UNDERSTANDING HUMANS

 

Below I contribute a brief discussion of the supernatural and how to avoid it. Comments are welcome, that's the whole point of this, but I won't discuss dead end hypotheses involving omniscient superbeings or other positions that set out insurmountable mystery as a starting point. They are indeed logically possible hypotheses, but not interesting to me. After all, they don't leave much to discuss.

 

 

 

 

 

I would also like to recommend the book by Daniel Dennett which can be accessed at the publisher by clicking on the image below.

 

Here is a quote from it which should already let you know whether it is your kind of book:

... we finally arrive at the topic that many regard as the most puzzling phenomenon in the whole universe. Indeed not a few folks have claimed that it is terminally mysterious. We will never ever understand consciousness, they declare; it will systematically defy the best efforts of our science and philosophy until the end of time. Since there are no good reasons to believe in this intellectual roadblock, I have to conclude that it is wishful thinking. Some folks hate the idea of our uncovering the secrets of how the conscious mind works, and just to make sure we don't impose our understanding on them, they counsel that we give it up as a lost cause. If we take their advice, they will be right, so let's ignore them and get on with this difficult, but not impossible, quest.

Here is my reaction to what happened to the team at Charlie Hebdo in Paris on 7 January 2015 

 

 

 

 

 

THE BETTER ANGELS OF OUR NATURE

 

I would like to advocate another book, this one by Steven Pinker, cognitive scientist at Harvard. Click on the cover to get the publisher's web page.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This is a controversial thesis, but well argued and well backed up with references to serious studies. It should at least remind us that we owe much to democracy, despite its various shortfallings. This is a message for those who convince themselves that the world is going to pot. Much of the negative reaction to the book comes from those with religious beliefs, largely because Pinker gives them short shrift. He doesn't even waste time on politically correct theses such as a crucial role for Judeo-Christian belief in our cultural and scientific progress, an idea founded largely on wishful thinking.

 

John Gray, who regularly argues against any notion of cultural evolution, offers us this critique in the Grauniad: Steven Pinker is wrong about violence and war (click on the title for the link).

I AM A STRANGE LOOP

Here is a remarkable book by another cognitive scientist, Douglas Hofstadter. A serious attempt to get to grips with understanding consciousness, written in a clear and pleasant way. He makes the simple observation that systems with feedback, like any system that has evolved to sense its environment and hence also itself, invite teleological explanation, i.e., one is inclined to explain their behaviour in terms of desires and aims. Click on the image to visit the publisher's page.

 

HOW CAN PHYSICS UNDERLIE THE MIND?

This kind of innovative thinking is to be sharply contrasted with George Ellis' struggle to keep the mind out of reach of ugly matter. The book does have one merit: it goes as far as anyone could with an obsolete idea. Click on the cover image to go to the Springer page, and on the button for my unenthusiastic review. In a nutshell, my answer to Ellis would be this: it's not because a causal chain doesn't lead to a practical explanation that it's not a causal chain. But there are other things that just don't seem to work among his arguments. Reactions are welcome.