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  • Writer Login


    Dave Pruett

    Dave Pruett
    Dave Pruett, a former NASA researcher, is an award-winning computational scientist and emeritus professor of mathematics at James Madison University (JMU) in Harrisonburg, VA. His alter ego, however, now out of the closet, is a writer. His first book, Reason and Wonder (Praeger, 2012), a "love letter to the cosmos," grew out of an acclaimed honors course at JMU that opens up "a vast world of mystery and discovery," to quote one enthralled student. For more information, visit reasonandwonder.org
    Number of posts: 76
    Email address: email
    Linkedin: Linkedin
    Facebook: Facebook
    Twitter: Twitter

    By Dave Pruett:


      Part 9

      Science’s Sacred Cows: Conclusion

      by | 1, Add your Comment | Apr 6, 2013
      The Milky Way at 5000 Meters, copyright Serge Brunier via NASA's Astronomy Picture of the Day

      “There is neither spirit nor matter in the world; the stuff of the universe is spirit-matter. No other substance but this could produce the human molecule.”Pierre Teilhard de Chardin

      Before Immanuel Kant (1724-1804) earned renown as a titan of philosophy, he was an amateur astronomer, and a damn good one. Kant correctly hypothesized that extragalactic nebulae are in fact “island universes,” …

      Part 8

      Science’s Sacred Cows: Materialism

      by | 1, Add your Comment | Mar 31, 2013
      Science's Sacred Cows: Materialism

      If ‘dead’ matter has reared up this curious landscape of fiddling crickets, song sparrows, and wondering [humans], it must be plain even to the most devoted materialist that the matter of which he [or she] speaks contains amazing, if not dreadful, powers.” — Loren Eiseley in The Immense Journey

      In opposing the Vietnam War, Senator J. William Fulbright wisely understood: “In a democracy dissent is an act of faith. Like medicine, the test of its value is not in its taste, but in its effects.” Similarly for science.

      Part 7

      Science’s Sacred Cows: Reductionism

      by | 1, Add your Comment | Mar 23, 2013
      Science's Sacred Cows: Reductionism

      When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the universe.” — John Muir

      When Descartes partitioned the world into the res extensa (material objects) and the res cogitans (mind), he treated the two domains quite differently. In chapter VI of Meditations and Principles (1644), he writes:

      “… there is a vast difference between the mind and body, in respect that body, from its nature, is always divisible, and that mind is entirely indivisible.”

      Part 6

      Science’s Sacred Cows: Realism

      by | 0, Add your Comment | Mar 13, 2013
      Science's Sacred Cows: Realism

      “The universe is not only queerer than we suppose, it is queerer than we can suppose.” — J.B.S. Haldane

      In the previous post, we discussed a fiendishly clever gedanken experiment posed in 1935 by Einstein and co-workers and designed to expose presumed flaws in quantum mechanics (QM). When the so-called “EPR paradox” was finally tested experimentally in 1977 at Lawrence Berkeley Laboratory, the results were a resounding victory for QM, while ringing the death knell for Einstein’s cherished principle of local causes. The “EPR paradox” — and Bell’s Theorem, which ultimately led to its resolution…

      Part 5

      Science’s Sacred Cows: Locality

      by | 3, Add your Comment | Feb 23, 2013
      Science's Sacred Cows: Locality

      In three previous posts we’ve discussed assumptions that science once embraced, later to discard as invalid or unnecessary. Thus far we’ve dispatched with absolute time and space (Part 2), determinism (Part 3), and dualism (Part 4). Today we examine the principle of local causes.

      Einstein, who deposed Newton, grew intellectually stodgy in old age. With respect to quantum mechanics (QM), he was positively reactionary. A die-hard determinist, Einstein rejected the statistical implications of quantum theory. In a letter to his friend and fellow physicist Max Born, Einstein confided: “Quantum mechanics is very impressive. But an inner voice tells me that it is not yet the real McCoy. The theory produces a good deal but hardly brings us closer to the secret of the Old One.”

      Part 4

      Science’s Sacred Cows: Dualism

      by | 1, Add your Comment | Feb 9, 2013
      Science's Sacred Cows: Dualism

      “The very act of observing alters the thing being observed.” –Werner Heisenberg

      Since Jan. 8th’s post, we’ve been discussing assumptions that science initially embraced either explicitly or tacitly, later to abandon them as invalid or unnecessary. In the last post we rang the death knell for determinism. Today let’s ring it for dualism.

      Part 3

      Science’s Sacred Cows: Determinism

      by | 0, Add your Comment | Jan 24, 2013
      Science's Sacred Cows: Determinism

      “God does not play dice.” –Albert Einstein

      Since my Jan. 8 post, we’ve been discussing assumptions that science initially embraced, either explicitly or tacitly, only to abandon later as invalid or unnecessary. These include most of the following: dualism, determinism, reductionism, absolute time, absolute space, the principle of locality, materialism and realism. The last post addressed absolute time and space. Today we ring the death knell for determinism, the collateral damage of two revolutionary scientific developments of the 20th century. Let’s review them in reverse historical order.

      Science's Sacred Cows Part 2

      Absolute Space and Time

      by | 0, Add your Comment | Jan 13, 2013
      Absolute Space and Time

      “We are to admit to no more causes of natural things than such as are both true and sufficient to explain their appearances.”Isaac Newton

      In January 8th’s post, I asserted:

      Science remains most true to itself and of greatest value to humanity when it assiduously avoids unnecessary assumptions. Over the long arc of history, science has initially embraced — then discarded — most of the following tacit assumptions: dualism, determinism, reductionism, absolute time, absolute space, the principle of locality, materialism, and most recently, realism. In subsequent posts, we’ll examine each …

      Today, let’s discuss the notions of absolute space and time.

      Part 1

      Science’s Sacred Cows

      by | 3, Add your Comment | Jan 8, 2013
      Science's Sacred Cows

      In a 1983 address to an international symposium on Galileo, Pope John Paul II issued a stunning pronouncement:

      The Church is convinced that there can be no real contradiction between science and faith. … It is certain that science and faith represent two different orders of knowledge, autonomous in their processes, but finally converging upon the discovery of reality in all its aspects…

      Science and Faith:

      Reconciling After the Divorce

      by | 0, Add your Comment | Jan 5, 2013
      Reconciling After the Divorce

      “What is consciousness if you cannot poke it with your finger?”

      During a moment of classroom epiphany in 2004, Erin, a precocious honors student at James Madison University, spontaneously put her finger on science’s most perplexing question and why science was loath to take the bait.

      Reason and Wonder

      God and Not God

      by | 1, Add your Comment | Oct 17, 2012
      God and Not God

       All that can be said of God is not God. — St. Catherine of Siena

      I once skated perilously close to the edge of religious fundamentalism. It almost killed me. Literally, not figuratively. The year I turned 30, the thought of taking my life never left me. Fundamentalism, I’ve realized in hindsight, is a straitjacket for the human soul. With its penchant for absolute certainty, fundamentalism squeezes the sap of mystery from the tree of life. And life without mystery is so dull and constrained as to be hardly worth the living.

      Wistful Moments

      Cat Faces

      by | 4, Add your Comment | Oct 7, 2012
      Kitten in an old window

      In the lot next to where we used to live stood a skeleton house, whose restoration could only be described as lackadaisical.

      Roofless through a winter of many rains and several snows, the plywood sub-floor degenerated into a checkerboard of sneering panels. The previous winter a two-inch crack had split the brickwork into two exact halves. Workmen had undermined the foundation by excavating for a basement, and then abandoning the task. Through twelve seasons, the duration of our stay in the neighborhood, empty window frames, like eyeless sockets, opened into a soulless interior of dust and decay.

      Reason and Wonder

      Rediscovering Fire

      by | 7, Add your Comment | Sep 27, 2012
      Reason and Wonder by Dave Pruett

      Some day, after mastering the wind, the waves, the tides, and gravity, 
      we will harness for God the energies of Love, 
      and then for the second time in the history of the world,
      man will have discovered fire. — Pierre Teilhard de Chardin

      The poetic words above hint at a hopeful turn of events around the bend of humanity’s future. Religion and science, which separated after Copernicus and divorced after Darwin, may one day reconcile.

      Lernen aus Deutschland

      What We Could Learn From Germany

      by | 2, Add your Comment | Jul 9, 2012
      What We Could Learn From Germany

      One of the greatest things this nation has ever done was to rebuild Germany and Japan after the Second World War. Our former enemies are now models of functioning democracy and industrial might. It wasn’t just a magnanimous instinct on our part. We had learned the hard way that retribution against Germany after World War I only paved the way for Hitler, who came to power by exploiting the empty stomachs of Germans.

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