May 20, 2009

The Break of the Curveball

Posted in Baseball, Law, Science, Worldview tagged , , , , at 12:34 pm by Andrew

When delving into presuppositional arguments (or the Argument from Reason, or other claims by Christians in support of mind-brain dualism), I’ll often point out that the brain we have is not cognitively reliable in precisely the sort of ways you would expect given evolution — e.g., things like Alien Hand Syndrome, optical illusions, and so on.

Thanks to Stephanie, I’ve now found the single best illustration I’ve ever seen of the way in which our brain can be fooled: the break of the curveball in baseball.

Those of us who threw curveballs know the fundamental dilemma: a classic, Blylevenesque “12-to-6” curveball appears to break much more sharply than it actually does. Part of the work of the “break” is accomplished by downward spin, and part of it is accomplished by optical illusion.

If you follow this link, you’ll see the optical illusion portion of the curveball’s break illustrated vividly. Watch the path of the spinning ball, and you can see that it travels in a straight line. Shift your focus to the blue spot, and the ball seems to be curving away from you at a drastic angle. It’s eerie!

The authors conclude:

In baseball, a curveball creates a physical effect and a perceptual puzzle. The physical effect (the curve) arises because the ball’s rotation leads to a deflection in the ball’s path. The perceptual puzzle arises because the deflection is actually gradual but is often perceived as an abrupt change in direction (the break). Our illusions suggest that the perceived “break” may be caused by the transition from the central visual system to the peripheral visual system. Like a curveball, the spinning disks in the illusions appear to abruptly change direction when an observer switches from foveal to peripheral viewing.

Just another datapoint in support of the view that our cognitive faculties are the unreliable, cobbled-together product of millions of years of evolution of the physical brain, and not some disembodied mind crafted by an almighty God.

May 5, 2009

Pete Rose and the Hall of Fame (my answer to Reppert; no atheism content)

Posted in Personal tagged , , , at 11:08 am by Andrew

Friend of EC Victor Reppert asks:

Should someone who commits a baseball-related criminal offense be allowed in the Hall of Fame? If so, then shouldn’t baseball rethink Pete Rose, a player who, in his own right, earned his major baseball achievements honestly, whatever else he might have done to besmirch the game.

Can anyone think of a good reason to suppose that Bonds should be in the Hall of Fame, while Rose should remain out?

One answer, from a student of mine, said that Bonds should be in because he did not break a rule in place at the time.

Okay, this requires a little bit to unpack, because on the surface you might think there is an equivalency to be drawn between Barry Bonds and Pete Rose, in that they both broke the law.

But Pete Rose is not out of the Hall of Fame because he’s a lawbreaker (or because he’s “immoral” or a “bad person,” as the folks who like to bring up Ty Cobb as a counterexample often suggest). Lawbreakers, jerks, racists, drunks, and other associated bad guys do (and should) get elected to the Hall of Fame.

No, the reason Pete Rose isn’t in the Hall of Fame is much more simple: Pete Rose agreed to a lifetime ban from the game of baseball (including the Hall of Fame) in exchange for former Commissioner Bart Giamatti dropping baseball’s investigation against him. More specifically, Rose voluntarily entered a written plea bargain in which he agreed to permanent placement on baseball’s ineligible list so as to avoid uncovering facts that almost certainly would have led to criminal prosecution.

Required reading: the Dowd Report.

March 5, 2009

Why The “Minimal Facts” Model is Unpersuasive

Posted in Answering Apologists, Atheism tagged , , , , , , , , at 3:35 pm by Andrew

This post continues a thread over at Victor Reppert’s Dangerous Idea on what seems to be an increasingly common apologetic tactic designed to assert the historicity of Jesus Christ’s resurrection (and from there, assert the truth of Christianity).

As far as I can tell, this argument originates with Gary Habermas’ book Historical Jesus; what appears to be a straightforward summary from a Christian source can be found here. (UPDATE: epologetics seems to be down at the moment; here’s another site. You can also download a podcast of Gary Habermas explaining his argument on the Infidel Guy show.)
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February 17, 2009

Ranking the Presidents (with a little help from Davey Concepcion)

Posted in Personal tagged , , , , , at 11:58 am by Andrew

If you turned on any cable newschannel this weekend, you probably saw a story about C-SPAN’s Ranking of the Presidents, with Abraham Lincoln on top and James Buchanan at the bottom.

On the one hand, these kinds of lists are meant to spark casual debate — like, say, VH-1’s “100 Greatest Rock Songs of All Time. On the other hand, the Presidency is at least a little more important than whether the Eagles are better than the Rolling Stones (answer: yes), so perhaps it’s worth a blog post….

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