Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Quotable: James Murphy

“I actually want to write a treatise in defence of pretension… . I think the word pretension has become like the word ironic – just this catch–all term to distance people from interesting experiences and cultural engagement and possible embarrassment. Pretension can lead to other things. You know, the first time I read Gravity’s Rainbow, I did so because I thought it would make me seem cool. That was my original motivation. But now I’ve read it six times, and I find it hilarious and great and I understand it. You can’t be afraid to embarrass yourself sometimes.”

- James Murphy

ht: Alan Jacobs

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Quotable: Steve Jobs

“…we do believe we have a moral responsibility to keep porn off the iPhone. Folks who want porn can buy an Android phone.”

Steve Jobs from a personal email

+1 more reason to buy a Mac

Friday, May 21, 2010

Remember Jonestown, Waco, etc.

picture from Bettman/Corbis (wikipedia):

I thought his photo was powerful (from Jonestown, see also Waco Siege and Greater Ministries). I've been thinking a lot of these types of situations. Why do cults have so much success? Where is the epistemic deficiency? What is the responsibility of Chistian ministers to fight this? What sort of "faith" is dangerous? Living in Texas has opened my eyes to how much I am in agreement (ironically) with Nietzsche about the intellectual conscience:
2. The intellectual conscience.—I keep having the same experience and keep resisting it every time. I do not want to believe it although it is palpable: the great majority of people lacks an intellectual conscience. Indeed, it has often seemed to me as if anyone calling for an intellectual conscience were as lonely in the most densely populated cities as if he were in a desert. Everybody looks at you with strange eyes and goes right on handling his scales, calling this good and that evil. Nobody even blushes when you intimate that their weights are underweight; nor do people feel outraged; they merely laugh at your doubts. I mean: the great majority of people does not consider it contemptible to believe this or that and to live accordingly, without first having given themselves an account of the final and most certain reasons pro and con, and without even troubling themselves about such reasons afterward: the most gifted men and the noblest women still belong to this "great majority." But what is goodheartedness, refinement, or genius to me, when the person who has these virtues tolerates slack feelings in his faith and judgments and when he does not account the desire for certainty as his inmost craving and deepest distress—as that which separates the higher human beings from the lower.

Among some pious people I found a hatred of reason and was well disposed to them for that; for this at least betrayed their bad intellectual conscience. But to stand in the midst of this rerum concordia discors [discordant concord of things] and of this whole marvelous uncertainty and rich ambiguity of existence without questioning, without trembling with the craving and the rapture of such questioning, without at least hating the person who questions, perhaps even finding him faintly amusing—that is what I feel to be contemptible, and this is the feeling for which I look first in everybody. Some folly keeps persuading me that every human being has this feeling, simply because he is human. This is my type of injustice.

Nietzsche, The Gay Science

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Quotable: Pollock

One of the aspirations of externalism was to provide an account of justification that fits into a picture of human beings as biological Information processors. This picture views human beings as natural cognitive machines that evolved in response to environmental pressures and whose capacities are oriented toward achieving stability in a changing world. Some may find this conception of humankind depressing or pessimistic. On the contrary, contemporary philosophers tend to consider it a virtue when their views can be made consistent with impressive advances of knowledge about how human beings work. Thus, there has been an effort to make epistemology naturalistic."

Contemporary Theories of Knowledge, Pollock and Cruz, 167

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

A New Clue to Explain Existence?

Interesting article,
In a mathematically perfect universe, we would be less than dead; we would never have existed. According to the basic precepts of Einsteinian relativity and quantum mechanics, equal amounts of matter and antimatter should have been created in the Big Bang and then immediately annihilated each other in a blaze of lethal energy, leaving a big fat goose egg with which to make to make stars, galaxies and us. And yet we exist, and physicists (among others) would dearly like to know why.

ht: Cranach

Bob Kauflin's Thoughts on "The Contemporvant Service"

It's worth reading at his blog.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Do Millennials Read?

Do the Millennials Read? Yes, But They Read Differently:
Jeannie: “Getting Gen Y’s Attention: 101″ “Even if I had the money to buy every textbook I ever needed in college, most of them would have collected dust on my shelves all semester. One could chalk it up to having a typical Millenial attention span –one that understands thoughts in 140 characters or less – but just like my textbooks, I don’t buy that. Part of my complete disinterest in textbooks comes from the fact that the second a book is published today, it is pretty much obsolete. Since I was in fifth grade, I have been able to access almost any information on the Internet more quickly and accurately than I ever could in a textbook. Furthermore, this online information is free (or if it’s not free, I’ll go look on another site until I find it for free). With a limited budget and unlimited free resources, is there any kind of textbook that could ever capture my interest?

Katie Wall: “I Graduated From College Without Ever Checking Out A Book” “That’s right – in May of 2009 I graduated from The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, a school consistently ranked as one of the best public universities in the country, and never checked out a single book. I’m not saying that UNC-Chapel Hill wasn’t a challenging school – quite the opposite, actually, but for all of the time I spent reading and studying, I never once needed to check out a book from the library. When it came to writing research papers I was able to find everything I needed online…. because of various internet platforms, there were multitudes of valuable resources at my finger tips that once required digging through books and microfiches. The UNC library system had an incredible online database that housed an endless supply of books and scholarly journals, and I suspect that most universities are moving toward making more of their resources available online.”

Perhaps the biggest take away however, is that Millennials are capable of taking in a lot of visual information at once, probably more than older generations, provided it is presented in an attractive and easily digestible way. This makes good design as important, if not more important, than good writing. In studies where we have had an opportunity to compare age groups, it is striking how much more attuned younger consumers are to the way information appears on the page. Older consumers tend to overlook poor design and focus on the meaning. Millennials have a hard time getting past the way it looks.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Doug Wilson on Christian Hedonism

ht: Justin Taylor

Given my finite limitations, I have to think about the gifts God gives to me a lot. I have to think about the fact that my feet are not cold anymore, that it is time for dinner, that one of my shoulder blades itches, and so on. To use Lewis’ conceit from the toolshed, I have to spend a lot of time looking at the sunbeams, and a fraction of my time is set aside for direct worship of God, looking along the sunbeam. The temptation we have is that of treating all this as a zero-sum game, assuming that any time spent on the gifts is necessarily time away from the Giver. But though this sometimes happens, it does not need to happen. Rightly handled, a gift is never detached from the one who gave it. Wrongly handled, a gift can be the occasion of selfishness, which is a common problem. But it can also be the occasion of a higher form of selfishness, one which pretends to be above the whole tawdry field of “gifts in themselves.”

Picture a particularly “pious” little child who was impossible to give gifts to, because he would always unwrap it, abandon it immediately, and run up to his parent and say, “But what really counts is my relationship with you!” A selfish child playing with a toy ungratefully is forgetting the giver. This pious form of selfishness is refusing to let the giver even be a giver.

We should not assume that in the resurrection, when we have finally learned how to look along that beam, in pure worship, that our bodies will then be superfluous. God will not have given us eternal and everlasting bodies because we finally got to such a point of spiritual maturity that we are able to ignore them. In the resurrection, we will have learned something we currently struggle with, which is how to live integrated lives. If God is the one in whom we live and move and have our being, it should not be necessary, in order to glorify God, to drop everything. We shouldn’t have to keep these things in separate compartments.

Incidentally, this kind of integration will prevent dislocations from arising in families that are sold out to the glory of God. Integration will keep our neighbor (or wife, or husband, or kids) from feeling like a means to an end. There is a delicate balance here, but God is most glorified in me when I love what He has given to me, for its own sake. This is teleologically related to the macro-point of God’s glory being over all, of course, but we still have to enjoy what He gives, flat out, period, stop. Otherwise, in the resurrection, God will be looking at all the billions of His resurrected saints, standing there contentedly, looking at Him, and He will say, “You know, you people are impossible to shop for.” Which is, of course, absurd and impossible. In the resurrection, it will be possible for us to be absorbed by God’s gifts in ways that are impossible to conceive of now.

Doug Wilson

Quotable: Fuller

Similarly, the history of philosophy of science is about scientists on the losing side of first-order disputes who acquire epistemic leverage by ascending to the second-order inquiry, namely, the ideals that should guide the conduct of science. This explains the schizoid attitude of practising scientists, who are at once dismissive of philosophers' substantive scientific views, while they remain uneasy about whether their own research practices are sufficiently rational, objective, etc. However little their own practice conforms to philosophical ideals of inquiry, scientists feel compelled to justify it in those sanctified terms. Thus, science's own eternal return of the repressed helps to explain the confused legacy of the philosophy of science.

Steve Fuller, Kuhn vs. Popper, pg. 93

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Quotable: Ricoeur

We must let ourselves be drawn into the [hermeneutical] circle and then must try to make the circle a spiral. We cannot eliminate from a social ethics the element of risk. We wager a set of values and then try to be consistent with them; verification is therefore a question of our whole life. No one can escape this."

Paul Ricoeur, "Lectures on Ideology and Utopia," ed. George H. Taylor (New York: Columbia University Press, 1986), 184.

ht: Andy Stearns

Stanley Fish on the Constitution

From Kevin Vanhoozer's Is There Meaning in This Text:
Fish takes Rorty's pragmatism and applies it to the project of interpreting texts. Like Rorty, Fish eliminates the distinction between interpreting texts and using them. In particular, he rejects the notion that 'getting it right' in interpretation means recovering the author's mind or intention. The idea of the author is useful for some purposes, but we should not be fooled into thinking this concept corresponds to something in the text, nor should we think that everyone should use texts in order to find out something about their authors. We read books for many different purposes: for instruction, for entertainment, for encouragement, for escape. pp. 55-56
Fish avoids a thoroughgoing solipsism by locating the 'authorizing agency,' the center of interpretive authority, not in the author, the text, or even the individual reader, but rather in the interpretive community. p. 56
To say that we must read in order to recover the intention of the author is, for Fish, authoritarian. How dare you tell me what to be interested in or what to do with a text! p. 57
Where readers reign, reality recede. Fish's pragmatist creed is briefly stated: "I now believe that interpretation is the source of texts, facts, authors, and intentions." Literary knowledge is for Fish a kind of self-fulfilling prophecy: readers will see what they are encouraged and taught to see. The literal meaning is the one the institution permits; the 'natural' sense is the one nurtured by the community. pp. 169-70
If all appeals to the text-in-itself are ruled out, and if all argumentation is relative to the norms of each interpretive community, then the only way to resolve interpretive differences is through majority rule. Fish is aware of the problem: 'Does might make right? In a sense the answer is yes, since in the absence of a perspective independent of interpretation some interpretive perspective will always rule by virtue of having won out over its competitors.' p. 170

Either a) Fish's views have changed, b) Vanhoozer has misunderstood him, c) Vanhoozer has deliberately misrepresented him, or d) I have misunderstood both of them. Read his latest op-ed piece in the NY Times:

Why is Strauss trying to take the Constitution out of the constitutional interpretation loop? Because he wants to liberate us from it as a constraint. He repeatedly invokes Thomas Jefferson’s remark that “The earth belongs to the living and not the dead” and expands it into a question: “What possible justification can there be for allowing the dead hand of the past . . . to govern us today?”

That is like asking what justification is there for adhering to the terms of a contract or respecting the wishes of a testator or caring about what Milton meant in “Paradise Lost” or paying serious attention to the items on the grocery list your spouse gave you. In each of these instances keeping faith with the past utterances of an authoritative voice — the voice of the contracts’ makers, the voice of someone’s last will and testament, the voice of the poet-creator, the voice of the person who will make the dinner — is constitutive of the act you are performing. And not keeping faith raises the question of why we should bother with the Constitution or the contract or the will or the poem or the list at all. Why not just cut out the middleman (who is not being honored anyway) and go straight to the meanings you want?


The incoherence of what Strauss is urging is spectacularly displayed in a single sentence. Given the importance of common ground, “it makes sense,” he says, “to adhere to the text even while disregarding the framers’ intentions.”

I am at a loss to know what “adhere” is supposed to mean here. According to the dictionaries, “adhere” means “to stick fast to” or “to be devoted to” or “to follow closely.” But you don’t do any of these things by “disregarding” the intentions that inform and give shape to the text you claim to “honor”; you don’t follow closely what you are in the act of abandoning. Instead, you engage in a fiction of devotion designed to reassure the public that everything is on the (interpretive) up and up: “The Court could take advantage of the fact that everyone thinks the words of the Constitution should count for something.” Here “something” means “anything,” as long as it hooks up with what everyone thinks; and the advantage the Court is counseled to seize is an advantage gained by pandering. If this is what the “living Constitution” is — a Constitution produced and reproduced by serial acts of infidelity — I hereby cast a vote for the real one.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Quotable: Dreher

Personally, I doubt that there is any technogenic disaster capable of convincing us that it's better to cut back on our use of oil, and to forego the luxuries that come with it. We are philosophically and spiritually incapable of believing that we can't have it all, right now.

Rod: Link


2. Weird is the new sexy. And ugly is the new pretty. Dancing around, flipping your hair, and smiling at the camera flirtatiously is so 2003. Dancing, flipping your hair, and jerking your head around like you're possessed by a demon, however, is so hot right now. Throw in some pseudo-lesbian scenes and almost make out with a girl, and you're well on your way to "showing them."

- The Atlantic

Friday, May 07, 2010

Quotable: Kant

To know what question one should, reasonably, ask is already a great and necessary proof of one's sagacity and insight. For if the question is in itself absurd and demands answers that are unnecessary, then it not only embarrasses the person raising it, but sometimes has the further disadvantage of misleading the incautious listener: it may prompt him to give absurd answers and to provide us with the ridiculous spectacle (as the ancients said) one person milks the ram while the other holds a sieve underneath."*

*Reference works characterize this saying as a Greco-Roman proverb quoted (e.g.) in Sameul Hieron, Works (1616), i, 586; and in John Hales, Several Tracts (1656), 40. Milking of rams is mentioned also in Vergil's Eclogues, iii, 91.

Thursday, May 06, 2010

The English Language

–verb (used with object),-prised, -pris·ing.
1. to include or contain: The Soviet Union comprised several socialist republics.
2. to consist of; be composed of: The advisory board comprises six members.
3. to form or constitute: Seminars and lectures comprised the day's activities.

–verb (used with object), -pos·ing.
2. to be or constitute a part or element of: a rich sauce composed of many ingredients.

Waiting for Godot

My first exposure to this:

One of the comments on the video:

"I read the play back in college and, to be honest, at the time I barely understood it at all. If someone had said to me "It's absurdist" I would have replied, "Sure. That's just what it is." I simply didn't have enough life under my belt to appreciate it. Now, many years later, it's full of meaning and reads like the book of life. There's nothing absurd about it at all. If anything it's a tragedy. A little humor mixed in to dull the pain, but basically it's a study in existential pain."

I agree.

Tuesday, May 04, 2010

Technology/Knowledge as Power

In order to understand fully what Man's power over Nature, and therefore the power of some men over other men really means, we must picture the race extended in time from the date of its emergence to that of its extinction. Each generation exercises power over its successors: and each, in so far as it modifies the environment bequeathed to it and rebels against tradition, resists and limits the power of its predecessors. This modifies the picture which is sometimes painted of a progressive emancipation from tradition and a progressive control of natural processes resulting in a continual increase of human power. In reality of course, if one age really attains, by eugenics and scientific education, the power to make its descendants what it pleases, all men who live after it are the patients of that power. They are weaker, not stronger: for though we may have put wonderful machines in their hands we have pre-ordained how they are to use them....There neither is nor can be any simple increase of power on Man's side. Each new power won by man is a power over man as well. Each advance leaves him weaker as well as stronger. In every victory, besides being the general who triumphs, he is also the prisoner who follows the triumphal car.

C.S. Lewis, The Abolition of Man, 56-58

I'm posting this because I thought about the implications of this statement yesterday with regard to knowledge. It is also true that the further advances we make in the area of knowledge, the more power the few have over the many. It is literally getting impossible to be a generalist, or even to be qualified to speak on more than one topic. The opinion of the average person on any topic matters almost for almost nothing (besides making money). Some men and women have the blessing of being able to handle this situation with grace, not caring what other think of "what they know," simply content with the fact that they think they know it (or that their "knowledge" is productive--$). But this power struggle for any real knowledge, especially as it concerns ultimate questions is really what drives my study I think. It is frightening to me to be in a position where I must submit my mental faculties and "leave it to the people who really know."

(As an aside, the only people who have real power in the world of knowledge are scientists. This is because we have place a proportionality between certainty and importance. We tend to think scientists are best suited for getting at the truth of the world and for telling us how to live because they use enumerative induction.)