One can’t help but share in Chagnon’s frustration at the hasty decision of the majority of his disciplinary peers to disown its historical connection to any branch of the complex and variegated scientific tradition. After all, until very recently (and to some extent to this day still in languages such as French and German), a ‘science’ was any relatively systematic body of knowledge, anything the goal or product of which was scientia, and it is only in the very most recent times that the notion has been reduced to the figure of somber men seeking to run the world on the basis of claims of unassailable expertise. Yet the cartoon version of science that Chagnon proposes in response, in its total failure to recognize that there might be special problems of theory-ladenness, power inequality, looping effects, prejudice --in a word, all those factors that make the scientific study of humans a more delicate matter than the study of other domains of nature--, can easily make one wish to take the ‘postmodern’ turn oneself, if only to get away from this astoundingly simplistic pretense of scientificity.--Justin Smith (writing about Napoleon Chagnon’s book, Noble Savages: My Life among Two Dangerous Tribes- The Yanomamö and the Anthropologists (Simon & Schuster, 2013).
Justin is one of the leading historians of philosophy of my generation. He is also a staunch defender of the fact that "one can in fact approach the subject matter of anthropology naturalistically, using the conceptual tools of European traditions of thought, and still come up with theoretically sophisticated accounts of indigenous beliefs that remain nonetheless sensitive to the actual concerns, to the ‘voices’, of the people being studied." (He also wants to bring some anthropological methods into the history of philosophy.)
If this collection leaves it unclear just what naturalized metaphysics comes to, its advocates are at least making a serious attempt to engage with our pre-eminent knowledge-producing disciplines. Newton famously compared his efforts to those of a boy on the seashore who succeeded in picking up a smoother pebble or a prettier shell while the great ocean of truth lay all undiscovered before him. While naturalist metaphysicians are at sea trying to oversee the reconstruction of Neurath's boat, many a contemporary analytic metaphysician remains on the beach embellishing his or her own sand castle, oblivious to the incoming tide.--Richard Healey.
I mentioned Healey's review favorably a few days ago. Even so, the polemical closing paragraph above, which gives voices to "the deep suspicion" of "many naturalistically inclined philosophers," is unfair and dangerous myth. Before I turn to argue this, some terminological clarification. Healey's review is about a book about "scientific metaphysics" and he calls the practitioners of it, "naturalist metaphysicians," which are contrasted with so-called "analytic metaphysicians." He never settles on definitions, but after some empirical analysis, he writes, "Whatever naturalized metaphysics comes to, it is clearly less enamored with logical analysis of language but pays much closer attention to actual science than a lot of what goes by the name of analytic metaphysics." This is a decent first approximation (and captures nicely the contrast between those that, say, start-from-David Lewis and those that, say, develop their views from grappling with the Scientific Image, or Structure).*
[This post was inspired by an email correspondence with John Doris.--ES]
The sciences play an important role in (at least) two ways of doing philosophy these days: (a) as an ingredient or constraint in so-called 'naturalistic turns;' (b) as an object of study in Philosophy of X (POX) -- with X = any particular science -- or General Philosophy of Science (GPOS). This (a-b) is not to deny the existence of other roles of science in philosophy, including: (c) functioning as the exemplary model of doing philosophy--I tend to refer to this as "Philosophy as Normal Science" (PANS; regular readers know I want us diminish PANS) and (d) being a source of discipline of philosophy (as, say, Williamson wishes). In practice, there are lots of blended positions. I will not define "philosophy" or "science", and I recognize that those of us that work in Europe (and, perhaps, elsewhere) are often taught (and paid/evaluated) to think of ourselves as scientists.
Here I focus on some problems that (a) and (b), especially, share in practice. The source of these is that we philosophers are generally not practicing scientists. (What I am aboout to claim also applies to those that have a PhD in some science, but it may not apply fully to those that also have ongoing research projects within some science.) This means that any science we rely on (in a-d) will be inevitably: (i) dated (science can move very fast as Bertrand Russell emphasized--it is hard enough for the professionals 'to keep up'); (ii) potentially misunderstood (we are -- despite our fabulous reasoning and conceptual skills -- not the experts in the science, after all); (iii) a partial perspective (most sciences are much larger than philosophy and can have a huge division of intellectual labor). Even if one were to ignore the effects of (i-iii) in (a-d) bits of science 'travel' from properly (stabilized) scientific domains/contexts to philosophical contexts; it is, thus, very likely that (iv) science will be partially transformed in translation (one need not be a Quine-ean holist, Kuhnian incommensurabalist to see that any disciplinary appropriation is not prima facie truth or meaning/pragmatics preserving). In practice, i-iv can be blended--and, perhaps, the list ought to be longer. I call the effects of i-iv, "NAPPs." The idea is that NAPPs is internal to naturalism (and not to be confused with excesses such as scientism or positivism).
[My wife is a physician-PhD, so I doubt I am an impartial observer here.--ES]
In reality, medical care during pregnancy seemed to be one long list of rules. Being pregnant was a good deal like being a child again. There was always someone telling me what to do, but the recommendations from books and medical associations were vague and sometimes contradictory. It started right away. "You can only have two cups of coffee a day." I wondered why. What did the numbers say about how risky one, two or three cups were? This wasn't discussed anywhere.The key to good decision making is evaluating the available information—the data—and combining it with your own estimates of pluses and minuses. As an economist, I do this every day. It turns out, however, that this kind of training isn't really done much in medical schools. Medical school tends to focus much more, appropriately, on the mechanics of being a doctor--Emily Oster in WSJ [HT Diana Weinert Thomas via Facebook].
[UPDATE 8 August, 2:25 pm CDT: comments by Roberta Millstein and by "bizarre" have convinced me that the author of the review, David Haig, is better seen as *diagnosing* tough guyism in his neo-Darwinist colleagues rather than as exemplifying it. My thanks to them for pushing me to see this. I'll leave the post as is -- for the record, as it were -- but ask readers to keep this change of view in mind in reading it.]
This is a fine review of Transformations of Lamarckism, ed. Gissis and Jablonka (MIT, 2011), but its conclusion is somewhat marred by a classic flaw: it attributes an "emotional reaction" to its targets without acknowledging that its own position is also emotionally inflected rather than being simply "intellectual." We can call this the self-denying political affect* of tough guyism.
Cogburn's most recent post made me wonder if LSU is a great place to generate low Erdős–Bacon numbers.
"A person's Erdős–Bacon number is the sum of one's Erdős number—which measures the "collaborative distance" in authoring mathematical papers between that person and Hungarian mathematician Paul Erdős—and one's Bacon number—which represents the number of links, through roles in films, by which the individual is separated from American actor Kevin Bacon. The lower the number, the closer a person is to Erdős and Bacon, and this reflects a small world phenomenon in academia and entertainment."--Wikipedia. [HT: Wayne Myrvold] So, for example Bertrand Russell's Bacon number is the result of an appearance in a Bollywood film.
In comments Roberta Millstein calls attention to this referee process:
Biology Direct operates on an open peer-review system, so each of the reviewers' comments accompanied by their name will be reproduced alongside the article, if published. The journal aims to publish all manuscripts that have attracted sufficient interest of Editorial Board members to result in 3 reviews. The reviews may be highly critical of the work or even outright negative, which in itself does not preclude publication should the authors decide to proceed. However, the reviewer also has the option to recommend rejection of manuscripts that have no scientific substance, or do not meet the standards of a scientific work.--Biology Direct.
I have long advocated this approach and I hope a philosophy journal emulates Biology Direct so we can judge how it works before long!
Refereeing is lonely work. When you have done your time-consuming job, you often never find out what the impact of your effort has been on the people principally involved (the author and editor); it is not uncommon that editors do not tell you of their decision. Sometimes you learn what happened to a refereed manuscript because you come across it in the course of your future research. (To be clear, refereeing is a significant part of my work: leaving aside conference-abstract-refereeing, I referee about twenty-five items a year--primarily journal articles, although, of course, book manuscripts and tenure and promotion dossiers are far more time-consuming.) This is why I always ask editors to thank diligent referees (including the ones that recommend reject) on my behalf.
Of course, in practice within 'active' research areas one often develops a decent sense who wrote a piece of research and what happened with it. I find it very disorienting to see work appear in print substantially unrevised that has what I take to be, say, serious argumentative flaws and/or scholarly lacunae. In such cases, I have to really resist the urge to write the editor, "What were you thinking?" I then also wonder, "has the other referee screwed up?" (Sometimes one learns the identity of the other referee!) One reason why I advocate the publication of referee reports with accepted/published work, is that it makes more transparent editorial decisions and guidance--not a trivial matter in context of discussions about citation-networks, patterns of exclusion, and plagiarism. (Recall the proposal here.) I would welcome having my referee reports being visible with my name attached to them, but I realize junior people do have legitimate fears about retaliation. I believe journals should experiment with this.
[Update 2 July 2013, 6 am CDT: A petition that these requirements be withdrawn.]
The main grant-giving institution in Germany, the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG), is contemplating a revision of their guidelines for good scientific practice that will make 'academic whistle blowing' a lot more difficult: according to a proposal at the annual meeting of DFG members, henceforth German universities will regard it as a violation of good scientific practice to publish suspicions of malfeasance, if an investigation is under way at the university that employs the researcher under suspicion. Since these guidelines serve at the same time as the German de facto standard for investigating academic misconduct in general, the effect of these new regulations will not be limited to those who must be afraid of sanctions from the DFG, e. g. those that receive grants, review grant applications etc. The proposed change in regulations will affect all academics working at a German university, because the DFG guidelines serve as the countrywide de-facto standard.
If this is not disturbing enough; it is remarkable that the DFG decision-making process was apparently intended to take place behind closed doors. However, the semi-official association of German universities, the Hochschulrektorenkonferenz (HRK) published its own revised guidelines, before the DFG could finalize its version and refers explicitly to the DFG proposal (I quote from the English translation of the relevant passage from the HRK website):
[This is a guest-post by Michael Kremer.--ES]
Brian Leiter comments in typical acerbic style on an excerpt in the Guardian from Daniel Dennett’s latest book, Intuition Pumps and Other Tools for Thinking, titled “Daniel Dennett’s Seven Tools for Thinking:” “A curious list; not clear Dennett has always honored all of them!”
What Leiter doesn’t notice, though, is that Dennett violates one of his principles in explaining another! Dennett's last tool is “beware of deepities.” He explains a deepity as
“a proposition that seems both important and true – and profound – but that achieves this effect by being ambiguous. On one reading, it is manifestly false, but it would be earth-shaking if it were true; on the other reading, it is true but trivial. The unwary listener picks up the glimmer of truth from the second reading, and the devastating importance from the first reading, and thinks, Wow! That’s a deepity.”
Dennett then offers two examples. The first is the claim that “love is just a word.” The second, he says, is not “quite so easily analyzed:” “Richard Dawkins recently alerted me to a fine deepity by Rowan Williams, the then archbishop of Canterbury, who described his faith as ‘a silent waiting on the truth, pure sitting and breathing in the presence of the question mark’.” Dennett concludes “I leave the analysis of this as an exercise for you.”
Helen has a very interesting post up on the problematic culture of grant-funded research. (Full disclosure: I have been on research grants pretty much for my entire career, and I see many advantages in this system.) She emphasized the fact that grant-writing is a very time-consuming endeavor, and that many researchers spend so much time securing research money for their group that they virtually stop doing research of their own. In this short post, I want to outline yet another way in which this culture entails waste of precious research time: the time it takes panel members and referees to evaluate the huge number of proposals that get written.
This year, I was a member of the panel for one of the grant schemes of the Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research (NWO). I can report that carefully reading the big pile of research proposals has taken something like 50 to 60 hours, not including the actual meetings to discuss the proposals and to interview the candidates. All in all, it must have amounted to 2 full weeks of work, during which time I could have written a new paper or worked on my own research more generally. In fact, I have the feeling that the first 3 months of this year were entirely spent on evaluating other people’s work rather than doing my own: besides the work for NWO, I also wrote multiple reports on (other) research proposals and applications, and countless referee reports on papers submitted to journals -- not to mention my work as an editor for the Review of Symbolic Logic (as every journal editor knows, it is very hard to find referees for papers these days, as everyone is already so overburdened). These three months were exceptionally (or so I hope!) busy in this respect, and I’m sure there are many others who do just as much or even more work of this kind. Still, this just seems wrong.
Before "Larry Summers" became synonymous with expert for hire by Wall Street, he was the Harvard President, who suggested, while claiming that he wished to "provoke," that "there are issues of intrinsic aptitude, and particularly of the variability of aptitude," that might explain the relatively low presence of women "in high-end scientific professions." Summers insisted that his is an "entirely positive" not "normative approach." (Summer 2005; he is deploying a standard distinction among economists.) The lecture set off a furore that contributed to his eventual resignation from Harvard (it surely did not help he was in charge of a nearly US$ 1 Billion loss on speculative investments). But...before his notoriety Summers was one of those economists that effortlessly move between academia and government (while generally serving the interests of the wealthy). Such folk become prominent within public policy economics through highly regarded academic work, which won Summers the John Bates Clark Medal (1993) and which partially accounted for his selection as Chief economist at The World Bank (1991-3). As the politically influential, but nevertheless academic Vice-President of the World Bank, Summers was invited to Pakistan to give The Quaid-i-Azam Lecture in 1992, "Investing in All the People," to the Pakistan Society of Development Economists. The main point of Summers' lecture, which has been cited close to 300 times and is easily found on the internet, is:
Investing in the education of girls may well be the highest return investment available in the developing world. As such, increasing the level of female education is an especially high priority in Pakistan.
So, before Summers became synonymous with sexism in academia he was an advocate of underprivileged women's education. (A topic Summers continues to talk about.) The paper was admiringly profiled in Business Week, and created the meme of Summers as "iconoclastic Liberal." For those that like their irony fully symmetric, I note that the 1992 magazine article treats Summers as an academic "provocateur." Summers' Pakistani hosts asked a mathematical economist hailing from Waziristan, MA Khan (then as now at Johns Hopkins), to offer comments (see here). Rather than dazzle his famous American colleague and "the Pakistani Minister of Defence and Minister of Water and Power" (quoted from Richard H. Sabot's response to Summers) with state of the art mathematical technique, Khan quotes Derrida and Clifford Geertz in the process of calling Summers "reckless."
Dooyeweerd rightly rejects any dictation to philosophy on the part of theology; and where he thinks that traditional Reformed thinking deviates from the truth, he does not shrink from suggesting revisions. One of his virtues as a philosopher, I take it, is his refusal to be bound by all the formulae of past Reformed thinking. Still, however, if the total result is to be called a Christian philosophy and in particular a Reformed philosophy, it must be consistent with the spirit and the main doctrines of the Reformed and Christian tradition. And if his doctrine that meaning is the mode of being of created reality does imply that the relation between God and creation is like that between a thinker and the meanings he entertains, then at this point the accusation of a really significant departure from the Reformed and Christian tradition would be justified. For then created reality becomes constitutive of God's mind and thus of God.
And this is clearly to controvert the Christian conception of creation with its ontological chasm between God and created reality. But to have such a chasm seems to presuppose being on the part of creation as well as on the part of God. How, for example, can we conceive of sin in the context of a creature that is merely meaning? Can a meaning sin? What would an evil meaning be like, unless it is thought of as entertained by an evil being? The Christian philosopher must steer a nice course between the Scylla of giving finite reality too much self-sufficiency and power, and the Charybdis of altogether divesting creation of distinctness and "over-againstness" with respect to God. The first alternative threatens God's uniqueness and sovereignty; the second courts pantheism. Rightly determined to avoid Scylla, Dooyeweerd steers perilously close to Charybdis; for the very attempt to emphasize God's transcendent uniqueness and sovereignty may end by making him the author of evil in a very intimate sense and by denying an ontological distinction between Creator and creation altogether.--Alvin Plantinga (1958) "Dooyeweerd on Meaning and Being" (reprinted here [HT to Ingrid van Laarhoven, who helped me track this down.]; emphases in original.)
The quoted passage is the surprising conclusion of Plantinga's "first serious article." (Hengstmengel, (63)) It is surprising because Plantinga had begun the (short) article with the claim that "a slavish adherence to traditional modes of thought can discourage and stultify intellectual progress." (10) Yet, here Plantinga is quite clear that Dooyeweerd has deviated too far from the "spirit and main doctrines" of their shared tradition. While (the proto-Kuhnian) Plantinga clearly allows that "progress" within the "tradition" is possible and desirable, he basically insists that Dooyeweerd's Spinozistic doctrines are simply too revolutionary and disruptive, even though an outsider to the tradition, while drawing on, say, Susan James's recent book, might point to the considerable continuity between Spinoza's philosophy and Reformed doctrines, especially if one thinks (as the far more mature Plantinga footnotes against the authority of his father) that it "is by no means obvious that the right side won at the Synod of Dort." Either way, in the body of his paper, Plantinga offers a number of philosophical arguments (including some from "common experience" and another that anticipates Meillassoux's arche-fossil strategy against correlationism) against Dooyeweerd's position; nevertheless, in his conclusion Plantinga makes clear that to be called "Reformed," one cannot just follow the arguments come what may to their conclusion. I call the authority of tradition over the possibility space of philosophical thought an instance of the "Socratic Problem."
1. Leibnizian substance: Something is a substance if and only if it evolves by the fundamental laws
2. Russellian laws: The cosmos is the one and only thing that evolves by the fundamental laws
3. Spinozan monism: The cosmos is the one and only substance (from 1 and 2)
As Schaffer is well aware, there is lots of irony in all of this. (At NewAPPS we have discussed Russell's reservations about Spinoza several times here, here, and also Jeff. [Recall also Russell's debts to Boole on Clarke vs Spinoza; and Stebbing on Spinoza.]) Now, my objection to this argument is inspired by my reading of Spinoza's so-called "Letter on the Infinite," but what follows is not meant to be a historical argument (or a gotcha, 'you got the history wrong' moment). Recall that I read Spinoza as claming that characterizing and grasping substance as such does not involve our ordinary scientific 'utensils' (e.g., measures, mathematics, laws of nature), but rather concepts like essence and eternity. Mathematical physics can only give a partial view of substance as such. Now one reason for this is that mathematical physics of Spinoza's day, treats some part of nature as a closed system (governed by its own 'conservation' rules/laws). Moreover, Spinoza would deny that fundamentally the universe evolves. For, applying temporal concepts to the universe is, however useful it may be, always a less than fully adequate conceptualization of the universe.
Evolutionary naturalism provides an account of our capacities that undermines their reliability, and in doing so undermines itself...I agree with Alvin Plantinga that...the application of evolutionary theory to the understanding of our own cognitive capacities should undermine, though it need not completely destroy, our confidence in them. Mechanisms of belief formation that have selective advantage in the everyday struggle for existence do not warrant our confidence in the construction of theoretical accounts of the world as a whole. I think the evolutionary hypothesis would imply that though our cognitive capacities could be reliable, we do not have the kind of reason to rely on them that we ordinarily take ourselves to have using in them directly--as we do in science. Thomas Nagel, Mind and Cosmos, 27-28 (emphasis in original)
A non-trivial (albeit not the most fundamental) feature of Nagel's book (recall my here, here, here; see Feser's response to me and also Mohan's posts: here, here, here and here) is his reliance on Plantinga's so-called evolutionary argument against naturalism (hereafter EAAN; see also pp. 74-78). Let's leave aside the fact that Nagel pretends in his book that this (evolving) EAAN argument has not been subject to significant criticism. (It must be convenient to think that one is obliged to engage only with one's referee [Sober, although even his criticism of EAAN is ignored], one's colleague [Street], one's cheerleader [Plantinga], and one's deus ex machina [Hawthorne & Nolan].) Here I explore a response to this style of argument that is overlooked by Nagel and, I think, not explored in the literature (but would love to learn otherwise--it's not my field). So, let's grant -- for the sake of argument -- the claim that "Mechanisms of belief formation that have selective advantage in the everyday struggle for existence do not warrant our confidence in the construction of theoretical accounts of the world as a whole." What follows from this?
My quick and dirty answer is: nothing. For the crucial parts of science really do not rely on such mechanisms of belief formation. Much of scientific reason is or can be performed by machines; as I have argued before, ordinary cognition, perception, and locution does not really matter epistemically in the sciences.
It is always impressive when someone is willing to publicly state that they were wrong about a controversial topic. Such things happen rarely, but there have been a number of recent cases. For example, last July Richard Muller declared himself to be a "converted skeptic," saying that he now acknowledges that global warming is real and that humans are almost entirely the cause. Two days ago, another such example emerged when Mark Lynas publicly apologized for having helped to start the anti-GM movement in Europe, thus "demonising an important technological option which can be used to benefit the environment."
However laudable such recantations are, they can still be called into question, and indeed, I question the basis for Lynas's, as least as it is presented in the transcript linked to above. He begins by calling the anti-GMO movement "anti-science," a claim that I debunked here and here, at least with respect to the labeling of GMOs. Lynas subsequently states that "one by one [his] cherished beliefs about GM turned out to be little more than green urban myths," and lists six such purported myths. Below, I examine each of these, and show why they are not, in fact, myths.
The U.S. is poised to release genetically modified salmon – the first commercial genetically modified food animal – into the world: onto our tables and into our environment. I can't help but think that, like the other unlabeled genetically modified food that has infiltrated our diets, this amounts to a massive, uncontrolled experiment on U.S. citizens.
Here are some details:
A little over a week ago, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) released a draft Environmental Assessment of AquaBounty’s genetically engineered salmon, dubbed AquAdvantage; they are calling for public comment through February 25, 2013. (So, if you find this as concerning as I do, please use this opportunity to speak up). The FDA's preliminary finding is that an approval of AquaBounty's application would not have a significant impact on the U.S. environment. Oh, and as with other U.S. GMOs, AquAdvantage won't be labeled as a GMO. Any salmon that one eats could be an AquAdvantage salmon.
At his blog Edward Feser has been responding to Thomas Nagel's critics (no, not me (yet)!). In response to Sober's review he concludes with the following sociological remark:
That, I think, is precisely what is going on -- the “presuppositions that Nagel is trying to transcend” run so deep in contemporary academic philosophical culture that it is difficult for most philosophers to get any critical distance on them. They lack, as Nietzsche might have said, the courage for an attack on their own convictions. And yet the evidence that there is something deeply wrong with the naturalistic consensus is all around them even in “mainstream” academic philosophy -- in the work of renegade naturalists like Nagel, Searle, Fodor, McGinn, et al.; dualists like Chalmers, Brie Gertler, Howard Robinson, John Foster, et al.; and neo-Aristotelians like the “new essentialist” metaphysicians and philosophers of science (Cartwright, Ellis, Martin, Heil, Mumford, et al.) and the analytical Thomists (Oderberg, Klima, Haldane, et al.). It’s psychologically easy (even if philosophically sleazy) to dismiss one or two of these thinkers as outliers who needn’t be taken seriously. But as their ranks slowly grow, it will be, and ought to be, harder both psychologically and philosophically to dismiss them.
Which is no doubt why the more ideological naturalists would very dearly like to strangle this growing challenge to the consensus while it is still in its crib -- hence the un-philosophical nastiness with which Nagel’s views have been greeted in some quarters. But Sober, to his credit, is not an ideologue, and is sober enough to acknowledge at least the possibility that Nagel is on to something.--Edward Feser.
[cross-posted from our Psychology Today blog]
Jim Abrahams witnessed his son Charlie, who had childhood epilepsy, undergo frightening seizures. The boy would convulse and loose consciousness. Medications didn't help. As his seizures continued, his cognitive abilities slowly deteriorated. Jim, who wasn't a medical doctor, decided to start investigating alternative treatments. After days in the library looking through books and medical journals, he found a book on childhood epilepsy written by Dr. John Freeman, the director of the Pediatric Epilepsy Center at Johns Hopkins Hospital. The book described that a diet that mimics the metabolism of starvation by cutting most dietary sources of carbohydrates and proteins could in some cases cure drug-resistant childhood epilepsy.
Analytical philosophy has made great progress over the last century. But its original, necessary biases did some harm, too. In particular, detailed working knowledge of the history of philosophy and metaphysics was banished for several generations. While metaphysics is thriving again, we still lack (despite the brilliance of David Lewis' modular approach) complete systems of thought that can rival in depth and interlocking breadth the past masters (say, Suarez, Leibniz, etc.). The damage has also been more narrow. For example, one of the most obvious so-called ‘Kuhn Losses’ is our relative ignorance of the nature and implications of the Principle of Sufficient Reason (PSR). This is no surprise because analytical philosophy was founded in the act of rejecting PSR. Our forefathers’ attempt to balance between common sense and the truths of science meant -- as science and the PSR parted ways -- the willing submission to brute, ultimate facts (recall this post).
In Mind & Cosmos, Thomas Nagel happily embraces “a form of the principle of sufficient reason” (17) in support of his "common sense" (5, 7, etc.) and against the recent “orthodox scientific consensus.” (10; 5) Rather than accepting this "ideological consensus," (128) Nagel insists -- regularly using language reminiscent of the great Feyerabend -- that "almost everyone in our secular culture has been browbeaten into regarding the reductive research program as sacrosanct." (7) While Nagel insists that the champions of scientific enlightenment are bullies, he treats the "defenders of intelligent design" with "gratitude" (Plantinga returns the gratitude), even though Nagel clearly recognizes that once one embraces one's inner sensus divinitatis one is also compelled in one's judgments. (12)
A classic statement of the PSR is Spinoza's "For each thing there must be assigned a cause, or reason, both for its existence and for its nonexistence." (Ethics 1p11d2) That is to say, any PSR worth having imposes significant explanatory demands (especially of non-arbitrariness) on any philosophical system in which it is deployed. Below the fold I critically discuss Nagel's way of combining the PSR and his attempted revisionary science, but here I just register the marvelousness of Nagel's deployment of the PSR as an instrument in the service of common sense! (cf. 91-2) This is certainly an original move in the history of metaphysics--one that, in a single, magical stroke overturns Lovejoy's long narrative.
Posted by Eric Schliesser on 10 December 2012 at 04:44 in Analytic - Continental divide (and its overcoming), Biology and the biological, Eric Schliesser, History of philosophy, History of science, Materialism, Mohan Matthen, Philosophy of Science, Religion, Science, Spinoza | Permalink | Comments (24) | TrackBack (0)
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In 2008 two Princeton Economists, Faruk Gul and Wolfgang Pesendorfer, published an increasingly influential methodological statement, "The Case for Mindless Economics" (hereafter "GP08"). Professors Gul and Pesendorfer publish regularly together and they also happen to be among the tightly-knit group of core-gate-keepers in the economics profession. So, for example, if you look at the submission guidelines of Theoretical Economics [TE], co-edited by F. Gul, you can read: "If you have previously submitted your paper to Econometrica, you have the option of requesting that the referees' reports and covering letters and the editor's decision letter be transferred to the coeditor assigned to handle your paper at TE." Of course, until very recently Pesendorfer was one of the co-editors at Econometrica. (It would be impolite, of course, to view these journals as rent-seeking instruments, but how else to interpret economically this policy: "a paper judged to be unlikely to be acceptable by a second round will be rejected, either without consultation with referees or in response to referee reports. In either case, the submission fee will not be refunded.") Econometrica does have an important "conflict of interest policy," but that does not prevent group-think. Either way, we can safely treat GP08 as a proxy for (recent) establishment views in economics.
The main and (almost) only target of GP08 is what they call "neuro-economics," which they conflate with (experimental) research on the brain. (They also frequently use the term "philosophy" to refer to an enterprise completely irrelevant to "economics" now and always.) Gp08 systematically ignores experimental research conducted by, say, economists (e.g. Vernon Smith and his various collaborators) that also focus on what GP08 calls "economic data." This is important to keep in mind when we evaluate the main thesis of GP08, which is that economics is mainly about rational choice theory (and its natural extension). The thesis is offered as a descriptive account of "common practice" among economists (1), although we also learn that given the economic "evidence" available to economists this approach has also rightly earned a "central role in economics." (43-44) Here's a statement of the main thesis:
Analysis of 21 annual meetings of the American Association of Physical Anthropologists reveals that within the subfield of primatology, women give more posters than talks, whereas men give more talks than posters. But most strikingly, among symposia the proportion of female participants differs dramatically by the gender of the organizer. Male-organized symposia have half the number of female first authors (29%) that symposia organized by women (64%) or by both men and women (58%) have, and half that of female participation in talks and posters (65%).
You are preparing for your upcoming exam, reading through thousands of pages. Suddenly you realize that you forgot to pay attention to what you actually read. You were reading along but your thoughts were elsewhere. "Good God," you think. "Hours of wasted time." You turn back the pages and start over. This time you make sure you pay close attention.
Recent research, to appear in the journal PNAS, suggests that you may be wasting even more time by doing that. You don't need attention to comprehend what you read or to do math. In fact, you may not even need consciousness. The researchers, located at Hebrew University, used a technique known as Continuous Flash Suppression (CFS) to suppress consciousness in some 300 research participants for a short period of time. In CFS a series of rapidly changing images is presented to one eye, whereas a constant image is presented to the other. When using this technique, the constant image supposedly is not consciously perceived until after about 2 seconds.
At our lab in St. Louis we are working with several people with superhuman abilities, also known as “savant skills.” My research assistant Kristian Marlow and I are also currently finishing a book entitled The Superhuman Mind (under contract with an agency, see updates here). We are blogging about these cases almost daily over at Psychology Today. The following are four brief stories about some of the individuals we are working with.