PEG 2.0

Writer & entrepreneur. Bio.

This is my very, very personal blog.

All work that is my own is my copyright; rights reserved. Toutes mes oeuvres sont protégées par le droit d'auteur.

In France, there is a maximum amount of pharmacies that can be opened, by law, and sales of medicine and non-medical pharmaceutical paraphernalia are restricted to pharmacies, to give pharmacists an economic rent. Because, France. Pharmacists have to take at least six years of higher education to get the degree to work at a pharmacy. I once got in a beer-soaked debate with a young pharmacist about rules protecting the pharmacy rent. 

Him: “But our training means we can give advice to people they wouldn’t otherwise get!”

Me: “Like what?”

Him: “Well, uh… For example, we remind them to take the recommended dosage…”

Me: “So you read what’s written on the box?”

Him: “Well, yeah, b-“

Me: “Which isn’t even true anyway?”

Him: “Well, yeah, b-“

Me: “Wait, so, the legitimacy of your profession is that you’re trained in science and you belong to a guild that ensures you give people ethical and sound advice, right?”

Him: “Yes.”

Me: “Does the pharmacy you work at sell homeopathy?”

Him: “Yes, it’s where we make most of our profits.”

Me: “I rest my case.”

Many people know that several of the English and French decadents ended up embracing Catholicism. Nowadays it is easy to take pride in these exotic converts, but at the time very few Catholics were hastening to slaughter the fatted calf. Some doubted their sincerity, others worried that even a sincere aesthete might well be treating the Church like a glamorous accessory. G. K. Chesterton, for instance, never warmed to Wilde, sniping that the old decadent had been drawn to the Church only because “he desired all beautiful things—even God.”

Gallery of Smart - Curated Visuals


Gallery of Smart - Curated Visuals

(via etonnement)


A few details from the Standard of Ur.

Found in southern Iraq, and dating to about 2600-2400 BCE, the Standard of Ur depicts one of the earliest representations of a Sumerian army.

Courtesy of & currently located at The British Museum, London: ME 121201. Photos taken by Steven Zucker.

(via etonnement)

What is science? (Part Deux)

Very revealing response to my piece at The Week. The author fails to understand what science is, and then, in his confusion, blames me for the failing. 

The author faults me for not including observational sciences as part of science. Well, sorry, but it’s true. The reason we have a thing called “the Scientific Revolution” and the reason why it was a revolution is precisely because it changed the definition of science from the hitherto flawed, and observational Aristotelian model to the Baconian, experimental model. As a sort of courtesy, observational sciences are called “sciences”, but my whole point is that this obscures more than it enlightens, precisely because the Scientific Revolution was the highlighting of the key role of controlled experiment.

With regard to astronomy and evolutionary biology, it should be noted that both actually make a great deal of effort to come up with falsifiable hypotheses that can be tested in a lab. That’s what those multibillion dollar particle accelerators are for. 

(I had a section on this in the original version of my column because it was cut during the editorial process.)

Is it really that big a deal that we are confused about what science is? We just have to read the rest of the author’s post to find out.

For example, the author calls me “naïve” for claiming that the Montessori Method of education, having been created through scientific experimentation, represents a positive step from the traditional method. He thinks his point is established by linking to a study; sadly, because this study does not have a true control group, it suffers from omitted variable bias and literally proves nothing—as, scientifically speaking, non-controlled experimentation does. The author exhibits exactly the kind of confusion that my article was meant to clear up. Because the experiment the author points to is unable to separate different causes within what it observes, it cannot establish any cause-and-effect relationship, and so to look at it as doing so is simply erroneous. As the author notes, this is true of many “areas of social science”—indeed it is the case, because most social science is conducted unscientifically, which is a shame. A shame which might be rectified if people understood basic epistemology. Which is why I wrote my column.

We have had far too few serious scientific experiments of the outcomes of Montessori. The ones that we do have have been extremely encouraging, but I wouldn’t be so bold as to say that they “prove” anything, because when it comes to social science, even a few RFTs don’t prove much—you need broad repetition over many experiments and a long period of time. 

The fact that we have so few is a damn shame, because there’s so little we know. But the reason we have so few is because few people understand the difference between a randomized field trial, which takes care of omitted variable bias reasonably well, and uncontrolled experiments, which absolutely do not. Because science is misunderstood, the need for more, and more rigorous, experimentation is not felt, and so we remain in the pre-scientific dark. The author’s post is an excellent demonstration of how the phenomenon works.

Anyhow—I believe we need more experimentation in education. The author intones, “rigorous adherence to any one system will not always work” Indeed! Which is why I believe we need more experimentation in education.

It is as if I gave a speech calling for total war, and a gentleman stood up to say that I am wrong, because pacifism is wrong.

(Although, technically speaking, the author doesn’t know at all whether rigorous adherence to any one system will not always work” Maybe there is a system, perhaps yet to be invented, rigorous adherence thereto will always work. Maybe not! Nobody knows. Which is my point to begin with.)

Social policy experiments, like psychology experiments, are bound to be more difficult to replicate than physics or chemistry experiments, and for the same reason—the subject of social policy is more irreducibly complex than the subjects of physics and chemistry.

Social policy experiments are indeed very hard to reproduce, because human life is a lot more causally dense than physics. Where the gentleman got the idea that I believe anything else I can only conjecture.

It is precisely because social policy experiments are very hard to reproduce that we should run lots of them. For example, as Jim Manzi points out, there have been a grand total of 122 controlled experiments in criminology in the United States in the past several decades; by contrast, the bank Capital One ran 60,000 controlled experiments on its customers in the year 2000 alone. Precisely because social life is so causally dense, only multiple repeated RFTs can yield insights. Which is why we need to do lots of them. Which was my point to begin with.

Further, the gentleman intones:

More experimentation by state and local governments is a good idea, but as Stuart Butler and David B. Muhlhausen argue in their recent National Affairs essay, “Can Governments Replicate Success,” “[r]ather than simply try to mimic what worked elsewhere, [policymakers] should strive to adapt successful strategies to their own situations.” The value of experimentation in public policy is not that it provides a scientific foundation for policymaking in the way physics provides a scientific foundation for engineering, but rather that it can allow for incremental improvements and adaption of ideas to new circumstances.

This is fair enough, I guess. I completely fail to see what it has to do with anything I wrote. 

The author lectures me that “There is no straightforward formula for deciding how much a scientific claim should be trusted”. That is indeed true if one accepts his expanded, incorrect definition of science. Which is the sign that his definition of science is incorrect. Experimentally-validated scientific claims can be trusted according to a very straightforward formula. For other claims, be they “scientific” or not, there is, indeed, no straightforward formula. That is precisely the difference between science, or “Baconian science” if you will, and other forms of human knowledge. These other forms of knowledge are not to be dismissed, but they are to be taken for what they are

The gentleman closes on this sententious note:

But just as reductionism in science is wrong, reductionism about science—reducing the complex scientific enterprise to a single method—is bound to distort the way we understand science and its place in our intellectual and political culture.

I mean, sure, whatever? I just hope that next time the author writes on his blog on the internet using electricity he spares a moment of thanks for those darned reductionists who “reduc[ed] the complex scientific enterprise to a single method” and thereby gave us the Scientific Revolution.

I suspect that some forms or shades of homosexuality are distortions of the longing for friendship. Our culture has made it much easier (especially, but not only, for men) to acknowledge intense, poignant longing for intimacy with another person of the same sex if we construe that longing as sexual rather than non-sexual.
Eve Tushnet, being thoughtful and interesting, as per usual (via wesleyhill)

Chto éta nature?

Il ne surprendra aucun de mes lecteurs réguliers d’apprendre que je m’associe sans problème au commentaire du dernier manifeste des Veilleurs par mon ami @PierreSchneider.

Cela dit j’en profite pour évoquer un point qui me chiffonne, qui est un traitement du sujet de “nature” (et les concepts connexes, genre loi naturelle), sur lequel il y a très souvent une confusion absolument fondamentale qui fait qu’on ne sait pas qui raconte quoi. En l’occurrence, je ne sais pas si la confusion est chez Pierre, ou chez les Veilleurs (ou les deux). 

Lorsqu’Aristote (et Saint Thomas son “traducteur” en “langue catholique” (oui Thomas était bien plus que ça)) parle de “nature” dans le contexte de l’éthique (mot inventé par Aristote), il ne parle pas du tout de la physis, ce qui existe, ou le monde naturel, ou ce que nous entendons communément par “nature”, c’est-à-dire les oiseaux, les arbres, le chant du ruisseau qui descend la vallée, tout ça. Il ne s’agit pas d’une opposition entre “nature” et “culture.” Dans le contexte de l’éthique, la “nature” d’un être, c’est, si on peut dire, sa vocation profonde, son telos, ce pour quoi cet être existe et ce dans quoi il trouve sa réalisation profonde. Le slogan de recrutement de l’armée américaine des années 1990, “Deviens tout ce que tu peux être”, c’est en plein dans l’éthique aristotélienne, et ça n’a aucun rapport avec une opposition de cours de philo de terminale entre nature-petits-oiseaux et culture-bitume. Et donc signaler que l’homme est un animal culturel qui s’affranchit toujours de la nature-petits-oiseaux comme objection à des arguments fondés sur “la loi naturelle” c’est un hors-sujet complet. Oui, justement, la nature de l’homme c’est d’être auteur de culture (ce qu’Aristote est le premier à dire), mais donc justement, en s’affranchissant de la nature-petits-oiseaux, l’homme obéit à sa nature. En tous les cas, c’est ce que dirait un aristotélien ou un thomiste ou un “vertuiste” à la Anscombe.

La nature-physis peut nous servir comme enseignement sur la nature-éthique, dans une approche qu’on qualifierait aujourd’hui de phénoménologique, mais les deux concepts sont absolument distincts. Si je dis “la nature d’un gland c’est d’être un futur chêne”, je ne fais pas de la biologie, je suis informé par la biologie dans le sens où je ne peux pas le dire si je ne sais pas ce qu’est un gland, un chêne, et que si on plante un gland ça devient un chêne, mais je parle d’autre chose que de biologie. 

Donc, pour resserrer la focale et parler clairement, si un #Veilleur dit que que le mariage homosexuel est contraire à “la loi naturelle”, ça n’a aucun rapport avec le fait que les taureaux s’accouplent avec des vaches et pas avec d’autres taureaux, et ce n’est pas un déni du fait que le mariage est une institution profondément culturelle, qui ferait que signaler que le mariage a évolué culturellement et est sujet à d’autres évolutions culturelles rend l’argument nul (évidemment que le mariage c’est culturel). C’est un propos sur la nature, ou, si on veut, le telos, de l’homme (et, éventuellement de l’acte sexuel), telos dont tout le monde s’accorde pour dire qu’il incorpore le fait culturel.

Il s’agit de dire que l’homme, par exemple, ne peut trouver sa réalisation que dans le cadre de l’altérité sexuelle, ou que sais-je encore. Peut être que c’est n’importe quoi. Mais en tous les cas c’est ça l’argument qui est (implicitement) fait par les partisans de la loi naturelle. En tous les cas ceux qui savent de quoi ils parlent—ça ne m’étonnerait pas du tout que les Veilleurs aient séché ce cours-là.

Mais, en tous les cas, quand on parle de “nature” dans ce contexte, voilà de quoi, en gros, on parle. Ca ne veut pas dire que les #Veilleurs et les #LMPT ont raison (ou qu’ils ont tort).

D’ailleurs il est parfaitement possible de faire un argument aristotélien pour le MPT, et c’est en sous-main ce que font beaucoup de partisans du MPT: c’est la nature des personnes homosexuelles d’être homosexuelles, et de chercher à s’accomplir/de chercher le bonheur dans la relation amoureuse avec des personnes de même sexe, etc. C’est d’ailleurs un point faible souvent évoqué du concept de loi naturelle: même si on est d’accord sur l’idée qu’il existe quelque chose comme la loi naturelle ainsi définie, on ne sera pas pour autant d’accord sur son contenu. Mais ce n’est pas mon sujet ici, mon sujet c’est simplement de signaler un malentendu au niveau des termes du débat.

Et en conclusion, je signalerai que quoi qu’on pense de l’application qui est faite par certains du concept de loi naturelle au mariage de personnes de même sexe, il est pour moi très clair que si on escamote complètement le concept de nature-éthique, on pose des problèmes philosophiques et moraux dont j’ai du mal à voir comment ils peuvent être résolus. A bon entendeur…

Indeed, our current foreign policy is a perfect reflection of the American people. Obsessed with ourselves, lost in our own circular and petty domestic squabbles over issues we ourselves usually don’t understand, we sit with folded arms like cranky children awakened too early from a nap, furious that the world dares to intrude on our self-indulgent bad mood.

While the danger of an accidental launch of a strategic nuclear weapon is not zero, it is tiny.

That is, unless someone builds a “Doomsday Machine” that takes the human beings out of the loop. And who’d be crazy enough to do that?

Turns out the Soviet high command, in its pathetic and paranoid last years, was just that crazy. The USSR built a system called Perimetr, known informally in Russia as “the Dead Hand.” Perimetr was essentially a computer system that would watch for signs of nuclear attack and retaliate on its own if the Soviet leadership was struck first and wiped out. We’ve since asked the Russians if it’s still on, and they’ve reassured us, with complete confidence, that we should mind our own business. Let’s hope they’re just being rude.





(Source: airviation, via etonnement)





look at all those chickenths

This would be the greatest possible thing to happen to my 8 year old son he loves chickens 💜💜

But aren’t they ducks?

😑Yep. 😂





look at all those chickenths

This would be the greatest possible thing to happen to my 8 year old son he loves chickens 💜💜

But aren’t they ducks?

😑Yep. 😂

(Source: funnywildlife)

I have even seen a picture of a family wedding that took place in June 1939, in the garden of a Polish country house I now own. All of these pictures convey a sense of doom, for we know what happened next. September 1939 brought invasion from both east and west, occupation, chaos, destruction, genocide. Most of the people who attended that June wedding were soon dead or in exile. None of them ever returned to the house.
Let me end by pointing out what I’ll call the “Tegmarkian slippery slope.” It feels scientific and rational—from the perspective of many of us, even banal—to say that, if we’re conscious, then any sufficiently-accurate computer simulation of us would also be. But I tried to convince you that this view depends, for its aura of obviousness, on our agreeing not to probe too closely exactly what would count as a “sufficiently-accurate” simulation. E.g., does it count if the simulation is done in heavily-encrypted form, or encoded as a giant lookup table? Does it matter if anyone actually runs the simulation, or consults the lookup table? Now, all the way at the bottom of the slope is Max Tegmark, who asks: to produce consciousness, what does it matter if the simulation is physically instantiated at all? Why isn’t it enough for the simulation to “exist” mathematically? Or, better yet: if you’re worried about your infinitely-many Boltzmann brain copies, then why not worry equally about the infinitely many descriptions of your life history that are presumably encoded in the decimal expansion of π? Why not hold workshops about how to avoid the prediction that we’re infinitely likelier to be “living in π” than to be our “real” selves?

In another highly publicized incident, Beard retweeted a message that she had received from a twenty-year-old university student: “You filthy old slut. I bet your vagina is disgusting.” One of Beard’s followers offered to inform the student’s mother of his online behavior; meanwhile, he apologized. Beard’s object is not simply to embarrass offenders; it is to educate women. Before social media, she argues, it was possible for young women like those she teaches at Cambridge to enjoy the benefits of feminist advances without even being aware of the battles fought on their behalf, and to imagine that such attitudes are a thing of the past. Beard says, “Most of my students would have denied, I think, that there was still a major current of misogyny in Western culture.”…

The university student, after apologizing online, came to Cambridge and took Beard out to lunch; she has remained in touch with him, and is even writing letters of reference for him. “He is going to find it hard to get a job, because as soon as you Google his name that is what comes up,” she said. “And although he was a very silly, injudicious, and at that moment not very pleasant young guy, I don’t actually think one tweet should ruin your job prospects.”

She told how God chose a woman to be the Great Sanctuary of our Lord, Jesus.
And about how we are mothers, not only to our children but also to our spouse, just like Mary was mother to her spouse, who is Christ.
Through humility, service, prayer, we give birth to our husbands, who may never know, appreciate, or even welcome the life we want to give them.