Population Pessimism

Population is a touchy subject. It certainly divides people. There is no better example of this than James Delingpole’s latest tirade against those who advocate seemingly drastic, sometimes fascistic, methods of population reduction. In this case, the target took the shape of BBC TV naturalist Chris Packham. Delingpole was provoked into his polemic by recent comments Packham reportedly made to the Radio Times:

There’s no point bleating about the future of pandas, polar bears and tigers when we’re not addressing the one single factor that’s putting more pressure on the ecosystem than any other – namely the ever-increasing size of the world’s population. I read the other day that, by 2020, there are going to be 70 million people in Britain. Let’s face it, that’s too many. Continue reading “Population Pessimism”

Is Money Ever Free?

What would you do if a cash machine gave you £100 instead of £10? The law states that you should give the excess funds back, but most of us probably wouldn’t. A recent story on the BBC website reported that cash machines in Melbourne, Australia were giving out more money that they were supposed to. This drew quite a crowd, with people forming queues to take advantage of what one witness described as “free money”. But what are the moral implications of taking money from banks, and why would most of us feel like it’s not really stealing.

Simon Rippon of the Oxford Uehiro Centre for Practical Ethics thinks that a person who takes money from a malfunctioning cash machine is often judged Continue reading “Is Money Ever Free?”

The Aesthetics of the Video Game

Space Invaders: the early origins of video games.

Tonight is the night of the 7th British Academy Video Games Awards, a ceremony which since 2003 has rewarded the creators of virtual environments that have had men, women and children alike frantically throwing their thumbs around all year. The host of the event, comedian Dara O’Briain, defended the right of the video game genre to be considered a form of art in an interview this morning for the BBC’s breakfast show, against the initial (and perhaps persisting) incredulity of his hosts.

The problem facing O’Briain is not one that has eluded treatment in the field of contemporary aesthetics and the philosophy of art. As surveyed by Grant Tavinor for Philosophy Compass, some interesting questions begin to emerge when the conceptual analyses of traditional philosophical aesthetics are applied to the increasingly sophisticated worlds of computer games. Continue reading “The Aesthetics of the Video Game”

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?”

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 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”