Wisconsin Underpays Its University Professors

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The Oshkosh Northwestern today published an informative article on the relatively meager wages Wisconsin pays its university professors. Of course, this is not news to those of us who work for the university, but since Gannett (the Oshkosh Northwestern’s owner) recently went to great pains to publish all UW employees’ salaries, it is somewhat gratifying to see them finally putting those figures into context.

The 11 smaller UW universities averaged $71,200 for a full professor. The UW study compared that average to 32 similar out-of-state schools, and the UW universities ranked 31st in that list. The UW average was 31 percent below the $93,100 median, larger than the 27 percent gap in 2011-12.

Data from the Chronicle of Higher Education paints an even bleaker picture. Compared to other master’s institutions nationwide, UW-Oshkosh’s full professors in 2012-13 were in the 15th percentile, UW-Green Bay was in the eighth percentile, and UW-Stevens Point in the seventh percentile. No category of professor ranked above the 40th percentile at the three schools.

It used to be that other forms of compensation (health care, pension benefits) helped to counterbalance the below-average salaries paid at UW campuses, and this could have been a decisive factor for new hires (such as myself) ten years ago. But Act 10, passed in 2010 by Governor Walker and the Republicans, changed that. Now the non-salary compensation, while still competitive, no longer makes up for the sub-standard salaries.

The article in the Northwestern makes many good points beyond these, and I recommend that you read it. It focuses largely on the danger of the system not being able to recruit the best new talent or retain the talent it recruited when the picture was not so bleak. I would emphasize as well a problem that will only get worse as the declines of the last five years continue to sink in: morale and motivation. The fact is, although they get paid on average only 73% of what they deserve (according to the “industry standard” outlined in the article), I know of not a single professor on my campus – UW Oshkosh – who puts in less than 100% effort at teaching their students – and, quite frankly, their students, many of whom are first-generation college students, need all of the dedication they can get from their professors. Does the Wisconsin government really think that, over time, the psychological effect of being undervalued by their employers will not cause a general decline in UW professors’ motivation… a decline that can’t help but diminish the quality of the education they provide to Wisconsin’s students?

Minnesota Versus Wisconsin (Redux)

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I recently noted that Minnesota, with its proactive implementation of the Affordable Care Act through its state-run exchange, enjoys significantly lower premiums for comparable insurance policies than Wisconsin, with its reluctant implementation of the Act through the federal exchange. Job recovery is yet another dimension of this Tale Of Two States, as Lawrence R. Jacobs noted in a recent New York Times Op-Ed-

A month after Mr. Walker’s inauguration in January 2011, he catapulted himself to the front ranks of national conservative leaders with attacks on the collective bargaining rights of Civil Service unions and sharp reductions in taxes and spending. Once Mr. Dayton teamed up with a Democratic Legislature in 2012, Minnesota adopted some of the most progressive policies in the country.

Minnesota raised taxes by $2.1 billion, the largest increase in recent state history. Democrats introduced the fourth highest income tax bracket in the country and targeted the top 1 percent of earners to pay 62 percent of the new taxes, according to the Department of Revenue.

Which side of the experiment — the new right or modern progressivism — has been most effective in increasing jobs and improving business opportunities, not to mention living conditions?

Obviously, firm answers will require more time and more data, but the first round of evidence gives the edge to Minnesota’s model of increased services, higher costs (mostly for the affluent) and reduced payments to entrenched interests like the insurers who cover the Medicaid population.

Three years into Mr. Walker’s term, Wisconsin lags behind Minnesota in job creation and economic growth. As a candidate, Mr. Walker promised to produce 250,000 private-sector jobs in his first term, but a year before the next election that number is less than 90,000. Wisconsin ranks 34th for job growth. Mr. Walker’s defenders blame the higher spending and taxes of his Democratic predecessor for these disappointments, but according to Forbes’s annual list of best states for business, Wisconsin continues to rank in the bottom half.

Along with California, Minnesota is the fifth fastest growing state economy, with private-sector job growth exceeding pre-recession levels. Forbes rates Minnesota as the eighth best state for business. Republicans deserve some of the credit, particularly for their commitment to education reform. They also argue that Minnesota’s new growth stems from the low taxes and reduced spending under Mr. Dayton’s Republican predecessor, Tim Pawlenty. But Minnesota’s job growth was subpar during Mr. Pawlenty’s eight-year tenure and recovered only under Mr. Dayton.

Republicans often argue, quite cogently, that the states should be the laboratories of democracy. Given these comparisons two such demographically and geographically similar states, progressive Democrats should certainly agree.

The Growing Social-Media-Corporate Complex

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When I visited Huffington Post today and saw this photo, I just wanted to leave a quick comment that hadn’t yet been left, namely to identify the beautiful setting as Kailua Beach on Oahu, one of my favorite beaches in the whole wide world. However, I then discovered that the Huffington Post no longer allows you to create an account just on it; instead, you have to log on via a social networking site. As my previous rants against Facebook make clear, I HATE SOCIAL NETWORKING SITES, not because they are social, and not because they involve networking, but because they invariably involve MARKETING. I don’t know about you (and don’t you appreciate that?), but I’d much rather have the NSA collect data on my every click around the web than have it done by some consortium of corporations whose only interest is to sell me products that I don’t want or need, and/or to sell information about me to other entities who might do whatever they like with it.

I searched to find other bloggers who might share my distaste for the growing social media complex, but (perhaps due to my impatience after spending several minutes trying to figure out a way around the HufPo requirement) all I found were pro-marketing sites whose authors view the growth as an opportunity rather than an annoyance or worse. In any case, if you haven’t considered the sheer size and interconnectedness of the social media marketing web, check out a larger, more readable version of Brian Solis and JESS3′s annual chart, which in miniature looks like this-

JESS3_BrianSolis_ConversationPrism4_Modified

UPDATE: Amusingly, as if to make my point, after tweeting a link to this post (Twitter is the one social networking site I’m on), I immediately received this marketing response on Twitter-

Making My Point

12 Years A Slave

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As I blogged almost a year ago, I didn’t much care for Tarantino’s “Django Unchained” (to put it mildly), the last mainstream movie that was ostensibly about slavery, but was really about Tarantino’s running out of inspiration. I knew that there was yet to be made a film worthy of the seriousness of the subject, and it has arrived: 12 Years A Slave. If this adaptation of Solomon Northup’s autobiographical novel doesn’t win Oscars – or at least nominations – for Director Steve McQueen, Actor Chiwetel Ejiofor, Supporting Actress Lupita Nyong’o, and Producer Brad Pitt (for Best Picture), I’ll be, well… flabbergasted.

You really can’t understand contemporary conservative talk of secession, or of the South’s “rising again”, or the Tea Party’s reflexive rejection of all things Obama (policy disagreements aside), without understanding the history of the South, and you can’t understand the history of the South without coming to grips with 18th and 19th century slavery. The concrete reality of that slavery – much like the reality of the Holocaust – resists conceptualization, or adequate description in language. But its essence can at least be indicated by the artful telling of the stories of particular slaves (and slave-owners), and I’ve seen no better representation of such experiences in film.

I do have one minor quibble: as producer of the film, it was a bit self-serving of Brad Pitt to cast himself in one of the most pivotal (if brief) roles, and as one of the few admirable white characters. His appearance needlessly took me out of the movie, and his role certainly could have been just as well-handled by a less recognizable actor. But I’m willing to cut him some slack on this one, since just having his name on the posters will probably sell a significant number of seats, and he deserves a lot of credit for backing the film.

Anyway, if you can handle some rather intense scenes of cruelty and violence, I encourage you to see this movie, and to see it in the theatre for maximum effect.

More Competition + Less Regulation = Higher Prices

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At least when it comes to the insurance rates charged for comparable plans in Minnesota and Wisconsin under The Affordable Care Act, the conservative mantra that more competition plus less regulation is the way to lower health insurance prices is clearly false, according to an informative story published in the Oshkosh Northwestern yesterday (Sunday 11/10/2013).

When Minnesota state lawmaker Joe Atkins hunkered down to draft legislation outlining the way Minnesota would implement the Affordable Care Act, he had no idea the results would be so dramatic. The Gopher State is now enrolling individuals through its health-insurance exchange by the thousands and at health insurance premium rates that are among the lowest in the country. Next door in Wisconsin, the numbers of Obamacare enrollees have barely hit the hundreds and premium rates are between 25 and 35 percent higher than in Minnesota.

The reason for the large gap in rates is unclear but could be, in part, because of the more aggressive approach Minnesota has taken to implementing the law. The most obvious difference between the two states is their exchanges. Minnesota has its own online marketplace where residents and small businesses can shop for and buy insurance, while Wisconsin is relying on the federal government marketplace, which has been plagued with bugs and technical failures and doesn’t accommodate small businesses. If and when the Obama administration fixes that, the rate differentials will remain. And they are stark.

A 50-year-old Minnesotan who lives just south of the Twin Cities in Dakota County can buy a mid-level, silver plan for $241 a month. Just 20 miles away, across the state line in St. Croix County, the least expensive silver plan available to a 50-year-old Wisconsinite costs nearly three times that price — $622 a month.

Analysts say premiums are based on a number of factors, from health costs and demographics to market competitiveness. But when it comes to Wisconsin and Minnesota, none of those appears to account for such a wide disparity. The nonpartisan Kaiser Family Foundation found that health care costs in the two states are roughly the same. Per capita expenditures were $7,409 in Minnesota versus $7,233 in Wisconsin, according to the most recent data released in 2011 by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. And the costs have grown annually since 1991 at nearly the same rate — 6.7 percent in Wisconsin and 7 percent in Minnesota. As for competitiveness, only five insurers are offering plans on the Minnesota exchange. Wisconsin’s exchange has 13 carriers.

Cynthia Cox, a policy analyst at the Kaiser foundation, said regulation also plays a role in premium levels. In Minnesota, regulators forced insurers in several cases to resubmit lower rates because they questioned the justifications. In Wisconsin, regulators took a more hands-off approach and let all the rates go through as-is after reviewing carriers’ justifications.

“The fundamental difference between the two states, which are similar geographically and demographically and have very similar underlying medical costs, is that Minnesota has embraced the national health care reform law and is using the tools it provides to deliver more affordable health insurance, while the Walker administration has tried to undermine the law at every turn,” Citizen Action CEO Robert Kraig and researcher Kevin Kane wrote in a scathing op-ed recently published in The Capital Times of Madison.

Donald Fagen: Hell In A Handcart

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“Hell in a handcart”.

That’s where Donald Fagen, in unabashed curmudgeon mode, thinks we’re all headed, thanks to the ubiquitous social media that keeps kids – by whom he means anyone born after 1960 and raised by television – staring at the gadgets in their palms instead of relating to each other in person. Or at least that’s what he told Tom Ashbrook – who seems to be developing more of an appreciation for quality music lately – at the end of his recent On Point interview, in which he was selling his recently released memoir, “Eminent Hipsters“. You can listen to the interview on the podcast or here. The book is near the top of my someday-I’ll-have-the-time-to-read list.

And while we’re talking Steely Dan, here is some recent concert footage of the band playing that old chestnut, Do It Again, featuring Michael McDonald (!) singing all but the last verse, when Donald chimes in. Enjoy some of the best pop-rock-jazz-r&b ever conceived of in this or any other universe-

And to just for the hell of it, here’s a short documentary about the making of one of my favorite tunes off perhaps Steely Dan’s most exquisite album Aja: “Home At Last”.

Fall Colors 2013

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Time (actually, past time) for my annual Fall colors photo (this Fall seems to have come and gone in about two weeks)… Here’s one taken on my iPhone a couple of weeks ago-

Fall-Colors-2013

Stew On Art: Luxury Or Necessity?

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I’ve blogged before about Stew (AKA Mark Stewart), the Tony award-winning playwright for his rock musical Passing Strange and accomplished singer-songwriter (check out his latest album, Making It), but his lecture/performance at UW Oshkosh the night before last gave me another opportunity to share him with you.

Stew-Image-4

The answer he gave to the question – is art necessary? – was, as you might have expected, yes… but the reasons he gave were not the usual ones. For instance, it wasn’t that cultures require art to flourish, or that art is needed to civilize the heathen soul. Rather, Stew riffed on three main themes, and I’ll just state the gist of them here, along with some of my own elaboration I don’t think he’d object to.

First, art is what people do, as people. You simply can’t be a person unless you create art, even if the only art you create is yourself. When you step into your grandma’s house, you notice – if you have any eye for it at all – that she has carefully placed keepsakes and photos on the coffee table, the shelves, etc.. Her whole life is (or at least those aspects of it she cares to remember are) on display, if not for others, at least for herself. Then there’s the annual holiday card, letter, or now email that many of us send to our friends and family, updating them on our “true stories”. This is a creative act. It is art. Similarly, we’re all playwrights. Every day we choose our own costumes and dabble with our sets; we also write most of own lines. I would add that, unlike the days when radio ruled, we’re now our own music supervisors as well, as we carry our music libraries on our phones. But – and here I’m developing Stew’s theme in a way with which he might not entirely approve – for better or worse we’re not entirely in control of the final product. We’re not the sole producers of our art, after all. Our parents, and everyone who came before us, and for that matter the entire universe, also have that honor (or should I say dubious distinction?). Nor, even if we are self-directors, do we contractually have control over the final cut. We all wander onto each other’s stages, often in the middle of productions we have nothing – or nearly nothing – to do with. Narratively this should result in relative chaos, and sometimes it does, but usually we manage to muddle through. It is, as Stew said, what we do.

Secondly, art is necessary in the sense that, paradoxical as this might sound, it keeps life real. It always, though often unintentionally, offers a critique of the status quo: the one-dimensional, black and white, reductive Grand Narratives proffered by politicians, religious leaders, and mass media marketeers. Art does this merely by reminding us of the particular, the personal, and the idiosyncratic. Impoverished art – and here’s my somewhat more Aeolian take on Stew’s relatively Ionian melody – is little more than some permutation of the status quo that the artist has perhaps unconsciously internalized and regurgitated. Impoverished art merely reflects the status quo by being overly simplistic, stereotypical, shallow, sentimental and/or sensationalistic… Sartre would call such art “inauthentic”. When impoverished art is intentionally produced and therefore bad in addition to impoverished, there might be a temptation write it off as prostitution – it is often done just for money, and it does similarly satisfy a consumer’s need (so perhaps even bad art is “necessary”, in a sense). But artists that intentionally produce impoverished art invest less of themselves in their work than even the most jaded prostitutes, who at least have to use their own bodies. Such artists merely pretend, without taking any chances, without revealing anything about their actual selves. More “authentic” artists also pretend, but never merely. Their pretending is not deceptive; it’s not pretense.

Not that I have anything against the occasional “guilty pleasure”… For instance, I confess to regularly watching the latest version of “Hawaii 5-0″, mainly for the scenery and, since I grew up in the Islands, its nostalgic value. Sometimes, serendipitously and for purely personal, idiosyncratic reasons, even impoverished art resonates.

Finally, art provides us with at least one half of a real friendship in a world where real friends are always rare, but grow even rarer as we age. Poets, novelists, singer-songwriters, filmmakers, and others put the best of themselves into their works; they represent themselves – or at least how they see the world – as honestly as they can. What more could you ask of true friends, except perhaps that they also show some interest in you? And these friends, unlike the flesh-and-blood kind, are never far away. There they are, under a layer of dust on your bookshelf, in your rarely opened music and movie files, undemanding, patiently waiting to be discovered or re-discovered when you most need them. Of course, just like the flesh-and-blood variety, such friends might fail to live up to expectations, or lose their attractiveness over time. But to co-opt and re-purpose Matthew 7:16- By their fruits you shall know them… not to mention yourself.

Speaking of fruits (or, less metaphorically, works), it seems fitting to end this post with the opening lines of T.S. Eliot’s “The Burnt Norton”, the first of his “Four Quartets” – which Stew mentioned as being a very old friend of his, but one that he’s just now really getting to know:

Time present and time past
Are both perhaps present in time future,
And time future contained in time past.
If all time is eternally present
All time is unredeemable.
What might have been is an abstraction
Remaining a perpetual possibility
Only in a world of speculation.
What might have been and what has been
Point to one end, which is always present.
Footfalls echo in the memory
Down the passage which we did not take
Towards the door we never opened
Into the rose-garden. My words echo
Thus, in your mind.

Shameless Hedonism On CNN: Anthony Bourdain’s “Parts Unknown”

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I’ve recently gotten hooked on Anthony Bourdain’s “Parts Unknown” series on CNN, now in its second season. So far this season, he’s been to Jerusalem, Spain, and New Mexico, with Copenhagen up next. Bourdain is a chef who has morphed into a world traveler and experience-gatherer extraordinaire. His personality is both appealingly laid-back and quirky, much like the folks he gets to know on his weekly explorations. He clearly has an insatiable passion for eating, drinking, and perhaps other drugs (at least off-screen). Given my own limited, semi-vegetarian palate, I find his willingness to eat anything occasionally nauseating, but his liberality in this respect is just a mark of his consistency. For it’s not just pleasant sensations that he craves, but unique experiences of all hedonistic tonalities. And in a world becoming increasingly homogenous and predictable, the fact that someone has dedicated themselves to luxuriating in the particular aspects of place is, well, particularly refreshing.

I would embed a preview, but the episode I found on YouTube has been taken down, and, as far as I can tell, CNN does not allow its video content to be embedded.

Gary Burton: Learning To Listen

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High on my list of “books to read if I ever have the chance to read for pleasure” is jazz vibraphonist Gary Burton’s new autobiography, “Learning To Listen: The Jazz Journey of Gary Burton“. Burton, who started playing professionally when he was just 8 years old (and who recently turned 70), revolutionized jazz vibraphone by inventing a four-mallet technique that allowed the solo instrument to play chord voicings previously available only to pianists, harpists, and, to a lesser extent, guitarists. By impeccably combining that technique with a mastery of the most advanced improvisational theory to be found in jazz, Burton managed to stay on the forefront of jazz-fusion for well over fifty years, and he’s still going strong. Here’s an example of his youthful virtuosity in what appears to be the early 1970s, when I first became aware of his playing: a solo performance of Jobim’s “Chega de Saudade” (“No More Blues”)-

If you can tolerate Tom Ashbrook’s overbearing interview style, check out today’s “On Point” podcast, in which Burton discusses his long career as a performer and a teacher, as well as the challenges he faced – before coming out in the 1990s – as a closeted gay man in the relatively macho jazz community.

Why I Support Obama On Syria

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One word: ignorance. My own.

The fact is, I don’t understand the situation in Syria. I doubt that the vast majority of Americans do. For that reason, I’m glad that I don’t make Syria policy, and I’m also glad that the majority of Americans, many of whom could not find Syria on a map, don’t make it. But I do pay taxes, and I expect my taxes to help pay for the best intelligence and foreign policy expertise in the world. I also trust Obama’s basic ability to make good use of that intelligence and expertise. He’s clearly not interested in starting unnecessary wars (unlike some other presidents we’ve had recently). So, until I hear some good reason to think that he’s mistaken, I’ll continue to support his efforts. Frankly, I’m surprised that so many of his supporters on other issues won’t give him the benefit of the doubt on this.

There are also many moral arguments in favor of action, but the sorts of simple analogies that sometimes suffice fall short when the situation is so complicated, and more theoretical arguments are notoriously unpersuasive unless one is already prepared to accept the conclusion. We are, however, presumably talking about the intentional gassing of children and other innocents. If the reasonable desire to prevent more of that doesn’t create at least a prima facie case in favor of acting, I don’t know what does.

Of course, there is no need to act militarily on this issue if current diplomatic efforts to neutralize Assad’s chemical weapons arsenal succeed. But I buy the argument that they will succeed only if a credible threat of military action is maintained. Obama requires all the political support he can get in order to maintain that threat’s credibility.

To remind you of just what Obama’s policy preferences actually are, rather than how they’ve been distorted in the media and on the net (on both the Left and the Right), here’s a video of his speech last night-

Finally, for those who suggest that military action should be ruled out because any such action would strengthen the more radical opposition to Assad, consider this exchange between Fareed Zakaria and French philosopher Bernard-Henri Levy (with ellipses added for clarity):

ZAKARIA: One of the reasons I was supportive of the intervention in Libya was it struck me that there were many forces in Libya that were pro-Western, secular, you could [see] them, you could talk to them, you could understand how they wanted to shape the country. In Syria, do you worry that so many of the forces seem to be quite sectarian … because the regime was very sectarian. I mean it was an Alawite regime that radicalized its opposition, remember, Hama, … so, … there’s a radicalization of the opposition that makes me worry, who are these people … you see the violence that they, the opposition is able to perpetrate.

LEVY: Of course. There is a radicalization of the opposition. That’s true, undeniable. But on the other side, on Bashar al Assad, everybody seems to forget that the allies of Bashar al Assad, Iran, the ayatollahs of Iran who are not, as far as I know, moderates. Hezbollah, who are the best warriors of Bashar al-Assad. … Hamas, which was sheltered, the political headquarters of Hamas was in Damascus. So you have radical Islam in the two sides. But … if the West intervenes … you will see how the landscape in the opposition will move. If Obama does not strike, the radical Islamists will take the lead. If the West appears to be on the good side, which is the side of the people, the radical Islamists will lose ground in the opposition. It is always like this. When the West takes the lead, the pro-West take advantage. When the West is Munich spirit, then the radical Islamists take credit for the fall of the dictator, they take credit for the revolution as in Egypt with the Muslim Brothers and it’s bad for everybody. That’s one of the other reasons why it was so important … for the international community for the West, for America, for France to build this strong alliance with some Arab countries and so on.

For a more complete transcript of their conversation, click here.

Guard Against Throat-Scratch

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Apropos of absolutely nothing, here is a 1952 ad from a Brooklyn newspaper that I stumbled upon while researching an entirely different subject. It, well, kind of startled me.

Guard-Against-Throat-Scratch

Click here if you’d like to read the fine print.

Funny as they may now seem, ads of this kind might well have influenced millions of people like my father, who would have been 32 years old at the time and destined to become a 2-pack-a-day smoker… one who died of esophageal cancer at the age of 57.

Thomas Nagel’s “Mind and Cosmos”

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If you’re looking for one last book to read this summer, and you’re the type who likes to indulge in grand speculations without sacrificing critical reasoning, I’d like to recommend Thomas Nagel’s “Mind and Cosmos”. Like some other philosophers who have reached a certain age, Nagel seems more than willing to set aside the hair-splitting rigor required for first-rate academic work, and to suggest tentative answers to the truly mind-boggling, age-old problems: here, how we should try to adequately explain the origin of the universe, life, consciousness, cognition, and value. In a scant 128 pages, Nagel takes on this apparently intractable problem as simply and directly as a self-respecting analytic philosopher can, mainly by pursuing a negative goal: to cast doubt on the sufficiency of the usual materialist explanation of the universe, as well as on the contemporary neo-Darwinian explanation of life and its mental dimensions. In this he can’t help but share, with obvious discomfort, common ground with Intelligent Design proponents. But Nagel pays little attention to the Creationist alternative, dismissing it as insufficient, implausible, and at least as ideological as its neo-Darwinian competitor. Instead, he wants to shore up the credentials of an ancient view that goes all the way back to Aristotle: a naturalistic teleology that holds that we can adequately explain the universe can only with a theory that includes laws that work, in some sense, in reverse. According to such a view, the universe exists, in part, in order to bring about the existence of conscious, thinking creatures with the ability to recognize objective truths about physics, biology, psychology, and value (particularly morality). That is, the universe is determined to develop as it does at least partly in order to recognize itself. This is not an entirely original idea, but rarely has a philosopher of Nagel’s stature been brave enough to actually advocate it, at least publicly.

If Nagel is right (and he realizes that his argument is based on little more than quite tentative epistemological intuitions), our current science is not necessarily wrong, but it is radically incomplete, and the hope that by merely adding further causal principles of the same type it can eventually provide an adequate “theory of everything” – or even a “theory of everything that we currently know of” – has to be abandoned. To sum up this negative point and hint at the positive alternative, here’s part of the book’s last two paragraphs-

…I would like to extend the boundaries of what is not regarded as unthinkable, in light of how little we really understand about the world. It would be an advance if the secular theoretical establishment, and the contemporary enlightened culture which it dominates, could wean itself of the materialism and Darwinism of the gaps – to adapt one of its own pejorative tags. I have tried to show that this approach is incapable of providing an adequate account, either constitutive or historical, of our universe.

However… [a]n understanding of the universe as basically prone to generate life and mind will probably require a much more radical departure from the familiar forms of naturalistic explanation than I am at present able to conceive. Specifically, in attempting to understand consciousness as a biological phenomenon, it is too easy to forget how radical is the difference between the subjective and the objective, and to fall into the error of thinking about the mental in terms taken from our ideas of physical events and processes…

It is perfectly possible that the truth is beyond our reach, in virtue of our intrinsic cognitive limitations, and not merely beyond our grasp in humanity’s present stage of intellectual development. But I believe that we cannot know this, and that it makes sense to go on seeking a systematic understanding of how we and other living things fit into the world. …The empirical evidence can be interpreted to accommodate different comprehensive theories, but [in the case of reductive materialism and its neo-Darwinian extension], the cost in conceptual and probabilistic contortions is prohibitive. I would be willing to bet that the present right-thinking consensus will come to seem laughable in a generation or two – though of course it may be replaced by a new consensus that is just as invalid. The human will to believe is inexhaustible.

Of course, Nagel’s book has raised the ire of many of his fellow philosophers who accept “the present right-thinking consensus”. For an informative article on the criticisms, read this essay from a few months ago in the Chronicle: “Where Nagel Went Wrong”.

Cheryl & Larry’s Provence Adventures

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Cheryl and I just returned from a week in the Var region of Provence. Here’s a video slideshow of some of our better photos. I recommend watching it in HD and in fullscreen mode, if you have the bandwidth. Almost as good as being there (but not quite).

Geneva Flower

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I stumbled upon this stunning beauty as it was sunning itself in the park of Mon-Repos, near the Museé d’Histoire des Sciences along the shores of Lake Geneva.

Geneva-Flower