It’s Me or the Dog!

JSeay: 2008

It’s a dog’s life, so the saying goes. Thanks to one dogged photographer we are finally privy to the reality of this proverbial canine existence. London-based Martin Usborne has drawn inspiration from the secret world of dogs for his latest project, entitled Mute: the silence of dogs in cars, a series of photographs of forlorn and forgotten four-legged friends. It comes as a darker follow-up to his more overtly amusing collection Life as a dog in the recession, and was yesterday described by the Independent as ‘capturing dejectedness, anger and sadness.’  Not quite as dark, though, as the controversial piece of dog related art executed by Costa Rican artist Guillermo Vargas, who, as part of an exhibition in 2007, tied an emaciated stray dog to the wall of the Códice Gallery, Nicaragua, and reportedly left it to starve. (Due to incandescent outrage within the blogging community, the truth was later revealed that the stray dog was both fed and spared death – Vargas, however, refused to officially comment on what exactly became of the hound). Vargas’s contribution provokes some obvious ethical questions (including, Vargas would argue, one aimed at the hypocrisy of viewers/bloggers, their dismay towards a single stray in a gallery not matching up to their attitude towards the countless strays that continue to starve outside it). Usborne’s work, on the other hand, may elicit some subtler philosophical questions, relating to such diverse philosophical areas as aesthetics, ethics, and the philosophy of mind.

Continue reading “It’s Me or the Dog!”

Flies Do It, Leeches Do It— Even Biologists Do It: Free Will Explained

Do both of these structures contain the capacity to exercise free will?

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”