If a lion could tweet…

…would we understand what he has to say? We could not, says Wittgenstein, to take liberties with one of his most (in)famous Witt-icisms. The question, however, might more rightly be put: if Wittgenstein could Tweet…? Well, now, we have the possibility of finding out. Yes, that’s right. Wittgenstein has opened a Twitter account.

OK, so that may not be wholly true (tweeting from beyond the grave isn’t the done thing just yet, even this close to halloween). But nevertheless, a new account has recently sprung to life, providing updates as if from the mouth of Wittgenstein. Continue reading “If a lion could tweet…”

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How well do you know the back of your hand?

Image: Solipsist (Wikipedia)

Of all the many and varied objects we encounter in the world, we would ordinarily presume that we know none better than our own body. Descartes describes his pre-theoretical view of himself and his state of knowledge in Meditation 2: “As regarded the body, I did not even doubt of its nature, but thought I distinctly knew it”. However, new research reported on the BBC suggests that we do not accurately represent that most familiar of objects half as accurately as we might think. In fact, the evidence suggest that our conception of our own body is systematically misleading.

Neuroscientists at University College London set up an experiment as follows. Subjects would place a hand flat on a table. The experimenter would then cover the hand with a board, and ask the volunteer to indicate where they thought certain key points of their hand – fingertips, knuckles and joints – were located Continue reading “How well do you know the back of your hand?”

The (Super-)Power of Good and Evil Intentions

Science news website Livescience recently featured an article that may give hope to aspiring superheroes (and supervillains) everywhere. Recent research, the article reports, suggests that acts of kindness or malice – real or envisioned – can boost one’s willpower and even one’s physical strength. In other words: we can all be ‘super’ if we want to be!

The research, carried out by Kurt Gray from the Department of Psychology at the University of Havard, involved volunteers being asked to hold on to a 5lb weight for as long as they could, for which they would be paid a dollar. Half of the participants were asked if they would like to donate their dollar to charity (everyone did). It was found that the charitable folks held on to the weight for an average of 53 seconds, contrasted with 46 for those who did not donate. Continue reading “The (Super-)Power of Good and Evil Intentions”

Organ Donation, and matters of right and wrong

"Matters of the Heart" by Denn (Denise Chan)

The BBC is this week reporting that the Nuffield Council on Bioethics (an entity set up to  evaluate ethical questions arising from the advance of biological and medical research) is running a public consultation to evaluate means of increasing the donation of blood, sperm and organs, to counteract the outstripping of supply by demand. Among the ideas put forward is the possibility of cash incentives and/or the payment of funeral expenses in exchange for these precious commodities.

The consultation exercise is, I believe, interesting in two philosophically-relevant respects. Continue reading “Organ Donation, and matters of right and wrong”

Trust me, I’m a Doctor… but the same one?

BBC's 'New' Doctor
Image: BBC Publicity Photo

Saturday 3rd of April marked the beginning of a new era in television broadcasting. And no, I’m not talking about the first 3D broadcast of a football (soccer) match being aired in some UK pubs. I am, of course, talking about the first episode of the new series of Dr Who on the BBC, featuring a brand new ‘Doctor’ (played by Matt Smith, to generally warm and enthusiastic reviews). A colleague of mine recently posted on the Philosophy and Popular Culture series; whatever one’s view of the series as a whole, Dr Who – like many sci-fi programmes – is ripe for the treatment (the volume from Open Court is, predictably, on its way in late 2010). For those not in the know, a new Doctor is a different proposition to, say, a new James Bond (where only the actor changes, though this too happens). Each time the actor playing the Doctor – an alien humanoid from the planet Gallifrey – changes, the character himself undergoes a ‘regeneration’, written into the plotline to explain the appearance change. The precise mechanism of ‘regeneration’ is never elaborated in the series, but at the end of the process, the Doctor’s appearance and personality is fundamentally altered. The New Doctor is the character’s eleventh such incarnation.

The introduction of a new Doctor raises metaphysical complications. In particular, how do we make sense of the Doctor’s alterations from the standpoint of personal identity considerations: can we think of a new Doctor being the same person as his pre-regenerative self? Continue reading “Trust me, I’m a Doctor… but the same one?”

A Spectacular Spring? Wait and see…

"As of some one gently rapping, rapping at my chamber door"... Gustave Doré's 'The Raven'

Conservationists are predicting that after a long, cold winter the UK is going to see the most spectacular Spring in years. Why? This year’s winter seems to have gone on longer than most, which has been reflected in the belated arrival of Spring blooms and other wildlife (mothers across the country may have been disappointed by the shortage of daffodils on March 14th, for instance). The late arrival of Spring, though, may be a blessing, or so suggests Matthew Oates of the National Trust:

“We’ve effectively gone from late winter straight into early summer in recent years. One of the problems with early, rushed springs is the flowers and butterflies then get clobbered by foul and abusive [spring] weather. A cold winter slows everything down. And a late spring is more safe and secure. It gives us an opportunity to appreciate spring, rather than having to try to catch a glimpse of it in one weekend.”

Let’s hope so. But we in the UK are no doubt by now sceptical of future natural, environmental and meteorological forecasts (‘Barbeque Summer’, anyone?)

Perhaps. However, maybe philosophy can come to the aid of meteorologists and naturalists beleaguered by the danger of making predictions. Continue reading “A Spectacular Spring? Wait and see…”

A Dog’s (Moral) Life… and Legal Representation

Back last August I posted an entry about Santino, a chimp living in a Swedish zoo who had developed a most interesting past-time: collecting rocks and stones to hurl at visitors to the zoo. The furtive manner in which Santino collected his projectiles may hint at, I suggested, a moral sense: a notion that his actions are somehow reprehensible.

Chimps, of course, are not the only animals to whom moral sense might be attributed. The latest issue of Scientific American contains a brief article elaborating on the so-called moral behaviour of canids (that’s dogs to you and I), which ties in with the newly released book Wild Justice by Mark Bekoff and Jessica Pierce (who incidentally author the article). Continue reading “A Dog’s (Moral) Life… and Legal Representation”