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Showing posts from February, 2016

Theodicy:Some thoughts

If a believer in God is going to have a theodicy, that is, a measured effort to “justify the ways of God to man,” he is going to have to go in one of three directions. There are only three. The problem is this. If God is all-powerful, then He can bring an end to evil. If God is ideally benevolent, then He wants to bring an end to evil. So: why is there evil? Three answers: you can choose to remain silent and regard the question as an unanswerable mystery (which Job learns to do at the end of the OT book bearing his name). Or you can define “all-powerful” in a way that solves the problem. Or you can define “benevolent” in a way that solves the problem. The problem is created by two constraints: that of power and that of goodness. Although no theodical authors would put it this way, some of them define “power” down and others define “goodness” down, loosening the one constraint or the other.

In the late 17th century, Leibniz famously defined "power" down. This is the best of all…

Hey hey we're the monkeys

I've heard that monkeys have a sense of fairness, and can demand to be paid the prevailing wage.

Specifically, suppose you, an animal behaviorist, have two monkeys in side-by-side cages, clearly visible to one another, performing the same daily task. One day you feed a slice of banana to one of the monkeys, and a slice of cucumber (apparently less delectable to simian lips) to the other. The cucumber-fed monkey can become quite agitated about this and can even throw the cucumber back at the experimenter in disgust.

My own unscientific hypothesis is that the banana-fed monkey draws the conclusion that this lab is a strict meritocracy. That fellow across the way should quit whining and work harder.

Evolution and Human History, Conclusion

The arguments about racial differences in intelligence, and in social behaviors, that I've engaged through Wade's book in these last three weeks remind me of the argument about language as a human trait, that I've discussed at other times in this blog and on others. I'll just give over this entry to thinking about the reason I am so reminded.

B.F. Skinner famously described language as a form of "verbal behavior," fashioned by a lifetime of positive and negative reinforcements, in a way not in principle different from the way a rat manages the navigation of mazes when properly reinforced by grain.

Noam Chomsky, even more famously, critiqued Skinner in a way that involved the question of innateness. Our brains, Chomsky maintained, are hard-wired for language. The wiring involves a "finite set of rules operating on a finite vocabulary to generate an infinite number of acceptable grammatical sentences and no un-acceptable ones."

Now, views of social …

Another way forward

Yesterday, I spoke to the issue of the cycles of American history. I abandoned one cyclical theory and reverted to another one, the long-cycle theory that focuses on constitutional changes.

If that theory holds up, and if I'm applying it properly, then this year should see a party re-alignment which will make the Democratic Party dominant for sometime to come, and will make the US a social democracy on the European pattern.

I find that result unsatisfying, so naturally I will look for other live options. I also find it unsatisfying, by the way, to resign myself to merely passive observer status. what I want is a way forward that has some real contact with what is going on and that, if it manifests, might lead to a result I'd recognize as an improvement over the status quo.

That could happen, if the polarizing tendency of both primary competitions intensifies from here, and if Michael Bloomberg turns out to have political talent transferrable outside of the bounds of New Yo…

Constitutional Cycles

For a long time, I thought of US politics in terms of a 30 year cycle.  I thought of this as the "short cycle" of two, for I also had and still have a long cycle theory. 
But the short cycle was specifically keyed to Presidential election, so it manifested itself in 32 or 28 year intervals (since 30 is not divisible by four). 
Pursuant to the short cycle theory I compared President Obama's election in 2008 to the election of other relatively obscure figures who carried on the impetus of a reform movement past its prime. A haberdasher in 1948 was elected as the last hurrah for the New Deal. Four years later he bowed out, letting Adlai Stevenson take the fall for Eisenhower's victory. Twenty eight years after 1948 brings us to 1976, when a peanut farmer became President as a final upsurge of New Frontier/Great Society liberalism. Four years later he was mugged by an Ayatollah on the way to defeat by Ronald Reagan. 
Thirty-two years from 1976 brings us to 2008. So that…

Superbowl 50: Broncos versus Panthers

I know that some of my readers don't really understand that the Superbowl has come and gone for another year until they read what I have to say on the subject. So this one's for you.

The Broncos/Panthers matchup was widely anticipated. Neither of the two teams comes from a really huge consumer marker (no New York, Chicago, or southern California team was involved) but the comparisons were intriguing. A great offense, Carolina's, would be going head to head with a great defense, Denver's.

Things went Denver's way, almost from the start, more consistently than anyone had expected.

Another big item: the standout commercial in the first half was a Marilyn Monroe take on the Snickers bar series, "you're not you when you're hungry."

The stand-out for the second half involved a herd of running hot dogs, and the tagline "Meet the Ketchups."

The evolution of the game

One much watched player: Michael Oher, the inspiration for the human interest por…

First Thoughts on the death of Antonin Scalia

News of the death of Justice Scalia, a Reagan appointee, has broken in upon our endless political campaign, and will surely give the candidates something new to talk about in the weeks to come.

That was very first thought on hearing this news. I apologize to those to whom it seems crude. I have no personal knowledge of Scalia, but am perfectly happy to believe that he was a wonderful man and to commiserate with his family and friends. I disagree with his jurisprudential ideas in a number of respects. But my first thought was and is neither personal nor jurisprudential; it was and is plainly political. 
Further, I'm thinking just now of another campaign year, 1968. In June of that year, Chief Justice Earl Warren announced his retirement. He did this precisely because he thought it would give President Johnson plenty of time to choose a replacement for him, and the Senate time to act upon it, thus preserving his own considerable legacy. 
Johnson replied by nominating Abe Fortas, on…

Who is Gillian Rose?

The name "Gillian Rose" recently flitted across my screen for reasons I won't try to unravel.

But it flitted across in a context that suggested that this was the name of an important near-contemporary philosopher with whose name I ought to be familiar.

So I did the easy thing and checked with Wikipedia, where there is an article that describes her (1947-1995) as a sympathetic interpreter of Adorno, who went on from interpreting other people's views to expounding her own -- but went on in a manner that, from such a brief summary as the wiki article provides, is incomprehensible to me.

With a little more internet searching, I found a characterization of her as someone who had moved away from Adorno only to find herself back with Hegel.

Unless anyone among my readers can explain to me why I should continue my inquiries, I will consider the matter of Gillian Rose to be a closed file.


Diane and I recently drove to Worcester to see a performance of RAGTIME, the musical based on the E.L. Doctorow novel of the same name.

The novel, published in 1975, became a movie in 1981 and a Broadway musical in 1998.

It was nominated for just about every Tony Award during its Broadway run, and it won four of those Tonys, including Best Book for a Musical, and Best Original Score.

It was revived on Broadway in 2009, and that revival won several more Tonys.

The play begins with a lot of exposition. Each of the central characters sings a brief song describing him/herself in the third person. This would normally seem flat-footed, but the story from Doctorow is a very complicated one, so this is arguably the line of least audience confusion. And the music is compelling enough to make this opening work.

That opening describes where the main characters are in their lives in 1904.

One odd feature of it is a bit of parapsychology.  Some of the main characters consist of a nuclear family, …

Evolution and Human History, Part III

This will continue my examination of Nicholas Wade's book, A TROUBLESOME INHERITANCE: GENES, RACE, AND HUMAN HISTORY (2014).

In my first blogpost on point, I observed and approved of Wade's observations that races are biological realities, and that their development has left more recent genetic traces than sometimes thought. Sociobiologists sometimes posit that we are adapted for a period of about 10,000 years ago. Wade convincingly makes the case that there is no reason to develop such an arbitrary line. Also, race-differentiated genetics go beyond obvious features such as skin pigmentation or hair follicles. They determine matters such as the whites of our eyes, or the phenomenon of blushing, which may well in turn mould the development of behaviors.

But in the second post, I made the case that Wade wants to press this point much further than his evidence will take it.   He wants to argue that people inherit patterns of behavior in a strong sense, that behavior (for example…

Neville Chamberlain

In the final season of Downton Abbey, we and the characters are living through the year 1925.

The government was trying to make the hospital system in the country more rational and efficient, and to that end of Minister of Health tours around listening to ideas of experts and prominent non-experts alike. He comes to Downton Abbey in this capacity and we witness a dinner in his honor.

The name of the health minister is Neville Chamberlain. To some extent, I think, the writers have taken a historical liberty here. Chamberlain was the Minister of Health at one point in the 1920s, but I believe by 1925 he had moved upward, becoming Chancellor of the Exchequer. Anyway, since his name became famous/notorious as a result of events late in his life/career, so if its a bit of fictional fudging, it's an understandable bit.

At the dinner, two hospital-affiliated professionals with very different views on public health issues begin to argue in front of him. Chamberlain says, "I thought …

Evolution and Human History, Part II

As I said in yesterday's entry, Wade argues that the human race has continued to evolve subsequent to its spread across the eastern hemisphere. When it had spread, it was in effect divided into three habitats: Africa, east Asia, and 'the rest,' that is, all Eurasia west of the Himalayas. The geographical barriers were great enough to make further evolutionary (genetic) change a matter of divergence.

From this situation arose distinctions among races/subspecies that are not "social constructs," but genetic facts.

As the result of a period of climate change and melting ice caps, rising sea levels cut Australia off from East Asia, though allowing for a lot of "stepping stones" between. This allowed for the divergent development of the Aborigine people of Australia.

Later, around 15,000 years ago, the northernmost east Asians, Siberians, crossed into the Americas. Some genetic divergence has arisen subsequent to that crossing, too.  Thus, by the time of t…