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This is the archive for March 2005

Wednesday, March 30, 2005

Just a few web sites specializing in neuroethics:

Neuroethics - Stanford Center for Biomedical Ethics (SCBE) - Stanford University School of Medicine
The Stanford Center for Biomedical Ethics (SCBE) was chosen to become one of the first Centers for Excellence in Ethical, Legal, and Social Implications (ELSI) of genetic research through funds made available by the National Human Genome Research Institute. In July 2004, the Center started a 5 - year mission devoted to the proactive identification and integration of ELSI considerations into the design and conduct of current and emerging genetic research. Under the leadership of Mildred Cho, PhD, Judy Illes, PhD, and Joachim Hallmayer, MD, one aspect of the center will focus on identifying the ethical and social issues arising from research on the genetic contributions to, and mechanisms of, behavior and neurogenetic conditions using autism as a model. The initial research questions will examine the social evolution of autism as a disease and identity by investigating the history of funding for autism research, the changes in diagnostic criteria, the effects of medicalization and commercialization and the impact of educational and parent advocacy forces. The ultimate goal will be to convene a multi-disciplinary Behavioral and Neurogenetics Working Group that will draw from neuroethics, psychiatry, sociology, anthropology, epidemiology, pharmacogenetics, philosophy, law, health policy and others.

Neuroethics at U Penn is a source of information on neuroethics, provided by the Center for Cognitive Neuroscience at the University of Pennsylvania.

Here you will find:
* summaries of neuroethical issues prepared expressly for this website
* pointers to the literature with links to downloadable articles or article abstracts
* exclusive interviews with leaders in the field, focusing on their particular areas of expertise
* links to other relevant websites on neuroethics, neuroscience, and policy
other sources of education and amusement, including neuroethics course syllabi, a neuroethics conference calendar, and a listing of novels and films that deal with neuroethical issues.

Our goal is to inform students and professionals in bioethics, neuroscience, medicine, business, education and law, and all other interested readers who surf our way.
A post at alerted me to the wonderful neuroethics website at The Bioethics blog also includes an article by Martha Farrah about the Terri Schiavo case. She writes
The bottom line is that we have two windows through which to look for an answer to the question of conscious awareness in brain-damaged patients, and while neither is crystal clear, both are useful.? The first is extended behavioral observation (as opposed to snippets of video), undertaken with an awareness of our susceptibility to the ?Kismet? phenomenon.? The other is functional neuroimaging, interpreted cautiously and with an awareness of how much remains to be learned about activation-cognition correlations in damaged brains.
Read the whole Farrah article and visit the neuroethics site.

Terri Schiavo's Brain: A Neuroethicist Clarifies Her Condition
Bill Bradley writes a very thoughtful Op-Ed piece in the NYT this morning. Describing the successful Republican Party strategy, he says
Big individual donors and large foundations - the Scaife family and Olin foundations, for instance - form the base of the pyramid. They finance conservative research centers like the Heritage Foundation, the Cato Institute and the Intercollegiate Studies Institute, entities that make up the second level of the pyramid.

The ideas these organizations develop are then pushed up to the third level of the pyramid - the political level. There, strategists like Karl Rove or Ralph Reed or Ken Mehlman take these new ideas and, through polling, focus groups and careful attention to Democratic attacks, convert them into language that will appeal to the broadest electorate. That language is sometimes in the form of an assault on Democrats and at other times in the form of advocacy for a new policy position. The development process can take years. And then there's the fourth level of the pyramid: the partisan news media. Conservative commentators and networks spread these finely honed ideas.

At the very top of the pyramid you'll find the president. Because the pyramid is stable, all you have to do is put a different top on it and it works fine. [...]

To understand how the Democratic Party works, invert the pyramid. Imagine a pyramid balancing precariously on its point, which is the presidential candidate.

Democrats who run for president have to build their own pyramids all by themselves. There is no coherent, larger structure that they can rely on. Unlike Republicans, they don't simply have to assemble a campaign apparatus - they have to formulate ideas and a vision, too. Many Democratic fundraisers join a campaign only after assessing how well it has done in assembling its pyramid of political, media and idea people.

There is no clearly identifiable funding base for Democratic policy organizations, and in the frantic campaign rush there is no time for patient, long-term development of new ideas or of new ways to sell old ideas. [...]
I like Bradley's description of the differences between the party structures. He overlooks, I fear, the reasons why the Republicans have found it so easy to build pyramids on a large financial base with concentrated ideological support and why Democrats find themselves looking for charisma. Two reasons come to mind: (1) the pro-business economic agenda readily attracts big money for Republicans, and (2) the simple-minded conservative social values make their "brand" easy to articulate and sell. If you're interested in serving the less furtunate members of society and you appreciate the complexity of the social problems that confront us, then pyramids will present a challenge. Still, Bradley's observations are important; Democrats should take the challenge very seriously.

The New York Times > Opinion > Op-Ed Contributor: A Party Inverted
At Counterpunch I found Carl Estabrook's article "The Subversive Commandments" in which he attempts to re-orient our thinking about the Ten Commandments and their place in government buildings. He concludes
The Ten Commandments in their proper historical context commend atheism in regard to the religion of the gods and anarchism in respect to the laws of the kings. Arising from a revolutionary people, they support the overthrow of authoritarian structures in the name of human community. That sounds pretty good to me.

Tuesday, March 29, 2005

At Philosophy Talk John Fischer was scheduled to talk about Free Will today. I expect the radio show to be archived soon. In the meantime check out the discussion at the Philosophy Talk Blog. There John Perry presents some background for the free will debate. John Fischer introduces the idea that one might be morally responsible for something without being able to do otherwise than he does. He uses John Locke's thought experiment of the man who voluntarily remains in a room, though he couldn't leave if he wanted to because the door is locked. Might we be morally responsible without free will?
At Mixing Memory there is an interesting discussion of brain death and personhood.
The question of what "personhood" is, is one of the more difficult, and more central questions raised by many of today's ethical dilemmas. Obviously, it is at the center of the abortion debate, and as the Terri Schiavo case has made clear, it is also the primary question raised by the definitions of "life" and "death." For better or worse, this is a question that medicine and science cannot answer for us. This means that we have to come up with definitions which, while they may be based on empirical facts, also include interpretations of those facts that are not strictly scientific. In a previous post, I stated unequivocally that I believe that cases of obvious higher-brain death (i.e., when it is physically impossible for a person to ever have any higher-brain functioning again), there is no reason to use the modifier "higher-brain." The "person" is simply "dead." ...
My frustration with the recent commentary on the Schiavo case was the lack of serious discussion of the nature of personhood and its relation to various kinds of brain functioning (as well as the unchallenged assumption that being a person or having a mind was the same as being alive). So I appreciate the fact that someone is considering the following position.
An individual human person is differentiated from other human individuals, as well as nonhuman individuals, by a collection of memories, beliefs, knowledge, skills, and tendencies. In other words, what defines an individual person is a history. That history is, by and large, contained in the cerebral cortex and surrounding brain areas, along with the cerebellum.
Now it may be more complicated than this--Is Terri Schiavo identical with the living animal that happened to be a person at a certain time, but not now? What value should we find in a living body that no longer supports personhood?--, but this is at least a move in the right intellectual direction.

Mixing Memory

Update 3.30.05: John Rennie at Sci Am had this to say about neuroscience and Schiavo.
Can my confidence in the President's Bioethics Council drop any lower? It seems so. Check this out from Amygdala:
I'm quite open about the shameful fact that I'm inordinately fond of Star Trek -- not that I would recommend it, save on rare and fleeting occasion, and then only with vast luke-warmedness, as good science fiction, or anything other than largely nostalgia on my part -- but this is not where I advocate people go with their Inner Trekkie...:
Diana Schaub, a Loyola College professor and adviser to President Bush, is convinced that cloning and embryonic stem cell research are evil. She says this belief was formed, in part, by watching Star Trek. ...
[...]Of course, she relies only on the original series in which they "boldly go where no man has gone before." Well, perhaps not too boldly or too far.

Amygdala by way of Yglasias
See also the Schaub article in the New Atlantis

Monday, March 28, 2005

This article starts out as though it will distinguish questions of life from questions of personhood--which I think is crucial to the debate--, but then goes on to focus on the value of life as equivalent to the value of personhood.
In the parade of faces talking about Terri Schiavo last week, two notable authorities were missing: Aristotle and Descartes. Yet their legacy was there.

Beneath the political maneuvering and legal wrangling, the case re-enacted a clash of ideals that has run through the history of Western thought. And in a way, it's the essential question that has been asked by philosophers since the dawn of human civilization. Is every human life precious, no matter how disabled? Or do human beings have the right to self-determination and to decide when life has value?

"The clash is about how we understand the human person," said Samuel Gregg, director of research at the Acton Institute for the Study of Religion and Liberty, a conservative policy group.
An NYT editorial this morning stands up for the little guy. That's not unusual, and it's often something I admire about the Times. But this glosses over many of the deeper issues.
When David Steals Goliath's Music

The battle over online music piracy is usually presented as David versus Goliath: the poor student in his dorm hunted down by a music conglomerate. It is easy, in that matchup, to side with the student. But when the Supreme Court takes up the issue this week, we hope it considers another party to the dispute: individual creators of music, movies and books, who need to keep getting paid if they are going to keep creating. If their work is suddenly made "free," all of society is likely to suffer.
Really? All of society suffers? Musicians will stop creating music if they don't get paid? Surely if we decide to permit file sharing, there will need to be adjustments in the economy of the entertainment industry. But will it go away? Will we all suffer? I don't think so.

Sunday, March 27, 2005

Antony Flew, the well-known philosopher and atheist who wrote God and Philosophy, seems to have reconsidered theism. Theists have been holding him up as a poster child for conversion. "His change of mind is significant news, not only about his personal journey, but also about the persuasive power of the arguments modern theists have been using to challenge atheistic naturalism," says Craig Hazen, Editor of Philosophia Christi, the journal of the Evangelical Philosophical Society that published an interview with Flew recently. And in the AmericanSpectator S. T. Karnick concludes
From a philosophical perspective, that is all that the theists need: to have the argument back on level ground. It is indeed the correct philosophical position and the right scientific one, and Flew is to be commended for his willingness to "go where the evidence leads." The conclusion is a simple one: Atheists have no greater claim to scientific truth or rationality than theists do. If theists are allowed to argue on the same footing as atheists, it will be better for science and philosophy alike. That makes Antony Flew's recent change of thinking very important indeed.
But does Flew's conversion really help the cause of Theism? Does adding Flew's name to the list of theists make the position any more likely to be true? No doubt some theists think so--it's all about marketing over the truth for some. But a number of interviews reveal Flew to be rather unsure of the specifics or strength of his new-found conviction. And on closer inspection his rationale for accepting Theism seems incredibly weak for a thinker of his stature.

Saturday, March 26, 2005

Ohio Senators Mumper, Jordan, Cates, and Wachtmann have proposed S. B. No. 24 to to establish "the academic bill of rights for higher education." It is based on a similar proposal in Florida that is based on an initiative from David Horowitz. Horowitz claims that the Ohio bill "is not about Republicans and Democrats, liberals and conservatives, left and right" but "about what is appropriate to a higher education, and in particular what is an appropriate discourse in the classrooms of an institution of higher learning;" he also says "[a]ll too frequently, professors behave as political advocates in the classroom, express opinions in a partisan manner on controversial issues irrelevant to the academic subject, and even grade students in a manner designed to enforce their conformity to professorial prejudices."
The reasons for enacting Senate Bill 24 are that too many faculty members at our universities no longer observe their responsibility to teach and not to indoctrinate students; that university administrations no longer enforce their faculty guidelines on academic freedom; and that the existing guidelines are not codified as student rights; as result students currently have no way to redress their grievances.
He refers us to a few examples that are intended to convince us of a crisis in Higher Education. But to my knowledge these individual cases are largely unsubstantiated, or at best rare infringements of what are already common academic expectations for intellectual integrity and openness. (Horowitz has even retracted a number of examples that turned out to be spurious.) I must confess that I do have colleagues that I suspect do more preaching and indoctrinating than teaching. But we already have expectations against such behavior (and ways of responding to it). I also have colleagues who proffer views that are simply ridiculous, but who attempt (so very poorly and with extreme incompetence) to defend them. I can only hope that students recognize the preposterousness of these lectures, or at least receive enough good instruction elsewhere to put them into perspective.

Friday, March 25, 2005

Ronald Bailey at Reason has posted a story on what it might mean to say that Terri Schiavo is minimally conscious and on whether it matters. He notes that
Terri Schiavo is not legally brain dead. In the United States brain death means whole brain death, including the death of the brain stem, which controls respiration and circulation. The definition of brain death was codified in 1980 in the Uniform Determination of Death Act, which has been adopted by most states. The UDDA noted that the "concept of 'entire brain' distinguishes determination of death under this Act from 'neocortical death' or 'persistent vegetative state.'" A brain-dead patient will show virtually no electrical activity in any part of his or her brain.

Wednesday, March 23, 2005

An interesting discussion of neuroscience and the film Memento at Rashmi's Blog.
Memento gets it wrong when Shelby says: "I don't have amnesia. I know who I am. I just can't form new memories." Well, he does have amnesia, its simply a different type of amnesia than movies tend to deal with. Reterograde amnesia is a favorite of movie makers (both Hollywood and Bollywood), perhaps because it offers an easier opportunity for simplistic drama - someone has a loss of identity, they redefine themselves, or their past catches up with them. Ah, the dramatic possibilities!

In my opinion, Memento also gets it wrong when Shelby says that he has short term memory problems. His problem is not with short term memory itself - it has to do with the transfer of memories from the short term to the long term store. So he can remain in the moment and retain whats happening around him. But he forgets everything as soon as he is out of that moment.

Another interesting review of Memento can be found at Rutgers. Rashmi also points us to Steven Johnson's review of The Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (see also the Kirk Jobsluder review and the article on movie amnesia here). I found the references at Mind Hacks.

Rashmi's Blog: Memento, Movies and Memory

Tuesday, March 22, 2005

The definition of 'hypocracy.'
"The 2000 Republican Platform: "Medical decision-making should be in the hands of physicians and their patients."

The 2004 Republican Platform: "We must attack the root causes of high health care costs by: ... putting patients and doctors in charge of medical decisions."

Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, March 17, 2005: "So our -- Congress has acted tonight and the House of Representatives acted last night. ... It is clear to me that Congress has a responsibility since other aspects of government at the state level have failed to address this issue."

House Majority Leader Tom Delay, March 19: "For one person in one state court to make this decision is too heavy. ... It does take all of us to think this through.?"

Lisa and Jacob
In two entries on Philosophy Talk, John Perry and Ken Taylor explore the world of Neurocosmetology. Their radio guest is neuroscientist Sam Barondes. Perry prefaces the discussion:
Progress in neuroscience may soon make possible an age of neurocosmetology: the use of drugs to let people affect the way their brains work, so as to make them more effective, more attractive, and more like their "cognitive ideal."? A world where all the women are beautiful and all the men handsome might be bearable if boring. But would a society full of type-A's work at all?? Can it be rational to choose to change in ways that may change who you are?? Should there be moral or legal prohibitions against healthy people messing with their own brain chemistry?

Monday, March 21, 2005

This is interesting. Compare the number of U.S. soldiers that died while in custody of the North Vietnamese during the Vietnam War with the number of number of prisoners who died in our custody in Iraq and Afghanistan. Roachblog reports
Suddenly, the count of prisoners dead in captivity is up to 108. Boy, that happened fast, didn't it? When I did my seven year hitch in the Navy, the gold standard for horrible, communist, totalitarian, non-Geneva convention deadly bastards who you never wanted to get captured by was the North Vietnamese.

They were happy if you died in your cell. They tortured. They hated. They abused just for perverse commie, Stalinist fun. They were the worst. Worse than Nazis, even, because the Nazis at least sometimes pretended to be civilized about POW treatment. The North Vietnamese didn't even pretend.

So how many American POWS died while captured by the insane and lawless North Vietnamese during the entire Vietnam war? One hundred and fourteen. From all causes. What killed the 108 (so far) reported in our custody?

Mostly "violent causes".


Sunday, March 20, 2005

Is it true that human generosity and altruism are really behaviors masked to serve our self-interest? Not from an evolutionary perspective. For social animals like ourselves, there is really some advantage to behaving cooperatively. People will actually pass up opportunities to cheat, even when cheating would best serve their own interests. It seems that "strong reciprocity"--the idea that "[m]any people are willing to cooperate and to punish those who don't, even when no gain is possible"--is an adaptation. Reciprocal altruism--the mere exchange of favors--seems to work only when the groups are small; might it be our continued altruism in larger social environments is a maladaptation? Studies show that "cooperation can become the default behaviour in large groups provided punishers are willing to punish not only those who cheat, but also those who fail to punish cheats." According to the article in New Scientist, "[t]hese findings suggest that true altruism, far from being a maladaptation, may be the key to our species' success by providing the social glue that allowed our ancestors to form strong, resilient groups. It is still crucial for social cohesion in today's very different world."

New Scientist: Charity begins at Homo sapiens

Saturday, March 19, 2005

Update to my past entry on the biology of race: Armand Leroi discusses the issue at (includes a video). He says:
Of course, there will be people who object. There will be people who will say that this is a revival of racial science. Perhaps so. I would argue, however, that even if this is a revival of racial science, we should engage in it for it does not follow that it is a revival of racist science. Indeed, I would argue, that it is just the opposite.

If you don't think this has undesirable political ramifications, read here. Also look here for claims similar to Leroi's. A fairer response to the NYT editorial can be found here, where you'll be pointed to an interesting online quiz. There is also some critical commentary from Kerim Friedman and Alex Golub

Having discovered a new strain of HIV, scientists can follow the evolutionary changes in the drug resistant virus and use evolutionary studies of other viruses to help understand its nature. As Carl Zimmer points out
So here we have evolutionary trees and natural selection at the very core of a vitally important area of medical research. Yet we are told again and again by op-ed columnists and certain members of boards of education that evolution is nothing but an evil religion and that creationism of one flavor or another is the future of science. You'd expect then that Intelligent Design or some other form of creationism would help reveal something new about this HIV. But it has not. That should count for something.

Evolution at Work (and creationism nowhere in sight): Corante > The Loom >
They finally removed Terri Schiavo's feeding tube. Still, according to NYT, earlier that morning,
members of a House committee issued subpoenas for Ms. Schiavo and her husband to appear at Congressional hearings later this month.

Since Ms. Schiavo, 41, appears unlikely ever to be in a position to testify, the intent of the Congressional subpoenas seemed to be to block the feeding tube's removal by using a law enacted to protect witnesses summoned by Congress.

Too bad this profound respect for life doesn't keep us from invading sovereign nations and killing 100K's of innocent people, from controlling the flow of guns in our own country, or from leaving millions of American children behind without health care insurance.

Majikthise : Terri Schiavo to testify before Congress
I went over to UC yesterday to hear Bill Lycan deliver a rather interested paper in which he conjures up the spirit of G. E. Moore to refute eliminative materialism. (An earlier version of the paper "A Particularly Compelling Refutation of Eliminative Materialism" can be found here.)

Wednesday, March 16, 2005

According to Jonathan Flombaum and Dr. Laurie Santos (Yale), rhesus monkeys look to see whether they are being watched before stealing food. It seems to be primarily in competitive situations when monkeys are able to consider another's visual perspective; they are more likely to steal when the competitor is looking away. Monkeys wearing the Ring of Gyges were not studied.

In a different study it was shown that people donate more to a communal pot when they were being watched by Kismet, the emotive robotic head from MIT.

Rhesus monkeys can assess the visual perspective of others when competing for food
Pay Up, You're Being Watched
Princeton philosopher Harry Frankfurt was on the Daily Show last night discussing his recent book/essay On Bullshit. Check out the video at onegoodmove. You can also read the essay at

Harry Frankfurt - The Daily Show 03/14/05
A NYT editorial this morning argues that "it is time to acknowledge that the nation's news organizations have played a large and unappetizing role in deceiving the public." This follows an article in last week's paper about how Government agencies have created fake news clips to inform/indoctrinate the public about their activities and interests. No surprise from an administration that runs townhall meetings like infomercials. The Radio-Television News Directors Association does have a code of ethics. Clearly news agencies have violated it. But does a fake news agency have to follow such a code? Or do they only have to pretend to follow it? Oh well, that's entertainment.

The New York Times > Opinion > Editorial: And Now, the Counterfeit News

Monday, March 14, 2005

NYT Op-Ed contributor Armand Marie Leroi argues that we can make good biological sense of the concept of race. Because there is more genetic variation between individuals within a race than across races, many scientists have supported the idea that race is no more than a social construct. But this is only when we consider one gene at a time. Leroi argues that we can find correlations when variable genes are considered together. Looking at clusters of genes we can organize individuals into groups that Leroi is suggesting we call "races." "Study enough genes in enough people and one could sort the world's population into 10, 100, perhaps 1,000 groups, each located somewhere on the map." Such racial categorization, he suggests, would benefit both medical care and treatment. What remains unclear is whether Leroi's genetic notion of race really the same as the traditional notion. After all, on Leroi's analysis there is really no objective fact as to how many races there are, since what genetic grouping you use to categorize depends on your interests. My suspicion is that it won't be useful to talk about races here, but perhaps only genetic clustering or correlations. And this is informative only when studying large popluations, not when talking about individuals.

The New York Times > Opinion > Op-Ed Contributor: A Family Tree in Every Gene

Saturday, March 12, 2005

"John Bolton is the kind of man with whom I would want to stand at Armageddon, or what the Bible describes as the final battle between good and evil." So said Jessie Helms in 2001. And perhaps one way to hasten our approach to Armageddon is to appoint John Bolton as US ambassador to the UN. Sidney Blumenthal has called him a "neoprimitive" (in the same camp with the the unilateralists and McCarthyites of the early cold war that Acheson called "primitives") and states that "Like his allies the neoconservatives, for Bolton the ends justify the means. But unlike them he has no use for romantic rhetoric about the 'march of freedom' and 'democracy', as he demonstrated so effectively in Florida." And Larry Birns has written that "by selecting an individual who has spent the last decade repudiating basic norms of international cooperation and civility, his appointment is tantamount to an absolute rejection of multilateral cooperation and U.S. accountability." The folks at onegoodmove simple ask "Isn't appointing John Bolton to the U.N. a little like appointing Dracula to a blood bank[?]" At onegoodmove there is also a wonderfully funny video clip from the Daily Show ("How do you keep the arrogance fresh?")

Guardian: The enemy within
Counter Punch: The pathology of John Bolton
onegoodmove: Keeping the arrogance fresh
alternet: Move up the date for armageddon

Friday, March 11, 2005

Compare the following two counterfactuals: (1) "if Ralph Nader hadn't run then Al Gore would have been elected president" and (2) "had we not invaded Iraq the movements for peace in the area would not be taking place." Norm at onegoodmove argues that each commits a logical fallacy since the counterfactual cannot be proved. Of course, counterfactuals aren't themselves arguments, and it's true they can't be proven in any firm logical sense. But insofar as counterfactual claims can be used as premises in arguments, we can examine the context in which they are made (and the relevant facts) to find them more or less credible. The problem with arguments of the sort illustrated with (1) and (2) is that the causes for the outcomes are so complex that it is difficult to say with any confidence what would have happened if Nader hadn't run for president or if we had not invaded Iraq. Many of us believe, however, that a major cause of Gore's not getting enough votes in FL was the fact that Nader got so many (see the comment to the post at onegoodmove) and that there were many alternatives to war available to the administration that would also have led to fortunate results in the Middle East (if not immediately, at least in the near future). Such speculation is not unwarranted; we study history and political science just so we can proffer better hypothetical satements.

onegoodmove: Counterfactuals

Thursday, March 10, 2005

Oliver Sacks is a wonderful writer and brilliant scientist. In this piece he writes with fondness of his interactions with Francis Crick, including fascinating discussions of motion-blindness, color-blindness, and the nature of visual consciousness. I should also recommend Sacks' article "In The River of Consciousness," also in NYRB (January 15, 2004) but not available online.

The New York Review of Books: Remembering Francis Crick
ABC Nightline's show on bloggers (talking with the Berkman Bloggers) and journalism was scooped by video blogger Steve Garfield. Watch the video, and if you saw the Nightline piece, you'll see how much more interesting the blogger's piece is. The video as edited by Garfield reveals a much more insightful discussion about blogging and journalism than does the Nightline show.

Steve Garfield's Video Blog: On the Record: Berkman Bloggers
Ward Churchill continues to come under fire, particularly from the conservative talk-show hosts Dan Caplis and Craig Silverman (with a lot of help from O-Reilly and friends). Churchill rigorously defends himself and many academics see this as an issue of academic freedom. Marie Therese from News Hounds posted this comment early in the debate:
In Germany, the Nazi Party targeted intellectuals (especially Jewish university professors), artists and newspaper reporters. Nowadays, the hosts of FOX News Channel's shows rant on and on about the decadence of Hollywood, the subversiveness of 'certain' professors and the supposed bias of the 'elite left-wing' media. Folks, it's time to wake up. As far as I'm concerned, Social Security, while important, takes second place to this issue. I said yesterday and I repeat today - the reactionary right is on a holy crusade against any academic who doesn't agree with its narrow-minded world view.

Ward Churchill: Who's the Terrorist?

Wednesday, March 09, 2005

Dave Munger posted a very interesting article on Cognitive Daily about how we perceive biological motion. Look at the point light display and you be surprised at how much we (and other species) 'infer' about an individual from the observation of biological motion. But do we learn to perceive biological motion, or is it something already there in the cognitive equipment that needs to be applied? According to the article, Thornton and Vuong present studies (using a ?flanker-interference paradigm") suggesting that "we must be recognizing the biological motion very early in the perceptual process: before we even consider the orientation of the figure."

Cognitive Daily

Tuesday, March 08, 2005

I now know what I could be reading over Spring Break. Check out the 100 most influential works in cognitive science from the 20th century.

The Cognitive Science Millennium Project
One has to wonder what the author of the story thinks of the duck's intentions. How sophisticated is he? (The duck, I mean, and his intentions.) "Ducks behave pretty badly, it seems. It is not so much that up to one in 10 of mallard couples are homosexual - no one would raise an eyebrow in the liberal Netherlands - but they regularly indulge in 'attempted rape flights' when they pursue other ducks with a view to forcible mating." Next we'll read that ducks actually enjoy it. | Research | Necrophilia among ducks ruffles research feathers
Does the end justify the means? Apparantly David Brooks thinks so. "...with political earthquakes now shaking the Arab world, it's time to step back and observe that over the course of his long career - in the Philippines, in Indonesia, in Central and Eastern Europe, and now in the Middle East - Wolfowitz has always been an ardent champion of freedom." Despite all the unilateral war-mongering (promoting torture and other war crimes), at least his heart is in the right place. Read this shameless defense of Paul Wolfowitz in the Times.

The New York Times > Opinion > Op-Ed Columnist: Giving Wolfowitz His Due

Monday, March 07, 2005

I just took a philosophical health check. My "Tension Quotient" is below the average 29%, but it's not what I expected; their explanation of my score ignored lots of (philosophical) nuances. I imagine that philosophers typically aren't very good at these surveys. I'll get a second opinion. Still, this is a great tool for self-reflection.

Philosophical Health Check found at

Friday, March 04, 2005

I'm using this blog to share information (rants, raves, insights, and bemusings) with my students, friends, and colleagues. Most of my interests are philosophical and scientific, but I'll also occasionally include items from politics, music, and film. In the sidebar I'll keep lists of links, movies I've seen recently, and songs from my iTunes collection that I'm listening to. More links (and information) can be found on my web site. Students should keep their own class blogs on class Discussion Board, though everyone is encouraged to comment on blog entries here.