Tag Archives: Philosophy

Do we matter in the cosmos?

By Nick Hughes – By recent estimates, the Milky Way is just one of 2 trillion galaxies in the observable Universe, and the region of space that they occupy spans at least 90 billion light-years.

If you imagine Earth shrunk down to the size of a single grain of sand, and you imagine the size of that grain of sand relative to the entirety of the Sahara Desert, you are still nowhere near to comprehending how infinitesimally small a position we occupy in space.

And that’s just the spatial dimension. The observable Universe has existed for around 13.8 billion years. If we shrink that span of time down to a single year, with the Big Bang occurring at midnight on 1 January, the first Homo sapiens made an appearance at 22:24 on 31 December. It’s now 23:59:59, as it has been for the past 438 years, and at the rate we’re going it’s entirely possible that we’ll be gone before midnight strikes again.

In the grand scheme of things we are very, very small. more> https://goo.gl/Dp2NaC

The Left And Science In LaLaLand?

By Wolfgang Kowalsky – How did we get into that situation?

First, a fading consensus, not only on Europe but also on the liberal form of representative democracy, is not a totally new trend. It is an incremental, not an underground movement with some disruptive events above the surface.

It started half a century ago when some so-called New Philosophers – and in parallel a so-called New Right – saw the light of day and developed a hegemonic strategy based on the ideas of Italian Marxist philosopher Antonio Gramsci. Together, the New Philosophers and the New Right had much more impact than expected.

The struggle between different political concepts which is the foundation of liberal democracies is superposed by the trend to use the political battle to push for limiting democracy, which is presented as too bureaucratic, too dominated by compromises and endless discussions. The justification behind this trend is to simplify complex issues, to avoid long discussions and to facilitate recourse to immediate action along the line of ‘Promises made, promises kept’ – tactic to cement hegemony over one’s own clientèle.

The question is why the oversimplification and the denial of complex correlations gets more and more support. more> https://goo.gl/nFQFZw

Must science be testable?

BOOK REVIEW

Answers for Aristotle: How Science and Philosophy Can Lead Us to A More Meaningful Life, Author: Massimo Pigliucci.
Conjectures and Refutations, Author: Karl Popper.

By Massimo Pigliucci – The general theory of relativity is sound science; ‘theories’ of psychoanalysis, as well as Marxist accounts of the unfolding of historical events, are pseudoscience. This was the conclusion reached a number of decades ago by Karl Popper, one of the most influential philosophers of science. Popper was interested in what he called the ‘demarcation problem’, or how to make sense of the difference between science and non-science, and in particular science and pseudoscience.

You might have heard of string theory. It’s something that the fundamental physics community has been playing around with for a few decades now, in their pursuit of what Nobel physicist Steven Weinberg grandly called ‘a theory of everything.’

It isn’t really a theory of everything, and in fact, technically, string theory isn’t even a theory, not if by that name one means mature conceptual constructions, such as the theory of evolution, or that of continental drift.

In fact, string theory is better described as a general framework – the most mathematically sophisticated one available at the moment – to resolve a fundamental problem in modern physics: general relativity and quantum mechanics are highly successful scientific theories, and yet, when they are applied to certain problems, like the physics of black holes, or that of the singularity that gave origin to the universe, they give us sharply contrasting predictions. more> http://goo.gl/DAJ33Q

If the universe cares about us, it has a funny way of showing it

BOOK REVIEW

Mind and Cosmos: Why the Materialist Neo-Darwinian Conception of Nature is Almost Certainly False, Author: Thomas Nagel.
Origin of Species, Author: Charles Darwin.
Cybernetics: Or Control and Communication in the Animal and the Machine, Author: Norbert Wiener.
After Virtue, Author: Alasdair MacIntyre.
The End of History and the Last Man, Author: Francis Fukuyama.
The Quantum Universe: Everything That Can Happen Does Happen, Authors: Brian Cox and Jeff Forshaw.
Darwin, Author: Tim Lewens.
The Goldilocks Enigma, Author: Paul Davies.

By Steven Poole – Nagel says that the appearance of conscious beings such as us can be described as the universe waking up. In Mind and Cosmos, Nagel’s suggested teleology does not involve a creator; it is merely a law-like tendency in the universe that somehow loads the dice in favor of the appearance of consciousness.

As Nagel puts it, it might be that the universe exhibits ‘a bias toward the marvelous’. If so, it would not be surprising that consciousness had appeared, because we live in a universe whose very purpose, aim, or telos, is the production of consciousness.

Nagel has a cosmic horror of the fluke, because it is so unconsoling.

But what if the appearance of life and consciousness just were sheer flukes?

What if they probably wouldn’t happen again if you ran the universe from the same initial conditions?

What if there are a great many different universes, and life just happened to arise in ours but not in most of the others? more> https://goo.gl/Dp6dAG

Why Spinoza still matters

BOOK REVIEW

Ethics, Author: Bento de Spinoza.
Theological-Political Treatise, Author: Bento de Spinoza.
The Tempest, Author: William Shakespeare.
Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Author: Mark Twain.
Hard Times, Author: Charles Dickens.
Spinoza: A Life, Author: Steven Nadler.
A Book Forged in Hell: Spinoza’s Scandalous Treatise and the Birth of the Secular Age, Author: Steven Nadler.

By Steven Nadler – In July 1656, the 23-year-old Bento de Spinoza [2, 3, 4] was excommunicated from the Portuguese-Jewish congregation of Amsterdam. It was the harshest punishment of herem (ban) ever issued by that community. The extant document, a lengthy and vitriolic diatribe, refers to the young man’s ‘abominable heresies’ and ‘monstrous deeds.’

At a time when Americans seem willing to bargain away their freedoms for security, when politicians talk of banning people of a certain faith from our shores, and when religious zealotry exercises greater influence on matters of law and public policy, Spinoza’s philosophy – especially his defense of democracy, liberty, secularity and toleration – has never been more timely.

In his distress over the deteriorating political situation in the Dutch Republic, and despite the personal danger he faced, Spinoza did not hesitate to boldly defend the radical Enlightenment [2, 3, 4, 5] values that he, along with many of his compatriots, held dear. In Spinoza we can find inspiration for resistance to oppressive authority and a role model for intellectual opposition to those who, through the encouragement of irrational beliefs and the maintenance of ignorance, try to get citizens to act contrary to their own best interests. more> https://goo.gl/LxupCr

How Do You Say “Life” in Physics?

BOOK REVIEW

What is Life? Author: Erwin Schrödinger.

By Allison Eck – How is it that the rules governing those atoms we call “life” could be so drastically different from those that govern the rest of the atoms in the universe?

In 1944, physicist Erwin Schrödinger tackled this question in a little book called What is Life?. He recognized that living organisms, unlike a gas in a box, are open systems. That is, they admit the transfer of energy between themselves and a larger environment. Even as life maintains its internal order, its loss of heat to the environment allows the universe to experience an overall increase in entropy (or disorder) in accordance with the second law.

At the same time, Schrödinger pointed to a second mystery. The mechanism that gives rise to the arrow of time, he said, cannot be the same mechanism that gives rise to the arrow of life.

Imagine you’re standing in front of a fence. You want to get to the other side, but the fence is too tall to jump. Then a friend hands you a pogo stick, which you can use to hop to the other side.

But once you’re there, you can use the same pogo stick to hop the fence again and end up back where you started. The external source of energy (the pogo stick) allows you to make a change, but a reversible one. more> http://goo.gl/qbm9k4

Related>

How thinking about infinity changes kids’ brains on math

BOOK REVIEW

Remembering: A Study in Experimental and Social Psychology, Author: Frederic Bartlett.

By Sarah Scoles – No mathematical concept is more intense than infinity. Which makes infinity uniquely relevant to addressing some key concerns about modern education.

According to the constructivist philosophy of education, built on the ideas of the late philosopher Ernst von Glasersfeld [2, 3, 4, 5], this experience altered my brain’s perception of mathematics, even though it didn’t involve doing math in the traditional sense.

Students today often feel like they are drowning in a sea of standardized tests. A seemingly rigorous approach has left many of them rather good at math tests while leaving them bad at math as a concept, and at the crucial forms of logical thinking that comes with it.

Infinity provides an antidote. It has the power to create conceptual wows – and to do so even in minds that have not yet been exposed to algebra or any kind of number theory.

Infinity raises its fist to rote memorization and multiple-choice testing, because encounters with infinity are fundamentally conceptual in nature.

They correspondingly create conceptual (as opposed to procedural) knowledge – a foundational comprehension of, for example, what multiplication is, and the ability to understand its utility in a variety of situations. more> https://goo.gl/gbkU67

The ministry of truth

BOOK REVIEW

1984, Author: George Orwell.
Wine and Conversation, Author: Adrienne Lehrer.
Unshadowed Thought, Author: Charles Travis.
Hard Truths, Author: Elijah Millgram.
The Great Endarkenment, Author: Elijah Millgram.

By Elijah Millgram – If you’ve taken an introductory physics class where the problem sets seemed to assume that the world was made of point masses and rigid bodies and frictionless planes, or if you took intro econ where markets were populated by perfectly rational and informed buyers and sellers, you’ve encountered recipes like that.

But these aren’t just tricks of the trade in one scientific discipline or another. We have a great many recipes for misdescription that work similarly in everyday life.

Aristotle came up with a simplifying technique of this sort, one that has made its way into the standard intellectual toolkit that everybody picks up as a child.

Shouldn’t the football player, who takes up two seats, count for two, and the infant on a lap for some fraction?

But Aristotle’s descriptive recipe lets us say that if you’re a human being, you’re exactly one human. more> http://goo.gl/sqYb0P

Do We Live in the Matrix?

By Zeeya Merali – Physicists can now offer us the ability to test whether we live in our own virtual Matrix, by studying radiation from space. As fanciful as it sounds, some philosophers have long argued that we’re actually more likely to be artificial intelligences trapped in a fake universe than we are organic minds in the “real” one.

So should we say yes to the offer to take the red pill and learn the truth €” or are the implications too disturbing?

But if learning that truth means accepting that you may never know for sure what’s real €” including yourself €” would you want to know? more> http://tinyurl.com/kb98qwq

Nationalism Threatens Racism, Not War

By Paul Collier – In much of the high-income world, the concept of the nation-state has become unfashionable both with educated elites and with the young. Modern individualism has deep roots. Rene Descartes derived our knowledge of the world’s existence from his experience of his own thoughts: cogito ergo sum.

Many modern philosophers now think Descartes got things back to front. We cannot have knowledge of ourselves except in the context of a society of which we are a part. Hence, at the foundations of philosophy is a tension between people as individuals and people as members of society.

Nations have fallen out of favor as solutions to the problem of collective action. But the fears of nationalism are outdated. As Steven Pinker argues, warfare between developed countries is now unthinkable. more> http://tinyurl.com/ndbnymb