Why Know?

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I came across the following cartoon on Facebook not too long ago:

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This cartoon makes a number of points: That history, for instance, is memorized only because children are forced to do so. That memorizing takes forever. That knowledge pooled from memory and from Google are “technically” indistinguishable. That, given that paradigm, school is futile and even cruel. (In “But torture builds character,” one also hears an echo of Calvin’s father and his outdoor excursions.) Also, given that paradigm, that by memorizing facts rather than searching Google whenever one is curious, one gains nothing.

I hope that recently I’ve answered that second complaint, the erroneous belief that memorizing is laborious and time-consuming. In that same post, I also mentioned that “the purpose of knowing countless facts off the top of one’s head is a question for another day.”

Today is that day. Continue reading

Claiming History for Obergefell

Ideas like this have been current on the Interwebs ever since the U.S. Supreme Court’s landmark Obergefell v. Hodges decision:

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(This is a mildly edited comic from this site.)

I suppose that the first thing to observe is that a very complicated issue, with relevance in a lot of different respects (legal, social, moral, &c.), has been collapsed into a single “issue.” Continue reading

Ars Memoria: A System for Remembering Everything

2015-6-4 Memory img01Many of us probably don’t remember as well as we would like to. Basic facts get forgotten, lists must absolutely be written down, and whole chunks of our life seem to disappear, as though they’d never even happened. What did we spend all of fourth grade doing? Whole books that we’ve spent hours reading seem to have left neither arguments nor revelations nor even a title a couple of years – a fraction of a lifespan – after the fact.

Some things, however, aren’t like that. Continue reading

An Original Poem

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Rage! goddess, sing the rage of Peleus’ son Achilles,
Whose frown, and wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,
Does make cowards of us all, weak and weary,
Over many a quaint and curious volume of forgotten lore –
We bid the good people farewell for a while,
We sailed to many-tower’d Camelot,
Where up and down the people go,
Talking of Michael Angelo, –
Oh the places you’ll go!
And sometimes, through the mirror blue,
The knights come riding two and two –
riding – riding –
the knights come riding two and two,
Up to the old inn door –
Some late visitors entreating entrance
at my chamber door.
(I read, much of the night, and go South in the winter.)

Contra Cartesiana: An Original Translation of Some Scholastic Criticisms of René Descartes, c. 1643

2015-4-23 Translation img02The world remembers René Descartes for his two major seminal philosophical works, Discourse on Method and Meditations on First Philosophy, published in 1637 and 1641, respectively. In addition to this, he accomplished the world-changing marriage of algebra and geometry with his Cartesian coordinate system, allowing any function or equation to be expressed in terms of lines and curves twining around his x and y axes.

Descartes’ philosophy, born in the midst of the bloody Thirty Years’ War – the heart-breaking religious wars (1618-1648) between Catholics and Protestants – sought to establish absolute certainty. Continue reading

A Reasoned Defense of the Irrational

2015-4-2 Irrationality img01Is it logical to enjoy irrational things?

The terms of the question seem to necessitate “No” as an answer. The logical and the irrational appear immiscible.

On closer inspection, however, the question asks whether “it” is logical to enjoy irrational things. So then, this asks not about the things themselves, but about the enjoyment of them. Is that actually illogical? Continue reading

Reflections on the National Prayer Breakfast

One week ago President Obama spoke at the National Prayer Breakfast in Washington, D.C. His speech has already occasioned many responses. Presuming to add to the heap, I hope that I can analyze his remarks in light of general principles, elucidating precisely what made his expressions so ill-advised.

Before anything else, we must establish how we are to evaluate his speech. Mere truth is not a sufficient a criterion, however necessary it is: His taking the stage and outlining geometric proofs, however timeless, certain, and precisely true, would have been a bad move. For considering his words, we need to consider the circumstances: Who our speaker was, the occasion of the speech, his audience, and anything else immediately relevant. For now, let us focus on the occasion. Continue reading

Math: A Universal Language, Part I

2014-10-30 math books img01I’ve seen math described as a universal language, a prerequisite to philosophy, and the common sense equivalent of Iron Man’s suit. Most people, however, wouldn’t dream of trying to crack open a calculus textbook in their free time. This is understandable for a field so fraught with technical lingo high up and obvious concepts down low. Nevertheless, math has spawned some more popular, commonplace, entry-level literature, which at times even allows for some of the sweeping, beautiful visions from upper-level math. Like that of any other field from art history to English literature, mathematics’ reading material is divided between the technical and the popular. It is true that math is underrepresented in the latter; I said to a friend the other day, “I’m learning how much good mathematical literature is out there.” He replied, “That’s like saying that there’s some Argon in the atmosphere.”[1] I thought, subsequently, that compiling a list for people’s convenience would be a fitting service. Continue reading