cosmicvariance/clifford/ Clifford

    So we are all in agreement that point of view is very, very, mega-super-important

    That’s all she’s saying, imho. Good, we agree. We’re done.

    Cheers,

    -cvj

    P.S. Then you muddle it all by the paragraphs after, offering things like “closer to the objective truth”, and “objective truth is attainable, at least asymptotically”….. as evidence of objectivity and arguments against her central points. Nope, they don’t work. First, the above quoted things are analogous to the often used “pretty unique”. Something is either unique, or it is not. Something is either objective, or it is not. Second, all we have to do is agree on the blockquoted comment above, and then you agree with KC that this is part of science…and an important lesson to extrapolate to other areas. I don’t think she was making any deeper a point than that (but she can set us straight if she wishes to)…..You seem to be arguing now for the sake of it at a level of detail that was not meant. Which is ok of course…. but…..

  • Gavin Polhemus

    So we are all in agreement that point of view is very, very, mega-super-important.

    Do we agree that this is a general lesson of science and is in no way specific to relativity and quantum mechanics?

    Gavin

  • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/cosmicvariance/clifford/ Clifford

    Good Lord yes. Did anyone say that it was so specific? I believe she was giving examples…not saying that it did not exist elsewhere.

    By the way, with regards your parenthetical remark in your penultimate paragraph above, I will say only two words: “quantum” and “gravity”, and then ask you to consider them next to each other in the light of the paragraph of yours that I blockquoted in my comment #26.

    Cheers,

    -cvj

  • Gavin Polhemus

    Clifford,

    Thanks for the engaging debate. We may have different views about wether objective truth exists or can be found or whatever. I don’t have anything to change in my position in light of your comments, so I’ll leave it. I can certainly understand the other side of that debate. I also agree that “truth” was not Cole’s main point. (Although anyone who puts “blue” in quotes shouldn’t be surprised if readers infer a position on “truth.”)

    I do find it frustrating when people use references to quantum mechanics and relativity to support positions that are not specific to those theories, like this whole point-of-view thing. It seems designed to give the position the credibility of science while placing it out of reach, and therefore beyond the criticism, of the lay reader. Would the meter stick argument have been any less accurate? How about binocular vision, that’s a point-of-view thing? These spurious quantum/relativity references are commonly given and it drives me nuts. However, I should probably talk to a therapist about that rather than posting blog comments. (Well, maybe in addition to posting blog comments. I don’t want everyone to think they can have a quantum/relativity/philosophy free-for-all without me taking a few shots.)

    Cheers,
    Gavin

  • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/cosmicvariance/clifford/ Clifford

    “talk to a therapist” …. “taking a few shots”…. which ward are you writing this from again?

    …Kidding!

    cheers,

    -cvj

  • http://mandersonbubble.blogspot.com mRa

    On the spider thing: maybe it’s an urban myth or something, but a number of people I’ve talked to also seem to have known that there was some study where researchers determined that the average person eats something like 9 spiders a year inadvertently in their sleep. Now, if this study was truly performed (anyone other than myself want to investigate this one?) it begs the obvious question: how the hell do you observe someone for long enough when they’re sleeping to see how many spiders they consume? And who the hell would care anyways? To be honest, I’d like the number of spiders I’ve been unconsciously consuming each year to remain unconscious.

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Cosmic Variance

Random samplings from a universe of ideas.

About Sean Carroll

Sean Carroll is a Senior Research Associate in the Department of Physics at the California Institute of Technology. His research interests include theoretical aspects of cosmology, field theory, and gravitation. His most recent book is The Particle at the End of the Universe, about the Large Hadron Collider and the search for the Higgs boson. Here are some of his favorite blog posts, home page, and email: carroll [at] cosmicvariance.com .

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