Back to Square One: toward a post-intentional future

Scientia Salon

intentionalby Scott Bakker

“… when you are actually challenged to think of pre-Darwinian answers to the question ‘What is Man?’ ‘Is there a meaning to life?’ ‘What are we for?’, can you, as a matter of fact, think of any that are not now worthless except for their (considerable) historic interest? There is such a thing as being just plain wrong and that is what before 1859, all answers to those questions were.” (Richard Dawkins, The Selfish Gene, p. 267)

Biocentrism is dead for the same reason geocentrism is dead for the same reason all of our prescientific theories regarding nature are dead: our traditional assumptions simply could not withstand scientific scrutiny. All things being equal, we have no reason to think our nature will conform to our prescientific assumptions any more than any other nature has historically. Humans are prone to draw erroneous conclusions in the absence of…

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No results found for “cognitive psychology of philosophy”.

Three Pound Brain

That is, until today.

The one thing I try to continuously remind people is that philosophy is itself a data point, a telling demonstration of what has to be one of the most remarkable facts of our species. We don’t know ourselves for shit. We have been stumped since the beginning. We’ve unlocked the mechanism for aging for Christ’s sake: there’s a chance we might become immortal without having the faintest clue as to what ‘we’ amounts to.

There has to be some natural explanation for that, some story explaining why it belongs to our nature to be theoretically mystified by our nature, to find ourselves unable to even agree on formulations of the explananda. So what is it? Why all the apparent paradoxes?

Why, for instance, the fascination with koans?

Take the famous, “What is the sound of one hand clapping?” Apparently, the point of pondering this lies in realizing…

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Reading From Bacteria to Bach and Back I: On Cartesian Gravity

Three Pound Brain


Problem resolution generally possesses a diagnostic component; sometimes we can find workarounds, but often we need to know what the problem consists in before we can have any real hope of advancing beyond it. This is what Daniel Dennett proposes to do in his recent From Bacteria to Bach and Back, to not only sketch a story of how human comprehension arose from the mindless mire of biological competences, but to provide a diagnostic account of why we find such developmental stories so difficult to credit. He hews to the slogan I’ve oft repeated here on Three Pound Brain: We are natural in such a way that we find it impossible to intuit ourselves as natural. It’s his account of this ‘in such a way,’ that I want to consider here. As I’ve said many times before, I think Dennett has come as close…

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Going Down: Death Rates Due to Extreme Weather Events

Watts Up With That?

During our discussion of the preposterous news story from Pravda, claiming this headline: “Earth begins to kill people for changing its climate” a scientist dropped in to provide us some insight into his latest paper. It was highly relevant at the time since one of the repeating themes we see in the mainstream (and not so mainstream) media is the attribution of increasing death due to severe weather events to “global warming”.

But that is not supported by the real data, it is a false premise.

In the paper, Indur Goklany examines the worldwide trends  and makes some surprising discoveries base of examining data from the World Health Organization, NOAA, and other sources.

Some have claimed that, all else being equal, climate change will increase the frequency or severity of weather-related extreme events (see, e.g., IPCC 2001; Patz 2004; MacMichael and Woodruff 2004). This study examines whether…

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“Testosterone Rex”, a biased polemic, wins the Royal Society book prize

Why Evolution Is True

I’ve now finished Cordelia Fine’s newest book, Testosterone Rex:Myths of Sex, Science, and Society. I’ve also read her earlier work, Delusions of Gender: How Our Minds, Society, and Neurosexism Create Difference, so I’ve polished off both of her highly-regarded books on sex differences in behavior. Both books have a similar thesis: there’s essentially no evolved difference between males and females that can account for differences in behavior, preference, and so on. (The former book is more about brain structure and the latter about hormones, but since hormones affect behaviors mediated through the brain, it’s basically the same egalitarian thesis.) Fine’s lesson is that the sex differences we do see are overwhelmingly the result of cultural influences (read: males enforcing behavior differences).

Now that’s a bit of an exaggeration, for when pressed Fine will come out with an admission like this (taken from the review of Testosterone Rex [“TR

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Circular Reasoning

Yeyo's Corner

People everywhere have very different expectations of cats and dogs. We expect the former to tear up our furniture, sleep 16 hours a day and to bring home a dead bird once in a while, and we expect the latter to be social, obeying commands and to drool a lot. Heck, we even got different expectations depending on the breed of our pets. Those of us who have ever shared a house with dogs and cats, know they seldom fail to live up to those expectations (despite my mother always doing her best to discourage the cats from bringing home dead animals). If I’d ask anyone where those expectations might come from, even the most ardent sociologist would assume I was joking.

On twitter, I recently stumbled upon an excerpt from a new book that caught my eye. It’s written by a popular english comedian and is currently topping the…

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The Gender Cultural Revolution

Yeyo's Corner

I’m sorry but I just had to write a final(?) blog post about Cordelia Fine. It’s not just her undeserved award, but also her nasty habit of accusing anyone studying sex differences of sexism, that provokes a certain ire. And since she has recently released a new paper, I decided to dedicate a final post to her (truth is I planned to fit this critique into my first post but I cut it out because it’s long enough as it is).

In my previous post, I wanted to show how the winner of The Royal Society Science Book of the Year Award is similar to creationists and evolution deniers in her argumentative approach. Fine hasn’t remained idle since the book was released and just recently published a fresh new paper together with co-authors Daphna Joel and John Dupré in the journal Trends in Cognitive Sciences. Since the paper…

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