Sunday, June 14, 2015


  1. Barbara Oakley in Nautilus: How I Rewired My Brain to Become Fluent in Math. "Sorry, education reformers, it’s still memorization and repetition we need."

  2. William Kremer in BBC: The strange afterlife of Einstein's brain. A truly bizarre story.

  3. Steven Shapin in WSJ: Why Scientists Shouldn’t Write History. A review of Steven Weinberg's book To Explain the World. The following excerpt gets to the main problem with an enterprise like Weinberg's:

  4. There’s a story told about a distinguished cardiac surgeon who, about to retire, decided he’d like to take up the history of medicine. He sought out a historian friend and asked her if she had any tips for him. The historian said she’d be happy to help but first asked the surgeon a reciprocal favor: “As it happens, I’m about to retire too, and I’m thinking of taking up heart surgery. Do you have any tips for me?”

    The story is probably apocryphal, but it displays a real asymmetry between two expert practices. The surgeon knows that his skills are specialized and that they’re difficult to acquire, but he doesn’t think that the historian’s skills are anything like that. He assumes that writing history is pretty straightforward and that being a 21st-century surgeon gives you a leg up in documenting and interpreting, for example, theories of fever in the 17th century. Yet not every kind of technical expertise stands in this relation with the telling of its history. Modern installation artists don’t think they can produce adequate scholarly studies of Dutch Golden Age paintings, and it’s hard to find offensive linemen parading their competence in the writing the history of rugby.