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Consensus and the Myth of Scientific Certainty

This is an edited “repost” of a Facebook entry in which I waded off into the deep water when one time too many I was told that any opposition to scientific consensus was too stupid to be taken seriously.  It came after I questioned a Facebook meme using a quote from Neil DeGrasse Tyson, someone I like a lot but this time it pushed me over an edge.

Let me start by making it clear: I like Neil DeGRasse Tyson a lot. He is a brilliant presenter and top rate speaker and, I assume, a first-class scientist in his own field. (Yes, I confess I much preferred Carl Sagan’s original version of “Cosmos” but still I did enjoy the Tyson remake.)  But I am tired of seeing meme after meme using his picture or quotes to back up some claim or other about science, especially when it carries the implication of him asserting something he would certainly know better than to affirm.

Appealing presenter of palatable science that he is, his presentation was not entirely free of somewhat grievous error, especially when he steps outside his actual discipline.  Sometimes he allows the narrative to stray into other disciplines and in one case it strayed into mine.  And into a topic in which I knew him to be in error.  Like Ptolemaeus, the brilliant mathematician and astronomer of ancient Alexandria who went on to essentially codify what we now refer to as Astrology, he can be brilliant and still be dead wrong.  In Episode 4 of Tyson’s remake of Carl Sagan’s “Cosmos,” there appears a fascinating assertion: that William Herschel, one of the great scientists of his day, invented photography.

I’ll just let that sink in for all you photographers… especially those of you who are familiar with photo history and that can spell “Niepce” and therefore know better.  Herschel did, it is true, some tinkering and important improvements in the development of the photo image, notably in the chemistry of “fixing” the image; and he was the subject of a delightful portrait by Julia Margaret Cameron — but he was certainly not its inventor,

But the real issue here is the pretense of the validity of consensus in the scientific world. If anyone on the planet should know that scientific consensus has nearly zero value as an indicator of final scientific truth, it should be Tyson — or anyone mildly conversant with scientific inquiry and history or even, for that matter, just familiar with such names as Eratosthenes, Galileo, Copernicus, Kepler, Brahe, Huygens, Darwin,  Newton, Maxwell, Einstein, Bohr, Schroedinger, Planck,  Hawking — all of whom are rightly famous for major advancements in science achieved by crushing the existing consensus over some bit of commonly accepted scientific ‘truth’ that was the consensus of the day.

If Columbus had accepted Eratosthenes’s calculation as to the earth’s circumference instead of the consensus thinking of his day, he would have known that when he made landfall in the Americas, he was not nearly far enough from his point of origin to be where he claimed he was.   Had he known and claimed the truth that he was setting foot on land unknown to the Europeans, he would have been acclaimed an incredible hero instead of earning his latter reputation as the leader in the greatest navigational blunder in the history of seafaring.

If ever a red flag should be waved fiercely in front of your mind it is when someone tries to convince you of a position because there is a consensus of any group, even scientists, who accept it.  In no field is truth revealed by popular vote or majority rule; and science is, historically, no exception.

Science is not advanced by consensus but by verifiable, repeatable experiments to prove hypotheses following out-of-the-box concepts that take current thinking from an existing plateau to a new level.  It is about quantifiable provable data and not about acceptance or rejection by people with a vested, often career-saving interest in a particular interpretation or preconceived outcome… much less by people with an ideological axe to grind.  Contrary to real scientific traditions and processes, there are, today, certain propositions to which if you do not openly and publicly swear acceptance and allegiance you will not be admitted into the halls of academia because they fit the political narratives and agendae of the current “choir.”.  That is not science; and acquiescence and acceptance of it is not science but rather, in my mind, a betrayal of the scientific traditions.

The problem is that science — good science — exists outside the world of human wishes, beliefs, hopes, fears, and other emotional reactions to phenomena.  Were it not for people refusing to accept an existing consensus we would still be believers in a flat earth and a heliocentric model of the universe, viruses would not exist much less effect health, dinosaur bones would be hoaxes placed by a capricious deity to confuse our minds and tempt us to stray from the proper path, and we would still have no idea about how such common things as “light” actually work and impact our lives.

We are all free to believe or not believe whatever suits us.  Huxley wrote that, “…we tend to believe what we tend to prefer.”  Until it directly effects me I am divinely indifferent to your personal beliefs about most anything.  But if you wish to persuade me of a proposition of ANY sort, especially if it appears to defy common observation or logic, then you need lead your “proofs” with more than simply an assertion of some group’s consensus, even scientist’s groups.

Extraordinary claims require extraordinary proof or verification.  Collective or “group-think” may be extraordinarily (and increasingly) prevalent as a shield from the horrors of intellectual initiative; but it is not extraordinarily likely to be accurate.

The positions or theories about whose truth or accuracy you seek to convince me may or may not actually be accurate, but that status is not a function of any collective believing it to be true.

You could, of course, argue, that I am not a scientist so what do I know about it.  Well, I can read (a dying art these days, I admit).   But still it is a valid counter so I ran this by my friend, Dr. Jeffery Forrest, who teaches earth sciences (among other things) and this was his response.

“There is no “truth” in science. There is only a set of conclusions or premises bases on a plethora of STATED assumptions, delimitations, and limitations – these conclusions are accepted or rejected based on a shared reality of the state-of-being of some construct or system.

“As you have detailed, science reveals clues about the state of some matter (physical or otherwise) that is not absolute – ergo, the infamous disclaimer, “all other factors held constant.”   

“Humanity is a highly insecure animal. Its individuals look to science or faith for the illusive state of Truth – something to sleep well with. It’s a real shocker for most to be confronted with the realism that credible scientists are in the business of describing uncertainty and in doing so perhaps reveal new knowledge (discovery), and that advocates of security through faith, require courage to have that faith despite the uncertainty.”

I rest my case…


 

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Posted by on May 6, 2017 in Uncategorized

 

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Hurricane Sandy: a Personal Perspective

Sometimes the politics need to get tossed aside.  A former student of mine, now a professional photographer here in San Diego, is from a coastal town in New Jersey.  He went back to help his family deal with the devastation and put together a slide show of what he saw.  Here is his email to his friends in its entirety.  On a holiday to give thanks, it is, for us out of the path of destruction, in our warm houses with our bellies full of turkey and goodies, sometimes hard to grasp the desperate needs of others.  Here is an up close and personal look.

I’m re-publishing this not to entertain or to make you feel good; but to make you better understand that a part of the world that is still struggling, is not in some far off place but on our own shores and with precious little support from our government despite photo ops and promises, to survive and get back to living after the news crews left and the TV lights were turned off.

———–Republished email————————-

Hi Friends,

I am sure that everyone has seen so much of the devastation from Hurricane Sandy as it slammed into cities like Atlantic City, Seaside Heights, Manhattan, and others.  Sometimes the images on TV might be larger than life but the media leaves us only a small view of the shear range of the devastation.   There were a couple hundred small towns and small communities along the coast from Ocean City, Maryland through the Jersey Shore and reach past Montauk, NY out on Long Island.  These small towns I can tell you from first hand knowledge are our Main Street, USA’s.   Neighborhoods full of families who have lived there for generations along the coastline.  Small towns with high school football games to attend on Saturdays in the fall.  Those wintertime gatherings with family, friends, and neighbors around the holidays.  Families taking their kids for pizza & ice cream on the Boardwalks at the beach on warm summer nights.
That is the kind of town I was blessed to grow up in.  My town was Manasquan, NJ on the Jersey Shore about 10 miles north of Seaside Heights and 10 miles south of Belmar, NJ.  Both Seaside and Belmar were towns where Governor Christie and President Obama made it a point to stop and meet with Victims and survey the damage.  3 days after the storm I flew home to go help my family and friends.  At the time of booking my flight, I can honestly say I didn’t exactly know how or what kind of help I might give.  After seeing the initial catastrophic images of surrounding towns on TV, all I knew was I had to get back to help even if just cleaning up or being there for family.
Neither words, nor photos, or even TV can bring the true emotions of seeing the aftermath in person.  I constantly found myself thinking back 5 weeks prior I was in that same town for my little sisters wedding.  Taking wedding photos on those very same storybook beaches.  Enjoying the warm September weather and ocean.  Biking in the rain, having drinks at the local bars with childhood friends.  But now I found myself in a town left devastated from the storm.  People waiting 5-6 days before getting their 1st chance to see if their houses were still standing.   Everyday people in the streets cutting apart 40-60 foot trees blocking whole roads.  A community where around 1/3 of the town found itself flooding, families were now completely gutting out houses and tossing decades of memories to the curb due to sewage contaminated flood waters.
The magnitude of this tragic storm is, that “This” same reality I was experiencing was being played out in every coastal town from Ocean City, Maryland up to Montauk, NY and beyond.  Hundreds of thousands of people were experiencing the same tragedy.  There were moments while I was walking the debris filled streets that it truly felt apocalyptic.  But even in those moments I continued to see the spirit of family and neighbors.  Churches and groups of organized private citizens driving around offering warm blankets, food for lunch, batteries, bottle water, cleaning supplies, etc..   There also seemed to be a spirit of determination by the community that “We would persevere and work hard to rebuild.”  Even if it took their lifetimes.
PHOTO SLIDESHOW
I put together this slideshow of my photos from my hometown.  The song is “Today’s Tomorrow” by The White Buffalo.
I have also posted a gallery of images on my photography site.
HOW TO HELP SANDY VICTIMS
If you are finding yourself wanting to figure out some way to help out.  I suggest to go onto Facebook and search to see if there are any Hurricane Sandy Victims Benefits or Events in your area.
If you are looking to contribute or make a donation I would suggest Sandy NJ Relief Fund
which was set up by Mary Pat Christie, wife of New Jersey Governor Chris Christie.
When the images leave our TV sets, Please Do Not Forget the Hurricane Sandy Victims.  They have a long road ahead of them and will need your help.

Thank You.


John Cocozza
cocophotos@gmail.com
(858) 952 – 9999 mobile

John Cocozza Photography

www.cocophotos.com

—————– End of republished email——————————–

 
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Posted by on November 23, 2012 in Uncategorized

 

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Unique Photo Workshops, Seminars & Events

San Diego – And now for a change of pace… As I mentioned before i am now extremely interested in creating a series of photo workshops, seminars, whatever, some to be hosted by City College but all of them outside the scope of normal teaching duties and essentially “private” for-pay in nature.  I also encouraged my colleagues to consider such things since the writing is on the wall for even deeper cuts to classes this coming Spring Semester (Spring 2012)  and we need to get very creative for both money into the program as well as into our personal treasuries.

An email from one of our faculty got me to thinking about this when he mentioned that he was not sure where he fit into this since we already did field trip and other workshops.  That made me think about what is was we could offer as a series from here that was unique.  In the advertising world, the concept of USP or “Unique Selling Position” is important as it establishes why someone should buy your product or services instead of the competition.  I think that applies to this “service” as well.  So what IS the competition and how might we stand out?

There exists, all around this area, an abundance of photography instructors who can teach the technical underpinnings, the “craft” part of our medium.  But what is sorely missing, in my opinion, are teachers who can step in, once that base is provided and the growing photographer can predictably use his tools to achieve a technically sound image, and now guide them into attaining their own visions, their own perspectives to inform the “art” side of their medium.  In essence, that side of things addresses the re-awakening and honing of nothing less than the creative flame; something fine art instructors are steeped in but few photo instructors are as well.  I do not know for sure why that is.  Perhaps the effort required to master the long list of technical fundamental skills burns many of them out.  Photography does have a denser base of technical underpinnings than virtually any other medium of expression and without being able to control those issues, the most creative vision remains either visual gibberish or impossible to predictably realize.

Maybe that is because this “vision thing” and the creative drive is far less tangible, far more “esoteric,” far harder, and will, to be bluntly honest, fall on the receptive spirits of far fewer students who are vastly outnumbered by those not willing to spend the prodigious effort required to embrace that spirit.  To get up at the crack of dawn, to roam the streets, to see not just what things are but, as Minor White said, “…what else they are.”  Those are the “skills” and fire that ignite the rockets on the real artists and it is hard to teach and can only be taught by someone who themselves has it.  But perhaps, those currently unwilling under normal teachers would be, if the right teacher comes along.

I do not yet know precisely how to formulate the workshop/seminar/discussion “events” that can present those new tools to students.  I try to do it in my field trips but time is short.  I do not hand hold them, I am not simply a guide to new geographies, I am there to force them into their own hearts and spirits because I provide them no easy alternative.  Not many students manage it but then not many of our human numbers become real artists.  Too many of them simply want the bottom line tools from the teacher such as what filter to use, what exposure, or as one student actually asked me during a Yosemite field trip, “Where do I stand to get a great picture?”  There are plenty of “gurus” who will happily give  their own vision’s answer to that question.  But in doing so they rob the student of the necessary experience of sorting it out for themselves and awakening in their minds the joy of the creative, artistic “Eureka” moment.  Some will never get it but the few that do make the effort worthwhile, at least to me.

There is more than enough room for field trip experiences, live shooting exercises, and, perhaps most importantly, the chance to explore the depths of one’s own vision.  This is not, or should not be a competition although I have had the experience of other workshop leaders who seemed to feel that it was.  Rather than see other workshops as an opportunity for students to expand and see in new ways they saw those other workshops as competition for their pocketbooks and often for their egos.  I have neither time nor sympathy for such a view.

The fact is, I am convinced, there are too few teachers on that spiritual/cerebral level.  The world is chock full of workshops that can take you to “the pretty postcard” shot and tell you exactly how to set the camera, and even point it, to get the student’s version of the instructor’s vision.  I watched in stunned amazement as a workshop teacher set up his camera, had his students look at the scene as he composed it, and then had them try to do the same thing with their cameras.  I have ZERO level of interest in that even though there is a lot of money in it.  I do not wish to teach, in the artistic sense, WHAT to think but HOW to think on their own.

But that cannot be taught by someone who does not do that themselves.  Someone steeped in some scholastic approach, whether it is West Coast, East Coast, or Chicago Schools, be it F64, or are ANY aesthetic that thinks it can define and limit what a photograph, much less a work of art should look like cannot teach that openness to a student because they have no idea what it is for themselves.  Art and art photography are, in my opinion, bigger than such limits can encompass.

As I said, I’m not sure, yet, how to properly create such a series but I know it can be done.  So that is the quest.  Hopefully I can get some of my colleagues on board and via the incredible facilities we have at City, create a new wave of photo students on their way to becoming true artists.



		
 
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Posted by on September 15, 2011 in Uncategorized

 

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Bristle Cone Pines Trip Data

San Diego – Finally I’ve gotten the important data back regarding a summer photo trek into the famous Bristlecone Pines of the White Mountains in California.  Here is the information about our summer photo trek to The Bristlecone Pines:

Dates:  July 14 (Thursday) through July 17 (Sunday)

Itinerary:

  1. Preliminary meeting on campus, time and room TBA but at least week before the trip.
  2. (optional) Leave Thursday and drive to the Lee Vining area. (About 6-7 hrs drive)  I’m checking to see if I can get group rates at any of the lodging in that area.  We will photograph Mono Lake at Sunset
  3. Friday: Photograph Mono Lake at Sunrise then drive back south to Big Pine.  We’ll aim for lunch here and rendezvous with those who could not come up on Thursday at The Country kitchen diner (typical small town diner on the south end of town (181 S. main Street).  Big Pine is about a 6 hr Drive from San Diego.

    From there we will head up to Crooked Creek Research Station in the White mountains.  We will photograph along the way and if time permits stop at the Methuselah Grove.

  4. Saturday: Photograph at Patriarch Grove near the top of the White Mountains. Then Free time.
  5. Sunday: Return to San Diego and can do the lower Methuselah Grove on the way out.
  6. “Show and Tell” review and critique of work, two weeks later, time and date TBA

Cost:

For the Mono Lake/Lee Vining portion you are on your own for food and lodging but, as noted I am trying to get us a group lodging discount in the area.  For the Bristlecone Pines area…

  1. Once we are at The Crooked Creek Station, the lodging (Dorm style) and all meals while we are there are included in the price.  We will be in heated dorm-style rooms with bunk beds but will need to bring a sleeping bagh since linens are not included.
  2. Fee includes Crooked Creek lodging and food and instructor.
  3. $250 per student.
  4. Fee must be paid at preliminary meeting so it can be deposited with the UC reservation system that runs the Crooked Creek and Barcroft High Altitude Research stations.

At the Preliminary meeting we will cover issues such as:

  • Weather
  • High Altitude issues
  • Ride/room sharing
  • Staying at the Research Stations
  • Camera Gear and photo issues.

If you are interested PLEASE let me know ASAP so that I can alert the research station as to how many are coming.  This is their busy season so room is at a premium and normally scientific groups get preference.  if we do not have enough firm commitments by mid June we will lose our place in line so get back to me right away so I can at least let them know to hold a certain amount of space.  THe dorm facilities are large enough for several groups to be there at the same time and it is interesting sometimes to talk to the researchers.  But, again, it can put a strain on reservations.

To give you a tease of what we will see here are some photos from my last trek there.

Remember, send me an email right away if you will be able to join us.

 
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Posted by on June 3, 2011 in Uncategorized

 

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Yosemite Field Trip Pix…Finally

San Diego and Yosemite – Finally I have a few images from the yosemite field trip to show.  It has been really hard to find time between prepping for finals and trying to figure out what workshops and seminars i might do over the summer to make up for the loss of all classes to work on these.  There are more shots to work on but I figured it was time to at least get a few shots up to show lest anyone forget that despite the posts that seem to draw the most hits, I really am primarily about being a photographer.  I was tempted to even throw in some shots from previous trips to flesh out this sample but decided that was cheating.  All of these shots were taken between April 28 and May 1, 2011.  And, for the techies among you, all of them were taken with a Canon 1Ds MkII.

So with that out of the way, let’s get started…

This is the iconic first view when entering the valley from the south.  It is called “Tunnel View” because it is taken from an overlook at the exit/entrance to a tunnel.  What always amazes me is that looking into the valley it looks like a pristine wilderness and there is no indication that hidden in the trees is a paved road that circles the valley along with camps, lodges, and a good sized village. As you drive down into the valley the first major area is Bridal Veil Falls. You can see it a little to the right of center in the shot above.  Millions of visitors each year take the little trail to its base where they can get absolutely drenched in the mist coming off of the water.  I’ve done that before and decided I did not need to get soaked again for the shot so did it from the valley. As you continue to drive through the valley there are waterfalls all over the place.  Here is an afternoon shot in black and white of the upper Yosemite Falls.

All of the shots above were taken in the afternoon, but mornings are also good, especially just after dawn.  So here are a few at dawn or close to it.  The first is of “Ribbon Falls” near El Capitan.  In this shot the sun was just starting to trace the rock faces.

I know it looks a little off kilter but look at the falls.  The trees are on a slight mound.  Moving the camera only a few steps from where the shot above was taken and with a slight turn to the right is “El Capitan” itself starting to glow through the trees in the dawn light.  There were climbers on it but of course you can’t see them from this distance.  it is about a three day climb so at night you can see the lights from their flashlights as they sleep, roped in to the lines.

Still early in the morning but waiting until the light has come down the face of “The Sentinels” this shot was taken across a temporary pond flooded by runoff.

There were a gazillion people clamoring for this shot earlier but the light on the rocks was not, in my not-so-humble opinion, as good so I went and had breakfast and then came back when they were gone.  This is also a large mosaic created from 45 frames.  The native size of this file is over 1.6 gigabytes and will make a print about 10 ft wide.  The lens used was a Zeiss-Hasselblad 150mm lens adopted for the Canon mount and then using a spherical panoramic head to take all of the frames.  I’ve taken similar shots from here before but never any that would print so large.

And of course no collection, no matter how small is complete without a shot of the famous Halfdome.  So here is one taken standing ankle deep in a mud bog caused, again, by runoff water.

OK, so if those shots were taken in the mornings and afternoons, what does one shoot during the day.  some photographers hole up and wait for the so-called “golden hours” but I think shots can be found in all light so here is an example of a mid-day shot.

It is all about the angles of the light so if the light source does not cooperate (and you cannot influence the position of the sun — and if you can I want you to come along on my next trek) then you have to adjust yourself accordingly.  So this makes a good time for those detail shots like the Dogwood blossoms above.

Obviously there was water aplenty.  The falls were running heavy, the Merced River was running strong and Iwould be surprised if when the full runoff hit there was not some flooding this year.

The trip was, as usual, a great one.  I have many more images from the trip I’ve not had time to address (and which are calling me to work on them) and I even got some writing done, so it was extremely productive for me.  Yosemite is a truly magical place, filled with enormous energy and stunning beauty.  I never tire of going there although I’ve not yet made it in winter.  I’m slowly putting together a photo book on it, but feel it is incomplete without some winter shots so perhaps this next year I can get them and finish that project!

 
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Posted by on May 10, 2011 in Uncategorized

 

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The Cat is Back!

San Diego – No, not Sunny my house cat, she has not gone anywhere much as she would love to break out of the house and go play with the coyotes and raccoons from the canyon.  I speak rather of my big cat, the Jaguar XJ-SC, my velvet rocket now sitting back where it belongs, in my driveway.  There are photos and early data on it in the writing section of my web site in a section called “My Car is a Chimera.”

Oh it still desperately needs a paint job since the original 1988 clear coat is wearing badly and looks like a snake with its skin half shed, but that will come in a few months after taxes and my treasury recovers from the engine work.  But my goodness, as strong as the supercharged LT1 was before going in for mechanical surgery, it is now as if it has undergone a serious steroids regimen!  The line boring, blueprinting, shaved heads and deck, new hot cam, and methanol injection system plus a completely new custom tune to accommodate those changes have turned it into a raging beast wearing an elegant suit… a true wolf in sheep’s clothing.  Well, except for the sound, which is sort of a clear give-away that all is not as it appears…  This Jaguar no longer just growls, it roars.

The first week of classes came and went in jerks and fits.  We are WAY overbooked and overflowing in most of our classes.  Plus the week started with a bank when typos in the printed schedule managed to put two instructors in the same place at the same time… twice and left one of them expecting a class time that turned out to be in error.  to make things really interesting our ever skilled IT group waited for the very last minute to image the computers.  Of course as any professionals would do they neither created restore points and a back up nor did they attempt to test the image on a computer or two before propagating it all over the system but that stuff is for weenies…  So of course the computers were pretty much hosed in that they would not access our primary tool, Photoshop.  I spent this weekend correcting that so now we should, I think, be back to at least semi-functional.

i will shortly have the dates for our Landscape Class field trips solidified but tentatively they are 3/4 – 3/6 for the Alabama Hills trip and 4/28 – 5/1 for the Yosemite trip.  I am waiting to hear back from lodging properties to see if there are any conflicts.  Also I will be offering a Saturday afternoon workshop on printing and displaying photos on canvas 2/19 at 1 pm and should run 3-4 hours.   It is $25 for non City students and $15 for City students.  One can sign up in the checkout room.  Profits will go to the Photo Foundation for helping with program supplies and materials.  If this is a success then we will look at offering many more workshops of various types down the road.

Soooo… that gets us started on the second week of the Spring Semester.  Hope springs eternal that it will prove, in the end, to be a good one.  Now if i can have some time to move back into the Jag and have some fun with it.

 
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Posted by on January 31, 2011 in Uncategorized

 

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