Matías Ventura Bausero writes on “the shallowness of specialization,” which is that it can furnish a false sense of comprehension even at the same time that it creates a rigid, self-referential frame of thinking. He’s from Montevideo, in Uruguay, and so there are some words in here that might seem strange. It’s a good reflection on the problem of specialization:

There’s a pervasive belief in the ineluctable triumph of expertise and specialisation. We dissect knowledge into areas, crafts into specialties, nature into labels. At their best, they are a valuable way of reducing reality and making it apprehensible to our minds. At their worst, they hinder understanding by filtering everything through a preconceived structure, forcing things to fall into dogmatic places, naturally excluding what doesn’t fit into its parsing of the world. Our civilisations run the risk of fragmenting themselves and their individuals when it relentlessly pushes towards utilitarian benefits. We seem to stare at a reluctant and blurry distance to Terence, the great latin poet who stated for posterity: “I am human, and nothing of that which is human is alien to me.”

Haven’t we trapped our mind’s inquisitiveness under the guise of utility? Trapped by our own very reluctance to let it push itself. In a way, the structure of our contemporary learning instead of expanding scope and curiosity tends to narrow it. The necessity to foster interdisciplinary and inclusive efforts is often a sign that our spirit has become tragically fragmented. All in the name of a self acquired notion of depth, value, and mercantile utility. Unfortunately, it’s also a false sense of depth—yet a very dangerous one.

It’s not hard to see that we may lack any sort of cohesive view, that we struggle at the gaps our grid of instrumental utility conceals. If the splitting of knowledge into areas was a necessity to allow room for diverse and improved practices, now it may be close to lose the thing that bonded them, and relinquish any sense of inclusiveness. The sciences look down upon philosophy as mere poetic ramblings; all the while philosophy looks down on the sciences as being lost in arbitrary calculations. Both forget that our greatest minds were naturally inclined to pursue both. There’s so many ways in which you can cut an entity until it no longer resembles any entity. Pursuing specialisation for too long will only yield fragmentation of knowledge — something that ails every corner of our understanding. Most often, the hardest problems cannot be deciphered within the confines of just one discipline. Sometimes, they cannot even be formulated at all from their wells.

The promise of specialisation operates on the assumption that a sort of collective geist should arise to achieve what its individuals sacrificed. But who speaks for it? The landscape of our knowledge seems like a field of separate holes where we dig in isolation. The irony is that nobody can tell how close those holes are anymore with regard to each other, or even whether they are close at all, so absorbed we are in their verticality. Could there be a distinct fear that they may forever be isolated islands? What are we to do with this cognitive scenery of moon-like craters? Who is there to dig horizontally so that those holes can reach each other? …

Great individuals have shown to have maybe one thing in common — they never deprived their curiosity of its natural state to move in all directions.

Specialization can yield great rewards, but there’s no reason you can’t primarily be a generalist who specializes in a few thing. Specialization, exclusively, is for insects.

Applying quantum theory

Tim Johnson reports on latest developments in quantum computing, which seems likely to reshape how we think of technology generally and computing in particular in this century:

“We don’t know exactly where the United States is. I fervently hope that a lot of this work is taking place in a classified setting,” said R. Paul Stimers, a lawyer at K&L Gates, a Washington law firm, who specializes in emerging technologies. “It is a race.”

Pure quantum computers remain largely theoretical although simple prototypes exist. Many designs call for them to operate in super cold conditions, bordering on absolute zero, or around minus 458 degrees Fahrenheit, colder than outer space, without any noise or micro movements that can cause malfunction.

What has made them the Holy Grail for nations and private industry is that quantum computers, in theory, are magnitudes better at sifting huge amounts of data than the binary processors that power mainframes, desktops and even smart phones today. They also can process algorithms that break all widely used encryption.

Rather than doing a series of millions of computations, based on binary options of ones and zeros, quantum computers employ particles that exist in an infinite number of “superpositions” of the two states simultaneously, a condition that towering physicist Albert Einstein once labeled as “spooky.”

A quantum computer “can feel all the possibilities at once,” said Warner A. Miller, a physicist at Florida Atlantic University, who, like the others, spoke last week at a forum on quantum computing at the Hudson Institute, a think tank in Washington.

China splashed into the news in June when it announced that a satellite and a ground station had communicated through “entangled” quantum particles. Entangled particles, even if separated by thousands of miles, act in unison. Any change in one particle will induce a change in the other, almost as if a single particle existed in multiple places at once.

Such long-distance quantum communication smashed records, occurring over 745 miles, far beyond the mile or so scientists had tested previously, and signaled Chinese mastery over a form of communication deemed ultra-secure and unhackable.

A few years ago I read Quantum Enigma, which deals with quantum physics broadly and the strange and still mysterious things—like “entanglement”—that it suggests about the natural universe.

H.K. Derryberry

When I was in Cincinnati last week, I was fortunate to be able to attend Cincinnati Right to Life’s “Evening for Life” Dinner, which featured H.K. Derryberry as keynote speaker. H.K.’s life story is really incredible, and he and Jim Bradford, his friend/mentor, were inspirational in their witness for living the sort of life that recognizes suffering neighbors around you in your daily life. That’s how their friendship was built.


HK Derryberry’s short biography:

HK Derryberry’s life is truly a miracle.  Born July 8, 1990, in Nashville, Tennessee, HK arrived three months premature due to an automobile accident that took his mother’s life.  The tiny two-pound baby boy would spend the next 96 days fighting for survival in Vanderbilt University Medical Center’s neonatal intensive care unit.

Although doctors offered little hope for survival, this miracle baby proved them all wrong. Because of the accident and his premature birth, he was born blind, with cerebral palsy and countless other medical problems.  Eventually this proved too much for his father, who survived the automobile crash but was unable to cope with life.  When HK turned five years old, he left his disabled son in the care of his mother and disappeared for over ten years.  Raised by his grandmother, some people might say HK faced too many mountains to climb.

Quite the contrary!  At an early age, HK displayed an extraordinary will to overcome his disabilities and at age three enrolled at the Tennessee School for the Blind, becoming one of the youngest students in the school’s history.  His right arm, paralyzed from a stroke suffered soon after birth, did not stop him from learning to read and write Braille with just one hand, another first for the 150-year old school!

HK’s life was changed forever in 1999 when he unexpectedly met Jim Bradford, a local businessman in Brentwood, Tennessee, who was married with two adult daughters.  HK and Jim soon became inseparable and eventually Jim’s family welcomed HK into their lives like an adopted son.   His personal mentoring and constant involvement quickly exposed HK to a world he had never experienced.

Since age ten, HK had displayed signs of a remarkable ability to recall dates and other facts surrounding events in his life.  In 2012, the mystery of his memory was unlocked by medical researchers at Vanderbilt Medical Center’s Memory Clinic.  They discovered that HK is one of only five or six people in the world with a medical diagnosis of hyperthymesia, otherwise known as Superior Autobiographical Memory.  He has the ability to remember every event including time and place that’s occurred to him since he was 3½ years old.  Vanderbilt researchers are optimistic that studies on HK’s brain may one day lead to a breakthrough for people suffering memory loss.

Materialism and personal identity

Joshua Becker writes about his visit to Poland, where he spoke on minimalism and had some incredible encounters. After his talk, Darek, the organizer of the conference he was participating in, shared this during the question/answer session:

“Joshua, can I tell you more about why I invited you here today? When I was younger, I had an important mentor. He was a survivor of Auschwitz who would live almost his entire existence in an occupied Poland—first by the Germans and then by the Communist Party of the Soviet Union.

“This man once made an observation to me I have never forgotten. After a trip he had taken to Western Europe, he pulled me aside and said: ‘I have come to realize that materialism holds people captive in many the same ways Communism does. Communism, by force, seeks to destroy personal identity. Materialism does the same. But materialism destroys personal identity by choice.’

“And that is why I wanted you here today. To inspire us, both as individuals and as a society, to not use our newfound freedom to acquire further bondage.”

Minimalism is an important message. It frees up our most important resources to pursue things that matter. …

Freedom is a gift. But our freedom is only as valuable as what we choose to pursue with it.

In its own way, this encapsulates the great risk of liberty that we asked for from our Creator, specifically the risk that in our freedom, we can destroy our personal identity by own our choice—not in a materialistic sense, but in the transcendent sense.

That’s what Christians understand hell to be: the warped self, victim of its own passions and enslavements, and alone with ego as a corrosive force rather than the creator and the balm of love.

At least, that’s how I think of it.

Directing progress

From the Venerable Fulton Sheen’s “plea for intolerance:”

America, it is said, is suffering from intolerance. It is not. It is suffering from tolerance: tolerance of right and wrong, truth and error, virtue and evil, Christ and chaos. Our country is not nearly so much overrun with the bigoted as it is overrun with the broadminded. The man who can make up his mind in an orderly way, as a man might make up his bed, is called a bigot; but a man who cannot make up his mind, any more than he can make up for lost time, is called tolerant and broadminded. A bigoted man is one who refuses to accept a reason for anything; a broadminded man is one who will accept anything for a reason—providing it is not a good reason. It is true that there is a demand for precision, exactness, and definiteness, but it is only for precision in scientific measurement, not in logic. The breakdown that has produced this unnatural broadmindedness is mental, not moral. The evidence for this statement is threefold: the tendency to settle issues not by arguments but by words, the unqualified willingness to accept the authority of anyone on the subject of religion, and, lastly, the love of novelty.

The acids of modernity are eating away the fossils of orthodoxy.

Belief in the existence of God, in the Divinity of Christ, in the moral law, is considered passing fashions. The latest thing in this new tolerance is considered the true thing, as if truth were a fashion, like a hat, instead of an institution like a head.

The final argument for modern broad-mindedness is that truth is novelty and hence “truth” changes with the passing fancies of the moment. Like the chameleon that changes his colors to suit the vesture on which he is placed, so truth is supposed to change to fit the foibles and obliquities of the age. The nature of certain things is fixed, and none more so than the nature of truth. Truth may be contradicted a thousand times, but that only proves that it is strong enough to survive a thousand assaults. But for any one to say, “Some say this, some say that, therefore, there is no truth,” is about as logical as it would have been for Columbus who heard some say, “The earth is round”, and others say “The earth is flat” to conclude: “Therefore, there is no earth.” Like a carpenter who might throw away his rule and use each beam as a measuring rod, so, too, those who have thrown away the standard of objective truth have nothing left with which to measure but the mental fashion of the moment.

The giggling giddiness of novelty, the sentimental restlessness of a mind unhinged, and the unnatural fear of a good dose of hard thinking, all conjoin to produce a group of sophomoric latitudinarians who think there is no difference between God as Cause and God as a “mental projection”; who equate Christ and Buddha, and then enlarge their broad-mindedness into a sweeping synthesis that says not only that one Christian sect is as good as another, but even that one world-religion is just as good as another. The great god “Progress” is then enthroned on the altars of fashion, and as the hectic worshippers are asked, “Progress toward what?” the tolerant comes back with “More progress.” All the while sane men are wondering how there can be progress without direction and how there can be direction without a fixed point. And because they speak of a “fixed point”, they are said to be behind the times, when really they are beyond the times mentally and spiritually.

Carnegie Medal for the Lenfests

David Patrick Stearns writes:

As patrons and major supporters of the arts in Philadelphia, Marguerite and H.F. “Gerry” Lenfest are used to giving ovations. Tuesday afternoon they received one at a tony luncheon at the New York Public Library as they and seven other recipients accepted the 2017 Carnegie Medal of Philanthropy.

The national honor is awarded every two years to philanthropists who have made a significant impact. Past recipients include Brooke Astor, the Rockefeller and Gates families, and Michael Bloomberg, along with Philadelphia’s Annenberg, Pew, and Haas families. …

In the past dozen and a half years, the Lenfests have distributed more than $1.2 billion to arts and culture, education, social services, and other charitable causes. Major recipients include the Philadelphia Museum of Art, the Museum of the American Revolution, and the Curtis Institute of Music. Most recently, Gerry Lenfest has acquired, donated, and endowed the media company that publishes the Inquirer, Daily News, and Philly.com.

Gerry Lenfest said author Waldemar A. Nielsen was also his guide [in addition to Andrew Carnegie’s The Gospel of Wealth], from whom he took three tenets. The first: “Don’t create the foundation in perpetuity. What’s important at the time can be unimportant later in life.”

Second, he said, “was to have professional manager of your foundation.”

“The third…is never have a family foundation. What brings a family together so often sets it apart. We have three children. Each has their own foundation. I don’t sit on the board, and they all do fantastic work.”

I’ve written about the Lenfests in the past, particularly after their gift of the Philadelphia Media Network. Their impact in Philadelphia is incredible, all the more so for the relatively short span of time they’ve had to do what they’ve done philanthropically—barely more than 15 years.

Constitution Day

When I woke up yesterday morning this was sitting in my inbox from Intercollegiate Studies Institute:

Constitution Day is this Sunday, September 17. That’s right: 230 years ago, our Founders signed the United States Constitution. …

There is no better guide to constitutional principles than We Still Hold These Truths by Hillsdale College dean Matthew Spalding. Don’t take my word for it: the Weekly Standard calls it “the single best introduction to the political thought of the American Founding.”

Happy Constitution Day. In light of the Constitution’s 230th anniversary I’ll share this photo I took at Washington Square in Philadelphia a few years ago:


And this photo of John Marshall I took at the Philadelphia Art Museum a few years ago, that has a beautifully compelling and compact inscription on its podium:

John Marshall
Chief Justice of the United States

As soldier he fought that the nation might come into being.
As expounder of the Constitution he gave it length of days.


Far more than simply voting, Americans can ask themselves how they can build lives and live in community with their neighbors in a way that gives our constitutional way of life further “length of days.”

The American dream isn’t finally about financial/material success or the pursuit of more. In fact, it’s the unique American dream of conserving the bounty of liberty that was build up over centuries and millennia from our English ancestors, and the Romans and Greeks before them, and their ancient ancestors and neighbors and on.

We have this great republic and the dream is that our children might, if we can keep it.

Raiding endowments

When we created the Pro-Life Union of Greater Philadephia‘s “John & Harriet Stanton Culture of Life Endowment,” we intentionally established it through the independent Catholic Foundation of Greater Philadelphia. At the time we did this, some board members asked, “Why not create it and manage it ourselves?” A great answer to this question came in the news last week. Peter Dobrin writes:

The Philadelphia Art Alliance, the venerable but long-struggling arts gem just off Rittenhouse Square, is to be absorbed by the University of the Arts under a deal approved by the boards of both groups.

The acquisition gives the university a gracious formal parlor a few blocks from its Broad Street campus in a neighborhood populated by many of the city’s most generous arts donors. The school expects to renovate the Art Alliance building, the former Wetherill mansion, and to establish a committee to help determine its long-term use, said University of the Arts president David Yager.

Its new name: Philadelphia Art Alliance at the University of the Arts. …

Established in 1915 as a small but ambitious artist-run arts center, the Art Alliance moved into the current Italian Renaissance-style building at 251 S. 18th St. in 1926. It traditionally presented the art of the day – often from opposite sides of the popularity spectrum. In the 1930s, it hosted Vladimir Horowitz and Nelson Eddy, Gertrude Stein, and Walt Disney (in 1932, in what was believed to be the first museum exhibition of animated art).

It was the venue, in 1936, for Andrew Wyeth’s first show. “I was 17. I was thrilled,” said Wyeth in 1989 upon accepting with son Jamie a shared Medal of Achievement from the Art Alliance. “I didn’t sell a thing.”

Horace Pippin was recognized in 1947 with a major exhibition. In the 1950s, the Art Alliance brought in W.H. Auden, Dorothy Parker, Aaron Copland, and Dylan Thomas. There, in the 1960s, Merce Cunningham danced and Edward Albee spoke.

Although the Art Alliance’s first significant shortfall came in 1969, according to its own written history, it continued to function as a locus for the arts community.

I had heard of the Philadelphia Art Alliance before, but wasn’t actively following them. Their trajectory tracks with Philadelphia’s waning prestige in the latter half of the 20th century, and in that sense their story isn’t unique. They’re one of many institutions that faded as people (and their money) moved away from the city. So how have they been surviving for so long?

Art Alliance board chair Carole Price Shanis said that keeping the books balanced had been difficult and that while the small arts center might have been able to keep going as it has, it would not have been able to realize its full potential.

“We’ve been in the black some years, and not so much reddish but pinkish in others, and when it’s been pinkish we’ve had to raise more money to make up the difference,” she said. …

The Art Alliance has been eating through its endowment, which was about $900,000 a few years ago, according to tax filings, but little is expected to be left by the time the deal is made final. “Clearly we needed an additional $150,000 a year in operating income to build this into a going concern,” said Thora Jacobson, the art club’s executive director.

After looking at their most recently available 2014 tax return, their contributions were roughly ~$115,000, and it looks like they made most of the rest of their revenue from renting the Wetherill Mansion where they’re headquartered. They made relatively small amounts from program revenue. The Philadelphia Art Alliance was cannibalizing its endowment to pay for its immediate expenses in order to avoid closure. Carole Price Shanis’s assertion that their budget wasn’t “so much reddish but pinkish” is a very charitable way to look at recent annual deficits of $70,000 and $250,000 in the past two years. I’m not criticizing the Philadelphia Art Alliance for eating its endowment to stay alive—I’m assuming that they did what they felt was necessary, and it was within their right to do so. But every time one dips into an endowment, that endowment’s capacity to generate annual income is diminished and its purpose as an endowment is compromised in providing for the organization’s mission. The moment that dipping into an endowment’s principal is necessary for a nonprofit to stay alive is the moment that trustees or directors should be looking to do what the Philadelphia Art Alliance ultimately did: reorganize or merge.

If the Philadelphia Art Alliance’s endowment had been protected through investment with an independent community foundation (like The Philadelphia Foundation), it arguably would’ve forced their board to make the same difficult decision much sooner—and instead of the University of the Arts getting the Wetherill Mansion, they’d also be receiving a $1MM endowment to fund a basic program budget.

At the Pro-Life Union, we intentionally created our endowment with the independent Catholic Foundation because it makes it impossible for any future Pro-Life Union board to “raid” the endowment’s principal to do what the Philadelphia Art Alliance did. If and when that moment of fiscal crisis comes for the Pro-Life Union, those endowment funds raised by generations of pro-life donors will be safe from being spent in the blink of an eye. Indeed, the John & Harriet Stanton Culture of Life Endowment is designed to outlive the Pro-Life Union, while at the same time continuing to perpetuate its mission by funding similar culture of life efforts in perpetuity.

The larger an endowment becomes, the more at-risk it is in being seized upon by the human tendency towards short-term thinking. I remember reading something that Peter Lynch once said: “invest in businesses any idiot could run, because someday one will.” That’s not a charitable way to think, but absorbing that principle can be a practical way to protect a nonprofit’s assets from the apparent necessity of misusing those assets in the future.

Executive transitions

Since joining the Pro-Life Union of Greater Philadelphia as a board member more than five years ago, I’ve seen firsthand how Edel Finnegan has proven herself to be a practical and warm-hearted ambassador for pro-life people across the area as our executive director.


I’ve seen her impact in fostering a culture that’s more welcoming to life, and specifically to one that’s meaningfully supportive of women and families vulnerable to abortion through Guiding Star and alternatives. I’ve seen the humble and powerfully empathetic way that Edel speaks the truth with love on topics that our culture and so many of us would rather just not hear. I’ve seen Edel make our annual, 1300+ guest “Stand Up For Life” dinner a success, and her work in the areas of education, public affairs, and outreach in addition to managing a staff of roughly six, encouraging positive board reform, and ensuring that the mission is executed within the bounds of a responsible annual budget.

Edel’s been a great leader for the Pro-Life Union. After more than 12 years she has felt called to move on from her role as leader, and we’ve shared this message today with the Pro-Life Union’s supporters.

unnamed.pngThe Pro-Life Union of Greater Philadelphia is excited to share that we’re kicking off a search for our new President & CEO. We’re sharing this with you in the hopes that you’ll spread the word among your friends, member organizations, and the wider pro-life community as this search gets underway.

After more than 12 years, Edel Finnegan has felt called to move on from her role as the Pro-Life Union’s leader. Naturally, this is a bittersweet time for all of us who have seen firsthand how Edel Finnegan has helped foster a Culture of Life across the Philadelphia region, and specifically in the ways Edel has witnessed to the sanctity of life through the Pro-Life Union’s efforts in alternatives, education, outreach, and public affairs. We are tremendously grateful to her for so many years of service and sacrifice to women, children, and families in need of a caring heart.

At the same time, we are eager to build upon the legacy that Edel will be leaving, and are asking for your help in spreading the news of our search for a new President & CEO for the Pro-Life Union to continue our mission of service.

President & CEO role description and application process

Board of Directors
Pro-Life Union of Greater Philadelphia

I’m hopeful we’ll find Edel’s successor before the end of the year, and that he/she will build upon Edel’s successes.

Being minimally conscious

Dr. Joseph J. Fins writes about our habit of segregating patients who are minimally conscious from receiving meaningful rehabilitation, and the scandal that is our mis-diagnosis rate for patients like Terri Schiavo, wherein patients are classified as functionally brain-dead when in fact more than 40 percent are likely conscious:

Maggie was found to be in the “minimally conscious state” — a term medically formalized in 2002. Unlike vegetative patients, those in MCS areconscious. They demonstrate intention, attention and memory. They may reach for a cup, say their name and notice you when you walk into their room. The problem is that these actions may be rare and intermittent, so when family members who witnessed them share their observations with staff members, they are often attributed to a family’s wishful thinking.

This may be true in individual cases. But often it is just part and parcel of the biology of MCS. Indeed, at least one study indicated an alarming rate of misdiagnosis: it found that 41 percent of patients with traumatic brain injury who were in chronic care and thought to be in the vegetative state were in fact in MCS.

If not for the astute observations of her Boston neurologist, Maggie, too, would have been misdiagnosed in perpetuity. But instead, she was expressing herself one blink at a time. For a young woman who had been thought permanently unconscious, this was truly a heroic accomplishment. …

Maggie’s case — her “small life” — became very consequential when my colleagues at Weill Cornell Medicine published a paper last December in the journal Science Translational Medicine revealing what had happened within her brain following her injury. During the recovery of her ability to communicate, Maggie’s brain essentially rewired over a period of years.

Using magnetic resonance imaging, Daniel J. Thengone, a graduate student, and colleagues in the Laboratory of Cognitive Neuromodulation, led by Dr. Nicholas D. Schiff, were able to demonstrate a strengthening of structural and functional reconnections across the two hemispheres emanating from Broca’s area, the region in the frontal lobe responsible for speech. It showed, remarkably, that even a grievously injured brain could heal itself. It appeared to do so by a process bearing a strong resemblance to typical brain development. The ongoing reorganization of connections among neurons is a reprise of how the developing brain gets its start. …

Yet, access to care is strained for this population. Utilization reviewers, and insurance benefit companies will deny access to rehabilitation to many individuals when they leave the hospital because they are deemed not yet ready for rehabilitation. But when nearly half of those who could participate are misdiagnosed as vegetative when they are actually minimally conscious, this vulnerable group is further marginalized. Organizations like the American College of Rehabilitation Medicine have been calling for a comprehensive evaluation of patients after hospital discharge so that misdiagnosis can be prevented and those who might be helped can get the rehabilitation they need.

Even those lucky few who do get rehabilitation and are not shunted off to what is euphemistically called “custodial care” get too little time. Most rehab stays are six weeks or less. But if the brain recovers through a slow process similar to development, why do we provide — and only to those lucky enough to receive it — just a few hours of rehabilitation a week for six weeks? It would be akin to sending your third grader to school for half-days of classes for a month or two and telling them that they are now on their own. Now that we know that it takes years for the developing brain to learn and mature, a similar commitment to the recovering injured brain now seems indicated.

If we reconceived rehabilitation as education, no one would graduate after a six-week course of care. Instead, we would promote lifelong learning as a means to achieve a recovered life. If there is a legal obligation to educate the developing brain, should there not be a correlative responsibility to those whose brain are in a process of redevelopment and recovery?

Dr. Fins’s entire op-ed is worth reading if you care about whats of medical care is provided to America’s most vulnerable patients.