Symposium on Martin & Le Corre, “Sensory Substitution Is Substitution”

TVSSS-PHONE-300x225If you haven’t gone over to The Brains Blog to view the Mind & Language symposium on Jean-Rémy Martin and François Le Corre’s “Sensory Substitution Is Substitution,” part of the journal’s April 2015 issue, you should. It’s an interesting perspective on what we normally think of as our other senses compensating for the lack of vision. Highly technical, this article and the subsequent symposium present the argument that the type of information processed by a SSD is metamodal and that the phenomenology is best described in terms of spatial phenomenology, only.

In addition, it also has been shown that they [the Vertical-Horizontal Illusion and the Ponzo Illusion] are equally and identically present in early blind people and that they usually depend on the same modulating factors as in vision (Gentaz and Hatwell, 2004).

If you’re interested in the entire article, you can view it on the Wiley Online Library, free through June 15th. Check out the symposium to get join the conversation on the topic.

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SJP Special Issue: The Lives of Human Animals

The Southern Journal of Philosophy has just published an annual Spindel Supplement on animalism and a new theory of personal identity. The problem of personal identity is one of the most bewitching puzzles in all of philosophy. Consider how much each of us changes during our lifetimes. In so many ways—biologically, psychologically, socially, physically—you are today very different from the person you were last year or twenty years ago or on the day of your birth. And yet just one person has persisted through these changes. The first facet of the problem of personal identity focuses our attention on this question: what exactly are the conditions under which beings like you and me persist through time and change?

Until quite recently, most philosophers subscribed to the answers to these questions advocated by the seventeenth-century British philosopher, John Locke. Locke held that our fundamental nature is given by our status as self-conscious, rational agents (“persons”) and that the conditions under which we persist through time and change are thus to be accounted for in terms of psychological continuity. Central to this view is a sharp distinction between the person and her animal body.

But today’s Lockeans face a powerful new challenge to the distinction underlying their core commitments. According to the view known as animalism, there is no distinction to be drawn between human persons and their animal bodies. You do not “have” a body in the sense that you are one thing and the animal located where you are is something else. Rather, on this view, human persons just are their animal bodies: the primate located where you are is you.

Though Aristotelian in spirit, animalism is a relative latecomer to the debate over personal identity, having been articulated and defended only within the past twenty-five years or so. During these first two and a half decades of work, advocates of the view sought mainly to specify and defend its central claims and to understand its relation to the Lockean opposition. While highly important work along these lines continues to be done, a second, overlapping wave of work on animalism seems now to be emerging. This new wave is beginning to broaden animalism’s import beyond metaphysics and philosophy of mind into a diverse array of fields and topics, including ethics, philosophy of language, conjoined twinning, epistemology, evolutionary theory, philosophy of religion, death, and so on.

The guiding aim of the thirty-second annual Spindel Conference on “The Lives of Human Animals” (University of Memphis, September 26–28, 2013) was to spotlight and facilitate this second wave of work by providing a forum in which metaphysicians and philosophers of mind working on animalism were brought together with philosophers who are presently engaged in pertinent debates in other areas of philosophy. The Spendel conference and supplementary issue were organized by Stephen Blatti, former SJP editor and associate professor of philosophy at the University of Memphis.

Read the full issue here!

Mind & Language Conference (Birkbeck College, Friday 28th March 2014)

Birkbeck_CollegeOn Friday 28th March 2014, there will be a Mind & Language Public Conference at Birkbeck College, London, on The Cognitive Science of Religion. Details of the programme can be found here. Please contact the journal’s Executive Editor, Professor Samuel Guttenplan (s.guttenplan@bbk.ac.uk), for further information.

Thought: A Journal of Philosophy

ThoughtRead the second issue of Thought: A Journal of Philosophy for free!

Thought, edited by Crispin Wright, John Divers and Carrie Jenkins and published on behalf of the Northern Institute of Philosophy, is dedicated to the publication of short (less than 4,500 words), original, philosophical papers in the areas of epistemology, metaphysics, philosophy of language, philosophy of logic, philosophy of math, and philosophy of mind.

The editors of Thought hope to expose the readers of Thought to the most central and significant issues and positions in contemporary philosophy that fall under its remit. To that end, all readers are encouraged to continue the discussion in the new Thought Blog, which provides a forum for readers of and contributors to the journal to discuss the latest papers.

Read Thought‘s second issue here, and then register for the Thought Blog to share your thoughts!

The Atheist’s Guide to Reality

Source: Wikimedia Commons

Although it came out late last year, Alex Rosenberg’s book, The Atheist’s Guide to Reality: Enjoying Life Without Illusions hasn’t been getting the press it deserves. Indeed, the comparative attention lavished on Alain de Botton’s much less interesting Religion for Atheists seems downright unfair. Probably Rosenberg’s title is largely to blame. He has all but admitted choosing it as a marketing ploy. This was probably a mistake. The title does the book no justice, since one thing The Atheist’s Guide has relatively little to say about is atheism. This has led people like this Independent reviewer to focus on complaining that the book offers little to atheists (more sensitive to logical solecisms than de Botton, Rosenberg declines to offer them religion) while ignoring its real topic.

Continue reading “The Atheist’s Guide to Reality”

Alien Intelligence and Plant Intelligence

 As NPR reports, planets are being discovered that might support life.  These new and exciting celestial spheres are more-or-less suitable for the emergence of life: the temperature, gravity, and elemental make-up of such planets can create selection pressures that range the gamut from mild to pretty-much-inhospitable.  One such discovery is especially noteworthy: Kepler 22-B (named after the telescope) is in the ‘goldilocks’ zone.  In this zone, the size of the planet and its proximity to its star create the right sort of conditions to support flowing water.

The BBC (picked up by Slate) go on to make the link between the discovery of such planets and astral systems, and SETI, the Search for Extra Terrestrial Intelligence.  With the discovery of more and more of these potentially-hospitable earth-twins, SETI gains a more plausible target to turn its arrays.  With the discovery of more and more of such planets, it is more likely (though I am hesitant to use this term here) that we may discover intelligent life.  Another variable in the Drake Equation starts its climb up in the cardinal numbers.

But wait! What is intelligent life?  The ability to broadcast galactic radio-waves?  Drake, at least, keeps that a separate variable, a tier that only a select group of intelligent critters will ever reach.  But that really seems to operationalize our search for intelligent life.  What if, being impatient, we send a probe (‘Make it so Number One’, etc.) to Kepler 22-B and discover strange, barely congealed bioluminescent areas – would we be right in attributing it with intelligence?  Might our current conceptions of it be too broad? – too exclusive?

Continue reading “Alien Intelligence and Plant Intelligence”

MIT Debuts New Brain-Based Chip

The Chip!A recent article on the BBC (and the highly recommended MIT news) breaks the news on an innovative silicone chip that models neuronal architecture and neuronal communication.  The chip’s 400 transistors mimic the head of a neuron: they summate the analog signals received from other chips.  When such signals reach an adjustable limit, they cascade into an action potential, just as in neurons.  Depending on their arrangement and organization, these action potentials can have an excitatory, or inhibitory effect on their neighbours, analogous to their biological counterparts.

This kind of modelling is exciting and interesting – for it is profoundly different from other contemporary methods of modelling brain activity.  While a great overgeneralization, most other programmes model the brain’s circuitry – the neurons, the synaptic connections, the action potentials – in a virtual space.  They exist as computer code, or interacting objects created by such code.  These coded objects, whatever existence they have, model the function of neurons.  These chips, in comparison, are an actual model of a neuron.  And this is the important difference between the two paradigms: that between modelling function and form.

Continue reading “MIT Debuts New Brain-Based Chip”