The accumulation of blog bits 
Statistics indicate that, before I wrote this, all the blog entries I had written tallied up to 881,485 bytes of data.

Some contemporary file systems wouldn't even allow a file to be that small. The campus network drive seems to be structured so that the minimum file size is 1 megabyte.

However, these blog entries would nearly fill four double-sided Apple ][ floppy disks.

They would fill three-and-a-half boxes of punch cards; cf. Munroe 2013.

By the standards of a bygone age, my output is prolific.



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A vignette on a scrap of paper 
"Look at this," the Professor says.

He presses a button on his great machine, which begins to sputter and shake. Sparks jump from wire to wire. Two or three colors of smoke come from different parts of it. Something that looks like it might be a capacitor explodes, making you jump.

The professor looks at you expectantly.

"Convinced?" he asks. "You were surprised, but I was not. So we can conclude that your theory was false and mine was true."

Just then, the fire alarm begins, and the sprinklers drench you both.

I was looking through some old files recently. In a folder of documents about the No-Miracles Argument for scientific realism, old notes were tucked in among marked-up photocopies. I found this scribbled item, which might have been written in June 2003.

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Albany is hiring in early modern 
My department is making a tenure-track search this year for an early modern historian of philosophy.

It has been several years since our previous search, and several things are different this time around. Jobs for Philosophers has now combined, Voltron-style with another source of job listings to make JFP/PhilJobs. We are going to be doing preliminary interviews via skype rather than in person at the Eastern APA. And I'm the search committee chair this time around.

It is unlikely anyone will read about the job on this blog who would not have seen it on PhilJobs anyway, but I'll take this chance to exhort you to apply if you fit the profile. Albany was not someplace I would have chosen before I got the job here, but it has turned out really well. I enjoy both the department and the city. I recommend both enthusiastically.

Our ad at JFP/PhilJobs
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Mirrors aren't even mirrors 
I am puttering around today and thinking about scientific realism.*

A standard albatross to hang around the neck of realists is that they are committed to thinking that proper science doesn't depend on us at all. Catherine Elgin, for example, writes, "Scientific realism holds that scientific representations are utterly objective. They describe the way the world is, independent of any point of view."**

Elgin rightly rejects that view. What caught my attention today, though, is something she says in summarizing her rejection of it. She writes that, "science, as currently practiced, or foreseeably improved, is not the mirror of nature."

This a common metaphor, of course, famously associated with Rorty's rejection of it. Today I was struck by the oddity of it. Actual, literal mirrors aren't utterly objective and point-of-view independent. They don't provide a cosmic and inhuman truth.

They are partial: I can't see the back of the back of my head in a single flat mirror. Contriving to see the back of my head with multiple mirrors is hard, and the effort required is because each individual mirror has a point (or at least a surface) of view.

They misrepresent in certain ways: The image of me in the bathroom mirror is out there, even though I am still right here. It's handy to see my hair as-if-at-a-distance, and I have learned to look at that image to adjust my hair. The phenomenology is complicated, but navigating the representation is something that requires experience. A device which literally pulled off my hair and presented it to me as-if-in-a-mirror would be a very different sort of thing.

So the (trivial, blog-weight) point, is that the metaphor of philosophy or science as a mirror of nature is deeply confused. It is used to point out a bad way of understanding the target of the metaphor, but does so by presuming a confused conception of the metaphor's source.


* A sure sign of having gone off the rails.
** "Keeping things in perspective", Philosophical Studies, 2010; because she's as Harvard, there's a free preprint.

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Incommensurable numbering 
I'm teaching an undergrad course on scientific revolutions this term. The central pivot, naturally, is Kuhn's The Structure of Scientific Revolutions.

There is a new, fourth edition of Structure. It's just called the "50th Anniversary Edition" on the cover, and it boasts an index and an introductory essay by Ian Hacking. Hacking writes, sensibly, that readers should skip his essay.

The new edition is typeset in a smaller font. Aesthetics and readability aside, this means that the pagination is different from prior editions by just a little bit. This means that I won't be able to teach from the copy I've owned since the mid-1990s, the one that I've carefully annotated marks and marginalia.

What's worse is that nobody will ever be able to cite Kuhn in a sensible way ever again. Any good edition of Descartes, Hume, or Kant (for example) has marginal page numbers which correspond to what's taken to be the canonical edition. Now there simply is no canonical edition of Kuhn. Scholars will cite one or the other willy-nilly. It will be within a few pages of right either way, but not quite. The 'not quite' means that it will never be entirely clear what to do when citing Kuhn.

Why did University of Chicago Press do this?

It's not about length. They're about the same, with the new edition ending on page 208 and the old one ending on page 210.

It might be about design. Because the pagination is not too far from older copies, marginal page numbers would be odd.

It might also be commercial. Everybody has to buy a new copy now.

Still! Argh.

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