The wise Pia

January 9, 2012 • 5:13 am

As I head into the wilds of southern Costa Rica for three days of hiking and botanizing, I leave you with this:

Pia is an old, toothless tabby owned by Malgorzata Koraszewska and her husband Andrzej Koraszewski, friends of mine who run the Polish rationalist website Rasjonalista.  When they translate my articles into Polish for their site, I always ask for two photos of Pia as payment.

Now, on his Facebook page,  Andrzej is having dialogues with his cat; brief interchanges in which Pia shows her wisdom and often pwns her owner.  Here’s a good one (I originally explained to Malgorzata about the concept of “nom” as both verb and noun for cat eating and cat food, respectively), showing Andrzej and Pia:

The Pia Dialogues are in Polish, but you can see a translation on Andrzej’s site.  Here’s what Malgorzata explained:

Andrzej gave an explanation to Polish readers: “NOM” or “nom nom” is an English cats’ equivalent to Polish “mniam mniam”. NOMA (non-overlapping magisteria) is an amusing attempt to say that there is no conflict between science and religion”.

38 thoughts on “The wise Pia

  1. “Science,” as “knowledge,” is as comparably vain in practice as “religion,” which also is “knowledge” about behavior and the history of how social (cooperating) groups tried to deal with acculturation (competition) as hierarchical organization reared its ugly head. Both have their priesthoods and dicta.

    In practice, adherents to both tend to resist the resulting authoritarianism, but outliers (“lay” people) in both are at least figuratively burned at the stake, crucified, for heresy. Regardless, heretics keep popping up.

    Both have a kind of predictive intuition about feedbacks that constrain or permit behavioral patterns that lead to extinction, quite possibly and Armageddon-like one. Both have origin myths, and the Judaeo-Christian-Islamic ones seem to have arisen out of the conflict between the self-limiting social behavior prior to that Great Watershed of human history, when naked apes not only became clothed, but asserted their superiority over God/Nature as they went forth and multiplied, enslaving plants and animals (and inventing euphemisms such as “domestication” to cover their crime against God/Nature) rather than taking the Earth/Eden as a given, within the energy/nutrient cycle, a self-limiting phenomenon which, ironically (?), “science” figured a way around.

    Intellectual enquiry is another matter.

    1. I find people amusing when they use computers, which is a product of science, as a tool in order to claim that science does not work to produce reliable knowledge.

      This is particularly incoherent. If society’s energy and food production does not come from “within the energy/nutrient cycle”, what do they come from? Gods?

      1. If the first statement is not a straw-man fallacy, kindly explain why it is not a distortion of the statement(s) to which it (mysteriously) alludes.

      2. Please explain just why there is no distinction between “sequestering” energy in the form of resources taken from one system/subsystem (aka “trash” or to feed areas/systems which could not otherwise be sustained–within the same system–such as cities in deserts–Dubia comes to mind . . .) without reintroducing it into the systems from which they was taken and those which have.

    2. When you talk about knowledged gained via the scientific method, you can lose the scare-quotes.

      Religious “knowledge”, OTOH, requires them.

      1. The “scare quotes” are intended to distinguish “science” (as sometimes practiced or prated about) which does not measure up as science as an honest intellectual discipline.

        “Religion” is similarly distinguished.

    3. What you’ve written is really vague and unenlightening. Perhaps you’d like to flesh out your ideas with some specific examples of where scientific claims to knowledge are vain?

      Science is a method that can be used to acquire knowledge. It’s been very successful (e.g. your computer, as others have pointed out). Religion, as Jerry points out frequently, is not a method for acquiring knowledge. Religion has never advanced our knowledge.

      I do like it though, when nuff nuffs like you attack the vanity you see in others while failing to recognise your own…

      1. I presume that the preceding statement implies that there are no phonies who call themselves scientists who fail to understand the phenomena which they profess to “know,” but seem not to “get” that science is about understanding phenomena better (but not absolutely).

        If this is incorrect, I welcome specific corrections relevant to the content being corrected, rather than vague generalisations.

        1. It’s very difficult to make specific corrections to the vague assertions of your original post; you may have a clear understanding of what you mean, but I don’t, despite reading it several times.

          When I get essays from students (I’m an English teacher) at this level of vagueness, undefined abstraction, over-generalisation unenlightening figurative language, and questionable verbal equations, I find myself repeatedly writing ‘e.g. ________?’ or ‘Evidence please’ or ‘All? Many? Some?’. Often there’s a genuine argument in my students’ essays (and since they’re all ESL speakers their thinking is superior to their expression), but sometimes there’s just confusion.

          If you want to make a case that science is as vain as religion in its search for knowledge, specific facts and precise literal claims are helpful.

          1. I quite agree with you about vagueness and the need for specifics; therefore it would be helpful if you would cite specific statements that are not clear and what it specifically is about them that is unclear rather than make vague references to “repeatedly writing ‘e.g. ________?’ or ‘Evidence please’ or ‘All? Many? Some?’with reference to the entire “composition.” Good teaching.

            With respect to your specific statement, “If you want to make a case that science is as vain as religion in its search for knowledge, specific facts and precise literal claims are helpful,” please refer to my actual statement, ‘“Science,” as “knowledge,” is as comparably vain in practice as “religion,” which also is “knowledge” about behavior and the history of how social (cooperating) groups tried to deal with acculturation (competition) as hierarchical organization reared its ugly head. Both have their priesthoods and dicta.’ The “scare quotes” are intentional and properly used, and, I hope, interpreted accordingly.

            Please note that I did not say, as you infer, that my assertion was true for ALL science (your quote: “you want to make a case that science is as vain as religion in its search for knowledge”), I specifically limited the assertion to science “in practice.” That means that there are, as I later clarified, phonies who, in the name of science, engage in demagoguery much as happens in religions. I presume that your mischaracterization of my remarks was inadvertent and not an intentional attempt to employ a straw-man fallacy.

            Out of respect for readers, I tried to avoid patronizingly tedious explanations that would require the writing an entire dissertation and rightly try their patience; yea, it was offered in the spirit of engaging one of the most interesting groups on one of the most interesting blogs on the Internet.

            I sincerely appreciate all criticisms; my ego is not offended thereby. The purpose of my original post was offered in the spirit of dialogue on a subject I consider pivotal to the mission of the blog, to apply scientific discipline to the broader issue of reconciling rather than polarizing evolution as a subset of science.

            I look forward to specific refutations of my point, and to further opportunities to clarify my intent. I admit that I did not carefully edit my remarks and I will greatly appreciate any editorial changes to my text that will add clarity.

            1. I think you’re going to have to get tedious. There’s still nothing specific in your posts against which one could argue. Trying to clarify that you meant not all “science” but only “science in practice” is no clarification at all. What does that mean?!

              The fact that there are people out there who abuse the authority science confers (e.g., chiropractors, magnetic bracelet salsepeople, etc.) or that there are even legitimate scientists who’ve simply gotten something wrong doesn’t undo science’s authority. We can rely on knowledge that’s been rigorously tested. Have you ever flown in a plane? Taken an antibiotic? Religon differs in that none of its hypotheses can be tested. Rather, the hypotheses (e.g., if you die unrepentant of your sins, you’ll go to hell) are simply asserted as true.

              PS – did you see what I did up there with the “e.g.”?

            2. I think one of the problems with your use of scare quotes around “science” is that this can be interpreted in more than one way. People at this website are frequently accosted by people who are overtly anti-intellectual or anti-science, and thus seeing “science” in scare quotes instantly puts you in the category of adversary, when in fact I don’t see that as being your perspective at all. Does this make sense?

              You mean “science” as “not all/real science” while they read “science” as implying that science is less than religion.

              That’s my take on the matter, anyhow…

        2. No, I don’t believe my statement implies that there are no phonies. My statement pointed out that science can claim, without vanity, superiority to religion in the knowledge stakes because it, unlike religion, advances knowledge. That’s not a vague generalisation. That’s a specific claim.

          Moreover, science does not have priesthoods or dicta because science, unlike religion, can test knowledge claims against observed evidence. If you continue to make knowledge claims that don’t match the evidence then you’re a crank. But the cranks get left behind as knowledge advances.

          What’s your point though? Who are these phonies or priests? What are their dicta?

  2. Pia “an old, toothless tabby”! I have to declare an interest here. I am personally acquainted with Pia and have in the past acted as her designated photographer and translator. It would be far more accurate to say that Pia is an elderly dignified retired mouser. I have known her since her early youth. I even sacrificed my earmuffs to her in those days, and no hunter has ever made a finer kill than what she did to those earmuffs. They were well and truly dispatched and rendered ex-earmuffs. Unwise mice who ventured into the house had a similar experience. I think she sometimes comes out of retirement when the occasion demands and she perhaps does some consultancy work now, but I do not inquire too deeply into her affairs. Now, it is true that she has had some dental work done, but who among us has not had professional fingers in our mouths? “Toothless” is an overstatement to the point of libel. In short, Pia is a fine cat with the wisdom you would expect of her years. She has, incidentally, worn those years well and has mellowed into a handsome senior cat. I trust this statement will set the record straight.

  3. Have to comment that NOMA is also the name of the restaurant currently ranked as the best restaurant in the world. Situated in Copenhagen. I have a feeling Pia would not complain to be served NOM fra NOMA!


      1. A place where heretics (in “goofy” clothes) are welcome to point out the Emperor’s lack thereof.

        1. You are welcome to point out who lacks clothes. But you’ve not done that. You’ve been as obscure as a po-mo philosopher. Perhaps you have a valid argument, but you’ll need to be more specific rather than making brash generalisations.

          1. The issue at hand is “. . . how does one determine which restaurant is the best in the world?”

            There are many dimensions of quality, one of them being the spirit of the place, the quality of the food, the conversation, and the attitude that prevails. And of course one needs to become familiar, nay, intimate with a restaurant to deign to make such a grandiose claim, no? There are those cafes which give and there are those which fail to meet the whims of the customers.

            How would the subscribers to this “Science Cafe” describe the prevailing attitude here?

    1. The very best restaurant in the world is the “Shanti Sagar Uphar Griha” (Lit. Ocean of Peace, House of Breakfasts) in Bengaluru, India. This was conclusively proven in a survey of a group consisting of citizens of several countries.

      1. The only problem is that there are so many restaurants called Shanti Sagar Uphar Griha in Bengaluru, India that it is rather tricky to find the right one: this last bit is left as an exercise for the interested reader/tourist.

  4. In a similar vein:

    – “What is the difference between an accommodationist and an accommodationist?”
    – “Correct, there can be no differences or you are strident and rude.”

    [Ouch! I am sure the idea can use some polish.]

  5. Non-human animals are appealing to us largely because they fill a void in our lives. And all of us have voids. With the exception, of course, of those who reason from authority who are always correct if not perfect.

    I wish a longer and happier life to Pia, even though she seems blissfully content with her lot. And why not?

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