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Posts Tagged "philosophy"

Beautiful Minds

The Philosophy of Creativity

The Philosophy of Creativity

There is little that shapes the human experience as profoundly and pervasively as creativity. Creativity drives progress in every human endeavor, from the arts to the sciences, business, and technology. We celebrate and honor people for their creativity, identifying eminent individuals, as well as entire cultures and societies, in terms of their creative achievements. Creativity [...]

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Cross-Check

Steven Pinker, John Gray and the End of War

Philosopher John Gray asserts that the statistics with which Steven Pinker documents the decline of violence "are murky, leaving a vast range of casualties of violence unaccounted for."

Fisticuffs have broken out in The Guardian between two intellectual big shots, philosopher John Gray and psychologist Steven Pinker. The fight, which features lots of rhetorical flourishes and high dudgeon, addresses a serious issue: Is humanity achieving moral progress? Or, as Gray would put it, “progress”? More specifically, are we becoming less violent? I’ve written [...]

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Cross-Check

Steve Fuller and the Value of Intellectual Provocation

Steve Fuller has been called "one of the few wild intelligences that I've seen in decades of being around academics."

Philosopher Daniel Dennett once asked: Would you rather be remembered for being right about something, or for being “original and provocative”? I’ve been mulling over Dennett’s question in the aftermath of sociologist Steve Fuller’s recent visit to my school, Stevens Institute of Technology. After hanging out with Fuller for most of a day and night, [...]

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Cross-Check

For Pi Day: A Reminiscence on “The Death of Proof”*

The 1993 article "The Death of Proof" argued that "the doubts riddling modern human thought have finally infected mathematics."

In 1993, when I was a full-time staff writer for Scientific American, my boss, Jonathan Piel, asked, or rather, commanded me to write an in-depth feature on something, anything, mathematical. Fercrissake, I was an English major! I whined. I could fake math knowledge for little news stories about the Mandelbrot set or Fermat’s last theorem, [...]

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Cross-Check

Can Faith and Science Coexist? Mathematician and Christian John Lennox Responds

"The mathematical intelligibility of nature is evidence for a rational spirit behind the universe." John Lennox.

My last column outlined points I made in a February 18 debate at my school, Stevens Institute of Technology, about whether religion and science are compatible. My “opponent,” Oxford mathematician John Lennox–a Christian, who has debated Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens, Michael Shermer and other prominent non-believers–emailed me the following response: It was a great pleasure [...]

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Cross-Check

Troublemaker Lee Smolin Says Physics—and Its Laws—Must Evolve*

Smolin: "Fundamental physics and cosmology have to transform themselves from a search for timeless laws and symmetries to the investigation of hypotheses about how laws evolve."

What separates good from bad troublemakers? Productive provocateurs from mere contrarians, bullshit artists, attention-seekers? This is the personalized equivalent of philosophy’s demarcation problem, which involves telling genuine from pseudo-science. Lee Smolin, a 59-year-old physicist at the Perimeter Institute in Canada, has always struck me as a good–even necessary–troublemaker. I first interviewed him in the early [...]

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Cross-Check

Need a New Year’s Resolution? Believe in Free Will!

Choices, freely made, are what make life meaningful. Try telling prisoners in Guantanamo or Syrian civilians fleeing bombs and bullets that choices are illusory. “Let’s change places,” they might respond, “since you have nothing to lose.”

New Year’s Day is approaching, a time when we—by which I mean I–brood over past failures and vow to improve ourselves: I will be less judgmental with my kids and more romantic with my girlfriend. I will stop binging on Christmas cookies and television–except X Files re-runs, which are awesome! I will remember that people [...]

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Cross-Check

Quantum Gravity Expert Says “Philosophical Superficiality” Has Harmed Physics

Carlo Rovelli: "Theoretical physics has not done great in the last decades. Why? Well, one of the reasons, I think, is that it got trapped in a wrong philosophy."

As readers of this blog know, late last spring I spoke at a cool conference in England called How the Light Gets In, where I hung out with all kinds of professional reality-ponderers. I’ve already posted Q&As with two fellow speakers I shared housing with: biologist Rupert Sheldrake, who urges scientists to take telepathy more [...]

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Cross-Check

Is David Deutsch’s Vision of Endless Understanding Delusional?

book jacket for "The Beginning of Infinity"

I’m a believer in wishful thinking, in the power of our hopes to become self-fulfilling. I even believe that war is going to end! But at some point, if wishful thinking diverges too sharply from what we can reasonably expect from reality, it morphs into denial or delusion. David Deutsch’s hope that science will keep [...]

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Cross-Check

New Year’s Resolution: I will believe in free will

In the wee hours of this morning my eyes popped open, and I spent the next half hour trying to figure out what to write about in this column. After careful, albeit groggy deliberation, I decided to go with free will, both because of the tie-in to New Year’s resolutions and because some high-profile scientists [...]

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Guest Blog

The Evolution of Common Sense

Arthur Stanley Eddington was an interesting fellow. The English astrophysicist who photographed the solar eclipse that validated Einstein’s theory of general relativity was also a Quaker, a pacifist, and a clever popular writer. In his 1928 book The Nature of the Physical World [1] he began by noting that he had before him two tables: [...]

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Observations

Free Will and Quantum Clones: How Your Choices Today Affect the Universe at its Origin

The late philosopher Robert Nozick, talking about the deep question of why there is something rather than nothing, quipped: “Someone who proposes a non-strange answer shows he didn’t understand the question.” So, when Scott Aaronson began a talk three weeks ago by saying it would be “the looniest talk I’ve ever given,” it was a [...]

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Roots of Unity

What We Talk about When We Talk about Holes

A visualization of some points on the sphere and their fibers in the Hopf fibration. Image: Niles Johnson, via Wikimedia Commons.

For Halloween, I wrote about a very scary topic: higher homotopy groups. Homotopy is an idea in topology, the field of math concerned with properties of shapes that stay the same no matter how you squish or stretch them, as long as you don’t tear them or glue things together. Both homotopy groups and the [...]

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Talking back

Site Survey Shows 60 Percent Think Free Will Exists. Read Why.

We are responsible for our own actions. Of course we are. Sure about that? “I think I can?” “I think I can’t?” All philosophizing aside, the assumption that we have free will has been called into question by research that suggests our brains are deciding for us before we become conscious of the decisions streamed [...]

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