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

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.


“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.”


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

Repost-From Scientific Blogging: ‘The Humanities Are In Crisis-Science Is Not’

Full post here.

Saving the humanities from some humanists, anti-humanists, ideologues and people who understand too little and expect too much of both the arts and the sciences?

A brief response by our author to this NY Times Op-Ed piece:

“Graduate education in the humanities may have its problems, but don’t try to tar science with the same brush.”


“The humanities aren’t sciences, they don’t solve problems like sciences, and they shouldn’t try to be sciences.”

Is the public lens currently being focused on the problem in a way that does justice to neither the humanities nor the sciences?

Here are some links gathered over the years:

1. Lots of people invested in ideology will naturally seek to extend their ideological commitments, worldview, and beliefs into the books they read (including this blogger?).  What are you hoping to get out of that book in your hand?: Heather McDonald At The WSJ: ‘ The Humanities Have Forgotten Their Humanity’…

2. Conservative Briton Roger Scruton suggests keeping political and aesthetic judgments apart in the humanities, via a lot of German philosophical idealism Roger Scruton In The American Spectator Via A & L Daily: Farewell To Judgmentbut some German influences may come with other problems.

“In the days when the humanities involved knowledge of classical languages and an acquaintance with German scholarship, there was no doubt that they required real mental discipline, even if their point could reasonably be doubted. But once subjects like English were admitted to a central place in the curriculum, the question of their validity became urgent. And then, in the wake of English came the pseudo-humanities—women’s studies, gay studies and the like—which were based on the assumption that, if English is a discipline, so too are they.”

3. Keep politics (add: and business) out of academia, when you can?-Repost-Stanley Fish At The NY Times Blog: ‘The Last Professors: The Corporate Professors And The Fate Of The Humanities’

4. Strauss and the Straussians-Via C-SPAN-The Historical Context Of Allan Bloom…Update And Repost: ‘A Few Thoughts On Allan Bloom–The Nietzsche / Strauss Connection’

5. Just read for its own sake, man, it doesn’t need an endpoint, because art’s pretty useful and useless: Why Should You Get A Liberal Education? From The ASAN Institute Via Vimeo: ‘Michael Oakeshott’s Cold War Liberalism 1’

6. Philosopher Of Art Denis Dutton of the Arts & Letters Daily says the arts and Darwin can be sucessfully synthesized: Review of Denis Dutton’s ‘The Art Instinct’

A Link To C.P. Snow’s ‘Two Cultures’

Via a Reader via Scientific American: ‘An Update On C.P. Snow’s “Two Cultures:”

Essay here (PDF).

‘Earlier this summer marked the 50th anniversary of C. P. Snow’s famous “Two Cultures” essay, in which he lamented the great cultural divide that separates two great areas of human intellectual activity, “science” and “the arts.” Snow argued that practitioners in both areas should build bridges, to further the progress of human knowledge and to benefit society.’

My two cents: This blog tends to worry about modern ‘one culture’ visions, too.

On the one hand, you’ve got your ‘scientific socialism;’ the clear dead-end, totalizing Marxist theories of history and various neo-Marxist movements having since colonized many faculty-lounges, HR departments, and media pulpits across America.

Deep, bad ideas tend to live on once plugged into many deep, human desires and dreams.  The radical pose will be with us for a while.

Of course, it’s rather sad to witness the sheepish, suburban apologetics of identity amongst the chattering classes; the moment of surprise and fear when a previously insulated writer (leaning upon traditions) realizes today just might be their day in the barrel.

Sooner or later you’re going to have to stand up for your principles.

You’ve also got many modern ‘-Ist’ movements, which, whatever truth and knowledge claims they may contain (some quite important ones, I think), are often quick to conflate the means of science with the ends of politics. ‘Join us,’ they say, and become a part of the modern world. The mission of ‘Education’ is easily mistaken for knowledge, learning with wisdom, collective group action with individual achievement.

There is a kind of a high middlebrow drift towards….I’m not sure where, exactly.

Alas, if you’re still with me, here are some links:

M.H. Abrams here.

“…in the days when, to get a Ph.D., you had to study Anglo-Saxon, Old Norse, Old French, and linguistics, on the notion that they served as a kind of hard-core scientific basis for literary study.”

and of the New Criticism he says:

I’ve been skeptical from the beginning of attempts to show that for hundreds of years people have missed the real point,”

Did literature professors at one point have something more substantive to teach?

In a broader context, hasn’t the Western mind has shifted to “science,” instead of God as a deepest idea, and so too isn’t literature a part of this shift?

As Richard Rorty sees it, no standard objective for truth exists but for the interpretation of a few philosophers interpreting whatever of philosophy they’ve read.  It’s all just an author’s “stuff.”  Here’s an excerpt discussing the debate between him and Hilary Putnam:

Addition:  Western mind shifted to “science?”…well as for poetry T.S. Eliot and Wallace Stevens had some fairly profound religious influences.

See Also: Should You Bother To Get A Liberal Arts Education? From The Harvard Educational Review-A Review Of Martha Nussbaum’s ‘Cultivating Humanity: A Classical Defense of Reform in Liberal Education.’

Repost-Heather McDonald At The WSJ: ‘ The Humanities Have Forgotten Their Humanity’

***Whom do you trust for discussions of the arts and culture, and would you just rather publications be up front about their ideological bents and loyalties?

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Beauty is no quality in things themselves, it exists merely in the mind which contemplates them; and each mind perceives a different beauty.

David Hume

For Today, I Suppose This Will Do-Two Quotes From Roger Scruton

‘The same idea occurs in Schopenhauer, for whom the truth of the world is Will, which cannot be represented in concepts.  Schopenhauer devoted roughly 500,000 words to this thing that no words can capture…’

‘…I too am tempted to eff the ineffable.  like my philosophical predecessors, I want to describe that world beyond the window, even though I know that it cannot be described but only revealed.  I am not alone in thinking that world to be real and important.  But there are many who dismiss it as unscientific cast of mind are disagreeable to me.  Their nerdish conviction that facts alone can signify, and that the ‘transcendental’ and the eternal are nothing but words, mark them out as incomplete. There is an aspect of the human condition that is denied to them. ‘

Scruton, Roger. Effing The IneffableConfessions Of A Heretic. Notting Hill Editions Ltd, 2016. Print. (Pgs 87 & 88).

Personally, I’m not sure that all naturalists and people in the sciences I’ve known wish to reduce the world to strictly mathematical laws, nor consign all domains of human endeavor to ‘non-science.’

Some people, I suspect, have the onboard wiring and have pursued learning which make them profoundly interested in order, patterns, and logic. Some people are just really smart and dedicate themselves to a particular problem or two, maybe possessing the genius and courage, even, to define a new problem after years of hard work of mastering a field, leading to genuine new knowledge.

I am grateful for the Mars Curiosity Rover, and the hundreds of engineers that worked for much of their professional lives to land this thing on Mars.  It’s still yielding valuable data.

Now, there’s arrogance, hubris and false pride to be in all of us, to be sure, and many sharp thinkers are no exception (in some cases the bigger the brain (or ego), the bigger the fool).  I don’t find foolish and/or earnest conviction in any short supply on this Earth.

To be fair, I don’t think this proves, nor does Scruton even attempt to prove, that the ineffable, therefore, exists (or if the ineffable does exist, as it reveals itself to us, that it requires saying or expression through us, nor through Handel or Bach or post-Kantian German thinking).

Such expression surely offers me consolation, though, for I take refuge in works of art.  I am profoundly grateful to walk at evening and listen to a few minutes of music:

I am profoundly grateful that I may share in someone else’s pain, suffering and disconsolation, across centuries, transmuted into an act of beauty and wonder, through a centuries-developed form and method (an orchestra is rather a thing of technical achievement, too, just as is a store-bought guitar or a Korg).

Sure, there’s much epistemological ignorance amongst some in the sciences and, frankly, within all of us.

Come to think of it, I think most of us manage one or a few things well, and mess up at least a few areas of our lives without even trying.  It’s also very, very tempting to talk about that which we know very little (this blog, for instance), as though something is known.

This may make me no more than a 2nd or 3rd rate idea man, taking, essentially, more than has been given.

For today, I suppose this will do.

Repost-Roger Scruton At The WSJ: ‘Memo To Hawking: There’s Still Room For God’

Also On This Site:  Roger Scruton In The American Spectator Via A & L Daily: Farewell To JudgmentFrom YouTube: Roger Scruton On Religious Freedom, Islam & Atheism

Via The University Of British Colombia: Kant-Summary Of Essential PointsFrom Bryan Magee’s Talking Philosophy On Youtube: Geoffrey Warnock On KantSunday Quotation: From Jonathan Bennett On Kant

From The Times Higher Education: Simon Blackburn On The The Atheist/Believer DebateFrom Bloggingheads: Adam Frank And Eliezer Yudkowsky


Skepticism Regarding The Moralizing Impulses Of Modern Political & Social Movements-A Few Links

Richard Feynman Cargo Cult Science lecture here.

Feynman (wikipedia) wonders what makes science science.  He manages to argue quite well why he doesn’t think psychology meets a certain standard.

At least, he says the following:

‘I think the educational and psychological studies I mentioned are examples of what I would like to call cargo cult science. In the South Seas there is a cargo cult of people. During the war they saw airplanes land with lots of good materials, and they want the same thing to happen now. So they’ve arranged to imitate things like runways, to put fires along the sides of the runways, to make a wooden hut for a man to sit in, with two wooden pieces on his head like headphones and bars of bamboo sticking out like antennas–he’s the controller–and they wait for the airplanes to land. They’re doing everything right. The form is perfect. It looks exactly the way it looked before. But it doesn’t work. No airplanes land. So I call these things cargo cult science, because they follow all theapparent precepts and forms of scientific investigation, but  they’re missing something essential, because the planes don’t land.’

What is the bar as to when the social sciences become a science?

One place I find myself often retreating (knowledgeably, and sometimes not) is a place of skepticism when it comes to such fields gaining earthly authority and becoming conventional wisdom.

What if the latest research on a certain psychological disorder, early-educational practice, or thinking about certain mental-states and their treatment, because of this potential ambiguity, simply doesn’t hold up well over time and under greater scrutiny?

How much cost of error can be borne through political/legal channels?  Is there room for self-correction and protection of individual liberties regarding movements which are essentially moralizing and reformist in nature?

Few with money, reputation, political power and influence to bear those costs will do so readily, for that’s not how man’s nature is constituted, especially when asses are on the line.

Just observe any politician come election time.  Or your own behavior when you trip on a toy left on the stairs (you’ve probably resisted the urge to smash that toy at some point).  Rather, I’d prefer holding many idealists and social reformers/do-gooders of all stripes to account for outcomes, not intentions.

How about some healthy skepticism?

***This is to say nothing of the anti-science, ideological and radical base often driving political/social influence upon reformers and public sentiment.

Food for thought: Rarely do those upholding an ideal or principle in the public square stop to reflect upon the possibility that their burgeoning political movement might eventually devolve into a racket.  The injustice, and perceived injustice, is too great.  The urgency of now becomes overwhelming.  Thus, what is noble in true in a movement also contains that which is ignoble and untrue, for there are always the unbalanced and power-hungry seeking more influence as they are attracted to the movement.

If this movement doesn’t constrain the worst impulses, it can be relatively easy to predict where it may end-up.

On that note, a Theodore Dalrymple piece here.

Say it ain’t so:

‘Medical journals have thus gone over to political correctness—admittedly with the zeal of the late convert—comparatively recently. Such correctness, however, is now deeply entrenched. With The New England Journal of Medicine for July 16, 2016 in hand, I compared it with the first edition I came across in a pile of old editions in my slightly disordered study: that for September 13, 2007, as it happened, which is not a historical epoch ago. What started as mild has become strident and absurd.’

Another Dalrymple piece here:  Via A Reader-Theodore Dalrymple At LibertyLawSite.Org: ‘How Modern Psychology Undermines Freedom and Responsibility’

Dalrymple takes care to respond to many modern knowledge claims and ‘cult of the expert’ tendencies with literary wisdom, criticism, and skepticism.  Perhaps modern psychology, in trying to explain the world and soothe men’s souls, also pathologizes and medicalizes what are otherwise quite normal impulses and duties we human beings have in a pretty harsh world, with plenty of suffering.

See Also: Karl Popper’s metaphysical theory on much the same subject: Falsifiability

This, unlike the system highlighted in the below quote from the late Robert Conquest, steadfast chronicler of Soviet authority and leadership in practice:

But, he does point out certain dangers and makes me laugh at the same time:

“Those teach who can’t do” runs the dictum,

But for some even that’s out of reach:

They can’t even teach—so they’ve picked ’em

To teach other people to teach.

Then alas for the next generation,

For the pots fairly crackle with thorn.

Where psychology meets education

A terrible bullshit is born.’

As previously posted:

Ken Minogue framed it thusly:

‘Olympianism is the characteristic belief system of today’s secularist, and it has itself many of the features of a religion. For one thing, the fusion of political conviction and moral superiority into a single package resembles the way in which religions (outside liberal states) constitute comprehensive ways of life supplying all that is necessary (in the eyes of believers) for salvation. Again, the religions with which we are familiar are monotheistic and refer everything to a single center. In traditional religions, this is usually God; with Olympianism, it is society, understood ultimately as including the whole of humanity. And Olympianism, like many religions, is keen to proselytize. Its characteristic mode of missionary activity is journalism and the media.’

Robert Zubrin At The New Atlantis-‘Colonizing Mars: A Critique Of The SpaceX Interplanetary Transport System’

Full piece here.

Strengths and weaknesses:

‘The duration of the journey would of course depend on where Earth and Mars are in their orbits; the shortest one-way trip would be around 80 days, according to Musk’s presentation, and the longest would be around 150 days. (Musk stated that he thinks the architecture could be improved to reduce the trip to 60 or even 30 days.)’

Via Youtube: ‘Curiosity’s First Year On Mars’

So many doomsayers in the prediction racket:

From Youtube Via Reason: ‘Robert Zubrin: Radical Environmentalists And Other Merchants Of Despair’