Saturday, May 07, 2016

This Week in Links

1. Only 50% of 'friendships' are reciprocal.

2. Star Wars-themed episode on Donny and Marie Osmond, featuring Kris Kristofferson and Redd Foxx.

3. No free speech in Turkey.

4. End of the first-order, second-order, and third-order enclaves on the India-Bangladesh border.

5. Jessa Crispin interview on the end of Bookslut. Offers insights on publishing and on What the Web Hath Wrought.

6. Apple Music deletes audio files off of your computer (even ones you wrote yourself). Or, the dark side of Apple's proprietary software and internal culture of tightly controlling the "user experience."

7. The case against Trump's prospects in the general election.

8. Compared to other primates, humans burn more calories to have bigger energy budgets for births, brains, etc.

9. Teen birthrate hits all-time low.

10. Operators of a vegan restaurant receive death threats after it is revealed that they raise animals and eat meat.

11. A parallel Chinese-language Internet helps recent immigrants navigate life in the U.S.

12. "How the Curse of Sykes-Picot Still Haunts the Middle East."

Rebranding Philosophy

In order to survive the current and future rounds of purges in the arts and sciences, it would seem that philosophy needs some serious rebranding.

When most people think of 'philosophy', they think of one's general attitude towards life, or other such fuzzy, airy-fairy ideas.

My proposal: When selling philosophy to our administrative, political, and corporate overlords, characterize philosophy as THE discipline of logic and critical thinking.

The evidence is somewhat equivocal, but after reading Richard Arum and Josipa Roksa's Aspiring Adults Adrift: Tentative Transitions of College Graduates, one of their general findings is the importance of student gains in critical thinking and complex reasoning ability when it comes to predicting their success post-graduation on numerous measures (including employment, income, financial independence, marriage, and civic engagement, among others).

Because of its intense focus on formal and informal logic, philosophy is uniquely suited to help train students in these important skills.

Sunday, May 01, 2016

Links a Million

1. "Trust God" and carry a 9 mm handgun.

2. What caused crime to decline in the U.S.?

3. Cass Sunstein wrote a book on Star Wars.

4. A pizza box made of pizza.

5. Yelp reviews of psychics.

6. A KFC worker in Australia assaulted a father and daughter with a tub of cole slaw.

7. Americans have much more favorable attitudes towards immigrants than they used to.

8. Drinking wine, tea, and coffee is associated with a healthy microbiome. (But this review of the literature on moderate drinking concludes that it probably does not lead to health benefits.)

9. 1960's sidecar boat.

10. John Boehner calls Ted Cruz "Lucifer in the flesh." (And he ought to know!)

11. "I don't know whether to sign him for the Dodgers or send him to Vietnam." That line just doesn't have the same resonance anymore, especially in the context of a sitcom.

12. Scott Alexander reviews Albion's Seed.

13. The self-segregation of the privileged top 20% members of society.

14. David Lynch and the cast of "Twin Peaks" made coffee commercials for Japanese TV.

15. Scientologist leader David Miscavige now threatens to sue his own father for libel.

16. When reality is more complicated than 140 characters.

17. WiPhi video on Bayes' theorem.

18. A study uses analytic methods developed for studying infectious diseases to estimate the age of European folk tales.

19. Alex Tabarrok argues for more police, fewer prisons.

20. Coffee with Don Rickles and Jerry Seinfeld. And "Gary Shandling is Still Alive."

21. "Controlling income inequality is an impractical tool for controlling wealth inequality."

22. Jobs of the future: Human minders supervise mostly-autonomous systems.

23. Robotic Buddhist monk.

24. Dog on a bun.

25. "The average webpage is now the size of the original Doom."

26. 'Safe spaces' are being turned against campus activists.

27. "The World's Newest Major Religion: No religion." But: The world is expected to become more religious, not less.

28. Trump's new campaign adviser has worked for African despots an a Ukrainian kleptocrat.

29. The magic stone that Joseph Smith used to transcribe the Book of Mormon.

30. Battle of the bulldozers: Rival construction crews face off in China.

31. "Three's Company" reboot is in the works.

32. Google Books is allowed to scan again (for now).

33. Augmented reality start-up.

34. Hilary Clinton lying for 13 minutes straight.

35. Utah declares pornography a public health hazard.

36. The Taliban are again in control of large parts of Afghanistan.

37. Punisher '66.

38. There's been a large decline in the black incarceration rate.

39. Winners of last year's International Chocolate Awards.

40. Chacha the chimp has a bad day.

41. Anarchist housing activist argues for . . . more development.

42. 2 x 2 vocab matrix.

43. Blowing up the Death Star would have destroyed Endor and everyone on it.

44. Jim Henson's Labyrinth: the Board Game.

45. The history of the concept of mana: from Austronesia to video games.

46. A Jar Jar jar ajar.

47. Speed reading does not work.

48. Is college signalling or skill building?

49. Radio still rules the road.

50. Crony capitalism in the tax prep industry.

51. Chloe Grace Moretz gets slapped in the face with kim-chi on Korean TV.

52. The spoiled scions of corrupt Chinese capitalists and Communists.

53. Does NPR have a future?

54. The rise of Korean Christianity.

55. North Korean ghost ships.

56. "Multiculturalism rots brains."

57. Recreating ancient European musical instruments.

58. Ta-Nehisi Coates on his two biggest early influences: hip-hop and Dungeons & Dragons.

59. Space X lands rocket on drone ship.

60. Review of Aspiring Adults Adrift: book on the difficulties facing college students after graduation.

61. Women records her surgeons making creepy, offensive remarks during surgery.

62. Islamists are murdering atheists and secularists in Bangladesh.

63. Real life superhero Phoenix Jones stops attempted murder in Seattle.

64. A woman who murdered her daughter made commemorative photos featuring her daughter's ghost.

65. Humans from New York: The student protester who became a cop.

66. New biography of Charlotte Bronte.

67. The role of eugenics in the history of Harvard and American progressivism.

68. Christian clergymen brawl in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre (from 2008).

69. Geoffrey Hinton on the triumph of deep learning and neural networks after years of being dismissed by AI researchers.

70. "The cost of caring": Story of an immigrant to the U.S.

71. Crystal clear explanation of Bitcoin.

72. Should humans hide our presence from potential alien observers?

73. The groovy interiors of Verner Panton. And videos here and here.

74. Mindfulness in primary ed.

75. "This is how you pass the time during a traffic jam on the Bavarian Autobahn."

76. Tyler Cowen on hours worked, what makes life valuable, and what the future holds.

77. Pakistani women have started hanging out at all-male tea houses.

78. Anti-racist blackface.

79. "In total, less than a third of U.S. undergraduates are 'traditional' students in the sense that they are full-time, degree-seeking students at primarily residential four-year colleges."

80. Who stands in the way of increased food production? Climate change deniers, and anti-GMO activists.

81. The cyber afterlife of Tibetan tulpamancy.

82. More Americans are working temporary and part-time jobs that provide less pay and fewer benefits.

83. "CIA-armed militias are shooting at Pentagon-armed ones in Syria."

84. NAFTA may have saved the U.S. auto industry.

85. Jonathan Haidt on the psychology of moral elevation and transcendence.

86. The back-story on Clinton's email scandal.

87. Bad trailer, good film.

88. New Zealand cat burglar brings owner stolen undies.

89. "Aminah Hart tracked down and married sperm donor."

90. "Kenyan woman edits herself into holiday photos with hilarious consequences."

Music Links

1. "Forgotten" soul singer Gloria Ann Taylor.

2. Robert Parker's "Crystal City" (Synthwave).

3. Natalie Merchant plays NPR's Tiny Desk Concert.

4. "Toking" with Lawrence Welk.

5. "J'attendrai" by Sarah Quintana and Leyla McCalla.

6. "Mesi Bondye" by Leyla McCalla.

7. Full set by the Carolina Chocolate Drops.

Student Rape and the Incentives of University Administrators

"Two Kansas State University students say the university, in apparent violation of federal guidelines, refused to investigate their rape complaints."  This seems to be a common story when it comes to students seeking redress through a university for on-campus or off-campus rapes. (In this case, the rape occurred at an off-campus frat house.) Let's get the word out: If you're raped by another student on or off-campus, don't seek redress through the university. They have an incentive to ignore your complaint, both to avoid the expense and hassle of an investigation, and to protect their public image. Report the rape to the police immediately, and hire an attorney. Be prepared to bring civil suits against the perpetrator, the fraternity (if relevant), and the university. Then things might start to change.

"The Case Against Reality"

That is the title of an Atlantic interview with professor of cognitive science Donald D. Hoffman. The interview seems to conflate three different issues: (1) whether reality is observer-dependent; (2) the entanglement of quantum states; (3) whether living creatures have accurate perceptions or adaptive perceptions.

I don't know much about quantum mechanics, but evidently quantum entanglement does not entail an observer-dependent reality, despite this widespread belief (at least among the public and among purveyors of popular science). An easy way to see the difference is that quantum entanglement happened even before there were biological organisms observing the world. Macro-level observations of phenomena are not required by quantum entanglement. (Quantum entanglement is about the mutual dependence of the states of different quantum particles, such that the state of each particle cannot be described independently of the states of the others.)

Secondly, the issue of whether humans and other organisms that evolved through natural selection have adaptive perceptions rather than accurate perceptions is fascinating, but it seems irrelevant to quantum entanglement. It's true that human perception of objects as independent realities does not correspond to the quantum mechanics picture of reality, but then again neither does it correspond to the general relativity, nor even to Newtonian physics (e.g., inertial motion).

Even when we discuss the narrow issue of whether ordinary objects really exist, it would seem that classical physics also undermines realism about ordinary objects, because of the view that such objects are completely reducible to atoms or other constituent particles, and so have no independent causal powers or other real-making features. Quantum mechanics does pose special challenges or realism about ordinary objects, but it is by no means unique in this regard.

The issue of realism about ordinary objects has been discussed for a long time in philosophy, and I think cognitive scientists and popular science writers would benefit by examining this literature before holding forth about the metaphysical implications of quantum mechanics, neuroscience, and so on.

In addition, at the end of the interview, Hoffman posits conscious experiences as ontological primitives (i.e., the basic constituents of reality). It's true that conscious experiences could be distinct from our perceptions of ordinary objects, and thus realism about the former does not imply realism about the latter, although presumably this would require that conscious experiences not include experiences of real objects (such as if the conscious experiences are constituents of perceptions of real objects).

But there are two confusing things about this proposed ontology. The first is that the ontology of conscious experiences is incompatible with the initial argument given for the claim that we don't perceive reality. The initial argument was that our perceptions of real objects do not accurately reflect quantum entanglement. The presumption was that quantum phenomena are the basic constituents of reality. But now Hoffman is saying that conscious experiences, not quantum phenomena, are ontologically primitive.

The second confusing thing with Hoffman's proposed ontology is that it doesn't seem to fit with his claim that our perceptions are adaptive but not accurate. Assuming that our perceptions are composed of conscious experiences, how could they fail to be accurate (at least in some sense), if they include the fundamental constituents of reality? Technically, the perceptions would not be accurate as representations of reality, because they themselves contain reality. But still, this is a different picture which makes the initial claim look like a bait and switch.

I am left wondering if I am the one who is fundamentally confused here, or if it is Hoffman, or the interviewer, or all of the above. But this sort of confusion is typical when non-philosophers try to talk about metaphysics or other philosophical questions (ahem), which makes me realize the value of philosophy as a discipline (even if we maybe we do have more philosophers than we need and could do with more doctors or nurses, for example :) ). I am left almost happy about the terrible conceptual muddle that seems to be contained in this article, because at least it shows that there is a need for philosophy to help untangle the conceptual knots or unclog our conceptual plumbing.

Sunday, March 20, 2016


Image credit: Fred Curry

1. Fake Christian Donald Trump publicly questions whether Mitt Romney is a real Mormon.

2. Donald Trump made more than 60 false statements in one week.

The Link to End All Links

1. The "Gothic surrealist" paintings of Zdzislaw Berksinski.

2. Why are Amish businesses so successful?

3. Failed their find secret doors roll: Tut's tomb may have previously undiscovered secret chambers.

4. Critique of the use of punishment in classroom discipline.

5. A new H. P. Lovecraft story has been found (but, evidently, more important than this news is that Lovecraft was a racist).

6. Meet the Ovarian Psycos (all-woman East L.A. bike club inspired by the Riot Grrl and Chicano civil rights movements).

7. A neuroscientist describes what it was like to have malignant tumors in her brain that caused her to "lose her mind."

8. Ta-Nehesi Coates on growing up with Dungeons & Dragons.

9. Ghana opens its doors to trade and travel with other African nations.

10. Too many verbs.

11. Man saves dog, dog saves man.

12. It happened when he sang "Where Is Thumbkin?"

13. Frequent checking of cell phone is linked with inability to delay gratification.

14. Judah Friedlander on why the U.S.A. is #1.

15. Long and insightful article on Obama's foreign policy.

16. Vin Diesel is the king of Facebook.

17. America's high school graduates look like other countries' high school dropouts.

18. A neurological disorder which causes compulsive punning.

19. Three steps to brewing better coffee.

20. Interview with Eliezer Yudkowsky.

21. Google Deep dream video.

22. NPR story on Perturbator's new album, "Neo-Tokyo."

23. How people meet romantic partners these days.

24. Critique of psychologist Roy Baumeister's entire research program on willpower.

25. Reverse gender gap in higher ed in OECD countries.

26. Delia Derbyshire, sculptress of sound.

A Warning Regarding Nature's P-Value Warning

Source: Wikipedia

An article recently appeared in Nature which reports on a warning issued by statisticians about the misuse of p-values. The article focuses on two common problems regarding p-values: (1) Misinterpreting a p-value of .05 as indicating that there is a 95% chance that the test hypothesis is true; (2) Mistaking statistical significance as a measure of practical importance, or otherwise excessively relying upon p-values when engaged in critical thinking about the meaning and value of the results of a study.

However, the article itself risks confusion in two ways: First, by not clearly explaining the phrase 'at least as extreme as' when it gives the standard definition of a p-value of .05 (used as the criterion for statistical significance): "it signifies that if the null hypothesis is true, and all other assumptions made are valid, there is a 5% chance of obtaining a result at least as extreme as the one observed."

The second way in which the article risks confusion is by not clearly distinguishing between two methodological problems surrounding p-values: (1) There is widespread confusion about the meaning and implications of p-values; (2) There is widespread disagreement about the theoretical and practical importance of p-values when it comes to interpreting and evaluating the results of experiments or other scientific studies.

Nevertheless, it is refreshing and illuminating to see scientists engaged in this thought-provoking discussion about scientific methodology, and I hope it continues.

Tuesday, March 08, 2016

Big Heap O' Links

1. Instagram account with pictures of ceilings in Iran.

2. Small changes to improve teaching.

3. A defense of Bernie Sanders' use of the word 'ghetto' in the Democratic debate. (File Under: The Left Consumes Its Own.)

4. Medicinal cannibalism in recent European history. Favorite quote:  "Quite apart from the question of cannibalism, the sourcing of body parts now looks highly unethical to us." Who's for Fair Trade in body parts!?

5. Scott Alexander discovers another under-appreciated social media failure mode: Interminable Arguments.

6. A shout out to my alma mater: Bowling Green State University hosts a conference on the ethics of policing and prisons.

7. A critique of Amy Cuddy's "power pose" research reveals general problems facing scientific research: studies with small sample sizes; non-preregistered studies; studies with 'flexible' (i.e., not specific) hypotheses.

8. Women leads police on high speed chase in Scooby Doo-themed "Mystery Machine" van.

9. Carrie Fischer's two scenes in "Shampoo" (1975) = BRUTAL + DARK.

10. Claims about the true purpose and function of displays of moral outrage.

11. Straight talk on p-values from Five Thirty Eight.

12. "Cemetery of Splendor," the new film from Apichatpong Weerasethakul.

13. Uber is an important economic opportunity for immigrants who live in France's banlieues

14. Sanjay Srivastava's critique of the critique of the big failure to replicate study.

15. The Virtue Blog shows great premise, but occasionally its posts read like bad ad copy--by turns breathless and breezy, a supremely inappropriate style when discussing the Transcendent Good. 

16. Authoritarian personality is the best predictor of support for Donald Trump.

17. Increasing equality within households leads to decreasing equality between households.

18. The only feature film written by Dr. Seuss.

19. Honey badger escape artist.

20. The case of the missing ethnicity. 

21. Dearborn, Michigan as American Muslim success story.

22. Recovery from the Great Recession has been concentrated in certain counties, and in many others the economic situation is stagnant or declining.

23. Bill Nye joins his buddies Neil deGrasse Tyson and Richard Dawkins, and makes a fool of himself when talking about philosophy. And: A philosophy cheat sheet for scientists. 

24. Faerie Kitten ASMR.

25. Top comment: "When I read this review I imagined the author writing it while staring at the picture of his ex-wife with the director, happily posing on a beach in Cancun."

26. The rise of weird Facebook. 

Saturday, February 27, 2016

The Continuing Relevance of Edmund Burke's Political Thought

I recently started re-reading Burke's Reflections, and was struck by the continuing relevance of his argument to today's debates over social justice. I'm surprised that more political philosophers have not attempted a serious appraisal of his work. A former colleague recommended Yuval Levin's book, but it seems primarily intended for a popular audience.

There is also a convergence between Burke's view of the wisdom of inherited traditions and recent work on the evolution of human culture--I'm thinking specifically of Joseph Henrich's The Secret of Our Success. Henrich argues, inter alia, that the capacity to learn a culture is an evolutionary adaptation, and that a crucial element of this capacity is the ability to have faith in customs for which there is no known rational justification. Humans learn their society's culture largely by imitating others, with preferential imitation of people of high status.

An example that Henrich gives that has a Burkean flair is the set of customs practiced by some South American cultures related to the processing of manioc, a tuber which is a staple of their diet. The Tukonoan people, for example, engage in five separate practices--scraping, grating, washing and separating, boiling, and waiting two or more days--that involve great time and effort, but that greatly reduce the quantity of neurotoxins in the manioc--even though none of the Tukonoans have a rational justification for any of the practices, nor are they even aware of the presence of neurotoxins in the manioc. Ex hypothesi, many human customs and social institutions are similarly functional, even though we don't know what function they serve nor how they serve it.

Of course, there are presumably some "junk" customs and institutions in the mix, but attempting to institute radical, revolutionary change is seemingly bound to cause great harm and destruction by weakening or eliminating vital customs and institutions. This is relevant, too, to U.S. attempts to "nation build" in ways that do not sufficiently heed the matrix of existing customs and institutions in other societies.

Saturday, February 20, 2016


1. New extracurricular math academies are improving math instruction in the U.S., but public schools continue to lag.

2. "The NSA's Skynet program may be killing thousands of innocent people."

3. How they get you.

4. Confusion surrounding the death of Antonin Scalia.

5. "The women suffering for your Valentine's Day flowers."

6. William Gibson on how he wrote Neuromancer.

7. Knife-wielding crab.

8. The return of Pee-Wee Herman.

9. Conspira-Sea: a cruise ship for conspiracy theorists.

10. The culture that is Los Angeles?

11. Hand-carved staff of the serpent.

12. Bollywood Superman and Spider Woman.

13. Pictures of a person wearing a zebra suit for a drill at a Tokyo zoo.

14. Philosopher Massimo Pigliucci provides an introduction to Stoicism and its relevance for today.

15. Philosopher Eric Schwitzgebel on the ethics of cheerfully suicidal A.I. slaves.

Choosing a Major and Pursuing a Career

I recently put together some links for students who are seeking advice about choosing a major or pursuing a career. Here they are, with my summaries and comments, listed from most to least recent:

1. "The New College Degrees" (2016/02/04): Blog post by economist Alex Tabarrok about students choosing majors (such as psychology) for which there are few jobs, and about the small number of students choosing majors for which there is a greater need.

2. “Salaries of Philosophy Majors Over Time.” (2015/09/04): Daily Nous blog post which compares average salary for philosophy majors to average salary of other humanities majors. However, several caveats are in order: (1) The list only includes humanities degrees—there are many non-humanities degrees with higher expected incomes. (2) The cause of the high expected income for a philosophy degree is probably NOT the philosophy degree itself. It is much more likely that the cause of the high expected income for philosophy majors is that people who are more intelligent and who are from a higher socioeconomic class are both more likely to earn more and more likely to major in philosophy. Majoring in philosophy will probably not itself make you much more intelligent or raise your socioeconomic class.

3. "Economists Offer These 10 Career Tips for Today's Graduates" (2015/05/22): Sensible, data-driven advice on how what factors relevant to pursuing a career after graduation. Many of these can be acted on before you graduate.

4. "Economists Say Millennials Should Consider Careers in Trades" (2015/02/04): NPR story on how learning a trade can be much cheaper than going to college and yet pay more in terms of ability to get a job and expected income. The fact that non-college options exist should help you assess the costs and benefits of paying for your college education, in terms of time, money, and effort.

5. "Your College Major Is a Pretty Good Indication of How Smart You Are" (2015/02/13): Quartz article on how choice of major correlates with measures of intelligence. Intelligence probably causes people to choose certain majors, rather than the majors causing people to have a certain level of intelligence. Philosophy majors do tend to be smarter than the average bear, but this is probably because more intelligent people are more likely to choose philosophy.

6. "A Philosophy Degree Earns More Than an Accounting Degree" (2015/01/30): Yahoo Finance article which ranks humanities degrees in order of expected income. Philosophy is #1. However, the same caveats apply to this article as to the Daily Nous link on philosophy salary given above.

7. "The Social Science Guide to Picking a Career You'll Love" (2014/12/30): Vox article on how to choose a career that will give you greater life satisfaction, according to social science research. One of the pieces of advice is that salary is overrated. This makes sense to me, but at the same time you need to have an accurate understanding of your expected income after graduation and how that relates to your debt and other financial obligations.

8. "A Bit of College Can Be Worse Than None at All" (2014/10/13): Wall Street Journal article on students who fail to finish college, and how they can be worse off than those with no college, because of the debts they rack up and the opportunity cost of having less workplace experience.

9. "Generation Jobless" (2011/11/09): Wall Street Journal article on students who pick easier majors (such as in the humanities and social sciences) even though it's harder to find jobs, and the jobs one can find generally pay less.