Monday, April 24, 2017

365 days, 114 talks

I left Singapore for Hong Kong on April 24, 2016 for a talk at Lingnan University. Today on April 24, 2017, I’m on the bonnie banks of Loch Lomond after a talk at St. Andrews. In these 365 days, I’ve given 114 talks. Thanks to everyone who organized events for me, and to everyone who came! It’s been a wonderful year of discussing exciting stuff with smart people around the world.

I return to the National University of Singapore in August. NUS made this possible with a post-tenure sabbatical, combined with other kinds of leave that I could piece together for 15 months of travel and something like $15K-20K USD in total travel grant money. I started with the crazy idea of giving over 100 talks in 365 days, and it's sort of amazing how well things went.

 Loch Lomond at sunset last night. I was listening to
the Loch Tay Boat Song and Wild Mountain Thyme a lot.
This post has some statistical information about the 114 talks I’ve given so far, to answer questions people asked me on the road.

Talks to departmental colloquia and topic-specific groups: 107

Talks at conferences and workshops: 4

Presentations for students and public: 3

Number of distinct articles: 14-18. The exact number depends on questions of article-individuation, and on how to count a conference response and two more popular presentations. I presented various parts of my recently published Humean Nature, as well as a forthcoming book tentatively titled Moral Value is Pleasure that makes metaethical arguments for hedonic utilitarianism.

Number of countries: 17 – Hong Kong, Macau, Taiwan, Korea, Japan, USA, Australia, New Zealand, Singapore, Canada, Ireland, UK, Switzerland, Norway, Slovakia, Hungary, Croatia.

Number of universities: 111, with Yonsei/Underwood, Boise State, and Duke inviting me to multiple venues.

Biggest month: August 2016, when I gave 16 talks in 31 days.

Most intense period: August 16 to September 2, 2016. I gave 12 talks in 18 days, covering 8 paper ideas on 3 continents and a different paper in a different city for each of the last 5 days. Things looked bad when I came down with the flu on August 16th after the first of the 12 talks. Fortunately, my fever broke that night as I slept on friend and colleague Ben Blumson's couch. I was a little weak for the next 3 days as I gave talks at Sydney, Wollongong, and Brisbane before an overnight flight to Singapore where I would bounce to the US, but I recovered quickly.

Least intense period: December 10, 2016 to January 10, 2016, when I stayed with family, apart from a few nights visiting the Bay Area. Apart from that and my June visit home, my longest period with one home base was for two weeks in Melbourne, with overnight visits to Adelaide and Wagga Wagga.

Talks missed: 0, thanks largely to excellent luck with transportation and my resistance to disease and exhaustion.

Talks I was seriously late for: 2. In April 2016 at Hong Kong University, I had the cab drop me off next to the department just in time, and then realized that the department was at the top of a four story cliff. In April 2017 on the way to University of Zagreb, my bus was stopped an hour at the border, where extra border controls had been initiated in the preceding week. I thank my audience at both places for sticking around and being very friendly about the situation.

Total list of dates, venues, and titles:

Sunday, April 16, 2017

North Sea Sunset

On a ship from Amsterdam to Newcastle, I saw the sun set over the North Sea.

Thursday, April 13, 2017


Thanks to Matej Susnik for bringing me to Croatia! The Zagreb city center feels like the Slavic Europe of music videos, with stylish young people in tight black jeans walking past stately old buildings. I friended Matej on Facebook a few years ago when Google Scholar told me that he had discussed my work in Croatian. I ran his paper through Google Translate and was happy to see that he was bringing Humean ideas into a new language.

Yesterday after I laid out my naturalistic moral epistemology for the philosophy department, Matej organized a second talk on moral metaphysics at another venue. So I get to play with more philosophers, and I don't even have to go to a new city! Tonight will be the only night for nine days in which I sleep in the same country I slept in the night before. It's been Norway-Finland-Slovakia-Hungary-Croatia, and from today Croatia-Netherlands-North Sea-UK.

Philosophers in Zagreb have enemies who want to shut their department down for bad reasons. (For example, the philosophers discovered plagiarism in a government minister's work, and now the minister's friends want revenge.) I hope the department can survive and keep being awesome. I don't know how international support can help at this point, but we should be ready to provide it if needed. 

Thursday, April 6, 2017

Nuclear Option Silver Linings

Republicans have unanimously voted to end Supreme Court filibusters and will confirm Neil Gorsuch. This was always the most likely outcome. But Democrats did the right thing in forcing Republicans to end judicial filibusters.

The bad news is that Neil Gorsuch will be on the Supreme Court, making Scalia-like decisions for three decades. Some judges are further right and some judges are younger, but it's hard to get both at once. That's serious bad news, but it's basically the only bad news, and it was the likely outcome ever since Trump won the election.

People will say it's bad that we've lost the ability to filibuster further Trump Supreme Court nominees. They're wrong. This party-line vote shows us that our filibusters weren't ever going to succeed. McConnell was always going to be able to break the filibuster, as long as Republicans had a Senate majority. He probably would've had an easier time after 2018, as we have to defend 25 Senate seats including some in very conservative states (WV, ND, IN, MO, MT). We'll probably lose some Senators then, so this was the best shot we were going to get.

There are two long-term benefits here. First, it'll be easier for Democrats to confirm their own judges. I was chatting with a Democrat at the center of this fight in DC yesterday. He specifically brought up the prospect of being more ambitiously left-wing in our party's judicial appointments in the future, now that Republicans can't filibuster them.

The second benefit is that this makes it easier to end the legislative filibuster someday. And that would benefit progressives much more than conservatives. Why?

It'll take more than a Trump Administration to end my faith in human progress. The world has become wealthier and less prejudiced over the centuries, and I expect that long-term trend to continue, barring nuclear war or some other global catastophe. From a blog post I wrote back in 2009:

"So if you make it easy to change the laws, you make it easy for a society to have the laws that people want in a high-tech, unprejudiced society. But if you make it hard to change the laws, you stick us to laws from the past. The filibuster is basically a way of making it very hard to change big laws, so it keeps us a couple decades behind the present."

Neil Gorsuch will do his best to keep America trapped in the brutal and impoverished past. But if today's events make it easier to end the legislative filibuster, that moves us towards an enlightened and generous future.