Does physics trump philosophy?

Richard Dawkins loves Lawrence Krauss’s A Universe from Nothing: Why There Is Something Rather Than Nothing, claiming that it is the greatest thing since sliced bread, or at the very least since The Origin of Species.

What Dawkins loves is the book’s contention that not only did the universe emerge from nothing, but that it had to do so. So much for the teleology implicit in “Why is there something rather than nothing?” And nothing makes Dawkins happier than something that demolishes what he calls “the last trump card of the theologian.”

Or maybe not. Continue reading

Is the centre of the universe in your head?

Underlying some of the consciousness discussion here recently is the fundamental question “Where Is Reality?” — or, in its more provocative version, “Is Reality Real?”

The ongoing debate about the nature of consciousness is in one sense a narrow-focus version of this broader question.
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Footprints of Ages: reflections on reasoning in Texas

I don’t spend much time these days reading about the colourful and exotic habits of that other hominid species, homo creationist. It’s not that I’m not interested in the alien mythologies of strange creatures. It’s just that the subject is very old news. Much more than 6,000 years old, in fact.

But every so often I’m drawn to the weird world of these alien beings, and when I am, I’m reminded all over again that the big difference between our two species is not what we believe but rather how we believe.
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Language v. Science

A reference to Max Bennett and Peter Hacker in one of the articles I reviewed last time prompted me to read more.

Now that I’ve finished Neuroscience and Philosophy, I’m compelled to write just one more article about the assaults on neuroscience mounted by philosophers and the like. This is the last one of these for a while. I promise.

Neuroscience and Philosophy (N&P, hereafter) is the book form of a conference debate between Max Bennett and Peter Hacker, on one side, and Daniel Dennett and John Searle, on the other.

The essence of the dispute: Is it right to say that consciousness happens in the brain, that the brain thinks and feels? For language philosopher Hacker and neuroscientist Bennett, the answer is an unqualified “No.” For Dennett and Searle, it’s a qualified “Yes.”

N&P is not new, having been published in 2003, but it’s new to me, and, like the “brave new world” of Miranda, it’s full of strange creatures. Continue reading

Two more non-scientists criticize neuroscience

The defenders of culture, beauty, and subjectivity are at it again, toiling to save civilization — and us — from a bleak, science-infested future.

Two recent examples from England, where this battle seems most energetically joined, are articles by Roger Scruton and George Walden.

The articles have different emphases, but taken together they illustrate the literati’s fear of the cold and inhuman scourge of “scientism.” Continue reading

Can other animals help us understand our emotions?

We often attribute feelings and emotions to members of other mammalian species.

Our  dogs are loyal, while our cats are haughty. Orcas who live in aquarium tanks miss the open sea, and chimpanzee mothers mourn for infants that have died.

The list goes on and on.

Entire ethical movements are based on a belief that cultivated animals feel pleasure and pain in the same ways that we do. One current example is the push to recognize higher animals like dolphins and chimpanzees as “intelligent non-human persons.”

But how much can we learn about our own emotions by looking for emotions in  animals? Is there a better way to do comparative studies?

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Five writers tackle the issue of God

Coincidentally, another periodical published last week a series of articles on one subject. Last time, it was free will.

This time, it’s God.

On March 21st, New Scientist made temporarily available online five articles from, and on, “The God issue.” The pieces’ authors include well-known apologists and atheists, pundits and professors. Like the free will pieces, these short God essays exhibit a wide range of interest in the question of the origins of belief in God. Continue reading

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

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