Once a week.
Subscribe to our weekly newsletter.
Liberal Education, Leisurism, and Technologism
Here are some of the my reflections, based on more than three decades of teaching, on how to think about the place of liberal education in America. That place, for better and worse, is in our colleges and universities, where it has always been a fairly imperfect fit. If I can find the time, this will be one set of reflections among many.
Let me begin with the classical liberal claim, made by Aristotle, that knowledge and study are ends in themselves, and the greatest happiness is the contemplative life. We see evidence for the truth of this claim in the pure delight very young children experience in figuring out how things work and in learning the names for everything and everyone they can see for themselves. We see the purely nerdy joy of the theoretical physicist, who loses himself or herself in the pure act of discovering the order of nature. The truth is that the world in some sense is the home of the human mind. We were born to know.
But liberal education, of course, couldn’t be simply about losing yourself. It must be mainly about knowing who you are and what you’re supposed to do. Assuming that the cosmos is in some way the home of the human mind, the problem remains that the human person is not only or even essentially a mind. We are born to be both at home and homeless, and even to be at home with our homelessness.
We don’t really learn from Aristotle that the point of human life is contemplation. He just wants us to remember that contemplation is one point among many about being human. By identifying theoretical inquiry with contemplation, he makes it seem even more restful than it really is. He portrays contemplation as a kind of a respite from the activities of living a morally responsible and challenging life.
In the Bible, contemplation becomes more clearly part of every human life through the commandment to keep holy—or reserve for restful contemplation—the Sabbath. Nobody was created only to work, just as nobody was created only to contemplate. Without a place for contemplation—without understanding our “free time” as for civilized leisure, we wouldn’t be living as beings made in the image of the personal, loving, relational, creative logos who is God. We were made to both know and act out of love.
The objections we have to liberal education as contemplation are practical objections we have to the classical philosophy of the Greeks and Romans. One is its privileging of contemplation made ancient science unproductive or sterile. There was not enough thought given to directing minds toward technological goals, toward using them to improving the security, comfort, and freedom of ordinary people.
There is, of course, truth to this criticism, but it’s easy to see that we’ve gone from one extreme to the other.
We might be said to have moved from leisurism to technologism, to the view that equates knowledge with technological control and that every human problem has a technological solution. The Greeks and Romans might have underestimated or downplayed how much human beings could improve their situation through their own efforts, but our excess is to put too much faith in techno-perfectibility.
We put too much faith in what we can do for ourselves, and so we’re not grateful enough for what we’ve been given. Part of liberal education is learning that one’s very being is not in one’s own hands. So from one view, the opposite of liberal education is transhumanism. But from another, liberal education is the mean between leisurism and technologism.
This storm rained electrons, shifted energy from the sun's rays to the magnetosphere, and went unnoticed for a long time.
- An international team of scientists has confirmed the existence of a "space hurricane" seven years ago.
- The storm formed in the magnetosphere above the North magnetic pole.
- The storm posed to risk to life on Earth, though it might have interfered with some electronics.
What do you call that kind of storm when it forms over the Arctic ocean?<iframe width="730" height="430" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/8GqnzBJkWcw" frameborder="0" allow="accelerometer; autoplay; clipboard-write; encrypted-media; gyroscope; picture-in-picture" allowfullscreen></iframe><p> Many objects in space, like Earth, the Sun, most of the planets, and even some large moons, have magnetic fields. The area around these objects which is affected by these fields is known as the magnetosphere.</p><p>For us Earthlings, the magnetosphere is what protects us from the most intense cosmic radiation and keeps the solar wind from affecting our atmosphere. When charged particles interact with it, we see the aurora. Its fluctuations lead to changes in what is known as "space weather," which can impact electronics. </p><p>This "space hurricane," as the scientists are calling it, was formed by the interactions between Earth's magnetosphere and the <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Interplanetary_magnetic_field" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">interplanetary magnetic field,</a> the part of the sun's magnetosphere that goes out into the solar system. It took on the familiar shape of a cyclone as it followed magnetic fields. For example, the study's authors note that the numerous arms traced out the "footprints of the reconnected magnetic field lines." It rotated counter-clockwise with a speed of nearly 7,000 feet per second. The eye, of course, was still and <a href="https://www.sciencealert.com/for-the-first-time-a-plasma-hurricane-has-been-detected-in-space" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">calm</a>.</p><p>The storm, which was invisible to the naked eye, rained electrons and shifted energy from space into the ionosphere. It seems as though such a thing can only form under calm situations when large amounts of energy are moving between the solar wind and the upper <a href="https://www.reading.ac.uk/news-and-events/releases/PR854520.aspx" target="_blank">atmosphere</a>. These conditions were modeled by the scientists using 3-D <a href="https://www.nature.com/articles/s41467-021-21459-y#Sec10" target="_blank">imaging</a>.<br><br>Co-author Larry Lyons of UCLA explained the process of putting the data together to form the models to <a href="https://www.nbcnews.com/science/space/space-hurricane-rained-electrons-observed-first-time-rcna328" target="_blank">NBC</a>:<br><br>"We had various instruments measuring various things at different times, so it wasn't like we took a big picture and could see it. The really fun thing about this type of work is that we had to piece together bits of information and put together the whole picture."<br><br>He further mentioned that these findings were completely unexpected and that nobody that even theorized a thing like this could exist. <br></p><p>While this storm wasn't a threat to any life on Earth, a storm like this could have noticeable effects on space weather. This study suggests that this could have several effects, including "increased satellite drag, disturbances in High Frequency (HF) radio communications, and increased errors in over-the-horizon radar location, satellite navigation, and communication systems."</p><p>The authors <a href="https://www.nature.com/articles/s41467-021-21459-y#Sec8" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">speculate</a> that these "space hurricanes" could also exist in the magnetospheres of other planets.</p><p>Lead author Professor Qing-He Zhang of Shandong University discussed how these findings will influence our understanding of the magnetosphere and its changes with <a href="https://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2021-03/uor-sho030221.php" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">EurekaAlert</a>:</p><p>"This study suggests that there are still existing local intense geomagnetic disturbance and energy depositions which is comparable to that during super storms. This will update our understanding of the solar wind-magnetosphere-ionosphere coupling process under extremely quiet geomagnetic conditions."</p>
Research reveals a new evolutionary feature that separates humans from other primates.
- Researchers find a new feature of human evolution.
- Humans have evolved to use less water per day than other primates.
- The nose is one of the factors that allows humans to be water efficient.
A model of water turnover for humans and chimpanzees who have similar fat free mass and body water pools.
Credit: Current Biology
Being skeptical isn't just about being contrarian. It's about asking the right questions of ourselves and others to gain understanding.
- It's not always easy to tell the difference between objective truth and what we believe to be true. Separating facts from opinions, according to skeptic Michael Shermer, theoretical physicist Lawrence Krauss, and others, requires research, self-reflection, and time.
- Recognizing your own biases and those of others, avoiding echo chambers, actively seeking out opposing voices, and asking smart, testable questions are a few of the ways that skepticism can be a useful tool for learning and growth.
- As Derren Brown points out, being "skeptical of skepticism" can also lead to interesting revelations and teach us new things about ourselves and our psychology.