academic freedom and academic justice. (Hint: the former is far preferable...)
* The philosophy of "Her" (the movie).
* The mindfulness racket.
* Louise Anthony talks to Gary Gutting about the non-existence of god.
* The Two Cultures, then and now.
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.
Friday, March 07, 2014
Massimo's weekend picks!
Posted by Unknown at 9:55 AM
Labels: Massimo Pigliucci, Massimo's picks
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Ahh, thanks for posting the Antony interview. I mentioned the book of non-Gnu Atheist essays, "Philosophers Without Gods," with more than a dozen different philosophers contributing. Here's my review: http://socraticgadfly.blogspot.com/2013/11/review-philosophers-without-gods.htmlReplyDelete
And, given the "social justice warriors" of various groups, including Atheism Plus, I'm in agreement with you on the top link.
Massimo, I enjoyed reading all these pieces. When I saw the one on the "two cultures," my reaction was, "Oh no, not this again," but I found it gratifying to see it presented in historical perspective. An excellent piece. The article on the movie "Her" was perhaps my favorite because it dealt with the subject of consciousness about which I've long had an interest. It was a well-done piece that raised intriguing questions. As a sort of counterpoint to the movie "Her," let me propose Wim Wenders's masterpiece "Wings of Desire" while suggesting that one forget for the moment that Damiel and Cassiel are angels and, instead, be updated to Samantha types of AI. Then consider Damiel's monologue in "Wings" in light of the passage of 25 years of technological advances:ReplyDelete
"It is great to live by the spirit, to testify day by day, for eternity, only what's spiritual in people's minds. But sometimes I'm fed up with my spiritual existence. Instead of forever hovering above, I'd like to feel a weight grow in me, to end the infinity and to tie me to earth. I'd like, at each step, each gust of wind, to be able to say 'now.' 'Now' and 'Now' and no longer 'forever' and 'for eternity.' To sit at the empty place at a card table and be greeted, even by a nod.
"Everytime we participated, it was a pretense. . . . No, I don't have to beget a child or plant a tree, but it would be rather nice coming home after a long day to feed the cat, like Philip Marlowe; to have a fever, and blackened fingers from the newspaper, to be excited not only by the mind but, at last, by a meal, by the line of a neck, by an ear. To lie--through one's teeth! As you're walking to feel your bones moving along. At last to guess, instead of always knowing. To be able to say 'ah' and 'oh' and 'hey' instead of 'yea' and 'amen.'
"Or at last to feel how it is to take off shoes under a table, to wriggle your toes barefoot, like that."
And so, despite all the intriguing questions raised by "Her" in the article, I cannot disentangle the notion of my consciousness from its basis in my biology. The same sort of thing is suggested in Lem's "Solaris" in humankind's attempt to make contact with another kind of intelligence/consciousness.
On the "Her" piece, now, I'm reminded of ELIZA from Weizenbaum/MIT, back in the good old days where "hard AI" folks said computer intelligence was just around the corner.Delete
In fact, having a human fall in love with a simulation that is NOT, arguably, conscious, might be an interesting sequel, or whatever.
Louise Anthony asks why can't theists join forces with atheists in battles that matter. But they do this all the time. For example Phillip Adams compllains that he can only ever get priests and nuns interested in his projects.ReplyDelete
But increasingly it is the atheists, not theists wbo want to rebuff such alliances, in the movement called non- accommodationism.
So her question is misdirected, it should be directed at atheists like Jerry Coyne who advocate this sort of separatism.
Dream on Robin - please look at the evidence before saying something completely unsubstantiated. How many people in the US would vote for an atheist running for public office? You might want to peruse some Hemant Mehta's "Friendly Atheist" blog for stories of Christians refusing to let atheists help at food banks or serve Thanksgiving dinners. And you want to blame atheists for non-cooperation? Discrimination by the Christian majority in the US is far more of a threat to cooperation than a couple of blogs.Delete
While noting exceptions in national-level organizations, like Americans United for Separation of Church and State and National Center for Science Education, it is hard to get many Christians to cooperate with atheists in social issues.Delete
That said, the "not-Old" atheists do hurl the charge of "accommodationism" at atheists who work with the likes of Americans United and NCSE.
I don’t regard a generalisation from a couple of individual cases from someone’s blog as “evidence” of anything.
The fact that US voters won’t vote for an atheist is not really on topic.
I already gave you one example of this type of cooperation happening.
Also, the field of social action that I am most familiar with at the moment is action for the intellecutally disabled. There are church run organisations and purely secular organisations and they work together, cooperate and share resources just fine. Also, in the secular organisations and to a lesser extent in the church run organisations you will find theists, agnotistics and atheists working side by side.
At this level there is a job to do and the battle for metaphysical supremacy is not even an issue.
The same could be said of action on the homeless, poverty, refugees, the environment etc.
I doubt that there are many, if any, major areas of social action where this kind of common cause is not made.
>I don’t regard a generalisation from a couple of individual cases from someone’s blog as “evidence” of anything.Delete
The fact that US voters won’t vote for an atheist is not really on topic.
I already gave you one example of this type of cooperation happening.<
But generalizing from one example of cooperation is evidence of something?
Everyone could do better at getting along and working together in the US. The country is incredibly polarized and seems to be getting worse. Comparing the comments of certain atheists to religious activists is comparing apples to oranges - sure there is too much angry, narrow-minded rhetoric from some atheists, but religious activists are continually proposing legislation to discriminate against the LBGT community, non-Christians, women, should I go on? Mainstream religious groups like the Catholic Church and the LDS spend enormous amounts of money fighting gay marriage and ACA birth control funding. Other groups continue to promote prayer in schools and government, public funding for religious schools, creationism and the like. Of course, there are plenty of religious communities who are doing good work promoting civil rights and helping people in need. But ignoring that atheists and other minorities are much more likely to be excluded from cooperating by the Christian majority than Christians by minority groups is ignoring the exception for the rule. You don't think that there are atheists who might run for public office and do a good job, much better than many Christians, is not a problem? Have you followed politics at all? Have you seen the ads that claim God is on my side, vote for me?
You can't promote cooperation by by suggesting one side remove the mote from their eye while you ignore the log in your own.
You appear to.have ignored ghe areas of cooperation I mentioned.
You also appear to have made the assumption that all social conservatives are Christian.
Not so. Even those fighting to keep us in the dark ages make common cause with atheists. I have debated a good many atheist Anne Coulter fans over the years.
The fact that Americans won't vote for people who are openly atheists is certainly a problem but it is not relevant to this particular discussion.Delete
>You appear to.have ignored ghe areas of cooperation I mentioned.<
And you appear to have ignored that you have provided no evidence to back up you claim that atheists are to blame for the lack of cooperation.
I far as I can tell, that is hardly the blame for the dysfunction in the US, but if you have hard data I am willing to accept it.
If atheism is tainted in your view by the new atheists, then theism is tainted by every intolerant, socially conservative theist who thinks atheists can't be trusted. You can't have it both ways. You can't comment on the lack of cooperation from certain atheists without acknowledging the dehumanizing statements and refusal to work with non-believers coming from certain theists - whether Christian, Jewish or Muslim. Of course theists and atheists are diverse - why not accept this and concede that it can't be entirely the fault of the minority that people can't get along and work together?
For crying out loud, who said anything about atheism being tainted?Delete
Are you reading what I am saying?
I still have no evidence of theists not working with atheists on social issues apart from a couple of stories from some guy's blov. The fact that there are lots of social conservatives in America does not support your claim. Give significant examples of where this happens.
Hi Michael, what I am looking for are examples of influential theist figures or organisations suggesting that theists should not cooperate with atheists even in a common cause, for example liberal Christians refusing to cooperate with liberal atheists. As far as I am aware that does not happen.Delete
If I ever had the chance I would like to ask Louise Anthony about this. She obviously has theist friends who agree with her on moral matters.Delete
So I wonder if it is her experience that those friends will not seek her as an ally in these matters because she is an atheist.
I would be rather surprised if that was the case.
In any case, I am not sure I buy her premise that the question of whether the fundamental nature of reality is mind or physical objects or mathematical entities has no bearing whatsoever on morality.Delete
Philosophers like Dennett don't seem to think so.
Robin, this went nowhere fast. I only objected to your claim that atheists are really to blame for non-cooperation. Of course there is rhetoric, but we are talking about individuals not organizations and those individuals are talking about means not ends. You accuse me of using anecdotes, but resort to them yourself. Some of us can have reasons for not making common cause with groups and not solely because they are theists or work with theists.Delete
Let's take Gadfly's example of the NCSE. I once taught high school biology in Kansas and had students bringing Bibles to class to protest my teaching evolution. On that front I welcome a group like NCSE in providing resources to teachers bogged down by culture wars. On the other as an educator, I could never support the NCSE because it refuses to evaluate the work it does. It has taken the stand that "true" Christianity doesn't conflict with science and evolution. That may well be true, I don't know personally and certainly many Christians don't believe it, but it acts as if switching from anti-evolution to pro-evolution for Christians is as simple as switching shirts. I suggested for instance that it evaluate its advocacy of the Clergy Letter Project to see if it had any effect on evolution acceptance, but it won't. It pleaded no funds, no staffing, no time, etc., but it doesn't really want to know that it might be doing nothing because it sees it as great PR. You would think an organization based on science and education would have assessments in place to determine the best methods for increasing understanding of evolution, but it has none. A simple before/after survey with a 6 month follow-up could track what the CLP is accomplishing if anything. Why devote limited funds to something that is possibly doing nothing or making the situation worse?
Michael "I only objected to your claim that atheists are really to blame for non-cooperation.Delete
Let me repeat what I said and add some emphasis:
"But increasingly it is the atheists, not theists wbo want to rebuff such alliances, in the movement called non- accommodationism."
So my question is, why was her question directed at theists and not at atheists as well?
There may be many grounds, as you say, for non-cooperation but this only underlines my point.
As far as I know it is only influential atheists and not influential theists who are encouraging non-cooperation on purely religious grounds.
And, by the way, I completely agree that something like the CLP should have had an assessment mechanism built in from the start - it should have been part of the original costing and if the assessment wasn't affordable then the project wasn't affordable.Delete
You are quite right in saying that something like that is useless without some way of demonstrating it's effectiveness.
If they cannot afford the assessment then they should save more money and abandon the project.
And , as I said before, uploading is the atheist immortality myth.ReplyDelete
Robin, not *the* atheist, *some* atheists. Big difference.Delete
I think you are reading something into my syntax that wasn't there.Delete
Besides, speaking as an atheist who thinks that uploading could work in principle, I think it's a different sort of belief than religious immortality, because it's not something I personally expect to experience. I have no idea if it will ever be feasible. My interest in it is really only philosophical. I'm not desperately hoping for it, although it would be cool.Delete
It's not a myth at all for some atheists, Robin, wherever you slice the "the." Contra DM, I think that particulars of mind, as **embodied** consciousness/cognition, depend somewhat not only on the hardware/"wetware" generating the mind, but the hardware/"wetware" housing the instrument that's generating the mind.Delete
As I pointed out before, I never even remotely suggested that it was a myth for all atheists.Delete
As to the next thing you say, do you think that a computational simulation of an entire human, including brain mechanisms, could exhibit the outwardly observable behaviour of a human.
I think the experimental/embodied (vs. the disembodied) view of computing is the better oneDelete
The Mathematician's Bias - and the Return to Embodied Computation
S. Barry Cooper
The linked paper reads like word salad to me, but maybe its just meDelete
Meh! Even if it were feasible in principle, immortality is at best an incoherent concept w.r.t subjective experience. If I could upload (an absurdity imo) I can't see how I'd be in anyway the same person-subjective-experience, unless I accepted that algorithms experience, which I don't.Delete
Why did you mention uploading Robin?Delete
"unless I accepted that algorithms experience"
Well, that's the crucial point, isn't it?
Hi Louis - I mentioned uploading in connection with the article about "Her" linked by Massimo above.Delete
Yes, I think the question of whether or not algorithms can experience is crucial.
The question of uploading is, I think, fairly trivial. But I think this question (can algorithms experience) has important implications about Naturalism.
Hi Robin. I didn't think Her was about uploading, but having read the Samantha quote I can see it's a movie I'm not interested in seeing.Delete
As for "Mindfulness", it is frustratingly difficult to find anything solid on it.ReplyDelete
The book Mindfulness: Finding Peace in a Frantic World is not a bad place to start, it relies more on research and it has less vague new agey talk than other books I've seen..
Research using directed mindfulness based cognitive therapy, in other words meditation while listening to someone (or a recording) telling you what and how to do it, shows significance.
There are audio exercises on the above website and the following links:
Mileage may vary. Feeling at least a minimum of rapport with the speaker is good. Lots of free stuff on the internet.
Thanks for the links Marc, I will have a lookDelete
It makes a lot of sense to structure your life so that you have time to sit every day and think. It's a tragic waste of that time, however, if you spend it listening to Buddha babble or focusing on gas bubbles in your gut. You would be much better off reading an actually good thinker or listening to good music. The research is flawed, because it starts from a series of wrong assumptions. Let's start with a coherent notion of "frantic" world. What does frantic mean? The implication being there has our could have been a non frantic world. We can't all be monks with alms bowls. Some of us will have to grow the rice, and some of us may be children or scientists or so many other things that don't really mesh with the naive zen rock garden fantasy of peacefulness.Delete
I agree with Marc, the CBT literature is the better place to look for good mindfulness research as well as MBSR work. However, most of the mindfulness research is a very mixed bag and generally has poor methodology.Delete
I personally think the work being done in Acceptance and Commitment therapy is really relevant to the topic of mindfulness because they actually try to describe what the process of "mindfulness" is from a cognitive behavioral perspective rather than simply relying on buddhist teachings.
There is also great research in neuroscience on mindfulness by people like Richard Davidson but his work is not applied so it's harder to say how it can be used in daily life.
On the two cultures, it was Keats' side that somehow knew that understanding how rainbows formed meant you didn't have a soul. If the science side was really so robotic, why then are they so tempted to retaliate? If the humanities really are about the exploration of the soul and the discovery of the eternal truths of the human condition, if this is really ground upon which the humanities stand...there is a problem for the humanities, as there is no soul nor is any part of the human condition eternal.ReplyDelete
Susan Schneider's essay on "Her" was nicely written, but she skipped over the most egregious part of the movie, IMO, that the singularities decide, of all people to essential resurrect Alan Watts. He's the Buddhist version of Ayn Rand. He makes elaborately worded no propositions. Listening to Alan Watt's is like being trapped at the Buddhist picnic with a slightly drunk autodidact uncle who will not shut up. He's the supreme example of Buddha babble, and you've got to quickly take the tonic of Owen Flanagan if you don't want to have your mind poisoned. And then there is the yet unexamined ethical problem of "uploading". Uploading is the worst possible type of parenting. To force into existence an identical version of yourself is an injustice to that thing, which, like the replicants in Blade Runner, should rightly seek you out and squeeze your head until it pops. I mean look how John Stuart Mill made an entire philosophy to repudiate his father and Jeremy Bentham's bullying of him into being their avatar. Above all else, we need self-determination to have Liberty. If you knew you were an identical copy of someone else's identity, wouldn't you want to randomize yourself or at least behave as counter to your personality as you could, just to be an original self? Also, imagine the burden on your actual children, to have a digital ghost of you to forever haunt them. I think uploading would quickly lead to the greatest exodus of human intelligence from the earth as we flee our digi-parents' nagging.ReplyDelete
Which brings me to my next point: Did you read the Mindfullness Racket? The title promised so much, but delivered so little on that topic. Mozorov pivoted from a critique of Mindfulness Inc. to a expression of technophobia. His comparison of social media to gambling machines was interesting, and I think there is something there, but I was hoping for some Buddha bashing. And he is still a Luddite. I mean he's more sophisticated than the mindfulless folks but a luddite just the same.
Is that really your main objection to uploading? What do you think of the concept itself?Delete
I don't know if you have had Louise Anthony as a guest on the podcast, but if not then it sounds as though she would be a pretty good candidate for future episodes.