Top News, Articles, and Interviews in Philosophy

Fantasies of Entitlement

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There’s an old civil rights slogan: We are the ones we’ve been waiting for. The slogan of the Trump base might be: He is the one we were waiting for. And they will continue to wait, now even after he has left office, even after a second impeachment, and even if the Senate votes to convict and prevent him from office again. They will continue to wait and clamor for someone who will restore what was supposed to be theirs: the American dream promised to descendants of the Europeans who came to America, white America. The Trump base is not going away. In psychoanalytic terms, it remains gripped by a fantasy of white entitlement, an identity of being those who are truly deserving. They are beset by paranoia that enemies have stolen what they deserve. This identity is largely unconscious, anxious, and unstable, a defense against a more primordial anxiety of having no real or rightful place in the world. One need not be a member of a white supremacist organizations to have an identification with whiteness and all its connotations. But most of those enticed by it are white. Unlike historically rich ethnic or religious identities—whether Italian or Nigerian, Jewish or Muslim, whiteness is not really an identity at all. It is an epiphenomenon and legacy of colonialism, something shared by colonialists and constructed in opposition to those colonized. White identity is guilt-ridden and fragile to its core; but it has through American history been the ticket to membership, inclusion, and citizenship. And now in the second decade of the twenty-first century, that ticket is being called out for being a fraud. It will no longer get you to the front of the line. You will need to wait your turn like everyone else. Many in the Trump base deny they are racists, but there is ample evidence of their unconscious belief and primordial anxieties. Look at the symptoms. During the election season, every single time Trump or one of his surrogates was asked about racial. . .

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News source: gonepublic: philosophy, politics, & public life

What is “representation” in the human brain and AI systems?

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You know the way Google search will sometimes finish your sentences for you? Or, when you’re typing an email, there’s some ghostly predictive text that floats just in front of your cursor? Well, there’s a new kid on the block that makes these gadgets look like toy tricks out of a Christmas cracker. Give it a sentence of Jane Austen and it will finish the paragraph in the same style. Give it a philosophical conjecture and it will fill the page with near-coherent academic ruminations. GPT-3 is essentially just predicting what words should come next, following on from the prompt it’s been given. That the machine does so well is partly because it’s been trained on an unimaginably huge database of samples of English (reputedly, $13 million worth of training). A similar machine can predict, from a sequence of amino acids, how the resulting protein will fold, short-cutting months of lab work and in some cases years of human ingenuity (AlphaFold). But what is going on inside the machine? What is it keeping track of inside its huge neural network “brain”?We face the same question, of course, when we look at the human brain—a seemingly inscrutable organ of even greater complexity. Yet neuroscience is beginning to make sense of what’s going on inside: of patterns of activity distributed across millions of neurons, flowing into other patterns; coupling and modulating; unfolding in a way that opens the organism to the world outside, projected through its inner space of needs and drives, bathed in the wash of past experience, reaching out to control and modify that world to its own agenda. We can now see what some of these patterns of activity are, and we have an inkling of what they are doing, of how they track the environment, and subserve behaviour.Neuroscientists are recording these patterns with new techniques. But what do the patterns mean? How should they be understood? Neuroscience is increasingly tackling these questions by asking what the activation patterns represent.. . .

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News source: OUPblog » Philosophy

Eco-fascism and Overpopulation

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 A post by Jacopo Simonetta  "Eco-fascist" is the usual insult directed at anyone who dares to mention overpopulation. This is funny to me because, as far as I know, fascists are usually concerned with denatality, race purity and similar morbid fantasies, but not with overpopulation who is just about the number of persons and not about skin color and so on.Here, I will not go back over the purely demographic aspects of the issue to which several posts have already been devoted (on "Effetto Cassandra" and on "Apocalottimismo", both in Italian).  Instead, I would like to talk about this singular cultural taboo, characteristic (though not exclusive) of industrial civilization.To begin with.To understand what we are talking about, let us consider that today there are almost 8 billion of us with a growth rate of about 80 million per year, it means 220,000 per day, over 9000 per hour, 75 per second.  This means an estimated human mass of about 400 million tons.  The world's average human population density is 55 people per square kilometer (excluding Antarctica), which means a square of not much over one hundred steps per side per head.  In Italy we are about 200 per square kilometer, which means half a hectare per person, but if we consider only the agricultural surface the square becomes only 40 steps per side (about 2000 square meters).However, the number of people is only one of the factors involved because we use livestock, fields, industrial structures, buildings and much more to live.  All in all, the 'anthroposphere' (i.e. us with all the trappings) weighs about 40 trillion tons, which is something like 4,000 tons of concrete, metal, plastic, plants, livestock and so on for each of us. On average and very roughly.But number is not the only element. Since 1800 the population has increased 8 times, but total consumption 140 times, and if it has started to fall in some countries, like ours, it is still growing globally.The third. . .

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News source: Cassandra's Legacy

Eco-fascism: an insult against those who propose that overpopulation is a major problem

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 A post by Jacopo Simonetta  "Eco-fascist" is the usual insult directed at anyone who dares to mention overpopulation. This is funny to me because, as far as I know, fascists are usually concerned with denatality, race purity and similar morbid fantasies, but not with overpopulation who is just about the number of persons and not about skin color and so on.Here, I will not go back over the purely demographic aspects of the issue to which several posts have already been devoted (on "Effetto Cassandra" and on "Apocalottimismo", both in Italian).  Instead, I would like to talk about this singular cultural taboo, characteristic (though not exclusive) of industrial civilization.To begin with.To understand what we are talking about, let us consider that today there are almost 8 billion of us with a growth rate of about 80 million per year, it means 220,000 per day, over 9000 per hour, 75 per second.  This means an estimated human mass of about 400 million tons.  The world's average human population density is 55 people per square kilometer (excluding Antarctica), which means a square of not much over one hundred steps per side per head.  In Italy we are about 200 per square kilometer, which means half a hectare per person, but if we consider only the agricultural surface the square becomes only 40 steps per side (about 2000 square meters).However, the number of people is only one of the factors involved because we use livestock, fields, industrial structures, buildings and much more to live.  All in all, the 'anthroposphere' (i.e. us with all the trappings) weighs about 40 trillion tons, which is something like 4,000 tons of concrete, metal, plastic, plants, livestock and so on for each of us. On average and very roughly.But number is not the only element. Since 1800 the population has increased 8 times, but total consumption 140 times, and if it has started to fall in some countries, like ours, it is still growing globally.The third. . .

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News source: Cassandra's Legacy

Epistemic Calibration Bias and Blame-Aversion

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People typically treat having an importantly false belief as much more problematic than failing to have an importantly true belief.  They're more concerned about being over-confident than being under-confident in their credences.  But why?  Is such an epistemic asymmetry warranted?I'm dubious.  The ideal is to be epistemically well-calibrated: to have just the degree of confidence in an important proposition that is warranted by your evidence, such that in the long run exactly X% of your "X% confident" beliefs turn out to be true -- no more and no less.  Moreover, it seems to me that we should be equally concerned about miscalibration in either direction.  If we are underconfident (or withhold judgment entirely) when our evidence strongly supports some important truth, that's just as bad, epistemically speaking, as being correspondingly overconfident.In thinking about this, it's important to distinguish two dimensions of confidence: what we might call credal value and robustness.  To see how these come apart, note that I might have weak evidence that something is very probable.  My credence in the proposition should then be high -- for now -- but I should regard this credal value as tentative, or likely to change (in an unknown direction) in the face of further evidence.  "Bold beliefs, weakly held," to put the idea in slogan form.This distinction carries over, in obvious fashion, to expected-value judgments.  Given high uncertainty and lots of important "unknowns", our conclusions should generally be tentative and subject to change in light of future evidence.  But this is compatible with their having pretty much any first-order content whatsoever.  One could, for example, tentatively hold that the expected value of some policy proposal -- given one's current evidence -- is extremely positive. Indeed, this is my view of my preferred pandemic policy.  It strikes me as having. . .

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News source: Philosophy, et cetera

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