Fiddler in the Subway

Michael Mechanic has an interesting interview up today on Mother Jones with Gene Weingarten: “Secrets of a Two-Time Pulitzer Winner.” Weingarten has a book coming out entitled Fiddler in the Subway, a collection of essays he wrote for The Washington Post and the WaPo magazine. After you read Mechanic’s piece, come back here to read the four Weingarten pieces, all of them excellent:

The aforementioned fiddler/violinist is Joshua Bell, whose concert at Suntory Hall in Tokyo is worth watching/hearing in full (part 1 of 5 is linked). For relaxing times, make it Suntory time.

Are you still hard up for reading material? I’m doing my best here. Last week was great because the NYT treated us to five days of Errol Morris’ fascinating series “The Anosognosic’s Dilemma.” I’ve linked to part one, where we’re introduced to the Dunning-Kruger effect:

“…If you’re incompetent, you can’t know you’re incompetent… When you’re incompetent, the skills you need to produce a right answer are exactly the skills you need to recognize what a right answer is.”

The analogy is to anosognosia, or the disorder where a paralytic can’t/won’t recognize that they’re paralyzed. As if I weren’t already depressed about man’s mental faculties (pace Descartes), we also get this gem from Newsweek‘s Sharon Begley:

One of the strongest, most-repeated findings in the psychology of belief is that once people have been told X, especially if X is shocking, if they are later told, “No, we were wrong about X,” most people still believe X.

God help us; it’s a wonder we can tie our shoes in the morning. By the way, if you’re interested in more of Errol Morris-esque inquiries into “unknown unknowns” (Rumsfeld), I’d highly recommend the book The Black Swan by Nassim Nicholas Taleb — it is, unlike the faux-revelations of Malcolm Gladwell, a true paradigm-shifting (I use that word deliberately) work. Plus, Taleb will spare you years of agony having to learn the same things via the poker table… trust me, reading is quite preferable to bad beats in Texas hold ’em.

‘Tis a Pity Geivett is so Ignorant

Epistemology – most English-users have never seen this word before, or heard it pronounced. ‘Tis a pity. Weighing in a twelve letters and six syllables, its heft suggests that something large is at stake.”

The above paragraph characterizes the rigorous philosophy R. Douglas Geivett does in his weak defense of foundationalism, “Is God a Story? Postmodernity and the Task of Theology” in Christianity and the Postmodern Turn. You know you’ve found a winner when he’s counting letters instead of examining the real issues.

The Ir/rationality of Absolute Certainty

The conversation this afternoon in Epistemology was over this question:

Is it irrational to hold certain beliefs to be non-negotiable, absolute, come-what-may, no-matter-what-I’ll-believe?

Mrs. Guisleman says it isn’t, that it is inconceivable for there to be a proof proving, for example, that Christ did not rise from the dead or that Jesus is God (a couple of her no-matter-what beliefs).

I disagree, and believe that it’s an appeal to ignorance (just because you cannot think of possible opposing evidence does not mean it will never exist) and what were absolute non-negotiables at one time in Christianity (ie, beliefs that defined what a Christian was) are no longer held to be true at all, let alone no-matter-what beliefs (ex. indulgences).

Your take on it all?