Ad Majorem Dei Gloriam

28 September 2008

Significant Figures and Perfection

I've been annoyed all morning after missing a stupid question on an online Chemistry quiz because of a significant figure error. (Despite being a philosophy graduate student, I've decided to take one science class a semester while I'm at Loyola. I took very little hard science as an undergraduate and want to make up for this deficiency.) Mine was a quintessentially stupid mistake: 25 mL instead of 25.00 mL. Even though it likely will have a negligible effect on my final grade I can't shake a sense of annoyance.

Significant figures are used in experimental science as among other things an admission of the intractable error inherent in measurement (at least measurement of non-discrete entities) and thus in anything derived from those measurements. No measurement is right or wrong-- good measurements are precise and accurate which is not the same thing is right.

My annoyance springs from getting a question about foulable measurement wrong and thus having myself evaluated as foulable. Perhaps my opinion of myself should be little more like an empirical measurement, always expecting some error while striving for the greatest precision possible. God gets to be right or wrong-- the rest of us try to approximate this but only to a few significant digits.

22 September 2008

Piles of books

Most of my waking hours the past few days I've been mulling over term paper topics for my Philosophy of Religion and American Philosophy classes. Normally I walk around with a distracted look on my face, recently I've been in danger of running into things. But no matter even Thales (founder of Western Philosophy) fell into a well.

The problem with writing in philosophy of religion is just how well covered the topic is. People have been writing about it almost since there have been people writing so coming up with a small enough topic is proving trickier than I imagined. That and the subject matter is kind of a toughy. Who'd a thunk the ineffable would be well you know.

I think I'm pretty well settled on writing on Royce's view on community in American Philosophy. There's still some narrowing to be done on that but it seems managable.

Why am I freaking out about term papers in September you ask? I like to think of the library as a jungel and I'm a hunter looking for exotic academic prey. The longer I spend in the jungel the more unusual things I'll find. Working on term papers gives me a good excuse to go looking even if I only use a quarter of what I find. End of hopelessly dorky post.

13 September 2008


I guess the mystery of belief in God has been solved.

Hat tip to Erika

07 September 2008

Not even wrong

This morning at brunch with my brother Jesuit and Dean, Paul, we were trading various logical puzzles. Not all my neurons were firing so well this morning. I found myself stuck on a puzzle that I knew was off but didn't know how to fix it nor even explain it properly.

The problem:

Three sailors book a room at a hotel for thirty dollars. Later the hotel manager reconsiders and decides to charge them twenty five. He sends a bell boy up with the extra five dollars. The bell boy realizing that five is difficult to split three ways decided to give each sailor a dollar and keep the other two.

If each sailor paid nine dollars for his share of the room and the bell boy has two dollars where did the other dollar go?

After finally solving the problem, with a little help, Paul told me what was so difficult it, to quote Wolfgand Pauli the quantum physicist, "This isn't right. This isn't even wrong."

It's relatively easy to ferret out a logical error someplace in an argument. What makes this little problem tricky is it slips an almost nonsensical perspective into the mix. To be wrong requires a certain logical framework with falsifiability. To not even be wrong is to pose a question that simply can't be answered because it completely misframes the situation.

Be on the lookout for arguments that are not even wrong.

04 September 2008

Rainy Day

It's Thursday morning. I'm sitting here in my room trying to summon the motivation to start the mountain of reading I need to get done for next week. The weather outside is cold and rainy, normally the perfect study weather but today all it's eliciting is a desire warm blankets and a nice fire. The only cure I know for such lethargy is good tea... my typical cure for anything. To the kitchen...

In the happy news department, two of my dear college friends, Erin and Dan, recently announced their engagement. Congrats Erin and Dan!