Is there any excuse for this sentence?

There’s a blog I love,  because I am a secret science geek. Ever since Wednesdays in first grade, when they would cancel science hour if I was absent, I have had a passion for talking and reading about science. High school chemistry cured me of any chance that I would actually become a scientist — ie. chemical valences, to wit:

“In chemistry, valence, also known as valency or valency number, is a measure of the number of chemical bonds formed by the atoms of a given element. Over the last century, the concept of valence evolved into a range of approaches for describing the chemical bond, including Lewis structures (1916), valence bond theory (1927), molecular orbitals (1928), valence shell electron pair repulsion theory (1958) and all the advanced methods of quantum chemistry.”

I found I liked the BIG PICTURE issues, but not so much the in-the-weeds details. But I still am unaccountably attracted to science discussions aimed at laymen. I’ve been a big fan of the Cosmos and Culture blog at NPR’s site, which is about as sophisticated a discussion as you can get and still hope to attract non-scientists. But sometimes the weeds get a little high, and the question becomes, is it good science, or just bad writing?

Consider this from today’s blog item: “…it is indeed possible for a mind-brain system that is quantum coherent, decohering to classicity and back partially or totally to coherence. Then mind has consequences for the classical matter of the brain by acausal decoherence to classicity, not by acting classically causally on the classical matter of the brain.”

I can’t tell here, because I can’t discern a single atom of meaning. But I have a faith in the language, and I believe someone who deeply understood the issues involved, who was also a seriously good writer, could somehow say whatever the author is trying to say here in a way that even I could understand.

Read The Elegant Universe the first chance you get. It may be the smartest science writing for non-scientists by a major scientist, ever.  Brian Greene pulls it off because, despite the fact that he has deeply esoteric knowledge of one of the most esoteric subjects possible, he also deeply understands where, conceptually, the average reader is coming from. He knows how to point the mind, how to back off and say, “you can’t completely understand this without five years of advanced math study, but . . .” and then come up with a metaphor that will at least convey the sense. But he doesn’t stop there: he’ll also explain the ways in which the metaphor falls short of full conveyance of the idea.

In other words, there’s always another way to skin the cat. Language is a tool for nudging a stranger’s consciousness, herding it along, until finally it arrives at something like enlightenment, or to put it more technically, to “acausal decoherence to classicity.”

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