An annotated response to Michael Shermer: Michael Shermer and I have been engaged in what I hope has been a productive discussion on the relationship between science and philosophy as it concerns the field of ethics. Roughly speaking, Michael contends that science has a lot to say about ethical questions (though he is not quite as reductive as Sam Harris, who contends that science is pretty much the only game in town when it comes to ethics). I respond that science provides informative background but grossly underdetermines ethical issues, which therefore require philosophical reflection. Michael’s opening salvo was followed by my response, with Shermer recently adding some thoughts, further articulating his position. The notes below are my point-by-point commentary on that third round. (Throughout, italics indicates Michael’s writing, with my comments immediately following.)
This (rather tendentious) article in The Guardian discusses the current initiatives in Iceland to ban certain kinds of online pornography. Before I go any further, let me remind readers that my position on pornography is that I am not against banning or severely regulating specific kinds of pornography if they can 1. be defined (reasonably) clearly and so be (reasonably) fenced off from the wider area of erotic literature and art, 2. be shown to cause ordinary harms in a way sufficiently inevitable, substantial, etc., to justify upstream laws – i.e. laws against activities that are relatively remote in the chain of causation from whatever ordinary harm eventuates.
Four hundred and thirteen years ago to the day, on February, 17 1600, the mystic philosopher, and some would argue,scientist, Giordano Bruno, was handed over by the Catholic Church to the civil authorities in Rome and burned to death in the Campo de’ Fiori. Burning at the stake was a punishment that aimed at the annihilation of the person. The scattering of a body’s ashes, like Bruno’s ashes were scattered into the Tiber river, was not as many now look on similar rituals, a way of connecting a person forever into the fabric of a place they find for whatever reason sacred, but a way to cast a person out from the human world from which they came. It was the way “soulless” creatures such as animals were treated in death.
The technological ecosystem in which political power operates tends to mark out the possibility space for what kinds of political arrangements, good and bad, exist within that space. Orwell’s Oceania and its sister tyrannies were imagined in what was the age of big, centralized media. Here the Party had under its control not only the older printing press, having the ability to craft and doctor, at will, anything created using print from newspapers, to government documents, to novels. It also controlled the newer mediums of radio and film, and, as Orwell imagined, would twist those technologies around backwards to serve as spying machines aimed at everyone.
Most science fictional and futurist visions of the future tend towards the negative — and for good reason. Our environment is a mess, we have a nasty tendency to misuse technologies, and we’re becoming increasingly capable of destroying ourselves. But civilizational demise is by no means guaranteed. Should we find a way to manage the risks and avoid dystopic outcomes, our far future looks astonishingly bright. Here are seven best-case scenarios for the future of humanity.
What often strikes me when I put the claims of some traditionally religious people regarding “eternal life” and the stated goals of the much more recent, I suppose you could label it with the oxymoronic phrase “materialist spirituality”, next to one another is just how much of the language and fundamental assumptions regarding human immortality these very different philosophies share.
As government and industry collude, the interests of the powerful trample the rights of the multitude. Technology has granted invasive new eyes and ears to government agencies, spurning the right to privacy. Felicitously, the individual has also been empowered with two new tools to check the corporate state: hacktivism and leaks. The press has been captured by a handful of news corporations that are generally uncritical of government and fail to expose corporate injustice. The techno-libertarian culture has birthed the do-it-yourself fourth estate—usurping the illegitimate media and furnishing a viable alternative to the cartelized press. Two entities, Wikileaks and Anonymous, have emerged under this banner. This inquiry seeks to understand their history, methods, and to ascertain whether use of the discrete figurehead is efficacious.
In December of 2011 a podcast produced by Radiolab discussed a legal issue involving Marvel characters, including the X-Men, the Fantastic Four, and Spider-Man (although the episode focuses on the X-Men). The "attorneys for a company that imported Marvel character action figures noticed that imported dolls were subject to a higher tax than toys, per the Harmonized Tariff Schedule. More importantly, dolls were distinguished from toys by “representing only human beings and parts and accessories thereof.”
We’re toast. Among hydrogen bombs, asteroid strikes, supervolcanoes, rogue artificial intelligence, nanotechnological war, grey goo, superviruses, biological weapons, runaway global warming, strangelets, mini-black holes, probabilities will eventually catch up to us and we’ll become extinct. It is an impossible obstacle course.
Oh my, I thought I was done for a while chastising skeptics like SamHarris on the relationship between philosophy, science and morality, and I just found out that my friend Michael Shermer has incurred a similar (though not quite as egregious as Harris’) bit of questionable thinking. As I explained in my review of Harris’ book for Skeptic, one learns precisely nothing about morality by reading The Moral Landscape. Indeed, one’s time on that topic is much better spent by leafing through Michael Sandel’s On Justice, for example.
The human brain is capable of 1016 processes per second, which makes it far more powerful than any computer currently in existence. But that doesn't mean our brains don't have major limitations. The lowly calculator can do math thousands of times better than we can, and our memories are often less than useless — plus, we're subject to cognitive biases, those annoying glitches in our thinking that cause us to make questionable decisions and reach erroneous conclusions.
On December 23 (2012), many keralite (people hailing from Kerala, a southern state of India) viewers both home and abroad anxiously glued their attentions to their Television sets, for their favourite singer, Mr.Sukesh Kuttan in the finale of the hit reality TV show on Asianet channel called “Idea Star SingerSeason 6”. However, Sukesh did not sing much to the disappointment of the viewers.
The words “cyborg” and “transhuman” are frequently used interchangeably, but to what extent, and in what ways, do the concepts have the same referents? And which is the preferable concept to identify with when contemplating one’s own future?
By Prof. Dr. Greg Whitlock on Dr. Stefan Lorenz Sorgner.
In his Menschenwürde nach Nietzsche: Die Geschichte eines Begriffes (Human Dignity according to/after Nietzsche: The History of a Concept), Sorgner conceived a bold plan and executed it remarkably well with noteworthy results. His plan entailed presenting four paradigmatic notions of human dignity; next, presenting Nietzsche’s critical evaluation of the notion of human dignity in relation to the four paradigms; and finally, reflecting on Nietzsche’s criticism in a way that embraced much of it and, consequently, largely rejected the humanist notion of the dignity of man. Sorgner took the additional steps of arguing for a posthumanism to replace the outmoded humanist notion of human dignity, as he had developed it. Each phase of the plan was carried out with care in every detail.
I get to do something exciting today and answer a couple of questions that a reader sent me. I’d like to do this more in the future, so if you have a topic you’d like me to discuss, please let me know!
I recommend watching the one-hour film Knocking on Heaven’s Door, by George Carey, aired by the BBC in 2011, to all space enthusiasts interested in the history of the Russian space program and our future out there in the universe. The film zeroes in on the powerful role that religion can play in advancing radical scientific visions.
The recent Nature journal special edition is dedicated completely to the problem of aging. Among various articles covering topics from demographics to comparative biology and robots, there’s one about the interventions in the aging processes. It is a nice overview about the current successes in slowing down aging in mammals, however I found the last paragraph rather disappointing. It says….
The mass murder of 20 children and six adults Friday in Newtown, Conn., has provoked yet another round of recrimination, finger pointing and breast-beating. Was the shooter mentally deranged? If there was more gun control, would this have happened? Did violent video games play any role? What we fervently want as we continue to reel from a story whose misery seems to know no bounds is to find a clear cause - a reason why this happened - so that we can fix it.
For general and investigative journalists, social media has become a significant means of obtaining news, fact-checking, and reaching out to audiences. Internet-based applications such as Facebook and Twitter count as social media, where they can be used to receive and then share content, resulting in an exchange of ideas, headlines, and discussion on what can be written.
I’m getting increasingly annoyed by all the anti-religious propaganda that litters my Facebook newsfeed. Look, as a fellow humanist and atheist, I get it. Organized religion is a problem on so many levels that I don’t even know where to begin. I’d be the first person to say that something needs to be done about it and I’m delighted to see atheism become normalized in our society and culture. But seriously, folks, what are you hoping to achieve by posting such facile and inflammatory material?
Last week I really thought that people like Francis Fukuyama and Jürgen Habermas have been right all along. Both have claimed in different writings that modern (and especially future) technology will cause our fragile human nature to deteriorate and in effect dehumanize us and our societies.
Telecommunications is an industry that is evolving at an increasingly rapid pace, manifest not only in technological advances, but also the influence of regulation, legal policy, market forces, and security.
Is the holiday season more glitter than glow for you lately? Are you a former Christian who finds that hymns don’t resonate anymore? Do you roll your eyes about the “war on Christmas” manufactroversy? Does the cherubic little Jesus-in-a-Manger fail to flood your body with sweetness? Do you feel mixed about participating in a religious holiday now that you’re not religious? Get the scrooge out with these ten tips:
It’s time, once and for all, to clear up the confusion about Plan B on progressive message boards, Facebook pages, forums and comment threads. Tweet this: Plan B doesn’t cause abortion. It stops or delays ovulation. No egg, no fertilization, no pregnancy – no abortion. It’s that simple.
Current copyright law does not merely distort some markets — rather it destroys entire markets.” So reads the final line of a report released by the Republican Study Committee of the House of Representatives that is highly critical of current copyright law