May 312011

Terry Gross has an interesting interview with neuroscientist David Eagleman, author of Incognito: The Secret Lives of the Brain (Incidentally, if you’re in Boston you can catch him at Harvard Bookstore on Friday). Eagleman’s book is about, among many other things, the neuroscience of unconscious processes and their importance to our behavior (something of the particular interest to me); and has some very neo-Kantian ideas about space and time being “constructed” by the brain and not “out there.”

– Wes

May 312011

Though I’ve not yet actually posted the topic announcement yet (we’re still dithering about which chapters to focus on), episode 40 will be on Plato’s Republic, wherein Socrates states unequivocally that those controlled by reason (i.e. the philosophers like Socrates) are just plain better than the rest of the people, and a just state will put the philosophers in charge.

Though of course the political landscape here and now doesn’t much resemble ancient Greece, there’s still a perception (recently voiced by me), that just as in Socrates’s day, conservatism amounts to rejecting contemplation in favor of the practical life. This is not to say that self-proclaimed conservatives aren’t philosophical, as many obviously are, and there are long traditions of conservative philosophy, but that insofar as they are philosophical, they aren’t conservative in this narrowly defined sense. It shouldn’t be surprising that a word like “conservative” has multiple, mutually incompatible cultural associations.

Here’s an article by a blogger (“Richard in Japan”) responding to this charge that conservatives are anti-intellectual as implied by Simon Crichley’s characterization of philosophy (and Socrates) in “The Stone,” i.e. the philosophy forum in the New York Times.

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May 282011

Madison Lint

Madison Lint in Spring 2003

Today’s musical nugget is called “Words & Numbers,” as recorded by Madison Lint.

New readers may not remember my 1/2 year music blog, wherein I forced myself to complete, or digitize, or remix or remaster a song from my past every week. The point of that was to get me to finish up a couple of significant album projects, but given that I was shooting for every week, I quickly fell into a pattern of finishing up things I could deal with more quickly, so my Sinking and the Aftermath album (mostly recorded in 2000) and the Madison Lint album (mostly recorded between 2001-2004) remain further along but still unfinished.

Well, here’s another post of this type, and I hope to resume doing them on a periodic, though not weekly, basis. If these posts seem not sufficiently philosophical or too self-indulgent to you, just ignore them.

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May 272011

Dorky frat hatWe hope to be dipping back to more Ancient Greeks (e.g. the Pre-Socratics, more Plato, more Aristotle, the Stoics and Skeptics) in some future episodes, at least one of which will come very soon.

If you have done graduate work in this area and are the type of guy that memorizes the various Greek words for all the important concepts, and would be interested in coming on the show for an episode, please drop me a line.  -Mark Linsenmayer

May 262011

Watch on youtube.

A big name-drop during the middle of the Russell episode was the sad story of Georg Cantor and his insanity-inducing continuum hypothesis. Anyone unaware of Cantor and his contributions might want to look at this clip from the Dangerous Knowledge BBC documentary. I thought it provided a good visual explanation of higher levels of infinity. But perhaps they horribly oversimplified it for the sake of television — mathematicians, share your thoughts!

If you like the clip, you can find the whole episode out on the wild web.

-Daniel Horne

May 262011

This fascinating New York Times Magazine articles tells the story of conjoined twins Krista and Tatiana, who share part of their brains; specifically, there is a bridge of neural tissue joining their thalami. The thalamus is something like a switchboard for routing sensory information.

While the twins have two distinct minds and personalities, each can see and feel the other’s sensations. It’s an interesting natural experiment in personal identity:

‘I have two pieces of paper,” Krista announced. The girls sat at a small table in the living room, drawing, their faces, as always, angled away from each other. Each had one piece of paper. So I was surprised by Krista’s certainty: She had two pieces of paper? “Yeah,” the girls affirmed in their frequent singsong unison, nodding together. It was one of those moments that a neurologist or psychologist or any curious observer could spend hours contemplating. Was Krista using “I” to refer to both her and her sister? Is Tatiana agreeing with her sister’s assessment at a cognitive level or uttering the same word simultaneously for reasons unknown to her?
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May 252011
Bertrand Russell

Discussing Russell’s Introduction to Mathematical Philosophy (1919), ch. 1-3 and 13-18.

How do mathematical concepts like number relate to the real world? Russell wants to derive math from logic, and identifies a number as a set of similar sets of objects, e.g. “3″ just IS the set of all trios. Hilarity then ensues.

This book is a shortened and much easier to read version of Russell and Whitehead’s much more famous Principia Mathematica, and given that we can’t exactly walk through the specific steps of lots of proofs on a purely audio podcast (nor would we want to put you through that), we spend some of the discussion comparing analytic (with its tendency to over-logicize) and continental (with its tendency towards obscurity) philosophy.

Featuring guest podcaster and number guy Josh Pelton, filling in for Seth.

Read with us online or buy the book.

End song: “Words and Numbers,” by Madison Lint (read more about this tune).

May 252011

We’ve bashed NY Times columnist David Brooks before on this blog for his attempts at philosophy, and I absolutely feel for the guy from a logistical perspective: he’s not an academic that can take a sabbatical and hole up to write and revise. He’s more or less a blogger who has to fumble around every few days to figure out something that he’s read about to spit back in an insightful way, and I don’t think that’s a recipe for great depth and profundity.

Well, now he’s released a book on neuroscience

In this article in “The Nation,” Gary Greenberg rips Brooks for his pretentious (Brooks: “I’m going to walk, stylistically, in the footsteps of Jean-Jacques Rousseau.”) scientism. (Greenberg: “These science-minded utopians may disagree wildly with one another about the essence of human nature, and the kind of world best suited to its flourishing, but they all are equally certain that only scientific inquiry… can settle the matter. We can crack our own source code…, and… we can build a world in which we cannot help being, as Skinner once put it, ‘automatically good.’”)

As Newt Gingrich said a week or so back in a wholly different context, “I don’t think right-wing social engineering is any more desirable than left-wing social engineering.”

I’m currently reading both Plato’s Republic and Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s Herland (both utopian visions) for future episodes, so this is all right on topic for me.

-Mark Linsenmayer

May 242011

Pascal’s Wager or Jung’s argument that religion helps keep us sane or Nietzsche’s argument that it’s life-denying).

Here’s one via in the latter category: an account of a survey claiming that atheists report better, less inhibited sex lives. The article points out the obvious flaws in the study and ends with some vague goofiness about how we all deify love and sex.

Certainly how beliefs affect behavior, including sexual behavior, is interesting, but this poorly designed bit of propaganda does little to increase our understanding of this issue.

-Mark Linsenmayer

(This cartoon is found on the web in a lot of places and is by Mark Stivers.)

May 212011

I received an e-mail today that gives me a bit of pause:

I discovered your podcast a couple of weeks ago. I liked it right away, because it was three friends talking about a favorite subject… Plus, it seemed like a good way to learn about the philosophers I’d never read, like an audiobook, but way more fun.

…Your podcasts are fine, but my problem is you guys keep hitting me in the face with your political views. I get that not everyone is a conservative…. I wish I knew why that was. Anyway, in every episode, it’s usually Wes who takes a shot at the right wing, usually insinuating that we’re all bible-thumping, gay-hating rednecks who want to cut taxes while fetishizing our guns. The first few times, I let it go, but man! You guys have a real problem with conservatives, don’t you? Do you really think we’re all intellectually dishonest scoundrels who don’t really believe what we’re saying, haven’t given a thought to our beliefs, and want to selfishly get rich at others’ expense? You must, and it’s okay. Your opinons are fine, though I don’t agree. But they do not make me feel wanted, that’s for sure.

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May 202011

For those of you that enjoyed Seth’s comments on wine and philosophy, look here for an interview with Matt Lawrence, Philosophy Prof at Long Beach City College.

Lawrence’s new bookpairs 48 philosophical puzzles with 48 beers, covering historical and modern figures from both the West and East.

For more about the book, here’s Lawrence’s site; the sample chapter there is about teleportation: does it retain personal identity? It’s only about two pages long: just a little something to ponder with some questions for discussion and fun facts. The discussion of Guinness Stout seems pretty beside the point, but I guess the point of the book is to take it to the pub and leaf through it with your friends.

-Mark Linsenmayer

May 182011

You can watch what appears to be all the lectures of a Yale introduction to political philosophy course from Steven B. Smith. The first is lecture is here but at this point, I want to call attention to his lectures on Locke, the first of the three being the following:

Watch on youtube.

I’ve not listened past the first few minutes here, so if you sit through it, please post some comments re. what you got out of it. It sounds like this course would do well to tie together several of our episodes for those interested, including our upcoming one (episode 40) on Plato’s Republic and some Aristotle, whose politics we will likely not get around to for a while still. You also get, on this clip, some more detail on the First Treatise than we gave in the episode.

-Mark Linsenmayer

May 172011

Ta-nehisi CoatesTa-nehisi Coates, a senior editor for The Atlantic, recently opened up a discussion on Locke’s Second Treatise, with respect to the discussion of slavery. A fairly intelligent debate thread followed in the comments section. Check it out if you found that section of PEL’s Locke episode interesting. Some of the better comments in the thread debated whether or not Locke was refining or rejecting Hobbes’s view of the natural “state of war”. Do you agree? Make sure you’ve listened to PEL’s Hobbes episode before you answer!

-Daniel Horne

May 172011

On our not-yet-released Russell episode, Wes dismisses Russell’s A History of Western Philosophy

In any case, some nice gentleman has posted a recording of this part of that book being read aloud, which you can listen to here. There’s some subtle snarkiness in it that I find entertaining.

(There are six parts to the lecture, but you can follow the youtube links to get to the subsequent parts.)

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May 162011

Not all atheists are on board with ‘the four horsemen’ of the New Atheism: Dawkins, Dennett, Harris, and Hitchens. Julian Baggini, podcaster and author of Atheism: A Very Short Introduction

The new atheism tends to get religion wrong. The focus is always on the out-dated metaphysics of religion, its belief in personal creator gods, miracles, souls and so forth. [...] However, there is much more to religion than the metaphysics. To give a non-exhaustive list, religion is also about trying to live sub specie aeternitatis; orienting oneself to the transcendent rather than the immanent; living in a moral community of shared practice or as part of a valuable tradition; cultivating certain attitudes, such as gratitude and humility; and so on. To say, as Sam Harris does, that ‘religion is nothing more than bad concepts held in place of good ones for all time’ misses all this. The practices of religion may be more important then the narratives, even if people believe those narratives to be true.

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May 152011

On the Locke episode, I invited folks listening to us outside of the U.S. to chime in on the relevance of Locke to their national ideologies (or mythologies). I’ll extend that here to invite general shout-outs from any of you folks out of the country in response to this post. What’s the philosophical climate like in your neck of the woods?

Relatedly, Bernhard from Switzerland donated some cash to the podcast (thanks!) and asked me about the number of downloads we’ve gotten from there, since I was reading some of those off during our discussion. The answer is 342.

Just for grins, here are the stats for the rest of the countries. These are the total episode downloads as recorded on our server, where we’ve posted all new episodes starting with episode 8 back in August 2009, and then we shifted the older episodes over to there between March and April 2010. The data on our previous server is pretty much useless, as we had some bot attacks that gave us many many fictitious downloads. These numbers exclude any attributed to “satellite provider” or “proxy server” or generically “Europe.”

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May 102011

An interesting debate. And it continues on Prosblogion.

Update: Now that I’ve listened to the whole thing, I have to say Craig is in over his head and Kagan makes minced meat of him. I wish they had been more evenly matched.

Update II: Here’s an interesting article by Wes Morriston (who linked to it in the Prosblogion comments) rebutting Craig: God and the ontological foundations of morality. And then there are the Stanford entries on moral arguments for the existence of god, moral realism, and moral naturalism.

Apparently God is as bad at grounding morality as Science.

– Wes