Saturday, October 30, 2010

really hard

Two weeks from today the Tennessee Philosophical Association gathers once again at Vanderbilt. I'm expected to have something to say about John Rawls. As a past president of this organization I have to say: it is a great pleasure not to be in charge of organizing it this year, though the '07 symposium was great fun. (Just wish the Vandy video-tapers hadn't lost our taped tribute to John Lachs!)

I'm really looking forward to the keynote the night before from Duke's Owen Flanagan. He wrote The Really Hard Problem: Meaning in a Material WorldIf I get to do that "Humanism and Meaning"* course someday I may use it. 

Flanagan says of Rawls (and Aristotle, and eudaimonia or human flourishing): 

"The project of human ecology conceived as eudaimonics then becomes seeking the world most beneficial to all human beings, including future ones."
Sounds like a good plan to me.

*This course would resemble the "Atheism & Spirituality" course from last Spring, but this time with even greater attention to the reasons for affirming humanism (naturalism, atheism) rather than for rejecting theism. We'd explore and critique the claim that a humanist worldview is as meaningful to its adherents as theism is to theists, with John Dewey's A Common Faith, Andre Comte-Sponville's Little Book of Atheist Spirituality, Bertrand Russell's "A Free Man's Worship" and "Why I'm Not a Christian," and more recent voices as well. What makes life worth living, for those who do not seek for meaning beyond it? 
Sound like a good course to you? Vote for it in the Fall '11 survey.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Frankfurtian reality

Jamie's report yesterday was on bullshit.

More precisely, on "On Bullshit," Harry Frankfurt's infamous essay-cum-mini-book bestseller. And, on Bullshit and Philosophy. Plenty to draw on there.

What did Wittgenstein say? Show, don't tell?

But it was not a bullshit report. Not at all. Jamie's regard for the truth was one of its most salient features.

The example I raised in class-- the "birthers" etc.-- poses the question: can you be a liar and a bullshitter both, simultaneously? Frankfurt suggests that the statements of bullshitters are typically
unconnected to a concern with the truth.. not germane to the enterprise of describing reality. [They] do not even think they know, except in the vaguest way... concoct it out of whole cloth...repeating it quite mindlessly and without any regard for how things really are.
But if "it" is a matter of the documented public record, and "they" choose to ignore it, they're exactly what Al Franken called Rush Limbaugh, Bill O'Reilly, et al. "Lying liars." And I say they're bullshitters too.

What if they believe their own bullshit lies? They're delusional as well. Really scary. Happy Halloween.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Future Minds

Matthew's terrific TED-worthy report yesterday on Slavoj Zizek* and altruism, featuring the marvelous RSA hyper-animation format, has inspired me to share another (albeit less animated) Royal Society talk:

Richard Watson examines how screen culture is changing the way we think, and calls for analog-digital balance. "The medium still influences the message." Take a walk, switch off after 6:30, reclaim the quality time you've been missing. Only disconnect, now and again.


Wednesday, October 27, 2010

higher education

"We have a system of education modeled on the interests of industrialisation."

In Tennessee it's with a "z" but the idea's the same as Sir Ken's, as we faculty Senators were reminded yesterday when the Chancellor-Emeritus of our governing board spoke to us* of the importance of appeasing state legislators' demands that we meet arbitrary and ill-formed "outcomes-based" targets to justify our very existence. 

We dare not speak to our benefactors, if you want to call them that, of the value of a liberal education. They don't like "L" words. Like learnin'. (Or did I misspell that?- A colleague summarizes the Chancellor's message: "TBR -- WE LURN YOU REAL GOOD")

*Chancellor-emeritus Manning delivered a sobering talk to the Senate yesterday afternoon, emphasizing that getting funding for higher ed in Tennessee will always be like squeezing blood from turnips. (And that UT, where "scholar-athletes" rule, will always have first dibs on whatever's on the table.)  

He said we should acknowledge the strong anti-intellectual sentiment now re-ascendant across the land, especially here in the Bible belt-buckle. (The irony of a colleague's sharp, pointed question about anti-intellectualism on the TBR board itself was evidently lost.) Our best long-term strategy for survival at MTSU? Shrink [we currently teach more students than UT-Knoxville] and try not to piss off the "deeply religious" zealots who control our purse-strings. 

Serve our prime constituency, the C & D students who become community leaders and legislators. Don't waste too much time trying to figure out the political "game" in the state capitol. We may not like the budget allocation formula but we should understand that bizness leaders and politicians (a convergent set) love "outcome-oriented" funding. And the new gov's priority will not be higher ed in any  event.

Oh, and when can we hope to get that new science building we've needed for twenty years? Hard to say, ask him again in 2015. 

There was also, another colleague reminds, an obnoxious reference to an 
"Oriental girl on a mule" outperforming the kids with the big backpacks full of books to show how Tennessee education must compete in a global market (or this is what I tried to draw from it).  I have to say this off-hand comment was particularly galling at a school that just landed a Confucius Institute on its campus.
And please do not overlook the response to his friend's query on the removal of non-christian professors.  I assume he was from the Christine Todd Whitman School of Constitutional Interpretation. 
Yes, speaking just for me and some other academics from Tennessee: a new higher ed paradigm would be welcome here. 

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Descartes Leibniz Spinoza

1. Rene Descartes _______ (wanted, rejected) certainty in life, seeking to use reason to provide reliable  ________  for genuine knowledge. His famous __________ deployed the method of ______.

2. Descartes' first rule: accept only ___________ ideas.

3. Descartes supposes nothing is as it appears because ___... He could be ________, hallucinating, or deceived by a demon.

4. "Cogito ergo sum" = ___..., the "first principle" of Descartes' philosophy.

5. The mind is _______ (separate from, identical with, dependent on) the body,l according to Descartes. This made him a _______ (pantheist, solipsist, dualist) and raised the question of how mind and body could work together if they are metaphysically distinct substances.

6.Using a version of Anselm's ontological argument to guarantee the reliability of clear and distinct ideas, Descartes' argument seemed ________ to some critics. (derivative, clear and distinct, circular)

7. If mind and body represent parallel, non-interacting worlds, their apparent interaction must have been pre- _________ by God (said Descartes' follower Geulincx).

8. Spinoza, a _________ , (solipsist, mystic, pantheist) said there is only one metaphysical substance. It can be called ___ or _______.

9. (T/F) Because he thought everything is determined, Spinoza denied that humans can be free.

10. Leibniz  was parodied by ________ in the play "Candide" for implying that everything is perfect. He said there are _____ (no, two, infinitely many) substances, which he called _____ that have no ________.

[From PW]
11. Like Erasmus before him, Descartes' predecessor _________ was more interested in "folly" than in exact knowledge. Unlike Descartes, he _______ (doubted, insisted on) the possibility of indubitable certainty. He was an heir to the ________ (Stoics, Skeptics, Scholastics). By turning away from absolute claims to objective knowledge, he hoped to encourage the virtue of _________.

Monday, October 25, 2010


In honor of Kevin's mind-expanding report this afternoon on consciousness, shamanism, psychedelia, Terrence McKenna, ancient wisdom, "bad trips," spiritual transcendence, and better living through chemistry... a page from Timothy Leary's and Ram Dass's Psychedelic Experience.

"Turn on, tune in, drop out," right? But Kevin's claim today was that this is all in service of transcendence with a social conscience, intending ultimately to protect people of the future and help save the world. I still wonder if such good intentions can so readily be translated into constructive, sustained, impactful acts, when you're in the middle of a 20-hour mental sabbatical from Planet Earth. I do hope so. 

Tim's really out there now, sorta, according to this report:
Seven grams of Leary's ashes were arranged by his friend to be buried in space aboard a rocket carrying the remains of 24 other people including Gene Roddenberry (creator of Star Trek) and others. A Pegasus rocket containing their remains was launched on April 21, 1997, and remained in orbit for six years until it burnt up in the atmosphere.
Far out.

Gaian nodes

1. Andy Clark  ________ (welcomes, deplores, is indifferent towards) the prospect.of our becoming "reconfigurable nodes in a flux of information."

2. Tino Sehgal anticipates a new idea of _____ subjectivity.

3. By "hidden persuaders" Helen Fisher means what?

4. Henry Happending says nearly everyone in the "gamete market" will want to select traits like ________.  Marco Iacoboni thinks brain stimulation plus brain imaging will offset aging, fix mood disorders, and make it possible for everyone to be ______ in ways specific to their own distinctive neurophysiology. Karl Sabbagh says only good could come from re-engineering ourselves to suppress what?

5. What matters, says Jesse Bering, is not whether our beliefs about the world are accurate but whether they ____. But he also views "explanatory ________" as the cornerstone of science. Clifford Pickover says ____ can explain the color of the sunset.

6. Lee Smolin says the new view of time rules out any timeless and transcendent Platonic realm of values, ethics, and meaning, as well as _____ and ______. They are human projections which would not exist without us.

7. (T/F) Paul Steinhardt says the notion of "events before the Big Bang" is incoherent.

8. If we learn to create the outer human form, says Mark Pagel, we can then separate ____ and ____; then, we'll achieve practical immortality.

9. Pluripotent stem cells come from ______. Ian Wilmut thinks they'll enable us to treat diseases like _________ for which there is no evidence of a genetic cause.

10. Paul Ewald thinks the successful treatment of infectious diseases will result in people living healthily into their ____s, on average.

11. The body's evolved systems are _________ complex, says Randolph Nesse, as if designed by Rube Goldberg and modified by ______ tinkerers; but this is nothing like being  __________ complex.

12. The recent global economic collapse, says Brian Goodwin, shows we've failed to appreciate the mutual integration of nature and culture as a sustainable parts of _____.

13. Jonathan Haidt predicts "war" over what, beginning in around 2012?

14. What does Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi mean by "analytic science"?

15. (T/F) Austin Dacey is revolted by the idea of "cultured , in vitro" meat.

16. Richard Foreman says a human being able not to think about the future would become more  ________ (animal, human)

17. _________ will soon be the new "self-esteem," says Betsy Devine.

18. When will human nature be revealed, according to Aubrey de Grey?

NOTE TO FoL STUDENTS: Exam 2 is Wednesday. We'll go over this quiz first. If you want to submit possible exam questions please get them to me by Tuesday evening.

Friday, October 22, 2010


We heard an interesting report from Will yesterday on reason, responsibility, Battlestar Galactica, Objectivism, and much else. Our classroom was his pulpit for 20 minutes.

The Q-and-A brought us to a discussion of the infamous double-slit electron experiment as featured in the film "What the [Bleep] Do We Know." One implication seemed to be that, because observations at the quantum level alter experimental results, "we're not supposed to know" reality. Or "magic is real," or "God exists," or... I'm not quite sure what. [bleeping banality...e-Skeptic review... debunked...Secret... Shermer vs. Chopra]

Steven Novella thinks this particular example of quantum weirdness is a species of a broader pattern of misunderstanding, often perpetrated by the likes of Deepak Chopra In the wave-particle duality of matter, illustrated by the double-slit experiment, "the collapse to a particle is not dependent on any observer – just interaction with other stuff. No observer is necessary." Chopra has interpreted this experiment as showing that the future can mysteriously alter the past. Novella says nonsense. "Physicists do not pretend to understand the fundamental nature of quantum entanglement."

Well, me neither. But Novella's observation rings true to me:
Chopra is using a common trick of the pseudoscientist – exploiting cutting edge science, which the public is not likely to understand, and pretend as if there is proof where there is uncertainty. Take some interesting experiments, then leap way ahead to conclusions that serve their metaphysical purposes, but which are not settled science.
In short – beware of anyone pretending to understand the ultimate implications of Quantum Mechanics  and that it supports their far out philosophy.
Don't get tangled up in woo: solid advice. And, reservations aside, a good provocative report, too.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

global brain

Chris gave us a charming and original story (of his own composition) in FoL yesterday, about an emergent, distributed, conscious entity calling itself "Singy". I talked about it in one of my Intro classes today, in the context of a suggestion that maybe the web represents our next best hope for a new Renaissance. Intriguing.
Experts compare the Internet to a planet growing a global brain. As users, we represent the neurons. Texting, emails, and IM act as nerve endings, and electromagnetic waves through the sky become neural pathways. Like germinating seeds, this global brain continues to evolve and as some forward-thinkers believe, will not stop until it develops feelings and achieves consciousness. FutureBlogger
I think Jaron Lanier will have something to say about this, and about how we ought to be less eager to turn ourselves into neuron-gadgets. We'll see. Meanwhile, if we all get an unsolicited email of unknown provenance... we'll have to see about that too. Is the singularity near?

intro quiz 13

1. Among the notable developments of the  15th-16th century Renaissance were shifts from astrology to __________ and   from _______ to chemistry.

2. Machiavelli distinguished himself from his medieval predecessors how? What was his view of republican democracy?

3. ________, one of the New Humanists, criticized professors and Popes. ______'s "Utopia,"with no private property, resembled Plato's "Republic" as an imaginary "perfect society."

4. __________, leader of the Protestant Reformation, upheld the authority of ________, defended faith and ___________, and opposed __________.

5. ________ also defended predestination, and claimed that even newborns deserve eternal damnation.

6. Copernicus advocated ________. (geocentrism, heliocentrism, pantheism)

7. _______ confirmed Copernicus' theory with his new telescope.

8.  _________ practiced constant critical inquiry and said we can't create lowly worms but think nothing of creating gods.

9. _______, believed by some to have written Shakespeare's plays,  said "knowledge is power."

10. ______, a determinist, said life in a state of nature would be "solitatary, ____..."

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

FoL quiz 12

1. Eric Drexler says a 3-terrawatt solar array could remove excess anthropogenic carbon in ___ years.

2. Stewart Brand says fixing climate change will require global __________. (cooperation, economics, governance)

3. Max Tegmark estimates the likelihood of accidental nuclear war as comparable to his own likelihood of ______ ______, about  ___%.

4. After a significant deployment of WMDs somewhere in the world, says Dan Sperber, we can expect individual liberty and national autonomy to be ________. (enhanced, limited, eliminated)

5. If we want to reduce population growth we should _____ (boost, cut) the gross domestic product of the _______ (richest, poorest) countries, according to Patrick Bateson.

6. "_______ is the power of the future, & always will be."

7. Synthetic biofuel technology will replicate the natural production of ____.

8. The most world-changing thing about large-scale geoengineering, says Oliver Morton, is that it would be __________ and might finish off the idea of ________.

9. Daniel Goleman says innovations in _________ can bring about more sustainable consumerism.

10. Alternative energy sources will be ____ economically appealing when produced synthetically in a lab or factory. (more, less, no more or less)

11. Besides gender and age differentials, says Nick Christakis, an overlooked feature of the human environment is _______ ________.

12. Haim Harari says education reform will be more likely as those who grew up with _________ enter the teaching profession.

13. (T/F) E-texts promote democracy, says David Myers.

14. Chris Anderson says a teacher who reached a hundred students five years ago can now hope to reach ________, and teaching is becoming a prestigious vocation.

15. (T/F) Roger Schank says in the future we'll have "reminding machines" that will make libraries obsolete.

16. (T/F) David Gelernter says in the future personal learning consultants will proliferate and teachers will nearly disappear.

17. (T/F) Keith Devlin thinks mobile phones are subverting democracy.

18. What's the difference between Type I, II, & III civilizations? What are we? What stands between us and the realization of our potential?

19. Daniel Everett forecasts universal __________, Thomas Metzinger predicts virtual models of our own bodies, or _______, and Tors Norretranders thinks we'll lose the distinction between ______ and ______.

20. Garrett Lisi calls ________ "Pascal's Wager for Singularitarians."

21. Neurocosmetics will ________ (reinforce, validate, undermine) the feeling of stable personal identity, says Marcel Kinsbourne. (T/F) Brian Knutson thinks targeted brain stimulation will be unacceptably invasive.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Fall '11 student survey

Last Spring I ran a student survey to solicit course suggestions. The consensus result: "Environmental Ethics and native wisdom," coming in January.

So, for those who plan to matriculate at our fair institution (or would like to), here's another opportunity to express yourself. If more than one of these hypothetical courses appeals to you, rank them according to your preference for the Fall 2011 semester.

__ Attention, Information, and Distraction. William James said if you can control your attention you can be happy and free. But many of us lately feel distracted and overwhelmed by information and our "social networks." Can philosophy help? Besides James we'd look at recent perspectives from people like Winifred Gallagher (Rapt: Attention and the Focused Life), Maggie Jackson (Distracted: The Erosion of Attention and the Coming Dark Age), Kevin Kelly (What Technology Wants), Steven Johnson (Where Good Ideas Come From), and Jaron Lanier (You Are Not a Gadget).

__ Experimental Ethics. The new "X-Phi" ("experimental philosophy") movement is not really new, empiricists have always sought "data." American philosophy in particular has always emphasized experimentalism. But there has been a noticeable upswing of interest lately, to go with the catchy new name, at the instigation of philosophers like Anthony Appiah (Experiments in Ethics). They wonder about David Hume's claim that you can't get an "ought" from an "is" and are eager to test it. In his new book The Moral Landscape, Sam Harris challenges the Humean view and wonders if science can "determine values." Good question.

__ Experience. How much deference do we owe to other persons' experience when it differs from, or even contradicts, our own? What kind(s) of pluralism should we defend and practice? Can we credit, or at least respect, experiences we've not had ourselves and may even be skeptical about? James's Varieties of Religious Experience, Sagan's Varieties of Scientific Experience, and Emerson's famous essay "Experience" are among the relevant sources. So is your own experience.

__ Childhood and Early Education. Taught this in Fall '08, we read William James, Talks to Teachers on Psychology, and to Students on Some of Life's Ideals; John Dewey, The School and Society & The Child and the Curriculum Harry Brighouse, On Education; Ann Hulbert, Raising America: Experts, Parents, and a Century of Advice About Children; Stephen Law, The War for Children's Minds; and Neil Postman, The Disappearance of Childhood

__ Philosophy of Happiness. Taught this in Fall '09, we read Sonja Lyubomirsky, The How of HappinessJonathan Haidt, The Happiness HypothesisMatthieu Ricard, HappinessEric Wilson, Against HappinessJennifer Michael Hecht, The Happiness Myth; and Steven Cahn, ed., Happiness: Classic and Contemporary Readings in Philosophy. 

__ Philosophy and Humor. This course would feature the funny side of philosophy, from Monty Python's "Argument Clinic" and Philosophers' Football sketch (etc.) to Jesus and Mo to Calvin and Hobbes and Woody Allen ("My Apology"), always tempted to peek into the soul of his neighbor. Philosophers have given serious thought to the likes of the Simpsons, Jon Stewart, Stephen Colbert, South Park, and The Onion.So will we, if enough of you vote for this class. We'll also ask: What is the value of approaching Big Questions with a grin? Should we question everything, and laugh at it too? Why is laughter such good medicine?

__ Philosophy and Sports. Many of us spend much too much time and emotional energy on spectator sports, professional and amateur. How much is too much? What does it matter? What's the point of playing, and of watching them play? Is big-time collegiate athletics defensibly "amateur"? Are exorbitant professional salaries justified? Is our continued interest in games a form of infantilism, or a sign of healthy engagement?  And most important of all: how is baseball so clearly superior to football?

__ Humanism and Meaning. This course would resemble the "Atheism & Spirituality" course from last Spring, but this time with even greater attention to the reasons for affirming humanism (naturalism, atheism) rather than for rejecting theism. We'd explore and critique the claim that a humanist worldview is as meaningful to its adherents as theism is to theists, with John Dewey's A Common Faith, Andre Comte-Sponville's Little Book of Atheist Spirituality, Bertrand Russell's "A Free Man's Worship" and "Why I'm Not a Christian," and more recent voices as well. What makes life worth living, for those who do not seek for meaning beyond it?

__ [Your suggestion(s) here].

Monday, October 18, 2010

primal roots

Wanted to use Bruce Wilshire's Primal Roots of American Philosophy in the "Environmental Ethics and native wisdom" course, but it's too expensive in hardcover and unavailable in paper. (There is a cheap kindle edition. More evidence that our environment is going digital.)

Friday, October 15, 2010

Environmental Ethics & native wisdom

Coming January 2011 (Wtr./Spg. Semester), Middle Tennessee State University-
Philosophy 4800.1, Readings in Philosophy:
Environmental Ethics & native wisdom

The environmental ethics course, covering familiar issues involving climate change, global warming, the ethics of industrial agriculture and food distribution, the vehicles we drive, the homes we build, the waste we generate, the time we waste, the technology some think will save us from ourselves, how we conceive our relation to the rest of nature, and generally just the whole impact we humans have on our planet and biosphere… will add a new dimension next semester: the pre-scientific wisdom of indigenous and native peoples.

We’ll look at what lessons we might learn about living lightly and harmoniously on Earth from native and indigenous peoples—including native American sources, of course, but also imaginative and fictive ones like “Avatar”-- and how those lessons may either complement, challenge, or contradict the dominant western scientific-technological worldview.

TEXTS include:
  • Nature's Way: Native Wisdom for Living in Balance with the Earth
  • The Vanishing Face of Gaia: A Final Warning
  • Whole Earth Discipline: Why Dense Cities, Nuclear Power, Transgenic Crops, Restored Wildlands, and Geoengineering Are Necessary
  • Red Alert!: Saving the Planet with Indigenous Knowledge
  • Native Science: Natural Laws of Interdependence

The class will meet on Mondays and Wednesdays from 12:40 to 2:05 in the James Union Building (Room #202) at MTSU, beginning in January 2011. Watch for details, or contact Dr. James P. Oliver ( for further information. 

Thursday, October 14, 2010


1. Mysticism is the deliberate transformation of consciousness in an attempt to gain access to a higher  ________, on the assumption that ordinary thought and language cannot express it.

2. Jewish mysticism is called ________ , or "tradition". ______ is an Islamic mystical tradition related to neo-Platonism which aims to eliminate ___ .

3. "What is the sound of one hand clapping?" is an example of a ___ ____, which attempts to subvert our usual habits of thought and break down everyday logical thinking.

4. Zen Buddhism says all things depend on their relations to everything else, implying the ____________ of everything.

5. Admirers of Aristotle who walked around with him as he lectured were called ____________. They were strongly influenced by ________.

6. _________ rejected Neoplatonism and said literalism was good enough for ordinary people but that educated people required persuasive, reasoned argument.

7. _________ attempted to reconcile religion with reason and science.

8. _______, whose motto was "Faith seeking to understand," advanced his ontological argument for the existence of God in order to ___________. (persuade nonbelievers, clarify "God" for believers)

9. _______ was a nominalist, contending that only individuals exist. Those who say that universals exist are ________. Abelard's view was that they are tricked by _____.

10. Aquinas agreed with Aristotle: an ______________ makes no sense and should not be accepted in philosophy or theology.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Gladwell on creativity

They were creative geniuses, but they had to work at it...

future quiz 11

1. (T/F) Howard Gardner agrees with Malcolm Gladwell (Outliers) that there's nothing mysterious about talent and creativity.

2. Timothy Taylor cites ___________ on language to make the point that invention and technology, "essential to our long-term survival," require prior cultural __________.

3. The downside of medical miracles due to "old-fashioned" nanotechnololgy would be the ________ (expansion, contraction, disappearance) of free time.

4. (T/F) Marc Hauser says the brain evolved to process information mainly about the present.

5. Those with ________________ already have an evolutionary advantage, says Juan Enriquez. He predicts our grandchildren will do what?

6. (T/F) Stuart Kauffman says Darwinian preadaptations or exaptations. are predictable.

7. Gregory Benford predicts a lifespan of ___ and says it will make people ____ (more, less) mature, responsible, and inclined to take the long view.

8. Marcel Gleiser says we are what we _______, & exist only as long as ___... What does he predict?

9. The Greeenland and Arctic ice sheets contain enough water to cover the planet to what depth?

10. How will climate challenges alter our perspective on the future, according to William Calvin?

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

intro quiz 11

1. "John the Scot" (actually Irish), identifying God with the universe, was a _______. He said humans have free will, that reason is ________ (inferior, superior), and that Genesis should be read _________. (allegorically, literally)

2. Avicenna synthesized Islam with Plato ___ Aristotle. (and, but not), and said univserals exist _____ (before, during, after, all of the above) the things that "partake" of them.

3. Averroes argued against _____. (God, immortality, philosophy)

4. Abelard, boyfriend of _______, called _________ the road to truth.

5. Anselm's ___________ argument said an existing thing is greater than a non-existing thing.

6. For Aquinas, natural theology refers to reason and ____________. He distinguished it from ________ theology.

7.Aquinas said there has to be a First Cause and a _________ Being, distinct from the contingencies of nature.

8. Besides false displays of wisdom, Roger Bacon identified what other causes of  ignorance?

9. Scholasticism ___________ (recognized, denied) the dispute between Plato and Aristotle concerning universals, siding with ______.

10. William of Occam's famous "razor" made a virtue of _______. (simplicity, complexity, necessity, pedantry)

11. The medieval worldview borrowed its triadic social structure from _____'s depiction of the individual soul: ordinary people are analogous to which body part? 

Monday, October 11, 2010

teme play

1. Irene Pepperberg says understanding the brain will enable us to identify ________ more readily.

2. The most powerful brain-altering technology is _______, says Alison Gopnik.

3. Kevin Slavin claims the difference between genuine memory and digital storage is that _______ is imperfect, and disappears over time.

4. (T/F) Susan Blackmore says technological memes, or "temes," are our newest and best tools for manipulating the environment.

5.Useful information grows at a _______ (linear, exponential) rate, and Charles Seife foresees a "Borgesian nightmare" of more than we can use or process, unless we can achieve wisdom about ___...

6. Physicist Kenneth Ford says this is the era of "if it is technically feasible _______________." (it will happen, it's too expensive, we can choose)

7. Just as we expect most public spaces to be free of nudity, sex, profanity, and toxic smoke, Sam Harris predicts we'll come to expect public  _______.

8. (T/F) Freeman Dyson says radiotelepathy will necessarily enhance mutual understanding and peaceful cooperation, and make us better stewards of the planet.

9. New, distributed, and pervasive artificial intelligence will get smarter each time someone _____________, writes Kevin Kelly.

10. More 'aggregation of individual preferences" will result, says Gloria Orrigi, in a softer and more civilized Web controlled by ____________. (precise formulas, human experiences, universal history)

Saturday, October 9, 2010

being alive

It's another gorgeous day for a walk in the Warner Park woods, where yesterday I paused to catch my breath at one of the many commemorative benches scattered along the trails.

It's not hard to be "pro-life" on days like this.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Christians & Muslims

1. The idea of the _________ was shocking, after so many centuries of Jewish emphasis of God's transcendence.

2. The ___________, viewed as an event that relieved humans of ultimate responsibility for their sins and "put things right between God and humanity," is difficult to square with ordinary notions of justice.

3. The cornerstone of Christian philosophy is the idea of ________ ________.

4. Philo reinterpreted Biblical tales as mythic statements about ____...

5. ____ interpreted Jesus as the son of God and declared the crucifixion an atonement for human sins.

6. (T/F) Plotinus said the world is an objectified overflow (or "emanation") of God's thought, so that even the lowest forms of existence are _________.

7. Augustine thought free will was a ______. (blessing, curse, illusion) His significance for later philosophy is seen in his ________ turn, an attempt to gain self-knowledge which would also lead to knowledge of God.

8. Muhammad identified Allah as _____________ (the same as, different from) the God of Christianity and Judaism. Islam originally was _________ (open to, hostile to) Christians and Jews.

9. _____ (Like, unlike) Christians, Muslims believe individuals have immortal souls and that the problem of evil is solved by free will.

10. _____ (Like, unlike) Platonists and neo-Platonists, Muslims consider the material world real and good.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

future shock

1. (T/F) Rodney Brooks thinks our detailed discovery of the nature of extrasolar life is immanent.

2. Paul Davies' view that the universe is biofriendly would  be strengthened by _____...

3. "We" will begin colonizing the Milky Way in _____, speculates (fantasizes?) John Gottman.

4. If there is other life in the universe, George Dyson suspects, it will be (is?)  _______ life.

5. We will not have to die anymore, says David Eagleman, if we can ___...

6. The key to creating a "technology of embodied information" is to think of life as an ______.

7. Gary Marcus says when we figure out how the brain works we won't need ___...

8.Stanley Kubrick says death is ________.

9. Our future depends on how ___________ we make the initial conditions of AI, says Nick Bostrom.

10. Gregory Paul predicts that most future  ______ will choose to become _______. (humans/robotic, robots/human, religions/mystical).

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Philo to Mohammed

1. _____ was a Jewish Platonist who equated Plato's "Good" (and other Ideas or Universals) with ____.

2. _____ was a Christian Platonist who read the Bible as _________.

3. In Plotinus's neo-Platonic philosophy God, also known as _____, "emanates" power (as the sun emanates light) down through _____, then soul, and finally to _______. On this view the body is ____. (good, bad, unreal)

4. (T/F) Christianity after Plotinus tolerated all forms of free thought.

5. The end of scientific free thinking and the beginning of the Dark Ages are symbolized in the death of pagan philosopher/scientist/mathematician _______, probably ordered by ________.

6. (T/F) The Roman Empire fell, in part, because (unlike Christianity) it was widely thought to be overly superstitious and austere.

7. The Nicene Creed established the ______ as Christian orthodoxy (with the Emperor's support) in 379.

8. ________ (Ambrose, Jerome, Augustine, Gregory) was the only "Father" who was also a  philosopher. He said only the ______ (past, present, future, eternal) truly exists. (T/F) He concluded that reason alone can discover truth.

9._________, condemned to death by Emperor Theodoric, sought happiness and found consolation in _________.

10. ________ said the the Holy Roman Empire was neither holy, nor Roman, nor an empire.

11. Under Mohammed, Muslim religion rose in the ___ century.

Monday, October 4, 2010

changing everything

1. John Brockman's celebrates the ideas of what he calls the _____ _______, consisting of empirically-oriented thinkers whose work he says is re-defining what it means to be human.The 2009 Edge question was ____________________. Dan Dennett says _____________ will change everything.

2. Scott Sampson mentions the fast-growing industry of __________ and says we're the first generation to face what prospect?

3. Craig Venter says we'll soon all know our own __________, and can use that knowledge to _________ life.

4. A Duke neuroscientist predicts significant changes in the human form a hundred years from now, James Geary writes, because of a new type of _____________ interface allowing perceptual experience even at distances of millions of miles.

5. Corey Powell estimates the odds of genetically-engineered children as ___%, of significant life extension as ___%, and of conscious machines as ___%.

6. So far, says Danny Hillis, technology has made the collective human conversation ______ but not _______. For that to happen, we need a _________.

7. Ernst Poppel says long-term stability requires the presence of ____________.

8. _________ (optimism, pessimism) about the future will change everything, says Brian Eno.

9. Discovering extraterrestrial life would turn humans into a single self-acknowledged species, an ____, says Douglas Rushkoff. It would cure our __________, says Paul Saffo.

10. For Dimitar Sasselov, synthetic biology means ________________.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

time for "teletrailing"

I love hyperlinks, in blog posts and tweets. They help me conveniently follow and share trails of interest, and used judiciously can help me stay focused on one thread while noting and filing potentially relevant connections to others.

But Julian Baggini raises a reasonable worry, that over-reliance on them (which he calls "teletrailing") could make us even more scattered, superficial, and short-attention-spanned than we are already.
The most popular lament about new media is of course how it shortens attention spans and with it the shrinking of the amount of detail and information people are prepared to grapple with. Teletrailing seems to reduce the object of focus almost to vanishing point. The extent and rapidity of this change can be seen by how, already, blogs are looking quite earnest and old-fashioned. When blogs first appeared, they were compared unfavorably with newspaper and magazine articles. They tended to be shorter, were written more quickly, were light on research and heavy on opinion. But to those growing up on Facebook and Twitter, they must seem ponderously slow and long. For those who value thoughtful, crafted writing, this is a worrying development. 
Thanks, Julian. I needed more to worry about. I'll re-tweet the link to your essay and we can all collaborate on a solution. Eh-oh... Accelerating Intelligence News