Dark matter’s existence perplexes people who find it implausible that the vast majority of matter in the universe would be undetectable by our senses and their technological extensions. Some even wonder if it’s a sort of mistake. To me it would be even more astonishing if the matter we can see with our eyes were all the matter there is. You might have thought such hubristic beliefs were upended by the Copernican Revolution. After all, the history of physics is the history of revealing how much is deceptive, or is hidden from view.
Most people mistake their own perspective, shaped by their subjective and limited perception, for the absolute reality of the external world. Questioning this assumption is what advanced our research on dark matter. It is also the only thing that has ever advanced human empathy.
Martese Johnson and other UVa black students are in effect complaining about racial profiling, about singling out black students and treating them differently because of their race. It sounds like a principled argument, but it is not. It is wrong for the state to distribute either benefits (such as preferential admission) or burdens (such as racial profiling by police, stopping or arresting blacks disproportionately for the same offenses committed by others) on the basis of race. If treating black applicants to UVa differently because of their race violates no principle, why does it become a violation once they arrive?
The batter has to estimate the necessary position by doing an impressive amount of computation. All a batter has to go on is a view of the unfolding pitch, which you can think of as a series of pictures giving the position of the ball. From the change in position between successive pictures, the batter can estimate the speed and direction of the ball’s motion. That estimate gets refined and updated over the third of a second or so in which the batter gets to track the ball before the swing needs to start.
It’s nearly impossible to overstate how difficult a problem this is– just being able to reliably pick the baseball out of a complicated visual field is an impressive achievement. Human brains are highly optimized for this sort of task, though, which is why so many “citizen science” projects revolve around identifying patterns in images. We’re also programmed to make the necessary on-the-fly calculations to estimate the current velocity and future position of the approaching ball. While professional baseball players have honed this skill to just about the highest level possible, the basic ability seems to be wired into our brains at a pretty deep level– my three-year-old son can catch a gently tossed ball more often than not, and his failures are more a matter of imperfect coordination of his motion than a failure to correctly predict where the ball will be.
The construction noise almost drove me out of my mind, but in the end they did a nice job.
I’ve had a few snarky things to say on Twitter about the Douthat Kerfuffle, and I’d like to say more, but I’m struggling with the evasiveness of some of the key participants. Consider the letter of protest that some … well, wait: Is “protest” the right word? Look at the letter and see if you can tell what it’s asking for. Some of the signatories have denied that they’re asking the Times to discipline or silence Douthat, but if they’re not asking for that what are they asking for? “We just want to inform you that this is not what we expect of the Times but we’re not asking you to do anything about that”? It’s impossible to tell, when you give the letter some scrutiny, what its actual purpose is.
Cloudy evasineness seems to be characteristic of the Douthat critics. For instance, Katie Grimes says, “I signed the letter because I believe he has uttered several factual errors” — but she doesn’t say what any of those errors are. (Nor does the letter.) Similarly, Brian Flanagan claims that Douthat misuses the term “doctrine,” but gives no examples, so it’s impossible to tell which statements by Douthat he believes to be erroneous, or how they might be corrected.
Most troubling of all, in the screed that I called attention to yesterday, Fr. James Martin says that “Mr. Douthat can rightly be held accountable” for inciting hatred, without ever distinguishing between the points Douthat makes that he deems illegitimate and those he thinks are within bounds. (Surely he thinks that some of Douthat’s criticisms are acceptable.) But the questions I have here are: “held accountable” by whom? In what way? Martin doesn’t say simply that Douthat should be criticized; being “held accountable” is clearly more substantial — but because of the lack of specificity, also a little ominous. What would count as being held accountable in this context? Having his salary cut? Being forbidden to write for the Times about theology? Assigned penance by his confessor? What?
It’s hard for me not to see this incessant vagueness as endemic to post-Vatican II liberal theology, a tradition in which so many priests and theologians can’t simply reject magisterial teaching but don’t really want to endorse it either, and so take refuge in a cloudy verbal world which they claim to be working within the “spirit” if not the actual “letter” of Church teaching. But maybe the current vagueness has other causes that I’m not aware of. In any case, I think Douthat’s critics owe it to him and to their readers to make an effort to say what they mean.
Albrecht Dürer, Portrait of a Woman (Agnes Dürer)
After young adulthood, he says, the reasons that friends stop being friends are usually circumstantial—due to things outside the relationship itself. One of the findings from Langan’s ‘friendship rules’ study was that ‘adults feel the need to be more polite in their friendships,’ she says. ‘We don’t feel like, in adulthood, we can demand very much of our friends. It’s unfair, they’ve got other stuff going on. So we stop expecting as much, which to me is kind of a sad thing, that we walk away from that.’ For the sake of being polite.
Frontispiece to Charles Howard Hinton’s The Fourth Dimension (1904), a book all about the “tesseract” – a four-dimensional analog of the cube, the tesseract being to the cube as the cube is to the square. Find out more in our latest essay “Notes on the Fourth Dimension” – http://bit.ly/1Revr2B
Metalpoint was a major part of artistic
practice across northern Europe by about 1400. The fame of Netherlandish
artists such as Jan van Eyck, Rogier van der Weyden and Gerard David spread
quickly, and many young German artists travelled down the Rhine to learn in
their workshops. Metalpoint was used for recording facial types, figure
compositions and ornament designs until the mid-16th century. Albrecht Dürer’s
delicate silverpoints, made when he travelled in the Netherlands from 1520 to
1521, are among the most sensational ever produced.
The ultimate draughtsman of the German
Renaissance, Dürer experimented throughout his career with every type of
technique. His earliest recorded drawing is in metalpoint – a self-portrait
made at the age of 13 (now in the Albertina,
Vienna). Inspired by the Italian ideal of classical beauty from his visit
to Italy between 1505 and 1507, this sheet demonstrates a highly colouristic
use of the technique, achieved with white bodycolour brushed over silverpoint
to emphasise the sculptural quality of the face. The strong tone of the
prepared paper is reminiscent of the Florentine artist Filippino Lippi. In
later life, Dürer employed the sensitive restraint of metalpoint to make
portrait drawings, especially of his brothers Hanns and Endres, his wife Agnes,
and his close friend Willibald Pirckheimer.
See this magnificent work in the exhibition Drawing in silver and gold:
Leonardo to Jasper Johns (10 September – 6
This article reports the results of a nationwide audit study testing how Christian churches welcome potential newcomers to their churches as a function of newcomers’ race and ethnicity. We sent email inquiries to 3,120 churches across the United States. The emails were ostensibly from someone moving to the area and looking for a new church to attend. That person’s name was randomly varied to convey different racial and ethnic associations. In response to these inquiries, representatives from mainline Protestant churches—who generally embrace liberal, egalitarian attitudes toward race relations—actually demonstrated the most discriminatory behavior. They responded most frequently to emails with white-sounding names, somewhat less frequently to black- or Hispanic-sounding names, and much less to Asian-sounding names. They also sent shorter, less welcoming responses to nonwhite names. In contrast, evangelical Protestant and Catholic churches showed little variation across treatment groups in their responses. These findings underscore the role of homophily, organizational homogeneity, and the costs of racial integration in perpetuating the racial segregation of American religious life.
Worse, calling people names is disgraceful. Especially in the name of religion. These ad hominem attacks—an attack not on the argument but on the person–has no place in theology. It doesn’t matter if you’re attacking Pope Francis, Antonio Spadaro, Massimo Faggioli, John O’Malley, me, or anyone else. It’s completely unchristian. Feel free to disagree with us, but questioning our fidelity is out of bounds. Speaking of doctrine, one of Jesus’s lesser known teachings, and completely ignored because it’s so hard to adhere to, is his admonition against calling people names. “If you insult a brother or sister, you will be liable to the council; and if you say, ‘You fool,’ you will be liable to the hell of fire.” (Mt. 5:22)
I am gateful for this post by Fr. Martin, because it shows me so clearly what respectful disagreement unsullied by mean-spirited invective and ad hominem comments looks like. Verily, a model for us all.
That is the moral-ideological core of conservatism today. It presumes that life is a competition or race, that people are unequal in talent, drive, and ambition, and that those who end up on top deserve their victory and rewards — and those who come out on the bottom deserve their failure and hardships. Any attempt to overturn or even mitigate this moral order — whether through government regulation or changes in habits or assumptions in school or on the playground — amounts to an offense against justice itself.
“Secular, but Feeling a Call to Divinity School,” by Samuel G. Freedman (On Religion column, Oct. 10), identifies an important trend at major seminaries throughout the country. Here at Union Theological Seminary, we see incoming classes that are a third unaffiliated, mirroring national trends.
At Union, however, we have noticed that in addition to our unaffiliated students who are agnostic or atheist, many believe in God but don’t belong to a specific religious organization. They come to ask questions about the meaning of life and to change the world.
Maybe what we see emerging is not a lack of religion but a different kind of religion. Is it perhaps a second reformation?
Union Theological Seminary
The scientific evidence linking both processed meat and tobacco to certain types of cancer is strong. In that sense, both are carcinogens. But smoking increases your relative risk of lung cancer by 2,500 percent; eating two slices of bacon a day increases your relative risk for colorectal cancer by 18 percent. Given the frequency of colorectal cancer, that means your risk of getting colorectal cancer over your life goes from about 5 percent to 6 percent and, well, YBMMV. (Your bacon mileage may vary.) “If this is the level of risk you’re running your life on, then you don’t really have much to worry about,” says Alfred Neugut, an oncologist and cancer epidemiologist at Columbia.
The article is fine, but I really like this illustration by Mike McQuade
Far from being a secret Muslim who was indifferent to the death of an American diplomat, or a progressive peacenik who resents U.S. leadership, Obama was something much more destructive to the interests of Americans — he was a typical American hawk. He was different from George W. Bush only in preferring air power for aiding revolutionaries and rebels on the ground, rather than a ground invasion and think-tank conquerors like Ahmed Chalabi. The result of the policy of our foolish Christians is worse than the fever dreams of any Manchurian Mohammedan or American weakling: a continuation and intensification of the wars that are leading to the eradication of Christianity from the Middle East. ISIS is conquering territory and killing Christians with American materiel.
The fact is that the opposition party in America can’t honestly investigate Obama’s foreign policy without doing fatal collateral damage to its own. And so Hillary Clinton can say in public that the intervention she championed in Libya is “smart power at its best,” even though that country is being terrorized by ISIS and other jihadists and is one source of the refugee crisis. The supposedly mean-spirited GOP that would do anything to attack Clinton has run into something it won’t do: challenge our recklessly hawkish foreign policy.
I am reminded of a story I recently read on a website called Marketwatch. This story explained to me that reading fiction can improve empathy. It was a proven fact—the scientific method had determined that books could do this. This was relevant because Marketwatch was reporting on a new finding that only 47 percent of Americans had read a novel, play, or poem in 2012, down from 50 percent in 2008. The argument was simple: you can get a tangible benefit out of fiction—in this case, greater empathy. This benefit could make reading more competitive with other entertainment options. Reading could improve its market share.
I was struck by the fact that this article never tried to account for the utilitarian benefits of much more widespread forms of entertainment, like professional basketball or a Hollywood action movie. I’ve read a lot of articles like the Marketwatch one, and I’ve noted that none of them ever do this. Never is an NBA playoff game or a blockbuster movie expected to explain its reason for existing, its benefits to the consumer. They only ever try to make novel art account for its purpose. Maybe this is the divide we’re really speaking of when we invoke that binary, high and low. Perhaps we are talking about ways of filling our free time that need no justification, and those that do.
Britain’s got talent.
Americans have not, in fact, become more tolerant. Rather, they have shifted their dislike to new groups. For example, “Muslim clergymen who preach hatred against the United States” are now the least liked group included in the General Social Survey (GSS), followed by people who believe that “blacks are genetically inferior”. Most importantly, compared to those in their 40s, people in their 30s and 20s actually show lower tolerance towards these groups. According to the 2012 GSS, people in their 40s are the most tolerant of Muslim clergymen who preach anti-American hatred: 43% say a member of this group should not be allowed to give a public speech in their community. Among people in their 30s, the number who would prohibit this group from speaking climbs to 52%, and for those in their 20s it jumps to 60%. Young people are also less tolerant than the middle aged groups toward militarists, communists, and racists. This is not true for tolerance towards homosexuals or atheists, because younger people simply like these groups more. (Political tolerance is not a measure of liking someone, but the willingness to extend political freedoms to those one dislikes).
John Austen’s woodcuts for Aristophanes’, “The Frogs.”
In one sense there were differences, and not just that I was younger and slenderer first time round. Food and service are both much better than when I first came here. Attitudes have also changed mostly for the better, although not always. There is this paradox that Britain has never been so rich and the amount of money and possessions most people have cannot be compared with what people had when I first arrived. And yet the country behaves as if it has never been so poor. The refrain you constantly hear is “we can’t afford it”. It feels like we are permanently in this age of austerity in which we not only can’t afford large things – housing for all that need it, cottage hospitals in every town – but also small things such as flower beds on roundabouts. All these things the country had when I first came here, and when we were all much poorer.
Unsexy Halloween costumes, via Matt Novak and John Clifford on Twitter
Today is Ursula K. Le Guin’s 85th birthday!
To celebrate, we are taking a look at Aaron Johnson and Michael Bixler’s artist book Direction of the Road (N7433.4 .L42 D57 2007 Cage) which takes it’s inspiration and title from Le Guin’s short story contained within it.
Direction of the Road by Le Guin is a tale of perception and perspective, told from the point of view of an oak tree which must adapt to its changing surroundings.
The artist book contains an example of an anamorphosis image. An anamorphosis image is seen by the naked eye in distorted perspective. The true image is only revealed when looking at the image with a device, often a cylindrical mirror, which in this case reveals a large tree with two birds flying overhead.
And be sure to check out Le Guin’s other books in our collection here!
So if selfhood implies individuality, or if our undeniable individuality justifies the sense of selfhood, then there is another mystery to be acknowledged: that this impulse to deny the reality, which is to say the value, of the human self should still persist and flourish among us. Where slavery and other forms of extreme exploitation of human labor have been general, moral convenience would account for much of it, no doubt. Where population groups are seen as enemies or even as burdens, certain nefarious traits are attributed to them as a whole that are taken to override the qualities of individual members. Again, moral convenience could account for this. Both cases illustrate the association of the denial of selfhood with the devaluation of the human person. This would seem too obvious to be said, if it were not true that the denial of selfhood, which is, we are told, authorized by the methods of neuroscience and by the intentionally generalized reports it offers of the profoundly intricate workings of the brain, persists and flourishes.
There are so many works of the mind, so much humanity, that to disburden ourselves of our selves is an understandable temptation. Open a book and a voice speaks. A world, more or less alien or welcoming, emerges to enrich a reader’s store of hypotheses about how life is to be understood. As with scientific hypotheses, even failure is meaningful, a test of the boundaries of credibility. So many voices, so many worlds, we can weary of them. If there were only one human query to be heard in the universe, and it was only the sort of thing we were always inclined to wonder about—“Where did all this come from?” or “Why could we never refrain from war?”—we would hear in it a beauty that would overwhelm us. So frail a sound, so brave, so deeply inflected by the burden of thought, that we would ask, “Whose voice is this?” We would feel a barely tolerable loneliness, hers and ours. And if there were another hearer, not one of us, how starkly that hearer would apprehend what we are and were.
Thank you for your lovely and thoughtful submission to the magazine, which we are afraid we are going to have to decline, for all sorts of reasons. The weather is dreary, our backs hurt, we have seen too many cats today and as you know cats are why God invented handguns, there is a sweet incoherence and self-absorption in your piece that we find alluring but we have published far too many of same in recent years mostly authored by the undersigned, did we mention the moist melancholy of the weather, our marriages are unkempt and disgruntled, our children surly and crammed to the gills with a sense of entitlement that you wonder how they will ever make their way in the world, we spent far too much money recently on silly graphic design and now must slash the storytelling budget, our insurance bills have gone up precipitously, the women’s basketball team has no rebounders, an aunt of ours needs a seventh new hip, the shimmer of hope that was the national zeitgeist looks to be nursing a whopper of a black eye, and someone left the toilet roll thing empty again, without the slightest consideration for who pays for things like that. And there were wet towels on the floor. And the parakeet has a goiter. And the dog barfed up crayons. Please feel free to send us anything you think would fit these pages, and thank you for considering our magazine for your work. It’s an honor.
On the left, Ryan’s getting called a hypocrite. Salon’s Joan Walsh became an instant hero when she claimed Ryan was getting “credit for something a woman could absolutely never ask for.” And several media outlets outright called Ryan a hypocrite — or an “enemy of women” — for asking for family time for himself while opposing federally mandated paid family leave and other policies that liberals believe are important for family support.
This makes no sense. Ryan is identifying a problem that millions of Americans face and shouldn’t have to — and forcing people to acknowledge the problem is the first step to solving it. If you believe parents in two-parent households should share the responsibility of raising a family, it is a good thing when high-profile men acknowledge it’s their responsibility, too — especially when those men represent groups that tend to favor traditional gender roles. And if you believe raising a family shouldn’t impede career advancement, it’s a good thing when someone points out that right now, it still does.
The university was once a microcosm, a miniature world offering the whole of knowledge in a restricted arena. Every discipline represented had its professor who was the supreme local authority on the subject. That supremacy faded long ago as the growth of our great libraries over the last [i.e., the 19th] century brought the world to our door and students found more ways to learn about their subject than to sit and listen to the local professor, but the structure of our institutions of higher learning still reflects that origin. The old model may still be powerful and useful, and we should think carefully about how to adapt it to the future, while remembering that new metaphors can be useful as well.
The real roles of the professor in an information-rich world will be not to provide information but to advise, guide, and encourage students wading through the deep waters of the information flood.
via Adam Roberts
A man herds sheep with the help of his collies in Scotland, 1919. Photograph by William Reed, National Geographic Creative
However, Downs offers readers far more than just a historical record and campaign manual. He explores the social and political developments that have resulted in censorship being seen as a progressive rather than an authoritarian force. He tells me that when a society has a strong sense of itself and of its own culture, it can afford to be tolerant of dissent. When society is not strong, but ‘existentially insecure’, ‘illiberal elements can come to the fore and people become dogmatic’. He argues that this pervasive insecurity, which began to afflict the Western world in the late 1980s, has also had an impact on individuals. ‘People have begun to feel more insecure and vulnerable. They readily identify as victims and define themselves by traumas, real or imagined.’ He argues that many of the original advocates of speech codes shared a view that students needed an ‘administrative apparatus to support their self-esteem, psychological wellbeing and identities’. He is clear: ‘In reality this represented a return of in loco parentis legislation to campus in a new and politicised guise after its banishment in the 1960s.’
One of the most regular running jokes in my family, for many years now, is that I don’t play Wii Boxing because I think it’s too violent. We make a joke of my tender conscience, but I really do wince when a little Mii’s head snaps back. I can’t play for more than a couple of minutes. I pause the game; I switch to golf, or tennis, or frisbee. My discomfort is genuine, and deeper than any reasonable standard would deem appropriate, and (to me, anyway) not funny at all. The roots of it sink deep into my life; follow those roots 40 years deep — give or take a few days — and eventually you’ll find yourself in front of a little black-and-white television set, in Birmingham, Alabama, on the first day of October 1975. Three days earlier I had turned seventeen.
Instead of design, there is calculation: the more erratic the path, eccentric the loops, hidden the blueprint, the more efficient the exposure, inevitable the transaction. In this war, graphic designers are the great turncoats: where once signage promised to deliver you to where you wanted to be, it now obfuscates and entangles you in a thicket of cuteness that forces you past unwanted detours, turns you back when you’re lost.
A wall covered in spines, shelved from floor to ceiling, recognises the correspondence between bricks and books. It is the point at which knowledge becomes embedded in structure and the appearance is of books holding up the ceiling. The implication is that enlightenment, the journey towards the sky or the sublime is available within these pages. It is a metaphor made clearer by the special pieces of furniture, the chairs and stools which ingeniously convert to become ladders or in the sliding steps which glide along the floor scanning the shelves. And just as bricks humanise the scale of even a vast wall by introducing an element of human scale – a solid unit designed to fit perfectly into the hand, so books define the space and give scale to even the largest the wall. They are endlessly reproduced and faked in a game of trompe l’oeil in which their symbolic role alone is invoked. There are bookish wallpapers, there are rows of fake books spines, there are hidden jib doors hidden amongst the bookshelves which open, just as do books themselves to reveal another world and there are dealers who specialise in slightly-worn, leather-spined books by the yard, not for reading but for recreating a country house effect, the impression of history and wisdom. Already in the 1st Century AD Seneca swore by a small library, for knowledge rather than vanity, not ‘endless bookshelves for the ignorant to decorate their dining rooms.’
Mike Joyce, from Print Process
There are some swoon-worthy abstract motifs in our collections.
[Four abstract motifs.] via NYPL Digital Collections.
Macintosh, at Print Process
There are many who consider as an injury to themselves any conduct which they have a distaste for, and resent it as an outrage to their feelings; as a religious bigot, when charged with disregarding the religious feelings of others, has been known to retort that they disregard his feelings, by persisting in their abominable worship or creed. But there is no parity between the feeling of a person for his own opinion, and the feeling of another who is offended at his holding it; no more than between the desire of a thief to take a purse, and the desire of the right owner to keep it. And a person’s taste is as much his own peculiar concern as his opinion or his purse. It is easy for any one to imagine an ideal public, which leaves the freedom and choice of individuals in all uncertain matters undisturbed, and only requires them to abstain from modes of conduct which universal experience has condemned. But where has there been seen a public which set any such limit to its censorship? or when does the public trouble itself about universal experience? In its interferences with personal conduct it is seldom thinking of anything but the enormity of acting or feeling differently from itself; and this standard of judgment, thinly disguised, is held up to mankind as the dictate of religion and philosophy, by nine-tenths of all moralists and speculative writers. These teach that things are right because they are right; because we feel them to be so.
“Would something be lost if autism were banished from the world? Probably. Autistic people have a unique way of looking at the world that lets them solve problems differently from everyone else, and we all benefit from that insight. On the other hand, everyone always gives the same example of this: Temple Grandin. Temple Grandin is pretty great. But I am not sure that her existence alone justifies all of the institutionalizations and seizures and head-banging and everything else.
Imagine if a demon offered civilization the following deal: “One in every hundred of your children will be born different. They will feel ordinary sensations as exquisite tortures. Many will never learn to speak; most will never work or have friends or live independently. More than half will consider suicide. Forty percent will be institutionalized, then ceaselessly tyrannized and abused until they die. In exchange, your slaughterhouses will be significantly more efficient.”
I feel like Screwtape would facepalm, then force him into remedial Not-Sounding-Like-An-Obvious-Demon classes.”
“What’s missing from the discussion is a recognition that the choices of feminist sex workers could, in fact, be immoral. By insisting that we respect and value all female choices, choice feminism creates a double-standard which trivializes women’s moral capacities and denies our agency the same kind of significance that we attach to that of men. Male choice remains subject to critique, and men are still expected to take responsibility for the social and political consequences of their actions; only women are exempt.
This attitude is profoundly demeaning to women. Generally we will only praise a person for doing something badly if we are impressed that they can do it at all. When a toddler draws his first recognizably humanoid squiggle, the adults present applaud as though it were the Mona Lisa. Choice feminism makes sense only if we honestly think that women, as a group, have such infantile decision-making skills that every time one of us makes a choice the rest have to gather round and pat her on the back.”