About Rationally Speaking

Rationally Speaking is a blog maintained by Prof. Massimo Pigliucci, a philosopher at the City University of New York. The blog reflects the Enlightenment figure Marquis de Condorcet's idea of what a public intellectual (yes, we know, that's such a bad word) ought to be: someone who devotes himself to "the tracking down of prejudices in the hiding places where priests, the schools, the government, and all long-established institutions had gathered and protected them." You're welcome. Please notice that the contents of this blog can be reprinted under the standard Creative Commons license.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Tunç’s Picks

By Tunç Iyriboz
* Debunking neurosexism: We may be all from Earth, not Mars or Venus. Tune in to Skeptically Speaking Radio for an interview with Dr. Cordelia Fine on her book “Delusions of Gender: How Our Minds, Society, and Neurosexism Create Difference.”
* U.S. Supreme Court to consider vaccine case. 
* Food for vegetarian thought: Stefano Mancuso TED talk on the roots of plant intelligence. Where is the demarcation line? 
* Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy article on Fatalism recently revised. No so much the solutions.
* Somebody apparently had to stand up for Paladino. HuffPo on Coulter’s Fox News defense of Paladino’s recent not-so-politically-smart statement on “equal validity.”

* How’s your self-esteem level today? Or should I ask, what’s your vagal tone? A recent article attempts to establish an empirical link. Science of human flourishing? For the record, my grandmother displayed no heterophenomenological evidence of self-esteem throughout her life. She lived to be 96, remaining physically and mentally sound and active for most of it. I seem to be determined to follow suit.
* Hitch’s Tumortown in Vanity Fair, where you “sometimes feel you may expire from sheer advice.” Included in the unsolicited advice he (so far) turns down, a couple of chilling transhumanistic ones, relevant to recent Rationally Speaking posts and comments.


  1. I still wonder what "self esteem" is supposed to mean. It's always sounded a little ridiculous to me. I wonder whether it's a good idea to subject ourselves to the kind of evaluation that it seems to entail.

  2. Love the topic of Neurosexism. From "Defending the Caveman" to "Women Are From Venus, Men Are From Mars", this crowd pleasing trope has irked me for some time, and now the worst offender is EvoPsych. About time someone took 'em to task. Can't wait for the podcast.

  3. Why is it that when interesting biological examinations of plants come up, it’s framed as some sort of revelatory game-changing challenge to the world-view of vegetarians? After watching the video, are vegetarians supposed to go pick up a bacon cheeseburger? Or are they supposed to stop eating plants? What is the intention of framing this question towards vegetarians? It’s like, “Hey atheists! You say there is no God, but by your own logic you can’t prove a negative! Haw! Haw!”

    Yes, the TED piece is all very fascinating, but seriously, are plants really sentient and intelligent in a way that is comparable with animals as to drastically muddy the delineation?

    Sentience follows a continuum. Vertebrate animals certainly experience life in important ways that parallel our own, when studying proto-vertebrates like fish it’s not that they behave like us; it’s that in many ways we behave like them. This shared anatomy and experience of living perhaps biases our considerations to favor beings with anatomy and perceptions similar to our own, but that’s understandable since it’s really difficult to fathom the life experience of a being without eyes, ears, a sense of taste, smell, or touch as we experience it, and without a central nervous system that receives rapid information from the environment or a brain that assimilates and reacts to this information.

    It seems like having a demarcation line, oh, I don’t know, somewhere above plants but below vertebrates isn’t that hard to come up with. For benefit of doubt of less complex phylum where it’s difficult to comprehend how they experience the world, it doesn’t seem too difficult to perhaps drawing a penciled circle around the kingdom Animalia since biologic taxonomy has does such a great job of delineating the oh-so-subtle differences between a pig and a broccoli. There’s gray areas, sure, nothing’s perfect, but it’s not all that blurry on the polar ends.

    If you want to bring on consistency and rationality pissing match with vegetarians you’re going to find that meat eating, especially in its industrialized practice, has a lot more to answer for. If you consume from the industrialized factory farming system, and there’s a 99% chance that you do if you are reading this, every thinking person these days seems to find the practice ethically and environmentally indefensible. One really needs to examine their own consumption ethics before poking at vegetarians. (And no Julia, vegetarians, or anyone for that matter, are not being irrational for eating food that was incorrectly served to them in a restaurant.)

    Next time, how about just, “Hey, look at this interesting biology talk on plants everyone!” instead of assuming you are the first one to proposition vegetarians with the tired old question:

    “Well, what about plants?”

    Oh please.

  4. Just so, Gapsinthemind - so tired of the "let's grasp at the straw that plants MIGHT feel, have interest in staying alive etc, so we can put off the ethícal decision to stop killing beings who definitely DO".
    As you say - Oh please.

  5. >"Where is the demarcation line?"

    It's a gradient, not a line. One parsley plant is worth ~3.21 nanohunekers (Hofstadter fans will get the reference).

    >"Moment of “singularity” for shogi?"

    Not unless Akara can design its own successor. Still, very cool.

    >"...Paladino’s recent not-so-politically-smart statement..."

    It appears homophobia is becoming, if not full political suicide, at least political self-harm. Haste the day!


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