I just came across a 2007 article by Daniel T. Willingham “Critical Thinking: Why is it so hard to teach?” Critical thinking is very commonly found in lists of learning outcomes for general education or even at the institution level. In practice, it’s very difficult to even define, let alone teach or assess. The article is a nice survey of the problem.
Our brain is the source of everything that makes us human: language, creativity, rationality, emotion, communication, culture, and politics. Now, researchers are set to repair brain functions, to create mind-machine interfaces, and enhance human mental capacities in radical ways.
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.)
Mention George Soros anywhere on the far-right and you’ll get fulminations. To Republicans, Soros is an aristocratic mastermind who swore to “spend whatever it takes” to end the Bush-Neocons’ grip on political power in America… a vile plutocrat, striving to trample the will of plain-folks, along with the populist GOP that protects them. Glenn Beck railed to his audience, calling Soros the "Great Oligarch" and a master manipulator "who toppled eight foreign governments." (The one thing Beck never mentioned, and that - tellingly and symptomatically - not one member of Beck's vast following ever asked, was "which eight foreign governments did George Soros help to topple?" Tune in at the very end for the amazing answer.)
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.
Are we the lone sentient life in the universe? So far, we have no evidence to the contrary, and yet the odds suggest that this is highly improbable. There are an estimated 250 billion stars in the Milky Way and 70 sextillion in the visible universe, many, with multiple planets swirling around.
The first International Academic Polyamory Conference was held in Berkeley CA February 15-17, 2013 with approximately 100 attendees. Polyamory is the practice, desire, or acceptance of having more than one intimate relationship at a time with the knowledge and consent of everyone involved. It is not new or revolutionary that individuals may be involved with more than one other party; what is new is the openness, acknowledgement, and support and encouragement of the situation.
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.
Yesterday morning I was diverted to serve a stint as astronomy pundit - on BBC - regarding or planet's double encounter with asteroids. Wow. As one asteroid about 50 meters across zipped by earth, closer even than our communication satellites, another (probably just ten meters in size) gave up more energy than an atomic bomb … gradually, thank heavens, but right over a city in the Russian Urals… briefly outshining the sun and shattering hundreds of windows. My job on-air was to reassure that there would be no dangerous radiation… that in fact, bolides like this one seem to strike our planet once or twice a decade or so, but always till now over open ocean or deserts or countryside. (In the 1970s one such event, off Japan, almost triggered a rise in DEFCON alert level at the US NORAD!)
I came from a family of writers and always figured that storytelling would be my artistic side-line… most scientists have one. I knew science would be harder that storytelling and I respected it more, drawn to the Enlightenment’s greatest project. After all, every culture has had storytellers, but only one ever invested heavily in training a myriad brave investigators to find out heartofthecometwhat’s actually true, despite our preconceptions
The health prospects of humanity are influenced by many things. There are extrinsic factors like poverty, violence, and infectious disease that can cause humans to die. There are also intrinsic factors, like the constraints of our biology (e.g. aging). The role these different factors play in causing disease and death in the world changes over time. The greater success we have with combating extrinsic risks, the greater the impact intrinsic risks have on our health prospects.
One often hears it claimed that future artificial intelligences could have significant, possibly decisive, advantages over us humans. This claim plays an important role in the debate surrounding the technological singularity, so considering the evidence in its favour is worthy enterprise. This post attempts to do just that by examining a recent article by Kaj Sotala entitled “Advantages of Artificial Intelligences, Uploads and Digital Minds”.
Death looms large for most of us, even if we try not to think about it. But should we be worried at the prospects of our eventual demise? Should we do everything we can to avoid it (e.g. by opting for cryopreservation)? Or should we approach it with indifference and equanimity?
The exponential rise in energy prices over the last 10 years is seen as the beginning of a new era in which energy prices will remain high for an extended period. Several factors have driven this trend, including the rapid growth in demand for energy in developing countries such as China and India; the depletion of easily accessible supplies of oil; and the higher cost of extracting oil from deep oceans, remote areas, and politically unstable regions.
Elyn Saks first started noticing that something was wrong when she was 16. One day, and without reason, she suddenly left her classroom and started walking home. It turned into an agonizing journey in which she believed all the houses in her neighborhood were transmitting hostile and insulting messages directly into her brain. Five years later, while attending law school at Oxford, she experienced her first complete schizophrenic break. Saks struggled over the course of the next decade, but she came through thanks to medication, therapy, and the support of friends and family.
I am writing to urge the international community to come to the aid of the Pacific nation of Papua New Guinea as it grapples with the menace of witchcraft or sorcery related violence. Witch persecution and killing has been going on in the country for too long and we cannot allow it to continue.
We need to take action now!
This is the second part in a brief series looking at whether human enhancement — understood as the use of scientific knowledge and technology to improve the human condition — would rob our lives of meaning and value. The focus is on David Owens’s article “Disenchantment”. The goal is to clarify the arguments presented by Owens, and to subject them to some critical scrutiny.
One of the unfortunate truths of the climate crisis we’re in is that when we finally stop making things worse, it won’t suddenly make things better. The carbon dioxide we’ve put into the atmosphere and the oceans will persist for hundreds, even thousands of years; temperatures will remain high; many ecosystems will be permanently disrupted; and species driven to extinction—well, they’ll still be extinct. The eventual return to a planetary equilibrium won’t happen on anything approaching a human timescale.
Want a scary story about the near future of you and your money on the internet… and the future of e-commerce? Try this from Mark Anderson, one of the top tech business pundits around, in the newsletter of the Strategic News Service
Millian liberals are not fond of upstream laws. All things being equal we would, for example, rather ban firing guns at people than ban owning guns. The latter has a far greater effect on people’s liberty (it affects a lot of people who don’t actually fire guns at other people, for example, and it affects a lot of conduct that will not necessarily cause anyone any harm). Putting it another way, we’re wary of laws about indirect harms.
Today, drones, eldercare and pets. Tomorrow, household servants, love partners and much more. Although some people might find the idea of love with a machine repulsive, experts predict that as the technology advances and robots become more human-like, we will view our silicon cousins in a friendlier light.
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.
Historians, scientists and poets alike have written that the human being strives for the infinite. In the old days this meant that it strives to become one with the god who created and rules the world. As atheism began to make strides, Schopenhauer rephrased the concept as a “will to power”. Nietzsche confirmed that god is dead, and the search for “infinite” became a mathematical and scientific program instead of a mystical one. Russell, Hilbert and others started a logical program that basically aimed at making it easy to prove and discover everything that can be.
Four hundred people responded to the IEET poll on whether they were science fiction fans. More than half - 54%- said they were “canon-masters,” knowledgeable about science fiction from “H.G. Wells to Charlie Stross, Star Trek to Battlestar Galactica.”