Category Archives: Reblogs

A Different Take on E.O. Wilson

Reblogging does not necessarily entail endorsement.

Massimo Pigliucci

by Massimo Pigliucci

Here is a Roman joke: Two old friends who haven’t seen each other in a while happen to meet in the street. One says to the other: “Oh, hi! I thought you were dead!”

“What on earth makes you say so?”

“Well, all of a sudden people were speaking well of you …”

That joke came to my mind when I read three short tributes to biologist E.O. Wilson in Skeptical Inquirer (May/June 2022). Wilson passed away on December 26, 2021, at age ninety-two. The tributes are by evolutionary biologist and science popularizer Richard Dawkins, evolutionary developmental biologist Sean B. Carroll, and cognitive linguist Steven Pinker. Predictably, all three portraits are very positive. Just as predictably, they are somewhat flawed.

Let me first acknowledge where I agree with Dawkins, Carroll, and Pinker. Wilson, whom I’ve met a few times during my career as an evolutionary biologist first…

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Plato’s mistake

Massimo Pigliucci

by Massimo Pigliucci

What is your take on metaphysics? Mine isnot particularly positive. At least, I am deeply suspicious, and largely reject, the whole approach to the field known as “analytic” metaphysics, which has been dominant since the beginning of the 20th century. (I am increasingly skeptical of the value of all analytic philosophy, but that’s a story for another time. And no, I’m no friend of the continental tradition either!)

My favorite whipping boy is a leading analytic metaphysician, David Chalmers, who initially became famous for his notions about consciousness and philosophical zombies, and has more recently embraced equally problematic notions like panpsychism. Chalmers and his colleagues proposed their “theories” on the basis of their intuitions and of what they find “conceivable,” regardless of whether there is any empirical evidence for their speculation. Indeed, they tend to be contemptuous of empirical evidence, dismissing it as…

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Introductions to the Aeneid – 3. David West

Books & Boots

I own three English translations of the Aeneid:

  • the 1956 Penguin classics prose translation by W.F. Jackson Knight
  • the 1970 verse translation by Allen Mandelbaum
  • the 1991 Penguin classics prose translation by David West

This is the last of three blog posts giving detailed analyses of the introductions to each of these translations. This one looks at David West’s introduction to his 1991 translation. It also gives examples of each of the translators’ work, first their renderings of the Aeneid’s opening 12 lines, then of the final few lines.

1991 Penguin classics prose translation by David West

Unlike the vapouring spiritualist Jackson Knight, and the namedropping Vietnam War protestor Mandelbaum, West is wonderfully unpretentious and to the point. In his introduction’s brisk 6 pages he bluntly says the Aeneid is about a man who lived 3,000 years ago in Asia Minor so – why should we care?

1. The origins…

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Of Friendship by Francis Bacon

Books & Boots

Bacon is a hugely enjoyable read and his pithy brevity is a welcome break from Cicero’s rambling verbosity.

Francis Bacon

Francis Bacon was born in 1561 into an eminent family. His uncle was the Lord Cecil who became the first minister to Queen Elizabeth. Like Cicero he made a career at the bar and in politics, sitting as MP for various constituencies. He was helped up the ladder by the Earl of Essex so when the latter rebelled against Elizabeth in 1601, Bacon’s zealous prosecution of his former patron aroused much bad feeling.

When the old queen died and was replaced by James VI in 1603 Bacon’s ascent up what Disraeli called the slippery pole continued. He was knighted, became clerk of the Star Chamber, Attorney General, Privy Counsellor and Lord Keeper of the Seal, finally becoming Lord Chancellor.

It was at the height of his success, in 1621, that…

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Selected quotes from  Quit Smoking Weapons of Mass Distraction

Simon Chapman AO

My new book  Quit Smoking Weapons of Mass Distraction (Sydney University Press 2022 359pp ISBN 9781743328538) will be published as an e-book on June 26 and as a paperback on July 1, 2020

You can read the Introductory chapter free here

You can order the book at Amazon here ($AUD4.99 e-book; $AUD28.80 paperback)

Below are quotes from the book that I hope will stimulate your interest.

The core message of the book

“The core message throughout this book has been that the overwhelming dominance of assisted cessation in the way that quitting has been framed over the past three decades has done a huge disservice to public understanding of how most smokers quit. Around the world, many hundreds of millions of smokers have stopped without professional or pharmacological help.”

On the dominance of unassisted cessation in how most ex-smokers quit

“If we were able to estimate the total number of…

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Prehistoric timelines

Texts about prehistory are liable to use three different timelines or naming systems interchangeably so it’s as well to be absolutely clear about …

Prehistoric timelines

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That Mitchell and Webb Look – Moon Landing Sketch

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Scoop by Evelyn Waugh (1938)

‘I think it is a very promising little war.’ (Lord Copper in Scoop, page 13) When you read Evelyn Waugh as a student you don’t have time to read the …

Scoop by Evelyn Waugh (1938)

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Royal Society of NZ is split by disciplinary action taken against prominent professors who signed letter in defence of science

Originally posted on Point of Order: Let’s meet Professor Garth Cooper, described on the University of Auckland website as one of New Zealand’s …

Royal Society of NZ is split by disciplinary action taken against prominent professors who signed letter in defence of science

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Ad hoc fallacy

In July 2009, Danish psychic/dowser Connie Sonne was given the chance to prove her claimed dowsing ability in the One Million Dollar Paranormal Challenge offered by the James Randi Educational Foundation. She was asked to dowse some randomly selected cards hidden in envelopes and lost the challenge by selecting other incorrect ones. In an interview afterward, she insisted that she lost merely because, “…it wasn’t time yet for my powers to be revealed.”

The ad hoc fallacy is not strictly an error of logic. Instead, it a fallacious rhetorical tactic in which a person presents a new explanation that is unjustified or simply unreasonable, in an attempt to rescue their original claim after evidence that contradicts it has emerged.

The Latin phrase “ad hoc” is literally translated as meaning “to this”. It refers to an idea or solution that is intended for a specific use, and not for any other uses. An ad hoc explanation is specifically constructed to be used in a particular case and is created hastily at the moment rather than being the result of deliberate, fact-based reasoning.

Another example encountered by skeptical investigators is as follows. This is a typical conversation between a supposed psychic who claims to be able to read minds and a skeptic.

Skeptic: “If you’re psychic then tell me what number I am thinking of”                        

Psychic: “My powers don’t work in the presence of skeptics.”

In this example, the fallacious tactic is pretty obvious. The response that their powers don’t work around skeptics is clearly a ridiculous explanation, and it’s an explanation that one would never accept unless one was already convinced that the person was a psychic. Further, it makes it impossible to discredit them no matter how fraudulent they actually are (a lack of falsifiability is a hallmark of ad hoc fallacies).

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