Suggested reading: The mental life of mountains

[Part of an occasional series of articles I come across and that strike me as being of general interest. Suggestions welcome, using the Contact form on this site.]

by Keith Frankish

Panpsychism is the doctrine that everything has a mind, or at least a mental aspect. It says that there is no sharp division between us, with our rich mental lives, and the rest of the world. Our minds are just complex forms of something that is present everywhere, and the whole universe – mountains, clouds, asteroids, dust – is infused with mental life. It is a beguiling view, which has appealed not only to poets and mystics but also to those seeking to understand the place of mind in the natural world. Many philosophers, from ancient times through to the early 20th century, have endorsed a version of it.

The view fell out of fashion in the mid-20th century as philosophers increasingly adopted a materialist outlook, which identifies minds with functioning brains. In recent years, however, panpsychism has undergone a philosophical renaissance, and it is now presented at major conferences and debated in mainstream journals. The contemporary form is somewhat different from older versions. It concerns only one aspect of the mind – consciousness – and it focuses on the presence of this aspect at the fundamental physical level. … (continue at New Humanist)

Suggested reading: Should we get rid of the scientific paper?

[Part of an occasional series of articles I come across and that strike me as being of general interest. Suggestions welcome, using the Contact form on this site.]

by Stuart Ritchie

When was the last time you saw a scientific paper? A physical one, I mean. An older academic in my previous university department used to keep all his scientific journals in recycled cornflakes boxes. On entering his office, you’d be greeted by a wall of Kellogg’s roosters, occupying shelf upon shelf, on packets containing various issues of Journal of Experimental Psychology, Psychophysiology, Journal of Neuropsychology, and the like. It was an odd sight, but there was method to it: if you didn’t keep your journals organised, how could you be expected to find the particular paper you were looking for?

The time for cornflakes boxes has passed: now we have the internet. Having been printed on paper since the very first scientific journal was inaugurated in 1665, the overwhelming majority of research is now submitted, reviewed and read online. During the pandemic, it was often devoured on social media, an essential part of the unfolding story of Covid-19. Hard copies of journals are increasingly viewed as curiosities – or not viewed at all. … (continue at The Guardian)

Suggested reading: After Derrida

[Part of an occasional series of articles I come across and that strike me as being of general interest. Suggestions welcome, using the Contact form on this site.]

by Peter Salmon

On 2 October 2020, the French president Emmanuel Macron gave a two-hour speech entitled ‘The Fight Against Separatism – The Republic in Action’ at Les Mureaux, a north-western suburb of Paris. In it, Macron described Islam as ‘a religion that is in crisis all over the world today’ due to ‘an extreme hardening of positions’. While acknowledging that France was partly responsible for the ‘ghettoisation’ of large numbers of Muslim residents (‘initially with the best intentions in the world’), and that it had failed to confront its colonial past including the Algerian war, Macron insisted that radical Islam was organising a counter-society that was ‘initially separatist, but whose ultimate goal is to take over completely.’

Against this, Macron proposed a ‘republican reawakening’, including legislation that would defend the values of laïcité, enshrined in Article 1 of the French Constitution, which separates Church and state, and mandates France’s neutrality on religion – ‘Secularism,’ stated Macron, ‘is the neutrality of the state.’ One is invited to join this neutrality – an individual’s adherence to ‘the Republic’s universal principles’ gives one claim to citizenship of France. ‘We are not,’ he said, ‘a society of individuals. We’re a nation of citizens. That changes everything.’ … (continue at Aeon)

Suggested reading: In praise of anxiety

[Part of an occasional series of articles I come across and that strike me as being of general interest. Suggestions welcome, using the Contact form on this site.]

by Tracy Dennis-Tiwary

Nobody likes to feel anxious. Anxiety is among the most pervasive and reviled of human emotions. An entire industry has sprung up to aid us in eradicating it, from self-help books and holistic remedies to pharmaceuticals and cutting-edge cognitive behavioral therapy. Yet we are an ever more profoundly anxious society. Epidemiological studies show that over 100 million people in the U.S. will suffer from an anxiety disorder in their lifetime. Rates, especially among the young, have been rising for the past decade. Our efforts to contain anxiety aren’t working. … (continue at The Wall Street Journal)

Suggested reading: How to change your mind about COVID-19 (or anything else)

[Part of an occasional series of articles I come across and that strike me as being of general interest. Suggestions welcome, using the Contact form on this site.]

by Olga Khazan

In the spring of 2020, as Americans continued to proclaim their excitement for basketball games and parades, an ER doctor named Dylan Smith watched in dismay. Was everyone else ignoring reality? That March, New York City hesitated to close its schools during the city’s first COVID wave. Smith was horrified. A major pandemic was arriving, and softening its blow would require closing schools, which he believed was the best way to protect kids. “There were a lot of suggestions that kids would be these super–carrier vectors,” he says, “where they would come home and they would infect Mom and Dad and Grandma and Grandpa, and they would infect teachers at school.” … (continue at The Atlantic)

Suggested reading: Why being anti-science is now part of many rural Americans’ identity

[Part of an occasional series of articles I come across and that strike me as being of general interest. Suggestions welcome, using the Contact form on this site.]

by Monica Potts

By September 2021, the scientists and staffers at the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission had gathered enough data to know that the trees in its green-tree reservoirs — a type of hardwood wetland ecosystem — were dying. At Hurricane Lake, a wildlife management area of 17,000 acres, the level of severe illness and death in the timber population was up to 42 percent, especially for certain species of oak, according to a 2014 forest-health assessment. The future of another green-tree reservoir, Bayou Meto, more than 33,000 acres, would look the same if they didn’t act quickly. … (continue at FiveThirtyEight)

Suggested reading: It’s very unlikely anyone will read this in 200 years

[Part of an occasional series of articles I come across and that strike me as being of general interest. Suggestions welcome, using the Contact form on this site.]

by B.D. McClay

Recently, Yale philosophy professor Jason Stanley attracted a lot of derision for tweeting: “People are like, ‘he regards himself as self-important.’ No fucking shit. I would regard myself as an abject failure if people are still not reading my philosophical work in 200 years. I have zero intention of being just another Ivy League professor whose work lasts as long as they are alive.” Stanley deleted the tweets, but, unfortunately for him, they live on. People found his pronouncements very funny because they were indeed self-important, but inevitably, a meta-discourse developed: what was so wrong about this ambition, after all? Shouldn’t we want to create something that will last hundreds if not thousands of years? Don’t we all want to live forever? … (continue at Gawker)

Suggested reading: The Internet is Made of Demons

[Part of an occasional series of articles I come across and that strike me as being of general interest. Suggestions welcome, using the Contact form on this site.]

By Sam Kriss

According to one theory, the internet is made of demons. Like most theories about the internet, this one is mostly circulated online. On Instagram, I saw a screenshot of a Reddit post, containing a screenshot of a 4chan post, containing a screenshot of Tweet, containing two images. On the left, the weird, loopy lines of a microprocessor. On the right, the weird, loopy lines of a set of Solomonic sigils. Caption: ‘Boy I love trapping demons in microscopic silicon megastructures to do my bidding, I sure hope nothing goes wrong.’ In other versions, the demons themselves are the ones who invented the internet; it’s just their latest move in a five-thousand-year battle against humanity. … (continue at Damage magazine)

Suggested reading: Scientific Models and Individual Experience

[Part of an occasional series of articles I come across and that strike me as being of general interest. Suggestions welcome, using the Contact form on this site.]

by David Kordahl

I’ll start this column with an over-generalization. Speaking roughly, scientific models can be classed into two categories: mechanical models, and actuarial models. Engineers and physical scientists tend to favor mechanical models, where the root causes of various effects are specified by their formalism. Predictable inputs, in such models, lead to predictable outputs. Biologists and social scientists, on the other hand, tend to favor actuarial models, which can move from measurements to inferences without positing secret causes along the way. By calling these latter models “actuarial,” I’m encouraging readers to think of the tabulations of insurance analysts, who have learned to appreciate that individuals may be unpredictable, even as they follow predictable patterns in the aggregate. … (continue at 3QuarksDaily)