Consciousness Isn’t What Makes Humans Special | An Octopus Research

[Octopuses can squirt water at an annoyingly bright bulb until it short-circuits. They can tell humans apart (even those who are wearing the same uniform). And, according to Peter Godfrey-Smith, a philosophy professor at University of Sydney and City University of New York, they are the closest creature to an alien here on earth.

There’s no clear way of evaluating consciousness in other animals (or in other humans, for that matter—it’s quite possible that you’re the only conscious being alive and everyone you know is merely displaying signs of consciousness rather than truly experiencing it). But we can certainly make educated guesses. Broadly speaking, consciousness is often defined as there being an experience of what it’s like to be said creature.

Octopuses display signs of curiosity, and Godfrey-Smith believes it’s extremely likely that they’re conscious beings. “I think the exploratory behaviors, the fact that they attend to things, they have good eyes, they evaluate, are little bits of good evidence that there’s something it’s like to be an octopus.”]

Octopus research shows that consciousness isn’t what makes humans special

Much Ado About Nothing | “Praise for Effort” and its Discontents

[Reams of research show that kids who are praised for being smart fixate on performance, shying away from taking risks and meeting potential failure. Kids who are praised for their efforts try harder and persist with tasks longer. These “effort” kids have a “growth mindset” marked by resilience and a thirst for mastery; the “smart” ones have a “fixed mindset” believing intelligence to be innate and not malleable.

 But now, Carol Dweck, the Stanford professor of psychology who spent 40 years researching, introducing and explaining the growth mindset, is calling a big timeout.
 It seems the growth mindset has run amok. Kids are being offered empty praise for just trying. Effort itself has become praise-worthy without the goal it was meant to unleash: learning. Parents tell her that they have a growth mindset, but then they react with anxiety or false affect to a child’s struggle or setback. “They need a learning reaction – ‘what did you do?’, ‘what can we do next?’” Dweck says….]   Read the full article here | QUARTZ

What you Hear is Actually What you See: The McGurk Effect

(by Chris Higgins | MENTAL FLOSS)

The McGurk effect is mind-blowing. It involves showing a person’s lips making the shape of one sound—like “bah”—while the audio is actually the person saying “fah.” What’s interesting is that your brain changes what you “hear” based on what you see. It’s “bah” all the way through, but when we see “bah” our minds transform “bah” into “fah.”

The effect is named for researcher Harry McGurk, who published a 1976 paper with John MacDonald entitled “Hearing lips and seeing voices.” McGurk and MacDonald described how speech perception isn’t just about sound—it’s also affected by vision, and the integration of the two.

What’s most interesting about the McGurk effect is that, even when the viewer knows what’s happening, it still works. In other words, even thought I know it’s an illusion, my brain can’t seem to turn off the effect. Note: Some people are not susceptible to the effect; please leave a comment either way!

Here’s a nice BBC segment illustrating the effect (jump to 0:30 if you just want to see the effect in action):

Ayn Rand on Racism, Slavery and Native Americans | Speech and Q&A at West Point’s Graduating Class of 1974


Racism, Slavery

To begin with, there is much more to America than the issue of racism. I do not believe that the issue of racism, or even the persecution of a particular race, is as important as the persecution of individuals, because when you deprive individuals of rights, if you deprive any small group, all individuals lose their rights. Therefore, look at this fundamentally: If you are concerned with minorities, the smallest minority on Earth is an individual. If you do not respect individual rights, you will sacrifice or persecute all minorities, and then you get the same treatment given to a majority, which you can observe today in Soviet Russia.

But if you ask me well, now, should America have tolerated slavery? I would say certainly not. And why did they? Well, at the time of the Constitutional Convention, or the debates about the Constitution, the best theoreticians at the time wanted to abolish slavery right then and there—and they should have. The fact is that they compromised with other members of the debate and their compromise has caused this country a dreadful catastrophe which had to happen, and that is the Civil War. You could not have slavery existing in a country which proclaims the inalienable rights of Man. If you believe in the rights and the institution of slavery, it’s an enormous contradiction. It is to the honor of this country, which the haters of America never mention, that people died giving their lives in order to abolish slavery. There was that much strong philosophical feeling about it.

Certainly slavery was a contradiction. But before you criticize this country, remember that that is a remnant of the politics and the philosophies of Europe and of the rest of the world. The black slaves were sold into slavery, in many cases, by other black tribes. Slavery is something which only the United States of America abolished. Historically, there was no such concept as the right of the individual. The United States is based on that concept. So that so as long as men held to the American political philosophy, they had to come to the point, even of a civil war, but of eliminating the contradiction with which they could not live—namely, the institution of slavery.

Incidentally, if you study history following America’s example, slavery or serfdom was abolished in the whole civilized world during the 19th century. What abolished it? Not altruism. Not any kind of collectivism. Capitalism. The world of free trade could not coexist with slave labor. And countries like Russia, which was the most backward and had serfs liberated them, without any pressure from anyone, by economic necessity. Nobody could compete with America economically so long as they attempted to use slave labor. Now that was the liberating influence of America.

That’s in regard to the slavery of Black people. But as to the example of the Japanese people—you mean the labor camps in California? Well, that was certainly not put over by any sort of defender of capitalism or Americanism. That was done by the left-wing progressive liberal Democrats of Franklin D. Roosevelt. 

[Massive applause follows, along with a minute in which the moderator asks Ayn Rand to respond to the point about the genocide of Native Americans. She continues.] 

If you study reliable history, and not liberal, racist newspapers, racism didn’t exist in this country until the liberals brought it up—racism in the sense of self-consciousness and separation about races. Yes, slavery existed as a very evil institution, and there certainly was prejudice against some minorities, including the Negroes after they were liberated. But those prejudices were dying out under the pressure of free economics, because racism, in the prejudicial sense, doesn’t pay. Then, if anyone wants to be a racist, he suffers, the workings of the system is against him. 

Today, it is to everyone’s advantage to form some kind of ethnic collective. The people who share your viewpoint or from whose philosophy those catchphrases come, are the ones who are institutionalizing racism today. What about the quotas in employment? The quotas in education? And I hope to God—so I am not religious, but just to express my feeling—that the Supreme Court will rule against those quotas. But if you can understand the vicious contradiction and injustice of a state establishing racism by law. Whether it’s in favor of a minority or a majority doesn’t matter. It’s more offensive when it’s in the name of a minority because it can only be done in order to disarm and destroy the majority and the whole country. It can only create more racist divisions, and backlashes, and racist feelings. 

If you are opposed to racism, you should support individualism. You cannot oppose racism on one hand and want collectivism on the other.


Native Americans

But now, as to the Indians, I don’t even care to discuss that kind of alleged complaints that they have against this country. I do believe with serious, scientific reasons the worst kind of movie that you have probably seen—worst from the Indian viewpoint—as to what they did to the white man.

I do not think that they have any right to live in a country merely because they were born here and acted and lived like savages. Americans didn’t conquer; Americans did not conquer that country.

Whoever is making sounds there, I think is hissing, he is right, but please be consistent: you are a racist if you object to that [laughter and applause]. You are that because you believe that anything can be given to Man by his biological birth or for biological reasons.

If you are born in a magnificent country which you don’t know what to do with, you believe that it is a property right; it is not. And, since the Indians did not have any property rights—they didn’t have the concept of property; they didn’t even have a settled, society, they were predominantly nomadic tribes; they were a primitive tribal culture, if you want to call it that—if so, they didn’t have any rights to the land, and there was no reason for anyone to grant them rights which they had not conceived and were not using.

It would be wrong to attack any country which does respect—or try, for that matter, to respect—individual rights, because if they do, you are an aggressor and you are morally wrong to attack them. But if a country does not protect rights—if a given tribe is the slave of its own tribal chief—why should you respect the rights they do not have?

Or any country which has a dictatorship. Government—the citizens still have individual rights—but the country does not have any rights. Anyone has the right to invade it, because rights are not recognized in this country and neither you nor a country nor anyone can have your cake and eat it too.

In other words, want respect for the rights of Indians, who, incidentally, for most cases of their tribal history, made agreements with the white man, and then when they had used up whichever they got through agreement of giving, selling certain territory, then came back and broke the agreement, and attacked white settlements.

I will go further. Let’s suppose they were all beautifully innocent savages, which they certainly were not. What was it that they were fighting for, if they opposed white men on this continent? For their wish to continue a primitive existence, their right to keep part of the earth untouched, unused, and not even as property, but just keep everybody out so that you will live practically like an animal, or maybe a few caves about.

Any white person who brings the elements of civilization had the right to take over this continent, and it is great that some people did, and discovered here what they couldn’t do anywhere else in the world and what the Indians, if there are any racist Indians today, do not believe to this day: respect for individual rights.

I am, incidentally, in favor of Israel against the Arabs for the very same reason. There you have the same issue in reverse. Israel is not a good country politically; it’s a mixed economy, leaning strongly to socialism. But why do the Arabs resent it? Because it is a wedge of civilization—an industrial wedge—in part of a continent which is totally primitive and nomadic.

Israel is being attacked for being civilized, and being specifically a technological society. It’s for that very reason that they should be supported—that they are morally right because they represent the progress of Man’s mind, just as the white settlers of America represented the progress of the mind, not centuries of brute stagnation and superstition. They represented the banner of the mind and they were in the right.

[thunderous applause]


[The book Ayn Rand Answers: The Best of Her Q & A includes Rand’s Manifest Destiny-esque defense of settler colonialism among some of the “best of her” public statements. Ayn Rand Answers was edited by philosophy professor Robert Mayhew, whom the Ayn Rand Institute describes as an “Objectivist scholar,” referring to the libertarian ideology created by Rand. ARI lists Prof. Mayhew as one of its Ayn Rand experts, and notes that he serves on the board of the Anthem Foundation for Objectivist Scholarship. The transcript included in Prof. Mayhew’s collection is full of errors, however, and reorders her remarks.

A recording of the West Point commencement address was available for free on the ARI website as early as April 2009. Up until around October 18, 2013, separate recordings of the speech and Q&A were still freely accessible. By October 22, nonetheless, ARI had removed the recordings from its website and put them up for sale.

Some copies of the 1974 recording have circulated the Internet, but in order to verify the quotes and authenticate the transcript, I ordered an official MP3 recording of the event from the Ayn Rand Institute eStore. (After all, I was working on a piece involving Ayn Rand, so I figured it was only natural that I had to buy something.) The quotes in this piece are directly transcribed from the official recording of Rand’s West Point speech and Q&A.]    Read the full article here | ALTERNET
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The Most Misread Poem in America

Robert Frost’s “The Road Not Taken” is the poem most get wrong.

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;

Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,

And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

[…. Frost’s poem turns this expectation on its head. Most readers consider “The Road Not Taken” to be a paean to triumphant self-assertion (“I took the one less traveled by”), but the literal meaning of the poem’s own lines seems completely at odds with this interpretation. The poem’s speaker tells us he “shall be telling,” at some point in the future, of how he took the road less traveled by, yet he has already admitted that the two paths “equally lay / In leaves” and “the passing there / Had worn them really about the same.” So the road he will later call less traveled is actually the road equally traveled. The two roads are interchangeable.

According to this reading, then, the speaker will be claiming “ages and ages hence” that his decision made “all the difference” only because this is the kind of claim we make when we want to comfort or blame ourselves by assuming that our current position is the product of our own choices (as opposed to what was chosen for us or allotted to us by chance). The poem isn’t a salute to can-do individualism; it’s a commentary on the self-deception we practice when constructing the story of our own lives….]

Read the full analysis here | The Paris Review

20th May 1957:  Poet Robert Lee Frost (1874 - 1963), who was awarded the Pulitzer Prize in 1924, 1931 and 1937, arriving at London Airport.  (Photo by Keystone/Getty Images)

20th May 1957: Poet Robert Lee Frost (1874 – 1963), who was awarded the Pulitzer Prize in 1924, 1931 and 1937, arriving at London Airport. (Photo by Keystone/Getty Images)


I have One of the Best Jobs in Academia. Here is Why I am Walking Away

[…. I can’t understate how rare this opportunity is: Tenure-track jobs at large state universities are few and far between. Landing one without serving a postdoctoral appointment or working as a visiting assistant professor is about as likely as landing a spot on an NBA team with a walk-on tryout — minus the seven-figure salary, naturally.

I had read all of the doom-and-gloom think pieces about the status of the American university system, of course, but it felt like none of that applied to me. I had a full-time position, secured early in my career — the possibilities were endless. Although a legal historian by training, I viewed myself as beyond such simple labels: I was a cultural historian, in command of critical theory and immersed in the latest and best work on gender and sexuality….                                                                                                     I had not just survived the academic Hunger Games — I had emerged triumphant.

Then it all began to fall apart.]

Read the full story here | VOX


Free Will | Daniel Dennett and the Predicament of Philosophers

[Dennett has consistently resisted the crude extension of scientific thinking into areas where it does not belong. Nowhere is this more evident than in the issue of free will, which he describes in the book as “the most difficult and the most important philosophical problem confronting us today”.

“It’s important because of the longstanding tradition that free will is a prerequisite for moral responsibility,” he says. “Our system of law and order, of punishment, and praise and blame, promise keeping, promise making, the law of contracts, criminal law – all of this depends on one notion or another of free will. And then you have neuroscientists, physicists and philosophers saying that ‘science has shown us that free will is an illusion’ and then not shrinking from the implication that our systems of law are built on foundations of sand.”

Dennett argues: “There is nothing we have learned from neuroscience that undercuts the foundation for both the law of contract and criminal law.” It is true that we do not have “ultimate responsibility” because our choices are always in some ways the result of things we didn’t choose, such as our core personalities and the values we have absorbed from our society and families. But we have enough self-control to make sense of the difference between the psychopath and the criminal murder, the person who murders unwittingly in a sleepwalk and the cold-blooded killer….

… He may not be crudely scientific, but it is true that these days Dennett spends more time around scientists than other philosophers. “I find the discoveries in those fields mind candy, just delicious,” he says. “If I go to a scientific conference I come away with a bunch of new things to think about. If I go to a philosophy conference I may come away just having learned four more wrinkles in the debate about something philosophers have been thinking about for all my life.”

But Dennett also maintains that we need philosophy to protect us from scientific overreach. “The history of philosophy is the history of very tempting mistakes made by very smart people, and if you don’t learn that history you’ll make those mistakes again and again and again. One of the ignoble joys of my life is watching very smart scientists just reinvent all the second-rate philosophical ideas because they’re very tempting until you pause, take a deep breath and take them apart.”

Ridicule and misrepresentation are in some sense an occupational hazard for the philosopher. “The best philosophers are always walking a tightrope where one misstep either side is just nonsense,” he says. “That’s why caricatures are too easy to be worth doing. You can make any philosopher – any, Aristotle, Kant, you name it – look like a complete flaming idiot with just a slightest little tweak…”]

Read the full article here | THE GUARDIAN

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