Saturday, October 8, 2016

Secret crisis of infinite links

On the other hand, at Nautilus, empiricist philosopher of science Bas van Fraassen tells scientists to steer clear of metaphysics.

As usual, Aristotle had the answer long before you thought of the question.  His little known treatise on internet trolling.

Slurpee cups.  Marvel Treasury Editions.  Gerber’s Howard the Duck.  Hostess fruit pie ads.  Claremont and Byrne’s X-MenSecret WarsCrisis on Infinite Earths…  If you’re of a certain age, you know what I’m talkin’ about.  At Forces of Geek, George Khoury discusses his new book Comic Book Fever: A Celebration of Comics 1976 to 1986.

At the Philosophy of Religion blog, atheist philosopher Keith Parsons offers his take on the question: What does philosophy of religion offer the modern university?

The Philosophy of Jazz.  It’s a thing.  But that’s old news at this blog.

At Crisis, philosopher Patrick Toner on Catholics, Chesterton, and concealed carry.

Raised to prominence by the Swinburne controversy, the new conservative philosophers’ group blog: Rightly Considered.

Hmm, he has posted a lot of crap at his blog over the years.  Daily Nous has the straight poop on this week’s controversy in academic philosophy.

Some scholars and writers plump for Trump, while contributors to the Claremont Review of Books debate the election.

Fred Barnes at The Weekly Standard on Reagan and Eisenhower.

St. Pius V pray for us.  At Crisis, Fr. George Rutler on the Battle of Lepanto.

At Public Discourse, Dylan Pahman on David Bentley Hart on Christianity and wealth.

Catholic scholars defend Pope Paul VI’s Humanae Vitae against the latest call to change unchangeable Church doctrine.  Interview about the controversy with theologian Janet Smith.

At the Claremont Review of Books, Mark Bauerlein on the current academic obsession with same-sex matters.

Paul Gottfried on the use and abuse of the term “fascism.”  His new book reviewed by David Gordon and Jerry Salyer.

Philosophers Dale Tuggy and Michael Rota discuss Christian apologetics.

At last it can be revealed.  The astounding mystery of the other forty-something college professor named Edward Feser.  (He’s my cousin.  Hi Ed!)

We’ve all wondered about it:  Why do Marvel movies have such lame music?  Polygon explains.  (On the other hand, Danny Elfman’s music for the first Spider-Man flicks was terrific.)

At The University Bookman, Daniel Mahoney reviews Ryszard Legutko’s The Demon in Democracy.


  1. Regarding Amoris Laetitia, don't let this pastoral letter by Archbishop Sample of Portland, OR, fly under your radar.

  2. Ha!
    That other Feser is the one whose picture would regularly pop up when I would google "Edward Feser".
    Meta-Ed, you going to go all highlander on your cuz??

  3. Ugh, the philosophy bashing didn't take long to show itself in the comment section of that Bas van Fraassen piece.

  4. This one seems important too: a statement from Jason Stanley concerning his facebook comments about the Swinburne controversy.

    Jason Stanley, upon realizing he looks like a complete jerk and a bully besides, pivots to ask - 'What if I cry 'anti-semitism' as well as 'homophobia'? Will THAT make me look better?'


    May the heat intensify for Jason and company, until they're afraid of ever demanding that any topic not be discussed - for fear of 'hurt' or 'controversy' or whatever other excuse for censorship he cooks up - in philosophy again. Apparently, backlash is the only thing that makes them behave.

  5. An article on Sean Carroll's attempts to argue that "At the deepest level we currently know about, the basic notions are things like “spacetime,” “quantum fields,” “equations of motion” and “interactions.” No causes, whether material, formal, efficient, or final."

  6. Anyone else watching the lunatic reactionary job in the press being done to Trump? One wonders why this didn't happen to Bill. Looks like it is official: In America, the Press decides who's President.

    Unless or until Americans grow a spine again.

  7. Luke,

    I've been keeping an eye on your writing for a while. May I ask, did at some point you decide to openly give a thumbs-down to naturalism? I seem to recall earlier on you were a lot more hands off with that question.

  8. @luke,

    That man is probably the best of us not yet crucified today. But the concepts he speaks of are not terribly advanced.

    The materialist always fails to see that there is a point and purpose in everything. He goes nuts on the parts; he never sees the whole.

    Darwin was a revolutionary hell-bent, in my mind, on chaos; but he cautioned his readers/disciples that if pressed to the point, there is no evolutionary explanation for the eye. Every part or even all but one is not only useless but deficient on an evolutionary account. And "wink, wink" to my friends in the world of sanity, we super-smart humans can't come close to a simple micro-organism in the lab. But certain ideologies will pay to make people believe ""we"" can.

  9. Dreher is at fault for circulating a private communication of Stanley's.

    Also, how does Stanley's hatred of alleged homophobia indicate that he's against free speech? If anything, his free speech is under attack.

    This is all a tempest in a teacup. A private comment to a friend is not an attack on free speech.

  10. This is all a tempest in a teacup. A private comment to a friend is not an attack on free speech.

    The 'this is just private' dodge option died the moment Stanley doubled down in public. And even before that, it isn't much of an option.

    Lest we forget:

    I really wish now I hadn’t said that!! I PROFOUNDLY regret not using much harsher language and saying what I really think of anyone who uses their religion to promote homophobia, you know that sickness that has led people for thousands of years to kill my fellow human beings for their sexual preferences. Like you know, pink triangles and the Holocaust. I am really, truly, embarrassed by the fact that my mild comment “F*ck those assholes” is being spread. This wildly understates my actual sentiments towards homophobic religious proponents of evil like Richard Swinburne, who use their status as professional philosophers to oppress others with less power. I am SO SORRY for using such mild language.

    We see who the SCP leadership associate with and support, while they whimper and cry for 'respect' and 'tolerance'.

    Let Rea and company apologize and resign - to be replaced by Christians made of sterner and more intellectually serious stuff - or let the SCP go to ashes.

  11. @ Crude,

    "Let Rea and company apologize and resign - to be replaced by Christians made of sterner and more intellectually serious stuff..."

    Or just Christians, lol.

  12. @ Georgios,

    My goodness. That woman can talk. I gave up believing she even really had a point in mind about the half dozen paragraph.

    As an apology it simply fails. It reads as per typical as an adult excuse or attempt to rationalize something. Pity farming her Jewishness was the first warning. That was a diversion. Her Jewishness is in fact wholly irrelevant: nobody cared and nobody even knew. Nor is it an excuse for being vicious and irresponsible. So why bring it up at all? Oh, right, the whole childish 'because I feel/believed I was discriminated against, it makes it okay for me to do certain things.' Her mistakes are excusable while those of certain "privileged" others are not. Her attempt to garner sympathy with Christians I also found lame and frankly specious, borderline clueless even, though since it really is becoming increasingly and transparently obvious that Christians are not only being actively discriminated against, but even in peril of outright persecution, perhaps this fact has given her moment for pause. But I frankly doubt it.

  13. Guys,

    We've got to continue to take it to the secular Left. Ridicule--within the bounds of Christian charity, of course--is called for. So is direct (non-violent) confrontation. Some of the necessaries to bring to the fight:

    -thorough knowledge of history. Gibbon's Decline and Fall is anti-Catholic and flawed in many ways, but it gives you a panoramic view.
    -training in logic (esp. in the formal and informal fallacies) and argumentation. I'm finishing Thouless' 'Straight and Crooked Thinking' now, and I it's merely OK. Maybe someone can suggest a better volume.
    -training in rhetoric (Aristotle's Rhetoric; Adler's 'How to Speak, How to Listen'
    -training in philosophy (esp. the philosophy of Aquinas and the history of philosophy) You should read the Summa Contra Gentiles in its entirety. You should also read Copleston's History of Philosophy, since it gives you insights into all major Western philosophical perspectives as well as a Catholic take on them.
    -training in theology (esp. in Catholic dogma and both testaments of the Scriptures.) You should read the Summa Theologica and Ott's Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma in their entirety.

    Please feel free to add to the list above.

  14. @ Anon,

    No, what we need is humility, repentance, prayer and the vitamin of strength of the Eucharist. We need to let God make us to just be ourselves. The things you mentioned are always good and useful. They are the consolations of philosophy; but let's not forget to Whom philosophy directs us, whether in Boethius or Dante.

    Let's not allow ourselves to feign and pretend we do not know our neighbours: their general habits of mind, be they vicious or virtuous. Converts will be especially helpful here, because they are not of any illusion that they are somehow naturally estranged from the general public.

    I do, however, think we need to be more personal, and appeal directly to the person: their conscience and better angels. You know better, and you are better I suspect will be the most powerful argument, though it is only effective one soul at a time and perhaps not universally.

  15. "No, what we need is humility, repentance, prayer and the vitamin of strength of the Eucharist."

    Of course. I would consider everything you just listed as so 'given' that I didn't see the need to add them.

    "Let's not allow ourselves to feign and pretend we do not know our neighbours: their general habits of mind, be they vicious or virtuous. Converts will be especially helpful here, because they are not of any illusion that they are somehow naturally estranged from the general public."

    Of course. But establishing that level of rapport with one's neighbors often requires frequent real-life interaction, and can often only be pursued on a one-on-one basis. This is well and good, but one's effective sphere of influence is limited. To cast a wider nut, one must address people in public, and thus speak in a public manner. That requires being armed-out with what I listed above.

    "I do, however, think we need to be more personal, and appeal directly to the person: their conscience and better angels. You know better, and you are better I suspect will be the most powerful argument, though it is only effective one soul at a time and perhaps not universally."

    I agree. But beware of trying to appeal to someone personally before you've established a personal relationship. They'll tell you to F off. This is why in most cases, I go with argument, and appeal to the person's objective possession of reason, and not to his person specifically.

  16. @ Anon,

    Good points.

  17. The pseudo-Aristotle article on trolling is brilliant but also humorous in a very subtle way that produces smirks and intellectual satisfaction rather than uncontrolled laughter. It's too bad there's not more of that in the world.

  18. " New Scientist magazine opines that metaphysics has much to contribute to the study of nature. Part of a special issue on the theme.
    On the other hand, at Nautilus, empiricist philosopher of science Bas van Fraassen tells scientists to steer clear of metaphysics. "

    In a work previously mentioned here [sorry I cannot remember who, or I would credit you] and which I was then promped to buy, , Psychologist Frank Keil's essay contribution to "The Old New Logic", a consideration of logician Fred Sommer's work comes to mind: "Exploring Boundary Conditions on the Structure of Knowledge ..."

    As a matter of fact, that particular essay has some interesting things to say on the status of natural kinds (and artifacts) and the conditioning of their perception.

    It reminds us that physics is not the only science - though some physicists will of course disagree - and that philosophical contributions, be they direct or indirect, to the structuring of the very questions asked, is significant.

  19. Thank you for the link to George Khoury's interview about his book COMIC BOOK FEVER. I've been a friend of George's for close to 20 years and this book is his best one. He put a lot of time and effort into it and it is definitely worth picking up.

  20. and that philosophical contributions, be they direct or indirect, to the structuring of the very questions asked, is significant.

    And unavoidable. The only alternative to paying attention to philosophy and metaphysics in doing science is to ignore them , and pay the price in mistakes and mishaps. One might as well have scientists ignore the prospect of using logic.

  21. I thought the difference between physics and metaphysics is both clear and simple: Physics is about how the physical world *seems*, whereas metaphysics is about how it *is*.

    Physical scientists study exclusively physical phenomena and discover the mathematical order present in them (“phenomena” comes from the Greek word that means “what seems”). This kind of knowledge has momentous practical significance; for example it allows us to build machines that changes according to our wishes how the physical world seems to us, and in general allows us to control physical phenomena. So, for example, by building an airplane we can fly in a few hours from Paris to New York, which is exactly the same as saying “to seem to be moving in a few hours between Paris to New York”. I trust this much is clear. If, say, an extraterrestrial visitor were to present us with a teleporting machine which would seem to move us instantaneously between Paris and New York, it would be absurd to ask if that machine was “really” moving us. We live in the phenomenal world.

    It is easy to prove that physics is exclusively about how the physical world seems to us and not about how it actually is. Consider for example the so-called computer-simulation argument (here ). Based on a few widely accepted premises that argument shows that there is a non-trivial probability that we live in a computer simulation, and therefore that there is a non-trivial probability that the physical world we see around us and which the physical sciences study is not real in the usual sense of the world. Now suppose we did find out for a fact that we live in a computer simulation (it is easy to imagine observations that would prove this beyond reasonable doubt). Would we then have to change one iota in our scientific books? Would we have to rethink, say, the equations of general relativity or of quantum mechanics? Or restate our descriptions of the physiology of the cell? Or the facts and order of astrology?

    Some people might think that we would have to rethink some specific scientific theories, say about the big bang. Or even more strongly that we should rethink the theory of natural evolution. They would argue that if we live in a computer simulation then it isn't the case that the human species evolved through the mechanisms of natural evolution as biology teaches. Below I will discuss the root of this confusion, but let me right away ask this: The theory of evolution has momentous practical applications already today, including say in the production of new medical drugs. Surely, were we to find out that we live in a compute simulation, it's not like we'd stop using the theory of evolution towards that very useful end. People would still be writing papers about natural evolution and try to deepen our knowledge of it. But if nothing would change in the every-day work of biologists it follows that there nothing has changed in biology – even should we discover for a fact that we live in a computer simulation.

    [continues below]

  22. [continues from above]

    So, why the confusion? I think precisely because people are unaware of the sharp distinction between physics and metaphysics. The reason I figure is historical or even psychological, since it has to do with the way we feel when think. So when scientists discover the mathematical order present in physical phenomena they usually think of physical *models*, abstract them as equations, and check whether these produce the right measurements of phenomena. (Actually this isn't always the case – when quantum physics was discovered physicists first wrote down the equations and then tried to think of what models would produce them - fairly unsuccessfully I might add.) Anyway, when one discovers a model of physical reality that works very well, then it seems reasonable to think that this model is not only a model but a description of actual physical reality. This metaphysical assumption is called “scientific realism”. Scientific realism has been almost the universal assumption of philosophically uneducated scientists at least until the discovery of non-classical physics in the beginning of the 20th century. Conversely, when one realizes the difficulties entailed in assuming that the models are not only useful but also describe reality, it becomes reasonable to think that one should think of scientific models only as being abstract mathematical constructions that reveal the respective mathematical order present – really present - in physical phenomena. This alternative metaphysical assumption is called “scientific anti-realism”. Scientific anti-realism is a serious position that both some philosophers and some physical scientists hold, and has very deep roots going back to Plato's cave. Most scientists though are so much taken by the power of models and moreover often ignore the many problems that they remain realists. The power of the models is of a psychological nature – when we (realists and anti-realists alike) actually think of the models while doing science we visualize them as representing reality. Which is a good thing because it's easier and thus pragmatically more useful. So for example when I (an anti-realist) in the context of physics encounter the proposition “mass bends spacetime around it” I am not thinking “gravitational phenomena are such that it seems that mass bends spacetime around it”, but simply “mass bends spacetime around it” as if it were real.

    It is then only because of this confusion about the difference between physics and metaphysics that people are apt to confuse physics with metaphysics. And are apt to believe, for example, that if we found out that we live in a computer simulation then the theory of natural evolution would be falsified. And that it wouldn't have any sense to speak of the state of the universe, say, one second after the big-bang.

    [continues below]

  23. [continues from above]

    Now why is metaphysics so much harder and more unsuccessful than physics? A basic problem is that one can easily imagine many realities that would produce all the data we have, the whole of the human condition, i.e. much more data than the physical sciences study. And because in comparison it is much more difficult to think of reasons or devise experiments that would falsify a metaphysical hypothesis.

    Given that all the smart applications come from doing physics, why should one do metaphysics at all? Especially when metaphysics is so hard that seemingly about everything goes? What's the point? Well, the point is first that by nature we want to know the truth. Beyond that we all in fact form some idea about how reality is, and that idea strongly affects our life. Obviously it affects the choices we make in our life (and thus affects society too). So for example one's metaphysical beliefs affect how one thinks about ethics – for example the theist and the atheist will think differently about avoiding to pay their fair share of taxes if the law allows it. But our metaphysical beliefs also affect the quality of our experience of life. So for example the experience of losing a child is different on theism and on atheism, and even within theism it is different between universalism and hellism. Metaphysical beliefs have clearly momentous implications, so we'd better think carefully about them no matter how hard it is.

    So, finally, is physics useful to metaphysics? Of course it is. Metaphysical philosophy is informed by the physical sciences. It is true that scientific knowledge alone is not at all sufficient for metaphysics, but it has the power to *falsify* some metaphysical hypotheses, since whatever is true about reality it can't be such that it would produce phenomena that contradict what the physical sciences has discovered about the actual phenomena. Interestingly enough the physical sciences have the power to prove some general statements of metaphysics. It came quite as a surprise but we have discovered order in the physical phenomena such that it implies a positive property about reality, and thus a positive metaphysical truth. I am referring to the discovery that physical reality is non-local. (Non-locality” roughly means that physical reality – however it may be – is interconnected in a way that transcends space and time; see .)

    In conclusion I think that once one has understood the sharp distinction between physics and metaphysics, one also understands the relationship between the two. In that intersection one may work in thought and experiment in ways that concerns the two in the same time. So, for example, one may think of path of scientific work which will perhaps reveal unknown order or unknown properties of known order present in physical phenomena which in turn will further our metaphysical understanding. A case in point may be the issue of so-called “fine-tunning” (a question in which the physicist Luke Barnes above has taken some interest, see - “fine-tunning” is a property of the order we've discovered in physical phenomena, a meta-order if you like). The epistemological intersection between physics and metaphysics may inspire us to work in ways that will further our knowledge both in physics and in metaphysics.