Philbio grad conference

For many years now, the graduate students in my department have hosted an annual graduate conference. This year’s topic is philosophy of biology.

I’ve gotten a lot out of attending over the years. There’s a specified topic, so all the papers are at least peripherally related. There’s only one track, so every speaker gets the attention of all the attendees.

If you are a grad student working in philbio, consider submitting an abstract. If you know a grad student working in philbio, consider nudging them to submit.

Here’s the official call:

The University at Albany Philosophical Association will hold its 13th Annual Graduate Conference on April 4th, 2020. Our topic is Philosophy of Biology, and our Keynote Speaker is Justin Garson (Hunter College, CUNY). The deadline is January 5th.1 We would greatly appreciate it if you would circulate the following call for papers amongst the graduate students in your Department.

https://philevents.org/event/show/77738

Sounds of the season, day 7

This week of posting my favorite holiday songs concludes with one that’s only tenuously a holiday song.

“Greensleeves” has an alternate set of lyrics which are about baby Jesus, making it a Christmas song. But the original lyrics are just more fun to sing, so let’s sing those instead. It has a million verses, but everyone can sing the chorus.

a woodpecker playing a holiday tune

Sounds of the season, day 6

“Good King Wenceslas” (YouTube) is a song I learned in elementary school. The narrative is actually pretty weird. A king’s magical powers are downplayed in favor of extolling charity and sharing.

What sells it for me is the extra verse, which I saw years later in an episode of Phineas&Ferb (Wiki). Buford Von Stomm, in order to establish that he knows the whole story, gives us this:

The words were by an English guy.
The music, Scandinavian.
Wenceslas was five-foot-six.
He kept his face unshaven.
Though just a duke throughout his life,
He always ruled so justly
His kingly title was conferred
Upon him posthumously.

Sounds of the season, day 4

“I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day” (Wikipedia/YouTube) is a pretty song. No schmaltzy holiday tune, it reflects terrible darkness. You wouldn’t know it from most renditions, though, because they skip the dire middle verses. The version by Echosmith that I link to has the full lyrics in the comments, but they replace the dark bits in the performance with a jaunty instrumental transition.

Then from each black, accursed mouth
The cannon thundered in the South,
And with the sound
The carols drowned
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

It was as if an earthquake rent
The hearth-stones of a continent,
And made forlorn
The households born
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

a pig playing a fife

Sounds of the season, day 3

“Fuck you if you don’t like Christmas” (YouTube) is a bit Not Safe For Work, but all the NSFWness is in the title. It makes you wonder whether you like that Panama is an isthmus, which is something I never even thought about having an opinion on before.

“We need different stuff in the economy now, things are changing. … You can’t just think of yourself. Just this one time, because it’s Christmas.”

Above all that, it hangs together. And it’s catchy.

a woodpecker playing a holiday tune

Sounds of the season, day 2

“The Boar’s Head” (Wikipedia/YouTube) can be made very subtle and pretty, as in the arrangement I’ve linked to, but at bottom it’s a silly song. Written half in Latin doggerel, it begs to be belted out with gusto: “Let us servire cantico!

My wife’s family had printed packets of sheet music, so singing carols always meant picking from the ones in the book. When she moved to Albany, we went on-line to look for sheet music. Sending links back and forth, we sang from our open laptops. This led to us discovering lots of great holiday songs, but The Boar’s Head is perhaps my favorite.

Blair Thornburgh isn’t far from the mark in calling it “Almost the absolute best carol ever written.”

a boar carrying a tray of food

Sounds of the season, day 1

Last year I started to write a post about my favorite holiday songs. I didn’t get past listing the titles of seven of them. Inspired by the book week thing, I’ve decided to make it seven posts this year.

I first heard “Fairytale of New York” (Wikipedia/YouTube) as a teenager, because my brother was a huge Pogues fan.It has some lovely musical juxtapositions while still being something you can sing-along to. I understand that it’s a huge thing in the UK, so much so that not hearing it is a challenge on the scale of Whammageddon.1

a woodpecker playing a tune

The end of revolutions

The last meeting of my Scientific Revolutions course was Monday. Following my usual last-day schtick, I put them in groups to reflect on what the course had been about. To give some context, here’s the blurb for the course:

Thomas Kuhn introduced the notion of a “paradigm shift,” something that has become part of our general vocabulary, and his 1962 book The Structure of Scientific Revolutions marked a shift in the way that people think about science. This course begins with the state of science studies before Kuhn: the way that historians, sociologists, and philosophers thought about science. Then it takes a close look at Kuhn’s landmark book. Finally, it explores some of the reactions and consequences that Kuhn’s work had for science studies.1

Their discussions start out with long, careful sentences. After enough of that, just for fun, I ask them to distill it down to a slogan or bumpersticker. Suggestions included “Elaborate yet absurd philosophical ideas” and “Philosophers; they have ideas about science”.

Continue reading “The end of revolutions”

Kantian hustle

Reading an interview with Mark Johnston, I learned a fact that I can’t believe I didn’t know before: As a student, Immanuel Kant made money as a pool shark. Johnston gives this extended quote from one of Kant’s university friends:

Kant’s only recreation was playing billiards… [He] had nearly perfected [his] game, and rarely returned home without some winnings. As a consequence, persons refused to play with [him], and [he] abandoned this source of income, and chose instead L’Hombre, which he played well.

Continue reading “Kantian hustle”