September 17, 2004

Assorted Reading

This is a partial cleaning of several month's accumulation of random links. There's a lot more where this came from.

Phersu, following a proud national tradition, recounts ancient Persian story, specially invented for the occasion. (Incidentally, why is there no English e-text of Zadig?) [Update, 12 August 2006: there is now.]

An extended interview with Richard Rorty, Against Bosses, Against Oligarchies, at Prickly Paradigm Press, via Language Log. Prickly Paradigm also publishes a good book, Revolt of the Masscult by Chris Lehmann, perhaps better known as Mr. Wonkette (and before that as The Antic Husband); sadly, this is not on-line.

Two classics of cognitive neuroscience, both free online: The Hippocampus as a Cognitive Map, by John O'Keefe and Lynn Nadel, and "What the Frog's Eye Tells the Frog's Brain" by Jerome Lettvin, Humberto Maturana, Warren McCulloch and Walter Pitts (both via Idiolect).

"The latter end of his commonwealth forgets the beginning" department: International Network for Cultural Diversity, "a worldwide network of artists and cultural groups dedicated to countering the homogenizing effects of globalization on culture". (Blogged by Bruce Sterling to the "crisp crackle of flames as I burn all my books by non-Texan authors".)

Happy (belated) Arrival Day! (Would it have killed me to have posted something on time for once?) In honor of which: fragments from David M. Bader's wonderful little book Zen Judaism: For You, a Little Enlightenment, and Naomi Chana's meditations on medieval Jewish apolcalypticism. "Mazel tov, and next year in America."

Leading to: Michael Chabon's melancholy essay on a Yiddish phrasebook, "Useful Expressions". This in turn leads to: his "The Mysteries of Berkeley", one of the best explanations I've ever read of the pleasures and frustrations of life in the People's Republic of the East Bay.

Quickly, without looking at the URLs: Which of these titles was used by a distinguished legal scholar, and which by a transdimensional Entity who manifests on this plane as a medium lobster? The Power of the Glow vs. The President as Homecoming King.

Experimental evidence that women find mental arithmetic more arousing than reading the naughty parts from D. H. Lawrence (at PF's bloglet).

Umberto Eco explains the elements of scientific method to the readers of The Guardian.

Modern science does not hold that what is new is always right. On the contrary, it is based on the principle of "fallibilism" (enunciated by the American philosopher Charles Peirce, elaborated upon by Popper and many other theorists, and put into practice by scientists themselves) according to which science progresses by continually correcting itself, falsifying its hypotheses by trial and error, admitting its own mistakes --- and by considering that an experiment that doesn't work out is not a failure but is worth as much as a successful one because it proves that a certain line of research was mistaken and it is necessary either to change direction or even to start over from scratch.
Of course, it's easier to lay down such specifications than to implement them, especially when the only platform for doing so consists of social primates with bad memories, limited reasoning abilities, strong passions, and marked tendencies to imitation, pride and ambition. The only it does work, as Peirce and Popper said, is through the social organization of those primates. (Thus MetaMirror: "If the social system of a laboratory were likened to an apparatus, it might be to a robotic spacecraft designed to detect, filter, amplify, interpret, and broadcast back to humanity the most subtle hints of pattern and underlying logic.") Via Norman Geras, whose comments are themselves worth reading.

Daniel Davies finds a real arbitrage opportunity in the Iowa Electronic Markets for the presidential elections.

Exempli Gratia on liberty, property and The Economist.

Good bits from recent and not-so-recent issues of The Boston Review:

Majikthise contemplates people (e.g., editors of the New York Times) who are weirded out by genetic technology, and is driven to hoping that "our posthuman future includes genetically modified cliche-production modules." On a not-unrelated note, her take on the internal divisions of psychotherapists, between the talking-cure shrinks, and the ones who have some evidence that what they do works. "As a die hard proponent of evidence based medicine, I am pleased to see the empiricists gaining the upper hand. Of course, I would have preferred to see empiricism triumph through persuasion rather than corporate interference, but I'll take what I can get. At least this time the insurance companies have good evidence on their side." I'd add that this situation isn't going to change when we finally get single-payer health care. I have tremendous respect for those who try to help the mentally ill, whatever their therapeutic persuasion; it's not something I could even begin to handle, let alone do well. (As Pradeep Alturi says, in one of the great understatements of all time, "A locked psychiatric ward is not like a robotic spacecraft, at all"; and I am very much a robotic-spacecraft guy.) But that doesn't mean one should actively ignore the facts that some ways of helping people work better than others.

Also from Majikthise but otherwise unrelated: a review of a book on money-laundering. Speaking of money-laundering, the story of the Bank of Credit and Commerce International really must be read to be believed; one of the smaller (but more piquant) details has "the terrorists' favorite bank" arranging financing for one of W.'s business deals.

How to Replicate the Voynich Manuscript (via John Burke). I find this convincing, and for that very reason terribly disappointing; I'd long hoped that the Voynich manuscript would turn out to be something utterly bizarre, like the result of an unpronouncable cult using characters derived from Linear A, or the Harappan script. To add to my disappointment, it now looks rather like the Harappan script isn't really writing either.

Much has been made (rightly) about the government's withdrawing Tariq Ramadan's visa to teach at Notre Dame. (See, e.g., Scott Martens [1, 2], or Abu Aardvark, or Crooked Timber.) But must liberal commentators have ignored the wider context of this move. The Administration, after all, seems to believe that a vital part of the war on terror consists of protecting America against contamination from foreign theologians of all denominations. (Slacktivist also confesses to forging the Niger uranium papers, and asks a good question: could Bush get a job as a rent-a-cop?)

Debra Dickerson, in Slate, writes about being racist and raising over-privileged brats. (Why haven't I been reading Debra Dickerson before?)

Juan Cole is shrill, yet polite, to the ever-clueless Andrew Sullivan.

Posted at September 17, 2004 01:05 | permanent link

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