Charles Darwin: Voyaging
by Janet Browne
Knopf, 605 pp., $35.00
Most young men of the time could only fantasize, but Charles Darwin experienced the overt drama of his century’s archetypal episode in the personal story we now call “coming of age”: a five-year voyage of pure adventure (and much science) circumnavigating the globe on H.M.S. Beagle. Returning to England at age twenty-seven, Darwin became a homebody and never again left his native land, not even to cross the English Channel. Nonetheless, his subsequent life included two internal dramas for more intense, far more portentous, and (for anyone who can move beyond the equation of swashbuckling with excitement) far more interesting than anything he had experienced as a world traveler: first, the intellectual drama of discovering both the factuality and mechanism of evolution; and second, the emotional drama of recognizing (and relishing) the revolutionary implications of evolution, while fearing the pain that revelation would impose upon both his immediate family and the surrounding society.
Here’s some good material online for high school age students who’d like to get more exposure to philosophy.
A few suggestions:
- Wi-Phi: short, animated videos on a variety of philosophical topics.
- Philosophy Talk: the radio program, listenable online, featuring Ken Taylor and John Perry with various guests
- Puzzle Baron’s Logic Puzzles: “the world’s largest website dedicated to logic puzzles”
- Hi-Phi Nation: the new podcast about philosophy that “turns stories into ideas”
- A list of philosophy books that Daily Nous readers suggested for a high school library.
There have been many times in American history when celebrations of the country’s multi-ethnic, ever-changing demography served as powerful counterweights to narrow, exclusionary, nationalisms. In 1855, for example, the publication of Brooklyn native Walt Whitman’s Song of Myself offered a “passionate embrace of equality,” writes Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, “the soul of democracy.” We can contrast the vibrancy and dynamism of Whitman’s vision with the violent nativism of the anti-immigrant Know-Nothings, who reached their peak in 1850. The movement was founded by two other New Yorkers, gang leader William “Bill the Butcher” Poole and writer Thomas R. Whitney, who asked in one of his political tracts, “What is equality but stagnation?” [Source: OPEN CULTURE]
Over twenty years ago postmodern academia was rocked by a hoax perpetrated by Alan Sokal. On this Blog we have written about the hoax on several occasions. First, let me give you a flavour of the article that comprises the hoax:
Transgressing the Boundaries: Towards a Transformative Hermeneutics of Quantum Gravity
There are many natural scientists, and especially physicists, who continue to reject the notion that the disciplines concerned with social and cultural criticism can have anything to contribute, except perhaps peripherally, to their research. Still less are they receptive to the idea that the very foundations of their worldview must be revised or rebuilt in the light of such criticism. Rather, they cling to the dogma imposed by the long post-Enlightenment hegemony over the Western intellectual outlook, which can be summarized briefly as follows: that there exists an external world, whose properties are independent of any individual human being and indeed of humanity as a whole; that these properties are encoded in “eternal” physical laws; and that human beings can obtain reliable, albeit imperfect and tentative, knowledge of these laws by hewing to the “objective” procedures and epistemological strictures prescribed by the (so-called) scientific method.
In 1996, Alan Sokal, Professor of Physics at New York University, published, after being reviewed and accepted, a paper in the cultural-studies journal Social Text entitled Transgressing the Boundaries: Towards a Transformative Hermeneutics of Quantum Gravity. Sokal immediately confessed that the whole article was a hoax designed to expose and parody the style of extreme postmodernist criticism of science, and became front page news around the world, triggering a fierce and wide-ranging controversy.
It has been some years now since the amazing case of Alan Sokal and the pomo journal Social Text that published his “attack” on science and realism. Here is his description of the event: A Physicist Experiments With Cultural Studies … Continue reading →
In a three part essay Sokal asks “What is science and why should we care?”
— Part I
— Part II
— Part III
Steven Weinberg on Sokal’s Hoax.
A report from the New York Times in 1996.