Matt Perryman

“Imaginary science” cracks local man’s heart-racing problem

By Matt Perryman

For the last few days I’ve felt off. There’s this weird feeling starting in my upper chest, up through my neck, that sits on a spectrum somewhere between light-headedness and choked-up with pressure.

While it’s hard to describe, I know what it means. My blood pressure is higher than it should be. Sure enough, I did a check and I was sitting a little over 140/90.

Due to family history of hypertension, which I’ve ducked so far, I keep an eye on this though I’m rarely above 120/80.

With a mystery on my hands, I went through the obvious explanations.

Since the beginning of March I’ve been on an aggressive diet, which has stripped five kilos (around 11 lbs) at last weigh-in. Weight loss tends to improve blood pressure. I hadn’t had any alcohol in over a week, so it couldn’t be that.

After marinating on it for a day, the correct answer hit me.

While sodium gets blame for high blood pressure, deficiency can cause the same problem. Your kidneys scramble to conserve the essential ingredient, causing you to retain water, thereby spiking BP.

Ditto for potassium and magnesium.

I hadn’t gotten nearly enough electrolytes due to how I’ve been eating.

Thirty minutes after dose of sea salt, a banana, and a handful of pumpkin seeds, BP was back to 120/75 and the “off” feeling evaporated. Easy as that.

That’s a minor triumph of scientific reasoning to solve a practical problem.

There’s two things that I didn’t do.

-I didn’t make observations and reason my way to a general principle.

-I didn’t form a hypothesis, collect data, test it, and confirm or reject it.

Those two methods are central to what I call the 101 Scientific Method. They are what you learn in every intro course and Wikipedia entry about science.

It’s totally wrong.

The 101 Scientific Method is a cultural “telephone game” with a cult-like fascination, even though it doesn’t accurately describe how science is done or how scientists work outside of a few toy cases.

This has been well-documented for close to a century. Nerd-rage about the scientific method is inversely proportional to the amount of time they’ve spent reading and thinking deeply about it. Just read the Wiki, bro. Right. Sure.

What few realize is that a healthy portion of scientific reasoning involves a third and entirely different kind of logic.

This is the logic Archimedes used for his “Eureka!” moment, behind Kekulé’s vision of the self-eating snake leading to the discovery of the ring structure of benzene, and Einstein’s thought experiment of “racing” a particle of light.

The logician and philosopher of science Charles Sanders Peirce called it “abductive reasoning”.

Given a set of mysterious data points, plus some working background ideas about how things work, abduction allows a soul to produce a list of possible explanations.

It’s a creative exercise in cooking up the best explanation for your your mysterious evidence, given what you already know.

Abduction is creative imagination applied to explanations.

This way of thinking plays a huge part of any kind of science, in a lab or around your household.

The thing is, abduction can’t be turned into a checklist or flow-chart that any blind idiot can follow. It requires skill, personal knowledge, imagination, intuition, and creativity among other personal and human attributes.

That means AI won’t be terminating the human contributions to science anytime soon. If you can’t turn it into a step by step checklist, the machine can’t do it.

The question on my mind is, why would anyone want to give that up to be more mechanical?

Matt Perryman

You know what?

This article was sent to my faithful readers as an artisanal hand-crafted email. If you enjoyed this article and want more like it, you should sign up for this newsletter.