Tag Archives: Hobbes

Links: Milgram obedience study, Calvin & Hobbes

1. An NPR story about the lasting legacy of the Milgram human-obedience experiments.

2. AVClub visits locations used in “Back to the Future.

3. A map made of one dot per person, color-coded by race, in the U.S.

4. An Atlantic post detailing bias in news reports about the president’s decision on Syria.

5. A Dish post discussing how people felt about their children when infant mortality was greater than now.

6. A Calvin & Hobbes tribute!

Humanities ‘keep us from being trapped by our own desire for certainty’

A clear statement of the value of humanities from someone who teaches a course in “Greatest Hits of Western Civilization” — Sophocles, Plato, Thucydides, Shakespeare, Descartes, Hobbes, Locke, Kant, Mill, Marx, Nietzsche, William James, Freud, Keynes, Eliot  — to engineering and science students:

But it is precisely because science is so powerful that we need the humanities now more than ever. In your science, mathematics and engineering classes, you’re given facts, answers, knowledge, truth. Your professors say, “This is how things are.” They give you certainty. The humanities, at least the way I teach them, give you uncertainty, doubt and skepticism.

The humanities are subversive. They undermine the claims of all authorities, whether political, religious or scientific. This skepticism is especially important when it comes to claims about humanity, about what we are, where we came from, and even what we can be and should be. Science has replaced religion as our main source of answers to these questions. Science has told us a lot about ourselves, and we’re learning more every day.

But the humanities remind us that we have an enormous capacity for deluding ourselves. They also tell us that every single human is unique, different than every other human, and each of us keeps changing in unpredictable ways. The societies we live in also keep changing–in part because of science and technology! So in certain important ways, humans resist the kind of explanations that science gives us.

The humanities are more about questions than answers, and we’re going to wrestle with some ridiculously big questions in this class. Like, What is truth anyway? How do we know something is true? Or rather, why do we believe certain things are true and other things aren’t? Also, how do we decide whether something is wrong or right to do, for us personally or for society as a whole?

Also, what is the meaning of life? What is the point of life? Should happiness be our goal? Well, what the hell is happiness? And should happiness be an end in itself or just a side effect of some other more important goal? Like gaining knowledge, or reducing suffering?

Each of you has to find your own answer to these questions. Socrates, one of the philosophers we’re going to read, said wisdom means knowing how little you know. Socrates was a pompous ass, but there is wisdom in what he says about wisdom.

If I do my job, by the end of this course you’ll question all authorities, including me. You’ll question what you’ve been told about the nature of reality, about the purpose of life, about what it mean to be a good person. Because that, for me, is the point of the humanities: they keep us from being trapped by our own desire for certainty.

Links: 5 March 2013

1. R. Crumb background.

2. Ginsberg reads “Howl.”

3. Bukowski: “So you want to be a writer” poem. More Bukowski here.

4. Fractal electricity demo in plywood (video). See fractals as metaphor for writing here.

5. Biological reaction to arguing.

6. Ta-Nehisi Coates makes a point about being alienated from those who protested the Iraq War.

7. Wittgenstein’s reputation and the limits of philosophy.

8. Floor plans of TV show settings. I’m not sure the Simpsons’ house plan is correct — where’s Maggie’s room?

9. A flow chart for winning global-warming arguments.

10. An interesting description of the value of diversity: multiple viewpoints and context:

People often fail to understand the importance of diversity. They assume it’s all about quotas and political correction but it is about so much more. Diversity (and we’re talking race, class, gender, sexuality, political affiliation, religion, all of it) is about putting multiple points of view into a conversation. It’s about ensuring that no one is operating in the kind of cultural vacuum where they don’t stop to consider context. It’s why certain people and shows and publications keep running into the same brick wall of public outcry about diversity—because these people consistently demonstrate a callous and willful ignorance of context. They see these lines that shouldn’t be crossed and cross them anyway because they are blissfully unencumbered by context.

11. Beyond boredom, bliss.

12. Barbarity of early U.S. history.

13. Hobbes challenged religion as well as government.

14. Another take on Kerouac.

15. The value of rereading in later life the books one was assigned to read in high school. I had this experience with “The Great Gatsby”: I did not like how my high school teacher wanted to explicate every symbol — “the green light means money!” — but when I read it in my 30s (after first overcoming the resistance to rereading), I could appreciate the value of the book. It still isn’t my favorite, but at least I gave it a real chance. Now that I’m a high school teacher, I try to show my students why certain works are interesting without also turning them off to same.

16. Watching deleted scenes and how that affects one.

17. The first word-processed book.

18. How “big-data” algorithms will affect commercial art (if not exactly killing creativity, as the article is titled).

19. AVClub staffers pick their favorite poems.

20. Why one person left teaching.

21. Syllabi for classes taught by famous writers.

22. A daughter talks about her father’s (Wolfgang Nehring’s) sudden death and his approach to life.

23. A meta-study on sugar’s role in diabetes.

24. Toddlers are fussy because their brains are growing and they’re trying to live in the world.

25. History of the c-word.