Tuesday Poem-Wallace Stevens & Some Quotes, Links & Thoughts

Six Significant Landscapes

I
An old man sits
In the shadow of a pine tree
In China.
He sees larkspur,
Blue and white,
At the edge of the shadow,
Move in the wind.
His beard moves in the wind.
The pine tree moves in the wind.
Thus water flows
Over weeds.

II
The night is of the colour
Of a woman’s arm:
Night, the female,
Obscure,
Fragrant and supple,
Conceals herself.
A pool shines,
Like a bracelet
Shaken in a dance.

III
I measure myself
Against a tall tree.
I find that I am much taller,
For I reach right up to the sun,
With my eye;
And I reach to the shore of the sea
With my ear.
Nevertheless, I dislike
The way ants crawl
In and out of my shadow.

IV
When my dream was near the moon,
The white folds of its gown
Filled with yellow light.
The soles of its feet
Grew red.
Its hair filled
With certain blue crystallizations
From stars,
Not far off.

V
Not all the knives of the lamp-posts,
Nor the chisels of the long streets,
Nor the mallets of the domes
And high towers,
Can carve
What one star can carve,
Shining through the grape-leaves.

VI
Rationalists, wearing square hats,
Think, in square rooms,
Looking at the floor,
Looking at the ceiling.
They confine themselves
To right-angled triangles.
If they tried rhomboids,
Cones, waving lines, ellipses
As, for example, the ellipse of the half-moon
Rationalists would wear sombreros.

Wallace Stevens

I quite like this one.  Perhaps it’s because of what I see as a Romantic sensibility fitted to imagistic purpose.

As to that final stanza: That’s a lot of very lush language to describe what are, to my mind, very visual-field, mathematical concepts.  Stevens was a poet of lush language, celebrating it like the old dandy he was, but also translating the Romantic arrangment of language to the spare, image-based aims of modernism.  Make it new and strip it down.

Perhaps, this is more the tension occurring here rather than that of a frustrated mathematician.

I’ll try and stir the pot a bit:

‘…modern rationalism is what commonplace minds made out of the inspiration of men of discrimination and genius.’

Oakeshott, Michael. Rationalism In Politics And Other Essays. Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 1991. Print. Pg 6.

One might ask what kind of genius?  Artistic, linguistic and poetic? Or rather mathematical and physical?  Parts of this debate could be said to stretch back to the Greeks, at least.  They exist [such debates] all around us today, within our universities, politics and lives.

Personally, I’m reminded of many modern debates over reason, what it can do , what it can’t, and also many rationalist/anti-rationalist reactions to it.

The Romantic impulse generally involves a return to Nature and the countryside, away from civilization.  The poet and the artist also invite one back to one’s own sense experience anew; the ambitious attempting to celebrate the emotions and grand themes without a hint of irony (love, death, war).

At least, many try and show us as we are and can be to ourselves.

But, this is also having some downstream effects, at least in German theory: Tom Wolfe on Max Weber on one conspicuous use of art in the ‘modern’ world:

aesthetics is going to replace ethics, art is going to replace religion, as the means through which educated people express their spiritual worthiness…

The first modern?

Full slide show here.

“Fantasy abandoned by reason produces impossible monsters: united with her, she is the mother of the arts and the origin of their marvels.”

See Also On This Site: Goya’s Fight With Cudgels and Goya’s Colossus. A very good Goya page here.

Intelligent Design Creationism And A Few Iran Links

From Darwinian Conservatism: ‘Gelernter’s Strong Arguments Against Intelligent Design Creationism

Interesting read:

‘Gelernter sees that this is purely negative reasoning, because the proponents of intelligent design are offering no positive explanation of their own as to exactly when, where, and how the intelligent designer caused these forms of life.’

Relevant key-word search on this site ‘Gelernter:’ From Ed Driscoll: ‘Interview: David Gelernter on America-Lite’…More Americans In Universities-To What End? A Few Links

Both from The Federalist:

President Trump Can Still Avert A Catastrophe With Iran, And He Should

Panic Over War With Iran Is An Info Operation To Preserve The Iran Deal

My thoughts as a semi-informed citizen: I remember thinking that the Iranian regime (proxies, guns, terrorism) was the kind of regime with whom we couldn’t really do business (anti-American from the get-go), and that the deeper, populist ambitions of many Persians might support some kind of Iranian level-up to nuclear legitimacy, further destabilizing the region after a longer American strategic retreat.

Many signs pointed towards a conflict.

At the time, I didn’t much like the McCain campaign’s noises on Iran, potentially leading to a stand-off or even a much more difficult war than the Iraq campaign, without many of the Iraq war’s architects and supporting base having to examine their underlying assumptions.  This, given the many failure of America’s political and intellectual classes to properly consider what I see as many current American internal social, political and cultural divisions.

This process of decay and/or re-formation of our political and intellectual elite still seems to be ongoing. All in all, I remain highly skeptical.

Add to this the ‘our-deal-or-war’ peace rhetoric of the Obama administration and what seemed the amateurish quality of their foreign policy goals?

Here we are, I suppose.

Relevant key-word search on this site ‘Iran’: How’s That Iran Deal Going, Exactly?…

Repost-Henry Kissinger & George Schulz Via The WSJ: ‘The Iran Deal And Its Consequences’

Adam Garfinkle has a thoughtful piece on American political discourse and the Iran deal.

 

A Few Brief Martian Links

Why was Mt. Sharp chosen for the Curiosity Rover landing site, and what about those rounded stones that it photographed, indicative of long ago ankle to hip-deep water?  If the Martian surface is likely so full of perchlorates and life-hostile, irradiated soil, what are the chances of pockets of microbial life below ground?

The discussion later moves to Venus, Jovian moon Io, and the Chinese lander on the dark side of the moon in the final minutes:

Event Horizon discussion with Emily Lakdawalla.


As posted:

Imagine sub-freezing temperatures and free radicals bombarding the near atmosphere-less Martian surface (oxidized and rusted red, barren), but below the Martian surface lurk big blocks of briny ice; ice with freezing cold, incredibly salty water around them and maybe just enough O2 to support some microbes.

Worth thinking about.

What are you doing with your imagination?

‘Due to the scarcity of O2 in the modern Martian atmosphere, Mars has been assumed to be incapable of producing environments with sufficiently large concentrations of O2 to support aerobic respiration. Here, we present a thermodynamic framework for the solubility of O2 in brines under Martian near-surface conditions. We find that modern Mars can support liquid environments with dissolved O2 values ranging from ~2.5 × 10−6 mol m−3 to 2 mol m−3 across the planet, with particularly high concentrations in polar regions because of lower temperatures at higher latitudes promoting O2 entry into brines’

Jordan Peterson And Slavoj Zizek-Some Weather And Space Links

Challenges to many post-Enlightenment radicals, true-believers and narrow ideologues continue apace.  Hopefully, colonizing the Arts & Sciences for reasons other than making good art and doing good science will not come so easy.

Who’s got the Truth?  Who’s got the better models?

Jordan Peterson & Slavoj Zizek will be debating on April 19th:

On this site, see: Adam Kirsch responds to Zizek’s responses.  Kirsch reviewed Zizek’s In Defense Of Lost Causes in a New Republic piece entitled ‘The Deadly Jester.’

Interesting quote from Roger Scruton here:

So, what is all this Nothing-ness about? ‘My view’, says Scruton, ‘is that what’s underlying all of this is a kind of nihilistic vision that masks itself as a moving toward the enlightened future, but never pauses to describe what that society will be like. It simply loses itself in negatives about the existing things – institutional relations like marriage, for instance – but never asks itself if those existing things are actually part of what human beings are. Always in Zizek there’s an assumption of the right to dismiss them as standing in the way of something else, but that something else turns out to be Nothing.’

On that note, keep living a good life and keep learning:

Via Eric Weinstein, Science On A Sphere has got to be a dream of all weather and map geeks, no matter their level of commitment:

High-fidelity photographic images and satellite loops give you snatches of the bigger picture.  Get enough data sets and processing power together to build a basic model of Earth, however, and and you can start mapping months of actual data over the model.  Then you can start doing the same for other planets.

Perhaps with the cheaper availability of AI modeling, costs will come down enough to allow localized and predictive weather observations and modeling.  Amateur weather geeks can start adding input channels and competitive, real-time knowledge which strengthen and/or challenge the big models in real-time.

Engage your visual cortex along with actual recorded weather data.  Choose a particular weather event from your own memory, and align it with this visual representation of the data on the macro-level:

You probably already knew: If you keep scrolling out of Google Maps from your lat/long (https://www.google.com/maps) in satellite view, you will eventually see a similar Earth model.  You can then choose other planets from a sidebar if you can’t afford $45K!

I’ve been enjoying Event Horizon lately; good questions and good answers from Astronomers and serious practitioners.  Subscribe!:

Repost: A Sterile Garden-Bjorn Lomborg At Project Syndicate

Do Children Cause Global Warming?

Lomborg:

‘Across all cultures, raising a child is considered one of the most rewarding things a person can do. Yet a chorus of campaigners, scientists, and journalists suggest that everyone should think twice before procreating.’

As I see things, many in the West are replacing belief in a deeper substrate of religious doctrines with belief in a substrate of secular humanist ideals and various flavors of political idealism.

Pursuing one’s professional, political and moral ends is to be expected, of course, according to one’s beliefs and guiding principles.

Mainstreaming secular humanist ideals, however, also has professional, political and moral consequences for everyone. The latest moral idea also has its true-believers, purists, and ecstatics.

Within environmental circles, the logic can lead to no humans at all!

Man will not simply return to his once free, Romantically Primitive state in Nature (no cars, no industry, no pollution…innocence).

There will be no Man!

Mind you, this isn’t even the more placid, flaccid, Shaker dead-end which did leave some behind some good music.

It’s crazy!:

Related On This Site: Jonathan Adler At The Atlantic: ‘A Conservative’s Approach to Combating Climate Change’ Monbiot invokes Isaiah Berlin and attacks libertarians: From George Monbiot: ‘How Freedom Became Tyranny’A Few Thoughts On Isaiah Berlin’s “Two Concepts Of Liberty”

Instead of global green governance, what about a World Leviathan…food for thought, and a little frightening…there are other sources rather than Hobbes: At Bloggingheads Steven Pinker Discusses War And Thomas Hobbes

Ronald Bailey At Reason: ‘Delusional in Durban’A Few Links On Environmentalism And Liberty

 

Via A Reader-Two Oumuamua Links

Via a reader:  Hey, I’m probably not even an amateur.

Oumuamua’s Geometry Could Be More Extreme Than Previously Inferred

Recently, a visitor from beyond our solar sytem passed pretty closely to Earth.

With the observed and limited data, Oumuamua was clearly anomalous.  It likely had a 10/1 length to width ratio and was reflecting a lot of light, data which suggests a wobbling oblong or something nearly pancake-shaped (perhaps containing iron or other metals because it’s more reflective of the red, longer wavelengths on the visible light spectrum and it’s got to be of durable enough material to be so thin while surviving the roughness of interstellar space).

Our solar system is a fairly flat disk which is moving in relation to other star systems, all of which are traveling very quickly relative to Oumuamua, which was relatively stationary to these other systems when it came in at an angle to ours; speeding up again on its way out (perhaps not due to outgassing).

Dr. Avi Loeb has been working on lightsails, or thinking about how a civilization might travel and explore space and/or create something like a message in a bottle.   Below, he is interviewed on Event Horizon.

His not-ruled-out hypothesis will probably attract some UFO and alien public interest, but it seems, in my limited understanding, that as an anomaly, this is a discussion with a first-rate astronomer performing an interesting exercise in taking past experience, current knowledge and conventional explanations to their limits in trying to creatively identify something new.

It’s a big universe out there after all, and we’re just starting to get some better tools with which to view and understand it:

Robert Zubrin At The New Atlantis-‘Colonizing Mars: A Critique Of The SpaceX Interplanetary Transport System’Stephen Hawking In Cosmos: Some Reasons Why We Should Continue Space Exploration

Repost-Moving Towards Truth And Liberty, But What To Conserve?-Some Thoughts On The Bret & Eric Weinstein Interview

Via The Rubin Report:

As I currently see events, a self-directed life and the freedom to live such a life is a blessing of the Enlightenment, indeed, but much Enlightenment thinking has also helped produce many Shrines-Of-The-Self which currently dot the landscape, and which come with many downside risks.

Reserving judgment about such Shrines (should they exist), I suspect many in the West feel a tidal pull towards Romanticized-Modernized-Postmodernized visions of Nature, and the triumph of the individual artist, revealing and having revelations, creating, striving, and making anew in a process of casting old models aside. Towering genuises abound. Many are European.

Generations and centuries later, however, such ideas have also saturated Western civil society enough to create many of our familiar tensions: Some individuals are in a process of fully rejecting religion, science, mathematics and many products of reason in favor of modern mysticism, ideology and the nihilist denial of objective reality.

I think other individuals in the modern world have placed a lot of hope and meaning into political ideals and political movements gathered around what I’ve been calling the ‘-Isms’ (feminism, environmentalism, racism etc…where group identity can easily crowd out the pursuit of truth and individual autonomy). Such movements have important moral truths to offer and arguably freedoms for all (such is always the claim), but they don’t come without costs, dangers and downsides either (spin-cycles of utopia/dystopia as Eric Weinstein points out in the video above).

I consider these movements to be in serious need of critique, resistance and context, especially in dealing with hard problems of human nature like war and conflict, potential evil, and the incredible difficulty of maintaining legitimate moral decency aligned with positions of authority. Process can often matter as much as outcome.

Last but not least, still other individuals have been taken up into radical movements staying true to the totalitarianism and misery guaranteed within doctrines of revolutionary praxis, and such individuals are still busy activating beneath the deeper bedrock of secular humanism and liberal thinking, pushing upwards.

The Weinsteins are engaged in a lot of the pushback:

That mathematics, the natural sciences and evolutionary biology offer profound truth and knowledge should go without saying, expanding human understanding of the natural world, more accurately explaining empirically observed patterns and relationships within that natural world, and actively disrupting most old models many of us have long since internalized.

This is what free and rigorous thinking, often at great personal cost, can offer to an open and free society. May it long continue.

I don’t know if I’m with the brothers Weinstein when it comes to their radicalism regarding all current institutional arrangements, but I could be persuaded by their ‘panther-in-the-china-shop’ model of reform. Frankly, many of our most important institutions are proving over-inflated, cumbersome, and full of rot: Buffeted as we all are are by migration and mass communication, global labor markets, and very rapid technological rates of change.

***Perhaps if there’s a spectrum of change, I fall more on the conservative side. At the moment, I’m skeptical of the defense of experts and expertise (despite the truths), the panther-reformers (despite our common interests), and the populist discontent so active in our politics right now (boiling over, but accurately, I think, representing many of the fissures and chasms in civil society right now).

I should add that I think much that’s being conserved is arguably not worth conserving at any given time, but I doubt any one of us, nor any group, has accesss to full knowledge of what should stay and what should go. In fact, I’m pretty certain one of the main points of good governance lies in prohibiting any one of us, nor any particular faction, no matter how reasonable, to have very much power for very long (and it’s definitely the job of good people and the good in people to keep the demagogues, zealots, career bureuacrats and grubby strivers from too much power).

Let me know what I may have gotten wrong. Any thoughts and comments are welcome.

As always, thanks for reading. That’s a blessing in and of itself.

Related On This Site:

A Few Thoughts On Isaiah Berlin’s “Two Concepts Of Liberty”…

Repost-Classical Liberalism Via Friesian.Com-‘Exchange with Tomaz Castello Branco on John Gray’

The radical and rationalist project, anarcho-syndicalism and libertarian socialism: Repost-From Michael Totten At World Affairs: “Noam Chomsky: The Last Totalitarian”

Somewhere from the old aristocratic Russia softly speaks a keen mind in beautiful, strange English: Michael Dirda At The Washington Post Reviews ‘Nabokov in America’

How might this relate to the Heglian/post-Marxist project via ‘The End Of History’: Update And Repost- From YouTube: Leo Strauss On The Meno-More On The Fact/Value Distinction?’

Via Youtube-‘Week 2 Leo Strauss-The Three Waves Of Modernity’

From The NY Times Via A & L Daily: Helen Vendler On Wallace Stevens ‘The Plain Sense Of Things’

Which Lens Are You Using? Some Links

David Hockney ‘On Secret Knowledge: On Rediscovering The Lost Secrets Of The Old Masters’:

——————

Optical devices were likely common practice more than is commonly known these days, way before the camera, the television etc.

As previously posted:

Just as optics revolutionized the sciences and the boundaries of human knowledge, from Galileo to Newton and onwards, Tim Jenison wonders if optics may have revolutionized the arts as well.

‘But still, exactly how did Vermeer do it? One day, in the bathtub, Jenison had a eureka moment: a mirror. If the lens focused its image onto a small, angled mirror, and the mirror was placed just between the painter’s eye and the canvas, by glancing back and forth he could copy that bit of image until the color and tone precisely matched the reflected bit of reality.’

Good Vermeer page here for a refresher on the Dutch master.

Penn & Teller helped make a documentary which has gotten good reviews, entitled ‘Tim’s Vermeer.

Perhaps only the Girl With The Pearl Earring knows for sure if the painter used such a technique:

—————–

Interesting quotation from Quora, on Richard Feynman’s discussion of light in ‘QED: The Strange Theory Of Light And Matter’:

‘Mirrors and pools of water work pretty much the same way. Light interacts with electrons on the surface. Under the laws of quantum mechanics, each photon interacts with ALL of the electrons on the surface, and the net result is the sum of all possible pathways. If the surface is perfectly smooth, then most of the pathways cancel each other out, except for the one where the angle of incidence equals the angle of reflection. ‘

Click through for the illustrations to help explain Feynman’s theory, which fascinated me when I first came across it; much as I understand of it.

Have you ever seen sunlight reflecting off a body of water from a few thousand feet up in a plane? A rainbow in a puddle with some oil in it? A laser reflecting off a smooth surface like a mirror?

Related On This Site: In The Mail: Vivian Maier

Goya, that modern, had to make a living from the royal family: Goya’s ColossusGoya’s Fight With CudgelsGoethe’s Color Theory: Artists And ThinkersNASA Composite Image Of The Earth At Night…Beauty?Garrett Mattingly On Machiavelli-The Prince: Political Science Or Political Satire?

Repost-From The NY Times: Schlieren

Happy New Year! Let’s Do 2019! Gird Your Loins for An Unbidden Lecture On (A)rt, (S)cience And American Institutions These Days

I don’t know how you ended-up on this blog, but here you are:  Welcome old and new readers, to this little carved-out corner of the web.  May you subtly calculate how and why you disagree with me as you click back to that latest favorite video/recipe/game.

Or do yourself a favor and just click through to Zombo.com already.

It’s free!

Personally, I see many Wild-West attributes of online platforms as increasingly coming into contact with existing institutions and interests, and becoming less wild, but still Western.

This seems to be happening while many of our institutions have been seriously over-leveraged and are undergoing tremendous populist pushback. Trust in political parties, lawmakers and institutional leadership are at all-time lows.

Is America becoming more like Europe?

Mid and longer-term, there is still a fair amount of high-end innovation and intellectual incubation going on.  I tend to see mathematicians, AI innovators, computer scientists and software engineers as trying to solve particular kinds of problems, and generally not worrying too much about ‘culture,’ at least while not actively solving these problems.

Nevertheless, the ‘culture’ is interested in them.  At many companies and institutions, there is a tendency towards aligning with the loudest voices and most committed social reformers, which is to say favoring oppressed identity groups (women, minorities etc) on a rather simplified trend-line towards ever-more freedom and progress.

This tends to be where a lot of moral and public sentiment is currently being directed, regardless of deeper truths.

Such platforms also interact with a general decline in organized religious and cultural expectations in nearly all of our lives (my simplified trend-line of less religion in our lives).  I see a good deal of increased choice and freedom about where to work, whom to marry and how to make decisions these days.

Therefore, not all of these changes are bad.  Many of these changes, in fact, have been very good for very many people, but they come with costs.

It’s not clear what the new rules are nor upon which foundations they will rest.

What’s going on with the intellectual dark-web?: If not all change is for the better, and if you’re counting on liberation driven by radicals decrying all existing institutions in favor of utopian ideas and revolution, then you’re counting on deeply authoritarian and totalitarian ideologues to defend liberty.

This is where many in academia, the media and positions of cultural influence find themselves these days, having backed-into into institutional and bureaucratic capture by illiberal voices.

As for the current Patreon dustup, I see Patreon as primarily having to make a business decision in the ‘culture’ wars between the more activist and socialist Left and the IDW (intellectual dark-web).

A vigorous, robust defense of freedom of speech so common a generation ago has now sadly, but unsurprisingly, become a cultural battleground.

And on major platforms like Patreon, the IDW folks standing-up for broader and more open speech have become an unprotected minority, and likely a business liability:

Many deeply committed socialists tend to be surprisingly good art and film critics, focusing sharply on ‘culture.’  Many economic Marxists tend to congregate in the academy and politics as they produce little of value beyond spreading the gospel of Marx.  They can be particularly adept at politics, gaining special traction while institutions are over-leveraged.

If you allow them to drive the latest moral idea, then eventually standing up for any law, tradition or practice makes you an enemy and part of the ‘system’ they claim to know so much about:

As for my take on artists, most good ones tend to the bohemian, operating on the fringes of the ‘culture’, wanting to develop particular skills, talents as well as their own unique voices (good artists earn appropriate respect for their skills and talents, despite often harboring fruitcake economic and philosophical ideas).

Generally, they are not members of a ‘creative class,’ as this tends to be a favored fiction of many a softly collectivist type, dreaming rosy dreams.

More broadly, many in the culture at large have gone down deeply nihilistic and existentialist pathways.  On the ‘cutting-edge’ where what’s cool easily becomes culturally and politically influential, many individuals see themselves as bitterly isolated from all meaning and purpose, on their own against the void, much like the tragic anti-hero become so popular these days.

I see this as occuring on a much longer trend-line, or at least, Isaiah Berlin offers some useful thoughts as to when and where Western artists started adopting this Romantic vision and outside-looking-in approach so common these days:

As to my own paltry contributions (using other people’s platforms to link to other people discussing past great contributions), here ya go.

There are many entry points into Western canon, so here are just a few:

Music + Math=Symmetry?:

And just a passing dream:

A Few Thoughts On Steven Pinker’s Appearance On The Rubin Report

Via a reader, Pinker’s book here.

My current views on Pinker’s four categories, for what they’re worth:

Reason-I’ve been exploring philosophically ideal Oakeshottian ‘modes of experience’ lately.  Our thoughts and basic sensory experiences are intertwined within modes, but these modes are not necessarily connected to a larger, hierarchically arranged superstructure.

‘The modes that Oakeshott identifies in Experience and Its Modes—history, science, and practice, to which he later added “poetry” (art)—are epistemological categories, not ontological ones. And although the modes are mutually exclusive, they do not form a closed set. They are constructions that have emerged over time in human experience. They could change or even disappear and other modes might yet appear.’

I view this approach as particularly useful for the humanities, as it could be tonic for the nihilism, existentialism and post-Romantic, post-Modern individual isolation found throughout the Western World (arts, academies, ‘culture’).  This approach could be especially useful where narrow ideologies and righteous belief go about picking up the slack.

I do think Pinker is properly humble about the influence of reason (it won’t scale to everyone, and only to those of interested in engaging their reason in a direction Pinker might help instruct and with which I find much to agree).

More on Oakeshott’s thinking:

‘The illusion that there are “correct” answers to practical questions Oakeshott called “Rationalism”. It is the belief that practical activity is rational only when it rests on moral or causal laws whose truth can be demonstrated. In Marxism, for example, one encounters the claim that laws of historical change can be discerned scientifically and that practical guidance can be derived from them. But this claim, Oakeshott thought, should be understood as a rhetorical one that presupposes a certain kind of audience: it can be persuasive only for those who already believe that such laws exist and that they dictate correct decisions (Oakeshott 2008: 168–177). The error of Rationalism is to think that making decisions simply requires skill in the technique of applying rules or calculating consequences.’

As a brief aside, Oakeshottian pluralism perhaps doesn’t have much overlap with Isaiah Berlin’s value pluralism with regard to political philosophy, but it does remind me of the following: Oppressed individuals may actually have good reasons for change, but it doesn’t necessarily follow that oppressed individuals possess knowledge of the direction nor ends of (H)istory, nor those of (M)an.  In fact, some of the greatest dangers of the 20th century came from individuals believing they knew of such ends while instituting those ends into social and political revolutions.

Berlin:

“Everything is what it is:  liberty is liberty, not equality or justice or fairness or culture, or human happiness or a quiet conscience.  If liberty of myself or my class or my nation depends on the misery of a number of other human beings, the system which promotes this is unjust and immoral.  but if I curtail or lose my freedom in order to lessen the shame of such inequality, and do not thereby materially increase the individual liberty of others, an absolute loss of liberty occurs.”

Food for thought.

Science-I believe the sciences yield the best knowledge we have of the Natural world, and attract some of the best minds, but it takes many years of long practice, hard work and habit to gain a sufficient mental map and the mathematical problem solving skills necessary to advance a field.  Not all sciences are equal, and some social sciences, like psychology, have had serious reproducibility problems of late.

Just as the Oakeshottian critique of ‘rationalism’ display themselves with regard to reason, there is also a critique of ‘scientism‘ on this view.

In the wake of people actually doing science, are many people practicing in a field with scientific elements and varying but respectable degrees of probabilistic accuracy, and further downstream, people with little to no training in the sciences doing something quite different altogether (politics, journalism etc).

There is a reductionism, and a kind of fetishiziation of scientific knowledge around which many gather.  Should one usefully rank order the sciences, a little epistemological humility might still recommend that human knowledge may not all be successfully synthesized into one model nor accounted for within such a model.

Also (I’m sure you’ve probably noticed this, too) smart people, scientists included, are subject to the same blind spots, hubris and group-think as any of the rest of us.  Sometimes smart people are more likely to assume their knowledge in one domain qualifies them for knowledge in another, especially when others pay them a lot of attention.

Humanism & Progress Through Humanist Institutions (The Problem of ‘Isms’)

I wonder if Pinker would accept this definition of Humanism as found here:

“‘…a morally concerned style of intellectual atheism openly avowed by only a small minority of individuals (for example, those who are members of the British Humanist Association) but tacitly accepted by a wide spectrum of educated people in all parts of the Western world.”

Perhaps.

From an interview with Pinker:

Naff: Let’s talk about humanism itself. You say that progress without humanism really isn’t progress at all. And you’ve just made the point that humanism can occupy a place in various different perches. But there is a secular humanist movement that is at the forefront of humanism today.

Lots of other “isms” have faltered because of human foibles, jealousies, power divisions, ideological differences and so on. What makes humanism so special that you single it out as essential to progress?

Pinker: Not so much the humanist movement, although I do endorse it as a valuable development, but rather the overall morality of humanism [is what’s essential], namely that human wellbeing is the ultimate good—and also the wellbeing of other sentient creatures. “Humanism” is a bit of a misnomer in singling out Homo sapiens; it’s a larger commitment to sentient beings.

But the effect of humanistic institutions very much depends on how they organize, how they conduct themselves, how they manage their own affairs. Although they’ve been a force for good, I’m not calling for a blind trust in a particular organization that happens to have “humanist” in their title.

Of course, progress is possible and is actually occuring in many fields and such progress filters down to all of our lives through various channels. Yet, as Pinker notes, it’s not clear what prevents unfalsifiable ideas from becoming ascendant and dominant, and the loudest, most committed ideologues from gaining humanist institutional control through administrative maneuvering and confrontational shakedowns.

The schisms within the Progressive movement, for example, and the radical liberationists often driving the latest moral cause are very interested in making all the world, all the people in the world, and all of our institutions [on top of that], reflect their moral and ideological lights, often through very illiberal means.

How much am I missing?  Any thoughts and comments are welcome.

Thanks for reading.

Simon Blackburn Reviews Steven Pinker’s “The Blank Slate: The Modern Denial Of Human Nature” Via the University Of Cambridge Philosophy Department…

A Few Ken Minogue Quotations on Michael Oakeshott