Top News, Articles, and Interviews in Philosophy

Nefsky on Tiny Chances and Tiny Differences

In her Philosophy Compass survey article, 'Collective Harm and the Inefficacy Problem', Julia Nefsky expresses skepticism about appeals to "expected value" to address worries about the ability of a single individual to really "make a difference".  In section 4.2, she notes that the relevant cases involve either "(A) an extremely small chance (as in the voting case) or (B) a chance at making only a very tiny difference."  Addressing each of these in turn:(A) Tiny chances. Here Nefsky adverts to Budolfson's arguments that we might learn details about buffers in the supply chain (etc.) that allow us to be disproportionately confident (beyond what raw averages would lead us to expect) that we are far from the collective threshold for triggering a change in production levels.  Budolfson's arguments are theoretically interesting, but not obviously applicable in practice.  They depend upon our collective consumption levels being stable or otherwise highly predictable across time (otherwise we couldn't be so confident that we're still far from the relevant thresholds).  But in the face of social movements encouraging people to address collective action problems (e.g. by eating less factory-farmed meat), I'm not sure that the relevant degree of consumer predictability is satisfied.  Especially for those of us who are considering making consumption changes in our own lives on the basis of moral reasons, it seems reasonable for us to [More]

Understanding the Brain

“Maybe human brains aren’t equipped to understand themselves.” That thought is offered up by Grigori Guitchounts, a Ph.D. student in neuroscience at Harvard University, in an article surveying some current brain research at Nautilus. One branch of such research is connectomics, which “strives to chart the entirety of the connections among neurons in a brain.” Guitchounts writes: In principle, a complete connectome would contain all the information necessary to provide a solid base on which to build a holistic understanding of the brain. We could see what each brain part is, how it supports the whole, and how it ought to interact with the other parts and the environment.  Jeff Lichtman, a professor of molecular and cellular biology at Harvard, works in this area, attempting to provide a map of the brain. Here’s how he does it: The 68-year-old neuroscientist’s weapon of choice is a 61-beam electron microscope, which Lichtman’s team uses to visualize the tiniest of details in brain tissue… [and] a machine that can only be described as a fancy deli slicer. The machine cuts pieces of brain tissue into 30-nanometer-thick sections, which it then pastes onto a tape conveyor belt. The tape goes on silicon wafers, and into Lichtman’s electron microscope, where billions of electrons blast the brain slices, generating images that reveal nanometer-scale features of neurons, their axons, dendrites, and the synapses through which they exchange [More]

Etymological insecticide

This story continues the attempts of the previous week to catch a flea. Anyone who will take the trouble to look at the etymology of the names of the flea, louse, bedbug, and their blood-sucking allies in a dozen languages will discover that almost nothing is known for certain about it. . This fact either means that we are dealing with very old words whose beginnings can no longer be discovered or that the names have been subject to taboo (consequently, the initial form is beyond recognition), or, quite likely, both factors were in play. The post Etymological insecticide appeared first on [More]

Syllabus Showcase: Renée Smith, Philosophical Writing

by Renée Smith Renée Smith (CU Boulder, 2002) is a professor of philosophy at Coastal Carolina University in Conway, SC. She specializes in philosophy of mind, particularly on phenomenal consciousness and introspection, and philosophy pedagogy. PHIL 271 Philosophical Writing at Coastal Carolina University became a requirement for philosophy majors about 7 years ago. We hoped [More]

The language gap in North African schools

When children start school in an industrialized country, their native language is for the most part the one used by the teachers. Conversely, in many developing countries, the former colonial languages have been proclaimed languages of instruction within the classroom at the expense of native indigenous languages. A third scenario is something in-between: The language […] The post The language gap in North African schools appeared first on [More]

Cosmological Fine-Tuning Arguments: What (If Anything) Should We Infer From the Fine-Tuning of Our Universe for Life?

2020.02.03 : View this Review Online | View Recent NDPR Reviews Jason Waller, Cosmological Fine-Tuning Arguments: What (If Anything) Should We Infer From the Fine-Tuning of Our Universe for Life?, Routledge, 2020, 323pp., $120.00 (hbk), ISBN 9781138742079. Reviewed by Robert C. Koons, University of Texas at Austin The argument from fine-tuning is the theistic argument most likely to earn the respect (if grudging) of atheists, although it is not the one most favored by theistic philosophers. The fine-tuning problem is also treated with great seriousness among contemporary cosmologists, including those committed to naturalism. Naturalistic cosmologists rely on the multiverse hypothesis to explain (or explain away) the fine-tuning of our universe for organic chemistry and life. Nonetheless, many philosophers are skeptical about whether there is really any phenomenon here to be explained, either by theism or by the multiverse. Jason Waller’s new book contains detailed consideration of the various forms this skepticism might take, and in each case, he provides convincing arguments for the conclusion that the fine-tuning skeptics... Read [More]

Philosophy of Sport

[New Entry by John William Devine and Francisco Javier Lopez Frias on February 4, 2020.] While sport has been practised since pre-historic times, it is a relatively new subject of systematic philosophical enquiry. Indeed, the philosophy of sport as an academic sub-field dates back only to the 1970s. Yet, in this short time, it has grown into a vibrant area of philosophical research that promises both to deepen our understanding of sport and to inform sports practice. Recent controversies at the elite and professional level have highlighted [More]

How Should we Regulate Child Sex Robots: Restriction or Experimentation?

[This is a cross-post from the BMJ Sexual and Reproductive Health blog. It is a short precis of my paper "Regulating Child Sex Robots: Restriction or Experimentation?"]In 2017, the Crown Prosecution Services (CPS) decided to clamp down on the importation of child sex dolls into the UK. In doing so, they faced a problem. There was no established legal rule that explicitly banned the purchase and sale of these items. Consequently, the CPS had to get creative. They turned to an old 1876 law – the Customs Consolidation Act – that banned the importation of “obscene” items into the UK. Arguing that child sex dolls were obscene items, the CPS successfully prosecuted several individuals for purchasing them online and having them shipped to the UK.In doing this, the CPS argued that they were acting in the interests of child protection. They argued that the purchase of child sex dolls was not an isolated phenomenon. Individuals who purchased them were likely to engage with other forms of child pornography, which could, in turn, lead to or encourage offences against children in the real world.Child sex dolls are inanimate, human-like artifacts used for the purposes of sexual stimulation and gratification. But, given current technological trends, it is quite likely that people will create animate and robotized forms of these dolls in the near future. They are already doing this with adult forms of sex dolls. This raises the obvious question: what should the legal system do about these [More]

Models in Science

[Revised entry by Roman Frigg and Stephan Hartmann on February 4, 2020. Changes to: Main text, Bibliography] Models are of central importance in many scientific contexts. The centrality of models such as inflationary models in cosmology, general-circulation models of the global climate, the double-helix model of DNA, evolutionary models in biology, agent-based models in the social sciences, and general-equilibrium models of markets in their respective domains is a case in point (the Other Internet Resources section at the end of this entry contains links to online [More]