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  • feedwordpress 09:01:05 on 2018/03/07 Permalink
    Tags: , , , philosophy, , Slow Thinking, , Vincenzo Di Nicola,   

    “Question: ‘How does one philosopher address another?’ Answer: ‘Take your time.’”*… 


    Vincenzo Di Nicola argues that

    We need a philosophy of Slow Thought to ease thinking into a more playful and porous dialogue about what it means to live…

    Read his “Slow Thought: a manifesto.”

    [Image above from “Why Slow Thinking Wins,” a less philosophical, more functional argument…]

    * Ludwig Wittgenstein


    As we listen to Ludwig, we might spare a thought for Saint Thomas Aquinas; he died on this date in 1274. A Dominican friar, Catholic priest, and Doctor of the Church, he was an immensely influential philosopher, theologian, and jurist in the tradition of Scholasticism.  Following Aristotle’s definition of science as sure and evident knowledge obtained from demonstrations, Thomas defined science as the knowledge of things from their causes. In his major work, Summa, he distinguished between demonstrated truth (science) and revealed truth (faith).  His influence on Western thought is considerable; much of modern philosophy (especially ethics, natural law, metaphysics, and political theory) developed with reference– in support or opposition– to his ideas.

    Thomas, from an altarpiece in Ascoli Piceno, Italy, by Carlo Crivelli (15th century)


  • feedwordpress 09:01:50 on 2018/03/06 Permalink
    Tags: , connections, , network analysis, philosophy, post-structuralism, , , ,   

    “Invisible threads are the strongest ties”*… 


    Enter any two nouns or nominative/descriptive phrases; if (as is likely) there’s a Wikipedia article on each, Six Degrees of Wikipedia will track and map the links that connect the two, first as a network diagram:

    … then as paths like these:

    … all with active links to the underlying articles.

    Try it.

    * Friedrich Nietzsche


    As we agree with E.M. Forster that we should “only connect,” we might spare a thought for Jean Baudrillard; he died on this date in 2007.  A sociologist, philosopher, cultural theorist, political commentator, and photographer, he is best known for his analyses of media, contemporary culture, and technological communication, as well as his formulation of concepts such as simulation and hyperreality.  He wrote widely– touching subjects including consumerism, gender relations, economics, social history, art, Western foreign policy, and popular culture– and is perhaps best known for Simulacra and Simulation (1981).  Part of a generation of French thinkers that included Gilles Deleuze, Jean-François Lyotard, Michel Foucault, Jacques Derrida, and Jacques Lacan, with all of whom Baudrillard shared an interest in semiotics, he is often seen as a central to the post-structuralist philosophical school.



  • feedwordpress 09:01:55 on 2018/02/25 Permalink
    Tags: Daniel Sickles, , John Stuart Mill, , liberalism, On Liberty, Philip Barton Key, philosophy, temporary insanity, ,   

    “Whatever we may think or affect to think of the present age, we cannot get out of it”*… 


    John Stuart Mill, the most influential English-speaking philosopher of the nineteenth century, is today best remembered as the author of On Liberty…  in which he argues, relentlessly and over the course of around 50,000 words, that there should be no interference with the thought, speech, or action of any individual except on the grounds of the prevention of harm to others.  That prohibition applies to legislative or state action, but also to those informal modes of coercion that can be practised by society itself. And the ban is total. “Over himself, over his own body and mind, the individual is sovereign.” Though occasionally challenged by the collectivist left, the position Mill argues for has become orthodoxy in modern Anglo-American political thought.

    But while liberalism itself remains pre-eminent, Mill’s arguments for that position have fallen out of sight in recent discussions. In contrast to many contemporary thinkers, Mill’s defence of liberal principles is historical and local – not abstract and universal…

    Part of a wonderful series in the Times Literary Supplement, Footnotes to Plato— an appreciation of the relevance of Mill’s thought in our time: “John Stuart Mill: higher happiness.”

    * John Stuart Mill, “The Spirit of the Age, I


    As we get in touch with our inner Utilitarian, we might recall that it was on this date in 1859 that the “temporary insanity” defense was first successfully deployed in the U.S., when it was used as a plea by U.S. Congressman Daniel Sickles of New York in his trial for the shooting of his wife’s lover, Philip Barton Key— for which Sickles was acquitted, though he’d been witnessed executing his rival and had confessed.  Sickles went on to serve as Sheriff in New York in 1890.

     source (and larger image)


  • feedwordpress 09:01:46 on 2018/02/21 Permalink
    Tags: evolutionary biology, , , , philosophy, Ronald de Souza, ,   

    “Nature, Mr Allnut, is what we were put in the world to rise above”*… 


    Questions about what matters, and why, and what exists in the world, are quintessentially philosophical. The answers to many of these questions are informed by how we conceive of ourselves. How has what is often described as the ‘Copernican revolution’ effected by Charles Darwin changed our self-conception? One particularly surprising feature of evolutionary biology is that it lends significant support to existentialism…

    Philosopher Ronnie de Souza suggests that ethics cannot be based on human nature because, as evolutionary biology tells us, there is no such thing: “Natural-born existentialists.”

    [Photo above: “Children play on Omaha beach in Normandy, France, 1947,” by David Seymour/Magnum Photos. International Center of Photography]

    * Katherine Hepburn to Humphrey Bogart in African Queen


    As we sidle up to Sartre, we might spare a thought for Baruch (or Benedict) de Spinoza, the Dutch philosopher whose rationalism and determinism put him in opposition to Descartes and helped lay the foundation for The Enlightenment, and whose pantheistic views led to his excommunication from the Jewish community in Amsterdam; he died on this date in 1677.

    As men’s habits of mind differ, so that some more readily embrace one form of faith, some another, for what moves one to pray may move another to scoff, I conclude … that everyone should be free to choose for himself the foundations of his creed, and that faith should be judged only by its fruits; each would then obey God freely with his whole heart, while nothing would be publicly honored save justice and charity.

    Tractatus Theologico-Politicus, 1670



  • feedwordpress 09:01:07 on 2018/02/14 Permalink
    Tags: , Ferris Wheel, George Ferris, , luck, philosophy, , serendipity, ,   

    “The most exciting phrase to hear in science, the one that heralds new discoveries, is not ‘Eureka!’ but ‘That’s funny’”*… 


    Alexander Fleming’s discovery of penicillin is commonly used as an example of serendipity in science

    Scientific folklore is full of tales of accidental discovery, from the stray Petri dish that led Alexander Fleming to discover penicillin to Wilhelm Röntgen’s chance detection of X-rays while tinkering with a cathode-ray tube.

    That knowledge often advances through serendipity is how scientists, sometimes loudly, justify the billions of dollars that taxpayers plough into curiosity-driven research each year. And it is the reason some argue that increasing government efforts to control research — with an eye to driving greater economic or social impact — are at best futile and at worst counterproductive.

    But just how important is serendipity to science? Scientists debating with policymakers have long relied on anecdotal evidence. Studies rarely try to quantify how much scientific progress was truly serendipitous, how much that cost or the circumstances in which it emerged.

    Serendipity can take on many forms, and its unwieldy web of cause and effect is difficult to constrain. Data are not available to track it in any meaningful way. Instead, academic research has focused on serendipity in science as a philosophical concept.

    The European Research Council aims to change that…

    On the heels of yesterday’s post on the history of dice, and the way they evolved over the centuries to be “fairer”– to favor chance– another post on luck…  more specifically in this case, on whether it’s all that it’s cracked up to be.  Scientists often herald the role of chance in research; a project in Britain aims to test that popular idea with evidence: “The serendipity test.”

    * Isaac Asimov


    As we contemplate contingency, we might send elaborately-engineered birthday greetings to George Washington Gale Ferris Jr.; he was born on this date in 1859.  An engineer and inventor, he had built a successful career testing and inspecting metals for railroads and bridge builders when…

    … in 1891, the directors of the World’s Columbian Exposition [to be held in 1893] issued a challenge to American engineers to conceive of a monument for the fair that would surpass the Eiffel Tower, the great structure of the Paris International Exposition of 1889. The planners wanted something “original, daring and unique.” Ferris responded with a proposed wheel from which visitors would be able to view the entire exhibition, a wheel that would “Out-Eiffel Eiffel.” The planners feared his design for a rotating wheel towering over the grounds could not possibly be safe.

    Ferris persisted. He returned in a few weeks with several respectable endorsements from established engineers, and the committee agreed to allow construction to begin. Most convincingly, he had recruited several local investors to cover the $400,000 cost of construction. The planning commission of the Exposition hoped that admissions from the Ferris Wheel would pull the fair out of debt and eventually make it profitable. [source]

    It carried 2.5 million passengers before it was finally demolished in 1906.  But while the Fair’s promoters hopes were fulfilled– the Ferris Wheel was a windfall– Ferris claimed that the exhibition management had robbed him and his investors of their rightful portion of the nearly $750,000 profit that his wheel brought in.  Ferris spent two years in litigation, trying (unsuccessfully) to recover his investment.  He died despondent and nearly bankrupt (reportedly of typhoid, though some suggest that it was suicide) in 1896.

    The original 1893 Chicago Ferris Wheel




  • feedwordpress 09:01:11 on 2018/02/12 Permalink
    Tags: , Cosmopsychism, Fang Lizhi, , , , Philip Goff, philosophy, ,   

    “We cannot get behind consciousness. Everything that we talk about, everything that we regard as existing, postulates consciousness”*… 


    Ockham’s razor is the principle that, all things being equal, more parsimonious theories – that is to say, theories with relatively few postulations – are to be preferred. Is it not a great cost in terms of parsimony to ascribe fundamental consciousness to the Universe? Not at all. The physical world must have some nature, and physics leaves us completely in the dark as to what it is. It is no less parsimonious to suppose that the Universe has a consciousness-involving nature than that it has some non-consciousness-involving nature. If anything, the former proposal is more parsimonious insofar as it is continuous with the only thing we really know about the nature of matter: that brains have consciousness…

    One of the thinkers quoted in (Roughly) Daily’s recent piece on panpsychismPhilip Goff, has elaborated on his argument that the Universe and everything in it is conscious.  Cosmopsychism, as he now calls the notion, might seem crazy; but as he explains, it provides a robust explanatory model for how the Universe became fine-tuned for life: “Is the Universe a conscious mind?

    * Max Planck


    As we ascribe some level of sentience to absolutely everything, we might send brave birthday greetings to Fang Lizhi; he was born on this date in 1936.

    An astrophysicist, vice-president of the University of Science and Technology of China, who published published a paper (in 1972) on a topic central to the argument for cosmopsychism– the Big Bang theory, previously a forbidden topic in China (Marxists claimed that the universe was infinite)– which met condemnation from the Communist Party.  He became an advocate of intellectual freedom and civic reform, whose liberal ideas helped inspire the pro-democracy student movement of 1986–87 and, finally, the Tiananmen Square protests of 1989– and for which he was expelled from the Communist Party and forced into exile.



  • feedwordpress 09:01:09 on 2018/02/05 Permalink
    Tags: Carlyle Circle, Great Man theory, , , , , philosophy, simile, the simile museum, Thomas Carlyle,   

    “A metaphor is like a simile”*… 


    “Fiction is like a spider’s web, attached ever so lightly perhaps, but still attached to life at all four corners.”

    -Virginia Woolf

    Just one of the “exhibits” in “an ongoing collection of the world’s most likable literary device”:  The Simile Museum.

    [source of the image above]

    * Steven Wright


    As we remember that “liking” has a very long history, we might spare a thought for Thomas Carlyle; he died on this date in 1881.  A Victorian polymath, he was an accomplished philosopher, satirical writer, essayist, translator, historian, mathematician, and teacher.  While he was an enormously popular lecturer in his time, and his contributions to mathematics earned him eponymous fame (the Carlyle circle), he may be best remembered as a historian (and champion of the “Great Man” theory of history)… and as the coiner of phrases like “the dismal science” (to describe economics)

    “A well-written Life is almost as rare as a well-spent one.”   – Thomas Carlyle



  • feedwordpress 09:01:30 on 2018/02/01 Permalink
    Tags: Comte, , , , , Littré, , philosophy, ,   

    “What is it that breathes fire into the equations and makes a universe for them to describe?”*… 


    Consciousness permeates reality. Rather than being just a unique feature of human subjective experience, it’s the foundation of the universe, present in every particle and all physical matter.

    This sounds like easily-dismissible bunkum, but as traditional attempts to explain consciousness continue to fail, the “panpsychist” view is increasingly being taken seriously by credible philosophers, neuroscientists, and physicists, including figures such as neuroscientist Christof Koch and physicist Roger Penrose…

    The materialist viewpoint states that consciousness is derived entirely from physical matter. It’s unclear, though, exactly how this could work. “It’s very hard to get consciousness out of non-consciousness,” says [David Chalmers, a philosophy of mind professor at New York University]. “Physics is just structure. It can explain biology, but there’s a gap: Consciousness.” Dualism holds that consciousness is separate and distinct from physical matter—but that then raises the question of how consciousness interacts and has an effect on the physical world.

    Panpsychism offers an attractive alternative solution: Consciousness is a fundamental feature of physical matter; every single particle in existence has an “unimaginably simple” form of consciousness, says [Philip Goff, a philosophy professor at Central European University in Budapest]. These particles then come together to form more complex forms of consciousness, such as humans’ subjective experiences. This isn’t meant to imply that particles have a coherent worldview or actively think, merely that there’s some inherent subjective experience of consciousness in even the tiniest particle…

    More at “The idea that everything from spoons to stones are conscious is gaining academic credibility.”

    (For a speculative playing out of this notion (and a basketful of other mind-twisting conceits of consciousness) at a cosmic scale, enjoy Vernor Vinge’s exquisite A Fire Upon the Deep…)

    * Stephen Hawking  (Panpsychists argue that consciousness is the answer to his question.)


    As we treat inanimate objects with more respect, we might send carefully-catalogued and phrased birthday greetings to Émile Maximilien Paul Littré; he was born on this date in 1801. A philosopher (friend and supporter of Auguste Comte, and contributor, with Comte, to the development of positivism), he is better remembered for his Dictionnaire de la langue française, commonly called “The Littré,” a project that ran from 1844-1872, and was originally issued in 30 parts– the largest lexicographical work on the French language at that time.



  • feedwordpress 09:01:00 on 2018/01/25 Permalink
    Tags: Anatomy of Melancholy, , , Keynes, , Milton Friedman, philosophy, , Skidelsky,   

    “Practical men, who believe themselves to be quite exempt from any intellectual influences, are usually slaves of some defunct economist”*… 


    The tenth anniversary of the start of the Great Recession was the occasion for an elegant essay by the Nobel laureate economist Paul Krugman, who noted how little the debate about the causes and consequences of the crisis have changed over the last decade. Whereas the Great Depression of the 1930s produced Keynesian economics, and the stagflation of the 1970s produced Milton Friedman’s monetarism, the Great Recession has produced no similar intellectual shift…

    Robert Skidelsky explains why at: “How Economics Survived the Economic Crisis.”

    * John Maynard Keynes


    As we delve into the dismal, we might spare a thought for Robert Burton; he died on this date in 1640.  An Oxford scholar, he is best known for his classic The Anatomy of Melancholy, an odd mix of wide-ranging scholarship, humor, linguistic skill, and creative (if highly approximate) insights– a favorite of scholars and authors from Samuel Johnson to Anthony Burgess.



  • feedwordpress 09:01:36 on 2018/01/13 Permalink
    Tags: Act Against Multiplication, , , , Elisabeth of Bohemia, Henry IV, , philosophy, ,   

    “The ghost in the machine”*… 


    Pity (detail), by William Blake, c. 1795

    How is it that mind and body manage to interact and affect each other if they are such different things? This question was pressed on Descartes in the spring of 1643 by a young woman of twenty-four, Elisabeth von der Pfalz, also known as Princess Elisabeth of Bohemia. When others raised such difficulties, Descartes tended to brush them aside. But he listened to the princess…

    Anthony Gottlieb tells the remarkable story of the correspondence between René Descartes and Princess Elisabeth of Bohemia—a debate about mind, soul, and immortality: “The Ghost and the Princess.”

    * Gilbert Ryle (The Concept of Mind, in part a critique of Descartes’ mind-body dualism)


    As we try to get it together, we might that it was on this date in 1404 that King Henry IV signed into law the Act Against Multiplication– which forbade alchemists to use their knowledge to create precious metals… and effectively, thus, outlawed chemistry in England.  Since the time of Roger Bacon, alchemy had fascinated many in England.  The Act of Multipliers was passed by the Parliament, declaring the use of transmutation to “multiply” gold and silver to be felony, as a result of concern that an alchemist might succeed in his project– and thus bring ruin upon the state by debasing the national currency and/or furnishing boundless wealth to a designing tyrant, who would use it to enslave the country.  The Act was in force until 1689, when Robert Boyle and other members of the vanguard of the scientific revolution lobbied for its repeal.



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