John Collins to Judge 6th Annual 3QD Philosophy Prize

Update 28 December: Winners announced here.

Update 16 December: Finalists announced here.

Update 15 December: Semifinalists announced here.

Update 10 December: Voting round now open, will close on 14 December 11:59 pm EST. Go here to browse the nominated posts and vote.

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We are very honored and pleased to announce that John Collins has agreed to be the final judge for our 6th annual prize for the best blog and online-only writing in the category of philosophy. Details of the previous five philosophy (and other) prizes can be seen on our prize page.

Collins_JohnJohn Collins has a B.A. Hons. in Pure Mathematics and Philosophy from the University of Sydney (1982) and a Ph.D. from Princeton University (1991) under the supervision of David Lewis. He is an Associate Professor and the Director of Graduate Studies in the Department of Philosophy at Columbia University and an editor of The Journal of Philosophy. He works in decision theory, epistemology, and metaphysics. With Laurie Paul and Ned Hall, Collins co-edited Causation and Counterfactuals (MIT Press 2004). His most recent publications are ''Decision Theory After Lewis” in Schaffer and Loewer (eds) Blackwell Companion to David Lewis (2015), ''Neophobia'' in Res Philosophica (2015) and a review of Lara Buchak's Risk and Rationality for the Australasian Journal of Philosophy (2015). Collins is currently at work on a pair of papers on (so-called) Causal Decision Theory: ''What is the Significance of Newcomb's Problem?'' and ''Causal Decision Theory and Quasi-Transitivity.

As usual, this is the way it will work: the nominating period is now open. There will then be a round of voting by our readers which will narrow down the entries to the top twenty semi-finalists. After this, we will take these top twenty voted-for nominees, and the editors of 3 Quarks Daily will select six finalists from these, plus they may also add up to three wildcard entries of their own choosing. The three winners will be chosen from these by Dr. Collins.

The first place award, called the “Top Quark,” will include a cash prize of 500 dollars; the second place prize, the “Strange Quark,” will include a cash prize of 200 dollars; and the third place winner will get the honor of winning the “Charm Quark,” along with a 100 dollar prize.

(Welcome to those coming here for the first time. Learn more about who we are and what we do here, and do check out the full site here. Bookmark us and come back regularly, or sign up for the RSS Feed.)

The schedule and rules:

November 30, 2015:

  • The nominations are opened. Please nominate your favorite blog entry by placing the URL for the blog post (the permalink) in the comments section of this post. You may also add a brief comment describing the entry and saying why you think it should win. Do NOT nominate a whole blog, just one individual blog post.
  • Blog posts longer than 4,000 words are strongly discouraged, but we might make an exception if there is something truly extraordinary.
  • Each person can only nominate one blog post.
  • Entries must be in English.
  • The editors of 3QD reserve the right to reject entries that we feel are not appropriate.
  • The blog entry may not be more than a year old. In other words, it must have been first published on or after November 30, 2014.
  • You may also nominate your own entry from your own or a group blog (and we encourage you to).
  • Guest columnists at 3 Quarks Daily are also eligible to be nominated, and may also nominate themselves if they wish.
  • Nominations are limited to the first 100 entries.
  • Prize money must be claimed within a month of the announcement of winners.

December 9, 2015

  • The public voting will be opened.

December 14, 2015

  • Public voting ends at 11:59 PM (NYC time).

December 15, 2015

  • The semifinalists are announced

December 16, 2015

  • The finalists are announced

December 28, 2015

  • The winners are announced.

One Final and Important Request

If you have a blog or website, please help us spread the word about our prizes by linking to this post. Otherwise, post a link on your Facebook profile, Tweet it, or just email your friends and tell them about it! I really look forward to reading some very good material and think this should be a lot of fun for all of us.

Best of luck and thanks for your attention!

Monday Poem

How could something so beautiful not be right

Margaret Wertheim, on Einstein’s equations
……………….. for his General Theory of Relativity

The elegance of the simplest things
makes them right. The shape of a smooth stone
cannot be argued against —one touch
is testimony of its rightness. Its small heft
says, I'm here. Its mass, snapped by a spinning tire
shattering a windshield is evidence
of the absoluteness of its being.
Its adherence to universal laws says, I belong.
Its pleasing roundness
rolling in the cup of your palm
proves its truth. The way it rests in light,
glowing amber in harmony
with the color of the rising sun
is as much a claim to rightness
as the perfection of equations
or the presence of love.
Its contours, quanta, its silence,
strange and familiar as they are,
are as correct and beautiful
as this fleeting breath.
How in truth could anything
so beautiful not be right?

by Jim Culleny


by Paul Braterman

If Isaac Newton is the father of modern physics, then Antoine Lavoisier is the father of modern chemistry. Newton was knighted, and died in his bed at age 84. Lavoisier died at age 50, on the guillotine.

LavoisierAndWifeA civil servant scientist

Lavoisier originally trained as a lawyer, but studied science at the same time, and set about earning admission to the Academy of Sciences. This he achieved at the remarkably young age of 25, with a combination of pure science (composition of gypsum), and applications (problems of street lighting and water supply). He invested his inherited fortune in membership of a curious body called the Company of Tax Farmers. This was involved in the collection of indirect taxes throughout the whole of France, while its members individually lent money to the Crown, thus simultaneously taking on the roles of bankers, administrative civil servants, and investors in government securities.

Lavoisier's administrative responsibilities included supervising the Gunpowder Administration. Gunpowder is a mixture of sulphur, charcoal, and saltpetre (potassium nitrate). At the time, this last was obtained from fermenting organic matter with human and animal manure. French production had become haphazard, and lack of gunpowder was one reason for France's defeat in the Seven Years War/French and Indian War of 1754 – 1763. The Dutch had developed a system using beds of manure mixed with rotting vegetation, which Lavoisier copied, to such good effect that within a few years France was able to supply the material to its allies. French exports of saltpetre played an essential role in the American Revolution, and Lavoisier was able to write “One can truly say that North America owes its independence to French gunpowder”.

Read more »


Withered Rose

A version after Iqbal

By what words can I deem you
desire of the nightingale's heart?
The morning breeze was your cradle,
the garden a tray of perfumes.

My tears rain like dew,
and in my barren heart your ruin
an emblem of mine,
my life a dream of roses.

By Rafiq Kathwari, whose debut collection, In Another Country, is available here.

Feeling the Love

aby Maniza Naqvi

MargaretmarcusThis is about the biography of an American woman who was the author of key militant interpretations and texts which are followed by extremists today. She left New York in the 1960s and went to Egypt and then from there came to live in Lahore with the founder of the Jamaat e Islami Maulana Maududi. She lived in Lahore till she died in 2012 at the age of seventy- eight. This is also about an Austro-Hungarian man who became the spiritual advisor of the House of Saud. It is about Maryam Jameela, an American woman whose given name by her parents was Margaret Marcus and an Austro Hungarian man— Muhammad Asad whose given name was Leopold Weiss. It is about them then, and it is about us now.

The first time I saw razor wire was along the checkpoint at Eretz in Gaza, a dozen years and change ago. And then more recently I'd seen it coiled atop the compound walls of the offices and homes of donor agencies in Addis Ababa, a city changing fast with shanty towns being mowed down to create overpasses and underpasses, Malls and residential paradises for the purchasing powerful foreigners and visiting and returning diaspora. And I'd seen it at the peripheries of a holiday lakeside resort in Malawi built on land grabbed from fishermen, razor wire, presumably to keep the animals out. Now I stared at the knife's edge of gobs of razor wire at ground level in Lahore. And the last time I'd seen such an array of foreign corporate journalists passing through the barricades to speak to the local citizens as the notable and primary experts on that country, on just about every aspect of it, was well—in Bosnia. Now here they were, ‘conflict' experts, some the same, doing the same thing in Lahore.

Read more »

What Knausgård Reviews Look Like to People Who Haven’t Read Knausgård

Jonathan Ball, PhD, at his eponymous website:

1024px-Karl_Ove_Knausgård-760x1038 (1)Karl Ove Knausgård’s new book is beyond long, and way past self-indulgent. You should read it! He can’t write well — his prose is clunky and often seems unedited. His translator’s not great. You should read it!

Knausgård seems like a horrible person, from all accounts, including his own lengthy account. He’s great! His life is not interesting, since he has done little worth writing about. Did I mention that he’s not that great a writer? Get off your ass and go get this book!

Knausgård is a whiny white male who has written a very long book whining about the struggles of being a white male today, and he titled the book after Hitler’s book. It’s sooooooo worth reading! Sorry, I meant to say a series of very long books.

A very long series of very long books, about a white dude’s struggles. All he wants to do is write super-long books, but he’s not that great a writer, so it’s hard! If you haven’t read Knausgård yet, then get crackin’, Jack! What are you waiting for?

Knausgård is kinda like Proust, except that he’s not Proust, because he can’t write that well. He’s the Proust of today! Don’t miss out!

More here.

The Secret Euphoria of Reading: On Cento Lettere a Uno Sconosciuto by Roberto Calasso


Daniela Cascella in 3:AM Magazine:

I'm reading a book that collects a hundred book blurbs. It is titled Cento lettere a uno sconosciuto. It has a pale blue gatefold cover and, to date, no English translation from Italian. A Hundred Letters to a Stranger were selected and published in 2003 from over a thousand book blurbs written for the legendary Italian publishing house Adelphi by Roberto Calasso, who became Adelphi’s editor in 1971 and who is today its president, having worked for it since its inception in 1962. As he traces the antecedent of the blurb as a literary form to the 16th-century ‘epistola dedicatoria’—namely the ‘dedicatory letter’ in which a writer would address the prince who protected and financed his work—Calasso remarks: “Today there are no princes, there is a readership … made by individuals. Each reader whose eyes fall on a book blurb reads a letter addressed to a stranger.”

Between a multiplicity of readers unknown to authors, and books unknown to readers, Calasso’s blurbs don’t connect the Adelphi publications through the logic of a plan. Instead, connections are formed through the untidier, rapturous motions of reading and of the desire to read, holding together a multitude of contingent singulars. The anti-rational quality of each encounter with a book is favoured against any rationale. Presence overrides programme, in the same manner as Adelphi’s editorial output never followed a linear path but, rather, was prompted by ardor as the path to knowledge, maintaining that books do not hold stable original meanings but prompt intermittent and changing conversations. Knowledge is mutable, knowledge is the rhythm of rapture, “America is Lolita, Lolita is America.” Many Italians of my generation will still remember this sentence, partly a distant echo of “I am Heathcliff”, partly a lightning bolt of awareness as Calasso never aims to explain the books he writes around: he thrusts the readers in amongst the very texture of language. His blurbs have no claim to introduce or contextualise: they suggest possible ways of being with books, inside them, elliptical, undone, remade in reading, incomplete, blurred — and then, again, blurbed.

I always thought of the gatefold covers that enwrap Adelphi’s books and on which Calasso’s blurbs are printed as the other side of official words, as sites of otherness. Like the words in the blurbs that they support, the gatefolds point in their very form at what is concealed and unspoken; they outline a space of further thinking and further reading, where the resonance of a book rings and calls for connections beyond the book itself. In my eyes, Adelphi’s gatefold covers always instigated explorations behind the fold of a blurb, searching for the concealed matter of thought into words, for what is unwritten, hidden.

More here.

A Dream of Secular Utopia in ISIS’ Backyard


Wes Enzinna in the NYT:

The regime of President Bashar al-Assad doesn’t officially recognize Rojava’s autonomous status, nor does the United Nations or NATO — it is, in this way, just as illicit as the Islamic State. But if the reports I heard from the region were to be believed, within its borders the rules of the neighboring ISIS caliphate had been inverted. In accordance with a philosophy laid out by a leftist revolutionary named Abdullah Ocalan, Rojavan women had been championed as leaders, defense of the environment enshrined in law and radical direct democracy enacted in the streets.

But much of the information emerging from Rojava seemed contradictory and almost fantastical. To the Turkish government, the territory, which is now the size of Connecticut and has an estimated 4.6 million inhabitants, was nothing more than a front for a Turkish group known as the P.K.K., or Kurdistan Workers’ Party. Since its founding in 1978, the P.K.K., led by Ocalan, had been fighting for independence from Turkey, hoping to establish a homeland for the country’s 14 million Kurds. The effort had caused the deaths of 40,000 people, thousands of them civilians, and led to the imprisonment of Ocalan. The American State Department designated the P.K.K. a terrorist organization in 1997. Having failed in Turkey, officials claimed, the P.K.K. was trying to create a Kurdish homeland amid the disruption of war. ‘‘We will never allow the establishment of a state in Syria’s north and our south,’’ President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey said in June. ‘‘We will continue to fight in this regard no matter what it costs.’’

But to sympathetic Western visitors, Rojava was something else entirely: a place where the seeds of the Arab Spring promised to blossom into utopia. ‘‘What you are doing,’’ said Raymond Joliffe, a member of Britain’s House of Lords, during a trip in May 2015, ‘‘is a unique experiment that deserves to succeed.’’ A Dutch professor named Jan Best de Vries arrived in December 2014 and donated $10,000 to help buy books for Kurdish university students. David Graeber, a founder of Occupy Wall Street, visited that same month and wrote before his trip that ‘‘the autonomous region of Rojava, as it exists today, is one of few bright spots — albeit a very bright one — to emerge from the tragedy of the Syrian revolution.’’

More here.

70 years of speaking knowledge to power

Lawrence M. Krauss in Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists:

ScreenHunter_1522 Nov. 29 18.19As chair of the Board of Sponsors—a group initiated soon after Robert Oppenheimer and Albert Einstein helped form the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists in 1945—I was humbled to speak at the publication's 70thanniversary dinner, where supporters once again convened, following a symposium, to explore the greatest existential challenges facing the world today.

I was tempted to begin my talk by saying happy birthday, but of course the birth of the Bulletin was not a joyous moment; rather, it was a somber one. Founded as it was by Manhattan Project scientists who “could not remain aloof to the consequences of their work,” the Bulletin had an immediate, urgent purpose, but it would be preferable to live in a world in which the Bulletin was not necessary. As pressing as the need seemed in 1945 to alert the public to the dangers of nuclear war and to stem the growth of nuclear arsenals, however, theBulletin is more necessary today than perhaps at any other time in its 70 year history.

With the development of nuclear weapons, humanity crossed a threshold: For the first time, the human race had the power to almost instantaneously and globally change the conditions for all life on our planet, and alter the environment in ways that could lead, if not to the extinction of our species, to the end of civilization as we know it.

Seventy years after the Nuclear Age began, the 21st century has brought a host of new global challenges for humanity to face.

More here.

Abhay Ashtekar: ‘Good Scientists Solve Problems, but Great Scientists Know What’s Worth Solving’

ScreenHunter_1521 Nov. 29 17.58Abhay Ashtekar is a theoretical physicist and the founder of loop quantum gravity, an increasingly popular branch of physics that attempts to unify quantum mechanics with Albert Einstein’s theory of general relativity (which celebrates its centenary this year). Currently the Director of the Institute for Gravitational Physics and Geometry at Pennsylvania State University, Ashtekar spoke to Nithyanand Rao and Swetamber Das at IIT Madras on October 7, 2015 about his inspirations, his encounters with Subrahmanyan Chandrasekhar and Roger Penrose, work on gravity and cosmology, and his criticisms of string theory.

Nithyanand Rao and Swetamber Das interview Abhay Ashtekar in The Wire:

I guess you took classes by Chandra [Subrahmanyan Chandrasekhar] as well.

Yes, I came to know him quite well. I was very fortunate. After my Ph.D., I went to Oxford to work with Roger Penrose. That was also because of Chandra. But then they asked me to come back to Chicago. So I went to Chicago again. Particularly in this second stage, I came to know Chandra and his wife very well. They were kind. They used to invite me for dinners and so on. Chandra was so reserved; he was god-like, a completely different level of human being. But then he would get into the flow of things and he would tell all the stories – his memory was just phenomenal; there is nobody who comes anywhere close to him. He would remember what he was doing in, say, August 1931 and what had happened then. He would recall it with all the details – all the people and all the names and everything. I have trouble remembering what happened yesterday! He would tell these fantastic stories.

I was really fortunate that I got this exposure to three great people, my great teachers: One was my Ph.D. advisor Robert Geroch. Chandra told me that he felt that except for John von Neumann, he has never seen anyone as brilliant as Bob; and it was true. Bob is extremely brilliant.

More here.

America’s Forgotten Female Astronauts

Elizabeth Yuko in BitchMedia:

Astronaut2Last month, an all-female Russian astronaut crew spent eight days together in a mock spaceship to determine how a group of women would interact during space travel as a test run for a 2029 mission to the moon. Sadly, at a press conference preceding the experiment, reporters opted to ask questions on how they would manage without men and makeup for eight days. “We are doing work. When you're doing your work, you don't think about men and women,” noted astronaut-in-training Anna Kussmaul. Unfortunately, this treatment of women astronauts is as old as the space program itself. In the early days of space travel, much was unknown. For example, scientists were uncertain about even the basic idea of whether a human could safely exit the earth’s atmosphere, much less would happen to the human body in space. Sending people into space was the ultimate in human experimentation.

What we did know, however, was basic physics: the more weight contained in an aircraft, the more energy and fuel will be needed to propel it from earth, sustain it in space, and safely return. Because of this, women made the best candidates for space travel. It was not rocket science: On ships heading into orbit, every ounce matters. Women in general weigh less, eat less food, consume less oxygen, and therefore required less fuel to get into space. Despite the math being in their favor, women were excluded from being considered as astronauts during NASA’s earliest days. These days, women are still a minority at NASA. The team that engineered this summer’s spectacular flyby of Pluto was 25 percent women—very likely that’s the most women on any team in NASA history.

More here.

Addicted to Distraction

Tony Schwartz in The New York Times:

SchwartzONE evening early this summer, I opened a book and found myself reading the same paragraph over and over, a half dozen times before concluding that it was hopeless to continue. I simply couldn’t marshal the necessary focus. I was horrified. All my life, reading books has been a deep and consistent source of pleasure, learning and solace. Now the books I regularly purchased were piling up ever higher on my bedside table, staring at me in silent rebuke. Instead of reading them, I was spending too many hours online, checking the traffic numbers for my company’s website, shopping for more colorful socks on Gilt and Rue La La, even though I had more than I needed, and even guiltily clicking through pictures with irresistible headlines such as “Awkward Child Stars Who Grew Up to Be Attractive.”

During the workday, I checked my email more times than I cared to acknowledge, and spent far too much time hungrily searching for tidbits of new information about the presidential campaign, with the election then still more than a year away.“The net is designed to be an interruption system, a machine geared to dividing attention,” Nicholas Carr explains in his book “The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains.” “We willingly accept the loss of concentration and focus, the division of our attention and the fragmentation of our thoughts, in return for the wealth of compelling or at least diverting information we receive.” Addiction is the relentless pull to a substance or an activity that becomes so compulsive it ultimately interferes with everyday life.

More here.

Loaded Dice


Thomas Chatterton Williams reviews Ta-Nehisi Coates's Between the World and Me in the LRB:

Soon after Michael Brown was shot in Ferguson, Missouri, a book called The Short and Tragic Life of Robert Peace was published, describing one New Jersey man’s dual existence as a top student at Yale and an incorrigible drug dealer.​1 Peace was an alarmingly precocious black boy whose mother toiled in hospital kitchens to raise the money to send him to parochial schools, where he thrived. His father, a magnetic hustler his mother refused to marry, was an active presence in his early life; he taught his son how to use his fists and decode the logic of the streets. When Peace was seven, his father was convicted of double homicide on circumstantial evidence, and sentenced to life in prison.

No one could claim that Peace had an easy path. Yet it’s also hard to deny that the institutions of US society unfailingly worked for him. Jeff Hobbs, who was Peace’s roommate at Yale, shows that at every stage of Peace’s life, his gifts were not just recognised but cultivated. He may have started selling marijuana to help his mother pay the rent, but his family didn’t have the crippling debts that frequently end any possibility of class mobility. He was the valedictorian at his prestigious high school, and a wealthy banker, moved by his speech, offered to pay all the expenses at whichever university he chose. He studied microbiology at Yale, but never stopped selling or using drugs. In 2011, at the age of 30, he was the victim of a gangland execution.

In the conversations about the deaths of Brown, Peace and numerous others who have commanded public attention in the US over the past year, there’s often a tension between the desire to attribute responsibility for actions to those who undertake them and the protective urge to downplay those same people’s responsibility for their actions. In Brown’s case, many people, including plenty of blacks, saw the predictable if gratuitous death of a young man who had committed a crime and then defied a cop; others saw this view as naive: it didn’t matter what the 18-year-old had or hadn’t done, because he wasn’t a moral agent in the first place.

In this second view, which is steadily gaining purchase in the US, Brown was a casualty of a centuries-old system of oppression that decided his fate before his parents’ parents had even met. This is the view held by Ta-Nehisi Coates, a 40-year-old journalist at the Atlantic, who makes the case most seductively in his recent memoir, Between the World and Me.

More here.