Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Book Burning Bummer: Bible censored from Banned Books Week documents

This week is Banned Books Week and once again the people who preach to the rest of us about the evils of censorship have averted their eyes to the most banned book of all: The Bible.

As in previous years, the oh so sanctimonious American Library Association has issued their top ten list of most frequently challenged books. But the one book censored by virtually all public schools didn't make the list.

Oh, wait, maybe the longer list of "Banned & Challenged Classics" will mention it in its catalog of 97 such books. But, alas, it is absent.

Surely the "100 most frequently challenged books: 2000-2009" will have it. Nope. Nor does Moses, Luke, or St. Paul make the list of "Most frequently challenged authors of the 21st century." In fact, a complete search of the "2013-2014 Books Challenged or Banned"for the term "Bible" produced the following result:
"0 document(s) with 0 instance(s)" 
Some people will argue that the Bible is not included in these reports because there have been no attempts to actively remove it from libraries or curricula because it is not included in these venues in the first place. So, in other words, it is not to be considered to be "censored" if it has already been successfully banned? Well that's convenient.

What's that word we use when people withhold a term from a document for political reasons? "Cen ...," "Cens ...," Give me a few minutes. I'll remember it.

Monday, September 22, 2014

The Simplicity of God: Objections and Responses

This is a post discussing the objections to Step 2 in the ongoing series setting forth a proof on the simplicity of any unconditioned reality.

Recap


In the First Step of the argument for the existence of God, we established that if there exists any reality, there exists an unconditioned reality. That step established that if anyone asserts that something exists, but denies the existence of an unconditioned reality (i.e., a reality that is utterly independent of any other reality), one is caught in self-contradiction.

The Second Step of the argument establishes than an unconditioned reality, considered in itself, must be 1) without parts, 2) absolutely simple (i.e., it possesses no intrinsic or extrinsic boundaries and has no actual or potential incompatible states with any other reality) and 3) infinite. From the necessarily simple and infinite nature of an unconditioned reality, several other features--eternity, independence of the laws of physics, and immutability--followed.

Can an Unconditioned Reality be Spatial?


The only sustained criticism of the second step concerned the argument that an unconditioned reality cannot be composed of parts. The original post did not define the notion of a part, but a subsequent edit added that definition. The addition of the definition renders the objections raised superfluous. I do believe, however, that a quick reformulation of the argument as it relates to spatial extension will be useful.

Extended Spatial Realities Have Parts


A part is defined as:
any aspect belonging to a reality that is distinct in any way from any other aspect of that reality. (2.1a) 
The question, then, is does a spatial reality necessarily have parts?

If a spatial reality is extended, it has parts. For if A is a spatial reality, it means that some aspect of A has a distinct location from some other aspect of A. If A had no aspects that were distinct in terms of location, A would be a non-extended point. Thus, if a reality is extended, it is composed of parts.

Pure Unconditioned Reality Has No Parts


Can an unconditioned reality be composed of parts? We can distinguish two types of parts: parts upon which a reality depends and parts upon which a reality does not depend. Take a trivial example: my existence currently depends upon my brain. However, my existence does not depend upon my hair. I can go on existing if I shave my head, but I cannot go on existing without my brain. We can break the question down into two parts: can an unconditioned reality have parts upon which it depends? And can an unconditioned reality have parts upon which it does not depend?

An unconditioned reality clearly cannot have parts upon which it depends, for an unconditioned reality cannot be dependent upon any other reality. (1.1 and 1.3) Remember that a reality is defined as broadly as possible: if you can say of x either, "there is an x ..." or "it is not the case there's no such thing as x ...", x is a reality.

Can an unconditioned reality have parts upon which it does not depend? We've left the answer open: possibly it can. However, when we speak of "pure" unconditioned reality or an unconditioned reality considered in itself, we mean the unconditioned reality as it is independent of such parts. Thus, while we leave open the possibility that it might be in some sense true that an unconditioned reality might possess non-essential parts, we speak of unconditioned reality in itself as it is independently of these parts.

(Christians will obviously want to maintain that an unconditioned reality can take on non-essential parts, as it opens the way for the Incarnation.)

We can conclude from the above that an unconditioned reality, considered in itself, does not have parts. Thus, pure unconditioned reality is not spatially extended. (Note that nothing new from Step 2 has been introduced, the premises have just been shuffled to deal specifically with the issue of spatiality.)

What of Non-Extended Spatial Realities?


Yet there is one final possibility: though an unconditioned reality cannot be spatially extended, can it be a non-extended spatial reality? That is, can it be a point? We again answer no; for a non-extended reality to still be spatial, it must be in some way located spatially. It must be here instead of there. 

Yet for this to be true, such a reality depends upon the space in which it can be located here instead of there. A reality that is non-extended and not located in space would be extra-spatial. Thus, such a reality is necessarily conditioned. But no unconditioned reality can be conditioned. Therefore, no unconditioned reality can be a non-extended spatial reality.

We have established that pure unconditioned reality cannot be an extended spatial reality, and it cannot be a non-extended spatial reality. We must conclude, then, that if a reality is unconditioned, it is neither extended, nor located in space. To be neither extended nor located in space is to be extra-spatial. Therefore, a pure unconditioned reality is extra-spatial.

An Alternative Argument for Immutability and Extra-Temporality


Step Two offers an argument for the non-temporality and immutability of any pure unconditioned reality. However, there is an alternative proof that is, to my mind, even more effective.

One could rearrange the immutability and temporality premises and make the argument differently. A reality, to be mutable, must be able to change (by definition). To be able to change, a portion of the reality must be in a state of potentiality—i.e., not x but able to become x. Yet any reality, to exist at all, must be actually in some state. 

Therefore, a reality, to be changeable, must be in some respect actual and in another respect potential. Potentiality and actuality are two distinct aspects of a reality, distinguished by modality. It follows that any mutable reality has parts. But no unconditioned reality, considered in itself, has parts. Thus, no unconditioned reality is mutable. (2.4) 

Now, time is either a reality independent of other realities or an aspect of those realities. No unconditioned reality can have time as a condition. Therefore an unconditioned reality cannot essentially be in time. Nor can time be said to be an aspect of an unconditioned reality in itself, for unconditioned realities, in themselves, do not change. (2.4) An unconditioned reality is non-temporal in the sense that it does not depend upon time, does not change in time, and does not have its own time (in terms of a sequence of states).

Monday, September 15, 2014

Step 3: There Is Only One Unconditioned Reality

In the third step of our series on the existence of God, we turn to the question of whether there can be more than one unconditioned reality. In Step 1, we saw that there must be at least one unconditioned reality. In Step 2, we saw that any unconditioned reality must be absolutely simple, outside space and time, immutable, and infinite. In Step 3, we will show that there is only one unconditioned reality.

Any unconditioned reality must be absolutely simple, without any incompatible states with other realities. (2.10) Thus, if there are multiple unconditioned realities, each must be absolutely simple and none incompatible with any of the others. (2.5 and 2.10) Furthermore, they cannot be distinguished by having different boundaries, for unconditioned realities have no boundaries. (2.5 and 2.10) 

3.1 Unconditioned realities cannot be distinguished by having distinct boundaries.

But this deprives us of any way of distinguishing between different unconditioned realities.

Think of how we distinguish between things. One way to distinguish between iron and posies is that the boundaries of the former give rise to an incompatible state with the latter (inanimate as opposed to animate). Iron is a different kind of thing than a flower. Even among flowers, there are different kinds: posies are distinct from roses. These distinctions in kind arise from distinct boundaries, which gives rise to incompatible states. But we cannot distinguished unconditioned realities this way, for they have neither boundaries nor incompatible states. (2.5 and 2.10)

3.2 There are not multiple kinds of unconditioned realities.

But things of the same kind can have distinct instantiations. Say that one has two iron spheres of precisely the same size. In kind, they are the same. Nevertheless, the spheres still differ by having distinct physical boundaries: one is here, another there. Furthermore, they differ by being made of up different materials. One has these atoms, another those. Yet we cannot distinguish unconditioned realities this way, for they are not in space (2.2), nor are they material, for then they would be conditioned by the materials. (This is just another way of saying they lack boundaries.) But distinct instantiations are distinct by virtue of being in different places, composed of different entities, or otherwise having distinct boundaries. Thus we can conclude:

3.3 There are not multiple instantiations of unconditioned realities.

Yet we know that there is at least one unconditioned reality. (1.10) Thus we can conclude:

3.4 There is only one unconditioned reality.

The basic tenets of theism is that there exists a reality that is one, that is unlimited by space or time, that is eternal and immutable, absolutely simple, infinite, is unlimited by the laws of physics, and is the continuous creator of all other realities. 

You will have noticed a certain pattern: at this point, the argument I have presented has demonstrated that there exists one, and only one, unconditioned reality that is not limited by space and time, is infinite and eternal, is absolutely simple, is immutable, and is not limited by the laws of physics. There remains only one more step: to show that this reality is the continuous creator of all that is.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Step 2: The Absolute Simplicity of God (Updated)

This is the second step in a proof for the existence of God that has been the subject of an ongoing series. In the First Step, we deduced the existence of at least one unconditioned reality. This argument draws heavily on Robert Spitzer’s New Proofs for the Existence of God.

In the first step, we saw that if any reality exists—any reality at all—there must be at least one unconditioned reality. In this article, we will be drawing out the consequences of this with respect to simplicity. We will see that an unconditioned reality must be absolutely simple.

The term “simplicity” is a term of art. In common parlance, simplicity often means something like the lack of content or what is easily understood. We naturally consider “1”, for instance, to be simpler than the operation “1+1” or the number “32.” “Simplicity,” as we will use the term here, will not mean what is easy to understand or what lacks a richness of content. Simplicity will be used in an ontological sense to mean that which is without parts, boundaries, or incompatible states.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Music for Cultural Zombies: A meditation on the new U2 album

The following article has been released and is available free of charge from Vital Remnants

I was the guy at my high school who knew all the hot bands--and the ones who would be hot even though nobody knew it yet.

I remember when I had Queen's first three albums before anyone had ever heard of them and found out they were coming to the Santa Monica Civic Auditorium, a mid-size venue for Los Angeles County. I convinced a few of my friends (who I don't think had ever heard of them) to go with me. "Killer Queen" had been a moderate hit the previous year, but that was all anyone other than me know about them. Then, about two weeks before the concert, "Bohemian Rhapsody" hit the airwaves. There we were, the only ones around with tickets.

At a reunion not too long after graduating from college, an old college roommate came up to me and said, "You know, you used to play music from all these bands that no one had ever heard of. And, a few months later, they would be really popular. "So tell me, what's going be popular next?" I don't remember what I said, but I hope it was something like, "Polka. Trust me."

Then there was the friend at my fraternity, who, upon discovering I was a wealth of knowledge of the pop music world, would grill me every time he saw me about some band or another. I was walking through the lobby of the University of California Library one day and he stopped me. "Okay, I think I've got you now." And he proceeded to formulate some question having to do with a band from Canada which was the only band that had gotten so far on the charts in America--or some such thing. "You can't possibly know that!"

I looked at him calmly, and said, "April Wine," as I turned and walked out the automatic doors, leaving him standing there dumbfounded (This is what passed for important knowledge at that time).

I'm trying to figure out how I knew all this, since, at the time, there was no Internet and very little information available on what is now the object of a whole industry. There was Circus magazine, which you could obtain at one of the few record stores around, Melody Maker, a British magazine―if you tolerate all the coverage of British bands that didn't even have American releases. And then, of course, Robert Hilburn's articles in the "Calendar" section of the Los Angeles Times.

Los Angeles was a great place to live if you liked rock music, since it was always on everyone's tour schedule. I saw a lot of bands live growing up there. Zeppelin, Aerosmith, Blue Oyster Cult, Queen, Kiss, Yes, Peter Frampton, Bob Seger, Cheap Trick, Jackson Browne, Al Stewart, The Dictators, Rush, UFO, Talking Heads, the B-52s, the Kinks, Kenny Loggins, Journey, Emerson, Lake and Palmer, Gentle Giant, Thin Lizzy, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, the Sparks, and Be Bop Deluxe. There were others. I saw some of them more than once.

I remember a friend of mine and I going to see Devo at the Whiskey A Go Go before they hit it big in the early 80s with "Whip It." It was also before they began performing as their own opening act at their concerts without anyone knowing about it. Before the show, my friend Wes and I had a couple hours to kill and we were walking down the Sunset Strip, seeing the sights. Wes had a T-shirt with a picture of the Tubes on it. The Tubes were a moderately popular band in the early 80s. As we were talking, a fairly tall guy walked up to Wes and said, "I like your T-shirt." It was Fee Waybill, lead singer of the Tubes. They were playing at a club down the street.

I'm thinking about all this now that I've listened to the new U2 album that is partly famous because iTunes has released it for free.

U2 is one of the few classic rock bands that is still together and writing new music. Like the Heartbreakers, who also have a new release, U2 is one of the many classic rock bands that believed in meta-narratives. They couldn't actually provide any, but they at least believed they existed. Aside from disco and other subgenres in pop music at that time that were about little other than having fun (through various means, including sex and drugs), many of the classic rock bands at least attempted to say something they thought might be significant. Most of the time they ended up trying to say too much, in which case they ended up just being pretentious (I'm thinking of Rush here).

Among the most pretentious musical events ever was, of course, the movie "Tommy," a so-called "rock opera," with music and performances by the Who. Because it was produced by a popular rock band, everyone was expected to suspend critic judgment and talk about how profound it was, a critical assessment commonly voiced by such expressions as "Oh wow" or "That was so radical" (expressions that were considered high praise among us knuckle-headed teenagers of the time).

Of course, there was nothing profound about "Tommy" at all. It wasn't really about anything--or at least anything important. But everyone was expected to think highly of it because it was the Who and the Who were cool.

The only rock act of the time that made any real sense was Alice Cooper, and that was only because his act was a Vaudevillian stage play wherein the character he played was shown going to Hell (where, incidentally, he belonged). All of it, of course, was a tongue-in-cheek. No one took Alice Cooper seriously, especially Alice Cooper: He spent half of his stage act making fun of himself, dispensing with the need for the rest of us to do it. I still consider it a favor.

And there's not much good you can say about Kiss, but at least there was no pretense to their unadulterated hedonism.

When it comes to popular culture you have to be thankful for small things. Bands like Pink Floyd, Yes, and Genesis, although they never pretended to say much that was very compelling (well, maybe Pink Floyd did), their attempt to say something could at least be taken as a bow to the idea that there were things about life worth saying that had some importance in this life and, sometimes, beyond it.

They at least tried to say something big, and if they couldn't find anything particularly big to say, they said it big. In fact, the lack of any substantive message was more than made up for by the size of the show. Pink Floyd's "The Wall" tour, and virtually all the concerts of groups like Yes and Genesis (when they were led by Peter Gabriel), were huge spectacles. They were big, bold, and gaudy.

Nostalgia for metanarratives

I wonder what it says about us now that bands no longer make much of an effort to actually put on a show? Today's rock bands don't even attempt to say anything big. They have small things to say and they expend little effort in saying them.

No one writes a song like John Lennon's "Imagine" anymore, a song which evokes a wholly different world. In one sense that's good, since I can't imagine any world in which I would less like to live. I don't want to live in a world in which there is "nothing to kill or die for," or where there is "above us, only sky."

But what's worse than living in a world in which songwriters write songs about worlds that are not very good worlds is a world in which no one writes songs about other worlds at all.

We don't live in a world in which songwriters can't write such songs; we live in a world in which they won't. It's not that they can't say anything big because they don't know how; rather, it is because they don't believe there is anything big to say.

Many of the rock bands of the 70s and 80s were pretentious because what had to say was less important than they seem to think it was. Now it is considered pretentious to say anything important in the first place.

In Jean Francois Lyotard's The Postmodern Condition, he defines postmodernism as "incredulity toward metanarratives." Our culture now doesn't believe there is any one narrative in which we can all participate, but only smaller, subnarratives under which we gather only briefly and for some small comfort, before having to disperse back to our atomistic individuality. "The narrative function," says Lyotard, "is losing its functors, its great hero, its great dangers, its great voyages, is great goal."

We got the world John Lennon hoped for. Unfortunately it is a world in which a song expressing hope for such a world could not be written.

What we are left with in a world without metanarratives is a world in which there is nostalgia about a world with metanarratives. Has anyone noticed the recent blizzard of shows about "the 60s"? Why are we engaged in this frenzy of nostalgia for the 60s?

I'll tell you why.

We look back longingly on the 60s because it was when John F. Kennedy announced his vision for putting a man on the Moon. It was when Martin Luther King, Jr. led the Civil Rights Crusade and the March on Washington, D.C. It was when Lyndon Johnson launched the Great Society programs. there were grand causes and

What do we do now? The big, bold imaginative quest, like the Apollo program of the 60s and 70s, is too expensive, or too troublesome, or simply not realistic. It doesn't address any of our current priorities, the chief of which is what benefits me personally. The safe, comfortable little individualistic world in which we live militates against it. We got what we wanted: a bottomless pit of information and goods from anywhere on earth. We've got air conditioning microwave ovens, and wide screen TV.

Was there something else we needed? Comfort kills culture.

Our contracted imaginations are simply incapable of even formulating any kind of grand vision. And we try to find causes big enough for crusades, but they're getting harder and harder to find. All the cultural walls have been scaled. All the barriers have been broken. All the cultural landmarks have been removed.

And besides, isn't The Walking Dead coming on in a few minutes?

The best we can do is something like gay rights. But that's a poor excuse for a crusade. Despite the comparisons with Blacks, gays were never enslaved, they never had to live in separate neighborhoods or go to inferior schools or had to drink at separate drinking fountains.

Never happened.

Discrimination against gays is largely a myth. In fact, they're wealthier than everybody else on average and have political clout way out of proportion to their numbers and are celebrated at every cultural juncture by the media and entertainment industry. The only danger they are in is suffocation due to over-adulation.

The gay rights movement is nothing more than the muscle twitch of a tired, dying culture.

And then, of course, there is Woodstock. How many television specials have we had now celebrating what was, essentially, a big, over-haired, drug-induced orgy? The attempts to exalt an event in which a whole bunch of spoiled, overgrown adolescents show up and behave, well, like spoiled, overgrown adolescents are nothing short of comic. But at least if you take away the pretense of "freedom," you can see what kind of society modern liberals really want.

And if you want to see something other than old reruns of it, just go to a college coed dorm hall.

But what about space, the final frontier? It's too expensive to explore, and besides we need the money to prop up Medicare.

We can't do culture big anymore. All we can do is admire the past era in which we could. Which brings me back to the new U2 album.

What is U2's "Songs of Innocence" about? It's about nostalgia for meta-narratives. U2 is a classic rock band that has lived past its era, "chasing down the dream before it disappears," as Bono sings on the first track. To speak to the current culture it can no longer evoke the great; it must instead evoke the era in which the great could be evoked. "The Miracle (of Joey Ramone)" is not about greatness, it is about the memory of thinking things could be great.

Of course, I remember the first Ramones album. I had it before anyone else. One listen to "Blitzkrieg Bop" on the radio and I was on my way to the record store. But I grew out of it: I not only grew out of liking it, I grew out of the idea that it was worth liking.

But we live in a culture that refuses to grow up.

"The Miracle (of Joey Ramone) is Bono's nostalgic reminiscence of hearing the punk band the Ramones for the first time. It begins with an anthemic chant, much like the Ramones' cartoonish "Hey, ho, let's go" from "Blitzkrieg Bop." Then the crunching electric guitar chords, and then the oversimplistic drum beat―Ramonish fixtures all.

The Ramones were the quintessential nihilist band. They may have invented torn jeans and T-shirts of the kind that you can now buy in high-end stores for some ridiculous price, I'm not sure. From the way they visually presented themselves to how they played their instruments bespoke the philosophy of nothingness. Joey Ramone sang in a mock monotone, Dee Dee Ramone played an intentionally unremarkable bass, Tommy Ramone played pretty much the same no-frills drum beat in every song. Then there was Johnny Ramone, the guitarist of the band who bragged that his guitar playing style (such as it was) was entirely without blues influence, which was just another way of saying it was devoid of human subtlety. It was a styleless style.

And by the way, the blues thanks Johnny for disassociating himself from it.

Everything about the band evoked a senseless and sterile world in which human feeling had no context and human aspiration no place. A broken relationship was reduced to "I don't want to walk around with you," anger to "Beat on the brat (with a baseball bat)," and all the while they just wanted to be sedated. I don't want to attribute too much intelligence to the band, but knew exactly what they were doing.

And boy did it play. In modern culture the demand for nihilism is bottomless.

Rolling Stone Magazine famously designated the Ramones one of "The 100 Greatest Artists of All Time." Yes. You heard that correctly. Then again, that probably says as much about Rolling Stone as about the Ramones.

So why would Bono so admire Joey Ramone? At first you're tempted to think that the high tone of a song about something as mundane as the lead singer for a punk band is slightly comic, but when Bono sings that he "woke up at the moment when the miracle occurred/To a song that made some sense out of the world," you begin to realize that there comes a point in the lives of many people in my generation when you either grow out of the attraction for the shallow appeal of the music you listened to when you were young, or you have to take it seriously and come to terms with what much of it really is.

If the song you liked asked you to Rock and Roll All Night and Party Every Day, it's a little easier to shrug it off. You realize it is just silly and debased and you try not to think too much about it so you don't end up unconsciously whistling it all day.

But in what way did the Ramones "make sense out of the world"? You could only say that if you just accepted their nihilism outright, something Bono seems explicitly to professes when he says, "I was young, not dumb/Just wishing to be blinded/By you..."

Make no mistake, Bono knows how to fashion a lyric:
We use language so we can communicate
Religion so I can love and hate
Music so I can exaggerate my fame
And give it a name
But the irony is that the worldview championed by the likes of the Ramones is the very thing that has ended up making groups like U2 obsolete and irrelevant. U2's concerts were never quite the big productions of many other classic rock bands, but they at least wanted to be about something. They and musicians like them are less and less able to communicate to a culture that rejects the grand narratives they were once able to voice. But, hand it to them, they're smart enough to know what they are still capable of doing, which is to reminisce about the time when this could still be done.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Ludd Lives: Another great article on how machines are taking our jobs

I posted about the economic threat that is posed by the rise of technology a week or two back. In that post, I gave a number of irrefutable examples of kinds of jobs that have been eliminated by technology, most of which have not been replaced by equivalent kinds of jobs elsewhere in the economy--or any other kinds of jobs for that matter.

One of the points I made was that many of the services performed by real, living human beings were not performed as well by the technology that replaced them. What I didn't mention were examples of newer technology that does not work as well as older technology. I forgot to mention automated toilets.

Whenever I walk into an airport men's room, I notice that anywhere from one to about a third of the toilets don't flush. The same thing for many of the sinks and towel dispensers. Some brainiac somewhere thought that it would be a great idea to, instead of simply letting us use the simple lever (is this really a problem for 99 percent of people?), instead have us have to rely on sensors that electronically detect whether someone is getting up from the toilet or has their hands in the sink or has them in front of the towel dispenser.

Of course, they break. And when the break, there is literally no way to flush or turn on the spigot or get a towel. So often there are several toilets that are simply unusable. Is this really better than the more primitive technology they had before?

So you stand there in front of the towel dispenser, dancing around trying to get the machine to recognize you. Finally, you just give up and go on.

Anyway, that just my little introduction to a new article expressing the Neo-Luddite philosophy. I'm telling you folks, it's our economic undoing:
Very few of us can be sure that our jobs will not, in the near future, be done by machines. We know about cars built by robots, cashpoints replacing bank tellers, ticket dispensers replacing train staff, self-service checkouts replacing supermarket staff, tele­phone operators replaced by “call trees”, and so on. But this is small stuff compared with what might happen next. 
Nursing may be done by robots, delivery men replaced by drones, GPs replaced by artificially “intelligent” diagnosers and health-sensing skin patches, back-room grunt work in law offices done by clerical automatons and remote teaching conducted by computers. In fact, it is quite hard to think of a job that cannot be partly or fully automated. And technology is a classless wrecking ball – the old blue-collar jobs have been disappearing for years; now they are being followed by white-collar ones.
Read more here.


Tuesday, September 09, 2014

More on lazy teenagers and whether schools should coddle them

When I ran some of columnist John Rosemond's remarks on schools who think they have to change their schedules to accommodate teenagers who don't like to get up early, I got some interesting responses.

Of course, I agree with Rosemond: The reason teenagers don't like to get up early in the morning is because they like to stay up late at night, an observation that doesn't take a great deal of research to justify the inferemce and does not involve any particularly complex chain of reasoning. I've been a teenager, raised four children, each of whom went through a mercifully short phase of teenagerism, and know many people who have them or have had them.

They would all testify to this phenomenon: teenagers like to stay up late.

There are a number of reasons for this. Rosemond gives one: the ease of electronic communication, which teenagers take full advantage of through computers and texting. I would only add that they are also lazy, non-compliant, and rebellious, which may have something to do with it too.

But these common sense observations are in plain sight of most everybody with a teenager are just not enough for some people. Instead, we have to resort to "science," so-called. An explanation is just not considered legitimate unless it has the backing of someone who wears a laboratory smock.

The expression "research shows" has to be the most abused expression in the English language. Everyone uses it almost like a magical incantation. Few people actually read the research. If they do anything at all, they read the executive summary. Even fewer people look at the studies that may militate against the conclusion of the study that supports their view.

Not only that, but what continues to amaze me is how much modern research doesn't follow basic rules of research. I'm not talking about anything fancy, mind you, just basic stuff. When you do try to scratch below the surface, what you usually find is that the "research" isn't quite as telling as it seemed at first. It either is just not representative, hasn't been replicated, is mostly anecdotal, is without adequate controls, etc., etc.

This is particularly bad in education research. I recently studied up on the research comparing phonics with whole word methodologies of teaching reading. The biggest meta-study done on the subject was by the National Reading Panel. They went and found something over 1000 studies (using several databases, so the overlap was not known). Then they weeded out all the studies that didn't meet basic research criteria (not the "basic" in that description). You know how many they were left with? Something above fifty.

Fifty. Out of about a thousand studies. This should tell us something about "research".

But most people don't think about this. They just know that if they can find a study that supports their position, they can say that their belief is "research-based." They turn their computer on, Google the term "sleep research," and find a study that concludes that teenagers are simply incapable of going to bed early. Presto. If it's on the Internet, it must be true.

It reminds me of what Andrew Lang once said about statistics: that they are used by some people like a drunk uses a lampost, "for support rather than illumination."

I have addressed before the tendency in modern thought to scientize all things. We think everything has a scientific explanation, a fact that helps us tremendously in shirking responsibility for what we do. If there is a biological explanation for our behavior, then we cannot be held responsible for the bad things we do. Our good deeds? Well, we can take credit for those, of course.

This is not to say that science is itself illegitimate, only that there is a lot of bogus science out there that gets passed around and believed by a lot of people. A real scientist should be bothered by this, although it seems as if not many of them are. But maybe I just don't get out much.

So the most interesting response to the post on Rosemond's column was this: That "research shows" that teenagers had a "biological preference" for going to bed late. One commenter cited a study showing that that the "biological preference" for teenagers going to sleep was 11:00 p.m. Not 10:53, not 11:04, but 11:00 p.m.

Funny how nature cooperates so closely with arbitrary, man-made measurement thresholds.

All this so-called "science" is employed in the effort to show that teenagers don't just want to stay up late (an easily observable phenomenon). No: They need to stay up late (an observation requiring live scientists with sophisticated measuring instruments and a degree in sleepology).

Now I haven't had the time to closely review this "research." My experience is that when I do that, I usually find numerous weaknesses that render the study advisory at best, but certainly not conclusive. I notice for example, that the study cited involved 25 teenagers. So my initial reaction is to ask whether we are really justified in changing school policies across the country on the basis of a study of 25 teenagers.

But I'm not sure that it is even necessary to further investigate the study.

I find this whole idea that people (teenagers or anyone else) have a "biological preference" for going to sleep at a certain time very suspicious. The quality of the study aside, so far no one has answered a much more obvious question I have asked here and several other places. I'll restate it:

The claim is that research has found that teenagers have a "biological preference" of going to bed [I'm going to assume Singring's figure, since he's a scientist] at 11:00 p.m. The question is, 11:00 p.m. of what time zone? Greenwich Mean Time? Eastern Standard? Pacific Standard Time? Central European Time? Irish Standard Time? Kuybyshev Time? Kyrgyzstan Time? Azores Summer Time?

Let's assume the study quoted on sleep was conducted on the east coast of the United States. Does that mean that if the same study was conducted in eastern Kazakhstan that it would have found that the optimal time for teenagers to go to sleep was 5:00 a.m. Alma-Ata Time? If so, has anyone informed the inhabitants, whose teenage children are probably trying to go to bed 7 or 8 hours earlier than their "biological preference," or that they really need to start school there at 3:30 in the afternoon?

Should school times change to match the seasons?

If this "biological preference" changes from place to place, then wouldn't it have to be tied to some environmental factors, say sunlight? And if it's tied to sunlight, then would it make a difference if you spent most of your time outside or inside? If you left lights on in your house until late? Would seasonal changes in sunset times affect your "biological preference" so that you needed to go to bed earlier in winter (at least in the northern hemisphere) and later in the summer? And would that mean that the optimal school start time should vary with the seasons--say, 9:30 in September when the sun still sets relatively late, and 7:30 in the December, when the sun sets relatively early, and then back to 9:30 or 10:00 when daylight gets a head of steam in the late spring?

And how come all this talk about "circadian rhythms" (I personally have never been to Circadia, but I'm thinking it must be a happnin' place, what with everyone staying up into all hours of the night and all) and their relation to sunlight concentrates solely on the time the sun sets, biologically forcing people to go to bed late because the sun sets late, and seems to ignore the countervailing consideration that when the sun is setting late, it is also rising early, and should therefore have the opposite effect of biologically forcing people to get up early?

In short, I'm not only interested about exactly how "biological" this sleep time preference is, but with the assumptions employed in these studies and in the discussion about them.

There's just something very squirrely about the whole way this is being thought about.

New reading technology that will amaze you

I've never paid too much attention to IKEA before, but this new reading technology is simply astounding:

Monday, September 08, 2014

Should schools delay their schedules because students stay up too late?

John Rosemond
If you pay attention to school news, you know that a number of schools are now delaying the school schedule for some of the upper grades on the grounds that many teenagers don't get enough sleep.

Well, I was going to say it, but here comes columnist John Rosemond to point out the obvious:
The problem, it seems to me, is not when the school day begins. The problem is teens whose parents let them stay up until all hours of the night playing video games, texting, talking on their cell phones, watching television, surfing the 'net, and listening to music on headphones.
Now, you're thinking, why won't parents do anything about this (which they should do for reasons other than school anyway)?
And there's the rub of course. I refer to parents who will not set limits of any meaningful sort on their children's use of electronics because, get this, it will upset them.
And we must not, in American have upset children.
Thus it is in America, under what Joseph Epstein has called the "Kindergarchy": the regime under which children rule over their compliant parents.

And once they change the school schedule to try to accommodate the poor potentially upset things?
Let me assure the reader that if a school decides to push its start time from 8:00 to 9:00, the teens who attend said school will simply use that as an excuse to stay up playing, texting, talking, watching, surfing, and listening for another hour.
Of course, don't count on the school system to have the intelligence to take this into account.

Sunday, September 07, 2014

And you thought favoritism on the basis of sexual orientation was a bad thing

We've talked about the "gay pass" (see here), according to which you get extra leniency for doing something stupid or even criminal. Now we have the "gay advantage" in professional athletics, whereby, if you are gay, you get extra help from places like the NFL solely based on your sexual orientation.

If you're Michael Sam, you get special treatment:
Usually when a player is cut, his agent will contact other teams to gauge interest, but Michael Sam enjoyed a much more powerful advocate. Incredibly, NFL officials called teams around the league asking them to consider adding Sam to their roster. 
This was history in the making as the NFL had never previously been in the business of lobbying for any particular player. Certainly, no NFL official ever called a team promoting the selection of Tim Tebow, the evangelical Christian quarterback. 
... Unlike Tebow, Sam will be a part of a NFL team this year. The Dallas Cowboys added him to their practice squad. Undoubtedly, Cowboys owner Jerry Jones saw this as an opportunity to score points with a league that may still fine him for being pictured with strippers in suggestive poses a few years ago. The scandalous photos were released online in early August, but at this point the NFL has not issued any statement or levied any fine against Jones.
Read more here.


Saturday, September 06, 2014

Pittsburgh Tribune editorial calls Warmer group "Chicken Littles"

The Pittsburgh Tribune editorial earlier this week: "... the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) is preparing a report so dire that it hardly seems to concern the same Earth on which the rest of humanity lives":

As its credibility dwindles due to its slanted “science” and politically motivated advocacy of anti-growth diktats, the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) is preparing a report so dire that it hardly seems to concern the same Earth on which the rest of humanity lives.
Read more here. HT: Watt's Up with That?

Christian group "derecognized" by California State Universities

Like the ruling pigs in George Orwell's Animal Farm, the Tolerance Police post their social commandments which all of a sudden get rewritten when no one is looking.

Just in case you were wondering how "fairness" works under the new Diversity regime, Intervarsity Christian Fellowship has been officially "derecognized" by California State University schools. This while other groups get recognized:
... now, what we once called “equal access” has taken another hit—people of faith do not have equal access to the university community, like the environmentalist club, the LGBT organization, or the chess club.
Intervarsity's crime is that, being an on-campus Christian group, it actually believes the stuff. If you do that, you can start to count on not getting the same treatment as other groups who spout the Approved Opinions. When encountering such groups, the people who preach about equality and fairness until they are blue in the face will to a complete 180 when dealing with groups they disagree with and all of a sudden the mask comes off.

Fairness turns into ostracism, equality turns into favoritism. Let us once again repeat the Tolerance Police slogan:

DIVERSITY IS UNIFORMITY
EQUALITY IS FAVORITISM
TOLERANCE IS BIGOTRY