The Guardian (UK) has an essay by King's College research fellow Vaughn Bell on the effect neuroscience is having on popular discourse and imagination. From the essay,
Scientific concepts have always washed in and out of popular consciousness but like never before, the brain has become part of contemporary culture. With the recent announcement of two billion-dollar science projects, the Human Brain Project in Europe and the Brain Activity Map in the US, it would be hard to ignore the impact on public spending. Meanwhile, the Barbican has just kicked off an unprecedented month-long festival of neuroscience called Wonder, suggesting even the traditionally science-shy art world has raised an eyebrow.
But it's the sheer penetration of neuroscience into everyday life that makes it remarkable. We talk about left- and right-brain thinking, brainstorming and brain disorders. Differences between the male and female brain are the subject of regular press speculation and newspapers publish stories on brain scans that claim to explain everything from love to memory. Young people are increasingly warned that everything from video games to sexual activity could "damage their brains" while old people are encouraged to "train their brain" lest they lose its functions later in life.
Courtesy Boing Boing, Boston Dynamics continues their revolutionary robotics work, this time in dramatic fashion:
Notre Dame's Gary Gutting discusses what passes for political debate and the possibility of reasonable political discourse in the Times' Stone Series. From the essay,
...our political “debates” seldom deserve the name. For the most part representatives of the rival parties exchange one-liners: “The rich can afford to pay more” is met by “Tax increases kill jobs.” Slightly more sophisticated discussions may cite historical precedents: “There were higher tax rates during the post-war boom” versus “Reagan’s tax cuts increased revenues.”
Such volleys still don’t even amount to arguments: they don’t put forward generally accepted premises that support a conclusion. Full-scale speeches by politicians are seldom much more than collections of such slogans and factoids, hung on a string of platitudes. Despite the name, candidates’ pre-election debates are exercises in looking authoritative, imposing their talking points on the questions, avoiding gaffes, and embarrassing their opponents with “zingers” (the historic paradigm: “There you go again.”)
There is a high level of political discussion in the editorials and op-eds of national newspapers and magazines as well as on a number of blogs, with positions often carefully formulated and supported with argument and evidence. But even here we seldom see a direct and sustained confrontation of rival positions through the dialectic of assertion, critique, response and counter-critique.
Such exchanges occur frequently in our law courts (for example, oral arguments before the Supreme Court) and in discussions of scientific papers. But they are not a significant part of our deliberations about public policy. As a result, partisans typically remain safe in their ideological worlds, convincing themselves that they hold to obvious truths, while their opponents must be either knaves or fools — with no need to think through the strengths of their rivals’ positions or the weaknesses of their own.
Updated and moved to the top: The 2013 Coastal Bend Social Forum convenes Saturday, 2/16, from 9:30 - 4:45 in Bay Hall. Meetings will be held on the first floor of Bay Hall. There should be signs indicating which rooms host which sessions.
In the meantime, enjoy William Shatner's take on "Common People":
Courtesy Leiter Reports, Angela Mendelovici (Western Ontario) has put together a delightful, clear, and succinct slideshow on writing a term paper in philosophy (the brevity of the example paper notwithstanding.) Frankly, this is sound advice for any field whatsoever, although it seems that faculty in other fields tend to be more persnickety about bibliographic form.
[Please note that this advice has at most limited application to the admittedly idiosyncratic Problem Sets in Minds and Machines.]
The Times' "Stone" series has an essay by Gary Gutting (Notre Dame) on psychiatry's upcoming revisions to the "Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders" and what it says not about mental disorders, but about psychiatry. From the essay,
Foucault is, then, right: psychiatric practice makes essential use of moral (and other evaluative) judgments. Why is this dangerous? Because, first of all, psychiatrists as such have no special knowledge about how people should live. They can, from their clinical experience, give us crucial information about the likely psychological consequences of living in various ways (for sexual pleasure, for one’s children, for a political cause). But they have no special insight into what sorts of consequences make for a good human life. It is, therefore, dangerous to make them privileged judges of what syndromes should be labeled “mental illnesses.”
This is especially so because, like most professionals, psychiatrists are more than ready to think that just about everyone needs their services. (As the psychologist Abraham Maslow said, “If all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail”). Another factor is the pressure the pharmaceutical industry puts on psychiatrists to expand the use of psychotropic drugs. The result has been the often criticized “medicalization” of what had previously been accepted as normal behavior—for example, shyness, little boys unable to sit still in school, and milder forms of anxiety.
I do think that an understanding of contemporary work in the cognitive sciences has a profound effect on how one views the workings of the mind. It doesn’t work the way we pretheoretically think it does. Such an understanding, of course, should have a large effect on one’s views in philosophy of mind, but also in epistemology. The great philosophers of the 17th and 18th centuries did not think that epistemological questions floated free of questions about how the mind works. Those philosophers took a stand on all sorts of questions which nowadays we would classify as questions of psychology, and their views about psychological questions shaped their views about epistemology, as well they should have. But these philosophers were not in a position to understand the mind as well as we can today, since the advent of experimental methods in psychology. It shows no disrespect for the brilliance of Descartes or Kant to acknowledge that the psychology which they worked with was primitive by comparison with what is available today in the cognitive sciences, any more than it shows disrespect for the brilliance of Aristotle to acknowledge that the physics he worked with does not compare with that of Newton or Einstein. So I do, of course, reject much that is central not only to the psychology of Descartes and Kant, but to their epistemology as well. No doubt, the best available theories of today will look primitive in comparison with what we are in a position to understand hundreds of years from now. What we need to do, however, is figure out what our best available theories of the mind suggest about epistemological issues, while we recognise that we may need to change our views on these questions as new evidence comes in.;