Guggenheim and MacArthur fellowship-winning philosopher Elizabeth Anderson recently spoke with Joe Humphreys at the Irish Times about America's toxic obsession with by-your-bootstraps individualism, and specifically how it relates to poverty.
There are plenty of impactful quotes throughout the interview, but the parts that stuck out the most to me—as an agnostic born into an Irish Catholic family, whose mother worked for the church for a long time—were her observations about America's puritanical roots, and, later, the impacts of World War II. Anderson essentially proposes the idea that early America Puritans like the Pilgrims were determined to distance themselves from the institutional power of the Catholic church—which, for all its faults, has at least had a longstanding commitment to helping and empathizing with those suffering from poverty. In addition to Manifest Destiny, these Puritans believed that hard work was the only promise of salvation, which eventually evolved into the whole "rugged individualism" idea that consumes so many American conservatives and Evangelicals. While Anderson acknowledges that this ethic is rooted in a very pro-worker mindset, it's clearly been secularized over time into a highly partisan hatred of the poor, with a nod towards its religious roots:
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There is a profound suspicion of anyone who is poor, and a consequent raising to the highest priority imposing incredibly humiliating, harsh conditions on access to welfare benefits on the assumption you’re some kind of grifter, or you’re trying to cheat the system. There is no appreciation for the existence of structural poverty, poverty that is not the fault of your own but because the economy maybe is in recession or, in a notorious Irish case, the potato crop fails.
In 2003, Philosophical Quarterly published a paper by philosopher Nick Bostrom titled "Are You Living In a Computer Simulation?" In the introduction, Bostrom argues that one (or more) of the following propositions must be true:
(1) the human species is very likely to go extinct before reaching a “posthuman” stage
(2) any posthuman civilization is extremely unlikely to run a significant number of simulations of their evolutionary history (or variations thereof)
(3) we are almost certainly living in a computer simulation.
It follows that the belief that there is a significant chance that we will one day become posthumans who run ancestor‐simulations is false, unless we are currently living in a simulation. A number of other consequences of this result are also discussed.
The TED-Ed video above looks at how we might be able to run experiments to learn whether or not we are currently living in a simulation. Read the rest
Actor Keanu Reeves answers one of life's greatest questions in the way only Keanu Reeves can. Read the rest
"Consciousness is what allows us to be aware of both our surroundings and our own inner state." In the first of a three part video series, "Kruzgesagt - In a Nutshell" examines "how unaware things come aware." Stay tuned for theories of consciousness that of course may be as much about philosophy as they are neuroscience.
Retired Cambridge professor Peter Smith has distilled his experience in teaching philosophers and mathematicians about formal logic into a free, frequently updated (last updated: 2017) study guide to logic, constructed to be easily accessible, with quick-start guides for different kinds of learners, written on the assumption of very little education in either maths or philosophy. Read the rest
Fantasy and science fiction author and political activist Steven Brust (previously) was this year's Guest of Honor at Philcon, an excellent Philadelphia-area science fiction (I have also had the privilege to be Philcon's GoH, and it's a great con); his guest of honor speech is entitled Truth as a Vehicle for Enhancing Fiction, Fiction as a Vehicle for Discovering Truth, and he's posted a transcript to his blog. Read the rest
Umair Haque (previously) is on fire: If the Point of Capitalism is to Escape Capitalism, Then What’s the Point of Capitalism? "You can see it in stark, comic terms. What are Bezos and Musk doing? Trying to flee to Mars. What’s Gates doing? Recommending you books to read, and trying to save the world with charity. LOL — how ironic. These are different forms of freedom from capitalism. Maybe on Mars, we can build a better world. Maybe through ideas and philanthropy, we can solve the problems that corporations can’t. All the capitalists I see are trying to win freedom from capitalism, in one way or another. Aren’t they?" (via Kottke) Read the rest
Quantum physics gets real weird real fast, and one idea gaining more currency of late is the concept of quantum retrocausality, where a decision made in our experience of the present may influence what we experience as the past.
First, to clarify what retrocausality is and isn't: It does not mean that signals can be communicated from the future to the past—such signaling would be forbidden even in a retrocausal theory due to thermodynamic reasons. Instead, retrocausality means that, when an experimenter chooses the measurement setting with which to measure a particle, that decision can influence the properties of that particle (or another particle) in the past, even before the experimenter made their choice. In other words, a decision made in the present can influence something in the past.
Huw Price has done some great introductory lectures like this on the concept:
When we think of democracy, we generally think of voting: the people are polled, the people decide. But voting is zero-sum: it has winners and losers. There are other models of governance that can make claim to democratic legitimacy that produce wins for everyone. Read the rest
With the rise of white nationalist groups whose allies in government extend all the way to the President of the United States, tech companies are finding themselves in the uncomfortable position of deciding where tolerance begins and ends -- where they have a duty to step in and silence certain kinds of speech. Read the rest