Posts Tagged ‘ Philosophy ’

The World Turned Upside Down

From Neuroskeptic:

This map is not “upside down”. It looks that way to us; the sense that north is up is a deeply ingrained one. It’s grim up north, Dixie is away down south. Yet this is pure convention. The earth is a sphere in space. It has a north and a south, but no up and down.

There’s a famous experiment involving four guys and a door. An unsuspecting test subject is lured into a conversation with a stranger, actually a psychologist. After a few moments, two people appear carrying a large door, and they walk right between the subject and the experimenter.

Behind the door, the experimenter swaps places with one of the door carriers, who may be quite different in voice and appearance. Most subjects don’t notice the swap. Perception is lazy: whenever it can get away with it, it merely tells us that things are as we expect, rather than actually showing us stuff. We often do not really perceive things at all. Did the subject really see the first guy? The second? Either?

The inverted map makes us actually see the Earth’s geography, rather than just showing us the expected “countries” and “continents”. I was struck by how parochial Europe is – the whole place is little more than a frayed end of the vast Eurasian landmass, no more impressive than the one at the other end, Russia’s Chukotski. Africa dominates the scene: it can no longer be written off as that poor place at the bottom.

One of the most common observations in psychotherapy of people with depression or anxiety is that they hold themselves to impossibly high standards, although they have a perfectly sensible evaluation of everyone else. Their own failures are catastrophic; other people’s are minor setbacks. Other people’s successes are well-deserved triumphs; their own are never good enough, flukes, they don’t count.

The first step in challenging these unhelpful patterns of thought is to simply point out the double-standard: why are you such a perfectionist about yourself, when you’re not when it comes to other people? The idea being to help people to think about themselves in more like healthy way they already think about others. Turn the map of yourself upside down – what do you actually see?

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Sky-blue-pink. A colour never before seen?

Richard Dawkins writing for richarddawkins.net:

A recurring conundrum in philosophy is the impossibility of sharing, or describing to a blind person, the subjective sensation of colour. Is my sensation of red the same as yours? Or do you see an entirely different hue that I cannot even dream of?

Do you see the number 15 here? People with color blindness cannot

It seems impossible for me to imagine a colour that I have never seen. I don’t mean some subtle shade in a paint catalogue, intermediate between colours that I know well. I mean a completely new colour, as different from the familiar as red is from blue. Proverbially we call it sky-blue-pink, but of course it would resemble no name-able colour.

I have long argued that subjective hues are constructions manufactured in the brain as convenient internal labels for light of different wavelengths. There is no reason why your brain should use the same label for red as my brain does, just because both are labelling light of the same wavelength. I have even gone so far as to speculate that bats might hear in colour. The bat’s brain constructs a detailed picture of the world using echoes instead of light. A bat, when echolocating an insect, might use the subjective sensation that we call ‘red’ as a convenient label for the furry texture of a moth, and might use ‘blue’ as an internal label for the leathery texture of a locust. These qualia are just conveniences, to be pressed into service in the way that is most useful for the species concerned. Since the mammalian brain has the capacity to construct the qualia that we call hues, and use them as internal labels to facilitate sensory distinctions, why wouldn’t bats, as fully paid-up mammals, press into sonar service the labels that we call red and blue? By the same token, I went on, perhaps rhinoceroses smell in colour.

But always, lurking in the background is the desire to imagine a completely strange and alien colour sensation, a colour never seen. I have no hope of ever enjoying that remarkable experience, not even on an LSD trip. But yesterday I nearly hit another cyclist who shot a red light and pleaded colour-blindness as his excuse, and immediately an intriguing thought occurred to me.

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Rewriting Morality I: Goodbye to Human Dignity

Steve Stewart-Williams in Psychology Today:

(This post is excerpted, with changes, from the book Darwin, God and the Meaning of Life by Steve Stewart-Williams (Cambridge University Press))

This post is the first of three looking at the implications of Darwin’s theory of evolution for some of the most important topics in applied ethics, including suicide and euthanasia, and the proper treatment of nonhuman animals. These are controversial topics and you may well disagree with some of the ideas I’m going to float. I hope, though, that you’ll at least find it interesting and perhaps that you’ll find some food for thought in here.

First things first, a lot of people claim that evolutionary theory simply has no implications for any moral question. I suspect this view has been motivated in part by some of the unpopular and unpleasant conclusions that were drawn from the theory in the past. For instance, the Social Darwinists of the late 19th century and first half of the 20th century argued that giving aid to the weak, sick, and poor goes against nature – it undermines natural selection – and thus that it should be stopped. The vast majority of people reject this view now, and that includes the vast majority of evolutionists. But there have been some recent suggestions about other possible implications of evolutionary theory for ethics. One of the most important of these stems from the work of moral philosophers such as James Rachels and Peter Singer. According to these philosophers, in the wake of evolutionary theory, we must rethink or recalibrate our ethical commitments. Specifically, we must rethink the value we place on the lives of human beings vs. other animals.

Rachels identified an important trend in traditional Western moral thinking, which he dubbed the doctrine of human dignity. (Peter Singer uses the phrase sanctity of human life to refer to essentially the same thing.) Although the doctrine of human dignity is often not explicitly expressed, it is the heart and soul of the Western moral system, and provides the moorings for traditional morality.

The doctrine has two parts; the first pertains to humans, the second to nonhuman animals. The part pertaining to humans is the idea that human life has supreme worth – according to some, it has literally infinite value. A corollary of this view is that any activity that involves taking a human life (or at least an innocent human life) is utterly forbidden. This includes suicide, euthanasia, and abortion.

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