This poem, written around 1592, is startlingly naughty. An extract (you can find the whole thing here):
What shall I doe to shewe myself a man? It will
This poem, written around 1592, is startlingly naughty. An extract (you can find the whole thing here):
What shall I doe to shewe myself a man? It will not be for ought that beawtie can. I kisse, I clap, I feele, I view at will, Yett dead he lyes not thinking good or ill. Vnhappie me, quoth shee, and wilt' not stand? Com, lett me rubb and chafe it with my hand. Perhaps the sillie worme is labour'd sore, And wearied that it can doe no more. If it be so (as I am greate a-dread) I wish tenne thousand times, that I were dead. How ere it is; no meanes shall want in me, That maie auaile to his recouerie. Which saide, she tooke and rould it on hir thigh, And when she lookt' on't, she would weepe and sighe, And dandled it, and dance't it up and doune, Not ceasing, till she rais'd it from his swoune. And then he flue on hir as he were wood And on her breeche did thack, and foyne a-good
I have not read the book, but I have seen the movie. Let me explain how much I liked it.
As things turned out, I watched it on a cross-Channel ferry trI have not read the book, but I have seen the movie. Let me explain how much I liked it.
As things turned out, I watched it on a cross-Channel ferry travelling from Caen to Portsmouth. The trip takes about seven hours, and I was bored. I recall that I had packed Camus's La peste to read, and to my surprise I wasn't enjoying it at all. I was pleased to find that I had the option of seeing High Fidelity with Catherine Zeta-Jones, one of my favorite actresses. I paid my £3 and sat down to enjoy the next couple of hours.
Unfortunately, as often happens on this crossing, the seas were on the rough side. After a while, I found myself feeling rather queasy, but told my stomach that I wasn't paying any attention to its urgent messages. The movie was far too good to miss. Not only that, the beautiful Catherine hadn't yet turned up. But my stomach was unconvinced by these arguments and let me know that this was my final warning. If I didn't leave now, something extremely embarrassing was going to happen.
I got up, staggered to the bathroom, which luckily was right next to the theater, threw up as quickly as I could, and then rushed back. I think I only missed about three or four minutes. I then happily watched the movie to the end.
I suppose a skeptic will object that this story says nothing about Nick Hornby's novel and everything about my feelings for voluptuous brunettes called Catherine. I admit that the evidence is only anecdotal, but I submit it anyway for what it's worth. If you are able to expand my informal pre-study into a methodologically sound experiment that produces statistically significant results, I'll appreciate it if you mention me briefly in the acknowledgements section.
Hey, let's remember that the rule is innocent until proven guilty. It's quite possible that the author of this book was only ironically trying to killHey, let's remember that the rule is innocent until proven guilty. It's quite possible that the author of this book was only ironically trying to kill the woman who gave him a negative review. I'm waiting until all the facts are in before I make up my mind. ...more
This book, published in 1953 by Adolf Hitler's childhood friend August Kubizek, is frequently referred to in the sixth volume of Knausgård's Min kamp;This book, published in 1953 by Adolf Hitler's childhood friend August Kubizek, is frequently referred to in the sixth volume of Knausgård's Min kamp; Knausgård quotes long passages and also compares with Hitler's various biographers, in particular Ian Kershaw.
Kubizek was Hitler's best friend for about four years, and they shared lodgings in Vienna for several months. Knausgård's opinion is that Kubizek was the only real friend Hitler ever had, and the person who knew him best. He also thinks that the memoir is essentially honest. It was begun in the 40s, under the orders of the Third Reich, and completed after the war; during the first period, Kubizek was being pressed to write a hagiography of Hitler, and during the second he was expected to demonize him, but he did neither of these things.
The most surprising aspect of Kubizek's account, at least as presented by Knausgård, is that Hitler doesn't come across as an evil person; the worst that can be said about him is that he is egoistic and somewhat out of touch with reality. This is actually much more frightening than a portrait of an inhuman monster. It is easy to see how people you know yourself could turn into the creature Hitler later became, and Knausgård's book explores this theme in great detail. He strongly disagrees with Kershaw's reading of Kubizek's text, and suggests that Kershaw is overinterpreting the facts in the light of Hitler's future career.
I am curious to read Kubizek's memoir and decide for myself. ...more
The whole is greater than the sum of its parts. As with the other volumes, I am hesitant to give this more than three or at most four[from Min kamp 5]
The whole is greater than the sum of its parts. As with the other volumes, I am hesitant to give this more than three or at most four stars; but the series as a whole, which we now see is one coherent book, clearly rates the full five. It was enormously enjoyable to work out for myself just what the hell Min kamp is actually about, and if you like doing that kind of thing I strongly advise you to stop here and not come back until you've also finished it. Just be assured that there is most definitely a point.
For people who don't feel up to reading 3500 pages of Norwegian, less than half of which is currently available in English translation, (view spoiler)[I continue the story from part 5. The mad author, “Karl Ove Knausgård”, has completed the first two volumes of his magnum opus Min kamp and is about to publish them. He is sick with worry about how his wife, who still hasn't read the manuscript, is going to react when she sees what he's done. He has already sent copies to other people who appear in the story; some of them make no objection, but others violently disapprove. His uncle Gunnar, in particular, is incoherent with rage. He says Knausgård has lied, he has witnesses who can prove it, and he's going to sue both him and the publisher.
Volume 6 is divided into three parts, of roughly equal lengths. The first and third are about the surface story, and certainly do not lack interest. But it is in the middle section, a dense, 400 page long piece of pseudo-literary criticism, that “Knausgård” has hidden the key to the book. He has already had fun taking on the personas, among others, of Proust, Dostoyevsky, Joyce, Dante and Hamsun. Now (I think, anyway), he adopts the character of Adorno, a writer he has repeatedly expressed admiration for, and gives you the final pieces of the puzzle.
Like all magicians, his act hinges on diverting your attention. The central question of the novel is not whether the events depicted are “true”, or how his family will react. It is something much more obvious, so obvious that it has been right in front of you since the first page and has stayed there ever since. It is the narrator's extraordinary, compelling, hypnotic voice, that keeps you reading against your better judgment. Everyone remarks on the voice. But where does it come from? That's what we should have been wondering.
It transpires that we have been listening, spellbound, to Adolf Hitler.
Of course! Of course! Why else would the novel be called Min kamp (the Norwegian title of Mein Kampf)? Why else is it so absurdly long? As he describes Hitler's life – in particular, his early life – everything suddenly makes sense. We see that the young “Knausgård” of volumes 3 to 5 has been cunningly portrayed to be as much like Hitler as possible. The tyrannical father. The kind and sympathetic mother. The insane, grandiose plans. The strange attitude to sex and women – apparently the young Hitler also refused to masturbate, and helplessly adored girls he never dared approach. In general, the bizarre mixture of corruption and purity. The flashes of hatred against the whole world, when he reacts to his latest setback by vowing that one day he will become the greatest and show them all. The ability to state openly what everyone is secretly thinking, but dares not say aloud. The apparent absence of a sense of humor. The emphasis on the concrete, the physical, earth and blood.
The characters of Hitler and “Knausgård” fuse together. The Hitler of this book is a Bohemian, a would-be painter, who only ends up taking the road that eventually makes him the Führer because he's suffered the intolerable humiliation of being turned down by the Viennese art academy. Similarly, “Knausgård” is a failed writer, unable to get published or reach an audience until he makes a Faustian bargain that finally gives him the voice he needs – there are more than a few references to Mann's Adrian Leverkühn. At last, we understand his discussion of The Sound and the Fury, where everything circles around a hidden act that is never named. Even more, we realize the nature of the dark shadow from the Wizard of Earthsea sequence in part 3. And, needless to say, people who make Faustian bargains have to pay an appropriate price; Knausgård's portrayal of Hell as everyday life in a dysfunctional Swedish family is characteristically idiosyncratic, but no less convincing for that.
What an extraordinarily clever, witty, insightful and moving book. Some day, quite soon I think, everyone will know the story, and it will be impossible to read it and be surprised the way I was. There is a lovely passage in this last volume comparing art and miracles; a work of art is an unrepeatable event, which like a miracle can only be seen once, and which progressively loses its force as it becomes better known. I feel I have been witness to a literary miracle. I hope you took my advice and read the book before looking at this review.
Thank you, Karl Ove. ________________________________
I suppose I can't avoid the question, seeing that most of Scandinavia apparently spent a couple of years discussing little else. So, if you're still wondering about the moral aspects, let me briefly give you my reasons for believing that no Swedish women poets were harmed in making this movie. Needless to say, I can't prove anything, but I would at any rate like to submit exhibits A and B to the court's attention:
A. It turns out, as noted, that the main narrator of the book is Adolf Hitler. There is a long passage in the middle section of part 6 describing Hitler's thoughts on propaganda, as outlined in Mein Kampf. Hitler advocated the technique that has now become generally known as the Big Lie: just keep on repeating your message, paying no attention to the fact that it doesn't make sense and is obviously not true, and people will eventually believe it. As Knausgård says, the astonishing thing is that Hitler cold-bloodedly put this in print, in a book that millions of Germans would read. He was so sure of what he was saying that he knew it would make no difference.
So when Knausgård says, over and over again, that everything in the book is the simple truth, I think he's messing with our minds. It's exactly the same deal: he tells us bluntly what tricks he is going to use, and we ignore him.
B. There is an amusing sequence near the end of part 6 where they're sitting around the kitchen table chez Knausgård. “Hey!” says one person. “Have you noticed? Everyone here is a character in a novel!”
“There should be a web forum where characters in novels can discuss their experiences,” agrees another.
“I volunteer as moderator,” says Knausgård.
“Tell me,” says Knausgård's brother Yngve as he turns towards Linda, “How does it feel to read that you've been hung out to dry?”
Well, I don't know about you. But I smell a giant example of Rattus norvegicus. (hide spoiler)]["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>...more
A young woman finds a book abandoned on a park bench. There's a note inside saying that the previous reader had taken great pleasure from it, and that
A young woman finds a book abandoned on a park bench. There's a note inside saying that the previous reader had taken great pleasure from it, and that they hope the person who finds the book will enjoy it as much as they did. The woman takes the book home and starts reading; after a while, she just can't put it down. Her boyfriend, who never reads anything more demanding than his smartphone manual, doesn't get it. But she becomes more and more curious about the book. Some of the words are circled. Is there a hidden message that will tell her where it came from?
I found this graphic novel next to my seat when we had breakfast at the Cottage Café earlier today, and, like the heroine, I couldn't put it down either. It's charming, funny and sexy, and my only complaint is that I'll have to get hold of part 2 to discover what the secret is. Recommended for anyone who reads French and prefers books to smartphones. _______________________________
Like Camélia in the book, I cannot rest until I know where the mysterious messages are coming from. On the way back from a shopping trip, I deviously steered our path so that we went past Payot. (Not, who hates graphic novels, was less than pleased by my subterfuge). The assistant, as always, was very helpful; but alas, it turns out that the sequel has not yet been published.
Curses! I must find out! Maybe I can track down the author's address and start going through his garbage? I'm sure Camélia wouldn't just tamely admit defeat and wait for the damn thing to appear... _______________________________
The spy-cam I've installed in Mig's studio has given some tantalizing hints of what part 2 will contain ((view spoiler)[ (hide spoiler)]). But I still can't figure out the secret.
Reading Jesse Kraai's novel Lisa a couple of weeks ago, I was once again reminded of the dreadful state that school math teaching has somehow got itsReading Jesse Kraai's novel Lisa a couple of weeks ago, I was once again reminded of the dreadful state that school math teaching has somehow got itself into. Lisa, a gifted young Aspie chessplayer, is failing most of her classes. Her mentor decides that she should at least be able to handle math, and takes her off to visit a research mathematician he knows.
"I need to know how to do the ninety degree triangle theorem," says Lisa sullenly. "What's that?" asks the mathematician, surprised. After a while, he figures out that Lisa means Pythagoras's theorem. She has a bunch of exercises she's supposed to complete, but they make no sense to her. The mathematician isn't interested in teaching her the rules for passing the test; instead, he shows her how you prove Pythagoras's theorem. This is a novel experience for Lisa, who has never seen a mathematical proof. Kraai, unfortunately, isn't making it up. A mathematician friend, who's an expert on geometry, says the situation is beyond belief. After complex negotiations involving mergers between various more or less incompatible courses, US geometry textbooks present an absurd parody of the subject: some of them include as many as a hundred "axioms", while Euclid's original treatment only used five axioms and five postulates. Obviously, this vast superfluity of so-called axioms would not be necessary if kids were taught to prove theorems, but the idea of proof has gone out of style.
If you're curious to see how things used to be done, you might want to check out Teach Yourself Calculus, a book I read when I was a geeky pre-teen in the early 70s. It was the closest thing I'd yet seen to a real math text; I absolutely loved it, and I can still remember the content quite well. Instead of forcing you to learn the dumb rules that are driving Lisa and her generation crazy, the author starts off by explaining fundamental principles: rates of change, limits, differentiation, the notion of an integral. He proves everything from first principles, assuming just basic algebra and trig, so you can see where all the mysterious formulas come from. By the time I'd got to the end, I could solve simple differential equations, and I understood what I was doing. I hadn't just picked up some useful skills; I could start to see what math was actually about.
Well, these things are always cyclic, and no doubt some cutting-edge educational theorist is at this moment telling people that logical proof is the way to go. It'll probably be back on the syllabus by the time today's pre-teens are sending their own kids to school. But if you're a geeky pre-teen who wants to find out now what real math looks like, do yourself a favor and buy a used copy of Teach Yourself Calculus from biblio.com. It could be the best $2 you ever spend. ...more
In Singapore last week, we passed Wolfgang Puck's restaurant while trying to walk around Marina Bay. A few minutes later, we were annoyed to discoverIn Singapore last week, we passed Wolfgang Puck's restaurant while trying to walk around Marina Bay. A few minutes later, we were annoyed to discover that our intended route was blocked by the Singapore Formula One race.
We did not in fact have the amiable Herr Puck with us - indeed, we never even entered his establishment - but, had we done so, the following verse might well have been apposite:
A restauranteur, Wolfgang Puck Once tried a short cut, and got stuck They said "Don't you see? The F1 Grand Prix!" "Oh is it?" said Wolfgang, "Well, darn!"
This is a difficult book to review. Rorty, you soon realize, is an exceptionally clever person. He seems to have all of philosophy at his fingertips:This is a difficult book to review. Rorty, you soon realize, is an exceptionally clever person. He seems to have all of philosophy at his fingertips: he presupposes a good knowledge, just to name the more important candidates, of Plato, Aristotle, Descartes, Leibniz, Spinoza, Locke, Hume, Kant, Hegel, Nietzsche, Dewey, Frege, Russell, Husserl, Wittgenstein, Moore, Heidegger, Sartre, Quine, Davidson, Feyerabend, Kuhn, Nagel, Derrida, Sellars, Strawson and Putnam. (I can, with considerable goodwill, tick maybe a quarter of this list). He frequently uses technical terms in German, French, Latin and Classical Greek, sometimes with a gloss but usually without. Worst of all, you can't even get annoyed with him for being dull and pedantic; the bastard writes well and is often funny. It's rather intimidating.
At first, it may look as though he's showing off, but after a while a clear plan becomes visible. Rorty has set himself three main goals. The first, the one in the title, is to argue against the philosophical position which he calls "the mirror of Nature": the assumption that the mind is in some sense a reflection of the world. Rorty sees this idea both as being central to a large part of existing philosophy, and also as seriously mistaken. Having recently read Nagel's horrible Mind and Cosmos, I was receptive to Rorty's arguments against approaches where some kind of mind-stuff - "qualia", "raw feels" or whatever - is considered part of the world.
Rorty takes as his paradigmatic example the concept of "pain", and questions the claim that "pains" should be conceived of as mental objects. There is an elegant science-fiction-like sequence featuring a hypothetical race called the Antipodeans, who have a good knowledge of neurology and only talk about pain in terms of neural correlates. Thus, when we say "I have have a headache", an Antipodean will say something like "My C-fibres are being stimulated". Rorty imagines how we might communicate with Antipodeans, and argues, in Wittgensteinian fashion, that our talk of "pain" is in fact no more than talk. There is nothing we could ever do, even with the most sophicated imaginable neural imaging techniques, to determine whether the Antipodeans "really feel pain", or, indeed, "really have minds". I liked the Antipodeans, and I hope a science-fiction writer some day considers fleshing out this sketch into a novel. Though they may seem a little counterintuitive, compared to the bizarre positions that Nagel is forced to take up they were positively commonsensical.
But how did we get into this odd situation of believing in mirror-like minds? (Borrowing a phrase from Isabella's speech in Measure for Measure, Rorty often refers ironically to our "Glassy Essences"). He gradually introduces his second theme. Far from being a fixed, eternal idea, an inescapable part of our way of thinking about the world, Rorty considers that the Glassy Essence, in its present form, is a relatively recent invention of Descartes; moreover, he claims that the mainstream idea of philosophy, as we think of it today, is largely due to Kant and the post-Kantian school, who diligently reconstructed the past history of the subject to make it logically lead up to them. Rorty is acidly amusing on the subject of Kant, whom he describes as having "professionalized" philosophy, at least in the sense that it became impossible for anyone to call themselves a philosopher without having mastered his system. In general, Rorty encourages the reader to consider philosophy as a normal historical process, rather than as an inevitable progression towards a fixed, timeless, truth; if I understand correctly, this part of his argument is roughly based on Heidegger.
If philosophy is part of history, and not about timeless truths, then how should we conceptualize it? This leads to Rorty's third theme: he suggests that we do better to see the development of philosophical thought simply as a huge conversation, carried out between the many philosophical thinkers of the last two and a half millennia. There are no ultimate answers, just the ongoing back and forth of reasoned discussion about questions. This theme, I believe, is based in the thought of Dewey. Rorty argues for what he calls a hermeneutic approach; we should accept that there is never going to be a single framework which encompasses everything. There will, rather, be a variety of different frameworks which are more or less incompatible with each other, but which all have something to offer. I was particularly struck by one piece of advice he gives when approaching the work of any great thinker whose ideas are as yet unfamiliar: you should look for statements which at first sight appear completely idiotic and nonsensical, and ask yourself what they might mean if they did in fact make sense. Once a reasonable hypothesis has been found, many other things may turn out to mean something different from what you first imagined.
I find Rorty's ideas thought-provoking and helpful, not least with regard to the attacks currently being made on philosophy by the more outspoken atheist scientists. Stephen Hawking, for example, attracted a good deal of attention a couple of years ago when he said in The Grand Design that "philosophy is dead". At the time, I was just annoyed, but having read Rorty's book I look at it in a different way. How does this fit into the ongoing historical conversation? And what does Hawking mean by his apparently nonsensical statement? I must try out some of the new conceptual tools I have acquired. ...more
Q: What would happen if every geek in the world received a copy of What If tomorrow morning?
A: Actually, less than you'd think.
First, a little backgroQ: What would happen if every geek in the world received a copy of What If tomorrow morning?
A: Actually, less than you'd think.
First, a little background about this book. If you're a geek, it's unputdownable, a word that, if you think carefully, means "cannot be put down". (You may not be aware of this fact, since the word is nearly always misused). So the geek who receives it is going to carry on reading through breakfast, through lunch, while he's supposed to be working, and on through dinner, ignoring the non-geek guests who have come to visit. He'll interrupt conversations every now and then to ask things like "Could you build a bridge across the Atlantic out of Lego bricks?" or "How close would you need to be to a supernova to be killed by the neutrino flux?". He'll finish just as the last guest leaves.
There is a common myth, most likely spread by geeks, that what they do is somehow pretty important to Western civilization. If you're easily impressed by this kind of propaganda, you might expect that markets will crash as geek traders neglect their buy signals, nuclear experiments will explode as geek scientists look away from their control panels, and terrorists will strike with impunity as geek intelligence analysts fail to turn up for work. All that sounds pretty bad.
But let's stop and consider for a moment. Is any of the above geek behavior novel or unpredictable? Hardly. Geeks are always doing this kind of thing, and society has learned to work around them. Important as they may be in the long run, there's always some dependable non-geek person ready to step in just in case the geek in question has stayed up all night playing Halo or watching a Star Wars marathon. The non-geek will cover for them until the geek has got over their fifteen hour internet speed-chess session and is ready to do whatever it is they're actually being paid to do.
So delivering a copy of What If to every geek in the world will only really have two important effects. It will make a great many geeks very happy, and (assuming of course that the copies are paid for) it will turn Randall Munroe into a billionaire.
And who could possibly have anything against that? ...more
- So, hey, it's great to be back honey. Though London was good too. Conference was okay, you know, same old same old, but okay. You know?
- Take a righ- So, hey, it's great to be back honey. Though London was good too. Conference was okay, you know, same old same old, but okay. You know?
- Take a right.
- And I always like the food, they know how to do Indian in London. Restaurants here, they say it's authentic Indian, but it's not. You really notice the difference.
- Next left. You want to get in lane now.
- Oh, and we saw this Neil LaBute play on Wednesday night. Autobahn. Kinda weird seeing an American play in London, we wondered if it would work, but it was pretty good.
- I went with Celia. Remember, I told you about her? The woman from Oxford who organized that seminar last year. She's still--
- You missed the turn.
- Shit. We'll take the next one and go back. So, yeah, Autobahn, so I was wondering if I'd even stay awake. I was kinda seriously jet-lagged, you know? But it was fun. It's like this series of little skits, and in each one you've got two people sitting together in a car. They have the front of the car up on the stage, like it's the whole set, you know? And--
- Take 84, it's quicker.
- Sure. So nothing happens, they just sit there and talk for ten minutes, but somehow it works. You figure out their whole--
- I want a divorce.
- We need to take the next exit.
- Got it. So, like I said I thought I'd fall asleep, but I sat there for the whole two hours and I loved it. He's good. Next time I get the chance, I'm seeing more Neil LaBute.
I've spent a fair chunk of my life living in academia, and one thing academics do is go to conferences. I am deplorably familiar with the conference lI've spent a fair chunk of my life living in academia, and one thing academics do is go to conferences. I am deplorably familiar with the conference life so well described in David Lodge's Small World: you spend a few days hanging out with odd people you don't have a great deal in common with, eating indigestible meals and drinking horrible coffee, and, in between, listening to papers which in most cases are poorly written, badly presented, and give you an irresistible urge to catch up on the sleep you didn't get the night before. It couldn't be more obvious that you're wasting your time and your university's money. And yet, by some magic process that I'm still unable to explain, you fly home, get over your jetlag, and discover to your surprise that you've learned a great deal. Somehow, while you were snoozing through all those dull talks, you've picked up a heap of useful information which will over the next year influence your own research, point you towards interesting things that you'd never thought of reading, and very likely get quoted in your own papers -- which, needless to say, are infinitely superior to all the nonsense that's just been inflicted on you.
Reading Pigliucci and Boudry (hereafter P&B) felt rather like attending a virtual conference on the philosophy of pseudo-science, a subject which I'd barely even suspected might exist until I stumbled across their book. The editors have collected together 23 chapters, each about 20 pages long, where a variety of people have been invited to contribute their thoughts on the question of how to distinguish between science and pseudo-science. Given the format, it was inevitable that there would be overlap and repetition, and that some of the papers would be appallingly soporific. And yet, the magic effect has worked again. I don't know how it's happened, but I'm suddenly fascinated by this odd little corner of philosophy. Even more mysteriously, I seem to know a certain amount about it.
Why would anyone even want to study such a thing? Isn't it obvious? I mean, uh, scientists are these guys in white coats who use mathematical formulas and put things in test tubes, and pseudo-scientists are crazies who believe in creationism and UFOs and astrology and shit. Right? Well, actually, no. First of all, I was startled to learn that the default position among philosophers of science is that you can't give unambiguous criteria for distinguishing between science and pseudo-science. An influential paper written in 1983 by a guy called Laudan, whom I'd never heard of, had convinced most people that the question isn't even interesting; P&B's book is a reaction to the accepted orthodoxy, intended to reopen the debate.
I was even more startled to learn why Laudan had written his paper. There had been a high-profile 1981 case, McLean v Arkansas, which sought to overturn a ruling that so-called "Creation Science" would be taught in Arkansas schools. In order to win the case, the petitioners were obliged to convince the judge that "Creation Science" was not in fact science at all, but religion in disguise, the teaching of which would violate laws on the separation of church and state. The petitioners won, but some philosophers of science were unhappy with their tactics. Laudan argued that "Creation Science" is in fact science, because it makes falsifiable predictions -- a property which many philosophers, following Popper, took as the hallmark of what constitutes science. There's no reasonable doubt about the falsifiability, since virtually all of the predictions made by Creationism have indeed been falsified. So, at least on this argument, it's not pseudo-science, just bad science. But there's no law against teaching bad science, which is why the lawyers in McLean v Arkansas took the line they did. Laudan thought that the expediencies of the case had violated sound philosophical principles. He argued, to many people's satisfaction, that you can't give general grounds for distinguishing between pseudo-science and science; you can only distinguish, on a case-by-case basis, between good science and bad science.
In P&B, many, though by no means all, of the contributors argue against Laudan, but it's amazing how slippery the reasoning is. Yes, there's no doubt that some belief systems can safely be labelled pseudo-science. Unless you are willing to hypothesize ubiquitous, all-powerful conspiracies capable of distorting or suppressing any inconvenient fact, there's no way Young Earth Creationism or astrology can possibly be correct. Similarly, if you are at all familiar with the evidence, it is impossible to believe that Newtonian physics and neo-Darwinian evolution are not at least good approximations to what is actually happening in the world. In clear cases of the first kind, the people supporting the "pseudo-scientific" theories are transparently dishonest or deluded, and in clear cases of the second kind it is equally evident that the "scientific" theories are being proposed by honest, hard-working researchers who have a mountain of facts to support their claims. But, unfortunately, the devil is in the detail, and there are so many examples which inconveniently fall in between these two extremes.
Nowadays, most people with a scientific world-view consider evolution as a proven fact; but, when you look at the history, it turns out that it was classified as pseudo-science for quite a long time. In the opposite direction, there were several decades when majority opinion considered Freudian psychology as scientific, but most of the people in P&B who refer to it put it in the pseudo-science bin. There is an uneasy reluctance to talk about string theory; it's mentioned as "borderline" a couple of times, and as "science" a couple of times, but no one feels keen to discuss the fact that it fails Popper's test, by not making any obviously falsifiable predictions. One very nice contribution by Schackel considers the ethics of belief, another subject I'd never even heard of. When we say "one ought to believe X", what exactly do we mean? Are we just saying that the weight of the evidence strongly supports X, or are we also taking into account the moral and ethical implications of believing or disbelieving X? Shackel elegantly argues that you can't, in fact, leave morals and ethics out of it; there's no such thing as "objective analysis of the facts". And scientists, as Kuhn has taught us, are very far from immune. They're all driven by their convictions; they have hunches and guesses they want to check out, and they're prepared to write off a certain amount of contrary evidence as misleading noise in the data. But how far can you push this process? Is there a clear line separating the brilliant scientist who doggedly follows his intuition where it leads him, and the crank who won't give up even when the facts are staring him in the face? You want to say that there is, but it's terribly hard to explain where the line goes.
Those damn philosophers! When I started the book, I thought I had some answers, and now all I have is a bunch of questions. If you enjoy straightforward, entertaining stuff that leaves you feeling you understand things better, then don't read it. You have been warned. ...more
Computers have become so depressingly good at chess that it's nice to see a machine getting it completely wrong every now and then. There was a fine eComputers have become so depressingly good at chess that it's nice to see a machine getting it completely wrong every now and then. There was a fine example last night in the game between Carlsen (world #1) and Aronian (world #3) at the Sinquefield Cup in Saint Louis. After 51 moves, the players reached the following position, where Carlsen has just moved his king to b4.
The computers providing instant commentary on the various chess sites assessed the position as winning for White. He's three pawns up, right? But every strong human spectator quickly saw that Carlsen had blown it, and that the game was now a dead draw. Black just needs to keep his king in front of the h-pawns and his rook attacking the a-pawn from the side, preventing White from activating his rook. If White, as he is doing here, moves his king to protect the a-pawn, Black checks from the side until the White king heads off toward the kingside; then he goes back his first plan of attacking the a-pawn from the side. White's king has nowhere to hide from the sideways checks, since his pawns are all on the edge.
Carlsen, stubborn as ever, made Aronian play on for another 33 moves, presumably hoping that he would get sleepy and make an elementary mistake; but nothing happened, and they eventually shook hands. The computers continued to insist the whole time that White was winning.
[The Chessbase site has now posted a detailed analysis of the drawing manoeuver here.] ________________________________
Another interesting Chessbase article about chess and computers. As the author says, there is a widespread belief that the incredible advances in the strength of chess engines are solely due to faster hardware. He found an ingenious and dramatic way to test this hypothesis; he took a state-of-the-art program from 2014 and used it to play a short match against a state-of-the-art program from 2006. In order to make the test as tough as possible, he ran the new program on a smartphone and the old one on a fast multicore desktop machine.
The difference in processing speed between the two hardware platforms was a factor of 50 in favor of the desktop - but the new program, running on the vastly slower smartphone, trounced the old one 5-1. Impressive! Evidently, it's not just the hardware. ...more