Do Monkeys Know When They Don’t Know?

Do monkeys bathe for pleasure, or because the warm waters are ideal for introspection?

Communication with animals is difficult. It has been over one hundred years since Pavlov, and our main form of inter-species communication remains food pellets. Philosophical aphorisms like Wittgenstein’s “If a lion could talk, we would not be able to understand him” are either shown to obtain daily in research labs, or are many years from being challenged.

Still, a study conducted by Smith and Beran, presented at the American Association for the Advancement of Science, has revealed behaviour in macaque monkeys that would seem to betoken the capacity to experience doubt– opening a window into the mental lives of these animals.

Self-doubt is an interesting mental state in that it necessitates Continue reading “Do Monkeys Know When They Don’t Know?”

Interview: In the Name of God – The Evolutionary Origins of Religious Ethics and Violence

John Teehan is the author of In the Name of God: The Evolutionary Origins of Religious Ethics and Violence, and has published and lectured widely on the impact of evolutionary theories on moral philosophy. In this comprehensive interview, John talks in depth about some of the themes in his book: how our moral minds may have been shaped by evolution, and how such a perspective can inform upon our understanding of religious violence.

Philosopher’s Eye: Why did you decide to write ‘In the Name of God: The Evolutionary Origins of Religious Ethics and Violence’?

John Teehan: I’ve always been deeply interested in the study of morality.  Not simply in terms of what we ought to do, how we ought  to live—although those are essential questions—but also in terms of why do  we have the values we have, how do moral traditions develop. This lead me into a study of moral psychology, and in particular evolutionary psychology. If we want to understand how we got where we are today in terms of morality, then trying to understand the origins of moral behaviour seemed to be Continue reading “Interview: In the Name of God – The Evolutionary Origins of Religious Ethics and Violence”

Photos of Phineas Gage

Phineas Gage is a staple example in debates about philosophy of personal identity and philosophy of mind.  In 1848, Gage survived an explosion that drove a 13-pound iron rod through his skull.  After months of convalescence, he was able to work again, though his personality was so sharply changed his former employer refused to re-hire him.  He died in 1860.

Through a series of coincidences on Flickr, the first-known photograph of Gage (posing with his tamping iron!) came to light last year.  This led to the revelation of a second photo a few weeks ago.  Enjoy!

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A Conversation with one Self

Will Self

Author Will Self’s inaugural lecture of the 2008 Radio 3 Free Thinking festival is archived online here. Self traces the misguided portrayal of consciousness in fiction through history in his typically verbose way. Up for reconsideration are not just the naturalist approach of nineteenth-century literature but also the Joycean stream of consciousness approach. Self argues that the way writers have chosen to portray it does not fit in with the way we really experience our minds. Continue reading “A Conversation with one Self”

Think once for “yes” and twice for “no”

BBC News yesterday ran a terrifying article about scientists successfully communicating with people who are apparently in persistent vegetative states.

The idea is straightforward enough.  The scientists told an apparently non-responsive man to imagine playing tennis if he wanted to indicate “yes,” and to imagine walking empty streets if he wanted to indicate “no.”  They then scanned his brain while asking him questions, and read his answers off of the different patters of activity.  Using this technique, he was able to answer Continue reading “Think once for “yes” and twice for “no””

Why Some People Will Never Forget a Face

AT&T Laboratories Cambridge

How does the brain process information? In particular, is the cognitive portion of the brain divided up into a number of task-specific ‘modules’, each of which are devoted to a specific task, or is the brain constituted by (one or many) processing units which are flexible in their operation? Modularists, as those in the former camp are called, often appeal to a form of argument which makes use of the idea that certain cognitive characteristics appear to be dissociable from others, such that certain individuals can excel, or struggle, in distinct tasks in ways not necessarily related to the complexity of the task, or proportional to their general intelligence. To this end, Williams Syndrome and – at the other end of the spectrum – SLI are invoked to support a modular conception of language faculties, and autism is sometimes (questionably) invoked in support of the view that the capacity to deploy a theory of mind is modular.

Face-recognition is another commonly-cited, and perhaps less-controversial, candidate for being a modular system. Continue reading “Why Some People Will Never Forget a Face”

Virtual Conference Report: Day Seven (27 Oct, 2009)

By Paula Bowles800px-Three_chiefs_Piegan_p.39_horizontal

The seventh day of the conference has continued with the key themes of ‘breaking down boundaries’ and interdisciplinarity. Roy Baumeister (Florida State University) began the day with his keynote lecture entitled ‘Human Nature and Culture: What is the Human Mind Designed for?’ By utilising the concepts of evolutionary and cultural psychology, Buameister is able to explore the intrinsic significance culture holds for humanity.

Two other papers were also presented today. ‘Text as It Happens: Literary Geography’ by Sheila Hones (University of Tokyo) and Stefan Müller’s (University of Duisburg‐Essen) ‘Equal Representation of Time and Space: Arno Peters’ Universal History.’ These contributions have utilised a wide and diverse range of disciplines including history, cartography, geography and literature.

Finally, Devonya Havis’ publishing workshop entitled ‘Teaching with Compass’ offers some interesting ideas as to how best implement technology within the classroom.