Friday, July 28, 2023

Jerry Coyne: Could Mātauranga Māori advance quantum physics?

I suspect the answer to the title question is “No way!”, but the incursion of Mātauranga Māori (“MM”, or Māori “ways of knowing”) into New Zealand’s science is reaching ludicrous depths. Even in the U.S.A. we don’t see headlines like the one below. (Note that “complement” is misspelled as “compliment”.)

Why am I so sure this endeavor won’t work? Simply because there is nothing about quantum physics in MM, and I can’t envision any MM-derived insights into the discipline that could advance it beyond what modern physicists are doing already. Of course Māori physicists, like the one below, could well make contributions to quantum mechanics, but it’s hard to see that those insights would come from MM, a mixture of trial-and-error knowledge gained from living (gathering plants and fish), theology, superstition, tradition, and ethics.

Nevertheless, the termites have dined so well that we see things like this, coming from Waatea News, Auckland’s Māori t.v. and radio station.

Read and weep; I’ve reproduced the whole article (indented), including its errors in English.

The first Māori quantum physicist says he hopes more Māori join the field to incorporate mātaraunga Māori into quantum physics.

Dr Jacob Ngaha, completed his PhD in Quantum Physics at Waipapa Taumata Rau, the University of Auckland, becoming the first Māori quantum physicist.

He says quantum physics explains how this work [sic] on an atomic level, and mātauranga Māori is based on lived experiences and observations which could compliment [sic] western scientific discipline.

“There’s always more than one way to do things. If you’re doing an experiment, depending on what you want out of an experiment there are different methods you take, different tools you use and I think science is overruled and no different. Mātauranga Māori is definitely better at looking at certain things, especially from a Māori lens. I think also, depending on what you’re looking at and what area you’re in there’s a stronger foundation of mātauranga Māori. I think those were the sort of things our tūpuna [ancestors] were doing, you know we’re talking about biology, genetics and environmental science. Those are very lived experiences.”

Jacob Ngaha says in the western space, mātauranga Māori is very new and with more Māori in quantum physics, mātauranga can be expanded more with quantum physics and vice versa.

And. . . . ? What’s missing, of course, are specific examples of how MM can help quantum mechanics. On his Auckland Uni page Ngaha explains his thesis:

“I’m in the field of theoretical quantum optics – more specifically cavity quantum electrodynamics. I study the interactions between light and matter using quantum mechanical principles.

For my thesis topic, I’m currently studying signal processing in a quantum optics setting. Essentially I’m developing a computational model that will allow us and others to better filter frequency signals in quantum optics simulations. Experimentally this can be done quite easily but we would like a theoretical tool that can, in principle, do even better.

Although Radio New Zealand touts Ngaha as a rising star, and he may well be, their article gives us no more insight into how quantum mechanics can progress faster through the infusion of Māori-derived knowledge.

Meanwhile three critics of the educational system in NZ wrote the following article in Click to read:

One excerpt, some of which you’ve probably seen in other places:

In 2000, New Zealand was one of the top performers in the world. Our results were above the average of the world’s most developed countries and we placed third in mathematics and fourth for reading in a group of 41 countries. When the latest PISA results were published in 2018, the decline had progressed so much that in science and reading New Zealand was only marginally above the OECD average. In mathematics we are now below average. Of the larger group of 78 participating countries, New Zealand ranked low, at 27th (Hartwich, 2022).

Reading is similarly in trouble. For example, the Progress in International Reading Literacy Study (PIRLS) shows that the reading skills of New Zealand students continue to decline. In 2021, New Zealand recorded its lowest score since the inception of PIRLS in 2001 (e.g. Scoop, 2023).

. . . . The decline has now been exacerbated by moves to centre the school curriculum on the Treaty of Waitangi, and universities declaring themselves Te Tiriti-led and prioritising the inclusion of matauranga Māori in degree courses. Left-wing ideologies, combined with post-modern ideas and a dangerous mix of Critical Social Justice theory and Diversity, Equity and Inclusivity (DEI) policies, now appear to be more important to decision-makers than teaching basic skills and knowledge (P. Raine,2023), and will exacerbate the observed steady deterioration. A more holistic approach in teaching and research is now favoured or even mandated, and merit-based assessment used internationally for many decades has been called into question on the basis that it inherently disadvantages minorities and indigenous people (Abbot et al., 2023).

When you see “holism” praised and “merit” denigrated in the same sentence, run for the hills!

And I’ll add a few examples of what’s happening in N.Z. science education. I can vouch for all these assertions save the last anecdote.

The many anti-science statements coming from the post-modern corner are best illustrated by a few examples:

– Māori May Have Reached Antarctica 1,000 Years Before Europeans (Wehi et al, 2022). This statement made it into the headlines, such as the New Zealand Herald, the Guardian and even the New York Times. It was debunked shortly after (Anderson et al. 2022).

– From the beginning of creation, to the children of Ranginui and Papatūānuku, and descending to our ancestors, all aspects of creation have whakapapa [genealogical lineages]… This allows us to consider whakapapa for each of the elements on the periodic table (NZASE resource). While this is nice storytelling that favours creationism, it does not belong in a science class. The abundance of the elements in our universe and on our planet Earth is well understood from basic nuclear physics.

– Mauri is an energy which binds and animates all things in the physical world. Without mauri, mana cannot flow into a person or object (Te Ara, The Encyclopedia of New Zealand). This leads to the claim that Everything has a Mauri. A life force. When we are ill, our life force has been compromised (Māori Healers) and The Mauri is the power that allows these living things to exist within their domain. It is also known as a spark of life, the active component that gives life. A critical discussion on the Mauri concept proposed by the government’s NCEA panel for chemistry teaching in our schools has been provided recently by Professor Paul Kilmartin of The University of Auckland (Kilmartin, 2021). Among other issues, Professor Kilmartin has objected to the inclusion of Mauri (a life force) in our Chemistry curriculum, because it conflicts directly with science.

– A recent article in the Guardian (Graham-McLay, 2023) on celebrating Matiriki, stated that Māori books only survived because old people hid them from the colonists, who it is implied wished to suppress or destroy them. No evidence for this claim was given and, in any case, like all other Polynesian languages (except for the Easter Island), Māori had no written form or books until the introduction of writing by missionaries (Harlow, 2007).

– And – at a very basic level, in March 2023 a New Zealand child came home from school and told their parents that they had learned two important facts in science that day, namely that water has a spirit and memory – another introduction of animist confusion into what should have been a science lesson

And there we have it brothers and sisters, comrades and friends: the upcoming infusion of teleology into all the sciences (note “mauri” above).

Jerry Coyne is an American biologist known for his work on speciation and his commentary on intelligent design, a prolific scientist and author. This article was first published HERE


DeeM said...

MM is closer to Scientology than it is to Science.

Our PhD quantum physicist is clearly covering all his cultural bases to ensure any funding he applies for is granted, regardless of the merit of his application.
He can't give any examples why MM would complEment quantum physics because there are none. And, as usual, our useless idiots in the MSM don't think they need to ask.

If you're woke you don't need to back up your ridiculous claims any more. Just mention that you're "indigenous" or queer or identify as a unicorn and you're a top notch reliable source.

Barend Vlaardingerbroek said...

(1) I am Germanic. My ancestors used to worship a god called Thor who makes thunder when he is riding his chariot on the clouds.
(2) I am a meteorologist. I studied atmospheric physics to explain and predict weather conditions.
Now add (1) and (2) and what it amounts to is that a study of the ancient god Thor and his antics can contribute to atmospheric physics and meteorology.
Well, if it works for him, why not for me?

A said...

@DeeM Scientology is a good analogy. Indigenous fundamentalism in any case.

Still, there may be some ground for optimism insofar as quantum physics is being used to give legitimacy to mātauranga Māori, not the other way around.

Doug Longmire said...

Ah... Just wait and see:-
I am sure that Maori had discovered the Higgs boson and the paradox of Schrodinger's cat long before the settlers arrived :-)

Doug Longmire said...

My above comment was obviously a joke.
But the biggest (Laugh out Loud in Scorn) joke is the ludicrous, fantasy-land notion that pre settler Maori hade any "Maori way of knowing" quantum mechanics or particle physics whatsoever !

No - they did NOT !

Kiwialan said...

A stone age rabble of warring tribes dining on each other, no written language, no pottery , no cloth weaving, slavery rife AND THEN they want us to believe that they were all budding Einsteins. Give me a break, what intelligent person could be conned by the bullshit? Kiwialan.

Erica said...

NZ school science curriculum is clearly becoming an opportunity for international MSM to laugh at our ridiculousness. This will add to other comic tales from Pacific Islands like the prince Philip cult and the cargo cult.

Anonymous said...

Oh come on Kiwialan, while they may have been middle-neolithic in their level of advancement, and everything they learned from nature study and animism was only passed on by word of mouth, of all the rudimentary civilisations that have ever existed, our Maori were/are truly exceptional. They must be - for name any other with such a heritage that can impart knowledge through their inherent (now genetically only part) world view lens that is on par with 21st Century science and, as in the instance cited, can even perhaps foot it in that esoteric world of quantum physics?

All credit to Dr Ngaha, but I'd still just like to hear one thing that he's achieved or identified that can only be ascribed to his understanding of MM? Or, as Doug (above) mentioned in passing, is that concept a bit like Schrodinger's Cat, one that's neither here nor there?

If it's something our education system needs to embrace, I'd like to think it was rather more tangible and substantial, otherwise our education system is just running on a wing and a prayer. Given the statistics on our educational performance of late and the level of Maori achievement more generally, I more than suspect that is the case. One can only hope we come to our senses sooner rather than later and I thank the renown, Dr Coyne for entering the fray and like, Richard Dawkins, bringing world attention to this less than becoming aspect of our local scientific world.

Doug Longmire said...

We can add to the ridiculous claims of pre European quantum mechanics etc, the other claim that the Maori colonists also discovered Antarctica.
Maybe we could soon hear a new claim that they landed on the moon before Buzz and his crew?
This would be along the same lines as the fantasy "Treaty claims" that Maori owned the radio spectrum, all the waters of New Zealand, plus the air we breathe !!