the whole world burns

Archive for category 'philosophy'

Collapse IV: 'Concept Horror'

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Fourth issue of the journal of 'philosophical research and development'. Engrossing.

Philosophy as an experimental science


[A] restive contingent of our tribe is convinced that it can shed light on traditional philosophical problems by going out and gathering information about what people actually think and say about our thought experiments. [...]

It always irritated me in philosophy discussions when someone would seriously make an argument that something was "intuitively" true or false. There are already some interesting results:

Recently, a team of philosophers led by Machery came up with situations that had the same form as Kripke's and presented them to two groups of undergraduates — one in New Jersey and another in Hong Kong. The Americans, it turned out, were significantly more likely to give the responses that Kripke took to be obvious; the Chinese students had intuitions that were consonant with the older theory of reference.

quote of the day: Susan Budd


The negative assumption is that supernatural religion is erroneous, and that this error has important consequences. The positive assumption is the belief in free discussion, the devaluation of any claim to authority except that of the scholar or scientist, a belief in morality as a guide to behaviour, and in the power of men to shape their world and determine their futures. The common assertion that humanists view man as basically good is mistaken; it would be more accurate to say that they see him as powerful. They attribute his malice and aggression to his social and biological circumstances, and accordingly demand that he try to assume responsibility for himself and his society. [...] The attack on religion is that by diverting men's energies and attention to their fate in a future life, it hinders the realization of such happiness as they can achieve on earth.

-- Varieties of Unbelief, p. 8-9 (Heinemann, 1977)

Art and the unsynthesised manifold


The "unsynthesised manifold" is, in the original sense, everything that is out there, regardless of whether we perceive it or not. As we can't sensibly talk about matters of which we are unaware, we can use the expression more usefully to describe the endless flood of undifferentiated sensory data we accumulate throughout our waking hours. Our conscious and subconscious attempts at organising this stuff and getting it to make a kind of sense are attempts at synthesis. Because of the way the brain routinely edits and translates the raw data, what we perceive is not reality itself but a model of reality as encoded by our individual software, even before we start trying consciously to make sense of it. Most of what we perceive evades conceptualisation, and is neither dreamed nor recollected, though sometimes we can fish it out under hypnosis.

If we are to comprehend the art object, we must turn off as much of the incoming noise as we can, and enter the silent space created by the work. It is as if, out of the roar of spam that is cyberspace, we were to receive a single one-word email. We have to agree, if only momentarily, to read it, even though the one word might be "nothing". Every time an artist constructs a word in neon and hangs it on the wall of a gallery, she or he invokes this moment of silence.

Walter Pater, in the the conclusion of "The Renaissance: Studies in Art and Poetry"


The service of philosophy, of speculative culture, towards the human spirit, is to rouse, to startle it to a life of constant and eager observation. Every moment some form grows perfect in hand or face; some tone on the hills or the sea is choicer than the rest; some mood of passion or insight or intellectual excitement is irresistibly real and attractive to us, -- for that moment only. Not the fruit of experience, but experience itself, is the end. A counted number of pulses only is given to us of a variegated, dramatic life. How may we see in them all that is to seen in them by the finest senses? How shall we pass most swiftly from point to point, and be present always at the focus where the greatest number of vital forces unite in their purest energy?

To burn always with this hard, gemlike flame, to maintain this ecstasy, is success in life.

Can bad men make good brains do bad things?

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A somewhat harder moral problem:

On the right side of the track there is a single railroad worker, Jones, who will definitely be killed if the brain steers the trolley to the right. If the railman on the right lives, he will go on to kill five men for the sake of killing them, but in doing so will inadvertently save the lives of thirty orphans (one of the five men he will kill is planning to destroy a bridge that the orphans' bus will be crossing later that night). One of the orphans that will be killed would have grown up to become a tyrant who would make good utilitarian men do bad things. Another of the orphans would grow up to become G.E.M. Anscombe, while a third would invent the pop-top can. [...]

The Self is a Story


I'd said that studying brain function and working with brain-damaged people had led me to certain views about the nature of personal identity; that neuroscience had no place for the soul; that the human brain was a storytelling machine, and that the self was a story.

I said that our deepest intuitions about what it means to be a person are based on an illusion. There is no inner essence, no ego, no observing 'I', no ghost in the machine. The story is all and, moreover, the story is enough.

The Mechanisms of the Slippery Slope


On cost-lowering slippery slopes, attitude-altering slippery slopes, small change tolerance slippery slopes etc.

What is a Philistine?


So that if you set a Philistine before a picture, he will be inevitably bored. He can do nothing to the picture except buy it, and that is soon accomplished. He is too active and industrious a man to stand gaping at it, pretending he enjoys the harmony of its color, the balance of its design, or the richness of its light and shade. And he is too honest to say that the picture represents anything more than a man’s face, or a pretty view, or whatever else the subject may be. If the reproduction is accurate, as far as his perception goes, he will be pleased to notice the fact. But how the image of a face can represent anything besides, or the copy of a landscape be more beautiful than the original, he can never conceive. The comprehension of that depends on the awakening of many dim and profound suggestions, on the creation in the beholder’s mind of some ideal of beauty or of happiness, on the quick passing of some infinitely tragic and lovely vision. And such things are not engendered in the Philistine brain.

Extracting Video from Cat Brains

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As he mentions in the K5 article, it has interesting ramifications for philosophies of mind which value private experience.

Salman Rushdie quote


When a reader falls in love with a book, it leaves its essence inside him, like radioactive fallout in an arable field, and after that there are certain crops that will no longer grow in him, while other, stranger, more fantastic growths may occasionally be produced. We love relatively few books in our lives, and those books become parts of the way we see our lives; we read our lives through them, and their descriptions of the inner and outer worlds become mixed up with ours — they become ours.