Theo Todman's Web Page - Notes Pages


Aeon Papers

(Work In Progress: output at 27/01/2020 11:20:54)

(For earlier versions of this Note, see the table at the end)

For Text Colour-conventions (at end of page): Click Here.

Introduction Papers Read: 77 Papers Unread Pri 1: 19 Pri 2: 317 Pri 3: 221 Pri 4: 153 Pri 5: 121 Pri 6: 74 Pri 7: 59 Pri 8: 37 Pri 9: 41

  1. The Aeon eZine, described in Aeon: About:-
    1. Covers a large number of philosophical topics that I’m particularly interested in from a semi-professional point of view.
    2. It also covers others that are of more general interest, for which I’ve read papers as they crop up but don’t really have much time to comment on.
    3. Finally, there are others – and particularly videos – which are not as relevant, and which I often ignore.
  2. This Note contains links to Aeon papers and videos I've found interesting – or hope to find interesting – from 2019 onwards, together with a few others that I’d not had time to categorise in this Note1. It represents an attempt to gain benefit from Aeon without incurring the overheads previously exemplified in the Note just cited. I intend to combine the two Notes in due course.
  3. The items accessed now appear in two lists: those I’ve read, and those I’ve not. The latter list ought to be itself divided in two – those I intend to read and those I don’t. This is because the items arrive too rapidly to be read, at least while I’m in “catch-up” mode. However, I’ve decided to simply prioritise the items, with the lower-priority items likely to remain languishing at the bottom. The priorities are fairly random, and subject to revision. I’ve recently decided to restrict “priority 1” items to a maximum of 10.
  4. Those I’ve read appear first, in reverse date of publication. I’ve tried to add a brief footnote for each.
  5. For the list of items I’ve not read, the items most recently published appear – within their respective priorities – at the top of the list when accessed, though with the videos first as they’re quicker to get through. Some of these items were "reminders" sent out at weekends when new material doesn't appear, so can have much earlier publication dates than their sequence in the list might imply. I’m in the process of adding the dates, which appear in red.
  6. The counts of the papers read – and unread by priority – appear in the table above, with hyperlinks to the lists.
  7. Note that where a date appears, this is the date published, not the date read. Any comments or additional information appear as a footnote, followed by clicking the date. Click on the paper title for the link to the full text on the Aeon website.
  8. I intend to add links to the PID Notes, where applicable, to which these works are relevant, and to their authors if they appear in my database. Also, if a paper turns out to be important enough for my research, I’ll incorporate it into my database so the hyperlinks to the topic of interest work better and I can add more information.
  9. While this was supposed to be a “quick and dirty” approach, I unfortunately ran into the MS Access 64k-character size-limit for long text. Thankfully, this can be over-ridden if the text is populated using Access Basic code, so I’ve added the wherewithal to achieve this. The references to “WebRef= nnnn” signify the primary key for a couple of tables I use to generate this page.
  10. A note on completeness: I’ve now been through all the emails received from Aeon in 2019, together with those at the end of 2018 giving the “highlights of the year”, and extracted all papers and videos of interest. Relatively few were omitted. I’ve not been through those for 2018, and don’t intend to do so until I’ve read all the priority-1 items from 2019 – though I’ve decided to look at a 2018-email a day while I’m keeping up to date with 2019. Those for 2017 were dealt with in this Note2, though my selection criteria were more rigorous in those days.
  11. I have to add a note of warning to myself. These papers are – in most cases – especially in the case of those selected – fascinating and informative. But they also lead on to other papers cited that are likewise fascinating and informative, or important if I am to follow in detail or critique the arguments put forward. There is no end to this process, which may end up as a distraction from constructive work.
  12. Some of the papers or videos are republications from other sites of interest. While noting the above comment, I will list them here (in the order they came to my attention):-
    Closer to Truth
    Woit - Not Even Wrong
    3Blue1Brown (excellent mathematics site)
    Institute of Arts and Ideas
    Philosophy Overdose
    Physics Reimagined
    YouTube: Then & Now
    The Royal Institution
  13. I ought to add a note on why all this is worth bothering with.
    1. Firstly, some items are relevant to my research or other projects, and provide a more contemporary or less formal / more exploratory approach than I’ll find in academic papers or books.
    2. Secondly, there are items on a very wide range of subjects that might be treated in magazines or broadsheets but which are dealt with in greater depth here.
  14. So, my intention is to use Aeon for general culture and education, and Newspapers for … news.

Items Pending

Items Read

Items Not Yet Read
  1. Priority: 1
  2. Priority: 2
  3. Priority: 3
  4. Priority: 4
  5. Priority: 5
  6. Priority: 6
  7. Priority: 7
  8. Priority: 8
  9. Priority: 9

In-Page Footnotes:

Footnote 3: Robogamis are the real heirs of terminators and transformers (WebRef=8807)
  1. Aeon
    • Author: Jamie Paik
    • Author Narrative: Jamie Paik is professor of mechanical engineering and director of the reconfigurable robotics lab at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (EPFL) in Lausanne.
    • Author's Conclusion: Robotics technology is advancing to be more personalised and adaptive for humans, and this unique species of reconfigurable origami robots shows immense promise. It could become the platform to provide the intuitive, embeddable robotic interface to meet our needs. The robots will no longer look like the characters from the movies. Instead, they will be all around us, continuously adapting their form and function – and we won’t even know it.
  2. Notes
Footnote 4: Wolf pack (WebRef=8792)
  1. Aeon
    • Aeon Subtitle: A masterwork of nature filmmaking that helped transform how wolves were seen
    • Aeon Abstract:
      • The Canadian author, artist and naturalist Bill Mason (1929-1988) was celebrated for his films exploring his country’s vast wilderness. Perhaps his best-known work is a trio of films about wolves – Death of a Legend (1971), Cry of the Wild (1972) and Wolf Pack (1974) – aimed at educating the public and dispelling negative myths about the animals.
      • For Wolf Pack, the shortest of the trilogy, Mason chronicled the lives of wolves facing the dramatic changes of the seasons over the course of a year, elucidating the central role of social hierarchies and cycles in their lives.
      • With profound respect and admiration for the wolves permeating each sequence, Mason finds brutality and beauty in the pack’s perpetual struggle for survival, creating an iconic entry in the crowded field of nature documentaries.
  2. Notes
Footnote 5: Spinoza's 'Ethics' - what do you mean by 'God' (WebRef=8592)
  1. Aeon
    • Aeon Subtitle: Freedom is learning to like what it’s rational to like: Spinoza’s ‘abominable heresies’
    • Abstract:
      • Today, the philosophical treatise known as the Ethics (1677) by Baruch Spinoza ("Spinoza (Benedict de), Curley (Edwin), Hampshire (Stuart) - Ethics") is widely considered a masterwork of philosophy. But at the time of its publication, Spinoza’s radical vision of God as synonymous with nature was enough for the Portuguese-Jewish congregation of Amsterdam to excommunicate him for ‘abominable heresies’.
      • In this short video from the London Review of Books, the British philosopher and historian Jonathan Ree dissects the radical rationalism of the Ethics, elucidating Spinoza’s once-unconventional views on God, freedom and the necessity of approaching the world with an ‘intellectual love’ above all else.
  2. Notes
      While it's interesting to hear what Jonathan Ree has to say, I've never been able to extract anything clear from the Ethics itself, not that I've tried since my undergraduate days, so never know whether commentators are saying what Spinoza said, or what they would have liked him to have said.
Footnote 6: Is artificial-womb technology a tool for women’s liberation? (WebRef=8578)
  1. Aeon
    • Author: Sasha Isaac
    • Author Narrative: Sasha Isaac recently graduated from New York University where she studied bioethics. Her master’s thesis was on transnational surrogacy in India.
  2. Notes
Footnote 7: Polyphonic Mozart (WebRef=8581)
  1. Aeon
    • Aeon Subtitle: Singing Mozart in the MRI shows how overtone singers can hit two notes at once
    • Summary:
      • In polyphonic overtone singing, vocalists manipulate their tongue, mouth and throat to produce two tones at once. While the technique has emerged in disparate societies, it is thought to have originated in (and is most commonly associated with) Mongolian culture.
      • For this video, the German singer Anna-Maria Hefele entered an MRI machine to perform Mozart’s ‘Sehnsucht nach dem Frühling’ (‘Longing for Springtime’), alternating between ‘normal’ monophonic and polyphonic overtone singing.
      • Produced by researchers at the Freiburg Institute for Musicians’ Medicine in Germany, the MRI imagery provides an extraordinary peek into the distinct differences between these singing styles, revealing yet another marvel of human physiology.
  2. Notes
      Thankfully this is very brief. Not very enlightening, and the effect isn't very impressive, and has nothing to do with Mozart, or so I imagine.
Footnote 8: Consciousness is real (WebRef=8572)
  1. Aeon
    • Author: Massimo Pigliucci
    • Aeon Subtitle: Consciousness is neither a spooky mystery nor an illusory belief. It’s a valid and causally efficacious biological reality
  2. Notes
Footnote 9: How pottering about in the garden creates a time warp (WebRef=8553)
  1. Aeon
    • Author: Hariet Gross
    • Author Narrative: Harriet Gross is professor of psychology, as well as acting pro vice chancellor and head of the College of Arts, at the University of Lincoln in the UK. Her latest book is The Psychology of Gardening (2018).
Footnote 10: Rules or citizens? (WebRef=8542)
  1. Aeon
    • Author: Melissa Lane
    • Author Narrative: Melissa Lane is the Class of 1943 Professor of Politics and director of the University Center for Human Values at Princeton University. Her books include Eco-Republic (2011/2012) and The Birth of Politics (2015), and she often appears on the In Our Time broadcast on BBC Radio 4.
    • Aeon Subtitle: Ancient Athenian and Greek practices afford us insights into how and why to maintain real accountability in public life
  2. Notes
    • See Also:
      Guerin, McCrae & Shepheard - Accountability in modern government: Recommendations for change
      Gasaway & Parrish - Administrative Law In Flux: An Opportunity For Constitutional Reassessment
      Lane - Antianarchia: interpreting political thought in Plato
    • This is an interesting paper in two regards. Firstly, it gives an account of Athenian democracy – and to a lesser degree the Roman Republic – that might be new to most. Secondly, it applies this historical survey to the present day in the US and UK.
    • I suspect many readers not interested in ancient history won’t get to the second part, and so won’t know what the paper is really about, as it’s not at all well signposted, though the sub-title is a clue.
    • The paper does point out that ancient Greek city states were much smaller than modern democracies, but I think it underestimates the disruptive effect of persistent litigation if any citizen can “call out” any minister or bureaucrat mid-term.
    • Also, it’s clearly a response to current disquiet about political accountability; yet there’s much more accountability in the US and UK systems, despite recent chafing, than under most governments – democratic or otherwise – currently or historically.
Footnote 11: Philosopher of the human (WebRef=8520)
  1. Aeon
    • Author: Johnny Lyons
    • Aeon Subtitle: One can only imagine how much nobler and more decent the world might be if it took more notice of Isaiah Berlin
  2. Notes
    • See Also:
      Berlin - Two Concepts of Liberty
    • This is a useful paper, describing Berlin’s contention that ethical discussions should be rooted in real-life, and especially historical, contexts, rather than confined to a discussion of concepts.
    • It points out the tension between two forms of liberty:-
      1. Negative (freedom from molestation) and
      2. Positive (freedom to do what you like provided you don’t interfere with others’ freedoms).
      Berlin pointed out that positive freedoms have tended towards the construction of utopias that have turned dystopic.
    • Berlin seems to have thought that ethics can be objective without there being a single right answer to every moral dilemma. This could have done with further elaboration.
Footnote 12: Mary Beard: women and power (WebRef=8507)
  1. Aeon
    • Author: Mary Beard
    • Aeon Subtitle: Why Medusa lives on – Mary Beard on the persistent legacy of Ancient Greek misogyny
    • Summary:
      • ‘To be men, they have to learn to silence women. I don’t think we’ve entirely got over that.’
      • From philosophy and politics to literature and art, the Western world has inherited much from Ancient Greece. But one disturbing cultural legacy is the enduring view of women as lesser beings who should shut up and stay out of the public intellectual sphere. Our social media is rife with examples of this persistent misogyny, which casts vocal women as stupid, shrill or some combination of the two.
      • As the classicist Mary Beard of the University of Cambridge argues, nearly every leading female politician has been at some point depicted as Medusa – that beautiful woman of Ancient Greek myth who was transformed into a hideous beast as punishment for her own rape.
      • In this video, commissioned by the Getty Museum on the occasion of Beard receiving their 2019 Getty Medal for contributions to the arts, she elaborates on the telling similarities between Ancient Greek depictions of women and those in our own times.
  2. Notes
    • See Also:
      Wikipedia: Medusa
    • This - like most of what Mary Beard has to say (at least on screen) - is just an incoherent rant. She assumes her interlocutors will be sympathetic - or else too antipathetic to be worth arguing with.
    • She mentions – without attribution – Ovid’s version of the myth without saying that it is “late”. It fits her feminist case.
    • That said, there are many other cases amongst the Greek myths of (groups of) females – the harpies, furies, sirens, maenads and maybe others. Many of these terms are still used misogynistically.
Footnote 13: Is there anything especially expert about being a philosopher? (WebRef=8480)
  1. Aeon
    • Author: David Egan
    • Author Narrative: David Egan is a visiting assistant professor in the Department of Philosophy at CUNY Hunter College in New York. He is the author of The Pursuit of an Authentic Philosophy: Wittgenstein, Heidegger, and the Everyday (2019).
    • Author's Introduction:
      • Outside a university setting, telling people that I’m pursuing a career in philosophy can be a bit of a conversation stopper. More times than I can count, I’ve faced the bemused but well-intentioned question: ‘How is that useful?’ I seem like a nice guy, smart, capable – why am I intent on doing something that won’t make me rich and won’t in any appreciable way make the world a better place?
    • Author's Conclusion:
      • So how is philosophy useful? The response I’ve learned to counter with is that the question being asked is itself a philosophical question. One of the things we do in philosophy is precisely to ask what’s worth doing and why. For the most part, my questioners have already presupposed a fairly limited set of acceptable answers to the question of what’s worth doing – answers that generally bottom out in the material wellbeing of oneself and others. But those answers, innocuous as they might seem to the speaker, are philosophical answers to a philosophical question.
      • In other words, we’re all doing philosophy all the time. We can’t escape the question of what matters and why: the way we’re living is itself our implicit answer to that question. A large part of a philosophical training is to make those implicit answers explicit, and then to examine them rigorously. Philosophical reflection, once you get started in it, can seem endlessly demanding. But if we can’t avoid living philosophically, it seems sensible to learn to do it well.
  2. Notes
    • This is a sensible analysis.
    • The author points out that philosophy - like acting - builds on skills that are core to being a person, so "beginners" can succeed in the right context, though not in all.
    • In contrast, knowledge of - and skills in - the "hard" sciences and (say) violin-playing are specialisms rather than part of everyone's skill-sets.
    • So - I suppose - the entry costs to the specialisms is much higher, and so they seem to demand more skill.
    • That is not to say that training in the non-specialist humanities is a fraud. Not every actor can play Hamlet convincingly, and philosophers need to sharpen up their analytical and critical skills to perform competently.
Footnote 14: Julian Barbour: what is time? (WebRef=8481)
  1. Aeon
    • Author: Julian Barbour
    • Aeon Subtitle: From sky charts to atomic clocks, time is a mysterious story that humans keep inventing
    • Summary:
      • The standardisation and accuracy of human timekeeping has improved by leaps and bounds over the millennia – from tracing the stars, to the invention of timepieces, to the atomic 'clocks' of today. But for all our efforts, the concept of time, including whether it’s little more than an illusion of human psychology, remains deeply puzzling.
      • In this interview with Robert Lawrence Kuhn for the PBS series Closer to Truth, the independent British physicist Julian Barbour endeavours to distinguish between our experience of time and its scientific underpinnings, including what has and hasn’t changed about our conception of time since we first looked to the skies to measure it.
  2. Notes
    • This video is too brief to say anything sensible, but was useful in introducing me to Julian Barbour, whom I'd not heard of before.
    • Barbour's view is that time is an illusion.
Footnote 15: The driver is red (WebRef=8474)
  1. Aeon
    • Aeon Subtitle: A spy thriller for an era in which the Holocaust risks being forgotten
    • Summary:
      • 'The noose that had hung his friends after the war for what they had done, the noose that he thought he had escaped, had found him.'
      • In the wake of the Second World War, former SS officials and Nazi collaborators fled Europe, hoping to evade prosecution and knowing that South American governments were sympathetic to the Nazi cause. Adolf Eichmann, the chief 'architect' of the Holocaust, was the highest ranking member of the Third Reich to escape to the continent, where he made Buenos Aires his new home and 'Ricardo Klement' his new name.
      • The US artist Randall Christopher’s animation The Driver Is Red follows the Israeli mission that captured Eichmann on 11 May 1960, forcing him to finally stand trial for his crimes. With the pace and tension of a spy thriller, the short documentary frames the fervour for justice as a tribute to those who committed themselves to tracking down Nazi war criminals long after the Second World War’s end. Now that very few people with memories of Nazism’s rise are still alive, Christopher made the film freely available online, warning of the ominous spectre of 'extreme nationalism, open racism, attacks on the press [and] reckless talk of war' in our own era.
  2. Notes
    • See Also:
      The Driver is Red
    • 'The driver is red' was the code-expression in a telegram to Mossad to announce that Eichmann had been found, so that the snatch-squad could assemble.
    • While the animation covers the tracking, finding and snatching, it doesn't cover how Eichmann was smuggled out of Argentina.
    • For more information, see Wikipedia: Adolf Eichmann (capture).
Footnote 16: Pluck versus luck (WebRef=8467)
  1. Aeon
    • Author: David Labaree
    • Author Narrative: David Labaree is Lee L Jacks professor at the Stanford University Graduate School of Education. He is the former president of the History of Education Society and former vice president of the American Educational Research Association. His most recent book is A Perfect Mess: The Unlikely Ascendancy of American Higher Education (2017).
    • Aeon Subtitle: Meritocracy emphasises the power of the individual to overcome obstacles, but the real story is quite a different one
    • Author's Conclusion:
      • In fact, the only thing that’s less fair than the meritocracy is the system it displaced, in which people’s futures were determined strictly by the lottery of birth. Lords begat lords, and peasants begat peasants.
      • In contrast, the meritocracy is sufficiently open that some children of the lower classes can prove themselves in school and win a place higher up the scale. The probability of doing so is markedly lower than the chances of success enjoyed by the offspring of the credentialed elite, but the possibility of upward mobility is nonetheless real. And this possibility is part of what motivates privileged parents to work so frantically to pull every string and milk every opportunity for their children.
      • Through the jousting grounds of schooling, smart poor kids can, at times, displace dumb rich kids. The result is a system of status attainment that provides advantages for some while at the same time spreading fear for their children’s future across families of all social classes. In the end, the only thing that the meritocracy equalises is anxiety.
  2. Notes
    • This is an honest but rather annoying piece.
    • It purports to show how – for the “advantaged” – the climb up the greasy academic pole is much easier than for the “disadvantaged”.
    • The author is of the type I recognise from King’s – a politico / waster who blew his opportunities as an undergraduate at an elite institution (Harvard) but who still ends up making it good on account of his background and connections.
    • In one of the author’s re-tellings, he shows that the “making good” was a struggle, and did involve a lot of grit, but he confesses that the success of these efforts was in the main ultimately down to his connections, coupled with some lucky breaks.
    • While this is no-doubt correct, I think this is biased towards the experiences of those in the liberal arts. In mathematics and the hard sciences, no amount of connections will get you anywhere without hard work and ability. You have to get things right.
    • Maybe amongst those few, preferment in teaching or administrative posts is still more likely for those with the right pedigree, but great intellect will still win through. I wonder if Richard Feynman has anything to say on the matter?
    • One thing I did note in my own experience is that those from privileged backgrounds were much better prepared by their schools – both academically and socially – which made settling in and the rigours of the academic work much easier to accommodate. But wasters – like myself – only have themselves to blame.
Footnote 17: Why learning a new language is like an illicit love affair (WebRef=8468)
  1. Aeon
    • Author: Marianna Pogosyan
    • Author Narrative: Marianna Pogosyan is a lecturer in cultural psychology at the IES Abroad in Amsterdam and at the University of Amsterdam’s Politics, Psychology, Law and Economics (PPLE) college in The Netherlands.
    • Author's Introduction: Learning a new language is a lot like entering a new relationship. Some will become fast friends. Others will hook their arms with calculus formulas and final-exam-worthy historical dates, and march right out of your memory on the last day of school. And then sometimes, whether by mere chance or as a consequence of a lifelong odyssey, some languages will lead you to the brink of love.
  2. Notes
    • Interesting piece, describing how learning and living in a new language affects your use of your mother tongue.
    • The author is Armenian, but lived in Japan from childhood.
Footnote 18: Consider the axolotl: our great hope of regeneration? (WebRef=8268)
  1. Aeon
    • Author: Scott Sayare
    • Author Narrative: Scott Sayare is a writer currently based in New York. His features and essays have appeared in Harper’s, The New Republic, The Guardian and The New Yorker, among others.
    • Extracts:
      • Like earthbound immortals, salamanders regenerate. If you cut off a salamander’s tail, or its arm, or its leg, or portions of any of these, it will not form a stump or a scar but will instead replace the lost appendage with a perfect new one, an intricacy of muscle, nerve, bone and the rest. It will sprout like a sapling. Science has been chopping up salamanders for more than 200 years with the aim of simply understanding the mechanics of their marvels, but more recently with the additional aim of someday replicating those marvels in ourselves. Might salamanders be the great hope of regenerative medicine?
      • In its most common form, which scientists call the white mutant, the axolotl resembles what the translucid foetus of a cross between an otter and a shortfin eel might look like. On the internet, it is celebrated for its anthropoid smile; in Mexico, where the Aztecs once hailed as it as a godly incarnation, it is an insult to say that someone looks like one. Behind its blunt and flattened head extends a distended torso resolving into a long, ichthyic tail. The axolotl can grow to nearly a foot in length; four tiny legs dangle off its body like evolutionary afterthoughts. It wears a collar of what seem to be red feathers behind each cheek, and these ciliated gill stalks float and tremble and gently splay in the water, like the plumage in a burlesque fan. They grow back if you cut them off, too. Precisely how the animal accomplishes this, or any of its feats of regrowth, is not well understood.
      • If the axolotl mirrors us so nicely, it’s fitting that we, too, are neotenous. Our flat faces, small noses, hairless bodies and upright postures are all features of infancy in our evolutionary cousins and forebears. We also spend more of our lives in a juvenile state than any other primate. Our brains grow rapidly for a longer period, and are consequently larger; our childhoods are greatly extended, providing occasion for the lengthy training of those brains. We also maintain throughout our lives a ‘remarkable persistent juvenile characteristic of investigative curiosity’, in the words of the zoologist Konrad Lorenz. ‘The constitutive character of man,’ Lorenz wrote in 1971, ‘is a neotenous phenomenon.’
  2. Notes
Footnote 19: Canine exceptionalism (WebRef=8248)
  1. Aeon
    • Author: Jessica Hekman
    • Author Narrative: Jessica Hekman is a postdoctoral associate at the Broad Institute of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Harvard University. She is interested in the genetics of canine behaviour, and writes a blog called The Dog Zombie.
    • Aeon Subtitle: Trainers working with dogs every day have documented extraordinary talents and skills. Will science ever catch up?
    • Final Paragraph: The perspective of dog trainers, with their deep experience in real-world canine abilities, provides a rich source of theories for academics to test. Collaboration between dog trainers and research scientists could lead to a partnership that deepens our understanding of canine cognition. Dog trainers will keep exploring dogs’ learning limits. Now it’s up to the scientists to reach out and use this resource.
  2. Notes
    • This deserves some serious study, especially as there's an example of a Tibetan Terrier (allegedly) performing imitative behaviour.
Footnote 20: Cuneiform writing with Irving Finkel (WebRef=8221)
  1. Aeon
    • Author: Irving Finkel
    • Aeon Subtitle: How writing began, and other unexpectedly funny stories about cuneiform
    • Abstract: Cuneiform, the ancient Sumerian script that emerged in Mesopotamia’s Fertile Crescent circa 3000 BCE, is the first known system of written communication to move beyond pictograms into abstract representations of language. In this lecture, as unexpectedly funny as it is edifying, Irving Finkel, a writer and curator at the British Museum in London, elucidates how cuneiform developed into an advanced writing system with its own internal logic, contradictions and – for those who would attempt to decipher it centuries later – exasperating snags. Having hooked the audience at the Royal Institution in London, Finkel then reveals how a trilingual inscription at Mount Behistun in modern-day Iran became cuneiform’s very own Rosetta Stone, unlocking secrets of the script previously thought lost to time.
  2. Notes
    • This is a very witty lecture by a lecturer bearing a striking resemblance to myself, at least in my winter mode.
    • I was interested to note the similarities in the semiotic structures of the Cuneiform and Hieroglyphic scripts.
    • There's a reference to 'Finkel's book', though it's not stated which. Presumably it's Cuneiform, British Museum Press (11 May 2015), 112 pp. No doubt this is a replacement for "Walker (C.B.F.) - Reading the Past: Cuneiform", which hails from 1897 and is only 64 pp. But as I've purchased but not yet read this book, it wouldn't be rational to buy Finkel's.
    • However, I've just now bought "Finkel (Irving) - The Ark Before Noah: Decoding the Story of the Flood", which has some cuneiform in it, and which expatiates on the tablet the translation and interpretation of which greatly enhanced Finkel’s reputation.
Footnote 21: Trigger warnings don’t help people cope with distressing material (WebRef=8222)
  1. Aeon
    • Author: Christian Jarrett
    • Author Narrative: Christian Jarrett is a senior editor at Aeon, working on the forthcoming Psyche website focused on psychological wellbeing. A cognitive neuroscientist by training, his writing has appeared in BBC Future, WIRED and New York Magazine, among others. His books include The Rough Guide to Psychology (2011) and Great Myths of the Brain (2014). His next, on personality change, will be published in 2021.
    • Conclusion: It’s important not to overstate the scientific case against trigger warnings. Research into their effects is still in its infancy and, most notable, none of the recent studies has focused on their use among people with mental-health diagnoses. Yet already the results are surprisingly consistent in undermining the specific claim that trigger warnings allow people to marshal some kind of mental defence mechanism. There is also a solid evidence base that avoidance is a harmful coping strategy for people recovering from trauma or dealing with anxiety. The clear message from psychology then is that trigger warnings should come with their own warning – they won’t achieve much, except encourage maladaptive coping and the belief that folk are sensitive and need protecting.
  2. Notes
    • This is all very comfortably saying what I wanted to hear, and believe to be true.
    • It cites a book that Jonathan Sacks had as his book of 2018: “One of the most bracing reads of 2018 was Greg Lukianoff and Jonathan Haidt’s The Coddling of the American Mind: How Good Intentions and Bad Ideas Are Setting Up a Generation for Failure (Allen Lane). Confronting the ever-growing constraints on free speech in universities, the authors show how a generation of students is being encouraged to develop mindsets that will do them psychological as well as intellectual harm. Brilliantly written, forcefully argued and highly original in its approach, this report from the front line of student politics is an important warning and a powerful defence of the university as a place where we give a respectful hearing to views with which we disagree.”
Footnote 22: Science + religion (WebRef=8223)
  1. Aeon
    • Author: Tom McLeish
    • Author Narrative: Tom McLeish is a professor of natural philosophy in the Department of Physics at the University of York in the UK. He is the author of Faith and Wisdom in Science (2014), Let There Be Science (2016) and The Poetry and Music of Science (2019)
    • Aeon Subtitle: The science-versus-religion opposition is a barrier to thought. Each one is a gift, rather than a threat, to the other
    • Author's Conclusion: A relational narrative for science that speaks to the need to reconcile the human with the material, and that draws on ancient wisdom, contributes to the construction of new pathways to a healthier public discourse, and an interdisciplinary educational project that is faithful to the story of human engagement with the apparently chaotic, inhuman materiality of nature, yet one whose future must be negotiated alongside our own. Without new thinking on ‘science and religion’, we risk forfeiting an essential source for wisdom today.
  2. Notes
    • I've not engaged with this piece as much as I should have, so may have missed its point.
    • It was interesting to see the repositioning of the "where were you ..." passage in Job in the service of a scientific worldview (rather than as "shut up!")
    • Seeing the forebears of science in religion is special pleading. The scientific method had to arise somewhere, sometime, and all advanced societies at the time were religious.
    • Maybe the monotheistic religions do denigrate human reason, but they don't thereby inculcate empiricism and experiment. Surely Job has to go against experience to maintain his faith in the light of experience, as have theists throughout troubled times.
Footnote 23: The planet is burning (WebRef=8207)
  1. Aeon
    • Author: Stephen J. Pyne
    • Author Narrative: Stephen J Pyne is an emeritus professor at the school of life sciences at Arizona State University. His latest book is Fire: A Brief History (2019).
    • Aeon Subtitle: Wild, feral and fossil-fuelled, fire lights up the globe. Is it time to declare that humans have created a Pyrocene?
    • Conclusion:
      • Third-fire upsets the choreography between natural and anthropogenic fire directly by competing with second-fire and indirectly by altering the climate. Even if fossil-fuel burning and its legacy vanished overnight, we would still have deep obligations to get fire right in living landscapes. The consequences of our effluent-gagged atmosphere will linger for decades, perhaps centuries into a deep future. But as we ratchet third-fire down, we need to ratchet second-fire up. Third-fire adds to Earth’s carbon load. First-fire and second-fire recycle what exists.
      • Still, fire’s three-body problem will persist. Unless the Milankovitch cycles dim and the oceans and continents abruptly rearrange themselves, the cold will remain camped outside the gates, waiting for a crack that it can wedge into another ice age. At some point in the future, we will have to rekindle third-fire. For a few generations, it needs to remain in the ground as fossil fallow. Then we will see if our fire powers will destroy or save us.
      • Our history has been a story of how we and fire have co-evolved. The same holds for our future.
  2. Notes
    • See Also:
      Aeon: Pyne - Burning like a mountain
    • The three fires are, in order, natural fire caused by lightening; man-made fire burning organic materials; and, the burning of fossil fuels.
    • Fire is necessary to partially off-set the Pleistocene alternating ice-ages versus temperate climate.
    • However, too much burning of fossil fuels upsets the balance.
Footnote 24: Thinking about one’s birth is as uncanny as thinking of death (WebRef=8208)
  1. Aeon
  2. Notes
Footnote 25: What is to be done about the problem of creepy men? (WebRef=8166)
  1. Aeon
    • Author: Heidi Matthews
    • Author Narrative: Heidi Matthews is an assistant professor of law at Osgoode Hall Law School at York University in Canada, where she also co-directs the Nathanson Centre on transnational human rights, crime and security. She researches and teaches the law of war, international criminal law, and law and sexuality.
    • Extract: As researchers warn, what most people intuit to be creepy aligns closely with the attributes of individuals and populations already on or beyond the boundaries of social acceptance. The mentally ill and disabled, the physically deformed, those with ticks or other abnormal movements or facial features, the impoverished and the homeless are all more likely to be judged creepy. With this knowledge, we need to guard against confirmation bias when perceived creeps actually do act in harmful ways.
  2. Notes
Footnote 26: Walter Lippmann - public opinion and propaganda (WebRef=8153)
  1. Aeon
    • Aeon Subtitle: Before Chomsky, there was Lippmann: the First World War and ‘manufactured consent’
    • Abstract / Introduction:
      • While the ‘manufacture of consent’ is an idea now mostly associated with Noam Chomsky, the phrase was actually coined by the US journalist and writer Walter Lippman in his influential book Public Opinion (1922) – a fact that Chomsky and Edward S Herman, his co-author of Manufacturing Consent (1988), readily acknowledge.
      • Lippman contended that, because the world is too complex for any individual to comprehend, a strong society needs people and institutions specialised in collecting data and creating the most accurate interpretations of reality possible. When used properly, this information should allow decisionmakers to ‘manufacture consent’ in the public interest.
      • However, in one of the most damning critiques of democracy, Lippman identifies how public opinion is instead largely forged by political elites with self-serving interests – powerful people manipulating narratives to their own ends.
      • This video essay from the YouTube: Then & Now channel dives into Lippman’s legacy, starting with his study of the rise of the importance of public opinion during the First World War, and extending through an examination of why, a century after Public Opinion, democracy still has a major mass-media problem.
Footnote 27: Classics for the people (WebRef=8142)
  1. Aeon
    • Author: Edith Hall
    • Author Narrative: Edith Hall is a professor in the department of classics and Centre for Hellenic Studies at King’s College London. She has published more than 20 books, broadcasts frequently on radio and television, and publishes widely in mainstream and academic journals and newspapers. Her latest book is Aristotle's Way (2018).
    • Aeon Subtitle: A Classical education was never just for the elite, but was a precious and inspiring part of working-class British life
    • Conclusion: The experiences of classical antiquity by the historical British working class have been messy, complicated and diverse. They have, by turns, been inspirational and depressing, too. But, finally, they can also help us think about the place of the ancient Greeks and Romans within the modern curriculum. Classical education need not be intrinsically elitist or reactionary; it has been the curriculum of empire, but it can be the curriculum of liberation. The ‘legacy’ of Greece and Rome has been instrumental in progressive and enlightened causes, both personal and political. Understanding the ancient world can enrich not only the imagination and sociocultural literacy but also citizenship skills and the power of argumentation and verbal expression. Recovering the working-class classicists of the past can also function as a rallying cry to modern Britain to support the case for the universal availability in schools of classical civilisation and ancient history, and for the revival of the proud tradition of free or affordable university extension schemes across the nation.
Footnote 28: The self in dementia is not lost, and can be reached with care (WebRef=8143)
  1. Aeon
    • Author: Muireann Irish
    • Author Narrative: Muireann Irish is an associate professor of psychology at the University of Sydney in Australia.
    • Extracts
      • The view that without our memories we are no longer ourselves is pervasive, and has led to the use of stigmatising language, even within the dementia-care setting, such as ‘loss’, ‘disintegration’ and ‘unbecoming’. There remains a recalcitrant perception that in parallel with the progressive pathological onslaught in the brain is the inevitable demise of personhood, akin to a ‘living death’.
      • Viewing dementia in this way, as an erosion of the self, might serve a protective function, enabling carers to detach from the confronting reality of dementia, with metaphors of bereavement commonly used in relation to the anticipatory grief experienced by carers. However, recent research by my lab challenges the idea that the self is entirely lost in Alzheimer’s. Of course, people with dementia experience significant changes in their self-concept, self-knowledge, social relationships, perception of their own capacity, and even their physical appearance. Yet the essence of the person endures. Recognising this has important implications for approaches to care. We must consider the experience of the people living with dementia, even if this means challenging or confronting our own perceptions or expectations about their selfhood.
      • While the illness is devastating, not all memories are obliterated by Alzheimer’s, and much of the person’s general knowledge and recollection of the distant past is retained. There remains a vast repository of life experiences, personal history, stories and fables that endures, even late into the illness.
  2. Notes
    • This is very light on the philosophy of the Self, but may eventually come in useful as a guide for coping should it become necessary.
Footnote 29: I came from the unknown to sing (WebRef=8129)
  1. Aeon
    • Author: Ghazi Hussein
    • Author Narrative:
      • The poet Ghazi Hussein was born to a Palestinian family exiled in Syria. Starting at age 14, he was subjected to 20 years, on and off, of imprisonment and torture, and deemed ‘guilty of carrying thoughts’ though never formally charged. In prison, Hussein often felt hopeless and wished for death but, through his poetry, he was able to build a mental sanctuary that saved his life.
      • In 2000, he arrived in the UK, where, after a three-year legal struggle, he and his family gained political asylum, settling in Edinburgh.
      • Now a BAFTA award-winning playwright and acclaimed poet, Hussein continues to draw on his experience of oppression, using his writing to explore and confront the racism he encounters in Scotland. Despite this, he still considers Edinburgh his first and only home, a place where he has a voice.
    • Aeon Subtitle: ‘My cell is smaller than my size’ – how writing poetry saved a political prisoner
    • Summary: In this short film by the UK-Iranian artist Roxana Vilk, Hussein reflects on the pain and perseverance that has defined his life, performing poems from his book Taking it Like a Man: Torture and Survival, a Journey in Poetry (2006).
Footnote 30: Little Ice Age lessons (WebRef=8127)
  1. Aeon
    • Author: Dagomar Degroot
    • Author Narrative: Dagomar Degroot is an associate professor of environmental history at Georgetown University and co-director of the Climate History Network. His most recent book is The Frigid Golden Age: Climate Change, the Little Ice Age, and the Dutch Republic, 1560–1720 (2018).
    • Aeon Subtitle: The world’s last climate crisis demonstrates that surviving is possible if bold economic and social change is embraced
    • Author’s Conclusion
      • The past tells us that when climatic trends make it impossible to live in the same city, grow food in the same way or continue existing economic relationships, the result for a society is not invariably crisis and collapse. Individuals, communities and societies can respond in surprising ways, and crisis – if it does come – could provoke some of the most productive innovations of all. Those responses, in turn, yield still more transformations within evolving societies. If that was true in the past, it is even more true today, as seismic political and cultural changes coincide with the breakneck development and democratisation of artificial intelligence, synthetic biology and other revolutionary technologies.
      • Most attempts to estimate the economic or geopolitical impacts of future warming therefore involve little more than educated guesswork. The future is hard to predict – perhaps harder than it ever was – and both collapse and prosperity seem possible in the century to come. So let us approach the future with open minds. Rather than resign ourselves to disaster, let us work hard to implement radical policies – such as the Green New Deal – that go beyond simply preserving what we have now, and instead promise a genuinely better world for our children.
  2. Notes
    • There are a few – fairly gentle – criticisms of this sanguine view of our prospects.
    • While the impending crisis is greater, our resources to meet it are also greater.
    • However, these resources are not evenly distributed and many countries will lose out badly.
    • There are also many other challenges and risks that may complicate matters.
Footnote 31: Do you think science can understand everything? (WebRef=8108)
  1. Aeon
    • Aeon Subtitle: Can science understand everything? NASA scientists attempt to answer the question
    • Summary: ‘Please define everything…’
      This short documentary is built around a single question posed in 2005-6 to scientists working at the NASA Space Sciences Laboratory at the University of California, Berkeley: ‘Do you think science can understand everything?’ Most of them pause or take a deep breath before venturing out on such thin ice. From seeking clarity on the meaning of the question, to weighing careful, nuanced answers, to relative certainty one way or the other, their perspectives provide a fascinating window on to the varying motivations and world views of scientists working at the frontiers of human knowledge.
Footnote 32: Divine transports (WebRef=8105)
  1. Aeon
    • Author: Mark Vernon
    • Aeon Subtitle: Whether via music, dance or prayer, the trance state was key to human evolution, forging society around the transcendent
    • Author's Conclusion:
      • ‘For myself, I remain an atheist,’ Dunbar told me. ‘The trance hypothesis is neutral about the truth claims of religions whether you believe or don’t, though it does suggest that transcendent states of mind are meaningful to human beings and can evolve into religious systems of belief.’
      • And in this final observation there is, perhaps, some good news for us, whether we’re religious or not. It’s often said that many of today’s troubles, from divisive political debates to spats on social media, are due to our tribal nature. It’s added, somewhat fatalistically, that deep within our evolutionary past is the tendency to identify with one group and demonise another. We are destined to be at war, culturally or otherwise. But if the trance theory is true, it shows that the evolutionary tendency to be tribal rests on an evolutionary taste for that which surpasses tribal experience – the transcendence that humans glimpsed in altered states of mind that enabled them to form tribes to start with.
      • If we long to belong, we also long to be in touch with ‘the more’, as the great pioneer of the study of religious experiences William James called it. That more will be envisaged in numerous ways. But it might help us by prompting new visions that exceed our herd instincts and binary thinking, and ease social tensions. If it helped our ancestors to survive, why would we think we are any different?
  2. Notes
    • I ought to have something profound to say about all this, but don’t.
    • I think the author is correct to dismiss the “new atheists” when they treat the issue of religion as purely a matter of fact.
    • However, while the non-cognitive aspects of religion are essential to the participants, without the factual underpinning – so that religious practice is a heart-felt response to something real rather than something fanciful – the practice is of no interest to me, whatever its value in cementing societies together.
Footnote 33: Keeping secrets (WebRef=8102)
  1. Aeon
    • Author: Karen Vallgarda
    • Aeon Subtitle: All families have secrets, from the innocent to the deeply sinister. Are there good reasons to keep them under wraps?
    • Author's Conclusion:
      • Instead of unequivocally condemning secrets, then, we might recognise that, although some are harmful, others are useful and, perhaps most importantly, a secret can be enabling and suffocating, protective and oppressive all at once. What we need to ask is therefore: whom does the secret protect? Does it undergird asymmetrical relationships of power, does it challenge them, or does it do both at the same time? And to confessions: whose truth was established as the truth and what did this do?
      • Once we move beyond the confinements of the cultural imperative of disclosure, secrecy and confessions will prove to be a powerful lens through which to examine how the emotionally charged micropolitics of the family tie in with the macropolitical currents in any society, past or present.
Footnote 34: We all know that we will die, so why do we struggle to believe it? (WebRef=8096)
  1. Aeon
  2. Notes
Footnote 35: Turn and live with animals (WebRef=8068)
  1. Aeon
    • Author: Bathsheba Demuth
    • Aeon Subtitle: The slaughterhouse ethic of Soviet and American whalers tells us we must look beyond communism and capitalism to survive
    • Author's Conclusion:
      • The logic of expanding consumption, of the commercial whaler and the factory ship, is the logic of the slaughterhouse: one that conceals death from the people who take it into their homes, or eat it, or wear it. Doing so sloughs off moral harm upon the proximate few, while many of us, the relatively wealthy in particular, stay at a distance, indulging in the illusion that humans are not dependent on others – on the gift of the whale, in Yupik terms, or on healthy populations and habitats, in the language of ecology.
      • In the 19th and 20th centuries, this slaughterhouse logic defined the relations between whales and people. Angyi was not the patrimony of either sort of foreign whaler, capitalist or socialist, but from their labour both developed conceptions of cetacean emotions, perhaps even moral action. Some described a kind of ethical injury done by ignoring the sentiments and sentience of whales. Yet the societies that sent market and socialist whalers to the Bering Strait left their labourers no space to act on such experiences. The term for this might be dehumanised work or alienated work, except it is more. Labour that reduces the world only to the tallied commodities of profit or plan impoverishes a society’s moral imagination. It is blind not just to the death necessary to sustain life but to the wills, emotions and even ethical judgment of other living beings.
    • Angyi: Part of being a good person involved hearing what, as the hunters took to their boats and readied their harpoons, a whale spoke. On St Lawrence Island, generations of whalers described how a bowhead could keep close, in sight even when submerged, but always just out of harpoon range. Sometimes, the pursuit lasted more than an hour. Eventually, the bowhead would choose either to swim away or to surface close to the right-hand side of the boat, the side where the harpooner sat waiting. The Yupik word for this behaviour is angyi, from the root ang-, which signifies the act of giving. After a period of deliberation, a bowhead chose to give itself to its hunters, speaking through her movements her consent to die.
  2. Notes
    • Clearly the idea of Angyi is sentimentalised and – strictly speaking – false. But it’s a more wholesome view of the interdependence and mutual sentience of all animals than that adopted by industrial “farming”.
    • The article also points out the natural longevity of bowhead whales – up to 200 years. They remain in the arctic, and the cold slows their metabolism. Warm-water or migratory species don’t live so long – though up to 100 years for the larger species.
Footnote 36: Mistaken (WebRef=8066)
  1. Aeon
    • Author: Daniel Ward
    • Author Narrative: Daniel Ward practices as a lawyer specialising in commercial litigation and international arbitration. He is also a PhD candidate in legal studies at the University of Cambridge and has published papers on political and legal theory.
    • Aeon Subtitle: Assuming that another person’s opinions are immune from criticism is not a marker of respect. It is, in fact, dehumanising
    • Author’s Conclusion:
      • General infallibility creates the illusion that people are essentially mindless. It holds that we believe what we believe, and value what we value, for no reason at all, or at least for reasons that are unintelligible to anyone else. Under those conditions, no one can engage with anyone else’s views or take them seriously. If, today, identities are becoming increasingly tribally defined, with each group living in its own ‘bubble’, this is an illusion that we urgently need to learn to see through.
      • To err is human. Missteps, misapprehensions, misspeakings, momentary lapses and mess-ups are part of the fabric of life. Yet we are capable of making mistakes precisely because we are thoughtful, intelligent beings with complex goals and sincerely held values. We wouldn’t be able to if we were otherwise. Regrets: we’ve had a few. But we are the wiser for them.
  2. Notes
    • The author’s (rejected) notion of personal “infallibility” is motivated my Paul A. Samuelson’s economic assumption that the agent’s preferences are infallibly revealed by what they spend their money on, even though some of their purchases may turn out to be mistaken.
Footnote 37: Raymond Tallis - What is Extended Mind (WebRef=8059)
  1. Aeon
    • Author: Raymond Tallis
    • Aeon Subtitle: 'Minds have always been outside themselves': Raymond Tallis on extended cognition
    • Summary:
      • In this interview with Robert Lawrence Kuhn for the PBS series Closer to Truth, the UK philosopher, writer and retired neuroscientist Raymond Tallis offers his nuanced view of the extended mind thesis, proposed by Andy Clark and David Chalmers in 1998. Their paper "Chalmers (David) & Clark (Andy) - The Extended Mind" shifted the bedrock of modern philosophy, psychology and neuroscience, and eventually became the most cited philosophy paper of the decade.
      • Its thesis was that our consciousnesses are constantly integrating and being moulded by outside objects, including other people, in ways that suggest that the mind extends far beyond the confines of the skull, or even the skin.
      • Somewhat controversial upon its publication, the paper’s central idea gained greater popular traction as innovations in technologies such as medical implants and smart devices seemed to narrow the gap between human cognition and external objects.
      • Two decades on from the paper’s publication, Tallis finds much to admire and to critique in its central contention, embracing the notion