Trump Won the Debate Big

by Scott F. Aikin and Robert B. Talisse

The first of the US Presidential debates between incumbent Donald Trump and challenger Joe Biden is complete, and from the looks of the political landscape after Trump’s positive COVID test, it may be the only debate for this election cycle. Most who watched the debate called it a ‘food fight,’ a ‘brawl,’ or worse. Trump interrupted Biden, there was too much crosstalk, there were insults, and Biden even told the President to “Shut up, man!” Anyone who tuned in to see two candidates for America’s highest office exchange well-reasoned arguments, hold each other accountable to challenge, and answer each other’s questions was sorely disappointed.

But the reality is that debates never have been that idealized exchange. For sure, many debates have better resembled it than this more recent one, but no debates have been close to that aspirational posit. Rather, the debates are more simultaneous campaign events, where the candidates can recite clips of their stump speeches, drop practiced one-liners, and play at having rapport with the moderator when being held to the rules of the debate. What makes them important in this argumentative regard, then, is how well they enact their brand within the rules of the forum. It’s along these lines that we think that Trump is right that he won the debate.

Biden’s brand is that he is the moderate who can beat Trump. Trump’s brand is that he is the powerful disruptor, the one who is so strong that no rules can constrain him. Seen from this perspective, the debate was wholly a case of Trump’s singular dominance. He, again, interrupted Biden, he derailed Biden’s argument about his disparagement of the military with a shot about Biden’s younger son, he squabbled with the moderator about whether the rules were right, and he consistently went over his allotted times. He indeed was a disruptor, one to whom the rules do not apply. He was consistently and manifestly on-brand. Read more »

Analogia: A Conversation with George Dyson

by Ashutosh Jogalekar

George Dyson is a historian of science and technology who has written books about topics ranging from the building of a native kayak (“Baidarka”) to the building of a spaceship powered by nuclear bombs (“Project Orion”). He is the author of the bestselling books “Turing’s Cathedral” and “Darwin Among the Machines” which explore the multifaceted ramifications of intelligence, both natural and artificial. George is also the son of the late physicist, mathematician and writer Freeman Dyson, a friend whose wisdom and thinking we both miss.

George’s latest book is called “Analogia: The Emergence of Technology Beyond Programmable Human Control”. It is in part a fascinating and wonderfully eclectic foray into the history of diverse technological innovations leading to the promises and perils of AI, from the communications network that allowed the United States army to gain control over the Apache Indians to the invention of the vacuum tube to the resurrection of analog computing. It is also a deep personal exploration of George’s own background in which he lived in a treehouse and gained mastery over the ancient art of Aleut baidarka building. I am very pleased to speak with George about these ruminations. I would highly recommend that readers listen to the entire conversation, but if you want to jump to snippets of specific topics, you can click on the timestamps below, after the video.

7:51 We talk about lost technological knowledge. George makes the point that it’s really the details that matter, and through the gradual extinction of practitioners and practice we stand in real danger of losing knowledge that can elevate humanity. Whether it’s the art of building native kayaks or building nuclear bombs for peaceful purposes, we need ways to preserve the details of knowledge of technology.

12:49 Digital versus analog computing. The distinction is fuzzy: As George says, “You can have digital computers made out of wood and you can have analog computers made out of silicon.” We talk about how digital computing became so popular in part because it was so cheap and made so much money. Ironically, we are now witnessing the growth of giant analog network systems built on a digital substrate.

21:22 We talk about Leo Szilard, the pioneering, far-sighted physicist who was the first to think of a nuclear chain reaction while crossing a traffic light in London in 1933. Szilard wrote a novel titled “The Voice of the Dolphins” which describes a group of dolphins trying to rescue humanity from its own ill-conceived inventions, an oddly appropriate metaphor for our own age. George talks about the formative influence of Trudy Szilard, Leo’s wife, who used to snatch him out of boring school lessons and take him to lunch, where she would have a pink martini and they would talk. Read more »

Ordinary Illiberalism

by Varun Gauri

The challenge for liberal societies is to understand the allure of illiberalism in the first place, with far more honesty and subtlety than we muster.  —Pratap Bhanu Mehta

Why does illiberalism appear attractive to so many people in liberal societies these days? Part of the answer, certainly, is that liberal regimes, and especially neoliberal economies, have failed to deliver economic prosperity to all. Liberal regimes have become less responsive to democratic demands, instead concentrating political decision making and economic market share among fewer and fewer individuals, organizations, and firms.

But why turn to illiberalism in response? Why not more democracy, more inclusion, rather than less? Why not approaches that might directly tackle social, political, and economic inequalities, such as northern European welfarism, shared corporate governance, or even Gandhian localism? Why throw the baby out with the bathwater?

Part of the explanation, I want to suggest, in a tentative and exploratory way, is that illiberalism never disappears, even in liberal societies. Features of human psychology, combined with contemporary moral demands, have produced a beast that is extremely difficult to kill off. The monster is always there, beneath the surface.

By liberalism, I mean the moral intuition that human beings are equal in dignity and all incommensurably valuable. Societies embed that moral idea in diverse constitutions, political systems, welfare schemes, property rights regimes, and child-raising practices. As a result, liberal societies take different positions on economic liberty, religious freedom, and equality among social groups, among other issues. Read more »


Sughra Raza. Lesser Weaver Nests, Akagera National Park, Rwanda. 2018.

Digital photograph.

“For the lesser masked weavers of Africa, evolution has provided a critical mass. The males weave elaborate nests, that resemble pendulous, open-weave baskets, hanging one by one from slender branches.

As the males work, the females judiciously assess their progress. A great deal of skill and industry goes into each nest: the weave must be of the right tightness and elasticity otherwise the eggs will slide out.

When the nest is finished and ready for judging, the male perches hopefully beside it. A messy, disorganised nest, and its designer, will be rejected. The better examples are given a stern and thorough examination, including an interior inspection. If the female approves, she immediately moves in. Thus she ensures that the standards of nest building among lesser masked weavers will remain very high.”

More here, and here.

Tesla at the Movies

by David Kordahl

Many of the best historical movies featuring “hard” scientists have used social problems, rather than than scientific controversies, to propel their action.1 Two recently released films that address the legacy of Nikola Tesla reverse this trend. The Current War, a plummy costume drama whose planned 2017 distribution was delayed by the Harvey Weinstein scandals, mainly addresses the famously public feud between Thomas Edison and George Westinghouse. But at its heart is the question of whether the future of electrical power would run on direct current (DC) or alternating current (AC), a debate that Tesla’s polyphase AC generators eventually won. And the newly released Tesla, a formalist exercise in the postmodern style, takes Tesla’s story farther, leading viewers into his controversial work on wireless power transmission, work that, depending on which parts of the Internet you ask, was either awesomely visionary or deeply confused.

Nikola Tesla (1856-1943) was a truly odd person, the only scientist whose name a hair band and a car company might both want to borrow. It isn’t hard to figure out what has made him a mainstay of popular culture. Had Tesla merely been an inventor of genius, he might have been remembered only by engineers. But Tesla was also an entertainer. My Inventions, a compilation of Tesla’s scattered popular writing, includes many quotes that sound openly anti-scientific. In between his anecdotes about curing personal ailments with his mind and an exposition of his law of compensation (“true rewards are ever in proportion to the labor and sacrifices made”), here’s how Tesla described his method of invention:

When I get an idea I start at once building it up in my imagination. I change the construction, make improvements and operate the device in my mind. It is absolutely immaterial to me whether I run my turbine in thought or test it in my shop. […] When I have gone so far as to embody in the invention every possible improvement I can think of and see no fault anywhere, I put into concrete form this final product of my brain. Invariably my device works as I conceived that it should, and experiment comes out exactly as I planned it.

For a person of sufficient genius applying solidly established scientific principles, this method might work. But where the empirical principles haven’t been firmly established, this seems like a pretty bad method, and Tesla’s later explorations, which pushed ever farther into questions of basic science, were increasingly unfruitful, perhaps as a result of this. Read more »

Debating. Ourselves.

by Paul Orlando

Two days after the 2016 presidential election I turned one day of my normal university classes into a history of recent presidential campaigns. I looked at a few of the more famous moments from campaigns of the previous 50 years, none of which the students knew.

If you’re reading 3QD you probably know these moments. But you might also want to remind yourself that not everyone does, especially if they have not lived through them. If it’s a help, here is a short list that you might send others who are interested.

The 1960 Kennedy – Nixon debate

Before this debate even begins, the first thing you might notice is the way JFK sits. He crosses his legs. He’s also in a dark suit against a light background. He is also the better looking of the two candidates. Nixon, on the other hand, sits with both feet awkwardly on the floor and can’t find a place for his hands.

As a televised debate — and the first ever — these things unfortunately matter.

The next thing you might notice is that the moderator announces that there will be opening statements of eight minutes. Eight minutes! (And JFK only used about seven). And while it was not stated, there were to be no interruptions. This, after all, was formal debating. If you watch the debate, the striking thing is how different that style now seems.

Presidential candidates didn’t debate on television again until the 1976 campaign. Read more »

This sentence is false.

by Tim Sommers

There’s something wrong with the sentence, “This sentence is false.” Is it true or false? Well, if it’s true, then it’s false. But then if it’s false, it’s true. And so on. This is the simplest, most straightforward version of the “Liar’s Paradox”. It’s at least two thousand five hundred years old and well-known enough that you can buy the t-shirt on

I’ve been thinking about the “Liar’s Paradox” lately, because I’m teaching an “Introduction to Philosophy” class on paradoxes (and writing a book) called “Life’s a Puzzle: Philosophy’s Greatest Paradoxes, Thought-Experiments, Counter-Intuitive Arguments, and Counter-Examples from AI to Zeno”. It starts with the “Liar’s Paradox” because it’s one of the oldest and most well-known, but also simplest and most daunting, of philosophical paradoxes. Some people think that while “puzzle” cases in philosophy are fun and showy, they are not where the real action is. I think every real philosophical puzzle is a window onto a mystery. And proposed solutions to that mystery are samples of the variety and possibilities of philosophy.

So, let’s start with this. Why is it called the “Liar’s Paradox”? Let’s go to the Christian Bible for that one, specifically, “St. Paul’s Letter to Titus” (Ch. 1, verses 12-14)

“They must be silenced, because they are disrupting whole households by teaching things they ought not to teach – and that for the sake of filthy lucre.12 One of Crete’s own prophets has said it: ‘Cretans are always liars, evil brutes, lazy gluttons.’13 This statement is true.14

Verse 12 has philosophers dead to rights. We are disrupting whole households, teaching things we ought not to teach and – speaking for myself at least – it’s all about the filthy lucre (hence, the book). But verse 13 is what we want here. It has “Cretan’s own prophet” saying “Cretans are always liars.” Now, if that just means that all Cretans lie a lot, but not all the time, there’s no problem. But if it means that Cretans are always lying whenever they speak, given that this is asserted by a Cretan (read: liar), we have a paradox. This then is the primordial, liar’s version of the “Liar’s Paradox”. If that’s unclear you can simplify the liar’s version down to: “I am lying right now.” Read more »

A View from Afar: Trump’s Presidency

by Adele Wilby

Donald Trump’s presidency has generated a greater than normal interest in American politics, but not necessarily for the right reasons. How, people wondered, could such a poorly qualified candidate, and, as we have seen over the years, of equally poor calibre possibly become the President of the United States and leader of the ‘free’ world?

Events over recent days have added to that curiosity, not least his performance during the Presidential debate on 29 September. Moreover, his refusal to endorse a peaceful transition of power should he lose the presidential race in November in 2016, is troubling enough, but equally, and arguably of greater concern, are the recent revelations surrounding Trump’s business dealings and tax returns.  That a man of such purported wealth has not paid taxes for ten to fifteen years or has paid just 750 dollars since he assumed office in 2016, is not only outrageous, but is substantial evidence to raise legitimate concern about the integrity of the man sitting in the White House. Furthermore, given the business losses he is said to have incurred suggests that Trump is not the savvy businessman that he likes to portray to his base and the public, but rather is incompetent and reckless with finances: he is neither honest nor  a safe pair of hands with the national economy. Worrying also are the suggestions that he has used his office for financial gain. His tax returns confirm what his reluctance to reveal them has always implied: they have been worked in such a way to his financial benefit and exempted him from paying the amount of tax equivalent to his wealth, of not paying his required contribution to the national purse.

Theories abound to account for the support that Trump has enjoyed  and continues to enjoy: the emasculation of white working class men; his appeal to sections of white women voters; his criticism of  globalisation and his commitment to bring jobs home again; a rejection  of a liberal political elite that dominates US politics; anti-immigrant sentiments; a dislike of America’s contribution and participation in international institutions such as NATO and the United Nations; nationalism,  to name a few. There are also arguments that critically examine the problems with the American Constitution and democracy, and here I refer to the way the Electoral College works to allow the individual with the least number of popular votes to assume the office of President.

Each of these theories has its own credibility as an explanation to account for Trump’s appeal and electoral success in 2016. However, considering Trump’s track record over the past four years, many people scratch their heads in disbelief as to how he became the uncontested Republican candidate for the forthcoming presidential elections. Surely his record and behaviour would deter the American public from even considering him as a potential President. Read more »

Matters of the Heart

by Sabyn Javeri Jillani

Sometimes it’s the anatomical heart, a muscle the size of a fist, pumping furiously to keep us alive, at other times it is the beating of the metaphorical heart that leads us astray. Fact or fiction, real or symbolic, the heart is central to the story of our lives. The heart is what connects us, what leads us, or misleads us. Heartbreaks, heartaches, heart to hearts, heartening and heartfelt, the heart is central to our emotions, and to our bodies. Although its bodily function is often underplayed in place of its emotional one, be it art, literature, cinema or even emojis. Like most people, I too had grown up associating the heart with recklessness, with spontaneity and intuition, and with love and sorrow rather than stability and strength.

And so when I recently went through a melancholic time in my life, I thought of myself as heartbroken. Little did I know that heartbreak could manifest itself medically too. For the last few days, every time I felt aggrieved, I felt my heart slam against my chest as if it was trying to break free of the hollow cavity that contained it. At other times when I felt anxious, my heart too felt overwhelmed as the world was closing in on me. Every time I thought of the anguish, I felt as if my heart was folding in on itself and sinking towards my stomach. At other times when the heartbreaking thought of losing someone I loved became too much to bear, I felt as if my heart was splitting in two, my pulse slowing down, my palms becoming cold. Read more »

Down With The Flu

by Claire Chambers

At the time of writing President Donald Trump is an inpatient at the Walter Reed Medical Center. He is of course receiving treatment for coronavirus, a virus he has repeatedly downplayed as being ‘like the flu’. Influenza causes a temperature, achy muscles, often a headache, and some upper respiratory tract symptoms such as a cough. Transmission is through droplet spread, handling of passive vectors like objects and surfaces, and physical contact with the infected. To be fair, this does sound rather like Covid-19, but it is there that the similarities end. Flu is a completely different virus, from which people mostly recover within a week. By contrast, with SARS-CoV-2 it is often in the second week of the illness that some sufferers become alarmingly sick. Influenza tends to kill younger people, because they sometimes have an overactive immune response to the virus leading to organ failure. Meanwhile, one of the reasons for the particular concern for Trump (out of all the Republicans who became infected in the last extraordinary week) is that it is old, obese men who are most at risk of dying. Thinking about the similarities and differences between influenza and Covid-19 brings me to two contemporary pandemic novels by women writers.

‘Changed utterly’: The 1918 Flu in Emma Donoghue’s The Pull of the Stars

Irish-Canadian author Emma Donoghue sets her latest novel The Pull of the Stars in Dublin against the backdrop of the final year of the First World War and the ‘Spanish Flu’ that killed more people than had died in the conflict. The intriguing creation story behind this publication is that Donoghue was almost at the proof-checking stage when the Covid-19 pandemic took hold globally. With the help of her publishers (Picador in the UK, and in America Little, Brown), the book was brought out quickly, and she was able to count on a readership sadly better educated about pandemics than she ever expected. Read more »

The Promise of Happiness

by Chris Horner

Beauty is nothing more than the promise of happiness —Stendhal

Colours of Lake Maggiore (Photo: C Horner)

How can beauty promise happiness? And what kind of beauty would this be? What sort of happiness? Happiness and Beauty have been central issues for thinkers since antiquity, and the question of what they really are, and whether we should even prize them as we do, have been subjected to sustained critique and discussion for millennia. I don’t intend to join that debate here. Happiness and Beauty: the more we try to get clear about them, the more they seem to recede from us. But, like Stendhal, we cannot do without them. 

The origin of the quotation at the top of the page is his On Love, in a footnote in about the possibility of loving that which is ugly. He gives an anecdote about a man who falls in love, not with a woman who is conventionally beautiful but rather one who is not good looking, is too thin and is scarred with smallpox. He falls for her because she reminds him of a past love. Stendhal’s claim here is that beauty isn’t based on physical perfection. The idea of beauty is distinct from the physical form of the thing we desire. This may seem an odd way of conceiving of beauty, but it has a lineage that goes back to Plato. Beauty is kind of message or sign of something else.

Happiness, it seems, is elsewhere. We recall it or anticipate it, and the thing desired is somehow Other to where we are in space and time. The pursuit is not necessarily pleasurable, as the recollection of past happiness can be painful [1]. For Stendhal it is prompted by an erotic encounter, but presumably anything might serves as a trigger: the smell of autumn leaves, the hills in summer, a piece of music. One is reminded of Proust’s Madeleine, and the onrush of unbidden memory in his In Search of Lost Time. We are a long way from conventional ideas of harmony of form, or pleasing combinations of colour or tone. It seems to be less about beauty as it is usually understood, and more about a longed for state of felicity, however it is imagined: for past loves, for home, for childhood. Read more »

Pathologizing Desire: Current contempt for age gap relationships serves to strip both men and women of their agency

Jessa Crispin in the Boston Review:

The older man coupled with the younger woman is Hollywood tradition, from a young Audrey Hepburn pursued by Cary Grant (Charade), Fred Astaire (Funny Face), or Humphrey Bogart (Sabrina) (all of the men looking overripe and easily bruised at the time of filming), to Catherine Zeta-Jones writhing in front of Sean Connery in Entrapment, or marrying her real life partner Michael Douglas, twenty-five years her elder. This age gap coupling is also a reality; around 30 percent of American heterosexual marriages consist of men at least four years older than their partners.

Yet conversations around film—from the unfairness of the way women “age out” of roles, disappearing from our screens once they hit middle age, to the new belief that film should provide moral instruction and depict life as it should be rather than how it is—have problematized the age gap in heterosexual couples. Owing to this new taboo, both real couples and fictional couples that display these age gaps are roundly lambasted on social media.

More here.

A Visit To The Most Important Survey Telescope Ever Built

Bruce Dorminey in Forbes:

Riding through the northern Chilean Andes, an incredibly rugged swath of desert that I’m sure in times gone by has tried men’s souls —- no one would ever suspect they were about to enter a prime ground-based window onto the Universe. It’s hardly the kind of landscape that evokes oohs and aahs for its beauty. But this dust-ridden land is home to some of the world’s greatest observatories. And by night, it offers an aperture onto the center of our own Milky Way and far-flung galaxies that literally stretch back to the beginning of time.

My driver and I, however, are headed to the $473 million Vera Rubin Observatory, formerly known as the Large Synoptic Survey Telescope (LSST), which has been under construction since 2014. This 8.4 meter extremely wide-field telescope is completely unprecedented, never before possible and never before attempted.

In just its first year of operation, the LSST organization says that the telescope will see more asteroids, stars, quasars, and galaxies and issue more alerts than all previous telescopes combined.

More here.

The definitive case for ending the filibuster

Ezra Klein in Vox:

If Joe Biden wins the White House, and Democrats take back the Senate, there is one decision that will loom over every other. It is a question that dominated no debates and received only glancing discussion across the campaign, and yet it is the master choice that will either unlock their agenda or ensure they fail to deliver on their promises.

That decision? Whether the requirement for passing a bill through the Senate should be 60 votes or 51 votes. Whether, in other words, to eliminate the modern filibuster, and make governance possible again.

Virtually everything Democrats have sworn to do — honoring John Lewis’s legacy by strengthening the right to vote, preserving the climate for future generations by decarbonizing America, ensuring no gun is sold without a background check, raising the minimum wage, implementing universal pre-K, ending dark money in politics, guaranteeing paid family leave, offering statehood to Washington, DC, and Puerto Rico, reinvigorating unions, passing the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act — hinges on this question.

More here.

As English spread over the subcontinent, India lost forever its rich Persianate literary heritage

William Dalrymple in The Spectator:

India’s golden age as the centre of the Indophilic Sanskrit cosmopolis lasted an entire millennium. From 1200 onwards, however, it was India’s fate to be drawn into a second transregional world. The first Islamic conquests of India happened in the 11th century, with the capture of Lahore in 1021. Persianised Turks, from what is now central Afghanistan, seized Delhi from its Hindu rulers in 1192. By 1323, they had established a sultanate as far south as Madurai, towards the tip of the peninsula, and other sultanates were founded all the way from Gujarat in the west to Bengal in the east.

Today, the 13th-century conquests of the Persianate Delhi sultans are usually perceived as having been made by ‘Muslims’, but medieval Sanskrit inscriptions don’t identify India’s Central Asian invaders by that term. Instead, the newcomers are identified by linguistic and ethnic affiliation, most typically as Turushka — Turks — or as ‘the lords of the horses’, which suggests that they were not seen primarily in terms of their religious identity. And although the conquests were initially marked by carnage and by the mass destruction of Hindu and Buddhist temples and places of learning, India quickly transformed the new arrivals.

Within a few centuries, a hybrid Persianate, Indo-Islamic civilisation emerged out of the meeting of these two worlds. As Richard M. Eaton writes at the beginning of his remarkable new book India in the Persianate Age 1000–1765.

More here.

Presidential Illnesses Have Changed the Course of World History

Robin Wright in The New Yorker:

The world might be a different place if American Presidents had not been felled by disease or hidden debilitating conditions. In February, 1945, just two months before his death, President Franklin Roosevelt—paralyzed by polio, weakened by congestive heart failure, and with his blood pressure hitting 260/150—travelled all the way to Yalta, a resort on the Crimean coast, to meet the Soviet Premier, Joseph Stalin, and the British Prime Minister, Winston Churchill. Stalin claimed that his doctors had ordered him not to travel far, but he had a chronic fear of flying and flew only once in his life. F.D.R. was by then a shell of a man, with skin hanging from his bones, raccoon rings around his eyes, and hands that often shook. But he agreed to the six-thousand-mile journey because the final phase of the Second World War and its aftermath were at stake. He wanted Stalin’s coöperation on a new international organization to foster peace, principles for governing countries liberated from Nazi rule in Europe, and military help in the Pacific theatre against Japan.

In the Yalta Declaration, the three leaders set the stage—or so Roosevelt thought—for the postwar world. They agreed to Stalin’s request to divvy up Germany, Roosevelt’s dream of the United Nations, and to ceding chunks of Asia to the Soviet sphere. The most sensitive point was the fate of Eastern Europe after liberation from the Nazis. The three leaders pledged to allow those countries to form governments “representative of all democratic elements” and to facilitate imminent and free elections. Stalin specifically agreed to early elections in strategic Poland, which had been liberated by Soviet troops, and to allow non-Communist members to participate. Upon his return home, Roosevelt gave a speech to Congress, on March 1st, extolling the “unanimous” agreements with Moscow. He was so frail that he spoke sitting down, which he blamed on exhaustion from travel, because his health conditions were unknown to the public. “Never before have the major Allies been more closely united—not only in their war aims but also in their peace aims,” he boasted. More important than the agreement, he said, “We achieved a unity of thought and a way of getting along together.”

More here.