244 posts tagged philosophy
…There are many questions to which we do not have scientific answers, not because they are deep, impenetrable mysteries, but simply because they are not scientific questions. These include questions about love, art, history, culture, music-all questions, in fact, that relate to the attempt to understand ourselves better. There is a widespread feeling today that the great scandal of our times is that we lack a scientific theory of consciousness. And so there is a great interdisciplinary effort, involving physicists, computer scientists, cognitive psychologists and philosophers, to come up with tenable scientific answers to the questions: what is consciousness? What is the self? One of the leading competitors in this crowded field is the theory advanced by the mathematician Roger Penrose, that a stream of consciousness is an orchestrated sequence of quantum physical events taking place in the brain. Penrose’s theory is that a moment of consciousness is produced by a sub-protein in the brain called a tubulin. The theory is, on Penrose’s own admission, speculative, and it strikes many as being bizarrely implausible. But suppose we discovered that Penrose’s theory was correct, would we, as a result, understand ourselves any better? Is a scientific theory the only kind of understanding?
Hyperreality is a term used in semiotics and postmodern philosophy to describe an inability of consciousness to distinguish reality from a simulation of reality, especially in technologically advanced post-modern societies. Hyperreality is seen as a condition in which what is real and what is fiction are seamlessly blended together so that there is no clear distinction between where one ends and the other begins. It allows the commingling of physical reality with virtual reality (VR) and human intelligence with artificial intelligence (AI). Individuals may find themselves for different reasons, more in tune or involved with the hyperreal world and less with the physical real world. Some famous theorists of hyperreality include Jean Baudrillard, Albert Borgmann, Daniel J. Boorstin, Neil Postman, and Umberto Eco.
Nietzsche: God is dead.
Spinoza: God is nature.
Therefore: Nature is dead.
Berkeley: To be is to be perceived.
Quine: To be is to be the value of a bound variable.
Therefore: To be perceived is to be the value of a bound variable.
Aquinas: Religion is a virtue.
Marx: Religion is the opium of the people.
Therefore: The opium of the people is a virtue.
In 1999, Joshua Greene—then a philosophy graduate student at Princeton, now a psychology professor at Harvard—had a very fertile idea. He took a pretty well-known philosophical thought experiment and infused it with technology in a way that turned it into a very well-known philosophical thought experiment—easily the best-known, most-pondered such mental exercise of our time. In the process, he raised doubts, in inescapably vivid form, about the rationality of human moral judgment. The thought experiment—called the trolley problem—has over the past few years gotten enough attention to be approaching “needs no introduction” status. But it’s not quite there, so: An out-of-control trolley is headed for five people who will surely die unless you pull a lever that diverts it onto a track where it will instead kill one person. Would you—should you—pull the lever? Now rewind the tape and suppose that you could avert the five deaths not by pulling a lever, but by pushing a very large man off a footbridge and onto the track, where his body would slow the train to a halt just in time to save everyone—except, of course, him. Would you do that? And, if you say yes the first time and no the second (as many people do), what’s your rationale? Isn’t it a one-for-five swap either way?
Contemporary life is overloaded with visions of the future. Whereas Friedrich Nietzsche bemoaned the surplus of historical sense, crushing old Europe under the weight of its past, we are now suffering from an obsession with what lies ahead. Personal and national debts are accruing as rapidly as our obligations to subsequent generations. We are awash in reports that the global environmental crisis may soon reach a tragic turning point. With the possibility of apocalypse peering at us from every corner, how are we to face the time to come?