I was raised in a rational family, with strong belief in science. When I got my masters degree a was pretty much convinced that we generally know everything about the world and that science is more or less a complete endeavor. By the time I got my PhD however, my confidence dropped quite significantly. Now almost 13 years after my PhD defense, my view is that science is actually a rather fragile thread we use to hold together and explain various mysteries in the world. And that is not to say science is not the right method - it is! But I now view science as any other social activity, being influenced by zeitgeist, politics, fashion, financing and often stuck in a dogma, no different than the dogma that threatened Galileo or Copernicus. In fact in many ways, contrary to popular belief, I believe todays science is a lot more dogmatic than in the early XX century and probably worse than it's been during the enlightenment. Let me discuss a few areas where in my opinion the mainstream science is stuck in a dogma and let me highlight some interesting alternative theories that may be able to challenge the status quo. Keep in mind, I don't necessarily imply here that the "science" is wrong and the alternative theories are "correct". I'm not taking a stance really. Rather I just find these alternative theories interesting and worth discussing while observing that the "main stream" science seems to be uninterested with such a dialog for reasons which I can only rationalize as dogma.
The dark matter, cosmology and inertia
A long time ago, as soon as we learned how to measure rotational velocity of galaxies, a peculiar anomaly was observed in astronomy: galaxies appear to rotate much faster than predicted by theory of general relativity. In fact they rotate so fast that from all we know they should fall apart. This anomaly immediately got picked up by theoretical physicists and theories ranging from modified gravity all the way to invisible "dark matter" were proposed. For some reason the dark matter idea got strongest support, perhaps because in principle offered an experimental way to get verified, unlike modified gravity which didn't offer any immediate experimental verification protocol. And so experiments started to emerge and over the last 40+ years and after spending countless billions of dollars, despite monumental efforts, not a slightest trace of dark matter had been observed. In fact a lot of evidence started showing up which would indicate that dark matter would have to be specifically fitted and distributed to nearly every galaxy we observe to explain the data. A few years back a modest doctor of Ocean physics at the University of Plymouth Mike McCulloch proposed a rather interesting explanation of this apparent discrepancy. Rather than asking why gravity appears to be stronger than it should (or inertia weaker), he posed a more fundamental question - where does inertia come from in the first place? He postulated that inertia is somehow a result of Unruh radiation - the equivalent of Hawking radiation, but instead of being caused by the event horizon of a black hole, it is being generated by the Rindler horizon emerging at the opposite side of the Universe from the object accelerating. This seemingly simple and uncontroversial observation has some profound consequences. Not only it explains the galaxy rotation data without any tunable parameters, but also postulates that Universe rather than conserving energy, conserves energy + information. And hence by hiding part of observable Universe from the observer via introducing an event horizon, potentially limitless amounts of energy can be created (this effectively extracts energy out of zero point field - the energy of quantum vacuum). In isolation none of these claims should actually be controversial in modern physics. We know that on a grand scale Universe does not conserve energy (and in fact neither does it tiny quantum scale, only average energy is conserved), that event horizons can effectively harvest energy from quantum vacuum and that forbidding certain frequencies in quantum vacuum can generate observable force (Casimir effect, experimentally confirmed). But somehow putting this whole thing together in what in my opinion appears to be a very elegant generalization of quantum physics into cosmic scale, caused lots of havoc and irritated the dogma. Since I don't want to go into too much detail here, you can read more about the Quantized Inertia theory in a book and well as in the blog. What I do want to mention here though is the amount of irrational resistance from the established physics that Dr McCulloch had to put up with. Countless times his papers were rejected without any scientific merit or without giving a reason whatsoever, and he has been continuously ridiculed and pushed out to the fringe. Looking at this as a spectator, without any vested interest, but enough understanding of physics and quantum mechanics to be able to understand and appreciate the proposed theory, I've been continuously baffled by this ridiculously hostile and frankly quite shameful reception. That is until I saw the reception of "scientific community" to my own work on predictive vision model which is the main topic of this blog, but that is a story for another time. That is when my eyes were really opened to how toxic and counterproductive the publish-or-perish paradigm we turned science into had become.
Fat tails, statistics and risk free arbitrages
My PhD advisor Tomasz Schreiber who sadly and very prematurely died of cancer a little over a year after my defense was very much interested with the theory of large deviations and fat tailed distributions, and hence it was quite natural to me that I'd be attracted to the work of Nassim Nicholas Taleb. A few years back I digested all of his books and this experience has completely changed my view on science. Generally my BS detector which had been innately pretty sensitive had been honed much sharper I could have ever imagined. This is not to say I will never get anything wrong, that would be silly to even imagine, but I'm certainly much less afraid to question any statements, especially if they come from the position of authority. Enough to say reading Taleb amplified my skepticism equally as much a getting PhD did a few years back. If you are not familiar with work of Taleb, I would highly recommend his books, here I want to focus on just a tiny example. Essentially Taleb notices a seemingly obvious fact: we can't really predict a damn thing about the future, and we can't rely too heavily on statistics when dealing with a complex system. This is roughly because every statistical method relies on a set of relatively restrictive assumptions, which often if not always are not strictly satisfied by the complex systems we apply these methods to. For example, we tend to assume that movements of a stock index as a whole could be modeled as a Gaussian random process, seemingly because individual stock movements are independent and bounded. But in reality stocks are not independent and neither really bounded. In fact pretty much no two signals on this planet that would like to model as random variables are strictly independent. And hence when a statistical method tells us that based on data something is either impossible or certain we should always, always treat that with a solid grain of salt, considering if the model itself is still valid or not. And the most prominent example of seemingly bright people completely forgetting about this fundamental limitation was the raise and fall of Long Term Capital Management fund in the 90'ies. The hedge fund was formed by the top of the top - Nobel winning economists. Their rather sophisticated trading strategies involved certain arbitrages in the bond market, and according to their mathematical model were bullet proof. But the model itself wasn't. The hedge fund blew up spectacularly in 1998 and eventually gotten bailed out by the Federal Reserve to avoid contagion and broader destabilization of markets - which in itself probably isn't a great idea, since the risk is just transferred from the smaller players being bailed out to the bailing institution and this will eventually lead to a potentially much larger crisis. In the wake of that Taleb proposes the following heuristic:
- Don't pretend you can predict the future. Instead try to position yourself to capture convexity. As in you can harvest some gain and avoid getting killed no matter what the future brings.
- The ultimate judge of whether something is worthwhile or not is whether that thing survived for a long time. The here and now is always full of disruptive brilliant ideas, most of which will be gone before next Christmas.
- Be empirical. Trust makers rather than scholars. Trust those who have the skin in the game, those who suffer when they get things wrong. Never those who take no responsibility for their recommendations.
- Be extremely careful when applying statistics. Note that almost all of the so called big data cannot be studied with statistics. When you observe an event which according to your model is highly improbable, there are much better chances that your model is flawed rather than that you just witnessed a miracle.
The holy church of artificial intelligence and the cult of tech bros
There is no better place to study pseudo scientific arrogance and semi-religious admiration to dogma than in the modern day phenomenon of a "tech bro". A tech bro is typically a male, with college education, often with a technical or computer science degree, who thinks that because he can write a python script, he basically accomplished the pinnacle of human existence. Those people get jobs in big tech companies, have all the admiration towards the futurism, are totally brain washed by Silicon Valley technocrats and apparently have absolute lack of critical thinking, especially when it's about tech, artificial intelligence and so on. I've met dozens of such people personally and then noticed there are legions of them more on twitter. A typical tech bro will have all the latest gadgets, will admire them, and will entrust his life to that technology without hesitation. A tech bro is arrogant, has strong Dunning-Krueger effect, believes that Lex Fridman is an intellectual and that Elon Musk will not only deliver Full Self Driving but actually get everybody to Mars. A tech bro will rather unquestionably buy the idea of the soon approaching technical singularity and happily turn this idea into a religion he will follow. A tech bro will think Chat GPT is actually intelligent, Sam Altman is some sort of semi religious guru, and he will accept cringeworthy pseudo profound pearls of wisdom fuming from the co-founders of OpenAI as some sort of inspirational gospel. He will put all his money with ARK innovation fund, buy a Tesla with FSD beta and patiently await the day of singularity when all tech bros will go to AI heaven and all the small people will get their jobs displaced. In reality tech bros are delusional to say the least. Their technical depth is very superficial, they can do what they've been taught to do, often quite efficiently, but their understanding of anything outside this narrow specialization is almost negligible. They think that being futuristic and fascinated with everything modern, technical and disruptive somehow protects them from becoming religious zealots, when in reality it's the exact opposite. They are the exact opposite of an intellectual, and with no critical thinking and ability to debunk even the most preposterous bullshit they are nothing but bigots dressed in the emblems of modern technology.
The origin of civilization and the peculiar artifacts of ancient Egypt
In my early adulthood I was lucky to go to Egypt on a number of occasions. These trips were often focused on diving in the Red Sea, but I also went to see the Pyramids, Luxor and numerous ancient artifacts and museums. I remember being blown away when I first saw the great pyramids of Giza. I think everyone should see them. They are absolutely unbelievable and their scale is just impossible to imagine. I remember telling my dad when we first stood there in front of these monumental structures that I can't imagine how on earth ancient Egyptians managed to pull this off. But back then I trusted science and I decided to assume that archeologists and anthropologists actually studied the evidence and have some good idea how that might have happened. Very recently I came across a youtube channel UnchartedX of a kind gentleman who decided to share his fascination with this ancient culture and I chose to watch a few of his episodes, mainly to refresh my own memory of these artifacts (I visited many of the same places he discussed). The said gentleman puts to question our modern understanding of how these artifacts came to be. He notices that there are seemingly two classes of objects found in Egypt: those rather imperfect and compatible with established views on tools and methods available to ancient Egyptians, and those that just seem way too perfect. He proposes that those much more sophisticated objects were actually inherited by Egyptians from an older, perhaps much older and much more technologically advanced civilization. Please note, nobody here suggests aliens build the pyramids, but merely that some of these artifacts, including perhaps the great pyramids, are much older and were built by an unknown and very advanced human civilization which went largely extinct due to some catastrophic events that had taken place some ten millennia ago. And with my contemporary more empirical approach, this theory actually captivated me. Of course we know nothing about that civilization and this is really mostly speculation, but the argument that speaks to me the most is this: if we claim ancient Egyptians made perfectly symmetrical vases out of granite or quartz - some of the hardest materials found on Earth, or that they hand carved things such as the disk of Sabu, then we should be able to prove it by making similarly perfect objects with same tools and methods today. This seems to me a like a minimal and absolutely necessary step - an effort similar to that of another youtuber - Clickspring, who decided to build a replica of the Antikythera mechanism (in fact another astonishing artifact of the antiquity) using only the tools and methods believed to be known to the ancient greeks. And as far as I'm concerned modern egyptology has failed to provide such proof, while the practitioners - sculptors actually working in stone generally roll their eyes when asked about this. Scholars will often defend themselves that they don't need to provide such a proof, since it is at least in principle possible that those objects we made with chisels and primitive hammers, but obviously that is a rather weak argument, since in principle the makers, or even their ancestors could have known the concept of a lathe, or other machining tools, and that somehow that knowledge got lost. We've seen civilization retract in technological abilities just recently in the middle ages, with the mechanism of Anikythera being the perfect example - took some two millennia all the way to at least 17th century before we could produce clock mechanisms anywhere near that level of sophistication. Therefore it's not unthinkable that similar dark ages happened before, for example pre dating the ancient civilization of Egypt. In fact it is quite likely it happened many times over and over again. And perhaps even more unnerving is the fact this could happen again - we can end up e.g. in a nuclear war, and our contemporary marvelous technical civilization could be lost and buried in sand for many centuries. I think it would be rather arrogant to not exercise at least a possibility of such unfortunate end to our culture. Going back to the original theme of this post - obviously the mainstream egyptology labels considerations like those above and in the UnchartedX channel as some fringe theory by some uneducated whackos. And 20 years ago I would have probably agreed and left it at that. But today I've seen enough BS cloaked as "science", that I will not drop these alternative theories until some "classical" egyptologists carves out a copy of the disk of Sabu with his bare hands and chisel.
(UPDATE: a kind gentleman on twitter pointed me to this video debunking some of the UnchartedX claims, and I certainly advise to watch it for some counter arguments: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=n_NguZUDku4&list=PLjhctHjnIbUgvin0ZlrsHg87l_k1RrKdf&index=13 . I think this gentleman certainly makes some good points and potentially shreds some of what Ben from UnchartedX claimed. That said, his rebuttal is not without flaws IMHO. Especially the typical of academic view, that if things case be shown to be possible "in principle" that pretty much shuts down the door for questioning. I don't agree with that at all, I think the only real proof is empirical, and there is never anything wrong with attacking an extrapolation and requiring a solid empirical evidence. Yes it is costly to provide, and won't let you publish 100 papers, but it is really what establishes if things are possible or not - this is going back to the Taleb approach. I think if modern archeology believes that after 20 years of practice somebody were to make say these granite vases, then I think it definitely has the resources to just fund some guy or two to practice the art for 20 years and show it without any doubt. The historian also dismisses the idea that scientific community can be stuck in a dogma and self-supporting clique, which of course turns out to always be the case whenever a scientific revolution happens. So again, I'm not making a judgement here, but definitely enjoy a good argument. That said, I remain rather skeptical of the idea that ancient Egyptians suddenly popped out of the stone age 5000 years ago, then rapidly - within less then 100 years built a bunch of mind blowing pyramids and then decided to never build anything even close to their majesty ever again.)
Science is the best method, but scientific community is mostly toxic
The general theme of this post is that by looking at several seemingly disconnected aspects of science and technology we can see that our contemporary science is not at all free of dogma. In fact the more proud we are of our scientific legacy, the bigger and more impressive the temples of science we build, the more pompous the rituals, the more dogmatic, dark, unenlightened and dangerous it becomes. And make no mistake - I have plenty excellent friends in academia, and I'm sure there are legions of great, modest and dedicated scientists out there. But many of my friends share my concerns - the publish-or-perish paradigm kills the academia. The involvement of politics and ideology, growing parasitic administration and bureaucracy is killing academia. Our best universities are producing swaths tech bro idiots equipped with zero critical thinking and skepticism. And not to mention that in the US, we are also loading all these young people with a burden of student debt. Perhaps it's to be expected in a Fourth Turning - an interesting concept introduced by William Strauss and Neil Howe in their famous book in late nineties. According to their view, we are reaching the point when most of our entrusted institutions get too corrupted and broken to function and they need to effectively be burned down and rebuilt. It would not be too surprising that the institution of science follows the same pattern. I personally think that the science of early XX century should be the model - there was not peer-review, yet it was an absolutely amazing time for science. Perhaps people were too shaken up by the two world wars, and that allowed some freedom of expression and general acceptance of new, rather uncomfortable theories (general relatively and quantum mechanics to just name two). With the political turmoil of the first part of XX century, scientific community may have had little appetite for dogma and tolerated dissent. But those times are long gone and today, under a cloak of tolerance and openness we probably have the least open and welcoming scientific community since the dawn of middle ages. Nobody should ever be prosecuted in science for merely asking a question or proposing a theory - any time that happens you can be certain you are not participating in science but rather in a church. And thank heavens burning on stack is no longer widely accepted, since I'm sure there would be quite of few "priests of science" and protectors of the only acceptable canon who would be more than thrilled to let some dissidents go up with smoke.
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