This month, the Philosopher’s Eye is inviting discussion on our free article “Killing, Letting Die and the Morality of Abortion”. But for many of us, our position on abortion is not one that we easily submit to philosophical scrutiny. When we question this reluctance, we might find that it rises because our position on abortion is entailed by other ethical commitments; we are first and foremost defenders of a woman’s right to determine the fate of her own body, or the right to life, or perhaps even both at once. It is easier for us to leave the questions specific to abortion largely unexamined, appealing instead to background values.
One might expect that in order for oneself to enjoy the pleasure and reward of smoking, one must be the person in question that is smoking a cigarette. Merely watching another person smoke keeps us as far away from the felt experience of nicotine as the distance between self and other. Necessarily, I cannot experience your experience (even if I choose to join you in a smoke).
In responding to the political demonstrations, the Egyptian government has disrupted internet service and mobile phone services, in the obvious hopes of (a) reducing the volume of testimonies and videos being communicated outside of the country and (b) to disrupt the capacity of the protesters to remain organised and to communicate their progress to the greater population.
What’s the next best thing to being able to see a few seconds into the future? Simulating the ability to see into the immediate future. And according to a study by Moser and Moser appearing in the January 11th issue of Nature, mammalian brains already take advantage of the benefits from simulating this ability by ‘preplaying’ anticipated experiences.
As the authors explain, we have known for some time that, immediately after navigating a novel spatial environment, the brain ‘replays’ the neural sequence of the just-past experience. Observation in mice has also shown that these sequences can be replayed during sleep.
However, mice have also shown the ability to ‘preplay’ a neural sequence when navigating a novel environment. Thus, a mouse at rest before a closed door in a maze will undergo a sequence of neural activity that is repeated once the door is opened. The brain appears to have a go at running through the neural sequence of an anticipated experience prior to (in this experiment) turning the corner of a maze. Where the preplayed sequence matches the real time experience, the mouse can be said to have successfully anticipated its future environment.
Phenomenologist Edmund Husserl insisted that temporal consciousness cannot be restricted to a brute ‘now’, but must be broad enough to include experience of the just-past and of the about-to-be. Has Husserl’s phenomenological description of temporal consciousness been (in part) vindicated by neuroscience?
Philosophers shop for free will as hypochondriacs do for good health. Nothing but the real thing will do, and yet they refuse to trust the countless everyday indications that they already possess their quarry. Of course it seems to be the case that to act on one’s decisions is to exercise one’s freedom, but can it be true that, winding time back to the crucial moment, you or I could have done otherwise?
Enter the biologists. We can account for free will so long as we are willing to share it with flies, leeches, and all forms of life that enjoy a nervous system. As Bjorn Brembs has recently argued in The Royal Society, we should equate free will with variability, or an organism’s power to determine the precise way in which it responds to its environment. Variability, Brembs contends, is a (as yet little understood) neural process that amplifies random fluctuations in the brain in order to introduce non-sensory dependent variations into Continue reading “Flies Do It, Leeches Do It— Even Biologists Do It: Free Will Explained”
When we imagine robotic combatants, we naturally expect that they will be modelled on ourselves. Ancient Crete, for example, had the bronze, xenophobic robot Talos, who indiscriminately hurled missiles towards all foreign ships. Talos had autonomy, the power to reason (however dimly), and the power to determine his own behaviour. But most importantly, behind the face of Talos was a single agent, an agent modelled after a human subject.
But as the Economist reports, BAE systems, in conjunction with several UK universities, has put forward a vastly different intelligence model for our future robotic warriors. Eschewing full-fledged autonomy, the individual combatants are designed to pool information about the environment, potential targets, and available resources, and then arrive globally on a course of action; individual robots may also ‘bid’ to avail themselves of resources, but the allocation of resources Continue reading “War is Reason Free From Passion”