Archive for February 18th, 2011

Best Science Pictures of 2010

| February 18, 2011 | Reply
Best Science Pictures of 2010

Found here at National Geographic, selections from the 2010 International Science and Engineering Visualization Challenge.

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Sick and tired of excuses for Iraq invasion

| February 18, 2011 | Reply
Sick and tired of excuses for Iraq invasion

I understand why Colin Powell is trying to salvage his reputation, but I’m tired of hearing about these desperate efforts (and see Cenk Uygur’s video here). Instead of following his marching orders in 2003, Powell should have stood up at the U.N. and said something like this:

The Bush Administration wants me to claim that there is a watertight case that Iraq will soon be inflicting massive damage on the United States using powerful weapons. I refuse to make this statement because, to my knowledge and belief, it is not true. There is no credible evidence that Iraq has ‘weapons of mass destruction.’ The “evidence” offered by the Administration consists entirely of questionable statements by biased and unsavory characters. I will not be part of this scheme to defraud the American People and our allies around the world.

Mr. Bush and Mr. Cheney had planned to attack Iraq even before they were elected into office and it is my strong suspicion that they are encouraging others to manufacture false evidence to suit their desires. And let me be clear that there is no connection between 9/11 and this attempted warmongering.

I hereby resign my post as Secretary of State.

Can you believe that a Secretary of State is now saying that he was duped? What the hell did he think his job was? To be a hand-puppet for the Vice-President or to exercise independent judgment? Truly, when there were only a few sketchy bits of evidence on which an entire war was being justified, why wouldn’t he insist that these characters should be flown to Washington for detailed self-critical interrogation? Further, how is it that a smattering of reports regarding possible weapons justify a huge war effort, especially when this country has had thousands of nuclear missile aimed at it for decades (by the Soviet Union and presumably other countries), yet we can apparently keep that in perspective.

Powell’s U.N. speech was a no-balls moment for Powell, and his carefully calculated lies and omissions that evening have cost this country dearly. He gets no sympathy from me for his over-willingness to plunge this country into war effort so ineffective and corrupt and dangerous that media reports still don’t spent time on Iraqi street to gather information.

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Kinetic beach sculptures

| February 18, 2011 | Reply
Kinetic beach sculptures

Check out Theo Jansen’s startling pvc beach creatures.

The BBC also offers a slide show of the Dutch artist’s efforts, along with commentary.

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Ambivalent philosophizing

| February 18, 2011 | 16 Replies
Ambivalent philosophizing

I love thinking about the meaning of life But do I really? Sometimes philosophizing (including contemplating recent advances in understanding human cognition) seems to be a curse, and I think that I wish that I would just be able to quit thinking about all those “deep” questions and just live life. But do I really?

The inner compulsion to philosophize is both a blessing and a curse. I am usually convinced that it enriches one’s life. As Socrates said, the unexamined life is not worth living. But how much time and energy should we spend examining life instead of living it?

One of my favorite passages on this topic of ambivalence toward philosophizing was written by David Hume in Part IV, Book I, page 268 of A Treatise of Human Nature (the edition I am quoting is the Second Edition, edited by L. A. Shelby-Bigge (Oxford: the Clarendon Press, 1978)).

But what have I here said, that reflections very refined and metaphysical have little or no influence upon us? This opinion I can scarce forebear retracting, and condemning from my present feeling and experience. The intense view of these manifold contradictions and imperfections in human reason has so wrought upon me, and heated my brain, that I am ready to reject all belief and reasoning, and can look upon no opinion even as more probable or likely than another. Where am I, or what? From what causes do I derive my existence, into what condition shall I return? Whose favor shall I court, and whose anger must I dread? What beings surround me? And on whom have I any influence, or who have any influence on me? I am confounded with all these questions, and began to fancy myself in the most deplorable condition imaginable, inviron’d with the deepest darkness, and utterly deprived of the use of every member and faculty.

Most fortunately it happens, that since reason is incapable of dispelling these clouds, nature herself suffices to that purpose, and cures me of this philosophical melancholy and delirium, either by relaxing this bent of mind, or by some application, and lively impression of my senses, which obliterates all these chimeras. I dine, I play a game of backgammon, I converse, and am merry with my friends; and when after three or four hours’ amusement, I would return to the speculations, they appear so cold, and strained, and ridiculous, that I cannot find in my heart to enter into them any farther.

Hume follows up this passage by recognizing his need to philosophize to be both a natural inclination and a natural sentiment (page 271). He notes that staying away from his speculations makes him “uneasy” and that if he distracts himself with worldly diversions for too long “I feel I should be a loser in point of pleasure; and this is the origin of my philosophy.” (Page 271). He expresses his humble hopes that he may “contribute a little to the advancement of knowledge.” (Page 273). He had earlier in the book observed that a skeptic “still continues to be reason and believe, even though he asserts that he cannot defend his reason by reason.” (Page 187).

based on the above, it should not surprise one to hear that it was David Hume who concluded that: that “Reason is and ought only to be the slave of the passions, and can never pretend to any other office than to serve and obey them.” (Book II, Part I, Section III).

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