[Topics: Anthropic Principle, Logic, Physics]
Tautological Wisdom:

The Anthropic Principle, Carl Sagan, and Accounting for the Simplicity of the Physical Laws

 

Carl Sagan Sketch by M.R.P. - The Dragons of Eden: Speculations on the Evolution of Human Intelligence - Brandon Carter - Anthropic Principle, physical laws

Sketch by M.R.P.

Introduction:

I should start by saying that I am well aware that Carl Sagan was not (in the strictest sense) a philosopher. His areas of expertise, as you may well know, were biology, physics, and mathematics. But he was a scientist who, unlike many of today’s most famous science advocates, had a deep respect for and interest in the humanities.

Indeed, in Sagan’s Pulitzer Prize-winning book on contemporary neuroscience and anthropology, The Dragons of Eden: Speculations on the Evolution of Human Intelligence, he writes (when concluding a section on the research results concerning the partial specialization of the two halves of the brain), “I think the most significant creative activities of our or any other human culture—legal and ethical systems, art and music, science and technology—were made possible only through the collaborative work of the left and right cerebral hemispheres” (Sagan 195).

And in that same book, Sagan references and engages with philosophical work by Plato, St. Augustine, Sigmund Freud, and Henry David Thoreau (among others). I have striven in this series to stress the need for mutual respect, mutual education, and even fruitful overlap between philosophy and science, and have upheld other individuals who endorse that confluence. Carl Sagan was one such individual.

Toward the end of The Dragons of Eden, Sagan engages briefly with the topic of the comprehensibility of the universe (in a passage from which I draw a lengthy quotation below). When I first read that part of his book, it occurred to me quite suddenly that Sagan, while not spot-on in my reckoning, was pointing toward a very promising low-level explanation for the seemingly remarkable notion that the fundamental physical laws strike us as mathematically simple—or at the very least comprehensible. In order to explain my interpretation of Sagan’s thought, I would like to first briefly discuss a closely related subject: the Anthropic Principle.

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[Topics: Anthropic Principle, Logic, Physics]
Tautological Wisdom:

The Anthropic Principle, Carl Sagan, and Accounting for the Simplicity of the Physical Laws

was last modified: January 22nd, 2017 by Daniel Podgorski

{Guest Post} [Topics: Ethics, Philosophy of Language, Terrorism]

Testing Terrorism:

On Stephen Nathanson, Michael Walzer, and Terrorism in Relation to Conventional Warfare

 

Introduction:

Venn Diagram - Terrorism and Conventional Warfare - Stephen Nathanson, Michael WalzerTerrorism and conventional warfare are thought to inhabit two close yet separate spheres. Accolades and patriotic flags romanticize the grim reality of conventional warfare, while face masks and frightening rhetoric emphasize the deadly image of terrorism.

The term ‘terrorism’ typically elicits an intense emotional response, tainting the discussion of its ethics, and preventing understanding. The first misconception which must be made clear is that terrorism is not a separate phenomenon from  conventional warfare; terrorism must be considered at the very least an outgrowth of conventional warfare, understood as an adaptive strategy which reflects desperation.

I posit that terrorism is simply another form of warfare. If the preceding statement is true, the ethics of conventional warfare will apply to terrorism. If both conventional warfare and terrorism hold the same moral implications, one cannot discount one without discounting the other.

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{Guest Post} [Topics: Ethics, Philosophy of Language, Terrorism]

Testing Terrorism:

On Stephen Nathanson, Michael Walzer, and Terrorism in Relation to Conventional Warfare

was last modified: August 25th, 2016 by Avi Gupta

[{Interview}] [Topics: Analytic Philosophy, Discourse, Education]

Interview with Josh Pelton,

The Philosopher and Mechanical Engineer behind the THUNK YouTube Channel

 

THUNK shelves - Josh Pelton - YouTube, philosophy, education

Introduction:

I’m pretty sparing in my YouTube subscriptions, aiming to cultivate a list of content creators with consistently high-quality, analytical, and entertaining videos. One channel that I added to that list late last year is THUNK, a sequence of videos on philosophy, science, and mathematics written and delivered by Josh Pelton. Pelton is an amiable educator and a natural entertainer; what his channel lacks in terms of the huge production costs of the big YouTube education channels is more than made up by his unflagging dedication to thorough research, humble presentation, and sincerity. Whether you’re reading this because of your interest in Josh Pelton’s THUNK, your interest in analytic philosophy, or your interest in making an educational YouTube channel of your own, there is some entertaining insight into Pelton’s persona, process, and personal philosophy below.

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[{Interview}] [Topics: Analytic Philosophy, Discourse, Education]

Interview with Josh Pelton,

The Philosopher and Mechanical Engineer behind the THUNK YouTube Channel

was last modified: October 8th, 2016 by Daniel Podgorski

[Topics: Death, Materialism, Philosophy of Religion, Reincarnation]
Pop Philosophy:

The Mixed Philosophical Legacy of Alan Watts, and His Ideas about Death

 

Introduction:

Alan Watts—in his time a popular lecturer and philosopher of mind, aesthetics, metaphysics, and religion—was a bit of an oddball. I feel fairly confident in saying that Alan Watts’ interpretations and considerations of Buddhism, Taoism, Hinduism, and Anglicanism, as well as his general attitude and demeanor, have to some degree shaped the popular image of the field of philosophy (and not for the better).

Much like how producers of pop culture almost always put poet characters in the emotional style and darkly colored trappings of the mid-twentieth-century confessional and beat poets, so the string of airy, unintuitive, and completely self-assured claims that constitute Watts’ works give shape to the nebulous and impractical stereotype of the discipline of philosophy possessed by so many modern students of science in the western world.

It is irrelevant that most of the aforementioned producers and students are not consciously picturing such forebears (in fact, I find it unlikely that most of them have even heard of Robert Lowell or Alan Watts); still, to find the source for a society’s image of an academic pursuit, one often need look no further than the best-selling popularizers of that field in the few preceding generations. These days, philosophical characters seem to always be a caricature of either Freud, Marx, or Watts. (Indeed, the 2013 science-fiction film HerAlan Watts - Philosophy, Death, and Reincarnation featured an artificially intelligent philosopher who was a reconstruction of the consciousness of Alan Watts.)

Now, because I have already, on multiple occasions in this series, concluded that scientists should study philosophy and philosophers should study science, I will let go of these digressions and move on to my main topic for the day: Alan Watts’ discussion of death. I should start by clarifying that, although he and I would have no end of disagreements, I do still respect Alan Watts; he was a sincere thinker and a captivating speaker.

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[Topics: Death, Materialism, Philosophy of Religion, Reincarnation]
Pop Philosophy:

The Mixed Philosophical Legacy of Alan Watts, and His Ideas about Death

was last modified: March 31st, 2016 by Daniel Podgorski

[{Interview}] [Topics: Existentialism, Philosophy of Art, Utopia, Utilitarianism]

Interview with Nabra Nelson,

A Theatre Professional who Calls Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World a Utopia, Not a Dystopia

 

Introduction:

Brave New World book cover - Nabra Nelson - Aldous Huxley - utopia vs. dystopiaThe philosophical issues raised by Aldous Huxley’s Brave New WorldNabra Nelson - Aldous Huxley - Brave New World - utopia vs. dystopia are myriad, touching on everything from the philosophy of science to metaethics. As it stands, Brave New World is often named one of the three great dystopian novels of the twentieth century, alongside We by Yevgeny ZamyatinNabra Nelson - Aldous Huxley - Brave New World - utopia vs. dystopia and 1984 by George OrwellNabra Nelson - Aldous Huxley - Brave New World - utopia vs. dystopia. The subject of today’s article is an interview with daring young theatre director Nabra Nelson. What interested me in pursuing this interview is that I became aware that Nelson—approaching Brave New World from what in philosophical terms is essentially an existentialist and pragmatic perspective—considers the society in Huxley’s novel to be a utopia rather than a dystopia. So I sat down with Nabra Nelson at the Casa Escobar Inn in Malibu, California to ask her about her peculiar take on this classic novel.

The Interview:

Hello, Nabra. Thanks for taking the time to meet with me today. The meat of our discussion is a novel by Aldous Huxley: Brave New World, sometimes called one of the three greatest dystopias of the twentieth century. But as I understand it, you wouldn’t even call it a dystopia. From your perspective, this might stand alongside works in an older genre (begun by Thomas More’s original UtopiaNabra Nelson - Aldous Huxley - Brave New World - utopia vs. dystopia) as a vision of an actual utopian society—regardless of Huxley’s own position. Could you start by talking in general about your experience of reading the novel, and how you came to this conclusion?

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[{Interview}] [Topics: Existentialism, Philosophy of Art, Utopia, Utilitarianism]

Interview with Nabra Nelson,

A Theatre Professional who Calls Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World a Utopia, Not a Dystopia

was last modified: November 11th, 2016 by Daniel Podgorski