Year in review, bullet point meme edition 
I try to resist picking up too many blog memes, because none of you really care about my favorite color or what kind of salsa I might be. Today, I succumb.

The rule (via Janet) is to list the first sentence of your first blog post from each month of the preceding year. Then write a two sentence summary of the year that generalizes from these.

I: Writing about parapsychology, Paul Churchland argues that parapsychologists do nothing more than point to anecdotal results that are anomalous for materialism.

II: A few random remarks about forall x...

III: A propos of Owen Chamberlain's death, the New York Times describes his work in the 50s to experimentally demonstrate the existence of the anti-proton.

IV: I managed to do a good bit of writing in Budapest. I wrote this in a cafe just off Batthyany Square.

V: Dorothy uses the phrase 'pink collar worker' in today's Cat&Girl.

VI: Thanks to a kind invitation from Matt, I've been sitting in on a reading group here in San Diego.

VII: Aaron Schiller used forall x for a course he taught in the Spring.

VIII: In his TV show Good Eats and in his books, Alton Brown explains the physics and chemistry behind various recipes: what flour does at a molecular level, how butter makes biscuits fluffy, and so on.

IX: I am teaching Peirce's "How to Make Our Ideas Clear" in a course on American philosophy.

X: It has been about a year since I launched Footnotes on Epicycles; the one year mark is Wednesday.

XI: Three items of forall x news...

XII: I am sometimes envious of philosophers of language, since any interesting turn of phrase can become a datum.

To review: I seem to be concerned with logic, pragmatism, random bits of pop culture, my blog, and myself. Maybe I should start the first post in January with a sentence about how we should all work to end world hunger, so that next year I will seem less self-absorbed.

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Three remarks about inkblots 
Last week I was thinking about Rorschach tests, the inkblot tests that psychologists once used as diagnostic tools. A subject is shown an inkblot and asked to say what they see. Their response is supposed to indicate something about them. From what I can tell, psychologists no longer think there is any diagnostic value in Rorschach responses. A brief web search turns up psychologists who dismiss the test as nothing more than a parlor game.

Although the Rorschach "what do you see?" protocol could be performed with other ambiguous visual stimuli, it would not work with stimuli in other modalities. Imagine playing a sound and asking the subject to say what they hear.

I think that an aural Rorschach test would not be terribly interesting, but why not? One difference is that visual stimuli are distributed in space. If I see a person lying down, I can point: Here is the head, here is one arm, and so on. However, I am not sure whether this is the reason that Rorschach pictures work and Rorschach audio would not.

[UPDATE: At the APA Eastern, Casey O'Callaghan claimed that it would be possible to make sounds that were as evocative as inkblot pictures. Perhaps he is right, but we were unable to produce any clear examples. If possible, it is much harder than making evocative visual stimuli.]

Whatever the explanation, the difference is even clearer for other modalities. Imagine an olfactory Rorschach test: "Close your eyes and tell me what you smell."

Or a gustatory Rorschach test: "Open your mouth. Good. Now, tell me what you taste." It is grist for the Freudian mill if the subject sees a phallus in an ambiguous inkblot. Standard diagnostic inkblots had splodges that could be seen as male or female bits, if the subject was inclined to see such things. But would even the most perverted Freudian expect subjects to taste genitalia in an ambiguous gustatory stimulus?

Ahem.

Coincidentally, a couple of nights ago I ended up playing the game Thinkblots. In the game, each player looks at an inkblot and tries to identify as many objects in it as they can. After the timer runs out, players explain each of the items they've written down. Whether or not an identification counts is decided by a majority of the other players. (For example, my attempt to claim a circular blob as a 'gumball' was not accepted.) A player scores two points for each identification that they alone made and one point for each identification that was also made by another player.

There is a little more to the rules, but these details are sufficient background for two observations.

First, game design: Thinkblots relies on a certain gentility among the players. When one player points at part of the tableaux and says that it is the face of an otter, unsympathetic opponents may plausibly scoff, deny that the smudge is any such thing, and vote against the would-be otter face scoring any points. The rules give cut-thoat, competitive players an incentive to be dismissive in this way, but it would make the game no fun at all.

Second, phenomenology: There is a striking difference between the identifications that work and those that don't. For example, in one of the rounds there was a splodge that I had described as a person holding a child. Someone else described it as a couple dancing. Both answers were deemed acceptable. Then another player claimed to have identified a sidewalk and pointed to that same splodge. It totally worked, and the two figures in silhouette was suddenly a sidewalk retreating into the distance.

The two points are interrelated; although I could have said that it was nothing like a sidewalk to deny him the two points, the phenomenological fact is that it did look like a sidewalk. Yay for gestalts!

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Papers hiding and being seen 
James Beebe posts at the group blog Certain Doubts regarding double-blind peer review and posting preprints on the web. As he notes, putting a preprint of a paper on your website before it has been accepted at a journal makes it possible for referees to search the web, find the draft, and identify you as the author. This would break the protocol of the peer review.

Many people note that it would be irresponsible of referees to search the web to divine the author of a piece, unless perhaps they did so after deciding whether or not the piece should be accepted for publication. The caveat to this, of course, is that referees may or may not do the responsible thing.

The following is my attempt to distill the discussion to its essentials. Alas, it has grown rather long-winded.

Is this a problem?


People seem to agree: Having referees know the identity of the author will help established, big-name philosophers and hurt neophyte unknowns.

I am not sure that this is true. A reviewer might accept a paper by Famous McX at Prestigious University as a shoe-in for publication or might expect more out of it because McX can clearly do better work. Conversely, a reviewer might discount a paper by Cletus O'Nobody at Podunk State or might be impressed that O'Nobody has managed to string two thousand words together. Since all sorts of crap gets published, a referee might accept the effort as probably the epitome of O'Nobody's deadend career.

Regardless of how it works in practice, I suspect that people are just wielding anecdotes and intuitions when they speculate on the effects of this.

Many people have noted that the problem is not unique to the internet. Conferences give referees a similar opportunity to break the seal of confidentiality. Since many conferences put schedules and papers on the web, a paper that is presented before it is accepted for publication may be on the internet anyway. (The paper I presented at one of the first conferences I ever attended is still on the web. A successor to it was eventually published, but parts of the original would be best lost in the past.)

Moreover, referees who search for the title of the paper will be able to connect you with it if you so much as have a list of works in progress on your website. Avoiding any on-line association with a paper would require some serious austerity.

In the comments over at Certain Doubts, James Beebe concludes, "Although it is not clear how the institutions of our profession should respond to this problem, I've received a very clear answer on how I should respond: I have taken all of my articles that are works in progress or under review off of my website." This might avoid problems, but at a definite cost.

The benefits of being online


Any disadvantage must be weighed against the advantages of having drafts on the web:

A. Publication is most important to junior philosophers who need it to get a job or to get tenure. While a manuscript is sitting in the inbox of a referee, the job market and tenure clocks are ticking. Having a preprint on your website is a way of publicizing the work so that employers can know about it now. (This point has been made many times by Brian Weatherson.)

B. Having a preprint on the web can result in useful feeback. This has happened for me a few times.

C. Having a preprint on the web establishes priority. Even if your article is not published until later or, with a backlogged journal, much later, the first post establishes a date at which you publicly advocated the ideas or arguments therein.

Priority led me to release forall x a few months earlier than I would have otherwise. Once I had come up with the title, I wanted to claim it.

I really should be more careful about putting the date of the first web version of a paper in the footnotes of later web versions.

What is one to do?


Given these considerations, there are several options.

Be seen: Put papers online and let referees find them. This is just to face any negative consequences with 21st-century, information-wants-to-be-free bravado.

Hide from everybody: This is the solution Beebe seems to have chosen. For reasons given above, I think that it is too high a price and not likely to work anyway.

Hide from robots: Later in the comments at Certain Doubts, Richard Zach recommends telling search engines not to index your paper. This seems like an odd half-measure, since it nullfies most of the advantages of having the paper online at all. Moreover, mentions of the paper that link to your page will still be indexed.

Be seen, but wear a fake moustache: Brit Brogaard and Robbie Williams advocate submitting a paper to journals with a different title than its online preprint counterpart. This means that referees will not be able to suss you out just by searching for the title of the submission. More determined referees might still find your paper, but this is probably true regardless.

I think I may adopt this latter strategy, because it does not seem to have any real downside. I often end up changing the title of a paper once or twice between first draft and publication anyway.

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American idol 
I had the last meeting of my American Philosophy class yesterday. On the last day of a class, I ask students to pick on one reading that they would recommend leaving out next time I teach the course and one reading that they would recommend definitely keeping. After they write down their picks, I tally votes by a show of hands. This allows me to do a post mortem on the course. I will teach American again eventually, and I try never to teach exactly the same course twice. More importantly, the questions force students to think back on the course as a whole.*

In nominating readings to drop, students ended up deprecating authors rather than specific articles. The tally:
  9 Emerson
7 Santayana
6 Lovejoy
1 James
Santayana's 'The Genteel Tradition in American Philosophy' did not add much to the class, so I probably won't teach it again. Lovejoy's 'Thirteen Pragmatisms' is dense and has a lot of philosophy in it; I am apt to include it next time. More on Emerson in a moment.

In voting for authors to keep, several students could not make up their minds and so voted for two. As a result, the total is larger:
 13 Peirce
13 James
9 Emerson
3 Parker
2 Dewey
As usually happens, there was a reading that polarized the class. There were as many trying to vote Emerson off the island as there were favoring his apotheosis. Most of the anti-Emersonians understood his position; they just didn't like it. This seems like a reason to keep leave him in.**

I was surprised that there was so much pro-Peirce sentiment and no anti-Peirce militancy at all. When questioned, students described Peirce as being clear and easy to understand. Several of them added that it was only easy to understand after we had covered it in class. Chalk that up as a success.


* They also direct them to think about the philosophy rather than about structural or incidental features of the course, unlike the more open-ended 'What did you like about this course?'
** One of the pro-Emerson students said that he liked 'Self-reliance' but that he thinks that 'The Oversoul' should be nixed. Having taught the first essay without the second before, I think that Emerson's doctrine of the Oversoul is required to understand why the call to self-reliance isn't just optimistic craziness. Other students suggested that 'The Oversoul' should be read first. So I may shuffle around the Emerson next time.

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Data: Bruno, Ilsa, Friedrich 
I am sometimes envious of philosophers of language, since any interesting turn of phrase can become a datum. Matt Weiner is especially good at turning bon mots into blog posts. I have been lecturing on Quine's 'Two Dogmas' in my American Philosophy class, however, which gives me an occasion to make such observations.

In the section on interchangeability, Quine briefly considers cases in which interchanging synonyms changes the truth of a sentence. Although Quine doesn't mention intensional contexts like belief or knowledge, I wanted students to be aware of them. Yet when I offered an example, some students disagreed with me as to how the English language works. In the course of discussion, I formulated three further examples and gauged student opinion.

Case 1: Bruno


Imagine that Bruno has some knowledge of the English language. He understands the words "unmarried" and "man" perfectly well, but he has not learned the word "bachelor." Bruno has learned that Karl is an unmarried man. I asked if it would be proper to describe the situation in this way: Bruno knows that Karl is an unmarried man, but not that Karl is a bachelor.

15 students said yes. 5 said no.

I think the majority have it right here. One of my colleagues suggests that the 'yes' answer just is the data for which philosophy of language must account. However, I find it interesting that a quarter of the students dissent.

Case 2: Ilsa


Ilsa has a similar command of the English language. She is told by a reliable source that Karl is a bachelor, but this is the first time she has ever heard the word "bachelor." She does not know that this means that Karl is an unmarried man. I asked if it would be proper to describe the situation in this way: Ilsa knows that Karl is a bachelor, but not that Karl is an unmarried man.

16 students said yes. 4 said no.

One might object to the majority: Ilsa knows that Karl is a "bachelor", yes, but the quotation marks are required. She does not know the meaning of bachelor, and so it would be false to say that she genuinely knows he is a bachelor (without the marks).

The most direct response to this is simply the show of hands. These competent English speakers accept the sentence without the scare quotes, so the scare quotes are not required.

Even philosophers are willing to attribute knowledge involving a previously alien concept. Judith Jarvis Thomson poses the following question:
Suppose we know absolutely nothing else about blogs than just that all present and past blogs have been purple. Would it not be reasonable to expect that the next blog to come into existence will also be purple?
This is all we know about blogs,* just as that was all that Ilsa knew about bachelors. No scare quotes required.

Case 3: Friedrich


Now imagine Friedrich, who understands words like "married" and "unmarried" and thinks he understands "bachelor." However, he thinks that "bachelor" is a synonym for "polygamist", a word which he understands full well. Friedrich believes that Karl has a whole harem of wives, and so Friedrich says that Karl is a bachelor. As in the previous cases, Karl is actually an unmarried man. I asked if it would be true or false to say: Friedrich knows that Karl is a bachelor.

Students all said that this would be false. Philosophers agree.


* I cannot resist saying: Whether a blog is purple or not just depends on its style sheet. Style sheets vary from blog to blog, so color is obviously not projectable. Thomson was writing in the mid 60s, and so she meant "blog" as a philosopher's made-up word. I wonder whether a young reader in fifty years, if she were to happen upon Thomson's article, would be puzzled by this.

In a recent lecture, I used the word "fnosterbon" as a stipulated, made-up word. We'll see if the internet can go 40 years without giving it some actual meaning.

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