Potpourri, 2/17/14

    1. No limits
    2. What if the Prodigal had succeeded?
    3. Scott Walker tests the KoolAid
    4. Product development, not intelligence
    5. Creationists and Astrologists
    6. If I go missing …

I had no potpourri begun 90 minutes ago, but having collected a few, I might as well share them a bit late-ish.


Our time will be seen by historians of the far future as an era of intense restlessness, a time when there were no barriers, cultural or natural, that we were not prepared to disregard for the sake of maximizing sexual autonomy.

(Rod Dreher, who links to two stories as illustrations)


Rod Dreher reflects – yet again – on the meaning of home, and of home-coming, prompted by an expatriate’s wistful essay and the homily in his parish on the Sunday of the Prodigal Son:

[W]hat if the prodigal son had not wrecked his life out in the world? What if he had prospered, and had come home to renew his ties, and to start a new life with his family? Wouldn’t that complicate the story a great deal? What if the prodigal son had not been prodigal (“prodigal” means wasting resources by spending lavishly), but rather came home not out of desperate need, but out of love? Would he have deserved a warm welcome from their father then? What kind of welcome would he deserve from the faithful brother? Why?

In a way, it might be easier for the faithful brother and the father to welcome the prodigal back if he had lost everything, and been reduced to nothing. At least then he would have Learned His Lesson, and right order would have been restored to the world. And what would the Non-Prodigal Son carry with him from the world he saw beyond his home, if he came home with no regrets about having left in the first place? What lessons should he draw about the meaning of home?

I think about this a lot.

Whether you stay or whether you go, you will never know what the right answer for you would have been. There will be times when the road not taken will seem like the one you ought to have been on. But most of us will never be in a position to know for sure. There’s that amazing confession my father made to me at the end of The Little Way Of Ruthie Leming, when he reconsidered the path he took through life. He was the Good Son who stayed faithful to his family and their desires, and now, at the end of his life, he doubts he did the right thing. But how can he ever really know? At a certain point, when you’ve lived far beyond the point of decision, counterfactual histories are daydreams.


It Scott Walker, too, among the loonies who think tax cuts are a political or economic panacea? Scott Galupo is encouraged at some resistance from Wisconsin Republicans, “who say the tax cuts should come after paying off a slew of unpaid bills due in just a few years” and that “Walker’s plan would actually worsen the longer-term deficit outlook.”


Douglas Hofstadter (whose Pulitzer Prize-winning Gödel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid was too dense for me to penetrate alongside my law school studies when it first came out) is having none of the gee-whizz Ray Kurzweilish stuff about Artificial Intelligence. It’s a really good interview, at least for someone with my meager level of understanding AI, so enjoy it all. My inner cynic, though, especially liked this:

Q: So why are AI researchers so focused on building programs and computers that don’t do anything like thinking?
A: They’re not studying the mind and they’re not trying to find out the principles of intelligence, so research may not be the right word for what drives people in the field that today is called artificial intelligence. They’re doing product development.
I might say though, that 30 to 40 years ago, when the field was really young, artificial intelligence wasn’t about making money, and the people in the field weren’t driven by developing products. It was about understanding how the mind works and trying to get computers to do things that the mind can do. The mind is very fluid and flexible, so how do you get a rigid machine to do very fluid things? That’s a beautiful paradox and very exciting, philosophically.


Republicans have their Creationists, but Democrats have their Astrologists. Well, in fairness, Independents also are likelier than Republicans to buy astrology.

This and the Scott Walker item may be the best things I’ll say about Republicans this week.


If I go missing, you might try looking for me at The Underground Thomist, the website and “blog” of J. Budzesziewski.

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“The remarks made in this essay do not represent scholarly research. They are intended as topical stimulations for conversation among intelligent and informed people.” (Gerhart Niemeyer)

Some succinct standing advice on recurring themes.