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September 14, 2016 | 19 Comments

Uncertainty and the World: An interview with W. M. Briggs at Ordeal of Consciousness


Our friend Dover Beach, perhaps after having taken a fall or because he stood too close to Hillary and caught her disease, considered it would be well to interview Yours Truly at his site The Ordeal of Consciousness.

Please go there and read that. When you’re done, don’t miss his interview with Jim Kalb. Or his many excellent links and videos to topics philosophical. Put his blog on your regular list of stops.

As good a job as Beach did, he left out a few essential questions, which I take the liberty of asking myself.

WMB Who are you?

Briggs Like Pope Francis said, a sinner.

WMB What is your favorite color?

Briggs I’m no racist. I don’t see color.

WMB Why aren’t more men wearing vests, also known as waistcoats?

Briggs Fear of being thought too well dressed.

WMB I understand that you identify as a yak?

Briggs I used to. I now identify as Holy Roman Emperor William I of the World. Only bigots and holyromanemperorophobes fail to acknowledge this.

WMB What will be your first acts as Emperor?

Briggs The elimination of democracy, the public flogging of pornographers, the restoration of hard currencies, both electronic and gold, the strict control of borders (any who want to leave can), the requirement that all men wear hats while outdoors, the civic recognition of the Church, and, if necessary so that there be no misunderstandings, vivid demonstrations of Authority. That’s day one.

WMB What proof have you of your Emperor status?

Briggs My assertion is all that is needed. To demand objective, scientific proof is to be a hate-filled holyromanemperorophobe.

WMB What sort of hats?

Briggs There will be many, depending on one’s status, age, rank, and, naturally, the weather. Ball caps will be proscribed outside of stadia and golf courses.

WMB What can you tell us of your future relations with Vladimir Putin?

Briggs I will negotiate for the steady importation of pelmeni and dill in exchange for barrels of Old Overholt or near substitutes.

WMB Thank you for your time. In closing, would you like to tell us a good joke?

Briggs One snowman said to the other, “That’s funny. I smell carrots, too.”

September 13, 2016 | 13 Comments

On Habits Good & Bad


Our neighbor up on the lake was old and growing infirm, and he had let my dad know that he needed some yard work done. My dad sent me over. There’s nothing remarkable in this story except that I recall the first thing the old man said to me, “Are you feeling ambitious?”

I’m not sure why that question stuck, but it did. I answered the old man in the affirmative, which wasn’t so close to the truth. I did the work, but it wasn’t a bang-up job. Maybe not even the bare minimum. I feel bad about it now, but not so much then.

This was a regularly occurring tendency with me, laziness, and so it’s a good thing I grew up under my father who wouldn’t stand for it (I tried not to make his job easy, though). And then from home into the military which also wasn’t inclined to dismiss half-assed efforts.

Laziness in the form of non-ambition with me was a habit, a bad habit (and certainly not the only one I ever had), which was turned around only by diligent instruction. I say “turned around”, but it’s always there ready to creep back. But I keep it at bay with another habit, a good one, which is the Just Get It Done theory of work, a theory which explains itself in its name (it is surprisingly effective).

Habits are not something you do all the time, but only most or all of the time in certain circumstances. A man might have the good habit of checking his rope for frays, but only when he climbs a mountain. Or he might have the bad habit of boasting, but only when he attends his class reunions. This implies you can avoid bad habits in two ways: avoid the circumstance, or eliminate the habit altogether. Eschewing circumstance is easy enough to understand. If you’re worried about getting drunk, don’t go to the bar.

Changing the habit is different. The thing to notice about habits is that they are like political arguments. They are the premises which are always assumed, the givens, the unquestioned basis for the start of any argument. They are the conditions which are just there and which aren’t questioned because they’re not really thought of. They are the launching points. Habits are mental reflexes.

This is why breaking a bad habit is hard labor. You have to stop what you were about to do each and every time, and then go over all the assumptions which convinced you what you were about to do was right. And since the number of assumptions behind much of what we do are many, the work required to do this thinking can be immense and painful. You have the goal immediately and front of you, and the map is clear, yet you must stop and wait. It’s easier to proceed.

This is not news. Aristotle said “moral virtue comes about as a result of habit” and habits are require work: “the virtues we get by first exercising them, as also happens in the case of the arts as well. For the things we have to learn before we can do them, we learn by doing them, e.g. men become builders by building and lyreplayers by playing the lyre; so too we become just by doing just acts, temperate by doing temperate acts, brave by doing brave acts.”

This, then, is the case with the virtues also; by doing the acts that we do in our transactions with other men we become just or unjust, and by doing the acts that we do in the presence of danger, and being habituated to feel fear or confidence, we become brave or cowardly. The same is true of appetites and feelings of anger; some men become temperate and good-tempered, others self-indulgent and irascible, by behaving in one way or the other in the appropriate circumstances. Thus, in one word, states of character arise out of like activities. This is why the activities we exhibit must be of a certain kind; it is because the states of character correspond to the differences between these. It makes no small difference, then, whether we form habits of one kind or of another from our very youth; it makes a very great difference, or rather all the difference.

Since men do change at least sometimes for the better, Aristotle’s first judgment that learning good habits while young makes a very great difference is closer to the mark.

Quitting a bad habit “cold turkey” isn’t the only way to change, as our good saint Aquinas says: “repeated acts cause a habit to grow. If, however, the act falls short of the intensity of the habit, such an act does not dispose to an increase of that habit, but rather to a lessening thereof.” But bad habits are only finally “destroyed altogether by long cessation from act”. Skipping the dessert once does not eliminate a sweet tooth. The even better news is that some “habits are infused by God into man”. He can infuse “into man even those habits which can be caused by a natural power.” These are infusions worth asking for.

September 12, 2016 | 43 Comments

New York Times Is Looking For A Climate Change Editor. That’s Me!


Dean Baquet and Sam Dolnick
New York Times
New York, NY

Re: Climate Change Editor

Dear Misters Baquet and Dolnick,

Please accept my application for the position of Climate Change Editor, the details of which I saw on line.

About the material your paper has been printing about global warming, I’ve concluded that you guys need me as badly as Bill Clinton needs an audience. Better, just as you want, I’m “obsessed with finding new ways to connect with readers and new ways to tell this vital story.”

For instance, here’s an angle you haven’t so far considered. We could show readers that global warming models have failed at higher rates than Larry King’s marriages. Budget forecasts by President Obama are more accurate than the temperatures predicted by global climate models (GCMs). A smart man would trust a GCM as much as he would a politician’s campaign promise.

Five’ll get you twenty, your readers don’t know how lousy the models are. And I’d bet my first-year’s salary (I heard you paid well) that they’ll cheer when reminded that it was once a firm scientific principle that rotten models imply busted theories. In this case it means the existence of serially unskillful GCMs are nearly certain proof that carbon dioxide is not the demon gas its been painted.

We’d run this headline: “Wonderful News: Global-Warming-Of-Doom Proved Almost Surely False”. We’d lead with a cheering paragraph that we don’t need to be as nearly panicked as your (and I hope soon my) paper has been.

I know what you’re thinking. Same thing our readers will be thinking. “But how can this be? I thought it was certain that the world was soon to end unless massive government programs were instituted?” We’d have them hooked! Guaranteed boost in circulation.

I envision a series in which we expose the schemers, hangers-on, band-waggoners, activists, fund-raisers, self-deluded, egos (I almost said “politicians”, which would have been redundant), and even frauds and bamboozlers whose claimed knowledge of fluid physics on a rotating sphere is as artificial as that thing perched on Donald Trump’s cranium. Let’s call out these folks who have turned “climate change” into an unhealthy living.

How many times have we heard psychologists, sociologists, philosophers, economists, and other un-trained scientifically ignorant (I use this word in its technical sense) academics lecture us on the horrors that await us under “climate change” when they wouldn’t know a cloud parameterization from a sigma coordinate? I’ll tell you: too often.

I do know, though. It is the Times’s tremendous luck that I’m at liberty, ready, and willing to take on this monumental task. Together we can screw people’s heads back on straight and get them to worry about something really important. Like the rise of politics dictating science and the corrupting influence of money.

I am an actual bona fide scientist. I have published actual articles in the Journal of Climate, among many others. My specialty is in the value and goodness of models, and the expense and badness of bad science. I’ve written a best-seller (my mom bought two copies) on the subject. Uncertainty: The Soul of Modeling, Probability & Statistics. I know this is a presumptuous questions, but if I get the job can I get this reviewed in the Book Review? Might boost sales.

Climate models have the stink of old garlic on them, but they smell like the purest roses next to the putrescence of some models loved by academics drive beyond their ability to resist to publish (or perish). There is limitless material we can mine, exposing scientism, correcting massive over-certainty, putting science back on rational grounds.

Given its tone, it’s understandable if you think this application a lark. It isn’t. I’m in earnest. If offered, I’d take the job and do better with it than anybody else you’d find. With me, you’re assured of always getting my true and honest opinion.

Bonus: Roger Kimball called me “the civilized world’s most amusing statistician”.

Here’s a list of pieces I’ve written at The Stream: All these were meant for a general audience. And I have hundreds at my place: Many of these are more technical or difficult and do not illustrate how I’d write for a Times audience; nevertheless, the give you an idea of the scope and range of my interests.

Look forward to hearing from you. I can start any time. I’m only a few blocks north of your offices.

William M. Briggs

Update In case it’s not clear, I did apply for the job officially, and this is the letter I sent.

Upate Facebook censored this post? Can somebody else try and report back?


September 11, 2016 | 14 Comments

Summary Against Modern Thought: Intellectual Substances & Subsistent Forms

This may be proved in three ways. The first...
This may be proved in three ways. The first…
See the first post in this series for an explanation and guide of our tour of Summa Contra Gentiles. All posts are under the category SAMT.

Previous post.

Very brief chapter this week!

Chapter 51 That the Intellectual substances is not a material form (alternate translation)

1 FROM the same premisses it may be shown that intellectual natures are subsistent forms, and do not exist in matter as though their being depended on matter.

Notes Angels, for instance, are immaterial subsistent forms.

2 Because forms dependent on matter as regards their being properly speaking have not being themselves, but the composites through them. Hence if intellectual substances were forms of this kind, it would follow that they have material being, just as they would if they were composed of matter and form.

Notes Think of this as the reverse of the proof that intellects are not a body. Since intellects are not bodies, yet they exist, they must be something else, and the name given is subsistent forms, i.e. forms which do not require material to exist and which are therefore incorruptible.

3 Again. Forms that subsist not of themselves cannot act of themselves, but the composites act through them. If therefore intellectual natures were forms of this kind, it would follow that they do not themselves understand, but the things composed of them and matter. Consequently an intelligent being would be composed of matter and form. And this has been proved to be impossible.

Notes The form of the knife doesn’t cut, but the material wedded to the form, i.e. the composite, does cut. Forms which require matter to exist in a composite cannot act, as is probably obvious. But the intellect is a different kind of thing entirely.

4 Moreover. If the intellect were a form in matter and not self-subsistent, it would follow that what is received into the intellect is received into matter: because such forms as have their being tied to matter, do not receive anything without its being received into matter. Since, then, the reception of forms into the intellect is not a reception of forms into matter, it is impossible that the intellect be a material form.

Notes This and the next follows directly from the previous two weeks, which proved the intellect is not a body.

5 Further. To say that the intellect is a non-subsistent form and buried in matter, is the same in reality as to say that the intellect is composed of matter and form, and the difference is merely nominal: for in the former case the intellect will be indicated as the form of the composite, while in the latter, the intellect denotes the composite itself. Wherefore if it is false that the intellect be composed of matter and form, it will be false that it is a non-subsistent and material form.