Category Archives: 3QD essays

Learning from Hume; or, Hume and Particle Physics

Philosophy students are typically taught the wrong lesson from the great Scottish skeptic David Hume. The standard story goes something like this. British empiricists like Locke and Berkeley wanted to connect everything we know to what we experience through the … Continue reading

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On appreciating systems

How wonderful it would be to be a systematic thinker! One marvels at the Aristotles, the Aquinases, the Descarteses, the Kants, and the Hegels and the Marxes (well, the Karl Marxes anyway), the Freuds – those who know how to … Continue reading

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How not to be afraid of death

Set aside any belief in an afterlife, even the vaguely hopeful “I’ll return to the energy of the universe” sort of view. The realization that your run of life is finite is troubling. At first, when we begin to think … Continue reading

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London, 1641

“Many shall run to and fro, and knowledge shall be increased” – Daniel 12:4 London was an exciting place to be in 1641. The political uncertainty was both thrilling and terrifying: many Puritans, convinced that their suspected crypto-catholic king, Charles … Continue reading

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The Fermi Paradox, Mass Effect, and Transhumanism

The Fermi Paradox The story is that sometime in the early 1950s, four physicists were walking to lunch and discussing flying saucers. The place was Los Alamos, and the lunch group included Enrico Fermi, Edward Teller, Emil Konopinski, and Herbert … Continue reading

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On Birthdays

“A genius is a god under whose protection each person lives from the moment of his birth.” This is the opinion of Censorinus, a Roman rhetorician of the third century CE. Censorinus tells us that our birthday celebrations are not … Continue reading

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Overcoming Babel

We all seek to capture the world with a net of language. Yet it is in the nature of nets to capture some things and let others slip away, and that goes for languages too. Our words turn experiences into … Continue reading

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What to do with my dead body

As I’m closer to death than birth, I think from time to time about what to do with my dead body. Of course, in the main I don’t really care. I’ll be done with it, and it will be nothing … Continue reading

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Hobbes, Boyle, and the vacuum pump

Sometime in the late 1650s, Robert Boyle built an apparatus that removed the air from within a glass dome. The members of the newly-formed Royal Society promptly set about devising all manner of experiments to perform with the newfangled device. … Continue reading

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The aural time traveler

Some years back my musicologist friend introduced me to the charming world of gramophones. (A brief history may be in order: before there were iPods and YouTube, there were CDs; before that, there were vinyl records, still very much in … Continue reading

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Reality is down the hall

“It is therefore worth noting,” Schopenhauer writes, “and indeed wonderful to see, how man, besides his life in the concrete, always lives a second life in the abstract.” I suppose you might say that some of us (especially college professors) … Continue reading

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Quaere, how much do we really see?

How much of the world do we actually experience? Of course, I’m not bemoaning the shortness of human life, or the narrow range of the visual spectrum, or the insensitivities of our skins and tongues. There’s no doubt we’re missing … Continue reading

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A personal ethics of clicking

Now that every click we make is watched, archived, and meta-data-fied, it is time to start thinking seriously about a personal ethics of internet consumption. This goes beyond mere paranoia and worry over what others might think of what you’re … Continue reading

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The obstaclean theory of matter

Denying the existence of the material world never goes down well. No matter how clever and compelling the arguments, most of us want to insist that matter exists – and as our insistence becomes more vehement, we start pounding tables, … Continue reading

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Leibniz’s Stepped Reckoner, and a clock to last for the next 10,000 years

In 1671, in some letters exchanged with the French mathematician Pierre de Carcavy, Leibniz mentioned his plans to create a calculating machine. Apparently, he had been inspired by a pedometer, probably thinking that if machines could count, they could then … Continue reading

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