How the world appears to us in certain forms imposed by our brains


Is our perceptual experience a veridical representation of the world or is it a product of our beliefs and past experiences? Cognitive penetration describes the influence of higher level cognitive factors on perceptual experience and has been a debated topic in philosophy of mind and cognitive science.

{ Consciousness and Cognition | Continue reading }

photo { Can you think a thought which isn’t yours? A remarkable new study suggests you can }

One of Spinoza’s main mereological assumptions is that parts are prior to their whole


Cioffi endorses the Oxford comma, the one before and in a series of three or more. On the question of whether none is singular or plural, he is flexible: none can mean not a single one and take a singular verb, or it can mean not any and take a plural verb. His sample “None are boring” (from the New Yorker, where I work) was snipped from a review of a show of photographs by Richard Avedon. Cioffi would prefer the singular in this instance — “None is boring” — arguing that it “emphasizes how not a single, solitary one of these Avedon photographs is boring”. To me, putting so much emphasis on the photos’ not being boring suggests that the critic was hoping for something boring. I would let it stand. […]

that usually precedes elements that are essential to your sentence’s meaning [restrictive], while which typically introduces ‘nonessential’ elements [non-restrictive], and usually refers to the material directly before it.” Americans sometimes substitute which for that, thinking it makes us sound more proper (i.e. British). On both sides of the Atlantic, the classic non­restrictive which is preceded by a comma.

{ The Times Literary Supplement | Continue reading }

‘The first principle of all action is leisure.’ —Aristotle


The publication of Richard Krafft-Ebbing’s masterwork Psychopathia Sexualis in 1886 represented a landmark in thinking about human sexuality and the bizarre forms that it can take. In addition to describing different types of sexual expression that the author regarded as “perverse” (usually any form of sex that didn’t lead to procreation), it quickly became one of the most influential books on human sexuality ever written and introduced numerous new terms into common usage. One of these terms was “masochism,” which Krafft-Ebbing defined as the opposite of sadism (which he also coined). While the later is the desire to cause pain and use force, the former is the wish to suffer pain and be subjected to force.  

one person in particular who was less than pleased with the new term was the Austrian author, Leopold von Sacher-Masoch. Krafft-Ebbing justified naming this new sexual anomaly after the prominent author whom he described as “the poet of Masochism” due to his erotic writings and because of his own eccentric personal life. […]

Venus in Furs, the short novel for which Sacher-Masoch is best known, was published in 1870, and has become an erotic classic in its own right. In this book, the hero Severin asks to be treated as a slave and to be abused by Wanda (the “Venus in furs” of the story). The fact that Sacher-Masoch often acted out these fantasies in real-life with his wives and mistresses was not well-known. […]

It may be a coincidence that his health went into a decline shortly after Psychopathia Sexualis came out but by March of 1895, he was delusional and violent. After attempting to kill his then-wife Hulda, she arranged for him to be discreetly moved to an asylum in Lindheim, Hesse. Although his official obituary states that he died that year, there are claims that Sacher-Masoch lived on as an anonymous asylum inmate and actually died years later.

{ Providentia | Continue reading }

cloaked in the pall of the ace of spaces


With tens or even hundreds of billions of potentially habitable planets within our galaxy, the question becomes: are we alone?

Many scientists and commentators equate “more planets” with “more E.T.s”. However, the violence and instability of the early formation and evolution of rocky planets suggests that most aliens will be extinct fossil microbes.

Just as dead dinosaurs don’t walk, talk or breathe, microbes that have been fossilised for billions of years are not easy to detect by the remote sampling of exoplanetary atmospheres.

In research published [PDF] in the journal Astrobiology, we argue that early extinction could be the cosmic default for life in the universe. This is because the earliest habitable conditions may be unstable. […] Inhabited planets may be rare in the universe, not because emergent life is rare, but because habitable environments are difficult to maintain during the first billion years.

Our suggestion that the universe is filled with dead aliens might disappoint some, but the universe is under no obligation to prevent disappointment.

{ The Conversation | Continue reading }

previously { Where is the Great Filter? Behind us, or not behind us? If the filter is in our past, there must be some extremely improbable step in the sequence of events whereby an Earth-like planet gives rise to an intelligent species comparable in its technological sophistication to our contemporary human civilization. }

still { The Day the Earth Stood Still, 1951 }

By my troth, Nerissa, my little body is aweary of this great world


In “Rat Ethics” I am primarily concerned with moral arguments about the rat, in particular, Rattus norvegicus. I argue that there is a complex bias against the animal which reduces it to ‘a pest, vermin, or mischievous’. This predominant bias against rats is a product of cultural stereotyping rather than objective reasoning. A cultural and philosophical examination of the rat can expose and provide grounds for rejecting this bias. I argue that the three main types of rats we encounter (i.e., liminal, research, companion) should be given full moral consideration and determine certain basic moral rights which are distinct to each encounter. I examine the Norway rat from a historical, cultural, philosophical, and practical perspective. I conclude that we must re-evaluate our moral relations with this animal and democratically support the basic rights its moral liberation demands. The fundamental rights of all rats are: 1) the moral right to have reasonable consideration, and 2) the moral right to freedom from unnecessary suffering. Further, contract-based rights are suggested for companion rats, which take the form of additional regulation regarding breeders, retailers, and consumers.

{ Joshua Duffy | Continue reading }

images { ad for The Rats Are Coming! The Werewolves Are Here!, 1972 | Rat Fink by Adam Cruz }

Just learn how to capture your luck, for your luck is always there


As Goethe observed in 1797, “the publisher always knows the profit to himself and his family whereas the author is totally in the dark.” This problem of lopsided information was aggravated by the near-absence of copyright protection in the 18th and 19th century. A bestseller could be expected to spawn an abundance of pirated versions. Charles Dickens, on his first trip to the United States in 1842, complained endlessly about the pirating of his works for the U.S. market. This lack of intellectual property protection led to further conflicts of interest and opinion between authors and publishers: it was standard practice among publishers — even respectable ones — to have multiple print runs without an author’s permission, and writers sometimes tried to sell near-identical editions of the same title to multiple publishers. Because authors couldn’t trust the sales numbers if and when their publishers provided them, 19th-century book contracts were for a fixed fee rather than per-copy royalty payments. […]

Goethe engineered the following mechanism […]

I am inclined to offer Mr. Vieweg from Berlin an epic poem, Hermann and Dorothea, which will have approximately 2000 hexameters. …Concerning the royalty we will proceed as follows: I will hand over to Mr. Counsel Böttiger [Goethe’s lawyer] a sealed note which contains my demand, and I wait for what Mr. Vieweg will suggest to offer for my work. If his offer is lower than my demand, then I take my note back, unopened, and the negotiation is broken. If, however, his offer is higher, then I will not ask for more than what is written in the note to be opened by Mr. Böttiger.

Scholars had treated Goethe’s proposition as one of the enigmas left behind by one of history’s greatest literary figures. But the economists argue that there’s no mystery to Goethe’s choice of mechanism. The author wanted to know how much he was worth to Vieweg, and he devised this peculiar “auction” to get Vieweg to tell him.

{ The Millions | Continue reading }

10 months since Trump descended the escalator at Trump Tower to announce his presidential bid in front of paid actors


Why is there something rather than nothing? […]

No experiment could support the hypothesis ‘There is nothing’ because any observation obviously implies the existence of an observer.

{ Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy | Continue reading }

art { Tom Wesselmann, Smoker #14, 1974 }

Don’t fall into the trap of thinking because a line of attack didn’t work at first that it isn’t effective. Repetition is key.


Have you heard the one about the biologist, the physicist, and the mathematician? They’re all sitting in a cafe watching people come and go from a house across the street. Two people enter, and then some time later, three emerge. The physicist says, “The measurement wasn’t accurate.” The biologist says, “They have reproduced.” The mathematician says, “If now exactly one person enters the house then it will be empty again.”

{ Nautilus | Continue reading }

Cause we’re the party people night and day


The Devil looks you in the eyes and offers you a bet. Pick a number and if you successfully guess the total he’ll roll on two dice you get to keep your soul. If any other number comes up, you go to burn in eternal hellfire.

You call “7” and the Devil rolls the dice.

A two and a four, so the total is 6 — that’s bad news.

But let’s not dwell on the incandescent pain of your infinite and inescapable future, let’s think about your choice immediately before the dice were rolled.

Did you make a mistake? Was choosing “7” an error?

In one sense, obviously yes. You should have chosen 6.

But in another important sense you made the right choice. There are more combinations of dice outcomes that add to 7 than to any other number. The chances of winning if you bet 7 are higher than for any other single number.

The distinction is between a particular choice which happens to be wrong, and a choice strategy which is actually as good as you can do in the circumstances. If we replace the Devil’s Wager with the situations the world presents you, and your choice of number with your actions in response, then we have a handle on what psychologists mean when they talk about “cognitive error” or “bias”.

{ Mind Hacks | Continue reading }

You’re stuck in the middle, and the pain is thunder


The classic argument is that those of our ancestors who saw more accurately had a competitive advantage over those who saw less accurately and thus were more likely to pass on their genes that coded for those more accurate perceptions, so after thousands of generations we can be quite confident that we’re the offspring of those who saw accurately, and so we see accurately. That sounds very plausible. But I think it is utterly false. It misunderstands the fundamental fact about evolution, which is that it’s about fitness functions — mathematical functions that describe how well a given strategy achieves the goals of survival and reproduction. […]

Evolution has shaped us with perceptions that allow us to survive. But part of that involves hiding from us the stuff we don’t need to know. And that’s pretty much all of reality, whatever reality might be.

{ Quanta | Continue reading }

Once more, on pain of death, all men depart


The Sorrows of Young Werther was published in 1774, when Goethe (1749–1832) was just twenty-five years old. A product of true literary genius, it not only represents one of the greatest works of literature ever written, but it also offers keenly intuitive insight into one of the most terrible and mystifying emotional disorders that plague humankind.

Well before Sigmund Freud, and most probably destined to become an important source of Freud’s understanding of melancholic depression, Goethe was able to peer into the soul of those afflicted with what is now termed Major Depressive Disorder (and some forms of Bipolar Disorder) and see what is taking place within those who are suffering from it. It is impressive how clearly Goethe grasped the twin roles played in mel-ancholia of narcissistic object choice and extreme ambivalence toward a love object.

{ The Psychoanalytic Quarterly | PDF }

Hasbro thinks the world needs three more Transformers movies


The problem we will address can be characterized in either one of two ways. The first is this: why do people pursue art that evokes negative emotions, when they tend to avoid things that evoke such emotions? The emphasis here is on the disagreeable nature of certain mental states. The second characterization emphasizes the disagreeable nature of their causes (which are also, typically, their objects): why do we appreciate tragic events in art when we don’t appreciate tragic events in life? […]

We think both questions involved in the paradox can be answered with reference to the fact that sad art acknowledges sad aspects of life. […] Acknowledging involves recognizing, giving credit, honoring, or doing justice. We think that sad art does just this for its subject matter. In this respect, works of sad art have much in common with monuments to real life tragedies. The difference is that since sad art typically touches on universal themes, it ‘commemorates’ not only specific events, but general aspects of life. […]

The acknowledgement theory says that people derive pleasure from the fact that certain aspects of life are acknowledged in works of art, and answers the question why we pursue tragic art with reference to this pleasure.

{ Philosophical Studies | Continue reading }