Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

Scientism and skepticism

May 23, 2017

This is the kind of thing that shows how unreliable science is, and how condescending scientism is: I’ve been treated for both epilepsy and lymphoma, and my mother had MS, and I’ve often wondered about possible connections between some or all of these. One thing I have thought about at times is the role of lymphatic system since I have never shown damage on my brain in scans but they have sometimes mentioned mucus blockages in passing.

Lymph shows up more ancient and chinese medicine and doesn’t get a lot of attention in western medicine (“immune system” is used more often, and seems kind of abstract…) so it’s hard to find information. But then if ask questions or share those ideas with people who have established modern beliefs, they are dismissed as “absurd” – in this conversation the only argument given was that the brain has no lymphatic connection, which is now shown to be untrue. (-the textbooks have to be rewritten!)

And still, 8 bullet points were provided, one merely the repeat of the statement that the suggestion was ludicrous (most of the others comments that various things hadn’t been tested or seemed rare) – that of course you shouldn’t investigate that idea any further…

It’s difficult because there are often hopeful logical leaps being made and people who just pass around ideas as if they are already concluded, even when they don’t add up at all. So, there’s a lot of unhelpful behavior on both sides – but the skeptics commonly think they’re blameless.

The first step to being a skeptic is recognizing that we don’t have the answers. Some crazy ideas might be useful – actually, some crazy ideas will almost certainly turn out to be tomorrow’s science.


Forcing change, alternative facts…

March 4, 2017

This article laments the problem of contemporary culture that people are too sure that they know things, and so instead of having useful conversations and coming to possible solutions, they butt heads and get further entrenched in their views. The funny thing about it is that the article itself ends with a point of certainty about how people simply hold the wrong position on gun control and vaccination, and that if we could teach them not to be so certain, we could convince them to have the right position.

This seems like entirely the wrong way to approach the problem, at least if the problem is this self-certainty. Putting aside what the right answer is, the key issue at stake is what the actual problem is. It’s not that some people are right and some are wrong. It’s that everyone is too sure of their side. That means the people who are “right” are too sure, too. If the people who are right actually are right, then there is no need to be sure about it. That’s the great thing about truth – it remains true even if you don’t insist on it.

So it seems like what everyone has to do is trust that whatever is true can be worked out if we all agree to honestly investigate what is the case. This is where the problem lies: words like honestly, agree and trust are not compatible with modern interactions that take place on a broad scale. They only apply to person-to-person exchanges, and that depends on the relationships between the persons involved. Large social level dialogue is full of distance and abstraction, which creates the possibilities for hidden motivation, suspicion, misunderstanding and unknown factors.

But we apply this sense of suspicion we’ve learned to more local discussions as well. When people hear someone say “I think you might be wrong about that”, they often believe that’s not what is really being said. They think the person actually means “I know more than you”, “I have a higher status than you”, or ultimately “I am better than you”. That means the response is going to be to think “No you’re not” – or, to reply, “No I’m not” – and the conversation will not be over working out what the facts are, but defending one’s honor.

And unfortunately, people often do mean “I’m better than you”, at least to a degree, when they think they have the facts and someone else is simply wrong. If we could all admit to our ignorance and seek truth together, there might be a chance for movement. But if either side begins certain that they have the correct conclusion and if only they could convince those dummies… then we set ourselves up for a tug of war.

8 years

September 11, 2009

Eight years ago, I lived on the Lower East Side, near the East Broadway stop on the F train, where I could see the twin towers from my rooftop. On Sept 11, I was woken by a call from my dad asking if I had the TV on, soon followed by calls from friends to check that I was watching. I now think, in retrospect, that there was a sickening undercurrent of giddiness to those first few conversations, during the time between 8:46 and 9:59, from the first plane until a tower actually fell. It was shocking, horrifying even, but it wasn’t fully emotionally serious until a building collapsed.

What I had thought was concern seems like it might have just been rubbernecking, a fascination with someone else’s tragedy. From the start there was no doubt intellectually that it was awful, but I don’t know that emotionally I could distinguish it from the spectacular feeling of a Michael Bay explosion. Our entertainment choices clearly show we love grand destruction, and this is no new thing – all wars, battles of knights and gladiators, all tales of god’s apocalyptic cleansings, are fantasies of this unbridled power. Even Kant wonders if perpetual peace might be boring. A plane crash or a house on fire, a three-car pile-up on the side of the road, these things are terrible but not usually draining or depressing; they tend to widen the eyes and get people talking rather than cause silence and dismay.

But when the first tower fell, reality set in, in a way which could never turn back. That building was part of my home, my skyline. It was a place I’d been that no longer existed – I watched the transition of the tower, from solid reality to dust and ashes, and as it crumpled into mere waste, the truth of the plane became much more clear as well. This wasn’t a show, that cabin had been full of helpless screaming naked apes with families and ideas and plans for the future, human beings hoping desperately that they might live, unprepared for death when all they’d expected was some mediocre food and maybe a movie before landing…

I know that people who really were there or lost close relatives sometimes feel that having all of NY mourn is disingenuous. And I know that New Yorkers often feel that the having the entire country waving flags in memory is inauthentic. No one quite knows what another feels about these kinds of events, in the end. I think of the day first of all as a personal tragedy for those directly affected, and count myself a few tiers removed, even though somehow the loss of architecture, the haze of smoke that settled into our island, really did affect me (and everyone in NY for a few weeks) quite directly. But eight years later, the wound is much more healed than I imagine it is for some.


November 23, 2008

Some fun with maps, although of course, not to be taken too seriously. One should not take words too seriously, after all. (“True” names? Would that be like we would recognize the place and know the name without hearing it, being destined to live there forever?) No, it’s just fun to look at etymologies and think about the meanings of place-names. But I appreciate the debunking too.

RNC, day 1… well, whatever

September 2, 2008

You could call it day 2. Tuesday. I like that the opening speaker referred to Sarah Pawlenty. That was a cute Freudian slip to start with :)… “oh why didn’t we pick the Governor of MN”… No, it’s not clear yet that core Republicans are unhappy about the pick, although the media are loving all the stories, and democrats can’t help feeling things are falling apart for McCain. But it’s always hard to tell with these things. Reagan made it through Iran-Contra, Bush got elected with Quayle, Clinton survived Gennifer Flowers – you just don’t know what’s going to stick and what’s gonna slide off.

If Palin’s speech tomorrow goes well [and she’s been out of the spotlight & moved to tomorrow night because the VP candidate always speaks on the penultimate night & she’s prepping for the biggest speech of her career, not because they’re ditching her – she was on the roster for tonight when she was just an ordinary up-and-coming Governor] then this might just be seen as “liberal hubbub” or something.

ANyway. The RNC line up has been all about “service” tonight, and they’ve been exploiting every military, churchy, volunteery, or patriotic activity possible… Even Laura Bush’s speech introducing her husband, which seemed like it was at least trying to point toward statistics or arguments about why this presidency was a success, got the most applause with the line “he has kept us safe”. It’s the same stuff from 2004, though they can’t focus as much on 9-11 – but instead of talking about issues or ideas, they are tugging at heartstrings. I suppose they can make the argument that they’re the party of less government, so their platform is about the power of the individual human spirit, but it is misleading since they are showing exceptional cases, not explaining how ordinary people will deal with ordinary problems, like rising health care costs and unemployment.

The other three speeches were Bush on a video screen, Fred Thompson, and Joe Lieberman. What a weird night. It was all kinds of contradictory – do we support Bush? Are we in tough times or is the Other Side full of shit? But as expected, it showed a pretty strong decision to stay on attack. Bush made a regular guy generic type speech about service, with a line in there about how he and John sure didn’t agree on everything. Thompson focused on McCain’s bio, and then went on the attack – first against the media and their treatment of Palin, and then against Obama and his empty rhetoric.

Lieberman was the weirdest talk of all as he mostly tried to go above the actual attendees and try to talk to the people watching at home, to court democrats and independents. It was believable that he was being sincere when he was talking about McCain as an experienced reformer and Obama as a young, eloquent, but not-yet-ready senator, but it was just unbelievable when he tried to attach Sarah Palin to that. It just made his entire judgment seem unbearably questionable so that listening to him in the first place was practically pointless…

We’ll see how the next couple nights go, but the fight isn’t over yet. The RNC certainly seems to have a smaller audience, and it seems like the democrats have a lot of advantage when it comes to issues (health care and economy, primarily) but I’m not sure racism is out of the picture (in a very hidden / underlying sort of “we don’t know this guy” way) and emotional sway has a lot of power in other ways (patriotic duty, etc). So we will see.

things get lost

February 18, 2008

I wrote another post responding to some of the thoughts in the comments below, but somehow erased it.  Life goes on of course, and there are always fourteen new things to talk about anyway… But I was irritated – it always seems like it must have been something very interesting when you lose the piece of writing or can’t remember the thought you had right as you were drifting off to sleep.

 I do remember that in response to the discussion about sexism below I somehow got into the Obama/Clinton debate, specifically due to the data that Obama would have a better chance against McCain due to his lead in votes from men. Personally I don’t feel very strongly one way or the other between the two democratic contenders – I think they’re both good candidates, though I’m concerned that either of them may have a tough race against McCain. Once he gets the republican nomination, he can go back to pushing the moderate vision of himself, and people will begin to think “there’s no difference”…

What I really wonder is if Obama wins the democratic nomination, how he’ll come across in the main election. At this stage it feels to me as if everyone is projecting their own ideal onto him, and he’s basically letting everyone imagine he’s more moderate or more liberal or more religious or more secular, as they see fit. It seems to me that some portion of Obama supporters are going to be disappointed no matter what. But I guess if it’s a personality thing to start with perhaps the specific policies are less important. it just seems like some people will start to feel like his personality is “fake” if he turns out not to be as “progressive” or as “free market” or as “X” as they imagine he is.

(good thing there’s rss…)

February 2, 2008

I always have things I think I will write about on this page, and then by the time I get home, it just seems silly to put up on entry on something so unimportant, or I don’t feel I have time for it, and I shrug it off, thinking a more important or more interesting subject will occur to me another time.

Of course, it isn’t the more interesting subjects that win out, but just those that randomly pop into my mind on those days when I am in the right mood to post something – an endless trail of half-thoughts make it to the cusp of expression, but fall back to the murky soup of passing fancy, because I just didn’t have enough for breakfast, or the phone rang at the wrong time…I am very aware how random this site is. Sometimes I feel a bit guilty that I don’t maintain something devoted to my supposed topic of study, a philosophy blog of some kind, but honestly I think I ended up in philosophy because I somehow imagined my disparate interests could meet at their roots through the deeper questions. But discussions like that can feel vague and unsatisfying.

I saw a bunch of movies in the last few weeks, and was going to make some notes about them, but now it almost feels like homework to remember my responses. For the moment I will just link to a strange story about living in cemetaries, and a rather insightful piece about Leno vs Letterman (see the comments,too). And I will pontificate another time, perhaps.


December 22, 2007

The existence of this photoset was shared with me recently. I was pleased.


December 20, 2007

Tomorrow is the winter solstice, the shortest day of the year. This is a site where there will be a special broadcast in the morning – the dawn sunlight at this ancient irish site only comes through the slit once a year, at the solstice, to carry the souls away from the tomb, perhaps. That’s just one theory… This site has more details about the place, which is apparently the oldest known building on Earth, predating the pyramids by 500 years, and Stonehenge by 1000 years. 

Also, Happy Newton Day.

this life

December 15, 2007

Really good episode… Listening on the radio, but thought I’d share. I’ve just heard the Fred/Barney & heart donor chapters so far – I thought the first was really funny & oddly touching, and the second just fascinating.