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Soldiers and Scholars
“And so is the type of great men that shaped European history a very particular figure: half warrior, half statesman...” –Richard Wilhelm, 1922.
MOST scholars believe themselves to be a benign force, one that is able to aim but cannot harm. Strictly speaking, there is no physical causation between their creativity and somebody else’s losses. That’s why in America we formally have strict arms control, but no such thing as thought control, with the foreseeable consequence that every kind of intellectual rubbish, extremity, or idiocy is produced and/or committed in our society.
The great achievements of any high culture should rest, of course, on the broad shoulders of academia. The so-called scholarly classes or “the PhDs,” literally doctors for the love of wisdom, are believed to be the gatekeepers of knowledge. Well, let me dwell a bit on what scholars are doing these days, and for whom, and what for.
The difference between science and the fuzzy subjects is that science requires reasoning while those other subjects merely require scholarship. –Robert A. Heinlein
Scholars just like mercenaries or soldiers are constantly at war with competing groups, corporations, and guilds, opposition forces, cultural terrorists, and, yes, even foreign countries. There are personal agendas, of course, but mostly group interests, ideologies, and allegiances.
The idea of the unbiased neutral scholar is a fiction. In fact, the very opposite is the case; the most biased, partial, and corrupt scholars often make it to their nation’s top. Think of the works -all avidly studied in academia- of Lenin, Stalin, Hitler, Mao Zedong, Ayatollah Khomeini, Karl Marx, Martin Heidegger, Max Weber, and so on, because such thinkers produce precisely those ideologies and manifestos which every nation needs to justify nationalism, fascism, expansionism, imperialism, and colonialism –in that order.
Sadly, unlike in the realms of economics, sciences, politics, and the military, there are no checks and balances, letting alone [creative] boundaries, in scholarship –everything goes. Since there are no binding rules (the peer-review system is often but a roped scheme that confirms allegiances), nor any international body to prevent harm systematically done to others, the men-of-letters can do as they please.
Let me be precise. If an economist or a politicians engage in fraud or corruption, if they get caught they will be punished. If a scientist or an engineer commits forgery there are often no legal consequences. That’s because rigged scientific experiments fail the reproduction test and machines that are inoperative fall under the table anyway, so why bother. Scholars, however, are different; they can create and support whatever you hired them to do and write whatever is demanded from them, and it may last forever.
READ MORE Philosophy Is A Syndicate
Did you know that almost every religious cult, corporation, or guild boasts their own ‘research institutes’? Any band of clerics, director, or economists want a study, or two, published about them. Millions of developers each year hire scholars to back a new product, a new start-up, a new project. Guess what they are researching: whatever floats their sponsor’s boat. How about political parties, what are they researching? That’s right, whatever backs their political cause. Did you know that most people working in public relation departments all over the world are trained humanists? Now they prostitute themselves to the movement of whoever pays them.
Some commentators have argued with me that my accusations, although polemic, are still unfair because the humanities are a much bigger realm than the sciences. Scientists are blessed because they have physical laws, mathematical axioms, experiments and what not, but those tools are of little use in the humanities. In the humanities, they say, we don’t have those luxuries.
In the humanities there are too many unscientific factors at play, such as personal relations, hierarchies, entitlement, emotions, feelings, faith, beliefs, motives, ideologies, histories, experiences, philosophies, traditions, creativity, and culture. Yes, one could try to eliminate some of those factors in controlled experiments, but then you get pseudo-sciences like economics and psychology: On paper their theories pose as natural sciences backed by funny statistics, but in reality their theorems wobble and wreck just like all other philosophical systems and religious propositions.
Throughout history the humanities were higher valued than the sciences, for good reasons. Think about all the great archetypes –philosophers, warriors, poets, sages, saints, emperors, heroes! The scientists and engineers are but laboratory gnomes and forging dwarves providing formulas, weapons and machinery for the great project called humanity. To be sure, scientist and engineers will often find themselves as members of the modern workforce. It's because the jiggle with tools, not just thoughts. No more than workforce, but also no less.
“They're so cold, these scholars! May lightning strike their food so that their mouths learn how to eat fire!” –Friedrich Nietzsche
The creative forces and the originality of scholarship are undoubtedly among its greatest strengths, but also its subtle weaknesses; scholars are easily seduced as nations and all kinds of interest groups want to use scholarship to their advantages and against their foes.
I have met businessmen, shareholders, deans, senior editors, and professors who openly admit that they will fire or freeze out any scholar, and any of their submissions, if they don’t fall in line with the firm’s ideology, just like they would fire any other minion, worker, secretary, or dissident. One German multi-millionaire in China who regularly funds research chairs explained to me how universities are like factories. You tell them what to produce, they will do it.
Seeing scholars as workforce, or, worse, as a form of soldiery for a nation’s ultimate cause, is indeed soul-crushing for young adepts. They thought that education makes” free.” They thought education was about VERITAS, “Truth,” only to find out later that their training was designed to transform them –metaphorically speaking- into modern versions of foot-soldiers, missionaries, conquistadors, or looting marauders.
End of Part I.
Image credit: Lazlo/Shutterstock.com
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Richard Feynman once asked a silly question. Two MIT students just answered it.
Here's a fun experiment to try. Go to your pantry and see if you have a box of spaghetti. If you do, take out a noodle. Grab both ends of it and bend it until it breaks in half. How many pieces did it break into? If you got two large pieces and at least one small piece you're not alone.
But science loves a good challenge<p>The mystery remained unsolved until 2005, when French scientists <a href="http://www.lmm.jussieu.fr/~audoly/" target="_blank">Basile Audoly</a> and <a href="http://www.lmm.jussieu.fr/~neukirch/" target="_blank">Sebastien Neukirch </a>won an <a href="https://www.improbable.com/ig/" target="_blank">Ig Nobel Prize</a>, an award given to scientists for real work which is of a less serious nature than the discoveries that win Nobel prizes, for finally determining why this happens. <a href="http://www.lmm.jussieu.fr/spaghetti/audoly_neukirch_fragmentation.pdf" target="_blank">Their paper describing the effect is wonderfully funny to read</a>, as it takes such a banal issue so seriously. </p><p>They demonstrated that when a rod is bent past a certain point, such as when spaghetti is snapped in half by bending it at the ends, a "snapback effect" is created. This causes energy to reverberate from the initial break to other parts of the rod, often leading to a second break elsewhere.</p><p>While this settled the issue of <em>why </em>spaghetti noodles break into three or more pieces, it didn't establish if they always had to break this way. The question of if the snapback could be regulated remained unsettled.</p>
Physicists, being themselves, immediately wanted to try and break pasta into two pieces using this info<p><a href="https://roheiss.wordpress.com/fun/" target="_blank">Ronald Heisser</a> and <a href="https://math.mit.edu/directory/profile.php?pid=1787" target="_blank">Vishal Patil</a>, two graduate students currently at Cornell and MIT respectively, read about Feynman's night of noodle snapping in class and were inspired to try and find what could be done to make sure the pasta always broke in two.</p><p><a href="http://news.mit.edu/2018/mit-mathematicians-solve-age-old-spaghetti-mystery-0813" target="_blank">By placing the noodles in a special machine</a> built for the task and recording the bending with a high-powered camera, the young scientists were able to observe in extreme detail exactly what each change in their snapping method did to the pasta. After breaking more than 500 noodles, they found the solution.</p>
The apparatus the MIT researchers built specifically for the task of snapping hundreds of spaghetti sticks.
(Courtesy of the researchers)
What possible application could this have?<p>The snapback effect is not limited to uncooked pasta noodles and can be applied to rods of all sorts. The discovery of how to cleanly break them in two could be applied to future engineering projects.</p><p>Likewise, knowing how things fragment and fail is always handy to know when you're trying to build things. Carbon Nanotubes, <a href="https://bigthink.com/ideafeed/carbon-nanotube-space-elevator" target="_self">super strong cylinders often hailed as the building material of the future</a>, are also rods which can be better understood thanks to this odd experiment.</p><p>Sometimes big discoveries can be inspired by silly questions. If it hadn't been for Richard Feynman bending noodles seventy years ago, we wouldn't know what we know now about how energy is dispersed through rods and how to control their fracturing. While not all silly questions will lead to such a significant discovery, they can all help us learn.</p>
Join Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter and best-selling author Charles Duhigg as he interviews Victoria Montgomery Brown, co-founder and CEO of Big Think.
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In a recent study, researchers examined how Christian nationalism is affecting the U.S. response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
- A new study used survey data to examine the interplay between Christian nationalism and incautious behaviors during the COVID-19 pandemic.
- The researchers defined Christian nationalism as "an ideology that idealizes and advocates a fusion of American civic life with a particular type of Christian identity and culture."
- The results showed that Christian nationalism was the leading predictor that Americans engaged in incautious behavior.
A pastor at the chapel of the St. Josef Hospital on April 1, 2020 in Bochum, German
Sascha Schuermann/Getty Images<p>Christian nationalists, in general, believe the U.S. and God's will are tied together, and they want the government to embody conservative Christian values and symbols. As such, they also believe the nation's fate depends on how closely it adheres to Christianity.</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"Unsurprisingly then, in the midst of the COVID‐19 pandemic, conservative pastors prophesied God's protection over the nation, citing America's righteous support for President Trump and the prolife agenda," the researchers write.</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"Correspondingly, the link between Christian nationalism and God's influence on how COVID‐19 impacts America can be seen in proclamations about God's divine judgment for its immorality―with the logic being that God is using the pandemic to draw wayward America <em>back </em>to himself, which assumes the two belong together."</p><p>The logical conclusion to this kind of thinking: America can save itself not through cautionary measures, like mask-wearing, but through devotion to God. What's more, it stands to reason that Christian nationalists are less likely to trust the media and scientists, given that these sources are generally not concerned with promoting a conservative, religious view of the world.</p><p>(The researchers note that they're unaware of any research directly linking Christian nationalism to distrust of media sources, but that they're almost certain the two are connected.)</p>
Predicted values of Americans' frequency of incautious behaviors during the COVID‐19 pandemic across values of Christian nationalism
Perry et al.<p>In the new study, the researchers examined three waves of results from the Public and Discourse Ethics Survey. One wave of the survey was issued in May, and it asked respondents to rate how often they engaged in both incautious and precautionary behaviors.</p><p>Incautious behaviors included things like "ate inside a restaurant" and "went shopping for nonessential items," while precautionary behaviors included "washed my hands more often than typical" and "wore a mask in public."</p><p>To measure Christian nationalism, the researchers asked respondents to rate how strongly they agree with statements like "the federal government should advocate Christian values" and "the success of the United States is part of God's plan."</p><p>The results suggest that, compared to other groups, Christian nationalists are far less likely to wear masks, socially distance and take other precautionary measures amid the COVID-19 pandemic.</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"Christian nationalism was the leading predictor that Americans engaged in incautious behavior during the pandemic, and the second leading predictor that Americans avoided taking precautionary measures."</p><p>But that's not to say that religious beliefs are causing Americans to reject mask-wearing or social distancing. In fact, when the study accounted for Christian nationalist beliefs, the results showed that Americans with high levels of religiosity were likely to take precautionary measures for COVID-19.</p>
Limitations<p>Still, the researchers note that they're theorizing about the connections between Christian nationalism and COVID-19 behaviors, not documenting them directly. What's more, they suggest that certain experiences — such as having a family member that contracts COVID-19 — might change a Christian nationalist's behaviors during the pandemic.</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"Limitations notwithstanding, the implications of this study are important for understanding Americans' curious inability to quickly implement informed and reasonable strategies to overcome the threat of COVID‐19, an inability that has likely cost thousands of lives," they write.</p>
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