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Showing posts from October, 2015

Halloween Thoughts

On this holiday we should spare a moment to remember Bram Stoker (1847-1912), the novelist and dramatist who gave to vampire lore its classically Victorian formulation.

 I say "dramatist" because Stoker -- an Irishman -- was an actor at, and the manager of, a London theatre beginning in 1878. To an ambitious Irishman in the arts in the 19th century, politics notwithstanding, going to London was "making the big time." Indeed, it is still thus, as you can see from the attitude of the Dublin musicians in the recent bittersweet romantic movie "Once." 

It is, I submit, worth spending the time and pixels to make that observation because Stoker gave to vampire lore the element one might expect from a man who crashed the London dramatic scene in his early thirties. Dracula is the same way. A man trying to make it in the big time. 

One theme of the famous novel, I submit, is that the Count could be a frightening bigshot to the peasants of Transylvania. He could have …

Putting it all together

In the opening days of this year I wrote several posts inspired by Galen Strawson's book about David Hume and the issue of causation.

Today, I return to that issue with simply an editorial change. I've sliced those posts together into one, and removed some unnecessary duplication or throat clearing. The result follows:

THE SECRET CONNEXION (2014), by Galen Strawson, looks at David Hume's views on causation at great length, and brings in Kant in a fascinating way. Strawson has impressive credentials as a philosopher, but I'll let you look that material up for yourself. What I'll explain here is Strawson's bottom line on causation: HUME AND KANT WERE SAYING THE SAME THING. And what they were saying is a view that Strawson respects, although he doesn't quite seem to adopt it as his own. 

Through much of the book, Strawson makes a historical point, that Hume is often misunderstood on the issue of causation. He is seen as having denied that there is any such thin…

Smolin Again: A Detail

I tried to describe the 'big picture' of Smolin's book in yesterday's post. Today I'll write about a detail -- a point hidden in the end note, the lengthy note 10 for the chapter 16.

Smolin discusses the different "arrows of time" and  the question whether they can all be reduced to one. Is time's directionality one fact, or several?  He seems to think it is several distinct facts. There is a cosmological arrow, a thermodynamic arrow, a biological arrow, an experiential arrow, and an electromagnetic arrow. In principle, we could perhaps reduce the biological and experiential flow of time to thermodynamics, though Smolin sounds dubious even about this. "We remember the past and not the future because memory is a form of organization, and organization decreases in the future -- or so it is claimed." Similarly, as to biology, "we age, it is claimed, because disorder accumulates in our cells."

But where he steps in with something mor…

Three (or four?) imperfect theories

"The great theories of 20th century physics -- relativity, quantum theory, and the Standard Model [of subatomic particles]  -- represent the highest achievements of physical science. They have beautiful mathematical expressions that result in precise predictions for experiments, which have been confirmed in many cases to great accuracy. And yet I have just argued that nothing along the lines of these theories can serve as a fundamental theory. This is an audacious claim in the light of their success."

Another quote from the Lee Smolin book. I like the audacity.

In fact, if I understand him at all, Smolin has delivered me from an intellectual cul de sac in which I have been stuck. I've been unable to accept the Big Bang as an absolute cosmic beginning, given the huge something-from-nothing stumbling block. So I have said -- in this blog and elsewhere -- that I believe some patching up of the old Steady State theory will again have its innings. But the advocates of a Quas…

The Illinois Lottery

I find this story hard to believe. The State of Illinois has told its lottery winners that they'll be getting IOUs, not actual cash, because Illinois is so poor.

Really? Isn't that particular expense supposed to pay for itself? That is, the losers pay for the winners, and the state takes a cut like bookies from time before memory and casino managers from memories before time?

How did that become so complicated?

Heck of a recommendation for government as an institution: capable of screwing up even the numbers-running racket.

And as cynical as I may be about governments, this story is still hard to believe. what is there we don't know yet?

This Year's Nobel Prize in Peace

The Peace Prize this year went to four Tunisian groups collectively called the National Dialogue Quartet.

I'll link you to Reuters' discussion of the particulars here.

What is enduringly fascinating about the Peace Prize as an institution is that there is this tug-of-war (please excuse the term if it seems like an inapt pun, but it is the name of a game!) between two very different conceptions of what the search for peace means, and how one advances it.

On the one hand, there is Peace From Above. Peace, on this view (which one would expect would be the intuitive view of a man who became wealthy from dynamite) is something gifted to us by heads of state, or their immediate appointees, who confer and converse and otherwise hobnob with one another. They recognize in their own more sober moments that war is a bloody and expensive business and they come together to resolve it.

In this mode the committee gives us awards for Henry Kissinger and Le Duc Tho (1973), Anwar Sadat and Me…

Cuban Missile Crisis

Today is the 53d anniversary of the day that President John Kennedy's advisors first informed him of the photographic evidence of offensive missiles in Cuba.

Thus, Oct. 16th might be considered the date of the start of the crisis that was resolved 12 days later, when Nikita Khrushchev publicly agreed to the dismantling or withdrawal of those missiles.

The Cuban Missile Crisis is important not only as one intense incident within the long Cold War, a stand-off stretching from 1945 to 1987. It is important as an example of game theory playing itself out in great power politics. The key was that the President had solid domestic political reasons not to be seen making concessions to the Soviet in return for the withdrawal of these missiles. Nonetheless, he also understood that he had to make some sort of concessions to NK in return for the withdrawal of these missiles.

The key concession was successfully kept secret not only at that time, but for more than a decade thereafter: JFK agr…

A new book about St Paul

Karen Armstrong has written again about St. Paul (she covered this ground in 1983 in THE FIRST CHRISTIAN). In this year's book, even more straightforwardly titled ST. PAUL: THE APOSTLE WE LOVE TO HATE, she treats the conversion of Saul into Paul, and the rise of Christianity itself, as a text within the context of the conflict between Greek speaking and Aramaic speaking Jews, the conflict over assimilation that one associates with Hanukkah.

For pre-conversion Saul, she writes, "the Hellenistic followers of Jesus were insulting everything he believed to be most sacred, and he greatly feared that their devotion to a man executed so recently by the Roman authorities would put the entire community at risk. Paul ... would have been horrified to learn that Jesus had desecrated the Temple and argued that some of God's laws were more important than others. For a Pharisee with extreme views, like Paul, a Jew who did not observe every single one of the commandments was endangering…