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Thursday, December 30, 2010

Synesthesia and Non-Synesthesia Subjects

I am now looking for people with number-color synesthesia for spatial response time tests. You don't have to be located in the St. Louis area to take these tests.

I am also looking for non-synesthetes for an fMRI study that will be carried out at Washington University, St. Louis. The scan will take 2 hours and you will be asked to complete some rather trivial tasks (e.g. studying a photo) while inside the machine.

fMRI is a non-invasive procedure that measures changes in blood flow corresponding to activity in the brain. Radio waves redirect the axes of spinning protons in a strong magnetic field that is produced by passing an electric current through wire coils. A computer processes the signals and generates a series of images.

The procedure does not depend on ionizing radiation, there is no radiation exposure, and short-term exposure to magnetic fields and radio waves is considered harmless. fMRI scans therefore have no known side-effects and are not associated with any discomfort.

Only very few people should not get an fMRI. These include people who may be pregnant, people with whole-body tattoos and people with an internal defibrillator or pacemaker, an ear implant or clips on brain aneurysms. Platinum implants in other parts of the body do not compromise your safety during the procedure.

To qualify for this study, you must be located in the St. Louis area or be willing to travel to the St. Louis area. If you are interested, please email me at:

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Drawing of a Migraine Aura

Alex Heim is a synesthete who also has migraine auras. He just sent me this drawing of one of his migraine auras.

Short Film on Synesthesia

One of the young synesthetic savants I work with in Australia just created this film on synesthesia.

Thursday, December 02, 2010

New Synaesthesia Survey

I have uploaded a new synaesthesia survey to our synaesthesia page. The results of the survey will be used to improve the design of our synaesthesia studies at the University of Missouri, St. Louis.

If you are a synaestete, and you are interested in contributing to our ongoing synaesthesia studies, you can take our advanced synaesthesia survey by clicking below.

Click here to take our advanced synaesthesia survey

If you are interested in becoming a participant in our studies at the University of Missouri, St. Louis but you are not sure if you qualify, we have created a survey that will allow us to determine whether you do. The only required information is your email address. You do not have to be located in St. Louis to qualify.

Click here to take the basic survey

If you have migraine and synaesthesia, you can take our migraine survey by clicking here.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Philosophy and Psychology Courses Spring 2011

Here is the list of courses I will be teaching/involved in for Spring 2011. I will also be the graduate director of philosophy, starting January 2011, and I will continue my board membership on the gender studies program. So, feel free to come to my office to talk to me about these courses. We are still deciding on the readings. The sexual ethics course is only open to undergraduate students for credit. Some graduate students have expressed interest in sitting in on it. You are very welcome to do that.

1. Sexual Ethics (Big lecture course, freshmen and sophomore, GEN ED, cross-listed with the gender studies program)

2. Virtue Epistemology (upper-level undergraduate and graduate course in philosophy)

3. Biological Bases of Behavior (graduate course in neuropsychology)

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Synaesthesia Subjects

We are still looking for additional color synaestetes for our ongoing synaesthesia project. We are currently studying higher synaesthetes with thought-induced color experiences. If thinking about the number 3 or the letter D almost always induces green (or some other color), you may be a higher color synaesthete and may qualify for our study. Other higher synaesthetes that may qualify include people who experience color when reasoning or making decisions, people who experience color when judging whether an act or a person is good or bad, and people who experience color when they consciously feel shame or fear. If you have other sensory experiences during thought-processes or conscious feelings, such as taste experiences or sound experiences, we would also like to hear from you. You need not be located in St. Louis to qualify. If you think you may qualify, contact the St. Louis Synaesthesia Research Group via email at

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

A Dialogue with Gualtiero Piccinini on Philosophy and Neuroscience

Gualtiero: Until recently, you were known for armchair philosophizing
and not at all for empirical research. Could you briefly explain how
you became interested in doing empirical research and what your current empirical projects are?

Brit: Actually, I started out in the sciences. I have a 5-year M.S. in neuroscience from University of Copenhagen and The Danish National Hospital. My research was on neurotransmitters, specifically glucagon-like peptide-1 (GLP-1). As a hormone, GLP-1 stimulates insulin-secreting cells. As a neurotransmitter, it modulates stress and anxiety. I was, and still am, very interested in mood disorders,so I really loved this project. But owing to a terrifying event described in the personal information section of my website, I decided to go to graduate school in philosophy. I already had degrees in philosophy and linguistics as well. One of my main areas of specialization in philosophy was, and still is, philosophy of language. Philosophy of language by its very nature is a very empirical area of philosophy.

Philosophy of language by its very nature is a very empirical area of philosophy.

We look at what the linguists do, and they look at what we do. But you are right. Until recently I didn't design my own experiments or studies. My interest in designing my own studies was sparked by a series of events taking place around the time of my divorce. To deal with the consequences of these events, I felt that I had to expand on my knowledge of the brain. Another coincidence sparked my interest in synesthesia. I am now testing for unconscious color processing in 40 higher synestetes. Owing to a nice McDonnell grant, Kathleen Akins and I will be able to host a workshop on abnormal color vision (synesthesia, acromatopsia, color blindsight, etc) next year in Vancouver. I am also working on a large project about the effects of personality assessments on judgments of intentional action. That project started out as a response to Knobe. My third project is on blindsight and will be done in collaboration with a team of researchers in Europe.

Your own work seems to be heavily inspired by empirical research. What are your current projects and how did you become interested in them?

Gualtiero: Wow, I didn't know you had such a scientific background. Now I understand why you know so much neuroscience! A coincidence: I have acromatopsia, so if you decide to work on that topic, you can use me as a subject.

As to my research, I have three main projects. The first is on what constitutes concrete computation—what distinguishes things that compute from things that don't. This is relevant to many sciences: computer science, computational psychology and neuroscience, and even physics. The second is on how to integrate psychology and neuroscience into a unified explanation of cognition. It piggybacks on the first project, because both psychology and neuroscience give computational explanations of cognition. Once we are clear on how computational explanation works, we should be in a better position to say how psychology and neuroscience go together. The third project is on the legitimacy of data from first-person reports (and other "first-person data") in psychology and neuroscience. I argue that this kind of data is scientifically legitimate because such data are actually public data—the outcome of a process of self-measurement on the part of the subject.

But while my work is deeply engaged with various sciences, I don't do any experiments, whereas you do. How hard was it for you to start designing and conducting experiments on your own? Did your prior scientific training prepare for it or or did you need extra help? And do you now consider yourself a philosopher, a scientist, or both?

Brit: I didn't know you had acromatopsia. I certainly will be working on that topic sooner or later. To begin with your last question, I consider myself both a philosopher and a neuroscientist. I have the sufficient background for designing studies and experiments and know statistics pretty well. But I must confess that I still get help with the statistics part. Statistics is hard. Kathleen Akins calls herself a neurophilosopher.

I think neuroscience is hard, just about as hard as good philosophy.

I don't call myself that. I still do some armchair philosophy. I also draw heavily on other people's empirical results in my work on psycholinguistics and philosophy of language. When I think about neuroscience, I am a neuroscientist. But I think I have an advantage. Because I am a philosopher, I am used to come up with counterexamples (that's what we do, right?). So, when I design studies or look at data, it is very easy for me to spot alternative hypotheses and to come up with ways of ruling them out. I think neuroscience is hard, just about as hard as good philosophy.

Did you ever consider doing empirical experiments or studies on your own or in collaboration with others? Why? Why not?

Gualtiero: I usually don't consider doing experiments, mostly because I'm already busy enough with what I'm doing. But I do have a little bit of relevant experience.

For my undergraduate honors' thesis, I designed and conducted a fairly serious piece of experimental cognitive psychology.

For my undergraduate honors' thesis, I designed and conducted a fairly serious piece of experimental cognitive psychology. At the time I wanted to become a cognitive psychologist, but later I decided to go back into philosophy.

I found it interesting that you don't consider yourself a neurophilosopher. Me neither, because to me neurophilosophy sounds too much like picking your favorite neuroscience papers and putting a "philosophical" spin on them. I think of myself as a philosopher of mind and of the sciences of mind. How about you; why don't you
consider yourself a neurophilosopher? You also don't seem to consider yourself an experimental philosopher. Why? Experimental philosophy seems to be all the rage. Why aren't you jumping on the bandwagon?

Brit: Well, strictly speaking, my intentional action project falls under the category of "experimental philosophy". But I am not sure I think the field ought to be called "experimental philosophy". As far as I am concerned, it's social psychology. Hopefully over time I will be able to add a neuroscientific touch to my project on intentional action. But right now, I don't see the difference between that project and other similar projects in social psychology. To say that what
other people call "experimental philosophy" really is social psychology is not to say that it has no philosophical relevance.

other people call "experimental philosophy" really is social psychology.

It certainly does. I think that some of the results, as far as they hold up, cast some doubt on some of the armchair characterizations of the notion of intentional action. I also think philosophers, to the extent that they have sufficient training in designing experiments, can bring new advances to this particular area of social psychology.

I agree with you about your characterization of neurophilosophy. I prefer to just think of myself as working in two distinct areas: neuroscience and philosophy. The theories I advance in neuroscience are, of course, inspired by my work in philosophy of mind, and vice versa. Discoveries in neuroscience can provide counterexamples to theories in philosophy of mind. But philosophy of mind also provides us with results which neuroscience cannot give us. For example, neuroscience as it is currently carried out cannot give us an answer to the question of what consciousness is. Neuroscience, however, can provide an answer to the question of what the correlates of consciousness are. So, both areas have an important role to play.

What is your take on the new experimental turn in philosophy? And how do you think results in neuroscience can influence theories in philosophy of mind, and vice versa?

Gualtiero: I agree with you on experimental philosophy. I'm always glad when people try to back up their theories with empirical evidence, especially given that some philosophers tend to trust their intuitions too much. If philosophers have the expertise and resources to collect their own data, more power to them. That being said, some experimental philosophers tend to exaggerate the consequences of their theories, as if a couple of simple experiments could easily and directly refute all kinds of theories. Testing theories is harder than some experimental philosophers seem to think.

Even worse, too many philosophers, including philosophers of mind, still act as though empirical evidence is irrelevant to their theories.

Too many philosophers, including philosophers of mind, still act as though empirical evidence is irrelevant to their theories.

Occasionally this is true, but many times it's not. And since the mind is a product of the nervous system, it should be blindingly obvious that neuroscience and philosophy of mind have much to learn from each other. Philosophy of mind should look at what is known about the nervous system to constrain its theories, while neuroscience can take much inspiration from philosophical theories about the mind.

This has happened before, by the way. For example Warren McCulloch, a pioneer of computationalism, was a neurophysiologist and psychiatrist but also studied a lot of philosophy. His project was to explain intentionality and knowledge in neuroscientific terms. He didn't quite succeed, but he did make a strikingly innovative proposal that transformed the whole field. If we are going to improve on our current understanding of the mind-brain, we would do well to emulate McCulloch and study both philosophy and neuroscience.

Thursday, October 07, 2010

Why Your Children Need Professors With Tenure

By Cary Nelson

If you follow the news these days, you know that tenure is getting a bad rap. Fox News in particular will tell you that tenure shields radicals who are trying to indoctrinate your children to overthrow the government. In truth, it's hard to find any faculty member sending that message. No matter. It's a good scare tactic. But even the responsible press prefers editorials and op-ed essays claiming that tenure protects deadwood, preserves an aging professoriate, and costs too much money. Although each of those claims can be proved wrong, they have gained traction anyway.

From The Chronicle of Higher Education. Read the rest of this article

Wednesday, September 08, 2010

Central States Philosophical Association 2010

The program and the registration form for the 2010 meeting of the Central States Philosophical Association in Detroit are now available for download. Here is a quick overview of the program:

Thursday Afternoon September 23, Values and Conventions

1:00 Iddo Landau (Haifa): Meaningfulness, Meaninglessness and Unmeaningfulness: Did Hitler Have a Meaningful Life?

3:00 Natasha N. Liebig (South Florida): The Flash of Being: Vision, Speaking, and Place in Process Ontology as Seen Through Foucault

4:00 Marija Jankovic (Indiana): The Intentional Underpinnings of Convention

Thursday Afternoon September 23, Epistemology

2:00 David Alexander (Iowa State): Inferential Internalism and the Argument from Responsible Belief

3:00 Jonathan Hecht (San Diego State): How Skeptics Live Their Lives
Commentator: Bruce Dutra (Mott)

4:00 Tim Kakos (Northern Illinois): Knowledge and Multi-Premise Closure

Thursday Afternoon September 23, Ethics

1:00 Robyn R. Gaier (Saint Louis): Autism and Moral Indifference: Uncovering a False Dichotomy

2:00 Bertha Alvarez Manninen (Arizona State West): What did "Octomom" do wrong?: Exploring the ethics of fertility treatments

3:00 Howard Nye (Alberta): Harming as a Side-Effect Versus Benefiting at Someone’s Expense

4:00 Eric Reitan (Oklahoma State): Avoiding the Personhood Issue: Abortion, Identity, and Marquis's 'Future Like Ours' Argument

Friday Morning September 24, Mind

9:30 Eric Hiddleston (Wayne State): A Counterexample to Kim’s Account of Reductive Explanation

10:30 Gordon Knight (Iowa State): Phenomenology, Embodiment, and the Mind

11:30 Donald Sievert (Iowa): Witgenstein's Vexation with Color Incompatibility
David Stern

Friday Morning September 24, Epistemology

9:30 Brendan Murday (Ithaca College): The Problem of the Criterion: Methodism and Higher Order Epistemic Constraints

10:30 John Turri (Waterloo): Unreliable Knowledge

11:30 Kok Yong Lee (Missouri-Columbia): On the Distinctive Value of Knowledge

Friday Morning September 24, Rights and Values

9:30: Philip M. Mouch (Minnesota State University Moorhead): Open Adoption Records: Privacy Rights vs. Equal Rights?

10:30 Tyler Paytas (WashU): Locating Normativity in Human Rights: A Defense of Naturalistic Theories

11:30 Scott Forschler (Minneapolis): The Formula of Universal Law is Heteronomous

Friday Afternoon, September 24, Metaphysics

2:00 Valia Allori (Northern Illinois): Do Particles have Free Will?

3:00 David Goldman (UCLA): Modification of the Reactive Attitudes

4:00 William A. Bauer (North Carolina State): Priority Monism and Extrinsic Properties

Friday Afternoon, September 24, Epistemology

2:00 Peter Murphy (Indianapolis): Epistemic Descent Principles

3:00 Ted Poston (South Alabama): A Coherentist Account of Reasons

4:00 Michael Shaffer (St. Cloud): Pragmatic Encroachment Penalized: Five Yard Penalty ... Repeat First Down

Friday Afternoon September 24, Value and Deliberation

2:00 Amanda Roth (Michigan): Dynamic Deliberation of Ends

3:00 Kathleen Dougherty (College of Notre Dame of Maryland): Commitment, Identity and Risk

4:00 Hallie Liberto (Wisconsin): Organ Sales and the Commodification Objection

Evening: Bruce Russell's presidential address: In Defense of Non-doxastic, Deontic Foundationalism
Chair: Vice President Berit Brogaard (Missouri)

Saturday Morning September 25, Metaphysics

9:30 Majid Amini (Virginia State): Is the Maximal God Free of Paradox?

10:30 Eric Kraemer (Wisconsin, La Crosse) Proper Functions and their Natural and Divine Designers

11:30 Bruce Dutra (Mott): Theism and the Concept of the Greatest Possible Being

Saturday Morning September 25, Epistemology

9:30 Andrew Moon (Missouri-Columbia): Beliefs Do Not Come in Degrees

10:30 Shawn Graves (Cedarville): Defending the Equal Weight View from Some Problem Cases

11:30: Andrew Spear (Grand Valley State): Metajustification, Skepticism and the A Priori

Saturday Morning September 25, Language, Epistemology and Mind

9:30 Yu Izumi (Maryland, College Park): On a theory of descriptions in articleless languages

10:30 Ali Hasan (Iowa): Compassionate Phenomenal Conservatism

11:30 David G. Stern (Iowa): Wittgenstein and the Inverted Spectrum

Saturday Afternoon September 25, Mind

1:00 Irwin Goldstein (Davidson): The Mental is not Physical

2:00 Rocco Gennaro (Southern Indiana): Conceptualism and the Richness Argument

3:00 Mark Steen (Saint Louis): Jesus and Mary: Why Christians Should not Believe in Non-Physical Qualia

Saturday Afternoon September 25, Metaphysics

1:00 Molly Gardner (Wisconsin): Time Travelers Who Kill Their Younger Selves: They’re Closer Than You Think

2:00 Irem Kurtsal Steen (Missouri): Almost Ontology: Why Epistemicism Cannot Help Us Defend Restricted Composition

3:00 Ben Caplan (Ohio): Brutal Counting

Saturday Afternoon September 25, Metaphysics and Ethics

1:00 Jeffrey Snapper (Notre Dame): Why the Vagueness Argument is Unsound

2:00 Dustin Nelson (Tennessee – Knoxville): Character and Moral Luck

3:00 Matt Flummer (Missouri): If I were in the Shoes of a Non-Cognitivist, I would Plan on Being a Classical Expressivist: An Evaluation of Gibbard's Plans

4:40 Jim Pryor (Keynote Address): Hypothetical Oughts
Chair: President Bruce Russell

Monday, August 09, 2010

Call for Commentators CSPA

If you are interested in commenting on a paper or chairing a session at the 2010 meeting of the Central States Philosophical Association at Wayne State in Detroit on September 23-25, please drop me an email.

Tuesday, August 03, 2010

G. E. Moore Philosophy Music at Syracuse 2010

Kris McDaniel, Carrie Jenkins and Ben Bradley

Philosophy Music at Syracuse 2010

Ben Bradley, Kris McDaniel and Carrie Jenkins (Photographer: Bob Van Gulick)

Friday, July 30, 2010

Freelance Writing: FAQ

I have received multiple questions from students about and freelance writing. I don't have time to answer every single one, but here are some answers to frequently asked questions.

Is a for-profit site or a non-profit site?

It is a for-profit site, making donations to cancer research.

Is associated with

Yes, but is a non-profit site

Is LIVESTRONG affiliated with Lance Armstrong?

Yes, LIVESTRONG is also known as "The Lance Armstrong Foundation." Armstrong remains closely connected with both sites. He started as a site in support of people with cancer.

Are the writers on LIVESTRONG professional writers?

Yes, they write for money. To write for Health or Nutrition you must have a medical degree or an M.S. in a medical field.

Are the articles on reviewed?

Yes, they are reviewed by editors who have at least five years experience editing for a print publication.

If I don't get into graduate school in philosophy, can I make a living as a freelance writer?

Yes, but I strongly recommend that you supplement your degree with an M.S. in a medical field. You will make more money.

How do you know what to write about?

You will get an assignment or a title to write to, or you can send a pitch letter to an editor.

Do I need a published article to be considered as a freelance writer for a popular magazine or ezine?

No, but you will need a well-written article, written in the style of the publication you want to write for.

How do you find your sources for health-related publications?

Articles published in top medical, nutrition or neuroscience journals are the best resources. You can then contact the media person at a university listed in the "affiliations" section of the article and ask if she has a news release that you might have overlooked. If she does, she will send it to you or provide a link. That's her job. If she doesn't, ask her if she can arrange a phone conversation with one of the authors of the paper.

Do you have to learn how to write for popular publications?

Yes, lots of know-how. The explicit rules are simple. Use an active but authoritative voice. Avoid passive tense. Avoid the dummy phrase "to be." Avoid empty phrases. Don't state unsupported facts or anything that is not common knowledge. Find a source to "blame" it on. Unless you article is strictly informative (e.g., How is a Frontal Lobe Meningioma Diagnosed?), use a surprising or strong, supported fact or a catchy anecdote as your first sentence. Actually, a strong beginning is recommendable even if your article is strictly informative. Never write "this article is about ..." But do convey why the reader should continue reading. Why is this important? Hint at how you are going to address the problem. Then practice practice practice.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Why Men are Never Depressed

(Thanks to Hugh Mellor for sending this)

Your last name stays put.

The garage is all yours.
Wedding plans take care of themselves.

Chocolate is just another snack.

You can never be pregnant.

Car mechanics tell you the truth.
The world is your urinal.
You don't have to stop and think which way to 
turn a nut on a bolt.
Same work, more pay.

Wrinkles add character.

Wedding dress £5000; DJ rental £200.
People never stare at your chest when you're 
talking to them.
New shoes don't cut, blister, or mangle your feet.
One mood all the time.
Phone conversations are over in 30 seconds flat.
You know stuff about tanks.

A five-day vacation requires only one suitcase.
You can open all your own jars.
You get extra credit for the slightest act of thoughtfulness.
If someone forgets to invite you, he or she can still be your friend.
Your underwear is cheap.

You almost never have strap problems in public.
You are unable to see wrinkles in your clothes.

Everything on your face stays its original colour.
The same hairstyle lasts for years, maybe decades.
You only have to shave your face and neck.
You can play with toys all your life.
One wallet and one pair of shoes in one colour for all seasons.
You can trim your nails with a pocket knife.

You can choose whether to grow a moustache.
You can do Christmas shopping for 25 people in 25 minutes on 24 December.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Philosophy Student Reflects on his Weight Loss

My former student Adam Taylor reflects on his 156 pounds weight loss here.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Growing Up

Some people grow up a lot slower than others. I am one of them. But I am starting to grow up. I think growing up, in part, means learning not to do the things you just hate doing (and can easily avoid). I have always hated organized conference lunches. The super-amazing conference organizers here at the SPAWN conference have organized the most fantastic lunches at the most fantastic and damn tasty restaurants. For most people, that's heaven, true paradise. Who wouldn't want yummy food surrounded by the world's most brilliant minds and mind-blowing (literally) conversations about your favorite topics? Well, not me. Don't get me wrong. I want the conversations and the yummy food. But conference lunches generally irritate me. Like A LOT. You leave the conference site, hurry down to a great restaurant, start a rock-the-foundations-of-the-world conversation. Then 10 minutes into the conversation, food is served. You forget to eat because Kit Fine is in the middle of proving an incredible (and I mean "INcredible") result in his new semantics for counterfactuals. Then someone reminds you that the next session starts in 10 minutes. So, you never see the final steps of the proof, you stuff yourself quickly with half of the food on your plate (who would want to let great food go to waste, right?), and then you get a tummy ache and almost fall asleep in the next session because you over-stuffed yourself, or you can't concentrate on the talk, because that damn proof that seemed so irritatingly sound is running through your mind like a sprint runner at the Olympics. So, YES, I do know that today's lunch restaurant is AppeTHAIzing. This is the place that's supposed to serve this yummy, formidable, dynamite Thai food (I guess you got the point). But I am not going! Not today. I am growing up.

Friday, July 23, 2010

New Consciousness Paper

I have made my paper for the Syracuse SPAWN conference temporarily available here. I am sure it will undergo drastic changes after the conference.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Color Experience in Blindsight?

I have a new paper called "Color Experience in Blindsight?" It's a semi-protected link, so Google search engines won't pick up on it. If you are interested, please go ahead and take a look at it. The link will be fully public, when I am done making little alterations (very little, as the proofs are on their way).

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

There's Something about Mary

Cross posting from Sick Love

From my newest blog: There's Something about Mary: The Princess Diaries

The fairytale began on September 16 2000 when Mary Donaldson, an ordinary Australian girl, met Crown Prince Frederik of Denmark at Merivale's Slip Inn in Sydney during the Summer Olympics.

Three years later the Australian beauty and the crown prince decided they wanted to spend the rest of their lives together. On October 2003 after a long-distance relationship, a short stay in Paris and a number of private visits to Denmark, Mary and Frederik got engaged. Read the rest of this post >>

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Stupid People Deserve What They Get

That's the title of my paper responding to Joshua Knobe. The paper argues for personality effects in judging intentional action. It's available here.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

About Color Vision

The distribution of cone types, types of cells in the retina that detect different wavelengths of light, varies greatly among different individuals, says University of Rochester professor David Williams. Williams and his team used a laser-based system to catch images of the retinas of living humans. While the study participants picked nearly the same "best example" of yellow from color samples, the cones that detect red, green and yellow were sometimes richly dispersed across the retina and sometimes barely present. The divergence was 40:1. "That points to some kind of normalization or auto-calibration mechanism [...] that balances the colors for you no matter what the hardware is", says team member Heidi Hofer. Read the rest of this article >>

Tuesday, July 06, 2010

Working Your Way Up

There is something to be said for working your way up, starting as the coffee boy and ending up as the CEO of the company. The idea of working your way up also stands for all the things I was raised to dislike as I grew up in Copenhagen.

In a welfare country like Denmark, you get an education, then you get a job. In theory, you cannot work your way up to anything. Of course, there are raises, promotions and prizes, but starting out as the copy girl and ending up as the editor-in-chief at a major publishing house is practically unheard of.

Working your way up is also foreign to the philosophy arena in the US. There are, admittedly, some philosophers who have worked their way up in terms of where they publish, who they hang out with, or where they work. Graduating from Syracuse University and ending up at Oxford and Princeton, John Hawthorne is an excellent example of someone who has worked his way up. But it's rare. It's rare to hear of someone who starts out at Crackpot Community College in Southern Mississippi and ends up at Jackpot Ivy League University in Manhattan.

The philosophy profession inadvertently borrows some of its ideas from European royalty and aristocracy. You are either born with a silver spoon in your mouth, or you are not. If you are not, you can marry your way in. Or if you are very ambitious and very lucky, you can get hired as, say, Princess Mary's fashion consultant and make your way into the inner circle, get invited to their parties and be seen with her eating lunch at upscale vegan cafes in Copenhagen. But fashion consultants don't become royalty. Like the crown prince couple's best friends from high school and college, they just hang out with them, get media attention and a taste of life in a castle.

Unlike the real castles, the philosophy profession's castles have a few loopholes that make it possible for a few of the fashion consultants and college friends of the philosophical royalty to slip through the cracks. Tenacity, strategic planning and a good portion of luck can increase your chances. Luck is an uncontrollable factor but the rest of the recipe goes like this. Keep a finger on the pulse, find out about the royalty's research interest and concentrate on those areas, publish in the journals approved by the royalty, cite the royalty's work extensively, do not criticize the royalty, criticize those the royalty criticizes, find out where the royalty hangs out, present your work at those events, become their fans and supporters. The recipe is no surefire route to success but it helps. There are other little secrets to success, which I will save for another post.

But back to working your way up. The recipe I just gave you for making your way to the top in philosophy is not a recipe for how to work your way up. Working your way up in the genuine sense of the word means starting on the floor and then slowly through good, solid work breaking through the glass ceiling.

Having flirted a bit with writing for popular media, I already have a sense of how you can really work your way up in that business. Though every rule has its exceptions, you don't start out as a New York Times reporter or a CNN correspondent. But if you can write or you have the abilities to learn to write, you can get there in a finite number of steps. You literally start at no-name sites with nearly no requirements in terms of a platform or portfolio. Then you move to local newspapers, magazines or slightly more prestigious online sites. By then you have a couple of quality clips to include with your pitches. Next step is a national publication. The recipe then goes like this. Work on your pitches, do quality work, learn as you go and move one little step up at a time.

Despite going against my childhood teachings, I like the idea and the process. It gives you an immediate sense of gratification. Every assignment you complete successfully takes you one step closer to the goal. Pay-offs (monetary as well as mentions) along the way increase steadily and typically match your current abilities and accomplishments. The process is fair and satisfying in a way that aristocracy and royalty are not.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Truths of Existence

As I click on the little Firefox icon at the bottom of my screen and see the letters G O O G L E form bright and colorful on my screen, I release a sigh of relief. For several weeks now, I have been without a reliable internet connection. AT&T didn't cut the cable, nor did my laptop take its last breath ... no, none of that... I was simply traveling in Turkey. I had my computer with me (of course), and I paid good money for a wireless connection everywhere I went, but money can't buy everything. Not a reliable wireless connection. Not in Turkey.

I was sweating a lot while I was there. Maybe it was the hot weather. Maybe the slight sunburn. Or maybe it was the error message I had to watch on the screen time and time again... the half-written emails that disappeared in thin air. If I didn't learn anything else on my journey, I learned this: To love and honor the shiny colorful letters spelling the magic word "G O O G L E".

Most of the time the letters never appeared. I am not an impatient person. I happily wait 18 months to hear back from a journal. But at that point I slowly realized that I had to claim defeat and make do with whatever desktops I could find at the local cafes. So, I packed away my laptop, paid good money, clicked on the little Explorer icon and waited for the beautiful letters to make their magic appearance.

There. G O O G L E. What an awe-inspiring sight! Type "Gmail". Login. Password. Glance at inbox. Open email. Click reply. Write. Next email. Write. Next. And then ... Bazoonga! Error message.

I looked around. A woman in business attire got up from her chair, opened her handbag, took out a nail file and filed her nails while she casually glanced at her screen. "What's wrong with the internet?", I asked, trying not to sound too desperate. "It's down", she said nonchalantly. "Right", I nodded, "It seems to happen to me constantly. Is this normal?" "In Turkey the internet is not very good. It comes and goes. We are used to it", she chuckled. "Good God", I cried, "How do you guys ever get any work done?". She sent me a skeptic look. "You get used to it. You work for 15 minutes. Then you take a break. Then you work for 15 minutes again". I nodded knowingly and thought about what I would have done, had I been born in Turkey. Not a philosopher, not an academic, not a writer. Maybe a truck driver. At least the trucks seemed to work.

Back in the hotel I was restless. No computer. No internet. At least the TV was working. I could watch Eurovision. Or I could use my iPhone. $19.97/minute in roaming charges. Maybe it was worth it, all things considered. If only the money wasn't going to AT&T. I ended up reading Mehmet Bastiyali's "Truths of Existence" instead, a Turkish interpretation of the Koran, translated into English. "Every person should occasionally be able to shake himself free of the pressures of daily life to think about the questions of who he is, how and why he was created ...", it said. I thought about his wise words for a moment. Then I grabbed my iPhone.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Thomas Knoten's Commencement Speech

My student Tom Knoten, a former successful lawyer, served as a commencement speaker at this year's graduation ceremony.

Saturday, May 08, 2010

The Unreliability of Eyewitness Testimony: A Case Study

Eyewitness testimony is notoriously unreliable. This has been shown empirically on a number of occasions. In my introspection class last semester we decided to test this claim in a class experiment.

The class was attended by a real lawyer Tom, who was professionally trained to query eyewitnesses. Chris was assigned the role of police officer, Alex was assigned the role of juror, and Lisa, Jessica and Matt were assigned the roles of criminals and victims.

Tom, Chris and Alex were asked to leave the room. Lisa, Jessica and Matt were then told to go to the main office and plan a crime. They were also told to change their clothes and enter the room later wearing accessories, as they saw fit.

I then instructed the rest of the class to pretend that they were at a cafe. They were told to engage in real conversations with each other, as they would at a real cafe. They were furthermore asked not to pay any special pay attention to Lisa, Matt and Jessica, were they to enter the room, unless there was something special to pay attention to.

Jessica and Matt then entered the room, sat down, and I overheard them engage in a conversation about cats. Then Lisa entered the room, noticed Jessica and Matt and got terribly upset. An argument took place, and Lisa then stabbed Matt and ran away. One of the cafe patrons called the police on his cell phone. Chris then came and questioned Jessica and Matt (who survived the stabbing). He caught Lisa and then questioned her too.

Tom (the lawyer) interviewed victims, criminals, the police officer, and eyewitnesses. Then the trial began. Tom called and queried people, as he saw fit, one at a time. Finally Alex the juror was asked to decide which of the eyewitnesses was the most reliable.

Alex said that he thought Kristina was the most reliable eyewitness. Her report was clear and to the point. She also offered many details which were lacking in the other eye-witnesses' accounts. She looked self-confident and reliable and used very few modifiers of the sort "I believe", "I think", "probably", "could be", "might have".

As it turned out, Kristina was the least reliable eyewitness. She got the color of Lisa's shirt wrong, and there were various other inaccuracies in her story. Our class experiment had confirmed the existing theory: Eyewitness testimony is notoriously unreliable. What's more: We are unable to tell when it is.

All the eyewitnesses wrongly categorized the crime as a jealousy stabbing which involved a man (Matt), his new lover (Jessica) and his old lover (Lisa). In fact, Jessica and Lisa were lovers, and Jessica was cheating on Lisa!

Sunday, May 02, 2010

What Women's Butts Really Look Like

There has been a lot of discussion of whether Britney Spears's recent release of untouched versions of images of her half-naked body just is another case of "bourgeois body image feminism" and not the worthwhile struggle for "real gender equality".

But c'mon, you gotta give Britney credit for exposing her behind like this with cellulite and everything. Most women look like the gal on the right, not the gal on the left. The one on the left is the result of heavy photoshop brushing, not the real thing. Dream on guys.

Or better: stop dreaming. If you really want someone who looks like the girl on the left, you probably have pedophile tendencies cuz that's how a 10-year-old looks. Once the teen hormones kick in, fat cells naturally get filled, and they don't get filled evenly. Or maybe you should join an association for anorexic girls. If you are lucky, sick starving girls might look like that too (HT: Feminist Philosophers).

Saturday, May 01, 2010

Life and Work

I just love this picture. It's from Australia: Declan Smithies's 30 years birthday party and engagement party to Jenny. The other two in the picture are Rhiannon Long-Rabern and Holly Lawford-Smith. Leone Miller took the picture. God, I miss those guys. And yes, my hair is red. It changes color like leaves on a tree in autumn. Why is my hair red? Answer: I don't know. Why did I start the love blog? Answer: See my earlier post on stereotypes. Not all of us confuse career with life. Some of us have hobbies. I write on weird topics. That's my hobby. (love, I learned tonight, is a weird topic).

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Some Announcements

1) My colleagues Eric Wiland and John Brunero are putting together a conference on reasons and rationality. It's an annual event. The official title is: St. Louis Annual Conference on Reasons and Rationality. This year's event will take place May 23-25, 2010. It's looking great already. For more information on the conference, click here.

2) I have started a new blog. It's not a philosophy or psychology blog. It's meant to be for the general reader and focuses on the irrational and unconscious elements of love. Occasionally, philosophical or psychological issues may come up but they would be in a format that can be understood by the gal on the street.

3) As some of you may have guessed, writing is my passion. I once wanted to be a writer but didn't make enough money to pay my bills. So, I went into philosophy. I have just recently started doing some freelance writing again. My articles are on all sorts of topics and usually completely unrelated to philosophy or psychology. When I get around to it, the articles will be posted here. When they happen to be of relevance to students, I will post them in the sidebar of this blog under "Tips for Students and Other Job Seekers".

4) I hold a secondary position in psychology now. I am only barely starting to get acquainted with my new department. But in the future Lemmings will also occasionally contain some posts on psychology.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

In an Ideal World...

Old classic:

In an ideal world...

1) the baseball players would be American
2) the policemen would be English
3) the car mechanics would be German
4) the schools would be Danish
5) the cooks would be Italian
6) the stand-up comedians would be Australian
7) the innkeepers would be Swiss,
8) and the lovers would be French

In a living hell...

1) the baseball players would be Australian
2) the policemen would be German
3) the car mechanics would be French
4) the schools would be American
5) the cooks would be English
6) the stand-up comedians would be Swiss
7) the innkeepers would be Italian
8) and the lovers would be Danish

Thursday, April 15, 2010


Stereotype for 'philosopher' (outdated): old-looking, man, suit, pipe smoker, whiskey drinker, a serious look on his face, sober analytic writing style, not prolific, secret meetings at philosophers’ houses to study dead philosophers, knows that to steal ideas from one person is plagiarism but to steal from many is research, fails to respond to mail from people below himself, is obsessed with ivy-league universities, interviews female job candidates on hotel beds.

Stereotype for 'philosopher' (up to date): young-looking, man, poorly dressed or Euro-trash, beer-drinker, fun, endearing analytic writing-style, prolific, confuses career with life, tardiness in responding to emails from people below himself, has a mental list of good and bad people and good and bad philosophy, travels frequently, changes jobs often, contributes to one or more weblogs, has a webpage with links to all published articles and works in progress, is a member of Facebook, has at least 200 Facebook friends, owns a MacBook, owns an iPhone, is obsessed with department and journal rankings, frequently attends the meetings of the American Philosophical Association mostly to be seen and to hang with the inner circle, obsessed with media presence, surrounded by female groupies.

Stereotype for 'The Eastern Meeting of the American Philosophical Association': over-prized hotel rooms, poorly attended talk sessions, scared job candidates, obsession with the university affiliation listed on people’s name tags, free-beer smoker, over-prized beer smoker, hitting on female students, parties in hotel rooms, drunkenness, the Presidential address.

Stereotype for 'man': doesn’t go to the bathroom when he needs to make an emergency crotch adjustment, doesn't need to schedule sex around his reproductive system, never lets hot wax near his pubic area, his orgasms are real (always), his last name stays put, people don’t glance at his chest while he is talking to them, nobody secretly wonders if he swallows, can have great sex with people he doesn’t like, sorts laundry into "filthy" and "filthy but good enough to wear", wonders how service stations keep their restrooms so clean, can walk down the street with a balding head and a beer gut and still think he is sexy, can be president.

Wednesday, April 07, 2010

Book Review: The 4-Hour Workweek

The 4-Hour Workweek immediately hit the media spotlight. It got raving reviews and has created countless debates on blogs around the web ever since. Its author, Timothy Ferriss, coined the term "the new rich". The new rich are not rich. They don't own oil companies or Manhattan nightclubs. They are not bestseller authors either. What they have is a regular flow of cash which they obtain without working much, and which they use to fund their dream lifestyle. Tim aims at showing anyone how to achieve just that: a luxury lifestyle without putting in the hours. And by 'anyone' he literally means 'anyone', from the Midwest academic on a 4-4 course load to the single mother working a 9-5 job as a coffee bitch. The book is smack-full of neat tips. Here are just a few of the "how-to" promises of the book. Tim promises to show you:

• How to outsource your life to overseas virtual assistants for $5 per hour and do whatever you want
• How to read 200% faster in 10 minutes
• How to eliminate 50% of your work in 48 hours using the principles of a forgotten Italian economist
• How to trade a long-haul career for short work bursts and frequent "mini-retirements"
• How to train your boss to value performance over presence, or kill your job (or company) if it's beyond repair
• How to cultivate selective ignorance—and create time—with a low-information diet
• How to get free housing worldwide and airfare at 50–80% off
• How to fill the void and create a meaningful life after removing work and the office

What the heck is the guy thinking? Well, there is a bit of history to it. After college Tim took a wearying sales job at a tech-y firm. When he left to start a successful business of his own, he went from 40 to 80 hours a week. Despite making good money, he felt like every little piece of his soul was slowly being sucked out of him.

Tim then decided to change. He streamlined, eliminated, automated, outsourced. Not exactly the geeky type, Tim took off to tropical paradise, and then decided to write a book about achieving the true American dream. He also created a blog devoted to experiments in life-style design.

So what to do if you want to be Tim? Well, first stop your 9 bad habits and then start outsourcing. It's that simple. Tim's 9 bad habits undone are plainly adorable:

1. Do not answer calls from unrecognized phone numbers
2. Do not e-mail first thing in the morning or last thing at night
3. Do not agree to meetings or calls with no clear agenda or end time
4. Do not let people ramble
5. Do not check e-mail constantly — “batch” and check at set times only
6. Do not over-communicate with low-profit, high-maintenance customers
7. Do not work more to fix overwhelm — prioritize
8. Do not carry a cellphone or Crackberry 24/7
9. Do not expect work to fill a void that non-work relationships and activities should

I must admit that I haven't been able to stop a single one of these killer habits (except the first one, but I never answer the phone anyway, unless I really like you). But the thought is a good one. What about outsourcing? The trick is to find a job that doesn't require your presence. Then, and only then, will outsourcing work. You then hire some poor Indian guy to do business for you and then you book a discount trip to Hawaii or Greenland. It sounds burlesque and irresponsible but, Tim argues, it really isn't. We are simply socially conditioned into thinking that we have to work our asses off to be successful. Get over your fears and hit the road, guys!

But outsourcing seems to rub people the wrong way. It feels a bit atrocious to hire some stone broke virtual guy from a third-world country to do an exhaustive search of the world's boutiques in order to find a talking or dancing Elmo for your spoiled child or to arrange for a team of tech nerds to set up a countless number of speed-dates with oblivious young women looking for true love. Tim has done all of that, and more. The most hilarious part of the book is the section where Tim describes how he is outsourcing his love letters to his wife! I am glad I am not married to him (though I do have to admit that he is quite a handsome young man). But back to outsourcing. Is it really that bad? We live in an outsourced world, don't we? We pay people to clean our houses, wash our cars, fill our SUVs with gas in Jersey, walk our dogs, house-sit our cats, baby-sit our kids, cook our party food, teach our classes, grade our quizzes, conduct our X-Phi quasi-experiments, add footnotes to our book manuscripts (yes, some people really do do that!), you name it. But it's not just paying people to work for you that fuels people's concerns about outsourcing. It's the fact that Tim pays $5/hour to have young starving men and women from India run his company and personal life while he tangos in Argentina and eats at 5-star restaurants. Ever thought of donating, Tim?

But if (and that's a big if) outsourcing really ain't that bad, then the question arises, is it really true that you can get away with working only four hours a week? Not really. By "a 4-hour workweek" Tim means four hours spent on work you really despise doing but which nonetheless brings in most of your income. Many of us (academics) are fortunate enough to have a 4-hour workweek in this sense. Not all academics are where they want to be, but a huge number of us are doing exactly what we want to do 90% of the time. So, the book is not really geared towards academics. But I think even academics can draw something useful from the book. If nothing else, you can get a good laugh out of it. Plus, it's all the rage, it's been on New York Time's bestseller list for years. Actually, this is the second expanded edition (100 pages of added material!), and it's still on the lists. Of course, the fact that it has been on the lists for years just shows that people buy it for whatever reason (a lot of marketing buzz and a catchy title?), not that it's a great book. But it really is quite a useful book, full of little nifty tips on how to use your time more efficiently and find more time to do what you really enjoy doing. One wonders, though, whether Tim actually wrote the book. Or did he follow his own religion? This could be a true Gödel-Schmidt story.

[Nota Bene: I appreciate the sudden flow of free books from trade publishers after I started posting book reviews to my blog but it is still my prerogative to pick and choose which of them I review. Yes, I do have a life! So, no follow-up emails please. Or maybe I should think about outsourcing my reviewer responsibilities!]

Tuesday, April 06, 2010

Courses This Fall

I am teaching two seminars this fall. Here are the course descriptions:

Introspection (graduate level)
Conducted this fall by Dr. Berit Brogaard

There is little doubt that we undergo conscious experiences. There is also little doubt that we often describe our conscious experiences. For example, I might convey to you the content of my current visual experience or the character of my pain sensation or the level of detail of my visual image. Whether or not we can describe inner experience, and can do so reliably is an important question. Various kinds of scientific research depend on the possibility and reliability of these types of report. But is it actually possible to describe inner experience? And if it is possible, can introspective reports serve as reliable evidence in scientific studies? This course addresses these and related questions about introspective reports through a study of the Method of Descriptive Experience Sampling, a method developed by psychologist Russ Hurlburt. The method was critically discussed and tested in a series of studies conducted by Russ Hurlburt in collaboration with philosopher Eric Schwitzgebel in 2003. The results of these experiments and Schwitzgebel and Hurlburt's conversations were published as the book Describing Inner Experience (MIT, 2007). The book will serve as the main textbook for this course. Upon completion of the book we will read William Lyons' The Disappearance of Introspection and Hurlburt's Sampling Inner Experience in Disturbed Affect. We will furthermore discuss selected sections of David Dunning's Self-Insight and Tim Wilson's Strangers to Ourselves. The first three books must be purchased on eBay or Amazon, or at the University bookstore. The last two books can be acquired through inter-library loans. The class will meet for approx. 2 hours every Monday from September - November. No prerequisites are required, though some general background in philosophy, psychology, cognitive science or related fields of study is recommended.

The Nature of the Unconscious (graduate level and upper-level undergraduate, cross-listed)
Conducted this fall by Dr. Berit Brogaard

While Freud was responsible for popularizing the notion of the unconscious, the notion of an unconscious mental state was not given any serious attention in modern-day scientific circles until around the 1970s. The notion then emerged independently of the Freudian tradition in cognitive psychology. In cognitive psychology the notion of an unconscious mental state first seriously entered the picture as a result of studies of amnesiacs. While amnesiacs cannot remember words they have just read, they nonetheless are able to do as well as normal people on cognitive tests that do not require short-term memory. Daniel Schacter, a professor of psychology at Harvard University, introduced the notion of 'unconscious memory' or what he called 'implicit memory'. Implicit memory is the effect of a past event on a person's current experience, thought, and action in the absence of, or independently of, conscious memory (Schacter 1987). Implicit memory involves implicit episodic knowledge, that is, implicit knowledge of a specific event, as opposed to procedural knowledge. If you have ever been so drunk that you couldn't remember how you ended up in fetal position on the couch, what you were missing was explicit episodic knowledge but you may still have had implicit episodic knowledge. Even if you cannot explicitly remember what you did last night, your implicit memories of what you did last night may still guide your current actions. Your brain knows what you did and is out for revenge. Readings for the course include: The Hidden Brain (, The New Unconscious (, and selected readings from The Freud Reader ( The class will meet for approx. 2 hours every Monday from September - November. No prerequisites are required, though some general background in philosophy, psychology, cognitive science or related fields of study is recommended.

Monday, April 05, 2010

Two Papers

I am back from the Pacific APA. In case you missed my talks (and care) I have posted links to them on my website here and here. The first link is to my comments from the author-meets-critics session on Uriah Kriegel's book Subjective Consciousness. The second link is to a very brief version of my paper on high-level properties in perception.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Rat Stoppers in All Sewer Systems

Vincent Hendricks' new television show "Gal eller Genial" is scheduled to air on Danish television's DR2 on Tuesday April 6 at 8PM. Vincent Hendricks, who is Professor of Philosophy and Logic at University of Copenhagen, will evaluate 20 innovative projects in this new inventor's contest. The projects range from mobile homes for homeless people and cancer treatment with modified UV rays to rat stoppers in all sewer systems.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Hitler gets a revise and resubmit

Someone put dialogue concerning peer review for a science paper to the same clip (HT: Jeff Roland)

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Book Review: The Hidden Brain: How Our Unconscious Minds Elect Presidents, Control Markets, Wage Wars, and Save Our Lives

In his recent book The Hidden Brain: How Our Unconscious Minds Elect Presidents, Control Markets, Wage Wars, and Save Our Lives science journalist Shankar Vedantam argues that our unconscious thoughts and emotions, for example our implicit sexism, racism and conformity to the behavior of others in a group, govern behavior we explicitly despise. Many Americans have a racial bias against Africans and African-Americans not because of biology but because of culture, says Vedantam. We grow up watching television and quickly learn who the most successful leaders in our country are. We are taught that the stereotype of a successful leader is a white male. We implicitly think that people of color and women are inferior to white males. In stressful situations our implicit biases quiet down our rational inner voices and take control of our decision making. Michael Richard’s racist rant during a 2006 stand-up appearance is an example of how our true temperament may suddenly rear its ugly head. Vedantam does not think that Michael Richard is significantly more racist in his beliefs than any one of us. The difference is a matter of degree, he says.

According to Vedantam, our unconscious mind fuels most of our decisions to act the way we do. Vedantam explains how the hidden impulses of a large crowd of onlookers fueled the horrible events that took place on the Belle Isle Bridge in Detroit on the morning of August 19, 1995, where Deletha Word, college student and mother of a 13-teen year old, was beaten up beyond belief by Martell Welch in front of crowd of onlookers who not only failed to intervene but also failed to notify the police. Some allegedly cheered him on as he beat up Deletha and tore off her clothes. Why didn’t the onlookers put an end to it? Because people unconsciously mirror the reactions of others in a crowd. Even though they understand at a rational level that they ought to notify the authorities or stop the incident, their hidden world of learned behavior prevents them from doing so.

One of the most fascinating sections of Vedantam's book is the discussion of how two transgendered biology professors at Stanford University underwent a complete change, not just sexually but also in how they were treated professionally, when they changed their appearance. One of the professors went from being a woman to being a man, and the other went from being a man to being a woman. The one who became a man suddenly was taken more seriously and was treated with a whole new kind of respect. The one who became a woman found that she was taken less seriously, and her pay fell significantly relative to her peers, all as a result of changing her sex.

As the book progresses Vedantam becomes increasingly more free in his interpretations of the scientific data. He moves from discussions of how our unconscious attitudes shape small-scale behavior to our unconscious resistance to famine relief and the hidden brain's seductive powers in suicide bombings and presidential elections. Despite the leap from solid evidence to more creative hypotheses about what drives our political and social decisions, the later sections of the book raise the important philosophical questions of whether we are responsible for behavior driven by our brain's hidden impulses and whether we can change our tendency to act on our predilections.

Though Vedantam remains optimistic about our capability of changing our inclinations by bringing our implicit biases to light and by using reason rather that gut feeling to guide our decisions, he doesn't really offer much by way of insight into how we should go about changing our ways. He also does not really answer the question of to what extent we should be held liable for behavior governed by our unconscious biases. But on a whole The Hidden Brain offers an insightful treatment of the delicate question of why we make the horrible decisions we do when they could have been avoided with a bit of confidence in the light of reason.

Wednesday, March 03, 2010

Koksuhking God

During our prospective student Abe Brummett’s travels in the pacific islands he came across a tiny island in Micronesia that is very religious. This is a short video of the moment when Abe’s Peace Corps class was first taught the word for "praise" in the Kosraen language.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Call for Papers: Origins of Design in Nature

Liz Swan is looking to solicit contributions from women philosophers of science for a prospective Springer volume she is co-editing entitled, "Origins of Design in Nature: A Fresh, Interdisciplinary Look at How Design Emerges in Complex Systems, Especially Life". You can contact her at:

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Hitler finds out about his philosophy grad school applications

Brian Leiter linked to this video a few days ago, but because of the Central Division Meeting I didn't get around to watching it until now (Thanks to John Fraiser for reminding me!). It's hilarious.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Alternative Location at the Pacific Division Meeting of the APA

As you might have heard the Pacific APA meeting in San Francisco is taking place at a hotel that is currently in a labor dispute. Since many members want to honor the boycott of the union, the University of San Francisco offers an alternative location. At this point there are 17 sessions fully confirmed. Here is the website with all the info (HT: Gerard Kuperus).

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Heidegger And A Hippo Walk Through Those Pearly Gates

I just read Heidegger And A Hippo Walk Through Those Pearly Gates: Using Philosophy (and Jokes!) to Explore Life, Death, the Afterlife, and Everything in Between (Thanks to Brian Leiter for the link). It's available as an e-book through the Penguin group.

The authors Thomas Cathcart and Daniel Klein were once philosophy graduate students at Harvard University. After graduating they went on to do other things. Cathcart served as a probation officer and attended various divinity schools. Klein wrote a lighthearted book on jokes and a number of thrillers. After many years the two men re-united and wrote Plato and a Platypus Walk into a Bar . . .: Understanding Philosophy Through Jokes, a humorous and lighthearted introduction to key concepts in philosophy. It was rejected by 40 publishers before an editor finally showed interest. Initially the book was called An Existentialist and a Horse Walk into a Bar. But the editor didn't like the title. "I want it to be called Plato and ... something", he said. Cathcart quickly replied "A platypus". The book went on to become a bestseller. The two college friends followed up with Aristotle and an Aardvark Go to Washington, a humorous book about logic tied to political speech. The alliteration has become their logo. One wonders whether their next book is going to be called Frege and a Flamingo Walk into an APA Smoker.

Cathcart and Klein's latest effort explores the meaning of life and death through a dialogue between the two authors. The dialogue includes serious passages, jokes and clever little gags, such as the continual assignment of flippant nick names to philosophers. Some reviewers found the running gags annoying. For example, the authors refer to Heidegger as 'Heidi' and 'Marty', and Sigmund Freud as 'Siggy'. I found the style refreshing, and while most of the jokes didn't originate with the authors, they are well placed in the context of more serious philosophical discourse.

Incidentally, the authors' French publisher didn't want 'Heidegger' in the title of the translation because of Heidegger's Nazi associations. The French editor had once put out a book of letters from Heidegger to his wife. No one bought it. So, in France the book will be called Sartre et la Salamandre.

The authors' main aim in the book is to educate the reader about the immortality systems cultures go out of their way to design. Immortality systems are ways of denying death. Religions that promise eternal life are immortality systems. So is the urban tripe: the university club, the fraternity, the golfer club. Groups outlive individuals. Or you decide that you are going to live on in the hearts of your country men, or through your publications and international reputation. You decide that that's going to be your immortality system. But, the authors say, clinging to an immortality system is cheating yourself of a fulfilling life. It means that you are denying death. By not embracing death you are not living fully. And who wants eternal life through others anyway? As Woody Allen once wisely put it, "I don't want to live on in the hearts of my country men. I want to live on in my apartment".

The authors point out that immortality systems don't work very well. People are ultimately willing to kill each other to save their immortality systems. The reason: If I buy into one, and you buy into another, then yours could ultimately be seen as a threat to mine.

Historically, philosophers thought they were giving us a good message when they told us to get in touch with our mortality, Cathcart and Klein say. If you deny your own death, you also reject the chance of feeling fully alive. If we had eternal life, we could waste a couple of millennia making mistakes. It wouldn't matter. It is because of our mortality that we have to take responsibility for ourselves. Artifacts are stuck with the purpose they were designed to have, they cannot change their essence. Human beings, on the other hand, choose what they are going to become. However scary it may be, you have to take responsibility for your own life, Cathcart and Klein add. The message of the book: Face death head on and live intensely.

It's a fine little book. I highly recommend it to anyone who wants a lighthearted and humorous reality check on life and death.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Friday, January 15, 2010

List of Organizations Providing Direct Relief to Haiti

Our chancellor sent us this list of organizations providing direct relief to Haiti (via the Association of International Education Administrators). Or if you are interested in helping immediately, then you can text "HAITI" to "90999" and a donation of $10 will be given automatically to the Red Cross to help with relief efforts. Or text "YELE" to "501501" and a donation of $5 will be given automatically to Yele Haiti to help with relief efforts. The transactions will be charged to your cell phone bill (via Chancellor Tom George).

Action Against Hunger
American Red Cross
Beyond Borders
Direct Relief International
Doctors Without Borders
International Medical Corps
International Relief Teams
Meds and Food for Kids
Mercy Corps
Operation USA
Oxfam America
Partners in Health
Save the Children
Stop Hunger Now
World Concern
Yele Haiti

Monday, January 04, 2010

Friday, January 01, 2010

New Year's Day Scam

Mel, Angie and I got a text from someone we don't know. We decided to play along, by which we mean that we completely ignored standard grammar and spelling conventions and adapted to the guy's favorite topics. We attempted a teenage equivalent of a Turing test. The guy is under the impression that he is texting a male friend. Here is how the dialogue went:

Nathan (the name comes up later): I am completly gay guys just to let you know

Us: Congratulations! Who are you?

Nathan: Lol this is nathan ryan patient sent that

Us: How is your patient? Happy new year (explanation: we parsed this wrong. We thought his name was Nathan Ryan and that his patient sent it)

Nathan: What

Us: Sorry I forgot about that. Long day of drinking. How is he doing anyways. LOL

Nathan: Good i guess lol

Us: What did you do for new year's lol

Nathan: Hung out wit him got high

Us: Do you have pictures?

Nathan: No why

Us: Sorry I thought it was a party or something. So he stole yr phone?

Nathan: Ya lol and sent that to almost everyone on it

Us: OMG, that's so funny. LOL. New year's resolution?

Nathan: No dont have one hbu

Us: Get high more often

Nathan: Cool thats a good one

Us: What are you guys doing tonite?

Nathan: Nuthen sitting hear

Us: Is Ryan there?

Nathan: No if went good

Nathan: I ment home

Us: Going over there later?

Nathan: No

Us: Was there anyone else there yest. New year's hook-up? LOL

Nathan: No it was gay we couldn't find anywhere to go

Us: I hooked up w the hottest shit ever omfg (explanation: we are trying to find out what sex we are. 'Shit' is gender-neutral. We are hoping he would respond with 'who was she?' or 'who was he?')

Nathan: Cool who was it

Us: I don't even know there name wuz

Nathan: Lol thats awesome

Us: How is John doing? (Explanation: we were trying to get more information out of him)

Nathan: Jhon who

Us: I fucking forget his last name, but u remember that one time, that was so funny

Nathan: No what time lol

Us: Can't believe you don't remember, you were so fucked up, omg that fucker is so funny

Nathan: Lol that might be why I cant remember lol what happend

Us: Omg you puked so hard, it was hillarious is Ryan still hanging w that hot blond chick? (Explanation: we saw a facebook picture of some Ryan Patient but it wasn't even his)

Nathan: Idk

Us: Man she was hot. What's up tomorrow?

Nathan: Practice

Us: Cool, where? (Explanation: we are trying to figure out which kind of practice)

Nathan: School

Us: Shit oh right, what's up after that?

Nathan: Idk hbu

Us: Heard about a party, not sure yet, wanna go?

Nathan: Ya sure

Us: Wanna smoke a fat blunt

Nathan: Ya

Us: Do you still c what her face

Nathan: What

Us: John told me y hooked w sm hottie, but prob he just being gay

Nathan: Ya lol if is

Us: Can't believe y didn't get any last night, WTF

Nathan: Lol

Us: What happened at last practice?

Nathan: Nuthen we went longer than the jv but all we did was go live

Us: See y 2morrow prob. Gotta go

Nathan: K