Suggested readings, #76

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

Your guide to the many meanings of quantum mechanics. Quantum mechanics is more than a century old, but physicists still fight over what it means. Most of the hand wringing and knuckle cracking in their debates goes back to an assumption known as “realism.” This is the idea that science describes something—which we call “reality”—external to us, and to science. It’s a mode of thinking that comes to us naturally. It agrees well with our experience that the universe doesn’t seem to care what theories we have about it. Scientific history also shows that as empirical knowledge increases, we tend to converge on a shared explanation. This certainly suggests that science is somehow closing in on “the truth” about “how things really are.” … (Nautilus)

Why evolutionary psychology (probably) isn’t possible. Human population geneticists can tell us about patterns of human migration, they can tell us how we are related to other species (e.g., Neanderthals and Denisovans). They can tell us the diseases that have afflicted our ancestors; which ancient versions of those diseases are found in some contemporary populations, and much, much more. Their work is a bio-detective synthesis of human phylogeny. A window into evolutionary processes. Evolutionary psychologists want to tell us about patterns in human psychology; our ways of “thinking” and therefore behaving with respect to certain stimuli—choosing whom to mate with, engaging in xenophobia, extending other-regard to kin, and much, much more. This work is inference-making and extrapolating. It too is supposed to be a window into evolutionary processes. … (Evolution Institute) [An excellent article by a sharp philosopher of science on the many issues with evopsych as a research program.]

Disdain for the less educated is the last acceptable prejudice. Joe Biden has a secret weapon in his bid for the presidency: He is the first Democratic nominee in 36 years without a degree from an Ivy League university. This is a potential strength. One of the sources of Donald Trump’s political appeal has been his ability to tap into resentment against meritocratic elites. By the time of Mr. Trump’s election, the Democratic Party had become a party of technocratic liberalism more congenial to the professional classes than to the blue-collar and middle-class voters who once constituted its base. In 2016, two-thirds of whites without a college degree voted for Mr. Trump, while Hillary Clinton won more than 70 percent of voters with advanced degrees. … (New York Times) [So says Michael Sandel, who is professor at the very elitist Harvard University. He makes some good points, but he also seems to be uncharacteristically a bit confused.]

Two types of Stoic therapy?

When we started Stoicism Today back in 2012, we began with two aims: i) to see if we could test the efficacy of Stoic practices and exercises reported by Roman Stoics such as Marcus Aurelius and Seneca, and ii) to introduce Stoicism to a much wider audience. The two aims went hand in hand – to test the efficacy meant getting lots of people to try them out – and Stoic Week was born with these twin aims in mind. Along the way the project has inevitably evolved and has become something of a hub for people who draw on Stoicism in their daily lives, whether they have been inspired by Stoic Week or had already discovered Stoicism on their own. Some of these consciously identify as ‘modern Stoics’, although many others do not. Some embrace a good part of Stoic philosophy while others might just take away the bits and pieces that they find helpful. … (Modern Stoicism)

Nonfiction and narrative popular philosophy. After my friend CH got his first tenure-track job in philosophy, he found himself with a “bourgeois longing” for a nice hi-fidelity stereo system. He didn’t want to listen to music any longer on a cheap boombox. So, he went to the nicer local electronics store and asked the clerk to walk him through various amplifiers, speakers, CD and record players, and so forth. Toward the end of the purchase, in what was sure to be a hefty bill, the one item that bothered CH was the price of the speaker wire. … (Daily Nous)

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)

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)

Suggested readings, #69

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

Why [some] intellectuals support dictators. (New York Times)

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

The flatterer and the chatterer: on Theophrastus’ enduring classification of human characters. (Paris Review)

What is the future of the UN in the age of impunity? As the laws of war become optional and crimes in Syria and Libya go unpunished, there are fears the body has no teeth. [Darn good question.] (The Guardian)

Too much Mars? Let’s discuss other worlds. Two veteran space journalists discuss why so much attention and budget seems to be directed to the red planet. [There are a number of solid scientific reasons to get over our obsession with Mars and look elsewhere.] (New York Times)

Suggested readings, #68

Drug Jar for Mithridate; Attributed to Annibale Fontana (Italian, about 1540 – 1587); about 1580; Terracotta with white paint and gilt exterior and glazed interior; 59.9 cm (23 5/8 in.); 90.SC.42.1; No Copyright – United States (

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

Do we need a theory of everything? [Hint: nope.] (Nautilus)

How a famous Harvard professor became a target over his Tweets. The outcry over free speech and race takes aim at Steven Pinker, the best-selling author and well-known scholar. [The article goes a bit too easy on Pinker, but makes some good points.] (New York Times)

Love shouldn’t be blind or mad. Instead, fall rationally in love. (Psyche)

Mithridates the great pharmacologist. The scholarly pursuits of a Hellenistic king. (Lapham’s Quarterly)

White supremacy was her world. And then she left. To stop hate, we have to understand it. [Just don’t expect any silver bullet, or a comforting story.] (New York Times)

Suggested readings, #67

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

How to keep good habits post-lockdown. You’ll technically have to ‘relearn’ to cook each meal, or to exercise regularly or to read a book a week. But there are some shortcuts. (New York Times)

Horror and comedy: screaming and laughing. Both horror and comedy provoke strong emotions, but these two seemingly disparate genres are more closely linked than you would think. (New Statesman)

Science, mind, and limits of understanding, by Noam Chomsky. [Thought provoking, well informed by history and philosophy of science.]

Why Covid-19 is turning us all into philosophers. If you haven’t yet spent a few moments this year staring out the window, chin in hand and ruminating on the meaning of life – or its absence – then the chances are it’s only a matter of time. (RNZ)

How far back in time could a Modern English speaker go and still communicate? The transition from Old English to Modern English was a process, not an event. (Medium)