Sunday, December 23, 2007

Mark Bowden on Water Boarding and Torture

Mark Bowden has written a sensible article in defense of Water Boarding. Here's an excerpt:
Opponents of torture argue that it never works, that it always produces false information. If that were so, then this would be a simple issue, and the whole logic of incentive/disincentive is false, which defies common sense. In one of the cases I have cited previously, a German police captain was able to crack the defiance of a kidnapper who had buried a child alive simply by threatening torture (the police chief was fired, a price any moral individual would gladly pay). The chief acted on the only moral justification for starting down this road, which is to prevent something worse from happening.
The one thing I disagree with is that Bowden argues that while necessary, methods such as water boarding should be illegal. I'm more inclined to agree with Alan Dershowitz that we should establish appropriate legal conditions for its use rather than ban it and hope that people will be willing to sacrifice themselves for doing what's right and necessary.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Prager vs. "Secularism"

Award winning blogger Gus van Horn writes today that
Ann Coulter, when she attempts to pretend that there is no such thing as a "religious right", will sometimes cite hit counts from Lexis-Nexis searches for "religious right" in left-wing media reports. I wonder what a similar search of "secular left" among her own writings (or those of other conservatives) would yield. As I have pointed out here before, "secular" and "leftist" do not mean the same thing, but conservatives are working overtime to make you think they do.
Dennis Prager is certainly one of these conservatives. In his new column entitled Secular Europe or Religious America, there is a continuous, frustrating missing of essentials with regard to the issues involved. It seems that Prager, being a religious person, regards the presence or absence of religion as the primary factor in any historical event or social change, even when the evidence shows that this is not the case. For example, Prager writes:
There is no doubt that Western Europe abandoned religion and opted for secularism largely because of the blood spilled in religious wars, just as it abandoned nationalism because of all the blood it spilled in the name of nationalism during World War I.

However, Cohen and others who argue for a secular society ignore the even heavier price in blood Europe has paid for secular fervor. Secular fervor, i.e., communism and Nazism, slaughtered, tortured and enslaved more people in 50 years than all Europe's religious wars did in the course of centuries.
Is the essential point about communism and Nazism that they were both secular systems? Is that what led to the death of millions? That's what Prager wants you to believe here. Religion is a minor killer in comparison to the secular killers. Prager continues:
This point is so obvious, and so devastating to the pro-secularists, that you wonder how they deal with it. But having debated secularists for decades, I predicted Cohen's response virtually word for word on my radio show the day before I spoke with him. He labeled communism and Nazism "religions."

This response completely avoids the issue. Communism and Nazism were indeed religion-like in their hold on people, but they were completely secular movements and doctrines. Moreover, communism was violently anti-religious, and Nazism affirmed pre-Christian -- what we tend to call "pagan" -- values and beliefs.
I would agree that strictly, communism and Nazism were not religions. However, it is also clear as Prager admits, that they had much in common with religions. To term something as "pagan" is not deny its religiosity, merely its connection to monotheism. But leaving that aside, how do we know it was not the religion-like elements within these two movements, perhaps in conjunction with other factors, that are the cause of the greatly increased deaths that resulted when they came into power? In fact, it was exactly the religion-like elements of mysticism, altruism, combined with collectivism and the fact that these totalitarian regimes were able to rely on the capitalist technological base that had been absent when religious regimes had previously ruled Europe, that led to the mass murders. Numerous otherwise religious Germans supported the Nazis (as Paul Johnson documents in his History of Christianity) and the similarity of many elements of Communist doctrine to Christianity is not at all unknown. Stalin, in fact, studied for the priesthood.

I would not deny that these totalitarian regimes were worse than anything Europe had seen during the Middle Ages. However, they were worse because they were more irrational and collectivist not because they happen to be secular. It is not at all inconceivable that a similarly irrational and collectivist religious regime would commit similar atrocities. Certainly, the Islamic regimes today seem to aspire to such a goal.

Sunday, December 02, 2007

Reisman on Abortion

Economist George Reisman has an excellent post on his blog on what would happen if the Republican candidates who hold that abortion is murder would consistently apply this idea to the woman having the abortion. He points out that:
Accordingly if abortion really is murder, then it is premeditated murder. And by the usual standards of justice, the guilt of the woman, as the instigator and planner of the murder, is greater, not less, than that of the physician or other party employed to carry it ou
Read the whole thing!

Saturday, December 01, 2007

Dinesh D'Souza's Myths

For some time now it's been quite evident that there's an effort underway to change people's perception of Medieval Christianity. One hears Conservatives (for example, Victor Davis Hanson and Dennis Prager) referring to something they term the "so-called Dark Ages" and whenever anyone points out that Christianity has a rather long and depressing history of torture and murder, it is usually pointed out that the number of victims is actually quite small and that it certainly pails in comparison to what the "atheistic" regimes of the 20th century "achieved" in that respect.

The latest of these efforts is in a column entitled "Debunking the Galileo Myth," by Dinesh D'Souza. D'Souza states the purpose of this column as follows:
About a hundred years ago, two anti-religious bigots named John William Draper and Andrew Dickson White wrote books promoting the idea of an irreconcilable conflict between science and God. The books were full of facts that have now been totally discredited by scholars. But the myths produced by Draper and Dickson continue to be recycled. They are believed by many who consider themselves educated, and they even find their way into the textbooks. In this article I expose several of these myths, focusing especially on the Galileo case, since Galileo is routinely portrayed as a victim of religious persecution and a martyr to the cause of science.
As a preliminary comment, I'll mention that I've read much of Andrew D. White's A History of the Warfare of Science with Theology and contrary to D'Souza's claim it is not posing "an irreconcilable conflict between science and God" but merely points out that religious dogmatists have throughout history stood in the way of scientific progress. In fact, White demonstrates in numerous examples that there need be no conflict between religion and science, as long as one ignores literal interpretations of scriptures in favor of interpretations that match the scientific facts of nature. In the examples he provides there is a recurring pattern: A scientist makes a new scientific discovery or offers a promising hypothesis or theory. Some religious authorities oppose the scientist and thus the science on religious grounds arguing that it cannot be so since it contradicts scriptures (as an aside, in some example there are a minority of religious supporters of the new idea that later becomes the majority). Finally, as more and more evidence points to the truth of the scientist's ideas, somewhat more liberal religious authorities begin to reinterpret scripture as not necessarily contradicted by the new science after all. Thus D'Souza's claim about White is simply false.

Moving on now to what D'Souza claims are myths:

The Flat Earth Fallacy: According to the atheist narrative, the medieval Christians all believed that the earth was flat until the brilliant scientists showed up in the modern era to prove that it was round. In reality, educated people in the Middle Ages knew that the earth was round. In fact, the ancient Greeks in the fifth century B.C. knew the earth was a globe.

Sorry, which "atheist" narrative has this erroneous opinion? It would have been helpful if D'Souza mentioned if it was Hitchens, Stenger, Harris, or Dawkins or someone else. It is certainly ought to be well known to any modern educated person that the Greeks knew that the Earth was round. Also, I could point out that the number of educated people in the Middle Ages was infinitesimal and if the idea that the Earth was round was limited to them, then the vast majority of people believed otherwise. Still if the Middle Ages is supposed to cover the whole period from the fall of Rome to the Renaissance, then it is not historically true that all educated people knew the Earth was round and more importantly, Christian religious authorities at the time explicitly endorsed the idea of a flat earth. William Manchester, in his excellent A World Lit Only by Fire points out that:
During the Dark Ages, literal interpretation of the Bible had led the Church to endorse the absurd geographical dicta of Topographia Christiana, a treatise by the sixth-century monk Cosmas. Cosmas, who had traveled to India and should have known better, held that the world was a flat, rectangular plane, surmounted by the sky, above which was heaven. Jerusalem was at the center of the rectangle, and nearby lay the Garden of Eden, irrigated by the four Rivers of Paradise. The sun, much smaller than the earth, revolved around ta conical mountain to the north. The monk's arguments were fragile, and not everyone accepted them -- the Venerable Bede, among others, insisted that earth was round -- but Cosmas scorned them. Rome, agreeing with him, rejected their protest as an affront to common sense.
Next, D'Souza sees fit to correct an apparently common misperception on Galileo:
The Experiment Galileo Didn’t Do: We read in textbooks about how Galileo went to the Tower of Pisa and dropped light and heavy bodies to the ground. He discovered that they hit the ground at the same time, thus refuting centuries of idle medieval theorizing. Actually Galileo didn’t do any such experiments; one of his students did. The student discovered what we all can discover by doing similar experiments ourselves: the heavy bodies hit the ground first! As historian of science Thomas Kuhn points out, it is only in the absence of air resistance that all bodies hit the ground at the same time.
As best as can be verified on the web, this is probably true, though there's some evidence to the contrary. However, it is an undisputed fact that Galileo did do experiments with inclined planes which, a background essay on a Nova documentary points out,
...allowed Galileo to accurately measure acceleration with simple instruments and ultimately to prove that, in the absence of other forces such as air resistance, gravity causes all falling objects to accelerate toward Earth at the same rate.
Regardless, I'm not entirely sure what that has to do with a "conflict between science and God."

I'm going to ignore the two examples about Darwin that D'Souza gives -- I think religious opposition to Darwin is just too well known at the moment to waste time on this. Let me focus instead on D'Souza's further points on Galileo.
Galileo Was the First to Prove Heliocentrism: Actually, Copernicus advanced the heliocentric theory that the sun, not the earth, is at the center, and that the earth goes around the sun. He did this more than half a century before Galileo. But Copernicus had no direct evidence, and he admitted that there were serious obstacles from experience that told against his theory. For instance, if the earth is moving rapidly, why don’t objects thrown up into the air land a considerable distance away from their starting point? Galileo defended heliocentrism, but one of his most prominent arguments was wrong. Galileo argued that the earth’s regular motion sloshes around the water in the oceans and explains the tides. In reality, tides have more to do with the moon’s gravitational force acting upon the earth.
Again, it would have been helpful if D'Souza had indicated any source for this supposed widespread myth. I certainly don't remember this from my reading of White's book. As far as I know anyone with a basic science education knows that, after the classical age, Copernicus was the source for heliocentrism. I certainly knew this back in high school. Apparently D'Souza is content to take the opinions of educated people in the Middle Ages but in modern times he relies on the uneducated. Furthermore, while it is true that Galileo's use of the tides to try to prove heliocentrism is usually regarded as his Big Mistake, it ought not to be judged so harshly:
Many critical questions are involved in this Galileo theory of the tides: first of all the fact that, rejecting any kind of attractive force as the real cause of the tides, this theory was, in Newtonian terms, an error. Nevertheless this judgment has for a long time impeded a historical evaluation of Galileo's theory. Only in some recent essays the question is examined with more care and is judged in the context of the physical and astronomical debate of the seventeenth century. To accuse Galileo of an excess of scientific realism, or even of presumption (as some authors have done), is to lose the possibility of historical reconstruction in which what counts is not the achievement of the future, but the efforts to reach them. Galileo was trying to build a scientific method in a world based more on books than on the nature, more on astrology than on astronomy, more on closing one's eyes than on observing through the telescope. That his theory of the tides did not survive the critical judgment of his successors is not germane to historical inquiry.
Furthermore, notwithstanding Galileo's mistake, Galileo, relying on his discoveries in physics (as in the inclined plane experiments described above), which took care of the existing scientific objections to Copernican theory, with the help of Kepler's astronomical ideas, and most importantly with the help of the new invention of the telescope did prove heliocentrism. Specifically, as David Harriman writing in The Intellectual Activist (Galileo: Inaugurating the Age of Reason, March-May 2000)points out:

The telescope enabled Galileo to observe the four moons of Jupiter, proving that not all astronomical bodies revolved around the Earth. In effect, Jupiter and its moons made up a miniature Copernican system...The implication was clear: Why shouldn't the entire solar system behave in a similar way, with the Earth and other planets orbiting the much larger sun?...
In the fall of 1610, he directed his telescope at Venus--and what he saw decisively refuted the Ptolemaic theory. According to Ptolemy, Venus was always located between the Earth and the sun; it was never on the opposite side of the sun. So as observed from Earth, we should always see less than half of the surface of Venus illuminated. But according to heliocentric theory, we should see a full cycle of phases. And this is precisely what Galileo saw, proving that Venus orbits the sun...

Two years later, in 1612, Galileo made yet another discovery that provided more evidence that the Earth, like Venus, moves around the sun. He found that in order to correctly describe the orbits of Jupiter's moons and predict the times of their eclipses, he had to account for the fact that the angle of viewing Jupiter changes as the Earth orbits the sun. In other words the geocentric theory could not explain the observed orbits, because to do so one must take into account the Earth's movement. This discovery not only refuted the old astronomy--it provided direct support for the most radical claim of the new heliocentric theory.

See also here. So, I'm afraid it is D'Souza who is being mythical here. Next "myth:"
The Church Dogmatically Opposed the New Science: In reality, the Church was the leading sponsor of the new science and Galileo himself was funded by the church. The leading astronomers of the time were Jesuit priests. They were open to Galileo’s theory but told him the evidence for it was inconclusive. This was the view of the greatest astronomer of the age, Tyco Brahe. The Church’s view of heliocentrism was hardly a dogmatic one. When Cardinal Bellarmine met with Galileo he said, “While experience tells us plainly that the earth is standing still, if there were a real proof that the sun is in the center of the universe…and that the sun goes not go round the earth but the earth round the sun, then we should have to proceed with great circumspection in explaining passages of scripture which appear to teach the contrary, and rather admit that we did not understand them than declare an opinion to be false which is proved to be true. But this is not a thing to be done in haste, and as for myself, I shall not believe that there are such proofs until they are shown to me.” Galileo had no such proofs.
Well, I already pointed out that Galileo did have such proofs. As far as the Church's view on heliocentrism, let's contrast what D'Souza quotes of Cardinal Bellarmine with the following quote that Harriman provides:

But to wish to affirm that the sun is really fixed in the center of the heavens and merely turns upon itself without traveling from east to west, and that the earth is situated in the third sphere and revolves very swiftly around the sun, is a very dangerous thing, not only by irritating all the theologians and scholastic philosophers, but also by injuring the holy faith and making the sacred Scripture false.
In light of subsequent events, I think Harriman's quote is much more relevant than D'Souza.

Finally, we have the most offensive parts of D'Souza's claims:
Galileo Was A Victim of Torture and Abuse: This is perhaps the most recurring motif, and yet it is entirely untrue. Galileo was treated by the church as a celebrity. When summoned by the Inquisition, he was housed in the grand Medici Villa in Rome. He attended receptions with the Pope and leading cardinals. Even after he was found guilty, he was first housed in a magnificent Episcopal palace and then placed under “house arrest” although he was permitted to visit his daughters in a nearby convent and to continue publishing scientific papers.

The Church Was Wrong To Convict Galileo of Heresy: But Galileo was neither charged nor convicted of heresy. He was charged with teaching heliocentrism in specific contravention of his own pledge not to do so. This is a charge on which Galileo was guilty. He had assured Cardinal Bellarmine that given the sensitivity of the issue, he would not publicly promote heliocentrism. Yet when a new pope was named, Galileo decided on his own to go back on his word. Asked about this in court, he said his Dialogue on the Two World Systems did not advocate heliocentrism. This is a flat-out untruth as anyone who reads Galileo’s book can plainly see. Even Galileo’s supporters, and there were many, found it difficult to defend him at this point.
No, Galileo was not tortured, though he was threatened with torture, which frankly, for someone merely arguing and publishing what he believes to be the scientific truth, is a profound injustice. As a result of his trial, Galileo was expressly forbidden from holding, defending, or teaching the heliocentric doctrine. Would D'Souza approve if an atheistic Communist regime placed a priest under house arrest and had forbid him from holding, defending, or teaching the theistic doctrine?

On the heresy issue, D'Souza is being disingenous, since heliocentrism was considered "heretical". In the 1633 indictment of Galileo we read:
Whereas you, Galileo, son of the late Vincenzio Galilei, of Florence, aged seventy years, were denounced in 1615, to this Holy Office, for holding as true a false doctrine taught by many, namely, that the sun is immovable in the center of the world, and that the earth moves, and also with a diurnal motion;...
therefore (this Holy Tribunal being desirous of providing against the disorder and mischief which were thence proceeding and increasing to the detriment of the Holy Faith) by the desire of his Holiness and the Most Emminent Lords, Cardinals of this supreme and universal Inquisition, the two propositions of the stability of the sun, and the motion of the earth, were qualified by the Theological Qualifiers as follows:

1. The proposition that the sun is in the center of the world and immovable from its place is absurd, philosophically false, and formally heretical; because it is expressly contrary to Holy Scriptures.
2. The proposition that the earth is not the center of the world, nor immovable, but that it moves, and also with a diurnal action, is also absurd, philosophically false, and, theologically considered, at least erroneous in faith.
Therefore . . . , invoking the most holy name of our Lord Jesus Christ and of His Most Glorious Mother Mary, We pronounce this Our final sentence: We pronounce, judge, and declare, that you, the said Galileo . . . have rendered yourself vehemently suspected by this Holy Office of heresy, that is, of having believed and held the doctrine (which is false and contrary to the Holy and Divine Scriptures) that the sun is the center of the world, and that it does not move from east to west, and that the earth does move, and is not the center of the world...[emphasis added]

I'm not sure what more there is to add. D'Souza here is exposed a propagandist without concern for facts. The truth is that Galileo was a great scientist and the Church unjustly persecuted him. He was just one example of a long history of antagonism between religion and science.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Angelo Codevilla on American Statecraft

I have mentioned Angelo Codevilla several times before on this blog. He remains in my mind one of the few political analysts out there who "get it," despite not being an Objectivist. I may disagree with him on some things (such as his minimization of the threat from Iran) but for broad principles of strategy few can match him. His latest essay in the Claremont Review is no exception. Here is one of my favorite parts:
What follows from the foreign policy establishment's apolitical division of mankind into "moderates" and "extremists" is an art of politics, if that's the right term, that prevents considering what anyone is, or should be, moderate or extreme about. It abstracts from right and wrong, honor and shame. It leads to moderation in pursuit of America's interests. Then, in the hope of avoiding worse threats to our modest interests, it leads to finding moderation in those who threaten us. It becomes the promotion of "moderation" for its own sake, and then boils down to coaxing "extremists" into "moderation" by involving them in profitable and (supposedly) addictive arrangements. Our establishmentarians imagine they can moderate our enemies by promising them that they can get most of what they want through cooperation; and tell the American people that if we were to forcefully oppose our enemies, that would only radicalize them further.

During the Cold War, this logic led from Franklin Roosevelt and Harry Truman's support of the "moderate" Stalin against the phantom "extremist anti-party group" to Henry Kissinger's dètente with the Soviet Union; from President George H.W. Bush's efforts to keep Mikhail Gorbachev's "moderate" Soviet Union alive to his successors' efforts to appease the neo-Soviet Vladimir Putin by limiting U.S. missile defenses to tokens. By this logic, the more anyone threatens, the greater the incentive to treat him as a "moderate," lest he threaten us more. In our time this has been the basis of the bloody "peace processes" that the U.S. has foisted on so much of the world.
Read the whole thing -- it's well worth it and will challenge your thinking on the current conflict.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Science vs. Faith

It is difficult to say which is more annoying: A Conservative arguing that there is no rational, secular basis for morality or a "scientist" arguing against consciousness and free will on the basis of "scientific" materialism. In a similar vein we have physicist Paul Davies argument in the November 24, New York Times that "science has its own faith-based belief system."

I've decided to address this op-ed in detail and see if I can't respond to it.
SCIENCE, we are repeatedly told, is the most reliable form of knowledge about the world because it is based on testable hypotheses. Religion, by contrast, is based on faith. The term “doubting Thomas” well illustrates the difference. In science, a healthy skepticism is a professional necessity, whereas in religion, having belief without evidence is regarded as a virtue.
It's interesting that nowhere in the op-ed is the idea that religion is faith-based challenged, even though I know for a fact that some very religious people would object quite strongly to the claim that all religions require faith. But let's leave that aside since I don't really disagree with it. Is all science based on "testable hypotheses"? It seems to me that the basis of science is the law of causality. Testable hypotheses are the part of the scientific method but I wouldn't call them the basis of science.
The problem with this neat separation into “non-overlapping magisteria,” as Stephen Jay Gould described science and religion, is that science has its own faith-based belief system. All science proceeds on the assumption that nature is ordered in a rational and intelligible way. You couldn’t be a scientist if you thought the universe was a meaningless jumble of odds and ends haphazardly juxtaposed. When physicists probe to a deeper level of subatomic structure, or astronomers extend the reach of their instruments, they expect to encounter additional elegant mathematical order. And so far this faith has been justified.
I essentially agree that "science proceeds on the assumption that nature is ordered in a rational and intelligible way" (although Davies is mixing elements of metaphysics and epistemology here) -- but is an assumption the same as a "faith-based belief system". Is this an arbitrary assumption? Davies writes that "so far this faith has been justified" -- what a Humean approach to the world! Like Hume, Davies seems to think that Causality as such does not exist. We just got used to entities behaving according to what we call natural laws but as far as Davies is concerned there's no real reason for it. Apparently we just got lucky.
The most refined expression of the rational intelligibility of the cosmos is found in the laws of physics, the fundamental rules on which nature runs. The laws of gravitation and electromagnetism, the laws that regulate the world within the atom, the laws of motion — all are expressed as tidy mathematical relationships. But where do these laws come from? And why do they have the form that they do?
This is where one really must have a philosophy. Ayn Rand wrote in connection to science:
Science was born as a result and consequence of philosophy; it cannot survive without a philosophical (particularly epistemological) base. If philosophy perishes, science will be next to go.
I find it ironic that many people reading about Objectivist metaphysics find it obvious and yet highly intelligent scientists are unable to come to the same seemingly obvious conclusions. Let's briefly review -- the fundamental starting point is existence. If one accepts that something exists and that one is aware of it then one has in fact granted all three fundamental axioms: Existence, Consciousness and Identity. The important formulation of Ayn Rand is that "Existence is Identity." This applies to attributes of entities as well as actions and therefore causality. There is no possibility of an absence of laws -- all entities have a specific nature, and hence specific attributes and actions possible to them and no others. There are wide variety of things (including living and nonliving, conscious and vegetative) yet each one has a nature and follows it. A thing without a nature, without identity is nothing in particular and literally does not exist. It is therefore an invalid question to ask "where do these laws come from" -- to be is to be subject to laws.
When I was a student, the laws of physics were regarded as completely off limits. The job of the scientist, we were told, is to discover the laws and apply them, not inquire into their provenance. The laws were treated as “given” — imprinted on the universe like a maker’s mark at the moment of cosmic birth — and fixed forevermore. Therefore, to be a scientist, you had to have faith that the universe is governed by dependable, immutable, absolute, universal, mathematical laws of an unspecified origin. You’ve got to believe that these laws won’t fail, that we won’t wake up tomorrow to find heat flowing from cold to hot, or the speed of light changing by the hour.
Yes, scientists should "discover the laws and apply them" -- to go beyond that is the job of philosophy that has to validate the basis on which the scientist operates. Again, one can see the influence of Humean philosophy on Davies in his denial of Causality.
Over the years I have often asked my physicist colleagues why the laws of physics are what they are. The answers vary from “that’s not a scientific question” to “nobody knows.” The favorite reply is, “There is no reason they are what they are — they just are.” The idea that the laws exist reasonlessly is deeply anti-rational. After all, the very essence of a scientific explanation of some phenomenon is that the world is ordered logically and that there are reasons things are as they are. If one traces these reasons all the way down to the bedrock of reality — the laws of physics — only to find that reason then deserts us, it makes a mockery of science.
The irony is that Davies's colleagues are mostly right (except for the "nobody knows") -- this isn't a scientific question and the laws ultimately just are. There cannot be an infinite regress. A proper philosophy would have told him that. This is hardly "anti-rational" -- none of this restricts scientific inquiry. Deeper and deeper causes can always be found but there cannot be a "reason for causality" which is what Davies is looking for. This is exactly the same as looking for reasons for existence. Existence exists. One must accept that (and not on faith but on the basis of every percept one has ever had) to get anywhere in this world. Rationality depends on causality and not the other way around. Reason is dependent on a proper metaphysics, especially identity but including causality -- otherwise it would just be game.

I'm going to skip a little now.
A second reason that the laws of physics have now been brought within the scope of scientific inquiry is the realization that what we long regarded as absolute and universal laws might not be truly fundamental at all, but more like local bylaws. They could vary from place to place on a mega-cosmic scale. A God’s-eye view might reveal a vast patchwork quilt of universes, each with its own distinctive set of bylaws. In this “multiverse,” life will arise only in those patches with bio-friendly bylaws, so it is no surprise that we find ourselves in a Goldilocks universe — one that is just right for life. We have selected it by our very existence.
I have to say I'm highly skeptical of the idea of multiple universes. It's really irrelevant to the Davies's questions on causality which Davies recognizes below.
The multiverse theory is increasingly popular, but it doesn’t so much explain the laws of physics as dodge the whole issue. There has to be a physical mechanism to make all those universes and bestow bylaws on them. This process will require its own laws, or meta-laws. Where do they come from? The problem has simply been shifted up a level from the laws of the universe to the meta-laws of the multiverse.
Clearly, then, both religion and science are founded on faith — namely, on belief in the existence of something outside the universe, like an unexplained God or an unexplained set of physical laws, maybe even a huge ensemble of unseen universes, too. For that reason, both monotheistic religion and orthodox science fail to provide a complete account of physical existence.
Nonsense. Properly, science if founded on a philosophy of reason, such as Ayn Rand's Objectivism, or at least some form of Aristotelianism, which starts with the proper fundamental axioms of philosophy including Existence, Identity and Consciousness and recognizes that the law of causality as a corollary of the law of identity. While individual scientists may mistakenly believe that science rests on faith, familiarity with a proper philosophy would soon persuade them otherwise.
This shared failing is no surprise, because the very notion of physical law is a theological one in the first place, a fact that makes many scientists squirm. Isaac Newton first got the idea of absolute, universal, perfect, immutable laws from the Christian doctrine that God created the world and ordered it in a rational way. Christians envisage God as upholding the natural order from beyond the universe, while physicists think of their laws as inhabiting an abstract transcendent realm of perfect mathematical relationships. And just as Christians claim that the world depends utterly on God for its existence, while the converse is not the case, so physicists declare a similar asymmetry: the universe is governed by eternal laws (or meta-laws), but the laws are completely impervious to what happens in the universe. It seems to me there is no hope of ever explaining why the physical universe is as it is so long as we are fixated on immutable laws or meta-laws that exist reasonlessly or are imposed by divine providence. The alternative is to regard the laws of physics and the universe they govern as part and parcel of a unitary system, and to be incorporated together within a common explanatory scheme. In other words, the laws should have an explanation from within the universe and not involve appealing to an external agency. The specifics of that explanation are a matter for future research. But until science comes up with a testable theory of the laws of the universe, its claim to be free of faith is manifestly bogus.
The fundamental "reason" for the laws is clear -- causality, being a corollary of identity, is inherent in existence. The idea that science is faith-based rests on a mistaken Humean philosophy and denial of the Law of Causality that guarantees that because things are what they are, they will act accordingly. In the context of science, the implication is the regularity that Davies finds so mysterious. The scientist's job is to work out the specifics of the regularity.

Monday, November 19, 2007

The Nation and the Contract Rights of Farmers

I don't not expect to find opposition to government regulations in The Nation, so I was pleasantly surprised to see the article Old McDonald Had a Farm...and He Got Arrested? by David E. Gumpert. This is in a somewhat similar vein as Rational Jenn's recent post about regulatory opposition to raw milk in Georgia, but here the issue is meat at "Greg Niewendorp's 160-acre farm outside East Jordan, in the north of Michigan's lower peninsula":
Last February, he refused to subject his cattle to a mandatory state program to test cattle in his region of Michigan for bovine tuberculosis--a program he argues, among other things, is unnecessary because he distributes his beef privately to people who trust his animal-raising techniques, but which the state insists is essential to ensure the beef isn't tainted.

The state immediately slapped a quarantine on his farm, prohibiting the movement of animals onto or off the property. Then, in August, an MDA inspector arrived, escorted by two Michigan State Police officers, and attempted to convince Niewendorp to have his cattle tested by a vet waiting down the road. Niewendorp angrily ordered the inspector and police off his property, telling them that, without a search warrant, they were trespassers.

Finally, in early October, a team of MDA inspectors and vets arrived again, this time with a search warrant and two sheriff's deputies--and backed up by a half-dozen state trooper SWAT team members and three emergency medical vehicles down the road.

Niewendorp is convinced that "they would have liked to have killed me," but this time he didn't resist, so the vets did their deed and left. All the tests came back negative and the state lifted its quarantine last month.
Of course, the article later explains the motivations of the regulators as partly wishing to protect "corporate interests." Regardless, the point made is valid. As long as no force or fraud is involved, producers and consumers should be free to contract on such sales.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

The Republican Primaries and the Elections

It has been claimed that this race is uninspiring to Republicans because none of the current contenders are "true Conservatives." Some Evangelical Christians such as James Dobson are unhappy with the current front runners -- Mitt Romney and Rudy Giuliani. Romney is a Mormon who until recently held rather liberal positions on various issues and has now apparently been convinced they were wrong and switched to positions more in line with those of the Christian Right, for example, he is now opposed to abortion as well as stem-cell research. Giuliani remains pro-choice and has a personal life that does not exactly suggest "family values." The less said about the other candidates, the better.

However, I see this race as an opportunity. For first time in about 30 years we can move beyond the agenda of the Christian Right in the Republican party. Rudy Giuliani represents such an opportunity. If Giuliani wins the Republican primaries he will finally open up the Republican party to secular candidates. The key is that he has to then win the election. If he wins both the primaries and the election, he will have dealt a severe blow to the presence of the Religious Right in the Republican Party. If, on the other hand, he loses the election, it will be claimed that secular forces are too weak on the Right and we will not see a secular candidate like Giuliani lead the Republicans for quite some time. The Religious Right will claim that the secular right has had its chance and the next Republican nominee will be as religious as the current occupant or perhaps even more. And furthermore, he will very likely win, given that Hillary Clinton will have been President and implemented some of her policies. As I have stated elsewhere I intend to vote for Giuliani when the primaries are held in California, and if he wins the nomination, I think I will vote for him in the general election as well.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Gillespie on Al Jazeera

There is an interesting article in the Nation on The New Face of Al Jazeera by Kristen Gillespie. Gillespie writes:
When Al Jazeera was first launched in 1996, it offered the kind of freewheeling, uncensored debate never publicly seen on Arab televisions, and Arabic speakers couldn't get enough of it. The talk shows brought in guests from across the political spectrum, and the channel featured smartly produced news bulletins and correspondents stationed seemingly everywhere. But 9-11 brought a new anti-imperialist and, many argue, a pro-Sunni Islamist bent to the network. (The observations and reporting in this article apply only to Arabic-language Jazeera; in November 2006 the network opened an English-language counterpart, now called Al Jazeera English, which gives no evidence of sectarian tendencies.)
Also, there has been a purge of more secular people at the station:
After the March 2003 US invasion of Iraq, Al Jazeera replaced its longtime secular bureau chief in Baghdad, Faisal Yasiri, with Wadah Khanfar, who had reported from Afghanistan after the American invasion in 2001 and then Kurdish-controlled territory as the war with Iraq was launched in 2003. Shortly thereafter, the secular head of Al Jazeera, Mohammed Jassem Ali, was ousted and replaced by Khanfar, whom more than a dozen current and former employees of the station interviewed for this article characterize as an Islamist.
It's worth reading the whole article.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Veteran's Day...

...was yesterday, November 11. Here's an interesting history of this important day.
How do I rate?

cash advance
(Hat-tip Rational Jenn)
Seen around the web
  • Richard Ralston, Executive Director of Americans for Free Choice in Medicine has written an excellent satirical Op-ed on socialized medicine
  • The Clemson Institute for the Study of Capitalism has announced a new mini-site called Capitalism Resources. Many of the sections on the mini-site remain to be filled out but there's nevertheless much interesting content, particularly under the What Capitalism Is section.
  • Diana of Noodlefood links to a tragic story of Nicaraguan woman who died from an ectopic pregnancy due to concerns about the legality of performing an abortion. The article contains this interesting paragraph:
    Nicaragua last year became one of 35 countries that ban all abortions, even to save the life of the mother, according to the Center for Reproductive Rights in New York. The ban has been strictly followed, leaving the country torn between a strong tradition of women’s rights and a growing religious conservatism. Abortion rights groups have stormed Congress in recent weeks demanding change, but President Daniel Ortega, a former leftist revolutionary and a Roman Catholic, has refused to oppose the church-supported ban.

Friday, November 09, 2007

Attention South Orange County Students of Objectivism

I'm interested in forming a weekly study/social group in South Orange County, California. I live in Aliso Viejo and by South Orange County I include such localities as Laguna Niguel, Laguna Hills, Laguna Beach, Lake Forest, Mission Viejo, etc. At this stage I have in mind a rather informal group and hope to begin by studying OPAR using Gary Hull's Study Guide. Location and time yet to be determined but I'm thinking of meeting during a weekday (say Wednesday, 7pm) at an appropriately sized local diner/restaurant or bookstore. If interested email me at

Thursday, November 08, 2007

The Rational Case for Environmental Conservation

In a long but fascinating essay blogger Spark A Synapse (SAS) presents what she sees as a rational case for environmental conservation. The essence of her argument is presented in the following paragraph:
My point is, there is a rational basis for conservation strategies on a personal level, and for exploiting the Earth in a sustainable way. News articles detailing environmentalists who complain about exploitation of the Moon or Mars are certainly annoying, I agree. But we must ask, "Why are these views wrong?" They’re wrong because non-living material doesn’t go out of existence. The idea of conserving minerals on Mars – or even Earth - is clearly ridiculous. Unless we’re removing so many materials from Mars that we’re threatening to throw off Earth’s orbit, I see no reason to care. Furthermore, those views aren't based in fact. They're based in ideology. But what doesn’t follow from dismissing ridiculous environmentalists is that we don’t need to care about conserving Earth’s resources at all.

In order to thrive, we have to discover more about the natural world and exploit it. The vast majority of the world that is left to be discovered and exploited does not consist of chemical or physical entities, which have been and always will always be with us. The vast majority of resources to be exploited are biological, and those entities can and are going out of existence. When Objectivists point out the dramatic progress humans have made through the use of reason, it shouldn’t go unnoticed that in order to use reason, we have to have something to reason about. If there was a possibility that we could lose 25% of chemical elements in the periodic table within our lifetime, I think people would reasonably be upset about it.

Besides providing an abundance of examples that illustrate the issue quite clearly, she argues in terms that Objectivists ought to appreciate:
Unless a particular species directly threatens your life (i.e. smallpox, malarial mosquitoes), there is actually a rational basis for caring about species extinctions, even species that are currently obscure: for all of the potential things we could learn from them, and for all of the products that could be designed from them that we never would have thought of on our own, and finally, although this is least important in my opinion – simply for aesthetic reasons (in the case of animals with little known or potential economic value).
SAS is very definitely not an Environmentalist who seeks to protect nature from man and preserve nature for nature's sake. Rather, she argues for the preservation of some things for man's sake.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Alan Dershowitz on Torture

I have recently finished Alan Dershowitz's excellent The Case for Israel. The book will make you mad with the injustice that the Arabs (with frequent cooperation from much of the rest of the world) have perpetrated against Israel over the nearly 60 years of existence, and before. I highly recommend it.

In today's Wall Street Journal Dershowitz has an op-ed worth reading. Torture, much like war, is a terrible practice. Nevertheless, Dershowitz is one of the few liberal intellectuals out there who recognize that it is sometimes necessary:
Although I am personally opposed to the use of torture, I have no doubt that any president--indeed any leader of a democratic nation--would in fact authorize some forms of torture against a captured terrorist if he believed that this was the only way of securing information necessary to prevent an imminent mass casualty attack. The only dispute is whether he would do so openly with accountability or secretly with deniability. The former seems more consistent with democratic theory, the latter with typical political hypocrisy.
I really respect Dershowitz for openly putting to rest some of the myths that people who, understandably perhaps, are opposed to torture continue to propagate:
There are some who claim that torture is a nonissue because it never works--it only produces false information. This is simply not true, as evidenced by the many decent members of the French Resistance who, under Nazi torture, disclosed the locations of their closest friends and relatives.
I am also strongly sympathetic to the legal framework that Dershowitz wants to impose here. If we agree that torture is sometimes necessary then let's specify, as much as possible the exact conditions for it and have appropriate legal responsibility so that it is not abused.
New upcoming book by Gary Hull

I expected Gary Hull to take a position at Founders College that he helped found but he's not listed as staff or faculty. Seems he has elected to stay on at Duke as Director of VEM ("the program of values and ethics in the marketplace"). On the VEM web site the following has also been announced:
In progress: "Private Property: The Road to Liberty," tentative title. The book explains the true meaning of the right to property, and provides what this right has been sorely lacking: a moral foundation. It uses numerous examples of property rights violations -- including eminent domain, land-use regulations, concerted attacks on copyrights and patents -- to argue that the right to property is nearly extinct in America. Dr. Hull also shows how the Founders were right in their conviction that all rights -- the rights to life, liberty, property and the pursuit of happiness -- are a unity.
I am very much looking forward to this book. Dr. Hull's previous book, The Abolition of Antitrust which included a series of essays by different authors, including Hull, arguing against antitrust from a historic, economic, legal, and moral point of view, was excellent.

Monday, November 05, 2007

New Hope in Physics

During my recent religious experiences I realized that, ironically, my views were for the first time in years consistent with what seems to pass for mainstream scientific opinion, at least in physics. For example, it now made sense that there was a Big Bang -- after all the Biblical view is that God created the universe. There are of course numerous religious and otherwise mystical people taking advantage of the philosophical state of physics ever since the early 20th century.

Objectivists have always taken a quite different line. Ayn Rand in 1934 wrote in her philosophic journal:
I have to study: philosophy, higher mathematics, physics, psychology.
As to physics--learn why mind and reason are so decried as impotent when coping with the universe. Isn't there some huge mistake there?

May 15, 1934, Journals of Ayn Rand, Ed. David Harriman, Dutton, p.72
Ayn Rand is of course referring to Quantum Mechanics and the bizarre interpretations that people to this very day continue to ascribe to it. As a result, even great physicists such as Richard Feynman are quoted saying:
What I am going to tell you about is what we teach our physics students in the third or fourth year of graduate school... It is my task to convince you not to turn away because you don't understand it. You see my physics students don't understand it. ... That is because I don't understand it. Nobody does.
(Feynman, Richard P. Nobel Lecture, 1966, 1918-1988, QED, The Strange Theory of Light and Matter)
Of course, the main problem for Objectivists with physics are the claims that seem to go against the principle of causality. The law, as Ayn Rand grasped it, was stated by the character John Galt in Atlas Shrugged:
The law of causality is the law of identity applied to action. All actions are caused by entities. The nature of an action is caused and determined by the nature of the entities that act; a thing cannot act in contradiction to its nature …
Perhaps even more important when it comes to quantum mechanics is the following elaboration that Leonard Peikoff gave in his essay The Analytic-Synthetic Dichotomy which is contained in Ayn Rand's Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology:
Since things are what they are, since everything that exists possesses a specific identity, nothing in reality can occur causelessly or by chance.
Physicists such as Werner Heisenberg with his Uncertain Principle certainly seem to beg to differ as the following excerpt from an exhibit at the American Institute of Physics shows:
Heisenberg realized that the uncertainty relations had profound implications. First, if we accept Heisenberg's argument that every concept has a meaning only in terms of the experiments used to measure it, we must agree that things that cannot be measured really have no meaning in physics. Thus, for instance, the path of a particle has no meaning beyond the precision with which it is observed. But a basic assumption of physics since Newton has been that a "real world" exists independently of us, regardless of whether or not we observe it. (This assumption did not go unchallenged, however, by some philsophers.) Heisenberg now argued that such concepts as orbits of electrons do not exist in nature unless and until we observe them.

There were also far-reaching implications for the concept of causality and the determinacy of past and future events. These are discussed on the page about the origins of uncertainty. Because the uncertainty relations are more than just mathematical relations, but have profound scientific and philosophical implications, physicists sometimes speak of the "uncertainty principle."

Dr. Peikoff has claimed for some decades that the "uncertainty principle" mentioned above, if by that is meant a denial of causality, cannot be true. Philosophy here has "veto power" over science. Science cannot deny its hierarchical roots -- all science depends on the law of causality. This would no different than any claim that Higher Mathematics (such as calculus for example) disproves basic arithmetic. It simply couldn't make any sense. Helpful in this regard was a paper authored apparently in the 1990s by Objectivist Physicist Dr. Hans Schantz, which unfortunately is no longer available online (though it is available in the web archives), that showed that it was the acceptance of modern philosophy by the founders of quantum mechanics such as Heisenberg and Bohr that led to their denial of causality and not any experiments.

But it's one thing to deny that physics implies a lack of causality and quite another to propose a new physical interpretation that explains all the experiments in a causal way. Many physicists have tried and failed to do this, beginning with Nobel Prize Winner Louis de Broglie and David Bohm who formulated an alternative causal interpretation of the physics:

In standard QM every particle can be observed either as a particle or as a wave. The wave is not physical, like water or sound waves, but a wave of probability in an abstract space. When a photon goes through one slit in a barrier, to register on a detection screen, it is a particle. When two slits are open, the photon behaves like a wave and it is impossible to tell which slit it goes through without destroying the wave. If many photons are sent through a barrier with two openings, each registers on the screen as a particle, but they display an interference pattern that could only be produced by a wave going through both slits. The photon is a mysterious thing. It is neither wave nor particle, but something that can act like one or the other depending on the measuring apparatus.

In Bohm's revolutionary theory, as refined by his associate Basil Hiley, particles are as real as golf balls. At all times they have precise, unfuzzy properties such as position and momentum, and precise paths through spacetime. The particles are never waves. Associated with each particle is an invisible, undetectable wave in a field which Bohm called the "quantum potential." Its pilot waves are real waves, not probability waves. They guide the particle's motion in a manner somewhat like the way a rivers wave guides the movement of a floating leaf, or, in a better analogy, the way radar information guides a ship. This quantum field, like the fields of gravity and electromagnetism, permeates all of spacetime, but unlike those fields its intensity doesn't diminish with distance. Also unlike other fields, it exerts no force on particles. Essentially it is a wave of undecaying information. [Skeptical Inquirer 5/1/2000 Martin Gardner]

The Broglie-Bohm approach seems promising but involves another problem that many also consider philosophically problematic -- the idea of non-locality. The way this issue is introduced usually involves a description of the Einstein-Podolsky-Rosen (EPR) thought experiment that these three scientists proposed in order to point to the necessity for "hidden variables" to underlie the surface randomness of quantum mechanics:

The EPR paradox has several forms, but the easiest to understand was proposed by the late American physicist David Jacob Bohm (1917-1991). It involves a mysterious property of particles called spin. Spin is roughly similar to the motion of a top because it has angular momentum that always takes one of two forms variously called left or right, plus or minus, up or down. Imagine a quantum reaction that creates two identical particles A and B which go off in opposite directions. In standard QM each particle has its left and right spins "superposed." When particle A is measured for spin, its "wave function" (a formula specifying the probabilities that certain values will be found when a particle is measured for a given property) is said to "collapse" (vanish). The particle at once acquires either a left or right spin with equal probability.

Now for the magic. To conserve angular momentum, after A is measured and so acquires a definite spin, B must acquire the opposite spin. Assume that A, measured in Chicago, has a left spin. (Remember, it does not have a definite spin until measured.) On a planet in a distant galaxy a physicist measures B when it gets there. It is certain to have a right spin. How does B "know" the outcome of the measurement of A? Does A send some kind of telepathic signal to B, either simultaneously or at a speed equal to or exceeding the speed of light? Einstein ridiculed this as "spooky action at a distance." He believed that his proposed experiment, then only a thought experiment, proved that QM was not complete. There must be local "hidden variables" giving definite spins to both particles before one is measured.

The standard Copenhagen interpretation of QM, based on the opinions of Niels Bohr, is that regardless of how far apart A and B get, they remain a single quantum system with a single wave function. When A is measured, the entire system's wave function vanishes and the two particles simultaneously acquire opposite spins. The particles are said to be "correlated," or in more recent terminology, "entangled."

Does this resolve the paradox? It does not. The mystery remains of how A and B can stay entangled when they are light-years apart unless there is some kind of connection between them that allows information to go from A to B.

Experiments have been conducted that appear to confirm this non-locality and it is now generally assumed to be a feature of nature regardless of which interpretation one puts on quantum mechanics.

Nevertheless, one physicist has attempted to propose a local, causal alternative physical theory that explains the quantum mechanical world. Dr. Lewis Little proposes the Theory of Elementary Waves (TEW). Dr. Little also proposes that both waves and particles exists, however, the particles follow waves that originate from a direction opposite to the particle's motion. These "reverse waves" are really a kind of flux. From chapter 1 of Little's upcoming book:

To summarize, the reverse wave theory posits that the physical universe
consists of both waves/fluxes and particles, which are separate objects. These
objects do not transform into one another nor are they the same object in
different states. The waves/fluxes exist at all times; they interact in much the
same manner as quantum waves in current theory. Particles are determined
in their dynamics by the waves/fluxes; but it is only the reverse wave, coming
from any detector (as viewed in the frame of that detector), that a¤ects a
particle that will be observed by that detector.

Because the waves/fluxes exist as separate objects and on the same level
as the elementary particles, I have chosen to call them “elementary waves”,
and I will refer to the flux as the “elementary flux”. [p.39]
At first there seemed to be much excitement within the Objectivist community about Little's ideas. I was certainly among those excited when I first heard about it. The late Objectivist Physicist Stephen Speicher endorsed it and wrote a non-technical summary, David Harriman initially endorsed it in his lecture series The Philosophic Corruption of Physics, and Australian radio broadcaster Prodos provided charts and interviews to further support the ideas.

Then came the dissenters. Physicists Travis Norsen and Eric Dennis pointed out that since TEW fails to explain the latest experiments testing for superluminal or non-local effects. Norsen wrote:
Despite the mistaken claims of TEW's advocates to the contrary, the [experimental] results combined with Bell's theorem prove that no purely local description is possible. These experiments constitute a direct observation of a new type of (superluminal) causation.
Bell's theorem, in the simplest terms can be stated as follows:
no physical theory which is realistic as well as local in a specified sense can reproduce all of the statistical predictions of quantum mechanics [Oxford PhysJoy Christian]
David Harriman released a statement retracting his endorsement of TEW as a result of the arguments made by Norsen, Dennis, and others for for existence of non-local interactions. As Harriman put it:
TEW is a local theory, and therefore it contradicts the results of these experiments. Furthermore, locality is fundamental to Little's theory—to renounce locality is to reject TEW.

Both Norsen and Dennis endorsed the Bohm approach as most promising in providing a causal, yet non-local description of the physics involved. Stephen Speicher and others continued to support TEW and argue that nonlocality involves a contradiction and thus is subject to the same philosophical veto that a denial of causality would be. Betsy Speicher, long time Objectivist and wife of Stephen, published a short essay that argues against nonlocality or "instantaneous action":
...a concept like an "instantaneous action" is metaphysically invalid. Because such an action has no duration, it has no identity, and thus it cannot really exist. It certainly cannot be the underlying metaphysical assumption of a true scientific theory that correctly describes the real world.
I have to say I find this argument quite convincing but feel frustrated by the fact that here is yet another area where seemingly accepted scientific opinion clashes with Objectivism. Norsen has continued to convince other Objectivists including, it seems, Harry Binswanger that nonlocality is real and must be accepted.

Therefore it is somewhat surprising to find the following (unfortunately the article is only available by subscription) in the November 3 issue of NewScientist magazine. Oxford Physicist Joy Christian that physicists' supposed proofs of the impossibility of more "realistic" theories rest on false assumptions and so don't prove much at all.
"Contrary to the received wisdom," he says, "quantum theory doesn't rule out the possibility of a deeper theory, even one that might be deterministic."
In his latest paper Christian writes:
Contrary to the received wisdom, Bell’s theorem is not a threat to local realism. Neither is it a curb on determinism. The counterexample constructed in the [Dr. Christian's original paper G.R.] provides a fully deterministic, common cause explanation of the EPR-Bohm correlations. In fact, it is hard to imagine a more simple common cause than the one on which the counterexample is based—namely, the intrinsic freedom of choice in the initial orientation of the orthogonal directions in the Euclidean space. In the present paper we have further consolidated the conclusions of [the original paper] by demonstrating that the exact, locally causal model for the EPR-Bohm correlations constructed therein satisfies at least eight essential requirements, arising from either the predictions of quantum mechanics or the premises of Bell’s theorem. These requirements, as listed in the Introduction, include the locality condition of Bell, and hence by respecting them our model fully endorses the view that the quantum mechanical description of reality is incomplete. Moreover, since this view is reinforced by three different local realistic derivations of the violations of the CHSH inequality [a variation on the Bell inequality G.R.], and since all three of them agree with the corresponding predictions of quantum mechanics in quantitatively precise manner, the statistical interpretation of the entangled singlet state becomes the most natural interpretation of this state, as anticipated by Einstein. It is therefore hoped that—strengthened by the results of the present paper—the counterexample of [original paper G.R.]would rejuvenate the search for a unified, locally causal basis for the whole of physics, as envisaged by Einstein.
The actual resolution that Christian offers involves changing the mathematics of Bell's theorem with something called Clifford Algebra of which I am ignorant. Sorely lacking in everything I've read about Dr. Christian's ideas is a physical description of quantum mechanics as a local, deterministic theory. Would it be at all similar to TEW? I guess that remains to be seen. But Christian's papers, along with the recent admission that the Big Bang theory is far from experimentally established give room for some hope that perhaps Objectivists will be finally be able to claim that far from contradicting science, the latest scientific theories support what Objectivism has been saying all along.

Update 11/18/2007 -- Added link Dr. Hans Schantz paper on Quantum Mechanics
Update 10/24/2008 -- Per Lewis Little's request changed description "Objectivist physicist" to "physicist"

Friday, November 02, 2007

Private Disaster Response

In an article entitled Rapture Rescue 911: Disaster Response for the Chosen on, Naomi Klein solves a problem I've been thinking about during every recent natural disaster, and in particular the recent Southern California fires. Is it realistic to expect that in laissez-faire capitalism there will be private fire companies and emergency response companies that will be able to help people during natural disasters? It seems as there should be, since people ought to be willing to pay for these kinds of services just as they pay for insurance, but I tend to prefer to see at least some evidence for these assumptions. I had previously heard of occasional privatized fire departments in small towns but nothing larger than that. I had not heard of this:
Members of the company's Private Client Group pay an average of $19,000 to have their homes sprayed with fire retardant. During the wildfires, the "mobile units"--racing around in red firetrucks--even extinguished fires for their clients.
During last year's hurricane season, Florida homeowners were offered similarly high-priced salvation by HelpJet, a travel agency launched with promises to turn "a hurricane evacuation into a jet-setter vacation." For an annual fee, a company concierge takes care of everything: transport to the air terminal, luxurious travel, bookings at five-star resorts. Most of all, HelpJet is an escape hatch from the kind of government failure on display during Katrina. "No standing in lines, no hassle with crowds, just a first class experience."

HelpJet is about to get some serious competition from some much larger players. In northern Michigan, during the same week that the California fires raged, the rural community of Pellston was in the grip of an intense public debate. The village is about to become the headquarters for the first fully privatized national disaster response center. The plan is the brainchild of Sovereign Deed, a little-known start-up with links to the mercenary firm Triple Canopy. Like HelpJet, Sovereign Deed works on a "country-club type membership fee," according to the company's vice president, retired Brig. Gen. Richard Mills. In exchange for a one-time fee of $50,000 followed by annual dues of $15,000, members receive "comprehensive catastrophe response services" should their city be hit by a manmade disaster that can "cause severe threats to public health and/or well-being" (read: a terrorist attack), a disease outbreak or a natural disaster. Basic membership includes access to medicine, water and food, while those who pay for "premium tiered services" will be eligible for VIP rescue missions.
Ms. Klein, of course, sneers at all this and apparently takes for granted that people have a right to equal disaster assistance that should be provided free of charge. But leaving aside the sneers, I really think this is an awesome demonstration of the power of the market, hampered though it is, to provide services that people are willing to pay for, including services typically assumed to be the exclusive domain of the government.

Thursday, November 01, 2007

Scott Powell Concludes Kant vs. Columbus

Don't miss Scott Powell's exciting conclusion to his previously mentioned series of articles. Here's an excerpt:
A proper assessment and celebration of Columbus’s work, however, cannot be validated by more research or the uncovering of a still more detailed picture of the past. It can only be defended by grasping on an abstract level that “the Discovery of America” is the objective term necessitated by the full context of the Story of World up to that point and–of equal importance–by the context of developments beyond it.

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Hillary Clinton & the NEA

I was going to post a detailed dissection of the recent NEA resolutions, but I see that Rational Jenn beat me to it.
According to the site (scroll down a little) Hillary Clinton sports an 82% approval rating from the NEA. In July of this year, the Clinton campaign announced that "NEA NH Leader Karen McDonough to Co-Chair Education Leaders for Hillary." "McDonough was a leader of NEA-NH, a 13,000-member organization, for 16 years. She served as president for last eight years and as vice president for the eight years prior to that." Presidential Candidate Hillary Clinton spoke at the 2007 annual NEA meeting in July. Given that by virtually every poll Hillary Clinton's nomination as the Democratic Candidate for President seems assured, I think it we can safely assume that she will take the NEA line on most issues.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Heinrich von Kleist and the Origin of the Romantics

I suspect that much of the time when Objectivist mention that they believe Immanuel Kant to be the most evil man in history, they probably get stared at as some kind of lunatics. After all, Kant was not a violent man, but rather an "Enlightenment Philosopher." In an interesting post on the German Romantic Poet Heinrich von Kleist, Wolfgang of the German site Objektivismus Heute (Objectivism Today) writes of a book review (entitled, appropriately enough, "O the mind! The unfortunate mind!") in the German newspaper Die Welt, in which the author of the review notes that the origin of von Kleist's Romanticism can be traced to what he termed a "Kant-crisis" (in German, Kant-Krise). Wolgang quotes the review as follows:

Sieht man Kleist als Romantiker, dann ist das Urerlebnis die Kant-Krise. "Wenn alle Menschen statt der Augen grüne Gläser hätten", schreibt Kleist 1801, dann würden sie die Welt für grün halten. Da er aus der Kant-Lektüre schließt, dass unser Bild von der Welt nur ein Produkt der Werkzeuge ist, mit denen wir die Welt betrachten, da er infolgedessen Abschied nimmt vom Glauben der Aufklärung, dass wir die Welt begreifen und dann handelnd verändern könnten, muss er den Verstand entthronen. Der neue oberste Herrscher ist das Gefühl - das "herrliche Gefühl"...


Here's my rough translation:

If we regard Kleist as a Romanticist, then the foundational experience is the Kant-crisis. "If all human beings had on green spectacles instead of eyes," wrote Kleist in 1801, then the world would be assumed to be green. Since, as a result of his Kant reading, he concludes that our picture of the world is only a product of the equipment with which we view the world, and thus departs from the Enlightenment belief that we can understand the world and then actively change it, he must dethrone the rational mind. The new highest ruler is the feeling -- the "magnificent feeling"...
Here we have the results of Kant's ideas clearly laid out for us. The idea that the mind cannot know reality means that the mind is impotent, so we might as well rely on our feelings. Ideas have consequences and as more and more 19th century intellectuals such a Hegel, Marx and Nietzsche pondered, rather than challenged, the implications of Kant's ideas, the 20th century culmination in fields far beyond poetry was not far behind. For details see Dr. Peikoff's book

Monday, October 29, 2007

Krugman the Ostrich

Paul Krugman, NY Times columnist and previously noted mostly for his economic ignorance has in a new op-ed piece called Fearing Fear Itself demonstated his ignorance of foreign policy and national security.

Krugman is upset that Rudy Giuliani has advisers that do not seek to appease Iran:
Consider, for a moment, the implications of the fact that Rudy Giuliani is taking foreign policy advice from Norman Podhoretz, who wants us to start bombing Iran “as soon as it is logistically possible.”

Mr. Podhoretz, the editor of Commentary and a founding neoconservative, tells us that Iran is the “main center of the Islamofascist ideology against which we have been fighting since 9/11.” The Islamofascists, he tells us, are well on their way toward creating a world “shaped by their will and tailored to their wishes.” Indeed, “Already, some observers are warning that by the end of the 21st century the whole of Europe will be transformed into a place to which they give the name Eurabia.”

Do I have to point out that none of this makes a bit of sense?
Actually, it makes every bit of sense, at least for those willing to look at the facts. Let's see if we can answer some of Krugman's objections. First:

For one thing, there isn’t actually any such thing as Islamofascism — it’s not an ideology; it’s a figment of the neocon imagination.
Well, I thought in this case Christopher Hitchens, hardly a neocon, put it best:

Does Bin Ladenism or Salafism or whatever we agree to call it have anything in common with fascism?

I think yes. The most obvious points of comparison would be these: Both movements are based on a cult of murderous violence that exalts death and destruction and despises the life of the mind. ("Death to the intellect! Long live death!" as Gen. Francisco Franco's sidekick Gonzalo Queipo de Llano so pithily phrased it.) Both are hostile to modernity (except when it comes to the pursuit of weapons), and both are bitterly nostalgic for past empires and lost glories. Both are obsessed with real and imagined "humiliations" and thirsty for revenge. Both are chronically infected with the toxin of anti-Jewish paranoia (interestingly, also, with its milder cousin, anti-Freemason paranoia). Both are inclined to leader worship and to the exclusive stress on the power of one great book. Both have a strong commitment to sexual repression—especially to the repression of any sexual "deviance"—and to its counterparts the subordination of the female and contempt for the feminine. Both despise art and literature as symptoms of degeneracy and decadence; both burn books and destroy museums and treasures.
I think I am personally okay with any of the following terms: Islamism, Islamofascism, Radical Islam, Jihadism, etc. The key is that a certain version of Islam is the guiding force of our enemies. I don't know that Islam has to be interpreted in such a way that it leads to conflict with the West. I happen to know some self-declared Muslims who seem no more threatening than the average Western Christians. But at this point it really is up to Muslims and particularly their leadership to demonstrate otherwise.

Krugman continues:
And Iran had nothing whatsoever to do with 9/11 — in fact, the Iranian regime was quite helpful to the United States when it went after Al Qaeda and its Taliban allies in Afghanistan.
To gain a good understanding of Iran's relationship to Al Qaeda, as well as how hostile it has been to the United States over the last 29 year, I recommend Thomas Jocelyn's excellent report on Iran's Proxy War Against America as well as the 9-11 Commission Report. Well, did Iran have anything to do with 9/11?

Intelligence indicates the persistence of contacts between Iranian security officials and senior al Qaeda figures after Bin Ladin’s return to Afghanistan. Khallad has said that Iran made a concerted effort to strengthen relations with al Qaeda after the October 2000 attack on the USS Cole, but was rebuffed because Bin Ladin did not want to alienate his supporters in Saudi Arabia.Khallad and other detainees have described the willingness of Iranian officials to facilitate the travel of al Qaeda members through Iran, on their way to and from Afghanistan.For example, Iranian border inspectors would be told not to place telltale stamps in the passports of these travelers. Such arrangements were particularly beneficial to Saudi members of al Qaeda.

Our knowledge of the international travels of the al Qaeda operatives selected for the 9/11 operation remains fragmentary. But we now have evidence suggesting that 8 to 10 of the 14 Saudi “muscle” operatives traveled into or out of Iran between October 2000 and February 2001. [p. 258, 9/11 Commission Full Report]

I guess the aiding and abetting of terrorists does not count as having anything to do with the operation. What is it with the Left and it's inability to accept the fact that we are at war with Iran? Apparently we need to review the list of assaults by Iran and Iranian sponsored organizations on the West. Such a list can be found in Jocelyn's Report on page 74 in the appendix.
November 4, 1979
Fifty-two American citizens are taken hostage by “students” loyal
to Ayatollah Khomeini. They are held for more than a year, until
January 20, 1981. The kidnappings are part of the Iranian revolution,
which serves as a model for Sunni terrorist groups like Ayman
al-Zawahiri’s Egyptian Islamic Jihad.
April 18, 1983
Iran’s master terrorist, Imad Mugniyah, orchestrates the first significant
Islamist suicide attack against America: the bombing of
the U.S. Embassy in Beirut. Establishing a modus operandi for
terrorists in the years to come, the attacker utilizes a van packed
with explosives.
October 23, 1983
Using massive truck bombs, Hezbollah’s suicide bombers simultaneously
attack the U.S. Marine Barracks and a housing complex
for French Paratroopers in Beirut, Lebanon. Al-Qaeda would later
adopt simultaneous suicide bombings as its preferred method for
committing attacks.
December 12, 1983
Iranian-backed terrorists bomb the U.S. Embassy in Kuwait. A
close relative of Imad Mugniyah is convicted by a Kuwaiti court
and sentenced to death for his role in the bombing. Other attackers,
also supported by Iran, are imprisoned. The terrorists come to
be known as the “Kuwait 17” or “Dawa 17.”
iran’s proxy war against america 75
March 16, 1984
William Buckley, the CIA’s station chief in Beirut, is kidnapped
and later tortured-to-death by Imad Mugniyah’s Hezbollah. Buckley’s
kidnapping is one in a series of Hezbollah’s kidnappings from
the early 1980s through the early 1990s. Dozens of Americans are
kidnapped and Hezbollah frequently demands an exchange for
the Kuwait 17. Hezbollah’s kidnappings lead to the biggest scandal
of President Ronald Reagan’s tenure, the Iran-Contra affair,
after the Reagan administration agrees to exchange arms for the
September 20, 1984
Hezbollah terrorists strike the U.S. Embassy annex in Beirut with
a truck bomb.
December 3, 1984
Mugniyah’s operatives hijack Kuwait Airways Flight 221. The hijackers
attempt to barter for the release of the Kuwait 17.
June 14, 1985
Mugniyah’s terrorists hijack TWA Flight 847. Once again, the
hijackers attempt to barter for the release of the Kuwait 17. When
the hijackers’ demands are denied, they beat and kill a U.S. Navy
serviceman, Robert Dean Stethem, who happened to be on the
flight. Incredibly, Germany granted parole to one of the hijackers
in December 2005.
According to Ali Mohamed, a top al-Qaeda operative in U.S. custody,
Ayman al-Zawahiri’s Egyptian Islamic Jihad partners with
Iran in a planned coup attempt in Egypt. Tehran trains EIJ terrorists
for the coup attempt, which is ultimately aborted. Iran also
pays al-Zawahiri $2 million for sensitive information concerning
the Egyptian Government’s plans to raid several islands in the Persian
Iran and Sudan, then the world’s only Sunni Islamist states,
forge a strategic alliance. They begin to jointly export terrorism
throughout the world.
April 1991
Hassan al-Turabi hosts the first Popular Arab Islamic Conference
in Sudan. The conference provides a forum for disparate forces in
the Middle East who oppose American presence in the region to
come together. Al-Qaeda, Hezbollah, Iraqi and Iranian representatives
all attend the meeting.
February 26, 1993
Terrorists connected to al-Qaeda and the global terror network
bomb the World Trade Center using a rental truck packed with
explosives. The bombers’ colleagues plot a follow-on attack
against landmarks in the NYC area. There is no known evidence
that Iran had a hand in these events. It is clear, however,
that several of the plotters had ties to Hassan al-Turabi’s Sudan.
Sheikh Omar Abdel-Rahman, the spiritual leader of the two
leading Egyptian terrorist groups (both of which will join al-
Qaeda) and who was living in the New York metropolitan area,
is later convicted for his involvement in the attacks. Reports
surface that he and his organization received financial assistance
from Iran.
According to Ali Mohamed, Imad Mugniyah and Osama bin
Laden meet in Sudan. Bin Laden expresses his desire to model al-
Qaeda after Hezbollah. In particular, bin Laden expresses interest
in Mugniyah’s bombing of the U.S. Embassy in Beirut in 1983
iran’s proxy war against america 77
and similar attacks. They agree to work together against America
and the West.
According to Jamal al-Fadl, an al-Qaeda operative in U.S. custody,
bin Laden meets a leading Iranian sheikh in Sudan. The purpose
of the meeting is to put aside any differences between their
competing brands of Islam in order to come together against their
common enemy: the West. The meeting is just the first of several
between bin Laden and Iran’s spiritual leaders.
Hezbollah and the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps train al-
Qaeda’s terrorists in camps in Sudan, Lebanon and Iran. Among
the terrorists trained are some of bin Laden’s most trusted lieutenants
and al-Qaeda’s future leaders.
Egypt and Algeria cut off diplomatic ties with Iran. Both nations
accuse Iran and Sudan of supporting Sunni terrorism, including
terrorist groups affiliated with al-Qaeda. Egypt will blame Iran
for supporting both the Egyptian Islamic Jihad and the Islamic
Group throughout the 1990’s.
November 13, 1995
Two bombs are detonated, nearly simultaneously, at the Saudi National
Guard training facility in Riyadh, killing five Americans. The
suspects are captured and confess to being inspired by Osama bin
Laden. Bin Laden denies responsibility, but praises the attack. It is
likely al-Qaeda’s first terrorist attack inside the Saudi Kingdom.
November 19, 1995
An al-Qaeda suicide bomber destroys the Egyptian Embassy in Islamabad,
Pakistan. The CIA’s Bob Baer later learns that Mugniyah’s
deputy assisted al-Qaeda in the attack and that one of bin Laden’s
top terrorists remained in contact with Mugniyah’s office months
May 1996
Bin Laden is expelled from Sudan, but the 9/11 Commission
reports that “intelligence indicates the persistance of contacts”
between al-Qaeda and Iran even after al-Qaeda’s relocation to Afghanistan.
Bin Laden and al-Qaeda maintain an ongoing presence
in Sudan, despite not being “formally” welcome.
June 21 - 23, 1996
Tehran hosts a summit for the leading Sunni and Shiite terrorist
groups. It is announced that the terrorists will continue to focus
on U.S. interests thoughout the region. Mugniyah, bin Laden,
and a leading member of the EIJ reportedly forge the “Committee
of Three,” under the leadership of Iran’s intelligence chief, to
focus their joint efforts against American targets.
June 25, 1996
Hezbollah terrorists, operating under the direction of senior
Iranian officials, bomb the Khobar Towers apartment complex
in Saudi Arabia. Contemporaneous reports by both the State
Department and the CIA note that al-Qaeda is also suspected of
playing a role. The 9/11 Commission would later find “indirect
evidence” of al-Qaeda’s involvement. The evidence includes intelligence
indicating that al-Qaeda was planning a similar operation
in the months prior and that bin Laden was congratulated by
other al-Qaeda operatives, including Ayman al-Zawahiri, shortly
after the attack.
iran’s proxy war against america 79
July 1996
According to Bob Baer, the Egyptian Islamic Group—an ally of
bin Laden’s al-Qaeda—is in contact with Mugniyah.
According to Bob Baer, there is “incontrovertible evidence” of a
meeting between bin Laden and a representative of the Iranian
Ministry of Intelligence and Security (MOIS).
August 7, 1998
Al-Qaeda’s suicide bombers simultaneously destroy the U.S. Embassies
in Kenya and Tanzania. It is al-Qaeda’s most spectacular
attack prior to 9/11. The attack is clearly modeled on Hezbollah’s
attacks in the early 1980s. Indeed, the al-Qaeda terrorists responsible
were trained by Hezbollah in the early 1990s. There is evidence
that Iran also provided explosives used in the attack.
October - November 2000
Imad Mugniyah and his lieutenants personally escort several of
the 9/11 muscle hijackers out of Saudi Arabia on flights to Beirut
and Iran. In all, eight to ten of the hijackers travel through Iran
on the way to 9/11.
December 2000
Ramzi Binalshibh, al-Qaeda’s key point man for the 9/11 plot,
applies for visa at the Iranian Embassy in Berlin. His visa application
is approved.
January 31, 2001
Ramzi Binalshibh arrives at Tehran International airport. He does
not return to Germany until February 28, 2001. The purpose of
his trip to Iran remains a mystery. The 9/11 Commission does not
mention Binalshibh’s trip to Iran.
Early September 2001
Binalshibh flees to Iran shortly before the 9/11 attacks.
September 11, 2001
Nineteen al-Qaeda hijackers execute al-Qaeda’s largest operation
to date, killing nearly 3000 Americans. Many of the details surrounding
the plot, including who financed the attack, remain a
October 2001
According to a high-level Taliban detainee at Gitmo, Iran offers
the Taliban Government assistance in retreating from Afghanistan.
October 2001
Numerous press reports indicate that Iran aids the retreat of hundreds
of al-Qaeda and Taliban members from Afghanistan. Some
al-Qaeda operatives enjoy safehaven in Iran to this day. Among
them is Said al-Adel, who is reportedly the third highest ranking
member of al-Qaeda and was trained by Hezbollah during the
early 1990s, and Saad bin Laden, Osama’s heir apparent.
April 11, 2002
Al-Qaeda carries out the first attack ordered by bin Laden since
9/11: a suicide bomber destroys a synagogue in Tunisia, killing
nineteen people. According to NBC News, Saad bin Laden contacted
the cell responsible for the attack from his safehaven in
Iran. Suleiman Abu Ghaith, bin Laden’s spokesman, also claims
al-Qaeda’s responsibility for the attack from his abode in Iran.
End of 2002 - Spring 2003
According to former Director of Central Intelligence George
Tenet, senior al-Qaeda leaders discuss the acquisition of nuclear
weapons from their safe haven in Iran. In fact, al-Qaeda’s “nuclear
chief,” Abdel al-Aziz al-Masri, is one of many senior terrorists living
in Iran.
May 12, 2003
Under orders from Saif al-Adel and Saad bin Laden, who are operating
from Iran, al-Qaeda’s terrorists simultaneously strike three
separate housing complexes in Riyadh Saudi Arabia. Another al-
Qaeda agent thought to be responsible for the attack flees to Iran
before he can be captured.
May 16, 2003
One dozen al-Qaeda bombers attack several targets in Casablanca,
Morocco. Saad bin Laden, living in Iran, is reportedly in contact
with the cell shortly before the attack.
2004 – present
Iran supplies advanced IED technology to the insurgents in Iraq.
There is growing evidence of Iranian support for both Sunni and
Shiite insurgency groups in Iraq. Iran continues to harbor senior
al-Qaeda leaders as the terrorist network reorganizes.
January 20, 2007
IRGC and Hezbollah terrorists kill five American soldiers in Karbala,
January 2007 – present
Numerous IRGC and Hezbollah terrorists, who are responsible
for arming and training terrorist groups in Iraq, are captured by
American and Iraqi forces.
No, Mr. Krugman you're the one who's delusional. We need to fight back and we need to fight back now.