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Friday, September 19, 2014

Italy's entry into World War I

I am currently reading a set of history books acquired for me in Italy by my Italian tutor. Tonight's reading is on Italy's entry into World War I.

What I find fascinating here is this: the Socialist party, the Catholic party, and the Liberals all supported Italian neutrality. According to this text, the one of the main groups supporting Italy entering the war was... Italian artists and writers!

How weirdly different from the typical stance of our modern artistic class!




OK, I have to call this policy choice stupid

It looks to me, based on what I know, that the members of ISIS are generally very bad people. Could the US successfully intervene to defeat the group's aims? I find it doubtful, but if in fact we could, I am not reflexively opposed to the idea of doing so.

But this idea of picking out particular "moderate" rebel groups and funding them just strikes me as ridiculous. But it is typical of our current politics: it expresses the felt need to "do something" about anything unsatisfactory in the world, while doing it without any real commitment or any real likelihood of success. It is based on the same sort of sentiment that regards NFL players wearing pink shoes for a month as an important step forward in curing breast cancer.


The History of David Stove's Career


A rather blunt, stupid man, unable to make sense of any of the great philosophers, decides it is because they are all irrationally worshiped.

UPDATE: I am not really being just to Stove in calling him stupid. He can be very clever at times. What is really going on is that he is completely unwilling to try to enter into the thought of any philosopher whose ideas upset his prejudices. And this unwillingness makes him stupid when discussing any such philosopher's ideas.



Shibboleths

Another example. These signs are up all over town:



I have no idea if expanding this compressor is a good idea or not. And I guarantee you that 90% of the people putting up these signs don't either. What they do know is that all of the "caring" sort of people have them up, so they had better too.

I Feel the Monkey in Your Soul


You know your are in the presence of a shibboleth when you see something being repeated again and again that adds absolutely nothing to the substance of what is being talked about. One modern instance of this is the frequent dropping of "our monkey brains" and such into discussions of almost anything to do with human cognition. This happens often over at Language Log: consider this post. What in the world does mentioning "plains apes" add to the discussion, except a shibboleth? Nothing. It is not as if we could see that if we were culturally-evolved forest lizards, we would have no such problems. It is not as though people prior to the formulation of the theory of evolution were unaware of human cognitive difficulties. And it is not as if we have the typical scalar-predicate-handling ability of the average ape, which is exactly zero. No, quite the opposite: the real surprise if not that an ape is using scalar predicates badly, but that it is using them at all.



No, this is a intellectual-content-free ritual: Liberman is just showing his membership in a club here, no differently than if he were using a Masonic handshake.




A poem for a friend

God or no God?
Makes no difference: practice!
Buddha mind or no Buddha mind?
Makes no difference: practice!
Soul or no soul?
Makes no difference: practice!

What is enlightenment?
A hammer banging in the distance

Thursday, September 18, 2014

A dull-witted sensor?

I bought a new dehumidifier. Like every other one I have owned, water from the air is extracted into a bucket. If the bucket is full, the machine stops dehumidifying. And the same thing happens if you remove the bucket, say, to empty it.

But, unlike with any other dehumidifier I have owned, with this one, that doesn't happen right away. In fact, I have time to carry the bucket to the sink a few feet away, empty it, and put it back in place before the machine stops dehumidifying! I find this behavior baffling. The mechanism that detects the bucket is gone must work almost instantly, mustn't it? And then it's got to be sending a signal electronically to the "brain" of the machine. Did the manufacture intentionally build in a delay? Why in the world would one do that? Could the cost of starting up the dehumidifying process be high enough to justify a long delay like this?

Silas? Ken? Any other engineers out there?

Maybe I am prejudiced, or perhaps it is just my pride...

but I am having a lot of trouble getting into Jane Austen.

Don't get me wrong: she is an excellent writer. I truly appreciate her exemplary skill.

No, it is the characters. I am 30 pages into Pride and Prejudice, and I find myself hoping that on page 31 a nuclear weapon wipes out Meryton and some characters I am vaguely interested in move in afterwards.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

The significance of my quotations

Sometimes blog readers think that if I quote something here, I must be endorsing the quotation. But that misses the main purpose of this blog: it is first and foremost my writer's notebook. The fact that some others seem to enjoy reading what I jot down here is an added bonus, and I appreciate their feedback, but it is secondary.

So as I read, I collect quotes here that I find interesting. Some of them I might strongly disagree with. Others I agree with. Yet others I may not know for years whether I agree or disagree with.

Just so you know.

Science does not deal with concrete reality

"All the matters about which science speaks, whatever the science be, are abstract, and abstract things are always clear. So that the clarity of science is not so much in the heads of scientists as in the matters of which they speak. What is really confused, intricate, is the concrete vital reality, always a unique thing." -- José Ortega y Gasset, The Revolt of the Masses, p. 156

Who could have imagined?

Wild, anti-police rhetoric actually leads to anti-police violence:

"Frein has held anti-law enforcement views for many years and has expressed them both online and to people who knew him, said Lt. Col. George Bivens."

What ever is of ultimate importance

is useless.

I forget where I picked up this idea from, but its proof is very easy.

Something is useful if it is useful for purpose X. For instance, sleep is useful to maintain our health. But this means that maintaining our health is what is truly important here, while sleep derives its importance from that goal.

Therefore, it follows that whatever is of ultimate importance cannot be useful, because that would mean it derived its importance from something else for which it was used, which would mean it is not of ultimate importance after all.