Monsters exist, but they are too few in numbers to be truly dangerous. More dangerous are…the functionaries ready to believe and act without asking questions.- Primo Levi, born on this date in 1919
Saturday, July 31, 2010
Friday, July 30, 2010
The purpose of a university, for Newman, was to ensure that those educated there had “a cultivated intellect, a delicate taste, a candid, equitable, dispassionate mind”. This, surely, is still the central aim of preprofessional undergraduate education. Whatever discipline an undergraduate pursues, or majors in, it is not so much the acquisition of that particular body of knowledge that is important, but the acquiring, through that discipline, of a sense of the aims and methods of science and scholarship. It is the function of liberal education to make one aware of the boundaries of the domains of the sciences, and give one a grasp of which questions can and which cannot be settled by science.
I am well aware that many churchgoers regard their beliefs with an unwarranted certainty (unwarranted because, if one is certain, there is no need for faith). I never tire of repeating Newman's definition of faith: "being capable of bearing doubt." To assent or dissent to a belief in God is an act of faith, since you cannot be certain either way.
I think that Ron Rosenbaum is not as closely acquainted with the thought of Aquinas as he ought to be. Aquinas, after all, is the one who said that all things runs into mystery, and that we cannot know what God is, only what he is not. The agnostic is not someone who is especially attuned to the mystery of being, since any authentic act of faith must be premised on an acknowledgment of that mystery. The agnostic simply declines to make an act of faith. If agnosticism really involved a reverence for mystery, it would be rubbing elbows with faith -- as I believe Mark Vernon's does.
Thursday, July 29, 2010
God does not die on the day when we cease to believe in a personal deity, but we die on the day when our lives cease to be illumined by the steady radiance, renewed daily, of a wonder, the source of which is beyond all reason.- Dag Hammarskjöld, born on this date in 1905
Wednesday, July 28, 2010
Tuesday, July 27, 2010
… there is one feature I notice that is generally missing in cargo cult science. … It’s a kind of scientific integrity, a principle of scientific thought that corresponds to a kind of utter honesty — a kind of leaning over backwards. For example, if you’re doing an experiment, you should report everything that you think might make it invalid — not only what you think is right about it: other causes that could possibly explain your results; and things you thought of that you’ve eliminated by some other experiment, and how they worked — to make sure the other fellow can tell they have been eliminated.
Monday, July 26, 2010
The author of this excerpt is terribly confused if he thinks that people today have fewer musical choices than they once had. They might have fewer musical choices at Starbucks, but the “increased consolidation of corporate media power” doesn’t seem to be helping record companies or keeping millions of people from discovering music — tens of thousands of songs — from all over the place on the Internet. Usually the concern we hear is the opposite — that there is no longer a central cultural resource, that the gatekeepers (editors, reviewers) don’t have the power they once did, that there are too many alternatives and people don’t know what to choose and we no longer have a shared national culture.
The author of this excerpt is also not a terribly elegant writer.
I plugged in something from a blog post, something from a column, and something from a review. The results? In order: Cory Doctorow, H.P. Lovecraft, and Mary Shelley.
Postscript: I just plugged in a paragraph from a review I wrote of Julian Barnes's Nothing To Be Frightened Of and was told I write like Charles Dickens. Here's the paragraph:
However much Barnes may assent intellectually to the notion that our sense of self is an illusion, it has in no way eased his fear of death, and he should perhaps be warned that faith would not entirely dispel that, either. As Newman observed, faith means “being capable of bearing doubt.” The faith that my own chain of causation forces me to profess offers, not the assurance, but the hope that God in His mercy will forgive me my many sins and allow me, eventually, to take up residence in one of the humbler corners of a much better neighborhood of being.
The model in question holds that the universe exists in space and time as a kind of ultimate code that can be deciphered. This image of the universe has a philosophical and religious provenance, and has made its way into secular beliefs and practices as well. In the case of human freedom, this presumption of a “code of codes” works by convincing us that a prediction somehow decodes or deciphers a future that already exists in a coded form. So, for example, when the computers read the signals coming from the monkeys’ brains and make a prediction, belief in the code of codes influences how we interpret that event. Instead of interpreting the prediction as what it is — a statement about the neural process leading to the monkeys’ actions — we extrapolate about a supposed future as if it were already written down, and all we were doing was reading it.
Sunday, July 25, 2010
What I am envious of is that Cynthia is going to meet and talk with the great Robert Conquest. I can't wait to read what comes out of that. (BTW, thanks to having had friends in low places, I knew what a finger man is.)
... The Washington Post and the Web revolution.
... Pearl Buck made the Chinese visible in the West.
... 'City of Lost Girls': A hard-boiled detective story with a romantic touch.
... Factual nuggets, folksy insight in a Phillies doubleheader.
In a time of drastic change it is the learners who inherit the future. The learned usually find themselves equipped to live in a world that no longer exists.- Eric Hoffer, born on this dare in 1902
(Bear this in mind the next time you hear someone from old media complaining about new media.)
Saturday, July 24, 2010
It’s undeniable that the way you are initially is a result of your genetic inheritance and early experience.
(You may also know, contrary to popular opinion, that current science gives us no more reason to think that determinism is false than that determinism is true.)
Friday, July 23, 2010
Ans jere's something even more offensive (though do note that the speaker could not speak if he met them):
Though Eagleman’s scientific and literary lives seem radically different on the surface, they are part of the same creative endeavor: to deepen our understanding of a complex world we can never fully grasp. Since scientists mostly talk about what they know, Eagleman’s emphasis on our ignorance may seem out of character. Eagleman offers an analogy: The work of science is like building a pier out into the ocean. We excitedly add on to the pier little by little, but then we look around and say, “Wait a minute, I’m at the end of the pier, but there’s a lot more out there.” The ocean of what we don’t know always dwarfs what we do know, he says. “During our lifetimes, we will get further on that pier. We’ll understand more at the end of our lives than we do now, but it ain’t going to cover the ocean.”
Thursday, July 22, 2010
Wednesday, July 21, 2010
I knew it was Hemingway's birthday and thought of quoting him for the thought for the day. But, being perverse, I went with Marshall McLuhan.
Foreign languages are unsettling. They remind us how arbitrary the mental world we live in is. Silence is worse. When we try to imagine consciousness without words, when we think of a day, even an hour, without any words in the head, we are overcome by a kind of vertigo. As when we think of death.
Tuesday, July 20, 2010
Monday, July 19, 2010
Sunday, July 18, 2010
Sentimentalists try to make up for a lack of feeling by emotional exhibitionism. Men who feel little for women or children often have their names tattooed on their arms; the tattoo says, in effect, "Look what I am prepared to do for you." This is all too often a prelude to abandonment; the man is prepared to have himself tattooed, but not prepared for the slow grind of lasting support, which requires genuine feeling.
I am, I am pretty sure, immune to sentimentality.
... An American hero time forgot.
... Halting aging and putting off death.
... 'Betsy Ross and the Making of America': Portrait of a fascinating historical figure.
... The fight to reclaim N.Y. waterfront from criminals.
Saturday, July 17, 2010
The loss of serendipity that comes with not knowing exactly what one is looking for is lamented by ex-Amazon editor James Marcus: "Personalization strikes me as a mixed blessing. While it gives people what they want—or what they think they want—it also engineers spontaneity out of the picture. The happy accident, the freakish discovery, ceases to exist. And that's a problem."
The notion that the more the choices you have the worse choices you make is risible on its face. It all depends on who is doing the choosing and what mental and experiential equipment one brings to the task.
Some random comments:
I gather that Margaret Drabble Pharisaically exempts herself from private greed.
Richard Ford says, " think of Flem Snopes with a law degree." That would be Bill Clinton, right?
Thanks to John Gray to alerting all of us to new works by J.A. Baker.
What Richard Mabey has to say about Jerry Fodor and Massimo Piattelli-Palmarini's book is most interesting.
Nicholas Christakis and James Fowler write in their book Connected, “One way to make social networks stable is to arrange them so that everyone is connected to a node that can never be removed… If God were seen as a node on a network, large groups of people could be bound together not just by a common idea but also by a specific social relationship to every other believer.”
Jesus said that his kingdom is not of this world. It might be better if more of his followers took him at his word. "... Smallbone is different, he is passionate. He prays intently. His relationship with God is the heart of the matter and we are intended to approve this relationship." It is so easy to think that one's political activities involve doing God's work. The work of the faithful is to pray.
Friday, July 16, 2010
Thursday, July 15, 2010
Well, I mean, I don’t mind. It doesn’t hurt me. But for the same reason, I wish it was more consoling. But I have to say there’s some extremely nice people, including people known to you, have said that I’m in their prayers, and I can only say that I’m touched by the thought.
I've probably mentioned this before, but the first book I reviewed for The Inquirer -- way back in 1976 -- was of Anthony Powell's Hearing Secret Harmonies, the concluding volume of A Dance to the Music of Time.
I would have Brown's book beyond satire, but it seems I was wrong.
Wednesday, July 14, 2010
The very essence of literature is the war between emotion and intellect, between life and death. When literature becomes too intellectual - when it begins to ignore the passions, the emotions - it becomes sterile, silly, and actually without substance.- Isaac Bashevis Singer, born on this date in 1904
Tuesday, July 13, 2010
Monday, July 12, 2010
It is still beyond any reasonable doubt that the age of the newspaper, at the very least, is over. Requiescat in pace, but do not weep. Wasteful, relatively expensive, and ultimately ephemeral, there is nothing that a newspaper provides in print that cannot be provided exactly as well online. (Except perhaps the deplorable registration of their high-speed print processes.) And those at the helm are not ignorant of this. Some new business paradigm will be required to successfully meet the demands of a generation that scoffs at now-quaint constraints of old print media: word count, production costs, and distribution.
This is an important piece. It gets to the heart of the matter and draws the proper distinctions. Do read the whole thing.
Sunday, July 11, 2010
What matters is the way people think about themselves while engaged in the two activities. A person who becomes a citizen of the literary world enters a hierarchical universe. There are classic works of literature at the top and beach reading at the bottom.
A person enters this world as a novice, and slowly studies the works of great writers and scholars. Readers immerse themselves in deep, alternative worlds and hope to gain some lasting wisdom. Respect is paid to the writers who transmit that wisdom.
Would this change if one read the book on a Kindle?
Listen to your life. See it for the fathomless mystery it is. In the boredom and pain of it, no less than in the excitement and gladness: touch, taste, smell your way to the holy and hidden heart of it, because in the last analysis all moments are key moments, and life itself is grace.- Frederick Buechner, born on this date in 1926
Saturday, July 10, 2010
I'm with Keynes on this, To begin with, he certainly knew about economics than Orwell did. And Hayek advocated free competition, not "free" competition.Keynes, Hayek’s friend and lifelong intellectual opponent, called it “a grand book,” adding, “Morally and philosophically, I find myself in agreement with virtually the whole of it.” George Orwell, more equivocal, conceded that Hayek “is probably right” about the “totalitarian-minded” nature of intellectuals but concluded that he “does not see, or will not admit, that a return to ‘free’ competition means for the great mass of people a tyranny probably worse . . . than that of the state.”
I wrote about this almost exactly year ago: A growing disconnect? Surge in sales of two books offers political hints.
Here's the Hayek-Keynes rap video.
If Bellesiles is found to be fabricating again, it isn't his veracity that's in question; it's his sanity.
Check out Star Wars Kid on YouTube. a chubby boy clumsily plays at being a Jedi knight in his school studio and, fatally, videos the whole thing and then, doubly fatally, leaves the tape behind. The video has been watched 19 million times in its YouTube version and 900 million times in a version with authentic Star Wars music and sounds. That poor boy is Star Wars Kid forever.
I'd have thought, in this era of celebritism, most people would be glad to have celebrity in whatever form it came their way. Oh, yeah, Alec Baldwin doesn't need the bad publicity, but Star Wars Kid could easily take pride in just being known as Star Wars Kid. What is the kid doing that all of us haven't done ... when were kids? He's playing, for God's sake. Just like the people who stand in front of their loudspeakers and pretend to conduct the symphony they're listening to are playing. I do silk reeling while listening to music.
I almost envy Rebney living in that shack on the mountain with his dog. As for what Bryan says about "a very American form of loneliness," I'm not so sure. Some of the happiness moments of my life have occurred when I've been by myself in the middle of nowhere. It isn't loneliness. It's a delicious feeling of aloneness. There are certain Americans who revel in that feeling. And, of course, there are others who just feel lonely, the way one can on a crowded city street.
You can easily see Winnebago Man and Stars Wars Kid if you go to YouTube. I just watched them. Rebney strikes me as a pretty amiable pro just trying to get things right and having a bad time of it. I've had days like that, and felt much the same way.
Friday, July 09, 2010
Thursday, July 08, 2010
I can't make up my mind if it's hypocrisy or ignorance at work here.
But patterns do emerge. In my case I am only now beginning to settle into a routine replacing the one I had followed for so many years when I was employed. I think I tried to maintain a simulacrum of that after I retired, and I don't think that was a good idea. Actually, it wasn't an idea at all, just a mater of reflex, a habit. Underneath lay a certain anxiety, an unsureness over what exactly I should do next.
Lately, I have found myself, for some reason, feeling more relaxed, prepared to do at any moment whatever it occurs to me to do at that moment. I also find myself more open to improvisation, with less of a need to follow any clear and distinct plan of operation.
I think this change will start to be reflected more and more on this blog. Which is good. If anything should reflect one's life as one lives it, a blog of this sort should.
Wednesday, July 07, 2010
"The release of the emails was a turning point, a game-changer," said Mike Hulme, professor of climate change at the University of East Anglia. "The community has been brought up short by the row over their science. Already there is a new tone. Researchers are more upfront, open and explicit about their uncertainties, for instance."Apparently, the National Academy of Sciences has not learned of this: Writing for PJM Helped Make Me Enemy of the State Number #38.
Update (vis the intrepid Dave Lull): 'Climategate' review clears scientists of dishonesty over data.
This doesn't bother me and doesn't preclude the outcome mentioned in the earlier link. I don't want Phil Jones persecuted. I think that he 's basically a good man and a good scientist. And he's acknowledged mistakes. Now, Michael Mann of Penn State? I don't put him on a par with Jones. But the point of all this is not to get even with people, but to clear the way for discovery of the truth.
Tuesday, July 06, 2010
I haven't read the book, but I get the impression that the rambling discursiveness the reviewer complains of is simply indicative that it is an old man's book. The very last books of John Cowper Powys had the same quality. We should learn to appreciate this, not be put off by it.
The fiery force is nothing more than the life force as we know it. It is the flame of desire and love, of sex and beauty, of pleasure and joy as we consume and are consumed, as we burn with pleasure and burn out in time.- Harold Norse, born on this date in 1916
Monday, July 05, 2010
Almost every major idea in conventional economics fails under the modification of some assumption, or what is called "perturbation", where you change one parameter or take a parameter henceforth assumed to be fixed and stable by the theory, and make it random.
Sunday, July 04, 2010
As Maynard Keynes put it: "When the facts change, I change my mind. What do you do, sir?"
David's Why Faith Matters is a wonderful book. And David is a wonderful person.