Suggested readings, #109

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

Is magic immoral? It played a role in the development of early Christianity. [Not that that’s necessarily a good thing…] (The Conversation)

Brain wifi. Instead of a code encrypted in the wiring of our neurons, could consciousness reside in the brain’s electromagnetic field? (Kin-Keepers)

Ancient Greece’s Army of Lovers. Comprising a hundred and fifty male couples, Thebes’s Sacred Band was undefeated until it was wiped out in 338 B.C. In the nineteenth century, the mass grave of the men was found. (New Yorker)

“Civil War Is the Ongoing Condition of Democracy”: Reflections on Nicole Loraux. (JHI Blog)

The misinformation virus. Lies and distortions don’t just afflict the ignorant. The more you know, the more vulnerable you can be to infection. (Aeon)

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Massimo is the K.D. Irani Professor of Philosophy at the City College of New York. He blogs at and He is the author of How to Be a Stoic: Using Ancient Philosophy to Live a Modern Life.

10 thoughts on “Suggested readings, #109”

  1. The essay on misinformation viruses was interesting if fairly one-sided, written from the perspective of an elite who is wondering why the rubes don’t believe them anymore. The answer lies squarely in the mirror. How many tens of millions of lives have been destroyed because the unwashed believed the BS of the elites? We could start with all the people killed in wars because they believed the king, or PM, or president, or emperor that they were fighting for their “nation” or for “God” or for some other “higher purpose” when in fact it was for the leader’s status, coffers, or delusions.

    It’s not as if the citizens believe that it is the elites versus the people without justification, that is, they weren’t convinced of this through misinformation as the author indicates–in fact, this points to another problem in which matters of opinion are framed as factual, by the author and those who lament misinformation. Hence, any time that the citizens don’t believe the opinion/narrative of the elites, it is assumed that the former are wrong, and hence the search for misinformation begins. Censorship follows, as we can see currently in the West, fueling more mistrust. Read Mill on free speech; even lies are better tolerated than censored (especially when wrong opinions are framed as lies, a prevailing trend in the West and one that Mill envisaged).

    The establishment frequently misleads and condescends to the citizens and the citizens know this. THAT is what has changed in the information age–regular citizens have more access to truth, and this has revealed the lies of the elites in a way that was never possible before. Wikileaks comes to mind, or the release of millions of pages of documents from the USSR after it’s collapse, etc. Just like a spouse whose partner has cheated on them time after time, suspicion and paranoia abound, and it doesn’t seem right to blame the aggrieved.

    Maybe the mistrust of the elites is the result of millennia of misinformation flowing downhill rather than some human psychological weakness; it increases fairly directly in proportion to the amount of BS we are asked to swallow. I think people look around at the financial crises, global warming, forever wars, collusion between Big Tech, Wall Street, and government, constant enrichment of the 1%, and think hey, these elites have been doing a pretty good job of messing things up for us while benefiting themselves for the past few hundred years, and their lies have been revealed over and over again…maybe it’s time we stopped believing them. Then, when the elites actually do tell the truth they are shocked that the plebes discount it…but maybe they aren’t as dumb as is portrayed.


    1. I don’t know, I think you are painting far too broad a picture here. For one thing, it’s not that “the people” don’t trust the elites, it’s that they trust some elites and not others. As in the case of so many conservatives still salivating after Trump.

      But yes, whenever there is a problem like this we *also* better look in the mirror. It can’t hurt…


    2. There’s a war going on right now, new attacks, civilians being killed, fascist thugs ptotected by police, and no discussion in this country, because the country where this is happening is ruled by people Americans identify with. If you want a list of facts I can give it to you, but people are loyal to their friends and assumptions, and Americans live in a bubble. And Trump isn’t elite; he’s trash from Queens “one of us”. To his fans he’s synecdochic.


  2. “Lies and distortions don’t just afflict the ignorant.”
    The rediscovery of the obvious

    Oxford Dictionary of Philosophy
    HUMANISM-Most generally, any philosophy concerned to emphasize human welfare and dignity, and *either* optimistic about the powers of human reason, *or at least insistent that we have no alternative but to use it as best we can.*
    [the highlighted bits were added in the 2005 edition.]
    More particularly, the movement distinctive of the Renaissance and allied to the renewed study of Greek and Roman literature: a rediscovery of the unity of human beings and nature, and a renewed celebration of the pleasures of life, all supposed [sic] lost in the medieval world. Humanism in this Renaissance sense was quite consistent with religious belief, it being supposed that God had put us here precisely in order to further those things the humanists found important. [the freedom and burden of choice and moral responsibility] Later the term tended to become appropriated for anti-religious social and political movements. Finally, in the late 20th century, humanism [this later definition] was sometimes used as a pejorative term by postmodernist and especially feminist writers, applied to philosophies such as that of Sartre, that rely upon the possibility of the autonomous, selfconscious, rational, single self, [that the older humanists denied] and that are supposedly [in fact] insensitive to the inevitable fragmentary, splintered, historically and socially conditioned nature of personality and motivation.

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  3. Hi Massimo,

    On Brain wifi. When he writes that “EM field tremors that generated the spikes on the EEG screen knew the slamming of the hospital room door, just as much as the neurons whose firing generated those tremors”, I have trouble with both assumptions. A lot of what he writes strikes me that way, like his paragraph on Wi-Fi, where he starts “The unity of EM fields is apparent whenever you use wifi…”, rather than portraying Wi-Fi networks in a straightforward fashion, like a point to point communication system that uses radio waves and encoded streams of serial data on separate frequency channels, he describes Wi-Fi networks as kind of holistic nearly magical EM fields, which doesn’t help me understand how he’s trying to relate Wi-Fi networks, wave propagation around antennas, or EM transmitters and receivers, to the idea that EM fields can be conscious.

    I can see how EM fields generated by brain processes might in turn actively affect those same. or other, brain processes, but I’m not sure how accepting that, or supposing that it’s EM fields themselves that are conscious, helps our understanding.

    I’ve been mostly negative, and not happy with that, but I still found most of the essay an interesting read, and it got me looking up more recent work on neural synchronization, revisiting authors like Block and Varela, and trying to get a clearer picture of where I stand on questions of consciousness.

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    1. Marc, I agree, I think the author isn’t as clear and convincing as he thinks he is. That said, there does seem to be something to the notion that consciousness has to do with network-level properties, instead of localized areas of the brain. The research is fascinating, even though it’s still far from providing a satisfying mechanistic account of consciousness.

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    2. “That said, there does seem to be something to the notion that consciousness has to do with network-level properties, instead of localized areas of the brain. The research is fascinating, even though it’s still far from providing a satisfying mechanistic account of consciousness.”

      Massimo, I think I agree, the idea of tying consciousness to a localized area or areas of the brain doesn’t seem to me a very likely scenario at this point.

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