Monthly Archives: July 2012

The Hubris of Thomas Nagel's New Book Title

Thomas Nagel has a new book coming out in September, titled Mind and Cosmos: Why the Materialist Neo-Darwinian Conception of Nature Is Almost Certainly False. To me, this is such a ridiculous title. Of course, it’s not surprising coming from Nagel given all his previous work, but still, “almost certainly false”? Where does he get off with such an overblown title? I wonder if his editors changed it in order to be more “punchy”. I look forward to reading it nevertheless, but I can’t imagine there will be any new arguments that haven’t already been responded to by materialists ad nauseam.

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Quote of the day 7-27-2012, "The Cloud"

“Money lives in the cloud; the old forms are vestigial tokens of knowledge about who owns what, who owes what. To the twenty-first century these will be seen as anachronisms, quaint or even absurd: bullion carried from shore to shore in fragile ships, subject to the tariffs of pirates and the god Poseidon; metal coins tossed from moving cars into baskets at highway tollgates and thereafter trucked about (now the history of your automobile is in the cloud); paper checks torn from pads and signed in ink; tickets for trains, performances, air travel, or anything at all, printed on weighty perforated paper with watermarks, holograms, or fluorescent fibers; and, soon enough, all forms of cash. The economy of the world is transacted in the cloud.”

James Gleick, The Information: A History, a Theory, a Flood

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Examples of the pervasive container metaphor

The container metaphor is one of the most important and deeply ingrained metaphors in the human cognitive toolkit. Take the example of being “in love” with someone. This metaphor uses container logic. I always get a kick out of literally imagining a metaphor. When I visualize the “in love” metaphor, I imagine that falling “in love” is like someone stepping into a box that is labeled love. When you are in love, you are in the box; when you are not in love anymore, you are no longer in the box. It’s a simple metaphor, but very powerful, since it compels you to think of love as an on-off switch, since objects are usually either in a box or not in a box, but not often only half-way in the box due to gravity. So when we say “I don’t just love you, I am in love with you”, this is a powerful expression since it signifies the presence of a powerful, not lukewarm, feeling.  It means you are fully immersed in the love box. But I suppose the container of love doesn’t have to be a box. There are a lot of things you can be “in” besides boxes. But the box-logic is I think more pervasive. Think of how naturally a young child takes to container logic from the interactions and observations of boxes being used. They understand what it means to place something in a container. They watch milk being poured into a glass. They watch the toy going into the toy box. They crawl inside giant cardboard boxes. Children are probably exposed to the human use of containers many times a day, every day. It’s obvious why such a metaphor would be deeply ingrained in our minds. Containers are one of the greatest human inventions. A wicker basket to help you forage more efficiently would have had helped families gather more food to better prevent starvation in their young.

As Lakoff and Johnson point out, container logic is also helpful for imagining logical schemas stemming from “inclusion” e.g. Container A is inside Container B and Entity C is inside Container A, then Entity C is inside Container B. Moreover, container logic is probably most important in grounding how we think of our own minds. It’s fairly natural for an English speaker to say things like “He has a great idea in his mind”, “I’m feeling out of it today”, “That went over my head (didn’t go into the box)”. We imagine memories being “stored” in our minds as if our mind was a storehouse of goods, with separate rooms or containers for each memory trace or idea.

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A quick thought on the difference between folk psychology and metarepresentation

It is widely established that there are some nonhuman animals (like Great Apes and some bird species) capable of folk psychology, which is usually defined as attribution of mental states by one animal onto another animal. However, this capacity is sometimes thought to be synonymous with the capacity for metarepresentation, which is usually defined as the representation of representation qua representation. But the latter capacity is a more advanced version of the former capacity. Why? Because it is erroneously assumed that the only kind of folk psychology is internal psychology whereby the attributor represents the other animal as having some unobservable internal representation inside their head. However, just as behavioral psychology historically preceded cognitive psychology, it seems plausible that, phylogenetically, behavioral folk psychology preceded cognitive folk psychology. That is to say, before humans ever started representing other humans as having unobservable but causally efficacious mental states in their head, we merely represented their behavior in our minds as confirming to some particular schema. Thus, the computational form of behavioral folk psychology would be something like “Conspecific A behaved like X in the past, therefore Conspecific A will likely behave like X in the future”, whereas the form of a cognitive folk psychology would be something like “Conspecific A believes X, desires Y, therefore Conspecific A will act like Z in the future”, with belief and desire understood explicitly to be some unobservable mental event.

With that said, it becomes easy to see why we should distinguish the capacity for folk psychology from the capacity for metarepresentation. Only creatures capable of cognitive folk psychology can metarepresent. But don’t be fooled. The capacity for behavioral folk psychology can get you a very long way in terms of executing complex chains of social reasoning. This likely explains the depth and sophistication of nonhuman social cognition. But I am aware of no evidence that compels us to believe any nonhuman species is capable of human-esque metarepresentation, which, imo, stems from our mastery of language, particularly linguistic concepts that have to do with psychology such as the terms “belief”, “desire”, “mind”, soul”, “consciousness”, “intention”, “thought”, “dream”, “reason”, etc.

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Reading report

I just wanted to report that I started to read Nassim Taleb’s brilliant book The Black Swan. A Black Swan, as he defines it, has three attributes:

“First, it is an outlier, as it lies outside the realm of regular expectations, because nothing in the past can convincingly point to its possibility. Second, it carries an extreme impact (unlike the bird). Third, in spite of its outlier status, human nature makes us concoct explanations for its occurrence after the fact, making it explainable and predictable.”

A good example of a Black Swan is 9/11. I first heard about The Black Swan when I read Dan Kahneman’s latest book Thinking, Fast and Slow. I don’t know why I put it off for so long, perhaps because I thought it would be a dull read concerning probability theory. But Taleb is far from a boring mind. In fact, he is overflowing with interesting insights and his work has a deep, theoretical angle that reveals his familiarity with philosophy. It’s a breath of fresh air, told in narrative form, and given the nature of what a Black Swan is, a highly gripping yarn. Taleb also has a new book coming out called Antifragility, which I will have to pick up when I finish The Black Swan.

In other news, I will be speaking at a conference dedicated to Julian Jaynes next spring, but the paper I submitted to the Central States Philosophical Association  was not accepted. I have also been slacking on my blog writing lately, being consumed with (1) reading (2) chess and (3) working on my qualifying paper. I have some ideas for posts, but I have just been lazy lately and haven’t felt like writing them up. Hopefully my motivation will return before the school year starts, because then I will be even more busy.

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Quote of the Day 7-6-2012, "Multiple Personality Disorder"

“Breathlessly, [the media] repeated ISSMP&D speculations about MPD as a late-twentieth century epidemic. Before Sybil, fewer than a hundred people over the past two centuries had been identified in Western medical literature with conditions resembling MPD. By 1984, only four years after the condition was first listed in the DSM, an ISSMP&D leader was suggesting that 25,000 Americans suffered from it. Another leader estimated that 3 percent of the population had MPD – over seven million people.”

~Debbie Nathan, Sybil Exposed

I will be writing some blog posts in the future with more my thoughts on Nathan’s highly interesting book. It casts great doubt on the claim that MPD is a “natural kind”. The evidence indicates instead that it is a diagnosis spun purely out of the therapeutic couch and championed (i.e. pushed) onto the medical community by psychiatric quacks, enabling mentally ill patients (almost exclusively women) to unconsciously adopt this diagnosis as it is widely popularized in the mass media. This problem is worsened by how such “alters” are usually discovered: through questionable methods of psychoanalytic hypnosis, with patients often confabulating wild stories about horrific and gory parental abuse in line with the original Sybil story. Wild stuff.

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Herman Philipse's new book God in the Age of Science?

Just picked this up at the library today:

God in the Age of Science? is a critical examination of strategies for the philosophical defense of religious belief. The main options may be presented as the end nodes of a decision tree for religious believers. The faithful can interpret a creedal statement (e.g. “God exists”) either as a truth claim, or otherwise. If it is a truth claim, they can either be warranted to endorse it without evidence, or not. Finally, if evidence is needed, should its evidential support be assessed by the same logical criteria that we use in evaluating evidence in science, or not? Each of these options has been defended by prominent analytic philosophers of religion.

In part I Herman Philipse assesses these options and argues that the most promising for believers who want to be justified in accepting their creed in our scientific age is the Bayesian cumulative case strategy developed by Richard Swinburne. Parts II and III are devoted to an in-depth analysis of this case for theism. Using a “strategy of subsidiary arguments,” Philipse concludes (1) that theism cannot be stated meaningfully; (2) that if theism were meaningful, it would have no predictive power concerning existing evidence, so that Bayesian arguments cannot get started; and (3) that if the Bayesian cumulative case strategy did work, one should conclude that atheism is more probable than theism. Philipse provides a careful, rigorous, and original critique of theism in the world today.”

amazon link 

I’m really exited to read this one. At least in regards to  Heideggerian scholarship, Philipse is a careful and diligent scholar. I expect nothing less from his new critique of theism.

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