Emerson’s Buoyancy and Resilience in Adversity

(p. C5) Life compelled Emerson to become something of an expert on resilience. As a young man he lost the love of his life, his wife Ellen, to tuberculosis when she was just 19. His oldest son, Waldo—a joyful child who seemed to concentrate in himself what was most uninhibitedly life-loving in his father—died of scarlet fever when he was 5 years old.

. . .

In the essay “Power,” Emerson writes that we carefully watch children to see if they possess “the recuperative force.” Those who instinctively retire to their rooms in sorrow when they’re slighted, miss the prize or lose the game will be at a serious disadvantage in adult life. “But,” Emerson continues, “if they have the buoyancy and resistance that preoccupies them with new interest in the new moment,—the wounds cicatrize, and the fiber is the tougher for the hurt.”

When Waldo died, Emerson needed that kind of buoyancy and resistance to overcome the greatest sadness of his life.

. . .

Emerson’s resilience was shaped by his conviction that we are mortal and there is no other life than this. Nothing can redeem the time when you did not plunge forward and do what you had to do. The moral quality Emerson commends above all others isn’t love, faith or patriotism but a commitment to work. “But do your work and I shall know you,” he writes in “Self-Reliance.”

Emerson’s commitment to rapid recovery from loss isn’t gentle or humanitarian. But it is classically American in its insistence on affirming the future over the past. For all our faults, Americans are still people who look ahead, scope the territory, move forward. When we fail at something, we give it one more go and maybe get it half right.

For the full essay, see:

Mark Edmundson. “What Emerson Can Teach Us About Resilience.” The Wall Street Journal (Sat., June 19, 2021): C5.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the essay has the date June 18, 2021, and has the same title as the print version.)

Emerson’s most famous essay, “Self-Reliance,” can be found in:

Emerson, Ralph Waldo. Self-Reliance and Other Essays. New York: Dover Publications, Inc., 1993.

Critical Race Theory Rejects Enlightenment Rationalism and the Declaration of Independence

(p. A15) . . ., relatively few Americans—including those who regularly denounce it—know much about what critical race theory is. It originated in law schools in the 1970s and has since become a sprawling movement. To find out more about it, I turned to “Critical Race Theory: An Introduction,” co-written by one of the movement’s founders, Richard Delgado. He writes that critical race theory “questions the very foundations of the liberal order, including equality theory, legal reasoning, Enlightenment rationalism, and neutral principles of constitutional law.”

. . .

Because the Declaration of Independence—the founding document of the American liberal order—is a product of Enlightenment rationalism, a doctrine that rejects the Enlightenment tacitly requires deconstructing the American order and rebuilding it on an entirely different foundation.

For the full commentary, see:

William A. Galston. “How Adherents See ‘Critical Race Theory’.” The Wall Street Journal (Wednesday, July 14, 2021): A15.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date July 13, 2021, and has the title “BOOKSHELF; ‘Tata’ Review: From Homestead to Hegemony.”)

The book co-authored by a founder of critical race theory that is mentioned in the passage quoted above is:

Delgador, Richard, and Jean Stefancic. Critical Race Theory: An Introduction. 3rd ed. New York: NYU Press, 2017 [1st ed., 2001; 2nd ed., 2012].

When Athens Cancelled Socrates

(p. A15) A commitment to open expression has always defined liberalism, which gradually expanded our First Amendment protections. But now we see many liberals abandoning that principle, perhaps because they are no longer liberals in any meaningful sense of the term. How could they be, if they want tech barons to police our online reading? Facebook recently decided to stop blocking posts that suggested a “lab-leak” origin of Covid, but at the same time the company has been boasting of its efforts to downrank or “shadow-ban” accounts that share “misinformation” (in other words, they make it difficult for readers to find those accounts, without telling the account owners).

We sorely need a reminder of the follies and crimes of censorship. In “Dangerous Ideas,” Eric Berkowitz, a journalist and lawyer, offers a global history that identifies some recurring patterns in the suppression of free thinking. For starters, crackdowns almost inevitably happen when societies confront overwhelming crises. Philosophy flourished in ancient Athens, where free males (at least) enjoyed intellectual liberty, but after the Athenians suffered military defeat and a devastating pandemic, they canceled Socrates. Then Plato’s “Republic,” putting words into Socrates’ mouth, laid out a program for absolute control of speech and thought, anticipating in detail modern totalitarianism. Reading Plato, Mr. Berkowitz recognizes Mao’s Cultural Revolution.

. . .

What emerges from “Dangerous Ideas” is that ideological terms like blasphemy, subversion and hate speech are impossible to define. Thus there are never clear guidelines for censorship, which is inevitably inconsistent and often absurd. “We really do not know what is demanded of us,” protested a czarist censor jailed for making a wrong call. Facebook moderators can only be fired, but face a similar quandary.

For the full review, see:

Jonathan Rose. “BOOKSHELF; The Follies Of Censorship.” The Wall Street Journal (Tuesday, June 08, 2021): A15.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date June 7, 2021, and has the title “BOOKSHELF; ‘Dangerous Ideas’ Review: The Follies of Censorship.”)

The book under review is:

Berkowitz, Eric. Dangerous Ideas: A Brief History of Censorship in the West, from the Ancients to Fake News. Boston, MA: Beacon Press, 2021.

DNA Evidence Supports John Locke’s Vacuum Domicilium Argument for Europeans Claiming New World Land Ownership

(p. A21) The population size of “pre-contact” Hispaniola . . . [is] a contested issue until the present day, not least because of its profound emotional and moral resonance in light of the destruction of that world. Modern scholars have generally estimated the population at 250,000 to a million people.

Some of the arguments for large population numbers in the pre-contact Americas have been motivated by an attempt to counter a myth, perpetuated by apologists for colonialism like the philosopher John Locke, that the Americas were a vast “vacuum domicilium,” or empty dwelling, populated by a handful of Indigenous groups whose displacement could be readily justified. In a similar vein, some of the arguments for large population sizes have been motivated by a desire to underscore how disastrous the arrival of Europeans was for Indigenous people.

By any measure, the arrival of Europeans was catastrophic for Indigenous Americans. This is true whether the numbers of people were in the hundreds of thousands or millions — or for that matter, the tens of thousands. It is questionable to pin our judgments of human atrocities to a specific number. To learn from the past, it is crucial to be willing to accept new and compelling data when they become available.

In the case of the pre-contact population of Hispaniola, such data have arrived. By analyzing the DNA of ancient Indigenous Caribbean people, a study published in Nature on Wednesday [Dec. 16, 2020] by one of us (Professor Reich) makes clear that the population of Hispaniola was no more than a few tens of thousands of people. Almost all prior estimates have been at least tenfold too large.

. . .

The finding about the pre-contact population size in Hispaniola was made possible by a new scientific advance: We are now able to detect “DNA cousins” in ancient genomes — taking two people and determining whether they share large segments of DNA inherited from a recent ancestor. This is similar to what personal ancestry companies like 23andMe and Ancestry do with living people.

When the Reich team applied this method to 91 ancient individuals for whom it had sequenced enough of the genome to carry out this analysis, it found 19 pairs of DNA cousins living on different large islands or island groups in the Caribbean: for example, an individual in Hispaniola with a cousin in the Bahamas, and another individual in Hispaniola with a cousin in Puerto Rico. This meant that the entire population had to be very small; you wouldn’t find that random pairs of people had such a high probability of being closely related if the entire population was large.

For the full commentary, see:

David Reich and Orlando Patterson. “DNA Rewrites the Telling of the Caribbean’s Past.” The New York Times (Saturday, December 12, 2020): A21.

(Note: ellipses, bracketed word, and bracketed year, added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date Dec. 23, 2020, and has the title “Ancient DNA Is Changing How We Think About the Caribbean.”)

The paper in Nature mentioned above is:

Fernandes, Daniel M., Kendra A. Sirak, Harald Ringbauer, Jakob Sedig, Nadin Rohland, Olivia Cheronet, Matthew Mah, Swapan Mallick, Iñigo Olalde, Brendan J. Culleton, Nicole Adamski, Rebecca Bernardos, Guillermo Bravo, Nasreen Broomandkhoshbacht, Kimberly Callan, Francesca Candilio, Lea Demetz, Kellie Sara Duffett Carlson, Laurie Eccles, Suzanne Freilich, Richard J. George, Ann Marie Lawson, Kirsten Mandl, Fabio Marzaioli, Weston C. McCool, Jonas Oppenheimer, Kadir T. Özdogan, Constanze Schattke, Ryan Schmidt, Kristin Stewardson, Filippo Terrasi, Fatma Zalzala, Carlos Arredondo Antúnez, Ercilio Vento Canosa, Roger Colten, Andrea Cucina, Francesco Genchi, Claudia Kraan, Francesco La Pastina, Michaela Lucci, Marcio Veloz Maggiolo, Beatriz Marcheco-Teruel, Clenis Tavarez Maria, Christian Martínez, Ingeborg París, Michael Pateman, Tanya M. Simms, Carlos Garcia Sivoli, Miguel Vilar, Douglas J. Kennett, William F. Keegan, Alfredo Coppa, Mark Lipson, Ron Pinhasi, and David Reich. “A Genetic History of the Pre-Contact Caribbean.” Nature 590, no. 7844 (Feb. 4, 2021): 103-10.

Clarity Is Rewarded, at Least Among Cave Experts

After Deirdre McCloskey published her classic “Economical Writing” in Economic Inquiry, Jack High published a critique in the same journal arguing that young economists would ruin their careers if they followed McCloskey’s advice to write clearly. High claimed that clear writing would be less published and economists who wrote more clearly would therefore be less likely to receive tenure. McCloskey published a rebuttal saying that clear writing was more likely to be published, to be read, and to help the writer receive tenure. But she added that even if she was wrong about that, we should try to write clearly because it is the right thing to do.

The study mentioned below provides some evidence to support McCloskey’s claim that clarity is rewarded.

(p. D2) . . . a team of researchers has analyzed jargon in a set of over 21,000 scientific manuscripts. The study focused on manuscripts written by scientists who study caves, . . .

They found that papers containing higher proportions of jargon in their titles and abstracts were cited less frequently by other researchers. Science communication — with the public but also among scientists — suffers when a research paper is packed with too much specialized terminology, the team concluded.

For the full story, see:

Katherine Kornei. “Confused by All That Scientific Jargon? So Are the Scientists.” The New York Times (Tuesday, April 13, 2021): D2.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the article has the date April 9, 2021, and has the title “Are You Confused by Scientific Jargon? So Are Scientists.” Where the wording in the online version differs from the wording in the print version, the passages quoted above follow the print version.)

The study discussed in the passages quoted above is:

Martínez, Alejandro, and Stefano Mammola. “Specialized Terminology Reduces the Number of Citations of Scientific Papers.” Proceedings of the Royal Society of Britain (April 7, 2021)

The McCloskey classic article, and the exchange with Jack High, are:

McCloskey, Deirdre. “Economical Writing.” Economic Inquiry 23, no. 2 (April 1985): 187-222.

High, Jack C. “The Costs of Economical Writing.” Economic Inquiry 25, no. 3 (July 1987): 543-45.

McCloskey, Deirdre. “Reply to Jack High.” Economic Inquiry 25, no. 3 (July 1987): 547-548.

Defending the Enlightenment

(p. C7) The dishonoring of Hume, and attacks on other Enlightenment luminaries such as Jefferson and Kant, indicate that the case against the Enlightenment has escaped the faculty lounge and is now in the streets. This turbulent context will inevitably frame any modern history of the Enlightenment, and so it is with Ritchie Robertson’s “The Enlightenment: The Pursuit of Happiness, 1680-1790.” Mr. Robertson’s study is part of a growing rearguard action. He is determined, alongside colleagues such as Jonathan Israel and Anthony Pagden, both to defend the Enlightenment on its own terms and to promote its “particularly urgent message for our time.”

. . .

What the Enlighteners offered was reason alloyed with sentiment. “In this book,” writes Mr. Robertson, “I try to present the Enlightenment not only as an intellectual movement, but also as a sea change in sensibility, in which people became more attuned to other people’s feelings, and more concerned for what we would call humane, or humanitarian values.”

. . .

He uses the sentimental revolution to explain important reformist causes, such as the suppression of cruelty to animals, penal reform and new models of education. A “feeling” for humanity in all its diversity, among figures such as Diderot and Burke, informed powerful critiques of European empire. Even Adam Smith—(p. C8)often misremembered as a pitiless capitalist—made feeling central to sociability in his “Theory of Moral Sentiments” (1759). According to Smith, as Mr. Robertson puts it, social and economic life was not powered by “cold calculations” but by “desire, which had to be properly channelled in order to produce happiness.”

The postmodernist attacks on the Enlightenment as coercive, disciplinarian and hierarchical, Mr. Robertson claims, ignore its softer dimension, its humane sympathy and its concern to ameliorate suffering.

For the full review, see:

Jeffrey Collins. “Let’s Be Reasonable, and Humane.” The New York Times Book Review (Saturday, March 13, 2021): C7.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date March 12, 2021, and has the title “‘The Enlightenment’ Review: Daring to Feel.”)

The book under review is:

Robertson, Ritchie. The Enlightenment: The Pursuit of Happiness, 1680-1790. New York: Harper, 2021.

Are We Right to Experiment on Animals to Save Humans?

I believe that higher animals feel emotions and maybe even have souls, so we should try to treat them humanely. I am deeply conflicted on how far animal experiments are justified in the pursuit of curing human diseases. Whenever possible, animal experiments should have the potential to benefit the animals in the experiments, as well as the human experimenters.

(p. A15) The “title characters” of Brandy Schillace’s admirable biography “Mr. Humble and Dr. Butcher: A Monkey’s Head, the Pope’s Neuroscientist, and the Quest to Transplant the Soul” were one and the same person: Robert J. White, a distinguished neurosurgeon, an accomplished neuroscientist and a man dedicated to searching for the means to transplant souls by transplanting the human brain. If this makes White sound macabre, Ms. Schillace’s account of his life, work and temperament is anything but. She deftly persuades the reader to take White seriously (he wasn’t even eccentric) and to ponder profound medical-scientific-philosophical issues. Best of all, the book is fascinating.

. . .

White felt it was his religious and medical duty to devise techniques for rescuing healthy brains from otherwise diseased and dying bodies. His solution was to transplant heads (containing their brains) onto cadavers that were brain dead but otherwise physiologically viable.

Before he could attempt such surgery on people, White experimented, mostly on monkeys, dozens of times, to ascertain and refine the necessary procedures. In March 1970 he succeeded in transplanting a monkey’s head onto another monkey’s body.

. . .

During the era in which White conducted his experiments, politicians, doctors, journalists and celebrities were becoming deeply and increasingly dismayed by scientific experiments on animals. White ran afoul of the animal-rights advocacy organization People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) and was threatened by animal-rights extremists (he remained imperturbable). White prided himself on scrupulously avoiding harm to his animal subjects. But he didn’t believe that animals had souls: For him, Ms. Schillace writes, “the human was more than animal, and equating the two was not only wrong, it was dangerous.” One of White’s rejoinders to those who would halt animal experimentation was, to paraphrase: If you were a surgeon, how would you like to tell parents that their young child is going to die because the operation that might save him or her was impossible to perform, mainly because the necessary animal-dissection research that would have permitted it was forbidden by law or the medical canon of ethics? His foes never had a good answer.

For the full review, see:

Howard Schneider. “A Heart in the Right Place.” The Wall Street Journal (Monday, February 22, 2021): A15.

(Note: ellipses added; italics in original.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date February 21, 2021, and has the title “Mr. Humble and Dr. Butcher’ Review: A Heart in the Right Place.”)

The book under review is:

Schillace, Brandy. Mr. Humble and Dr. Butcher: A Monkey’s Head, the Pope’s Neuroscientist, and the Quest to Transplant the Soul. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2021.

Freireich on Chemo-Cocktail Cure for Childhood Leukemia: “I Thought About It and I Knew It Would Work”

(p. A20) Dr. Emil Freireich, a renowned cancer doctor and relentless researcher who helped devise treatments for childhood leukemia that transformed the lives of patients thought to have little hope of survival, died on Feb. 1 [2021] at the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, where he had worked since 1965.

. . .

When Dr. Freireich (pronounced FRY-rike) started work at the N.C.I., in Bethesda, Md., in 1955, acute childhood leukemia was considered a death sentence. Entering the ward where the children were being treated, he recalled their hemorrhaging because their blood had virtually no platelets, the disc-shaped cells that clot blood.

. . .

Dr. Freireich, a hematologist and oncologist, tested his hypothesis that the lack of platelets was causing the hemorrhaging by mixing some of his own blood with some of the children’s.

“Would it behave normally?” he said in interview for an N.C.I. oral history project in 1997. “Sure enough, it did.”

Further testing, done to persuade his skeptics at the cancer institute, proved him right.

. . .

. . . Dr. Freireich’s most important and most enduring achievement was in using a combination of drugs to send leukemia into remission. He explored options in chemotherapy with several N.C.I. colleagues, including Dr. Emil Frei III, who was known as Tom.

They made an aggressive assault on childhood leukemia by devising a cocktail of four drugs that would be administered simultaneously — a technique similar to the three-drug regimen used to treat tuberculosis — so that each one would attack a different aspect of the physiology of the cancer cells.

“It was crazy,” Dr. Freireich told Mr. Gladwell. “But smart and correct. I thought about it and I knew it would work. It was like the platelets. It had to work!”

But not without peril and concern. Some of the children nearly died from the drugs. Critics called Dr. Freireich inhumane for experimenting with his young patients.

“Instead, 90 percent went into remission immediately,” he told USA Today in 2015. “It was magical.” But temporary. One round of the cocktail was not enough to eliminate all the cancer, so Dr. Freireich and his team treated them with the drugs monthly for more than a year.

. . .

Dr. Freireich compared his early fight to cure childhood leukemia to being in a battle in which he and the N.C.I. team had an alliance that was “forged under fire.”

To cure cancer, he added: “Motivate people and give them the opportunity. People are innately motivated. Nobody likes to be lazy and do nothing. Everybody wants to be significant.”

For the full obituary, see:

Richard Sandomir. “Emil Freireich, 93, Pioneering Researcher and Cancer Doctor, Is Dead.” The New York Times (Saturday, February 13, 2021): A20.

(Note: ellipses, and bracketed year, added.)

(Note: the online version of the obituary was updated Feb. 8, 2021, and has the title “Emil Freireich, Groundbreaking Cancer Researcher, Dies at 93.”)

Malcolm Gladwell devoted a chapter to Freireich in Gladwell’s book:

Gladwell, Malcolm. David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits, and the Art of Battling Giants. New York, NY: Little, Brown and Company, 2013.

When Leftist James R. Flynn Disagreed, He Would Argue, Not Cancel

(p. B10) Dr. Jensen was best known for an article he published in 1969 claiming that the differences between Black and white Americans on I.Q. tests resulted from genetic differences between the races — and that programs that tried to improve Black educational outcomes, like Head Start, were bound to fail.

Dr. Flynn, a committed leftist who had once been a civil rights organizer in Kentucky, felt instinctively that Dr. Jensen was wrong, and he set out to prove it.  . . .

Like most researchers in his field, Dr. Jensen had assumed that intelligence was constant across generations, pointing to the relative stability of I.Q. tests over time as evidence. But Dr. Flynn noticed something that no one else had: Those tests were recalibrated every decade or so. When he looked at the raw, uncalibrated data over nearly 100 years, he found that I.Q. scores had gone up, dramatically.

“If you scored people 100 years ago against our norms, they would score a 70,” or borderline mentally disabled, he said later. “If you scored us against their norms, we would score 130” — borderline gifted.

. . .

“He surprised everyone, despite the fact that the field of intelligence research is intensely data-centric,” the Harvard psychologist Steven Pinker said in an interview. “This philosopher discovered a major phenomenon that everyone had missed.”

Though Dr. Flynn published his research in 1984, it was not until a decade later that it drew attention outside the narrow world of intelligence researchers.

The turning point came with the publication in 1994 of “The Bell Curve: Intelligence and Class Structure in American Life,” by Richard J. Herrnstein and Charles A. Murray, which argued that genes play a dominant role in shaping intelligence — a position that its fiercest critics called racist. In reviewing arguments for and against their position, the authors outlined Dr. Flynn’s research and even gave it a name: the Flynn effect.

. . .

“Jim was a paragon of intellectual curiosity and willingness to look at all the evidence,” Dr. Murray said in an interview. “He had almost a childlike curiosity, and I mean that in a good way.”

. . .

Unlike many academics, Dr. Flynn increased his output as he aged: Eleven of his 18 books appeared in his last decade, many of them going back to his earlier interests in political theory and free speech. He became increasingly focused on academic freedom and a critic of so-called cancel culture, especially on campus.

His last book, “In Defense of Free Speech: The University as Censor,” was rejected by its first publisher as incendiary — though, as Dr. Flynn pointed out, he was merely summarizing the positions of people he disagreed with, in order to make a larger point. Frustrated, he found a new publisher for the book, which he retitled “A Book Too Risky to Publish: Free Speech and Universities” (2019).

“Dad was always very respectful of people he disagreed with, and hated the trend of boycotting academics because of their views,” Professor Flynn, his son, said. “He very much thought that people should be able to express their views, and if you don’t agree, argue with them.”

For the full obituary, see:

Clay Risen. “James R. Flynn, Who Found We’re Getting Smarter, and Why, Dies at 86.” The New York Times (Wednesday, January 27, 2021): B10.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the obituary has the date Jan. 25, 2021, and has the title “James R. Flynn, Who Found We Are Getting Smarter, Dies at 86.”)

James R. Flynn’s last book was:

Flynn, James R. A Book Too Risky to Publish: Free Speech and Universities. Washington, DC: Academica Press, 2019.

An Octopus “Is a Being With Multiple Selves”

(p. 11) What makes this book shimmer and shine is Godfrey-Smith’s exploration of marine life (drawing on his vast and extensive diving knowledge and field experience) to illuminate the ways in which the animal mind works — and the thoughts and experiences that give it shape.

. . .

Godfrey-Smith has an elegant and exacting way of urging along our curiosity by sharing his own questions about animal cognizance and the ability of some animals, like rats and cuttlefish, to “meander, drift off and dream.” But perhaps the most enthralling part of this book is the author’s experiences diving at famous sites now affectionately called Octopolis and Octlantis, just off the coast of eastern Australia where several octopuses live, hunt, fight and make more octopuses.

It’s an experience that demands we consider the very real possibility that an octopus, an animal already regarded as one of the most complex in the animal kingdom, is a being with multiple selves. A breathtaking explanation follows, and it’s one that makes even a cephalopod fan like me swoon over the myriad possibilities for rethinking the mind as a sort of hidden realm for sentience.

Godfrey-Smith declares, “The world is fuller, more replete with experience than many people have countenanced,” . . .

For the full review, see:

Aimee Nezhukumatathil. “Deep Dive.” The New York Times Book Review (Sunday, December 27, 2020 ): 11.

(Note: ellipses added; italics in original.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date Nov. 12 [sic], 2020, and has the title “Where Does Our Consciousness Overlap With an Octopus’s?”)

The book under review is:

Godfrey-Smith, Peter. Metazoa: Animal Life and the Birth of the Mind. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2020.