Hegel, 2015: This Time, For Sure!

Hegel P of S
This edition right here.

Last year, decided I was going to read Hegel’s Phenomenology of Spirit, as part of my ongoing efforts to understand the people I find myself constantly disagreeing with. Well, that didn’t go so well.

But, down to the last few hours of 2014, started that bad boy – am a couple pages into the introduction! Woo Hoo!

This time, for sure! 2015: get in shape (after a fashion) and read some more Hegel! Keep it simple.

“Must be the wrong hat!”

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When Science and Economic Theory Meet

What is a natural resource? Turns out, this is a little trickier than one (me, for example) might suppose. I was foolish enough for years (hey, I was born and raised in California, cut me some slack) to think natural resources were just *there*, just things people found – and used up. Therefore, all the Malthusian and Ehrlichian doom-saying made sense to me, at least on some level: we were going to use everything up! Then we’d starve! My push back was along the lines of asserting that we were using things up much slower than feared, and using them more efficiently so that we needed less of any given resource over time.

But that, while not entirely wrong, misses the point: things become resources when human ingenuity is applied to the stuff in the natural world. Rocks became a resource once people picked them up and started mashing seeds and clobbering tapirs with them; wood became a resource when people started making spears and building fires; petroleum became a resource (and saved the sperm whale) once somebody figured out you could cook kerosene out of it and light your lamp.

And it’s not a one-time thing – raw materials can become resources many times in different ways. Iron might have first accidentally become a resource as part of a stone tool; then, in itself, as cast iron; then rare and hard to get steel as people figured out how to control the carbon content; then as mass produced steel once Bessemer and friends worked out the blast furnace concept, then as an ingredient in specialty steel alloys. But iron was always there, the raw ingredient for both plowshares and Winchesters, right under the feet of men hunting with stone tools.

Thus, the constant in resources is and always has been human ingenuity. Resources people fought and died over in one age are ignored in the next, while the Pennsylvanian farmers who cursed the seeping oil in their fields in one generation might be oil barons in a decade or two. 

I bring this up because of some news from the material science front: graphene is cool. While we carbon-based life forms have been surrounded by and living with carbon non-stop for eons, only in 2003 was somebody able to create the single-layer chicken wire lattice structure that is graphene.

Now it turns out that graphene might be useful in improving battery and solar cell efficiency and in separating hydrogen out of the atmosphere.  Assuming this pans out – a big assumption at this point – all of the sudden, it seems we may have created new resources out of, at least on the hydrogen front, thin air.

The best case full-ride experience here would be that graphene provides much better solar energy collection, much better energy storage, and makes fuel cell technology not only feasible but ubiquitous. In fact, if the whole hydrogen gathering thing pans out, the solar cells and batteries will end up as footnotes. My sci fi imagination sees sails of graphene wedded to a thin power generation layer popping up everywhere, generating as much power as any home or business needs just so long as there’s water vapor in the atmosphere – and there should be, since the burning of hydrogen creates water.

Clean abundant energy on demand anywhere you need it. While it seems optimistic, we live in a land where anyone can buy steel in any number of forms for tiny amounts of money – imagine how this would look to the Zulu master metal workers of 2,000 years ago, who spent hours and hours of back-breaking labor and burned a small forest in order to get a couple pounds of steel. So there’s precedent.

Now, if graphene could be used to desalinate seawater, just about every cause for war (reasonable, material causes, at least) would cease. Then again, even using current desalination technology, if you have enough energy, it would work.

Happy New Year!

The Evolution of the Popular View of Philosophers

Conradin Kreutzer. Yea, I’d never heard of him, either.

A few years ago, attended a seminar on the “Memorial Address”, a speech delivered by Martin Heidegger in 1955, on the 175th anniversary of the birth of composer Conradin Kreutzer. Apart from reports from the organizer of the seminar that gasps had been emitted from other faculty at St. Mary’s at the mere idea that anyone would read a Nazi sympathizer,* about the only thing I remember from this seminar is the introduction by the translator. In it, he mentioned by way of explanation that, in Germany in the 1950s, people still invited philosophers to speak at public occasions, as representatives of best thinking at the time. So Heidegger, whose works very few philosophers and fewer civilians even pretend to understand (I don’t), was still respected enough in the land of Kant and Hegel that mere incomprehensibility was not considered a fatal shortcoming.

Anyway, the translator thought it important enough to mention that philosophers were once considered public figures, as if it might otherwise seem jarring to a modern reader to read something from a philosopher written and delivered as a speech to a audience at a anniversary celebration. Moderns, it seems, expect their philosophers to be safely quarantined in lecture halls and classrooms, away from honest citizens.

This low opinion of academic philosophers can be seen in the movie Funny Face, produced in America a few years later in 1957. In this comedy, the hopelessly nerdy and hopelessly beautiful book store clerk Jo Stockton, played by Audrey Hepburn, is smitten by the philosophy of “empathicalism” propounded by one Emile Flostre, a Parisian philosopher. (I imagine they made Flostre French because it was a little too soon in 1957 to use a German philosopher. Besides, German philosophers are not funny, at least not in a light enough way to use in a musical comedy.)

The plot, such as it is, brings Jo and Dick Avery (Fred Astaire) to Paris. Dick’s job is to warn Jo off Flostre, who he is certain is a fraud and lecher. Even though his motives are more and more suspect as he falls in love with Jo, Dick is proven correct in spades – Flostre thinks of Jo as only another conquest to be made, and shows no ’empathy’ with her desire for, I suppose, TRVTH.

The point is, that in an America where the dominant philosophical school at the time were (still are!) various flavors of Marxist, Hegelian and Analytic Philosophy, the producers of this movie were safe in having the protagonist announce that Flostre was a fraud well before he ever makes an appearance, and regardless of the noble-sounding but laughable things Jo says about him and his teachings. American movie-goers were safely assumed to largely share or at least be sympathetic to this point of view.

Heidegger might have been the last philosopher as public figure to grace the intellectual landscape of the West. Given the nature of the philosophy now taught at the University, it’s hard to see this as any great loss.

Two related posts:

Cardinal O’Brien’s TAC Commencement Address

The Catholic Nature of True Study

*I want to say I’m sure that Margaret Sanger and John Dewey, for example, get a similar reaction at St. Mary’s because of their political views and affiliations, but somehow I doubt it.

 

And on a Minor Note of Cosmic Importance:

Issue #3 of the Sci Phi Journal is out! You can get it at Amazon now, and eventually at  Castalia House (link is to the general vicinity of where you’d find it.)

While of course you should buy this issue right now because in it continues the high standards and entertainment value of the previous issues, there is yet one additional reason you should buy it right now:

Name

Yes, right there on the cover, in among the real writers, it’s – ME. There’s an essay on the philosophy of the Matrix Trilogy right there in the magazine, written by me, of all people! So, buy this magazine now!

What are you waiting for? $3.99 – what a deal. More entertainment for the buck than anything George Lucas has done in 30 years. For example.

One last thing, in which I demonstrate what an arrested adolescent I am*: I got a major thrill out of calling PayPal, where I needed to explain to the inordinately cheery young lady on the phone what I needed help with: “I’m a writer, and my publisher wants to pay me through PayPal.” Those words *my* lips! Huzzah!

* not to mention how poorly I understand stuff like PayPal

Let Hosannas Ring!

For this evening we begin the 12 day celebration of the birth of our Lord and Savior! Beginning with vigil Mass of Christmas Day, the 12 Days of Christmas proceed through the Midnight Mass (this year, we’ll be going to St. Margaret Mary’s in Oakland for the Extraordinary Form high Mass), and the feasts of Sts. Stephen, John the Evangelist, Thomas Becket, Sylvester, and Basil the Great, and the Holy Innocents, Mary Mother of God, and the Holy Family, culminating on Epiphany, when in our household we exchanges gifts. Hosanna in the highest!

This year, the family (well, my wife, the two teenagers still at home and I – the 10 year old made 3) made all 9 Masses of Simbang Gabi, the traditional Filipino Advent novena leading up to Christmas. Mass is held at 5:30 a.m., and followed by a traditional Filipino breakfast. It was great!  Our Filipino brothers and sisters are always so warm and welcoming.

We have a full slate of visiting and visitors over the next few days. Two sets of friends who lost young adult sons this year are coming over to decorate the tree with us tonight; Christmas dinner is with Grandma as usual, Saturday  morning and afternoon is with old friends of my kids, then evening dinner with old friends of mine. Sunday is with my sister in Sunnyvale.

May God bless each of you and your families with the peace and joy of Infant Jesus!

Here’s what Simbang Gabi looked like at St. Mary’s Cathedral in San Francisco this year. Those fancy paper lanterns are a big thing

 

Reality Triumphs over Science! Family Bed Redeemed

(That’s real small s science prevailing over whatever the dude in the lab coat is saying today.)

Pediatricians Revising Anti-Bed Sharing Stance: Dire Warnings “Backfired.”

Before digging into this lovely article and the links it provides, we’ll recap the situation:

  • All across the planet, across the centuries, mothers have slept with their infant children. Makes it easier to nurse the child, comfort the child, and for mom to get some sleep. It’s about as natural a thing to do as breathing.
  • In post Christian but not post Puritan America, this was discovered to be WRONG. Based on a handful of very dubious studies, it was claimed that ‘co-sleeping’ was tantamount to murdering your child, because the child’s chances of dying while asleep at home went from .001% to .0011% – something like that, the point being that the change was tiny, and no allowances were made for trade-offs, such as more tired moms and worse child/mother bonding, which might also have bad effects on the child’s long-term health. America is alone in this rabid anti-family-bed obsession
  • The American Academy of Pediatrics and the Centers for Disease Control nonetheless went all total war on the issue: as many, many parent can attest, every visit to your child’s doctor during the last 25 years or so was all but guaranteed to include stern admonitions about not letting the baby sleep in bed with you, but making sure she had her own bed. Moms and dads doing what moms and dads have done for thousands of generations were being shamed and, frankly, bullied into stopping, in order to conform with what amounts to a puritanical fad.

Back when we had our first baby, we read, among other things, some books by Dr. William Sears on ‘attachment parenting’, which includes encouragement to do the whole ‘family bed’ thing. This lead me to read up on the claims that ‘co-sleeping’ was going to kill our baby. A couple things stood out:

  • There was no distinction made between healthy, happily married couples having a healthy baby sleep with them, and, say, sick or alcoholic or drug-addicted parents in chaotic family situations sleeping on the couch with a baby that might have health problems. In other words, the research uncritically treated correlation as causation without apply any rigor to the data. They just added up the raw numbers and, boom – family beds kill babies. Cargo cult science in spades.
  • The herd mentality of pediatricians. I suppose you’re less likely to get sued if you give the party line advice. I further suppose that people get into pediatrics not for love of pure science, but to help kids. Even the trivial level of scientific skepticism needed to see the hopeless flaws in the studies was not to be found in any of the pediatricians we had. I suspect the process of becoming a pediatrician in America is a form of selection, and weeds certain types of people out. (This is not to say our pediatricians weren’t wonderful – they were – just that they’re not to be relied upon as interpreters of science.)

So, #1 son was a fussy baby, to put it mildly. I had built a custom rocking cradle for him (It came out nice!) and so we put him in it. Yea, like that was going to work. Within the week, he was sleeping with us – much better, less stressful, more sleep. And so, based on my own educated layman’s ability to judge the validity of ‘studies’, we just smiled and nodded at the whole ‘make the baby sleep by herself!’ mantra chanted at us over the decades.

So it is with some grim satisfaction that I today read that the American Academy of Pediatrics and the Centers for Disease Control have backtracked: somebody finally noticed that this whole war on basic, natural parenting was based on a total of *4* studies of dubious value, and that, by shaming moms into not sleeping with their babies, they caused a number of – are you sitting down? – unintended consequences:

Specifically, when parents don’t bring babies to bed, they tend to sit up with them and feed them on a sofa or in a chair which carries with it a very high risk of injury or death as babies get stuck in sofa cushions or dropped on the floor by sleepy parents.  She also notes that discouraging bed-sharing has also had the inadvertent effect of making extended nursing more difficult which carries with it an increased risk of SIDS and other health problems.

As to the studies themselves:

the AAP’s statement from which it comes is based on just four papers. Two of the studies are misrepresented, and actually show little or no risk of sharing a bed when parents do not smoke, and two of the studies do not collect data on maternal alcohol use, a known and powerful risk factor.

Pretty much what I’ve been saying FOR THE LAST COUPLE DECADES.

Only one more refinement to be added. One of the crazier warnings is that mom or dad may roll over on the baby and crush and smother her! Now, I can only speak from personal experience, but I never came close to rolling over on a baby in the years we spent with a baby sleeping with us. It’s almost like natural selection has imprinted on us an awareness that the survival of our genome depends on the survival of our children – or something. In any event, somehow, even in deep sleep, I knew there was a baby in the bed and to be careful. It was an entire non-issue.

I’ve got to wonder about all the medical and other child-rearing advice we get that tends towards the destruction of the family at its roots: the natural bonds between parents and children. What all this anti-family-bed and, for example, strap them in like astronauts in the car advice does is make parents get used to ignoring the discomfort of their children: instead of physical contact and comfort, the parents learn to ignore the kid’s crying, and the kid learns that the comfort and contact are highly conditional. Where the emotional bonds should be unquestioned, we sow doubt. I just hope the tradeoffs actually make sense, or at least were acknowledged at some point: yes, perhaps a few babies a year might die as a result of mom holding them in the car, but that may be the better path than the temptation towards indifference that not holding them encourages. I don’t know that this is true, but I’d like to see it and similar issues at least discussed.

20 Questions with the Moores

On the drive back from visiting my sister in Sunnyvale, we played 20 questions. This can be a little different:

We get answers like: “Conceptually? No.”

Or, to the question “Is it worth more than $10,000?” we get, “In nominal terms, perhaps not, but certainly when adjusted for inflation.”

After establishing that the answer was mineral, man-made, mobile, larger than a car, and was not made after 1950, the 10-year old asks: “Is it a cell phone?” He explained that, before 1950, cell phones were bigger than cars and cost way more than $10,000.

Hard to argue with that.

With two questions left, my wife pulls “Is it a steam locomotive?” out of thin air. I have no idea how she guessed it – they weren’t that close. Mind reader.

She is a bit psychic:

Mom: Animal, vegetable or mineral?

Daughter: vegetable.

M: Did we eat it tonight?

D: Yes.

M: Is it heirloom carrots?

D: Yes.

But mostly, simple questions like: is it used for work? or: is it bigger than a loaf of bread? tend to generate philosophic discussions that, on the surface, seem unwarranted. And it’s not even me who starts them, I swear!