My Top 7 Scholars

My top 7 scholars: Donald Davidson. Reading “On the Very Idea of a Conceptual Scheme” is still one of the high points of my philosophic career. I was a pretty naive cognitive relativist in college when I read this essay and it convinced me then and still convinces me now that humans share much more intellectual and cognitive background than not. Thomas Kuhn. The Structure of Scientific Revolutions altered my perception of science and forced me to question my belief in a naive, progressivist narrative of scientific development.

Remembering Apollo - 40 Years Later

I wasn’t alive when Apollo 11 reached the moon forty years ago today. I was alive for Apollo 16 and 17 but less than a year old so my memories are dim. I do remember reading The High Road by Ben Bova from 1981 and dreaming of becoming an astronaut. That dream was never fulfilled and I’ve become less infatuated with space travel as I’ve aged. That seems sad. I don’t see many signs of optimism for the future of mankind today.

Just How Long Ago Was the Civil War?

I heard a story on All Things Considered this afternoon about a book that was returned to Washington and Lee University in Virginia, 145 years after it was stolen. Let’s see 2009-145 = 1864. That’s nearing the end of the American Civil War. The Battle of Gettysburg took place July 1-3 of 1863. The South surrendered at Appomattox on April 9, 1865. Washington and Lee University is located in Lexington, VA near the western border of Virginia.

Causation, Social Construction, and Relativism

I can feel myself being pulled to the dark side of philosophy through this semester’s classes and readings. I’m starting to think about causality. (mock horror) In my STS class we just finished reading “The Strong Programme in the Sociology of Knowledge” by David Bloor. Bloor lists four conditions for an explanatory theory of science. It must explain the cause of beliefs, be impartial to the truth or falsity of beliefs, be symmetrical and use the same explanatory framework for true and false beliefs, and be reflexive or capable of being applied to sociology as well as science or any other human knowledge seeking/creating endeavor.

Past Extinctions and Global Impacts

Ways of Telling a History

Thinking about the different ways we tell history to each other. A history of people. Biography, Pultarch’s Lives. A history of things. The telegraph, telephone, steam engine, computer. A history of phenomenon. History of ideas: freedom, myth. You can pick a topic and choose to tell it through one of the viewpoints. Listening In, on radio, a thing, tells the story as a phenomenon. A book like iCon about Steve Jobs, tells the story of Apple through a person.

Technological Determinism and the Power of CEOs

A discussion in a recent class about information history and technology swirled around the common theme of technological determinism. It’s a perennial issue for anyone that deals with science and technology studies or the history of technology. On the one side are those who argue that technology drives history, on the other are those who object. A Google search reveals this definition by Daniel Chandler. The technological determinist view is a technology-led theory of social change: technology is seen as ‘the prime mover’ in history.

Theodore Porter on Victorian Scientists

Another extracurricular presentation, this time on Victorian scientists and institutions. The speaker was Theodore Porter from UCLA. He was part of the Science and Technology Studies colloquium here at Michigan. If there is any field of history that I gravitate toward it is science and technology studies. The connection to information science is sometimes tenuous but the philosophical questions about the weight of individuals and institutions are prominent. Porter basically summarized some of his recent work on Karl Pearson and the scientific institutions in Britain during the 19th century.

Existential Threats and Silly Ideas about Genre SF

Charlie Stross gets things going with a post about the dissipated habits of current science fiction. Chad Orzel says not so fast, you foreigner science fiction hasn’t dissipated it’s just been outflanked by wacky internet fads. John Scalzi pipes up with a comment about how American just don’t care what other people think of our politics and John M. Ford tells it like it is - selective futurism. I think something has happened to science fiction and fantasy in the last two decades.

Terrifying Beauty

Tonight’s disquisition is a trip down memory lane, following connections as they come. I watched Sunshine State, a film by John Sayles on Friday night. I frequently forget to mention Sayles when someone asks me about my favorite movies or directors. His work is extremely good, but often understated. He almost always uses an ensemble of characters to create a portrait of a particular place at a particular time. Among his best are Matewan and City of Hope.