Saturday readings

As I’ll be out much of the day, slurping down pho and other Vietnamese goodies, I’ll just mention two books that I’m reading (this is also a time for you to recommend books) and then give a list of four or five articles I’ve read recently that might interest you. All the screenshots will link to the pieces.

What I’m reading now. I usually do one book at a time, but I am now reading two, and am about 2/3 of the way through both of them.

First, this one, for I am a sucker for the Courtier’s Reply. It doesn’t say much beyond what Goff’s papers say: panpsychists tend to use the same arguments over and over again, perhaps hoping that repetition will convince people that materialism—I call it “naturalism”—is wrong and that every particle on Earth has some form of consciousness. I haven’t yet bought the theory, and can’t imagine that I will, but I’m puzzled why so many people, including Annaka Harris and Philip Pullman (they blurbed Goff’s book) find it alluring. To me panpsychism is a religion, not science, and not even wrong.

Nevertheless, I am persisting. There’s a new breed of philosopher, of which Goff is one, who, irked by the advances of science (in his case, neuroscience), try to mount a defense that the truth about nature (in his case, the origin of consciousness), can be found by rumination alone without any need to consult nature or do experiments. They are wrong.

Below: a much better book. Having read several biographies of T. E. Lawrence (“Lawrence of Arabia”), watched the eponymous movie several times (one of the best films of all time!), and read Lawrence’s uneven Seven Pillars of Wisdom, I am a sucker for any material on Lawrence. I admire him because he was both a scholar and a man of action, which reminds me that that is what I should have been but wasn’t.

This book, a bestseller, diverges from normal Lawrence biography because it sets his activities within the politics and battles of World War I in Arabia, and also has two other main characters, Aaron Aaronsohn and William Yale). It’s also extremely well written but also minutely researched, with a lot of material I didn’t know. I recommend it highly if you’re into this period of history:


Now: recommended reading (click on screenshots):

In the Spectator Douglas Murray recommends four works that every free-speech advocate should read. It’s a very short piece.

Reader Rick sent this article from The Big Think. While it’s a tad self-congratulatory, and I don’t know most of the research cited, it at least gives us some ammunition to counter the claim that atheists are nihilistic people lacking a moral foundation.

The much demonized and often de-platformed Heather Mac Donald has a good piece in Quillette decrying Yale’s elimination of its Introduction to Fine Art course, which has been deep-sixed as a required course and then revamped to be a woke course. (Mac Donald took the course when she was an undergraduate English major at Yale.) In January I wrote about Yale’s abominable act.

Yale is becoming a school to make fun of, for its administrators are so woke that they’re destroying the school’s quality in order to flaunt its supposed virtue. (h/t: Luana).

An excerpt, which scares me about my own university (my emphasis):

The one-sided subjection of Western civilization to the petty tyranny of identity politics will only worsen. Yale is one of four universities to have received a $4 million grant to infuse the theme of race into every aspect of humanities teaching and scholarship. Brown, the University of Chicago, and Stanford are the other recipients of that Andrew W. Mellon Foundation bequest. (The Mellon Foundation, once a supporter of apolitical humanities scholarship, has been captured by the identitarian Left.) Race, Yale announced in its press release about the Mellon grant, is critically important and indisputably central to the humanities.

Actually, it is not. The humanities are about matters far more compelling than the trivialities of race, which in any case we are supposed to believe is not even real. For centuries, poets, painters, novelists, and architects sought to express essential truths about the human condition. Race may have played a role in a few classic works, such as Othello or The Heart of Darkness, but it was hardly “central” to the entire tradition. Those who seek to make it so do so in the pursuit of political grievance, not scholarly accuracy.

Some students know better, however. Once word got out that this year would be the curtain call for the two introductory Western art courses, students stampeded to enroll. Though the courses were not in fact a required gateway into the study of art history, it would have been perfectly appropriate to make them so. The primary obligation of education is to pass on a particular civilization’s cultural inheritance with love and gratitude. Yale, like nearly every other college today, has lost the will to do so. It has therefore negated its very reason for being.

And for fun (and historical interest in Honorary Cats®, we have this article from Atlas Obscura sent by reader Don:

If you want to see Ben Franklin’s poem on the ex-squirrel, go here.

There are some nice illustrations, too, like this Portrait of a Lady with a Squirrel and a Starling by Hans Holbein:

And a bonus video just in from reader Bryan. Mark Rober, the videomaker, tries all kind of plant-based burgers (“Impossible burgers”) and then serves them to Bill Gates (he likes them). I have to say: this makes me want to try these things. This video has been up only 3 days and currently has nearly 7 million views!


  1. Posted February 15, 2020 at 11:06 am | Permalink

    I do want to try some vegan burgers while I’m here in the US, but they’re like double the price of a normal burger. Back in Hong Kong, they’re about the same price.


    • C.
      Posted February 15, 2020 at 12:33 pm | Permalink

      I would like to try the impossible burger at Burger King but I don’t trust the people hired for fast food jobs to give me the correct non-meat burger. The last time I went to a Royals baseball game I ordered a vegetarian hotdog and was served a regular meat hotdog by the dimwit at the counter. I’ll just stick to peanuts from now on, and cook my own vegetarian burgers and dogs at home.

      • Harrison
        Posted February 15, 2020 at 12:38 pm | Permalink

        The Impossible patty has a pretty distinct (but not unpleasant) taste that’s pretty easy to distinguish from the normal Whopper. I actually think it tastes a little better and is probably the first veggie burger I’ve ever liked.

        • Mark R.
          Posted February 15, 2020 at 4:01 pm | Permalink

          I’ve wondered about the Impossible burger, but don’t know anyone who has tried it. Glad to know you liked it. I looked up the calories for it though, and they were really high, so I’d refrain. I get the “morning star” brand burgers in the frozen section and they’re good. I’m not a vegetarian, but don’t always eat meat.

        • Stephen
          Posted February 16, 2020 at 1:39 pm | Permalink

          Tried one out of curiosity. Pleasantly surprised. However I researched the ingredients and saw there is a lot of potato starch in them to create the texture. That puts them in league with the low-fat/high carbs (i.e. added starches) and sugar/HFCS foods of the past 40-50 years that kickstarted the Type II Diabetes and Obesity problems. Just because it isn’t meat may mean they’re healthier for the environment but not for the human body.

          • ThyroidPlanet
            Posted February 16, 2020 at 3:56 pm | Permalink

            “Just because it isn’t meat may mean they’re healthier for the environment but not for the human body.”

            That is precisely what is claimed in Rober’s video, on the basis of saturated fat alone.

      • Diana MacPherson
        Posted February 15, 2020 at 12:51 pm | Permalink

        I find with those impossible burgers that they put garlic in them and garlic wreaks havoc on my digestive system. I’m starting to suspect I may be a vampire.

        • GBJames
          Posted February 15, 2020 at 1:01 pm | Permalink

          What makes you say they have garlic in them? It isn’t listed as an ingredient, unless it is part of “natural flavors”.

          • Diana MacPherson
            Posted February 15, 2020 at 1:23 pm | Permalink

            Yes they often don’t list garlic powder and such. A person in an IBS group contacted one of the establishments that make said impossible burger and they confirmed garlic powder.

            • GBJames
              Posted February 15, 2020 at 1:47 pm | Permalink


              (That people at restaurants that prepare food would actually know. I doubt their info is any richer than the ingredients labeling.)

        • C.
          Posted February 15, 2020 at 1:09 pm | Permalink

          I’ve had a brand of vegetarian burger that was very much the same. My house was absolutely reeking of garlic and I was not suitable for polite company following consumption of said comestible. I’m not a vampire but if I feel the urge to eat that again I would do well to make friends with anosmics.

      • Historian
        Posted February 15, 2020 at 1:20 pm | Permalink

        At what type of restaurant, if any, would you have the courage to risk making an order with your anxiety reduced enough so that you won’t fear being served or your food cooked by a dimwit?

        • C.
          Posted February 15, 2020 at 4:25 pm | Permalink

          I feel slightly safer if they have a menu with actual words, not just pictures of the food. At the very least, no cartoon mascot. I got a salad at McDonalds just after becoming a vegetarian. I requested no meat, so they withheld the chicken but added bacon bits. At Chipotle, I ask for a vegetarian burrito and they typically ask “what kind of meat?” although they’re probably just on autopilot. But frankly, most people are so stupid that when you tell them your a vegetarian they say something like “so, you don’t eat meat? What about chicken? But you eat fish, right? That’s not meat. And lobster, you eat seafood, don’t you?”

      • Posted February 15, 2020 at 2:05 pm | Permalink

        and cook my own vegetarian burgers and dogs at home.

        If ever there was a case study for the use of the apostrophe to indicate omitted letters, this is it (the omitted letters being h, o and t).

        • C.
          Posted February 15, 2020 at 4:14 pm | Permalink

          Vegetarian dog meat, hell, why not. Or fake horse meat. IKEA could put it in the meat balls and Sainsbury’s in the lasagna.

  2. Posted February 15, 2020 at 11:09 am | Permalink

    If you have read Philip Pullman’s “Dark Materials” trilogy, or the first two books of the prequel/sequel trilogy “Book of Dust”, you won’t be surprised that he is an adherent of panpsychism. The “dust” in his novels – which I love, without forgetting that they are fantasy novels – is essentially the ubiquitous conscious stuff of the universe. Indeed, in the novels, excessive rationality and naturalism are clearly perceived as an undesirable failure
    of imagination.

  3. Posted February 15, 2020 at 11:18 am | Permalink

    “It doesn’t say much beyond what Goff’s papers say: panpsychists tend to use the same arguments over and over again, …”

    How else would he get it up to book length?

  4. Randall Schenck
    Posted February 15, 2020 at 11:29 am | Permalink

    Before I start reading some of the articles in the post, I will suggest one on health care:

    And a couple of new books I am reading – One History on G. Washington, You Never Forget Your First, by Alexis Coe and female historian and a new one by Andrew Bacevich, The Age of Illusions. Bacevich is a military historian.

  5. Lollipop
    Posted February 15, 2020 at 11:39 am | Permalink

    Panpsychists are right about one thing: materialism and naturalism probably cannot explain the existence of consciousness as we think it. But who said they should? There is no such thing as consiousness, at least not as we think of it.

    Consciousness appears to be something different from a brain function, but it is actually nothing more than a brain function. If we are convinced that it’s something different, then our brain is just wrong about it (but maybe that false conviction can itself be adaptive). Panpsychists think there is this spooky thing inside us that we call consciousness, made of qualitative and intrinsic states. But the materialist’s best hope (à la Dennett) is that there isn’t any such thing, and that the only things worth explaning are our false convictions about our own consciousness.

    • David Evans
      Posted February 15, 2020 at 5:52 pm | Permalink

      …”our false convictions about our own consciousness.”

      Who or what has those false convictions?

    • Posted February 17, 2020 at 12:57 pm | Permalink

      Actually, I would say that the argument from “experience” like that of F. Jackson and company would be fallacious *even granting dualism* or even panpsychism. Churchland (one of them) made this point years ago.

      In fact, as he points if you assume that we do not have indefinite sensiry resolution, an experientially unanalyzable item is precisely what one would expect!! (And this is true regardless of the “stuff”.

  6. norm walsh
    Posted February 15, 2020 at 11:51 am | Permalink

    Just finished Midnight at Chernobl while lounging in Maui. (many thanks to someone here who recommended it) Also just finished Arthur C Clarke’s The songs of distant earth for the third time.The man was a genius.

    • chrism
      Posted February 16, 2020 at 7:14 am | Permalink

      Mike Oldfield’s album inspired by Songs of Distant Earth is a very pleasant listen.

  7. Posted February 15, 2020 at 11:55 am | Permalink

    In a few years European descendants will be a minority in America. Western civilization will not be dominant and will not be the country’s culture to be taught and passed down to the next generation. What we are seeing now is just the beginnings.

    I read Lawrence in Arabia a few years ago. Very enlightening history.

    • Historian
      Posted February 15, 2020 at 12:46 pm | Permalink

      Do you assume that a civilization or a culture is somehow genetic? Do you assume that people from other cultures cannot evolve and adopt the culture of their host country? History casts doubt on these assumptions. What attributes of western civilization are you so afraid of losing? Do you not understand that so-called western civilization is the result of the movements of people over many centuries, each with different cultures? Perhaps you do not realize how aligned you are with the “woke” culture. As them, you reject the traditional American notion of a melting pot, which posits that the greatness of America comes from people of different cultures and backgrounds mixing together the best of their prior cultures to form a unique American culture, which beckoned people from all over the world to come to our shores.

      Your viewpoint is nothing more than disguised white nationalism.

      • Randall Schenck
        Posted February 15, 2020 at 1:20 pm | Permalink

        It is the same kind of thinking from those who believe American History is not necessary because it is all about slavery and segregation. This is why we have white nationalist today who think as they did in the 19th century the only thing to do after slavery was to ship them somewhere else. When in fact, the history of the African American goes back further than most of the European immigration. If only the longest history matters then much of white American history would put us on the boats going out.

      • Alexander
        Posted February 15, 2020 at 2:47 pm | Permalink

        “Your viewpoint is nothing more than disguised white nationalism.”

        So the recent prohibition of doctors in Belgium to issue virginity certificates is “white nationalism?”

      • Posted February 15, 2020 at 3:23 pm | Permalink

        Indeed. Plenty to criticise about woke culture and identity politics, but nothing throws a spanner in the cognitive works like the term “Western”.

  8. Diana MacPherson
    Posted February 15, 2020 at 12:11 pm | Permalink

    I fear for our culture & our society.

    • C.
      Posted February 15, 2020 at 1:17 pm | Permalink

      I’ve given up on our culture and society. I fear for the remnants of living things we temporarily and begrudgingly share this planet with. I hold out hope for the microbes alone, who may feast upon our flesh and bones and greedily as we have upon the rest of our biological brethren. You may say that I’m a dreamer, but you’d be wrong. I’m a misanthropist through and through.

      • Diana MacPherson
        Posted February 15, 2020 at 1:24 pm | Permalink

        I think the termites will be ok.

        • loren russell
          Posted February 15, 2020 at 2:25 pm | Permalink

          …assuming that their gut bacteria and protozoa evolve a knack for cracking plastics.

          as for the oceans, my money is on jellyfish.

        • Mark R.
          Posted February 15, 2020 at 3:30 pm | Permalink

          I remember reading this theory back in the 80’s when the alien abduction craze was peaking. One commonality these “aliens” seemed to have was an insect appearance and coordinated actions that revealed a hive-mind. So the thinking went that everything on the planet eventually dies except termites or ants. Fast forward a billion years and these insects evolved into intelligent beings, figured out time travel and started visiting earth’s past and abducting its people.

          I don’t know why I still remember that silliness. I will admit reading Communion back then and it freaked me out; oh to be young and credulous. Now I chuckle.

  9. John Dmytrenko
    Posted February 15, 2020 at 12:14 pm | Permalink

    I just finished Blueprint by Nicholas Christakis. Definitely recommend

  10. Posted February 15, 2020 at 12:28 pm | Permalink

    I’ve had the Impossible Whopper many times. I pronounce it good, and I really don’t notice a significant difference from the regular item except it costs a bit more.

  11. GBJames
    Posted February 15, 2020 at 12:44 pm | Permalink

    I eat Impossible and Beyond burgers all the time. And I’ve found that making chili with Beyond’s fake burgers is quite convincing. I haven’t eaten real beef for thirty years but I remember the taste well and these new substitutes are far tastier than traditional meat replacements.

  12. Randall Schenck
    Posted February 15, 2020 at 12:49 pm | Permalink

    The articles were all good. Particularly liked the short one on free speech. When you start out with Milton and Mills you can’t go wrong. Had no idea that squirrels use to be such a popular pet.

  13. C.
    Posted February 15, 2020 at 12:50 pm | Permalink

    I’m finally trying to read The Bell Curve by Herrnstein and Murray. It’s a bit tough for someone like me without much of a background in stats (all the more reason to think it’s many detractors have never actually read the damn thing). Tough it may be but anything that pisses off the social justice wankers enough to react with violence must be worth reading…all 845 pages of it, text, appendices, notes, and bibliography.

    I am eagerly awaiting the arrival of the new Bernd Heinrich book, White Feathers: the Nesting Lives of Tree Swallows.

    And in the queue, recent purchases: Ideas and Opinions by a certain A. Einstein, picked up yesterday for less than a fiver, Dinosaurs Without Bones, by Anthony J. Martin, about ichnology, and Things to Make and Do in the Fourth Dimension, by Matt Parker (of Numberphile and Festival of the Spoken Nerd fame and creator of the eponymous Parker Square). Some old, some new, some in between.

  14. Posted February 15, 2020 at 12:54 pm | Permalink

    TE Lawrence’s life is as pertinent as ever, regarding those crucial events that have lead us to the sad state of affairs in that region. For a great insight on what got him there, I recommend The Young Lawrence by Anthony Sattin.

  15. Jon Gallant
    Posted February 15, 2020 at 12:54 pm | Permalink

    Heather MacDonald’s very sharp Quillette article on Yale was truly dismaying. The puzzle, for me, is the existence of the academics—in the Art Department itself—who go along with the now trendy denigration of Western art and civilization. How did this pose become so fashionable? Is this mysterious trend just one of several symptoms of the decadence of the West?

  16. Posted February 15, 2020 at 1:18 pm | Permalink

    Goff’s book sounds interesting, I think I might have had a few friends discuss atoms having some form of consciousness. Honestly, when I think about it, I think of Pocahontas singing colors of the wind and touching the trees and rocks.

    Also, I don’t like when people think that all atheists must be immoral due to our disbelief in god. I still help people, I still take care of myself and my family. To me, it’s rude to think that we can’t do well just because we don’t believe in a god.

  17. JezGrove
    Posted February 15, 2020 at 1:33 pm | Permalink

    I’ve just finished reading To Kill the Truth by Sam Bourne (the pen name of Guardian writer Jonathan Freedland), which was a recent gift from WEIT reader Dom. The plot involves the elimination of historians, holocaust survivors, and major libraries around the world against the backdrop of a charismatic right-wing activist’s libel case brought after he was branded a “slavery denier”. Fairly airport page-turnerish in places, but some interesting ideas about the role and meaning of history – and an excellent monologue from a Steve Bannonesque former White House insider about why Trump’s base will stick with him regardless of any “facts” about him or anything else.

  18. davelenny
    Posted February 15, 2020 at 1:34 pm | Permalink

    Recently finished reading The First Soldier: Hitler as Military Leader, which provides a useful corrective to the post-1945, self-serving memoirs and historical studies by German generals, a coherent explanation of his actions, partly rehabilitates him as a rational politician and wartime leader with rational aims rather than a bug-eyed madman, and succinctly incorporates quite a lot of modern historical scholarship.

    In case anyone has misinterpreted the first paragraph, the book is NOT a defence of Hitler’s morality.

  19. rickflick
    Posted February 15, 2020 at 1:52 pm | Permalink

    I’m looking forward to my first fake burger. I almost never eat burgers. An occational steak on the grill, but mostly chicken. So, I won’t be saving the planet by eating fake beef, but I want to try it anyway. Let’s see what science can do.

  20. merilee
    Posted February 15, 2020 at 1:53 pm | Permalink

    I read Lawrence in Arabia a few years ago and thought it was excellent! Scott Anderson and his brother, John Lee Anderson, both write eloquently about a myriad of topics, current and historical.

    Finally about halfway through biologist Sean Carroll’s The Serengeti Rules, which I would highly recommend. Also Michael Lewis’s The Undoing Project and Salman Rushdie’s Quichotte. Still happily trudging through vol 2 of A la Recherche (Proust).

    • Posted February 15, 2020 at 3:09 pm | Permalink

      I’m re-reading Rushdie’s 1001 Nights book — one of his most entertaining, and I’d bet easiest to read. (There’s a few which I haven’t read yet.)

  21. Posted February 15, 2020 at 2:05 pm | Permalink

    Colin Woodward has a number if books out on history of our country’s origins. I have read two of them.

    On Thursday someone on this dire called me transphobic snd today I was called white nationalist and worse,

    I think I am having a
    good week. People are reading and responding to my comments.

    If allowed, I also highly recommend my books which are for sale on Amazon. Search under Ernest Harben.

  22. Posted February 15, 2020 at 2:05 pm | Permalink

    I am going through ‘Faith and FACT’ for the second time, and am struck by the ‘respect’ for philosophy. It is probably time to treat most modern philosophy with the same attitude as religion. In Feynman’s words, philosophy is ‘secular religion’. It is mostly ‘made up’ which is what religions are. So why are so many ‘accommodating’ philosophy. Just like religion was before Darwin, philosophy has a tremendous hold and respect still in universities and other institutions around the planet. And it will take the same time and troubles to get rid of philosophy … yet when do we start? Some scientist like Darwin to decently examine all of human history to show how philosophy itself is nothing but ‘made up’ stuff? Like religion was? We need a respectful scientists to do just that … get rid of philosophy.

    • Posted February 15, 2020 at 5:38 pm | Permalink

      Why can’t this site allow editting of obvious typing misteaks ?? Because the ‘need a respectful scientists’ will be glanced at by maybe no one else but me, and then relegated to the dumpster of computer land? Otyher sites allow editting … don’t they? So who care?

    • Posted February 17, 2020 at 1:01 pm | Permalink

      Philosophy is just the most general of intellectual fields. Consequently the dividingline between philosophy and the most general of scientific fields as ordinarily understood is arbitrary (challenge: figure out how to make this distinction, if you dispute my contention). However, this boundary effacing only works if you do not grant the mutual contraints that this implies. I personally say “so much the worse for unscientific philosophy” – and to the extent that art is cognitive, “so much the worse for unartistic philosophy” too.

  23. EB
    Posted February 15, 2020 at 2:20 pm | Permalink

    I’m a regular consumer of the Beyond sausage sandwich at Dunkin’. It’s indistinguishable from real meat. A very important step to beating back the climate crisis. I wonder what else science will have in its bag.

  24. ThyroidPlanet
    Posted February 15, 2020 at 3:12 pm | Permalink


  25. ThyroidPlanet
    Posted February 15, 2020 at 3:38 pm | Permalink

    Rober’s video got me excited about the whole problem of meat. I admire how he applies judgement and scrutiny to numbers, food, or graphs – that is, inanimate objects – not people. Indeed, elimination of all animal products might be an exercise in futility. I have been delighted to see these products become available in the grocery stores – especially the Impossible Burger, my preferred burger. My family enjoys all these products.

    Beyond Meat has a number of products, of which the best (IMHO) are Beyond Sausage, Beyond Burger, and Beyond Beef (a “brick”). Beyond Meat gives out $1.00 coupons for each of these products. Usually the cashiers are cool and let me apply multiple coupons to multiple items.

    The discussion is very clear – it shows the next problems as steel and concrete. I quibble about the claim that “heme” “can” be isolated from … plants? The company undoubtedly uses an expression system or fermentation with a genetically engineered plasmid or something – perhaps yeast- to isolate sufficient quantities of soy leghemoglobin – the official ingredient name on the package. It is cloned, and gets an appropriate package label. I’m fine with that but I understand it’s a turn-off for some. The sources of the ingredients might be worth debating, as well as the energy totals compared to beef. Beyond Meat did a study which came out favorable.

    Check the company websites to see which groceries carry it.

    Oh also – Trader Joe’s has a Beyond Burger copy product- Protein Patty (?) – it’s also yummy.

    I don’t work for any of these companies but it’d be fun I think- I’m just a fan, and hope meat eaters enjoy trying these products.

    • GBJames
      Posted February 15, 2020 at 3:47 pm | Permalink

      One wonders what will happen when Memphis Meats finally gets to market with actual lab-grown meat.

      • ThyroidPlanet
        Posted February 15, 2020 at 4:43 pm | Permalink

        I remember learning about Memphis Meats from a comment of yours many posts ago – I guess they’ll be serving it in select restaurants first, and possibly for a long time as a premium product. Looking forward to it.

  26. Mark R.
    Posted February 15, 2020 at 3:55 pm | Permalink

    Last novel I finished was Leviathan Wakes by Corey. I enjoyed every season of HBO’s Expanse so tried out the first book in the series and enjoyed it immensely. I like the space opera genre and this first installment didn’t disappoint. Now I wish I’d bought the box set and saved some money. Thanks to reader Diana MacPherson who said she liked it last time WEIT had a book post. That prompted me to read it sooner than I was planning; glad I did. I find during these trying Trump times a long escapist novel is important for my mental health. 🤪

    Right now I’m reading Malcom Nance’s latest: The Plot to Betray America. I’ve only read one other book about the Trump administration, the 5th Risk, which detailed the ransacking and hollowing out of our government from within. Nance’s book delves into Russia’s influence on Trump and its horrifying implications. Incidentally, I heard Nance on Al Franken’s Sirius XM show earlier today plugging the book. For anyone interested, I’m sure you can get the podcast off Franken’s website. Nance concludes: if Trump wins 2020, it will be America’s last election. I kinda agree, alarmist as that sounds.

  27. Matthew Jenkins
    Posted February 15, 2020 at 3:59 pm | Permalink

    “… found by rumination alone”
    I’m adding that to my list of favourite phrases

  28. Vaal
    Posted February 15, 2020 at 4:51 pm | Permalink

    “but I’m puzzled why so many people, including Annaka Harris and Philip Pullman (they blurbed Goff’s book) find it alluring.”

    I find it somewhat disappointing, as well as puzzling, that both Annaka and Sam Harris seem to lean towards what Dennett terms the “New Mysterians.” Those transfixed by the arguments for the Hard Problem of consciousness. In essence they seem to place a special-leading-like high bar on what could ever explain consciousness, to the degree that it is almost by intuition or fiat impossible for them to accept any explanation. It borders on the No True Scottsman fallacy;

    Mysterian: “Consciousness can not be accounted for by any current theory”

    Dennett: “Here’s a theory accounting for consciousness.”

    Mysterian: “Then what you are explaining isn’t consciousness. TRUE consciousness is mysterious and cannot be accounted for!”

    Like free will, it seems to be something of a battle of intuitions. It’s hard to see how the intuition of a Mysterian could ever be shown to be wrong. Consciousness is so “mysterious” that if the mystery is ever explained, then “it can’t actually be explaining consciousness, which it truly mysterious.” (Or, it has “explained consciousness away, not explained consciousness which is mysterious).

    • Posted February 15, 2020 at 5:30 pm | Permalink

      Consciousness is not mysterious to me. How about explaining it as … a neurological flitting between levels of memory. And then when one ‘remembers’ that you are awake and can recall today’s date, you are ‘not dead yet’.

    • EB
      Posted February 15, 2020 at 5:37 pm | Permalink

      (The term ‘New Mysterians’ originally owes to Owen Flanagan, btw.)

      The mysterian position sits firmly in the Darwinian camp. As evolved creatures with finite brains, it has to be the case that our cognitive abilities can accommodate some structures of mental reasoning, and exclude others; the alternative would be that our brains can find any possible mental structure to be intelligible, placing us among the angels, as Chomsky puts it. Which patterns of thought fall beyond human limits can be surmised based on historical reasons (such as the imperceptible rate of progress on issues like consciousness), but is also subject to empirical investigation (like the work showing that humans can’t understand languages whose grammar is based on linear order).

      • Posted February 17, 2020 at 1:03 pm | Permalink

        The only perennially unsolvable question I know for sure of is: “Are there any perennially unsolvable questions?” (There are lots granted specific other contraints, so this answer is a bit of a joke, but …)

  29. Justin
    Posted February 15, 2020 at 9:21 pm | Permalink

    Re panpsychism, I think a first step in moving the debate forward on a biological basis is establishing whether consciousness is a property of brains or extends down to bacteria. Not that establishing bacterial consciousness would vindicate panpsychism, but the parameters of the debate would be tightened.
    I’m looking forward to reading Arthur Reber’s book “The First Minds”, which argues for bacterial consciousness. A brief review of it below:

  30. Posted February 16, 2020 at 3:55 am | Permalink

    Two books: ‘Our Universe – An Astronomers Guide.’ A beautifully written and explanatory book by Prof Jo Dunckley of Princeton University. With a comment by Jocelyn Bell-Burnell, no les: “Simply superb – beautifully written and very clear”
    ‘Outgrowing God’ by Richard Dawkins. Twelve excellent and often very funny chapters on how we’ve come to be here.
    Enjoy both…! David Milne

  31. chrism
    Posted February 16, 2020 at 7:25 am | Permalink

    I recently finished Curry: A Tale of Cooks and Conquerors by Lizzie Collingham. A few months ago I got serious about making curries properly at home and found this book a delightful and entertaining way of understanding how certain spice mixtures came to India and how they have been adapted. All sorts of cultures came to India, each bringing their own cuisine to the mix, and this book sets out the history and the dishes that developed.
    Incidentally, Lizzie Collingham’s most fascinating food book is The Taste of War: World War 2 and the Battle for Food. An extraordinarily detailed look at how combatant nations coped with food shortages, designed their ration systems etc.

  32. Marlene Zuk
    Posted February 16, 2020 at 11:58 am | Permalink

    OMG, I got on the site to recommend exactly the same book! I was in India for the first time in December and my host suggested it. Very enlightening. The food there was so incredibly diverse that I now feel as if saying I like Indian food is about like saying one likes European food.

    Jerry, you would love this one. (And I’ll have to check out the one on WWII, thanks for that.)

    • Marlene Zuk
      Posted February 16, 2020 at 2:04 pm | Permalink

      Sorry, this was intended to be a response to comment 31, from chrism.

  33. Posted February 17, 2020 at 1:05 pm | Permalink

    My musician friend is working on an art-and-society (or maybe art-and-politics) project, so I am reading the _A Companion to Aesthetics_ from the Blackwell Companions to Philosophy series.

  34. Andrea Kenner
    Posted February 19, 2020 at 4:36 am | Permalink

    When my mom was a child (she was born in 1933), she was bitten on the finger by a neighbor’s pet squirrel. My mom carried a scar from that bite for her whole life.

    I have tried both Impossible Burgers and Beyond Burgers. Didn’t like Impossible, but loved Beyond. Go figure!

    • GBJames
      Posted February 19, 2020 at 9:25 am | Permalink

      I think it is easier to badly prepare an Impossible Burger. At least that’s my experience with restaurant-purchased ones. The Impossible ones are thinner and more prone to being over-cooked, which kind of ruins them, IMO.

      • ThyroidPlanet
        Posted February 19, 2020 at 9:31 am | Permalink

        Oh goodness yes – cook the grocery product at home as rare as you want – it makes a big difference and is not relevant to coliform bacteria.. I like to make large burgers – the restaurant quantities are small.

        • ThyroidPlanet
          Posted February 19, 2020 at 9:59 am | Permalink

          Was hasty – I mean the typical bacteria associated with ground beef SHOULDN’T be in these products.

  35. ThyroidPlanet
    Posted March 1, 2020 at 8:46 am | Permalink

    I just now managed to browse this page on Max Rosen’s site :

    Lots more interesting material there – Steven Pinker refers to this site in lots of his discussion in Enlightenment Now.

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