Thursday, September 16, 2021

Lao Tzu’s negative theology

Among the most interesting things about Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu (fl. 6th century B.C.) is that he did not exist.  Or at least, that’s what some modern scholars tell us.  I’m skeptical about his non-existence myself, and so will refer to him in what follows as if he were a real person.  In any event, that existence and non-existence are both attributed to Lao Tzu is oddly appropriate given what his classic work Tao Te Ching says about the ultimate source of things: “All things in the world come from being.  And being comes from non-being” (II, 40, Wing-Tsit Chan translation).  What does this mean?

Saturday, September 11, 2021

Ioannidis on the politicization of science


Like other academics, I first became aware of John Ioannidis through his influential 2005 paper “Why Most Published Research Findings are False.”  That essay was widely praised as a salutary reminder from one scientist to his fellows of the need for their field to be self-critical.  With the COVID-19 pandemic, Ioannidis would become far more widely known, this time for expressing skepticism about some of the scientific claims being made about the virus and the measures taken to deal with it.  His warnings were in the same spirit as that of his earlier work, and presented in the same measured and reasonable manner – but this time they were not so warmly received.  In a new essay at The Tablet, Ioannidis reflects on the damage that has been done to the norms of scientific research as politics has corrupted it during the pandemic.

Sunday, September 5, 2021

Make-believe matter

Materialism can at first blush seem to have a more commonsensical and empirical character than Cartesian dualism.  The latter asks you to believe in a res cogitans that is unobservable in principle.  The former – so it might appear – merely asks you to confine your belief to what you already know from everyday experience.  You pick up an apple and bite into it.  Its vibrant color, sweet taste and odor, feel of solidity, and the crunch it makes all make it seem as real as anything could be.  Anyone who says that all that exists are things like that might, whether or not you agree with him, at least seem to have the evidence of the senses in his corner.