Dried Roses

Sunday Cat Pix

Just one cat pic this week: Josie beneath the hostas.


LinkJune 5, 2005 in Cats · Garden

Ouliposity, 1

Oulipo (or OuLiPo), the Ouvroir de la Littérature Potentielle, was founded by Raymond Queneau and François Le Lionnais in the fifties. Its project is to invent methods of generating literary texts, whether by operating on already-written texts or by formulating constraints under which to write new works. Georges Perec was the virtuoso of the group. His novel La disparition does without the letter e; he later wrote Les revenentes (I’ll let you figure out the constraint). The sole American member is Harry Matthews, author of The conversions, Tlooth, and The sinking of the Odradek Stadion, which are well worth reading.
Search engines lend themselves to Oulipesque exploits. In the spirit of Oulipo, and after a long day of writing, I came up with the following.
Chain Link (5-3 Version)
  • Start with a five-word phrase on whatever web page you happen to be looking at.
  • Search on the last three words of the phrase. Put the three words inside quote marks so that they will occur in sequence on the pages you find.
  • Copy from the page a five-word phrase starting with the three words in step 2.
  • Search on the last three words of the five-word phrase copied in 3.
  • etc.
The piece ends if you get stuck on a page, or whenever you feel like stopping.
Here’s an example. I started with a phrase from Emiratio.
This starts off well. But dullness sets in with the phrase “education and entertainment” (wouldn’t you know?). Once I reached the Clowns for Hire page I was stuck.
Chain Link (m, n) probably doesn’t work if n is greater than 4. A five-word phrase, unless it’s a cliche, is likely to be a hapax. It may appear on a lot of pages if it occurs in an oft-cited quotation, but the words following will then almost always be the same. One could also try searching on the first n words of the m-word phrase, and build from right to left. The following is a left-to-right Chain Link (6,2).
Using an advanced search you could add a side constraint, e.g. that all the web pages you find include the word ‘philosophy’.

LinkJune 6, 2005 in Jeux d’esprit · Literature

Sunday Cat Pix Retroactive

On Sunday the Sunday Cat Pix team was in far-off Canada drinking…


LinkJune 14, 2005 in Cats

Less Science

In Don’t Crush That Dwarf, Hand Me the Pliers, one of the Firesign Theatre’s best albums, a story within the story concerns Porgie and Mudhead’s attempts to find their high school, More Science, after it’s stolen by the students at Commie Martyrs. ‘Commie Martyrs’ is certainly passé. But is ‘More Science’ far behind?
The recent attempt of the Kansas Board of Education to introduce Intelligent Design into the public schools—creationist in all but name, to judge from some Board members’ comments—is only one of many (see the NCSE website for details). Here in Missouri a bill introduced at the end of the House session was not acted on (NCSE, “Antievolution bill dies in Missouri”, 17 May 2005). In our neighboring state of Oklahoma, the Tulsa Zoo has agreed to a display depicting the six days of Creation (NCSE, “Tulsa Zoo to Add Creationism Exhibit”, 10 Jun 2005; see also “Tulsa Zoo and Creationism” at Panda’s Thumb).
The issue is not one of science but of power, of resentment fueled by the suspicion that the sort of people who regard evolution as proved look down on the true Christians who oppose them. H. Allen Orr, in his New Yorker piece, summarizes the issue from the standpoint of the scientists:
Biologists aren’t alarmed by intelligent design’s arrival in Dover and elsewhere because they have all sworn allegiance to atheistic materialism; they’re alarmed because intelligent design is junk science.
(The “Dover” in question is Dover, Pennsylvania: see the NCSE listing of articles.) It is all too easy for the creationists, or their retooled successors, to take the designation “junk science”, however deserved, and treat it as an expression of contempt for the religion that motivates them and their defenders.


LinkJune 15, 2005 in Academic Affairs · Current Affairs · Religion · Science

Wednesday Garden Pic

Clematis (Jackmanii, M tells me) by the fence.


LinkJune 16, 2005 in Garden

We interrupt our regularly scheduled digression…

… to bring to your attention a new solution to the world’s problems: brackets. Yes, according to our government, merely by putting ’global warming’ in brackets you can make it go away. Next: using braces to cure {cancer}.
Source: CNN, Blair faces G8 climate ‘train wreck’, 16 Jun 2005 (via Quark Soup).
Addendum 20 June: Think Progress has a handy list of all the problems that the Bush administration has solved cheaply and efficiently with Liquid Paper and/or black magic markers. See also the Union of Concerned Scientistsreport on how the leadership of the US Fish and Wildlife Service is working to ensure that endangered species are no longer a problem.
Addendum 23 June: Of course the tried and true methods still work too. Ignoring the data, for example. Media Matters finds the Wall Street Journal basing its case against the Climate Stewardship Act on a fifteen-year-old graph published by the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, a chart which that same Panel now regards as refuted (see the Third Assessment Report, 2001).

LinkJune 17, 2005 in Current Affairs

Material falsity

What follows are some remarks inspired by Lili Alanen’s recent book, Descartes’s concept of mind. I haven’t reviewed the literature on material falsity, and make no claim concerning the novelty of what follows.
The phrase ‘material falsity’ appears in Meditations 3, in the midst of the first causal proof of the existence of God. The argument of that proof is that the idea of a perfect being, which the meditator finds in himself (and which therefore exists, in the manner in which things exist in thought) could have as its ultimate cause only a perfect being. I imagine that most readers will have encountered it.


LinkJune 18, 2005 in History of Philosophy · Metaphysics & Epistemology · Reading Notes | TrackBack (0)

More on “Less Science”

Some additional items relevant to the Intelligent Designers’ attack on evolution. You might want to enjoy a Creation Moment first.
  • Index to Creationist Claims
    At talk.origins. A very good place to start if you need to respond.
  • Why Creationists Need to Be Creationists
    From Bora Zivkovic, Science and Politics. Nice observations on the motives of some creationists. Noting that creationists generally do not oppose the theories of Copernicus, Einstein, and so on, Zivkovic notes that “the more sophisticated folks object only to evolution. If their problem was that it is ‘just a theory’, they would have problems with other theories as well. If their problem was biblical inerrancy, they would have problems with all of science. If their problem is dethroning humans from the pinnacle of Creation, at least Freud would also be problematic. And here may lie the key.”
    Like some of the commenters, I don’t think the explanation then offered is the whole story. But it puts the issue in a helpful frame: evolution is offensive not for scientific or even for religious reasons, but for political reasons that have to do, among other things, with attitudes toward authority and with exploiting resentment of an “elite” who are, as it happens, frequently liberals.
  • Stranger Fruit
    John M. Lynch. More information about the Kansas Board of Education, in particular the statement of the Science Hearings Committee (9 June), and a newsletter piece by Connie Morris, a member of the Board. Morris concludes from the one-sided testimony at the science hearings, which cost the state somewhere between $17,000 and $30,000, that “Darwin’s theory of evolution is biologically, genetically, mathematically, chemically, metaphysically and etc. ‘wildly’ and ‘utterly impossible.’”. (Her newsletter bears the letterhead of the Kansas Board. Morris speaks of herself and her five creationist colleagues as a “well-oiled machine”. Freedom of thought, anyone?) It’s worth noting that biologists boycotted the hearings, on the grounds that they were biased.
    Stranger Fruit has also done useful work in tracking down publications of some proponents of Intelligent Design. The following extract, from an interview with Philip Skell, indicates, I think, the principles behind the biology curricula at Christian universities like Anderson and Taylor Universities (mentioned in “Less Science”):
    [Interviewer:} You have spoken about a “historical biology” being separate from an “experimental biology.” Could you please elaborate on the distinction? [Skell:] Modern biology is engaged in examining the structures and functions of tissues from live organisms; it is the most prolific and important branch of all the sciences. Historical biology has only the minuscule fragments of our ancestors, fossils, for examination. They are stones, not tissues. The geologists provide a reasonable time line, but minuscule evidence about their function, zero evidence for the “transit” from one species to another. The claim for “mountains of evidence” is a disingenuous lie. The modern biology, demonstrably, makes no use of the historical biology; at times the historical is an encumbrance on the modern.
    Lynch has also posted at Panda’s Thumb a discussion of what counts as “peer review” at the journal Progress in Complexity, Information and Design, published by International Society for Complexity, Information and Design. The entry includes a link to the analysis by the National Center for Science Education of the Discovery Institute’s tendentious “Bibliography of Supplementary Resources for Ohio Science Education”. Tendentious because, as the Center learned by querying the authors of articles cited in the Bibliography, the Institute’s summaries of those articles were misleading and sometimes erroneous. It is an instance of what has come to be called “quote-mining”, a venerable practice well described by John Cole:
    Creationists have developed a skill unique to their trade: that of misquotation and quotation out of context from the works of leading evolutionists. This tactic not only frustrates scientists but it misleads school board members, legislators, and the public. Whether such actions by creationists of selectively seeking out quotations or references in order to prove a preconceived case are willful distortion or the product of wishful thinking is irrelevant. Such acts misuse science and scientists in bogus appeals to authority.
    Quote-mining is a new name for an old practice. It is not at all unique to creationism; it is very common in any sort of apologetics. Those who claim to find prophecies in the Old Testament—Pascal was one—are quote-miners. Quote-mining is suspect only when the parti pris of the quote-miner leads to misrepresentation of the sense of the passage quoted or when the mining is selective. Quote-mining introduces noise into the channel of transmission of results and opinions; reduction of noise takes work.
    Unfortunately, the quote-miner can presume that (i) readers approach an author in the expectation that the author will not deceive them (this is especially true of readers who have been taught to form their opinions on the basis of authority, but it is also a condition of informative communication generally); and that (ii) readers are unlikely, not only because they assume the author is trustworthy but because time and resources are limited, to return to the sources to find out whether they are being misled or deceived.
    Anthologies, common-place books, anas, and so on are labor- and money-saving devices. We all depend on them. Our dependence is warranted insofar as authors for the most part trustoworthy enough; but as with any shared understanding of this sort, cheating is always possible. The abusive quote-miner lacks integrity: he presents himself as trustworthy when he is not (I exclude here confirmation bias and other tendencies that an author may be unaware of). One can see from the interview with Karen Brauer cited below that integrity of this sort counts for little with certain zealots who act, they say, in accordance with a “higher law”. Yet without it science (and philosophy as most philosophers understand it) would cease to exist.
  • Steve Dutch on “Science, Pseudoscience, and Irrationalism”
    Via Stranger Fruit. “Self-Appointed Experts” takes on the accusations of arrogance that experts sometimes face. It’s an able defense of expertise. I think that the political issues deserve more consideration. The moment you call your opponent “stupid”, the debate turns toward questions of persons and power. The right has learned very well how to exploit the resentments that then tend to come to the fore. The temptation to express one’s irritation is strong. But to give in to it is to play into the hands of your opponent, who knows that the practical question—here the teaching of evolution—is decided not by scientists but by politicians and their more vocal constituents.
    Nevertheless, as an argument against the insinuations and pig-headedness of those who take issue with science they know nothing about, Dutch’s argument is sound.
    Source: Tom Tomorrow
    There are serious issues, of both philosophical and political interest, concerning the role of expertise (which has been criticized by the political left too) in public discourse and political decision-making (see various works by Steve Fuller and Ian Hacking). In my view “knowledge in the wild”, especially the we know or the it is known that embodied in the expert, deserves more attention from epistemologists than I see it getting (I should mention, however, Margaret Gilman, On social facts, Princeton, 1992, orig. publ. 1989).
  • Darwin’s Little Darling
    Mike Price. “Making martyrs out of monsters” discusses the “disturbingly widespread trend of pharmacists refusing to fill perscriptions for birth control or dispensing the ‘morning after’ pill on the basis of personal beliefs”. Pharmacists for Life International is an organization (see the interview with Karen Brauer at Media Matters 30 Mar 2005; see also SourceWatch) whose brief is to promote the position that pharmacists (and by extension all medical professionals) have a right to refuse to perform acts contrary to their religious beliefs.

LinkJune 19, 2005 in Current Affairs · Religion · Science

Sunday Cat Pix

LG generously devotes some of his nap-time to ensure the authenticity of the Sunday Cat Pix experience.


LinkJune 19, 2005 in Cats

Words and images, or Things I like

Whatever Camille Paglia may think, there are weblogs as well-written as almost anything in print, and far less obsessed with themselves, far more in touch with a world beyond spin and hype, than the people who have an opinion about everything. A few of those I keep returning to:
See “Des jouebs…” for a few more sites of interest. Philosophy links are in the sidebar.

LinkJune 19, 2005 in Literature · Web/Tech