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Grounds of Natural Philosophy

Grounds Of Natural PhilosophyGrounds Of Natural Philosophy by Margaret Cavendish
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I first read this book almost twenty years ago when I was teaching at course at the University of Oklahoma An Exploration of the History of Women in Philosophy. Each year senior grad students could apply to teach a course of their own design, and my final year of grad teaching I was accepted to teach this course I created. One of my goals in teaching such a course was compelling my own research into female philosophers so that I might enrich my own understanding in order to develop better courses for the future that would include the voices of women, something I believe I've been better about in my subsequent teaching.

I encountered Margaret Cavendish first in an excerpt in Margaret Atherton's Women in Early Modern Philosophy (a textbook for my course) and was able to discover that this major work of hers had been republished. I read it at the time with much interest, in particular noting the ways that her materialism anticipated the physicalisms I was drawn to, as it was reductive. I felt she had some affinities with process thought.

In re-reading this time around, I didn't encounter anything really new that jumped out to me, but it was good to refresh my acquaintance with this work, as Cavendish is someone I reference in my intro course.

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Truth in Science

A thorough survey of the dispute in philosophy of science on whether or not truth is the goal of science. This author ultimately argues that it is and characterizes truth as follows:

Scientific truths are the resilient and robust outcome of a plurality of scientific perspectives that, over time, have meshed with one another in their (tacit, implicit and often survival-adaptive) normative commitment to reliably produce scientific knowledge for us as humankind.

Then she makes one further point of note:

That is why, far from being an insufferable hindrance to scientific pluralism, truth is in fact its best safeguard in tolerant, open and democratic societies that are genuinely committed to the advancement of scientific knowledge in the very many faces it comes with.

Novum Organon

The Novum Organon, Or A True Guide To The Interpretation Of NatureThe Novum Organon, Or A True Guide To The Interpretation Of Nature by Francis Bacon
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Book I on Bacon's Novum Organon is an enjoyable and insightful discussion of induction and the new science that he proposed to replace Aristotle and Medieval approaches to knowledge. I particularly liked his discussion of the "idols of the mind."

Book II was an application of the new method to the scientific ideas of his time, thus not very engaging and something to skim through.

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Inner Voice

A fascinating article on Aeon about research into our inner voice.  This will come in handy when I start Descartes in class in a couple of weeks.

An excerpt:

The roots of the new work trace back to the 1920s and the Russian developmental psychologist Lev Vygotsky, who said the human mind was shaped by social activity and culture, beginning in childhood. The self, he hypothesised, was forged in what he called the ‘zone of proximal development’, the cognitive territory just beyond reach and impossible to tackle without some help. Children build learning partnerships with adults to master a skill in the zone, said Vygotsky, then go off on their own, speaking aloud to replace the voice of the adult, now gone from the scene. As mastery increases, this ‘self-talk’ becomes internalised and then increasingly muted until it is mostly silent – still part of the ongoing dialogue with oneself, but more intimate and no longer pronounced to the world. This voice – at first uttered aloud but finally only internal – was, from Vygotsky’s perspective, the engine of development and consciousness itself.

The Cerebral Mystique

A good article criticizing the notion that "we are our brains."  An excerpt:

The brain is special because it does not distil us to an essence, it unites us to our surroundings in a way a soul never could. If we value our own experiences, we must protect and strengthen the many factors that enrich our lives from both inside and outside, so that as many people as possible can benefit from them now and in the time to come. We must realise that we are much more than our brains.

Pastoral Prayer upon Stephen Hawking’s Death

This is more than a month old, but I wanted to share it.

Physicist Stephen Hawking died this week. Hawking inspired us to ask questions such as:

What do we know about the universe, and how do we know it? Where did the universe come from, and where is it going? Did the universe have a beginning, and if so, what happened before then? What is the nature of time? Will it ever come to an end?

He believed that one day science would develop a complete unified theory and then all humanity would be capable of discussing "the question of why it is that we and the universe exist." He wrote, "If we find the answer to that, it would be the ultimate triumph of human reason--for then we would know the mind of God."

Hawking of course was an atheist, so he was writing in metaphor when he spoke of God. But I've always been intrigued by how even science, when pushed to the outer limits of theoretical physics, sounds deeply spiritual and mystical.

And so today, as we enter our time of prayer, let's do so in awe and wonder at the marvels of our universe and our human ability to understand them.

Let us begin with a moment of silent reflection.


God of Time and Space,

You have surrounded us with wonder

And we are in awe.

You have also given us amazing powers

To explore and study and theorize and understand.

Our brains can build rockets that send probes billions of miles from Earth

In order to send pictures back to us revealing unimagined beauty.

We can develop theorems that in simple mathematics grasp profound truths about how the universe works.

We can imagine and dream and hypothesize not only about the very beginning of time and space but what might even be outside our own universe.

May we always defy our earthly and physical limitations.

May we always be curious.

May we always look up at the stars and wonder why.

Now, as our Savior taught us, let us pray: