What happens when philosophers talk about philosophy? It sounds like they might be running round in circles like headless chickens. Though it can’t be denied that this occasionally happens, on the whole a lot more is at stake here. In fact everything is at stake. So much hinges on this discussion because of the unique nature of philosophy as an intellectual discipline and attitude.
As an intellectual discipline philosophy is literally about all or nothing. Philosophers philosophise about everything: the world around them, aesthetic experiences, human choices, scientific insights and even … ‘nothingness’. In order to do this responsibly and for us to seriously consider their ideas, they owe us an answer as to what they think they are doing, what it is they think needs to be done and what makes their work distinctive, relevant and valuable.
When historian Charles Weiner found pages of Nobel Prize-winning physicist Richard Feynman's notes, he saw it as a "record" of Feynman's work. Feynman himself, however, insisted that the notes were not a record but the work itself.
Also in Slate: Read an excerpt from Jim Holt’s Why Does the World Exist?. Don’t take this the wrong way, but I care about nothing. Meaning I care about the ongoing argument about the meaning of nothing, not that I don’t care about anything.
From a certain perspective, current liberal Western civilization seems to be a moral pinnacle. We have rejected slavery. We have substantially de-legitimized aggressive warfare. We have made huge progress in advancing the welfare of children. We have made huge progress toward gender and racial equality. In his 2011 book The Better Angels of Our Nature, Steven Pinker says he is prepared to call our recent ancestors "morally retarded" (p. 658). Imagine how we would react if a Westerner today were seriously to endorse a set of views that would not have been radical in 1800: denying women the vote (or maybe even advocating a return to monarchy), viewing slavery and twelve-hour days of child labor in coal mines as legitimate business enterprises, advocating military conquest for the sake of glory, etc. "Morally retarded" might seem a fair assessment!
Depressed people send more email. They spend more time on Gchat. Researchers at the Missouri University of Science and Technology recently assessed some college students for signs of melancholia then tracked their behavior online.
Human evolutionary change has been rapid and extensive; so much so that the genetic similarity and recent divergence between the human and the chimp lineages came as a profound surprise. Three million years ago humans were relatively minor elements of a rich East African mammalian fauna. Since then, our lineage has expanded geographically, demographically and ecologically. Over roughly the same period, our lineage has experienced an explosive increase in co-operation. We are the only large mammal that depends for essential resources on co-operation with non-relatives. Likewise, tool-use. Beginning about 2.5 million years ago, we became obligate technovores, with the pace of innovation picking up over the last 200,000 years. These changes have been accompanied by others in morphology, life history and family organization. We are not what we used to be. Tellingly, this pattern has not been mirrored in other lineages, as it would be if this trajectory had an external cause. So a first framing idea is that human evolutionary change has been self-generated through positive feedback. Specifically: a feedback loop driven by the increasing complexity of human social environments, and by the problems this complexity causes for co-operation management.
Language use is simpler than previously thought, finds Cornell studyScience CodexCo-author Morten Christiansen, Cornell professor of psychology and co-director of the Cornell Cognitive Science Program, and his colleagues say that language is...
Humans are metacognitive: they monitor and control their cognition. Our hypothesis was that neuronal correlates of metacognition reside in the same brain areas responsible for cognition, including frontal cortex. Recent work demonstrated that nonhuman primates are capable of metacognition, so we recorded from single neurons in the frontal eye field, dorsolateral prefrontal cortex, and supplementary eye field of monkeys (Macaca mulatta) that performed a metacognitive visual-oculomotor task. The animals made a decision and reported it with a saccade, but received no immediate reward or feedback. Instead, they had to monitor their decision and bet whether it was correct. Activity was correlated with decisions and bets in all three brain areas, but putative metacognitive activity that linked decisions to appropriate bets occurred exclusively in the SEF. Our results offer a survey of neuronal correlates of metacognition and implicate the SEF in linking cognitive functions over short periods of time.
The first complete account in English of the evolution of ‘pataphysics from its French origins, with explications of key ideas and excerpts from primary sources, presented in reverse chronological order.
People use science fiction to illustrate philosophy all the time. From ethical quandaries to the very nature of existence, science fiction's most famous texts are tailor-made for exploring philosophical ideas.
I'm sitting in my armchair" Abraham tells me on the phone. He is a Satmar Hasid from New York, calling me in Montreal where I sit—less comfortably I suspect—in my McGill philosophy department office. I don't laugh right away, so he adds, "Don't you do philosophy in an armchair? I'm ready to give it a try!" And then a cascade of big questions (and answers) pours over me: Does God exist? (He doubts there's a proof.) Are space and time finite? (He thinks they are infinite and wonders if the creation story is a myth.) Do we have good reasons to observe God's commandments? ("If there's no God, perhaps as social conventions?") I do my best to reply, apparently to his satisfaction. A friend of a friend who heard that I was interested in doing philosophy with people who are not academic philosophers had given Abraham my number. "I have a group of friends who may be interested," he says. "We're kind of an underground debating club."