After the Fact – The New Yorker
Most of what is written about truth is the work of philosophers, who explain their ideas by telling little stories about experiments they conduct in their heads, like the time Descartes tried to convince himself that he didn’t exist, and found that he couldn’t, thereby proving that he did.
Michael P. Lynch is a philosopher of truth. His fascinating new book, “The Internet of Us: Knowing More and Understanding Less in the Age of Big Data,” begins with a thought experiment:
“Imagine a society where smartphones are miniaturized and hooked directly into a person’s brain.”
As thought experiments go, this one isn’t much of a stretch. (“Eventually, you’ll have an implant,” Google’s Larry Page has promised, “where if you think about a fact it will just tell you the answer.”)
Now imagine that, after living with these implants for generations, people grow to rely on them, to know what they know and forget how people used to learn—by observation, inquiry, and reason.
Then picture this: overnight, an environmental disaster destroys so much of the planet’s electronic-communications grid that everyone’s implant crashes. It would be, Lynch says, as if the whole world had suddenly gone blind. There would be no immediate basis on which to establish the truth of a fact. No one would really know anything anymore, because no one would know how to know.
I Google, therefore I am not.
‘The Book of Lost Books,’ by Stuart Kelly – New York Times
“The Book of Lost Books” concerns itself with two main subjects: books that have disappeared, either through negligence, deliberate destruction or the vicissitudes of history; and books that never got written in the first place. Ranging over authors as famous as Homer, Hemingway, Austen and Aristophanes, it also contains chapters devoted to non-marquee names like Widsith the Wide-Traveled, Fulgentius, Ahmad ad-Daqiqi and Faltonia Betitia Proba.
Each chapter contains abundant biographical information about the author in question, then proceeds to explain how one or more of his or her books was lost, stolen, mutilated, bowdlerized, incinerated or abandoned.
Kelly seems to grudgingly accept that we are lucky so much great literature has survived, but would be a whole lot luckier if cultural pyromaniacs had refrained from burning down the library at Alexandria once and for all nearly a millennium and a half ago, where the only complete copy of Aeschylus’ 80 plays had been housed for a thousand years.
Occasionally Kelly gets lost inside his sentences; it’s anyone’s guess what he’s ranting about early in the book when he repeats the accusation by Lasus of Hermione that Onomacritus might have been guilty of misattribution, nay forgery, in his edition of Musaeus. In other places, he can turn pedantic; discussing the language of the “Iliad,” he writes: “Predominantly in the Ionic dialect, it contains traces of the Aeolic, hints of Arcado-Cypriot.” Mr. Kelly: behave!
But these occasional lapses quickly give way to delightful vignettes like the one about a critic thrown off a cliff by “irate Athenians who objected to his carping criticism of the divine Homer.” Today, if anyone got thrown off a cliff, it would be for complaining about Oprah.
Proust Was a Neuroscientist – Jonah Lehrer – Book Review
At 25, he has already been a Rhodes scholar, worked in the lab of a Nobel Prize-winning neuroscientist and been a line chef in the kitchens of Le Cirque 2000 and Le Bernardin. He writes a blog on science issues affiliated with Seed magazine, where he is an editor, and now has written “Proust Was a Neuroscientist,” a precocious and engaging book that tries to mend the century-old tear between the literary and scientific cultures.
In college, Lehrer did a double major in neuroscience and English. One day, during a break in molecular experiments on the nature of memory, which involved “performing the strange verbs of bench science: amplifying, vortexing, pipetting,” he picked up “Swann’s Way.” “All I expected from Proust was a little entertainment, or perhaps an education in the art of constructing sentences,” he writes. What he got instead was the surprise Virgil gave Dante: Proust had already discovered what Lehrer was trying to find out. He knew 1) that smell and taste produce uniquely intense memories, and 2) that memory is dependent on the moment and mood of the individual remembering. These were facts scientists didn’t establish until a few years ago. And here was Proust making the same point in 1913.
Philosophy of language – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.
Philosophy of language is the reasoned inquiry into the nature, origins, and usage of language. As a topic, the philosophy of language for analytic philosophers is concerned with four central problems: the nature ofmeaning, language use, language cognition, and the relationship between language and reality. For continental philosophers, however, the philosophy of language tends to be dealt with, not as a separate topic, but as a part of logic. (See the section “Language and continental philosophy” below.)
First, philosophers of language inquire into the nature of meaning, and seek to explain what it means to “mean” something. Topics in that vein include the nature of synonymy, the origins of meaning itself, and how any meaning can ever really be known. Another project under this heading of special interest to analytic philosophers of language is the investigation into the manner in which sentences are composed into a meaningful whole out of the meaning of its parts.
Second, they would like to understand what speakers and listeners do with language in communication, and how it is used socially. Specific interests may include the topics of language learning, language creation, and speech acts.
Third, they would like to know how language relates to the minds of both the speaker and the interpreter. Of specific interest is the grounds for successful translation of words into other words.
Finally, they investigate how language and meaning relate to truth and the world. Philosophers tend to be less concerned with which sentences areactually true, and more with what kinds of meanings can be true or false. A truth-oriented philosopher of language might wonder whether or not a meaningless sentence can be true or false, or whether or not sentences can express propositions about things that do not exist, rather than the way sentences are used.
Amazon.com: Freedom and Neurobiology: Reflections on Free Will, Language, and Political Power (Columbia Themes in Philosophy) (9780231137522): John Searle: Books.
Our self-conception derives mostly from our own experience. We believe ourselves to be conscious, rational, social, ethical, language-using, political agents who possess free will. Yet we know we exist in a universe that consists of mindless, meaningless, unfree, nonrational, brute physical particles. How can we resolve the conflict between these two visions?
In Freedom and Neurobiology, the philosopher John Searle discusses the possibility of free will within the context of contemporary neurobiology. He begins by explaining the relationship between human reality and the more fundamental reality as described by physics and chemistry. Then he proposes a neurobiological resolution to the problem by demonstrating how various conceptions of free will have different consequences for the neurobiology of consciousness.
In the second half of the book, Searle applies his theory of social reality to the problem of political power, explaining the role of language in the formation of our political reality. The institutional structures that organize, empower, and regulate our lives-money, property, marriage, government-consist in the assignment and collective acceptance of certain statuses to objects and people. Whether it is the president of the United States, a twenty-dollar bill, or private property, these entities perform functions as determined by their status in our institutional reality. Searle focuses on the political powers that exist within these systems of status functions and the way in which language constitutes them.
Searle argues that consciousness and rationality are crucial to our existence and that they are the result of the biological evolution of our species. He addresses the problem of free will within the context of a neurobiological conception of consciousness and rationality, and he addresses the problem of political power within the context of this analysis.
A clear and concise contribution to the free-will debate and the study of cognition, Freedom and Neurobiology is essential reading for students and scholars of the philosophy of mind.
Egalitarianism – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.
Egalitarianism (from French égal, meaning “equal”) is a trend of thought that favors equality among living entities. Egalitarian doctrines maintain that all humans are equal in fundamental worth or social status, according to The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. The Cultural theory of risk holds egalitarianism as defined by (1) a negative attitude towards rules and principles, and (2) a positive attitude towards group decision-making, with fatalism termed as its opposite. According to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, the term has two distinct definitions in modern English. It is defined either as a political doctrinethat all people should be treated as equals and have the same political, economic, social, and civil rights or as a social philosophy advocating the removal of economic inequalities among people or the decentralization of power. Some sources define egalitarianism as the point of view that equality reflects the natural state of humanity.
Didacticism is a philosophy that emphasizes instructional and informative qualities in literature and other types of art. The term has its origin in the Ancient Greek word διδακτικός (didaktikos), “related to education/teaching,” and signified learning in a fascinating and intriguing manner.
Didactic art was meant both to entertain and to instruct. Didactic plays, for instance, were intended to convey a moral theme or other rich truth to the audience. An example of didactic writing is Alexander Pope‘s An Essay on Criticism (1711), which offers a range of advice about critics and criticism. An example of didactism in music is the chant Ut queant laxis, which was used by Guido of Arezzo to teach solfege syllables.
Around the 19th century the term didactic came to also be used as a criticism for work that appears to be overly burdened with instructive, factual, or otherwise educational information, to the detriment of the enjoyment of the reader (a meaning that was quite foreign to Greek thought). Edgar Allan Poe even called didacticism the worst of “heresies” in his essay The Poetic Principle.
Didacticism – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.