Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Spring Training!

The first "real" spring training games of the season (there's an oxymoron for you, I guess) commence today in Florida and Arizona. Unless the sky falls between now and Friday, I'm goin'! Spring Break begins Friday afternoon, and I'm taking the long way to a philosophy conference in South Carolina -- via St. Pete, Bradenton, & Sarasota. Stay tuned for dispatches from baseball heaven (apologies to "Bull Durham's" Iowa).

Baseball has inspired more good writing than any other game, hands down; and New Yorker editor & contributor Roger Angell is the best of the best. Powell's Books did a nice interview with him concerning his memoir Let Me Finish -- And see New York's profile,, and The New Yorker's Q-&-A

Angell once wrote of the pre-2004 Red Sox,

"Glooming in print about the dire fate of the Sox and their oppressed devotees has become such a popular art form that it verges on a new Hellenistic age of mannered excess. Everyone east of the Hudson with a Selectric or a word processor has had his or her say, it seems (the Globe actually published a special twenty-four-page section entitled "Literati on the Red Sox" before the Series, with essays by George Will, John Updike, Bart Giamatti—the new National League president, but for all that a Boston fan through and through —Stephen King, Doris Kearns Goodwin, and other worthies), and one begins to see at last that the true function of the Red Sox may not be to win but to provide New England authors with a theme, now that guilt and whaling have gone out of style."

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Evil, & Free Will

As anticipated, there were lots of interesting conversations in class today. No new insights on the problem of evil, and surprisingly little evident reaction to the Simon Blackburn analogy I like to relate when first introducing this topic to undergrads: suppose, Blackburn proposes, you live in a dorm that's falling apart, where the food is awful (people sometimes die from it), and where the "management" (though rumored to exist) never actually appears. Would you infer from this state of affairs that the management nonetheless exists, is aware of your predicament, cares deeply about you, and possesses infinite resources for fixing things? No? Not even if one of your fellow students aggressively insists that she is privy to the mind and heart of the management, and can assure you that you are loved and cared for by management and that all is for the best in the dorm just as it is? No -- no more than you'd buy the claim that the "infirmities of Windows" ever persuaded anyone that Bill Gates is omnipotent, omniscient, and omni-benevolent.

Interesting discussion this evening on free will and determinism, the latter being an example of a "weird" belief that my adult student found irrefutable, though unpopular. I remain unpersuaded, being a Jamesian on this issue ("my first act of free will shall be to believe in free will"). I recall the undergraduate demonstration of free will I was treated to many years ago, when my classmate destroyed a perfectly fine glass of beer by violently dashing it against his own cranium. "I'm free, Q.E.D." Nope, just crazy -- and, I came to realize as I got to know him, predictably crazy. This randomly weird demonstration was just the sort of thing he might have been expected to do, hence more a demonstration of determinism than anything else.

Dawkins, Dennett, & James on religion

Is religion one of our species' most valuable "springs of delight," even when it veers (as so often it does) into absurdity and unreasoning dogma? (I don't share Richard Dawkins' view that it pretty much lives there permanently, though he scores plenty of points in that direction in The God Delusion).

William James thought religion to be one of our most important cultural achievements, even while admitting the absurdity of its many and contradictory doctrinal intransigences. In Varieties of Religious Experience (1902) he defined religion as "the feelings, acts, and experiences of individual men in their solitude, so far as they apprehend themselves to stand in relation to whatever they may consider the divine." Elsewhere James wrote that religion is not about God, it's about life and our quest for a richer, more meaningful experience thereof.

By sharp contrast with James's neutrality about supernaturalism in religious persons' designation of their own sense of "the divine," Daniel Dennett in Breaking the Spell proposes to define religions as "social systems whose participants avow belief in a supernatural agent or agents whose approval is to be sought... a religion without God or gods is like a vertebrate without a backbone."

I confess some ambivalence about all this. I like the open-endedness of James's receptivity to all kinds of religions, which for him really was just a way of saying "hands off" other people's personal enthusiasms. But I also find myself cheering many of Dawkins' and Dennett's acid repudiations of casual supernaturalism and mysticism, their "Bright"-ness (see

I plan to discuss some of this tonight, when I teach the second and last installment of an adult evening (fundraiser) course at my kids' school. It'll probably come up in class this afternoon, too, at ESU (my particular Enormous State University) -- today's topic is "the problem of evil." That always provokes students' religious reflexes, and often instigates discord, not a bad thing in a philosophy classroom if it can be constructively harnessed. I look forward to good conversations today.

Monday, February 26, 2007

Welcome to "Delight Springs"

"Delight Springs" is a blog about ideas, culture, philosophy, baseball, personal enthusiasms of all sorts, and we'll see what else. The name borrows and inverts a phrase from William James (1842-1910), who wrote of our "springs of delight," the habitual and idiosyncratic sources of light and life that quicken the pulse, excite the imagination, and bring down barriers to sympathy and respect between people. I will attempt to cultivate, or at least acknowledge, some of those sources here. If I can elicit an occasional responsive echo from the other side of my keyboard, so much the better.

More prosaically, the name "Delight Springs" aims also to suggest a quasi-geographic, cyberspace sense of place -- analogous to real-world places like Colorado Springs, Warm Springs, Hot Springs, or (my favorite) Red Boiling Springs, the little Tennessee town that a century ago was a mineral bath mecca for the likes of Woodrow Wilson. Is it too much to hope that visitors here will go away reinvigorated, and will wish to return for more? Yeah, probably. So I'll just wish instead that you find enough here to sustain your interest, sometimes provoke your constructive comments, and occasionally bring you back.

Thanks for reading. Accelerating Intelligence News