Am I a Whack Job? Or Just a Conspiracy Theorist?

The recent “termination” of James Comey by Donald Trump has led many to think that Trump may have finally jumped the shark. The Trump administration first claimed that the decision lay with the deputy attorney general Rod Rosenstein, but Trump later indicated the decision ultimately lay in his own hands. The lack of any unified public explanation for the dismissal, in conjunction with the fact that Comey was leading an investigation into the Trump campaign’s Russia connections, has inevitably led the media, the opposition and the public alike to posit a conspiracy theory: Comey was fired by Trump for refusing to protect Trump from the Russia probe. (more…)

Why Defend Philosophy?

In recent years there has been a spate of articles defending the study of philosophy. Philosophy is not all idle chatter, these defenses usually argue. On the contrary, philosophy is surprisingly useful. The skills that philosophers gain through their study are remarkably important in all arenas of life, and especially in growing and lucrative fields like commerce and tech. Philosophy, they say, is not only good for the brain, but good for business! Plato, as is well-known, said that studying philosophy made you fit to rule others. Apparently he was wrong. According to the many defenses on offer, philosophy doesn’t make you a good ruler, but a good earner. I dislike this defense. (more…)

Wilde vs. Swift on Disagreement

Oscar Wilde once said that to disagree with three quarters of the British public was a prerequisite of sanity. Although Jonathan Swift probably put the idea better when he wrote that one can recognize a true genius by the following sign: all the dunces are in a confederacy against him. Wilde and Swift agree that a mere disagreement is no reason to change one’s own beliefs. They agree that  if you find yourself up against a large number of people who think you’re wrong, this doesn’t necessarily mean that you are. That seems a matter of common sense, but why? (more…)

Eureka Moments

Scientists go about trying to collect evidence that can be brought to bear on disputes between rival theories. If I accept the abiogenic theory of petroleum origins, whereas you accept the biogenic theory, then there is a simple way we can settle our dispute. We can try to find evidence of petroleum originating deep in the Earth’s crust, in a layer that cannot plausibly contain fossil deposits. This evidence would favour the abiogenic theory over the biogenic theory, and our dispute would be settled. But of course, there is more to science than just collecting evidence. Scientists don’t just collect evidence and write up papers for peer review; they also come up with the theories in the first place. And while the quest for relevant evidence is largely methodical, rational and logical, the creation of a new theory is largely spontaneous, whimsical and imaginative. (more…)

From Mysterious “Spyglass” to Reliable Telescope

Once upon a time, in 1610, Galileo pointed a telescope at Jupiter and discovered that Jupiter had four moons. This event is commonly regarded as the first real triumph for the Copernican theory—the theory that the Sun, and not the Earth, sat at the central point of the Universe. The discovery of Jupiter’s moons was revolutionary, unexpected and mysterious. It turned thousands of years of cosmology on its head.  (more…)

How, Pizzagate?

For the last few months an online conspiracy called “Pizzagate” has been brewing. Proponents of the Pizzagate Conspiracy believe that the hacked John Podesta emails, released via wikileaks, contain a code according to which all references to “pizza”, “pasta”, “cheese”, “hot dogs” and the like, are in reality references to various kinds of child sex and sadistic or satanic torture rituals.