Saturday, May 07, 2016

This Week in Links

1. Only 50% of 'friendships' are reciprocal.

2. Star Wars-themed episode on Donny and Marie Osmond, featuring Kris Kristofferson and Redd Foxx.

3. No free speech in Turkey.

4. End of the first-order, second-order, and third-order enclaves on the India-Bangladesh border.

5. Jessa Crispin interview on the end of Bookslut. Offers insights on publishing and on What the Web Hath Wrought.

6. Apple Music deletes audio files off of your computer (even ones you wrote yourself). Or, the dark side of Apple's proprietary software and internal culture of tightly controlling the "user experience."

7. The case against Trump's prospects in the general election.

8. Compared to other primates, humans burn more calories to have bigger energy budgets for births, brains, etc.

9. Teen birthrate hits all-time low.

10. Operators of a vegan restaurant receive death threats after it is revealed that they raise animals and eat meat.

11. A parallel Chinese-language Internet helps recent immigrants navigate life in the U.S.

12. "How the Curse of Sykes-Picot Still Haunts the Middle East."

Rebranding Philosophy

In order to survive the current and future rounds of purges in the arts and sciences, it would seem that philosophy needs some serious rebranding.

When most people think of 'philosophy', they think of one's general attitude towards life, or other such fuzzy, airy-fairy ideas.

My proposal: When selling philosophy to our administrative, political, and corporate overlords, characterize philosophy as THE discipline of logic and critical thinking.

The evidence is somewhat equivocal, but after reading Richard Arum and Josipa Roksa's Aspiring Adults Adrift: Tentative Transitions of College Graduates, one of their general findings is the importance of student gains in critical thinking and complex reasoning ability when it comes to predicting their success post-graduation on numerous measures (including employment, income, financial independence, marriage, and civic engagement, among others).

Because of its intense focus on formal and informal logic, philosophy is uniquely suited to help train students in these important skills.

Sunday, May 01, 2016

Links a Million


1. "Trust God" and carry a 9 mm handgun.

2. What caused crime to decline in the U.S.?

3. Cass Sunstein wrote a book on Star Wars.

4. A pizza box made of pizza.

5. Yelp reviews of psychics.

6. A KFC worker in Australia assaulted a father and daughter with a tub of cole slaw.

7. Americans have much more favorable attitudes towards immigrants than they used to.

8. Drinking wine, tea, and coffee is associated with a healthy microbiome. (But this review of the literature on moderate drinking concludes that it probably does not lead to health benefits.)

9. 1960's sidecar boat.

10. John Boehner calls Ted Cruz "Lucifer in the flesh." (And he ought to know!)

11. "I don't know whether to sign him for the Dodgers or send him to Vietnam." That line just doesn't have the same resonance anymore, especially in the context of a sitcom.

12. Scott Alexander reviews Albion's Seed.

13. The self-segregation of the privileged top 20% members of society.

14. David Lynch and the cast of "Twin Peaks" made coffee commercials for Japanese TV.

15. Scientologist leader David Miscavige now threatens to sue his own father for libel.

16. When reality is more complicated than 140 characters.

17. WiPhi video on Bayes' theorem.

18. A study uses analytic methods developed for studying infectious diseases to estimate the age of European folk tales.

19. Alex Tabarrok argues for more police, fewer prisons.

20. Coffee with Don Rickles and Jerry Seinfeld. And "Gary Shandling is Still Alive."

21. "Controlling income inequality is an impractical tool for controlling wealth inequality."

22. Jobs of the future: Human minders supervise mostly-autonomous systems.

23. Robotic Buddhist monk.

24. Dog on a bun.

25. "The average webpage is now the size of the original Doom."

26. 'Safe spaces' are being turned against campus activists.

27. "The World's Newest Major Religion: No religion." But: The world is expected to become more religious, not less.

28. Trump's new campaign adviser has worked for African despots an a Ukrainian kleptocrat.

29. The magic stone that Joseph Smith used to transcribe the Book of Mormon.

30. Battle of the bulldozers: Rival construction crews face off in China.

31. "Three's Company" reboot is in the works.

32. Google Books is allowed to scan again (for now).

33. Augmented reality start-up.

34. Hilary Clinton lying for 13 minutes straight.

35. Utah declares pornography a public health hazard.

36. The Taliban are again in control of large parts of Afghanistan.

37. Punisher '66.

38. There's been a large decline in the black incarceration rate.

39. Winners of last year's International Chocolate Awards.

40. Chacha the chimp has a bad day.

41. Anarchist housing activist argues for . . . more development.

42. 2 x 2 vocab matrix.

43. Blowing up the Death Star would have destroyed Endor and everyone on it.

44. Jim Henson's Labyrinth: the Board Game.

45. The history of the concept of mana: from Austronesia to video games.

46. A Jar Jar jar ajar.

47. Speed reading does not work.

48. Is college signalling or skill building?

49. Radio still rules the road.

50. Crony capitalism in the tax prep industry.

51. Chloe Grace Moretz gets slapped in the face with kim-chi on Korean TV.

52. The spoiled scions of corrupt Chinese capitalists and Communists.

53. Does NPR have a future?

54. The rise of Korean Christianity.

55. North Korean ghost ships.

56. "Multiculturalism rots brains."

57. Recreating ancient European musical instruments.

58. Ta-Nehisi Coates on his two biggest early influences: hip-hop and Dungeons & Dragons.

59. Space X lands rocket on drone ship.

60. Review of Aspiring Adults Adrift: book on the difficulties facing college students after graduation.

61. Women records her surgeons making creepy, offensive remarks during surgery.

62. Islamists are murdering atheists and secularists in Bangladesh.

63. Real life superhero Phoenix Jones stops attempted murder in Seattle.

64. A woman who murdered her daughter made commemorative photos featuring her daughter's ghost.

65. Humans from New York: The student protester who became a cop.

66. New biography of Charlotte Bronte.

67. The role of eugenics in the history of Harvard and American progressivism.

68. Christian clergymen brawl in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre (from 2008).

69. Geoffrey Hinton on the triumph of deep learning and neural networks after years of being dismissed by AI researchers.

70. "The cost of caring": Story of an immigrant to the U.S.

71. Crystal clear explanation of Bitcoin.

72. Should humans hide our presence from potential alien observers?

73. The groovy interiors of Verner Panton. And videos here and here.

74. Mindfulness in primary ed.

75. "This is how you pass the time during a traffic jam on the Bavarian Autobahn."

76. Tyler Cowen on hours worked, what makes life valuable, and what the future holds.

77. Pakistani women have started hanging out at all-male tea houses.

78. Anti-racist blackface.

79. "In total, less than a third of U.S. undergraduates are 'traditional' students in the sense that they are full-time, degree-seeking students at primarily residential four-year colleges."

80. Who stands in the way of increased food production? Climate change deniers, and anti-GMO activists.

81. The cyber afterlife of Tibetan tulpamancy.

82. More Americans are working temporary and part-time jobs that provide less pay and fewer benefits.

83. "CIA-armed militias are shooting at Pentagon-armed ones in Syria."

84. NAFTA may have saved the U.S. auto industry.

85. Jonathan Haidt on the psychology of moral elevation and transcendence.

86. The back-story on Clinton's email scandal.

87. Bad trailer, good film.

88. New Zealand cat burglar brings owner stolen undies.

89. "Aminah Hart tracked down and married sperm donor."

90. "Kenyan woman edits herself into holiday photos with hilarious consequences."

Music Links


1. "Forgotten" soul singer Gloria Ann Taylor.

2. Robert Parker's "Crystal City" (Synthwave).

3. Natalie Merchant plays NPR's Tiny Desk Concert.

4. "Toking" with Lawrence Welk.

5. "J'attendrai" by Sarah Quintana and Leyla McCalla.

6. "Mesi Bondye" by Leyla McCalla.

7. Full set by the Carolina Chocolate Drops.

Student Rape and the Incentives of University Administrators

"Two Kansas State University students say the university, in apparent violation of federal guidelines, refused to investigate their rape complaints."  This seems to be a common story when it comes to students seeking redress through a university for on-campus or off-campus rapes. (In this case, the rape occurred at an off-campus frat house.) Let's get the word out: If you're raped by another student on or off-campus, don't seek redress through the university. They have an incentive to ignore your complaint, both to avoid the expense and hassle of an investigation, and to protect their public image. Report the rape to the police immediately, and hire an attorney. Be prepared to bring civil suits against the perpetrator, the fraternity (if relevant), and the university. Then things might start to change.

"The Case Against Reality"


That is the title of an Atlantic interview with professor of cognitive science Donald D. Hoffman. The interview seems to conflate three different issues: (1) whether reality is observer-dependent; (2) the entanglement of quantum states; (3) whether living creatures have accurate perceptions or adaptive perceptions.

I don't know much about quantum mechanics, but evidently quantum entanglement does not entail an observer-dependent reality, despite this widespread belief (at least among the public and among purveyors of popular science). An easy way to see the difference is that quantum entanglement happened even before there were biological organisms observing the world. Macro-level observations of phenomena are not required by quantum entanglement. (Quantum entanglement is about the mutual dependence of the states of different quantum particles, such that the state of each particle cannot be described independently of the states of the others.)

Secondly, the issue of whether humans and other organisms that evolved through natural selection have adaptive perceptions rather than accurate perceptions is fascinating, but it seems irrelevant to quantum entanglement. It's true that human perception of objects as independent realities does not correspond to the quantum mechanics picture of reality, but then again neither does it correspond to the general relativity, nor even to Newtonian physics (e.g., inertial motion).

Even when we discuss the narrow issue of whether ordinary objects really exist, it would seem that classical physics also undermines realism about ordinary objects, because of the view that such objects are completely reducible to atoms or other constituent particles, and so have no independent causal powers or other real-making features. Quantum mechanics does pose special challenges or realism about ordinary objects, but it is by no means unique in this regard.

The issue of realism about ordinary objects has been discussed for a long time in philosophy, and I think cognitive scientists and popular science writers would benefit by examining this literature before holding forth about the metaphysical implications of quantum mechanics, neuroscience, and so on.

In addition, at the end of the interview, Hoffman posits conscious experiences as ontological primitives (i.e., the basic constituents of reality). It's true that conscious experiences could be distinct from our perceptions of ordinary objects, and thus realism about the former does not imply realism about the latter, although presumably this would require that conscious experiences not include experiences of real objects (such as if the conscious experiences are constituents of perceptions of real objects).

But there are two confusing things about this proposed ontology. The first is that the ontology of conscious experiences is incompatible with the initial argument given for the claim that we don't perceive reality. The initial argument was that our perceptions of real objects do not accurately reflect quantum entanglement. The presumption was that quantum phenomena are the basic constituents of reality. But now Hoffman is saying that conscious experiences, not quantum phenomena, are ontologically primitive.

The second confusing thing with Hoffman's proposed ontology is that it doesn't seem to fit with his claim that our perceptions are adaptive but not accurate. Assuming that our perceptions are composed of conscious experiences, how could they fail to be accurate (at least in some sense), if they include the fundamental constituents of reality? Technically, the perceptions would not be accurate as representations of reality, because they themselves contain reality. But still, this is a different picture which makes the initial claim look like a bait and switch.

I am left wondering if I am the one who is fundamentally confused here, or if it is Hoffman, or the interviewer, or all of the above. But this sort of confusion is typical when non-philosophers try to talk about metaphysics or other philosophical questions (ahem), which makes me realize the value of philosophy as a discipline (even if we maybe we do have more philosophers than we need and could do with more doctors or nurses, for example :) ). I am left almost happy about the terrible conceptual muddle that seems to be contained in this article, because at least it shows that there is a need for philosophy to help untangle the conceptual knots or unclog our conceptual plumbing.