Archive for June, 2008
Congratulations to all our friends in Spain on their country’s winning the 2008 European Championship of Football!Â It’s been 44 years in coming, and the only thing I can think of that’s different about this year is that the Metanexus Institute decided to hold its annual conference in Madrid 13-17 July.Â Perhaps we’ve brought our friends un poco de buena suerte…?
Photo from El PaÃs
“I think he’s down there now, screaming up at us.Â And I think he’s in severe pain.”Â That’s from a bit by George Carlin, recently deceased.Â (Why is it “deceased”?Â Why not just “ceased”?Â George Carlin ceased on June 22, 2008.)Â In the bit, Carlin is making fun of those of us who say about our dead loved ones, “I think he’s up there now, smiling down on us.”Â Carlin ponders why we never think our loved ones are headed the opposite direction…a fair question, given all we know about our loved ones!Â Anyway, I’ll admit it:Â George Carlin made me laugh a lot for a very long time.Â I didn’t like all his positions on the issues (I only really love comedians who have positions on the issues), but whether he made me laugh until the Guinness flowed out my nose or whether he made me want to throw my pint glass (empty, of course) at him, he also often made me think.
He didn’t think much of those of us who believe (or who claim to believe) in God, but you’ve got to admit he often caught us at our hypocritical worst.Â And that produced, at least in me, that kind of laughter mixed with guilt that leads to thinking about things.Â But that doesn’t exactly make him a great philosopher or fount of deep wisdom.Â Just because what he said he said funny doesn’t mean what he said was right.Â But then again, just because what he said wasn’t always right doesn’t mean that what he said wasn’t always funny.Â It was always funny, even when it was uncomfortable.
For instance, some people (not me) find Carlin’s use of the 7 Words You Can’t Say on TV makes them uncomfortable.Â I am using the lexical strategy of writing F*@% instead of…well, you know…, not because of my sensibilities because of yours (potentially).Â It’s called being polite.Â Carlin would not make that concession.Â He didn’t like tradition or custom of any kind.Â For him, it was all bullsh*t and it was all “bad for ya.”Â But he does say in his latest HBO show–tellingly, and maybe not in the sense he meant it–that “bullsh*t” is the glue that holds this country (any country, any society, any culture) together.Â Where Carlin reads “bullsh*t” as “known to be untruth, (and therefore a lie)” I read it as “something gratuitous and contingent that could’ve been otherwise.”Â We both agree that things like whether to doff your hat at the passing of the American flag or whether to wear a tie in formal circumstances is not THE TRUTH of THE WAY THINGS REALLY ARE AND HAVE TO BE.Â But we need just those things to have a human life, however dangerous we let some of that bullsh*t become.Â My cat does not bullsh*t, but my cat is not human.
HBO is running his latest live show, “It’s Bad For Ya!.”Â Carlin’s opening:Â “I’d like to begin by saying, ‘F*@% Lance Armstrong….Â And while you’re at it,Â f*@% Tiger Woods, too….Â I’m sick and tired of being told who to admire in this country.Â Aren’t you sick of being told who your heroes are supposed to be?”Â I couldn’t agree more.Â I liked George Carlin ever since I was a kid.Â He made me laugh. He made me think.Â But to read some obits, Carlin was supposed to be some kind of hero.Â The guy who did Al Sleet, theHippy-Dippy Weatherman; the guy who is best known for saying a particularÂ set of 7 words on television; you mean to tell me that that guy is a hero???Â Well, F*@% George Carlin!
I think he would’ve wanted it this way.Â I think he’s down there now, smiling up at us.Â Or perhaps that’s a grimace…hard to tell from SUCH a distance….
Michael Shermer reviews Alan Sokal’s latest, Beyond the HoaxÂ in the New York Sun.Â Shermer writes:
Why did academics fall for it [the famous “Sokal hoax,” that spoofed postmodern “theorizing”]? The hindsight bias and the confirmation bias. Once you believe that science holds no privileged position in the search for truth, and that it is just another way of knowing, it is easy to pull out of an article like Mr. Sokal’s additional evidence that supports your belief. It is a very human process, and since science is conducted by very real humans, shouldn’t it be subject to these same cognitive biases? Yes, except for one thing: the built-in defense known as the scientific method.
There is progress in science, and some views really are superior to others, regardless of the color, gender, or country of origin of the scientist holding that view. Despite the fact that scientific data are “theory laden,” science is truly different than art, music, religion, and other forms of human expression because it has a self-correcting mechanism built into it. If you don’t catch the flaws in your theory, the slant in your bias, or the distortion in your preferences, someone else will, usually with great glee and in a public forum â€” for example, a competing journal! Scientists may be biased, but science itself, for all its flaws, is still the best system ever devised for understanding how the world works.
Shermer is exactly right.Â (But science is not the sole arbiter for what it all means.)