Why I’m So Cool, Reason #392

 Posted by on 29 June 2007 at 8:24 pm  Uncategorized
Jun 292007

I bought myself an iPhone today.

Yup, that’s NoodleFood on the screen!

Mac Goodies

 Posted by on 28 June 2007 at 10:16 pm  Steve Jobs
Jun 282007

For more than a year, I’ve been periodically searching for timeline-creation software for Windows. (I wanted to create custom timelines for myself and my students.) I never found anything remotely capable of the basic task. To my delight, however, a very nice program is available for the Mac: TimeFlyer.

Similarly, I’ve tried out more flashcard programs than I could possibly remember, but none were to my liking. However, on the Mac, I quickly found the great little program iFlash. It seems to do everything I want, with the usual Mac elegance unheard-of in PC shareware.


In general, I’ve been very impressed with the range and quality of Mac software, both major and minor applications. (Here’s list of Mac equivalents of standard PC programs. It’s a bit dated, but still helpful if you’re thinking of making The Switch.)

Since I’ve been away from Macs (and NeXTStep) for 10 years, I’ve been surprised — and delighted — by the sheer pleasure of computing on my new MacBook Pro. My computer is no longer a mere functional tool. To work on a complex human artifact so carefully, thoughtfully, and beautifully constructed is a genuine source of spiritual fuel. It’s really quite astonishing.

Thank you, Steve Jobs!

Seat 29E

 Posted by on 28 June 2007 at 9:16 pm  Uncategorized
Jun 282007

I only hope that the poor man in seat 29E got a nice hot shower shortly after landing. Let his plight be a lesson to us all…

Objectivism CD-ROM on the Mac

 Posted by on 28 June 2007 at 9:25 am  Uncategorized
Jun 282007

Does anyone have any suggestions for running the Objectivism CD-ROM on the Mac? I can easily use the other two Windows programs I need from my old laptop, so I’d rather not install Parallels just for the Objectivism CD-ROM. I’ve tried CrossOver, but I couldn’t get the program to install.

Any ideas?

Worship of Death

 Posted by on 27 June 2007 at 2:10 pm  Uncategorized
Jun 272007

This bit of history confirms (yet again) that Christianity doesn’t have a monopoly on horrifying death worship:

Scattered throughout Northern Japan are two dozen mummified Japanese monks known as Sokushinbutsu. Followers of Shugendo, an ancient form of Buddhism, the monks died in the ultimate act of self-denial.

For three years the priests would eat a special diet consisting only of nuts and seeds, while taking part in a regimen of rigorous physical activity that stripped them of their body fat. They then ate only bark and roots for another three years and began drinking a poisonous tea made from the sap of the Urushi tree, normally used to lacquer bowls. This caused vomiting and a rapid loss of bodily fluids, and most importantly, it killed off any maggots that might cause the body to decay after death. Finally, a self-mummifying monk would lock himself in a stone tomb barely larger than his body, where he would not move from the lotus position. His only connection to the outside world was an air tube and a bell. Each day he rang a bell to let those outside know that he was still alive. When the bell stopped ringing, the tube was removed and the tomb sealed.

Not all monks who attempted self-mummification were successful. When the tombs were finally opened, some bodies were found to have rotted. These monks were resealed in their tombs. They were respected for their endurance, but they were not worshiped. Those monks who had succeeded in mummifying themselves were raised to the status of Buddha, put on display, and tended to by their followers. The Japanese government outlawed Sokushunbutsu in the late 19th century, though the practice apparently continued into the 20th.

Ugh. (Via Paul.)

Go Forth and Integrate

 Posted by on 27 June 2007 at 9:30 am  Uncategorized
Jun 272007

When Paul posted this story about the exciting discovery of a new method of converting blood types

Scientists have developed a way of converting one blood group into another.

The technique potentially enables blood from groups A, B and AB to be converted into group O negative, which can be safely transplanted into any patient.

The method, which makes use of newly discovered enzymes, may help relieve shortages of blood for transfusions.

…he joked to me, “Well, now the Objectivist epistemology is toast!”

Leonard Peikoff used the example of the incompatibility of blood types in Objectivism: The Philosophy of Ayn Rand to illustrate the principle “since a later discovery rests hierarchically on earlier knowledge, it cannot contradict its own base” (173). So the irony would be downright gooey if this new technique actually overturned our prior understanding of the incompatibility of blood types. Of course — and hence the joke — the new technique is based on that prior knowledge, meaning that it is actually a perfect example of the principle at work.

However, Paul’s comment did have a more serious point, namely that Dr. Peikoff’s fine example has become something of an Objectivist bromide, overused (and misused) by other Objectivists, such that the principle might seem to rest largely on that single example. The same thing happens with Ayn Rand’s various furniture concepts (e.g. coffee table, desk, table, bookcase, furniture) as examples of a low-level hierarchy of concepts. Those examples have been so overused that sometimes it seems like the Objectivist theory of concepts is good for nothing but forming concepts of furniture! (One side-effect is ignorance of the difficulties of forming some low-level concepts, e.g. those those of species of living organisms.)

As I tell my students, if you can’t construct your own examples, then you really don’t understand the abstract principle in question. Using Ayn Rand’s own examples might be legitimate in some contexts, e.g. when introducing Rand’s own views to those unfamiliar with her work. However, the re-use of standard Objectivist examples often seems to stem from haste (i.e. inadequate time to think of a new example), laziness (i.e. unwillingness to exert the effort to develop a new example), or timidity (i.e. fear of using a misbegotten, half-baked, or problematic example).

However, the root problem is that of inadequate connections between abstractions with concretes. A person who really understands some abstract point should have a wide range of clear examples thereof within relatively easy mental grasp. That “shutttling” between abstractions and concretes is a particular specialty of Yaron Brook: when speaking of some abstraction, he is never at a loss for concrete examples. So what he knows, he really knows. It’s damn impressive.

Developing those connections between abstractions and concretes does not require scholarly study or special training. It just requires consciously adopting a policy of identifying all kinds of phenomena in conceptual form as you go about life. So you make a conscious mental note to yourself: “Oh, that’s an instance of X” or “That’s like Y in Z respect.” (Remember to include internal mental states as well as phenomena out in the world.) If you do that regularly, you’ll find yourself with a wide range of examples to draw on in discussion, with firmer grasp of the abstraction, and with a greater capacity to make new integrations.

If you have a terrible memory like me, you might also want to write down the better examples. (That’s one of the reasons I blog: it helps me remember interesting concrete instances of abstract principles.) For example, the recent discovery about converting blood types mentioned above is not merely an instance of the principle that new knowledge cannot contradict its own base, it’s also an instance of Francis Bacon’s dictum “Nature, to be commanded, must be obeyed.” The discovery of a method of altering those blood types would be impossible without the acceptance of the incompatibility of blood types as metaphysical fact.

I’m not as consistent about this policy of conceptualization as I’d like to be. So I’m facile in some areas and bumbling in others. That’s one reason why I’ve chosen to blog about it: the process of writing this post will help remind me to implement the necessary standing orders!

Red Pawn

 Posted by on 26 June 2007 at 6:34 am  Announcements, Recommendations
Jun 262007

Last year, one of my favorite courses at OCON was Dina Schein’s Savoring Ayn Rand’s Red Pawn. Not only was it delightful to talk about my absolute favorite work of Ayn Rand’s outside her novels, but Dina did an excellent job of taking us step-by-step through the literary analysis.

Finally, it’s available from the Ayn Rand Bookstore. Hooray!

Holy Tax Dollars, Batman!

 Posted by on 25 June 2007 at 7:25 am  Uncategorized
Jun 252007

Wow, I was totally blown away by this massive list of substantial tax dollars flowing into religious organizations with faith-based initiatives and the like. Ugh.

Mother Nature’s Pornography

 Posted by on 23 June 2007 at 2:31 pm  Uncategorized
Jun 232007


(Via Monica.)

The New iPhone

 Posted by on 22 June 2007 at 4:52 pm  Uncategorized
Jun 222007

This just-released 20 minute guided tour of Apple’s soon-forthcoming iPhone is just awesome. Obviously, it’s an even more amazing device than the commercials could convey.

On a related note, my switch back to Mac is going very nicely. Although I still have conversion work to do, such as porting OneNote to NoteBook, I’ve been using “Scapula” as my primary machine for a few days now. Despite a bit of fumbling, I’m already more efficient in using it than I ever was with my Windows laptop. That’s due to Apple’s excellent slew of consistent keyboard shortcuts, as well as an end to the slowdown I’ve experienced ever since upgrading to Outlook 2007. I’m extremely happy that I made “The Switch.” I highly recommend it to all disgruntled Windows users.

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