Let slip the dogs of logic

My open access logic textbook, forall x, has been forked into numerous custom editions. This means that problem sets which I wrote years ago have been picked up and adapted.

The formal exercises are not especially distinctive, but the exercises translating from English into formal logic are about specific topics. Some of these were arbitrary inventions, like the sentences about Eli and Francesca who might or might not be bringing guacamole to a potluck. Guacamole was salient to me when I was writing the book, but I think I chose Eli and Francesca just because they started with E and F.

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Avoiding books like the plague

Back in March, when lockdown started, I made one trip to the office to pick up things I needed to run my courses from home. I also picked up my copy of Albert Camus’ The Plague. It’s had been years since I’d read it, and I started reading a little bit in the morning with my coffee.

To be blunt, it was putting me in a sour mood.

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The persistence of realism

When someone cites one of my old papers, I get a notification. And I’m always surprised to see from responses to papers that I wrote a decade or more ago that parts of the scientific realism debate are going on in roughly the same terms that they’ve been going on for 40 years. Realism is taken to be the commitment that we should believe in unobservable posits of our best scientific theories, like electrons— alternately, that our best theories are probably at least approximately true.1

Lots of the debate seems to rely on treating realism as if it’s committed to finalism and overconfidence.

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Some days you need snarky animals

Over the summer, I recommended some long-form narrative webcomics. However, my greatest comics love has always been stand-alone funny comics.

Reza Farazmand’s Poorly Drawn Lines regularly makes me laugh out loud.1 There are some recurring characters, but no plot to speak of. There aren’t punch lines so much as perverse situations that escalate into absurdity.

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Science journalism and the experimenter’s regress

The dialectic of science journalism, especially as refracted through social media, is to begin with the overenthusiastic claim “Study proves P.” Within a couple of days, the antithesis: “Study shows nothing of the kind, and anyway not-P.” Then there’s a storm, a cute puppy, or racism, and the matter is never resolved in a progressive synthesis.

Take the recent specimen of a study on the effectiveness of various kinds of face mask. Coverage popped up in my feeds from numerous friends.1 Most people took away the lesson that gaiters were worse than no face mask at all.

Yesterday, Slate ran the antithesis under the headline For All We Know, Gaiter Masks Are Fine.

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Mousetraps and kinds

In a recent paper, Nicholas Smith responds to Michael Bruno and J.M. Fritzman’s response to him about group belief. Smith, contra his critics, argues that two things’ performing the same function might be no reason at all to think that they’re the same kind of thing.1 This is a post about the work that kinds are doing in his argument.

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Justice for goblins

Over at Aesthetics for Birds, Rebecca Scott posts about using D&D for teaching ethics. The activity sounds awesome. What struck me as relevant to my teaching, though, was something Scott writes about course design.

Typically when instructors plan courses, they are taught to use what’s called “backwards design.” You start with the learning outcomes (what you want students to know or be able to do by the end of the class) and then work backwards to design the activities and pick the readings that are most likely to help students achieve those outcomes. And while backwards design is an important element of good course design, if it becomes too all-encompassing as a pedagogical frame, it can close off generative possibilities in the classroom. Backwards design puts the instructor in the position of determining from the outset what the goals of the class are as well as how students will get there.

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Ongoing, young, odd

Here’s another post of webcomic recommendations. The loose thread connecting these is that they are ongoing comics about young people in odd situations, for some values of ongoing, young, and odd.

  • Questionable Content started back in 2003 as a slice-of-life comic with some science fiction elements. I didn’t start reading it until much later, when there were 1000s of comics in the archive. It manages to simultaneously deliver goofy, fun characters and real emotional engagement.
  • Dumbing of Age has been running since 2010, but David Willis had a number of earlier comics that covered similar ground. This started out as a reboot of his series of comics which began as a college slice-of-life comic, turned into an interdimensional government conspiracy comic, and then turned into a comic about working at a toy store. The current run began with students starting at college and hasn’t added any of the science fiction elements. The characters take on a new life, so appreciating it doesn’t require looking back at any of Willis’ earlier work.1
  • Monster Pulse by Magnolia Porter is about kids who have bodily organs turned into magical monsters. It’s a comic with heart.2 The story is drawing to a close, so it’s close to belonging in the completed epics post.