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Showing posts from April, 2014

Vico and the "marketplace of ideas"

"The work of Vico is recognized today as the magnificent beginning of a modern philosophy of history and politics..." -- The Collected Works of Eric Voegelin, Vol. 13, p. 180

Vico offers yet one more piece of evidence against the vulgar notion that the best ideas are always those currently winning in the "marketplace." Vico died essentially unknown, and only became recognized for his genius in the last century.

"Institution X is not perfect..."

"therefore it must be replaced."

I think this is one of the most damaging political notions in circulation. It played a large part in the destruction of federalism in the United States: "States' rights permit some states to do bad things, therefore they must be done away with!" Local control of schools fell victim to the same sort of reasoning.

The Crisis of Modernity...

In a few sweet lines:

This is the night of the expanding man
I take one last drag
As I approach the stand
I cried when I wrote this song
Sue me if I play too long
This brother is free
I'll be what I want to be

I'll learn to work the saxophone
I play just what I feel
Drink Scotch whiskey all night long
And die behind the wheel
They got a name for the winners in the world
And I want a name when I lose
They call Alabama the Crimson Tide
Call me Deacon Blues -- Donal Fagen and Walter Becker

"This brother is free" is the crucial line.

Unfair, yes...

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But funny nevertheless:


Google Translate Breakthrough!

I have been troubled by the fact that Google translate always translates second-person English into the formal second person in most languages that have such a thing. (In fact, in Italian, it seems to always use the second-person plural!) I have wondered if there was a way around this.

Well, the most excellent Rod discovered one, by recalling that English once had both formal and informal second-person pronouns: to get the informal form of the second person in a language that has such a notion, you use "thou" and "thee" in your English text!

You Will Can

I ran across the word "peux" in reading French. I could guess from the context it meant "you can," but what was the infinitive form, so I could be certain? I finally located "pouvoir" in the dictionary. A fairly irregular verb, hey?

But then I realized that the equivalent English verb is even more irregular. For instance, what is the future form of "you can"? Not "you will can," which would be talking about your future existence in a John Steinbeck novel, but "you will be able to." Now that's irregular!

The Foolishness of Economism

On Facebook recently, some friend of mine claimed that philanthropy is "The least socially beneficial thing billionaires do with their money."

The view that what people want is equivalent to what is beneficial for them is a complete divergence from the classical-Christian understanding of the human being, as well as from that of other major traditional understandings, such as that of Buddhism. If we are mired in the world of doxa, or sin, or samsara, we constantly want what is not good for us, and what is good for us we do not want. Someone who made their billions marketing products to people that harm them, whether physically or spiritually, has not done anything socially beneficial at all, despite the fact that everyone who bought those products did so "voluntarily."

If a person marketed tobacco her whole life, and then opened a soup kitchen, it is a symptom of derangement to claim that the latter is less socially beneficial than the former, rather than a sign o…

What is wrong with the term "neoliberalism"?

I frequently see libertarians objecting to the term "neoliberalism." And yet they boast that they are the real liberals, and that liberalism underwent a revival after WWII, due to events like the founding of the Mount Pelerin society.

So what is wrong with calling this the new liberalism?

The living word versus the dried husk

The living word is the experience of the prophet's encounter with God. The dead, dried husk of that encounter is called "scripture."

No wonder people buy lottery tickets

In the movie Out of Time, I just heard someone say, about an alternative cancer treatment, "Seventeen percent [success rate]? The odds are better I'd hit the lottery!"

Well, I guess if a one dollar ticket gives you an 18 or 19% chance at winning a million dollars, I'm an idiot not to have been playing!

The real significance of creation stories

"Since the divine Beginning, though experienced as real, is not an event in the time of the world, the imaginative creation story is the symbolism necessary for its expression." -- The Collected Works of Eric Voegelin, Vol. 28, p. 175

Those were the days when a government knew how to do infrastructure

By an estimate I just heard (from an historian), there are roughly 350 Roman bridges still standing today, some of which are carrying modern vehicular traffic.

Your hegemonic discourse is a downer to my emancipatory nihilism

I've run into the term "hegemonic discourse" a few times in Marxist writing in the last week. Here's what I think is going on with this one:

Marx himself had tried to make his arguments using logic and facts. But what became of Marxism after his death, in terms of logic and facts, was not pretty. The logic of Marxism was dismantled by the rise of the marginalist school of economics. The supposed historic dialectic sequences were shown, by historical research, not to have played out in the way Marx thought they had. And capitalism's development did not reflect Marks's predictions as to what would take place.

What to do? Well, one could say "Karl Marx was a very bright guy, but clearly he went wrong somewhere." But by this point Marxism had become a religion, and religions are not given up easily. So if the logic and facts were against Marx, then they themselves must be the problem! So someone using logic and facts to show that Marxism is fundamentally …

Why did someone put cocaine...

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All over the spine of A Portrait of a Lady?


(It's actually corn starch: supposed to kill mildew.)

Rationalism in Religion...

In fact, preceded secular rationalism:

"The context in which the perversion of immanence is to be placed must be mentioned once more. The diversionist, it is true, responds to anxiety with the creation of a fictitious ground; he furthermore displays no particular zeal to rediscover the ground. All too frequently, he even enjoys his self-made existence, under the labels of freedom and reason; but he is not the one who has caused the groundlessness of existence in the first place. The ground of existence, not easily to be rediscovered, was lost by the perversion of transcendence -- and that misfortune must be charged to the fundamentalism of ecclesiastic Christianity." -- The Collected Works of Eric Voegelin, Vol. 28, p. 83




The futility of political systems

"As far as the search of order is concerned, a system is a futile enterprise; for the shell of certain knowledge, stifling a true search of the ground, perpetuates the state of groundless it intends to relieve... When man functions as God, therefore, the cords pulled by the Player of the Puppets become the bars of a prison; and the believer in a system wants to draw everybody into the prison he has built around himself." -- The Collected Works of Eric Voegelin, Vol. 28, p. 83

Maybe that training is a bit *too* fast...

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As her patient doesn't look so good:


Please someone!

Slogging through another Marxist paper. Now I'm learning that I should be interested in "emancipatory nihilism."

Look, I don't think suicide is right. But if any of you readers would care to come by and shoot me now, I'm sure you would be forgiven.

Property Rights Absolutism: Missing a Sense of Tragedy

Elizabeth Corey reviewsThe Tragedy of Religious Freedom. She writes that the essence of the tragic understanding of politics "lies in recognizing fundamentally competing goods and the consequent realization that the conflict between them is permanent."

In contrast, Rothbard, Block, Hoppe, etc. attempt to achieve a "comic" theory of politics by pretending that there is only one political good: property rights. But that is a falsehood, and so their theories wind up in places that no sane person should go.

It's as if Johnson Refuted Berkeley by Kicking at an Abstract Idea!

Bob Murphy "refutes" my post noting that the Cosmos writers blundered big-time in saying Newton invented the calculus in the Principia:

"So, I will give Tyson (and his writers) the benefit of the doubt on this one. From further investigations, it seems that Newton used the idea of a limit of shrinking geometric shapes, which one could plausibly say is, or is not, calculus."

I am flabbergasted. First of all, the claim on the table was, again, that Newton had invented the calculus in the Principia. Of course, he had invented it years earlier, and far from inventing it there, he didn't use it there. We can tell because there is no calculus in the Principia: what there are is the geometric ideas ("limit of shrinking geometric shapes") that were used to solve problems of derivation and integration before Newton and Leibniz invented the calculus. Of course, these ideas are the steps that led up to the calculus, and so they are quite "calculus-like.&quo…

Do My Scholarly Duties, or...

Perhaps I could spend the day hitting my head with a hammer?

Because I volunteered to chair a panel at an upcoming conference, and it is time to get cracking and read the five papers being presented. So I took a glance at the first of them. It is 44 pages long, and here is the last sentence:

"Solely intensively waged class struggle, intentionally aimed at achieving practical effects, stands a chance at decisively halting capitalist social reproduction."

Oh my. Forty pages of "class struggle" ahead of me. Thanks for the birthday present, f*&^ing Karl!

UPDATE: From bad to worse: it looks as though I am chairing a panel full of Marxist papers!

Bad choice in Google Translate?

I was exploring the roots of the Dutch word "verkenningen," which is fitting, since it means "exploration." It looked to me as though its parts were essentially "for" and "knowing": but was I right about this? I tried "kenning" and got "recognition." What about "ken"? And then I realized you can't check something like that easily in Google Translate. If Dutch has a word "ken" that means the same thing as the English word, then Google Translate will return "ken." But if there is no such word in Dutch, Google Translate will return... "ken," because whenever you type a word not in a language into the program, you simply get that word back in the translation.

This strikes me as an error: wouldn't it be better to do something such as put in some symbol standing for an untranslatable word? That way the user knows that, at least as far as Google is concerned, that word does not exist in…

Assemble all the suspects

In countless fictional mysteries, the solution to the crime is revealed when the detective protagonist assembles all the suspects in a dining room or drawing room, reviews the whole case for them, and then names the culprit.

In the entire history of actual crime, do you think a single real investigation has ever ended in this way?

God's playthings

"I say that a man must be serious with the serious. God alone is worthy of supreme seriousness, but man is made God's plaything, and that is the best part of him. Therefore every man and woman should live life accordingly, and play the noblest games..." -- Plato, The Laws

Resisting debt

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Here's the funny thing: apparently, according to this book (I admit I just read the summary), the way to "resist" debt is not to resist borrowing money, but to resist paying back the money you already borrowed.

Play

"But in acknowledging play you acknowledge mind, for whatever else play is, it is not matter. Even in the animal world it bursts the bounds of the physically existent. From the point of view of a world wholly determined by the operation of blind forces, play would be altogether superfluous. Play only becomes possible, thinkable and understandable when an influx of mind breaks down the absolute determinism of the cosmos. The very existence of play continually confirms the supra-logical nature of the human situation. Animals play, so they must be more than merely mechanical things." -- Johan Huizinga, Homo Ludens, p. 3-4

New Yorkers Crossing the Street

So a fellow who looks like he's about 90 approaches the intersection moving slightly faster than a three-toed sloth. He looks up: the walk signal changes from the blinking red hand that means "don't start crossing" to the steady red hand that means "get out of the intersection now." Across the intersection, there is a car revving its engine, ready for the light to change. What does the pedestrian do?

Of course he starts to cross the street: He's a New Yorker! I mean, if this guy just came to a complete halt at the corner, he hardly would be going any slower than he had been. Meanwhile, at the rate he's moving, the car might miss the entire green light before he is out of the crosswalk. Doesn't matter: Years of training kick in, saying that as long as you can get in front of the car and block its path without getting hit, you cross, dammit.

Playing Catchup

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Here are the twelve volumes of Toynbee's A Study of History that I really ought to have finished long ago, but haven't:



And that is just one tiny shelf of one bookcase out of hundreds in what is a rather small library. Sisyphus, push on!

The strange life of the modern "scholar"

I just spent a couple of days assembling a grant application. Ugh, what a bore. And how little it had to do with being a scholar! There would almost seem to be a negative correlation between people who are good at grant applications, and people who are good scholars: A good scholar must almost necessarily consider the hours spent on the application a waste of time that could've been used for scholarship.

I bet Aquinas never had to deal with grant applications.

Box of free books!

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Time to rummage. (Do people give away their books this way in other cities?)


Oops, Dan Brown discovered inside: back away slowly.

The ""Fascist" Koch Brothers, Part II

MathMan wrote in the comments on my previous post on this topic:

"A little while ago you had a post about how the left and the right often use the word capitalism in different ways, the right using it to mean the lack of government intervention in economic affairs, and the left using it a system designed to benefit the owners of capital. I think something similar is going on here. I think the left is using fascism to mean a system where society is controlled by the interests of big business..."

Well, they might be using it that way (really, I think the word has just come to mean "yicky" when used by many on the left), but such usage makes no sense. That is because, historically, fascism was not a system controlled by the interests of big business. Fascism was a system where the interests of big business had to buckle under to those of the party and the movement. The over-riding characteristic of fascism is, in fact, ultranationalism expressed through a single, …

In Which I Strive to Make Everyone Dislike My Position

Here.

Well, that would be one way to "get home"

I was using the direction fetching capabilities of my phone, and accidentally asked to get from where I was (which was right inside my apartment) to home.

Now my building is very long and stretches about a third of the way down the block. The directions I received basically told me to climb out my window, walk up that third of a block, and come back in the front door. A very interesting combination of extreme precision with complete ignorance of context.

Freaking fracking

I pass a student of mine standing at a table with a petition.

"Hey Professor, would you like to sign an anti-fracking petition?"

"No, I don't really know anything about it."

"What do you mean?" He looked dumbfounded.

"Well, I would need to read up on it for a while before I signed any petition, either for or against it."

"Oh, I can tell you: it's bad!"

Given the amount of studying that my students do, I would be willing to bet that he knew no more about the subject than I know. But he made up for that with lots of extra certainty.

I've got crabs...

on my mind.

Specifically, horseshoe crabs. I spent my summers at the beach when I was young. One of the things we kids would do would be to catch horseshoe crabs as they passed by in the shallow water. We would grab them by their spiny tails, stare for a minute at the writhing mass of legs and claws beneath their shells, and then whirl them around and toss them back in the water.

Only much later did it occur to me to imagine this activity from the crab's point of view. Let us suppose the crabs to be mildly reflective creatures. They have formed an image of the cosmos. The sea they call the Great Mother, who encompasses all that there is, and the other inhabitants of the sea take on different roles in a cosmic myth. This mythology endured for millions of years.

But suddenly, certain individuals have an experience of a beyond, something past the Great Mother. When they return to the sea, they try to express this experience of a beyond to those who remained behind. But it is not at all…

Come on guys!

I am subbing in a Micro I class tomorrow. My assignment is to go over chapter 11 of The Economic Way of Thinking, "The Distribution of Income." There, I just found the following:

"We persuade [others] to hire us, to buy from us, to lend to us, or simply to recognize that our status entitles us to income. The last technique is the one employed by children to extract income from their parents..."

Really, guys, do you want to make it that easy for critics of "economism"? As I've been caring for my children, unbeknownst to me, they have been employing "techniques" to "extract" income from me?!

UPDATE: I should note that this atrocity was removed in the subsequent version. Good work on that, Boettke and Prychitko.

Dunderheads to the left, dunderheads to the right

Right-wing ninnies call everyone with whose policies they disagree a "socialist."

Meanwhile, left-wing ninnies call everyone with whose policies they disagree a "fascist."

Look, I disagree with the Koch brothers on a number of issues. But "fascists"? No, I am pretty sure they are not for the massive government intervention in the economy that characterized fascism. Nor are they for the militarization of society that characterized fascism.

Boycotts

"The modern deformers of humanity, when they have gained power in the form of a totalitarian government, use the same threat [of murder] as their ultima ratio, while in the so-called free societies they use milder forms of violence, such as social boycott. What happened to Camus after the publication of his L'homme révolté and the break with Sartre is a representative example of the treatment meted out in a Western society to a man who dares to think." "The Eclipse of Reality," Collected Works of Eric Voegelin, Vol. 28, p. 135

What was the moth up to?

I was reading on the porch tonight when a moth landed on my hand. (Yay, spring has arrived in the Poconos!) I watched it for several minutes. During that time it walked slowly around my hand, frantically nudging my skin with its proboscis.

Does anyone have any idea what it was doing? Was it finding some sort of nutrition on my skin? Is this behavior common in some species of moths?



A place where you can use a contraction in English but not the uncontracted form?

I just wrote: "Why shouldn’t public policy ameliorate this problem?"

Then I thought, "Should I really be using a contraction here?" (Thinking about what level of formality my audience would expect in this article.)

But then I tried the sentence without the contraction: "Why should not public policy ameliorate this problem?"

Wow! The version without the contraction sounds completely awkward to my ear, as though it were written by someone for whom English is a clumsily spoken second-language, while the one with the contraction seems just fine.

Is this a recognized linguistic phenomena? Is there a name for it?

Note, there are many cases where the contracted form would be more normal in everyday speech:

"No, I can't go."

But in writing, or even in speech when one wanted to emphasize the "not," "No, I cannot go" would be entirely acceptable and unexceptionable. But "Why should not X?" seems different: it is not just…

Why Has William F. Buckley's Best Idea Been So Universally Ignored?

I certainly don't consider myself a "Buckleyite." But I will confess that, as a grade-school kid, I was such a nerd that I used to beg my parents for permission to stay up late so that I could watch Firing Line. It was Buckley who taught me that slouching and mumbling could be effective public-speaking techniques!

In any case, I have never forgotten one particular proposal of his. The argument he sought to address with this proposal was that "safety-net" government welfare programs could not be left strictly to the states, because then residents of relatively poor states would have a much more flimsy net under them then would residents of relatively rich states. And such a situation might be held to violate the idea of "equal protection under the law."

Okay, let us set aside any question of whether government should be in the welfare provision business at all. For purposes of this post, let us just assume that this role will be taken by some level of…

The valley of dry bones

Down in the valley of dry bones
There I make my bed
Down in the valley of dry bones
Among the living dead

Turn up the music
Hide the void
Dark hollow in my skull
Turn up the music
Hide the wound
Make the sorrow grow dull

Roll 'em roll 'em
Shake them bones
Rock 'em rock 'em
Toss them stones

No man is an island White duke on Mars
Snowman and rainman
Lift off for the stars

To survive is not to thrive
To live just talking jive
No man is an island
He is a peninsula

Roll 'em roll 'em
Shake them bones,
Rock 'em rock 'em
Toss them stones

Your hand was upon me
I smacked it away
You told me "Prophesy!"
I said: "Another day."

But the breath of the four winds
Swept me off my feet
In the valley of dry bones
On a lonely street

Rock 'em rock 'em
Roll 'way that stone
Roll 'em roll 'em
Stitch up that bone

Turn up the heat
Stop the cold
Creeping through my soul
Turn up the heat
Block the wind


Whistling past this knoll
Down in the …

Why you should never go into a New York deli without a few 20s on you

Here is why:

You will put some items on the counter. A very pleasant, but heavily accented person will say a number to you. This is how much you owe. The problem is, you will not understand what number was said.
If you did not follow my advice in the title, what happens next is and embarrassing repetition of you asking the person working the register to repeat himself, while he becomes increasingly upset that you are not understanding what he is saying.
If you did follow my advice, the solution is simple: you put a $20 bill on the counter. Now watch the person working the register. You will find yourself in one of two states. I have listed the appropriate actions to take depending on which of them you are in:
STATE A: He picks up the $20: all is well. ACTIONS: 1) Take your change.  2) Leave with your goods.
STATE B: He frowns or shakes his head. ACTIONS: 1) Put another $20 on the counter. 2) Watch the cashier again. 3) Repeat until you move to STATE A.

Yes, SSM Opponents Realize That Homosexuals Are People

Several times in the last couple of days, I've seen people claiming that anyone who is against SSM does not think that homosexuals are people.

Okay, by the same logic, does anyone who is against group marriage think that polygamists are not people? Does anyone who is against marriage between two siblings think that people who want to marry their one of their siblings are not human?

The fact of the matter is that marriage is not, unlike expressing one's opinion, something one can do on one's own, so long as no one interferes. It also is not, unlike f&*#king, something any two people can do on their own, so long as no one interferes. No, marriage is a request for public approval of a relationship. If you want to believe that spiritually you are married to the planet Neptune, I don't think anyone should get in your way. But if you come and ask for public approval of your "marriage" to the eighth planet, then don't be surprised if the public does not, in…

By the way, no, I am not against same-sex marriage

All things considered, I think permitting SSM is probably for the best.

But I am not at all certain I am right about this. I have carefully contemplated Aquinas's reasoning on sexual morality for a number of years. I don't think he got this right, but I am certain his was a serious bit of moral reasoning, and not just "Gay sex: yuck!"

One bit of evidence here: per Aquinas's criteria, masturbation is clearly a worse sin than gay sex. Aquinas posits three goods that are the τελοσ of sex: pleasure, intimacy, and procreation. (Note: Aquinas considers pleasure a good that sex achieves!) Well, clearly, gay sex can achieve two of those ends, while masturbation can only achieve one. So if Aquinas is a "homophobe," then clearly he is even more so an "onanophobe." And loveless heterosexual intercourse done with the aid of contraceptives is also obviously worse on Aquinas's terms than intimate, loving gay sex.

Again, I suspect Aquinas's reasonin…

The Meaning of Faith

"Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen."

In late February, UConn was slogging through a somewhat mediocre season. They looked like they would probably make the NCAA tournament, but "everyone" would have expected a first or second round knock-out.

At that point, their coach, Kevin Ollie (a devout Christian whose mother is a minister), was asked how he thought the rest of their season would play out. He replied "I think we will win the national championship."

What an absurd, ridiculous answer! A few days later, his team would get blown out by Louisville, 81-48. They looked like a team that could barely get the ball past half court, let alone win more than a single game in the NCAA tournament.

But Ollie's faith was not a statement about the Bayesian probability that his team would triumph. He was not, as many people who ridicule the idea of faith typically contend, irrationally believing that, say, unicorns e…

USA Today sure knows how to defend a view!

There is talk of NCAA players unionizing. In response, USA Today has published an editorial entitled "Unionize NCAA players? No: Our view."

Hmm, I was curious: what is their argument against the idea? Here it is, in its entirety:

* "unionization is the wrong remedy for what ails big-time college football and men's basketball."

* "collective bargaining isn't the right answer to these problems"

Seriously, these two lines are the only places where the titular question is addressed.

So, there you have it: The players shouldn't unionize, because it is a bad idea!

Canada readying to invade the Sun

Here:

'“Canadian soldiers can go anywhere, in any conditions and show up ready to carry out their mission,” Lt.-Col. Shane McArthur, Land Component Commander, said in a statement released by the Canadian Armed Forces this week.'

Great minds think alike

"In the classic experience of noetic existence man is free either to engage in the action of 'immortalizing' by following the pull of the divine Nous, or to choose death by following the counter pull of the passions. The psyche of man is the battleground between the forces of life and death. Life is not given; the God of the Laws [by Plato] can only offer it to the revelation of his presence; life to be gained requires the cooperation of man." -- Eric Voegelin, describing Plato's and Aristotle's understanding of immortality, "Reason," The Collected Works of Eric Voegelin, Vol. XII, p. 281

"For the mind set on the flesh is death, but the mind set on the Spirit is life and peace" -- Romans 8:6-11

Barack Obama, until May of 2012

was publicly against SSM.

Now the same people who voted for him (over 60% of Portland voters did) are determined to shut down the business of any person who has publicly expressed the exact same view that Obama held a mere two years ago.

This is really insane.

CORRECTION: MathMan corrects me: in the post I link to above, I read that "only two years ago" Obama did not support SSM, and unwisely thought this meant in his presidential campaign. But no, clearly the meaning of the post I linked to is that as of April 2012, that was still his position. He publicly announced that his position had changed in May 2012. I have corrected the post to reflect the actual situation.

UPDATE II: I accidentally typed 2014 in my correction when I meant to type 2012.

The Road to the Title

Before the tournament, UConn was ranked 18th in the country, and Kentucky was unranked.

To get to the final game, in four consecutive games...

UConn beat #6, #9, #11 and #1.
Kentucky beat #2, #5, #7 and #12.

Not too shabby.

Andrew Sullivan Probably Did More to Advance SSM...

than any other single person in the world.

Here is what he has to say about the Brendan Eichwitch hunt:
Will he now be forced to walk through the streets in shame? Why not the stocks? The whole episode disgusts me – as it should disgust anyone interested in a tolerant and diverse society. If this is the gay rights movement today – hounding our opponents with a fanaticism more like the religious right than anyone else – then count me out. If we are about intimidating the free speech of others, we are no better than the anti-gay bullies who came before us...

When people’s lives and careers are subject to litmus tests, and fired if they do not publicly renounce what may well be their sincere conviction, we have crossed a line. This is McCarthyism applied by civil actors. This is the definition of intolerance. If a socially conservative private entity fired someone because they discovered he had donated against Prop 8, how would you feel? It’s staggering to me that a minority long persecu…

No, Pop History of Science Is Just Bad, Whether It Deals with Religion or Not

Some of you may be inclined to suspect that I am rough on pop history because pop history is sometimes rough on religion. This, despite the fact that I keep noting that serious historians who are atheists are pretty rough on the pop history of the church versus science as well.

But the latest episode of Cosmos dealt with an episode in history where religion does not really enter in at all. And it just completely bungs it up.

For me, the most stunning howler was that Neil deGrasse Tyson says that the Principia was where Newton introduced calculus. Of course, it has no doubt been the topic of many a PhD thesis to ask "Given Newton had already invented calculus, why didn't he use it at all in the Principia?"

In other words, the complete absence of calculus from the Principia is a famous problem in the history of science. But the scriptwriters for a show supposedly about the history of science completely overlooked this, and claimed instead that the Principia was where calc…

Do Thoughts Exist?

If I say "The weather is bad tonight" and you say "Il tempo è brutto stasera" we have "expressed the same thought" in two different languages. But what is this thought? (Not just another expression of it, but the thought itself.) Where is it?

When one first begins to understand a foreign language without translating it internally, one has the experience of sentences in that language becoming "transparent": one sees right through them to something luminous behind them.

The various ways of expressing a thought exist: they have a place in space and time. But the thought itself? No, I think it is correct to say it does not exist: it is a nonexistent reality.

And so it is with the divine: we may see a burning bush, but the reality behind it cannot be pinned down within existence.


Expectations Puzzle

Here:

"Is it any surprise Ollie is already exceeding expectations?"

For something to be unsurprising means that it is expected, right? So, it was expected that Ollie would exceed expectations?

God Does Not Exist

Jonathan Finegold worries that God might exist. Let me re-assure him, God does not.

To exist is to be an object among other objects. Things that exist we can stumble upon in the world, point to, pick up, knock into, and so on.

But God is transcendent. Eric Voegelin would describe this by saying "God is a non-existent reality."

So, don't worry, Jonathan, God certainly is non-existent.

Historical documents are not relied upon, they are interrogated

A commenter scoffed at the idea that Neville Chamberlain might be vindicated for his decision at Munich in 1938 by "relying on" the exact same sources of information that Chamberlain used.

But this is a serious misapprehension of the historical method. Historians do not "rely" upon their sources. They use their sources' words as evidence giving clues as to what happened, not as statements of what did happen. For instance, consider Biston's Inscription, where Darius the Great declared: 
26. Darius the King says: An Armenian named Dadarshi, my subject -- I sent him forth to Armenia. I said to him: "Go forth, that rebellious army which does not call itself mine, that do you smite!" Thereupon Dadarshi marched off. When he arrived in Armenia, thereafter the rebels assembled (and) came out against Dadarshi to join battle. A place named Zuzahya, in Armenia -- there they joined battle. Ahuramazda bore me aid; by the favor of Ahuramazda my army smote tha…

Hypnotized by Numbers

Here:

"The Spurs are 1 of 18 teams to lose a Game 7 in the NBA Finals. San Antonio's .778 win percentage this season would be the 2nd best by a team in the season following a Game 7 loss, ever so slightly behind the Pistons, who posted .780 win percentage in 2005-06 after losing in Game 7 to the Spurs the previous season. The Spurs, currently riding a 16-game win streak, are a league-best 56-16 this season. San Antonio would be the 3rd team to post the league's best outright win percentage in the season following a NBA Finals Game 7 loss (1988-89 and 2005-06 Pistons). The 1988-89 Pistons won the NBA title while the 2005-06 team was knocked out in the Conference Finals. Of the 17 previous teams to lose in Game 7 of the NBA Finals, 11 actually made it back to the Finals the following season and 5 went on to capture the title (the last to do so were the Pistons, who lost in 7 games in the 1987-88 Finals and then won the following season). The last 3 teams to lose a NBA Final…

A sinister use of the vanity journal

There has been a proliferation of academic vanity journals over the last few years: basically, you pay to get some "peer-reviewed" paper published. This didn't seem too serious, as most search committees know to discount these publications.

But I just realized there is a more sinister use for these journals: snake oil salesmen are placing papers in them to give credibility to their fantastic claims for their products. The spiel I heard had the chief charlatan claiming his treatment had octogenarians beating twenty-year-old kids at basketball. Then the guy backed this with a references to "peer-reviewed research" published in something like the "Luxemborg Journal of Medicine."



Morality: Both objective and historically contingent

I chaired a panel last weekend at the Ciceronian Society Conference. One of the papers was by Ryan Holston, and concerned the debate between Leo Strauss and Hans-Georg Gadamer on the nature of morality. Strauss held that morality was a set of timeless, placeless absolutes, so that what was wrong at one place and time is wrong at any other place and time. Gadamer argued that our moral practices are embedded in an historical situation, so that our moral judgments can't help but be historically contingent.

In my role as discussant of the paper, I declared them both to be right. How could that be?! Well, both are partially right, although each is taking a one-sided view of the topic.

As Plato well knew, sometimes the truth can best be communicated by means of a myth or a metaphor. So I offered a metaphor to explain how morality can be both objective and historically contingent.

Imagine on the sixth day of creation, God scatters human beings across the globe, and gives them the following…

Keep your termites happy with...

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Am I mistaken

Or was 2013 a particularly good year for movies? It seems we had a lot of things out there that were both popular and critically acclaimed. Competition for best picture seemed very intense.

In any case, I just rented American Hustle, and can start deciding for myself.

UPDATE: Well, maybe I am mistaken: after a half an hour of "watching" really unlikable people go on about themselves at great length in voiceovers, I could not watch anymore. I went down to the basement and hit my fingers with a hammer for a while, as it felt so much better than watching that movie.