Category Archives: Random

Microblogging is the future, or at least my future

If it seems like I haven’t been posting my “usual” it’s only because you’re not following me on G+. Just saying.

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My Biggest Pet Peeve in Consciousness Research

 

Boy was I excited to read that new Nature paper where scientists report experimentally inducing lucid dreaming in people. Pretty cool, right? But then right in the abstract I run across my biggest pet peeve whenever people use the dreaded c-word: blatant terminological inconsistency. Not just an inconsistency across different papers, or buried in a footnote, but between a title and an abstract and within the abstract itself. Consider the title of the paper:

Induction of self awareness in dreams through frontal low current stimulation of gamma activity

The term “self-awareness” makes sense here because if normal dream awareness is environmentally-decoupled 1st order awareness than lucid dreaming is a 2nd order awareness because you become meta-aware of the fact that you are first-order dream-aware. So far so good. Now consider the abstract:

 Recent findings link fronto-temporal gamma electroencephalographic (EEG) activity to conscious awareness in dreams, but a causal relationship has not yet been established. We found that current stimulation in the lower gamma band during REM sleep influences ongoing brain activity and induces self-reflective awareness in dreams. Other stimulation frequencies were not effective, suggesting that higher order consciousness is indeed related to synchronous oscillations around 25 and 40 Hz.

Gah! What a confusing mess of conflicting concepts. The title says “self-awareness” but the first sentence talks instead about “conscious awareness”. It’s an elementary mistake to confuse consciousness with self-consciousness, or at least to conflate them without making an immediate qualification of why you are violating standard practice in so doing. While there are certainly theorists out there who are skeptical about the very idea of “1st order” awareness being cleanly demaracted from “2nd order” awareness (Dan Dennett comes to mind), it goes without saying this is a highly controversial position that cannot just be assumed without begging the question. Immediate red flag.

The first sentence also references previous findings about the neural correlates of “conscious awareness” being linked to specific gamma frequencies of neural activity in fronto-temporal networks. The authors say though that correlation is not causation. The next sentence then makes us believe the study will provide that missing causal evidence about conscious awareness and gamma frequencies.

Yet the authors don’t say that. What they say instead is that they’ve found evidence that gamma frequencies are linked to “self-reflective awareness” and “higher-order consciousness”, which are again are theoretically distinct concepts than “conscious awareness” unless you are pretheoretically committed to a kind of higher-order theory of consciousness. But even that wouldn’t be quite right because on, e.g. Rosenthal’s HOT theory, a higher-order thought would give rise to first-order awareness not lucid dreaming, which is about self-awareness. On higher-order views, you would technically need a 3rd order awareness to count as lucid dreaming.

So please, if you are writing about consciousness, remember that consciousness is distinct from self-consciousness and keep your terms straight.

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Sunday Links, ep. 1

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May 18, 2014 · 10:43 am

Thoughts on the Future of Blogging and this Website

I’m torn and must decide: to blog or micro-blog. Regular or traditional blogging is writing posts on individual websites such as this WordPress site or a Blogger or Typepad site. Micro-blogging is posting on sites like Twitter or G+ where you don’t have your own website per se but, rather, are part of a larger social network where sharing is more ubiquitous and the nature of the content includes more link-sharing and conversation. I admit though that the boundaries between blogging and micro-blogging are fuzzy, which is part of what this post is about.

Why micro-blog? Obviously there are things you can write on WordPress that are much different from the things you can write on Twitter. They are not really comparable in this sense because of the extreme length restrictions of Twitter. However, with G+ the relative advantage of WordPress over social media is lessened since G+ lets you write relatively long posts with some amount of basic formating (bold, italics, etc.). So in deciding whether to blog or micro-blog I see the choice narrowed between WordPress and G+.

On G+ I share and reshare articles from around the web that I wouldn’t find appropriate to share on this website, which is more about philosophy and psychology rather than science and news at large. But rather than writing exclusively on a small set of subjects on a real blog, I am contemplating merging everything into a unified “jack-of-all-trades” G+ account that shares sciency-links (and who knows what else) but also occasionally writes “real” philosophy or describes more serious psycho-philosophical research. I haven’t tried to used G+ in this way (yet), but I’m thinking about it. The main advantage I see is convenience and potential for a larger, share-friendly audience. It’s nice being able to log into a central site that allows you to do all your online communication without having to switch between different websites, formats, etc. Also, it seems easier to “spread the word” on G+ than WordPress because G+ was built from the ground up to share information ubiquitously.   Also, when it comes to the Facebook vs Twitter vs G+ battles I see the writing on the wall, and Google has the pen in their hand (give it a few more years though).

The main reasons I can think of for why I am hesitant to merge everything into G+ rather than posting on both G+ and WordPress is (1) Continuity with the blogging content I’ve been posting for the last six years (Has it really been that long?!) and (2) Having my “own” website feels more legitimate academically speaking than doing everything on G+. It has a greater feel of authenticity, but perhaps this is an accidental or sentimental feature I am projecting onto WordPress. Of course, perhaps my bigger problem is that I think blogging has any academic legitimacy in the first place.

What say you, readers?

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Book Report 2013 – What I’ve Read This Year

The following is a list of all the books I’ve read from front to cover in 2013, starting from the most recently finished. The books in bold are ones that were most influential to my thinking, or particularly fascinating.

  1. The Gap: The Science of What Separates Us from Other Animals – Thomas Suddendorf
  2. The Hunger Games – Suzanne Collins
  3. A Manual for Creating Atheists –  Boghossian, Peter 
  4. Simulation and Similarity: Using Models to Understand the World – Weisberg, Michael
  5. The Panda’s Thumb: More Reflections in Natural History – Gould, Stephen Jay
  6. Brain Imaging: What It Can (and Cannot) Tell Us about Consciousness – Shulman, R G
  7. Consciousness and the Social Brain – Graziano, Michael S A
  8. Wired for God?: The Biology of Spiritual Experience – Foster, Charles
  9. Genius: The Life and Science of Richard Feynman – Gleick, James
  10. The Unpredictable Species – Lieberman, Philip
  11. The God Argument: The Case against Religion and for Humanism – Grayling, A.C.
  12. Stumbling on Happiness – Gilbert, Daniel
  13. The Geography of Thought: How Asians and Westerners Think Differently… and Why – Nisbett, Richard E.
  14. Civilization and Its Discontents – Freud, Sigmund
  15. The Mating Mind: How Sexual Choice Shaped the Evolution of Human Nature – Miller, Geoffrey
  16. Radicalizing Enactivism: Basic Minds Without Content – Hutto, Daniel D.
  17. Willpower: Rediscovering the Greatest Human Strength – Baumeister, Roy F.
  18. Beyond Good and Evil – Nietzsche, Friedrich
  19. Marriage Confidential: The Post-Romantic Age of Workhorse Wives, Royal Children, Undersexed Spouses, and Rebel Couples Who Are Rewriting the Rules – Haag, Pamela
  20. Surfaces and Essences: Analogy as the Fuel and Fire of Thinking – Hofstadter, Douglas R.
  21. The Upside of Irrationality: The Unexpected Benefits of Defying Logic at Work and at Home – Ariely, Dan
  22. The Future of an Illusion – Freud, Sigmund
  23. Fooled by Randomness: The Hidden Role of Chance in Life and in the Markets – Taleb, Nassim Nicholas 
  24. How to Create a Mind: The Secret of Human Thought Revealed – Kurzweil, Ray
  25. On the Genealogy of Morality: A Polemic – Nietzsche, Friedrich
  26. The Mind-Body Problem – Goldstein, Rebecca Newberger
  27. The Marvelous Learning Animal: What Makes Human Behavior Unique – Staats, Arthur W.
  28. Sync: The Emerging Science of Spontaneous Order – Strogatz, Steven H.
  29. The Cultural Animal: Human Nature, Meaning, and Social Life – Baumeister, Roy F.
  30. Mind and Cosmos: Why the Materialist Neo-Darwinian Conception of Nature Is Almost Certainly False – Nagel, Thomas
  31. The Social Construction of What? – Hacking, Ian
  32. 36 Arguments for the Existence of God: A Work of Fiction – Goldstein, Rebecca Newberger
  33. Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers – Roach, Mary
  34. Monkey Mind: A Memoir of Anxiety – Smith, Daniel B.
  35. The Minds of the Bible: Speculations on the Cultural Evolution of Human Consciousness – Cohn, James
  36. Brain on Fire: My Month of Madness – Cahalan, Susannah
  37. What a Plant Knows: A Field Guide to the Senses – Chamovitz, Daniel
  38. Reconstruction in Philosophy – Dewey, John
  39. Against All Gods: Six Polemics on Religion and an Essay on Kindness – Grayling, A.C.
  40. The Logic Of Modern Physics – Bridgman, Percy W.
  41. The End of Christianity – Loftus, John W.
  42. Inventing Temperature: Measurement and Scientific Progress – Chang, Hasok
  43. The New Executive Brain: Frontal Lobes in a Complex World – Goldberg, Elkhonon
  44. Thomas Jefferson: Author of America – Hitchens, Christopher
  45. Born Believers: The Science of Children’s Religious Belief – Barrett, Justin L.
  46. Brains: How They Seem to Work – Purves, Dale
  47. A Man Without Words – Schaller, Susan
  48. Beyond Morality – Garner, Richard
  49. Hallucinations – Sacks, Oliver
  50. The Signal and the Noise: Why So Many Predictions Fail – But Some Don’t – Silver, Nate
  51. Antifragile: Things That Gain from Disorder – Taleb, Nassim Nicholas 
  52. The Information: A History, A Theory, A Flood – Gleick, James
  53. Ubik – Dick, Philip K.
  54. The Art Instinct: Beauty, Pleasure, and Human Evolution – Dutton, Denis

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Quote for the Day – A.C. Grayling on the Difference Between Infatuation and Love

Looking at love from the perspective of time is instructive. Infatuation can grow into love given time and a dose of life’s realities, which romance by definition lacks. But first it has to shed its blindness — another of infatuation’s defining characteristics — and its egocentricity. This is the egocentricity of hunger, the need to consume and possess the other’s presence, and thereby to satisfy one’s own appetite. Mature love is different. It comes when one clearly sees the other in his or her individuality, and can therefore acknowledge it; only with such a distance does true closeness come. Romantic infatuation tries to negate otherness, to achieve a merging or identification as if the Hermaphroditic myth, in which lovers are sundered halves of the same being, were true. Love proper is an open-eyed recognition of separateness — but of separateness connected. That is the beauty of it; it lies in the connection, mutual and willed, that two individuals choose to make.

~ A.C. Grayling, The God Argument: The Case Against Religion and for Humanism, p. 202

For what it’s worth, Erich Fromm makes a similar point in his supremely wise book The Art of Love.

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A Reassuring Note on the Lack of Actual Content Around Here Lately

You might be wondering why this blog has recently downgraded to a series of quotes from random books I’m reading, but I want to assure you: it is not for lack of writing! Rather, as is typical during the summer, I am throwing almost of my writing energies into my Qualifying Paper, with a smidgen left over for emails, tweets, and fluffy blog posts (like this one!). To give you a flavor of the project monopolizing my scholarly willpower, the current but highly tentative title for the paper is “A Genealogical Defense of Normative Nihilism”. And if you can’t tell by the dreary and pompous title, yes, it is highly ambitious paper, perhaps too ambitious, a perennial problem for my philosophical projects. I can’t help it though. I loathe the idea of writing a paper that only moves a nanometer forward in conceptual space. I want to leap, not crawl. 

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