Suggested readings, #45

Here are some interesting articles I’ve come across recently, for your consideration:

Science hasn’t refuted free will. A growing chorus says that science has shown free will to be an illusion. But it actually has offered arguments in its favor. [Kind of, sort of.] (Boston Review)

The Stoicism of Thomas Jefferson. Ten rules to follow in daily life. (Medium)

The dark shadow in the injunction to ‘do what you love’. [A somewhat rambling, long, but nevertheless interesting piece.] (Aeon)

Stoicism and the Military. Did Stoic philosophers go to war? (Medium)

Virgilian afterlives: the classics in question. [A bit self-indulging, but bear with it, it pays off.] (LA Review of Books)

Suggested readings, #44

Here are some interesting articles I’ve come across recently, for your consideration:

What’s wrong with physics. A physicist slams hype about multiverses, string theory, and quantum computers and calls for more diversity in his field. (Scientific American)

The Stoicism of Benjamin Franklin. Was the Founding Father influenced by Stoic philosophy? (Medium)

What do we owe the dead? The dust-up over a Washington Post reporter’s tweets about Kobe Bryant raises a moral question and a cultural taboo. (New York Times)

Philosophical life coaching — 4 key take-home messages. (Medium)

Gender differences in toy use: boys play with boy toys, girls with girl toys. (Why Evolution is True)

Let Plato plan your wedding! Wedding plans from Plato’s advice on romance and parties in the Republic, Laws, Symposium, & Phaedrus. (Philosophy Now)

An existential crisis in neuroscience. We’re mapping the brain in amazing detail — but our brain can’t understand the picture. (Nautilus)

On panpsychism, an exchange

I recently ended a fascinating discussion with philosopher Philip Goff, on the topic of the science and philosophy of panpsychism. (You can find the 8 letters we exchanged here.) Panpsychism is the notion that consciousness, somehow, is elemental in the universe, i.e., it is a basic property of matter.

As Goff readily admitted, there is no, and there cannot be any, empirical evidence in support of his theory. Indeed, if there were, we would already know that the theory is false, as explained by physicist Sabine Hossenfelder here.

You would think that would be the end of the discussion, but Goff subscribes to what I suggest is an outmoded approach to metaphysics, believing that simply producing logically coherent accounts of things one actually advances knowledge and understanding.

My opinion is that that way of doing metaphysics died with Descartes (not coincidentally, that’s also when modern science got started — Descartes was a contemporary of Galileo). A far better way to conceive of the whole project of metaphysics nowadays is as being in the business of making unified sense of the highly fractured picture of the world emerging from the special sciences, since scientists themselves are simply, by necessity, too close to their subject matter to be able to afford a bird’s eye view of things (see here for an example).

In the end, my sense is that what Goff and others (for instance, most famously, David Chalmers) are doing got the best response from David Hume back in the 18th century:

If we take in our hand any volume; of divinity or school metaphysics, for instance; let us ask, Does it contain any abstract reasoning concerning quantity or number? No. Does it contain any experimental reasoning concerning matter of fact and existence? No. Commit it then to the flames: for it can contain nothing but sophistry and illusion. (An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding, 1777)

“How to Live a Good life,” on the Wright Show

Fun conversation among Skye Cleary, Bob Wright, and myself on the topic of philosophies of life, occasioned by the publication of How to Live a Good Life: A Guide to Choosing Your Personal Philosophy (Vintage/Random House).

The vide is below. Naturally, we talk about the book, but also about the relationship between Existentialism and Stoicism, how Skye encountered Existentialism while attending business school (of all places), and Sartre and de Beauvoir’s famous attempt to live a life of freedom.

We ask whether philosophers are a bunch of hypocrites, explore the difference between personal authenticity and social convention, and explain why Stoicism doesn’t mean passive acceptance.

Near the end of the video, Bob wonders what other philosophies (other than our chosen ones of Existentialism and Stoicism) we would find attractive enough to consider practicing them. We conclude, somewhat unusually, by exploring how Wittgenstein would view our book.

Suggested readings, #43

Here are some interesting articles I’ve come across recently, for your consideration:

The post-human Enlightenment, a review of Fiction Without Humanity: Person, Animal, Thing in Early Enlightenment Literature and Culture, by Lynn Festa. (Public Books)

If you’re angry, you’re part of the problem, not the solution. What we need is restraint — not rage. (Medium)

Welcome to the age of impunity: David Miliband’s World Economic Forum speech. (International Rescue Committee)

It’s time to free your e-reading from Amazon. (Medium)

You are now remotely controlled. Surveillance capitalists control the science and the scientists, the secrets and the truth. (New York Times)

How life improved when I gave up on the news. The benefits of a “media diet” (Medium)

Psychology still skews western and affluent. Can it be fixed? Critics have argued that these biases present an imperfect view of the human mind. Why is it so hard to correct? (Salon)

Suggested readings, #42

Here are some interesting articles I’ve come across recently, for your consideration:

Calculating the incalculable: Thoreau on the true value of a tree. (BrainPickings)

Stoicism and dating. Time to let your values lead the way. (Medium)

The IRS decided to get tough against Microsoft. Microsoft got tougher. [and, unfortunately, we let them get away with it.] (ProPublica)

Nancy Cartwright on the disunity of science. (Medium)

The top 10 crises the world should be watching in 2020. While these countries represent less than 6 percent of the world’s population, they host more than half of all people identified as being in need globally. (International Rescue Committee)

Bertrand Russell on how to conquer happiness — part II. (Medium)

Race and IQ. Again. [An excellent commentary on how a philosophical journal once again published a shoddy paper on “scientific racism.”] (Fardels Bear)

Suggested readings, #41

Here are some interesting articles I’ve come across recently, for your consideration:

Harvard just discovered that PowerPoint is worse than useless. Intuitively, anecdotally, and scientifically, PowerPoint may be the worst business [and educational] tool ever created. (

How science fiction imagined the 2020s. What ‘Blade Runner,’ cyberpunk, and Octavia Butler had to say about the age we’re entering now. (Medium)

Behavioral economics’ latest bias: seeing bias wherever it looks. (Bloomberg)

The Stoicism of Augustus. The lost Exhortations to Philosophy. (Medium)

Death by design. We can chose how we live – why not how we leave? A free society should allow dying to be more deliberate and imaginative. (Aeon)

4 Japanese concepts to transform your state of mind. Sometimes we just don’t have the words. (Medium)

Scotland must not become another Catalonia. (Jacobin)

Suggested readings, #40

Here are some interesting articles I’ve come across recently, for your consideration:

Nobel winner retracts paper from Science. [This is not good, and not an isolated case either.] (Retraction Watch)

Getting to the Good Place. [About the philosophy-informed television show.] (Killing the Buddha)

Why historical analogy matters. (New York Review of Books)

If you’re so smart, why aren’t you rich? Turns out it’s just chance. The most successful people are not the most talented, just the luckiest, a new computer model of wealth creation confirms. [And it applies to science funding strategies as well.] (MIT Technology Review)

On Stoic transcendence. Stoic transcendence is an active exercise that takes us to a new level of understanding about the world. (The Side View)

How to live a Stoic life, in Spanish

Below is an interview I conducted with the prestigious Spanish newspaper El Pais. It covers the basics of Stoicism, how I got into it, and why it is a very useful philosophy of life for the 21st century.

From the description of the video:

What is stoicism and how can it help us manage a life crisis? A doctor and professor of philosophy, Massimo Pigliucci faced a critical juncture with the death of his father and undergoing a divorce. He looked to the ancient philosophers for answers and discovered “virtue ethics,” an approach to life that advances human improvement through the development of values.

“Stoicism tries to eliminate destructive emotions as much as possible while cultivating the positive ones. The Stoics concluded that a good human life is that in which we apply reason in order to improve society. If we improve as people, we will be improving society; and if we work to improve society, we will automatically be improving ourselves,” the professor explains.