There was a free-for-all on free will here a while back.
But that article didn’t contain anything quite like the argument in favour of compatibilism — the notion that free will can exist in a deterministic universe — promoted by Georgia State University philosopher and psychologist Eddy Nahmias.
3:AM Magazine published “Questioning willusionism,” an interview with Nahmias, on May 25th.
Nahmias believes that some of the debate over “free will vs. determinism” arises from a fundamental misunderstanding of what “determinism” means. He argues that determinism doesn’t really mean that the Big Bang created a kind of script that the universe merely plays out by rote for eternity. Nor does he equate determinism with fatalism, the idea that certain things will happen no matter what. To Nahmias, “determinism suggests that what happens in the future depends on what happens in the past and what we do in the present.”
I had just started reading Guy Deutscher’s 2010 book, Through the Language Glass, an exploration of culture’s relationship with language, when I ran across “Does Speaking in a Second Language Make You Think More, or Feel Less?”
Julie Sedivy’s article, published online by Discover on May 30th, focuses on one way that language informs thought.
Sedivy writes that “we can have different feelings about the same thing—even make different decisions about it—depending on the language used to talk about it.” She reports that a new study in Psychological Science shows that “bilinguals were immune to framing effects and other cognitive biases—but only when working through problems in their non-native language.” Continue reading →
Daniel Dennett believes that our sense of self comes from our brains’ concocting stories, narratives that create the protagonists we call “I.”
Other psychologists and philosophers offer explanations of individual identity that agree, more or less. Antonio Damasio, for example, calls the rational, third stage of consciousness “the autobiographical self.”
Last week, Big Think published “Why Are People Drawn to Stories?” The article, written by David Berreby, features ideas from Johnathan Gottschall’s The Storytelling Animal, a book that claims that “we live our entire lives in a web of story.” Continue reading →
As I head back home to California today for a weekend visit, it’s a good time for another in my periodic forays into the underworld of the American political psyche.
Earlier this week, I posted a generally negative review of Jonathan Haidt’s The Righteous Mind.
But my thumbs down was for the book’s political slant, not its core contents. Haidt proposed, quite reasonably, that our politics are founded on our emotions, not on our reason. The most spectacular example of the truth of Haidt’s assertion is the fact that all of the polls show that the U. S. presidential race is, so far, too close to call.
I’m sometimes asked why I devote so much time to “that silly blog of yours.” When I choose to answer, I say that writing organizes my thoughts, which enhances the pleasure I get from reading. Or I talk about self-expression and social communication.
Now, a series of studies by psychologists at Harvard has uncovered the real reason that people like me write blogs like this: We enjoy talking about ourselves.
Not just enjoy, like “I enjoy a good joke,” but really enjoy, like we enjoy food, money, and sex. Honest to goodness, neural cascade, spike of pleasure enjoy.
According to a much-trumpeted new study, rational thinking has a negative effect on the strength of religious belief.
Well, gee, really? Isn’t that the whole idea behind rational thinking? Do we really need a new study to tell us this? Many religious leaders and almost all atheists readily agree that religious belief is more a feeling than a thought, more emotion than analysis. Continue reading →
I’ve been reading Jonathan Haidt and Edward O. Wilson this week, so it was serendipitous to run across a very different take on one of their favourite topics — the dynamics of co-operation.
“Does it pay to be nice? – the maths of altruism ” by Rachel Thomas was published in two parts by +Plus magazine on April 23rd. The article highlights the work of Harvard biologist and mathematician Martin Nowak, who has long applied mathematical analysis to such classic co-operation exercises as the “Prisoner’s Dilemma.” Continue reading →
There’s been a lot written here about consciousness lately. And there’s been much, much more in the popular science press.
For example, the April 20th issue of New Scientist contains an article titled “We’re Closing in on Consciousness in the Brain.”
In the article, Christof Koch, a colleague of Francis Crick in devising the idea that there are “neuronal correlates of consciousness” (NCC), claims that NCC are “the minimal neuronal mechanisms – the synapses, neurons and brain regions – that are jointly sufficient for any one conscious percept.”
You’ll notice that this claim makes no reference to the rest of the body, much less to the rest of the world outside the brain. This is the prototypical “the mind is the brain” conception.
And, according to robotics expert Riccardo Manzotti, it’s completely wrong. Continue reading →