Sunday, 5 May 2013
Saturday, 26 January 2013
When we characterize talk as hot air, we mean that what comes out of the speaker's mouth is only that. It is mere vapor. His speech is empty, without substance or content. His use of language, accordingly, does not contribute to the purpose it purports to serve. No more information is communicated than if the speaker had merely exhaled. There are similarities between hot air and excrement, incidentally, which make hot air seem an especially suitable equivalent for bullshit. Just as hot air is speech that has been emptied of all informative content, so excrement is matter from which everything nutritive has been removed.
What bullshit essentially misrepresents is neither the state of affairs to which it refers nor the beliefs of the speaker concerning that state of affairs. Those are what lies misrepresent, by virtue of being false. Since bullshit need not be false, it differs from lies in its misrepresentational intent. The bullshitter may not deceive us, or even intend to do so, either about the facts or about what he takes the facts to be. What he does necessarily attempt to deceive us about is his enterprise. His only indispensably distinctive characteristic is that in a certain way he misrepresents what he is up to.
This is the crux of the distinction between him and the liar. Both he and the liar represent themselves falsely as endeavoring to communicate the truth. The success of each depends upon deceiving us about that. But the fact about himself that the liar hides is that he is attempting to lead us away from a correct apprehension of reality; we are not to know that he wants us to believe something he supposes to be false. The fact about himself that the bullshitter hides, on the other hand, is that the truth-values of his statements are of no central interest to him; what we are not to understand is that his intention is neither to report the truth nor to conceal it. This does not mean that his speech is anarchically impulsive, but that the motive guiding and controlling it is unconcerned with how the things about which he speaks truly are.
It is impossible for someone to lie unless he thinks he knows the truth. Producing bullshit requires no such conviction. A person who lies is thereby responding to the truth, and he is to that extent respectful of it. When an honest man speaks, he says only what he believes to be true; and for the liar, it is correspondingly indispensable that he considers his statements to be false. For the bullshitter, however, all these bets are off: he is neither on the side of the true nor on the side of the false. His eye is not on the facts at all, as the eyes of the honest man and of the liar are, except insofar as they may be pertinent to his interest in getting away with what he says. He does not care whether the things he says describe reality correctly. He just picks them out, or makes them up, to suit his purpose.
Someone who lies and someone who tells the truth are playing on opposite sides, so to speak, in the same game. Each responds to the facts as he understands them, although the response of the one is guided by the authority of the truth, while the response of the other defies that authority and refuses to meet its demands. The bullshitter ignores these demands altogether. He does not reject the authority of the truth, as the liar does, and oppose himself to it. He pays no attention to it at all. By virtue of this, bullshit is a greater enemy of the truth than lies are.
Bullshit is unavoidable whenever circumstances require someone to talk without knowing what he is talking about. Thus the production of bullshit is stimulated whenever a person’s obligations or opportunities to speak about some topic are more excessive than his knowledge of the facts that are relevant to that topic. This discrepancy is common in public life, where people are frequently impelled— whether by their own propensities or by the demands of others—to speak extensively about matters of which they are to some degree ignorant. Closely related instances arise from the widespread conviction that it is the responsibility of a citizen in a democracy to have opinions about everything, or at least everything that pertains to the conduct of his country’s affairs. The lack of any significant connection between a person’s opinions and his apprehension of reality will be even more severe, needless to say, for someone who believes it his responsibility, as a conscientious moral agent, to evaluate events and conditions in all parts of the world.
The contemporary proliferation of bullshit also has deeper sources, in various forms of skepticism which deny that we can have any reliable access to an objective reality and which therefore reject the possibility of knowing how things truly are. These “anti-realist” doctrines undermine confidence in the value of disinterested efforts to determine what is true and what is false, and even in the intelligibility of the notion of objective inquiry. One response to this loss of confidence has been a retreat from the discipline required by dedication to the ideal of correctness to a quite different sort of discipline, which is imposed by pursuit of an alternative ideal of sincerity. Rather than seeking primarily to arrive at accurate representations of a common world, the individual turns toward trying to provide honest representations of himself. Convinced that reality has no inherent nature, which he might hope to identify as the truth about things, he devotes himself to being true to his own nature. It is as though he decides that since it makes no sense to try to be true to the facts, he must therefore try instead to be true to himself.
But it is preposterous to imagine that we ourselves are determinate, and hence susceptible both to correct and to incorrect descriptions, while supposing that the ascription of determinacy to anything else has been exposed as a mistake. As conscious beings, we exist only in response to other things, and we cannot know ourselves at all without knowing them. Moreover, there is nothing in theory, and certainly nothing in experience, to support the extraordinary judgment that it is the truth about himself that is the easiest for a person to know. Facts about ourselves are not peculiarly solid and resistant to skeptical dissolution. Our natures are, indeed, elusively insubstantial—notoriously less stable and less inherent than the natures of other things. And insofar as this is the case, sincerity itself is bullshit.
Thursday, 24 January 2013
I wish a study of this type existed for every condition that warrants an expensive (& potentially harmful) diagnostic test, such as a lumbar puncture or CT scan. The benefits would be enormous. Any good clinician will understand why.
Who needs a blood culture? A prospectively derived and validated prediction rule.
Shapiro NI, Wolfe RE, Wright SB, Moore R, Bates DW.
The study objective was to derive and validate a clinical decision rule for obtaining blood cultures in Emergency Department (ED) patients with suspected infection. This was a prospective, observational cohort study of consecutive adult ED patients with blood cultures obtained. The study ran from February 1, 2000 through February 1, 2001. Patients were randomly assigned to derivation (2/3) or validation (1/3) sets. The outcome was "true bacteremia." Features of the history, co-morbid illness, physical examination, and laboratory testing were used to create a clinical decision rule. Among 3901 patients, 3730 (96%) were enrolled with 305 (8.2%) episodes of true bacteremia. A decision rule was created with "major criteria" defined as: temperature > 39.5 degrees C (103.0 degrees F), indwelling vascular catheter, or clinical suspicion of endocarditis. "Minor criteria" were: temperature 38.3-39.4 degrees C (101-102.9 degrees F), age > 65 years, chills, vomiting, hypotension (systolic blood pressure < 90 mm Hg), neutrophil% > 80, white blood cell count > 18 k, bands > 5%, platelets < 150 k, and creatinine > 2.0. A blood culture is indicated by the rule if at least one major criterion or two minor criteria are present. Otherwise, patients are classified as "low risk" and cultures may be omitted. Only 4 (0.6%) low-risk patients in the derivation set and 3 (0.9%) low-risk patients in the validation set had positive cultures. The sensitivity was 98% (95% confidence interval [CI] 96-100%) (derivation) and 97% (95% CI 94-100%) (validation). We developed and validated a promising clinical decision rule for predicting bacteremia in patients with suspected infection.
Sunday, 18 November 2012
A human being is a part of the whole, called by us "Universe", a part limited in time and space. He experiences himself, his thoughts and feelings as something separated from the rest — a kind of optical delusion of his consciousness. This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for a few persons nearest to us. Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty. Nobody is able to achieve this completely, but the striving for such achievement is in itself a part of the liberation and a foundation for inner security.
-the big E
Friday, 26 October 2012
I have more to say, but I don't think I have it in a digestible form yet. 90 pages of scattered notes don't really translate to blog posts very well.
Friday, 17 August 2012
Rainer Maria Rilke via Brain Pickings
I beg you, to have patience with everything unresolved in your heart and to try to love the questions themselves as if they were locked rooms or books written in a very foreign language. Don’t search for the answers, which could not be given to you now, because you would not be able to live them. And the point is to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps then, someday far in the future, you will gradually, without even noticing it, live your way into the answer.
I expect to start posting/writing more in the coming weeks. Summer has been gorgeous.
Sunday, 22 July 2012
Monday, 21 May 2012
3. You have to understand: an awful lot of good people have never been substantially exposed to poverty in their lives. For them, poverty lives in fleeting moments at the street corner and on the subway. I'll never forget the most clarifying, depressing day I ever had of reading and thinking about education. That was the day I realized that so many of the people who argue about education policy on the national stage literally have never been exposed to educational failure. By that I mean that they have all the demographic advantages that contribute to educational success, went to private elementary schools and elite high schools and Ivy League colleges, and never experienced seeing someone else struggling and failing at school. After I really grokked that, so many things made sense, and so much of my hopes for a better discourse on education died.
It's the same with poverty. Many of them simply can't comprehend that pain, and unlike with racism and sexism and homophobia, there is not nearly the social pressure on them to acknowledge it. (This phenomenon is self-replicating.) So there's a kind of oblivious callousness there, one driven by ignorance more than by malicious intent.