Archive for December, 2014

December 29, 2014

2014 in review

by Neil Rickert

The stats helper monkeys prepared a 2014 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

The concert hall at the Sydney Opera House holds 2,700 people. This blog was viewed about 14,000 times in 2014. If it were a concert at Sydney Opera House, it would take about 5 sold-out performances for that many people to see it.

Click here to see the complete report.

December 29, 2014

Racism in America

by Neil Rickert

I just heard the announcement on my local NPR station.  They will be interviewing President Obama on the question of whether racism has gotten worse during his term.

Presumably, the interview is on tape.  They have not yet played it at my local station.  But, from the announcement, it looks as if Obama will be saying that actually things have been improving.

I look at this partly from the vantage of a university professor (now retired), and partly as a member of the community.  From what I have seen, there is more interracial friendship, more mingling.  Overall, I agree that things have been getting better.  This has been particularly noticeable over the last 15-20 years and the improvement of racial relations continues.

So why are we hearing so much about racial issues on the news?  I believe that to be a backlash from the more racist members of our society.  Racism is deeply engrained among some groups.  Others have been trying to overcome their racism.  But, for people raised during a racist era, that can be difficult.

Our younger folk have grown up in an era of change.  And we are seeing that change.  There is now far more recognition of the unfairness that minorities often face.  And that increasing consciousness of the problem is also part of why we are hearing so many news reports on racial issues.

I’ll ask those of minority groups to be heartened by these changes.  I don’t ask them to be patient.  I understand their impatience.  Change has been far too slow.  I naively thought that racism would end with the civil rights legislation of the 1960.  But changing laws is easy, compared to changing people and changing cultures.  Yet there is ongoing change.  Your children will experience less racism than you experienced.

December 24, 2014

Merry Christmas

by Neil Rickert

Merry Christmas everybody.  Happy holidays to all.

And, for balance, here’s a link to a word from the grinch.

December 18, 2014

Is Christianity dead?

by Neil Rickert

I was brought up with the idea that God is love.  This was the centerpiece of Christianity.

Judging by what some conservative Christians have been saying, this is now changed to “God is torture” (see this recent slacktivist post).

There doesn’t seem to be much Christianity remaining.  Thankfully, Fred Clark’s “slacktivist” blog still makes a case for the “God is love” view.

December 18, 2014

Religious nut jobs

by Neil Rickert

They hate it when we call them that (see the title of this post).  But, at times, it seems appropriate.

Checking my email earlier today, there was a message about a comment to this blog needing moderation.  The email included the comment.  It was a bit iffy (over the top religion), but I was going to approve it anyway.

I went to the comment pages of the blog.  That comment was nowhere to be seen.  So I checked the spam pages.  And there it was amongst the spam.  The spam checker (akismet must have re-evaluated that and decided that it was spam).

The particular commenter had provided a link to his website, which was his own blog.  So I took a look at his blog.  And there, the most recent post appeared to be identical to his comment on my blog.

Ordinary common sense would be that this blogger write a short relevant comment to my blog post and include a link back to his full post.  But, instead his comment was his entire blog post.

In this case, the expression “religious nut job” seems to fit.  And akismet was right to flag this as spam.

I have deliberately chosen to not identify the spammer or his blog.  If he is reading this, I hope he can develop a little common sense.

December 12, 2014

On free will

by Neil Rickert

Here’s a recent video, “The Dark Side of Free Will“, of a TEDx talk by philosopher Gregg Caruso (h/t Brian Leiter).

Caruso argues that we do not have free will.  However, the main point of his talk is to argue that belief in free will has undesirable consequences, so we would be better off dropping any such belief.

I don’t get it.  I do not see any substance to his argument.  But I suggest you watch the video and decide that for yourself.

Among the undesirable consequences that Caruso mentions, are a retributive system of justice, and a “blame the victim” mentality.

I agree with Caruso that there are problems with our current system of justice, and that we should get rid of that “blame the victim” mentality.  But I don’t see that this as anything much to do with a belief in free will.

Caruso mentions evidence to support his case.  But all he has is correlations.  I am left wondering why he called his talk “The Dark Side of Free Will.”  Why not, instead, “The Dark Side of Conservatism” or “The Dark Side of Religion”?  Either of those titles would seem a better fit to the evidence that he mentions.

But here’s what leaves me puzzled about these kinds of arguments.  Caruso wants us to make changes, which involves us making choices.  To me, that we have an ability to make such changes is a very typical example of free will.  So I see Caruso as implicitly endorsing the view that we have free will, while explicitly denying it.

Arguments against free will always seem to involve that kind of internal contradiction.

December 5, 2014

Learning and knowledge

by Neil Rickert

Here’s a recent youtube video about attempts to revolutionize education (h/t Larry Moran).

There wasn’t anything that I found surprising in this video.  Over the years, I’ve been in several discussions of a similar nature.  Those discussions have also mentioned correspondence classes which did not seem to get a mention in the video.

This does relate to the nature of knowledge.  If knowledge were really justified true belief, then the methods which failed to revolutionize education should have worked.  For those are the methods that would provide the student with a large accumulation of true beliefs.

This is why I often express disagreement with “knowledge = justified true belief”.  That characterization of knowledge is not compatible with how we actually become knowledgeable.