Monday, December 17, 2018

Andrew Sullivan hits a new pseudointellectual low

In what I see as possibly his greatest feat of anti-intellectualism since denoting an entire issue of The New Republic to touting the pseudoscientific insights of The Bell Curve, Sully is now hoisting high the old canard that atheists are really religious, too.

I have myself said that Gnu Atheists, in some sociology-type ways, show a mindset similar to fundamentalist-type Christians, and have thus called them atheist fundamentalists. But, I've never claimed that they, let alone non-Gnus, are religious.

He then followed with teh stupidz of claiming religion is in our genes.

Neither one is close to true, in reality. The fact that Sully is arguably a very good representative of the Peter Principle in mainstream media, especially thought and opinion media, on the other hand, is almost ironclad as an argument now.

But, I couldn't let such arrogant, arrant nonsense go unchecked.

Here's a few thoughts I posted on Twitter, with interspersed comment:
In short, per his Bell Curve love, on B, Sully seems to be doubling down on the pseudoscience of Ev Psych. A Scott Atran or Pascal Boyer will easily steer clear of this while offering much more plausible theories about the origins of what eventually became religious belief mindsets.
From there, it's off to the land of false analogies, refuted by this:
The real problem is Sully's willful ignorance on a fair amount of philosophy. I note that here
and here:
Finally, Sullivan shows his misunderstanding of the political movement he claims to represent.
Tosh. Both here and in Europe (and the Anglosphere across the world), many politicians and political thinkers are both classical liberals and irreligious.

Monday, December 10, 2018

The embodied version of the self is real

Is it really true, as people such as Gnu Atheist Alex Rosenberg and a person on Twitter claim, that there is no such thing as an I?

I think not.

I've long believed that Dan Dennett was on the right track, if not necessarily fully right, on subserves and consciousness "bubbling up." I have believed with Daniel Wegner that this means (without supporting determinism) that free will as classically defined by a Cartesian free willer doesn't exist any more than a Cartesian self-meaner. I've accepted any selfhood we have is changing, as well as fleeting to grasp. And, I've long held fast to the validity of David Hume's "whenever I try to grasp myself" idea.

But, the degree to which nailing down an "I" is a hard problem doesn't mean that an I is nonexistent, and contra Rosenberg, it sure as hell doesn't mean that Kandal and other neuroscientists have proven it doesn't exist.


It's more subtle than that. No surprise.

It starts with consciousness as embodied cognition. Contra Rosenberg, consciousness doesn't exist in brains but in bodies. Per Dennett's heterophenomenology, I grasp the "I" that is you by seeing you in action. I impute agency by seeing you in action, even if I also accept that the creator of that agency is fluid. The existence of agency is different from the staticness of it. 

Ditto, you grasp the "I" that is me in just the same way. And, we accept the reality of these heterophenomenological determinations through social interactions.

For people who claim no "I" exists, like this guy?

If this were literally true, the following corrolaries: 
1. There would be no "I." (Arguably, there isn't a unitary I, but ... )
2. "You" couldn't know "yourself"
3. We'd arguably be living in a world of mass solipsism
4. None of this is new. See Heraclitus, Hume & Nelson Goodman.

Ultimately, this, like some things, may not be provable by science, but even before this point, Rosenberg is into the waters of scientism. 

And, we don't live in a world of mass solipsism, because we are social animals.

This is another thing that modern neuroscience also misses. After all, you can’t put a family, a Friday night poker game, a Tuesday morning kaffeeklatch or other social groups all in one ginormous MRI machine.

In turn, this is why philosophy of science, or even more, philosophies of individual sciences are needed. That’s why good (better than Dennett) cognitive philosophy or philosophy of mind is needed for cognitive science and neuroscience.

But, Alex Roseberg is like a self-discipline hating philosopher. (He’s not the only one; they do exist.)

The reality, as I see it, is what I was hinting at above. Selves do exist. They exist as individual, embodied-cognition consciousnesses interact with and define each other, and as subselves within those consciousnesses interact with each other.

Not a glitzy definition, but it’s as simple and as straightforward as I can make it.

Monday, November 26, 2018

Attempt to normalize Marxism and Sartre's bromance fails

Retired Wayne State professor of the history of ideas Ronald Aronson, an expert philosophical commenter on Jean-Paul Sartre, including on his friendship with Albert Camus, attempts to rehabilitate both Marxism and Sartre's attempt to rehabilitate it in a new Boston  Review essay.

And fails.

In a nutshell, here's why.

First, Sartre did find a weak point — rather, the weakest point — of Marxism 101, with all of its permutations through Lenin, Stalin, Mao and even revisers like the Frankfurt School.

It’s Hegelian dialectic.

Congrats to Sartre for seeing the main issue that makes Marxism even more a pseudoscience than most theories of economics, since Hegelian dialectic and its thesis-synthesis-antithesis is purely a philosophical idea, and totally unscientific.

BUT! Marxism is not Marxism without Hegelian dialectic. Pull that out, and you're engaging with non-Marxist Socialist theorizing of some sort.

Second, while comparing and contrasting Sartre to Camus, and intertwining them, and saying that Sartre tried to find a third way, Aronson ignores how late Sartre was to the table on criticizing both Stalin in particular and Soviet Communism in general.

Third, Marx ignored, or never thought through, larger economic consumptive problems of capitalism — resource exploitation problems that aren’t part of Marxism.

Peak Oil — temporarily offset by fracking — is one.

Climate change is a much bigger one, as this Boston Review essay notes in passing.

As far as Aronson's book on Sartre and Camus? Without staking absolutist positions on either side, Camus was in general right to reject the use of violence in social movements. And, per some critical reviews of his book (at that second link in the first paragraph), Aronson reportedly butters his bread clearly for Sartre, and for postmodernism that follows to some degree from him. You lost me there.

Sunday, November 18, 2018

So Sharon Hill is no longer a skeptic

Sharon Hill of I Doubt It has finally seen the light and is leaving movement skepticism or Skeptics™. She mostly gets the reasons right, though in calling out scientism she doesn't get into larger anti-philosophy attitudes among many Skeptics™ folks who aren't necessarily scientism types. That's you, Barb Drescher. Still haven't forgotten you and your UCSB ev psych-leaning friend.

Too bad Hill herself likely isn't apologizing for fostering the cult of Brian Dunning. Nor does she take note of the likes of me or former top notch Skeptics™paralleler Massimo Pigliucci calling out all the things she has, and more, more than the five years ago that she says was the bottom of the movement.

Beyond her personal role in the sullying of the movement skepticism brand, she's apparently not aware of Jeff Wagg and Naomi Baker's even bigger black eye.

Nor does she look beyond tribalism at other issues involved — money and power. When one makes more than $100,000 a year for running a fairly small nonprofit, oh, like some California libertarian-neoliberal guy and the James Randi Educational Foundation, but not to name names, one has a vested interest in promoting both the brand and the tribalism used to keep it propped up.

Her own part in rebranding I guess includes dumping the old I Doubt It blog for her new website.

Sunday, October 21, 2018

If funerals are for the living, I shall not attend:
Thoughts, poetry, Schnittke

If funerals are for the living, what then when the living, or one of the living, doesn't want to do to the funeral of a dead relative?

My uncle died a couple of days ago. My dad had the one sister and no brothers, and my mom was an only, so I have just his sister and her husband, the dead uncle as aunts and uncles. The funeral is Tuesday. I could surely get off work, but I am not interested.

I semi-swore to myself after my mom's death, at her funeral, that I would never need to see my oldest brother again, for various reasons. I put the issues of deaths of siblings out of mind as being decades in the future, barring accidents or early cancer or similar.

But, I forgot about aunt and uncle, and now he is dead.

And I don't want to go, and not just because he's is surely going to be there.

I also semi-swore to myself that, other than for possible courtesy visits to church when visiting my sister and her minister husband, that I never would set foot in a church again except to attend a concert or other artistic event.

I have no desire to go there, and, at a minimum, to be a hypocrite, and, at a maximum, be proselytized by my aunt, or her daughter (both former parochial school teachers), or my oldest or second-oldest brothers, with the likelihood from greatest to least being in that order. Years ago, my aunt sent me an Easter card that, in not so few of words, said "You know it's true," about fundamentalist Easter beliefs. A religious funeral among conservative Lutheran Christians is only likely to bring that all to the surface, not to mention that, pre-deconversion, I had been to her church umpteen times and some oldsters there may still know me.

No desire.

If funerals are for the living, I'm not going.

I then, with this adapted from handwritten journaling, thought about a poem. I had been thinking about writing one this afternoon. Hadn't sat down to do that.

Then, just after finishing up these notes, this extended haiku started to work its way out.

Death is for the dead
And life is for the living.
So don't fence me in.

Better yet, I won't
Fence myself by attending;
We're all better off.

Namaste for all —
A word that might well offend
Some others itself.

I touched dad's cold skin,
Satisfied that dead is dead
And shall remain so.

Schnittke's Requiem
Challenges old conventions;
Death is chaotic.

Emotional wounds
I shall not give, nor receive.
They will still result.

We will drift further.
I accept that is the price
Of preservation.

Not the first poem in this general vein. I wrote in the summer of 2017 about a dying secularist friend, and what to say to him, or not.

Friday, August 24, 2018

Does Texas really have that many atheists?

Near the end of its latest poll on the Beto O'Rourke-Ted Cruz Senate Race, Lyceum reports on the background of respondents, as most in-depth polls do.

There's this, on page 11: NINE percent claim to be atheist or agnostic. That's more than twice as many as who reported as Muslim. Throw out the 13 percent who were either "didn't know" (really?) or "refused," and you're at a little over 10 percent.


That said, counting 22 percent as either unaligned or third party, Lyceum claimed respondents were otherwise split, 39 percent each on Doinks and Rethugs.


But, let's get back to those atheists and agnostics.

I'm quite familiar with people misusing these terms to really mean "spiritual but not religious," or "irreligious vis-a-vis organized religion." (I experienced that very personally on That particular conversation ended abruptly when the woman at the other end found out what atheism actually means.)

Let's say half our 10 percent falls there.

That's still 5 percent atheist or agnostic.

Let's say that 8 percentage points of the 13 percent refusniks are "nones," as are all 9 percent, in the original number, of alleged atheists or agnostics. Then, one-sixth of Texans are "nones."

That leads me to a piece by Psy Post. Until Friday, it seemed to me to be a pretty good psychology popularization blog and website. John Horgan is among its Twitter followers.

But then it blared: You live longer if you're religious.

Without saying that all we have on that is statistical correlation, not causal correlation, and without, in the western tradition, comparing today's US to today's Europe on that. (Well, it did kind of say that, but after the "blaring.")

Given that the power of intercessory prayer has been disproven by double blinded studies, in fact, we can say that almost certainly, it is NOT a causal correlation.

Add to that the fact that, especially in small towns, "church" and non-church general religious affiliation adds a degree of "community" to life for many people, especially in a place like red-state Texas. Also note that, especially in smaller communities, for those in need, many food banks and other forms of charitable outreach are church-based, or if not so explicit, at least religiously themed.

The only way to do a halfway scientific version of such a survey would be to look at churched vs unchurched people who are both also members of other organizations, like Rotary, Kiwanis, etc. And, you'd have to use more than obits. You'd have to use longitudinal time management research to confirm how often said people actually attended both churches and their social clubs.

And, there's been plenty of empirical research on the reality of a god already.

Speaking of empirical matters, we do also know that, by percentage of respective ethnic groups, more of those atheists are white than black or hispanic, but we also know that young blacks are consciously starting to catch up on leaving church, in part because African-Americans are finding more "secular" leaders willing to speak on "spiritual" issues. Like LeBron. Or Kaepernick. This is even as Congressional Black Caucus leader Jim Clyburn will suck up to Trump as much as those black ministers, to avoid churches paying new taxes.

Sunday, July 01, 2018

Some philosophers are more equally wrong than others

I like Massimo Pigluicci a lot. He makes philosophical issues accessible to the general public, and he covers a variety of issues. We agree on a lot of issues, like ev psych, will, fairly much on volition and more.

That said, I can't let a comment on this post by Dan Kaufman go without a response. And, since Massimo has twice refused to post moderately (but no more than that) snarky comments by me about Dan's comment, I shall go in more depth, and higher or lower snark, here.

Yes, it's Massimo's blog and he has the right to moderate comments as he pleases. And, this is my blog, and I have the right to write posts as I please. And, beyond evolutionary biology's tit for tat of reciprocal altruism, done subconsciously, on a number of social interactions, I practice it conscientiously.

Anyway, here's the comment, rather the first from that post:
Philip, your reply is a dodge. You claimed that mathematics is empirical. I pointed out that this would entail that mathematical statements are probabilistic, which they clearly are not. Simple modus tollens. To which you reply “it’s random.” 
No one ever died from admitting they were wrong about something. Why not give it a try?
Emphasis on the second graf is mine, because that's what this is about.

First of all, other than a British astronomer named Coel and a Canadian confusednik named Garth, not currently commenting on posts, and DM, not a total favorite of Massimo's either. NOBODY among past or current regular commenters has more difficulty admitting they're wrong than Dan. Dan is right a lot more often than them, but, when he's wrong, he doubles down on it as much as them.

And, Massimo knows that. (Or at least, believes something close to that.) I can mention specific issues, the biggest in my mind being that Dan rejects medical science's claim — and has done so on Massimo's blog — as to what constitutes one standard drink of an alcoholic beverage.

Hence my riff on Orwell's "Animal Farm" and Dan as Napoleon. It's part of why I stopped writing for Dan's site after a couple of posts. I disagreed with the editing-for-content and direction on my second piece and knew it wasn't something he's let me win, or even get closer to 50-50.

If Massimo is going to moderate posts over this issue, then why not start by editing Dan's to remove that second paragraph? Or keep it from being posted in the first place?

And, he let Dan and Philip have a 4-5 comment back-and-forth before that. So, my one denied comment really can't be that much worse in lack of contribution than their original back-and-forth.

(For the wonderers, both of my would-be comments did a pull-quote on Dan's second graf. In the first, I then said "posted without further comment." In the second, I said something about this being similar to "electric" comment of a week or two back. (Dan's blog is The Electric Agora.)

For Philip, it's not a matter of whether he was right or wrong on the particular back-and-forth. (I think he was pretty much wrong, myself, per Dan's first graf.) It was Dan's ... well, Dan's tacit hypocrisy. "Pots and kettles" come to mind. And, nobody else challenged him on it — or, at least, Massimo allowed nobody (else) to challenge him.

I tried again, on Massimo's next blog post. Again, no soap.

And, on a third post, where Dan was clearly wrong, and has been wrong in the past — what constitutes alcohol abuse and similar.
Calling people who regularly drink more than 3.5 drinks a day alcoholics is calling them exactly what they are. They are addicts, just as smokers or drug users are.
= = =
What a load of nonsense. Someone who has a beer with lunch and two glasses of wine with dinner is an alcoholic? If so, the term is useless to make any characterization that would be of any interest to any productive purpose.
And, Massimo even knows, via old convo on Google+, my thoughts on this issue. And he hasn't explicitly disagreed with Dan's wrongness.

And, June 27, another blog post where Massimo didn't post a comment about me being critical of Dan.

Also, June 29, where Massimo truncated a comment of mine in editing to omit:
Funny how Dan keeps wanting to “drop it,” and then keeps commenting. I think St. Ludwig of Wittgenstein would have an observation about that use of language.
And, since Dan is "Mr. Wittgenstein" I'll save that for the future. 

So, there you go, Massimo. If you won't let me hoist Dan by his own petard over there, I'll still do it here.

And make this my featured post, now that I have a pic to go with.