All entries by this author

Hidden Ecological Explanations *

Jan 4th, 2003 | Filed by

Is culture a human category, or can animals have it? Do orangs and chimps learn culture, or adapt their behavior to their environment?… Read the rest



Is It Distraction, or Multi-Tasking? *

Jan 4th, 2003 | Filed by

Can students learn critical thinking while playing solitaire or surfing the Web?… Read the rest



When Good Scientists Go Bad *

Jan 3rd, 2003 | Filed by

They become journalists and friends of the Raelians and are selected to ‘check’ the ‘evidence’ of cloned baby.… Read the rest



Maybe It’s Both

Jan 2nd, 2003 8:26 pm | By

Another, more minor point from the MLA convention.

“The famous line about the M.L.A. is that you’ve never seen a convention where people drink so much and fuck so little,” said Michael Bérubé, an English professor from Penn State University.

Really. That’s so interesting, because I had always heard that was philosophers.… Read the rest



M.I.T. Investigating its own Laboratory *

Jan 2nd, 2003 | Filed by

Physicist at M.I.T. accuses lab of hiding flaws in missile defense program.… Read the rest



Specialized Professionals on the Subway

Jan 1st, 2003 6:25 pm | By

I always knew I didn’t want to be an academic, and a story like this reminds me why. Oh God. The jostling, the ogling, the sucking up, the trend-sniffing, the star-chasing, the pretension. I’d rather be a prison warden, a chicken plucker, a bus driver.

And that’s especially true of the MLA. There’s something about…what used to be called literary criticism, but is now called, in a move that to my mind reeks of pretension and seriosity-envy, ‘literary theory’, that makes me want to grab a shovel and cover myself in mud. Which is odd enough, because I’ve always been a literary type. But then again maybe that’s why: after all literature, unlike other academic fields, has always been a … Read the rest



An Evening in Hell *

Jan 1st, 2003 | Filed by

The MLA convention: interviews, fear and trembling, publish or perish, cutbacks, no vacancies, ‘literary theorists are the snappiest dressers’.… Read the rest



Never Mind Offensive, Is It True?

Dec 31st, 2002 5:42 pm | By

There is an interesting comment on the letters page of the New York Times Science section.

The conversation with David Sloan Wilson quotes him as saying, “I tell people I’m an atheist, but a nice atheist” (“The Origins of Religion, From a Distinctly Darwinian View”). The idea that atheists, secular humanists, agnostics and other free thinkers are not “nice” or, as is often more bluntly put, “cannot be moral without a belief in God” is highly offensive to the millions of Americans who are nonbelievers.

I entirely agree with the basic thought, but I would have phrased it a little differently. (Plus, in Wilson’s defense, I think he is reacting to the prejudices of other people, not expressing his own.) … Read the rest



Research on Free Will *

Dec 31st, 2002 | Filed by

Is it an empirical question rather than a philosophical one?… Read the rest



Paradigm Shift in Progress? *

Dec 31st, 2002 | Filed by

Physicists disagree about revisions to special relativity.… Read the rest



Claim Anything *

Dec 30th, 2002 | Filed by

Rael ‘once claimed that he travelled by flying saucer in 1975 to share lunch with Jesus, Buddha and Confucius’ and now claims to have cloned a human.… Read the rest



Undue Burden Indeed

Dec 30th, 2002 1:00 am | By

Here is a review of what sounds like a very strange book by a ‘New Democrat’ (i.e. a Democrat so conservative he might as well be a Republican) and adviser to Clinton named William Galston. He wraps himself in the cloak of Isaiah Berlin, the reviewer Stephen Macedo wittily remarks, in an effort to make a case for ‘value pluralism’; but it sounds more like Balkanization and desecularization. Particularly bizarre and indeed alarming is the fact that he condemns the U.S. Supreme Court for striking down the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which was written so broadly as to give religious groups the ability to challenge any law that imposed an ‘undue burden’.

The review is particulary sharp with the all-too … Read the rest



A Skeptical Look at ‘Diversity Liberalism’ *

Dec 29th, 2002 | Filed by

A New Democrat thinks the US doesn’t pander to religion enough.… Read the rest



The Great Age of the Big Notion *

Dec 29th, 2002 | Filed by

The Lonely Crowd was one of a crowd of Big Idea books that were long on speculation but short on evidence.… Read the rest



Separation of Politics and Science *

Dec 28th, 2002 | Filed by

Daniel Smith reviews Steven Pinker’s The Blank Slate in The Boston Globe.… Read the rest



Meet Me at the Volcano *

Dec 28th, 2002 | Filed by

A sportswriter and race car driver discovers aliens speak French, starts new religion.… Read the rest



Raelian Bishop Announces Cloned Human *

Dec 27th, 2002 | Filed by

Clonaid, connected to Raelian sect who say aliens created all life on Earth through genetic engineering, claims it has followed suit.… Read the rest



Do We Define Ourselves By Way of our Tastes? *

Dec 26th, 2002 | Filed by

Red wine or white? Lord of the Rings or Harry Potter? (Hang on, where is ‘neither’?)… Read the rest



Open the Door

Dec 24th, 2002 11:25 pm | By

This is an essay that talks (among other things) about the convergence of two subjects (if not more) that keep coming up here: the fashion for biographies of intellectuals–poets, philosophers, historians, scientists–that dwell lovingly on prurient personal details and skip lightly over the ideas and thought and books that are why the people are interesting to begin with; and the dominance of identity politics over every other kind.

The fixation on biography, particularly when it is mixed with interpretive suspicion, suggests a retreat from philosophy’s aspiration to truth; we wallow in the particular and revel in salacious detail, whether it be Wittgenstein’s homosexuality, A. J. Ayer’s promiscuity, Foucault’s “sadomasochistic” experimentations in the gay subculture, Dewey’s sexual shyness, or Hannah Arendt’s

Read the rest


Gossip Displaces Ideas *

Dec 24th, 2002 | Filed by

Shallow misunderstandings of Arendt, Heidegger, Foucault and others by writers more interested in laundry-inspection than analysis of thought.… Read the rest