It has been fun

Star Trek-All Good ThingsDear Readers,

I’m afraid this is going to be the last post here at Scientia Salon. It has been a good, if short, run. From March 2014 to this month we have published 152 articles, received more than 15,000 comments, and have experienced a total of almost 1.5 million views.

Nonetheless, several things have prompted my decision, in order of appearance in my mind:

This has been far too much work for me, despite the invaluable help of my collaborators, especially our editor, Phil Pollack, and our comment moderator, Dan Tippens, whom I wish to thank from the bottom of my heart. I have found myself spending a lot of time soliciting, reading, and editing other people’s work, which has left me increasing little time to do my own readings and writings.

I am simply not getting the hoped for flow of unsolicited submissions from my colleagues. I have to cajole people into writing for the magazine, and it’s time consuming and exhausting (and just a tiny little bit dispiriting, to be honest).

I spend far too much time answering comments. Yes, it is always a pleasure, but while the conversations are interesting, and I have been learning from several of our readers, it is again a simple matter of having a limited number of hours during the day, the week, the month, the year…

I have to focus on my new book project (How to Be a Stoic, to be published by Basic Books) and my upcoming sabbatical. This will be the first time that I can actually manage to go on a real sabbatical (my previous one was spent finishing my dissertation in philosophy…), and I really want to do it with as few distractions as possible.

Finally, I have been approached by The Philosophers’ Magazine to contribute regularly to their online presence. So far I have simply fed them already published material, but I decided to take the offer, which would allow me to focus on my own writing, with a ready made, popular, platform.

Naturally, the incredible resources accumulated on this site will remain publicly available, just as in the case of my previous blog, Rationally Speaking. And I will most definitely be active in terms of public outreach on a variety of levels. If you are inclined to keep following my efforts, you can do it via my Twitter feed or Facebook page, my entirely redesigned all encompassing web site, my Stoic blog, my YouTube channel (which includes my occasional conversations with Dan Kaufman), and of course the above mentioned new TPM column, which will be called, appropriately enough, Footnotes to Plato (here is the TPM Online link, the column has still not been officially announced).

But of course there is lots of good writing about philosophy, science and all interesting things in between out there, so I trust you will keep yourself busy!

One final note of thanks to my readers. You have been the reason for this experiment to begin with, and I have thoroughly enjoyed my long exchanges with many of you. I can honestly say that I have learned a lot, not just about how to more effectively communicate my ideas, but also about the very nature of those ideas. I have revised my opinion in some cases, entirely changed it in others, and always tried to learn from what others were contributing in an honest, constructive and civil fashion, so refreshing and welcome on the internet. So, thank you!

All the best,
Massimo

p.s.: In case you were wondering, the accompany image is from a scene of “All Good Things…”, the Star Trek Next Generation finale. Not that I look like Captain Picard, of course.



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95 replies

  1. I wonder if the value of this webzine is being underestimated. It seems quite wrong to simply decide to close it. I see the reasons but can’t help thinking that something new should be helped to arise out of the ashes. This was a hell of a good start towards something more manageable.

    Like

  2. It was too good to last, alas!

    Massimo, your creativity and hard work was always admired and appreciated.

    Buon viaggio!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. fieldtheorist: “the incredibly one-sided, self-assured-but-for-no-reason anti-modern physics bashing that goes on here and elsewhere on the web.”

    Not sure what you are referring to. There have been many anti-science postings here.

    Apart from philosophers of science, there is hardly any bashing of the sort of modern physics that wins Nobel prizes. There is criticism of modern physics theories that have no hope of any observable relation to reality, such as most multiverse theories.

    “absolutely NO WAY I could do that with my real name attached to it.”

    Saying that string theory commentary has to be done anonymously says a lot of about string theory. Real scientists do not object to someone posting scientific arguments. But when you have emperors wearing no clothes, it is a different story, I guess.

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  4. All I can say is: Oh, goodie! Making more time for the Stoics! It is surely the Wise thing to do…

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Schlafly: Not sure what you are referring to.

    The speaking platform that Peter Woit and Jim Baggot have received here on SciSal. Don’t mistake me, I don’t think that they should have been refused a chance to speak their minds (Quite the opposite, that would be unacceptable), but there doesn’t appear to be any dissenting opinions from any mainstream or current researchers in physics. More generally, I am discussing the impunity with which Peter Woit, Jim Baggot, John Horgan, et al get to talk about physics in the public even though none of them are currently active physicists and some of them never were physicists to begin with. They’re the physics equivalents of Fox News’ “environmental scientists.” Appallingly, it usually goes without mentioning that Peter Woit isn’t even associated to a physics department, has never been a professor in physics, and even though he has a physics PhD, he currently is the Columbia math department’s IT man and hasn’t been involved in physics research for 30 years. (The total overlap between him being a practicing physicist and the time superstring theory existed was 3 years, to put that in perspective).

    Schlafly: Saying that string theory commentary has to be done anonymously says a lot of about string theory. Real scientists do not object to someone posting scientific arguments. But when you have emperors wearing no clothes, it is a different story, I guess.

    You misunderstood my meaning, and I think it’s fair to say that you’re being rather uncharitable. I’ll be discussing this issue in my response to Coel. Unfortunately, I may not have any posts left to discuss this further on SciSal, but I am open to any off-SciSal discussion of this topic.

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  6. Coel: I’m a bit perturbed that you would say that. Do you really get that impression?

    Not merely do I have that impression, from discussing this with fellow young researchers and old researchers, that’s absolutely their impression, too. Popularizing cost Carroll quite a bit when he was up for tenure review. When you spend a minimum of a decade or two trying to get a tenure track position and keep it, you pretty much are unwilling to fuck it up over anything.

    An unrelated side comment: Of course, the general consensus of young theoretical physicists is that we’re basically screwed no matter what we do or how hard we try. Everyone is getting pretty crushed in grad school when the reality of the job market in theoretical physics really sets in. Firstly, I think many students/researchers walk into fundamental physics (HEP/cosmo) thinking that science is like what popular science portrays (e.g IFLS, ultra-naïve impressions of Feynman, bad philosophies reinforced in early undergrad courses, etc), and that pretty much couldn’t be further from what real research is. Secondly, I think the people who are interested in the mathematical physics/string theory are crushed by the sheer lack of funding (In small part because of the efforts of prominent particle-astro phenomenologists who, post-string frenzy, fought their way to larger funding, and with frankly almost nothing to show for it post-WMAP). But the hep-ph/particle-astro/cosmo people who were originally interested in the phenomenology/model-building are getting crushed because in spite of better funding, their field is drying up –there are no experimental discoveries on the horizon for at least another 20/30 years (In other words, not until the end of their careers). And the only way for many subfields (e.g. inflationary cosmology or hep-ph replacements for the MSSM program) to make progress themselves is to wait for stringy/holography/mathematical physics come up with at least potentially promising predictions near the Planck scale. Otherwise, they’re approach to physics is to make shit up and hope it works (A method that unilaterally fails without rapid comparison to data), and I think that’s dawning on many young phenomenologists. The other alternative for them is to work closely on future experimental needs –but many of these experiments aren’t even funded, and if we’ve learned anything from unitarity stitching/BCFW relations or techniques for inflationary models, etc, it seems to be taking people with string theory/advanced QFT training/knowledge/creativity to actually make progress, anyways, on experimental needs because of the mathematical sophistication required.

    So to be honest, talking with a lot of young researchers, a common response is becoming: “This is a cluster fuck, and I can make a lot more money not doing physics.” I and many others hope to stay in the field, but I emphasize the word “hope.” But I wouldn’t risk my career pissing off phenomenologists who hold plenty of tenuring/hiring committee positions by arguing that we need to take portions of their funding and put it into mathematical inquiries into QFT, because that’s what physics needs right now to progress.

    Liked by 2 people

  7. PeterJ et al raise the possibility that this webzine continues. This could be done with a little institutional imagination:

    A ‘corporate’ structure that preserves and builds on the very salutary aspects of SS.

    Massimo as emperor retains complete control over all aspects of operations.

    An executive committee of volunteers, appointed by MP, carries on with ALL day to day operations; soliciting contributions, moderating comments and securing funds.

    By successfully institutionalizing the unique achievements of SS an important social structure could be created that fosters vigorous interaction between professionals and amateurs. A veritable Symposium of intellects.

    Just a thought.

    Liked by 3 people

  8. Thanks Massimo, Phil and Dan. I’m sorry to see the site go, as frustrating as the comments section could sometimes be.

    I’m also dispirited by the lack of participation from your colleagues. Maybe the perception is that there just isn’t much of an up-side to engaging with the public. It doesn’t bode very well for the continuing vitality of philosophy in general. On the other hand, I don’t know if I really see the up-side either ;).

    All the best, and good luck in your future endeavors.

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  9. Hi Massimo, this news is a bit of a shock. Just glad I came back from vacation in time to say goodbye. I understand that running a site, even with great help, can be time consuming and a distraction. Just wish it could have slowed down to fit your schedule, or taken a short time out, rather than having to end entirely.

    Thanks to you, Phil, and DanT for keeping it going (and improving) as long as you did. I will keep an eye out on your other ventures, particularly your conversations with DanK and your work on stoicism (which it would seem I could use more of at the moment).

    I thank all the other posters at Scientia Salon as well, perhaps (and hopefully) we’ll bump into each other from time to time elsewhere around the internet.

    My experience here has been informative, enjoyable, and meaningful. High praise, indeed. 🙂

    Liked by 4 people

  10. Fieldtheorist,

    I think you are overreacting.

    I certainly sympathize with your pain regarding the lack of career and tenure opportunities in hep-th (I’m in the same boat…), but I don’t think publishing an essay anonymously in a webzine like SciSal makes much sense. This is a philosophy-oriented blog, so if you think you can elaborate a serious argument regarding some topic, speak up. If you don’t, shut up. But hiding behind a pseudonym or otherwise because you are afraid that people might take your words against you — that shows only that you don’t have a serious argument. If Peter Woit has the courage to sign his name to his words, it’s because he believes that he is right and that his arguments are persuasive for everyone. You should have such courage too. It’s called academic integrity.

    Now, I know that people can be unfair. On more occasions than one I’ve been passed over a grant, a scholarship, or a project, in favour of some young string theorist, only because in the evaluation panel there was a senior string theorist who simply wouldn’t even want to read (let alone evaluate the quality of) anything related to LQG. And today, in the “post-string frenzy” era, the committee positions are being shifted from string theorists to phenomenologists, and as a consequence now you seem to have experiences similar to my own. If you are afraid for your career to speak up, then don’t speak, that’s ok. But speaking up while hiding behind anonymity sends only one message — you are afraid to put your name where your mouth is. And that speaks volumes both about the arguments you are presenting, and about your own personal integrity and authority as a serious scientist.

    Liked by 1 person

  11. Field theorist,

    “Otherwise, they’re approach to physics is to make shit up and hope it works (A method that unilaterally fails without rapid comparison to data)”

    People have been doing this since the dawn of history and the data doesn’t always catch up right away.
    I’m not going to debate your beliefs, but there is an interesting article in this weeks New Scientist, titled, Why Things Fall Apart. I would just like to post some of the sub-headings;
    We Only Believe What We Already Think aka, confirmation bias.
    We Miss the Wood for the Trees, aka, fixation error.
    We are Seduced by Success, aka, outcome bias.
    We are Wired to Conform, aka, group think.

    Just as a test, say there was some broadly popular theory and yet in the instances where it didn’t match actual observations, enormous forces of nature were proposed and fully accepted by the community, with no debate by any established scientists. Would you objectively consider this a valid response, or might you think the community had fallen prey to various of the above symptoms?

    Now if I were a young scientist, or even still just young, I would logically consider studying the potential cracks in the current models and what they might say about their larger integrity, rather than fuss about not being offered a career to, as you say, “making shit up,” to patch those operating systems.

    Science needs hackers, not careerists.

    As for SciSalon, there was another article in the same issue about how consciousness isn’t really the executive function we think of it as. Yet anyone who has studied politics already knows the executive is as much a figure head, as actual point of decision making. We all know, instinctively or logically, that much of the decision making is made by the time it reaches the surface, both mentally and organizationally.
    Which is all to say that if Massimo wanted to consider the possibility, he could probably pass this off to a larger organizational structure and retain chairmanship for as long as he wished.

    Liked by 1 person

  12. Assuming that Massimo is not going to be swayed by the suggestions that some are making here to find a way of keeping the site going (the Crooked Timber model is an interesting one), let me add my best wishes to everyone here. As Massimo said, it’s been fun.

    Liked by 3 people

  13. Mark: Dan Tippens and I have had some casual conversation about doing something, but we wouldn’t want to limit it to philosophy and science. We’re supposed to talk about it this Saturday. Perhaps, Massimo will leave this thread open longer than normal so we can communicate with you all, once we’ve had our pow-wow. If not, we’ll find another way to connect. If we decided to do something, I can always announce it on my own blog, Apophenia.

    http://daniel-kaufman-rpur.squarespace.com/

    Liked by 5 people

  14. Aravis, I will be interested to hear about the outcome of your discussions.

    Liked by 1 person

  15. Well, I was not expecting that. I’ve commented only a few times, but have read most of the articles and a fair portion of the comments. It has been a regular stop on my daily tour of websites and blogs, and has usually been an interesting one.

    It feels a bit like when Andrew Sullivan closed down the Dish in early 2014. It makes the Internet seem emptier, somehow. Do I really have to just keep getting older and older? Thank you for a year of good stuff. There will be another site someday, and I look forward to that.

    Liked by 2 people

  16. Fieldtheorist, I don’t see any constructive purpose in anonymous attacks on Woit, Baggott, and Horgan. No one is going to suffer any adverse consequences from attacking them. They do not control any physics grant money or jobs.

    Yes, Woit dropped out of string theory, but does he say anything that is technically incorrect? If so, why hasn’t anyone corrected him? I do not believe that anyone is afraid to do so.

    This forum was all about philosophers expressing opinion on the fringes of their expertise. Woit was hardly the worst offender, as he has a PhD in the subject that he criticizes.

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  17. Way to go fieldtheorist, I haven’t heard a rant like that one here since Massimo bitched out his SAM club in May! Furthermore I do appreciate the vulnerability that you now perceive. It seems to me that Marko and Coel must be in far better positions given their apparent endorsement of the system that you’ve mentioned.

    I agree that anonymity should be vital for helping critics safely gain their voices, since the real world truly is no panacea. Furthermore there should be more to worry about than vested interests protecting their territories. What if you were hit with more than just silly limericks regarding your place of employment? What if your family members were being discussed… or even contacted? Yes we should take reasonable measures to protect ourselves online. I do hope that I’ll feel assured enough to use my true name some day.

    Let me also say that there is no field which I respect greater physics. I did go this rout at university — until the mental requirements associated with upper division courses ended my quest. But I do now wonder if you’d attempt to show me what Marko and Coel have failed to, or why the ontological uncertainty which is widely presumed by means of Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principal, isn’t the exact same notion as “magic”? Physicists have jeered Einstein in this regard for such a long time — wouldn’t it be something if he ended up getting the last laugh? I’d love to hear your thoughts regardless. Email: thephilosophereric@gmail.com.

    Furthermore you’ve mentioned:

    Unfortunately, I may not have any posts left to discuss this further on SciSal, but I am open to any off-SciSal discussion of this topic.

    It seems to me that Coel should be quite able to facilitate such a discussion. Of course this subject may not be quite as sensational as, say, demonstrating to Christians that they should not actually be moral realists (yes, I know!). I doubt he’s quite ready for a third such round of debate however, so I’m sure he wouldn’t mind discussing the modern politics which drive the physics community? 🙂

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  18. Massimo’s goodbye, Brodix’s mention that things fall apart and Aravis’ hint of a second coming immediately brought to mind WB Yeats’ poem ‘The Second Coming‘. I quote it in part:


    Turning and turning in the widening gyre
    The falcon cannot hear the falconer;

    Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
    Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
    The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
    The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
    The best lack all conviction, while the worst
    Are full of passionate intensity.

    Surely some revelation is at hand;
    Surely the Second Coming is at hand.

    And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
    Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?

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  19. Hi Aravis, I was keeping an eye on Apophenia anyway, but would be happy to see you and DanT put something together.

    I thought maybe Scientia was going to try back-to-back essays on a topic like the two of you had (which really seemed successful). That format, which sort of parallels the conversations between you and Massimo, or DanT and Jesse Prinz, seemed conducive to generating ideas and convo better than single stand alone essays (which is not to knock single essays or replies to them!). Not sure if this was a direction you guys were considering, but it might be nice.

    Throw art (not just debating but appreciating) into the mix of philosophy and science and that would be very nice for me. 🙂

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  20. Everybody,

    thanks first of all of the very kind words of appreciation. That’s the sort of thing that makes these efforts worthwhile.

    I am not considering resuming or restructuring SciSal simply because it would be too much work for me (and too uncertain an outcome anyway) even if I followed one of the several suggestions put forth here.

    Still, I’m not leaving the internet, for haven’s sake! Please, do follow my Stoic blog (if you are so inclined), but especially my Platofootnote’s blog, my video chats with Dan, and the very soon forthcoming new column in TPM.

    As for whatever it is that Aravis and Dan have in mind, I have set the discussion thread to expire 10, rather than 5, days after publication of this essay, so you guys will have more time to explore alternatives.

    Best of luck!

    ~Massimo

    Liked by 4 people

  21. Hi fieldtheorist,

    There are several issues here.

    First, the academic job-market for postdocs is inevitably tight, and indeed designed to be so. One of the main reasons the UK government (at least) funds lots of science postdocs is that they want people trained at the cutting edge of science to then flow into industry and the wider economy.

    Second, hep-th has the particular problem of a decades-long drought of observations that go beyond the standard model [in contrast, my own field of observational astrophysics and exoplanets is very much data driven].

    But, I’m not sure that spending part of their time on popularizing would harm a young physicist. Certainly, in the UK in astrophysics we’re strongly encouraged to do it. The government “REF” evaluates everyone on the wider impact of their research on society, and gives hard cash for doing so. In last-year’s REF the top-ranked “impact” case in physics was Brian Cox’s TV programmes.

    As for the phenomenologists on a panel, surely they’ll know what sort of work you do anyway, from the case and your papers, so it wouldn’t make much difference if you’ve also written more popular articles? Well, I’m rather far from the hep-th community, so perhaps I can’t judge the culture there. Anyhow, people like Peter Woit and Jim Baggot are unlikely to be the ones considering your job application, so annoying them wouldn’t matter.

    I have sympathy for your position owing to the first two issues above, but I would reiterate that, as someone who has been on such panels in astrophysics, to me some time spent on popularization would be a significant positive in how I’d judge a postdoc.

    And, if you don’t stand up for what you consider important, then who will?

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  22. Things we learn on Scientia.
    Yesterdays video dealt with philosophy of mind.
    Today: Ethics, Morality and Economics. Even in this world of social construct there is sense of justice and exchange of value.

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  23. This is my final post, so I’ll make this as concise as I can. I couldn’t even respond to everyone, so I have a post on my blog profile now, if people wish to exchange e-mails and continue the discussion.

    Coel: I apologize if I was unclear and I can’t give you a thorough response here, but there’s two separate issues. The first is the political/funding situation that students/researchers find themselves in, and the second is the issue of public understanding current fundamental physics research. The issue of discussing the latter is a problem for the former because: Firstly, committees tend not to like those who are negative of their research programs (and most hiring/tenuring committees have phenomenologists), and the second is that most committees seem to be looking for researchers dedicated to research to the exclusion of everything else (At least until they’ve been tenured). I do discuss these issues behind closed doors with colleagues, which might have an impact on research culture, but it does nothing for public perception. For better/worse, researchers can’t be too political without paying a price (unless they’re tenured), and while there’s good reasons for this, it does allow Woit/et al to say whatever they want scotfree, but leaves active researchers hands largely bound in response.

    Marko: Forgive me, but this seems like little more than an unthoughtful, emotional tirade. What, you’re saying that the validity of arguments don’t stem from the argument itself, but from the author’s personal identity? This is the direct opposite of a logical position, and frankly, it amusingly castigates much of Voltaire’s work as cowardice. It’s also amusing that you assume that I’m a string theorist, which I am not. It’s difficult to take your comments seriously.

    brodix: Firstly, science doesn’t need careerists? Right, I’ll just do science while I starve on the streets, that seems perfectly reasonable. Secondly, yes, laypeople always feel that the first thought that pops into their heads is the best way to go about doing research, but they never seem to consider that someone who does this professionally might have already thought of that idea, and maybe that professional understood the ramifications better than they did. I don’t want to be rude, but I think it’s bizarre that people think they can walk into a field that they’re never done a day’s work in and assert as fact, “Oh, well obviously you should be doing this.”

    Schlafly: Firstly, see my clarification to Coel. Secondly, Woit did not drop out of string theory. His field was lattice QCD; this is trivial to verify on HEP-INSPIRES. Thirdly, why would attacking Woit/et al anonymously be a bad thing? Does it change the validity of the arguments given? No, it just levels the playing field. Not being in academia, they don’t receive any consequences for saying what they do, so why should I be obligated to run that risk when they don’t?

    Liked by 1 person

  24. Fieldtheorist,

    I appreciate your enthusiasm for your intended profession and can understand why you might think those outside of the field have no right to question its arguments. I think though, that as you do grow older, you will realize how time builds and edits such endeavors that what might seem obvious from one point of view, say a young researcher, might seem far more ambiguous to another point of view, say someone who has followed the subject for longer than you have been alive. I have presented a number of arguments here at Scientia Salon and as you haven’t apparently noticed them to the degree of commenting, it doesn’t seem likely that restating them would be worth my time and you are out of posts to respond anyway, so I will only wish you the best of luck in finding a job that puts your talents to their best uses. The world appears to becoming a more unstable place every day and as I’ve told my daughter before, it looks like my generation will break the system and yours will have the opportunity to start building a new one.
    I would say though, that when the wave has crested and it’s mostly foam and bubbles, start looking the other direction.

    Labnut,

    I’ve always found that an intriguing poem. That he should equate the end times with a vortex and the result being some elemental creature rising up, rather than the usual religious iconography of ascending to some higher state of spiritual purity. As I keep pointing out, an absolute would be the essence from which we rise, not an ideal from which we have fallen and seek to return. Whether of the spirit, maths, or cultural ethics.

    As it is, this breaking down of the nation state is proceeding quite steadily in the Middle East and now we have Isis. Certainly a rough beast on the move.

    Those who live by linear assumptions don’t see the blowback until it crashes over them, yet it is there building the whole time.

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  25. Massimo,

    How about setting the comments to ten as well?

    Labnut,

    Another interesting analogy in Yeats to today’s situation;
    “The falcon cannot hear the falconer;”
    As drones and the further ill will they create.

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  26. Massimo, I have no way for expressing my gratitude for the great effort you’ve done so far as a popularizer of science and philosophy. A serious, hard working enterprise that has had a big influence in my formation. For all this years, thank you truly.

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  27. In general, here is what I think is the problem that philosophy has and must address.

    There are a bunch of flies flying around in a bottle. One fly is rather determinedly bashing its head up against one section of the bottle and another fly asks it “What is your aim?”, the first fly replies “Der Fliege den Ausweg aus dem Fliegenglas zeigen”

    Liked by 1 person

  28. In terms of science – do you know what would be great?

    It would be great if we could have science popularisations that weren’t trying to sell some metaphysical or ideological pup.

    Both of the Cosmos series managed to keep the pup selling to a minimum and so are at least watchable, but others appear less able to control themselves. I’ve never seen or read any of Brian Cox’s stuff, so he may be OK, I don’t know.

    But wouldn’t it be great if there was science popularisations that were focussed only on the joy of scientific knowledge, what we know, why we know? Maybe they’ve tried it and it doesn’t sell, I don’t know.

    But I am finding the only books on science I can read are things like the “for Dummies” series or Schaum’s outlines – or text books if I can afford them. I imagine the maths in those would be a little too much for most people – I needed to go back and do some revision before I could even get a start on Quantum Physics for Dummies, which assumes that dummies will be comfortable with Hilbert Spaces and differential equations.

    But I can’t help feeling that if popular science were focussed simply on the joy of science, it would be more popular. Probably sell more pups, come to that, most people don’t go for the hard sell.

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  29. I have enjoyed. Thanks for everything.

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  30. Hi Robin,

    But I can’t help feeling that if popular science were focussed simply on the joy of science, it would be more popular.

    Rather unfortunately, the evidence is against you on that point. There are large numbers of popular-science books that do just present the science (here’s a list), but mostly the mainstream media ignore them and most of the wider public are not that interested. It’s the books that try to sell a “metaphysical pup” (as you put it) then tend to get wider notice and sales.

    So, for example, if one chooses to write a book on cosmology combined with a metaphysical pup and complete with a provocative title, something like, I dunno, “A universe from nothing” perhaps, then it gets reviewed in mainstream venues and lots of people — such as yourself — comment on it.

    Present more or less the same science in a more conventional “popular science” package and it gets vastly fewer sales (unless you are Brian Cox or Stephen Hawking, that is).

    Liked by 1 person

  31. Dan T and I are scheduled to talk this Saturday about whether to do some sort of spinoff of S.S., so we’ll have something to say after that.

    Liked by 1 person

  32. I am sad to hear this news. Though it is good that Massimo will still be writing his other blog and continue making the videos with Dan.

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  33. Talking of popular science book, I was overjoyed to see that the almost lost children’s classic from the 1930’s Whirlaway is now in Gutenberg.

    http://gutenberg.net.au/ebooks15/1500231h.html

    This was a standard of my childhood and my father’s childhood. My own children can only read our precious, fragile copy with strict supervision so I am glad to have an ebook version.

    I suspect a lot of the science is out of date (probably was even when I was a kid. Nevertheless it is great to have it saved for the future.

    <img src="http://gutenberg.net.au/ebooks15/1500231h-images/whirlaway-064.jpg&quot;

    Anyway, this is my last post for Scientia Salon. Thanks again for Massimo for his work and care in creating and maintaining it, thanks to Dan and the rest of the team for the work.

    I look forward to seeing what you all do in the future.

    Liked by 1 person

  34. As a poet myself, when not in my day job as an editor, I have long found Yeats interesting. Also interesting is Houseman’s “To an Athlete Dying Young.” To which, I riffed my own “To a God Dying Young.”

    It’s atheistic, but, contra the person to first mention Yeats, not all atheism is New Atheisn, etc. http://wordsofsocraticgadfly.blogspot.com/2005/12/to-god-dying-young.html

    And, as for Yeats himself, it should be remembered that he was not an orthodox Christian. Per Brodix, his mysticism was of a cyclical result, and he combined that with a pessimism of the likes of Eliot and other general contemporaries after the “Great War.” Otherwise, the tentative answers Yeats offers, as in others of his later poems, are deliberately ambiguous, not just intellectually, but also emotionally and psychologically.

    ==

    On the physics debate, I actually generally agree with Schlafly and his take. Beyond that, while Horgan is a science writer and not a professional physicist, I like what he writes on a variety of topics. I heartily recommend his book “Rational Mysticism,” including and especially for our occasional true-blue mystic drop-in.

    ==

    I’ll await the decision of Aravis and DanT. I’ve got Apophenia linked off my main blog, and in fact recently blogged a piece about religious supersessionism, extending the idea beyond just Christianity, based on a piece by Aravis. http://socraticgadfly.blogspot.com/2015/08/why-arent-we-mardukites-or-baalists.html

    ==

    Finally, as Sci Sal winds down, I once again heartily and hugely recommend this book from Walter Kaufmann, which is a large reason why, though I’m a left-liberal of some sort, I’m very much a skeptical one, as Kaufmann just blows out of the water modern ideas of distributive justice. https://www.goodreads.com/review/show/485939752

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  35. Socratic

    “…Beyond that, while Horgan is a science writer and not a professional physicist, I like what he writes on a variety of topics. I heartily recommend his book “Rational Mysticism,” including and especially for our occasional true-blue mystic drop-in.”

    Hmm. Here’s a sentence from a review.

    “This is a splendidly written, beautifully organized, honestly and passionately argumentative book, balanced on the cusp between belief and unbelief. ”

    I’m sure it’s very good. In my view, however, it would be sensible to learn about mysticism from someone who is well past being balanced on this particular cusp, and that mysticism simply is rational in any case.

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  36. Dear Massimo,

    As an academic and an occasional attendee of your philosophy meetups, I just wanted to praise your continued efforts to make philosophy available to the public. I wasn’t able to read most of the articles here as my mind is quite braindead after a day’s full of hard thinking, but I am nevertheless sad to see the blog go.

    Best of luck!

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  37. Socratic,

    What could be more fundamentally mystical, if not outright fantasy, than other universes, with different laws of nature?
    As in politics, the extremes meet.

    I happened to read your post on super-secessionism. The premise reminds me of the cyclical year gods of the Greeks and how they incorporated the process into the religious system, not just objectifying the essentially transient effects and having the political dynamic manifest the cycles. Which seemed evident as the basis for the Christian Trinity, i.e. Father, Son and Holy Ghost, as either intentional or not, analogy for past, present and future. Possibly not so much to subvert the monotheistic premise, as to incorporate a pantheistic populace into it.

    It does seem that for all our intellectual and technical complexity, we loose sight of a broader reality that was more evident in simpler times. It does raise the question of what the future holds for a civilization that seems fairly convinced it has conquered nature. As I’ve been saying lately, she gives you a long leash, but you don’t want to hit the end of it at a run. It would be a long way back down.

    A possible idea for future versions of Sci Salon might be a suggestion box in which commentators could offer ideas or links to start discussions. For example, it seems one of the notable science/philosophy concepts to arise in recent decades has been complexity theory and given the state of the world today, it might be an interesting premise to examine why “thinks fall apart.” I think it would also incorporate into that “cyclical” dynamic.

    As it is, this would be my last post and so I wonder if the powers that be, as they are keeping this thread open for ten days, might increase the posting to ten as well?

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  38. Dan T and I will be discussing options Sunday night, rather than today, so Monday is the soonest we’ll be able to make any sort of comment regarding possible future endeavors.

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  39. What I liked best about SS was the opportunity to quickly and easily obtain some insight into the perspectives of a diverse group on various subjects as introduced by an expert post. Most fascinating was the predictability and consistency of the views, despite their superficial incompatibility. My primary aim was to gain insight as to why differences of opinion persist and perhaps to discover what the basis for this disagreement is.

    The colloquy of Aravis and others v. Coel was a classic example. Both sides often presented perfectly cogent narratives and their inability to convince each other of anything was apparently rooted in implicit assumptions that neither side was able or willing to address. One should, of course, not be surprised because there was in fact an unbridgeable divide: Coel was rooted in physics (the search for reality as it is) while the others had their foundations in philosophy, religion or mysticism (reality and life as it exists in consciousness). There is progress as we learn more about the key that might unlock this conundrum: the processes of life and consciousness. Our take on all of this, here.

    To keep such a challenging conversation on track required the right attitude which Massimo seemed to have captured almost perfectly. I sincerely hope that Dantip and Aravis can bring us something as good, maybe even better.

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  40. Aravis,
    the new Sophia Bloggingheads channel that you and Massimo run would seem to be a good successor to SS.
    So that is my suggestion – build on Sophia.

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  41. Labnut:

    I’m not sure I understand this. Massimo explained his reasons for ceasing to publish S.S. One of them is that he is going to be working on his own, exclusive websitre, Plato’s Footnote, as well as his Stoicism blog.

    He’s not looking to do another webzine. Sophia is an independt project for BHTV that Massimo and I put together ourselves, and as you mention, it will continue.

    If Dan T. and I decide to do something, it will be a new venture. Perhaps a webzine, in the rough shape of S.S. — i.e. a combination of self-produced stuff and submissions — but not in terms of its subject matter. We both agree that we do not want to be limited to science and science-related topics.

    We will have something to say on Monday, after our discussion tomorrow night.

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  42. On the subject of what made Scientia Salon so important to me personally, and thus what would need to be produced again to preserve my own interest, there are indeed a couple of things that I’d like to say:

    It was quite a plus that I could find intelligent articles here, though not as much as you might suspect. I did also enjoy posts that I found quite flawed, and specifically given that I knew my peers would be there to make their views known as well. In reality the OP was generally just a starting platform, though the real fun was seeing who would say intelligent things, as well as who would say ignorant things. Yes in my opinion it would largely be the commenters themselves that would need to be preserved to reproduce the same value. Furthermore I see two crucial positions in this regard that Massimo seems to have gotten right.

    The first of them concerns reasonable moderation regarding what gets through. None of us seem to suffer idiots happily. Furthermore rules like the 5/5/500 surely have helped keep us all a bit more productive. Some commenters are of course read with greater interest, while others may nevertheless be skipped somewhat, but that’s simply natural.

    Secondly, I never got the sense that Massimo had lost his cool in debates with his opposition. This was quite important to me since I am most certainly a critical voice. I consider philosophy to essentially be like physics was before the rise of Sir Isaac Newton. Furthermore I believe that its continued failure does hold back our mental and behavioral sciences. Thus I am quite dismissive of the standard position that a more extensive philosophy education, should naturally produce a better philosopher. (There aren’t even any generally accepted understandings of reality in the field!) My question is, will another site also tolerate dissenting views such as my own, or will it instead be a place where “true philosophers” are considered those who’ve earned associated credentials?

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  43. So, Dan Tippens and I have decided to go ahead and try a new venture, in the spirit of Scientia Salon, but with a somewhat different focus.

    Where Scientia focused on the intersection between philosophy and the sciences – often the hard sciences – our webzine will focus more on the intersection between philosophy and the social sciences and humanities: we are especially interested in the philosophical, methodological and theoretical dimensions of psychology, history, religion, and the arts. We are also quite interested in questions pertaining to the humanities’ role in higher education.

    We will feature a stable of contributors, who will write for us on a periodic basis. We will also accept solicitations from those would like to be contributors.

    Beyond essays, we also will feature a dedicated “Discussions” section, in which our editors and contributors will upload classic articles or give a brief account of key ideas from classic texts, for the purpose of provoking discussion.

    As was the case with Scientia, all of our publications will feature discussions among readers. It is our firm belief that the capacity to facilitate discussion between people who are physically removed from one another is one of most significant virtues of this medium, and it is our aim to engender discussions that will enrich and expand the understanding of our readers, as well as entertain them.

    Our plan is to launch the new webzine a week from today. Because Scientia will be closing down, the new webzine’s URL will be announced Monday on Dan Kaufman’s blog, Apophenia. (It should be noted that Dan will be closing down that blog and moving all of his future work to the new webzine.) Massimo has also very kindly offered to feature the relevant information on his Twitter Feed, and it is our hope that our new venture can maintain a close relationship with his new blog, Plato’s Footnote. Massimo has put together a truly outstanding community, with Scientia, and we hope to see many of you at the new webzine and in the discussions at Plato’s Footnote.

    Dan Tippens and Dan Kaufman

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  44. OK, we’ve still got conversation going, and I will make sure to use a full 500 words for my third.

    PeterJ Well, we’ll disagree on that, if by “well past being balanced,” you mean an actual “mystic.” … While I reject “scientism,” as has been evident here, I fully support a naturalistic worldview. I’ve also come close to parts of an NDE myself while under deep hypnosis, and taught a college class on issues in death and dying. (To add to the fun, the college was in Michigan, and it was during Jack Kevorkian’s first trial). Horgan’s book gives a sympathetic hearing to “mystics,” while (with the help of people VERY knowledgeable about hallucinogenic drugs) showing how a naturalistic explanation works well indeed.

    Aravis and DanT. Sounds good … I like the intersection idea, as it relates well to my interests, and tangentially to my professional background. (The social sciences-philosophy intersection drives a lot of the op-ed side of major newspapers and magazines.) And, especially in magazines of opinion and such, the purpose of higher education gets regular discussion; the issue of whether it’s becoming “commodified” is part of that.

    Given that I am a “semi-professional” on the issue of religion, that’s another subject that will interest me.

    And, since we’ve discussed classical music before, Aravis, if you want any contributions in the world of arts, you can get them. (I also am a poet who’s gotten a bit of publishing, and have thoughts I would offer on that, too.)

    On psychology, without it becoming clichéd, per the piece I wrote here on “mu” to both free will and determinism, issues like rationality/nonrationality, i.e., “fast” and “slow” thinking, and tangential issues, I think are good material for intersections with philosophy. And, let’s not forget that the man who gave us the old Problem of Induction, Hume, is arguably the world’s first modern psychologist.

    On history, that’s a broad field. One area where philosophy and history might well intersect is the field of “counterfactual history.” I’ve got several books of counterfactual history essays, and have written a few counterfactual history blog posts. Methodology of history, such as the various schools like Great Man, economic (and its various sub-schools, etc.) are other avenues.

    I am open to emails about further ideas for specific intersections I’d like to see discussed.

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