Co-operation adds up, the math says

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.”
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A free discussion of free will

Despite its frequent academic navel gazing and elitist condescension, The Chronicle Review manages to publish some pieces of broader scope and interest.

This time they’ve outdone themselves, producing a series of six short but engrossing articles on the subject of “free will.”

The articles, published online March 18th,  feature scientists, philosophers, and moralizers of various stripes– and these authors assume as wide a range of positions on the subject at hand. Taken together, the six short pieces are a useful summary of the key free will questions. Continue reading

When a market economy creates a market society

The great missing debate in contemporary politics is about the role and reach of markets. Do we want a market economy, or a market society? What role should markets play in public life and personal relations? How can we decide which goods should be bought and sold, and which should be governed by nonmarket values? Where should money’s writ not run?

In “What Isn’t for Sale?” (Atlantic, April 2012), Harvard political philosopher Michael J. Sandel makes the central point that, almost without our noticing, “markets—and market values—have come to govern our lives as never before.” Continue reading

In the camp of the hierarchists …

Thanks to a provocative article title, a little while ago I found myself on the unfamiliar webpage of The American Conservative.

It’s an alien place, where, in the manner of an 18th century salon conversation, sincere hierarchists present erudite justifications for all manner of political and social injustices.

The article that drew me to this font of evil is titled “Right Minds: What sets conservatives apart from authoritarians and fascists?” Officially a review of left-leaning Corey Robin’s book, The Reactionary Mind: Conservatism From Edmund Burke to Sarah Palin, Samuel Goldwin’s article is really a short history of rational conservatism.

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The usual suspects lash out at hard atheism – again

I haven’t written very much about religion lately.

While a verbal war with Bible literalism was a feature of this blog’s earliest efforts, recently I’ve managed to ignore the subject in favour of more fruitful topics like politics and the human mind — despite the fact that fundamentalists continue to have too much contact with the former, and too little with the latter.

Besides, I haven’t felt much compulsion to defend the religion-haters among my fellow religion-deniers. Continue reading

Incomplete brain science ≠ free will

Consciousness may be embedded. It may be embodied. It may be emergent. It may be an illusion. It may be a universal quality of matter. It isn’t just a synaptic map.

Who knows for sure what it is?

In the new issue of Intelligent Life, Anthony Gottlieb indulges an unseemly satisfaction that neuroscience can’t answer all the unanswered questions about self, consciousness, and free will.

What is it with these guys? It’s as if science were a high school football game, with mascots and cheerleaders. Despite his superficial rationality, the tone of his article, “Neurons vs. Free Will,” marks him as another closet dualist. He’s not so much interested in the science he reports as he is in any evidence that determinism is kept at bay. So much for letting the data lead us wherever it will. Continue reading

Common-sense dualism and the self

While doing background reading for an upcoming longer essay on our sense of self, I’ve spent some time reading articles from ages past. Well, no, they’re not that old, but in the online world, where last week is ancient history, they might as well be.

One article that caught my eye is psychologist Paul Bloom’s 2004 EDGE presentation, “Natural-Born Dualists.” Continue reading