This question’s answer seems very, very obvious and without a doubt, for me at least: Why are narratives so moral? The question was posed to me in an e-mail, which served as a call for responses to be presented at IU Bloomington’s conference, a conference that is thematically in line with our “Themester.” Fall 2012’s theme is “Good Behavior, Bad Behavior: Molecules to Morality.” The “molecules to morality” part is the part I don’t like about the theme’s title, primarily because I think the proposal of an ought from an is is silly. There is some limited sense in which I think an ought can come from an is, but that is beyond the scope of this post. Anyway, my answer to the above posed question is —surprise! surprise!— Kantian in flavor. If you are in cognitive science, psychology, or neuroscience, and actually know a thing or two about the philosophical founding of your science, then this will, on the contrary, not surprise you. Continue reading
Monthly Archives: September 2012
I need to go a bit further than what I did in my blog post on conceptual anachronism. It is the worst nightmare of the historian, mostly because his or her craft is centrally about context. For them, there is a wrong answer, when looking at history unfairly with a modern lens. Philosophers make this mistake, too, but they tend to do it with style and blissful ignorance like you’ve never seen. The problem with philosophers doing it is double: 1) The philosopher’s project is often (only!) ostensibly lacking in investment in historical accuracy; but the truth is that this false impression makes it more difficult to pick up on his or her error —and this, in my opinion, means partial exculpation for the indicted philosopher. 2) The creative fashion in which conceptual anachronisms are employed is so unclear that the error may seem debatable. I have a particular instance in mind. It arose this past week, in a seminar I am taking under Jordi Cat, called “Unity of Science.” Continue reading
I offer for consideration a very interesting dialogue from the opening of H.G. Wells’ The Time Machine (Pocket Books, 2004, page 5). The protagonist begins:
“You know of course that a mathematical line, a line of thickness nil, has no real existence. They taught you that? Neither has a mathematical plane. These things are mere abstractions.”
“That’s all right,” said the Psychologist.
“Nor having only length, breadth, and thickness, can a cube have a real existence.”
“There I object,” said Filby. “Of course a solid body may exist. All real things —”
“So most people think. But wait a moment. Can an instantaneous cube exist?”
“Don’t follow,” said Filby.
Can a cube that does not last for any time at all, have a real existence?”
Filby became pensive.
“Clearly,” the Time Traveller proceeded, “any real body must have extension in four directions, it must have Length, Breadth, Thickness, and —Duration.”
The dialogue points to what is, in my experience, a much overlooked idea: that there is an interesting constraint applied to time by the first three spatial dimensions. When we look around, we don’t see triangles, we see things that look like triangles. This is the sort of thinking that led Plato to the idea of universal forms and the allegory of the Cave. The dialogue points out an interesting question: Supposing that one can obtain, say, a platonic solid, what if it exists only for an instant —that is, no duration at all? I don’t see this question come up often in the more academic forums; maybe it does and I am just missing it. Continue reading
There are three scholars, Ezequiel A. Di Paolo, Jason Noble, and Seth Bullock, who have a brilliant little paper floating around. I say “floating,” because I don’t believe they have published it formally, so I append it here. The paper is called “Simulation Models as Opaque Thought Experiments.” I think the paper could be the first move in a very interesting direction, but there is a problem: I don’t think they concluded the paper in the most natural and potent way; the presentation made me realize something very different from what the authors concluded. Let me give you a quick, two-second rundown of the paper. Continue reading
Let me be more specific than the title admits. What exactly is this conceptual anachronism of which I speak; and why is it every historian’s nightmare? Put simply, it is the placement of concepts that did not exist in the period that the historian tries to apply them to. Now, the theme of some of my more recent blog posts has been that the importance of recognizing the discipline of “history and philosophy of science” as an autonomous, separate field of study. Continue reading
There is an interesting fact about science, one that probably Kuhn was first to note: When we perform experiments and enter into a study, the scientist will do his or her best to jam any result into the box, and be completely satisfied with that. End of story. The scientist proved what they thought was or might be the case. This extends well beyond the natural sciences, and is much easier in some of the other empirical sciences, as will be seen in this bog post primarily on economics. I bring all of this up because of a paper I recently came across that deeply bothered me. Continue reading