The Atlantic is reporting that "an e-petition is circulating requesting that England honor [Turing] by placing him on the next £10 note. In less than a week the petition has garnered more than 10,000 signatures. E-petitions that gain 100,000 signatures in a year are eligible for debate in the House of Commons -- so, while an e-petition is not exactly binding (not even close), the request's quick pick-up is itself a little bit of affirmation for Turing's life and work, and a sign of society's progress since his time. And, it's a lovely, full-circle sort of thing to see the tools of modern computing -- Turing's legacy -- employed for this effort on his behalf."
Be sure to scroll down the Atlantic article for a terrific Radiolab podcast on Turing.
The tally for the presidential elections is as follows:
18 Miguel Cantu
51 Michael Jordan
9 Wayne K. Sisson III
17 Taylor Whitmire
So in a come-from-behind win, it looks like Michael Jordan will be our new Philosophy Club President for the 12/13 Academic Year.
Thanks to all the nominees and all who participated, and congratulations to Michael Jordan!
Below the fold, an excerpt from Terry Pratchett's Discworld Novel, Small Gods.
Stuart Kauffman (biology, Vermont) argues that the empiricist tradition beginning with Hume is inadequate to its philosophical and scientific aspirations having missed the prior, non-epistemic problems of agency and existence in this contribution to NPR's Cosmos and Culture series.
Michael Lynch (Connecticut) and Alan Sokal (physicist, most famous for the Sokal Affair) discuss the deep problem of justifying epistemic principles in this contribution to the Times' Stone series. Excerpts from the discussion:
The problem of justifying first epistemic principles is very old. It led the ancient Greek skeptics to say that knowledge is an illusion. But over the centuries, it has been more common to draw a different conclusion, one concerning the relative value of reason itself. According to many people, what the problem of justifying first principles really shows is that because reasons always run out or end up just going in circles, our starting point must always be something more like faith.
There is a grain of truth in this disquieting thought. We can’t reasonably defend our trust in science just by doing more science in the hope of persuading those who aren’t already on board. But that doesn’t mean we can’t give reasons for our first principles, including the epistemic principles of science. Of course we can. The hard question is what sort of reasons we can give.
The trouble is not that fundamentalist Christians reject our core epistemic principles; on the contrary, they accept them. The trouble is that they supplement the ordinary epistemic principles that we all adopt in everyday life — the ones that we would use, for instance, when serving on jury duty — with additional principles like “This particular book always tells the infallible truth.”
But then we have a right to inquire about the compatibility of this special epistemic principle with the other, general, epistemic principles that they and we share. Why this particular book? Especially, why this particular book in view of the overwhelming evidence collected by scholars (employing the general epistemic principles that we all share) that it was written many decades after the events it purports to describe, by people who not only were not eyewitnesses but who also lived in a different country and spoke a different language, who recorded stories that had been told and retold many times orally, and so on. Indeed, how can one possibly consider this particular book to be infallible, given the many internal contradictions within it?
By contrast, the results of modern science can be justified, I think, by using the general epistemic principles that we all share. The reasoning is long, and nonexperts may not be able to follow it in all details — but nonexperts should be able to understand the general outlines of the argument (and the fact that most citizens don’t is a major scandal concerning the teaching of science).
In his Religious Studies article "The Evil-God Challenge", Stephen Law (London) points out that to the Problem of Evil (explaining why a perfectly good, all-powerful, and all-knowing God permits evil) there exists a mirror-image problem, the Problem of Good--explaining, that is, why a perfectly evil, all-powerful, and all-knowing God permits good. Indeed, why should we think God is perfectly good and not perfectly evil? From the article,
Suppose the reasonableness of the good-god and evil-god hypotheses is in each case indicated by a pointer on a set of weighing scales. Depending on how each of our two scales is loaded – considerations adding to reasonableness being placed on the left of each scale; considerations subtracting from reasonableness being added to the right – the pointer on each scale moves from highly reasonable through a range of positions (fairly reasonable, not unreasonable. etc.) to highly unreasonable.
Certainly, we find that many of the popular arguments loaded by some theists onto the left side of the good-god scale can just as effectively (or ineffectively) be loaded onto the left side of the evil-god scale. We also find the weighty problem of evil on the right side of the good-god scale is mirrored by the hefty problem of good on the right side of the evil-god scale. And we find that three theodicies we have seen used by theists to try to remove or lessen the weight of the problem of evil on the good-god scale (perhaps we might think of them as large helium balloons that can be attached to the problem to lighten the load) are mirrored by reverse theodicies that might be used to reduce the weight of the problem of good.
The symmetry thesis says that, when we load the scales correctly with all the available evidence and other considerations pertinent to the reasonableness of a belief (incidentally, I make no commitment to evidentialism here), the two scales settle in roughly similar positions.
Now most of us, theists included, consider the evil-god hypothesis highly unreasonable. We suppose that there is little of any substance to place on the left-hand side of the scale, and that, when the boulder that is the problem of good is added, the scale lurches violently to the right, notwithstanding the effects of any reverse-theodicy helium balloons we might then try to attach. Yet adherents of the good-god hypothesis typically suppose the good-god scale far more evenly balanced. To believe in a good god, they think, is not like believing in fairies, Santa or, indeed, an evil god. When this scale is properly loaded and the pointer observed, they say, we find it points to 'not unreasonable' or even 'quite reasonable'.
In short, those who embrace the good-god hypothesis typically reject the symmetry thesis. The challenge I am presenting to those who believe in the god of classical monotheism, then, is to explain why, if belief in an evil god is highly unreasonable, should we consider belief in a good god significantly more reasonable?
We might call this the evil-god challenge.
For those who prefer their philosophical analysis in the form of awkward animations,
Following up on yesterday's story, Colin McGinn has an addendum in the Times' Stone series where he responds to readers' criticisms of his proposal that academic philosophy be renamed 'ontics' and clarifies how he understands philosophy. From the article,
My conception of philosophy is broadly Aristotelian: the subject consists of the search for the essences of things by means of a priori methods. Thus, for example, we seek the essence of knowledge by investigating what is involved in the concept of knowledge — where knowledge turns out to be true justified belief (give or take a bit). The things whose essential nature is sought range from space, time and matter, to necessity, causation and laws, to consciousness, free will and perception, to truth, goodness and beauty. There is nothing parochial about this conception of philosophy; it certainly includes ethics, aesthetics and politics.
I suggested in my earlier essay that philosophy so conceived is best classified as a science, because of its rigor, technicality, universality, falsifiability, connection with other sciences, and concern with the nature of objective being (among other reasons). I did not claim, however, that it is an empirical science, like physics and chemistry; rather, it is an a priori science, like the “formal science” of mathematics. (The dictionary I consulted to derive the definition of a science as “a systematically organized body of knowledge on any subject” was the Concise Oxford English Dictionary, Eleventh Edition, definition 2, for those who wondered.) So it is quite beside the point to insist that philosophical claims are not testable by means of empirical experiments: neither is pure mathematics, though it is a science nonetheless. Anyone remotely acquainted with contemporary symbolic logic, philosophy of logic, analytical metaphysics, philosophy of language, philosophy of mind, philosophy of science, and even modern theories of justice, will appreciate the motivation for according such philosophy the status of a science. This is not a matter of dubious public relations for a languishing field of study; rather, it is simply the recognition of the intellectual substance of the discipline — its power and achievements. Just take a look at any current professional journal of philosophy and you will see my point.
In a slightly tongue-in-cheek addition to the NY Times' Stone series, Colin McGinn (Miami) argues that we really should change the name of (academic) philosophy to something better suited to what we actually do. His suggestion is 'ontics'. Discuss.
From the article,
Our current name is harmful because it posits a big gap between the sciences and philosophy; we do something that is not a science. Thus we do not share in the intellectual prestige associated with that thoroughly modern word. We are accordingly not covered by the media that cover the sciences, and what we do remains a mystery to most people. But it is really quite clear that academic philosophy is a science. The dictionary defines a science as “a systematically organized body of knowledge on any subject.” This is a very broad definition, which includes not just subjects like physics and chemistry but also psychology, economics, mathematics and even “library science.”
Academic philosophy obviously falls under this capacious meaning. Moreover, most of the marks of science as commonly understood are shared by academic philosophy: the subject is systematic, rigorous, replete with technical vocabulary, often in conflict with common sense, capable of refutation, produces hypotheses, uses symbolic notation, is about the natural world, is institutionalized, peer-reviewed, tenure-granting, etc. We may as well recognize that we are a science, even if not one that makes empirical observations or uses much mathematics. Once we do this officially, we can expect to be treated like scientists.
Someone might protest that we belong to the arts and humanities, not the sciences, and certainly we are currently so classified. But this is an error, semantically and substantively. The dictionary defines both “arts” and “humanities” as studies of “human culture”—hence like English literature or art history. But it is quite false that philosophy studies human culture, as opposed to nature (studied by the sciences); only aesthetics and maybe ethics fall under that heading. Metaphysics, epistemology, philosophy of mind, philosophy of physics and so on deal not with human culture but with the natural world. We deal with the same things the sciences deal with — the world beyond human culture. To classify philosophy as one of the “humanities” is grossly misleading — it isn’t even much about the human.
In a philosophically unsophisticated yet historically astute article, Physics Today examines today's demonizaiton of climate science in light of past controversies, including especially the transition from geocentrism to heliocentrism. From the article,
It is jarring to ponder the scene of a colleague from the 17th century refusing to look into a telescope—a level of aversion to inconvenient facts, admittedly not common, that seems incredible. Yet modern counterparts can perhaps be found in those who vilify the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change without apparently ever having examined its reports, or who repeat claims—such as global warming having stopped in 1998—that can be trivially falsified by looking at the data. A lesser form of denial can be found in the eager adoption of Copernicus’s calculations by those rejecting his premises; a modern parallel is the use of global atmosphere model simulations by weather forecasters who reject the climatic implications of the physical relationships on which the models are based. (The UK Met Office, whose model development effort is probably the largest in the world, now uses essentially identical atmosphere models for weather and climate prediction.)
Despite the clear historical precedents... scientists and environmentalists alike appear to have been unprepared for the antiscience backlash now under way. A first step toward better public communication of science, and the reason we need it, may lie in recognizing why the backlash happens: the frailty of human reason and supremacy of emotional concerns that we humans all share but do not always acknowledge. That step could be as important in the classroom as when engaging the public and policymakers more widely. Tempering confidence with a dose of humility never hurts either, as best articulated by Einstein himself: "All our science, measured against reality, is primitive and childlike—and yet it is the most precious thing we have."
Courtesy Boing Boing, psychologist Bruce Levine makes the case that many of today's 'mental illnesses'--including such favorites of adolescent psychology as oppositional defiant disorder, attention deficit hyperactive disorder, anxiety disorder--simply reflect the conformist and compliant authority-worshiping tendencies of the psychological and psychiatric communities. From Levine's essay,
Anti-authoritarians question whether an authority is a legitimate one before taking that authority seriously. Evaluating the legitimacy of authorities includes assessing whether or not authorities actually know what they are talking about, are honest, and care about those people who are respecting their authority. And when anti-authoritarians assess an authority to be illegitimate, they challenge and resist that authority—sometimes aggressively and sometimes passive-aggressively, sometimes wisely and sometimes not.
Some activists lament how few anti-authoritarians there appear to be in the United States. One reason could be that many natural anti-authoritarians are now psychopathologized and medicated before they achieve political consciousness of society’s most oppressive authorities.
Gaining acceptance into graduate school or medical school and achieving a PhD or MD and becoming a psychologist or psychiatrist means jumping through many hoops, all of which require much behavioral and attentional compliance to authorities, even to those authorities that one lacks respect for. The selection and socialization of mental health professionals tends to breed out many anti-authoritarians. Having steered the higher-education terrain for a decade of my life, I know that degrees and credentials are primarily badges of compliance. Those with extended schooling have lived for many years in a world where one routinely conforms to the demands of authorities. Thus for many MDs and PhDs, people different from them who reject this attentional and behavioral compliance appear to be from another world—a diagnosable one.