Archive for the ‘Philosophy’ Category

Another fabulous podcast

December 7, 2017

History of Philosophy in India. Strongly recommended. Many episodes can be listened to more than once — just for the pleasure of appreciating the simple expositions of such complex concepts!


Are secularists happier?

September 9, 2011

Chet at Science Musings:

… but as a reasonably joyful secularist I’d have to say that I haven’t noticed secularists are generally any happier than religious believers. If the goal of life is to be joyful, then religious people might even have an edge. At least they can anticipate future happiness to make up for present woes.

No, my reason for being secular is purely intellectual: In 75 years of reading and reflection I haven’t found a shred of evidence to convince me that all that stuff I was taught as a child is true. The vast majority of religious people believe in the truth of the religion into which they were born, which should give any such person pause for thought. Rather, I find far more compelling the painstaking development of empirical science as a guide to reality, especially as supplemented by the principle of parsimony. I’m a secularist because my head tells me to be that way, not because I want to be happy.

Head trumps heart.

Still, like anyone else, I’d rather be joyful than sad.

Read the entire post; nice one.

However, the conclusion of Chet that having a religion that gives meaning to life will make one happier need not always be true; there could also be religions that tell you stories which does not really make life meaningful; or, worse still, will tell you stories that might give a meaning for your life but which does not make you any joyful knowing the meaning.

Labels and dumbness

February 16, 2009

Paul Graham:

Most people reading this will already be fairly tolerant. But there is a step beyond thinking of yourself as x but tolerating y: not even to consider yourself an x. The more labels you have for yourself, the dumber they make you.

Short, but nice one — there is even a footnote as to why identifying oneself as a scientist is not a labelling, really!

Personality goes a long way!

April 6, 2008

Jonah Lehrer at The Frontal Cortex is wondering if it is OK to eat octopi, having learnt that they are intelligent creatures with personalities:

… I happen to really enjoy eating octopus. But I can’t help but wonder if it’s an ethically dubious proposition. The problem is that octopi are really, really smart. Dr. Jennifer Mather and Roland Anderson have done some interesting research on the surprising cognitive talents of these short-lived, utterly unsocial, yet rather cunning invertebrates. They’ve demonstrated, in a series of experiments and field studies, that octopi play with toys, have short and long-term memory, exhibit rudimentary tool use and have distinct, individual personalities. See here for a nice summary of their work.

What do you think? Is it wrong to eat such an intelligent creature?

The discussion reminded me of a dialogue between Samuel Jackson and John Travolta in Pulp Fiction which discusses the same question with Jackson insisting that personality goes a long way:

Vincent: Want some bacon?
Jules: No man, I don’t eat pork.
Vincent: Are you Jewish?
Jules: Nah, I ain’t Jewish, I just don’t dig on swine, that’s all.
Vincent: Why not?
Jules: Pigs are filthy animals. I don’t eat filthy animals.
Vincent: Bacon tastes gooood. Pork chops taste gooood.
Jules: Hey, sewer rat may taste like pumpkin pie, but I’d never know ’cause I wouldn’t eat the filthy motherfucker. Pigs sleep and root in shit. That’s a filthy animal. I ain’t eat nothin’ that ain’t got enough sense enough to disregard its own faeces.
Vincent: How about a dog? Dogs eats its own feces.
Jules: I don’t eat dog either.
Vincent: Yeah, but do you consider a dog to be a filthy animal?
Jules: I wouldn’t go so far as to call a dog filthy but they’re definitely dirty. But, a dog’s got personality. Personality goes a long way.
Vincent: Ah, so by that rationale, if a pig had a better personality, he would cease to be a filthy animal. Is that true?
Jules: Well we’d have to be talkin’ about one charmin’ motherfuckin’ pig. I mean he’d have to be ten times more charmin’ than that Arnold on Green Acres, you know what I’m sayin’?


Some Hegel; some Marx!

March 12, 2008

Kerim at Savage Minds points to a couple of online resources:

I was very happy to find out that Ernest Mandel’s 1967 pamphlet, An Introduction to Marxist Economic Theory, is available online.

I don’t think its possible to make sense of Marx without having a decent grasp of his theory of value. I also think its important to read Marx in his own words – as we require our students to do; but it is helpful to have a clear and concise explanation which doesn’t dumb things down. Mandel’s introduction manages this feat quite admirably.

And since Marxist economics does require some grounding in Hegel, one also needs a primer on Hegel’s philosophy. Here I found the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy entry to be quite lucid.

Take a look!

Thinking philosophically, in the physical sciences

December 15, 2007

As a consequence of the European, in particular the continental tradition, the general writings of the two discoverer’s of quantum mechanics–Werner Heisenberg from Germany and Erwin Schroedinger from Austria–show great familiarity with and interest in various philosophical systems of thought, from the Greeks onwards. While the writings of Neils Bohr and Albert Einstein also often have a philosophical bent, their references to formal systems of philosophy tend to be fewer, but nevertheless important. In contrast, when the focus of work in new physics shifted from Europe to the US around the middle of the twentieth century, this regard for general philosophical thinking among the leading professional physicists does seem to have weakened. Typical statements of Richard Feynman and Steven Weinberg, for instance, display a certain degree of disdain, or certainly a lack of sympathy, for the value of philosophical thinking in the physical sciences.

In any case, in the present account I assume that there is value in looking at the growth of modern physical science from a ‘philosophical point of view’, though it may require some degree of maturity as well as sympathy to adopt this attitude.

That is from the personal reflections of Prof. Mukunda in the latest issue of Resonance on The Philosophy of Physical Sciences (PDF).

If this kind of stuff interests you, it is a must-read piece. Here is the last paragraph of the piece:

… from a philosophical standpoint,  we see that pure empiricism and a purely deductive approach are both limited in scope. We need to combine caution, flexibility, and rigour–all at the same time. Nature is inexhaustible, and only experience hand in hand with reason can guide us to dependable knowledge. These seem to be the characteristics of a philosophy useful for the physical sciences.

Take a look!

An attack ad, a musical and a bit of philosophy

December 11, 2007

For and against Kant at Crooked Timber; via Delong and Abi, repsectively. Abi’s post also ties it up to the recent NYTimes philosophy experiments piece that is setting the blogosphere abuzz. While we are on the topic, I should also mention that Kerim at Savage Minds, who finds the experimental methodology of philosophers lacking, has a suggestion–go the anthropological way:

I hereby invite our fellow philosophers to join us at the next AAA where they can learn a thing or two about philosophical research methods.

Rawls: highly recommended

December 10, 2007

Harry at Crooked Timber strongly recommends Samuel Freeman’s Rawls:

But Rawls (…) is a triumph. A brilliantly careful, utterly transparent, account of Rawls’s thought and an admirable presentation of the state of the debates around Rawls’s work. The amazon reviewer who says “this is the one” gets it right. Forcing students to read Rawls is the right thing to do; but I shall never again force them to read him without providing Freeman’s text as indispensable help.

Take a look!

Dyson on science and deep thoughts

September 29, 2007

For me, science is just a box of tricks, and I enjoy playing with them. It’s a form of exercise. It has nothing to do with philosophy, certainly even less to do with religion. It’s essentially just a skill that I happen to have learned. Some people think about science much more solemnly. For me, science has nothing much to do with deep thoughts.

Freeman Dyson in this interview in Salon. “Huh, Really?”

There are some more provocative statements in there, like this one for example:

There is this very strong organization, the IPCC, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. It’s a group of officially anointed experts who produce statements every five years. This community of people is regarded as sacrosanct. And they’re very intolerant. They always regard any criticism as a hostile act that has to be fought. I think they have behaved pretty badly. But that’s rather an unusual case in the world of science — that’s where the politics has corrupted the science. But in general, scientists are not largely against heretics. This is something rather peculiar to climate studies. It also has to do with the way [the studies are] funded. The whole community of climate experts is funded on the basis that it’s an urgent problem. So [they] can’t possibly say it’s not urgent or else they’ll lose their thumbs.

It is a long interview, running into three pages. Take a look!

Philosophy as reason gone wrong

September 22, 2007

Paul Graham, in an essay on what went wrong with philosophy and how we might fix it. A very interesting piece with plenty of ideas and concepts to think about (mostly relating to western philosophy, though).

On a more personal note, I enjoyed Graham’s piece a lot, since, when I was in high school, like Graham, I also wanted to study philosophy. I changed my mind for two reasons: a botany teacher of mine argued that if I study science, I might still continue studying literature and philosophy as a hobby, while if I take up literature or philosophy, I would never get sufficient training to read scientific literature (which made sense to me at that time). At around the same time, I read a quote from Vivekananda which appealed to my vanity — “Every fool can do what he likes the most; but it takes a wise man to do well what he does not like” or, something to that effect.