Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Tolerance does not mean acceptance

[H]umanists counseled toleration of heretics, temporarily, so that the heretics might be persuaded of the truth or so that the bloodshed that would ensue from trying to suppress them might be avoided. Here, toleration does not connote acceptance. Consistent with the Latin root of the word “toleration—tolerare: to bear, to endure, to put up with—the humanists’ toleration of heretics suggested moral disapproval.—Humanism and the Rhetoric of Toleration, page 6

Reject it!

You surely understand in principle that worthless information should not be treated differently from a complete lack of information, but WYSIATI [what you see is all there is] makes it very difficult to apply that principle. Unless you decide immediately to reject evidence (for example, by determining that you received it from a liar), your System 1 [subconscious mind] will automatically process the information available as if it were true. There is one thing you can do when you have doubts about the quality of the evidence: let your judgments of probability stay close to the base rate. Don’t expect this exercise of discipline to be easy—it requires a significant effort of self-monitoring and self-control.— Thinking, Fast and Slow, page 153

<idle musing>
How relevant! This is how marketing/advertising—and propaganda!—work. And it's also why they are so effective. We are naturally lazy thinkers, so our minds go the way of least resistance. : (
</idle musing>

Monday, February 27, 2017

Humanism (as in the Humanities)

I read an older book recently, recommended via the Classics e-list and obtained via Interlibrary Loan (love that service!—your tax dollars at work!): Humanism and the Rhetoric of Toleration. It's not what you think (unless you've studied the Middle Ages); classic humanism is where we get the word Humanities; it's all about becoming more fully a well-rounded human, knowing how to think. Anyway, we'll be excerpting from it for a bit here; even though it was written in 1996, it is still extremely relevant. Here's the first snippet:

The humanists did not accept the rationalism of the Enlightenment; they were deeply religious men who believed in divinely revealed truths. Nor were the humanists religious individualists, à la liberalism. Unlike liberal advocates of religious liberty, the humanists did not place the right to conscience at the center of their defense of religious tolerance.—Humanism and the Rhetoric of Toleration, page 4

<idle musing>
Oh, I forgot to mention, liberal here doesn't mean what it does today. Liberal was the word used for those who advocated such radical ideas as freedom of religion, rule by the people, and repudiated the divine right of kings. A bit of historical perspective is always nice : )
</idle musing>

The big splash

In today’s world, terrorists are the most significant practitioners of the art of inducing availability cascades. With a few horrible exceptions such as 9/11, the number of casualties from terror attacks is very small relative to other causes of death. Even in countries that have been targets of intensive terror campaigns, such as Israel, the weekly number of casualties almost never came close to the number of traffic deaths. The difference is in the availability of the two risks, the ease and the frequency with which they come to mind. Gruesome images, endlessly repeated in the media, cause everyone to be on edge.— Thinking, Fast and Slow, page 144

<idle musing>
Good to keep in mind, isn't it? But we tend to forget that we have a higher risk of getting hit by a random driver while in the crosswalk than of being killed by a terrorist. And an even smaller risk that the terrorist is not already a U.S. citizen with a rifle...
</idle musing>

Sunday, February 26, 2017

Thought for a Sunday morning

It is God’s elusiveness, His freedom, and gracious character, which make prayer meaningful.—Standing in the Breach, page 91

Friday, February 24, 2017

Perceptions and the reality

• Strokes cause almost twice as many deaths as all accidents combined, but 80% of respondents judged accidental death to be more likely. • Tornadoes were seen as more frequent killers than asthma, although the latter cause 20 times more deaths. • Death by lightning was judged less likely than death from botulism even though it is 52 times more frequent. • Death by disease is 18 times as likely as accidental death, but the two were judged about equally likely. • Death by accidents was judged to be more than 300 times more likely than death by diabetes, but the true ratio is 1:4 The lesson is clear: estimates of causes of death are warped by media coverage. The coverage is itself biased toward novelty and poignancy. The media do not just shape what the public is interested in, but also are shaped by it. Editors cannot ignore the public’s demands that certain topics and viewpoints receive extensive coverage. Unusual events (such as botulism) attract disproportionate attention and are consequently perceived as less unusual than they really are. The world in our heads is not a precise replica of reality; our expectation about the frequency of events are distorted by the prevalence and emotional intensity of the messages to which we are exposed.— Thinking, Fast and Slow, page 138

<idle musing>
Especially in today's political climate it is important to be aware of these facts. Both sides are guilty of emphasizing things, making them appear bigger than they are. The difficulty is checking the facts to see which ones are being goosed and which ones are real.&thinsp. .

Unfortunately, there is no easy way to do that aside from researching the statements. : (
</idle musing>

Thursday, February 23, 2017

From the playbook

A reliable way to make people believe in falsehoods is frequent repetition, because familiarity is not easily distinguished from truth. Authoritarian institutions and marketers have always known this fact. But it was psychologists who discovered that you do not have to repeat the entire statement of a fact or idea to make it appear true. People who were repeatedly exposed to the phrase “the body temperature of a chicken” were more likely to accept as true the statement that “the body temperature of a chicken is 144º” (or any other arbitrary number). The familiarity of one phrase in the statement sufficed to make the whole statement feel familiar, and therefore true. If you cannot remember the source of a statement, and have no way to relate it to other things you know, you have no option but to go with the sense of cognitive ease.— Thinking, Fast and Slow, page 62

<idle musing>
An important thing to remember in these days of "alternative facts"! By the way, the body temperature of an adult chicken is 105–107ºF according to the University of Kentucky Dept. of Agriculture. . .
</idle musing>

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

It requires effort

The nervous system consumes more glucose than most other parts of the body, and effortful mental activity appears to be especially expensive in the currency of glucose. When you are actively involved in difficult cognitive reasoning or engaged in a task that requires self-control, your blood glucose level drops. The effect is analogous to a runner who draws down glucose stored in her muscles during a sprint.— Thinking, Fast and Slow, page 43

<idle musing>
Maybe that's why some people avoid thinking as much as they avoid physical exercise?!
</idle musing>

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Don't overreach!

The often-used phrase “pay attention” is apt: you dispose of a limited budget of attention that you can allocate to activities, and if you try to go beyond that budget, you will fail. It is the mark of effortful activities that they interfere with each other, which is why it is difficult or impossible to conduct several at once. You could not compute the product of 17 x 24 while making a left turn into dense traffic, and you certainly should not try. You can do several things at once, but only if they are easy and undemanding. You are probably safe carrying on a conversation with a passenger while driving on an empty highway, and many parents have discovered, perhaps with some guilt, that they can read a story to a child while thinking of something else.— Thinking, Fast and Slow, page 23

Monday, February 20, 2017

Are you sure of that?

We are prone to overestimate how much we understand about the world and to underestimate the role of chance in events. Overconfidence is fed by the illusory certainty of hindsight.— Thinking, Fast and Slow, page 14

Friday, February 17, 2017

What about intuition?

Valid intuitions develop when experts have learned to recognize familiar elements in a new situation and to act in a manner that is appropriate to it. Good intuitive judgments come to mind with the same immediacy as “doggie!”— Thinking, Fast and Slow, page 12

&t;idle musing>
Indeed! Intuition is that subconscious flash of memory because you've prepared yourself by study and practice. Unfortunately, there is no shortcut—no matter what the person marketing the latest gimmick might tell you!
</idle musing>

Thursday, February 16, 2017

What are you thinking about?

People tend to assess the relative importance of issues by the ease with which they are retrieved from memory—and this is largely determined by the extent of coverage in the media. Frequently mentioned topics populate the mind even as others slip away from awareness. In turn, what the media choose to report corresponds to their view of what is currently on the public’s mind. It is no accident that authoritarian regimes exert substantial pressure on independent media. Because public interest is most easily aroused by dramatic events and by celebrities, media feeding frenzies are common.— Thinking, Fast and Slow, pages 8–9

<idle musing>
We're starting a new book today, Thinking, Fast and Slow. It's quite timely, as you can see, even though it has been out for a while. I hope you enjoy the ride and find it enlightening. I certainly have as I read it.
</idle musing>

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Israel as the divine image

In the book of Isaiah, corporate Israel is often compared to a statue. In some cases, she is a damaged image that must be smelted and recast (Isa 1:25; 48:4–10). At other points, her sensory organs malfunction (Isa 6:9–10)—she is described as having eyes but unable to see, and having ears but being deaf. Her restoration, likewise, is described in terms of the opening of her eyes and ears and the animation of her sensory organs: “the eyes of those who see will not be smeared over, and the ears of those who hear will be attentive. The heart/mind of the hasty will discern knowledge, and the tongue of the stammerers will hasten to speak” (Isa 32:3–4; see also Isa 35:5–6). When restored, corporate Israel is clothed with luminescent garments (Isa 62:1–3) and is said to be a crown of splendor and a royal diadem (Isa 62:3). Finally, there are several texts in Isaiah which refer to Israel as “the work of Yahweh’s hands” (Isa 29:23; 60:21; 64:7), the same phrase used in Isa 2:8, 37:19, and 41:29 to denote the divine statue who is made by human artisans. The contrast between Israel as the work of Yahweh’s hand and the divine statue as the work of human hands seems intentional.—The "Image of God" in the Garden of Eden, pages 210–11

<idle musing>
I'm convinced. Of course, I was basically of that opinion before, but this has just confirmed it.

That's the final post from this book. Tomorrow we'll start another book, but a bit different. Stay tuned. .&thinsp.
</idle musing>

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Mirrors and distortions

For a somewhat different look at the last three weeks, read this Here's the final paragraph, which alone is a good reminder. But you really should read the whole thing. It's a reminder not to drink the Kool-Aid™:
Trump poses a challenge to decades of tradition and precedent. He is masterful as conflating words and actions in a way that enrages and alarms his opponents and exhilarates and excites his supporters. It’s more important than ever to distinguish what is from what isn’t. Understanding the difference between what this president says and what he does is one of the only things that will keep our public debate from plunging ever deeper into the hall of mirrors.

A word of caution

We must keep in mind that neither the mīs pî pīt pî nor the wpt-r marked the original creation of the god. Rather, it was thought to be the means by which a particular divine manifestation of a pre-existent god was brought into being. If, for example, a statue of Ea was commissioned, the mīs pî pīt pî was believed to be the means by which Ea was manifested in the form of his divine statue. His initial creation, however, had been accomplished already by the primordial gods at the beginning of time.—The "Image of God" in the Garden of Eden, page 205 (emphasis original)

<idle musing>
An important—and often forgotten—distinction.
</idle musing>

Monday, February 13, 2017

Not to be identified as the same

It was here in Gen 3 that we saw a significant departure from the pīt pî and the wpt-r, the rituals by which a divine image was enlivened in Mesopotamia and Egypt, respectively. In the comparative rituals the opening of the eyes and the subsequent transformation of the statue into a divine manifestation were the expressed purpose of the rite. In Eden, however, the opening of the eyes, although it did result in divine likeness, brought also nakedness, judgment, expulsion and, eventually, death. If the Eden author drew from the pīt pî and/or the wpt-r in writing his own account of human creation in order to make a subtle comparison between humans and divine images, as I have tried to demonstrate, he has redefined the term. As in Gen 1, bəṣelem ʾelōhîm is intimately related to the divine but it is not God’s equal. Unlike the divine statues in the Washing of the Mouth and the Opening of the Mouth, in Gen 2:5–3:24 the deity and its images were clearly distinct.—The "Image of God" in the Garden of Eden, page 204

Friday, February 10, 2017

Hard questions

We must consider when, in ancient Israel’s history, the metaphor of kinship would have been a fitting analogy for the divine-human relationship. If the analogy had been applied to Elohim and Israel, one might argue it was a product of the premonarchic tribal league, which was structured according to kin relations with Yahweh as the divine paterfamilias. Alternatively, it could have been written during the monarchy or divided monarchy, in which case the filial language would have reflected the older kinship traditions established by the premonarchic tribal federation. The exilic and postexilic eras could also be potential contexts for the composition of Gen 1:26–27, that is, if it had been Israel, rather than humankind generally, who had been created in the image and likeness of Elohim. The story would have been a powerful and comforting message of hope that sought to reestablish the kinship relationship Israel once enjoyed with her divine kinsman, Yahweh. The problem, however, is that the “royal son” of God in Gen 1:26–27 is ʾādām, not Israel. That is, Gen 1:26–27 is an account of human origins. It is hard to accept, thus, that Gen 1:1–2:3, and especially Gen 1:26–27, would have been written in the 6th century B.C.E. Would an exiled Israelite have composed an account in which all of humanity, including Israel’s captors, the Babylonians, was created in the image and likeness of their God? Could we expect the exiled Israelites to accept such a story?—The "Image of God" in the Garden of Eden, page 185

Wednesday, February 08, 2017

LIberal Arts education

Really good article/review over at the New York Review of Books. Well worth your time to read, but here's a nice snippet:
That’s the conventional wisdom [that a Liberal Arts degree doesn’t net a job], but it’s probably wrong. In a recent survey of business leaders, nearly all of them said they valued clear thinking and communication skills in job applicants more than the particular undergraduate majors of job candidates; 80 percent agreed that “every college student should acquire broad knowledge in the liberal arts and sciences”; and three quarters said they would recommend liberal arts education as “the best way to prepare for success in today’s global economy.” (Hart Research Associates, It Takes More Than a Major: Employer Priorities for College Learning and Student Success (April 10, 2013), available at www.aacu.org)
Indeed! If you know how to learn, which is what a Liberal Arts education is all about, then you are better equipped for just about any field. Sure, you'll need more training, but the nasty secret is that no matter what your degree is, you'll need further training! Just an
</idle musing>

Why use the image of a divine image?

Rather than assuming that P used ṣelem to describe humanity because Israel was no longer engaged in the worship of divine images, and it was, therefore, no longer a derogatory term, the author may have chosen his terms precisely because the manufacture and worship of divine images in Israel was widespread. The application of these terms to humans in relationship to the deity would have surely captured the attention of his audience. If so, then Gen 1:1–2:3 would most certainly be relevant to preexilic Israelites, when the production and worship of ṣəlamîm was widely practiced, as is well attested in the Iron Age archaeological re- cords of Israel and Judah. This observation is not, of course, evidence for a preexilic date for Gen 1:1–2:3, and I have noted above the dangers in dating a text by its content. However, it does suggest that the application of ṣelem to human beings could have been not only an appropriate choice in the Preexilic Period, but an ingenious one: ṣelem in Gen 1:26–27 may have been a double entendre, referring both to a statue and a son.—The "Image of God" in the Garden of Eden, pages 184–85 (emphasis original)

<idle musing>
Don't get me started on the problems of dating by content… Anyway, makes sense to me!
</idle musing>

Tuesday, February 07, 2017

Royal son

Undoubtedly, the biblical author was familiar with the mythological literature of his day, but what his sources of influence contained, whether they were written and/or oral, the delineation of these sources within the present text of Genesis 1, and their place of origin—whether Egypt, Mesopotamia, Canaan, and/or ancient Israel—is, regrettably, beyond our present knowledge. What we can say with reasonable certainty is that the author was familiar with Near Eastern creation and royal traditions and that he incorporated selected aspects of these traditions in writing his own distinctive account of creation. The result was a text that, unlike other creation accounts from the ancient Near East, presented the creation of the world in a seven-day schema, which credited Elohim alone with the creation of the world, and which described humankind, on some level, as like a “royal son” of God.—The "Image of God" in the Garden of Eden, page 181

Monday, February 06, 2017

If x = y, then a...

X (ancient Near Eastern royal ideology, the mīs pî pīt pî, the wpt-r) may have influenced Y (Gen 1:26–27) positively with respect to a (ṣelem), in that a (ṣelem) in Gen 1:26–27 reflects the idea that king was the royal-divine son created in the god’s image. However, X (ancient Near Eastern royal ideology and creation myths, mīs pî pīt pî, the wpt-r) may have also influenced Y (Gen 1:26–27) negatively with respect to a (ṣelem), in that Y’s democratization of ṣelem to humanity in general may be a reaction against an aspect of X (ancient Near Eastern royal ideology) in which kings alone bore the identity of royal-divine son. Y (Gen 1:26–27) could also be reacting to the idea of a ṣelem in X (mīs pî pīt pî) as a divine manifestation and hence redefining it as a living human being.—The "Image of God" in the Garden of Eden, page 181 (emphasis original)

<idle musing>
Follow that? Read it again just to be sure. I think she's onto something here…
</idle musing>

Thursday, February 02, 2017

The rise . . . and fall

[B]oth the pīt pî specifically and the wpt-r were rituals of animation, bringing the images to life. By the end of each rite, the statues were considered divine manifestations. Adam, however, was instantaneously enlivened at his creation by the breath of Yahweh. When he rebelled, not only was his position as caretaker and watchman of the garden forfeit, but his life was as well. By the end of the story, he and his wife are no longer royal figures in the garden of God but mortals, now in decay, void of glory, forced to live out their days in pain and toil isolated from the divine presence.—The "Image of God" in the Garden of Eden, page 177 (emphasis original)

Wednesday, February 01, 2017

Who else?

At this point, we must inquire as to the nature of the author’s knowledge. Did the Eden author have only a general awareness of the manufacture of divine statues and of the ritual means by which they were created, or is there any indication in Gen 2:5–3:24 that he knew the mouth-washing and mouth-opening texts firsthand? The connections among the mīs pî pīt pî, the wpt-r, and Gen 2:5–3:24, discussed above (§§4.7, 4.8), do, I contend indicate a historical relationship. They suggest that the Eden author not only knew how divine statues were made but understood the ritual means by which they were activated. Unlike our analysis of the relationship between the mīs pî pīt pî and the wpt-r, in which we had no explicit evidence of contact between the two sources, there is one feature of Gen 2:5–3:24 in particular that indicates that the Eden author had personal knowledge of the pīt pî (and/or the wpt-r), as Dick argued for Second Isaiah (§1.3). As discussed already in §4.7.1, the creation and then placement of the first human in a sacred (temple-) garden is unparalleled among human creation stories from the ancient Near East. The Sumerian and Babylonian accounts set newly created humankind in the cities where they were assigned the tasks of building shrines and digging canals. Who, in the ancient Near East, was animated and fed in a sacred garden? Whose eyes were opened as a means to divinity? In other words, because Adam is animated, placed/installed and fed in a sacred garden, possibly crowned with glory, and through the opening of his eyes he becomes like God (ʾelōhîm), his creation seems to be more closely aligned with the creation of divine images in the mīs pî pīt pî than with the humans that we see, for example, in the Sumerian stories of “Enki and Ninma ” and the “Song of the Hoe,” and in the Babylonian Atraḫasis Epic and Enūma Eliš, despite Adam’s creation from the dust of the ground in Gen 2:7. When viewed in their current context and as a whole, Gen 2:8–14, 15, 25, and 3:5, 7, recall the rituals for the creation, animation, and installation of a divine image from Mesopotamia and Egypt. The fact that we do not have an overt reference to the mouth-washing or mouth-opening ceremonies in Gen 2:5–3:24 should not prevent us from asserting the possibility, although not the certainty, of an historic relationship among the texts.—The "Image of God" in the Garden of Eden, pages 175–76

<idle musing>
Yes! I agree! And it puts a whole new light on the imago dei, doesn't it? The author(s) knew what they were doing! We need a "thicker" theology of what it means to be in the image of God, and this helps. Now I just need time to read The Imago Dei as Human Identity. . .
</idle musing>