This category contains 7 posts

The death of expertise

Screenshot 2016-07-05 14.32.47“Everyone has a right to their own opinion.” Sure, but do we all have a right to expect others to take it seriously? Tom Nichols takes the current culture of relativism to task in this combative but entertaining article in the Federalist.

The Death of Expertise
by Tom Nichols

I am (or at least think I am) an expert. Not on everything, but in a particular area of human knowledge, specifically social science and public policy. When I say something on those subjects, I expect that my opinion holds more weight than that of most other people.

I never thought those were particularly controversial statements.

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What do we need to know?

This video from the RSA is short but entertaining.… Read the rest

Knowledge under siege, and those who protect it

In Timbuktu, Mali’s famous caravan stop and medieval center of learning, an ancient tradition of hiding manuscripts has preserved a priceless collection of ancient knowledge from destruction at the hands of extremists. While we usually focus our attention on the expansion and transmission of knowledge, let’s spare a moment to think of the brave men and women of Timbuktu who risk their lives to save the priceless knowledge in their care. Read the recent story in the New York Times.

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Illusion, ambiguity and truth

bison mammoth optical illusionThere’s something irresistible about optical illusions. They seem to us a sort of mental sleight of hand, as if nature has a mischievous streak and is deliberately messing about with our vision. It turns out that even some of our stone-age ancestors were thinking about the power of illusion; over at National Geographic Andrew Howley explores the phenomenon of optical illusion in cave paintings and other prehistoric art, showing that in at least one instance,pictured here, the visual ambiguity seems indisputably deliberate.

Does our fascination with ambiguity have anything to tell us about our relationship with truth? Can we find some kind of meaning in our curious interest in multiplying meanings?… Read the rest

Begging to Differ

Article by Catherine Z Elgin from The Philosophers’ Magazine.
Disagreement abounds. People disagree about everything from sports and politics to science and child rearing. When disagreements stem from the manifest ignorance, bias, or stupidity of one of the disputants, they are epistemologically benign. That someone who clearly does not know what he is talking about disagrees with you gives you no reason to rethink your position. But some disagreements are more worrisome. Equally intelligent, knowledgeable, thoughtful and open-minded people often disagree. Let us call such parties intellectual equals. Should disagreements among intellectual equals give us pause? Read more at The Philosophers’ Magazine. Read the rest

The Ten Commitments

The American Humanist Association has elaborated what they call the Ten Commitments, an obvious parallel to the Ten Commandments, as an attempt to define the core values – values not defined by the belief in a deity – that we should be teaching in schools. As an attempt to crystallize a set of goals for the teaching of values independent of specific religious sources, it is laudable and helpful. But can we, as they suggest, teach values” free of ideology and theology.” Or are values necessarily derived from a specific ideological worldview and a specific position with regard to the nature of, or existence of, a supreme lawgiver?… Read the rest

Religion, tolerance and crowbars

In Timbuktu, Ansar Dine are destroying ancient mausolea and monuments that under their strict interpretation of Islam they consider to be forbidden. Apart from being a war crime, the destruction of Mali’s ancient heritage seems to be what we could call an intolerable act of intolerance. Clearly tolerance has limits if the concept is to have any value or meaning – I’m under no obligation to tolerate your religions practice if they include burning heretics at the stake, for example. But one can imagine a member of Asnar Dine responding that he is under no obligation to tolerate an ancient monument if it is offensive to Allah.… Read the rest

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