Suggested readings, #75

Here it is, a rundown of interesting articles I’ve come across recently, to consider for your weekend readings:

Animals do not have genders. And although this statement is universally accepted by those who study and theorize about gender, there is a lot of confusion about it among those who do not. The confusion stems from the fact that males and females of many species systematically behave in different ways. Perhaps the most basic example is the act of mating. … (Nautilus)

The psychology behind why Japanese people are so healthy. Whenever I talk to someone who has visited Japan, an ex-pat who has lived there or a tourist just passing by, they will more often than not mention something about the fast-food chains there. What may surprise you is that we are not talking about different menu options at Japanese fast food chains compared to American ones — we are talking about the portion sizes. … (Medium)

The world to come: what should we value? Human beings are the only species on Earth that do not know how they are supposed to live. All other species have a natural environment and a natural way to sustain their form of life. While some animals have to build things to make their environment what it ought to be (as in the case of beavers building dams), there is no question of what they ought to build and how the species ought to make a living for itself. As in all environments, things can go wrong: a falling rock can break the dam, the water can become poisoned, a virus may spread. Yet when something goes wrong in the life of beavers, it is not because they have the wrong idea of how to organize their lives. Indeed, beavers cannot have the wrong idea of how they should live, since it is set by their nature. … (New Statesman)

Deluded, with reason. A woman is so certain that she’s being unfairly targeted by intelligence agents that she hurriedly crosses the road to avoid a passing police officer. A young man smashes a shop window in frustration because he’s exhausted at having his every movement filmed for a TV show. A previously loving husband rejects his wife of 30 years, convinced she’s actually an imposter in disguise. It’s reasonably common for psychiatrists to encounter people who think and behave in such striking and peculiar ways as these. Most psychiatrists would regard such people as holding a delusion – a false belief that is strongly held, idiosyncratic and more or less impervious to evidence. … (Aeon)

How pseudoscientists get away with it. The relentless and often unpredictable coronavirus has, among its many quirky terrors, dredged up once again the issue that will not die, science versus pseudoscience. The scientists, experts who would be the first to admit they are not infallible, are now in danger of being drowned out by the growing chorus of pseudoscientists, conspiracy theorists, and just plain troublemakers who seem to be as symptomatic of the virus as fever and weakness. How is the average citizen to filter this cacophony of information and misinformation posing as science alongside real science? While all that noise makes it difficult to separate the real stuff from the fakes, there is at least one positive aspect to it all. … (Nautilus)

Suggested readings, #74

Here it is, a rundown of interesting articles I’ve come across recently, to consider for your weekend readings:

Why science needs philosophy. A knowledge of the historic and philosophical background gives that kind of independence from prejudices of his generation from which most scientists are suffering. This independence created by philosophical insight is the mark of distinction between a mere artisan or specialist and a real seeker after truth. … (Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences)

Who should compete in women’s sports? A restrictive Idaho law — temporarily blocked by a federal judge Monday night — has amplified a charged debate about who should be allowed to compete in women’s sports, as transgender athletes have become increasingly accepted on the playing field while still facing strong resistance from some competitors and lawmakers. While scientific and societal views of sex and gender identity have changed significantly in recent decades, a vexing question persists regarding athletes who transition from male to female: how to balance inclusivity, competitive fairness and safety. … (New York Times)

Jeffrey Epstein’s Harvard connections show how money can distort research. This past May, Harvard University (where I teach) issued a report on its relationship with the convicted sex offender Jeffrey Epstein. It was an admirably forthright mea culpa highlighting three areas of concern. The first was the contradiction of addressing sexual assault and harassment on campus while accepting money from a man who had promoted sexual abuse of minors. The second was the mockery made of academic standards when, after donating $200,000 to the psychology department, Epstein was appointed as a visiting fellow there despite a complete lack of appropriate academic qualifications. The third was his close connection to Harvard’s Program for Evolutionary Dynamics (PED). … (Scientific American)

The hard problem of breakfast. How does it emerge from bacon and eggs? Over the past century, scientists have unlocked many of the most profound secrets of bacon, eggs, oatmeal, and avocado toast, advancing our understanding of the day’s most important meal and ushering in a golden age of innovation. Yet there remains one problem that has proven frustratingly resistant to our efforts at resolution: What is often referred to as The Hard Problem of Breakfast. … (Nautilus)

Manet: the difference between nude and naked. How a “Girl of our Time” made modern art possible. “I really would like you here, my dear Baudelaire; they have been raining insults on me, I’ve never been led such a dance.” Édouard Manet struggled with criticism for his entire career. The artist seemed for two decades to be a magnet for controversy. Unbeknownst to anybody at the time, Manet was controversial because he had unconsciously set off a revolution that would irrevocably transform western art. … (Medium)

Suggested readings, #73

Here it is, a rundown of interesting articles I’ve come across recently, to consider for your weekend readings:

Feel like you’re going out of your mind? Consider your mind-set. No one likes to make mistakes, but how you manage them can be a key to a stronger future. (New York Times)

This vision experiment resolved a centuries-old philosophical debate. [Good, so now we can move on, right?] (Nautilus)

On the first principles of moral reason. [A must read for anyone seriously interested in ethics.] (Public Discourse)

What actually happens when a TV episode gets pulled? This summer brought a flurry of TV takedowns, with offensive episodes of “30 Rock,” “Workaholics” and others being removed from circulation. But in the digital era, what does that even mean? [Yet another bad idea for modern times.] (New York Times)

Stan Lee’s American pantheon. Why Stan Lee’s comic creations are more than just men in tights. [Wonderful essay on the cultural impact of the Marvel Universe.] (Prospect)

The American press is destroying itself. A flurry of newsroom revolts has transformed the American press. [Another must read, if you care about public discourse and democracy.] (Taibbi)

The ‘busy’ trap. If you live in America in the 21st century you’ve probably had to listen to a lot of people tell you how busy they are. (New York Times)

Suggested readings, #72

Here it is, a rundown of interesting articles I’ve come across recently, to consider for your weekend readings:

‘Success addicts’ choose being special over being happy. The pursuit of achievement distracts from the deeply ordinary activities and relationships that make life meaningful. (Atlantic)

Am I drunk, hungry, or both? Alcohol as an appetite stimulant. (Skeptical Inquirer)

No, billionaires don’t drive economic growth – and crony billionaires strangle it. Research found that the myth of billionaires boosting the economy is untrue – particularly when they amassed their wealth from political connections. (Guardian)

The Epictetus Club: part four. Stoicism in prison. (Modern Stoicism)

Exploring hypothetical thinking. [Highly recommended] (OUP Blog)

Believing in literature. [A highly confused piece, excellent example of postmodern literary criticism. Not endorsed.] (LA Review of Books)

No time. How did we get so busy? (New Yorker)

Suggested readings, #71

Here it is, a rundown of interesting articles I’ve come across recently, to consider for your weekend readings:

Mars is a second-rate backup plan. On the red planet, existential threats abound. (Nautilus)

The epistemics of first principles. All knowledge comes from sensory experience, including knowledge of the first principles of morality on which the natural law and moral reasoning build. (Public Discourse)

Why the working class votes against its economic interests. (New York Times)

Star Trek villains I’d rather have handling the covid-19 vaccine initiative “Operation Warp Speed” than Donald Trump. (McSweeney’s)

The Epictetus Club: part three. Stoicism in prison. (Modern Stoicism)

Video: Stoicism for the 21st century (and beyond)

Epictetus’ Handbook (the Enchidrion) is the quintessential ancient Stoic guide to a good life. This collection of quotes and aphorisms, compiled by one of Epictetus’ students, Arrian of Nicomedia, is still very much indispensable today. However, both science and philosophy have made some progress since the time of Epictetus, which is why in this lecture scientist, philosopher, and Stoic practitioner Massimo Pigliucci gives Epictetus — and by extension the whole of the Stoic philosophy — an update for the 21st century.

Video: The philosophy of Stoicism

What is the best life we can live? How can we cope with whatever the universe throws at us and keep thriving nonetheless? The ancient Greco-Roman philosophy of Stoicism explains that while we may not always have control over the events affecting us, we can have control over how we approach things. Massimo Pigliucci describes the philosophy of Stoicism. A short animated video produced by TED-Ed.

Suggested readings, #70

Here it is, a rundown of interesting articles I’ve come across recently, to consider for your weekend readings:

Virtual reality as a catalyst for thought. (Philosophy Now)

Seventy teams of scientists analyzed the same brain data, and it went badly. What the latest fMRI “crisis” means for the rest of science. (Medium)

The Epictetus Club: part two. Stoicism in prison. (Modern Stoicism)

What Is Randonautica really about? An app that generates coordinates for adventurers claims to turn your thoughts into reality. TikTok and YouTube creators want you to believe it — but you shouldn’t. (New York Times)

How to fight against Big Tech’s power. We are beholden to a few Big Tech overlords for much of our digital lives. We can be more conscientious about it. [I’ll soon write another blog post on this, a topic dear to my heart.] (New York Times)

Best philosophical novels, recommended by Rebecca Goldstein. [Check out my online live book club for forthcoming events.] (Five Books)

Experiments and ideas for teaching philosophically. Want to engage your students in philosophical debate and questioning? Dr John Taylor shares some simple ways to embed independent thinking across the curriculum. (The Guardian)

Video lecture: Should I Kill Myself or Have a Cup of Coffee?

Join my friend Skye Cleary and myself for a discussion of Stoicism and existentialism.

Stoicism, the ancient Greco-Roman philosophy that is all the rage in the 21st century, has a lot to say about two apparently very far apart topics: suicide and the meaning of life. And yet, the Stoics argued, life’s meaning depends crucially on the fact that we will die, and the possibility of deciding on our own terms when that will happen is what ultimately gives us freedom.

Explore these and related ideas with a philosopher who actually practices Stoicism as a philosophy of life. Let’s talk about what does it mean to live a life worth living, and explore different ways of doing so. In the process, learn about the merchant who lost everything and founded a new philosophy, the slave who became one of the most renowned teachers of antiquity, and the brooding philosopher-king who may have loved sex, food and drink a bit too much…

On existentialism: When every day many of us wake up to read about fresh horrors on our fresh horrors device, we might find ourselves contemplating the question as to whether, as Albert Camus supposedly put it, one should kill oneself or have a cup of coffee. Existential philosophy is deeply concerned with the question of suicide and the way in which the possibility infuses life with meaning.

As Camus proposed in his essay The Myth of Sisyphus, “There is but one truly serious philosophical problem and that is suicide.” Friedrich Nietzsche found the idea of suicide to be a way of affirming life that helped him get through many dark nights. And Simone de Beauvoir suggests that although suicide might seem like an easy escape from pain, it’s not just about us; it’s those who love us who will have to live our death. Join us for an Olio about existential attitudes towards suicide, finding meaning in life, and coffee.