Open Thread, 03/05/2019

Thanks to everyone who has gotten a membership. Still working out a few kinks and trying to enable yearly billing and Papyal (I’m messing up something on the Paypal API). Since someone asked, here is my Patreon for the Brown Pundits podcast.

Speaking of that, I’ll be posting a conversation with an Indian middle-class Dalit soon (already posted for patrons), as well as interviews pending for Thomas Chatterton Williams and Shadi Hamid.

The Insight will have Alicia Martin on this week, and then Lara Cassidy on Irish genetic history, as well as something on historical linguistics by Asya Pereltsvaig. Yeah, we’re preloaded for the next month! Then the current plan is to talk about deep ancient structure in our complex species.

I’ve been thinking about Twitter, comments, papers, books, and blog posts recently. And the audacious argument in Christopher Beckwith’s Warriors of the Cloisters: The Central Asian Origins of Science in the Medieval World. Beckwith renames what we know as the scholastic method as the “recursive argument method.” His contention is that this method developed in the viharas, colleges, of Central Asian Iranian Buddhism before the rise of Islam. With the conversion of these Buddhist peoples to Islam, their intellectual traditions were assimilated into the Islamic one. While the vihara became madrassas, which spread from the Islamic east to the west, the disputation techniques were never fully integrated into Islamic civilization, even though Central Asian Iranians such as Avicenna continued the tradition. Eventually, the tradition did take root in the Latin West, being transmitted by Islamic civilization.

Here is the Wikipedia definition of scholasticism:

Scholasticism is not so much a philosophy or a theology as a method of learning, as it places a strong emphasis on dialectical reasoning to extend knowledge by inference and to resolve contradictions. Scholastic thought is also known for rigorous conceptual analysis and the careful drawing of distinctions. In the classroom and in writing, it often takes the form of explicit disputation; a topic drawn from the tradition is broached in the form of a question, opponents’ responses are given, a counterproposal is argued and opponents’ arguments rebutted. Because of its emphasis on rigorous dialectical method, scholasticism was eventually applied to many other fields of study.

Scholasticism is basically enforced nerdiness. Beckwith argues that modernist humans have abandoned this tradition, and he argues that postmodernism is really just a form of late-stage modernism. While in scholasticism the method and substance of the argument are critical, in postmodernism the individual who is making the argument is arguably even more important.

If a wealthy white male and a poor black woman entered into the argument as to whether “income inequality was bad for society,” we (post)moderns would place a great deal of weight upon who the disputants were, no matter the substance of their arguments.

The recursive argument technique is thorough, exhaustive and requires space. One can see scholasticism playing out in the form of a book-length argument, or in an extended paper. But it is almost impossible to imagine that its well-structured method could be format could be fitted to the comments of an article or blog post, let alone Twitter.

Twitter, in particular, is extremely well suited for a who/whom style of argument. Aside from threading it lacks the ability to structure arguments in a complex manner, and, its 280 character limit enforces a level of brevity at the single tweet scale. Deep substantive disagreements are almost never hashed out on Twitter because the platform does not have the capacity, goodwill or no. Rather, short rhetorical bursts and quips are optimized to lift the spirits of conferences in fellowship, ostracize heretics, and demonize the opposition. The laconic sophist is the ideal user of the platform.

Linkage disequilibrium in subdivided populations. Nei hath spoken.

Statistical Thinking from Scratch: A Primer for Scientists. Coming this summer, something new for your dead-tree collection.

Hierarchical clustering of gene-level association statistics reveals shared and differential genetic architecture among traits in the UK Biobank.

Ant collective behavior is heritable and shaped by selection.

Testing for correlation between traits under directional evolution.

Constraint-based analysis for causal discovery in population-based biobanks.

H.I.V. Is Reported Cured in a Second Patient, a Milestone in the Global AIDS Epidemic.

Theranos: How a broken patent system sustained its decade-long deception.

Interesting how similar his take is to some moderns:

Medicare should stop blocking access to next-generation sequencing for people with hereditary cancer.

PARASITES MEDIATE CONDITION-DEPENDENT SEXUAL SELECTION FOR LOCAL ADAPTATION IN A NATURAL INSECT POPULATION.

Will be reading This View of Life: Completing the Darwinian Revolution soon. Hope to have the author on the podcast at some point.

Very heartened to see the author of This View of Life: Completing the Darwinian Revolution, David Sloan Wilson, rejecting attempts to smear and taint Bret Weinstein with guilt by association. Wilson expressed an old-fashioned liberal sense of fair play and decency which seemed totally out of place in a place like Twitter.

Some of the idiots on Twitter once asked me “I wonder how it makes you feel that Ann Coulter retweeted you” in relation to a tweet that “blew up” (I don’t remember what it was). Now Illan Omar is having her words retweeted by the froggish sect for obvious reasons. How does it make her feel? I assume whatever her feelings are they are sincere and deeply felt, and whatever agreements frogs might have with her is neither here nor there to her. At least she cares about the substance of her beliefs, whether you think they are good or bad, not vague posturing associations.

The cult of feeling and naked emotive reflex reigns supreme today. Reason, for ill or goodwill, is at least bracing in its clarity.

The game is on. Let the disputes begin!

7 thoughts on “Open Thread, 03/05/2019

  1. “H.I.V. Is Reported Cured in a Second Patient, a Milestone in the Global AIDS Epidemic.”

    Interesting, but an N=2, while it is sufficient for canonization in the Roman Church, is not likely to be sufficient to reject the null hypothesis.

  2. “Still working out a few kinks and trying to enable yearly billing and Papyal (I’m messing up something on the Paypal API).”

    Thanks. I’d like to subscribe, but since I have to pay a change charge of 1€ per payment, it would inflate the monthly charge by more than 50%. If you can manage yearly (and paypal as well), that’d be awesome.

  3. Interesting, but an N=2, while it is sufficient for canonization in the Roman Church, is not likely to be sufficient to reject the null hypothesis.

    i think part of it has to be long term stem-cell treatments that look really effective but are in trial. the public doesn’t know, but word gets around in the scientific community. it’s way outside of my purview but even i heard about it….

  4. “In the classroom and in writing, it often takes the form of explicit disputation; a topic drawn from the tradition is broached in the form of a question, opponents’ responses are given, a counterproposal is argued and opponents’ arguments rebutted.”

    Sounds a lot like the Talmud, actually (most of which is attribution and consistency arguments, logical deduction, and searches for prooftexts). Would be interesting to see if Beckwith draws that connection.

    The cult of feeling and naked emotive reflex reigns supreme today.

    You can always quit Twitter, Razib. Or just stop getting involved in “debates” on it.

  5. “Harsh words by al-Jahiz (d. 869) against what he views as Byzantine mediocrity”

    Well, in the 9th Century Muslim philosophers could look down on Byzantine civilization.

    In the 11th Century, Al Ghazali destroyed philosophy and science in the name of Muslim Orthodoxy.

    In the 12th Century, Ibn Rushd (Averroes) tried to refute Ghazali, but his work fell on deaf ears in the Muslim World, even though it was received enthusiastically by Maimonides among Jews and influenced the Medieval Christian Aristotelians.

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