Monday, December 31, 2012

The End of Time

Now we're at the end of our own calendar for the year, having somehow survived the supposed end of the Mayan calendar a week and a half ago. So much for another apocalyptic prediction. For his part, Aristotle reasons that "time will not fail" and that time's true limit is the boundary between past and future, the 'now' (Phys. IV.13.222b8, a10).

In our postlapsarian state, it's hard to live in the 'now' as much as we should—the atemporal 'mind' detaching itself excessively from the temporal 'body'. Apocalyptic predictions get us to focus on a single moment. This is a limitation: both a strength and a weakness. Focusing on a particular moment is a valuable exercise (as Boswell quotes Johnson, "Depend upon it, sir, when a man knows he is to be hanged in a fortnight, it concentrates his mind wonderfully."), but it also distracts us from the real end of time: the present.

Speaking of calendars, here's an article that asserts that Christ Really Was Born Exactly 2013 Years Ago! The Chronology of Josephus Was Wrong. An interesting claim, and I'd like to know more about the scholarship behind the matter. (As well as why it's "Exactly 2013 Years" and not 2012 years plus one week.)

Thursday, December 06, 2012


I've been noticing how people in the northeast have a tendency to retreat into a tower of hurt feelings when anyone says anything off-putting. I'm glad to see that I'm not alone in my distaste for this juvenile pouting: a couple Harvard professors point out that the politically correct thought police on campus are keeping students from growing up and thinking for themselves:

Our hyper-vigilance about campus speech does the opposite of ensuring “safety.” It infantilizes students and tells them that any time they hear something that makes them uncomfortable, no matter how distasteful it may be, they have reason not only to be offended, but also to restrict the speech of others so that they can avoid their unpleasant feelings. This is not good pedagogy.

Well said.

Read the full article for more wisdom (in Time magazine, of all places).

Erika Christakis and Nicholas A. Christakis, "Whither Goes Free Speech at Harvard?," Time (Dec. 04, 2012).

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Biggest Barrier to Women in Science: Women

There it is. The New York Times has discovered it AGAIN! Bias against women in science. Here's the nub of the study that PROVES it:

All of the professors received the same one-page summary, which portrayed the applicant as promising but not stellar. But in half of the descriptions, the mythical applicant was named John and in half the applicant was named Jennifer.

About 30 percent of the professors, 127 in all, responded. (They were asked not to discuss the study with colleagues, limiting the chance that they would compare notes and realize its purpose.)

On a scale of 1 to 7, with 7 being highest, professors gave John an average score of 4 for competence and Jennifer 3.3. John was also seen more favorably as someone they might hire for their laboratories or would be willing to mentor.

The average starting salary offered to Jennifer was $26,508. To John it was $30,328.

The bias had no relation to the professors’ age, sex, teaching field or tenure status. “There’s not even a hint of a difference there,” said Corinne Moss-Racusin, a postdoctoral social psychology researcher who was the lead author of the paper.

"The bias had no relation to the professors’ age, sex, teaching field or tenure status"! The article highlighted this fact:

Female professors were just as biased against women students as their male colleagues, and biology professors just as biased as physics professors — even though more than half of biology majors are women, whereas men far outnumber women in physics.

But why would women, whom one would expect to be more aware of the bias against them and take mental counter-measures, have the same bias as men?

I suspect the answer is that the "bias" matches their experience. (Some "biases" represent actual information. The bias we should be rooting out is the bias against reality.1)

There are plenty of possible explanations for why this might be so. For example, it could be that women have a higher propensity to leave the so-called professional ("real") world for family2, so the most notable scientists are men.

It could also be that women of a given level of proficiency in science show it to a much higher degree than men of the same level—in other words, that men are less articulate or expressive than women. But then that would be a bias against men.

But further, why do we automatically assume that women and men have the same aptitudes in everything, and are in fact virtually identical except perhaps physically? Has it yet been demonstrated that men and women in general have equal skill at science or communication? There's nothing to say that men aren't in fact more or less skilled than women.3 Perhaps the ridiculous assumption that sex is simply an accidental "add-on" is the reason the mother of twins might be asked whether her daughter and son are identical twins.

We already know that the supposed applications in the experiment were not identical in one way significant to the reviewers: the apparent sex of the applicant. Why should we automatically assume that the sex of the applicant is not an important piece of information? Such an assumption would seem to represent a decided prejudice.

But that leaves an important question: why should prejudice justify the institutionalization of discrimination?


1. But in our postmodern age, we're told that there is no truth and truth claims are reflections of power differentials. Of course this idea means this article and the study it's based on are simply part of a raw exercise of power... as is the idea itself.

2. Making a home and raising a family are supposed to be insignificant. Perhaps this explains why the U.S. fertility rate has fallen below replacement level. Apparently matters of (national) life and death are insignificant.

3. Lest I needlessly raise the hackles of roaming thought-policepersons, I should point out an important but often-overlooked paradox. Just because the majority of mumbley peg players are male, doesn't mean that the majority of males play mumbley peg. Similarly, if all terrorists in a certain place are Muslim, it doesn't follow that all Muslims there are terrorists. Nor would a disproportionate number of Blacks among criminals mean that most Blacks are anything but law-abiding citizens.

Ideally we would judge every person on his own individual merits. But given our limited information about a given individual, we inevitably group people among others with the same apparent characteristics. It would seem that such prejudice is inevitable among created intellects.

Kenneth Chang, "Bias Persists for Women of Science, a Study Finds," New York Times (September 24, 2012).

Corinne A. Moss-Racusin, John F. Dovidio, Victoria L. Brescoll, Mark J. Graham, and Jo Handelsman, "Science faculty’s subtle gender biases favor male students," Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Tuesday, September 04, 2012


Alas, it's been quite a while since I've posted. I apologize if you've come here looking for something new and just found scores of old (albeit still relevant) posts.

Right now I've got a new job that requires long hours, and my hope for the science-and-philosophy material that I've been writing when I have time is to "get credit" (or possibly pay) for it by publishing it academically or through traditional print media. That said, I'm not short of ideas that need another forum to see the light of day, just time to put these into a presentable form.

Before I go, I'll give you a link to an interesting post I just ran across:

Democrats Officially Abandon, “My Body, My Choice!”

"Officially" is hyperbolic—as with any political party, the Democrats don't put a premium on consistent pronouncements—, but the post makes its point well.

Today's liberals may be libertarians morally (i.e., libertines), but at core they just want what great men like Napoleon have wanted throughout the ages: complete control, that is, the power to be free from any external power and to tell everyone else what to do. Besides, when was "choice" (or liberty) in itself ever a consistent ideal? If "pro-choice" people meant that label sincerely (rather than as a euphemism for pro-abortion), they would be promoting alternatives to abortion equally with abortion. Actually, they'd also be promoting the choice to be "anti-choice." That's how inconsistent an ideal "choice" is.

Wednesday, April 04, 2012

Second Triduum

In all the liturgical extravagance of Holy Thursday, Good Friday, Holy Saturday, it's easy to miss the second Easter Triduum that shadows the more apparent one, and that in important ways draws us closer to the heart of these days.

After the Holy Thursday Mass of the Lord's Supper, our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament is moved to a side altar of repose for the rest of the night. There is a venerable tradition of visiting our Lord in seven churches--more of a challenge in our land and era of individuatedness and distance. No matter how many churches one has a chance to visit, this is a time to quietly pray to him in silence.

After the Good Friday Liturgy of the Passion, the Blessed Sacrament has been entirely consumed, the altars are stripped, the tabernacle evacuated, and the vigil light extinguished. The church is vacant of the Holy Presence that makes silence appropriate in a Catholic church in a way that is not possible for other denominations's churches. There is a new vacancy inhabiting the space. Without a nucleus, the silence takes on a new tenor: it is a time of silence from silence.

This unique silence continues through Holy Saturday into the night, up until the Easter Vigil/Mass of the Resurrection. We stand in a no-man's land. A desert. Our Lord is absent.

Liturgically speaking at least.1 Historically we live after his resurrection, so in actuality he will always remain with us, as he promised. Like Virgil for Dante, visible aids can only take us so far.

But without the helps of the liturgy—most properly an orchestrated silence2—, we are invited this one time of the year to enter more deeply into the Reality to which it points, through the silence underneath.

He is there in the still, small voice that even the silence of creation swamps out and that not even the "eternal silence of these infinite spaces" can block out. Silence is the most delicate sound: any other sound destroys it. It is also the most sensitive. It takes silence within us to hear the silence Beyond. But, o paradox, the silence, the openness within, has to be maintained by activity,3 by the fortifications against Noise we've been building these forty days. The liturgy has pointed us in the right direction and readied us to receive.

Beneath the liturgical spectacles of these days, there is another triduum. If you are very still, you might just catch a glimpse out of the corner of your eye, the whisper beneath the fading echoes of the last Amen.



1. Yet he is made truly present to us liturgically, just as the Passover account in Exodus and the Passover questions now make present "this night" to all Jews who join in the celebration.

2. As here: Silence and Light

3. Activity that reaches a higher state, an inner activity synonymous with actuality.

Of possible interest:

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

The Arc of Modernity

James Barham has a great post on "Can We Teach Virtue?". It got me to thinking about how we got into such a mess that we can't even teach schoolkids that there is truth (or even just pretend that there is, for their sake—but that's another subject altogether).

Here's a skeletal outline of the arc of modernity:

  1. In the late Renaissance and Enlightenment, we reasoned that we can't agree on religious truth (cf. wars of religion), but (modern) science is true (our savior!).
  2. In the 19th and (especially) the 20th centuries, we discovered that science doesn't give us access to truth.
  3. Therefore, we conclude, nothing is true.

The reasoning is obviously full of holes, primarily the opening premise that since religion is a source of discord, the only alternative is experimental science. What a straw man!

Then, since casual conversation avoids the subjects of politics and religion, it's a wonder parties can ever support conversation. Can people from different backgrounds agree about nothing but "science"? On the contrary, there are broad swaths of agreement on basic human issues (like how to raise children). It's just that some people are unable to provide reasonable ground for why they think what they do. Even more we all agree on our common human experience (as described, for example, in Mike Augros's excellent talk "A ‘Bigger’ Physics"). By setting up the false opposition of "science vs. religion," we've excluded a broad swath of rock-solid objective experience from which we can reason to sure conclusions.

A parallel description:

  1. Man1 can only know through experiment, that is, active intervention—baldly asserted in a raw exercise of power by people like Francis Bacon, but implicit even in Descartes's assertion of dualism.
  2. From this stance, man can only see that part of the world that can receive his actions, so the world must be purely passive and lack all inherent activities (and directedness2).
  3. The only activity man can see is his own, so man must be the source of all activity.
  4. Therefore man is God, so God is dead.3

Again, the reasoning is full of holes. While the Baconian assertion that "knowledge is power" has a monomaniacal consistency, it is far from an axiom (as traditionally understood: immediately evident and requiring no proof)—that is, unless one's basic outlook starts with power as preeminent and primary.

In reality, we are creatures: we act, but we are also acted upon. We are sources of activity, but we are also bodies (with which our souls are intimately connected). To deny the latter obvious truth is the path to madness. In truth, we originate in love and are born in weakness. The net effect of denying our createdness is to shield our desires from rational examination—divine motivations are beyond scrutiny. One's identity becomes identified above all with an impenetrable "I want."

Fundamentally, there are two paths in life:

  • Power, and
  • Love.

Only one of these can be primary in each life. The Path of Power leads a person to close in on himself and to elevate his own desires above all; ultimately it leads to solipsism and loneliness.

The Path of Love requires self-giving and surrender to the world as it is and to others, but opens the heart to the rest of reality and to communion.4

It used to be that only the monarch and the aristocracy were subject to the trap of power. Scientific modernity and its technology have democratized power, making it possible for each of us to regard himself as a little god. This position is untenable in the long run; the question is: how big a crisis5 will it take to shake us from our delusion?

How long until our society can return to its only lasting foundation in truth, love?


1. I hate having to explain my use of this word. "Man" is a collective and a singular at once; we are collectively man, and at the same time each one of us is man, regardless of our sex (not our gender—we are not parts of speech). The alternatives do not capture this meaning. See Tony Esolen's "What Is Man?", Touchstone 25:1 (Jan/Feb 2012), 15-17.

2. "Directedness" is a rudimentary form of "teleology," but the the later word carries too much undue baggage. (See my post "Four Levels of Teleology.") When Aristotle, for example, talks about "for the sake of which" in his natural/biological works, he means primarily directedness.

3. No matter what one believes about the existence of God, it should be extremely clear to all that man is not God. (Cf. James Barham's "Two Kinds of Atheists", The Best Schools Blog, December 7, 2011.) At least it's immediately clear with regard to others; it's clear with regard to one's self if one is self-reflective or if one allows all men to share a common nature. (From here we get into the nominalist origin of the modern crisis.)

4. Clearly I'm talking about agape (self-giving love, i.e., charity) and not eros (desire-love) here. The latter is not self-sufficient.

5. Idolization of desire seems to be a contributing cause of the current debt crisis. Another cause is the dishonesty of a currency whose value is decreed by fiat and that undermines trust by making every contract a lie.