Map of life expectancy at birth from Global Education Project.

Wednesday, May 01, 2019

Odds and Ends

A few items that caught my interest.

What's in a name: First, following up on last Sunday's sermonette, here's a fuller discussion of the names for God in Judaism. My very brief summary was essentially correct, but it's a much longer story. Note that the Torah never says that the name of God should not be pronounced, but that idea has grown over time in Jewish tradition.

Rabbi Yisroel Goldstein of Chabad of Poway, who was maimed in the terrorist attack on Saturday in which one of his congregation was murdered has an essay in the NYT in which he vows to stand up against anti-Jewish hatred. I commend it in its own right but it's also of interest regarding the question at hand. He spells out the English word God. However, the congregation of the late leader of the Chabad movement, Rabbi Menachem Schneerson, used to take out advertisements in the Times on holy days reminding people to observe the sacraments, do good deeds, and give to charity and so on. They would always write G_d. In his essay, Rabbi Goldstein describes calling out to HaShem, which simply means "the name." The Arabic Allah is derived from Elohim. The origin of the English word God, however, is unclear but it appears to be of pagan origin.

Revolution: It seems that a popular right-wing meme is that the people of Venezuela can't overthrow their government because of restrictive gun laws. If only they had a Second Amendment, Maduro would be gone! Give me a break. This idea that individual citizens armed with personal weapons are going to fight and defeat a national military, armed with tanks and APCs, helicopters, and 50 caliber machine guns, with military training and organization, is ridiculous. And any serious effort in that regard would be an unimaginable catastrophe. Just goes to show how deficient some people are in critical thinking, which leads to . . .

Steven Novella discusses the anti-vax wackiness: Here at Science Based Medicine which you might want to bookmark if you're interested in that sort of thing. He concludes that there really isn't any very effective way to convince individual parents who have bought into the nut job conspiracy theories, but that we need to take the long view and undertake a concerted campaign to promote critical thinking among the population. I concur, and I try to do that here. First piece of advice: try to be self-aware when you are engaged in motivated reasoning. Don't start with your conclusion and try to reason backwards as to why it is correct. Chances are good you'll skip an essential step if you try that. (E.g., can you and your neighbors really defeat the United States arm in a firefight?) Examine your own beliefs critically. Start with basic, unequivocal facts and then try to figure out where they lead.

A reader directs us to this, also from Steve Novella on his other blog. A major problem in philosophy -- maybe the only remaining problem -- is called the "demarcation" problem. How do we tell science from pseudo-science? How do we decide whether a proposition which goes against the consensus is legitimate dissent that's worth considering, or is just nutty? I don't know that this from Novella will settle the question for you, but it will help you think about it.

1 comment:

Don Quixote said...

Thanks for the all-too-uncommon guideposts to rational discourse, and for sharing some tools.