Suggested reading: A.I. is not sentient. Why do people say it is?

[Articles I come across that strike me as being of general interest. Suggestions welcome, using the Contact form on this site.]

As the sun set over Maury Island, just south of Seattle, Ben Goertzel and his jazz fusion band had one of those moments that all bands hope for — keyboard, guitar, saxophone and lead singer coming together as if they were one.

Dr. Goertzel was on keys. The band’s friends and family listened from a patio overlooking the beach. And Desdemona, wearing a purple wig and a black dress laced with metal studs, was on lead vocals, warning of the coming Singularity — the inflection point where technology can no longer be controlled by its creators.

“The Singularity will not be centralized!” she bellowed. “It will radiate through the cosmos like a wasp!” … (continue at The New York Times)

What, if any, is the essence of Stoicism?

by Massimo Pigliucci

A few days ago my friend and co-author Greg Lopez and I co-hosted the 7th edition of Stoic Camp New York, inspired by the original Stoic Camp that another friend and colleague, Rob Colter, has facilitated for several years in Wyoming. It was an unusual edition of Stoic Camp, not only because it was the first one in person since the beginning of the covid pandemic, but because the objective was to trace the early origins of some Stoic ideas (Presocratics), to map the major direct influences on the Stoics (Cynicism, Megarian School), and to identity whatever distinctive features characterize Stoic philosophy.

As part of this exploration, I proposed to the students that we carry out an exercise. You may want to try it now before continuing to read this essay. Take a few minutes to make a list of ideas you think are fundamental to Stoicism and without endorsing which, in your opinion, one could not reasonable call herself a Stoic. Try to do this regardless of whether or not you yourself agree with said ideas. … (continue on Medium)

Suggested reading: Study finds another condition that vitamin D pills do not help

[Articles I come across that strike me as being of general interest. Suggestions welcome, using the Contact form on this site.]

by Gina Kolata

The idea made so much sense it was almost unquestioningly accepted: Vitamin D pills can protect bones from fractures. After all, the body needs the vitamin for the gut to absorb calcium, which bones need to grow and stay healthy.

But now, in the first large randomized controlled study in the United States, funded by the federal government, researchers report that vitamin D pills taken with or without calcium have no effect on bone fracture rates. The results, published Thursday in The New England Journal of Medicine, hold for people with osteoporosis and even those whose blood tests deemed them vitamin D deficient.

These results followed other conclusions from the same study that found no support for a long list of purported benefits of vitamin D supplements. … (continue at The New York Times)

Suggested reading: What is philosophy as a way of life?

[Articles I come across that strike me as being of general interest. Suggestions welcome, using the Contact form on this site.]

by Stephen R. Grimm and Caleb Cohoe

Despite a recent surge of interest in philosophy as a way of life, it is not clear what it might mean for philosophy to guide one’s life, or how a “philosophical” way of life might differ from a life guided by religion, tradition, or some other source. We argue against John Cooper that spiritual exercises figure crucially in the idea of philosophy as a way of life—not just in the ancient world but also today, at least if the idea is to be viable. In order to make the case we attempt to clarify the nature of spiritual exercises, and to explore a number of fun- damental questions, such as “What role does reason have in helping us to live well?” Here we distinguish between the discerning and motivational powers of reason, and argue that both elements have limitations as guides to living well. … (continue at Research Gate)

Suggested reading: Text your friends. It matters more than you think

[Articles I come across that strike me as being of general interest. Suggestions welcome, using the Contact form on this site.]

by Catherine Pearson

Calling, texting or emailing a friend just to say “hello” might seem like an insignificant gesture — a chore, even, that isn’t worth the effort. Or maybe you worry an unexpected check-in wouldn’t be welcome, as busy as we all tend to be.

But new research suggests that casually reaching out to people in our social circles means more than we realize.

“Even sending a brief message reaching out to check in on someone, just to say ‘Hi,’ that you are thinking of them, and to ask how they’re doing, can be appreciated more than people think,” said Peggy Liu, Ben L. Fryrear Chair in Marketing and an associate professor of business administration with the University of Pittsburgh Katz Graduate School of Business. … (continue at The New York Times)

Book to consider: Medieval Philosophy

[Books I’ve read that I think may be of general interest. See also my book club entries under essays.]

Peter Adamson presents a lively introduction to six hundred years of European philosophy, from the beginning of the ninth century to the end of the fourteenth century.

The medieval period is one of the richest in the history of philosophy, yet one of the least widely known. Adamson introduces us to some of the greatest thinkers of the Western intellectual tradition, including Peter Abelard, Anselm of Canterbury, Thomas Aquinas, John Duns Scotus, William of Ockham, and Roger Bacon. And the medieval period was notable for the emergence of great women thinkers, including Hildegard of Bingen, Marguerite Porete, and Julian of Norwich.

Original ideas and arguments were developed in every branch of philosophy during this period – not just philosophy of religion and theology, but metaphysics, philosophy of logic and language, moral and political theory, psychology, and the foundations of mathematics and natural science.

[Get the book here.]

Suggested reading: What it takes to live philosophically

[Articles I come across that strike me as being of general interest. Suggestions welcome, using the Contact form on this site.]

by Caleb M. Cohoe and Stephen R. Grimm

We present an account of what it takes to live a philosophical way of life: practitioners must be committed to a worldview, structure their lives around it, and engage in truth- directed practices. Contra John Cooper, it does not require that one’s life be solely guided by reason. A philosophical way of life does involve reflection and the use of reason, but it does not require perfection or solitary achievement. Religious or tradition-based ways of life can count as truth-directed as long as their practices are reasons-responsive and would be truth-directed if the claims made by their way of life are correct. We argue that our three conditions can be met by progressors as well as sages. Making progress in how one acts in the world and improving one’s understanding and direction through being part of a community is living a philosophical way of life. Our view acknowledges more ways to develop the art of living and enables a broader range of people to count as living philosophically. … (continue at Metaphilosophy)

YouTube channel on philosophy, pseudoscience, and skepticism

Well, people have asked for it, so I have reactivated and revamped my YouTube channel. Comments are turned off, because I’m weary of social media. But if you’d like to talk about any of the videos featured on the channel, feel free to do it here.

The channel contains the following lists:

To give you a taste, here is the lead video for the channel:

Maybe go on a news diet??

by Massimo Pigliucci

These days I’m on a quest for mental tranquillity, what the ancient Greco-Romans called “ataraxia,” or lack of disturbance. Unlike the Epicureans, I don’t take ataraxia to be my chief goal in life — that one remains to be the best human being I can be, as the Stoics counseled. Still, mental tranquillity or serenity are definitely helpful, which is why I recently quit social media altogether, as I’ve explained in a recent essay.

Another thing I determined was definitely getting in the way of my ataraxia was reading the news. So I drastically reduced that as well, going on a fairly strict news diet. Think this is unconscionable and impractical? Hear me out, you may change your mind about it, and in the process perhaps gain some much needed tranquillity.

Mind you, until not long ago I was a self-described news junky. I listened to National Public Radio on a regular basis. I read The New York Times daily. And I frequently checked outlets like the Guardian, BBC News, and the Italian newspapers Repubblica and Corriere della Sera. Plus, of course, assorted articles from other publications that friends, family, and social media followers more or less regularly sent my way. … (continue on Medium)

Book to consider: That one should disdain hardships, the teachings of a Roman Stoic

[Books I’ve read that I think may be of general interest. See also my book club entries under essays.]

Stoicism is rather popular these days. This is, perhaps, not surprising, given that we live in turbulent and unpredictable times, precisely the sort of climate that triggered a flourishing of practical life philosophies during the Hellenistic period during which Stoicism emerged as one of the dominant traditions. That one should disdain hardships: the teachings of a Roman Stoic is a reissue of a translation by Cora E. Lutz of the lectures and sayings of the Roman Stoic Musonius Rufus, which was originally published in 1947 in the Yale Classical Studies series and is now accompanied by a new, very useful introduction by Gretchen Reydams-Schils. It ought to be in the library not only of classics scholars and philosophers but also of anyone seriously interested in the study and practice of Stoicism.

Musonius was born around 20–30 CE in Volsinii, in Etruria, and he died as late as 101 CE. Although he was one of the most influential teachers of Stoicism during the first century, he is nowadays known mostly because of one of his students, Epictetus, the slave-turned-teacher who famously said, “It isn’t death, pain, exile or anything else you care to mention that accounts for the way we act, only our opinion about death, pain and the rest” (Discourses I, 11.33). You can very clearly see Musonius’ influence on Epictetus throughout the collected 21 lectures and assorted fragments. Like Epictetus, Musonius touches on a bewildering variety of topics, often surprisingly practical ones. He discourses not only about training oneself in philosophy, how to tackle exile, and how to educate women, but also about what we should eat, what sort of house we should keep, and even how we should cut our hair!

We are told, for instance, that the philosopher should prefer inexpensive, nutritious food that is easy to find and to prepare. No gourmet meals for the Stoic! Why should that be? Because every time we sit at the table, we have a chance to practice one of the cardinal virtues: temperance (with the other three being practical wisdom, courage, and justice). Temperance is crucial, because intemperate people can hardly be virtuous. Think about that the next time you go grocery shopping!

Arguably, among the most interesting of Musonius’ lectures are the two concerned with the education of women. He is very clear that women possess the same intellectual abilities as men and that moreover a good life for a woman requires the practice of virtue just as in men’s lives. This is remarkably forward- looking for the time, although other Stoics – from the founder of the sect, Zeno of Citium, to the Roman senator Seneca – readily agreed! This does not mean that we can read Musonius, or the Stoics more generally, as feminists in anything like the modern sense of the word. After all, the Roman Stoics in particular (as distinct from their Greek colleagues) thought that sex was reserved strictly for procreation and that it had to be consummated within a marriage. Then again, the point of studying the ancients is not that they got everything right, but rather that they articulated the notion of philosophical inquiry as the art of living, a notion that we are very much in need of still today.

[Get the book here. This review was originally published in The Historian.]