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.

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The mysterious island

Deep within these grooves of Academe,
In quiet cubicles, white and bare,
Hunched homunculi strain and labor
(Like monks of old in cloistered cells
Balancing angels on needles’ points)
At tasks bizarre with tools outrageous
Through days and nights of anguish unrelenting.

Edith Eliot1
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Measuring influence

At The Splintered Mind, Eric Schwitzgebel gives what he describes as “a rough measure of current influence in … ‘mainstream Anglophone philosophy’.” His method starts with citations in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Considering only authors born after 1900, he tallies up the number of distinct articles in which they are cited.

The highly-influential Hilary Putnam is cited in 168 articles. Using that to ostensively define a unit, identify that as 1 Putnam of influence.

Putnam is in third place on the list, behind WVO Quine (1.14 Putnams of influence) and David Lewis (1.59 Putnams).

The inevitable vanity search and a little math reveals that I have 77.4 milliPutnams of influence.1 Should I be chuffed about that? Can I put it on my CV?

Blogs come and go

There’s also the general cultural shift from blogs to social media.

Jenny Saul

The pull quote is from the announcement that the Feminist Philosophers blog is shutting down. It had a good run, but it’s sad to see it go.

Imagine some kind of segue here.

My colleague Monika Piotrowska wrote a recent post for the Blog of the APA about the possibility of de-extinction. Last week I complimented her on the post, and she expressed surprise that I’d seen it. I still do the old-school thing of using an RSS reader to follow blogs that I care about.

Saul is right, though. Lots of things that would have been on a blog a decade ago are now Tweeted or Facebooked. This post could drift off into maudlin reflection, dismay at the state of culture, or references to Marshall McLuhan. But I’m not going to do it. 🙄

If you’re looking for an RSS reader, I highly recommend The Old Reader. It was founded after Google torpedoed GoogleReader, and the founders were programmers who just wanted something that had the same basic functionality. They subsidize it with a Premium option, but the free account will aggregate up to 100 blogs. I’m using only about two-thirds of that.

Pedagogy and the early modern syllabus

Ruth Boeker’s syllabus for teaching early modern philosophy is featured today at the Blog of the APA.

Ruth was a visiting assistant professor here in Albany several years ago, and her current practice reflects things she did here. Our campus teaching center has been a big promoter of Team-Based Learning for many years. She first encoutnered it here and recommends, as further reading on TBL for anyone interested, a pair of articles written by our local experts. (One of whom is Philosophy PhD alum Kimberly Van Orman.)

So, yay! Cheers to all.

Fallacies: Narcissan, pleonastic, and unnatural deceleration

Since February 1999, I’ve had a web page about fallacies. Rather than regurgitating all of the usual ones that one can find elaborated in critical thinking textbooks, I collect fallacies which an author names for just one occasion. These one-offs don’t appear on the usual lists. Authors usually do this to condemn some specific target, one who has committed not some generic error in reasoning but the specific if newly-named fallacy of such-and-so.

Prompted by John Holbo at Crooked Timber, I’ve added three new specimens. One is coined tongue-in-cheek by Holbo himself to mock a book review by David Bentley Hart, and the other two are coined by Hart in his would-be hatchet job on Daniel Dennett’s book From Bacteria to Bach and Back.

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Shagg Carpet would be a good name for a Shaggs cover band

via The New Yorker, I learn that the outsider rock band The Shaggs recently had a reunion just down the road from me. Writer Howard Fishman asks

Was it fair to even call this band the Shaggs? Or was it, rather, a Shaggs cover band providing a live karaoke soundtrack for the Wiggins to sing along with?

As someone who once judged a contest in which contestants tackled the question of whether a band can be its own cover band, I can’t let this pass as just a rhetorical question.

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Two links about AI

There are some articles that I read and think I ought to blog about that. Then I realize that I basically have. So this is basically a link dump kind of post.

Link #1: Geoffrey Hinton cautions that deep learning is not especially deep

I’ve written some posts about the glitzy fad for “deep learning”. It has the same strengths and weaknesses it had when it traveled under the less-shiny banner of “back-propagation neural networks”.

Link #2: Efforts to understand the bias inherent in algorithms

Procedures that are superficially objective can encode bias. I don’t have anything deep to say here, but I’ve blogged about it before.