Philosophers’ Blog Carnival

Philosophers’ Blog Carnival September 28, 2009

Welcome to The Philosophers’ Blog Carnival at Camels With Hammers!

Cover illustration for Bertrand Russell. Nightmares Of Eminent Persons and Other Stories. London: The Bodley Heasd, 1954.
Cover illustration for Bertrand Russell. Nightmares Of Eminent Persons and Other Stories. London: The Bodley Heasd, 1954.

(via Peter Mandik’s Brain Hammer)

First I want to kick things off with a super post not actually submitted to the carnival but worth your attention nonetheless. Phil Goetz writes:

The history of religions sometimes resembles the history of viruses. Judaism and Islam were both highly virulent when they first broke out, driving the first generations of their people to conquer (Islam) or just slaughter (Judaism) everyone around them for the sin of not being them. They both grew more sedate over time. (Christianity was pacifist at the start, as it arose in a conquered people. When the Romans adopted it, it didn’t make them any more militaristic than they already were.)

The mechanism isn’t the same as for diseases, which can’t be too virulent or they kill their hosts. Religions don’t generally kill their hosts. I suspect that, over time, individual selection favors those who are less zealous. The point is that a culture develops antibodies for the particular religions it co-exists with – attitudes and practices that make them less virulent.

I have a theory that “radical Islam” is not native Islam, but Westernized Islam. Over half of 75 Muslim terrorists studied by Bergen & Pandey 2005 in the New York Times had gone to a Western college. (Only 9% had attended madrassas.) A very small percentage of all Muslims have received a Western college education. When someone lives all their life in a Muslim country, they’re not likely to be hit with the urge to travel abroad and blow something up. But when someone from an Islamic nation goes to Europe for college, and comes back with Enlightenment ideas about reason and seeking logical closure over beliefs, and applies them to the Koran, then you have troubles. They have lost their cultural immunity.

The reason I bring this up is that intelligent people sometimes do things more stupid than stupid people are capable of.

Next, at Brains, University of California San Diego neuroscience PhD and current Duke postdoctoral fellow Eric Thomson thinks David Chalmers is unjustified and speaks vacuously when he claims there is a so-called “hard problem” in describing consciousness whereby features of what it is like to experience consciousness will admit of no account. Thomson laments what he sees as the stifling effect of this idea being treated as something of a dogma:

By analogy, when I talk to Creationists about a cool biological phenomenon, they immediately seem compelled to explain its origin in terms of God’s amazing designing powers. It is really quite strange, as they are perfectly intelligent people, capable of having good discussions of other things. However, when it comes to the topic of phenotypes, their creativity, their scientific curiosity, and (most importantly) their obsession with evidential details and brainstorming about possible mechanisms are all shut off.

I see a similar cognitive short-circuit in many people when it comes to consciousness, especially if they have acquired the hard problem reflex. No matter what is being discussed about consciousness, the reflex kicks in and everything just stops (compare to, “Wow, I can’t imagine how this happened, God is a great designer.”). They contribute nothing beyond a bumper sticker to the discussion, and aren’t interested in any more details. I might as well be whistling Dixie.

And the real fun starts in the comments section to that post, so be sure to click on the link.

Richard B. Hoppe suggests that the problem of scientific demarcation might better be focused on finding the criteria that mark pseudoscience as pseudoscience, rather than a set of necessary and sufficient criteria that mark science as science. He writes:

But the task as I see it is not to define science in such a way that one can point to something and say “That’s science.” It seems to me that it’s quite possible, in principle at least, to argue that ID/creationism, for example, is “pseudoscience” without the necessity of reference to a demarcating definition of science. If one starts with the complementary problem, namely defining pseudoscience independent of any particular definition of science, then we might make more progress. That is, it may be more fruitful to demarcate pseudoscience than to attempt to demarcate science.

This approach has the advantage that it does not require us to worry about questions like whether history is a science or an art (the topic of a faculty development workshop I attended eons ago). We don’t have to wonder if the conjecture of the existence of multiple universes is ‘real’ science or fanciful speculation. We can focus on the pathology and ask what its defining properties are.

He then offers rough sketches 5 criteria for pseudoscience and what they entail. Here are the criteria he discusses: 1. Inflationary Credentialism. 2. Perseveration with demonstrably false arguments. 3. Perverse mistreatment of evidence, 4. Claims of unfair exclusion or even persecution, 5. Claims of maverick status.

Also not actually submitted to the carnival but worth highlighting is this paper abstract posted by Brian Leiter:

Should we think of what I will refer to generically as “the law of religious liberty” as grounded in the moral attitude of respect for religion or in the moral attitude of tolerance of religion? I begin by explicating the relevant moral attitudes of “respect” and “toleration.” With regard to the former, I start with a well-known treatment of the idea of “respect” in the Anglophone literature by the moral philosopher Stephen Darwall. With respect to the latter concept, toleration, I shall draw on my own earlier discussion, though now emphasizing the features of toleration that set it apart from one kind of respect. In deciding whether “respect” or “toleration” can plausibly serve as the moral foundation for the law of religious liberty we will need to say something about the nature of religion. I shall propose a fairly precise analysis of what makes a belief and a concomitant set of practices “religious” (again drawing on earlier work). That will then bring us to the central question: should our laws reflect “respect” for religion” or only “toleration”? Martha Nussbaum has recently argued for “respect” as the moral foundation of religious liberty, though, as I will suggest, her account is ambiguous between the two senses of respect that emerge from Darwall’s work. In particular, I shall claim that in one “thin” sense of respect, it is compatible with nothing more than toleration of religion; and that in a “thicker” sense (which Nussbaum appears to want to invoke), it could not form the moral basis of a legal regime since religion is not the kind of belief system that could warrant that attitude. To make the latter case, I examine critically a recent attack on the idea of “respect” for religious belief by Simon Blackburn.

Prior Adams explores a possible allusion in Kierkegaard’s choice of the pseudonym Johannes de Silentio, under which to write Fear and Trembling, exploring parallels between the story of Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice Isaac and a Grimm fairytale:

the name Johannes de Silentio is an allusion to the Grimm’s fairytale The Faithful Servant. E. Hirsch first considered this allusion in “Teologik Tidsskrift for den danske Folkekirke” and it makes sense when we consider the events of the story. The faithful servant—Johannes–was turned to stone because he warned the king of three dangers. The king then felt terrible about what happened to Johannes and vowed he would do anything to return him back to normal. Afterwards the king had two sons, and Johannes—as a stone figure–told the king that if he would cut off the heads of his sons, and sprinkle their blood on the stone, then Johannes would return back to normal. The king does this. After Johannes becomes normal, he then brings the king’s sons back to life. The story ends with the queen exclaiming, “God be praised, he is delivered, and we have our little sons again also.” (ii)

Both Abraham and the king face a similar dilemma.


David Gross provides commentary on the entire Aristotle’s Nichomachean Ethics, while reading through the work for the first time.

ξένία responds to remarks in Therein McGinn’s book Mindsight which relate to images and perceptions and the differences between them. She quotes McGinn:

The object of my imagining does not feed new information to me as I imagine it, and there is no updating of my beliefs about its properties. I do not adopt an attitude of cognitive openness to what the object might reveal about itself; there is no dynamic flow of information from it to me– just a static positing of the object, which is causally remote from my current mental activity. There is no observational inputfrom the object. […](Images) tell us nothing we don’t already know. (p.18/19)

And then she replies:

McGinn writes, as if the object of ones imagining were an entity that could be analyzed independently from the mind that ‘created’ the image. In an important way, however, I do not believe any causal relationship can be established on purely conceptual grounds. Not only is there an important ingredient, empirical scientific investigation, missing to support his claim, I believe that McGinn overlooks a very important conceptual aspect of the problem: Images and percepts are not merely given/created by the mind and stand as independent entities. They are part of the mind. The mind is made of images in a way. It is hard to see how, when viewing images and percepts from this perspective, one could postulate the causal relationships McGinn writes about. In a very interesting sense, the entities in question overlap ontologically. Because of this, they can not be described as having separable properties.

John Ku combines philosophy and computer programming to demonstrate how to make Ruby Quines:

This MetaMonday post delves into the puzzling nature of quines and will show you how to create one in Ruby. If you’ve got a passion for self-reference, mathematical logic, functional programming, or philosophical paradoxes – this post is for you!

A quine is a self-referential program that performs the neat trick of outputting its own source code without cheating. Cheating could be accomplished by accessing the external file system that the code is stored on, or in trivial cases, compiling empty code which, unsurprisingly, prints itself.

Initially, you might think that writing a quine would be pretty easy to do. After all, most programming languages will have a command to simply print out a string. For example, in Ruby, puts "Hello World!" would print outHello World! as its output. So couldn’t a Ruby quine then, simply consist of the puts command followed by a string containing that line of code?

On close inspection, we can see that that strategy won’t actually work because it results in an infinite regression. The string printed by the putscommand would have to include the whole source code, including the string itself and theputs command that precedes it.

To see how he goes about making them click here.

For philosophers looking for thought experiments, Kenny Pearce offers a list of some of the best short works of philosophical science fiction.

What’s in a name? Andrew Bernardin of Evolving Mind discusses the unfortunate cultural consequences of Einstein and Heisenberg not going with their initial preferences for naming the phenomena they respectively discovered:

First, relativity. Einstein’s famous breakthrough was the realization that because the speed of light is constant, measures of space and time are relative. Thus, relativity theory. Yet Einstein’s initial focus was of the first part of that equation. The real “outside the box” thinking was this: while all other motion carries a relative speed (relative to the observer), the speed of light does not! It is always the same, it never varies. And so Einstein used the word “invariance” to describe his great theoretical advance.

If Einstein’s theory were know today as the theory of invariance or invariance theory, I wonder what the worldview-implications would be. Rather than, “well, it’s all relative,” would people today be saying, “well, it’s all invariant”?

Second, quantum uncertainty. In a similar fashion, Heisenberg’s famous breakthrough first carried a different name. His breakthrough: the more accurately you measure of a particle’s position, the less accurately you can measure its speed. Heisenberg first referred to this phenomenon with a German word that translates as “inexactness.”*

Had that stuck, how would quantum inexactness have differently influenced people’s worldviews?

Heisenberg also used indeterminacy. This is my preferred word. And one of the reasons why is accuracy. The measures aren’t uncertain; they are relatively imprecise or less accurately determinable. And scientists are certain about that. Another reason is that these other words don’t carry the same ability to bogusly distort people’s worldviews. The woo-meisters love “uncertainty,” for if science is uncertain, they can better inject their feel-good bologna into the workings of the universe.

While you’re here at Camels With Hammers, I invite you to take a little time to read Camels With Hammers Philosophy, a post in which I summarize the majority of the ideas I’ve argued for in depth in my posts over my first three months on this rejuvenated and renamed blog. You can also browse the titles of many of my thought pieces in the right hand column of the blog.

And finally, no carnival would be complete without some freaks, so here is Zombie Karl Popper as presented by Chaos Pet:

If you would like to submit an academically serious blog post on philosophy, click the submission button here: Blog Carnival submission form - philosophers' carnival

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