To Google it’s a nanosecond’s traffic, but it makes me feel good that this modest little blog has just passed 50,000 total visitors. Thank you to everyone who’s dropped in, especially those loyal few whose frequent visits have helped to inflate the stats! I may not be posting here as often as I once did, but you’ll continue to see new pieces from time to time.
In a recent series of articles, New Scientist magazine explored what their lead article called “The Great Illusion of the Self.”
The article gave more space to why we don’t know much of anything about our selves than to what we do know, or think that we know, for “While it seems irrefutable that we must exist in some sense, things get a lot more puzzling once we try to get a better grip of what having a self actually amounts to.”
According to the article, we are sure of three things about our selves. We are continuous. We are unified. And we are agents.
“All of these beliefs appear to be blindingly obvious and as certain as can be” ; yet “as we look at them more closely, they become less and less self-evident.”
What does it say about the reality of the outside world if we can be fooled even about the state and composition of parts of our own bodies? And what does it say about the reality of our sense of self if we can’t trust our senses even when they report our apparent body states?
More evidence that the world, including us, is a construct, a mental representation of an otherwise un-experienced world “out there,” crops up in reports of a new study that fools subjects into believing that they have a phantom limb.
Everyone in the social sciences is now aware of the “WEIRD problem,” the built-in sampling bias that permeates the vast majority of psychological studies, the subjects of which are overwhelmingly Western, Educated, Industrialized, Rich, and Democratic.
Are the physical sciences also biased? In particular, is the way we typically explain the physics of the universe fundamentally anthropomorphic, with the assumption from Newton to the present that the universe functions the same way that our minds function?
There is disturbing news, and then there is disturbing news coverage. To me, the past weekend’s reporting on the death of “Super Sniper” Chris Kyle was much more disturbing news coverage than it was disturbing news.
Here I am in California, for another few hours anyway. I’m reading the newspapers, watching the news on TV, and listening and talking to real people. Everyone is paying attention to the Fiscal Cliff dramatics, but with less intensity than you might expect, given the hype about how dire the consequences will be if no deal is struck before midnight rings in 2013 in a couple of days. It seems that no one is really engaged; no one is really expecting much.
One thing that I’m noticing is the nearly universal pessimism, not to mention cynicism, that people down here express whenever the subject turns to the dysfunctional U. S. federal government. No one expects a comprehensive deal, and few hold any hope that the likely deal, to extend the middle class tax cuts and the extra unemployment benefits, will do anything more than yet again defer any comprehensive agreement.
And no one here is expressing faith in the legislators, who will, as they always do, calculate their fiscal principles in the currency of their chances for re-election. Continue reading
One more time, the world didn’t end. Not that anyone really expected it to this time, but it’s always nice when it doesn’t happen.
This version of the End Times didn’t have the usual Biblical clout. This Last Day scenario didn’t feature the Antichrist, or a final battle on the fields of Armageddon, or a Heavenly Host announcing the return of Jesus to “rapture” up the faithful.
No, this time there was just some old stone calendar and speculations about asteroids, rogue planets, solar storms, a planetary core explosion, or a black hole inconveniently winking into existence between us and the moon. Spectacular, but not supernatural — except maybe for the black hole.
At six thousand six hundred and some words, you’d think that Can a Jellyfish Unlock the Secret of Immortality? (New York Times MAGAZINE, December 2, 2012) would have something of consequence ot say about its subject.
After a rather perfunctory summary of the research into the so-called “immortal jellyfish,” Nathaniel Rich’s article devolves into a mostly tongue-in-cheek profile of the weird Japanese hydrozoan researcher and karaoke song-writer who is the most enthusiastic proponent of the peculiar kind of immortality represented by the Turritopsis dohrnii.
One of the benefits of my three-month hiatus from this blog is that I avoided all temptation to write compulsively about the American presidential election.
But now that I’m back, I really do have to post one — and only one — analysis of the result, and its implications.
To start, and this is directed to all of my left-leaning confreres and relatives south of the border, Barack Obama did not win anything that could honestly be called a “mandate.” Not a mandate for change, not a mandate for staying the course, and certainly not a personal mandate.
It’s an unusual place for it, but a blog in Scientific American argues that the humanities should stop trying to be like sciences and instead embrace their non-quantifiable nature.
In the article “Humanities aren’t a science. Stop treating them like one.”, writer and psychology PhD candidate Maria Konnikova responds to the recent publication of “Universal Properties of Mythological Networks” by writing that some subjects aren’t, never have been, won’t ever be, and most of all shouldn’t be approached “scientifically.”
Konnikova’s critical article goes into greater depth on the subject than I did in my narrower and mostly positive response to the same article, posted here in late July. She critiques the specific study in question, but her real topic is the trend of which the study is but one current example. Continue reading