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Showing posts from June, 2017

Motor Priming and Subliminal Perception

I mentioned in a blog entry a short time ago that certain experimental findings in psychology have been successfully replicated in a way that leaves some hope that psychology may really be a science, that some findings can be properly considered settled. 

The philosopher/blogger Brian Leiter commented that none of the specific findings on the list are especially "sexy" from the PoV of philosophy. 

This drew a comment from me on his blog and out of laziness  I'll simply paste it here.


There was at one time quite a hullabaloo (technical terminology I know, but bear with me) about the "hidden persuaders," about how nasty Madison Avenue folks had figured out subliminal perception and used it to deprive us of free will and get us to buy their products. The height of the scare on subliminal advertising was, I believe, roughly the fictitious Don Draper's heyday. The one fascinating finding among these involves motor priming. Although subliminal…

Why Did Stock Values Increase on June 13th?

After a brief slide, stock prices in the U.S. turned around and headed up on June 13.

Neither the slide nor the upward bounce was of historic significance by itself. The S&P 500 closed June 8, Thursday, at 2433.78. It closed the next day at 2,431.23. The following Monday, down somewhat again, to 2,429.48. So, as I say, on Tuesday it rose, closing at 2,441, reversing (by more than double) the losses of the two previous days.

This could be simple "random walk" stuff. But ... what brings it to mind is the way this particular bounce immediately became an item in political debate. Because June 13th happened to be the day Attorney General Jeff Sessions testified before Congress about Russia, Comey, and so forth, Trumpites drew a connection via social media even as Sessions was talking.

Mr. Market presumably approves of Trump, wants a vigorous Trump administration, and so cheered as Session rebuked that administration's foes. That's their story.

It has some obvious ho…

Replication: Crisis at Bay

There has been much talk of late about a "replication crisis" in psychology. Important experimental results, sometimes results that have generated considerable bodies of literature, peer-reviewed and otherwise, have turned out to have been resting on sand when subjected to rigorous efforts at replication. One notorious example involves the "power pose" (standing, feet apart, hands on hips, chin up). Striking the power pose was supposedly proven to have a range of valuable psychological effects, including the reduction of stress. Except that it doesn't. The effect was the consequence of data mining and statistical noise.

Such failed replication efforts have reopened talk about whether psychology deserves the title "science" at all.

Fortunately, for those of us who will to believe that there IS such a science, some important results have survived efforts at replication. This is especially so it appears in the study of cognition, a very Jamesian branch…

William James and Mind-Body Neutrality II

In yesterday's post I laid out three "neutralist" theories and said something about the relationship of William James' thought to each. I'd like to tie that line of inquiry up a bit today.

Again, the theories are: neutral monism; dual aspect theory; panpsychism.

What they maintain in each case is that there is some stuff that is neither mental nor physical, and that the mental and physical realms are constructions out of this stuff, so that we can allow for mind-body interaction without freaking out over HOW?

For a neutral monist, the stuff is an underlying collection of data or unclassified facts such as an image of a piece of paper.

For a dual aspect theory, the stuff is God, the Universe, Everything Considered as a Totality.

For a panpsychist, the stuff is, well, mindful matter. Which includes all matter (and, likely enough, all mind.)

I shared yesterday, too, my own impression that the first listed of those three arises out of a principle of parsimony, the O…

William James and Mind-Body Neutrality I

One traditional approach to the mind-body problem in philosophy is this: look for some neutral stuff. The interaction of an immaterial consciousness with a material body/brain would seem less mysterious were there some neutral stuff out of which both consciousness and physicality were themselves created.

The term "neutral" here means simply that the theorist at issue isn't trying to dissolve one half of the dichotomy into the other.

There are three broad types of neutralism, one of which is simply called "neutral monism." The other two that one can put into this category have different names and slightly different approaches: panpsychism, and double-aspect theory.

I will say a brief word now about how each of them relates to the philosopher who inspired the existence of this blog: William James. Tomorrow, I'll try to say something about how they are different.

Neutral Monism

William James is a and perhaps even the key figure in the development of neutral m…

The Velocity of Time

Raymond Tallis, the fellow portrayed here, has an article in the current issue of The New Atlantis about time.

I won't discuss his views on this topic, but I will offer something of a tease. He begins with a passage on his own sense of mortality that I found moving.

"On each January 1 the number designating the year just past looks less used up than its predecessor. By the time 1960 had arrived, my 1959 was worn out and its replacement overdue. When 2011 was announced, I was still not used to 2010 and even 2009 and 2008 looked scarcely touched. It is hardly surprising that I sometimes feel — as I imagine you, reader, do when yet another day, another week, another summer, another year has melted away — as if I were being swept, log-like, towards a cataract dropping into oblivion."


Personal Identity

The following observation arose in the course of a critique of philosopher Derek Parfit.  

"Even if the lower-level facts [that make up identity] do not in themselves matter, the higher-level fact may matter. If it does, the lower-level facts will have derived significance. They will matter, not in themselves, but because they constitute the higher level fact."

The quote is from Mark Johnstone, as part of a critique he wrote of Parfit's work on personal identity for a collection called DEREK PARFIT AND HIS CRITICS. 

Parfit didn't believe in personal identity. That is, he didn't believe there is any important sense aside from social convention why an "I" of 15 years old is the same person as an "I" of 45, thirty years later, however firmly the latter has memories that might be traced ultimately to the sensory organs of the former.

Parfit can perhaps best be understood as bringing into the Anglo-American analytical philosophical tradition a touch of…

The Conceptual Foundations of Transitional Justice

The headline of this blog entry is the title of a newly published book by Colleen Murphy, out from Cambridge University Press.

Murphy is a professor of law at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Here is a link to the amazon page for her book.

If I understand it, the question that concerns Murphy is the old one -- how should revolutionaries, who have taken power on a promise to pursue broader social transformation, understand their job? What do they do next?

The constitution established in South Africa in 1993, with the success of negotiations to end apartheid, was specifically called the "Interim Constitution." Two years later the Promotion of National Unity and Reconciliation Act, passed by the parliament pursuant to that interim constitution, created a Truth and Reconciliation Commission which was both truth finding and amnesty granting.

That TRC is at the heart of what Murphy has in mind by "transitional justice." But she doesn't want revolution…

Substance versus Reactions

I have now and then wondered, as my mind wandered, whether there can properly be said to be such a creature as the "philosophy of chemistry."

Biology has philosophical controversies specific to itself: the explication of the concept of natural selection for example, or the age-old reductionism-versus-holism thing.

Physics, likewise, has its own philosophical controversies. Indeed, much that goes by the name "philosophy of science" seems actually to be a philosophy of physics.The nature of space and time. Statistical mechanics, etc.

But chemistry? Wouldn't any effort to assign specific philosophical controversies to chemistry inevitably veer in one or the other of those directions? So I mused.

But it appears there really is a "philosophy of chemistry." Philosophers working this field debate whether chemistry is the study of substances or reactions -- stuff or events. In the words of Joachim Schummer, "Substance philosophers define a chemical reac…

Other Minds and Autism

The dominant model in research on autism is that of a hard-wired "theory of mind" that operates in neurotypical folks but that doesn't operate (maybe the wires get crossed in some more-or-less literal sense) in those developing children who end up "on the spectrum." Whereas the neurotypicals come to understand without reflexion that there is another person behind the various human faces they encounter, this never comes easily to those with the crossed wires. On this theory, (call it the meta-theory of mind) many if not all of the characteristic symptoms of the disorder derive from that point.

It is a neat (meta-) theory, but it is worth mentioning now and then that it isn't established fact. 
Indeed, the more neurologists get to work trying to home in on this wired-in theory of mind, the more evasive it seems. And (assuming the paradigm) there are theory-of-mind deficits that one would not call autistic. 
OTOH, I'm sure there is something to it.

Amartya Sen and Capability

As I believe I've mentioned in this blog before, I contend that there are four components that must go into an complete and accurate ethical (and metaethical) philosophy, but to my dismay, few if any contemporary philosophers combine them.

Such a successful ethics would be cognitivist, intuitionist, teleological, and pluralist.

That is: it would see right and wrong, good and bad, as issues open to knowledge, not mere taste; it would allow room for intuition (a direct apprehension analogous to but not in fact sensory perception) at the base of this cognition; it would see the right as the way to get to the good; it would allow for more than one goodness, and perhaps then more than one right, too.

I believe that Isaiah Berlin combined all these features But he's been dead for 20 years, and his period of "flourishing" requires that one go back somewhat further than that.

A figure of more recent vintage? The Indian philosopher Amartya Sen, who is still with us, and the …

Republic of Equals

The title of this blog entry, Republic of Equals, is also the title of a new book on political philosophy.

The author, Alan Thomas, a philosophy professor at the University of York, and the head of the department there puts forth a theory of justice he calls "predistribution." The underlying idea is that a republic is valuable and sustainable only to the extent that the ownership of property and/or "access to capital," is widespread, that is, to the degree that there are institutional checks in place to prevent a drift toward oligarchy.

Further, it is Thomas' contention that this "stable management of capital dispersion ... require[s] relatively extensive involvement by the state."

The term "predistribution," which Thomas adopts from other thinkers, is a name for the idea that it is better to keep the horse in the stable than to try to chase down the horse after it has run away. Thomas' notion of justice, derived largely from a critical…

James versus Hume on Belief

David Hume on the nature of belief, and especially on a comparison of belief with imagination:

"Belief is nothing but a more vivid, lively, forcible, firm, steady conception of an object, than what the imagination alone is never able to attain."

I disagree. And I disagree on Jamesian authority, drawing on The Principles of Psychology.

The problem is that Hume presumes belief is more than imagination -- it is imagination with more liveliness, force, etc. But a better understanding is that imagination is the more, not a more lively but a more complicated state of mind. It is the holding together of a conception AND a reason to doubt or deny that conception.

I imagine a unicorn in my barn. Or I believe there is a unicorn in the barn. On a Jamesian reading of this pair of possibilities, I conceive of the unicorn in the barn in either case, but in the imaginative case that conception is accompanied by my understanding of the mythical character of the beast.

Belief is that same c…