Suggested readings, #88

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

The long and tortured history of cancel culture. The public shaming of those deemed moral transgressors has been around for ages. As practiced today, though, is the custom a radical form of citizen justice or merely a handmaiden to capitalism? (New York Times)

It’s only fake-believe: how to deal with a conspiracy theorist. As the pandemic has taken a grip, so have the misinformation spreaders. Here are five ways to spot the holes in their logic. (Guardian)

China tests social credit system waters. According to this philosopher, it is hard to see what’s wrong with the Chinese experiment. Can you do better? (Observer Today)

Did Einstein say he believed in the pantheistic God of Baruch Spinoza? Einstein wasn’t afraid to question religion as critically as he did scientific theory. (Snopes)

We can thank Herodotus, the ‘father of history,’ for our knowledge of the ancient world. One of the first to attempt to write down an account of the past, Herodotus helped establish a historical tradition that continues to this day. (Discover)

Suggested readings, #87

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

7 pandemic differences between the U.S. and Europe. Why Europe is doing a much better job handling Covid-19. Hint: it has to do with government priorities and support for its citizens. (Medium)

Is JK Rowling transphobic? One of the best, most thoughtful essays I’ve read in a while on the debates between transgender advocates and gender critical feminists. Of course, as soon as I posted the link on Twitter I was accused of being transphobic… (Open for Debate)

Can an 18th century statistician help us think more clearly? Distinguishing between types of probability can help us worry less and do more. A basic intro to Bayes’ theorem. (Mind Matters)

So you’re on the side of progress? So are your opponents. Which is not a call for moral relativism. (Medium)

Maxims from the Delphic Oracle. Socrates, Stoicism, and the Philosophy of Apollo. (Medium)

Suggested readings, #86

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

Examine everything: the heuristic philosophy of Elisabeth Lasch-Quinn. Book review of Ars Vitae — The Fate of Inwardness and the Return of the Ancient Arts of Living, in which Lasch-Quinn argues for a return to the inner life in order to combat the maladies of the 21st century. (LA Review of Books)

How Japanese people stay fit for life, without ever visiting a gym. One of my occasional picks paying homage to Japanese culture. In this case, the answer is: walking, everywhere. (Medium)

How to fall out of love. Ancient philosophy and the cure of lovesickness. Long read by Don Robertson on how to cure yourself of mad love by following the advice of the poets Lucretius and Ovid. (Medium)

Why are politicians suddenly talking about their ‘lived experience’? A must read by Anthony Appiah about the perils of relying on one’s own “lived experience” in order to make points allegedly representative of large groups (based on ethnicity, gender, etc.). (Guardian)

Object lessons. A stimulating piece on Henry James’ novels and the problem of objectifying other people. I think it goes awry in places where the author doesn’t seem to appreciate enough the distinctions between human beings and art objects. Still, worth reading. (ArtNews)

Suggested readings, #85

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

Carlo Rovelli on what we can learn from the octopus mind. Do octopuses hold the key to understanding consciousness? I’m not as optimistic as Rovelli and my colleague Peter Godfrey-Smith, but it’s an intriguing idea. (BBC Science Focus)

Anxiety isn’t a pathology. It drives us to push back the unknown. I’m increasingly less convinced by articles published in Psyche, the new Aeon outlet. Still, food for thought. (Psyche / Aeon)

Will the universe remember us after we’re gone? Despite the potentially New Age title, John Horgan doesn’t take the path of nonsense. Must-read article. (Scientific American)

What America owes to the Greeks and Romans. A lot, as it turns out, though the Founding Fathers would definitely look with dismay on what American has now become. (New York Times)

Means to an end. Aristotle’s metaphysics of nature. A valiant attempt to bring back a Tomistic version of Aristotle’s metaphysics for modern science. Doomed to fail, in my opinion. (Times Literary Supplement)

Suggested readings, #84

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

Conscious spoons, really? Pushing back against panpsychism. A really nice take down of the latest in pseudo-philosophy. (NeuroBanter)

The death of philosophers. A few choice examples of how philosophers have died through the ages. (thinkPhilosophy)

The radical aristocrat who put kindness on a scientific footing. An article about Peter Kropotkin’s good political intentions and misguided science. Not enough emphasis by the author on the latter. (Aeon Psyche)

Can lab-grown brains become conscious? Fascinating overview of brain organoids and the likelihood we’ll learn something about consciousness by studying their properties. Also a good discussion of the ethical implications of such research. (Nature)

Successful companies live up to this Ancient Greek ideal. An evidence-based argument that – in the long run – commercially successful companies are those that engage in corporate philotimy, that is, cultivate ethical integrity. (Harvard Business Review)

Suggested readings, #83

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

Psychedelics can’t be tested using conventional clinical trials. Research on psychedelics is all the rage, but it turns out to be much more difficult to carry out than one might have assumed. (Aeon)

The neurology of flow states. Why time vanishes when you’re jamming. Ever been in a state of flow? Here is what it looks like inside your brain, and why it matters. (Nautilus)

Why physics can’t tell us what life is. The origin of life can’t be explained by first principles. Biology is not just more complex physics, I keep telling my friends in the Physics Department. (Nautilus)

The dangers of moral talk: on Justin Tosi and Brandon Warmke’s “Grandstanding.” Although there is a danger that these authors themselves indulge in moral grandstanding, they have a point. And it cuts across the political divide. (LA Review of Books)

Suggested readings, #82

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

Cognition all the way down. Biologists like to think of themselves as properly scientific behaviourists, explaining and predicting the ways that proteins, organelles, cells, plants, animals and whole biota behave under various conditions, thanks to the smaller parts of which they are composed. They identify causal mechanisms that reliably execute various functions such as copying DNA, attacking antigens, photosynthesising, discerning temperature gradients, capturing prey, finding their way back to their nests and so forth, but they don’t think that this acknowledgment of functions implicates them in any discredited teleology or imputation of reasons and purposes or understanding to the cells and other parts of the mechanisms they investigate. … (Aeon) [With all due respect to Dan Dennett and his co-author, no. While I appreciate their logic, this sort of “intentional” language is way too anthropomorphic, and prone to wild misunderstandings especially when exported to the general public.]

A more political science. For years we have heard warnings about the “politicization of science” and the need to “restore science to its rightful place.” Likewise, we hear that more and more politicians and members of the public are “anti-science.” This is a way of talking about science as a monolithic body that issues in unitary conclusions about what actions we should take — as if we could gaze deep into the fabric of the cosmos and find the answer to whether our society should solve climate change by adopting a carbon tax, converting our electricity grid to nuclear power, or relinquishing fossil fuels. … (New Atlantis) [Actually, very good points, as much as many scientists will instinctively recoil from the implications.]

How we make moral decisions. Imagine that one day you’re riding the train and decide to hop the turnstile to avoid paying the fare. It probably won’t have a big impact on the financial well-being of your local transportation system. But now ask yourself, “What if everyone did that?” The outcome is much different — the system would likely go bankrupt and no one would be able to ride the train anymore. Moral philosophers have long believed this type of reasoning, known as universalization, is the best way to make moral decisions. But do ordinary people spontaneously use this kind of moral judgment in their everyday lives? … (MIT News) [Fascinating research, though the really big question, as the article points out at the end, is why people sometimes fail to make moral decisions.]

The problem with philanthropy. Charitable giving is one of the few things in the world that seems to be wholly good. Philanthropy, often characterised as private action for the public good, appears to earn the original meaning of the term: love of humanity. What could be a better example of virtue? There’s no question that individuals giving to worthy causes provides important relief from states’ failures to promote justice and wellbeing. Philanthropy can also provide key support to resistance movements. Yet since wealthy foundations such as the Gates Foundation and Gates Trust hold assets that surpass many countries, there is reason to be concerned about the political significance of large-scale philanthropy. … (New Statesman) [If you think billionaire philanthropy is a good idea, think again.]

Fake news, Stoicism, and the stiff upper lip. Fake news is not a recent phenomenon. Nor is its propagation limited to Russian bots or extreme right-wing media outlets. In this article my aim is to dispel a long-standing and pernicious myth about Stoicism, the ancient philosophy founded by Zeno of Citium around 300 BCE which is currently enjoying something of a resurgence. The “fake news” claims that Stoicism is a dour, grim philosophy advocating the repression of emotions — the “stiff upper lip.” The truth about Stoicism is very different. Stoicism is in fact a positive, constructive life philosophy advocating active, virtuous engagement with the world. In this article I will first provide theoretical reasons to challenge the stiff upper lip view of Stoicism and then share recent empirical evidence about Stoicism that I hope will reduce the plausibility of the notion that Stoicism should be equated with a “stiff upper lip”. … (Medium) [If you think of Stoics has sporting a stiff upper lip the data flatly contradict you.]

Suggested readings, #81

man making a decision honesty vs dishonesty

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

Adam Smith warned us about sympathising with the elites. In his Theory of Moral Sentiments (1759), Adam Smith developed a theory of psychology based on ‘sympathy’ and outlined a way of living based on ‘reason and philosophy’. These ideas not only banish the (already disappearing) stereotype of Smith as a pioneer of free-market policies, but challenge some of our most cherished ideas about the sources of happiness. Published 17 years before The Wealth of Nations (1776), Moral Sentiments begins by rejecting the idea that people are basically self-interested. ‘How selfish soever man may be supposed, there are evidently some principles in his nature which interest him in the fortune of others,’ Smith declares. We are often motivated, and indeed dominated, by our emotional involvement with our ideas about other people, which Smith calls ‘sympathy’. … (Aeon-Psyche) [This is a must read for anyone with only a superficial acquaintance with Smith. Which is most people. You’ll be surprised.]

What’s good about lying? Do you teach children to lie? I do. All the time. And you do, too! If you’re like most American parents, you point to presents under the Christmas tree and claim that a man named Santa Claus put them there. But your deliberate deceptions probably go beyond Santa, the Tooth Fairy, or the Easter Bunny. How many of us tell our kids (or students) that everything is fine when, in fact, everything is totally wrong, in order to preserve their sense of security? Have you been honest about everything having to do with, say, your love life, or what happens at work? Do you praise drawings they bring home from school that you actually think are terrible? … (Greater Good) [On the difference between prosocial and antisocial lying, only one of which is really bad.]

The COVID-19 free market experiment. My last column for Skeptical Inquirer landed me on a conservative Chicago-area talk radio program. I think something about the title, “COVID-19 and the Tyranny of Now,” caught the eye of one of the show’s hosts, so they invited me on to discuss the article in the morning drive slot. The conversation was polite, and although I tried to find as many points of agreement as possible, it soon became clear we actually had less in common than the host must have imagined. In preparation for my appearance, I listened to the show for a few hours, and the hosts and callers spent much of their time complaining about the coronavirus health policies, such as the closing of restaurants, bars, and schools, imposed by the Illinois governor and Chicago mayor (both Democrats). On the morning of my interview, they were pointing to the increased number of “deaths of despair” during the stay-at-home period, in particular the rise in drug overdoses in the Chicago area. … (Skeptical Inquirer) [Another must read, this time if you think that government imposed restrictions on businesses are what is driving the economy down. Think again.]

Why you should love a Japanese breakfast. I was born in the U.S. and spent my formative years there, so, naturally, I developed the sense that a normal breakfast should look something like pancakes, cereal, buttered toast, bacon, or sausages. It’s what was served to me when I went to friends’ houses for sleepovers and it’s what was advertised to me when I watched television. These are breakfast foods: The things that we should be eating in the morning to start our day. But when my family would return to Japan for the summer, my idea of breakfast was challenged. Instead of the usual toast or cereal that I was used to, my grandmother would prepare rice, fish, pickles, miso soup, and some vegetables for us every morning. As a child, I would stare down at these foods in the morning and silently protest: These are not breakfast foods. … (Medium) [The Japanese got a lot of things right, we should consider imitating them.]

The great philosopher-emperor you’ve never heard of. In June 363 a demoralised and tired Roman army was marching deep in the territory of the enemy Sassanid Empire in what is now modern Iraq. The retreating army was dangerously low on supplies in the sweltering heat of a Mesopotamian summer. Soldiers burdened by a slow-moving baggage train were under constant harassment from mounted Sassanian raiders, picking them off with missiles. The column was heading north along the bank of the Tigris to the safety of Roman territory, having given up besieging the Sassanian capital Ctesiphon and losing their campaign objective. The Emperor Flavius Claudius Julianus, better known to us as Julian, leading the column, was told of another attack on the rear guard. … (Medium) [Julian so-called the Apostate, the last great pagan Roman emperor.]

Suggested readings, #80

[Photo by Leah Kelley from Pexels]

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

Firm led by Google veterans uses A.I. to ‘nudge’ workers toward happiness. Technology companies like to promote artificial intelligence’s potential for solving some of the world’s toughest problems, like reducing automobile deaths and helping doctors diagnose diseases. A company started by three former Google employees is pitching A.I. as the answer to a more common problem: being happier at work. … (New York Times) [Because if there is something I trust corporations to do is to care about my happiness.]

Ancient democracy for an online world. Has the internet spelled the end of democracy? When most people ask this question, they are thinking about what the internet does to the politics of governments: the Cambridge Analytica scandal and QAnon, the app-driven election campaigns of populist strongmen like Jair Bolsonaro in Brazil and Rodrigo Duterte in the Philippines, #fakenews, #deepstate and so forth. There are lots of good reasons to worry that the answer might be yes. … (Noema)

A theory about conspiracy theories. More than 1 in 3 Americans believe that the Chinese government engineered the coronavirus as a weapon, and another third are convinced that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has exaggerated the threat of Covid-19 to undermine President Trump. The numbers, from a survey released on Sept. 21 by the University of Pennsylvania’s Annenberg Public Policy Center, may or may not taper off as communities begin to contain the virus. … (New York Times)

Trump is a person devoid of good character. Why doesn’t it seem to matter? If ever the importance of having a good character was put to the vote, it was in November 2016. Then, a reality TV star who flaunted his bad character (from mocking a disabled reporter, to bragging about grabbing women by the pussy and disrespecting members of the military) was voted president of the United States, and on some level the issue was settled. Does character matter anymore? Increasingly, it seems no. … (The Guardian) [Only one caveat: the Stoics wouldn’t be “baffled and depressed” nowadays. On the contrary, they would not have been surprised and would have redoubled their efforts to improve themselves.]

Beyond Kuhn and Feyerabend. When discussing a philosophical question, it is sometimes useful to investigate the history of that question and its answers. The question I am dealing with here is: what makes science special? I assume that scientific knowledge is indeed special primarily by being more reliable than other kinds of knowledge, but also better in some other senses. This question of the special status of science has first been dealt with very soon after science was invented in ancient Greece, having integrated influences from other cultures. In the course of history, the Greek answer had to be seriously modified due to two main factors. First, the sciences developed enormously ever since and a theory of what makes science special had to adapt to this profound change of its subject matter. Second, not only doing science but also thinking about science became more sophisticated, especially regarding what different kinds of logic could and could not achieve in science. In the following, I shall sketch this historical development in order to characterize our current stance with respect to the question of what makes science special. … (IAI.tv) [One of the best articles on philosophy of science you’ll read this year.]

Suggested readings, #79

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

Why are we in the West so WEIRD? A Theory. According to copies of copies of fragments of ancient texts, Pythagoras in about 500 B.C. exhorted his followers: Don’t eat beans! Why he issued this prohibition is anybody’s guess (Aristotle thought he knew), but it doesn’t much matter because the idea never caught on. According to Joseph Henrich, some unknown early church fathers about a thousand years later promulgated the edict: Don’t marry your cousin! Why they did this is also unclear, but if Henrich is right — and he develops a fascinating case brimming with evidence — this prohibition changed the face of the world, by eventually creating societies and people that were WEIRD: Western, educated, industrialized, rich, democratic. … (New York Times) [I’m not at all convinced that we are that WEIRD, but it makes for a challenging read.]

The new, nicer Nero. Reassessing history’s most maligned ruler, notorious for fiddling while Rome burned. The Colosseum in Rome draws close to eight million tourists a year, making it one of the world’s most-visited archaeological attractions. I could see the crowds converging on the magnificent first-century amphitheater as I headed across the street to a small park on a hillock. There was almost no one here, aside from a few young mothers pushing strollers along the pathways. A cluster of nuns passed by, and one of them pointed me toward a poorly marked gate at the base of the hill—the entrance to the Domus Aurea, or what’s left of it, anyway. … (Smithsonian) [Not too convinced by this one either, smells a bit too much of historical revisionism. But, again, interesting read nonetheless.]

Why the Supreme Court ended up with nine justices—and how that could change. Why the Supreme Court ended up with nine justices—and how that could change. The U.S. Supreme Court changed size seven times in its first 80 years, from as few as five justices to as many as 10. Now, some argue it’s time to revisit the issue. … (National Geographic) [Lots of good ideas here, from unpractical ones to those that make a lot of sense but will never be implemented.]

A four-year timeline of Trump’s impact on science. Since he took office in January 2017, US President Donald Trump has not made science a priority; he has proposed massive cuts to many science agencies and took 19 months to nominate a science adviser. But his policies and actions have had strong impacts — many of them harmful — on researchers and issues related to science. Here’s a timeline of those events ahead of the US presidential election on 3 November. … (Nature)

Columbus is the wrong hero for Italian-Americans: In fact, associating him with us is a form of cultural erasure. Cultural erasure occurs when a people’s history becomes mythologized to support the values of their oppressors. The association of Italian-Americans with Christopher Columbus is a good example. During a summer of protests decrying racial injustices and the United States’ history of white supremacy, Gov. Cuomo was asked whether it was time to remove the statue adorning Manhattan’s Columbus Circle. The governor replied: “I understand the feelings about Christopher Columbus and some of his acts, which nobody would support…But the statue has come to represent and signify appreciation for the Italian American contribution to New York. For that reason, I support it.” Meanwhile, in Philadelphia’s Marconi Plaza, some gathered with weapons to “protect” a statue of Columbus from being removed. The statue has subsequently been slated for removal. … (Daily News) [Very good points about little appreciated aspects of Italian and Italian-American history.]