Idea Byre

One of the more recent educationist fads has been learning styles: verbal, visual, kinesthetic, etcetera. These have been promulgated through universities and into elementary- and high-schools. Students are eager to identify their type, and teachers are supposed to provide instruction that matches up; to do any less is to oppress by preferring some students and their innate qualities more than others (never mind that to teach in 8+ ways would still mean that each student gets non-preferred methods 80% of the time).

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In a prior article I laid out the major approaches to the philosophical problem of consciousness. I dwelled especially on different forms of panpsychism. Because it is a less familiar approach, many philosophers have resisted even taking it seriously. In this piece I will address what might be the more immediate reactions against it, even as a general approach.

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Every army fights the battles of its forebears. So too does every society fight the intellectual and social battles of the past. Our problems -- environmental and social -- fundamentally cannot be addressed by the society that created them. This is a discussion of what they are, where they come from, and why a more radical approach is required.

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"Religion in Human Evolution" is the late Robert Bellah's magisterial, sweeping account of human intellectual and religious history. I've made frequent reference to it in my essays, especially the broad framework of epochs. A quick summary here may be useful to my readers, and also anyone simply interested in the book -- which I thoroughly recommend.

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The difficulties of human life constitute, as the philosopher Mark Johnston puts it, "structural deficiencies," that include death, pain, and frustration. These cannot be waved away by politics or technological advance, and intellectually they demand a response; some way that we can live comfortably despite them.

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Consciousness is a philosophically "hard problem." Ordinary scientific progress -- in psychology or neuroscience, say -- do not seem capable of addressing it, even in principle. As the philosophers Thomas Nagel and David Chalmers argue, normal science cannot grapple with "what it is like" to be something; subjective experience stands quite apart from science's (reductive) explanations. This may make consciousness more of a philosophy problem than a scientific problem.

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Professional fields can be divided into two groups on the basis of how easily skill is assessed. That difference cascades into many other aspects of the professions and governs much about work life within them. It will determine how important other factors are, like pedigree, fame, and luck.

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The fighters launch from their carrier! They jink and turn -- shooting bogeys down as they go. Finally, they approach the enemy capitol ships. They fly close, fire torpedoes -- and escape, leaving behind billowing fire. Wait. Is this World War II or a space opera confection?

In this article, we'll consider how the size of ships affects how they can fight -- and come to some surprising conclusions.

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Imagine you're given the task of evaluating the abilities of the individuals in a group -- perhaps in sharp-shooting -- and award ratings like A or F. You might plan a series of challenges of increasing difficulty. What should you do if these turn out to be much harder than you planned -- so that while you expected a mean success rate of 60%, it was actually 20%? An obvious solution is to multiply all scores by 3 to bring up the average. But it turns out that this (and any other linear correction) penalizes the weaker performers. Better alternatives exst.

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In my previous article on the geometry of empires, I considered two essential strategies for organizing the defense of a territory. In one, troops were positioned along the border, ready to intercept enemies but spread thin. In the other, a single, centrally-located force was powerful but slow to respond. These are extreme approaches, though, lying at the ends of a spectrum filled with intermediate strategies.

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