Getting whatcha want, whatcha really really want


As I prepared for our recent podcast on New Work and we interviewed Bergman himself, I found that I have many sympathies with the project. Even without an analysis of the calamitous effect of the current job system on our economy, I can buy the fact that our job system is a structure with rules, […]

Science and the Art of Denial

I’m in the midst of reading Karl Popper in preparation for our next recording and have been thinking about the distinction between the fruits of scientific exploration, the theories and accounts of the world, and the underlying disposition of scientific argument, especially as it applies to the way we, as a community, discuss and expect […]

Sean Carroll Interview @ 3:AM Magazine

3:AM magazine has a nice interview of the physicist Sean Carroll by Richard Marshall that’s part of an ongoing series interviews, generally of philosophers, being done by the magazine. Carroll is an theoretical astrophysicist who has managed to avoid the pratfalls of physicists like Stephen Hawking who recently declared the death of philosophy. Carroll considers […]

Giving a Lecture


I’ll be giving a public lecture entitled “Surprises and Sweet Spots” on Friday night, February 8th, at St. John’s College in Annapolis, Maryland if you’re pining for something to do and are in the neighborhood. The lecture starts at 8pm and is followed by an extended “conversation period” for those that want to hang around. […]

Santa Fe Institute MOOC on Complexity


The Santa Fe Institute has jumped into the massive open online course game, launching “Introduction to Complexity” run by Melanie Mitchell, a professor of computer science at Portland State University and author of Complexity: A Guided Tour. The Santa Fe Institute has done lots of interesting work over the years in complexity, chaos, and emergent […]

Ian Hacking on Probability & Inference

The most recent brough-ha-ha from one of Mark’s posts seems to center on rationality and philosophy, but underlying all the stuff in the “new rationality” is understanding the process of updating our current knowledge with new information through Bayes Theorem (LW calls the process belief updating or bayesian updating). Bayes Theorem is both very useful […]

A Discussion of PW Anderson’s “More is Different”


Earlier this month I had the pleasure of discussing P.W. Anderson’s famous 1972 article More is Different as part of  a PEL Not School study group on emergence with Not Schoolers Bill Burgess, Casey Fitzpatrick, Ernie Prabhakar, and Evan Gould. Anderson argues that the sciences don’t form a reductive whole — that chemistry isn’t applied physics and psychology […]

Not-School Group on Emergence

Not School

There’s lots of cool things going on in the PEL Not School discussion groups. To entice those of you that are interested in emergence to come check things out, I’ve proposed reading and discussing a short, interesting essay by the physicist P. W. Anderson called “More is Different: Broken Symmetry and the Hierarchical Nature of […]

Listen to Quine’s “On What There Is”

Joining Mark’s reading of Quine’s “Two Dogmas of Empricism” on our member site, I’ve added the other essay we read for Episode 66, “On What There Is” to the lot. Due to copyright issues, I can’t just put this on our public site, nor can I sell it as a one-off item, so the member […]

Some Sour Fruits of Popular Science

A friend of the podcast pointed me to today’s column in the NYTimes Gray Matter by Alisa Quart about a backlash against neuroscience, particularly popular accounts of it throughout mainstream media from Malcom Gladwell on tipping points to Chris Mooney on the “republican brain” to Eben Alexander on the neuroscience of heaven. These all follow […]

Dyson on Philosophy

The Death of Socrates by Jaques-Louis David (detail)

Freeman Dyson has a review of Jim Holt’s Why Does the World Exist? in the early November issue of The New York Review of Books. Dyson is an esteemed physicist who, as a young man, cinched the link between accounts of quantum electrodynamics given separately by Richard Feynman, Julian Schwinger, and Sin-Itiro Tomonanga in the […]

Presidential Pragmatism

In a recent column in The Stone, Harvey Cormier considers the political oomph of pragmatists through a nice presentation of some central thinking of William James. The occasion for the piece is a recent spate of writings characterizing Obama as “a pragmatist politician.” What I like best about Cormier’s article is his refutation, through James, […]

Idle and Motorized Speculations


Two friends of mine have recently started blogs, though of different stripes. One is by Gary Borjesson called Idle Speculations. Gary and I met on the faculty at St. John’s, and, like me, is on leave right now. Gary’s book on dogs, friendship, and philosophy, Willing Dogs & Reluctant Masters: On Friendship and Dogs, has […]

Better Philosophy through Science Fiction?


For your weekend podcast-listening pleasure, a friend of the podcast pointed me to the most recent episode of the Rationally Speaking podcast in which the hosts take up science fiction and chew on what kinds of philosophical insight might garnered from such speculative fiction. (Beware those who, like Seth, abhor the thought experiment!) In the […]

Topic for #65: Federalist Papers

The Federalist Papers (originally published as just The Federalist) are a collection of essays published in newspapers in 1787-1788 arguing for the ratification of the American Constitution. Each was published under the pseudonym “Publius” though most were written by Alexander Hamilton and James Madison. (There are a few written by John Jay.) They were collected […]

Sailing Philosophy

Every August for the past ten years my family and I have spent a couple of weeks on a smallish lake in northwest Michigan. I say small, but it’s about 1800 acres, plenty big for most purposes, if tiny compared to the big water of Lake Michigan just five miles away. Most every afternoon the […]

Eco Locating Meaning

 Every now and then you find something that is, on the one hand, unexpected. The thought of it hadn’t occurred to you, neither as a fact found through the memes of popular culture nor as an extrapolation from your current knowledge. On the other hand, the discovery isn’t so much a surprise as simply new […]

Cilliers on Slowness

A PEL fan pointed us to the work of the recently deceased philosopher Paul Cilliers from South Africa, particularly to a short paper he wrote for  “On the Importance of  a Certain Slowness.” (published as a chapter in Worldviews, Science, and Us: Philosophy and Complexity ). In the essay, Cilliers points to the various “slow” movements that have […]

Understanding It Doesn’t Make it Less Freaky

Plaque on Pioneer

Dennis Overbye has a nice article this week in the NYTimes on the recently published explanation of the Pioneer Anomaly. As he explains, The story starts with the Pioneer 10 and 11 space probes, which went past Jupiter and Saturn in the late 1970s and now are on their way out of the solar system. In the […]

Wisdom Studies

 It is oft said (at least when exercising etymology muscles) that philosophy is “love of wisdom.” Just like other mind-related topics such as emotion and creativity, wisdom is getting the scientific treatment. One of our listeners pointed us to a book by Stephen S. Hall titled Wisdom: From Philosophy to Neuroscience which surveys a variety of […]

Jim Holt Considering Why the World Exists

Jim Holt has a new book out with the provocative title Why Does the World Exist?: An Existential Detective Story, featuring encounters with the mathematician Roger Penrose, author John Updike, physicist Steven Weinberg, philosopher Adolf Grünbaum, and theologian Richard Swinburne, among others. David Ulin at the L.A. Times summarizes: That question — “Why is there […]

Higgs Boson Day

Higgs Boson Event Display

Not only is today “Independence Day” here in the US, celebrating 236 years since a group of American rabble-rousers declared independence from Britain, it is also now the day that the Higgs Boson discovery was announced at the LHC in Switzerland. (Read about it in the Washington Post and the NYTimes as well.) In one […]

When Things are Not Funny

While discussing (through Bergson’s book) how humor works in us, we had a couple of forays into related off-topics. The first was the question of laughter and delight. My contention was that the laughter of delight may be related, but is not the same thing as a reaction to something being funny. The second was […]

A.C. Grayling on Wittgenstein

I’ve mentioned Oxford’s Very Short Introductions before on the blog, but I can’t help pointing out another written by A.C. Grayling on Wittgenstein. It’s a great example of distilling something complicated down into digestible hunks in an honest presentation and analysis. Very well done. In addition, he’s a fine essayist with a number of collections […]

Beauty and Science (Or Fighting Over the Love)

I subscribe to a number of thick writing journals filled with short stories, essays, and poetry. I am generally behind in reading them, though once I sit down and do so I never regret it. Tin House’s recent 50th anniversary issue devoted to “Beauty” falls in this category and is apropos of Wes’ recent comments […]

Thumos, Dogs, and Authority

Socrates famously calls dogs “philosophical animals” in Plato’s Republic. In this vein, a friend of mine, Gary Borjesson, has a book coming out that’s in large part a philosophical meditation on our relationship with dogs and the nature of friendship. I’ll get to posting about the book itself this summer, but he had a nice […]

What to Do About Behaving Badly


This is an obvious cross-reference for this group—indeed, many of you likely already read it. Peter Singer and Agata Sagan have an column in NYTimes’ “The Stone” today called “Are We Ready for a Morality Pill?” They present the conundrum of the how to factor in our growing understanding of the effect of brain chemistry not […]

Cooking Philosophically

It is my firm understanding that while The Partially Examined Life tilts decisively toward philosophy generally understood — contemplations of being and nature and self and ethics and thought and morality and consciousness —  the disposition we have of engaging texts for ourselves and talking about them thoughtfully and seriously (if occasionally irreverently) extrapolates well […]

Memory, Body, and Truth

Memory Pillow

Both the Sartre and the Merleau-Ponty episodes have me thinking about memory, body, and truth lately. Our memories are indispensable for forming our identities and are the causal path for experience itself and its effect on our identities. So, there’s a piece to this that we can get to by thinking about memory (and the […]

The Problem of Determining Free Will

Free will is always a sticky wicket. On the one hand, we make decisions every day that point to our having a say in what we do. Accountability, in general, relies on this notion. On the other hand, whatever our will is, it is clearly constrained: we can’t will away gravity. Free will is a […]

Dawkins’ “The Magic of Reality”

To the extent that we talked about Richard Dawkins at all in the new-athiesm podcast this summer, we never got around to properly discussing science as wonder. Dawkins makes this argument in a really beautiful new book “The Magic of Reality”. Illustrated by Dave McKean, it’s ostensibly a children’s book, structured around a series of […]

Kung Fu Pragmatism

Editor’s Note: You may recall our new contributor Dylan Casey from our quantum physics and pragmatism episodes. He’s a physics Ph.D. who teaches philosophy, literature, and other things at St. John’s College in Annapolis, Maryland, and I’m married to his sister. -ML This article from “The Stone” (as in philosopher’s stone) in the NYTimes argues […]

Episode 22: More James’s Pragmatism: Is Faith Justified? What is Truth? (Citizens Only)


On William James’s “The Will to Believe,” and continuing our discussion on James’s conception of truth as described in his books Pragmatism and The Meaning of Truth. Does pragmatism give ground for religious belief, like if it feels good for me to believe in God, can that justify belief? Is belief in science or rationality itself a form of faith?

End song: “Who Cares What You Believe?” by Madison Lint (2001).