Showing posts from March, 2016

Oy vey

Some US women soccer players are suing the U.S. Soccer Federation for wage discrimination, since the USSF pays men more: 'In early January you submitted a proposal for a new CBA that had "equal pay for equal work as its guiding principle."' OK, let's test out whether their work is equal to the men's: have the women's team play the men's... oh, say, 20 games. If the women win a single game, they get equal pay.

A Marxist responds as predicted

I swear, I could have written this piece in advance. To any non-Marxist, it will look like complete nonsense, and you will wonder who could be convinced by such arguments. But to wonder that is to miss this point : Zimmer is not trying to convince anyone. What he is doing is shoring up the defenses of a position to which he and his readers are already committed. Chait's piece might have shaken the resolve of a few comrades, so they must be given talking points they can repeat, to drown out the disturbing sound of the enemy beyond the gates. This quote is priceless: "For Marxists, on the other hand, freedom of expression is not a free-floating abstraction—it’s a key aspect of the radical democratic vision of building a society free of oppression and exploitation. Marxists value free speech because they are committed to building a society where all can decide matters of public concern democratically, as genuine equals. Thus, the Marxist has a consistent way of explaining w

Liberalism and the Will, Part II

Part one here . So how is it that liberalism became so tied to the position that rational argumentation is the primary way by which people change their opinions and behavior, despite all of the evidence to the contrary? To answer that question, we must understand liberalism as an attempt to solve a very serious problem, that of religious civil war. With the Catholic Church's loss of authority over the moral life of Western Europe, the region had become subject to a series of terrible civil wars over just who would possess that authority. All sides still agreed that reason alone, without guidance from a properly oriented will, was liable to drift off into mere self-justification. But how should we decide whose will is properly oriented? Charisma? Faith alone? Faith plus good deeds? The performance of miracles? Apostolic succession? The battle over these questions devastated Western Europe. People were desperate to find a way to stop the fighting, and liberals suggested one:

Liberalism and the Will, Interlude

Jonathan Chait notes that , in 2016, we are still arguing over whether Marxism works. Once we recognize that the commitment to Marxism is not a matter of the Marxist's reason, but of the Marxist's will, this becomes perfectly understandable, doesn't it? The Marxist's reason is not seeking the truth, but, at the direction of his will, is trying to defend Marxism . The rational arguments Chait deploys against Marxism, from the point of view of the Marxist, are not invitations to seek the truth, but attacks to prevent the achievement of an already determined goal, one that orients the Marxist's life and gives it meaning. Chait's "capitalist logic" is viewed as a weapon that reactionaries use to prevent the realization of the Marxist dream. When your enemy is raining down arrows on your army, you don't stop to analyze the arrows for how well constructed they are! You deflect them, and shoot back arrows of your own!

Liberalism and the Will, Part I

Introduction here . Let us imagine two Americans, both 50 years old, both college educated, in both with equally high IQs. Both of them are politically involved, and both like to read policy arguments and op-eds with regularity. Let's call them Al and Bill. Despite their similarities, there are also important differences between the two men: Al grew up in rural Texas, where his father wildcatted for oil, while his mother was a housewife. He attended a small Baptist college in his home state. After successfully starting and selling a propane delivery service, Al has bought his own cattle ranch in the Texas Panhandle. Bill grew up on Manhattan's West side. His father was an editor for The New Yorker , and his mother worked in corporate donations at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. He attended a small liberal arts college in Vermont. After college, he lived in an intentional democratic community in the Vermont country side for a couple of years, before returning to New Yor

The Primacy of the Will

It is a conceit of modern liberalism that the main way people change is that they are presented with "good arguments" against the way they have been living or the decision they have been making, and therefore change it. This is nonsense. (We we'll get to why liberalism chooses to embrace this nonsense later, perhaps tomorrow.) Plato described the importance of the periagoge , the turning around the psyche, in the pursuit of philosophy. One could not successfully pursue philosophy, per Plato, unless one had experienced this turning around of the psyche, away from the shadows and towards the light. Why would this be? I'm going to explain this in a Buddhist framework, because today, that is the one I feel like working with. For Buddhists, the person who has not undergoing the turning around is living in samsara , a world of illusions created by the ego. Their will is directed towards achieving the fleeting satisfactions available in the world of samsara. And reason is th

A problem with arguments by analogy...

Is that any analogy must differ from the situation to which it is analogous in some ways, or it would just be that situation. This problem is especially tricky when dealing with people in the grip of an ideology, because inevitably, what they will do is seize upon one of these differences, and play it up as if the fact there is some difference makes the analogy worthless. (Of course, if that were true, every analogy would be worthless, because, as I said, there is always some difference.) And so it went with my first round of Turing Test analogies . The point of the whole exercise was to show that black box tests don't tell you anything about where in a system the intelligence lies. If a computer passes the test, I would agree that is evidence that there is intelligence somewhere in the system! Furthermore, I can tell you just where that intelligence lies: it is with the programmers who built the program that enabled the machine to pass the test. Just like there is intelligence

The worst argument against the existence of a miracle ever

Bart Ehrman is worth listening to. (I only have a set of audio lectures of his; he may be worth reading as well!) However, he put forward what must be the worst argument I have ever seen against the existence of a miracle. He was discussing the idea of the virgin birth, and he dismissed it by saying, "We know for a fact that women who haven't had sex don't have babies." Yes, in the normal course of events they do not. That is why, if such a thing ever happened, it would be termed… miraculous .

Good defaults

A friend of mine once said that a lot of trouble could be avoided if people realize they were good defaults in times of uncertainty. Not sure whether you should have another drink? Then you should not. Not sure whether to spend more time with your significant other? Then you should. I think I can add to his list: if you're not sure whether it's a good idea to bomb someone, then you should not bomb them.

But Murder Rates Are Falling Everywhere

In response to the protests, over the last couple of years, about unjustified police killings, some "law-and-order" commentators -- almost all of whom seem to be named "Heather MacDonald" -- have warned us of the coming " Ferguson effect ." The basic idea here seems to be that if we want our cops to do their job, they have to feel free to shoot whoever they want, whenever they want. Otherwise, they will sulk. However, there is a huge problem with this whole idea: it turns out that, even in nations where the police almost never shoot anyone, there have been huge drops in the murder rate . In fact, as the article notes, almost all possible causal factors appear inadequate to explain this drop. My own suspect, by the way, is that the wave of post-WWII social engineering de-stabilized many communities, but that as the incidence of bulldozing established "slums" and shoving their former residents into huge housing complexes dropped, people mana

The Bizarre Statements Being Made by the Desperate GOP Elite

Look at Michael Barone here : "So it remains unclear whether a socially unconnected minority [Trump voters] will be able to impose their leader on the Republican Party..." Trump voters are a bunch of losers. And they are attempting to "impose" their candidate on the rest of the GOP. How are they executing this "imposition"? Well, gosh darn it, they keep going out and... voting for him ! The exact same way, in fact, that Barone hopes others can "impose" Cruz, or whoever else, on all of Trump's supporters. PS: Of course, there is a reasonable anarchist critique of democracy for allowing the winning group of voters to "impose" their policies on the losers. I guarantee you that Barone is not offering such a critique! He is just unhappy that people are voting for a candidate he does not like.

Animated fight scenes and the Turing Test

I recently gave some analogies to show the emptiness of the Turing Test in terms of deciding whether a computer is intelligent or not. Commenters managed to find some completely irrelevant ways in which my analogies were not exactly like the Turing Test. One of them went so far as to claim that the Turing Test wasn't about deciding whether computers are intelligent. In that case, fine, I can stop writing about it. But it certainly is used that way, again and again, by people who want to be able to claim, "Well, a computer passed the Turing Test, therefore, it is intelligent!" In any case, I thought I would offer and even closer analogy, to make it harder for AI devotees to evade the main point of these examples. (That they will  try to evade it, I have no doubt, for the will to believe is strong!) So let us consider the equivalent of a Turing Test for simulated battles, such as those in The Lord of the Rings . In this case, the analogous test will involve having t

The Key to My Blogging Success

Note to self: To drive traffic, must continue to write posts infuriating Bob Murphy.


Theodore Dalrymple makes an important point on immigration: "A migrant is not just a migrant, of course. Indeed, to speak of migrants in general is to deny them agency or even characteristics of their own, to assume that they are just units and that their fate depends only on how the receiving country receives them and not at all on their own motives, efforts or attributes, including their cultural presuppositions. It takes two to integrate, after all."

I am the translator, and I am in charge here!

I am reading Jhumpa Lahiri's dual-language book, In Other Words , and once again find myself getting angry with the translator. (Ann Goldstein in this case.) Consider: * Lahiri's husband finds an ad for an Italian teacher "per strada, nel nostro quartiere a Brooklyn." Goldstein renders this, "in our neighborhood, in Brooklyn." What happened to the "strada" (street) here? Lahiri clearly intends to convey that her husband found the notice on the street in their neighborhood. For whatever reason, Goldstein finds that bit of information gratuitous, and simply cuts it out, as though she were the editor of the book, instead of its translator. (It probably is not coincidental that her full time job is as an editor!) * Lahiri creates a metaphor for her uncovering new Italian words to learn: "ogni giorno entro in un bosco con un cestino in mano." Goldstein translates this: "every day I go into the woods carrying a basket." But La

NY Times versus stock buybacks

For some reason the NY Times seems to have become anti-stock-buyback lately. After an article criticizing them a couple of weeks ago, today's business section has a similar piece from Gretchen Morgenson. She makes some strange claims during its course. For instance, she says that corporations doing stock buybacks "make earnings look better on a per-share basis." The "look" is very weird here: earnings are better on a per-share basis after a buyback! (Or losses are worse.) Same earnings / fewer shares = more earnings per share! And she takes the same tack here: "These [stock buybacks] helped increase Yahoo! News earnings per-share about 16% annually... But a good bit of that performance was the buyback mirage." But what "mirage" is she talking about? Buybacks really make earnings per share better. A little later, she notes that "Mr. Colby pointed out that buybacks provide only a one-time benefit..." I'm sure he did if s

The Vacuity of the "Turing Test"

The idea behind the Turing Test is that we must evaluate the possible intelligence of anything we encounter as though that thing were a black box. So let us do a "Turing test" to decide who is the most knowledgable high school history student in the United States this year. Preliminary competitions have narrowed the field down two candidates: Jamal, who comes from a poor family, and Emily, who is from a wealthy one. Per Turing, we must set each student within a black box from which that student's answers will emerge, and we are simply not allowed to inquire at all what is going on within that box. Jamal's parents, being poor, and trusting in the honesty of the contest, simply put Jamal in his box. But Emily's parents, knowing the way the world works, and being rich, hire a dozen top historians from around the world to sit in Emily's box with her.  Every time a history question is asked, Jamal answers the question himself, but Emily asks her team what the

A dialogue between an economist and an unemployed steel worker

Joe: An unemployed steel worker. Thaddeus: An economist holding a chair at Free Market U. Joe:  Boy, free trade sure hasn't worked out as promised. Just look at the devastation it has created in the Rust Belt. Thaddeus:  I can't imagine what you are talking about: why, I have a very sophisticated model in which it is clear there are always net gains from free trade. Joe:  What you mean by "model"? Thaddeus:  It is a mathematical abstraction, that leaves out large parts of the real world in order to reach a determinate result. Joe: So if your model leaves out large parts of the real world, how do we know its results apply to the real world? Thaddeus:  I did mention that it is a very sophisticated model, didn't I? Joe:  OK, let's say I grant that the results of your model do apply to the real world. You said it shows that there are always "net gains" from free trade. That implies that some people gain while others lose. How do yo

Oh My God!

Tyler Cowen thinks the right way to show solidarity with the victims of the Brussels terrorist attacks is... to show off how knowledgable he is about Belgium . Just imagine Cowen at a wake: "I'm sorry your wife, who was from Nicaragua, just died: to comfort you, let me recite for you all the facts I know about Nicaragua!"


When TV show that introduces some spooky element wants to portray a character as "rational," the character says something like, "You know ghosts don't exist." Why is dogmatically asserting this supposed to be "rational"? There is all sorts of testimony to the existence of ghosts, across many different cultures in radically different times and places. There is nothing wrong with being skeptical of such testimony: "Let's see the proof!" is a fine attitude. But that is a very different attitude from, "It is already known that no such proof is possible." First of all, what about "can't prove a(n empirical) negative"?  "Empirical" because we can, I think, "prove" that, say, perpetual motion machines don't exist, since we can show they are impossible.  But no one has shown ghosts are impossible: how could they, when it is not even clear what, precisely, ghosts are supposed to be? If they a

Because Big Cetacean Brains Are Good at Long Odds

The shibboleth appears again . Once again, the point is not that evolutionary explanations are bad, it is that this is not an explanation: it is a signal, like wearing tie-dyed shirts for Deadheads or doing a secret handshake for Freemasons. If there were some other branch of the evolutionary tree good at the type of problems always brought forward with this trope, it would make sense: for instance, if the question were, "Why are humans bad at echolocation?", then noting we are primates, not bats, would be some sort of explanation, at least. But in every case I have ever seen, the sort of problems presented are ones that primates solve better than any other living order! So the "explanation" is essentially: Q: "Why are humans bad at conceiving astronomical odds?" A: "Because we come from that branch of life that is far better than any other at understanding probability." And my poor primate brain cannot get a prehensile grasp of that

One of my neighbors

Who somewhat prefers green .


"The discovery of wholes, and the primacy of wholes, occurred also in fields other than aesthetics. An example is the criticism of atomistic individualism in social philosophy. This criticism meant the revival, although in a strengthened form, of the classical idea of the social nature of man. The individual is conceivable only as a part of human society, not per se, as an isolated atom." -- Claes Ryn, Will, Imagination and Reason , p. 52

Human computer programmers beat human Go players; press misreports it

Here : "With this defeat, computers have bettered people in the last of the classical board games, a game known for both depth and simplicity." This is about equivalent to saying that "Shovels have bettered people in digging dirt out of the ground." Folks, this is a machine built and programmed by us humans , the we employ to better our performance at a task we decided upon.  It is the crudest sort of magical thinking to attribute what happened to our tool as if it were an autonomous being.


"Goodness is not defined by an ideal plan that ignores what is actually possible.  It is a potential of the here and now..." -- Claes Ryn, Will, Imagination and Reason , p. xii

It's not falling off of cliffs that hurts...

it's only the landing. I just had someone online tell me that the problem with Libya is not anarchy, it's civil war. Sure, we get civil war every time we have anarchy, but really, the anarchy itself is just fine!

Bob Murphy, Infallible Stock Prognosticator

I did not have sufficient faith: Bob's call of market disaster almost precisely indicated a market bottom . (Look at the one year chart, and you can see that within a couple of days of when Bob gave his warning to get out, the S&P 500 began going almost straight up.) This is classic reverse psychology, folks, and Bob is making his readers money: he knows they are all contrarians, and will do the opposite of what he tells them to do.

If Only We Could Do Away with Food!

Imagine how people would flourish if they gave up their misplaced belief in eating! After all, ten percent of our GDP goes to food purchases: think of all of the wealth that would be freed up if people just stopped eating! Furthermore, over 40% of the land in the United States it Is devoted to food production, a truly shocking amount, and all that land would be freed up for other purposes if we were food-free. Finally, food kills: every year, millions of people are made ill, and thousands die, directly do to food they have ingested. And millions more die from diseases related to long-term patterns of food consumption. It is completely clear how horrid food is: In the present circumstances, most human beings come nowhere near their potential, because they are shackled by the mistaken belief that they must constantly acquire and consume food. "But Professore," you complain, "we know that if people don't eat food, they die. Just look at all of the horrible fam

Sportscasters misunderstanding probability

March Madness is upon us, so it's time for more "sportscasters misunderstanding probability" fun. Here is one I hear a lot: Let's say that every single year, one of the four 14-seeds beats one of the four 3-seeds. Pundits will say, "Well, because one of the 14-seeds always wins, you should pick one to upset a 3." No: unless you have some special knowledge as to which 14-seed will win, you should pick all four 3s. Then, you will get 3 of the 4 games right. But if you pick (at random) a 14-seed to win, one time out of four you will get four right, but three times out of four you will get two wrong . That's an expected 1 and 1/2 wrong, as opposed to a certain one wrong by picking all the 3s.

Measurement is not the way to make a science quantitative

"The full and intimate quantification of any science is a consummation devoutly to be wished. Nevertheless, it is not a consummation that can be effectively sought by measuring." -- Thomas Kuhn, "The Function of Measurement in Modern Physical Science" What Kuhn is getting at here is that the ability to make meaningful measurements is the end product of the quantification of a science, and not the road to its quantification. Social scientists would do well to remember this point, especially when they try things like "measuring" happiness by asking a bunch of people to rate their own happiness on a scale of 1 to 10. They have no theory of what, exactly, they are measuring, of how their "device" purports to measure it, or as to what sort of quantitative relationships they expect it to have with other measurements. Physical scientists took over a century of experimenting with thermometers to figure out what they were measuring and how it w

What Is Scott Sumner Thinking Here?

"A modern example of this conundrum [of thinking that one can outguess financial markets] occurred when many pundits blamed the Fed for missing a housing bubble that was also missed by the financial markets." -- The Midas Paradox , p. 12 Let's consider a single market, say, for tulips. Obviously it is either a nonsense claim, or a tautological claim that there are no bubbles, to say that if there is a bubble in the tulip market, the tulip market ought to have spotted it. For the tulip market participants themselves to detect a bubble would be for the tulip market participants to prevent said bubble! We can divide bubble theories into three broad categories: collective irrationality theories, partial information theories, and prisoner's dilemma theories. In collective irrationality theories, a "mania" gets going in some market, and market participants buy because they are carried away by their "animal spirits." Per these theories, someone outsi


"Disgust is one of the primary human emotions, an instinctive reaction to something that offends our sense of taste and could be dangerous." -- Michael Pollan, Cooked This is why it is ridiculous to dismiss disgust as something to take into account when evaluating the morality of an action. Like any of our other deep emotions, the guidance of disgust is not infallible, but it is stupid to dismiss that guidance without carefully considering from whence it arises.

Michael Pollan, economic ignoramus

"Processing food is very profitable, much more profitable than growing it or selling it whole... The more you process food, the more money you make." -- Cooked And for decades, no entrepreneurs have noticed these "high profits" in processing food, so no one new has entered the field to compete those profits away. And as far as the second sentence goes, well, I'm going to start processing some cucumbers I grew today, and just keep on processing them for the next decade: boy, should I be rich by then!

The paradox of diversity

Let us focus for the moment on efforts to promote more women to executive positions. The promoters of such initiatives often claim that increased executive diversity will actually help companies become more productive. For that to be true, there must be significant differences between men in general and women in general, so that companies today are missing "the woman's perspective." The paradox arises because the existence of the very thing necessary for diversity to be important, significant differences between men and women, is often vigorously denied by diversity advocates themselves. Thus, someone who claims something like "women are just better at being nurses" will be decried as irredeemably sexist. But if men and women are just interchangeable parts (except for genitalia) then diversity will be of no significance whatsoever for the performance of our companies or our political system.

A thought from a "person of paleness"

In this article , the author contends that as a "person of color" she stands out in Silicon Valley. That is a strange contention: "person of color" is generally supposed to denote all nonwhites. But if she is using the phrase in that sense, her contention is complete nonsense: The tech world is awash in programmers from India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, and China. They are certainly represented in high tech jobs at a rate far above the percentage of the US population those ethnicities represent. I think what she means is that as a black person, she is a relative rarity in a high-tech company. So we might contemplate what polemical purpose is being achieved by using such a misleading phrase. (And by the way, the article itself is pretty good: the woman notes that she has encountered very little actual racism in her career. She herself may have used the phrase almost without thinking about it, but I am suggesting we consider why the phrase was ever created.)

Ahistorical ideals

"[A] possible approach is to define an 'ideal' apart from historical considerations and seek its implementation regardless of the situation at hand. In [this] case, what should exist is thought to be obvious from the ideal itself. The 'idealist' does not welcome reminders of the actual experience of mankind, full as it is of evidence of the limitations of human beings, or of the restrictions imposed by existing circumstances... To adapt the ideal to a historical situation is to subvert it. It is historical circumstances that should be adapted to the ideal. To have some sort of respect for historically evolved patters of life is misguided, the idealist contends." -- Claes Ryn, A Common Human Ground , p. 88 For instance, one could take an abstraction like "equality" and decide that it means all people should have equal access to all goods. Then one could decide it is obvious from this ideal that private property must be abolished. As a result, ignor

Addiction is a disease

I heard an ad the other day saying, "Stop the shaming: addiction is a disease!" The people promoting this have apparently not noticed that the more the moral opprobrium associated with addiction disappears, the more addiction we have.

The fully rational is concrete

Defenders of rationality often look to abstractions as the only exhibition of human rationality. But abstractions are always partial and thus defective: the fullest display of rationality is always in the concrete.

When old commenters return…

I can't help but thinking that I am the Donald Trump of bloggers: yes, it is tawdry, crass, and infuriating: but you just can't look away, can you?

The Celtics release David Lee, or why methodological individualism is false

Various people you meet on the Internet love to trot out the phrase "only individuals act" when confronted with something difficult for them to explain, such as a collective action problem. (Never mind that collective action problems are recognized even by [intelligent] methodological individualists: whether methodological individualism is true, and whether collective action problems exist, are entirely separate questions, orthogonal to each other.) So what is supposed to be wrong with saying that "The Celtics released David Lee"? Talk like this is certainly common in everyday speech, which does not mean it is scientifically valid, but does place the burden of proof on those who want to reject it.* Furthermore, consider what happens in a case where common speech would say, "The Celtics release David Lee." A group of executives charged with running the team meet together in a room, or on a conference call. They discuss the situation with Lee, his pro

Confirmation is necessary for falsification

This is a terrible problem for any straightforward falsificationist theory of science: "To say that an unexpected discovery begins only when something goes wrong is to say that it begins only when scientists know well both how their instruments and how nature should behave." -- Thomas Kuhn, "The Historical Structure of Scientific Discovery" In other words, to identify one theory as having a problem, we must have other theories we consider well- confirmed . Popper's theory of falsification was both logical and simple. Unfortunately for that theory, it was made up out of whole cloth, without any investigation as to how scientists really worked. The people who seriously looked at the history of science, such as Kuhn, Polanyi, Feyerabend, and Lakatos, all discovered that it bore little relationship to how science is actually done. Furthermore, if scientists tried to put Popper's theory into practice, scientific progress would grind to a halt.

When are measurements in agreement with a theory?

Of course, we never expect exact fit: there are always instrument imperfections, environmental influences that could not be fully screened out, and so on. (In fact, an exact fit is a sign of fudged results.) What we expect is thjat the measurements are "close enough." But how close is that? Here is Thomas Kuehn's finding: "I now conclude that the only possible criterion is the mere fact that [the measurements] appear, together with the theory from which they are derived, in a professionally accepted text." -- "The Function of Measurement in Modern Physical Science"

A common programming problem without a generic solution?

In no language in which I have worked is it trivial to handle special cases for the last item in a loop (as far as I know!). For instance, we want to loop putting a comma between each item in a list... until the last one, when we want a period. Of course , we solve these problems all the time. But in my experience, we solve them ad hoc.

Why would you want your own bibliographical search engine?

Here is the kind of thing I can now do with my publications: I was at a conference, and I wanted to show someone my work involving Java. At first, I thought I would assemble a list of publications in a document... but then I realized that I could just send him the results of this query . Or, if I am pitching to a book review editor, I send them this link .

Subverting a Democracy: A Fantasy

My friends and I are very wealthy: most of us are billionaires, many of us multi-billionaires. While we are doing well, we would like to lock things in, and make sure that we, and our children, and our children's children, are at the top of the human heap for decades to come. We have made our money in many ways and are currently invested in many things. But we tend to be concentrated in a few sectors: finance, energy, and the military. And what we most benefit from in those areas is volatility: macroeconomic instability, energy price swings, regime change, and war. So, to the extent we could capture the policy agenda of a very powerful nation we could use that power to create volatility in all of those areas, thereby continuously enhancing our own positions. So we picked out one of the most powerful nations on earth, Freedonia, as our target and set out to make sure its policies worked to our benefit. But we had a slight problem: that nation thought of itself as a democracy, w

What white people from Mississippi are like

At least according to a poster slapped all over the NYC subways: Can you imagine the explosion that would occur if someone put up a poster showing people from Harlem or from Puerto Rico in a similarly demeaning light? But if you want to dump on working-class white people... have at 'em! And thus is explained the rise of Donald Trump.

The universal will

"The presence in man of a special will that wills the universal, what is good for its own sake, is a matter of direct, immediate personal awareness, and this will can be studied in its actual influence on human behavior without assuming the validity of any particular doctrines... The human race as a whole as testify to its existence over the centuries. Behind the very specifics of particular moral systems and behind the liturgical and doctrinal peculiarities of particular religions the serious and open-minded observer is able to discern a single centering power that calls human beings to a life of righteousness..." -- Claes Ryn, A Common Human Ground , p. 40