Embracing the unexplained …

… by putting the immaterial on the table? Is there any kind of thing in the universe in addition to the stuff physicists study?

In “Visions of the Impossible,” Jeffrey Kripal says: “After all, consciousness is the fundamental ground of all that we know or ever will know. It is the ground of all of the sciences, all of the arts, all of the social sciences, all of the humanities, indeed all human knowledge and experience. Moreover, as far as we can tell, this presence is sui generis. It is its own thing. We know of nothing else like it in the universe, and anything we might know later we will know only through this same consciousness. Many want to claim the exact opposite, that consciousness is not its own thing, is reducible to warm, wet tissue and brainhood. But no one has come close to showing how that might work. Probably because it doesn’t.” Under the circumstances, Kripal says, we need an account of consciousness that synthesizes the “Aristotelian” materialist understanding of consciousness with the “Platonic” nonmaterialist understanding.

In “Science Is Being Bashed by Academics Who Should Know Better,” Jerry Coyne replies: “When science manages to find reliable evidence for … clairvoyance, I’ll begin to pay attention. Until then, the idea of our brain as a supernatural radio seems like a kind of twentieth-century alchemy—the resort of those whose will to believe outstrips their respect for the facts.”

And in turn Kripal replies to Coyne in “Embracing the Unexplained, Part 2,” that Coyne’s piece is “name-calling and an attempt to control and manipulate the data so that the ‘proper’ conclusions are reached. My point is a simple one: If you put the ‘impossible’ data on the table, you will arrive at different conclusions.” And to make his case he calls on Barbara Ehrenreich’s “A Rationalist’s Mystical Moment” for support.

What does it mean to be happy?

Happiness and its discontents.  Is happiness being satisfied with your life? Is it pleasure and the absence of pain? According to Daniel Haybron, it’s an emotional state. Happiness fulfills our needs as persons. “What sorts of needs are we talking about? Among the most important sources of happiness are: a sense of security; a good outlook; autonomy or control over our lives; good relationships; and skilled and meaningful activity. If you are unhappy, there’s a good chance that it’s for want of something on this list.”

Is philosophy obsolete?

How philosophy makes progress.   Philosophy isn’t literature, and it is isn’t failed or primitive science. Instead, according to Rebecca Newberger Goldstein, its task is to make our points of view increasingly coherent. “It’s in terms of our increased coherence that the measure of progress has to be taken, not in terms suitable for evaluating science or literature. We lead conceptually compartmentalized lives, our points of view balkanized so that we can live happily with our internal tensions and contradictions, many of the borders fortified by unexamined presumptions. It’s the job of philosophy to undermine that happiness, and it’s been at it ever since the Athenians showed their gratitude to Socrates for services rendered by offering him a cupful of hemlock.”

You’re like traffic jam

Science writer Jennifer Ouellette explores the emerging science of the self, a body of research that examines not just who we are, but also … if we are.   “Ouellette ultimately concludes that the self is an emergent property of the billions of neurons of our brain all interacting with one another. What’s emergence? ‘A system in which the whole is greater than the sum of its parts,’ writes Ouellette. ‘A traffic jam is emergent,’ she explains. ‘You have all these cars interacting. If it gets dense enough, enough interactions, you’re going to get a traffic jam. But that traffic jam is real.’ It is more than the sum of all its cars. Something similar goes for the self.”

Descartes, Aristotle, and Terri Schiavo

Did Descartes doom Terri Schiavo?  “The plea … to prolong Ms. Schiavo’s feeding, against the wishes of her husband or what courts determined to be her own expressed inclinations, echoed the teachings of Aristotle, who considered existence itself to be inviolable. On the other side, the argument that Ms. Schiavo’s life could be judged as not worth living echoed Descartes, the Enlightenment philosopher who defined human life not as biological existence – which might be an inviolable gift from God – but as consciousness, about which people can make judgments.”

What is math about?

The mathematical world.  Some philosophers — the Platonists — think math is about a mysterious other realm of eternal and unchanging entities. Others — the nominalists — think math is simply the manipulation of symbols according to rules we have made up. According to James Franklin, they’re wrong. His theory is Aristotelian realism: look around, and you can see math.