Later On

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Archive for May 31st, 2021

What Renaissance?

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History as taught uses boundaries and classifications that to a great extent are arbitrary. For example, the date of Rome’s fall is often given as 395 AD, but people in 396 AD didn’t comment, “Wow! Did you notice how Rome fell last year?! That was something!” And there’s the quip about the doctoral student whose thesis was on the first 30 minutes of the Protestant Reformation.

Henrik Lagerlund,, professor of the history of philosophy at Stockholm University and member of the Rotman Institute of Philosophy in Canada, has an interesting article in Aeon, which notes that

He is series editor of Studies in the History of Philosophy of Mind (2002-); editor-in-chief of the Encyclopedia of Medieval Philosophy (2010); and co-editor of Causal Powers in Science: Blending Historical and Conceptual Perspectives (2021). He is also the author of Skepticism in Philosophy: A Comprehensive, Historical Introduction (2020).

Lagerlund writes:

Renaissance philosophy started in the mid-14th century and saw the flowering of humanism, the rejection of scholasticism and Aristotelianism, the renewal of interest in the ancients, and created the prerequisites for modern philosophy and science. At least, this is the conventional story. But, in fact, there was no Renaissance. It is an invention by historians, a fiction made in order to tell a story – a compelling story about the development of philosophy, but nevertheless a story. In fact, all periodisation is ‘mere’ interpretation. This view is called historiographical nihilism.

Historiography was for a long time simply the writing of histories. Sweden, for example, had a royal historiographer, which was a formal appointment at the Royal Court. For a period in the late 17th century, the position was held by the philosopher Samuel Pufendorf (1632-94). He wrote several books in Latin on the history of Gustav II Adolf’s war efforts in Europe during the Thirty Years’ War, as well as one about Queen Christina’s abdication. Recently, historiography has become more a study of how history is written. In the second sense, it is the works of the historians and their methods that are the object of study, and not history itself. A historiographer doesn’t write histories, but develops theories about how history is written.

Nihilism, of course, has been given many meanings and has been interpreted in many different ways by philosophers throughout history. In the context of historiography, it means the rejection of, or – in a slightly weaker form – the scepticism towards historiographical concepts such as periodisation, but also other concepts pertaining to the development of a ‘theory’ of history; consequently, it implies that there can’t be only one method of history but many.

Historiographical nihilism has nothing against using periodisation in history and philosophy as a heuristic tool or for pedagogic purposes, but it reminds us that, as such, they’re always false, and when we study the details of history, it will become obvious that such grand statements as the outline of a period such as the Renaissance are futile and empty. The arbitrariness of assigning the term ‘Renaissance philosophy’ to a period in time can be easily seen if we have a look at the historical development of the term itself.

Renaissance philosophy is often presented as a conflict between humanism and scholasticism, or sometimes it’s simply described as the philosophy of humanism. This is a deeply problematic characterisation, partly based on the assumption of a conflict between two philosophical traditions – a conflict that never actually existed, and was in fact constructed by the introduction of two highly controversial terms: ‘humanism’ and ‘scholasticism’. A telling example of how problematic these terms are as a characterisation of philosophy in the 16th century can be found in Michel de Montaigne (1533-92). He was critical of a lot of philosophy that came before him, but he didn’t contrast what he rejected with some kind of humanism, and his sceptical essay An Apology for Raymond Sebond (1580) wasn’t directed at scholastic philosophy. In fact, both these terms were invented much later as a means to write about or introduce Renaissance philosophy. Persisting with this simplistic dichotomy only perverts any attempt at writing the history of 14th- to 16th-century philosophy.

One of the first attempts at writing a history of philosophy in a modern way was Johann Jacob Brucker’s five-volume Historia critica philosophiae (1742-44) published in Leipzig. He didn’t use the terms ‘Renaissance’ or ‘humanism’, but the term ‘scholastic’ was important for him. The narrative we still live with in philosophy, for the most part, was already laid down by him. It’s the familiar narrative that emphasises the ancient beginning of philosophy, followed by a collapse in the Middle Ages, and an eventual recovery of ancient wisdom in what much later became called ‘Renaissance philosophy’.

The US philosopher Brian Copenhaver, one of the foremost scholars of our time, develops this idea in his contribution to The Routledge Companion to Sixteenth-Century Philosophy (2017). In ‘Philosophy as Descartes Found It: Humanists v Scholastics?’, he explains how Brucker’s ideal was developed from Cicero and called by him ‘humanitatis litterae’ or ‘humanitatis studia’. For Brucker, these terms signified the works of the classical authors and the study of them. The Latin he used for the teaching of the classical authors was ‘humanior disciplina’. Brucker sees himself as completing a project he claims was started by Petrarch in the mid-14th century: a cultural renewal that would save philosophy from the darkness of scholasticism.

As we’ve come to know more about the period referred to by Brucker as the Middle Age, it has become clear that it’s simply wrong to call it a decline. It is instead extraordinarily rich philosophically, and should be celebrated as hugely innovative. It’s by no means a ‘dark age’. Quite the contrary. So the view that emerges in Brucker stems from a lack of knowledge and understanding of the philosophy of that time.

The use of the term ‘humanism’ to signify a coherent movement was first introduced in the 19th century, around the same time as the advent of the term ‘Renaissance’. Crucially, neither were initially used in connection with philosophy. Rather, they were used by art historians, especially . . .

Continue reading. There’s much more.

Written by Leisureguy

31 May 2021 at 11:14 am

Wood goes techno

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Sid Perkins writes in Scientific American:

Some varieties of wood, such as oak and maple, are renowned for their strength. But scientists say a simple and inexpensive new process can transform any type of wood into a material stronger than steel, and even some high-tech titanium alloys. Besides taking a star turn in buildings and vehicles, the substance could even be used to make bullet-resistant armor plates.

Wood is abundant and relatively low-cost—it literally grows on trees. And although it has been used for millennia to build everything from furniture to homes and larger structures, untreated wood is rarely as strong as metals used in construction. Researchers have long tried to enhance its strength, especially by compressing and “densifying” it, says Liangbing Hu, a materials scientist at the University of Maryland, College Park. But densified wood tends to weaken and spring back toward its original size and shape, especially in humid conditions.

Now, Hu and his colleagues say they have come up with a better way to densify wood, which they report in Nature. Their simple, two-step process starts with boiling wood in a solution of sodium hydroxide (NaOH) and sodium sulfite (Na2SO3), a chemical treatment similar to the first step in creating the wood pulp used to make paper. This partially removes lignin and hemicellulose (natural polymers that help stiffen a plant’s cell walls)—but it largely leaves the wood’s cellulose (another natural polymer) intact, Hu says.

The second step is almost as simple as the first: Compressing the treated wood until its cell walls collapse, then maintaining that compression as it is gently heated. The pressure and heat encourage the formation of chemical bonds between large numbers of hydrogen atoms and neighboring atoms in adjacent nanofibers of cellulose, greatly strengthening the material.

The results are impressive. The team’s compressed wood is three times as dense as the untreated substance, Hu says, adding that its resistance to being ripped apart is increased more than 10-fold. It also can become about 50 times more resistant to compression and almost 20 times as stiff. The densified wood is also substantially harder, more scratch-resistant and more impact-resistant. It can be molded into almost any shape. Perhaps most importantly, the densified wood is also moisture-resistant: In lab tests, compressed samples exposed to extreme humidity for more than five days swelled less than 10 percent—and in subsequent tests, Hu says, a simple coat of paint eliminated that swelling entirely.

A five-layer, plywoodlike sandwich of densified wood stopped simulated bullets fired into the material—a result Hu and his colleagues suggest could lead to low-cost armor. The material does not protect quite as well as a Kevlar sheet of the same thickness—but it only costs about 5 percent as much, he notes.

The team’s results “appear to  . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

31 May 2021 at 11:06 am

The art of balancing stones

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Open Culture has a good post that includes these two brief videos:

Written by Leisureguy

31 May 2021 at 9:44 am

Posted in Art, Daily life, Video

“What I’ve Learned Teaching the Tulsa Race Massacre for Two Decades”

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Some of the ruins from the Tulsa Race Massacre in June 1921, when white vigilantes set the Oklahoma city’s African-American district ablaze.Credit…Bettmann Archive/Getty Images

Hannibal B. Johnson writes in the NY Times:

About a decade ago, when a class of third, fourth and fifth grade students at Mayo Demonstration School in Tulsa, Okla., were studying the city’s history, their team of teachers gave them a special assignment: build a scale model of its once segregated Black business district, Greenwood, which was known as Black Wall Street.

The students spent days working on the project. They toured the real Greenwood neighborhood for inspiration, created facades of the businesses, labeled the streets. Once finished, they planned a memorial celebration and invited their parents to attend.

But the night before the celebration, the teachers quietly stayed behind. They doused the model with lighter fluid, set it on fire, and let it burn for a few minutes before putting it back.

The students were dismayed when they returned to school the next day. Who had destroyed their painstaking work, and why?

Their teachers had seized a teachable moment: This was their way of introducing, in an unforgettable way, the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre. They asked their distraught pupils to imagine what it must have felt like to lose real homes, real schools — real people.

Years later, many of those former Mayo students say the project stands out as among the best lessons they ever had.

As a Black man who chairs the Education Committee for the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre Centennial Commission, I believe that all Americans need similarly powerful and profound experiences to stoke compassion and empathy, particularly as we grapple with issues of historical racial trauma.

The white mob that invaded the Greenwood District during the massacre obliterated Tulsa’s Black community: its property, possessions and people. As many as 300 people were killed; hundred more were injured. The losses, in today’s dollars, would run into the tens of millions, if not more.

Like a wound left untreated, years of silence and neglect left the damage of the massacre to fester. Its effects linger. Healing that history — owning and addressing it — is our present imperative. The centennial of the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre presents an opportunity.

I moved to Tulsa, Okla., in the summer of 1984, fresh out of Harvard Law School and eager to settle into a law firm career in a midsize, cosmopolitan city close to my hometown.

Early on, when I began writing a guest editorial column for the local Black newspaper, The Oklahoma Eagle, the editor asked that I write a series about the Greenwood District.

I had grown up in Fort Smith, Ark., about 100 miles southeast of Tulsa, but I’d known nothing of Tulsa’s history — nothing about “Black Wall Street”; nothing about the massacre that was one of the worst incidents of racial domestic terrorism in our country’s history. But I soon learned, and though the story was horrifying, it drew me in.

As time passed, this lawyer by profession became a historian by trade. The newspaper series led me to write other articles and books, to teaching, and to lecturing about the events, which are emblematic of American history of that period — and the widespread historical racial trauma that still bedevils us.

When I think about how we can help people better understand the past, I hark back to the commitment and creativity of the Mayo school’s teachers. Their boldness so many years ago still holds a lesson for me, and anyone who is teaching the truth of our country’s history. Honesty and balance are our allies, as is the ability to give people the benefit of the doubt; to recognize that people do not know what they do not know. We must give people the opportunity to learn and grow, just like those teachers did.

It’s not easy. There will be resistance.

Just weeks ago, Gov. Kevin Stitt of Oklahoma signed House Bill 1775 into law, which bans the state’s schools from teaching about notions of racial superiority and racism, and even about concepts that might engender “discomfort, guilt, anguish.” It’s true that the bill does not prohibit the teaching of “concepts that align with the Oklahoma Academic Standards,” and the Tulsa Race Massacre is included in those standards. But having taught this history to both adults and children for more than two decades, I believe a chilling effect is likely. Some teachers may avoid the subject for fear of running afoul of the law; others may soft-pedal it.

Oklahoma is not alone. This bill is part of a national movement aimed at racial retrenchment, a backlash against the embrace of diversity, equity and inclusion. And this state is not alone, either, in the way this backlash threatens to prevent us from confronting and repairing the sins of the past. Though the Tulsa Race Massacre may be distinguished by its scale, American history between the end of Reconstruction and the victories of the civil rights movement is marked by gouts of mass anti-Black violence.

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

31 May 2021 at 9:35 am

Posted in Daily life, Government, History

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After the Rain with the 37G

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This week I’m going to use Grooming Dept Moisturizing Pre-Shave without first washing my face with MR GLO, and this morning I did not notice any difference between with MR GLO and without MR GLO.

The lather was from Declaration Groomings Milksteak formula, specifically After the Rain. The Edwin Jagger Synthetic is excellent and has a feel quite different from a Plissoft synthetic. Three passes of the Merkur 37G — which seemed more comfortable than The Holy Black’s clone, the SR-71 slant, but that may be due to just a variation in my perception. In any event, the shave was quite comfortable and the result totally satisfactory.

A splash of Chiseled Face’s After the Storm continued the theme and concluded the shave.

And for you tempeh fans, I have a batch in now in which I am using a chopped up piece of the old batch as a starter, rather than a packaged culture starter. We’ll know tomorrow how it works. And note the photo in the previous post: the views here are not just of flowers.

Written by Leisureguy

31 May 2021 at 9:09 am

Posted in Shaving

Mount Baker on Saturday

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We went for a drive Saturday because it was such a beautiful day, and I snapped this photo of Mount Baker through the car windshield. Click to enlarge. From Wikipedia:

Mount Baker (LummiQwú’mə KwəlshéːnNooksackKw’eq Smaenit or Kwelshán), also known as Koma Kulshan or simply Kulshan, is a 10,781 ft (3,286 m) active[9] glacier-covered andesitic stratovolcano[4] in the Cascade Volcanic Arc and the North Cascades of Washington in the United States. Mount Baker has the second-most thermally active crater in the Cascade Range after Mount St. Helens.[10] About 30 miles (48 km)[11] due east of the city of BellinghamWhatcom County, Mount Baker is the youngest volcano in the Mount Baker volcanic field.[5] While volcanism has persisted here for some 1.5 million years, the current volcanic cone is likely no more than 140,000 years old, and possibly no older than 80–90,000 years. Older volcanic edifices have mostly eroded away due to glaciation. . .

Written by Leisureguy

31 May 2021 at 6:53 am

Posted in Daily life

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