[F] New York Times on the Web Forums  / Science  /

    Missile Defense

Technology has always found its greatest consumer in a nation's war and defense efforts. Since the last attempts at a "Star Wars" defense system, has technology changed considerably enough to make the latest Missile Defense initiatives more successful? Can such an application of science be successful? Is a militarized space inevitable, necessary or impossible?

Read Debates, a new Web-only feature culled from Readers' Opinions, published every Thursday.

Earliest Messages Previous Messages Recent Messages Outline (603 previous messages)

rshow55 - 11:51am Mar 16, 2002 EST (#604 of 614) Delete Message

An operational definition of Good Theory (or good ideas) in real situations for real people. Partnership output of lchic and Robert Showalter.

In "Beauty" Mark Anderson quotes Heisenberg's definition of beauty in the exact sciences:

" Beauty is the proper conformity of the parts to one another and to the whole."

SUGGESTED DEFINITION: Good theory is an attempt to produce beauty in Heisenberg's sense in a SPECIFIC context of assumption and data.

Goodness can be judged in terms of that context,

and also the fit with other contexts that, for logical reasons, have to fit together.

The beauty, and ugliness, of a theory or idea can be judged, in terms of the context it was built for, and other contexts, including the context provided by data not previously considered.

( Facts and ideas, combined together in space and time let people "connect the dots" to form new ideas, as Erica Goode explains in Finding Answers In Secret Plots We can check the fit of the ideas -- to the "connected dots" -- and to other things that should fit. )

Words, pictures and math have to fit together comfortably and workably,


as far as internal consistency goes, and in terms of fit to what the theory or idea is supposed to describe. Ideas that are useful work comfortably in people's heads.

Both the "beauty" and "ugliness" of theory are INTERESTING.

Both notions are contextual, and cultural. Ugliness is an especially interesting notion.

To make theory or idea better, you have to look for ways that the idea is ugly, study these, and fix them. The ugly parts are where new beauty is to be found.

( Note: Lchic thinks "dissonant" is nicer than "ugly", and she's right about that. I think that "ugly" is sharper, and closer to the human interest, and that seems right, too. So we're weighing word choices here. )

A lot of people think Bob Showalter is ugly. He's always pointing out weaknesses, uglinesses, of other people's theories. But the reason Bob gives (which is maybe, from some perspectives, a rationalization, but may be right in other ways) is that the ugly parts provide clues to new progress -- hope that new, more powerful kinds of theoretical and practical beauty can be found.

Here's a part were I did more work than lchic:

To make good theory, in complex circumstances, beauty coming into focus must be judged, and shaped, in a priority ordering - and even though the priorities may be shifted for different attempts at beauty, the priorities need to be remembered, and questions of "what is beautiful" and "what ugly" have to be asked in terms of these priorities.

Lchic is mostly responsible, here:

Thinking, and scientific work, is an effort to find previously hidden beauty , and this is what moves people, and warms people. This need for beauty must be remembered, and not stripped away.

We feel that, if people paid more attention to aesthetics, and paid especial attention to the notion of ugliness set out here, we might have improved guidance for crafting a world of social relations where "man's inhumanity to man and woman" was less in evidence.

Missile defense, and much else about our military arrangements is ugly in a clear sense -- full of false assumptions, set in false contexts, involving much deception, and gross disproportion, rather than proper conformity, of the parts to one another and to the whole.

rshow55 - 11:57am Mar 16, 2002 EST (#605 of 614) Delete Message

If we'd spent that money wisely -- we'd be MUCH better off.

And for the money the Bush administration is squandering on the "missile defense" boondoggle -- we could go a LONG way toward getting a totally sufficient energy supply for the world, forever, fixing global warming, and getting a lot of people better fed.

A russian doll can be charming - with one charming doll inside another. This boondoggle is ugly and gruesome - - from the inside shells - which are misshappen - to its fit to surrounding contexts -- which are misshapen -- to yet larger contexts -- where fits are also misshapen.

It is ugly in many, many ways. Only "defensible" because so much is hidden, and there have been (and continue to be) so many lies.

rshow55 - 12:08pm Mar 16, 2002 EST (#606 of 614) Delete Message

But you can set up assumptions, and tell stories -- that make missile defense look beautiful - - and one can honestly say

"yes -- in terms of those assumptions -- that context - reasonable things were done -- and it looks good now."

In terms of "disciplined beauty" -- one can disagree completely with someone's point of view, and still see that that point of view can be "right for him" and "beautiful to him."

But what assumptions are right - and in reasonable fit to the facts?

One can't know "a priori" - and if decisions matter - one can't say "well, everybody's entitled to his own opinion" - - not in societies that have to work.

You can check assumptions and facts by a matching process -- by connecting the dots - - and come to a focus.

But for that checking to be done -- there have to be ways to force matching to occur.

This can be resisted - but the forces of truth do have certain advantages -- because patterns of lies and mistakes tend to be unstable, and ugly, when they are carefully examined.

almarst-2001 - 02:02pm Mar 16, 2002 EST (#607 of 614)


More Messages Recent Messages (7 following messages)

 Read Subscriptions  Subscribe  Search  Post Message
 Email to Sysop  Your Preferences

 [F] New York Times on the Web Forums  / Science  / Missile Defense

Home | Site Index | Site Search | Forums | Archives | Shopping

News | Business | International | National | New York Region | NYT Front Page | Obituaries | Politics | Quick News | Sports | Science | Technology/Internet | Weather
Editorial | Op-Ed

Features | Arts | Automobiles | Books | Cartoons | Crossword | Games | Job Market | Living | Magazine | Real Estate | Travel | Week in Review

Help/Feedback | Classifieds | Services | New York Today

Copyright 2002 The New York Times Company