je ne sais quoi

28 February 2007

When the writer (or the artist in general) says he has worked without giving any thought to the rules of the process, he simply means he was working without realizing he knew the rules.

-Umberto Eco, in the postscript to The Name of the Rose

Mr. McCourt, what the hell is going on in this room? You’ve got these kids reading cookbooks, for Christ’s sakes. And singing recipes? Are you kidding us? Could you kindly explain what this has to do with the teaching of English? Where are your lessons on literature, English or American or anything else?

. . . Except for Brian’s little moment of rebellion, hadn’t we had three days of complete class participation?

-Frank McCourt, in Teacher Man

Why these two quotes? Because I think they speak to one of the things I’ve been trying to articulate about science. In terms of novel prose, though, I find that Chet Raymo has already broken trail here.

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This is the question which many people seem to have answered to the affirmative after a Hawaii Tribune-Herald article last weekend. While I am glad that conciousness seems to be higher about the inconvenient truth, I am not sure that it is a good thing that any anecdote about warmer weather be conflated with climate change in general.

I think while it may raise short-term awareness, it does so while not really changing the general opinion about what science can and can’t do, particularly on complicated issues.

Besides which, if you look at the web cams today, warm is not a word that would come directly to mind.

Other opinions?

While I am quoting a little bit out of context, I am interested in the connotations in the following sentence:

Science is self-correcting, which is its great strength, as long as we don’t let the sociology do long term damage to the underlying scientific methodology.

This is from Steinn Sigurdson, who is a prolific and thorough critic (edging toward philosopher, unless he objects to that label) of science. The sentence comes toward the end of a post about Lee Smolin’s book castigating string theory, and it the comments on the post pretty much ran away with the whole “validity of string theory” thing, which I’m not particularly qualified to debate.

I am interested in some of the definitions (his and those from the peanut gallery here) of ‘science,’ ‘sociology,’ and ‘scientific methodology.’


I recieved an email from my friend Rod Floro, a science teacher at Kea’au Middle School who is spending the next several weeks at sea as a crew member on the Alingano Maisu. As with any trip, Rod experienced problems with the airlines and new language at the destination when he flew from Hawai`i Island to Majuro in the Marshall Islands.

According to the PVS website, the voyage from Kealakekua Bay to Majuro lagoon was about 2200 miles and 26 days. One of the first actual signs of land (other than the knowledge of the navigators) was a sighting of birds (manu o ku or white terns) which can range out about a hundred miles from land during the day. Also, Google Maps has much better pictures of Majuro available than they did a couple of days ago.

Below the fold is a bit of Rod’s email–enjoy.

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Because you can never have too much humongous, glowing squid news, that is.

And of course, this is all courtesy of Bruce Schneier, to whom I doff my cap.

As much as I tend to run with the same circle of acquaintances most of the time, there are some interests that don’t seem to overlap very often. So I was glad to see that the Rhetoric Society of America at UH Hilo is helping to publicize the documentary Hip-Hop: Beyond Beats & Rhymes by Byron Hurt. The schedule for the show in Hawai`i is below, but I don’t know how this relates to different cable providers, beyond what is given.

For those of you who may be wondering what connection I have with this, other than my clear and total adoption of the hip-hop lifestyle, I was fortunate enough to meet Byron when he spoke on campus last October. Elle and I then had a great time giving him the whirlwind tour of the National Park, and we got a chance to speak of food, fathers, and careers before delivering him to the airport for a flight almost directly to his wedding rehearsal (no kidding). Byron is an inspiring guy, and his thought-provoking film really taught me some stuff. Even if you have a vaguer notion that I about how hip-hop ideas pervade culture, I highly recommend this film as opening outstanding conversations about control of media and message.

[updates] Somehow I missed linking to the promo on Feministing, which in turn mentions reviews and interviews at Vibe and New American Media

Check it out.

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While I can’t remain organized very far into the discussion invited by the title, I do have a couple of specific points which may be loosely grouped under history and philosophy of science, Ron Amundson-style.

First, how do we define ‘physics,’ as a discipline? By what we investigate with it? By its methods? By what we exclude from investigation? To put a little different spin on the question, what that can be called physics exists independently of mathematics? I’m leaving aside for the moment any attempt to concisely define ‘mathematics,’ but if someone else wants to take it on, feel free.

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