Why Physics Needs Philosophy by Tim Maudlin.

Philosophers strive for conceptual clarity. Their training instills certain habits of thought—sensitivity to ambiguity, precision of expression, attention to theoretical detail—that are essential for understanding what a mathematical formalism might suggest about the actual world. Philosophers also learn to spot the gaps and elisions in everyday arguments. These gaps provide entry points for conceptual wedges: nooks where overlooked alternatives can take root and grow.




‘A Solution That Won’t Work to a Problem That Simply Doesn’t Exist’ by Nick Gillespie.

Maverick FCC Commissioner Ajit Pai on why net neutrality and government attempts to regulate the Internet are all wrong.

More at Reason.


Failed Predictions

Seven Big Failed Environmentalist Predictions by Robert Tracinski.

I recently discussed what it would take to prove that global warming is actually occurring, that it is caused by humans, and that it will be catastrophic. But that’s not the full picture. To understand why so many of us are so skeptical about global warming, you have to understand the environmentalists’ larger track record: a long series of failed predictions and bogus prognostications of doom.



The Story

Around 15 years ago I was taking an English class at the local community college. The first night, right near the end of class, the Instructor read a story entitled “A Silent Prayer” by a young woman named Celia Beckett. The story was about a US soldier that fought in the Vietnam War, and while overseas this American soldier fell in love with a Vietnamese woman. The result of this relationship was Celia Beckett. When the war ended, the American soldier left the woman and his daughter behind, never to see them again. When Celia became older, she moved to the States, and she often wondered if she possibly encountered her father without ever knowing it. She was constantly searching for the face of her father. Of course, this left a vast void in her life. She also expressed the difficulty she experienced as being neither fully Vietnamese or American, but living in the middle between two very different cultures.

The Instructor asked us to write a response to the story, primarily so he could evaluate our writing ability. It was the easiest and best thing I wrote that semester, and when I found out the story was made-up by the Instructor, it didn’t bother me in the least! At the time I was going through a very tough divorce, and this helped me find words to express what I was feeling and going through. I wrote just one draft in about 10 minutes, and below is the paper I submitted to the Instructor.

The Story of Us: A Response to
Celia Beckett’s A Silent Prayer

(“The past isn’t dead. It’s not
even past
.” William Faulkner)

Driving down 580 after class on Tuesday night my mind was filled with thoughts of Celia Beckett’s A Silent Prayer. It wasn’t long before tears filled my eyes, and it took considerable effort to keep from being overcome with emotion. It wasn’t that Celia’s story was in any sense horrific, or even particularly tragic. In fact, it was the “normalcy” of Celia’s life that caused my heart to resonate with her words. A Silent Prayer, to borrow the title of a recent movie, is really “The Story of Us.” It’s the story of living in the “valley” between how it is, and how we want it to be. Most people spend their lives in this valley, caught in the conflict between dreams and reality. Many of us don’t cope with valley living very well, and simply choose to give up, or else travel through life with a kind of sad resignation, no longer dreaming or hoping for what might be just over the next horizon. It’s hard to tell from A Silent Prayer how Celia Beckett is coping with “valley living.” It’s hard to tell with any of us.

When I reached home Tuesday night, I went into my room and sat on the edge of my bed. I reached down and picked up a framed photograph of a smiling five-year-old boy. I have been looking at that picture a lot lately. I wondered, as I gazed at the picture, was I really that happy then; am I really that sad now? Once again tears filled my eyes because the answer to both questions is still the same as the last time my mind asked. “Yes.” And I wondered; what happened to that little boy, and why did the boy turn into the man he did? Answers come slowly, and are not all together clear. Valley living is like that.

It’s easy to think of Celia, her mother, and her mother’s cousin Loc, as victims. It’s harder to think of the men who raped and murdered Loc, or even Celia’s father, as victims as well. That’s because we tend to think of Celia and her family as “us,” and to think of her father and the brutal soldiers as “them.” The difficult thing is realizing that some of “them,” exists in each of “us.” I’m not saying that everyone in Celia’s story deserves the same level of sympathy, to proffer that would be to make a mockery of the evil that the soldiers perpetrated, or the cavalier attitude of a man who most likely doesn’t know, or even care, that the life he helped create has a huge void that only he, as the father, could fill. I am also not beating the drum of the “woe is me, aren’t we all victims” mentality. To engage in that is to condemn us to forever live in the “valley.” What I am saying, and what Celia’s story so effectively communicates, is that we are all, in various degrees, the “walking wounded” – this is “The Story of Us,” wounded by circumstances and events, often times beyond our control.

It’s often said; it’s not what happens to us that’s most important, but rather how we respond, and indeed, the first step out of the “walking wounded” syndrome, or to escape “valley” living, is to honestly face the past, and to come to some kind of peace with what has happened; to repair the fissure between illusion and reality. As the quote by Faulkner at the top so eloquently states: “The past isn’t dead. It’s not even past.” A Silent Prayer so poignantly portrays the truth of Faulkner’s statement. This is because, no matter how fast we run, we can never outrun our past. It has a way of intruding into the present, no matter how we try to ignore it, or pretend it doesn’t exist. I know. It’s something I tried to do for many, many years. The mistake I made was in believing that finally having the courage to face the past, it would somehow make the present okay. What it did was to shatter the present into a million tiny pieces, changing forever everything and everyone in the process. The Vietnamese expression that Celia mentioned became painfully obvious, “the naked truth hurts.” But facing this “naked truth” is the only way to find peace, no matter how painful the process might be. Most of us live in a state of denial, afraid to face the sadness of our lives, hoping the next town, the next job, the next relationship, the college degree, will bring us the dreams our hearts so much long for. So we go on building sand castles on the desert valley floor, only to see them destroyed by the first really strong desert wind. In A Silent Prayer, Celia is obviously facing the sadness of her life, which is why her story touched me so deeply. It is also why I keep looking at the photograph of the five-year-old boy in my room.



Mixed Signals: Why People Misunderstand Each Other by Emily Esfahani Smith.

The psychological quirks that make it tricky to get an accurate read on someone’s emotions.

More at Atlantic.



21 Essential Romantic Relationship Skills: Self Test by Alice Boyes.

Try this quiz about your relationship skills.

More at PT.


Gets It

An Atheist Who Gets It by Gabrielle D’Virgilio.

In the last 10 years the world has had to endure the plague of the “New Atheists.” While not as deadly as those Moses helped visit upon the Egyptians, they are still excruciatingly annoying. Their arguments, such as they are, reveal a type of trite fundamentalism that continually begs the question, over and over and over. But not all atheists are New; one “Old” atheist is British philosopher John Gray, who recently penned a piece for The Guardian titled, “What Scares the New Atheists.”

What separates the Old from the New are the implications that arise from the assertion that reality is purely a material phenomenon. Nether have a logical basis for moral values, but the former admit that to one degree or another, while the latter don’t see any reason to have to justify a basis for such values; they simply assert they exist. The New Atheists also reject the notion that anything good can come from religious faith, while the latter admit that obviously history shows it can, including that liberal values (in the sense of human freedom and dignity) is very much a product of the Christian faith.




Will Pope Francis Break the Church? by Ross Douthat.

The new pope’s choices stir high hopes among liberal Catholics and intense uncertainty among conservatives. Deep divisions may lie ahead.

More at Atlantic.


Religious Freedom

Religious Freedom Is Not Dangerous, But Losing It Is by Matthew Cochran.

The assault on Americans’ religious liberties continues apace as two recently enacted anti-discrimination laws from the District of Columbia await congressional review. The Human Rights Amendment Act of 2014 and Reproductive Health Non-Discrimination Amendment Act of 2014 are poised to provoke more violations of conscience among the devout. The former requires religious schools to sponsor student groups that may radically oppose their doctrines and values, and the latter forbids religious organizations from allowing pro-life convictions to influence their hiring.

U.S. senators Cruz and Lankford have introduced resolutions attempting to block these laws, but it remains to be seen what, if anything, will come of them. After all, cowardice under the guise of moderation could prompt our national representatives to reject freedom of conscience even more easily than state representatives did in Indiana.

When Indiana briefly decided to support its citizens’ religious freedom (commonly referred to as “religious freedom” by the Left,) social-justice warriors were quickly frothing at their collective mouth. Sure, similar laws already existed in 20 other states and at the federal level, but after consulting the future, progressives became certain these laws were on the wrong side of history and therefore slated to go away—not grow in number.



Game Over?

Is It Finally Game Over for Ethanol? by Leandro Oliva.

Remember ethanol? Once America’s magic elixir for energy independence, the biofuel has spent a few years out of the national limelight. Now, the corn ethanol industry is back in the headlines over a growing movement to strip the ethanol industry of federal subsidies and blend quotas, which guarantees sales to corn growers, and is decried as an unnecessary handout by critics.




Why Elephants Are As Ritualistic and Violent As the Mafia by Simon Worrall.

It’s all about power, dominance, reverence, brutality and—above all—family.

More at NG.



Reason Is Larger Than Science by Jag Bhalla.

The porous border between science and the humanities must be patrolled for nonsense smuggled in either direction. Neither has a monopoly on reason.




5 Democrat Abortion Policies More Extreme Than Killing 7-Pound Babies by Casey Mattox.

Debbie Wasserman-Schultz thinks aborting full-term babies should be legal. But that’s not the most extreme abortion policy Democrats support.




Searching for Happiness by Ken Sedlak.

I recently went to Amazon’s Kindle store and searched for “Happiness.” There were more than 75 books offering advice, but none of them looked especially appealing.

Maybe because I don’t believe we can grasp happiness as a commodity. It seems to me to be an outcome of the way we live our lives, the quality of presence we become in this world.




What It Would Take to Prove Global Warming by Robert Tracinski.

Recently, Reason‘s Ronald Bailey asked what it would take to convince conservatives and libertarians that global warming is real.

If generally rising temperatures, decreasing diurnal temperature differences, melting glacial and sea ice, smaller snow extent, stronger rainstorms, and warming oceans are not enough to persuade you that man-made climate [change] is occurring, what evidence would be?

This has since been picked up by Jonathan Adler at the Washington Post‘s token right-leaning blog, the Volokh Conspiracy. There’s no pressure: Bailey and Adler merely insinuate that you are “obscurantist”—that is, you hate new knowledge—if you don’t agree.

That, by the way—the smug insistence of global warming alarmists on presenting themselves as the embodiment of scientific knowledge as such—is one of the reasons I stopped taking them seriously. In fact, I have thought about what it would take to convince me of global warming is real. And it’s pretty clear that Bailey has not thought about it.

He really hasn’t. He’s thought a lot about the various scientific claims made by those who insist global warming is a man-made catastrophe. But he has not thought about how those claims add up or how they would have to add up to be convincing. All Bailey’s piece amounts to is: here is a long list of factual claims that seem to support the global warming scare; how high do I have to pile up these claims before you are convinced?

There is no sense that the proof of global warming has to proceed according to some systematic method, requiring it to clear specific hurdles at specific stages. Which betrays an unscientific way of thinking.

When I refer to “global warming,” and when Bailey and Adler refer to it, that term is a stand-in, not just for the trivial claim that average global temperatures are rising, but for “catastrophic anthropogenic global warming”: i.e., global temperatures are rising, it’s our fault, and we’re all gonna die.

I’ve gone on record a long time ago sketching out what stages would be required to demonstrate that humans are causing rising global temperatures, never mind the much more dubious proposition that warmer weather is going to be a catastrophe.




Who Will Stand? by Robert P. George.

The lynch mob came for the brilliant mild-mannered techie Brendan Eich.

The lynch mob came for the elderly florist Barronelle Stutzman.

The lynch mob came for Eastern Michigan University counseling student Julea Ward.

The lynch mob came for the African-American Fire Chief of once segregated Atlanta Kelvin Cochran.

The lynch mob came for the owners of a local pizza shop the O’Connor family.

The lynch mob is now giddy with success and drunk on the misery and pain of its victims. It is urged on by a compliant and even gleeful media. It is reinforced in its sense of righteousness and moral superiority by the “beautiful people” and the intellectual class. It has been joined by the big corporations who perceive their economic interests to be in joining up with the mandarins of cultural power. It owns one political party and has intimidated the leaders of the other into supine and humiliating obeisance.

And so, who if anyone will courageously stand up to the mob? Who will resist? Who will speak truth to its raw and frightening power? Who will refuse to be bullied into submission or intimidated into silence?




“Conservative” Judicial Activism for Gay Marriage: With Amici Like These, Who Needs Enemies? by Micah Watson.

A group of distinguished conservative public servants, policy makers, and political operatives has signed an amicus brief saying the US Constitution requires the states to redefine marriage. They argue that this is the truly conservative position—but it takes quite a bit of logical contortion to accept their argument.




Her Majesty’s Jihadists by Mary Anne Weaver.

More British Muslims have joined Islamist militant groups than serve in the country’s armed forces. How to understand the pull of jihad.




Judaism’s Countercultural Understanding of Human Nature by Yuval Levin.

In his bold and challenging essay in Mosaic, Eric Cohen sets out an exceptionally ambitious project: the articulation of a coherent Jewish conservatism for America and Israel. He makes no claim to achieve that goal, only to offer an outline of what such an achievement would entail. His outline helps to highlight both why many Jews should find such a goal appealing and why they will not find it easy to realize.




The Constitution We Don’t Understand By Mike Lee.

Why a fundamental misunderstanding of our founding document is at the heart of Washington’s dysfunction.