The State of Education in the USA: Grump!

The thing that makes me despair most – and feel most ashamed – comes with the realization that the country is full of people who cannot cope with conditional sentences.  There are more important things to worry about, perhaps, but solving them tends to rely on people getting beyond simple assertoric sentences.

Sometimes I know in advance that I really shouldn’t try.  E.g., from about 2 months ago:   I didn”t know if  Jones did A last week, and I wanted to communicate the following thought to the person answering the phone:  if he didn’t do it  last week, could he do it this week?  Hopeless.  I don’t know why I tried.  I knew in advance I’d freeze the human system, as it were.  I think the thought was that if I asked for him just to do it this week, I might well pay a lot to have the same thing redone.  It was about cleaning an apartment I sometimes use, but hadn’t used for a while.

This afternoon I discovered that I had given a store the wrong address for a present.  So I used web communication to ask the store to reroute it.  Sherry said that they would try, but it wasn’t always possible.  So I said, “If it can’t be rerouted, could it just be held at the fedex facility.”  Arrgghh.  How could I have done it!?!

She typed, “Which do you want?”  and it took 20 minutes to repair the damage.

There’s a lovely passage in Descartes Med I which is about how some people think an all powerful, all good God could not be a deceiver.  Descartes in effect responds that still if God were all that great, then he wouldn’t…  I may try again to get a whole class to try to reason with a conditional.

Petition to declare ‘Corrective Rape’ a hate crime

“Corrective Rape” is a term used to describe when a male rapes a lesbian with the aim of ‘turning’ her heterosexual!

This heinous crime is prolific in South Africa, especially in the “townships”. ..We call on the South African government to declare “Corrective Rape” a Hate-Crime that is punishable by the harshest sentences!

To sign, go here. (I assume there’s a reason the petition is written in the way that it is. Nonetheless, I altered the first sentence before signing since, as written, it was not true of me.) Thanks, Jender-Parents!

A philosopher in the NY Times, again!

Where O where is habituation?  I mean, after repeated exposure to something, isn’t one’s reaction supposed to get less?  Well, maybe the fact that this article has me depressed rather than angry is a sign of habituation.  In any case, it is a well know philosopher on the real science of mind. 

The real science has nothing to do with fMRI experiments, of course.  And here’s why not:

 it provides little insight into psychological phenomena.  Often the discoveries amount to finding stronger activation in some area of the brain when a psychological phenomenon occurs.  As if it is news that the brain is not dormant during psychological activity!  The reported neuroscience is often descriptive rather than explanatory.

And that’s just false, I say, having skimmed through the first 70 articles Academic Search brought up, besides having some background here.  The “it’s just about brain location” argument has been floating around for about 10 years, and it certainly seems problematic.  Even a cursory glance shows that the claims are often implicitly or explicitly comparative.  And they also invoke some knowledge of the functions of the areas of the brain in question.

You can see both characteristics in a study in Science that we commented on here.**  The studies may provide very rich hypotheses.  For example, a comparison between borderline and non-borderline people looked at the insula, which apparently becomes very active as one senses norms are being violated.  Interestingly, seriously borderline people seemed able to register when they transgressed against someone else, but not when someone transgressed against them.  That’s quite the opposite of what their behavior suggests, and so may indicate a more global way in which they are missing cues. 

A lot of work is being done on the differences between people who have had strokes, do have alzheimer’s, and more.  Here again there are comparisons.  If one wants to find the cause and then the cure of some condition, a comparison between the with and the without conditions seems like a very good idea.

This is not to say there are no just complaints.  There are studies with too few samples, along with, it seems safe to say, very sloppy ones.  And disability theorists may indict a normalizing that goes on with the result that the neuroatypical are seen as inferior.  The latter is very serious. 

Burge starts off talking about science journalism’s reports of brain studies.  There’s certainly a lot to complain about there.   But it isn’t clear that the philosopher has understood the difference between the journalism and the science.


***My apologies to anyone who tried the link before thurs pm and went to an entirely different study on the sense of self.  The studies are equally telling against Burge; you can find the sense of self  here.

If you go, please go gently

Death of a Spouse is a new blog that has been started by someone who has recently lost his wife.  It’s an attempt to deal constructively with his own grief while actually helping other people.

It aims to provide information and to convey what this person has learned, which often amounts to unanticipated problems he is trying to solve.

The author, whom I know,  lives in quite a conservative world.  I don’t think now is the time to try to change that.  We have discussed whether the blog is heteronormative.  That his first reaction was “What’s that?” might give you an idea of where he is from.  I don’t think “spouse” is heteronormative, since it seems to me to have been effectively co-opted.

In fact, some people might find it a useful resource, or some of us might  have some good ideas of how to make it more so.  It’s very new and so could probably go in all sorts of different ways.

So have a look if you are interested.

In Search of Gender Balanced Textbooks

Are there any textbooks out there, suitable for an undergrad course (intro or advanced) in metaphysics, which include a respectable number of papers by women philosophers (i.e. more than a token one or two)? I’ve been hunting around Amazon and other sites for a little while and there’s a depressing consistency to the over-representation of men in all the books I’ve found so far.
Your suggestions, especially if you have experience trying to teach a metaphysics course with a decent gender balance in the reading list, are most welcome. Of course I’ve already had a look at the excellent Women’s Works project, but so far that hasn’t turned up something like an edited collection that could serve as the primary text for an undergrad course.

So long, “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”

By a very satisfying vote of 65 to 31, the U.S. Senate voted today to repeal the 17-year-old ban on gays serving openly in the military.  I know, this paraphrasing is complicated by the fact that gay service prior to these 17 years wasn’t unfettered, either.  But the goofy torture of this benighted bill was that it acknowledged how wrong Reagan-era pursuit of purging gays from the military was, while affirming, with the presidential seal, that men and women who find enforced closeting to be demeaning and undignified are ‘correctly’ punished for exercising the ordinary privilege of laying claim to their identities.

Christmas Trees Not So Harmless

“Reminders of Christmas can make religious minorities feel ill at ease — even if they don’t realize it. When people who did not celebrate Christmas or who did not identify as Christian filled out surveys about their moods while in the same room as a small Christmas tree, they reported less self-assurance and fewer positive feelings than if they hadn’t been reminded of the holiday, according to a new study.” The full news story is here.

The researcher Michael Schmitt, a social psychologist at Simon Fraser University in British Columbia, Canada said, the presence of the tree caused non-celebrators and non-Christians to feel subtly excluded.
“Simply having this 12-inch Christmas tree in the room with them made them feel less included in the university as a whole, which to me is a pretty powerful effect from one 12-inch Christmas tree in one psychology lab,” said Schmitt. Study participants did not know the study was about the effects of Christmas trees.

The reference “Identity moderates the effects of Christmas displays on mood, self-esteem, and inclusion
Identity moderates the effects of Christmas displays on mood, self-esteem, and inclusion,”
Journal of Experimental Social Psychology (November 2010), 46 (6), pg. 1017-1022. It’s here.

We’ve always had a Christmas Tree in our department common room and we have thought of it as harmless. Perhaps it’s time to reconsider.