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Just Lights and Clockwork

One of our culture’s most brilliant contemporary non-Luddite critics of our use of technology must be Nicholas Carr, author of The Shallows and more recently The Glass Cage. At the close of a chapter dubbed “White-Collar Computer” he pinpoints the special danger that automation might pose to culture by way of undermining the distinctive feature of philosophical thinking: Wonder. 1

If we’re not careful, the automation of mental labor, by changing the nature and focus of intellectual endeavor, may end up eroding one of the foundations of culture itself: our desire to understand the world. Predictive algorithms may be supernaturally skilled at discovering correlations, but they’re indifferent to the underlying causes of traits and phenomena. Yet it’s the deciphering of causation–the meticulous untangling of how and why things work the way they do–that extends the reach of human understanding and ultimately gives meaning to our search for knowledge. If we come to see automated calculations of probability as sufficient for our professional and social purposes, we risk losing or at least weakening our desire and motivation to seek explanations, to venture down the circuitous paths that lead toward wisdom and wonder. Why bother, if a computer can spit out “the answer” in a millisecond or two?

In his 1947 essay “Rationalism in Politics,” the British philosopher Michael Oakeshott provided a vivid description of the modern rationalist: “His mind has no atmosphere, no changes of season and temperature; his intellectual processes, so far as possible, are insulated from all external influence and go on in the void.” The rationalist has no concern for culture or history; he neither cultivates nor displays a personal perspective. His thinking is notable only for “the rapidity with which he reduces the tangle and variety of experience” into “a formula.” Oakeshott’s words also provide us with a perfect description of computer intelligence: eminently practical and productive and entirely lacking in curiosity, imagination, and worldliness. [The Glass Cage, 123-124]


  1. For those who might imagine that a computer could someday replicate even this aspect of human nature, I would suggest reading Edward Feser’s review of Ray Kurzweil’s How to Create a Mind.

No Heroes III

“They were right when they said / we should never meet our heroes / when they bowed at their feet / in the end it wasn’t me.”


I’m going to keep going on the theme I had last post, this is significant because there are people who will use the church as their personal ego-trip playground, and while most of them will never have the prominence of a C. J. Mahaney or a Mark Driscoll, or a John Howard Yoder, or yes, even of a Tony Jones, they are out there and they have the resources – both in terms of personal abilities and in terms of networks of enablers – to get away with whatever it is they want to get away with.

There is a lot to link to here, particularly as it relates to Tony Jones. I am, if anything the most progressive-friendly writer on this site here, so I feel, in that regard that I am the one most credible here to take him and his enablers to task. I know, more than I can I explain here, what it feels like to find out that someone important to you is being accused of something very serious, I know what it’s like to have to square those sorts of things with what I thought I knew. So I say this with sympathy for the idea that you have to kill off your old impression of that person, with an understanding that all of us like to think that we are good judges of character. I know I can be fooled, likely so can you. Constrain your ego a bit and let yourself believe that you too can be fooled.

“As a general rule, people, even the wicked, are much more naive and simple-hearted than we supposed. And we ourselves are, too.” – Dostoevsky

Rachel, Nadia it’s okay to admit that you’ve been naive and simple-hearted about your friend. But in the face of significant evidence, what do you do?

Read this post.

Also this and this by the naked pastor (who is only naked metaphorically – I think).

I will repost the naked pastor’s Žižek quote too:

“A dispassionate conceptual development of the typology of violence must by definition ignore its traumatic impact. Yet there is a sense in which a cold analysis of violence somehow reproduces and participates in its horror. A distinction needs to be made, as well, between (factual) truth and truthfulness: what renders a report of a raped woman (or any other narrative of a trauma) truthful is its very factual unreliability, its confusion, its inconsistency. If the victim were able to report on her painful and humiliating experience in a clear manner, with all the data arranged in a consistent order, this very quality would make us suspicious of its truth.”

So don’t expect an abuse victim to be a smooth talker who has their story straight. Be prepared to at least listen, be prepared to believe what they might have to say, however it might upset you.