Art, Despair, and Virginia Woolf

I’ve been reading To the Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf this summer. It is a wonderful and brilliant piece of art, part of the high modernist literary flowering from the first half of the twentieth century. The style reminds me of Henry James in many places, but with a smoother syntax. The link to James is the focus on internal dialogue, the thoughts that go on inside each of us when we think about our family; Woolf takes that idea and develops it to a fever pitch.

Nina Simon on the Participatory Museum at Walker Art Center

Nina Simon the author of The Participatory Museum and the Museum 2.0 weblog was in the Twin Cities this week to promote her book at an event hosted by the Walker Art Center. I was already at the Walker to give a public tour and decided to stick around and listen to what Nina had to say which was a good decision. Simon spoke for half an hour about her work on encouraging participation by museum goers.

From Cognition in Practice by Jean Lave

Cognition in Practice, by Jean Lave, 1998 “So far I have described a series of dichotomously polarized issues that have sustained limitations on debate between paradigms and disciplines over a considerable period of time. I have yet to describe the sources of the coherence with which the issues reinforce on another. They take their shape, the great divides formed, in terms of a positivist epistemology which specifies a series of assumptions on which they are based: rationality exists as the ideal canon of thought; experimentation can be thought of as the embodiment of this ideal in scientific practice; science is the value-free collection of factual knowledge about the world; factual knowledge about the world is the basis for the formation of scientific theory, not the other way around; science is the opposite of history, the one nomothetic the other ideographic; cognitive processes are general and fundamental, psychology, correspondingly, a nomothetic discipline; society and culture shape the particularities of cognition and give it content, thus sociocultural context is specific, its study ideographic; general laws of human behavior, therefore, must be dissected away from the historical and social obfuscations which give them particularity.

Organizations and Long-Term Design

I just want to juxtapose two recent readings by Charlie Stross and Timothy Burke on organizations and institutions. Burke sets up the problem as the key issue of the twenty-first century. but it really seems to me that the political problem of the 21st Century is not a problem of markets or capitalism, not of the state, not of ideologies or religions, but of institutions and organizations. Loosely speaking, what doesn’t work about government as a whole is also what doesn’t work about a local religious charity.

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.

How Long is a Day? How Heavy is a Kilogram? - In Praise of Metrology

Every once in a while I notice a story about metrology, or the science of measurement, that reminds me how many of our concepts about the world are carefully constructed and contingent. A few months ago I asked just how long ago the civil war was after hearing a story about a book stolen during the civil war and just recently returned. On the scale of a human life or generation the civil war is very recent history and yet America seems to have completely buried it in the past.

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.

Borrow and Leverage - The Language of Money

Listen to the way rich people and poor people describe the same thing and you will start to understand some of the divides in this country. The financial apocalypse has brought different ways of speaking to the forefront of our media and our attention. There are many examples of linguistic difference between rich and poor. For example consider the way we use the words “leverage” and “borrow.” Let’s go the dictionary first to read the definitions.

Bias and Naive Philosophy of Mathematics

Based on another long discussion about rationality and the goals of philosophy. Claim: Everyone is biased therefore a philosophical program to achieve agreement is nonsensical because the biases will never be overcome on philosophical questions. Mathematics has achieved greater agreement than philosophy because it has answered basic questions, such as 2+2=4, while philosophy has failed to answer basic questions of any kind - witness the continued argument about philosophical questions.

The Decade that Sucked

It’s 2009 and I’m ready to declare the 2000s as a decade that sucked. It started with the 2000 election fiasco. Then 9-11, the rush to war in Iraq, the Enron scandal, the Dean scream, and now the economic crisis. The U.S. income distribution grew increasingly unfair throughout the decade. The real estate bubble grew to such extreme levels that it brought down the entire world economy. What really annoys me is that it all was so obvious.