The Necessity of Conservativism

I am skeptical of the idea of “progressive revelation.” It leads to the belief that whatever is progressive — whatever has developed, has emerged — is ipso facto revelation. But if you don’t believe that, then you have to be able to distinguish between progressive developments that really are authentic expressions of the Gospel and those that aren’t. And in order to do that you have to criteria for deciding, and those criteria will necessarily not involve the notion of what’s “progressive” because the progressive is precisely what you’re evaluating. The idea of progressive revelation is therefore a problem, not a solution.

Alan Jacobs

When I was a young teacher and still thought of myself as a billiards player, I had the pleasure of watching Albert Abraham Michelson play billiards nearly every noon. He was by then one of our national idols, having been the first American to win the Nobel Prize in science (for the measurement of the speed of light, among other things). To me, he took on added luster because he was the best amateur billiards player I had ever seen.

One noon, while he was still shaking his head at himself for missing an easy shot after he had had a run of thirty-five or thirty-six, I said to him, “You are a fine billiards player, Mr. Michelson.” He shook his head at himself and said, “No. I’m getting old. I can still make the long three-cushion shots, but I’m losing the soft touch on the short ones.” He chalked up, but instead of taking the next shot, he finished what he had to say. “Billiards, though, is a good game, but billiards is not as good a game as chess.” Still chalking his cue, he said, “Chess, though, is not as good a game as painting.” He made it final by saying, “But painting is not as good a game as physics.”

Then he hung up his cue and went home to spend the afternoon painting under the large tree on his front lawn.

Norman McLean, Young Men and Fire (via Steven K N Wilkinson)

Spenser, Valentine’s Day, and J. K. Rowling

Another Valentine’s Day has come and gone, and I’m here to report that, according to my Google Alert, Edmund Spenser was cited much less frequently than in years past. His name was used in the Juneau Empire (save yourself the click) to explain the origin of the line “roses are red, violets are blue.” Hogwarts Professor continues to explore the connection between Spenser and J. K. Rowling’s detective hero Cormoran Strike. Last, another Spenser professor has retired: Dr. Gwen Ladd Hackler of Southern Nazarene University.

That’s all for now.

A Pencil Named Steve

The Turing Test is one which has baffled me since I first heard about it. Basically, when Turing was asking himself what it would mean for a computer to become sentient, he decided that he would count a computer as sentient if, in conversation with it, you were unable to tell whether or not it was a human being. 

This struck me as bizarre at the time, and more bizarre as we have seen the test be run thousands of times in peoples’ conversations with ChatGPT and its ilk. (For those who missed it, in June of last year, Blake Lemoine, one of Google’s engineers, was fired after he became convinced, “talking” with one of the prototype natural language simulations, called LAMBDA, that the chatbot was in fact conscious). If there is one thing humans are good at, it’s believing things to be persons. It’s like… very easy for us, and very hard for us not to do. We are persons, and we anthropomorphize absolutely everything. I used to be scared of the curtains in my parents bedroom because in the dark it seemed like there were people standing behind them. The tendency to see faces in patterns is so pervasive that it has a name – pareidolia. 

We are even prone to do this if we make the thing in question: if we paint a frowny face on a rock we kind of feel like the rock might be unhappy. If you give a child a stuffy, you know that child is going to immediately begin to ascribe personhood to it, even if it is a stuffed animal you made and she saw you making it. Of course humans would be able to make a computer program that would be able to fool other humans into thinking it was a person, and in Lemoine’s case, able to fool himself. We’re incredibly good at making personish things and incredibly good at then kind of thinking they are persons. 

Just to point out, this tendency, to make personish things, then get excessively impressed with and excited about them and ascribe agency and maybe power to them and ask them for help with things, is noted in the Old Testament a good bit; it is called idolatry.

Susannah Black Roberts

This sort of thing reminds me, as it always does, of Steve the Pencil: