Archive for ‘Philosophy’

January 18, 2021

Joan Quigley

Nancy Reagan

Joan Quigley (1927 – 2014), of San Francisco, was an astrologer best known for her astrological advice to the Reagan White House in the 1980s. Quigley was born in Kansas City, Missouri.

She was called on by First Lady Nancy Reagan in 1981 after John Hinckley’s attempted assassination of the president, and stayed on as the White House astrologer in secret until being outed in 1988 by ousted former chief of staff Donald Regan.

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December 28, 2020

Squaring the Circle

Straightedge and compass construction

Squaring the circle is a problem proposed by ancient geometers. It is the challenge of constructing a square with the same area as a given circle by using only a finite number of steps with compass and straightedge. The difficulty of the problem raised the question of whether specified axioms of Euclidean geometry concerning the existence of lines and circles implied the existence of such a square.

It had been known for decades that the construction would be impossible if π were transcendental (not an algebraic irrational number or the root of any polynomial with rational coefficients), which was first proved in 1882 by Lindemann–Weierstrass theorem. The expression ‘squaring the circle’ is sometimes used as a metaphor for trying to do the impossible.

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December 8, 2020

All Models Are Wrong

Ideal gas law

All models are wrong‘ is a common aphorism in statistics; it is often expanded as ‘All models are wrong, but some are useful.’ It is usually considered to be applicable to not only statistical models, but to scientific models generally. The aphorism recognizes that statistical or scientific models always fall short of the complexities of reality but can still be of use.

The aphorism is generally attributed to the statistician George Box, although the underlying concept predates Box’s writings. He offered the ‘ideal gas law’ as an example: ‘PV = RT relating pressure P, volume V and temperature T of an ‘ideal’ gas via a constant R is not exactly true for any real gas, but it frequently provides a useful approximation and furthermore its structure is informative since it springs from a physical view of the behavior of gas molecules.’

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November 15, 2020

Mentalism

Derren Brown

Mentalism [men-tl-iz-uhm] is a performing art in which its practitioners, known as mentalists, appear to demonstrate highly developed mental or intuitive abilities. Performances may appear to include hypnosis, telepathy, clairvoyance, divination, precognition, psychokinesis, mediumship, mind control, memory feats, deduction, and rapid mathematics.

Mentalists are sometimes categorized as psychic entertainers, although that category also contains non-mentalist performers such as psychic readers and bizarrists (magicians they rely heavily on wordplay). Notable mentalists include Derren Brown, Uri Geller, and the Amazing Kreskin.

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November 12, 2020

Speaking in Tongues

Agnes Ozman

Speaking in tongues, also known as glossolalia, is a practice in which people utter words or speech-like sounds that some believe to be languages unknown to the speaker.

One definition used by linguists is the fluid vocalizing of speech-like syllables that lack any readily comprehended meaning, in some cases as part of religious practice in which some believe it to be a divine language unknown to the speaker. Glossolalia is practiced in Pentecostal and charismatic Christianity as well as in other religions.

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August 20, 2020

Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance

Robert M. Pirsig

‘Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance: An Inquiry into Values’ (ZAMM) is a book by Robert M. Pirsig first published in 1974. It is a work of fictionalized autobiography, and is the first of Pirsig’s texts in which he explores his “Metaphysics of Quality”.

The title is an apparent play on the title of the 1948 book Zen in the Art of Archery by Eugen Herrigel. In its introduction, Pirsig explains that, despite its title, “it should in no way be associated with that great body of factual information relating to orthodox Zen Buddhist practice. It’s not very factual on motorcycles, either.”

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July 7, 2020

Perfect is the Enemy of Good

La Begueule

Perfect is the enemy of good is an aphorism which is commonly attributed to French philosopher Voltaire, who quoted a similar Italian proverb in his ‘Dictionnaire philosophique’ in 1770. It subsequently appeared in his moral poem ‘La Bégueule.’ Aristotle, Confucius, and other classical philosophers propounded the principle of the ‘golden mean,’ which counsels against extremism in general.

The ‘Pareto principle,’ or 80–20 rule, explains this numerically. For example, it commonly takes 20% of the full time to complete 80% of a task, while to complete the last 20% of a task takes 80% of the effort. Achieving absolute perfection may be impossible and so, as increasing effort results in diminishing returns. Robert Watson-Watt, who developed Britain’s first radar detectors, propounded a ‘cult of the imperfect,’ which he stated as ‘Give them the third best to go on with; the second best comes too late, the best never comes.’

April 30, 2020

Payot

Shaving in Judaism

Payot [pey-oht] is the Hebrew word for sidelocks or sideburns. Payot are worn by some men and boys in the Orthodox Jewish community based on an interpretation of the Biblical injunction against shaving the ‘corners’ of one’s head. Literally, ‘pe’ah’ means ‘corner, side, edge.’

There are different styles of payot among Hasidic, Yemenite, and Chardal (Zionist Israeli) Jews. Yemenite Jews call their sidelocks ‘simonim,’ literally, ‘signs,’ because their long-curled sidelocks served as a distinguishing feature in the Yemenite society (differentiating them from their non-Jewish neighbors).

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March 6, 2020

Musica Universalis

Harmonices Mundi

The musica universalis (literally ‘universal music’), also called ‘music of the spheres’ or ‘harmony of the spheres,’ is an ancient philosophical concept that regards proportions in the movements of celestial bodies—the Sun, Moon, and planets—as a form of music. This ‘music’ is not thought to be audible, but rather a harmonic, mathematical, or religious concept.

The idea continued to appeal to scholars until the end of the Renaissance, influencing many kinds of scholars, including humanists. Further scientific exploration discovered orbital resonance in specific proportions in some orbital motion.

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February 25, 2020

Charisma

Charites

Charisma [kuh-riz-muh] is compelling attractiveness or charm that can inspire devotion in others.

Scholars in sociology, political science, psychology, and management reserve the term for a type of leadership seen as extraordinary; in these fields, the term ‘charisma’ is used to describe a particular type of leader who uses ‘values-based, symbolic, and emotion-laden leader signaling.’

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November 27, 2019

Gongshi

Taihu stone

Gongshi also known as ‘scholar’s rocks,’ are naturally occurring or shaped rocks which are traditionally appreciated by Chinese scholars. As rocks are broadly fractal (geology journals require a scale to be included in images of rocks), the small rocks can resemble the larger landscape.

Scholars’ rocks can be any color, and contrasting colors are not uncommon. The size of the stone can also be quite varied: scholars’ rocks can weigh either hundreds of pounds or less than one pound. The term also identifies stones which are placed in traditional Chinese gardens. Chinese scholar’s rocks influenced the development of Korean suseok (viewing stones) and Japanese suiseki.

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November 12, 2019

Homo Economicus

Neuroeconomics

The term homo economicus, or economic man, is the sometimes satirical portrayal of humans as agents who are consistently rational, narrowly self-interested, and who pursue their subjectively-defined ends optimally.

In game theory, homo economicus is often modeled through the assumption of perfect rationality. It assumes that agents always act in a way that maximize utility as a consumer and profit as a producer, and are capable of arbitrarily complex deductions towards that end. They will always be capable of thinking through all possible outcomes and choosing that course of action which will result in the best possible result.

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