Comment Elsewhere: Certainty

Context here:

Most comments on blogs – particularly well-read blogs on controversial topics – are not part of a conversation, nor do they add anything beyond a sort of “me too” vote to one side or the other. Hardly anyone actually reads previous comments before posting – I’ve skimmed through, reading more closely what caught my eye – because that’s not the point. The point is to express ourselves, vigorously and publicly: like doing cartwheels in a grocery store, to get noticed briefly and acknowledged, but not really to engage.

So I’m often loathe to comment on well-commented pieces, on the grounds that nobody cares, that what I’d say has probably been said, etc. But Aaron, if you’re still reading comments (Sorry, really), here’s something that hasn’t really been touched on directly here (though I do seem to remember it coming up on twitter).

Sources lie. But they’re all we have.

This is what I tell my history students ( and it’s one of the most fundamental things about doing history: Sources lie deliberately, sometimes. Sometimes by omission. Sometimes accidentally. Sometimes because of their particular perspective, or because they made a mistake. Sometimes they lie because they are lost to us; a kind of 5th amendment right of history, to destroy materials.

In spite of that, we *have* to *use* our biased, incomplete, poorly written, fragmentary sources to come to some conclusions about the world. Absolute certainty about anything other than big events is rare; absolute certainty about causality or human experiences is damn near impossible. Sometimes even “preponderance of evidence” (The American civil court standard) is just not reasonable.

We have to be careful about filling in gaps in our knowledge with “likely,” or “logical,” or “reasonable,” suppositions. Human beings are many things, but they often aren’t logical or reasonable, and they often do unlikely things. That doesn’t mean that we can’t come to conclusions, but it means that we have to learn to be comfortable with uncertainty, epistemological humility. We acknowledge that we have built our arguments on possibly shifting ground. And we move on. We build other arguments on those arguments, and so on. Unless some new source or new perspective comes along and changes them. Then we go back and revise.

Nothing wrong with that. Nothing wrong with uncertainty, as long as we acknowledge it. And nothing wrong with living our lives by the fruit of our uncertain conclusions, as long as we’re satisified with the evidence and arguments that we have.

Certainty is nice, but rare. In its absence, resolve to work towards a better world keeps us moving in the right directions, more or less.

Extra Credit Opportunity: PRIZM Ensemble

The PRIZM Ensemble is a group of classically-trained Memphis musicians. They are committed to developing and highlighting local talent. They have attended the world’s great music schools and they perform high-level, interactive chamber music concerts that focus on giving audiences the necessary tools to be engaged and active listeners. Typically at PRIZM concerts, there is child care available, and with an interest in early exposure to music, children from the nursery are invited into the hall to enjoy selected movements from the performance. The PRIZM Ensemble also teaches and performs at the PRIZM Chamber Music Festival which is the only festival of its kind in the state of Tennessee that brings together amateur, professional and student musicians. It combines chamber music playing/training, orchestral playing/training through performance in an un-conducted orchestra, and educational programs such as workshops and master classes. This format cultivates a love for classical music, specifically chamber music. By proactively promoting classical music, specifically chamber music, the festival is making an outstanding contribution to Memphis’ diverse cultural heritage and acts as a window, displaying the talents of the city’s young and amateur musicians.

March 30, 2012

All performances will be at 7:30 p.m. in McCray Recital Hall on the PSU campus.
Tickets are available at no charge to full-time PSU students with valid student ID.

Extra Credit Opportunity: “Evidence of Aging” lectures

For extra credit, you only have to attend one of the listed lecture events. More is fine, too, but one is enough
The Art Department is pleased to present our Spring 2012 Interdisciplinary lecture series focusing on and inspired by the “Evidence of Aging” exhibit created by Marydorsey Wanless.  For your planning convenience we have divided the events into the following categories:
Thursday March 8:  Artist and Artwork Focus: Photography and Alternative Processes
6:30 – 7:30 pm:  Marydorsey Wanless
8:00 – 9:00 pm:  Rhona Shand: Art Department Chair
Friday March 9 : Spring 2012  Art Department Exhibition Interdisciplinary Lecture Series
Intended as an opportunity for a variety of perspectives related to issues that engage with the subject of aging, a variety of speakers will present their opinions through their diverse and wide-ranging areas of expertise and personal experience.
Biology of Aging  2:00 ­ 3:15
Dr. Steve Ford: Biology Department
Dr. Xiaolu Wu: Biology Department
Psychology of Aging 3:30 ­ 5: 45
Dr. Lynette Olson: Provost and Vice-President For Academic Affairs
Harry Krug: Professor Emeritus and former Art Department Chair
Dr. Sean Lauderdale: Psychology and Counseling Department
Dr. Harriet A. Bachner: Psychology and Counseling Department
Culture of Aging 6:00 ­ 7:00
Yazeed Aldhwayan: International Student from Saudi Arabia.
Alheli Aranda Britez: International Student from Paraguay
Dr. Joey Pogue: Communications Department
Saturday March 10: 10:00 – Noon Family Art Morning
Meet at Porter Hall
Scavenger Hunt and Cyanotype photo workshop
Co-sponsored by the UAA (University Art Association), Student Activities Council,
Gorillas Out of Bounds, and the SAI Sigma Alpha Iota.
We invite you to participate in all or any part of the events listed.  Everyone is welcome and all events are free and open to the public. Contact for more information.


Extra Credit: The Water’s Edge

The Pittsburg State University Theater will present Theresa Rebeck’s “The Water’s Edge,” a family drama about loss, grief and revenge with a shocking twist, March 3-6 in the PSU Studio Theater in Grubbs Hall.
The production features PSU students Kristy Magee, Megan McCoy, Austin Curtright, Jeanine Kunshek and Pittsburg resident John Mazurek. Doug Bennett is the scenic and lighting designer and Lisa Quinteros is the costume designer.
The play runs at 8 p.m. March 3-5 and 2 p.m. March 6. Tickets are $9 for the general public, $5 for persons under 17 or over 65, and are free to PSU students, faculty and staff with a valid PSU photo I.D. Tickets are available through the PSU Ticket Office at 235-4796 and at the theater 30 minutes before curtain. Reservations are encouraged. The play is intended for mature audiences only and contains strong language.

Extra Credit: Internet Business Success

If you know the LOL cats or have ever seen a fail online, you won’t want to miss the Performing Arts and Lecture Series next big show!
Internet mogul behind hit sites and, Ben Huh will be speaking on Wednesday, February 23rd at 7pm in the Crimson and Gold Ballroom.  Huh’s latest company, Pet Holdings, has been credited with bringing Internet memes to the mainstream and popularizing Internet culture. Huh is not shy about crediting the success of his company to the users. His goal is to make the world happy for 5-minutes a day.
This is a free event, open to the public, and no ticket is required.  For more information on this or any PALS event, please contact Campus Activities at 620-235-4795.

Comments on Pop Quizzes

  • I grade the quizzes on the same 4-point scale that we use for end-of-semester grades: 4 is an A, 3 is a B, etc. I also use half-points: 3.5 is roughly a B+, 2.5 is a C+, etc. (you can think of them as A- and B- if you’d rather; it’s the number that matters).
    • For the tests, I grade all the questions on the same 4-point scale.
  • I grade the pop quizzes based on what you might have gotten from reading the text: I don’t expect you to know everything. That said, terms that I use for pop quizzes are extremely likely to show up on the actual tests, and then I’d expect you to know what we talked about, and what I said in lecture that relates. In other words, I’m nicer on the pop quizzes than I am on the tests.
  • One common error I see is answering a question based on US history rather than on the global application — talking about Southern US cotton plantations, for example, as if plantations all over the Carribbean and South America were the same.
  • The sidebar definitions of terms are often a good starting place, but are also sometimes quite misleading and almost always too limited to qualify as a full and adequate answer. Memorization will only get you so far.
  • I grade and comment in green (unless you use green for your test, in which case I’ll find something else). I apologize in advance for my handwriting, which can be difficult to read sometimes when I’m writing quickly or writing small; if you have any question about what I wrote, or what it means, I’ll be happy to explain.
    • Though I’m writing comments on these, I don’t usually make comments on pop quizzes or tests, so if you have questions about what I didn’t write, I’ll be happy to discuss that, as well.