Archive for religion

the “myth of the miracle machine”

Posted in Books, University life with tags , , , , , , , on September 13, 2017 by xi'an

In what appears to be a regular contribution of his to Nature, Daniel Sarewitz recently wrote a “personal take on events” that I find quite reactionary, the more because it comes from an academic. And I wonder why Nature chose to publish his opinion piece. Every other month! The arguments of the author is that basic science should be defunded in favour of “use-inspired” research, “mission oriented” programmes, “societal needs and socially valuable knowledge”… The reason being that it is a better use of public money and that scientists are just another interest group that should not be left to its own device. This is not a new tune, calls to cut down funding fundamental research emerge regularly as an easily found culprit for saving “taxpayer money”, and it is the simplest mean of rejecting a research proposal by blaming its lack of clear applicability. Of course, when looking a bit wider, one can check this piece bemoaning the Democrat inclinations of most scientists. Or that one that science should sometimes give way to religion. With the definitive argument that, for most people, the maths behind scientific models are so complex that they must turn to an act of faith… Yes, I do wonder at Nature providing Sarewitz with such a wide-ranging tribune.

Mördar-Anders och hans vänner [book review]

Posted in Books, Travel with tags , , , , , , , , on February 25, 2017 by xi'an

“The medieval city of Visby and its shops were preparing for the approaching Christmas season. Interest rates were down to 0.0, which encouraged people to spend money they did not have so that Christmas sales would break records once again.” (p.332)

Thanks to these forced 24 hours in Schiphol, I bought and read a third book by the Swedish author Jonas Jonasson. Which title is Hitman Anders and the meaning of it all. The themes are almost exactly the same as in the previous novels, namely an improbable bunch of losers, growing like a dustball during the story, being unexpectedly provided (like the hundred-year old man) with a huge sum of money by illegal means and managing to keep it from the reach of the State and of a whole collection of gangsters, with a bit of a road movie outside Stockholm and the same fascination for camper-vans [without an elephant this time] and some mild reflections on the role of religion in Swedish society. Plus the customary appearance of the King and Queen. Not absolutely unpleasant but not superlatively funny and somewhat repetitive. (Like the 20th novel of Paasilinna!)

secondhand religion

Posted in Books, pictures, Travel with tags , , , , , , on December 19, 2015 by xi'an

Are we hard-wired for war?

Posted in Books, Kids with tags , , , , on October 27, 2013 by xi'an

“There is a story, believed to be of Cherokee origin, in which a girl is troubled by a recurring dream in which two wolves fight viciously. Seeking an explanation, she goes to her grandfather, highly regarded for his wisdom, who explains that there are two forces within each of us, struggling for supremacy, one embodying peace and the other, war. At this, the girl is even more distressed, and asks her grandfather who wins. His answer: “The one you feed.””

Another opinion piece from the New York Times I (also) read in the train to the airport bound for Warwick is about the Hume-an human (supposed) predisposition for war, hence the title “are we hard wired for war?” This question reminded me of my daughter’s philosophy dissertation of last week as war may appear as the ultimate example of the “nature vs culture” debate, wars resulting from societal pressures… until one thinks of the constant fighting in most animal societies, where from ants to chimpanzees, groups within the same species are fighting for supremacy. The paper in itself is rather inconclusive, with good feelings and little folk tales like the above replacing scientific evidence and deeper philosophical arguments (also missing from this post!)

Something I just noticed when looking at both authors (of this tribune and the previous one on traditional Chinese medicine) is that they both mix a Buddhist approach with scientific arguments, Asma with his book Why I am a Buddhist, and Barash with his book Buddhist Biology: Ancient Eastern Wisdom Meets Modern Western Science. It is thus no wonder they entertain the idea of an absence of boundaries between science and religion.