Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Meat Computers and Metaphysics

Jerry Coyne and Massimo Pigliucci have engaged in intellectual internet fisticuffs on the problem of free will, which is unsurprising given that they seem to disagree on nearly everything. But their particular disagreement is more interesting than "We have free will." "Nuh-uh." "Yeah-huh." This dispute has brought up some interesting questions about the nature of the free will debate, which I'd like to explore a little bit. What kind of question are we asking when we ask if we have free will? Is it a metaphysical problem? Scientific? Conceptual?

Monday, January 30, 2012

Like Straw And Biscuits, But In A Good Way

Brooklyn Pilsner

Appearance-- slightly cloudy, golden
Smell-- dry, straw, a little citrus
Taste-- nice bite at the front and back with a biscuity malt core; strong citrus flavor
Mouthfeel-- light, but with a little bit of a lingering bitterness

Overall-- solid pilsner, B+

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Creationism in Texas? Shocking!

Saw this on Jerry Coyne's Website. Baylor University's Medical Center has a quarterly journal that has just published a critique of Darwinism by someone named Joseph P. Kuhn. It's a strange and almost incoherent offering that seems to be a grab-bag of common tropes from the intelligent design community. Not only does he appear unfamiliar with established scientific facts, he seems to have only the loosest grasp on what counts as a logical argument.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Happy Birthday, Massimo Pigliucci

If you reject the theory of evolution, or think that there is such a thing as alternative (as opposed to evidence-based) medicine, or claim without evidence that aliens are visiting the planet, or think that the stars influence human destiny, and so on, you are anti-science and live in a dream world with no connection to reality. More damning, you are engaging in the ultimate act of arrogance: to declare something true or untrue not because you have reason or evidence, but only because it makes you feel better. May I suggest that you need a good dose of humility, and that one way to get it is to admit that the universe is not about you, and that some people out there really know more than you do, as unpleasant a thought as this may be?

--Massimo Pigliucci, "Intellectual Arrogance" (2008)

Friday, January 13, 2012

The Most Magnificent Thing On Earth Except Better Than That Actually

Bell's Hopslam.

Appearance- Beautiful honey color, Maybe a pinky finger's worth of head with great retention in the glass.

Smell--Fresh hops, a little hint of sweetness

Taste-- Are you kidding me? Beer can be this good? It's a full hop flavor on the front end, followed by a malty, honey sweetness, with a delicate crispness in the finish. It's a real thing of beauty

Mouthfeel--Surprisingly light, considering the amount of flavor it has. At 10% ABV it probably goes down too smoothly.

Overall--The best thing. It's just the best thing. Out of all the things, this is the best.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Music of 2011: Part II

More music from this past year.

Steve Earle, I'll Never Get Out Of This World Alive

Slightly disappointing, given the artist. Steve Earle is one of my favorites, and this album isn't quite up to his standards, but it's still a solid album. There are still some very good songs, like "Waiting for the Sky to Fall," a country rocker about small town life in the nuclear age; "Little Emperor," a good and nasty (if belated) song about former President Bush; "Meet Me in the Alleyway," a commentary on the sad state of medical care for the poor; and "Lonely are the Free." Despite these highlights, much of the album just lacks the normal Steve Earle punch. There are some good lines and nice melodic patches, but it seems like the songs could have used a little more work. It could have used a few more rockers, too, if you ask me.

Happy Birthday, William James

Our minds thus grow in spots; and like grease-spots, the spots spread. But we let them spread as little as possible: we keep unaltered as much of our old knowledge, as many of our old prejudices and beliefs, as we can. We patch and tinker more than we renew. The novelty soaks in; it stains the ancient mass; but it is also tinged by what absorbs it.
William James, Pragmatism (1907)

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Music of 2011: Part I

Lots of good new music came out in 2011, so I'm going to provide some short reviews of the stuff I got this year.

Bill Callahan, Apocalypse

Amazing, stunning album. Absolutely the best new music of 2011. In one sense it's a paradigmatic postmodern album: it's a pastiche of styles from different eras and grabs influences from a variety of genres; it's even ultimately self-consciously self-referential. But unlike most po-mo drivel, there's something of substance. Callahan is in Dylan/Leonard Cohen territory when it comes to providing thematic parts scattered through his work and leaving it up to the listener to assemble a meaning. Listening to this album is like unpacking a good novel. I do more schoolgirl swooning about how good it is here, so I won't go on anymore, except to say if you don't buy this album I'll be very disappointed in you.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Kant on Freedom of the Will

Kant recognized the prima facie conflict between the idea that the world is causally determined and the idea that we are free agents, but he employed his novel epistemological theory in order to resolve the conflict. Kant's solution is flawed, I think, because his epistemology is flawed, but his recognition that the fact that we appear to ourselves to be free does constitute indisputable evidence that we are free is a key insight in the history of the development of the debate about free will. I'll discuss his solution here, which will necessitate diving into his strange vocabulary of technical terms. Kant was an obsessive system builder, and the interrelations between terms in his system is complicated and messy, but I'll do my best to untangle the mess enough so that his version of free will is explicable.