Links and Comments: Religious Matters, 27Mar21:

Jerry Coyne on David Brooks; Nicholas Kristof on progressive Christians; Evangelicals’ false doctrine.

Continue reading

Posted in Religion | Comments Off on Links and Comments: Religious Matters, 27Mar21:

The Most Beautiful Music in the World: Mahler s5m2

It’s a passage of just over a minute, beginning at 17:50 of this Claudio Abbado performance of Mahler’s 5th symphony, and about four minutes into the second movement. It’s as if the world stops, ponders, and reflects. Then re-emerges, confidant.

The volume of this video is subdued; the passage is also at

beginning at about 4:08.

This came to mind by my listening to Leonard Rosenman’s score to the film Fantastic Voyage, which I reviewed this week at Black Gate. The four note motif of that score, about 1:10 into this YouTube suite, evoked the opening notes of this Mahler passage.

Posted in Music | Comments Off on The Most Beautiful Music in the World: Mahler s5m2

Nonfiction Notes: Adam Grant’s THINK AGAIN

Adam Grant, THINK AGAIN: The Power of Knowing What You Don’t Know (2021)

This is a recent book, still on the bestseller lists, by an author I had not previously encountered. He’s a professor and TED talker. The book seems a little bit self-helpy, so I came to it guardedly. It seems to me that many self-help books identify a problem they claim you have, and then tell you how to fix it, to their advantage. Like that snake-oil salesman*.

At the same time, this book presents itself as one about “knowing what you don’t know,” which suggests to me the essence of science: being willing to update beliefs with new evidence, of acknowledging that what you think is true may not be true forever, about how to be a life-long learner.

Continue reading

Posted in Book Notes, Psychology, Science | Comments Off on Nonfiction Notes: Adam Grant’s THINK AGAIN

Links and Comments: Confessed Liars, Their Targets, Right-Wing Political Spin

Confessed liars Sidney Powell (and Tucker Carlson); gullibility for conspiracy theories; Right-wing misinformation campaigns.

Continue reading

Posted in Politics, Psychology | Comments Off on Links and Comments: Confessed Liars, Their Targets, Right-Wing Political Spin

Links and Comments: APOD; Trusting Science; Trusting Experts

Another amazing photo from APOD–

Which as in previous photos like this that I’ve posted, shows a huge swath of sky, as we would see it with all the stars we *can* see, along with all the nebulae that we humans *cannot* see with our human eyes. It’s a big patch of sky, from the constellations Auriga at left to Orion on its left side in upper right. Click to the site and move cursor over photo to see IDs of main stars and nebulae.
Continue reading

Posted in Astronomy, Science | Comments Off on Links and Comments: APOD; Trusting Science; Trusting Experts

Nonfiction Notes: Alan Lightman’s PROBABLE IMPOSSIBILITIES

Alan Lightman: PROBABLE IMPOSSIBILITIES (2021)

This is a new book of essays by a professor at MIT, author of earlier books including the well-regarded novel Einstein’s Dreams (Wikipedia, way back in 1993) and most recently of essay collection Searching for Stars on an Island in Maine, which I reviewed here in 2019. I was dubious then about Lightman’s straining for the kind of “meaning” that doesn’t actually exist in our vast, inhuman universe. Yet his insights are valuable; he is attuned to the patterns of the universe in a way few people are; and this book has some striking essays.

The book consists of 17 essays, plus notes. Some of these essays are chatty, as when the author interviews various specialists. I’ll just mention the highlights.

Continue reading

Posted in Book Notes, Philosophy, Science | Comments Off on Nonfiction Notes: Alan Lightman’s PROBABLE IMPOSSIBILITIES

Nonfiction Notes: Elizabeth Kolbert’s UNDER A WHITE SKY

This modestly-length book is a sequel of sorts to the author’s The Sixth Extinction (2014), which won a Pulitzer Prize and which I greatly admired. (My review here.) That book was about how the human impact on the planet, especially in recent centuries, is bringing about a mass extinction of species on Earth, comparable to the five earlier ones seen in the fossil record, including the one that killed the dinosaurs.

This new book is similar in style but with a more specific theme. Again, each chapter focuses on a specific circumstance of how an ecology or species has been affected by human activity, with the author visiting remote places and interviewing key people. And again, some of these chapters likely appeared as long essays in The New Yorker or elsewhere. The more specific theme is this: how humans have made messes of things, and how only smarter human action can repair them. What’s needed is more control, not less; there’s no sitting back and letting the Earth repair itself. Each chapter discusses a specific example. Only toward the end does the book address possible remedies to the large problem of climate change, which is where the title of the book comes in.

Continue reading

Posted in Book Notes, Science | Comments Off on Nonfiction Notes: Elizabeth Kolbert’s UNDER A WHITE SKY

Links and Comments: Science Matters, 18 Mar 2021

Catching up on things that have caught me eye the past week or two. How humans have remade the Earth; about Daylight Saving Time; Dark Matter; How time might flow in two directions; the Nature of mathematics.

Continue reading

Posted in Mathematics, Philosophy | Comments Off on Links and Comments: Science Matters, 18 Mar 2021

Thinking On Blog: Wise Men

(This is a blog post version of the process of “thinking out loud.”)

In a book I read recently – it was Michael Shermer’s first book, WHY PEOPLE BELIEVE WEIRD THINGS, my comments posted here) — the author made the point that “Most scientists who’ve ever lived are alive today.”

This is of course mostly an effect of the increase in the global population in recent centuries, but also of the rise of the scientific revolution, beginning with the Enlightenment; there simply were no scientists, in the modern sense, until 300 or 400 years ago.

But the thought led to this idea. Never mind scientists per se; how about wise men (or women) are there now, have there ever been, in any sense?

Continue reading

Posted in Philosophy, Religion | Comments Off on Thinking On Blog: Wise Men

Link and Comments: Some Extremely Obvious Statements About Religion

Daylight Atheism, March 15, James A. Haught: The Long, Slow Death of Religion

This piece echoes my comments a few weeks ago when discussing Michael Shermer’s HOW WE BELIEVE (here). Shermer made the point that polls showed (when he published the book in 2000) no decrease in claims of religious beliefs about God, about the afterlife, and so on, compared to 20 or 30 years before. I made the point that, 20 years on from that Shermer book, there *have* been trends in polls of religious belief — downward. Thus the so-called “rise of the nones,” i.e. those who answer such polls, which offer a selection of religious faiths, with “none of the above.” (Here’s the first item that comes up on Google for the phrase, from 2015: Pew Research Center: A closer look at America’s rapidly growing religious ‘nones’.)

Today, on Adam Lee’s Daylight Atheism site, is this Haught essay, beginning with the observation that the percentage of “nones” has risen to some 25%.

Continue reading

Posted in Religion | Comments Off on Link and Comments: Some Extremely Obvious Statements About Religion