In reply to bwkaplan:
You write “In the absense of a knowable, objective, ideal, ethical space..”. I counter that there is no knowable, objective ideal physical space – to a solipsist. Nietzsche’s position is to ethical philosophy what solipsism is to epistemology: a perfectly coherent irrefutable system which is completely useless. More: a philosophy of ethics which cannot find a moral difference between Adolf Hitler and one of the children he murdered is a luxury the world cannot afford.
Re yr “faith “article,
Thank you for the ammunition.
I have a 34 yr born again daughter and her stuff is driving me crazy, she’s aliennated everyone and has become a bore.
Thanks for the strength
To Paul Power:
Thanks Paul, once again, for pointing the way out of the fog of confusion that occasionally threatens to overtake this board….including my own ‘contributions’!
I needed that!
Responding to Paul,
Your characterization of Nietzche as a solipsist is an interesting misuse of the word ‘solipsism’. But this is black and white thinking from you, and not for the first time. Just because the notion of absolutes does not play a part in knowledge of the physical world, does not mean we eschew all strategems of attaining more knowledge, nor should we treat them all equally. As Henri Poincare pointed out that absolute epistemic boundaries, whether the tendency is towards believing everything or nothing to be true, share the same bias: their hatred of knowledge. And this is reflected further in Wittgenstein. The first sentence of his Tracticus tells us,”The world is the totality of facts, not things.” By his lights, language was the epistemic frontier to knowledge; that is to say that nothing is known as an absolute, but is related to something else. Hence, “facts” are not immutable atoms of comprehension, but a means to a further pregnancy. By looking at the world as if it must simply “be” something innate, you leave the world of science behind. So, who exactly is the better solipsist, here?
Wow, just read that “Hats” article and was greatly amused. Should be required reading for every mad hatter on the planet. I would say I tip my hat to you, PZ Myers, but I don’t wear one either — and I’m bald!
In reply to bwkaplan:
I did not characterise Nietzsche as a solipsist. I wrote that “Nietzsche’s position is to ethical philosophy what solipsism is to epistemology: a perfectly coherent irrefutable system which is completely useless.” If I say that “woman is to man what cow is to bull”, I am not referring to women as female bovines.
To get back to the morality of religious faith: you seemed earlier to be claiming that there could be no morality at all, because there was no objective universally-agreed basis for it. My point about solipsism is that just because we have no universally-agreed basis for epistemology should not stop us saying that logical fallacies are a bad thing. We need practical rules and if philosophers have a problem providing uncontestable foundations for them, that’s a problem for them alone. As an analogy, I note that once calculus was put on a rigorous mathematical footing in the 19th century, the way it had been used and continues to be used by scientists and engineers was not valid because it was not in accordance with mathematics. However the real world went on its merry way while scientists and engineers had no difficulties using their “unfounded” tool. Only mathematicians had a problem, which they solved by the invention of “nonstandard analysis”. (http://mathforum.org/dr.math/faq/analysis_hyperreals.html). The latter Wittgenstein, who claimed that “the task of the true philosopher ..was … to show that the problems with which philosophers tormented themselves were in fact not really problems at all” , would perhaps chuckle at all this . (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wittgenstein#Later_work). As maybe would Poincare, who worked both in physics and mathematics in the period between the formalisation of calculus and the coming of nonstandard analysis.
One thing that confuses me about the whole “Da Vinci Code” business. The book Dan Brown allegedly plagiarised is published as “non-fiction”. How, therefore, can using the ideas contained in it be plagiarsim? If I write a fictional book based on the life of Einstein, am I thereby plagiarising any bioography of the great man I used for background information?
If you think about the money Brown has made you’ll know that plagiarism is just a pretext for the case….
Don’t let it hold up your own opus:
‘Einstein:Genius or hoaxer?’
Repressed memory challenge
I’m partial to the idea that repressed memory is a silly romantic notion. But I doubt that failing to find a case before 1800 can discredit it.
Even beyond the need to accept the null hypothesis (the absence of a case used to provide contrary evidence), there’s another problem. Consider what Pope and Hudson said in offering their challenge, with just one term changed for another.
“The concept of autism…might be simply a romantic notion dating from the 1800s, rather than a scientifically valid phenomenon. To test this hypothesis, we are offering a reward….We would argue that if autism were a genuine natural phenomenon that has always affected people,then someone, somewhere, in the thousands of years prior to 1800, would
have witnessed it and portrayed it”.
Autism was first identified by Kanner in 1943 and independently by Asperger in 1944. Descriptions of anything
resembling autism earlier than this are scarce. Perhaps the best candidate is the case of the Wild Boy of Aveyron. Even if we accept this as a true case of autism, which is debatable, the published account of Itard dates from 1801, and so falls just under the cut-off date. But even though diagnosable autism does not appear before 1800, does this mean that the disorder is not scientifically valid?
Next case; Parkinson’s disease. It was first described in 1817 by James Parkinson. But does the absence of earlier reports mean that Parkinson’s disease is merely a silly romantic notion?
The outcome of this challenge will be interesting. But the failure of anyone to claim the prize can’t be used to invalidate the concept of repressed memory.
Just a tiny correction to Einstein’s performance at the Swiss Polytech:
The Swiss grading system has a scale from 1 to 6 (the latter being the best mark). Since the minimum mark is 1, the proper conversion into a percentage degree is calculated as follows: (grade -1) / 5 * 100.
So Einstein’s performance of 4.91 on the Swiss scale equals 78% (and not 82 as stated in the article).
Not a big deal, but nevertheless worth correcting in a statement about maths performance.
Andreas Kyriacou writes:
>Just a tiny correction to Einstein’s performance at the Swiss Polytech: The Swiss grading system has a scale from 1 to 6 (the latter being the best mark). Since the minimum mark is 1, the proper conversion into a percentage degree is calculated as follows: (grade -1) / 5 * 100. So Einstein’s performance of 4.91 on the Swiss scale equals 78% (and not 82 as stated in the article).<
Andreas: You make good point that I’ll have to deal with. But I need more information. The Zurich Polytechnic results for 1900 for the candidates taking the mathematics or mathematics/physics teaching diploma include some with ½ grade intervals. Does this mean that there was a theoretical possibility that a very weak student could have been awarded ½ in a given subject?
Re Swiss grading system (answer to Allen Esterson):
“Half grades” can be awarded, but only within the scale from 1 to 6, i.e. the poorest half grade would be 1.5 (=10%) and the highest 5.5 (90%).
Many thanks, Andreas. I’ve amended the articles on my website to which Ophelia has linked in the “In Focus” item, and I’ll get Ophelia to make the necessary change in the article posted on B&W.
I was somewhat disappointed that Dennett’s Breaking the Spell consisted more of questions than answers, but from the hysteria of some reviewers, apparently that was more than enough. John Gray’s inept review seems to be based upon falacious ad hominem and strawman arguments (do reviewers not understand the basics of elementary logic?), and two rather absurd claims.
The first is the curious claim that “it is a mistake to assume that belief is the core of religion.” Can anyone understand why he would make this claim? Is he talking about the stress on good works over faith? Catholicism stresses good works, but the Nicene Creed is the first thing you recite when the mass begins. Religion is defined precisely by its supernaturalistic beliefs, without which it is simply a moral philosophy. Practice is often valued as a Shiboleth, a sign of belief, but the belief is still primary. Or is he talking about an assumption which proves itself by conditioning our perceptions–in which case, the assumption itself is the belief. If Gray wishes to defend religion, his first order of business should be to acquaint himself with it. And to claim that in animism, “spirits are seen as part of the natural world,” is just plain dense. Animism consists of a claim that the natural world is animated by the supernatural; hence the term animism.
The second is an attack on the idea of memes. Gray’s misunderstanding of memes appears to be based upon the one gene, one trait misapprehension of genetics. Our thoughts are not made up of elementary memes any more than our traits are determined by single genes. Transmitted ideas are modified, combined, expressed, or repressed by other ideas, and sometimes get mangled in transmission. This is analogous to the gene-stew, and the occasional mutation, which produces our physical traits. Culture is a patchwork of memes tied together by a connective tissue formed by the individual to harmonise the whole–and sometimes this connective tissue is itself a meme.
Some memes may be repressed, like that jingle in your head that you hate but can’t get rid of, or as an unspoken but accepted premise. Others are adapted, like a tool that is almost what you want, and which becomes exactly what you want with the addition of an extra flange. Others act as meta-memes; like musical or writing styles, providing the structure but not the content of expression. The evolution of memes is certainly more fluid than the evolution of genes because of the intentional aspect, but this intentional aspect is itself guided largely by memes.
Gray cites Constantine as an example that memes do not survive by fitness, but by the support of power. But Constantine demonstrates precisely the opposite; what was his apparent conversion to Christianity if not the opportunistic recognition that Christianity had already conquered Rome, and by raising its banner he could take Rome without a fight. And so he did, but his actions are scarcely those of a devouted convert; he gave Apollo equal space on his shield, was lackadaisical about enforcing the laws against pagan officials, and was not baptised till he was on his deathbed. The meme won first. Constantine won by adopting it. Marcus Aurelius recognized Christianity as the strongest rival to stoicism, and tried his best to eradicate it. He failed because Christianity offered the bonus of the afterlife, and its followers were willing to exchange their lives to impress the Romans with their faith. As the survival of the Jews illustrates, even the most ruthless imposition of power will not eradicate a successful meme.
A very good eye-opener about the viewpoint of PBS. We have been indoctrinated to take everything from them as beyond question and have really lost the will/ability to look for editorial viewpoint.
You might want to change the date of the marriage from 2003 to the correct year (1903 I’m supposing). That really throws you for a loop when reading the article.
Thanks, Carol. I’ll get Ophelia to make the correction.
It’s disconcerting that one can read through an article several times and still miss such obvious slips!
As an Australian, I never felt embbarrassed about the convict heritage of our distant past. It’s embarrassing, however, to see the sort of bogus “educational” programmes now being spawned in this country, producrf by people who, in educational terms at least, are involved in far bigger crimes than many of our early convicts.
As if it isn’t already bad enough having Mel Gibson claiming to be Australian?
Norman, re your comments on “bogus ‘educational’ programmes” in Australia, you may be interested to know that there is an Australian “Study Guide” for schools for the “Einstein’s Wife” documentary:
Characteristic of the level of scholarship in this Guide is the following in the introductory paragraphs: “Mileva’s existence came to light in a biography published in 1983, and again when Princeton University Press published the first of Einstein’s archived papers.’
All the writers had to do was go to a library and examine any Einstein biography published prior to 1983 to see that this is nonsense. The culprits (I mean writers), incidentally are Rebecca Carter (Education Officer and television researcher for CSIRO Education, Victoria) and Amber Lorych (Education Officer for ATOM).
Last November I emailed Rebecca Carter and Amber Lorych separately, spelling out errors in their Study Guide, and giving full references. I didn’t even get the courtesy of an acknowledgement from either of them.
ATOM (Australian Teachers Of Media, Victoria, Australia) is “an independent, non-profit, professional association for Teachers of Media and Teachers who wish to use media effectively in their classroom”. (The “Einstein’s Wife” Study Guide was produced by ATOM.)
CSIRO (Commonwealth Science and Research Organisation) is “Australia’s national science agency and one of the largest and most diverse scientific research organisations in the world”.
Correction to my last posting:
CSIRO stands for Commonwealth Science and Industrial Research Organisation.
Any comments or rebuttal by PBS regarding the facts as stated in this expose’ would be most welcome.
Has PBS been notified and offered an opportunity to explain themselves regarding their skewed, revisionist presentation “Einstens Wife” ?
That would make for some very interesting, if not entertaining reading.
Dan: I’ve been considering the best way to take this issue further, and, specifically, about the possibility of presenting this material to PBS. They have an Ombudsman, who “seeks to ensure PBS upholds its own standards of editorial integrity”. The latter include:
“The honesty and integrity of informational content depends heavily upon its factual accuracy. Every effort must be made to assure that content is presented accurately and in context. Programs, Web sites, and other content containing editorials, analysis, commentary, and points of view must be held to the same standards of factual accuracy as news reports. A commitment to accuracy includes a willingness to correct the record if persuasive new information that warrants a correction comes to light, and to respond to feedback and questions from audiences.”
So I’m thinking about how best to submit a message via the Ombudsman’s page, as I don’t seen any place on the “Einstein’s Wife” webpages where relevant comments can be made. I suspect the Ombudsman would pass on my comments to the producers of the program, from whom I would anticipate an anodyne reply on the lines that there are conflicting views about the evidence. But it may be worth trying.
That sounds like a good idea, to get in touch with PBS. As you correctly pointed out in your article, one of their pieces of “evidence”, which they bring up in text and graphical form is particularly misleading: Writing the surnames of husband and wife together, separated by a hyphen is an absolutely common way to use a family name in Switzerland. This was and is true for both men and women, i.e. “Einstein-Marity” merely means that the bearer of the name is married.
In Einstein’s time this was the legal standard for women and common practice for men. (Nowadays men and women can choose to keep their own name and add or not add the spouses name).
Oh, and while they’re at it, PBS could also get the name of (Wilhelm) Conrad Röntgen right on their website.
>As you correctly pointed out in your article, one of their pieces of “evidence”, which they bring up in text and graphical form is particularly misleading: Writing the surnames of husband and wife together, separated by a hyphen is an absolutely common way to use a family name in Switzerland. Writing the surnames of husband and wife together, separated by a hyphen is an absolutely common way to use a family name in Switzerland. This was and is true for both men and women, i.e. “Einstein-Marity” merely means that the bearer of the name is married.
> In Einstein’s time this was the legal standard for women and common practice for men <
Thanks for that comment, Andreas – though credit for pointing this out is certainly not mine. It goes to John Stachel and Alberto Martinez, both of whom have made this point in articles from which I got all the information about the misrepresentation of what Joffe wrote. This misinformation about what Joffe is alleged to have written is posted on numerous websites, which is why the fact that PBS has recycled it in the most crude form is particularly pernicious. And they repeat the false information that “In 1955, a Soviet physicist (now deceased) claimed that he personally saw the original manuscripts, and that Mileva’s name appeared as co-author” immediately above the place where readers are invited to vote ‘Yes’ or ‘No’: “YOU DECIDE: Did Mileva collaborate with Albert on the scientific papers of 1905?” Talk about rigging the vote! As if they hadn’t already ensured a hefty ‘Yes’ vote by their constantly presuming in the website material what they were purporting to be investigating.
The ‘Yes’ vote is currently running at 79%. But then that’s what would you expect of an exercise reminiscent of a plebiscite under a dictatorship.
>Oh, and while they’re at it, PBS could also get the name of (Wilhelm) Conrad Röntgen right on their website.<
I presume you’re referring to their writing the name as “Röentgen” in the section called “The Mileva Question”. This shows a strange ignorance of the convention of adding an ‘e’ after the ‘o’ in a German word to represent ‘ö’ – putting in the ‘e’ when the umlaut over the ‘o’ is present is just a wee bit redundant!
“This misinformation about what Joffe is alleged to have written is posted on numerous websites, which is why the fact that PBS has recycled it in the most crude form is particularly pernicious.”
This recycling thing is one reason the whole issue of bad or (worse) fraudulent scholarship is so noxious. It’s memetics – it keeps replicating. There must be throngs of people now who believe this myth, and here is PBS nurturing it, feeding it, urging it on.
An update on my message to the PBS Ombudsman about the “Einstein’s Wife” documentary and website material: I’ve had a response from the Senior National Promotion Manager, to whom my message must have been passed. It was copied (with my detailed complaint) to the Director of PR and Promotion, the Senior Director of Oregon Public Broadcasting [and Director of the "Einstein’s Wife" website], and two other PBS officials.
The message said they appreciate my concerns and are currently looking into the issues that I raised, and that they’ll get back to me as soon as possible.
I can’t resist citing an item in the “Einstein’s Wife” documentary that exemplifies the crassness of the production. At the very end of the documentary they have Einstein on the screen making a short statement concluding with the words:
“Mileva is my guardian angel against the sins of life. Without her I would never have started my work, and certainly not have finished it.”
Earlier in the documentary they had Einstein saying the first part of this little speech (minus the last sentence above) in response to an alleged offer of some money from his father-in-law Milos Maric when he (allegedly) visited the couple “shortly after the birth” of their first son Hans Albert in 1904. Now all Einstein had published up to (and including) 1904 were five papers of no great significance so the probability that he would have made a statement saying anything about his having “finished” his work in 1904 is zero! Wasn’t there *anyone* involved with this production, and the PBS team that broadcast it, who pointed out this blatantly absurd anomaly? Apparently not.
The highly dubious source of the above quotation is given in my detailed examination of the claims of the main protagonists at:
This should be intensely interesting. PBS does have some degree of commitment to an ideal of education and of epistemic standards. One of its best-known shows after all is ‘Nova’, which often exposes pseudoscience and bad scholarship. I’m guessing that at the very least the executives will be worried about this. But – now that the website is there, I wonder if they will feel able to correct it. I wonder if the whole thing will play out the way the Smithsonian’s Freud exhibition did – when critics pointed out that it was not entirely accurate, a lot of media coverage labeled that ‘Freud-bashing’. I’m very curious about how this will go.
>I wonder if the whole thing will play out the way the Smithsonian’s Freud exhibition did – when critics pointed out that it was not entirely accurate, a lot of media coverage labeled that ‘Freud-bashing’. I’m very curious about how this will go.<
I don’t think the two situations are really comparable. The objection to the Freud exhibition as it stood was not on the grounds that it was not entirely accurate, but that the organizing of the exhibit was solely in the hands of the psychoanalytic establishment, and that that could not be right for a publicly funded event. And in the case of the “Einstein’s Wife” website material it is not that it is not entirely accurate, but that it is almost entirely inaccurate!
> I’m guessing that at the very least the executives will be worried about this. But – now that the website is there, I wonder if they will feel able to correct it.<
Yes, I’ll be fascinated to see how they’ll handle this. Frankly, the website material is beyond tinkering, in fact beyond redemption. After all, it is based on the documentary, and that is also beyond redemption. One has only to see the way they that in one particularly crude section the Einstein specialist John Stachel was set up in a completely unprincipled way to recognize it as a propaganda exercise of the kind described by Patai and Koertge in their book *Professing Feminism* (2003), where they write that too often the ideological commitments of academic feminists “serve as a filter that removes recalcitrant evidence from the final product and predetermines the conclusions of their research”.
The only principled position for PBS, once they have read all the evidence and documentation, is to admit they made a blunder and close down the website. Perhaps more likely is that after consulting with the writer/producer of the documentary they will fall back on a “this is one view of the evidence, but we ought to have acknowledged more clearly that there is another” position, and make minor modifications accordingly.
I endorse your views wholeheartedly.
Maryam said ….
“Freedom of speech and expression are one of the few means at the disposal of many to resist this terrorism and its attack on universal values and norms.
We must defend it unconditionally. There can be no ifs ands or buts.”
Except, does this apply to communist/Marxist societies as well, given that communism is a classic religion, fully as murderous and insane as any of the others …..
If YES, then well-done, but don’t forget the Gulag ….