Governing a decentralized internet without votes

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

This spare and clean animation asks some cosmic questions

In I Am Here , director Eoin Duffy addresses the strange sensation when we realize our entire lives have led up to one fleeting moment. Read the rest

What is the slowest music humanly possible?

While the typical answer is 33 beats per minute, musician Adam Neely's answer morphs into a great primer on the "perceptual present," a concept widely discussed in both the philosophy of music and of consciousness. Read the rest

The Paradox of Tolerance: should intolerance be tolerated?

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

Mind-bending supercut of computer simulation existence theories

What is Life? collects some of the more interesting takes on whether we may be living in a computer simulation. Read the rest

Review of pages intentionally left blank

The most perfect lie in publishing, "This Page Intentionally Left Blank", is commonly to be found in books, manuals and tests. But also journals, curiously enough, a fact that is the subject of a paper published at Academia Obscura.

The US Code of Regulations (1984) actually mandates that blank pages in certain books and pamphlets must be marked as such.1 As such, they are especially common in technical works. This has lead to a large number of people attempting to solve the philosophical conundrum such non-blank blank pages create, often through online fora and crowdsourcing platforms. The Office of the General Counsel at the US General Accounting Office, acutely aware of the distress caused, purported in 2001 to have resolved the conundrum in its Principles of Federal Appropriations Law (Second Edition, Volume IV).2 Text on page ii, which is otherwise blank, reads “This page is intended to be blank. Please do not read it.” However, this appears to have only further entrenched the philosophical contradictions, and the subsequent Third Edition contained no such text on its blank page.

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Everything, even a rock, has some degree of consciousness

Philip Goff, associate professor in philosophy at Central European University in Budapest, argues that the idea of panpsychism ("mind is everywhere") shouldn't be dismissed just because it sounds crazy. Read the rest

The alt-right loves Nietzsche, but Nietzsche would not love them

No expression of far-right idiocy is complete without a macho misreading of Nietzsche. So frequently miscast as the godfather of everything from the Master Race to Mens' Rights, his name alone is something of a shibboleth. Which is sad, because he wouldn't have thought much of them, writes Sean Illing.

“Nietzsche's argument was that you had to move forward, not fall back onto ethnocentrism,” Hugo Drochon, author of Nietzsche’s Great Politics, told me. “So in many ways Spencer is stuck in the 'Shadows of God' — claiming Christianity is over but trying to find something that will replace it so that we can go on living as if it still existed, rather than trying something new.” ...

Nietzsche was a lot of things — iconoclast, recluse, misanthrope — but he wasn’t a racist or a fascist. He would have shunned the white identity politics of the Nazis and the alt-right. That he’s been hijacked by racists and fascists is partly his fault, though. His writings are riddled with contradictions and puzzles. And his fixation on the future of humankind is easily confused with a kind of social Darwinism.

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Learn philosophy from James Franco

Actor James Franco has a new YouTube channel in which he raps about philosophy with Eliot Michaelson, a philosophy lecturer at King's College London, and other experts on such heady matters as imagination (above), and metaphor (below). The special guest on these two episodes is Rutgers University philosophy professor Elisabeth Camp. Also below is an episode on the ethics of abortion with Princeton University philosophy professor Elizabeth Harman.

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What is optimistic nihilism?

I always hate having to write "Kurzgesagt – In a Nutshell," because it's such a wtf mouthful. But they make beautiful animated explainer videos, so I have to write "Kurzgesagt – In a Nutshell" a lot. They are always great, but this 6-minute guide to thinking your way out of existential dread might be their best video yet. The graphics are stupendous.

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A 5-minute animated guide to Stoicism

Here's a one-sentence synopsis for this interesting 5-minute cartoon guide to Stoicism: We can't control much of what happens around us or to us, but we can control how we respond and think about it. Read the rest

Beautiful short film explores the spirit of Varanasi

Varanasi is one of the great spiritual centers of the world, along with Jerusalem, Mecca, Vatican City. This personal project by filmmaker Aeyaz is a contemplative look at the city and at what comes beyond life. Read the rest

Your perception of reality may really be a hallucination

Philosophy and Predictive Processing is a new online research compendium in which neuroscientists, psychiatrists, philosophers-of-mind, and other big thinkers explore the theory that we're always hallucinating. Our brains aren't just processing information from your senses so we can perceive reality, the authors argue, but also constantly predicting what we'll encounter, presenting that to us as what's actually happening, and then doing error connection. From New Scientist:

...Predictive processing argues that perception, action and cognition are the outcome of computations in the brain involving both bottom-up and top-down processing – in which prior knowledge about the world and our own cognitive and emotional state influence perception.

In a nutshell, the brain builds models of the environment and the body, which it uses to make hypotheses about the source of sensations. The hypothesis that is deemed most likely becomes a perception of external reality. Of course, the prediction could be accurate or awry, and it is the brain’s job to correct for any errors – after making a mistake it can modify its models to account better for similar situations in the future.

But some models cannot be changed willy-nilly, for example, those of our internal organs. Our body needs to remain in a narrow temperature range around 37°C, so predictive processing achieves such control by predicting that, say, the sensations on our skin should be in line with normal body temperature. When the sensations deviate, the brain doesn’t change its internal model, but rather forces us to move towards warmth or cold, so that the predictions fall in line with the required physiological state.

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RIP Robert M. Pirsig, author of Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance

"The truth knocks on the door and you say, ‘Go away, I’m looking for the truth,’ and so it goes away. Puzzling." -- Robert M. Pirsig

I was saddened to learn that Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance author Robert M. Pirsig died today at the age of 88.

I read the pop philosophy treatise Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance in college and thought it was the greatest book ever. I read it again 15 years later and didn't get as much out of it the second time around. It's been another 15 years since I re-read it and I no longer remember why I had those opinions (I have a lousy memory when it comes to books and movies). I think I should give it another try and see what my current nervous system thinks of his exploration into the nature of quality.

One thing is for certain, the title of the book is one of the best ever (and has been imitated ever since the book came out in 1974), and the paperback cover design is absolutely iconic. [UPDATE: reader Simenzo corrected me. Zen in the Art of Archery, by Eugen Herrigel, was published in 1948]

Author Robert Pirsig and his son Chris in 1968. Pirsig, who wrote Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, died Monday at age 88. William Morrow/HarperCollins

From NPR:

Zen was published in 1974, after being rejected by 121 publishing houses. "The book is brilliant beyond belief," wrote Morrow editor James Landis before publication.

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Is mathematics invented or discovered?

One of the most interesting series ever is Closer To Truth, which "presents the world’s greatest thinkers exploring humanity’s deepest questions." For instance: is mathematics invented or discovered? Read the rest

Snakisms: the snake game, but now with meaning

Pippin Barr's Snakisms is a version of the classic game Snake, but with a selection of philosophical viewpoints to choose from at the outset.

SNAKISMS was begun on the strength of the idea of "Ascetic Snake", a game of Snake in which the snake isn't meant to eat the apple (or whatever that thing is in Snake). That basic reversal of the standard form of the game struck me as funny because those sorts of things always strike me as funny, but on turning to actually make the game it seemed pretty clear it was too much of a throw-away idea all on its own.

And so it came to pass that I decided I needed to make a whole set of Snake games based (loosely) on different philosophies, eventually settling on the idea of "isms" because SNAKISMS is really a pretty great title for a game, I think you'll agree. The design process took a surprisingly long time in terms of coming up with a set of "reasonable" interpretations of philosophies/isms that could be translated in some way to the mechanics of the original Snake game.

The creator's Comp Sci PhD thesis concerns the moral dimensions of gameplay. Read the rest

Snakisms: 22 philosophies expounded through the game of Snake

Artist Pippin Barr wrote his PhD video game values and got a Masters in UI metaphors, so it's natural that he's created Snakisms, a collection of 22 variants on the classic video game Snake (best remembered from the era of candy-bar featurephones), each of which is meant to illustrate (or at least make a joke about) philosophies from Stoicism (your snake runs into things, pauses a moment, shakes it off and presses on) to Determinism (your snake drives itself), to Holism (just try it). They're lovely, witty fun! (via Kottke) Read the rest

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