Remember James Randi

eSkeptic: the email newsletter of the Skeptics Society

James Randi in Memoriam, 1928–2020

Description

James Randi was a Canadian-American stage magician and scientific skeptic who extensively challenged paranormal and pseudoscientific claims. He was the co-founder of the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry, and founder of the James Randi Educational Foundation. WikipediaBorn: August 7, 1928, TorontoDied: October 20, 2020, Plantation, Florida, United States

James Randi

American-Canadian magician

Description

James Randi was a Canadian-American stage magician and scientific skeptic who extensively challenged paranormal and pseudoscientific claims. He was the co-founder of the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry, and founder of the James Randi Educational Foundation. WikipediaBorn: August 7, 1928, TorontoDied: October 20, 2020, Plantation, Florida, United States

Miracles

Is covid-19 a miracle?

What is a miracle?

In “Reading the Bible: Intention, Text, Interpretation” we find this:

“Consider other than biblical miracles. We have all heard of the person (maybe even a friend or relative) who is diagnosed as having cancer and is then given a prognosis of “less than a year to live.” But the person recovers, and the doctor says that the cancer is gone. The person’s life is imperiled; against expectation, the person is saved. Isn’t that a miracle? It depends upon who is reading the events. From the medical point of view, such examples indicate that medical prediction, in many cases, is not particularly accurate. And this does not mean that the doctor was an incompetent or the cancer was never there. Part of the description of a particular case may well include remission and even cure with no “treatment” at all. Since the human body is a complex system and the state of our knowledge of the various kinds of cancers is incomplete, it is not at all a violation of natural law that this particular person has recovered. But now consider these same facts from the point of view of the patient. Imagine that after the diagnosis the patient goes to see her priest and together they pray. And several times a day she prays to her god for assistance. From her point of view a miracle has occurred. Her petition has been granted and no matter what others say she will continue to believe that a miracle has occurred and that her life is the only evidence required. The popular press is full of these sorts of stories of prayer-miracles. Another kind of example comes from near escapes from potentially deadly accidents. In a recent severe windstorm in British Columbia several trees were blown down in populated areas. House after house suffered damage from large Douglas Fir trees suddenly uprooted by the wind and thrown into the house. In one case a couple were in bed in their water bed thinking about getting up to prepare for the day. Since the roads were blocked and the ferry was not running it seemed probable that going to work late was not a bad idea. The man moved across the water bed to “cuddle” a bit before getting up. Crash! His side of the bed sud- denly had an arm thick branch puncturing the very spot where he had just been. Miracle? Or coincidence? The significance of some coincidences as opposed to others (the cat was under the bed, say, and was impaled by the branch) comes about because of the relation between the coincidence and a set of human hopes, fears, and desires. The non-religious person would, as he jumped out of the deflating bed, thank his good luck for saving him at the cost of the cat. Coincidence-miracles depend upon the point of view of the persons involved. What the non-religious person calls luck is called the grace of God or a miracle of God by the religious person. When such a coincidence does occur, and when from a particular person’s point of view that coincidence is sig- nificant, the tendency is to think of oneself as being special (Lady Luck smiles on you). Once again we find a flawed argument at work: If I am special then God will look after me by arranging for good things to happen to me. Good things happen to me; therefore, I am special. Such a coincidence can be taken by the religious person as a sign that god is at work in the universe and that god cares about persons. But, unfortunately for this reading, bad things happen to good people.”

Hope to hear from you in the comments!

Opportunity!!!

Dear friends of UPJA,

We’re very pleased to announce the publication of Volume 2! Please find it attached or on our website.

Our level of engagement for this volume far surpassed that of Volume 1. We received 75 submissions, a roughly 150% increase from the previous volume, from authors in 49 different institutions across 13 countries. We also had 22 excellent student referees from a range of institutions in Australasia. We are particularly proud of the fact that 57% percent of those who submitted a paper or refereed for us identify as a member of an underrepresented group in philosophy.

We hope that the journal will become a platform for undergraduate papers of the highest quality. To that end, we uphold a rigorous standard and commit to publishing only the best papers. With an acceptance rate of 4%, we are confident that the three papers published in this volume represent some of the best work done by undergraduate students worldwide. On the other hand, we also strive to make the journal as accessible as possible by providing feedback to a vast majority of the submissions. We are proud of the fact that although only 3 out of the 75 submissions were selected for publication, 60 of them received detailed and constructive referee reports.

Two of the three papers in this volume are on social philosophy, and the third is on Chinese philosophy. In Pornography and Other Recorded Speech Acts, Jasper Friedrich (University of Aberdeen) builds an account of recorded speech acts to defend Rae Langton’s application of Speech Act Theory to pornography against an objection from Jennifer Saul. In Sexual Desire and Sexual Perversion, Kristina Dukoski (University of Toronto) provides new analyses of those two titular concepts, both of which focus on the reciprocal status of potential ‘pleasant sexual partners’ as agential beings. And in Reconceptualising Confucian Freedom: The Role of Xin in Mediation, Ang Wei Xiang (Nanyang Technological University) challenges Li Chenyang’s approach to Confucian freedom, arguing that we should pay greater attention to the act of choosing itself, rather than whether one chooses the good.

We are delighted to announce the winners of our two prizes for Volume 2. Best Paper goes to Jasper Friedrich, and Best Paper (Member of an Underrepresented Group in Philosophy) goes to Kristina Dukoski. Congratulations to you both! These prizes are generously funded by the Australasian Association of Philosophy (AAP).

AAP’s continued support for the journal has been invaluable. We are grateful that AAP has agreed to increase its funding for us this year and are very excited that one of our editors will soon be on its Undergraduate Committee. Our partnership with Minorities and Philosophy also complements our efforts to promote inclusivity and diversity. We’d like to acknowledge all the support we have received from our faculty advisors, Associate Professor Stephanie Collins (Australian Catholic University), Assistant Professor Sandra Leonie Field (Yale-NUS), and Dr Carolyn Mason (University of Canterbury).

If you are interested in hearing about our call for papers and referee applications for Volume 3, please look out for our upcoming emails, or visit our Facebook page and website. We will be opening paper submissions and referee applications in late August. 

Best,
Kida, Matt, Rory, and Anita

Good book!

Thought experiments are a staple in philosophy. We all remember the unconscious violinist, the Thomson lamp, Galileo’s complex objects, People seeds, and Einstein’s elevator. These “experiments” are narratives designed to stimulate thought on some philosophical problem or other and to encourage discussion. Often challenging, they ask readers to reconsider long held beliefs and pay attention to the consequences of a position.

Jurassic?

Call for contributions: The Jurassic Park Book

Editors: I.Q. Hunter and Matthew Melia

Proposals are invited for contributions to a proposed edited collection of new essays on Jurassic Park (1993), its sequels, franchise, and spin offs.

Steven Spielberg’s Jurassic Park (1993) took over $50 million dollars in its opening weekend and went on to gross over $1 billion worldwide at the box office.  One of the definitive Hollywood blockbusters, Jurassic Park met with almost universal critical and popular acclaim, broke new ground with its CGI recreation of dinosaurs, and started one of the most profitable of all movie franchises.

To mark the film’s 30th anniversary, this collection aims to interrogate the Jurassic Park phenomenon from a diverse range of critical, historical, and theoretical angles.  Proposals are especially sought for 6 – 7000 word chapters on gender, race, and colonialism; international distribution, marketing, reception and audiences; merchandising, toys, video games and other spin offs; CGI, SFX, film form and production design (cinematography, editing, sound, music etc.).

Please send proposals of 250 words with a short biography and note on institutional affiliation to Ian Hunter: iqhunter@dmu.ac.uk and Matt Melia: m.melia@kingston.ac.uk by 31 July 2020.

Bob Lane, Professor Emeritus

Bob Lane has taught literature and philosophy at the college level for thirty-three years. He has been a high school dropout, a marine, a service station attendant, a farm hand, a grocery clerk, a personnel supervisor, a junior accountant, an electronics technician, a small press editor, a construction laborer, a book reviewer, and a teacher. He is the author of Reading the Bible: Intention, Text, Interpretation and a book of short stories, Redneck.

He came to Malaspina College as one of the first faculty in 1969. He was an active participant in the recruitment and advising of high school students and the founding member of (and for years, the only member of) the Malaspina Philosophy department.

Lane was also the Founding Director of the Institute of Practical Philosophy, which is still an active player in community issues and contemporary moral issues.

Lane also founded the Vancouver Island Literary Society and brought up-and-coming poets, including Michael Ondaatje, to Malaspina. He was also the founder and managing editor of Island, a literary magazine. When Malaspina moved to Fifth Street, Lane was the Special Events Coordinator and responsible for activity in all the arts on campus.

“My proudest moments are those where students were involved in intellectual and artistic expressions while in the community,” he said.

Lane was also a great contributor to programming courses at Malaspina. He designed, supported, and coordinated new interdisciplinary courses while pursuing his interest in philosophy at the University of California-Santa Barbara and at Simon Fraser University. Subsequently, he founded the Philosophy department at Malaspina. In addition to his devotion to his students, he supported his colleagues in many administrative positions, including Area Chair (the equivalent of Dean) and President of the Faculty Association.

Since retiring Bob has served as a commissioner on the Nanaimo Parks, Recreation, and Culture Board. He has continued to read and review books and to write stories and poems as well as write for and edit Episyllogism, a philosophy Blog.

When asked about this award he replied, “June is an important month in my life. I first heard about Malaspina College in June, 1969; received an Outstanding Service Award in June, 2008; and will be celebrating 65 years of marriage with Karen Lane in June 2020!”

Virus

It is strange living in the pandemic. The news is almost all bad. The numbers, of cases, of deaths, just keep rising. Most everything is closed.

“Fauci warns that coronavirus could kill 200,000 Americans.”

Social distancing seems to be an effective method of slowing the transmission rate. On my morning walk the two people I saw respected the rule.

Justin Trudeau issues stern warning to Canadians: ‘Go home and stay home’

Driveways were filled with parked vehicles. The rain overnight gave everything a fresh look and made it hard to understand that danger lurks everywhere.

I am reminded of the polio pandemic of the 1950s.

I wrote about that once:

This is a solemn but a glorious hour. I only wish that Franklin D. Roosevelt had lived to witness this day. General Eisenhower informs me that the forces of Germany have surrendered to the United Nations. The flags of freedom fly over all Europe.

For this victory, we join in offering our thanks to the Providence which has guided and sustained us through the dark days of adversity.

The radio crackled and the president’s voice faded for a moment. Bob looked at his parents. They were both straining to hear his words. The war was over for Virgil but not yet over for Bud. “I’ll pray tonight for an end to the war in the East,” he thought.

And now, I want to read to you my formal proclamation of this occasion:

A proclamation–The Allied armies, through sacrifice and devotion and with God’s help have wrung from Germany a final and unconditional surrender. The western world has been freed of the evil forces which for five years and longer have imprisoned the bodies and broken the lives of millions upon millions of free-born men. … give thanks to Almighty God, who has strengthened us and given us the victory.

Now, therefore, I, Harry S. Truman, President of the United States of America, do hereby appoint Sunday, May 13, 1945, to be a day of prayer.

“I knew it! I knew it would work,” he thought.

“I can’t wait until the war is really over everywhere.” said his Mom, “Keep my boy safe, oh, Lord.”

After a bit they all went to bed. Bob climbed into his bed on the front porch and prayed. “Jesus, bring my brother home safe” and  “Jesus, please do something to help me with my pig. As you know I am supposed to show him at the Yuma County Fair at the end of July, but he is not ready, and I’ll be the joke of the whole county. Please help me.”

That summer the polio epidemic became so bad that state officials closed all public swimming pools. Pictures of people in iron lungs were showing up in the Rocky Mountain News. Bob studied the pictures. Only the head of the polio victim could be seen. Parents were warned not to let their children drink from public water fountains.

It was a bad summer. And finally the word came.

The state ordered all county fairs to be cancelled because of the polio epidemic. Bob heard about the cancellation on the radio on KOA Denver at breakfast one morning. He ran outside and went to the pig shed. He looked at New.

“Thank you, Jesus, for sending polio,” he prayed.