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Martial Arts are a Cargo Cult Science

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  • Martial Arts are a Cargo Cult Science

    For those of you with time on your hands. I would like to introduce you to Richard Feynman (RIP) a famous (in some circles) physicist. Below is his discussion on scientific integrity. In the interest of dicsussion, I make the claim that the martial arts are a Cargo Cult Science (as Feynman describes) and the martial arts would benefit from "scientific integrity."

    CARGO CULT SCIENCE by Richard Feynman

    Adapted from the Caltech commencement address given in 1974.

    During the Middle Ages there were all kinds of crazy ideas, such
    as that a piece of rhinoceros horn would increase potency. Then a
    method was discovered for separating the ideas--which was to try
    one to see if it worked, and if it didn't work, to eliminate it.
    This method became organized, of course, into science. And it
    developed very well, so that we are now in the scientific age. It
    is such a scientific age, in fact that we have difficulty in
    understanding how witch doctors could ever have existed, when
    nothing that they proposed ever really worked--or very little of
    it did.

    But even today I meet lots of people who sooner or later get me
    into a conversation about UFOS, or astrology, or some form of
    mysticism, expanded consciousness, new types of awareness, ESP, and
    so forth. And I've concluded that it's not a scientific world.

    Most people believe so many wonderful things that I decided to
    investigate why they did. And what has been referred to as my
    curiosity for investigation has landed me in a difficulty where I
    found so much junk that I'm overwhelmed. First I started out by
    investigating various ideas of mysticism, and mystic experiences.
    I went into isolation tanks and got many hours of hallucinations,
    so I know something about that. Then I went to Esalen, which is a
    hotbed of this kind of thought (it's a wonderful place; you should
    go visit there). Then I became overwhelmed. I didn't realize how
    much there was.

    At Esalen there are some large baths fed by hot springs situated
    on a ledge about thirty feet above the ocean. One of my most
    pleasurable experiences has been to sit in one of those baths and
    watch the waves crashing onto the rocky shore below, to gaze into
    the clear blue sky above, and to study a beautiful nude as she
    quietly appears and settles into the bath with me.

    One time I sat down in a bath where there was a beautiful girl
    sitting with a guy who didn't seem to know her. Right away I began
    thinking, "Gee! How am I gonna get started talking to this
    beautiful nude babe?"

    I'm trying to figure out what to say, when the guy says to her,
    I'm, uh, studying massage. Could I practice on you?"

    "Sure," she says. They get out of the bath and she lies down on a
    massage table nearby.

    I think to myself, "What a nifty line! I can never think of
    anything like that!" He starts to rub her big toe. "I think I feel
    it, "he says. "I feel a kind of dent--is that the pituitary?"

    I blurt out, "You're a helluva long way from the pituitary, man!"

    They looked at me, horrified--I had blown my cover--and said, "It's

    I quickly closed my eyes and appeared to be meditating.

    That's just an example of the kind of things that overwhelm me. I
    also looked into extrasensory perception and PSI phenomena, and the
    latest craze there was Uri Geller, a man who is supposed to be able
    to bend keys by rubbing them with his finger. So I went to his
    hotel room, on his invitation, to see a demonstration of both
    mindreading and bending keys. He didn't do any mindreading that
    succeeded; nobody can read my mind, I guess. And my boy held a key
    and Geller rubbed it, and nothing happened. Then he told us it
    works better under water, and so you can picture all of us standing
    in the bathroom with the water turned on and the key under it, and
    him rubbing the key with his finger. Nothing happened. So I was
    unable to investigate that phenomenon.

    But then I began to think, what else is there that we believe? (And
    I thought then about the witch doctors, and how easy it would have
    been to cheek on them by noticing that nothing really worked.) So
    I found things that even more people believe, such as that we have
    some knowledge of how to educate. There are big schools of reading
    methods and mathematics methods, and so forth, but if you notice,
    you'll see the reading scores keep going down--or hardly going up
    in spite of the fact that we continually use these same people to
    improve the methods. There's a witch doctor remedy that doesn't
    work. It ought to be looked into; how do they know that their
    method should work? Another example is how to treat criminals. We
    obviously have made no progress--lots of theory, but no progress--
    in decreasing the amount of crime by the method that we use to
    handle criminals.

    Yet these things are said to be scientific. We study them. And I
    think ordinary people with commonsense ideas are intimidated by
    this pseudoscience. A teacher who has some good idea of how to
    teach her children to read is forced by the school system to do it
    some other way--or is even fooled by the school system into
    thinking that her method is not necessarily a good one. Or a parent
    of bad boys, after disciplining them in one way or another, feels
    guilty for the rest of her life because she didn't do "the right
    thing," according to the experts.

    So we really ought to look into theories that don't work, and
    science that isn't science.

    I think the educational and psychological studies I mentioned are
    examples of what I would like to call cargo cult science. In the
    South Seas there is a cargo cult of people. During the war they saw
    airplanes land with lots of good materials, and they want the same
    thing to happen now. So they've arranged to imitate things like
    runways, to put fires along the sides of the runways, to make a
    wooden hut for a man to sit in, with two wooden pieces on his head
    like headphones and bars of bamboo sticking out like antennas--he's
    the controller--and they wait for the airplanes to land. They're
    doing everything right. The form is perfect. It looks exactly the
    way it looked before. But it doesn't work. No airplanes land. So
    I call these things cargo cult science, because they follow all the
    apparent precepts and forms of scientific investigation, but
    they're missing something essential, because the planes don't land.

    Now it behooves me, of course, to tell you what they're missing.
    But it would be just about as difficult to explain to the South Sea
    Islanders how they have to arrange things so that they get some
    wealth in their system. It is not something simple like telling
    them how to improve the shapes of the earphones. But there is one
    feature I notice that is generally missing in cargo cult science.
    That is the idea that we all hope you have learned in studying
    science in school--we never explicitly say what this is, but just
    hope that you catch on by all the examples of scientific
    investigation. It is interesting, therefore, to bring it out now
    and speak of it explicitly. It's a kind of scientific integrity,
    a principle of scientific thought that corresponds to a kind of
    utter honesty--a kind of leaning over backwards. For example, if
    you're doing an experiment, you should report everything that you
    think might make it invalid--not only what you think is right about
    it: other causes that could possibly explain your results; and
    things you thought of that you've eliminated by some other
    experiment, and how they worked--to make sure the other fellow can
    tell they have been eliminated.

    Details that could throw doubt on your interpretation must be
    given, if you know them. You must do the best you can--if you know
    anything at all wrong, or possibly wrong--to explain it. If you
    make a theory, for example, and advertise it, or put it out, then
    you must also put down all the facts that disagree with it, as well
    as those that agree with it. There is also a more subtle problem.
    When you have put a lot of ideas together to make an elaborate
    theory, you want to make sure, when explaining what it fits, that
    those things it fits are not just the things that gave you the idea
    for the theory; but that the finished theory makes something else
    come out right, in addition.

    In summary, the idea is to try to give all of the information to
    help others to judge the value of your contribution; not just the
    information that leads to judgment in one particular direction or

    The easiest way to explain this idea is to contrast it, for
    example, with advertising. Last night I heard that Wesson oil
    doesn't soak through food. Well, that's true. It's not dishonest;
    but the thing I'm talking about is not just a matter of not being
    dishonest, it's a matter of scientific integrity, which is another
    level. The fact that should be added to that advertising statement
    is that no oils soak through food, if operated at a certain
    temperature. If operated at another temperature, they all will--
    including Wesson oil. So it's the implication which has been
    conveyed, not the fact, which is true, and the difference is what
    we have to deal with.

    We've learned from experience that the truth will come out. Other
    experimenters will repeat your experiment and find out whether you
    were wrong or right. Nature's phenomena will agree or they'll
    disagree with your theory. And, although you may gain some
    temporary fame and excitement, you will not gain a good reputation
    as a scientist if you haven't tried to be very careful in this kind
    of work. And it's this type of integrity, this kind of care not to
    fool yourself, that is missing to a large extent in much of the
    research in cargo cult science.

    A great deal of their difficulty is, of course, the difficulty of
    the subject and the inapplicability of the scientific method to the
    subject. Nevertheless it should be remarked that this is not the
    only difficulty. That's why the planes didn't land--but they don't

    We have learned a lot from experience about how to handle some of
    the ways we fool ourselves. One example: Millikan measured the
    charge on an electron by an experiment with falling oil drops, and
    got an answer which we now know not to be quite right. It's a
    little bit off, because he had the incorrect value for the
    viscosity of air. It's interesting to look at the history of
    measurements of the charge of the electron, after Millikan. If you
    plot them as a function of time, you find that one is a little
    bigger than Millikan's, and the next one's a little bit bigger than
    that, and the next one's a little bit bigger than that, until
    finally they settle down to a number which is higher.

    Why didn't they discover that the new number was higher right away?
    It's a thing that scientists are ashamed of--this history--because
    it's apparent that people did things like this: When they got a
    number that was too high above Millikan's, they thought something
    must be wrong--and they would look for and find a reason why
    something might be wrong. When they got a number closer to
    Millikan's value they didn't look so hard. And so they eliminated
    the numbers that were too far off, and did other things like that.
    We've learned those tricks nowadays, and now we don't have that
    kind of a disease.

    But this long history of learning how not to fool ourselves--of
    having utter scientific integrity--is, I'm sorry to say, something
    that we haven't specifically included in any particular course that
    I know of. We just hope you've caught on by osmosis.

    The first principle is that you must not fool yourself--and you are
    the easiest person to fool. So you have to be very careful about
    that. After you've not fooled yourself, it's easy not to fool other
    scientists. You just have to be honest in a conventional way after

    I would like to add something that's not essential to the science,
    but something I kind of believe, which is that you should not fool
    the layman when you're talking as a scientist. I am not trying to
    tell you what to do about cheating on your wife, or fooling your
    girlfriend, or something like that, when you're not trying to be
    a scientist, but just trying to be an ordinary human being. We'll
    leave those problems up to you and your rabbi. I'm talking about
    a specific, extra type of integrity that is not lying, but bending
    over backwards to show how you are maybe wrong, that you ought to
    have when acting as a scientist. And this is our responsibility as
    scientists, certainly to other scientists, and I think to laymen.

    For example, I was a little surprised when I was talking to a
    friend who was going to go on the radio. He does work on cosmology
    and astronomy, and he wondered how he would explain what the
    applications of this work were. "Well," I said, "there aren't any."
    He said, "Yes, but then we won't get support for more research of
    this kind." I think that's kind of dishonest. If you're
    representing yourself as a scientist, then you should explain to
    the layman what you're doing--and if they don't want to support you
    under those circumstances, then that's their decision.

    One example of the principle is this: If you've made up your mind
    to test a theory, or you want to explain some idea, you should
    always decide to publish it whichever way it comes out. If we only
    publish results of a certain kind, we can make the argument look
    good. We must publish both kinds of results.

    I say that's also important in giving certain types of government
    advice. Supposing a senator asked you for advice about whether
    drilling a hole should be done in his state; and you decide it
    would be better in some other state. If you don't publish such a
    result, it seems to me you're not giving scientific advice. You're
    being used. If your answer happens to come out in the direction the
    government or the politicians like, they can use it as an argument
    in their favor; if it comes out the other way, they don't publish
    it at all. That's not giving scientific advice.

    Other kinds of errors are more characteristic of poor science. When
    I was at Cornell, I often talked to the people in the psychology
    department. One of the students told me she wanted to do an
    experiment that went something like this--it had been found by
    others that under certain circumstances, X, rats did something, A.
    She was curious as to whether, if she changed the circumstances to
    Y, they would still do A. So her proposal was to do the experiment
    under circumstances Y and see if they still did A.

    I explained to her that it was necessary first to repeat in her
    laboratory the experiment of the other person--to do it under
    condition X to see if she could also get result A, and then change
    to Y and see if A changed. Then she would know that the real
    difference was the thing she thought she had under control.

    She was very delighted with this new idea, and went to her
    professor. And his reply was, no, you cannot do that, because the
    experiment has already been done and you would be wasting time.
    This was in about 1947 or so, and it seems to have been the general
    policy then to not try to repeat psychological experiments, but
    only to change the conditions and see what happens.

    Nowadays there's a certain danger of the same thing happening, even
    in the famous (?) field of physics. I was shocked to hear of an
    experiment done at the big accelerator at the National Accelerator
    Laboratory, where a person used deuterium. In order to compare his
    heavy hydrogen results to what might happen with light hydrogen"
    he had to use data from someone else's experiment on light
    hydrogen, which was done on different apparatus. When asked why,
    he said it was because he couldn't get time on the program (because
    there's so little time and it's such expensive apparatus) to do the
    experiment with light hydrogen on this apparatus because there
    wouldn't be any new result. And so the men in charge of programs
    at NAL are so anxious for new results, in order to get more money
    to keep the thing going for public relations purposes, they are
    destroying--possibly--the value of the experiments themselves,
    which is the whole purpose of the thing. It is often hard for the
    experimenters there to complete their work as their scientific
    integrity demands.

    All experiments in psychology are not of this type, however. For
    example, there have been many experiments running rats through all
    kinds of mazes, and so on--with little clear result. But in 1937
    a man named Young did a very interesting one. He had a long
    corridor with doors all along one side where the rats came in, and
    doors along the other side where the food was. He wanted to see if
    he could train the rats to go in at the third door down from
    wherever he started them off. No. The rats went immediately to the
    door where the food had been the time before.

    The question was, how did the rats know, because the corridor was
    so beautifully built and so uniform, that this was the same door
    as before? Obviously there was something about the door that was
    different from the other doors. So he painted the doors very
    carefully, arranging the textures on the faces of the doors exactly
    the same. Still the rats could tell. Then he thought maybe the rats
    were smelling the food, so he used chemicals to change the smell
    after each run. Still the rats could tell. Then he realized the
    rats might be able to tell by seeing the lights and the arrangement
    in the laboratory like any commonsense person. So he covered the
    corridor, and still the rats could tell.

    He finally found that they could tell by the way the floor sounded
    when they ran over it. And he could only fix that by putting his
    corridor in sand. So he covered one after another of all possible
    clues and finally was able to fool the rats so that they had to
    learn to go in the third door. If he relaxed any of his conditions,
    the rats could tell.

    Now, from a scientific standpoint, that is an A-number-one
    experiment. That is the experiment that makes rat-running
    experiments sensible, because it uncovers the clues that the rat
    is really using--not what you think it's using. And that is the
    experiment that tells exactly what conditions you have to use in
    order to be careful and control everything in an experiment with

    I looked into the subsequent history of this research. The next
    experiment, and the one after that, never referred to Mr. Young.
    They never used any of his criteria of putting the corridor on
    sand, or being very careful. They just went right on running rats
    in the same old way, and paid no attention to the great discoveries
    of Mr. Young, and his papers are not referred to, because he didn't
    discover anything about the rats. In fact, he discovered all the
    things you have to do to discover something about rats. But not
    paying attention to experiments like that is a characteristic of
    cargo cult science.

    Another example is the ESP experiments of Mr. Rhine, and other
    people. As various people have made criticisms--and they themselves
    have made criticisms of their own experiments--they improve the
    techniques so that the effects are smaller, and smaller, and
    smaller until they gradually disappear. All the parapsychologists
    are looking for some experiment that can be repeated--that you can
    do again and get the same effect--statistically, even. They run a
    million rats no, it's people this time they do a lot of things and
    get a certain statistical effect. Next time they try it they don't
    get it any more. And now you find a man saying that it is an
    irrelevant demand to expect a repeatable experiment. This is

    This man also speaks about a new institution, in a talk in which
    he was resigning as Director of the Institute of Parapsychology.
    And, in telling people what to do next, he says that one of the
    things they have to do is be sure they only train students who have
    shown their ability to get PSI results to an acceptable extent--
    not to waste their time on those ambitious and interested students
    who get only chance results. It is very dangerous to have such a
    policy in teaching--to teach students only how to get certain
    results, rather than how to do an experiment with scientific

    So I have just one wish for you--the good luck to be somewhere
    where you are free to maintain the kind of integrity I have
    described, and where you do not feel forced by a need to maintain
    your position in the organization, or financial support, or so on,
    to lose your integrity. May you have that freedom.

  • #2
    There's little integrity in the world of martial arts. When you can watch a second degree black belt leave a system that granted said belt, then start his own system, bastardizing all the forms and such to his own liking and granting himself a tenth dan in his own new system, and then become hugely successful, there's no reason to have any sort of integrity.
    Experienced Community organizer. Yeah, let's choose him to run the free world. It will be historic. What could possibly go wrong...

    "You're just a jaded cynical mother****er...." Jeffpeg

    (more comments in my User Profile)


    • #3
      Any theories on why there is no integrity? Uniformed consumer maybe? People don't know what good martial arts look like.

      Or do you think that maybe there are too many reasons to practice a "martial art." For example, grouping martial arts practiced for religious purposes, with fighting systems (MMA) and light excerise (Tai Chi).

      (tounge firmly in cheek) Is qualified to categorize the martial arts? It seems like the Chinese Wushu association is the only agency trying to add integrity to martial arts practice.

      I was kind of hoping someone would propose something outlandish to keep me entertained when I made the original post. Like a rat experiment for martial arts.


      • #4
        We're not qualified to do anything here, nor have we ever meant to. I'm not sure why we exist anymore, or, ever did, LOL.

        There are far too many uninformed consumers out there, and quite honestly, I'm one of them, in a way. Despite all the years of training in the different fields, I'm bringing my kid to a nearby taekwondo school, not because I like taekwondo, and not because I've evaluated the instructors, but because his school friend goes there, and it's close to the house. I just want to get him into something to get him interested, and keep him busy. I'll do the Shaolin thing with him when he gets older. But for now, any shit school will do, as long as it's nearby and the teachers are good with kids.

        If you need a rat experiment, let's send Maestro out to the different martial arts schools and have him start an "Angie's list" of dojo's. (I hate that concept, but, whatever). He has nothing else to do right now, other than drying off after hurricane Sandy....
        Experienced Community organizer. Yeah, let's choose him to run the free world. It will be historic. What could possibly go wrong...

        "You're just a jaded cynical mother****er...." Jeffpeg

        (more comments in my User Profile)


        • #5
          Interesting, the most important criterea for choosing a martial arts discipline "because [a] school friend goes there." That's a good a reason as any, and probably makes it more enjoyable.

          I would sign up to "Maestro's list." At least with the same reviewer compiling a list the ratings would be consistent.


          • #6
            Well, the little guy is three and a half. He does not have the slightest idea what he's doing, other than the fact that it's fun. For now, it's good enough just to get him interested in doing stuff like this. Having a friend there helps that along. When he gets older, if he's still interested, I'll get him involved in something more "long term"; more research and consideration will go into that. Also, at this time in his life (and mine), there's no reason to find a lifelong pursuit for him martial arts wise, as we're not sure we're going to stay in this area. I guess Tuesday will decide whether we eventually move back to Thailand....
            Experienced Community organizer. Yeah, let's choose him to run the free world. It will be historic. What could possibly go wrong...

            "You're just a jaded cynical mother****er...." Jeffpeg

            (more comments in my User Profile)


            • #7
              I would be willing to bet your going back, glad to see your putting the lil guy in something, good for you. TKD not bad for a kid

              Maestro's list would rock btw
              "did you ask me to consider dick with you??" blooming tianshi lotus


              • #8
                Yea, we'll go back, after we have the victory party for Obama on Tuesday night. Sure you don't want to fly out here to Vegas for that?
                Experienced Community organizer. Yeah, let's choose him to run the free world. It will be historic. What could possibly go wrong...

                "You're just a jaded cynical mother****er...." Jeffpeg

                (more comments in my User Profile)


                • #9
                  i feel bad for vanessa posting crap on facebook about romney as if he has a prayer... and for those of u who dont know i DO want romney to win lol
                  "did you ask me to consider dick with you??" blooming tianshi lotus


                  • #10
                    What's comical is that all of her Filipino friends, who spend time on that infernal facebook shit, are all Obama adulators. My wife's progression to a conservative has been fun to watch.
                    Experienced Community organizer. Yeah, let's choose him to run the free world. It will be historic. What could possibly go wrong...

                    "You're just a jaded cynical mother****er...." Jeffpeg

                    (more comments in my User Profile)


                    • #11
                      This is actually a good segue from the cargo cult discussion.

                      I was listening to the news and some lady said that areas in NY that would support Obama are not getting assistance. I was curious about the claim and after two minutes found a couple of tidbits I thought were in direct conflict to her statement:
                      1) Obama is leading in the polls in NY with 60% in favor.
                      2) NY has voted democratic in every presidential election since 1996.
                      All that just from the wall street journal online edition 11-5-2012.
                      3) Mayor Bloomberg supports Obama (heard on the radio).
                      4) We have an electoral college, popular vote doesn't win presidential elections.

                      I think the failure to find people housing and provide electricity is not politically motivated.

                      Regarding Maestro's list, would you rate each individual dojo or give a rating to each style? The dojo version would take forever. Rating each particular styles could be equally daunting, but, it could be parlayed into a compelling reality tv show.

                      Season one of Maestro's list: Shaolin Kung Fu, Episode one Maestro rates Xiao Hong Quan, tonight at 9pm on Bravo (executive producer Ryan Seacrest).


                      • #12
                        well the electoral college votes in favor of the majority party it represents and usually votes in that favor, but legally it doesn't have to do that at all, but it usually works that way

                        for instance Connecticut is like 100% democrat, which means there is no point in me voting

                        and i would rather do the dojo bit that would be sweet, but styles i could do easily right now as ive trained in alot of them and also trained with alot of others from diff styles

                        honestly though shaolin temple gung fu i couldnt comment on ive never practiced it, lol.
                        "did you ask me to consider dick with you??" blooming tianshi lotus


                        • #13
                          I'm curious to see what you would do with "patong fu".
                          Experienced Community organizer. Yeah, let's choose him to run the free world. It will be historic. What could possibly go wrong...

                          "You're just a jaded cynical mother****er...." Jeffpeg

                          (more comments in my User Profile)


                          • #14
                            I got an email into Seacrest.

                            Although, seems like in another post you already did preliminary research for rating the talent of "Patong Fu" dojos.


                            • #15
                              why ask me your the master of patong fu
                              "did you ask me to consider dick with you??" blooming tianshi lotus


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