Dried Roses

Sunday cat (and rabbit) pix

The local rabbit who, despite our cats, has decided to winter in the yard.

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LinkJanuary 1, 2006 in Cats

Serious frivolity

A day after the APA, here I am reading about other people’s conventions. Specifically, the MLA, a much larger and more notorious convention than the philosophers put on. We’re too few and too staid now that overconsumption of alcohol is on the wane.
Acephalous and What Now? have been reporting their impressions of the annual gathering. Like the Eastern APA, the MLA is mostly about jobs. The halls at both conventions are filled with anxious job-seekers on their way (or not) to the next interview, and weary job-givers who have managed to escape the interview room for an hour or two. But the MLA has three times as many participants and ten times as many sessions.
Added 3 Jan: Antimeta and Obscure and Confused were reporting on the APA. I must say I envy Antimeta for actually being able to go to talks. My days were occupied with interviewing, except on Thursday afternoon when I chaired a very worthwhile session with Karen Detlefsen, Justin Smith, and Saul Fisher. The topic was seventeenth-century biology; attendance was light. We should have called it “Baroque Sex”.
The APA has not, to my knowledge, been in the news since the late 80s, when the Times devoted a few columns to the battle for recognition by continental philosophers. The MLA’s gathering, on the other hand, earns a few items each year. Typically they content themselves with showing how silly academics can be; right-wingers predictably lament the decline of the love of literature and fulminate against sinister conspiracies on behalf of political correctness. Almost no-one who writes on academia, from within or without, gives the reader any sense of teaching as a profession or of the labor and discipline of research. Silliness, assiduous self-promotion, and political rigidities do occur, though I doubt that academics are worse in that respect than the pundits who deride them. But many—I would even venture “most”—academics want to master their discipline, contribute to it, and impart it to their students, unless the institutions they work in, and the ambient culture, succeed in convincing them that the effort isn’t worth the trouble.
John Emerson at Idiocentrism has offered “Nine Theses for the MLA Convention” (see also Slant Truth). Two of them strike me as especially “wise counsel”:
5. Criticism is a worthwhile activity but not really a very important or authoritative one. But among the ways people have of enjoying life, reading literature is one of the finest. It’s good to enjoy life.
6. Because criticism is not important or authoritative, even though it has its value, pluralism is fine. It’s not like medicine, where a non-standard treatment might kill people.
‘Authoritative’, I take it, means “capable of establishing its conclusions by generally accepted methods”; this is suggested by the comparison with medicine. Medicine, though it sometimes offers contradictory or self-interested advice, has produced what are now incontrovertible truths—that scurvy is cured by vitamin C, or that syphilis is the natural consequence of infection by spirochetes. Criticism has no crucial experiments, and cannot avail itself of the demonstrative power of mathematics; and even if the datum, the text, is given alike to all readers, it rarely puts an end to dispute. The current fashion for treating Shakespeare as a secret sympathizer with the Catholic underground could be settled by the documents. An authentic profession of faith, for example, would do so. But insofar as the claim rests only on readings of the plays and poems, it cannot be more than plausible, even if the rhetoric suggests otherwise.
As for importance, again the comparison with medicine shows what the word means here. No one ever died from a bad reading—not as a proximate cause, at least—but plenty of people die from bad diagnoses. As a critic, you won’t be preventing river blindness with your reading of Heart of Darkness, though you might, under the right circumstances, provide some students with the tools and encouragement to abandon stereotypes in thinking about Africa and the West’s relation to it—or in thinking about human capacities for evil.
Literature, and criticism as an aid to understanding literature, are secondary to the arts that address basic needs. The satisfaction of basic needs is, as the phrase implies, a necessary condition for the fulfillment of other intentions. But the finer things in life are not subordinate to the satisfaction of basic needs. On the contrary. We tend to think of the basics as means and of the finer things as ends. Even within the art of nutrition there is a distinction between the mere provision of an adequate diet and the exercise of taste. If you’re starving, you don’t make distinctions. But once there is enough—once the satisfaction of need can be taken for granted—the end becomes not the mere getting of food but the choosing of good food. And once the satisfaction of all basic needs can be taken for granted, then new ends, not immediately related to basic needs, are constructed; these “higher” ends are taken to be what a specifically human existence is for.
From that there arises an ambivalence about the higher ends, the finer pleasures. They aren’t necessary, and until everyone can enjoy them—especially those who now haven’t enough even of what is necessary—their enjoyment, and all the more so criticism and philosophy, which presuppose not only leisure to enjoy but also leisure to reflect, is bound to seem frivolous at times. Moreover human affairs, though we’d like to think they are steered by ideas, depend fundamentally on the resources available to satisfy basic needs; that they are sometimes steered by ideas is possible just because the question of needs has been, for the time being, settled somewhere for a significant number of people.
Literature, criticism, philosophy: luxuries. When more fundamental wants and needs are called into question, as they are now, the business of the APA and the MLA looks like so much fiddling. This even though livelihoods in fact depend on what happens there. It is a curious fact that we sometimes invert the order of needs and wants, and make livelihoods, or even lives, depend on frivolous events. As if we needed to, in order to force nature into the sphere of intention. Those events—sports events, say—are then both frivolous and not: it’s only a game, but if so-and-so doesn’t put the ball through the uprights he’s out of a job, which is not at all frivolous.
I say “fiddling”: should we then stop and do something else? In truth I’m not sure. There may come a time when the choice is obvious.

LinkJanuary 2, 2006 in Academic Affairs · Society

Technorati Gadget

LinkJanuary 3, 2006 in Web/Tech

Mines and lies

A description of modern mining and speculations on the proximate cause of the explosion at the Sago Mine in West Virginia that killed 12 miners a few days ago. The remote cause is the flouting of safety regulations to save money.
So why didn’t ICG keep Sago safe?  Because these guys are vultures. Outfits like this exploit corporate bankruptcy laws to take over mines that are on the ropes, then squeeze their bones for every last cent. In the case of Sago, ICG’s corporate shell game managed to avoid safety and environmental citations, to escape black lung payments, and break a union contract. Then they got to sell coal into the highest priced market ever. How nice for them, huh?
What killed those men at Sago? Stupid corporate laws that make corporations into “super citizens” and allow shell companies to come and go at will—companies that squeeze out union support and ignore safety to make another dime. An MSHA that has been gutted and weakened (the mine where I used to work had an MSHA inspector on site every single day, and sometimes as many as six).
Two remarks:
1. If, as Milton Friedman argues, the only imperative a corporation ought to obey is to make money for its stockholders, then there is no reason to grant to corporations the status of persons. On the contrary, there’s good reason not to. To a Friedman-style corporation, the fines paid for violating regulations are just another cost; it has no motivation to obey the law other than the cost of violating it ($23,986 in 2004 and 2005). A Friedman-style corporation doesn’t recognize the law as law.
2. I doubt that you will see a better setting of context than this (see also Alan Levin, Thomas Frank and Paul Overberg, “Mine had hundreds of violations”, USA Today, 4 Jan 2006, for more about the mine’s history). The author of the Daily Kos report, who goes by the pseudonym ‘devilstower’, clearly has a point of view. He’s not pretending to “objectivity” in the debased journalistic sense (according to which “objectivity” is “balance”, i.e. quoting flacks from both sides). Nevertheless—or rather, I should say, for that very reason—I’ll take this over CNN’s in-depth reporting:
The 25-year-old mother of two, who began dating Randy McCloy when she was 13, described her husband as a heavy metal buff who also enjoys bow hunting, fishing, and working on cars and electronics.
He also was a devoted husband and father who worked at the mines so she could stay home with the kids. Every morning, she said, the two met at the front door before he went to work and Randy would say, “God loves you, and he loves me, too.”
Peggy [Cohen, daughter of one of the dead miners] was in such shock over her father’s death that she had to be taken to the hospital overnight. There we were, two complete strangers —we’d only known each other as long as it took me to persuade her to talk with me—hugging and crying together over the loss of her dad.
Other reports:
Ellen Smith, “Bush Administration Gutting FOIA and Hurting Public’s Right to Know”, Winds of Change (Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition), s.d.
Ken Ward Jr., “ICG never requested transfer of permit for Sago operation”, West Virginia Gazette 6 Jan 2006.
Jordan Barab, “The press and the truth at Sago”, Confined space 5 Jan 2006; “MSHA To Mine Companies: Don’t Worry, This Won’t Hurt Any More Than A Speeding Ticket”, 5 Jan; “Behind the Mine Disaster”, 3 Jan.
Were the Deaths of the 12 Coal Miners Preventable? A Look at the History of Safety Violations at the Sago Mine”, Democracy Now 5 Jan 2006 (transcript of an interview with Ken Ward).
Whistleblower Warns the Bush Administration Is Cutting Back Mining Safety Regulations”, Democracy Now 5 Jan 2006 (transcript of an interview with Jack Spadaro, the former head of the National Mine Health and Safety Academy, and Hillary Hosta, a member of the Coal River Mountain Watch)
Suppose you’re a miner. Who would you rather have overlooking the inspection of mines and the enforcement of safety regulations?
Clinton appointee:
Davitt McAteer, a native of Fairmont, W.Va., graduated from the West Virginia University College of Law in1970 after earning a bachelor’s degree from Wheeling Jesuit College in 1966.
McAteer is acknowledged worldwide as a leading authority in mine safety. He authored pioneering work on the subject and served as a consultant to unions, governments and industries from South Africa to China to Eastern Europe.
His involvement with mine safety and health issues began in law school, when he developed and directed a study of the West Virginia coal industry. The findings of this study, published as Coal Mine Health and Safety: The Case of West Virginia, led directly to the nation’s first comprehensive general coal mine health and safety act in 1969 and indirectly to the election of reform candidates to lead the United Mine Workers of America in 1972.
Following law school, McAteer developed the mine safety program for Ralph Nader’s Center for the Study of Responsive Law and worked to improve conditions in U.S. mines and monitor the enforcement of federal law.
When a reform movement won control of the United Mine Workers of America in 1972, he became solicitor of safety for the union where he helped revitalize the union’s safety and health program and improved the training of rank-and-file safety inspectors.
McAteer joined the Center for Law and Social Policy in Washington, D.C., in 1976 and was instrumental in developing a broadened mine health and safety law and a new federal strip mining control law.
In 1984, he founded the Occupational Safety and Health Law Center (OSHLC), a public interest law firm based in Shepherdstown that engages in education, training and policy analysis of issues involving workplace safety and health.
McAteer served as OSHLC executive director until 1993 when he was named assistant secretary for the Mine Safety and Health Administration in the U.S. Department of Labor.
He has authored numerous articles and publications. More than 25,000 copies of his comprehensive legal and practical guide for rank-and-file miners, Miner’s Manual: A Complete Guide to Health and Safety Protection on the Job, have been sold and distributed. He has also published similar manuals for the textile and chemical industries. In addition, he produced and directed an award-winning video, Monongah 1907, chronicling the history of mine safety and health in the United States.
McAteer has been a visiting lecturer at the West Virginia University College of Law and at the University of Hawaii. He has also served on a number of advisory boards and research bodies, including the Secretary of the Interior’s Advisory Committee on Coal Mine Safety Research, the National Science Foundation’s study of coal refuse banks and the National Council for the Public Assessment of Technology.
Source: West Virginia University Alumni Academy (s.d. but post 1996).
Bush appointee:
[David] Dye came to the U.S. Department of Labor in June 2001, where he served as deputy assistant secretary for the Employment and Training Administration. He later served at MSHA as its deputy assistant secretary for policy beginning in May 2004.
Previously, he worked in separate assignments as chief counsel to the House Resources Committee, the House Agriculture Committee, and the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee. Before that, Dye served as counsel to the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee. Later, he worked as director of external affairs for the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Maritime Administration and as counsel to the chairman of the Federal Maritime Commission.
Before coming to Washington, Dye served as the professional staff to two committees of the Alaska Senate—as special assistant to Alaska’s lieutenant governor and as a regional and urban planner with the Alaska Department of Community and Regional Affairs.
Dye received his bachelor of arts degree from the University of Texas at Austin in 1970. He graduated from the Franklin Pierce Law Center in Concord, N.H., in 1979.
Source: “Information About the Acting Assistant Secretary”; see also “David G. Dye Appointed Acting Assistant Secretary of Labor for Mine Safety and Health”, DOL News Release No: 04-2387-NAT, Department of Labor, 19 Nov 2004. On the government’s refusal (in response to a FOIA request) to provide biographical information about Dye, see the story by Ellen Smith above. On Dye’s predecessor David Lauriski, who left his post in a hurry, see Scott Lilly, “MHSA and the Sago Mine Disaster”, Center for American Progress 6 Jan 2006.

LinkJanuary 6, 2006 in Current Affairs · Society

Wednesday garden pix

Clematis in winter. See 16 June 2005. If you like garden pix, try this: Le Jardin de Sophie. The garden is in Portugal.

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LinkJanuary 12, 2006 in Garden

None-of-the-above-ism

I’ve never quite understood the urge some philosophers have to announce that they are partisans of this or that ism, or to devote major chunks of their output to arguing on behalf of an ism. Arguing about an ism I understand, but to act the lawyer and build a case for your client ism—that mystifies me. Especially when it’s accompanied by strong feeling. People get worked up about externalism or counterpart theory, as if it were a matter of great practical importance for them.

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LinkJanuary 13, 2006 in Philosophy of Philosophy

Miscellany

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It’s Friday the 13th. Outside, near-blizzard conditions. Bad luck for someone, whatever the date. —Long ago, when Hollywood ruled the entertainment world, movies would open in the downtown palaces and then, weeks or months later, they would be relegated to the second-run houses in the neighborhoods (the “nabes”). Philosophical Fortnights is something like that.
I’m unlikely to be the first to alert anyone to the current outrage or today’s sin against reason. Time and energy don’t allow it, not to mention a lack of expertise. Perhaps it’s not so bad that some weblogs should be slow. Weblog software is biased toward an evanescent present, to instantaneous response: but instantaneous responses are by and large stock responses, as I. A. Richards called them. Questions at talks are often stock questions: they’re what you would ask if someone were to argue for materialism or consequentialism. We know the moves after all. That’s part of being an academic philosopher, part of being an original philosopher too. It’s not surprising that those weblogs that consist mostly in links to news items sometimes content themselves with more-or-less long-winded equivalents of mmm or yuck. Good for rallying the troops, not so good for real thinking.
That, in any case, is my excuse for pulling together, belatedly, a few things that have accumulated over the last month or so.
A school for atheists
French, of course. Athéisme, l’homme majuscule is in pure form that secular humanism which Bill O’Reilly thinks is going to take over the country, along with George Soros and the ACLU. Citations, biographies, humor, the Song of Songs, even a section of atheist apologetics. I’m pleased to see them noticing Paul Léautaud, whose literary journal is among the best I know of. Among the (not very well sourced) citations: “La seule foi qui me reste—et encore!—c’est la foi dans les dictionnaires”, which is reminiscent of Nietzsche’s remark about grammar.
Atheism is enjoying a bit of a vogue in France, with help of Michel Onfray’s Traité d’athéologie (2246648017: Amazon.fr, Chapitre) and the Cours accéléré d'athéisme by Antonio Lopez Campillo and Juan Ignacio Ferrera (2930390042: Amazon.fr, Chapitre). Atheism seems to me on the whole a shallower position than theism. That isn’t a criticism but an observation: once you’ve said there’s no God, there isn’t much more to say. What remains is to develop an ethics that rigorously avoids any appeal to the supersensible.
Interconnectedness
Tara Smith, an epidemiologist at the University of Iowa, is the author of Aetiology, a weblog on disease and public health issues, with occasional remarks on academic life. One entry in her old weblog, “This view of life”, caught my eye. Smith is drawn to biology by the variety of life, by the endless supply of puzzles it presents. Smith starts from an essay in the New York Times (registration required) by Olivia Judson, author of Dr. Tatiana’s sex advice to all creation. In biology, says Judson,
small facts add up to big pictures. For although Mother Nature’s infinite variety seems incomprehensible at first, it is not. The forces of nature are not random; often, they are strongly predictable.
For example, if you were to discover a new species and you told me that the male is much bigger than the female, I would tell you what the mating system is likely to be: males fight each other for access to females. Or if you discover that the male’s testicles make up a large part of his weight, I can tell you that the females in his species consort with several males at a time.
Suppose you find that a particular bacterium lives exclusively in the gullets of leeches and helps them digest blood. Then I can tell you how that bacterium’s genome is likely to differ from those of its free-living cousins; among other changes, the genome will be smaller, and it will have lost sets of genes that are helpful for living free but useless for living inside another being.
Creationism, I should note, hasn’t a prayer of explaining any of these relations. What interests me more is Smith’s final paragraphs:
Elsewhere online, I was involved in a discussion about evolution with a number of people with a host of different beliefs, from atheist to a self-described fundamentalist Christian. One Christian (who actually happens to be in seminary) stated his view on the topic:
And for me, there is something deeply spiritual about that idea, of connectedness to all of the planet on some level. I don’t find that evolution challenges my spirit; rather, learning more about how nature interconnects allows me to find more footing with my own life and walk with God.
This feeling of interconnection is something any of us can experience, regardless of our religious beliefs (or lack thereof). To steal a quote from Darwin, there is grandeur in this view of life—and I’m happy I evolved.
The seminarian offers a gloss on the fact of interconnectedness: it is “spiritual”, in a Kantian way—suggestive of ends (and of nature’s being ordered to ends) but in no way demonstrating them. The relation to God intimated in interconnection is the Spinozan relation of being “part of nature”, in necessary relation to the whole; at least that seems to me a more natural conclusion than orthodox theism. You may hold as Leibniz did that all of nature is related and still set God apart from nature as its transcendent cause, wholly distinct from created things by virtue of being perfect. Interconnectedness is ambiguously suggestive of both.
Returning to Athéisme, under the rubric “Science” I find this:
De tout temps l’hommeThrough all age man has posed questions about nature, life, himself… His need of knowledge is immense and ever-increasing. No sooner is one question resolve than another, ten others, emerge.
Religion was the first attempt to provide answers to those question, most often in the form of certainties whose source is a divine Revelation (as in the great monotheisms).
The use of rationality and the progressive liberation of thought from the empire of religion have permitted metaphysics to erect explanatory theories, based, it is true, on logical reasoning but purely speculative because inaccessible to experiment.
In the century of the Enlightenment, the sciences, entering their modern epoch, became aware of the impossibility, by reason of the limits themselves of the human condition, to acquire knowledge beyond experience and so of the vanity of the quest for the absolute.
Science, by its methods, its rigor, its humility (it does not claim to give immutable answers or certainties), its concrete and experimentally verifiable results, gives answers which are almost universally accepted (almost, because there still are creationists!). As the domains covered by science grow ever broader, religions and metaphysics are regularly obliged to reposition themselves with respect to it.
Human curiosity and interest in our surroundings are such that questions not yet resolved by science will not soon be exhausted. Religion and metaphysics, which feed on human ignorance, still have grist for their mills. The stubborn criticism of the “revealed” truths of religion or of the reified, deified abstractions of metaphysics, is a combat which cannot be avoided if humanity is really to take in its hands its destiny and render the world more human.
s’est posé des questions sur la nature, sur la vie, sur lui-même… Son besoin de connaissance est immense et va croissant. Dès qu’une question est résolue, une autre, dix autres surgissent.
La religion, la première, a tenté d’apporter des réponses à ces questions, le plus souvent sous forme de certitudes puisées dans une Révélation divine (cas des grands monothéismes).
L’usage de rationalité et la libération progressive de la pensée de l’emprise des religions ont permis à la métaphysique d’échafauder des théories explicatives, certes basées sur un raisonnement logique mais purement spéculatif car inaccessible à l’expérimentation.
Au siècle des “Lumières”, les sciences qui entraient dans leur époque moderne, ont pris conscience de l’impossibilité, en raison des limites mêmes de la condition humaine, d’acquérir des connaissances au-delà de l’expérience et donc de la vanité de la quête de l’absolu.
La science, par ses méthodes, sa rigueur, son humilité (elle ne prétend pas donner des réponses immuables ou des certitudes), ses résultats concrets et vérifiables expérimentalement, donne des réponses qui sont quasi universellement admises (quasi, car il existe encore des créationnistes !). Les domaines couverts par la science sont de plus en plus larges, ce qui oblige les religions et la métaphysique à se repositionner régulièrement par rapport à elle.
La curiosité et l’intérêt de l’homme pour ce qui l’entoure sont tels que les questions qui ne sont pas encore résolues par la science ne sont pas prêtes de s’épuiser. La religion et la métaphysique, qui se nourrissent de l’ignorance des hommes, ont encore du grain à moudre. La critique obstinée des vérités “révélées” par les religions ou des abstractions réifiées, puis déifiées par la métaphysique, est un combat indispensable pour que l’homme puisse réellement prendre entre ses mains sa destinée et rendre le monde plus humain.
Manifestos tend to be heaps of unargued commonplaces. This one is no exception. The threefold division—religion, metaphysics, science—is straight from Auguste Comte. It’s as if the anthropology and history of science of the last sixty years had never existed. But let’s consider just one claim more closely: that “religion and metaphysics feed upon the ignorance of men”.
This is meant to be an objection. But the ground of the objection cannot be merely that religion and metaphysics address matters on which we are ignorant. Science does too. Nor can it be even that they take up questions that science does not, unless you take a hard positivist line and rule out such questions as meaningless. But ethics, for one, is not meaningless, even though at least part of its subject matter lies outside the range of questions science can address.
The objection isn’t really to disciplines that inquire into matters not (yet) addressed by science, but to the methods that religion and metaphysics use to answer them: revelation and speculation. Consider speculation—“raisonnement inaccessible à l’expérimentation”. It’s not easy to find a metaphysics that has no relation to experience; and I’m not sure what a metaphysical “experiment” would be. The authors seem to be running together two sorts of claim:
  • (i) The claim, Kantian in spirit, that certain questions—summarized by the phrase “the quest for the absolute”—cannot even in principle be settled by appeal to experience;
  • (ii) The claim that only experiment, and not just experience generally, yields genuine knowledge.
The second is more restrictive than the first. How much more depends on the definition of “experiment”. Too narrow a definition will consign history to the flames. I’m not sure that (ii) can be made plausible except by defining ‘experiment’ merely as some sort of test to which experience is essential. But then (ii) is effectively equivalent to (i).
Concerning (i): Kant’s position, in brief, is that reason itself demands that we move from the conditioned (e.g. a determinate region of space) to the unconditioned (space without limits). This is not the result of some argumentum ad ignorantiam but a product of reflection on what being conditioned presupposes. Kant himself did not so much rule out metaphysics as put it in its place: the Ideas of metaphysics (God, space, time, the harmonious unity of the laws of nature) have no role in the determination of the objects of thought, and thus no role in science; nevertheless they remain indispensable to thought and even to science, as conditions on the conversion of experience into knowledge that cannot be proved from experience itself (nor applied to it, as the categories are).
What I’m summarizing is the murkiest part of the Critique of pure reason. Opinions differ, to say the least, on what Kant was up to and whether he succeeded. Still what I’ve said is enough to show that the Kantian claim (i) need not commit you to a combat with religion or metaphysics. Indeed if you want to revive the “warfare between science and theology” (historically a dubious notion, I should note), it would seem that you must either argue that outside science there is no knowledge or else grant that religion does have testable consequences that science can refute.
The critique of dubious religious or metaphysical claims is a worthwhile project. I don’t think it is well served by dubious history or question-begging arguments.
Briefly noted
  • The neuroscience of regret:
    From Cosma Shalizi’s Three-toed sloth.— Nathalie Camille, Giorgio Coricelli, Jerome Sallet, Pascale Pradat-Diehl, Jean-René Duhamel and Angela Sirigu, “The involvement of the orbitofrontal cortex in the experience of regret”, Science 305 (2004): 1167--1170. Punchline: “The orbitofrontal cortex has a fundamental role in mediating the experience of regret”. There is a comment by David Eagleman (308 (27 May 2005):1260) and a response by the authors.
  • The neuroscience of intuition:
    From Neurotopia.— One class of neuron, known as Van Economo neurons, resides in the fronto-insular cortex and the anterior cingulate cortex. Those two areas of the brain are “active during social situations”, when we’re assessing other people’s beliefs and desires; they also process “the conscious monitoring of visceral activity”. As Neurotopia notes, the expression “gut feeling” may have some truth to it.
  • Old fogies still have it in ’em:
    From Postclassic. —At least some old fogies. Old Masters and Young Geniuses by David Galenson distinguishes two kinds of artist: the experimental artist and the conceptual innovator. The innovator is at his or her best under 40; experimenters reach their peak at 40 or later. (Galenson is an economist at Chicago.)

LinkJanuary 14, 2006 in History of Philosophy · Psychology · Science

Sunday cat pix

Nothing but cat.

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LinkJanuary 16, 2006 in Cats

Sunday cat pix

It’s morning, and far from being as dark as this picture makes it seem. But Musa is so bright that everything else becomes shadow.
NB. Entries will be even sparser than usual for the next two weeks—meetings, job talks, and so forth. “Normal science”, one of my colleagues calls it.

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LinkJanuary 23, 2006 in Cats

The olds…

A few unphilosophical items picked up over the last month or so:
  • The end of info-mac
    It’s odd to be nostalgic about something that was once part of the radiant future. Adam Engst, the author of Tidbits, a long-running newsletter on the Macintosh and things related to it, announces the end of info-mac (see also Gordon Watts’s now-ended weblog at Quantum Diaries).
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    When the Mac first started in 1984, the only method of distribution for software was floppy disks. If you wanted to try out some shareware, you either picked up a compilation of some sort from a user group or had one sent by mail, with stamps and all that, from the developer. Later, when dial-up access through Compuserve or AOL became common, you could—at some cost—download software from various bulletin boards. Info-mac was one of the first. Now services like MacUpdate and VersionTracker fulfill that function, and many programs will check for updates of themselves. Bugfixes and small improvements can be distributed immediately. The old machinery of versions, often heavily promoted, costing hundreds of dollars (as Adobe’s do) now seems sluggish and superfluous.
  • Reclaim Democracy
    Not long ago I expressed skepticism about corporate personhood. If, as Milton Friedman argues, corporations (or rather corporate executives) have no other legitimate aim than to generate profit for stockholders, I see no reason why such an entity should be granted any of the rights granted to people in our Constitution. No free speech, no campaign contributions. Reclaim Democracy includes documents on the history of corporate personhood, news items, and links to organizations campaigning against corporate personhood.
  • Anthropic arguments
    Peter Woit at Not Even Wrong surveys some recent attempts at anthropic cosmology by Frank Wilczek, Max Tegmark, and Anthony Aguirre. Woit is skeptical about the claims of string theory; not surprisingly, he finds anthropic arguments wanting. (See also Fabian Besnard at mathéphysique.)
  • Earmarks
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    Source: Lazlo Kovacs
    More specifically, early modern “earmarks”. Items on cultural history. For example: reading machines, Agostino Ramelli’s in particular. I wish I had one. I wish I had space for one.
  • A tasteful grey
    Why is the brain segregated into white and grey matter? The answer, it seems, is speed.
  • Feuilles de route
    Thierry Beinstingel. Une “tentative d’exposition du travail littéraire à la vue de tous”.
  • François Truffaut’s grave
    From john© at Flickr. Truffaut died in 1984.

LinkJanuary 25, 2006 in Reading Notes