Month: February 2017

Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., Associate Justice

In protest of the first World War’s Espionage Act, which made almost any kind of critical or nonconformist political expression a federal crime, Holmes wrote: “but when men have realized hat time has upset many fighting faiths, they may come to believe even more than the they believe the very foundations of their own conduct that the ultimate good desired is better reached by free trade in ideas – that the best test of truth is the power of thought to get itself accepted in the competition of the market, and that truth is the only ground upon which their wishes safely  can be carried out. That at any rate is the theory of our constitution.  It is an experiment, as all life is an experiment.  Every year if not every day we have to wager our salvation upon some prophecy based upon imperfect knowledge.” (as found in Fred Rodell: Nine Men, p. 184.)


It is something to show that the consistency of a system requires a particular result, but it is not all. The life of the law has not been logic: it has been experience. The felt necessities of the time, the prevalent moral and political theories, intentions of public policy, avowed or unconscious, even the prejudices which judges share with their fellow men, have had a good deal more to do than the syllogism in determining the rules by which men shall be governed. The law embodies the story of a nation’s development through many centuries and it cannot be dealt with as if it contained only the axioms and corollaries of a book of mathematics. In order to know what it is, we must know what it has bveen and what it tends to become.

…in substance the growth of the law is legislative…in its grounds. The very considerations which judges most rarely mention, and always with an apology, are the secret root from which the law draws all the juices of life. I mean, of course, considerations of what is expedient for the community concerned. Every important principle which is developed by litigation is in fact and at bottm the result of more or less definitely understood views of public policy…But hitherto this process has been largely unconscious.  It is important, on that account, to bring to mind what the actual course of events has been. If it were only to insist on a more conscious recognition of the legislative function of the courts, as just explained, it would be useful.

…judges as well as others…openly discuss the legislative principles upon which their decisions must rest in the end, and base their judgments upon broad considerations of policy to which the traditions of the bench would hardly have tolerated areference fifty years ago.  (Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr: The Common Law, 1881).

When we are dealing with words that also are a constituent act, like the Constitution of the U.S., we must realize that they have called into life a being the development of which could not have been foreseen completely by the most gifted of its begetters. It was enough for them to realize or to hope that they had created an organism; it has taken a century and has cost their successors much sweat and blood to prove that they created a nation. (252 U.S. 416, 433).

…the case before us must be considered in the light of our who national experience and not merely in that of what was said a hundred years ago.  The treaty in question does not contravene any prohibitory words to be found in the Constitution. The only question is whether it is forbidden by some invisible radiation from the general terms of the Tenth Amendment. We must consider what this

The law, so far as it depends on learning, is indeed, as it has been called, the government of the living by the dead. To a very considerable extent no doubt it is inevitable that the living should be so governed. The past gives us our vocabulary and fixes the limits of our imagination; we cannot get away from it. There is, too, a peculiar logical pleasure in making manifest the continuity between what we are doing and what has been done before. But the present has a right to govern itself so far as it can; and it ought always to be remembered that historic continuity with the past is not a duty, it is only a necessity.  “Learning and Science”, speech at a dinner of the Harvard Law School Association in honor of Professor C. C. Langdell (June 25, 1895); reported in Speeches by Oliver Wendell Holmes (1896). p. 67-68



Dr. Andrew Wakefield

Dr Andrew Wakefield – In His own words: click here

During the General Medical Councils Fitness to Practice Hearing, Dr Andrew Wakefield was interviewed by Alan Golding and asked a series of questions covering the work at the Royal Free Hospital and the subsequent GMC case . The film has never been viewed by the public. Six short videos with accompanying transcript.


GP: In the modern world, the best way to attack the science of a researcher is to destroy the man. Was this any different than with Bruno or Galileo? Bruno was burned at the stake. Galileo was confined to home-arrest after his  admission of error.  Dr. Wakefield never admitted scientific error. He was disgraced and put out of business – disqualified from doing medicine or research in Great Britain.  Through perseverance and determination, he has prevailed over the ruling medical authorities in Great Britain and replanted himself here in The United States.

The Remarkable Discoveries of Fritz Zwicky

Fritz Zwicky was the first astronomer to propose the existence of dark matter, supernovas, neutron stars, galactic cosmic rays, gravitational lensing by galaxies, and galaxy clusters. However, his peers generally ignored his predictions and observations. He has been called “the most unrecognized genius of twentieth century astronomy” by many, and remains virtually unknown to the public to this day.  READ MORE

 Fritz Zwicky’s Extraordinary Vision

If ever a competition were held for the most unrecognized genius of twentieth century astronomy, the winner surely would be Fritz Zwicky (1898–1974). A bold and visionary scientist, Zwicky was far ahead of his time in conceiving of supernovas, neutron stars, dark matter, and gravitational lenses. His innovative work in any one of these areas would have brought fame and honors to a scientist with a more conventional personality. But Zwicky was anything but conventional. In addition to his brilliant insights that turned out to be right, he also entertained notions that were merely eccentric. To his senior colleagues he could be arrogant and abrasive. He referred contemptuously to “the useless trash in the bulging astronomical journals.” He once said, “Astronomers are spherical bastards. No matter how you look at them they are just bastards.” His colleagues did not appreciate this aggressive attitude and, mainly for that reason, despite Zwicky’s major contributions to astronomy, he remains virtually unknown to the publicREAD MORE

Supernovae and neutron stars

Together with colleague Walter Baade, Zwicky pioneered and promoted the use of the first Schmidt telescopes used in a mountain-top observatory in 1935. In 1934 he and Baade coined the term “supernova” and hypothesized that supernovae were the transition of normal stars into neutron stars, as well as the origin of cosmic rays.[11][12] This was an opinion which contributed to determining the size and age of the universe subsequently.

In support of this hypothesis, Zwicky started looking for supernovae, and found a total of 120 by himself (and one more, SN 1963J, in concert with Paul Wild) over 52 years (SN 1921B through SN 1973K),[13] a record which stood until 2009 when passed by Tom BolesREAD MORE

Zwicky made a persuasive case that supernovas actually occur and ought to be observable in other galaxies. Around 1935, he convinced George Ellery Hale, the Director of Mount Wilson Observatory, to build him an 18-inch Schmidt telescope, which had an unusually wide field of view, ideal for photographing many galaxies at once. In three years, Zwicky used it to discover twelve supernovas. He then persuaded Hale to build the 48-inch Schmidt telescope at Mt. Palomar. Its primary purpose was to photograph the entire northern sky, and the resulting Palomar Observatory Sky Survey became a major cornerstone of astronomy for the next fifty years. But Zwicky also used the 48-inch telescope for “supernova patrols.” He eventually discovered 122 supernovas, still a record for any one observer.

Astronomers readily accepted supernovas, but remained doubtful about neutron stars. Zwicky persisted and was ultimately vindicated. In the late 1930s, theoreticians showed that neutron stars were compatible with nuclear physics. Then, in 1967, radio astronomers discovered the first pulsars, and the next year Thomas Gold of Cornell University showed that such objects could only be rapidly spinning neutron stars produced in supernovas. READ MORE

GP:  Dr. Ian Shelton was the first to witness the birth of a supernovae   since Johannes Kepler’s supernovae of 1604.. What was predicted by Fritz Swicky in the 30’s was confirmed by the discovery of Super Nova 1987a:

On a cold, dark night in February 1987 on top of a south Chilean mountain range, Dr. Ian Shelton stared at the starry sky. He embraced a moment that no other astronomer had experienced in nearly 400 years — a supernova unfolding before his very eyes. Wanting to make sure he saw what he thought he saw, Shelton went into another observatory on the mountaintop. “I put out the facts to a colleague and he said without hesitation that it was a supernova,” Shelton said. “He looked at me and said, ‘You’re kidding.’”

SN 1987A — the first supernova discovered since German astronomer Johannes Kepler, said to be the father of modern-day astronomy, observed SN 1604 some 383 years earlier — was born.

Shelton, then 30 years old, spent long months at the Los Campanas Observatory. As a student in the University of Toronto’s astronomy department, he was the resident astronomer at the university’s southern observatory, training others to use the telescope and maintaining the large device.

“Astronomers coming who scheduled time with the telescope in advance — my job was to show them how to use the telescope and make it do what they needed it to do,” he said.

One perk of the job was free time with the telescope. However, Shelton set his sights on resuscitating a telescope that had been out of service for nearly a decade.

“I thought it would be good for a nova search campaign, just to take images of the same region of the sky every night in a routine manner and then have an army of students or people at local universities go through the plates,” he said.

Ironically, the discovery came on a second night of trial runs to test whether the telescope would do what he wanted it to do.

On Feb. 24, 1987, Shelton was taking three-hour exposures of a section of the sky about the size of two hands side-by-side. High winds forced him to close the observatory roof, ending his work for the night. After he developed the images he placed them on a light tablet to check their quality.  Very quickly, he realized there was an extra star on the image.

“I had looked through the telescope to line it up by eye on a star that’s close to the centre of the field,” he said. “(The supernova) was closer to the centre of the field, so I knew that it wasn’t the star I lined it up on. Comparing it to an image from the night before, “it was clear there was a faint star there before and a bright star there that night.” The significance of the discovery for the international scientific community was big. The ability to watch such a rare event from the beginning, Shelton said, turned what the community understood about astronomy and physics on its head. “This showed we didn’t understand stellar physics as well as we thought we knew,” he said.

From the supernova, physicists discovered tiny particles, called neutrinos, that were emitted during the explosion had reached Earth a few hours before the visible light. It took a few hours to get the news out to other observatories around the world. When the astronomers were unable to reach anyone by radio phone, the message was hand-delivered to the closest village a hundred kilometers away to be sent out by telegram.

Shelton and his colleagues on the mountaintop spent the next three months studying the supernova. But Shelton understood the pressure that was now on him for making one of the biggest discoveries of the decade. “When I discovered this, I had no credentials,” he said. “I couldn’t contribute past the observational aspect. There was lots of pressure to suddenly deliver and I hadn’t even really started. “I didn’t want to use this as an excuse for why I was an astronomer. I wanted to prove myself. For my own sanity and respect, I had to make sure I was doing this because I could do it.” That fall, Shelton entered graduate studies at U of T. He completed a master’s degree in science in 1990 and a doctorate in 1996.

He has since worked at several other observatories: Japan’s 8.3-metre Subaru Telescope in Hawaii, the 1.9-metre David Dunlap Observatory in Toronto and the 6.5-metre MMT Observatory south of Tucson, Ariz. He’s also worked at Athabasca University and as a professor of physics at Mount Allison University in New Brunswick.

How Far Away Is It – 2016 Update by David Butler

Link to Zwicky Transient Facility

gp: please visit this facility. Astonishing.

Teach Astronomy – Dark Matter in Clusters

Uploaded on Jul 23, 2010
The first good evidence for dark matter in astronomy came from observations of the Coma cluster by Fritz Zwicky in the 1930s. This Caltech astronomer measured radial velocities from many galaxies in the Coma cluster and showed that the velocity dispersion was far too high to be accounted for by visible material in the cluster. In Zwicky’s interpretation ninety percent or more of the mass of the cluster must have been invisible material or dark matter. Since that time the same argument has been applied to dozens of other clusters with the same implication. Almost all the rich clusters we can observe appear to be bound ninety percent by dark matter with visible matter in the galaxies being a minor component of their mass. This argument must be applied carefully because galaxy clusters form late in the evolution of the universe, so only the richest clusters and the most symmetric ones are suitable for using this argument.

  • Complex Dark Matter

    Ian Morison-Fritz Zwicky: The Father of Dark Matter

Benedict Spinoza – A Philosopher for Our Time

Published on Aug 11, 2016

We live in fearful times. All over the world renewed wars of religion are being fought. Politicians exploit our fears of one another in order to win power. 350 years ago, the philosopher Benedict Spinoza put his very, big brain to work on the problem of religion in politics. His theories led to the Enlightenment and its ideas of democracy and the separation of Church and State in the role of government. To do this he had to argue that God was not the God of the Bible. Spinoza’s reward: excommunication. But no threat could stop him imagining a new kind of liberty.

Michael Goldfarb tells the story of Spinoza with the help of philosophers and musicians in a programme that will make listeners think and reflect on the big questions of life, the universe and our place in it.



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The Life & Thought of Spinoza

Published on Jan 10, 2017

In this short BBC episode of In Our Time, Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the Dutch Jewish Philosopher Baruch Spinoza. For the radical thinkers of the Enlightenment, he was the first man to have lived and died as a true atheist. For others, including Samuel Taylor Coleridge, he provides perhaps the most profound conception of God to be found in Western philosophy. He was bold enough to defy the thinking of his time, yet too modest to accept the fame of public office and he died, along with Socrates and Seneca, one of the three great deaths in philosophy. Baruch Spinoza can claim influence on both the Enlightenment thinkers of the 18th century and great minds of the 19th, notably Hegel, and his ideas were so radical that they could only be fully published after his death. But what were the ideas that caused such controversy in Spinoza’s lifetime, how did they influence the generations after, and can Spinoza really be seen as the first philosopher of the rational Enlightenment? With Jonathan Rée, historian and philosopher and Visiting Professor at Roehampton University; Sarah Hutton, Professor of English at the University of Wales, Aberystwyth; John Cottingham, Professor of Philosophy at the University of Reading.

Bendict Spinoza

  • Every man’s understanding is his own, and …brains are as diverse as palatesIt is far from possible to impose uniformity of speech for the more rulers strive to curtail freedom of speech, the more obstinately are they resisted; not indeed by the avaricous, the flatterers, and other numskulls, who think supreme salvation consists in filling their stomachs and gloating over their money-bags, but by those whom good education, sound morality, and virtue have rendered more free. Men, as generally constituted, are most prone to resent the branding as criminal of opinions which they believe to be true, and the proscription as wicked of that which inspires them with piety towards God and man; hence they are ready to forswear the laws and conspire against the authorities, thinking it is not shameful but honourable to stir up seditions and perpetuate any sort of crime with this end in view.Such being the constitution of human nature, we see that laws directed against opinions affect the generous-minded rather than the wicked, and are adapted less for coercing criminals than for irritating the upright; so that they cannot be maintained without great peril to the state(Theologico-Political Treatise, Chap 20)
  • If men’s minds were as easily controlled as their tongues, every king would sit safely on his throne, and government by compulsion would cease; for every subject would shape his life according to the intentions of his rulers, and would esteem a thing true or false, good or evil, just or unjust, in obedience to their dictates.
    • Ch. 20; translated by R. H. M. Elwes
  • The more a government strives to curtail freedom of speech, the more obstinately is it resisted; not indeed by the avaricious, … but by those whom good education, sound morality, and virtue have rendered more free. Men, in general, are so constituted that there is nothing they will endure with so little patience as that views which they believe to be true should be counted crimes against the laws. … Under such circumstances they do not think it disgraceful, but most honorable, to hold the laws in abhorrence, and to refrain from no action against the government.
  • We cannot doubt that the best government will allow freedom of philosophical speculations no less than of religious belief. I confess that from such freedom inconveniences may sometimes arise, but what question was ever settled so wisely that no abuses could possibly spring therefrom? He who seeks to regulate everything by law is more likely to arouse vices than to reform them. (Theologico-Political Treatise, Chap 20)
  • No, the object of government is not to change men from rational beings into beasts or puppets, but to enable them to develop their minds and bodies in security, and to employ their reason unshackled; neither showing hatred, anger, or deceit, nor watched with the eyes of jealousy and justice. In fact, the true aim of government is liberty. (Theologico-Political Treatise, Chapter 20)
  • When the religious controversy between Remonstrants and Counter-Remonstrants began to be taken up by politicians and the States, it grew into a schism, and abundantly showed that laws dealing with religion and seeking to settle its controversies are much more calculated to irritate than to reform, and that they give rise to extreme licence: further, it was seen that schisms do not originate in a love of truth, which is a source of courtesy and gentleness, but rather in an inordinate desire for supremacy. From all these considerations it is clearer than the Sun at noonday, that the true schismatics are those who condemn other men’s writings, and seditiously stir up the quarrelsome masses against their authors, rather than those authors themselves, who generally write only for the learned, and appeal solely to reason. In fact, the real disturbers of the peace are those who, in a free state, seek to curtail the liberty of judgment which they are unable to tyrannize over.

Baruch Spinoza

Life and Works
. . Method
. . Metaphysics
. . God / Nature
. . Mind and Body
. . Human Nature
. . Epistemology
. . Freedom
Internet Sources

Baruch Spinoza was born to Portuguese Jews living in exile in Holland, but his life among the Marranos there was often unsettled. Despite an early rabbinical education, he was expelled from the synagogue at Amsterdam for defending heretical opinions in 1656. While engaging privately in serious study of medieval Jewish thought, Cartesian philosophy, and the new science at Rijnburg and the Hague, Spinoza supported himself by grinding optical lenses, an occupation that probably contributed to the consumption that killed him. Private circulation of his philosophical treatises soon earned him a significant reputation throughout Europe, but Spinoza so treasured his intellectual independence that in 1673 he declined the opportunity to teach at Heidelberg, preferring to continue his endeavors alone.

Spinoza’s first published work was a systematic presentation of the philosophy of Descartes, to which he added his own suggestions for its improvement. The Principles of Descartes’s Philosophy (1663) contain many of the characteristic elements of his later work, but Spinoza seems to have realized that a full exposition of his own philosophical views would require many years of devoted reflection. In the meantime, he turned his attention briefly to other issues of personal and social importance. The Tractatus Theologico-Politicus (A Theologico-Political Treatise) (1670) is an examination of superficial popular religion and a vigorous critique of the miltant Protestantism practiced by Holland’s ruling House of Orange. Spinoza disavowed anthropomorphic conceptions of god as both logically and theologically unsound, proposed modern historical-critical methods for biblical interpretation, and defended political toleration of alternative religious practices. Christians and Jews, he argued, could live peaceably together provided that they rose above the petty theological and cultural controversies that divided them.

Although he published nothing else during his lifetime, metaphysical speculations continued to dominate Spinoza’s philosophical reflections, and he struggled to find an appropriate way to present his rationalistic conviction that the universe is a unitary whole. Bust of Spinoza Respect for deductive reasoning and for the precision of the Latin language led Spinoza to express his philosophy in a geometrical form patterned on that empolyed in Euclid’s Elements. Thus, each of the five books of Spinoza’s Ethica Ordine Geometrico Demonstrata (Ethics) (1677) comprises a sequence of significant propositions, each of which is deduced from those that have come before, leading back to a small set of self-evident definitions and axioms.

In Book I Spinoza claimed to demonstrate both the necessary existence and the unitary nature of the unique, single substance that comprises all of reality. Spinoza preferred the designation “Deus sive Natura” (“god or nature”) as the most fitting name for this being, and he argued that the its infinite attributes account for every feature of the universe. Book II describes the absolute necessity with which the two attributes best known to us, thought and extension, unfold in the parallel structure that we, with our dual natures, comprehend as the ideas and things with which we are acquainted in ordinary life. This account also provides for the possibility of genuine human knowledge, which must be based ultimately on the coordination of these diverse realms. Spinoza’s Tractatus de Intellectus Emendatione (On the Improvement of the Understanding) (1677) provides additional guidance on the epistemological consequences of his metaphysical convictions. Here Spinoza proposed a “practical” method for achieving the best knowledge of which human thinkers are capable.

Spinoza applied similar principles to human desires and agency in Books III-V of the Ethics, recommending a way of life that acknowledges and appropriates the fundamental consequences of our position in the world as mere modes of the one true being. It would be moral bondage if we were motivated only by causes of which we remain unaware, Spinoza held, so genuine freedom comes only with knowledge of what it is that necessitates our actions. Recognizing the invariable influence of desire over our passionate natures, we then strive for the peace of mind that comes through an impartial attachment to reason. Although such an attitude is not easy to maintain, Spinoza concluded that “All noble things are as difficult as they are rare.


Recommended Reading:Primary sources:

  • Spinoza Opera, ed. by C. Gebhardt (Heidelberg, 1925)
  • The Collected Works of Spinoza, Volume I, ed. by Edwin Curley (Princeton, 1985)
  • Benedict De Spinoza, Ethics including the Improvement of the Understanding, tr. by R. H. M. Elwes (Prometheus, 1989)
  • Baruch Spinoza, Theologico-Political Treatise, tr. by R. H. M. Elwes (Dover, 1951)

Secondary sources:

  • The Cambridge Companion to Spinoza, ed. by Don Garrett (Cambridge, 1995)
  • Henry Allison, Benedict de Spinoza: An Introduction (Yale, 1987)
  • Roger Scruton, Spinoza (Routledge, 1999)
  • Genevieve Lloyd, Routledge Philosophy Guidebook to Spinoza and the Ethics (Routledge, 1996)
  • Steven M. Nadler, Spinoza: A Life (Cambridge, 1999)
  • Edwin M. Curley, Behind the Geometrical Method: A Reading of Spinoza’s Ethics (Princeton, 1988)
  • Errol E. Harris, Spinoza’s Philosophy: An Outline (Humanity, 1992)
  • Harry Austryn Wolfson, The Philosophy of Spinoza: Unfolding the Latent Processes of His Reasoning (Harvard, 1983)
  • Spinoza: Metaphysical Themes, ed. by Olli Koistinen and John Biro (Oxford, 2002)
  • Steven Nadler, Spinoza’s Heresy: Immortality and the Jewish Mind (Oxford, 2002)

Additional on-line information about Spinoza includes: