Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Sunday, January 28, 2007

The new Whole Food???

Now they think they are going to get everyone eating this stuff? Then again, it doesn't taste worse than most of that health food stuff.

Monday, January 22, 2007

Review of Williams' The Origins of Field Theory

L. Pearce Williams' The Origins of Field Theory is a good book on the history of how Field Theory in physics grew from its Newtonian beginnings to it form in Maxwell's equations. The Newtonian model is nicely laid out. Then it moves on to a discussion of electromagnetism using the naturalphilosophie of the time, especially the Kantian critique of Newton. (This was a lot more important than I had realized) Schelling's critique and then Oersted's contributions are then addressed. Finally, we come to the hero of Field Theory - Faraday. Faraday's electrostatic and magnetic lines of force, and their difficult births and acceptance, make up a good chunk of the book. It then concludes with a discussion of Maxwell famous synthesis and mathematization of Faraday's work which ultimately turned it in to the Orthodoxy of its time.
It was a good read. There were a few places I wish the author would have spent a bit more time working out the experiments for us. I forgot what some the apparatus that Faraday used was like. But beside this, it is a good simple read if you are interested in this sort of thing. There are practically no equations or anything to scare away the intelligent curious layperson, like me.

Friday, January 19, 2007

Jewish thinkers and the philosophy of history

Sometime in late 2003 I was walking around Jerusalem and wandered in to the old used book store near Machne Yehuda. I picked up a few books that were somehow very tangentially related to stuff I was interested in for my own research. They were books about the positivist account of history, historical laws, and historical explanations - they were from the 1950's. I bought them, and I only noticed when I got home that two of them were well marked up, and they had the signature of "Emil Fackenheim" on the inside cover. He had just died, so I guess someone sold off his library. Fackenheim was a formidable philosopher. He is most known for his "11th commandment post-holocaust" philosophy.

I then began to notice that there was a lot of interest in the philosophy of history at the time that Fackenheim was writing. He himself wrote a lot about Jews and their place in History, and things like that. What is more interesting though is that there were a whole lot of Jews at that time worrying about the same thing. Morris Raphael Cohen, another important Jewish intellectual at City College wrote a book on the philosophy of history - a book he thought was his most important. Berkovitz too was interested in the role Jews play in history.

This is something that I clearly don't have time to research, but there was an interesting moment in Jewish intellectual history where the most influential philosophical Jewish minds were concentrating on the same problem. I wonder why. Clearly many might have been thinking post-holocaust thoughts. Fackenheim and Berkovits were deeply interested in this. The question of Jewish existence and their role in the bigger scheme would have interested them. I suppose there was something of that question in the general intellectual zeitgeist when people like Dray and Gardinier were thinking about these things.

New Year Resolutions I forgot to post

1) Finish my dissertation.
2) Take fun trip as a reward to self for (1)
3) Give more charity to worthy causes
4) Work on other writing projects
5) Work on learning another language
6) Try to make some job moves (mil. and acad.)
7) Learn something about investing the little money I have

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Review of Garfinkel's Forms of Explanation

Alan Garfinkel's Forms of Explanation is a bit dated and I am not sure what to make of it.

Chapters 1 and 2 are certainly worthwhile reading. They offer the beginnings of an interesting discussion of contrastive explanations and one account of what it is to be a reductive explanation. There are actually many more kinds than Garfinkel describes, but no matter. His is interesting enough. Chapter 3 peters out to some warmed over naive Marxism/Rawlsian stuff. There for some reason he pulls a fast one and pretty much tells you he is going to conflate explanations and justifications, and you should live with it. I suppose one can't argue with that.

Chapter 4 he builds up to a position that can probably be paraphrased as "given that we live in a society (with relations between individuals) you can't explain the relations in society by appealing only to individuals.

The book ends with what we'd now call a pragmatic account of explanation. Garfinkel was probably not aware of the work by people like Achinstein on this very notion, or he just didn't bother mentioning it. And the real statement of pragmatic explanations was published about a year before by van Fraassen, and he was most likely not aware of that either.

I am hesitant to recommend this, but the book is about the question of explanation in the philosophy of the social sciences. There is not all that much out there on this topic and you can do worse, but perhaps skipping chapter three would make it less annoying to read.

Sunday, January 14, 2007

three museums

Today "D" and I went to the Victoria and Albert Museum, the Museum of Natural History, and the Science Museum. Long day. I'm tired.

Saturday, January 13, 2007


So I've been spending the past few days doing family-related things in London. My cousin got married to a girl from Goulders Green.

It has been interesting so far. I got to see the chassidic side of my family a lot, and I got to see a bit of London as well. I was quite excited to finally see the Rosetta Rock, and other things in the British Museum, as well as the Science Museum. Hopefully I'll get to take in a bit more tomorrow and Monday.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Busy Week

It has been a prety busy week, and I have not had much time to put in New Year resolutions, or other stuff. I am now in London for a cousin's wedding. I'll keep the world posted on my adventures here as they happen. So far I got in (with D) and we slept and then hit up the Science Museum and wandered around Oxford Circus (it is not a real circus, more like a traffic CIRCLE). I am struch by how much like New York London is. It is easy to see the cultural similarities and between us. If it weren't for the fact that London has such nice buildings, I'd swear I was in New York or Boston.