In “God is a Question, Not an Answer,” William Irwin explains his doubts about anyone who is certain that God exists or that God does not exist. “People who claim certainty about God worry me, both those who believe and those who don’t believe. They do not really listen to the other side of conversations, and they are too ready to impose their views on others. It is impossible to be certain about God.” It’s better to admit that we all live on a “continuum of doubt.”
In “How to Choose?,” Michael Schulson describes situations in which the rational thing to do might be to choose without having reasons for your choise. “When your reasons are worse than useless, sometimes the most rational choice is a random stab in the dark.”
In “The A. I. Anxiety,” Joel Achenbach discusses the ideas of philosopher Nick Bostrom, physicist Max Tegmark, and others about A. I. or artificial intelligence. “Big-name scientists worry that runaway artificial intelligence could pose a threat to humanity. Beyond the speculation is a simple question: Are we fully in control of our technology?” Which is the greater threat … that machines will become superintelligent or superstupid?
In “Unnatural Laws,” Nancy Cartwright challenges the idea that everything could ultimately be accounted for with universal laws of nature that are immutable and without exceptions. “We live our everyday lives in a dappled world unlike the world of fundamental particles regimented into kinds, each just like the one beside it, mindlessly marching exactly as has forever been destined. In the everyday world the future is open, little is certain, the unexpected intrudes into the best-laid plans, everything is different from everything else, things change and develop, and different systems built in different ways give rise to different patterns. For centuries this everyday world was at odds with the scientific world governed through-and-through by immutable law. But many of the ways we do science today bring the scientific image into greater harmony with what we see every day: much of modern science understands and manipulates the world without resort to universal laws.’
In “How To Live a Lie,” William Irwin considers whether you can live as if there are moral truths, as if God exists, and as if you have free will even if you believe none of these things is true. His conclusion? Morality and God, no … but free will, yes. “Well, I cannot believe in free will, but I can accept it. In fact, if free will fictionalism is involuntary, I have no choice but to accept free will. That makes accepting free will easy and undeniably sincere. Accepting the reality of God or morality, on the other hand, are tougher tasks, and potentially disingenuous.”
F. Scott Fitzgerald said, “The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in the mind at the same time, and still retain the ability to function.” If that’s so, then it may be that all of us regularly exhibit a first-rate intelligence. It appears we often believe things we know are not true. In “Believing What You Don’t Believe,” behavioral scientists Jane L. Risen and A. David Nussbaum explain that “people can simultaneously recognize that, rationally, their superstitious belief is impossible, but persist in their belief, and their behavior, regardless.” Detecting a mistake in our thinking does not always mean we will fix the mistake.
In “What Art Unveils,” Alva Noë says that art makes things strange. “Art unveils us ourselves. Art is a making activity because we are by nature and culture organized by making activities. A work of art is a strange tool. It is an alien implement that affords us the opportunity to bring into view everything that was hidden in the background.”
In “5 Thought Experiments That Will Melt Your Brain,” Evan Dashevsky says that because “some science is too big, dangerous, or weird to happen in the lab,” thought experiments “may be the most valuable experiments of all.” But notice that all five of his examples are from philosophers.
Well, if by “world” you mean the true nature of the whole of reality, that does not exist as something we could possibly know. But everything else except the world does exist. In his review of Markus Gabriel’s Why the World Does Not Exist, Richard Wolin explains all this and more.
In “There Is No Theory of Everything,” Simon Critchley reminisces about his teacher Frank Cioffi. Along the way there are amusing anecdotes, distinctions drawn between explanation and interpretation, warnings about the twin dangers of scientism and obscurantism, and reflections on the value of philosophy (it scratches an itch!). “We don’t need an answer to the question of life’s meaning, just as we don’t need a theory of everything. What we need are multifarious descriptions of many things, further descriptions of phenomena that change the aspect under which they are seen, that light them up and let us see them anew.”