Suggested readings, #106

Here it is, a rundown of interesting articles I’ve come across recently, to consider for your weekend readings:

Coronavirus: do we have a moral duty not to get sick? Yes, we do. (The Conversation)

An ontology of evil. Evolutionary biology, data science, and why evil is a bigger problem than many like to admit. (Medium)

What’s it like to go mad? Meet the man who found out. Psychosis gave Dutch linguist Wouter Kusters an insight into mental illness. See if you can make much sense of it, because I couldn’t. (Irish Times)

What does it mean to be a living thing? Review of what looks like a very good by science journalist Carl Zimmer. (New York Times)

The radiant inner life of a robot. Kazuo Ishiguro returns to masters and servants with a story of love between a machine and the girl she belongs to. Another book review, this time of a philosophically laden sci-fi book that I’ll probably put on the list for my regular philosophy book club. (The Atlantic)

Is indigenous science actually pseudoscience? Yup

Below are the first couple of paragraphs of two papers I have written about the ongoing problem (in Canada) of “indigenizing” the university, i.e., of introducing so-called indigenous science into standard science courses. Spoiler alert: with all due respect to indigenous people and what they have suffered, I think this is a terrible idea. You can download the two full papers here and here. The full book can be obtained here.

First paper: Is Indigenous Science Pseudoscience? A Response to Gorelick

There has been much debate of late about alternative ways of doing science, particularly within the delicate context of Indigenous practices in Canada, Australia, and other countries around the world. Some authors have called for the integration of what they refer to as traditional ecological knowledge into university science education curricula (Snively and Corsiglia 2000); others have made an even broader call pertinent to science in general (Michie 2002). Some have suggested that not just science education, but science proper, will benefit from the integration of Indigenous methods, especially when it comes to practical applications (Johnson et al. 2016).

The debate is often understandably emotional, as it is set against the background of the lingering aftermath of colonialism (Williams and Chrisman 2013), and within the broader issue of multiculturalism (Race 2015) and the productive coexistence of different traditions within a given society. It is also often framed in terms of pseudoscience (Pigliucci and Boudry 2013), with (some) critics of Indigenous approaches dismissively labelling the latter as pseudoscientific, and defenders of such approaches striving to show that they represent legitimate alternatives to what is often characterized as “Western” science. …

Second paper: Is Indigenous Science Pseudoscience? A Further Response to Gorelick

I wish to thank Root Gorelick for his kind words about me at the beginning of his response, though I would hardly recommend anyone to “revere” me! That said, his second piece is a bit all over the place, which makes it hard to pinpoint crucial aspects to respond to in a short follow-up. Nevertheless, I will highlight what I think are Gorelick’s major points and offer a counter- commentary.

He begins with an apology: “I am defending Indigenous ways of knowing despite being a naïve white person. There is nothing Indigenous about my carpet-bagger heritage.” This (in my view unnecessary) bit of self-deprecation is then followed, later on in the essay, by criticizing me as the white man who has not checked his privilege. For instance: “‘Hypocrisy is the greatest luxury,’ a luxury that we have as professors, being in a place of privilege [implying that I am a hypocritical individual who is unaware of his privilege, since Gorelick has just checked his own publicly] … Modern proponents of Indigenous ways of knowing strive for inclusivity, not usurpation nor conquest [implying that I am on the side of usurpation and conquest].” …

Suggested readings, #105

Here it is, a rundown of interesting articles I’ve come across recently, to consider for your weekend readings:

Where Do Posthumanist Fantasies of Tech-Enabled Life Fit Into Evolution? (LitHub)

The fight against fake-paper factories that churn out sham science. Some publishers say they are battling industrialized cheating. A Nature analysis examines the ‘paper mill’ problem — and how editors are trying to cope. (Nature)

Where science and miracles meet. Recent speculations in physics reveal that believers and nonbelievers may have more in common than they think. (The Atlantic)

I have come to bury Ayn Rand. A prominent evolutionary biologist slays the beast of Individualism. (Nautilus)

Huxley’s warning. Orwell vs. Huxley, fear vs. pacification, and the battleground of individuality. (Medium)

Suggested readings, #104

Here it is, a rundown of interesting articles I’ve come across recently, to consider for your weekend readings:

Eight of literature’s most powerful inventions—and the neuroscience behind how they work. These reoccuring story elements have proven effects on our imagination, our emotions and other parts of our psyche. And for once, a “this is your brain on X” article that is actually worth reading. (Smithsonian)

Diogenes and a puzzle of social critique. Even the ancient Cynics didn’t always “punch up.” But they should have. (3 Quarks Daily)

Wise women: 6 ancient female philosophers you should know about. (The Conversation)

Cilantro love and hate: is it a genetic trait? (23andMe)

The science of terrible men. The pioneers of social genetics were racists and eugenicists: should we give up on the science they founded altogether? The author makes a couple of scientific mistakes and errors of reasoning, in my mind. But it is nevertheless a must read. (Oh, and I think her example of Woody Allen is a bad one.) (Aeon)

Suggested readings, #103

Here it is, a rundown of interesting articles I’ve come across recently, to consider for your weekend readings:

Wilfrid Sellars, sensory experience and the ‘Myth of the Given.’ (Psyche)

That is not how your brain Works. Forget these scientific myths to better understand your brain and yourself. (Nautilus)

For chaos or country? Thomas Hobbes vs Jean-Jacques Rousseau about what society does to human nature. (The Philosophical Salon)

The politician is the malformed monster of our coexistence. (Psyche)

Procrastination: a strategy for change. On the power of implementation intentions. (Psychology Today)

Mini-review: Nemesis, by Philip Roth

I love reading books. That’s why this site features entries from my video book club, essay-based book club, as well as reviews of individual books. Sometimes, though, I can’t get around to a full fledged review, or the book requires only a few paragraphs of commentary. In those cases, I used to publish mini-reviews on Amazon. But since I’ve started boycotting the company (because of their awful labor practices, destructive near-monopoly, and willful avoidance of taxes), I decided to move this practice to my blog. So here we go with the latest entry.

Nemesis is a novel by Philip Roth, one of the great American writers of the 20th and early 21st century. It was published in 2010, but the experience of reading it now is eerie, given the obvious (if unintended by the author) echoes of the covid pandemic.

The story is set in 1944 New Jersey, during a summer that saw the prelude to the end of World War II in Europe, the continuation of the Pacific war against Japan, and an outbreak of polio – just a few years before the vaccine was developed. (Beware, several spoilers coming up!)

The main character, Bucky Cantor, could not join the army – much to his regret – because of his poor eyesight. Recently graduated from college, he is employed for the summer as playground director in Newark, NJ. He has a strong sense of duty and a sturdy moral compass, instilled in him by his grandfather, with whom he grew up.

But the kids frequenting the playground start getting sick and dying of polio, and Bucky is impotent about it. Finally his fiancee finds him a job out of town, in a campground in the Poconos, in Pennsylvania. There Bucky could have everything: spend time with his soon to be wife, work with kids, and be safe from polio. He hesitates because of his guilt about abandoning the children he was supervising in Newark, but finally takes the job. Unfortunately, the polio follows him to the mountains, eventually getting to him as well.

I will not write about how the last section of the book unfolds because it is well worth reading it on your own. Be prepared for a really tough scene between Bucky and his fiancee, as well as for a heavy dose of great food for philosophical fought, courtesy of a conversation about that fateful summer that Bucky has many years later with a guy who had been one of the children he had supervised back in Newark. The fellow in question had also been struck by polio, but his life then took a sharply divergent trajectory from Bucky’s.

Nemesis is a striking piece of writing by Roth, one that will remain with you for a long time, and that will give you quite a bit to think about. You will never see the current covid pandemic in the same way.

Suggested readings, #102

Here it is, a rundown of interesting articles I’ve come across recently, to consider for your weekend readings:

Final thoughts. Do deathbed regrets give us a special insight into what really matters in life? There are good reasons to be skeptical. (Aeon / Psyche)

How to cope with teen (and others’) anxiety. Cognitive behavioral therapy provides a toolbox of skills to help you manage anxiety and do what you want with your life. (Aeon / Psyche)

Stoicism as an ally against anxiety. (Modern Stoicism)

The quest to tell science from pseudoscience. Philosopher Karl Popper famously asked how to tell the two apart. His answer—falsifiability—hasn’t aged well, but the effort lives on. (Boston Review)

When does an idea die? Plato and string theory clash with data. How long should one wait until an idea like string theory, seductive as it may be, is deemed unrealistic? (Greece High Definition)

Suggested readings, #101

Here it is, a rundown of interesting articles I’ve come across recently, to consider for your weekend readings:

7 lessons from Diogenes that will change the way you look at life. Learn from the notorious philosopher-troll. (Medium)

Beyond Order shows the disconnect between how Jordan Peterson is perceived and what he writes. Why not? One more on JP! (Globe & Mail)

The machine stops: science and its limits. (LA Review of Books)

The sustainable food paradox. Why are so many attempts to eat ethically counterproductive? (Medium)

Academics aren’t content creators, and it’s regressive to make them so. A video by a professor for only their class is akin to the single-copy, handwritten book disseminated to just one room of people. (Times Higher Education)

Mini-review: Julian, by Gore Vidal

I love reading books. That’s why this site features entries from my video book club, essay-based book club, as well as reviews of individual books. Sometimes, though, I can’t get around to a full fledged review, or the book requires only a few paragraphs of commentary. In those cases, I used to publish mini-reviews on Amazon. But since I’ve started boycotting the company (because of their awful labor practices, destructive near-monopoly, and willful avoidance of taxes), I decided to move this practice to my blog. So here we go with the latest entry.

Julian, by Gore Vidal, is a wonderfully engaging historical novel about the last pagan Roman emperor, known to posterity – because of Christian hostility – as “the Apostate.” Julian was the nephew of Constantine I, the emperor that decided both to yield to Christianity and make it the state’s religion, and to move the capital from Rome to Byzantium, which he of course renamed Constantinople. Julian attempted to stem the rising tide of Christianity, not by banning it or by persecuting Christians, but rather by encouraging the ancient pagan rites and by stripping Christian authorities of their special privileges (as well as of a lot of temples they had been appropriated for their purposes).

Julian was also one of the few examples of philosopher-kings, and indeed consciously styled himself, in part, after Marcus Aurelius. While the latter embraced Stoicism, Julian was attracted to Neoplatonism. He was particularly influenced by the Syrian Neoplatonist Iamblichus, as well as by the mystic Maximus of Ephesus.

Julian rose to power rather unexpectedly, after having won surprising battles against the Germanic tribes in Gaul, and when his rival (and cousin) Constantius II suddenly died of fever. Julian immediately set out to implement a wide range of anti-corruption reforms throughout the empire, but his work was cut short by his death in battle during an expedition in Persia. He was possibly killed in action by one of his own, a Christian, though there is no hard evidence of that being the case.

Vidal’s novel spectacularly succeeds in giving the reader a glimpse of both the man and his time, achieving an excellent balancing act of being sympathetic to Julian while at the same time not indulging in hero worship. Vidal also uses the novel as a vehicle – through Julian – for a harsh criticism of Christianity, its origins, its doctrines, and its modus operandi. A real pleasure to read.

Suggested readings, #100

Here it is, a rundown of interesting articles I’ve come across recently, to consider for your weekend readings:

The abuses of Popper. A powerful cadre of scientists and economists sold Karl Popper’s ‘falsification’ idea to the world. They have much to answer for. (Aeon)

The art of abiding. Why the Dude is a hero not to be emulated (Medium)

The limits of computation. In what sense, if any, is the human brain a computer? (Philosophy Now)

11 science fiction books that are regularly taught in college classes. Add your own to the list! (io9)

Why we need virtue ethics. And don’t be fooled by the picture of Kant accompanying the article… (3 Quarks Daily)

Why easing restrictions will lead to more, not less, collateral damage. By my friend and collaborator Maarten Boudry. (Areo Magazine)

Why are literature and philosophy such an awkward match? A new anthology reveals the perils and rewards of philosophical fiction. Also, why do so many articles recently begin with “Why”? (New Republic)