Aug 312005

The California Attorney General has sued McDonald’s and Wendy’s for failing to put warning labels on their french fries telling customers that they contain chemicals that (at very high doses) might cause cancer or other health problems.

According to the article,

The lawsuit alleges that companies have violated a state law passed in 1986 requiring companies to provide warnings before exposing people to known carcinogens or reproductive toxins.

In 2002, scientists found potatoes and other starchy foods cooked at high temperatures contained low levels of acrylamide. Other studies have discounted the potential toxicity of acrylamide to humans

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration is studying the impact of acrylamide levels in food. In a March press release, the FDA said “acrylamide can cause cancer in laboratory animals at high doses, although it is not clear whether it causes cancer in humans at the much lower levels found in food.

(Emphasis mine.)

Evolutionary Psychology

 Posted by on 31 August 2005 at 8:39 am  Uncategorized
Aug 312005

Paul recently pointed me to this article on emerging criticisms of evolutionary psychology. Although I’ve not studied the subject in great depth, my general understanding of what I have read (mostly for an undergraduate course on “The Biological Foundations of Human Behavior”) is that the subject fundamentally rests upon the arbitrary rationalizations of “Just So Stories” coupled with the falsehood of genetic determinism. As the article indicates, I doubt that even its model of the brain as modular-by-genes is correct.

However, I’m open to hearing an Objectivist case for evolutionary psychology — if such is possible. I’m particularly concerned with the apparent conflict between the fact of human volition and the explanations for human behavior offered by evolutionary psychology. I’d also love pointers to articles that a defender of evolutionary psychology regards as good science untainted by bad philosophy.

So fire away!

Cats In Sinks

 Posted by on 30 August 2005 at 7:55 pm  Uncategorized
Aug 302005

Need I say more?

Genetic Lies

 Posted by on 30 August 2005 at 7:35 am  Uncategorized
Aug 302005

Virginia Postrel recent posted an interesting bit on parents concealing their use of donated eggs from their resulting children, including its ramifications for political debates about paying egg donors.

Somewhat to my surprise, I’m fairly sympathetic to such concealment, so long as it doesn’t involve any active deception. In general, I regard the modern concern for “biological parents” as bordering on deterministic obsession. Sure, it’s nice to know the source of your physical characteristics. (Personally, I’m blessed with my mother’s crooked fingers and my father’s bad feet. Paul often informs me that if he had known about these substantial defects earlier, he never would have married me!) And it’s sometimes helpful to know your family’s medical history. Yet those considerations hardly explain all the fuss over genetic parents.

In particular, I’m baffled by adopted children who desperately pursue their genetic parents. They often do so against the explicit wishes of those genetic parents. Or they claim to love and respect the real parents who chose to raise them, yet end up calling their genetic parents “Mom” and “Dad.” Such people often don’t seem to regard the real parents who raised them as their real parents. I even remember one person — someone I barely knew — blurting out that she was adopted when she mentioned her parents in the course of casual conversation. It was unnerving.

Perhaps such people aren’t as happy with the adopted parents as they claim to be, even if not abused or neglected. They wonder whether their life would have been better with their genetic parents. Perhaps they regard themselves as fundamentally deficient due to rejection by the very people who were supposed to love and care for them. They might have been told about the adoption when too young to understand its actual meaning. Perhaps the focus on biological parents is merely a manifestation of general psychological problems like insecurity and self-doubt. Those psychological problems would surely emerge in other ways if the child wasn’t aware of the egg/sperm donation or adoption.

In any case, I don’t wish to trivialize the damage that a parent can do by lying to a child about his genetic parents. If a child notices that he looks different from his family, his parents ought to be willing to tell him why. To conceal it is to undermine a child’s trust in his parents and confidence in his own judgment. However, today’s near-obsession with genetic ancestry is probably less than healthy for all concerned.

Aristotle’s Catfish

 Posted by on 29 August 2005 at 8:22 pm  Uncategorized
Aug 292005

A few days ago, I was searching the wonderfully helpful for the source text of Aristotle’s distinctions between first potentiality (e.g. “I am the sort of being that is able to learn Russian”), second potentiality/first actuality (e.g. “I am able to speak Russian, but I am not presently doing so”), and second actuality (e.g. “I am presently speaking Russian”) for my paper on the marginal humans argument for animal liberation/rights. (Really, it’s quite relevant!) In the process, I surfed to this page on Aristotle’s Catfish. I’d heard the basic outline of the story from someone some time ago, but so I was delighted to read the details about this vindication of Aristotle’s biology. However, I was even more delighted to see that the first of the two listed sources was none other than “‘Aristotle as Scientist’ lecture given by Dr. Allan Gotthelf, August 1989″ — with the link to the Ayn Rand Bookstore.

(Obviously, that lecture is still on my “To Do” list — now bumped up a few notches! Unfortunately, it’s not yet available on CD. Since I’ve discovered the joyful ease of listening to lectures on my iPod, I don’t wish to buy any more tapes.)

Medical Education

 Posted by on 28 August 2005 at 9:15 pm  Health Care
Aug 282005

In the comments section, Marnie recently asked,

What is Paul’s specialty please? How many years out of school is he? Does he still recommend the business? [I start post-bac pre-med classes in 3 weeks.]

In response to Marnie’s questions:

1) My field is diagnostic radiology, with subspecialty interests in trauma/emergency radiology and orthopedic radiology.

2) My education consisted of 4-years college (i.e., pre-med), 4 years medical school, one year laboratory research at the NIH (National Institutes of Health) in Bethesda MD, 4 years residency in diagnostic radiology, and one year of additional clinical fellowship training in MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) with emphasis in advanced orthopedic radiology.

Since then, I’ve been in practice for 11 years, both as a faculty member at the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis (3 years) as well as 8 years of private practice (3 years in San Diego, and 5 years now in Denver.)

3) I still recommend the field provided that one finds the actual science and art of medicine interesting in their own right. In that case, the various b*llsh*t elements related to government regulations are tolerable, at least for the time being.

I personally find the field intellectually fascinating. Plus the technology is advancing at an exciting pace.

During my daily practice, I get to deal with people who are for the most part very rational (at least with respect to work), goal-directed, and efficacious. Most of my day is a constant use of reason (both induction and deduction), applied directly to issues of ultimate value, namely another person’s life. In terms of job satisfaction, it’s hard to beat this combination.

Since a lot of people don’t know exactly what a modern radiologist does, I thought I’d explain in a little bit more detail what I do and what I like about my job.

There’s nothing I enjoy more than solving a diagnostic mystery by taking a set of subtle and apparently disconnected findings from a patient’s x-rays, CAT scans, and MRI’s, and integrating them in order to arrive at a correct diagnosis.

Similarly, I enjoy performing invasive radiology procedures (so-called “interventional radiology”) where I use real-time x-ray imaging to guide a needle to a target within a patient’s body (avoiding all the critical nerves and blood vessels), in order to either perform a biopsy or deliver a dose of medication to exactly the right spot in as pain-free and safe a fashion as humanly possible.

Advances in imaging technology allow radiologists to perform procedures in the x-ray suite that 20 years ago would have required much riskier open surgery. Interventional radiology is like playing a video game, but where the stakes are much higher (as are the rewards).

Colorado is a very outdoors-oriented state, and hence a lot of people enjoy activities like skiing, snowboarding, mountain biking, rock-climing, etc. Hence, if you were to take a bad fall on the ski slopes at Aspen or Vail and hurt your knee, it would be me who would interpret your MRI scan and tell your orthopedic surgeon which structures were torn and which were ok.

Or if you were to get into a bad car accident in the middle of the night and were helicoptered to our Level 1 trauma hospital, it would be me who would read your emergency CAT scans and tell the trauma surgeons which organs were critically injured and needed immediate repair, which were less critically injured (and still needed attention, but not immediately), and which structures were ok.

I think I have one of the coolest jobs in the world. It was a long road to get to the point of being able to practice independently as full-fledged board-certified physician, but it was well worth it in the end.

Medicine is an extremely varied field, and there is a branch of medicine that should suit nearly any personality type. For instance, some people enjoy high-pressure specialities that require quick-decision making skills like trauma surgery, whereas other people like slower paced puzzle-solving fields like pediatric endocrinology. Some people enjoy fields with a lot of patient contact like family practice, others prefer fields with minimal patient contact like pathology. Hence, Marnie, you should be able find a field that suits your interests and temperament.

I wish you much success and happiness in your studies, Marnie. If you have any further questions about medical education, I’d be happy to answer them, either here or via e-mail.

Three "Keynote" Speakers

 Posted by on 28 August 2005 at 8:09 pm  Uncategorized
Aug 282005

This spring, Boulder’s “Rocky Mountain Student Philosophy Conference” will have not one but three keynote speakers:

Linda Martin Alcoff is Professor of Philosophy and Women’s Studies and the Meredith Professor for Teaching Excellence at Syracuse University. She received her Ph.D. from Brown University in 1987. Linda Martin Alcoff works primarily in continental philosophy, epistemology, feminist theory, and philosophy of race. Her books include Feminist Epistemologies (Routledge, 1993), Thinking From the Underside of History (Rowman & Littlefield, 2000), Epistemology: The Big Questions (Blackwell), Real Knowing: New Versions of the Coherence Theory of Knowledge (Cornell, 1996), Identities (Blackwell, 2002). She has written over forty articles concerning Foucault, sexual violence, the politics of knowledge, and gender and race identity, and is at work on a new book forthcoming with Oxford entitled Visible Identities: Race, Gender and the Self. She has served as Co-Director of the Society for Phenomenology and Existential Philosophy and Chair of the APA Committee on Hispanics.

Claudia Card received her Ph.D. in philosophy from Harvard University and is Emma Goldman Professor of Philosophy at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, where she is also Affiliate Professor in Jewish Studies, LGBT Studies, Women’s Studies, and Environmental Studies. She is author of The Atrocity Paradigm: A Theory of Evil (Oxford, 2002), The Unnatural Lottery: Character and Moral Luck (Temple 1996), Lesbian Choices (Columbia 1995), and more than 100 articles and reviews; editor of Feminist Ethics (Kansas 1991), Adventures in Lesbian Philosophy (Indiana 1994), The Cambridge Companion to Simone de Beauvoir (Cambridge, 2003), On Feminist Ethics and Politics (Kansas 1999), and a special issue of Hypatia: Journal of Feminist Philosophy (1992). She has delivered over 100 papers at conferences, colleges and universities and has been featured in 10 radio broadcasts.

Uma Narayan received her B.A. in Philosophy from Bombay University and her M.A. in Philosophy from Poona University, India. She received her Ph.D. from Rutgers University in 1990. She is a Professor of Philosophy at Vassar College. She is the author of Dislocating Cultures: Identities, Traditions and Third World Feminism. She has coedited Reconstructing Political Theory: Feminist Perspectives with Prof. Mary L. Shanley, Having and Raising Children with Prof. Julia Bartkowiak and Decentering the Center: Postcolonial and Feminist Challenges to Philosophy with Prof. Sandra Harding. She regularly offers courses on Contemporary Moral Issues, Social and Political Philosophy and Feminist Theory in the philosophy department. She frequently teaches courses for the Women’s Studies program, such as Introduction to Women’s Studies and Global Feminism.

No comment required, I think.

Chinese for Firefly Fans

 Posted by on 28 August 2005 at 6:10 am  Uncategorized
Aug 282005

This website explains all the Chinese words and phrases used in Firefly and a little bit from Serenity. (Via Gravity Lens.)

Noodly Round Up

 Posted by on 27 August 2005 at 1:04 pm  Uncategorized
Aug 272005

Since Don Watkins is gone for the weekend, I suppose that I’ll do a round up:

  • I love making fun of the enemy. (Via GeekPress.)
  • On a related note, you might think that I named this blog “NoodleFood” based upon the idea that it offers “Philosophical Food for Your Noodle!” However, I think it’s time for me to confess my up-to-now secret worship of the Flying Spaghetti Monster. NoodleFood is actually my daily sacrificial offering to the His Noodliness; my unworthy words feed him. So, I hereby declare my total agreement with Bobby Henderson’s open letter to the Kansas School Board: If Intelligent Design is to be taught in government schools, then FSM-ism ought to be taught too.
  • Given that the libertarian movement embraces a diversity of philosophic foundations for liberty, it’s hardly surprising to find increasing disagreement about political issues amongst libertarians. I keep an eye out for these disputes, as they make handy talking points when I explain why I’m not a libertarian. Some well-known and standard ones include whether governments necessarily violate rights, whether abortion is murder, whether a defensive war violates the rights of innocents in the aggressing country, whether law should be legislated, whether intellectual property rights exist, whether using my absent neighbor’s hose to put out the fire consuming his house violates his rights, and so on. So here’s another: libertarian animal rights. Although these rights-for-beasts libertarians are not terribly common at present, they seem to be growing in number. (As a happy coincidence, I’m presently writing a paper on the errors of the argument from marginal humans discussed in that essay. Don Watkins’ essay on broken units helped me sort out significant confusions about species normality, I should mention.)
  • The Charlotte Observer has a short article on BB&T Bank’s recent one million dollar donation to UNC Charlotte’s College of Business. Happily, Objectivist businessman extraordinaire John Allison has been very successful selling this “moral foundations of capitalism” package to business schools.
  • I’m quite amused by Dennis Hardin’s recent SOLO article “Nathaniel Branden vs. Ayn Rand on Morality.” Hardin does not merely fail to anywhere mention that the whole essay is a response to my recent post “Nathaniel Branden’s Campaign Against Objective Moral Judgment.” He also borders on plagiarism by copying the structure and even lifting some text from my post. He does mention me in passing, but not even by name. He just writes — totally out of the blue and toward the very end — that “one observer contends that Branden espouses this notion with the hope others might want to ‘take responsibility for his [i.e., Branden's] moral depravity.’” The included link is not even to the relevant post, but to August’s huge monthly archive. Just by way of contrast, I clearly identified and linked to all of Nathaniel Branden’s relevant writings in my post. I even explicitly defended that practice as necessary against a stupid, dishonest troll on Objectivism Online — on the grounds that my readers need to judge the fairness and accuracy of my criticisms for themselves. I’m not afraid that honest readers will reject my criticisms if also given easy access to the primary sources. Dennis Hardin doesn’t seem so confident — and rightly so. Also, the voluminous comments on Hardin’s essay are informative: they show an almost universal lack of concern for Ayn Rand’s actual views on moral judgment from these supposed “Sense of Life Objectivists.”
  • I have just a few more days to finish up my flurry on posts on the various false friends of Objectivism. Yikes! (I’ve set myself a deadline of August 31st, as I don’t want it drag on and on forever.) Although working through these issues in writing has been very helpful to me, I’m looking forward to focusing on more positive philosophical concerns.
Aug 272005

As a follow-up to the discussion of libertarians, subjectivism, and Von Mises, I thought I’d quote this interesting excerpt from Peter Schwartz’s lecture “Contextual Knowledge“.

The basic theme of his talk is that someone who holds the “right” conclusions but for the wrong reasons (i.e., based on the wrong philosophic foundations) actually holds the wrong ideas, despite any superficial agreement with someone who holds the “same” right ideas for the right reasons (i.e., based on the right philosophy). He devotes the lecture to developing and defending this argument, and I won’t repeat it all here.

During the Q&A period, two people asked him about subjectivism and the Austrian school of economics. I’ve transcribed his responses as faithfully as possible, making only minor editing changes (for clarity, and to eliminating words like “um”). Here is what he said:

That’s a good question. You ask how do I reconcile my disagreement – my rejection of subjectivism philosophically — with the Austrian school of economics which has a lot of good things to say in defense of capitalism but is basically founded philosophically on subjectivism. Well, that’s a good question. And I would distinguish these two things.

To the extent that the Austrian school of economics, or any school of thought, actually derives their views from subjectivism, those views — you can’t do much with those views. Those views don’t mean anything. You can’t validate those views. You can’t justify them. You can’t give logical reasons for them because if they really are dependent on subjectivism, subjectivism means whatever I say is just as good as whatever you say. So who am I to say that, “The law of supply and demand works”; you say, “Well, I don’t think it works.”

The point is that I don’t think they really are subjectivist – philosophically subjectivist — through and through. There are elements of subjectivism that actually undercuts a good deal of what they say. But if you look at even Mises for example, who is openly over and over a champion of subjectivism nominally – he on the other hand constantly upholds individualism, he upholds absolute principles, he upholds the laws of logic, at times let’s say.

Now a subjectivist could do none of this. There’s an internal inconsistency. And I think that Mises and others are correct in their economic views despite their (in spite of their) subjectivist orientation, not because of it. And they’re not consistently applying their philosophy of subjectivism. It’s to the extent that they’re deviating from the logical implications of subjectivism – it’s to that extent that they’re correct and they have very good things to say. And you therefore can incorporate that into a proper philosophic foundation like Objectivism.

To the extent, however, that they do follow the implications of subjectivism, they go off in all kinds of bizarre directions. Dr. Ridpath can give you some good examples of that if you ask him at the break… That’s basically my answer.


Someone like Hayek for example — I do not regard Hayek as a defender of capitalism.

I regard Mises as a defender of capitalism. And the reason is that Hayek consistently applies the philosophy that forms the context for his conclusions.

Mises does not; Mises is mixed. That is, Mises has an explicitly subjectivist philosophy but an implicit rational philosophy to a certain extent. It is that implicit philosophy that he relies on without naming it explicitly as the basis for his views.

So for example, I don’t think it’s conceivable that somebody could be an arch-defender of the individual against government, I don’t see how somebody could be a defender of (or even a definer of) property rights as against state intervention. You could not do that unless you had an implicitly individualistic philosophy, which itself requires an implicitly objective approach to reality. The problem is that he doesn’t explicitly realize it, and he’s torn in a conflict. And the good things about him I think follow from his implicit philosophy and the bad things from his explicit. But I would not say, and I’m glad you raised that question, because I did not mean to say that, “Well yes, he’s a subjectivist but he came up with good things, so it’s ok anyways”.

To the extent that subjectivism forms the context for his conclusions, he is wrong. The point is that it often is *not* the basis for his conclusion even though he mistakenly sometimes thinks it is.

I’ve read very little Hayek and Von Mises, so I can’t comment on Schwartz’s analysis of those two particular cases. But I think he makes some very interesting general points about implicit vs. explicit philosophy, and how someone can therefore be advocating the right ideas if they are derived from a good implicit philosophy, despite a bad explicit philosophy.

Suffusion theme by Sayontan Sinha