Some Linkity Linkity Links

Pigliucci on metaphysics:

‘At Scientia Salon, philosopher Massimo Pigliucci admits to “always having had a troubled relationship with metaphysics.”  He summarizes the reasons that have, over the course of his career, made it difficult for him to take the subject seriously.  Surprisingly — given that Pigliucci is, his eschewal of metaphysics notwithstanding, a professional philosopher — none of these reasons is any good.  Or rather, this is not surprising at all, since there simply are no good reasons for dismissing metaphysics — and could not be, given that all purported reasons for doing so themselves invariably embody unexamined metaphysical assumptions.  Thus, as Gilson famously observed, does metaphysics always bury its undertakers.’

Single-particle ‘spooky action at a distance’ finally demonstrated:

‘Spooky action at a distance, or quantum entanglement, in a single particle is a strange form of entanglement that could greatly help to improve quantum computing and communications. Unlike regular quantum entanglement, which involves two particles being defined only by being opposites of each other, single particles that are entangled have a wave function that’s spread over huge distances, but are never actually in more than one place.’

Former Orca Trainer For SeaWorld Condemns Its Practices:

‘”As I became higher-ranked, I saw the devastating effects of captivity on these whales and it just really became a moral and ethical issue,” Hargrove tells Fresh Air‘s Dave Davies in an interview about the book. “When you first start to see it, you first try to say, ‘OK, well, I love these animals; I’m going to take care of them.’ … You think, ‘I can change things.’ And then all these things, of course, never improve and then you start … seeing mothers separated from their calves; you start seeing trainers being killed, and then they blame [the trainers] for their own deaths.”‘

A ‘Post Modern Skateboard’ That Ditches The Board:

‘The Sidewinding Circular Skates consist of a pair of 10-inch rubber wheels with foot platforms. Apart from riding with a sideways stance, the gadget appears to be a futuristic take on roller skates.

Rather than pushing off the ground like a traditional skateboard or skates, the user gains momentum from a Segway-like propulsion by leaning side to side. Braking is achieved by touching one’s toes to the ground.’

Tortoise Defends His Lady in a Super Slow Chase:

‘With the explorer in his sights, the lumbering Romeo, weighing in at more than 600 pounds, gave chase—albeit a slow-and-steady one. “But there was absolutely no stopping him,” writes Rose. “He got close, very close, close enough that his snorting and spitting plus the look in his enraged eyes above his snapping powerful beak made us retreat in a panic.”’


Some Late Links

We May Have Snakes To Thank For Our Acute Vision:

‘McGrew’s snake-encounter analysis in the paper Snakes as hazards: modelling risk by chasing chimpanzees is one test of what’s known as the snake-detection theory of primate origins, a set of hypotheses that suggest we (along with other primates) owe certain features of our evolution to the risks posed by death and injury from snakes.’

New flying reptile found in Transylvania:

‘Using the only fossil found of the new pterosaur, a neck vertebra, paleontologists have determined that it was much smaller than at least one of its fellow Transylvanian compatriots. It belonged to a family of pterosaurs called the azhdarchids which are known for their big bodies, incredibly long necks and overall gracile form so it was a slight departure from that general plan. These azhdarchid pterosaurs, along with myriad other animals, populated a subtropical ecosystem called Haţeg Island.’

Beetles beat out extinction:

‘The study explores beetles as far back as their origins in the Permian period, 284 million years ago. When compared to the fossil record of other animal groups such as clams, corals, and vertebrates, beetles have among the lowest family-level extinction rates ever calculated. In fact, no known families in the largest beetle subgroup, Polyphaga, go extinct in their evolutionary history. The negligible beetle extinction rate is likely caused by their flexible diets, particularly in the Polyphaga, which include algae, plants, and other animals.’

China’s wind farms produce more energy than America’s nuclear plants:
‘Just last year, the total amount of energy harvested from China’s wind farms went up an impressive 16 percent from the previous year, and was enough to power 110 million homes. That’s pretty incredible. Compared directly to their nuclear power output, the 115 gigawatts of wind power produced by China in 2014 dwarfed the 20,000 megawatts (a gigawatt is 1,000 megawatts) from its nuclear sector, as Richard Macauley points out at Quartz, and is more than the total output of power from all of the nuclear plants in the US.’

New Experiments in the Search for Quantum Gravity:
‘Yale University has received a grant from the W. M. Keck Foundation to fund experiments that researchers hope will provide new insights into quantum gravity. Jack Harris, associate professor of physics, will lead a Yale team that aims to address a long-standing question in physics — how the classical behavior of macroscopic objects emerges from microscopic constituents that obey the laws of quantum mechanics.’

Prehistoric crocodile discovered in Chatham County:
‘This specimen was about 9 feet long and was probably a top predator, feasting on armored reptiles and early mammals found at the time, about 231 million years ago. This is the beginning of what’s known as the late Triassic Period, when what is now Chatham County was near the equator in a warm, humid environment of ferns and conifers.

Scientists know the age of the creature not from its bones but from the age of the rocks in which it was found, in a quarry more than a decade ago.’

Sunday Links

The Legacies of Idealism:

‘We’re coming into a different state of materialism and pessimism right now. Philosophical topics about agency, animals, thinking machines, the hard problem of consciousness, and the ethics of just about everything look like they are up for grabs. We are living in a philosophical age, and it is not exactly clear if professionalized philosophy is up to the challenge. It’s maybe no wonder that people are looking back to modern philosophy’s heroic period, when Kant, Reinhold, Fichte, Schelling, Hegel et al. took on modern life in all its complexity and tried to fit it all together in a fully rigorous fashion. After all, Kant said that in the darkness of pure reason, it’s philosophy that gives us orientation, and that’s what people by and large seek from it. In large parts of the world outside of the USA and Europe, big chunks of everyday life are lived out in terms of philosophical questions such as “What would it mean for me to be leading my own life,” or even “What is it to be modern? Do I have to stop being me to be modern?” When people ask those questions, it’s not long thereafter that they start turning to the idealists to see what they had to say. The idealists believed that we had to look at things in a big holistic way, to ask our questions in terms of what Heidegger later called the “meaning of being.” We are always orienting ourselves in terms of the “whole,” even if much of it necessarily has to remain the background and defies full explicitation.’

Breaking News: Aramark Goes All-In on Cage Free, Marking More Progress for Hens:

‘Aramark is the largest U.S.-based food service company, running dining operations at thousands of locations across the country, including healthcare institutions, universities and school districts, stadiums and arenas, and businesses. Today, I’m proud the company is announcing that it will switch all 20 million pounds of liquid eggs it uses each year in the United States to cage-free by 2020, after working with us. This decision will improve the lives of roughly 750,000 chickens per year and it reinforces the larger food industry trajectory on this issue: cage confinement has no place in the future of the egg industry. I wrote recently that Sodexo had made a similar announcement, so now two of the largest food service providers have partnered with us to the benefit of an extraordinary number of birds.’

No, You Cannot Catch An Individual Photon Acting Simultaneously As A Pure Particle And Wave

‘Technically, the headlines are not incorrect. Yet, to me and others, they imply something more radical than what was actually observed. To cut to the chase, an individual photon cannot be observed acting as both a pure particle and wave at the same time. But if you assemble a group of many different photons, you can observe some acting like particles and others acting like waves. Many stories did not make this clear.’

Big Bang for Birds:

‘On the heels of one of the greatest findings in the field of ornithology, announced last month, bird researchers are now entering a new frontier in the study of what makes birds tick. A multinational project involving 200 scientists from 20 countries revealed that the bird species we know today in fact originated right after the dinosaurs became extinct. Science Magazine declared the news as one of the 10 biggest discoveries of 2014.’

Car-Size Stingray May Be World’s Largest Freshwater Fish:

‘Scientists working in Thailand’s Mae Klong River made a big find last week: an enormous stingray that they think is a contender for the largest freshwater fish ever documented by researchers.

The ray was caught and released in about 65 feet (20 meters) of water in the Amphawa District, about an hour outside Bangkok.

Nantarika Chansue, a veterinarian and professor at Chulalongkorn University in Bangkok, helped catch and measure what she calls the “big one.” The ray (Himantura polylepis or H. chaophraya) was 7.9 feet (2.4 meters) across and 14 feet (4.3 meters) long and weighed an estimated 700 to 800 pounds (318 to 363 kilograms), she said via e-mail.’


‘These questions rarely appear in the work of those analyzing torture through the lens of a state of exception. Instead, these scholars operate a level of abstraction that ignores U.S. history and contemporary punishment. After September 11th, the United States didn’t suddenly enact entirely new torture policies and radically depart from American practices (an assertion found in countless essays on torture and September 11th). Instead, the Senate report revealed variations on practices that have existed in U.S. history stretching back centuries. In some cases, U.S. torturers operated in a state of exception, but in others they received legal sanction. Today, torture occurs in a complex milieu that mixes law and untrammeled exercises of power. Most Americans will never confront the possibility that they will be tortured, but this is hardly true for many who are poor, mentally-ill or in some way marginalized from society. To understand and alleviate their plight, we receive no guidance from those adopting the work of Agamben and Schmidt to talk about states of exception. Perhaps it’s time to abandon such uninformed and one-dimensional approaches to torture.’

Those Links Tho

To start off, two articles on Biblical historicity – the Exodus and Jesus, respectively:

Did Jesus Exist? Searching for Evidence Beyond the Bible:

‘The sources normally discussed fall into three main categories: (1) classical (that is, Greco-Roman), (2) Jewish and (3) Christian. But when people ask whether it is possible to prove that Jesus of Nazareth actually existed, as John P. Meier pointed out decades ago, “The implication is that the Biblical evidence for Jesus is biased because it is encased in a theological text written by committed believers.2 What they really want to know is: Is there extra-Biblical evidence … for Jesus’ existence?”’

Was There an Exodus?:

‘Proofs exist in geometry, and sometimes in law, but rarely within the fields of biblical studies and archaeology. As is so often the case, the record at our disposal is highly incomplete, and speculation about cultural transmission must remain contingent. We do the most we can with the little we have, invoking plausibility more than proof. To be plain about it, the parallels I have drawn here do not “prove” the historical accuracy of the Exodus account, certainly not in its entirety. They do not prove that the text before us received its final form in the 13th century BCE. And they can and no doubt will be construed by rational individuals, lay and professional alike, in different ways.’

Atrium Carceri’s original soundtrack for the PC game ‘The Old City: Leviathan’ is outstanding and worth listening to immediately (and I recommend listening to it as a whole). Fans of the genre will recognize Atrium Carceri as one of the premier acts in dark ambient.

The Coast Guard’s Most Potent Weapon During Prohibition? Codebreaker Elizebeth Friedman:

‘To convict the accused, Woodcock had to link them to hundreds—if not thousands—of encrypted messages that passed between at least 25 separate ships, their shore stations, and the headquarters in New Orleans. Defense attorneys demanded to know how the government could prove the content of enciphered messages. How, for example, could a cryptanalyst know that “MJFAK ZYWKB QATYT JSL QATS QXYGX OGTB” translated to “anchored in harbor where and when are you sending fuel?”*

Elizebeth Friedman, the prosecution’s star witness, asked the judge to find a chalkboard.

Using a piece of chalk, she stood before the jury and explained the basics of cryptanalysis. Friedman talked about simple cipher charts, mono-alphabetic ciphers and polysyllabic ciphers; she reviewed how cryptanalysts encoded messages by writing keywords in lines of code, enclosing them with letter patterns that could be deciphered with the help of various code books and charts rooted in the schemes and charts of centuries past.’

The Scripture Principle in the Didache:

‘When teachers speak, therefore, they must speak in accordance with what has been said before–an utterly Pauline stance found already in Galatians 1. Thus Didache 11: “Whosoever, therefore, comes and teaches you all these things that have been said before, receive him.” The author presumes that his audience is capable of testing the teaching to which they are exposed by some other standard, namely, the standard of what they have already received (ταῦτα πάντα τὰ προειρημένα).’

Music’s Address:

‘“Music,” writes Roger Scruton (Soul of the World, 175) “addresses us from beyond the borders of the natural world” and thus “requires us to respond to a subjectivity that lies beyond the world of objects, in a space of its own.” It’s one of the intimations of a world outside the natural world describable by science.

But music is made of sounds, and sounds are vibrations, physical events. Scruton of course knows this, but his point is that there is something more to hearing music than there is to hearing sounds. Music is irreducible to the sounds that make it up.’

Moral Facts:

‘On the one hand, a moral fact is simply the fact that I am obliged to do something, and to deny that there is a fact of the matter here is a non-starter. You might as well deny that there are birds. Sure, I suppose you could make some abstruse taxonomic argument that birds are really just dinosaurs, but it has no power to work as a magical incantation to make parakeets vanish from cages or chicken disappear from my sandwich. If I want to walk out of the store with five pizzas and a tub of ice cream, I happen to know that I’m obliged to pay for them, to do so with dollars, and to wait in line to do so. Telling me that this is an ‘opinion’ is a failure to grasp both the situation I find myself in and the epistemological stance I have to it.’

The Theory-Ladeness of Observation:

‘…most importantly, it must be grasped that those who argue for the theory-ladeness of observation are not making the rather uncontroversial claim that different observers see the same thing but interpret what they see differently. Few would dispute that. Even the most avid foudationalist admits that of course holders of rival theories interpret the “data” differently, each in the light of his or her own theory. However, a foundationalist claims that before these rival interpretations begin, so to speak, both observers are “given” the same datum to interpret (in Latin, “datum” simply means “given”). A sufficient base of data will eventually enable a neutral judge to determine which interpretation best fits the data. What the thesis of theory-ladeness is claiming is that observers with different beliefs “see” or “experience” different things, before any interpretive process can begin. Thus observation by itself can never settle disputes between such rival systems of belief. Since there is no common datum against which to measure the acceptability of rival theories, the observations made by holders of different theories are said to be “incommensurable.”‘

Some Sunday Links

A few cool things found floating around the World Wide Web:

3:AM interviews David James on Fichte, Rousseau, and idealism:

‘I think that Fichte’s essential role in the development of German Idealism can nevertheless be identified fairly clearly. Essentially, he sought to explain the unity of reason explicitly in terms of the idea of autonomy in the sense of reason’s independence of anything other than itself, an independence that he explains in terms of its being governed by rules or principles whose source is in each case somehow itself. Whatever one makes of such an undertaking, it opens the way for investigation of a number of issues that I take to be central to German Idealism, such as how human reason might be conceived as a whole whose basic forms share the same essential structure, rather than a collection of disparate parts (e.g. faculties), the extent to which theoretical reason is determined by practical reason in the sense that a practical engagement with others and the world more generally shapes how we think of ourselves and conceive our relations to that which we take to be other than others, and finally how reason can be thought to remain autonomous in the face of that which appears to be wholly independent of it.’


NPR interviews Ben Yagoda on When Pop Broke Up With Jazz:

‘There was a change in popular taste. The soldiers who had come back from World War II didn’t seem to be as interested in the more complex, challenging kind of popular song, the more jazz-based song. Sentimental ballads and, yes, novelty numbers, suddenly was much more appealing.’


The Cornell Lab of Ornithology has a whole slew of Livestream Bird Cams – the wife and I have been watching the great horned owl since yesterday.


In Nature magazine, two physicists attempt to defend the integrity of physics:

‘This year, debates in physics circles took a worrying turn. Faced with difficulties in applying fundamental theories to the observed Universe, some researchers called for a change in how theoretical physics is done. They began to argue — explicitly — that if a theory is sufficiently elegant and explanatory, it need not be tested experimentally, breaking with centuries of philosophical tradition of defining scientific knowledge as empirical. We disagree. As the philosopher of science Karl Popper argued: a theory must be falsifiable to be scientific.’


 Wesley Hill has written two articles on First Things defending the doctrine of divine impassibility, the first here and the second one here:
‘Almost three decades ago, theologian Ronald Goetz spoke of the rise of a “new orthodoxy” in Christian thought. He was referring to twentieth-century theology’s enthrallment with the theme of the suffering of God.By the time Goetz wrote, that theme—of God hanging there on the gallows with the innocent sufferer, in the timeless image Elie Wiesel offered in his book Night—had come to dominate many forms of Protestant theology. Dietrich Bonhoeffer had written from a Nazi prison that “only the suffering God can help.” Jürgen Moltmann, in the wake of the revelation of the full extent of the Holocaust, had authored a book called The Crucified God. And figures as diverse as the process theologian Alfred North Whitehead, who characterized God as “the fellow-sufferer who understands,” and the Japanese Lutheran Kazoh Kitamori, who spoke of “the pain of God,” had ushered in a way of thinking about divine majesty and power as God’s ability and will to share in human misery. Across the spectrum, from both pulpits and pews, the “new orthodoxy” came to reign: God suffers in God’s own nature.’
‘Put positively, because the Christian God is radically transcendent (which “impassibility” gestures toward), therefore God can take human nature to himself without displacing it or destroying it. And because the transcendent God has taken human nature to himself, the suffering which God undergoes in that nature is redemptive, rather than simply passive victimhood and solidarity with us. Because it is God who suffers in Christ, that suffering is not simply the suffering a fellow-sufferer who understands but is instead the suffering of One who is able to end all suffering by overcoming it in resurrection and ascension and immortality. Paradoxically, perhaps, it is only by affirming impassibility that we can maintain the deepest soteriological import of the suffering God takes on himself in and through the Incarnation.’

Toumo Mannerma, the man behind the New Finnish Interpretation of Luther, passed away last week, and Concordia Theology wrote a wonderful piece on his life and work:
 ‘At a time when Luther studies had drifted into doldrums of a sort, Mannermaa’s arguing that the heart of the Wittenberg theology lay in Luther’s adherence to theosis as an explanation of how God bestows righteousness upon sinners aroused discussion and returned researchers to the central question of the Reformation. The discussion around his ideas has moved beyond his initial ideas, but the stimulus he has given has served the church and scholarship in special ways. We thank the Lord for this friend.’

Marcus Borg, controversial historical Jesus scholar, friend of liberals, enemy of conservatives, also passed away last week as well (a very sad week for theology), and while there have been a number of lovely tributes, here’s the one that broke the news to me:
 ‘Very many people who had left the Christian faith have returned to it through Marcus’ evangelism (though he would grimace at my use of the word, I suspect). Marcus was a Christian, a follower of Jesus Christ in word and in deed. He understood Jesus (and especially the Resurrection) differently than I do. But the veracity of his faith was clear. And calm. And passionate.’


Controversy Roundup

What a crazy week! And by crazy, I mean, no one outside of a few bloggers noticed any of these happenings.

First off, Neil deGrasse Tyson got promoted to the rank of ‘ideologically driven, ignorant hack and a tool’, with some lovely remarks about philosophy (I’m unable to use hyperlinks for some reason, so I gotta go with old-fashioned links:

The responses haven’t been harsh enough. My own feelings should be rather clear on this particular topic.


First Things incurred the wrath of at least a quarter-dozen Barth readers with this piece:

While FT isn’t an academic journal, it is a pretty subpar article. The conclusion is merely asserted, not demonstrated, and that’s just bad form.


My personal favourite for this week: Tim Challies, Reformed blogger extraordinaire, has been doing a series on ‘false teachers’ on his blog: Pope Francis, Marcus Borg, Benny Hinn, Schliermacher and many others all earn the distinction of ‘false teacher’.  But this week, his article on Therese of Avila seemed to have some plagiarism going on:

Here’s Challies’ article: (the initial note of his plagiarizing is the first comment)

and here’s the post by one of the commentators who called him on his liberal use of Wikipedia:

Challies has, as of my last view of his blog, closed down comments on that particular article. Expect to see St. Peter, Mr. Rogers, Obi-Wan-Kenobi, Barney, Cesar Milan and your highschool geography teacher on his list of false teachers.