Archive for the ‘Humor’ Category

Today there’s a lovely little piece by Rex W. Huppke in the Chicago Tribune on the life and death of facts.

That’s right, facts are dead.

A favorite quote from the obituary:

“It’s very depressing,” said Mary Poovey, a professor of English at New York University and author of A History of the Modern Fact. “I think the thing Americans ought to miss most about facts is the lack of agreement that there are facts. This means we will never reach consensus about anything. Tax policies, presidential candidates. We’ll never agree on anything.”

I often tell my students that to have critical discussions that aren’t aimed either at truth or at consensus is like having archery without targets. Nice to see I’m not the only one who will miss Facts (and probably duck more frequently) now that they’re gone.  Ah, but how did facts die, you ask?  Poovey again:

“There was an erosion of any kind of collective sense of what’s true or how you would go about verifying any truth claims,” Poovey said. “Opinion has become the new truth. And many people who already have opinions see in the ‘news’ an affirmation of the opinion they already had, and that confirms their opinion as fact.”

Of course, the article goes on to point out, many people won’t believe that facts are dead.  This makes them something like the people who think that Elvis is alive and walking among us, or that Tupac Shakur survived his 1996 shooting.  Jeez. As if being a philosophy prof wasn’t challenging enough already…

The op-ed is funny–but only in that way that makes you glance nervously around the room with a look in your eyes that says “We’re all laughing because this is preposterous, right? Right?”

I’d write more on this, but I think I just saw the flash of sequins out of the corner of my eye. I’m gonna go check it out. Just to be sure.

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This [a disconnected link to a logic course webpage] is no way to get women into logic.  The “naughty schoolgirls” Vince Hendricks, an editor of Synthese, probably the most prestigious epistemology journal, anticipates in his logic class will surprise the rest of us.  The kinderwhore fashion is ten years out of date and provides too little clothing for Copenhagen.  In all seriousness, it’s such a throwback (except for the iPod) that I thought it was The Onion.

Hendricks gradually removed the images, beginning with these, which I caught with screen shots.  The page was changed to indicate they come from a magazine spread, which does not mitigate Hendricks’ choice to use cheesecake to advertise logic.  Perhaps mooning is a new transformation rule that he’s taught his students?

A similar arrogance, though not specifically sexist, was noted on the part of Hendricks by the Leiter Report, when he shut down criticisms of creationism.  Leiter  credits the  feminist philosophers blog for breaking the cheesecake story, (I thank them for my first joke,) and you can find more discussion there.  But here on RAIL are the screen shots everyone has asked for as a record of what logic looks like without feminism, even now.

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Well, you've got to admit that it's easy to work with from a theoretical perspective...

Creating explanatory or theoretical models of complicated phenomena is one of the chief intellectual activities of academics in nearly every field.  As we do this, it is salutary to remember that as powerful and helpful as our models can be they can also bewitch us too.  Rather than providing us with a lens that helps us see the phenomena we study more clearly, they can inflict a kind of selective vision on us that shackles us to our grounding assumptions, forces interpretation in their terms and blinds us to important bits of information that lie outside their boundaries.

Sometimes, this can be funny.  For example, I recall a bit of apocrypha about a philosopher who, upon first encountering black swans, rather than admit them as proof of that the conclusions of inductive arguments were underdetermined by their premises insisted instead that those black feathery things serenely gliding around on the water out there couldn’t possibly be swans at all.

Physicists are susceptible to this sort of thing too and they recognize it in this old and much beloved self-effacing joke.  It is funny, but I can’t help but think as well that lurking somewhere in there is a new fallacy patiently awaiting discovery by some intrepid researcher in argumentation theory.  Certainly being in the grips of a model is a common enough cause of poor argumentation to warrant designation as a fallacy of some kind.  I’m willing to start the process if you are.  Post a short description of your candidate for the new fallacy here in the comments section.  Best entry wins…er…let’s say eternal glory. 🙂

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