A beautifully told story with colorful characters out of epic tradition, a tight and complex plot, and solid pacing. -- Booklist, starred review of On the Razor's Edge

Great writing, vivid scenarios, and thoughtful commentary ... the stories will linger after the last page is turned. -- Publisher's Weekly, on Captive Dreams

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Obama, Ockham, Wind Turbines, and Sex

Another Milestone Passed!

An anonymous Twitter notes that "Obama has launched more cruise missiles than all other Nobel Peace Prize winners combined."

The last time the US engaged in a purely aerial war (against an opponent with virtually no aerial assets) was when we bombed the crap out of mighty Serbia, in the process hitting a civilian passenger train and the Chinese embassy.  Fortunately, our weapons are now smarter, which is a good thing, because our politicians are not.  We cannot hit any Chinese in Libya for the excellent reason that the Chinese evacuated 40,000 of their fellow subjects from the country with no fuss, no muss, no bragging afterward, and no press releases beforehand; a very smooth logistics operation which left only one question unanswered: What were 40,000 Chinese doing in Libya?

The Beneficial Effects of Green Thinking

The Mail (UK) has an article about the price of windmills for power generation.  It seems that the wind turbines need magnets and these magnets require a rare-earth metal called neodymium.  Presumably, this differs from paleodymium.  So, where do you get neodymium?  From Inner Mongolia, China.  And what do the Chinese get out of it?  This: 

A six-mile wide lake of toxic waste

Meanwhile, Der Spiegel (The Mirror), a German newsmagazine, notes that many green initiatives wind up costing more than predicted -- surprise!  Cheop's Law in effect! -- have unplanned-for side-effects, and fail to deliver the promised benefits. 

If Only Civil Servants Could Marry
...we would not see stories like this one
The New York Times, after a year-long probe, reports that residents of New York's group homes for the developmentally disabled -- some of society's most vulnerable citizens -- routinely fall victim to physical and sexual abuse.

Or that the union puts its members interests above its clients:
Instead, suspensions, fines or lost vacation time are the norm -- and abusive employees are simply shifted to different group homes, where they routinely abuse other patients.

Undoubtedly, there will be a huge public outcry over this, with investigations, and requirements that the union (CSEA) immediately report "credible accusations" of abuse to the authorities. 

The solution is to permit women to become civil service employees and to allow civil servants to marry. 

Wait, Forget That Part About the Women

KVAL in Eugene OR reports that
An Astoria woman has been sentenced to 30 days in jail for raping a 14-year-old boy at a party.

Prosecutors said Green held a party for her children and their friends last August, allowed several minors to drink alcohol and then had sex with one of the visiting 14-year-olds.

If only they would allow women to be women and allow them to marry! 

Are Poets the Only Empiricists?
James Chastek at Just Thomism has the following thought worthy of wider dissemination.  Failing that, I am reposting it here:
Empiricism is supposed to be the doctrine that all knowledge arises from (and for some is limited to) sense experience, but it’s striking how many people can be called empiricists who don’t admit anything like a normal sense experience. Normal sense experience encounters objects that are rough and scratchy, multicolored, bland or sugary with too much cumin, etc. There are colors that clash or go well together, smells that give rise to seemingly random intense memories, taste experiences that we will go miles out of our way to have, etc. But a good deal of empiricism (say, that of Locke or the doubters of “qualia”) doesn’t admit the reality of any of these experiences. All that’s there to sense is a coloring-book outline of the world, which we, the disembodied observer, view from an observation deck behind six inches of plate glass. Carry this sort of empiricism far enough, even the coloring-book shapes will fade into an equation. Such empiricism has the odd effect of insisting on the primacy of sense and yet cutting us off from anything sensuous. Perhaps only poets are real empiricists, or at least only those who don’t try to replace the sensual world with a substitute.

Mind As Brain
xkcd has a thought on this issue:

Razor Boy

Some of you who have read EIFELHEIM may recall that William of Ockham made a guest appearance in the latter part of the book.  The character Dietrich had studied at Paris under Jean Buridan, and Buridan was a student or follower of William, although not "full stop." 

Ed Feser has a long post about William of Ockham and his single-handed influence on modernity.  He did not originate the principle of parsimony that bears his name, which is often misstated.  Thomas Aquinas used it, as did Dun Scotus and others.  I have taken it to translate into modern terms as: "Don't have too many Xs in your equations, or you won't understand your own models."  IOW, it's an epistemological dictum rather than an ontological one.  It is not that the simpler answer is "more likely to be true," as modern philosophy-challenged scientists suppose.  William thought the real world could be as complicated as God willed; but our models have to be simplified or we won't understand them. 

Dr. Feser kicks things off with a Steely Dan tune, "Razor Boy."
Will you still have a song to sing
When the razor boy comes
And takes your fancy things away?

Christopher Hitchens claims that William undermined medieval scholastic thought using proto-scientific rationalism.  But because it is Hitchens, we know that it must be wrong.  In fact, William was a voluntarist who believed in the Triumph of the Will, specifically of God's Will.  This was contrary to Thomist thinking, which held that the intellect was prior to the will.  (Basically, you cannot desire something that you do not know.)  As always when you get things exactly bass-ackward, things do not cohere and all sorts of "paradoxes" and "problems" appear out of nowhere.  Causation blows up, and with it ethics and morality, and the limited state.  There is no demonstrable connection between cause and effect, so causation goes bye-bye; and it is only so far as scientists paid little attention in practice to Ockhamism/Humeanism that science prospered at all.  When al-Ghazali pulled the same stunt in the House of Submission, the scattered fires of natural science faded out.  The triumph of the will over the intellect meant that God becames the Tyrant in the Sky issuing arbitrary rules about what is good or bad.  Draw a straight line from there to absolute monarchs and libertarians.  (A libertarian is an absolute monarch with a very small kingdom.)  The denial of essences meant that you could never know if another creature was "really" human.  If there was no human "nature" or "essence," then there are only individual human beings; and those creatures with different skin colors or talking jibber-jabber might not be human at all. 

Is that too much to lay on the Razor Boy's shoulders?  Maybe not.  Dr. Feser writes:
As Michael Allen Gillespie argues in his recent book The Theological Origins of Modernity, the Renaissance humanists’ revolution in culture, Luther’s revolution in theology, Descartes’ revolution in philosophy, and Hobbes’s revolution in politics also have their roots in Ockhamism.  With the humanists this was manifested in their emphasis on man as an individual, willing being rather than as a rational animal.  In Luther’s case, the prospect of judgment by the terrifying God of nominalism and voluntarism – an omnipotent and capricious will, ungoverned by any rational principle – was cause for despair.  Since reason is incapable of fathoming this God and good works incapable of appeasing Him, faith alone could be Luther’s refuge.  With Descartes, the God of nominalism and voluntarism opened the door to a radical doubt in which even the propositions of mathematics – the truth of which was in Descartes’ view subject to God’s will no less than the contingent truths of experience – were in principle uncertain.  And we see the moral and political implications of nominalism in the amoral, self-interested individuals of Hobbes’s so-called “state of nature,” and in the fearsome absolutist monarch of his Leviathan, whose relationship to his subjects parallels that of the nominalist God to the universe.

1 comment:

  1. "A libertarian is an absolute monarch with a very small kingdom."

    I want to remember that.


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