Teaching superstar of the ancient world

It’s no surprise that NPR’s new series on 50 great teachers begins with Socrates. So what is the Socratic method: “… just what good teaching looks like: an engaged, passionate teacher facilitating a critical dialogue and acting as a kind of intellectual coach. Not a teacher merely lecturing or teaching to a test.”


Philosophy is a necessity, not a luxury

What is philosophy good for? Robert Grant provides an excellent explanation of the value of philosophy. “By emphasising clarity, rigour and logical analysis, philosophy teaches students the structure of good arguments, a valuable transferable skill. Studies show philosophy graduates achieve the highest scores in assessments of verbal, analytical and numerical reasoning. Philosophy students make good thinkers. But philosophy is more than useful training in how to think. Its greatest value lies in what it encourages students to think about: the subject matter rather than the method. Philosophy examines the most fundamental concepts we have about what it is to exist as a human in this world: knowledge, truth, meaning, justice, beauty, freedom, consciousness. Our assumptions about these influence all aspect of our lives.”

Has “philosophical superficiality” harmed physics?

John Horgan interviews quantum gravity expert Carlo Rovelli. Can science attain absolute truth? “I have no idea what ‘absolute truth’ means. I think that science is the attitude of those who find funny the people saying they know something is absolute truth. Science is the awareness that our knowledge is constantly uncertain. What I know is that there are plenty of things that science does not understand yet. And science is the best tool found so far for reaching reasonably reliable knowledge.” And what is your opinion of the recent philosophy-bashing by some scientists: “Seriously: I think they are stupid in this.   I have admiration for them in other things, but here they have gone really wrong.  Look: Einstein, Heisenberg, Newton, Bohr…. and many many others of the greatest scientists of all times, much greater than [those who are bashing philosophy], of course, read philosophy, learned from philosophy, and could have never done the great science they did without the input they got from philosophy, as they claimed repeatedly.”

The skeptic chuckles darkly

Steven Poole’s review of Jennifer Nagel’s Knowledge: A Very Short Introduction is a nice overview of what we can know about what we can know. “Does any of this really matter to non-philosophers? Yes, and for two kinds of reason. The first kind is sociopolitical. Arguments about what kind of testimony (eg from scientific experts) we can trust, and therefore gain knowledge from, are evidently germane to major public issues such as global warming. … The second kind of reason for why thinking about knowledge might be important is more personal. It boils down to this: how worried are you about whether you are a brain in a vat? Versions of this idea have been put about through history by that imp of the perverse known as the sceptic. The sceptic insists that knowledge of anything at all is impossible.”

Two heads: Paul and Patricia Churchland

Larissa MacFarquhar’s profile of Paul and Patricia Churchland’s “marriage devoted to the mind-body problem.” “One afternoon recently, Paul says, he was home making dinner when Pat burst in the door, having come straight from a frustrating faculty meeting. ‘She said, “Paul, don’t speak to me, my serotonin levels have hit bottom, my brain is awash in glucocorticoids, my blood vessels are full of adrenaline, and if it weren’t for my endogenous opiates I’d have driven the car into a tree on the way home. My dopamine levels need lifting. Pour me a Chardonnay, and I’ll be down in a minute.” ’ ”

Does science prove we aren’t free?

Are we free? In his review of Free: Why Science Hasn’t Disproved Free Will by FSU philosopher Alfred Mele, Daniel Dennett agrees with Mele that neuroscience gives the wrong answer. “The mistakes are so obvious that one sometimes wonders how serious scientists could make them. What has lowered their threshold for careful analysis so catastrophically? Perhaps it is the temptation of glory. What a coup it would be if your neuroscience experiment brought about the collapse of several millennia of inconclusive philosophising about free will! A curious fact about these forays into philosophy is that almost invariably the scientists concentrate on the least scientifically informed, most simplistic conceptions of free will, as if to say they can’t be bothered considering the subtleties of alternative views worked out by mere philosophers.”