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A Liberal Decalogue: Bertrand Russells 10 Commandments of Teaching | Brain Pickings June 18, 2013

Posted by aquillam in Philosophy, teaching.
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A Liberal Decalogue: Bertrand Russells 10 Commandments of Teaching | Brain Pickings.

This morning I read another article that appeared to be arguing that we needed to stop teaching basic skills like long division, because tools like calculators are so ubiquitous, we don’t need those skills anymore.

I was thinking that a proper response was going to take an entire blog post of its own, but then I stumbled on this. Commandment #3 pretty much sums it up.

The others are pretty good too.

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Bertrand Russell speaks to the future August 4, 2011

Posted by aquillam in Philosophy.
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Sometimes I start writing things, but then I reconsider what I’m writing, not because I am reconsidering what I have to say, or because I don’t think it’s worth saying, but rather because I don’t want to be just another noisemaker, saying the things that have already been said.

Especially when it’s been said so much better by someone else. Someone like Bertrand Russell.

Watch this, you’ll see what I mean.

I am an atheist… February 13, 2011

Posted by aquillam in Philosophy.
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I am an atheist.

If this offends you, too bad. If you’re so insecure that exposure to a different belief system offends you, you should find another blog to read. Really. Go away.

If you if you do believe in god, or enlightenment, or spirituality, or whatever, I am not going to call you stupid, or foolish, or say you’ve been duped . If you happen to be an atheist and that offends you, please see the second sentence of the post.

I had a whole other post, quite a while ago, about my thoughts on Belief in god, the gist of which is that Belief is about a lot more than a simple belief in the supernatural. It’s about community, connectedness, a sense of control, or a source of comfort. It’s about, well, belief. I’ve known many people had “felt God’s presence” or had a “miraculous” experience (and I mean those quote marks as actual quotations!) I have been awed, felt euphoric, and I have had great things happen to me, but I have never felt the need to ascribe any of those feeling or events to a particular deity. I also don’t feel the need to negate the feelings of someone else  just because I don’t share them.  If you Believe and  you get something out of it, that’s fine with me.

I do have a little trouble with the people who insist their Belief is about Truth and everyone needs to follow the Truth. They’re actually the ones that convinced me that atheism was the way to go.

Group A and B both claim to have the Truth, but their Truths are contradictory. Group A thinks group B is evil and should/will all go to hell. Group B thinks the same thing about group A. A few people in both groups are prepared to take matters into their own hands, since god doesn’t seem to be doing anything about it. Therein lies the problem. If one of those groups really is right, shouldn’t god be doing something about it? At the very least, there should be some sort of evidence of god’s will that people OUTSIDE the group will understand. I can understand why group B wouldn’t convert to group A’s belief system: they hate each other, and that always gets in the way. But there’s a whole bunch of people in groups C – ZZZ who aren’t converting in droves either.

(side note,  I do find some irony in ZZZ representing an arbitrarily large label, as well as a common representation for something boring enough to put you to sleep.)

Anyway, I’ve had more than a few arguments with True Believers, and been caught between arguments (My favorite was the time a Mormon and an evangelical got into it over my celestial sphere – I think the evangelical actually claimed the universe was geocentric at one point, though by that time neither one was particularly cogent.) The outcome of these arguments is that I have come to the conclusion that if there is a god, he/she/it/they are right ass-holes. As far as I can tell, if he/she… exists, he’s hiding away and laughing while the various groups destroy themselves in an effort to prove themselves right. That’s not someone I think is worth worshiping.

That does of course leave me with two options. I could actually go with the “god is unknowable” agnostic option. However, that feels like a cop-out to me. It’s like saying I really want to believe, but I can’t find any empirical evidence, so I’m going to say god is real but undetectable.  Like the invisible pink unicorn. That offends my scientific sensibilities, that everything should be testable or explorable, even if it remains unexplained. It also leaves me right back with god is just a big jerk, who would rather let us fight over which one is right than provide any guidance.

So I go with Atheism.

And you know what? I could be wrong.

So could you.

And that may be the only Truth with a capitol T out there.

Choose something like a star March 20, 2009

Posted by aquillam in Astronomy, Philosophy, poetry.
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I mentioned the other day that when I first heard Walt Whitman’s “When I heard the Learn’d Astronomer”, I interpreted it as meaning that scientists could ruin a good thing with equations. I still think that you can get so focused on the details that you can loose sight of what you’re doing, and more importantly why you’re doing it. However, a few years perspective (and education) actually gave me another view: if you don’t know enough, you can miss so much that it looks like the other person has lost perspective. I don’t think that was really what Whitman had in mind…

This came to me one evening in choir practice, when the director handed out a new set of music called “Frostiana”. It was a series of Robert Frost poems set to music, and one of the movements she had chosen for us was “Choose Something Like a Star.” The insight came to me because one of the people in the group asked why anyone would demand that a star “talk Fahrenheit”, and I got to explain that the color of a star is related to its temperature.

As we left the auditorium that night, a small group of us stopped to look at Orion, and one of the other students, noticing Betelgeuse looked reddish, asked if it was the coolest star. I told her that not only was it cooler, it must also be huge, because it was so bright.
Suddenly the stars were more than just pretty, or even inspiring. They were distant, unreachable, and yet within the ken of human intellect. That was when I felt sorry for Whitman, because he was bored by the details, and so missed the true glory of the heavens, and of humanity.

Of course, that may just me my bias as an astronomer showing.

Choose Something Like a Stae – Robert Frost – 1947

O Star (the fairest one in sight),
We grant your loftiness the right
To some obscurity of cloud —
It will not do to say of night,
Since dark is what brings out your light.
Some mystery becomes the proud.
But to be wholly taciturn
In your reserve is not allowed.

Say something to us we can learn
By heart and when alone repeat.
Say something! And it says “I burn.”
But say with what degree of heat.
Talk Fahrenheit, talk Centigrade.
Use language we can comprehend.
Tell us what elements you blend.

It gives us strangely little aid,
But does tell something in the end.
And steadfast as Keats’ Eremite,
Not even stooping from its sphere,
It asks a little of us here.
It asks of us a certain height,
So when at times the mob is swayed
To carry praise or blame too far,
We may choose something like a star
To stay our minds on and be staid.