Friday, April 30, 2010

Why We're Really Screwed

Joint statement on overpopulation by 58 of the world's scientific academies.

Overpopulation was one of the first environmental problems that gripped me as a kid. I've largely given up hope that we'll do anything about it in time, especially since it's now politically incorrect to even mention it.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Out-Of-Control Cops:
Jeff Overcash, Ft. Lauderdale PD Edition

Here's Ft. Lauderdale PD policeman Jeff Overcash arresting Brennan Hamilton for asking for his badge number.

If Hamilton has a defense fund, I suggest that everybody contributes. This Overcash needs to lose his badge and never get it back.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Kooks Among Us: Loony Benediction Edition

Wow, check out this whack job.

Best part: asking forgiveness on behalf of others for "worshiping the intellectual mind."

(via Reddit)
Welcome To The Police State: The U. Maryland Beating

Now it's officially a cover-up.

This guy should start a legal defense fund. I'd contribute.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

More Fishy Sophistry About Religion and Secularism

[Sorry, wrote in haste, accidentally re-reading an old Fish thing and conflating it with this new piece. This new one seems to be largely reporting on Habermas's views...though apparently also endorsing them...and much of what Habermas seems to be saying here is on the psychological side rather than the logical/philosophical side. As for whether anything about religion can help explain the rationality of non-self-interested action, or secure the logical foundations of science: no. As for whether it might have some kind of psychological effect on us in some way...well, maybe...but who cares?]
Props to Stanley Fish for actually talking about philosophy in a public forum. He's not especially good at it, but it's still great to see some philosophy rather than no philosophy going on in a popular publication.

Sadly, when philosophy does get public attention, it's usually bad...and this is no exception.

Fish here makes the same mistake he made in the last column I commented on (you can look it up if you want...I'm too lazy). No time and no patience to dive into the details now, but the general form of Fish's argument is:

Position 1 faces a bunch of problems!
So you should instead accept position 2!

More specifically:

"Secularism" faces a certain type of problem
So religious views are superior in this regard

Problem is, of course: such arguments can't work unless the latter such views either (a) do not face the problem in question or (b) have resources that make it easier for them to solve the problem in question.

However, religion has no such resources. It faces all the same problems that Fish's so-called "secularism" faces, and it has no resources that mitigate the problems.

(Note: except, perhaps, if he really just means to be talking about psychology. Mere psychological claims are woven throughout this piece, so I'm a little unsure to what extent he's interested in those.)


(a) Non-religious views do, in fact, have a problem rationally defending the logical (broadly construed) foundations of science; religious views have exactly the same problem, and no resources that make the problem easier to solve.

(b) Non-religious view do, in fact, have a problem making sense of obligations that are not merely prudential; religious views have exactly the same problem, and no resources that make it any easier to solve. (And, note: making sense of prudential "obligations" is no walk in the park...)

Here's the thing:

God never helps solve philosophical problems (unless some of the weirder stuff in Kant's second Critique turns out to be right...). Take the problem of non-prudential, moral obligations. Even if God exists, we still face the whole range of moral questions--What acts are right? What makes right acts right? Why be moral, and so on. And nothing God can do can help. If the Divine Command Theory were true, then he could help--but the DCT is false. God simply saying that x is right cannot make x right--cannot constitute the rightness of x.

God might, of course, infallibly send bad people to hell...that would help in a way...but only if you think that moral obligations are grounded in prudence. So that doesn't help make sense of moral obligations conceived of as non-prudential obligations; it just makes the mistake of conflating the moral with the prudential. Be bad and pay the price. And, of course, we can do something similar without God around--we can make people pay for their transgressions.

All these matters deserve more space than this, but there's the gist of it.

[h/t Lewis Carroll]

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Welcome To The Police State:
Photographing Rogue Cops Edition

This kind of **** has been burning me up for a long time. Since when did it become illegal to photograph cops? Apparently, the state of Maryland thinks it's even illegal to accidentally photograph rogue cops in the act of using excessive force.

What am I missing here?

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

JMU Springfest Riot

Well, it's not yet completely clear what happened, but here's the report at HburgNews.

Lots of these people were not JMU students, but most were. It's likely that there was a bad element in the crowd, probably a fairly small one. It's likely that there was a slightly larger group of kids who would have been fine if they hadn't been drunk...but of course they were drunk. Conventional wisdom even among some of the more reasonable students I've known is that many Harrisonburg police tend to be...well, let's just say not very nice to students. Add to this that a substantial percentage of JMU students are spoiled brats, and, well, honestly, not all that bright. Add way too much booze and...voila! A riot!

Not much of one by, say, the standards of the U. of Maryland...but a riot nonetheless. And on the so-called "Choices" weekend, when kids who have been offered admission next year are visiting the school.


JMU's tailspin into abject mediocrity continues apace.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Earthworms Communicate, Travel in Herds


(Via Metafilter)
Nobody's Ever Wrong
They Just Don't Communicate Well

Well, as you know, nobody's ever wrong anymore, etc.

Here's something about how the Vatican's big problem is a lack of a "communication strategy."

See, the problem isn't that priests have been raping children. Oh no. The problem is that they haven't "communicated" their "message" about it effectively.

It's the bullshittification of everything, I tell ya.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Did Bush and Cheney Know that Some Guantanamo Detainees Were Innocent?

I very much hope that this is false.

If it is true, then Bush and Cheney would have to go to prison. I am in no way sure that the country could survive that.

Wednesday, April 07, 2010

The Infamous Ads

O.k., so the ads that show up on the blog don't pay me any cash until the total runs up to $100. You guys have been complaining about 'em--I rarely see 'em, because I only view the blog through blogger when I write it or moderate comments.

Anyway, I've left 'em up out of laziness, but now I'm wondering: is it o.k. to leave 'em up until I get my (measly) hundred bucks, or are they so objectionable that I really ought to take 'em down right now. Or are they so objectionable that I should take them down now specifically because it would be bad to wait on such a thing for the purpose of making money--that is, is leaving them up selling a little part of my soul or something?

The house renovation is going rather badly, so, believe it or not, 100 bucks sound pretty good to me right about now, but not good enough to sell even a fraction of my soul.

So I'm soliciting advice.

Tuesday, April 06, 2010

dook "Wins" the Championship

More like a coronation, really. I mean, does it count if you are obviously given a cupcake bracket that you don't deserve and barely beat a five seed in the final game?

Winning it straight up is one thing, but man, that whole spectacle was just painful to watch.

Monday, April 05, 2010

Odds Are, It's Wrong: Science Fails To Face The Shortcomings of Statistics

Very interesting, at ScienceNews.

Saturday, April 03, 2010

Are Occupations The #1 Cause of Terrorism?

This is interesting.

Here's an additional reason to think it's interesting: there is some evidence from cognitive science that people are often bad at determining why they believe things. (As with so much stuff from that sector, the experiments generally show something rather limited, but they're advertised as showing something sweeping and enormous. But there still seems to be something to some of them, at least.) It's fairly common, and fairly natural, to look to the writings of terrorists, and to their own explanations of their motives (fervor for global jihad, or whatever) when we try to explain their beliefs and actions. But the right place to look might be social scientific (God help us) explanations. If there really is an extremely high correlation between terrorism and occupation, then, if we want to minimize terrorism, that's the source to attack. It may very well be that occupations are so dehumanizing that it's the one thing--or one of relatively few things--that can actually anger people so much that they're willing to commit suicide attacks. And it may be that terrorists themselves are not clear about why it is that they're willing to do what they do. (Though occupations are apparently sometimes explicitly cited by terrorists, and sometimes, apparently, falsely.)

Anyway, something to think about.
More BS About Brains Morality from Neuroscientists

Well, there's this ridiculousness.

Back when I was in grad school, psychological conclusions about morality (or that impinged upon philosophy at all) were an endless source of amusement and outrage. Where philosophically interesting claims were at issue, you could usually rely on psychology to produce some sketchy experimental data, and then to draw the most absurd conclusions from it.

I mean, philosophers get used to scientists confidently saying that philosophy is silly...and then going on to say silly things about philosophy. (Philosophers also say all sorts of silly things, and all sorts of silly things about science. But that's a different story for a different time.)

Also back in grad school, neuroscience started to get trendy in philosophy. Many philosophers thought that neuroscience would finally provide the empirical results we needed to throw some light on philosophical problems. That is, that neuroscience would succeed where psychology per se had failed.

Alas, much of what we got was more ridiculous BS.

I have to say, it's fairly painful to encounter the smirking neuroscience groupies--who are all over the web (their blogs seemingly invariably festooned with pictures of them laughing impishly...) gushing over every new alleged success of neuroscience, glibly and uncritically reporting on philosophically-relevant conclusions. But the stuff you get still, as often as not, is a morass of confusions about the very philosophical issues they are purporting to illuminate.

Take this, for example.

First, we get a report telling us that scientists have discovered that we can "change moral judgments" by putting magnets to humans' brains! ZOMFG!!!!11 We can make people think differently just by screwing with their brains?!?!?!?

Er...this counts as an astonishing discovery?

Second, it turns out that...well...what we can really do is inhibit people's ability to understand other people's motives. That is, we can inhibit an ability to form a certain type of hypothesis about purely factual matters by messing with the brain.

Now realize:

(a) Again, we have known for a very, very long time that it is possible to change the way people think by altering their brains. We've known about the consequences of head trauma for...well, a very, very long time.

(b) Even if the researcher's claims about what they did are correct (something we always have to be a bit skeptical about), it has nothing to do with morality or moral judgment directly or per se. What they did is inhibit people's ability to discern each other's motives. Of course we make moral judgments partially on the basis of beliefs about motives, but that's not really relevant here. We also make moral judgments on the basis of actual actions. But just because we can inhibit people's ability to tell what other people are doing by blindfolding them (that is. messing with their eyes), this does not show that moral judgments are made in the eyeballs, nor is it true in any interesting sense that we can change moral judgments by altering eyeballs, nor that morality is nothing more than electrical activity in the eyeballs.

Third, and most importantly, note the suggestion here of a pervasive fallacy in neuroscience. Goes like this: we found a brain center that is necessary for x, therefore x is unreal/lacks rational authority/is "nothing more than" a brain process.

Repeat after me: to find that something depends on part of the brain does not show that that thing is unreal/BS/lacking in cognitive authority/etc.. Believe me, there are parts of the brain that are necessary for reasoning. There are parts of the brain that are necessary to do mathematics. There are parts of the brain that are necessary for the recognition of physical objects. There are parts of the brain that are necessary for doing science. But finding them will not mean that math, nor science, nor physical objects are "nothing more than" brain processes.

No one would be tempted to accept such a lame argument unless they already thought that the subject in question was BS. The typical, unreflective attitude of many such scientists is that morality lacks rational authority--it's just made up, or fully and merely emotional (where emotions are taken to be rationally arbitrary). They won't be tempted to to assert that science is "just" a brain process, no matter what they discover in the brain.

That it is the brain that enables us to do what we do is no surprise. The brain gives us the capacities that generate both good and bad ways of thinking, both valid and invalid reasonings, beliefs about both what is real and what is fake. Merely finding that some part of the brain is associated with some type of thought does nothing that I can see to show that such thought is bogus, or second-rate, or whatever.

In fact, one might reasonably argue that, since the relevant part of the brain is also associated with out-of-body experiences (something asserted in the Metafilter paragraph), this gives reason to think that there is something objective about morality, as it (like out-of-body experiences) has to do with seeing ourselves from an external, impersonal or third-person perspective. (In fact, that's a fairly interesting suggestion there...though a suggestion is all that it is.)

Philosophy is weird, frustrating...and possibly entirely (and certainly largely) BS, I'll admit. But scientists are generally better at what they do if they know a little of it--especially if they're going to make pronouncements about propositions that impinge on things philosophers have been thinking about with some care for thousands of years.

(Note: this was written in even greater than usual haste.)
Why dook Is Objectively Loathsome

"Anybody But Duke," by Andrew Sharp. Read it! Even I didn't know some of this stuff--e.g. that Krzyzewski screamed the following at William Avery's mom during a game: "Your son is going to f@#$ my program."

Here's a news flash, K-rat: your program is already @#$%ed, and winning won't change that.

So go Mountaineers! Defeat the forces of evil.

(h/t Mark K)

Friday, April 02, 2010

People Who Know Nothing About Philosophy
Talking About Philosophy
Some Guy Freddie Edition

Man, there's nothing I love more than some guy who knows nothing about philosophy talking about philosophy as if he knows about it. Man, that is so awesome. And getting a link to Andrew Sullivan for it, to boot! He seems to be responding to that guy Sam Harris, one of the new pop atheists, who also doesn't seem to know much. I mean, I think everybody should want to talk about philosophy, and so, of course, I don't expect everybody who talks about it to have a degree in philosophy.

But these guys, they act as if they're breaking new ground when they're really having an undergraduate-ish discussion about the matter. See, there's about 2500 years of fairly interesting thought about these matters. You're not breaking new ground. You're not even really part of the discussion.

Here's a hint: anyone who suggests that you read Barbara Herrnstein-Smith, just navigate away. BHS is not a serious thinker, and her amateur pronouncements about philosophy are laughably laughable.

I'm not even going to go to the trouble of refuting this dude's points. Unless I start feeling extremely bored and cantankerous tomorrow...

Thursday, April 01, 2010

Are the Democrats Doomed By Their Big, Sprawling Tent?

Man, that O.K.Cupid blog outputs some surprisingly interesting stuff.