Suggested readings, #135

Here it is, a rundown of interesting articles I’ve come across recently, to consider for your weekend readings:

Eve, Pandora and Plato: how Greek myth shaped the first Christian woman. More than any other biblical text, the book of Genesis has had a fundamental influence on ideas concerning gender roles in Western Christianity. Social attitudes regarding how men and women should relate to each other have stemmed from interpretations of Genesis 2-3. The story of how Adam and Eve were expelled from Eden has been a lens through which debates on gender have been filtered. The subordinate position of women throughout western history has thus been viewed as emanating from these chapters — influencing perspectives on women’s inferiority, the nature of woman’s creation, and the alleged ‘curse’ of Genesis 3:16. … (The Collector)

How do you know? You can’t be wrong on purpose. To see this, try one of my favourite philosophical parlour tricks. Right now, believe something you think is false: that the Sun is just a big lightbulb, for instance. Don’t imagine you believe it – really believe it. Become so confident in it that you’d bet good money that it’s true. When I try this, I feel a funny cognitive block, as if there’s a built-in aversion to believing on command, especially anything I already think is wrong. Unfortunately, this doesn’t mean it’s easy to believe only truths. If learning and thinking were as easy as deciding to let nothing but the facts in, we would never make mistakes. And yet we stumble into falsehood all the time. We can all think of times we were convinced of something that turned out to be wrong, and we all have our favourite perceptual illusions, ambiguous images and pictures of impossible scenes, which drive it home that things aren’t always how they seem. … (Aeon)

Libertarianism as a programmatically incoherent social philosophy. The status of libertarianism is perhaps best captured by philosopher Jonathan Wolff, who noted its dichotomous appreciation in the academy and amongst the public. In commenting on the classic philosophical rivalry between Harvard University colleagues John Rawls, a social liberal, and Robert Nozick, a libertarian, Wolff writes “unlike Rawls, Nozick has won few followers among academic political philosophers. Nevertheless, in practical political terms we have… seen a [societal] move away from left-wing welfarism defended by Rawls. It is Nozick who seems closer to the political spirit of the present age.” To be sure, recent national elections in the United States support this depiction, with the Libertarian Party consistently growing and standing as the most successful third party outside the Republican and Democratic Party duopoly. The academy’s general neglect of libertarianism is perhaps socially irresponsible given the growth of this social philosophy amongst the citizenry. … (Epoche Magazine)

Making meaning without a maker: secular consciousness through narrative and cultural practice. Drawing on fieldwork and in-depth interviews, this study examines the ways affirmatively secular individuals construct moral frameworks, navigate hardship, and create meaningful selves. Based on an inductive, thematic analysis of the data, we show that secular individuals’ identities and interpretations of everyday experience and important life events are made meaningful through personal narratives and shared social spaces where cultural values are practiced, imbuing secular worldviews with a sense of legitimacy. Through participants’ responses to questions of “ultimate concern” including life’s purpose, and the meaning of happiness, hardship, and death, we argue that a sense of otherness, appeals to normative values, and the reframing of existential questions in secular terms plays an essential role in the lives of a segment of the growing, increasingly diverse nonreligious community. Our findings have implications for scholars of secularity, including the role of ambiguity in secular beliefs and the impor- tance of narrative in worldview formation. … (Sociology of Religion)

Who else besides Hadot? One area I work in as a professional philosopher is Stoic philosophy. Up to this point, I’ve published relatively little in traditional academic formats about Stoicism, but I regularly write, speak, and produce content about Stoicism in more popular and public settings. I also edit an important forum for modern interpretations, discussion, and application of Stoic philosophy, Stoicism Today. Though I’m not an orthodox Stoic, but rather an avowed eclectic, I draw upon and apply Stoic insights, practices, and techniques, not only in my own life, but also with clients in my philosophical counseling practice. … (Medium)

Suggested readings, #134

Here it is, a rundown of interesting articles I’ve come across recently, to consider for your weekend readings:

Reloading the Canon. If we are to diversify undergraduate philosophy curricula, then we ought to do it well. That means, in practice, taking seriously the factors that can spoil diversification efforts. These will include certain prejudices or habits of thought on the part of students. After all, it is partly for their sake that we invest energy in curricular diversification efforts and, more importantly, we often solicit their preferences. For that reason, we should take due care to ensure that their stated preferences are not being narrowed or corrupted by preconceptions and biases. … (The Philosophers’ Magazine)

Researchers analyzed 700-plus songs known to give people chills. Here’s the playlist. Academics have spent years investigating why some songs give people “chills,” usually described as a pleasurable sensation of tingles, or a shiver, often accompanied by goosebumps. One prominent assertion is that as we listen to music, our minds are racing ahead to imagine what’s coming, and we get chills when our predictions are completely off. Perhaps the dynamic changes unexpectedly or a surprising instrument slides into the mix. Another possibility is that people who get chills have more connections between the auditory and reward systems in the brain. Still other scientists have proposed that people who are more empathetic are more prone to experience chills because of emotional contagion. … (QZ)

The WEIRD evolution of human psychology. Imagine that you’re in a room with 100 psychopaths. The first thing you’ll probably want to do is leave that room. However, once you do, you discover a booth installed with one-way glass where you can watch what’s taking place without anyone seeing you. Comfortably seated, you observe a strange experiment taking place. A few of the individuals have on white coats and are carrying around clipboards while most are being run through a battery of psychological tests. … (Scientific American)

Cryotherapy: the cold, hard truth. The health and wellness industry is worth an estimated $4 trillion. This extraordinary valuation encompasses the sale of health club memberships, exercise classes, fad diets, supplements, alternative therapies, and thousands of other products and practices, all vying for our attention. In this, the inaugural article in “The Skeptic’s Guide to Sports Science” column, I chose to scrutinize whole-body cryotherapy. Not only does it illustrate the industry’s preference for hype and hearsay over hard data, but it’s also marketed on the exploitation of several ingrained cognitive biases. This makes it an ideal case study for the critical thinker. … (Skeptical Inquirer)

Dark personality traits positively associated with COVID-19 conspiracy beliefs. A study published in the journal of Personality and Individual Differences found that Machiavellianism, primary psychopathy, and collective narcissism positively predicted belief in COVID-19 conspiracies. Further, COVID-19 conspiracy beliefs explained the negative relationship between these dark personality traits and the willingness to obtain a future COVID-19 vaccine. … (PsyPost)

Suggested readings, #133

Here it is, a rundown of interesting articles I’ve come across recently, to consider for your weekend readings:

Homeopathy doesn’t work. So why do so many Germans believe in it? Behind an arched stone facade in Heidelberg, Germany, Natalie Grams spent years welcoming patients into bright rooms with plastered white walls and hardwood floors. As a homeopathic physician, she listened to their concerns and prescribed tinctures, ointments, and little white pills for their ailments. People trusted her, and Grams was certain that these nontraditional treatments (echinacea for colds; arnica for muscle pain) made them better. For her, homeopathy was more than a profession. It was something she accepted on faith and an essential part of her identity. She treated herself homeopathically and her young family, too. “I was convinced that homeopathy could heal everything, really everything,” Grams says. … (Bloomberg)

Who’s killing physics? On a recent visit to my mum’s place, I searched through my old stuff for something my children might like. One book that caught my eyes was (the German edition of) James Trefil’s Dark Side of the Universe. It’s about cosmology, the Big Bang and the expansion of the universe, Einstein’s theory of general relativity, and speculations about what dark matter might be. Trefil’s book was published in 1989. Back then, I found it tremendously exciting. But much of it could be published in 2021 without change – we’d just have to add that the cosmological constant is back. Then again, the cosmological constant was Einstein’s idea, so it’s not exactly new. … (Cosmos)

Inhumans vs. X-Men: race, class, and the right to have a story. Ever since Disney bought Marvel, there has been a noticeable shift in the latter’s storytelling. By all appearances, Marvel has been promoting and elevating its lesser-known properties (like Guardians of the Galaxy) while seemingly giving characters who have been mainstays in the Marvel Universe (like the Fantastic Four) a far more reduced role. Many (rightly?) paranoid fans believe this is a shrewd business move by Disney to monopolize the characters whose movie rights it owns over those owned by other studios. The X-Men are a casualty of this tendency. Believe it or not, it was the X-Men, not the Avengers, who were the money-makers for Marvel back in the 90s before the company went bankrupt. Marvel sold the movie rights to its most popular properties to various movie studios, with the X-Men and all related titles and characters going to Fox. Marvel is not able to use the X-Men or even the term “mutant” in any of its own movies. In response to this reality, Marvel has elevated the Inhumans and sought to make them the stand-in for mutants. … (and Philosophy)

Examining miracle claims: philosophical and investigative approaches. A miracle is usually defined as an event supposedly unexplainable by nature. But such a definition is predicated on a logical fallacy called arguing from ignorance—that is, from a lack of knowledge. It is like saying, “We don’t know; therefore, we do know.” Anglican writer C. S. Lewis (1898–1963) succinctly defined a miracle as “an interference with Nature by supernatural power.”1 But this begs the question: What supernatural power? One cannot explain one mystery by invoking another. Philosopher David Hume (1711–1776) argued that miracles did not in fact occur. He stated in his Treatise “Of Miracles”: “A miracle is a violation of the laws of nature; and as a firm and unalterable experience has established those laws, the proof against a miracle, from the very nature of the fact, is as entire as any argument from experience can possibly be imagined.” … (Secular Humanism)

Physics needs an aesthetic revolution. What is beauty? The poet John Keats, in his Ode on a Grecian Urn, responded with his enigmatic ‘“Beauty is truth, truth beauty,”—that is all/Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know.’ Although there isn’t agreement among scholars about the poet’s intentions in writing these lines, in scientific circles they came to signify a general epigraph for a Platonic take on Nature: that beauty, understood as mathematical symmetry and proportion, is the pathway to the truth, that is, to our final unveiling of Nature’s deepest secrets. I am here to argue against this belief—for it is a belief—from bottom up. … (IAI News)

Suggested readings, #132

Here it is, a rundown of interesting articles I’ve come across recently, to consider for your weekend readings:

So you think there are laws in Nature? Two friends are debating whether there are laws in nature. Bob is a ‘Believer’; he sees regularities everywhere, and supposes that some of them are good enough to be laws. Sue is a ‘Sceptic’; she feels that randomness prevails and the so-called ‘laws of nature’ are merely projections of our minds onto the world. Two worldviews oppose each other. Who will win?

Sue: Here we are, another Thursday, meeting up before a new movie starts. Who would have expected our friendship to last long enough to establish a movie habit together?

Bob: I know! Some things in life happen rather accidentally – like the meeting of two strangers who become involved enough to have their own little patterns in a relationship. Actually, I’ve been thinking about patterns and regularities a lot lately.

Sue: I’ll consider that another side-effect of studying philosophy. Do you want to share your thoughts while we’re waiting? … (Philosophy Now)

In defence of memoirs – a way to grip our story-shaped lives. I wrote a memoir recently, and sometimes I ask myself why on earth I did. It was difficult and time-consuming, it involved some rather unpleasant self-examination, and it raised suspicions of self-involvement, exhibitionism and insufferable earnestness that I’d so far mainly avoided in life. If I publish it, I risk being accused by friends of betrayal, by readers of lying, and by critics of any number of literary flaws. Since selling a memoir is hard, all of that would represent things going well. When I complain to my sister about this, she suggests that ‘maybe’ I should have – ‘I don’t know’ – considered these points two years ago, before embarking on this thing that she would ‘never, like, ever do’. … (Psyche)

The Nonidentity Problem: can an act be wrong if it doesn’t harm anyone? If we take action now to mitigate global climate change, it might make life a little worse for people now and in the near future, but it will make life much better for people further in the future. Suppose, for whatever reason, we do nothing. Since future people will have much worse lives, it seems that we owe it to future generations to do something now. But if we do things differently now, it will have the side-effect of bringing into existence different people than those that would have been brought into existence if we did nothing. (3 Quarks Daily)

Buddhist metaphysics. Buddhism is often described as the philosophy of the ‘middle way’, in that the Buddha is alleged to have always urged his devotees to avoid ‘extremes’ in the quest for enlightenment – initially, the extremes of asceticism or self-indulgence. Many scholars, like Sangharakshita, have emphasized that Buddhism is a form of ‘atheistic spirituality’ – a religion without a god – in that it attempts to steer a middle way between the theistic spirituality of the Hindu Vedanta tradition and the atheistic materialism of the Samkhya and Lokayata philosophies. But given the focal emphasis that Buddhism places upon the mind, its complete denial of a self, and the extreme idealist tendencies that developed within the Buddhist tradition, it is doubtful if Buddhism as a spiritual tradition ever took the middle way doctrinally. Indeed, many later Mahayana Buddhists, including such well-known figures as Daisetz Suzuki and Chogyam Trungpa, may best be described as advocating not a middle way between spirituality and materialism, but a form of mystical idealism. In this article I will offer some brief reflections on the Buddhist philosophical worldview, focussing on its diverse metaphysics, the implications for knowledge of its advocacy of transcendental wisdom (prajna), and the different strategies involved in its conception of enlightenment. … (Philosophy Now)

Rome is Burning: Nero and the Fire That Ended a Dynasty. Barrett’s new book, aimed at both an academic and general readership, is an object lesson in how ancient historians work. Every major disaster raises basic questions about its date, extent, causes, and consequences. Modern historians offer answers from archival material—state and private (media) eyewitness statements, statistics, reports, etc. Ancient historians, lacking such resources, have to look elsewhere. Hence, they must be fully interdisciplinary. Formal histories are usually insufficient to consult exclusively because of the lateness of their composition, authorial bias, incomplete survival, etc. Hence, ancient historians must also turn to a wider literature, such as poetry and plays, and to inscriptions, coins, archaeological finds, and comparisons with experiences of the same sort of disaster at other times. … (The Journal of Interdisciplinary History)

How insecurity and disinformation create conspiracy theorists. On August 29, 2020, about 18,000 people gathered in Berlin, Germany, either denying the existence of COVID-19 or contesting decisions taken to contain it. Among the gatherers were conspiracy theorists of all sorts, chemtrail believers, followers of QAnon, anti-vaccination advocates, homeopaths, people like Robert Kennedy Jr., and right-wing extremists who, waving Third Reich flags, attempted to storm the Reichstag, the seat of the German parliament. A week later, on September 5, it was Rome’s turn. Fifteen hundred people found themselves in Piazza Bocca della Verità denying the existence of COVID-19, flaunting the absence of masks, and shouting against the “health dictatorship” that had been imposed by the government. Again, anti-vaccination advocates, 5G alarmists, and representatives of Forza Nuova (an extreme right-wing group that organized the event) spoke from the stage, declaring Trump and Putin friends of humanity while railing against the usual targets of the conspiracy theorists: the New World Order, Bill Gates, Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, George Soros, and others. … (Skeptical Inquirer)

The Pythia of Delphi: Ancient Greek religion’s most powerful woman. What exactly is an oracle? Or, more specifically, what was an oracle in an ancient Greek context? The communication of divine knowledge from god to mortal, also known as divination, played a major role in ancient Greek religion. Divination took many forms, from the study of sacrificial entrails to the interpretation of the flight of birds. But perhaps the most important form of divination was the practice of consultation of a god through an intermediary. This intermediary was known as an oracle. Oracular consultation took place at permanent sites and sanctuaries scattered across ancient Greece. The king of the gods, Zeus, had prestigious oracles at both Olympia and Dodona. There were also oracles of Apollo as far afield as Didyma in Asia Minor and on the island of Delos. However, it was the Oracle of Apollo at Delphi that was the most renowned and enduring of them all. (The Collector)

Suggested readings, #131

Here it is, a rundown of interesting articles I’ve come across recently, to consider for your weekend readings:

The battle of the Classics: the Humanities without Humanism. It is one of the many oddities of contemporary academic life that few humanities professors would deem themselves humanists. In fact, I’d wager that most current teachers of the humanities (Classicists included), if queried about the humanistic tradition, would have only the vaguest sense of what that term means. By comparison, one would be hard pressed to find professors of the so-called hard sciences who don’t self-identify as scientists. This peculiar state of affairs isn’t entirely the fault of humanities faculty. After all, as the famous Renaissance scholar Paul Kristeller observed in the early 1960s, the term humanism “has become the source of much philosophical and historical confusion”. He added that, “in present discourse, almost any kind of concern with human values is called ‘humanistic’, and consequently a great variety of thinkers, religious or anti-religious, scientific or antiscientific, lay claim to what has become a rather elusive label of praise.” Hence, we find locutions such as secular humanism and scientific humanism, which bear little resemblance to the humanist movement as it was founded in Roman antiquity. … (Antigone)

It’s shocking to see so many leftwingers lured to the far right by conspiracy theories. It’s an uncomfortable thing to admit, but in the countercultural movements where my sympathies lie, people are dropping like flies. Every few days I hear of another acquaintance who has become seriously ill with Covid, after proudly proclaiming the benefits of “natural immunity”, denouncing vaccines and refusing to take the precautions that apply to lesser mortals. Some have been hospitalised. Within these circles, which have for so long sought to cultivate a good society, there are people actively threatening the lives of others. … (Guardian)

How conspiracy theories “infiltrated” the wellness community. Susanna Barkataki, a yoga teacher in Los Angeles, saw it unfold on her social media feed starting last year. “It was so fascinating, because they were using words that spoke to me and people like me,” Barkataki told CBSN Originals’ Adam Yamaguchi. “They were saying phrases and hashtags like, ‘Where we go one, we go all.’ That’s like, OK, yeah, that sounds very yogic, right? … Or the ‘Great Awakening.’ I mean, that’s samadhi, that’s enlightenment.” … (CBS News)

Political orientation predicts science denial – here’s what that means for getting Americans vaccinated against COVID-19. Vaccine refusal is a major reason COVID-19 infections continue to surge in the U.S. Safe and effective vaccines have been available for months, but as of mid-September 2021, only 65% of eligible American adults are fully vaccinated. In many areas, a majority of eligible adults haven’t taken advantage of the opportunity to get vaccinated. In the U.S., polling on intent to get vaccinated shows a massive political divide. Counties that went for Joe Biden in the 2020 presidential election show higher vaccination rates than counties that went for Donald Trump. Attendees at the Conservative Political Action Committee’s summer meeting cheered the fact that the U.S. didn’t meet Biden’s July 4 vaccination goals for the country. … (The Conversation)

The baffling legal standard fueling religious objections to vaccine mandates. As vaccine mandates begin to take effect, thousands of Americans are scrambling to get religion. For those who oppose vaccination, a “sincerely held religious belief” might be the only way to avoid getting the shot—or losing their job. Online, one can find dozens of official-looking forms, letter templates, and tips on how to explain why your anti-vaccination beliefs are both sincere and religious. Some people are even attempting to turn the exemption business into a lucrative side hustle. Leaders of many major religious organizations and denominations have released statements supporting vaccination and clarifying that their teachings, official and unofficial, do not oppose vaccination. But some are offering “exemption letters” to parishioners who want a minister’s religious authority backing them up. … (New Republic)

A match made in law? On corporations and their uncomfortable fit with democracy. Even though many people in the world live under democratic governments, they spend much of their lives under dictatorial rule. For about a third of their day, employees toil under the eyes of superiors who, as Elizabeth Anderson has pointed out in her 2017 book “Private Government”, rule arbitrarily and are not accountable to their subordinates. Under this dictatorial rule, workers neither have a right to be heard nor can they appeal their superiors’ decisions. What—if anything—could justify such a structure, especially in societies that put so much emphasis on democratic organizations in all other domains? And if it is not justifiable, what would be a better structure and how can we implement it? … (APA Blog)

An empirical approach to the analytic-continental divide. What’s the difference between analytic philosophy and Continental philosophy? In a new paper, a pair of researchers use a computer analysis of the content of different journals to test one way the distinction is sometimes characterized. Moti Mizrahi (Florida Institute of Technology) and Mike Dickinson (Illinois, Urbana-Champaign) note that sometimes the distinction between analytic philosophy (AP) and Continental philosophy (CP) has been drawn by reference to a supposed difference in the importance of argumentation in these philosophical traditions. In their “The analytic-continental divide in practice: an empirical study,” published in Metaphilosophy, they write: ‘Some philosophers have argued that the differences between AP and CP have to do with the place of argument in these two philosophical traditions or camps. That is, it has been argued that argument occupies a more important place in AP than in CP.’ … (Daily Nous)

Suggested readings, #130

Here it is, a rundown of interesting articles I’ve come across recently, to consider for your weekend readings:

‘Green growth’ doesn’t exist – less of everything is the only way to avert catastrophe. There is a box labelled “climate”, in which politicians discuss the climate crisis. There is a box named “biodiversity”, in which they discuss the biodiversity crisis. There are other boxes, such as pollution, deforestation, overfishing and soil loss, gathering dust in our planet’s lost property department. But they all contain aspects of one crisis that we have divided up to make it comprehensible. The categories the human brain creates to make sense of its surroundings are not, as Immanuel Kant observed, the “thing-in-itself”. They describe artefacts of our perceptions rather than the world. … (Guardian)

What if trigger warnings don’t work? Earlier this year, Brandeis University’s Prevention, Advocacy, and Resource Center released a “Suggested Language List,” developed by “students who have been impacted by violence and students who have sought out advanced training for intervening in potentially violent situations.” The students’ purpose, they wrote, was “to remove language that may hurt those who have experienced violence from our everyday use.” They proposed avoiding the idioms “killing it,” “take a stab at,” and “beating a dead horse.” I was struck that one of the phrases they recommended avoiding was “trigger warning,” and that the proffered explanation was sensible: “ ‘warning’ can signify that something is imminent or guaranteed to happen, which may cause additional stress about the content to be covered. We can also never guarantee that someone will not be triggered during a conversation or training; people’s triggers vary widely.” … (New Yorker)

Pleasure and justice. One of the least interesting things a woman can do vis-à-vis sex is consent to it—yet lately, we seem to have less to say about female erotics than we do about male abuses. On the one hand, it is not hard to understand why consent and its absence are at the forefront of mainstream conversation. A focus on rape and assault is warranted in a culture where sexual crimes are so tragically common: one in every six women in the United States is the victim of rape or attempted rape, and 81 percent of women have experienced some form of sexual harassment. … (Boston Review)

Conspiracy theorists lack critical thinking skills: new study. Conspiracy theories are nothing new, but they have greater reach and intensity with the advent of social media. As explained by Anthony Lantian, an associate professor of psychology at the Paris Nanterre University and a co-author of the new study: “Conspiracy theories refer to attempts to explain the ultimate cause of an important event (social, political, climatic, etc.) by accusing a hidden coalition of perceived malicious and powerful people or organisations of having secretly planned and implemented these events.” … (New Daily)

The essayist as public intellectual. The mid-twentieth century United States was, American poet Randall Jarrell wrote in 1953, an “age of criticism”: a period in which criticism became the “representative or Archetypal act” of the humanistic intellectual (p. 66). For many of these intellectuals and critics, the essay was the preferred medium of expression. Phillip Lopate recently identified the period from 1945-1970 as “the Golden Age of the American Essay.” In the decades since, essays have also become “the lingua franca of the American academy,” which developed an increasingly tight affiliation with public intellectual work in the United States after World War II. In other words, intellectual historians of the post-1945 period in the United States often have no choice but to contend with essays in our research. But what does it mean to read essays as evidence?… (JHI Blog)

Knowing what to believe. As a student on a summer break from my psychology degree, I spent a few weeks traveling alone around China. Much of the trip was spent on long, rambling train journeys where pleasantries with my fellow passengers were exchanged via hand signals and a few halting words of Mandarin. There was plenty of time to think while watching the landscape roll by. The book in my backpack was conducive to this – Daniel Dennett’s Freedom Evolves, all about free will. Dennett’s thesis was that we can retain a sense of being free while still acknowledging the determinism inherent in the brain and mind (a view known as compatibilism in philosophy). To me it made a lot of sense (and still does) to define freedom as the capacity to make decisions – to be able to consciously weigh up what to believe or what course of action to take. … (IAI News)

Evidence for a probabilistic turn in philosophy. A few decades ago, the use of formal methods in philosophy was dominated by a small number of closely related techniques. Above all, philosophers were concerned with the application of logic. Indeed, to the extent that philosophers turned to other areas for formal tools to conduct their research, it was often to areas that were intimately connected to logic (e.g., set theory). A question now arises as to whether there has been a change in the use of formal methods in philosophy over time. Is the use of formal methods in philosophy still dominated by logic, or has there been a shift toward diversification, with an increased use of other formal tools? And if so, what other tools? … (Daily Nous)

Suggested readings, #129

Here it is, a rundown of interesting articles I’ve come across recently, to consider for your weekend readings:

The hidden connection between academic relativists and science denial. Since the 1960s, relativism about natural science has been a major trend in parts of the social sciences. Proponents of social constructivism, the strong program, deconstructionism, and postmodernism describe results from natural science as power-based social constructions rather than the currently best knowledge about the natural world. Critics have accused them of contributing to the onslaught of corporate and politicized science denial that has accelerated in the past three decades. … (Skeptical Inquirer)

The symbolic politics of Judith Butler are all very well, but sometimes reality interjects. The philosopher Judith Butler is infamously difficult to understand. Among Butler’s long list of academic awards, one stands out as rather less enviable: first prize in a 1998 bad-writing contest run by the journal Philosophy and Literature (I would quote the offending sentence, but doing so would use up most of my word count). … (New Statesman)

Another side to Socrates. We all know the story. Socrates has been told by the oracle that he is wisest of men, but he considers that he himself knows nothing. Puzzled, he takes to cross-examining his fellow Athenians about their beliefs, and time and again finds that they will not bear examination. As a result, he is indicted on trumped-up charges of impiety and corrupting the young. After a trial in which he eloquently defends his behaviour, he is condemned to death. A martyr to freedom of expression, and a shocking example of democracy suppressing dissent. Surely there is more to the story than that? Indeed there is. … (3QuarksDaily)

Antirealism and the analytic-continental split. While both vitriolic ignorance and baneful neglect are unfortunate, the lack of cross-engagement is understandable. It takes a tremendous amount of work to grasp the context needed to follow conversations that have been going on for 150-200 years. This also explains why philosophers who do try to engage often find it inscrutable, leading at times to wholesale dismissal. However, difficult is not the same as impossible, and a tradition of mostly failures should not discourage us from continuing to try. The divorce has done harm to the profession, leaving legions of rich arguments unargued, countless lessons unlearned. The independent development of the two makes conversing more difficult but also more valuable, as each tradition has developed sophisticated ideas and intellectual tools wholly missing in the other. … (IAI News)

Gamer beware, ultra-realistic VR is a philosophical minefield for humanity. Virtual reality has come on leaps and bounds over the past few years. Whether we’re talking about the capabilities of the VR tech itself, its price, or the VR games now available to us, there’s no question that virtual reality has improved. While the Valve Index is still pricey, there are plenty of great budget options now available. The Oculus Quest 2 can be bought for a humble $300, and it’s a damn good headset by all technical standards. But, as with all new technological innovations, there have been bumps along the road. For instance, while the Quest 2 is fantastic in terms of price-performance, it requires full Facebook integration to use, which has raised questions about the ethics of business practices which strongarm the user into a social media-sphere, and all the privacy concerns that this raises. And when it comes to the tech itself, there are still a number of issues to be worked out, such as the tracking of the HP Reverb G2. … (PC Gamer)

Suggested readings, #128

Here it is, a rundown of interesting articles I’ve come across recently, to consider for your weekend readings:

Peer review of a VAERS dumpster dive. There is a new preprint study of COVID-vaccine-associated myocarditis (C-VAM) by Hoeg et al. being shared on social media and several news sites that has not passed peer review. The claim from the study authors is that they replicate the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practice’s (ACIP) analysis of C-VAM event reports from the Vaccine Adverse Events Reporting System (VAERS) and found a much higher incidence than previously reported. The study falls short of this claim in many ways but perhaps most significantly, it appears the authors wandered into the VAERS quagmire with no understanding of how the system works. … (Science Based Medicine)

A tale of two resignations. Last week, Peter Boghossian publicly announced his resignation from Portland State University. In his announcement, he complained about both the character of the university—its emphasis on social justice and what he sees as its “illiberalism”—and about how he was treated by some students, faculty, and administrators. … (Daily Nous)

Towards a new Enlightenment. Socrates’s legacy is one of philosophy as intervention and enlightenment of public life. Could contemporary academic philosophers play a similar role? The Enlightenment’s legacy, still alive in the academy today, sees philosophers as the holders of reason and the guides of progress. But those are philosophical myths best left behind. What is called for is a new Enlightenment, one that interrogates grand buzzwords like “reason” and “progress”, is more historically grounded and pragmatic, writes Michale Hampe. … (IAI news)

Reproducibility: expect less of the scientific paper. In 2018, we embarked on a journey to assess the reproducibility of biomedical research papers from Brazil. Thus began a multicentre collaboration of more than 60 laboratories to replicate 60 experiments from 2 decades of Brazilian publications1. We randomly selected experiments that used three common laboratory techniques: the MTT assay for cell viability, RT-PCR to measure specific messenger RNAs and the elevated plus maze to assess anxiety in rodents. … (Nature)

Psychologists are learning what religion has known for years. Even though I was raised Catholic, for most of my adult life, I didn’t pay religion much heed. Like many scientists, I assumed it was built on opinion, conjecture, or even hope, and therefore irrelevant to my work. That work is running a psychology lab focused on finding ways to improve the human condition, using the tools of science to develop techniques that can help people meet the challenges life throws at them. But in the 20 years since I began this work, I’ve realized that much of what psychologists and neuroscientists are finding about how to change people’s beliefs, feelings, and behaviors—how to support them when they grieve, how to help them be more ethical, how to let them find connection and happiness—echoes ideas and techniques that religions have been using for thousands of years. … (Wired)

Howard University’s removal of classics is a spiritual catastrophe. Upon learning to read while enslaved, Frederick Douglass began his great journey of emancipation, as such journeys always begin, in the mind. Defying unjust laws, he read in secret, empowered by the wisdom of contemporaries and classics alike to think as a free man. Douglass risked mockery, abuse, beating and even death to study the likes of Socrates, Cato and Cicero. Long after Douglass’s encounters with these ancient thinkers, the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. would be similarly galvanized by his reading in the classics as a young seminarian — he mentions Socrates three times in his 1963 “Letter From Birmingham Jail.” … (Washington Post)

Can psychologists tell us anything about morality? Lately, it’s (again) become fashionable to raise questions about the relevance of human psychology to human morality. On its face, the notion seems singularly unpromising – isn’t what we’re like relevant to what we ought do? But in fact, this idea is an old one, which has been discussed by moral philosophers for centuries. We therefore enter discussion with an unwelcome sense of déjà vu. But the recent exchange between Tamsin Shaw and Steven Pinker and Jonathan Haidt in the New York Review of Books compels us to consider the old idea in its most recent incarnation, which holds not that human psychology doesn’t matter for morality, but that what professional psychologists tell us about morality doesn’t matter for morality. … (The Philosopher’s Magazine)

Suggested readings, #127

Here it is, a rundown of interesting articles I’ve come across recently, to consider for your weekend readings:

The new Puritans. “It was no great distance, in those days, from the prison-door to the market-place. Measured by the prisoner’s experience, however, it might be reckoned a journey of some length.” So begins the tale of Hester Prynne, as recounted in Nathaniel Hawthorne’s most famous novel, The Scarlet Letter. As readers of this classic American text know, the story begins after Hester gives birth to a child out of wedlock and refuses to name the father. … (Atlantic)

The real reason fans hate the last season of Game of Thrones. Game of Thrones, in its eighth and final season, is as big as television gets these days. More than 17 million people watched the season’s opening. Judging by the fan and critic reaction though, it seems that a substantial portion of those millions are loathing the season. Indeed, most of the reviews and fan discussions seem to be pondering where the acclaimed series went wrong, with many theories on exactly why it went downhill. … (Scientific American)

Fact-checking works to undercut misinformation in many countries. In the wake of the flood of misinformation that’s drowning the US, lots of organizations have turned to fact-checks. Many newsrooms set up dedicated fact-check groups, and some independent organizations were formed to provide the service. We get live fact-checking of political debates, and Facebook will now tag material it deems misinformation with links to a fact-check. … (Are Technica)

Do surgeons who wear N95 masks have lower oxygen levels and make more mistakes? An individual who was both an anti-vaxxer and anti-masker claimed that “studies were done that show that surgeons who wore N95 masks for extended periods of time were shown to have decreased oxygen levels and were more prone to mistakes.” His argument was “imagine what that would do to kids who were forced to wear masks all day in school.” … (Skeptical Inquirer)

Fact check: false claim of an extraterrestrial satellite near Earth. A social media post shared on Facebook is claiming that the births of 10 Democratic politicians is tied to the alleged crash of a UFO in New Mexico in 1947. “It seems to make sense so I am asking my friends if they think this could be true?” the post states. “This is a well-known incident that many say has long been covered-up by the U.S. Air Force, as well as other Federal Agencies and Organizations.” … (USA Today)

Suggested readings, #126

Here it is, a rundown of interesting articles I’ve come across recently, to consider for your weekend readings:

Science alone can’t heal a sick society. In the winter of 1848, a 26-year-old Prussian pathologist named Rudolf Virchow was sent to investigate a typhus epidemic raging in Upper Silesia, in what is now mostly Poland. After three weeks of meticulous observation of the stricken populace — during which he carefully counted typhus cases and deaths by age, sex, occupation and social class — he returned with a 190-page report that ultimately blamed poverty and social exclusion for the epidemic and deemed it an unnecessary crisis. “I am convinced that if you changed these conditions, the epidemic would not recur,” he wrote. … (New York Times)

What the fallacy of accident is and why it needs to be stopped! One of the pedagogical functions of a philosophical education, arguably from as early as Socrates, has been to learn how to spot and (as we say) “call” bad arguments. Sophisms are what Stephen Colbert might call “truthy” arguments. They seem true, when you don’t look too closely. But when you do, you realize they are misleading, just frankly bunk. … (Medium)

No laughing matter? What the Romans found funny. Cicero advises that explaining a joke kills it. I am going to ignore his advice and try to write about what the Romans found funny: where did their sense of humour converge with, and diverge from, ours? … (Antigone)

The cult of life: when the drive to life becomes deadly. The past year has been a year rich with extraordinary events that have forced us to adjust our life to completely new scenarios. We had to give up our freedom of movement, rethink our social relations, and develop a different awareness and perception of our surroundings. We have been exposed to the risk of loss and death, and were also confronted with the uncertainty carried with a pandemic. With such a drastic interruption of our natural flow of life, new observations were made possible– observations that point to a clear imbalance. … (Epoché magazine)

The dangerous ideas of “Longtermism” and “Existential Risk”. So-called rationalists have created a disturbing secular religion that looks like it addresses humanity’s deepest problems, but actually justifies pursuing the social preferences of elites. … (Current Affairs)