Aeon: Q-S
Hains (Brigid) & Hains (Paul)
This Page provides (where held) the Abstract of the above Book and those of all the Papers contained in it.
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Website “About”1

  1. Since 2012, Aeon has established itself as a unique digital magazine, publishing some of the most profound and provocative thinking on the web. We ask the big questions and find the freshest, most original answers, provided by leading thinkers on science, philosophy, society and the arts.
  2. Aeon has three channels, and all are completely free to enjoy:
    1. Essays – Longform explorations of deep issues written by serious and creative thinkers
    2. Ideas – Short provocations, maintaining Aeon’s high editorial standards but in a more nimble and immediate form. Our Ideas are published under a Creative Commons licence, making them available for republication.
    3. Video – A mixture of curated short documentaries and original Aeon productions
  3. Through our Partnership program, we publish pieces from university research groups, university presses and other selected cultural organisations.
  4. Aeon was founded in London by Paul and Brigid Hains. It now has offices in London, Melbourne and New York. We are a not-for-profit, registered charity, operated by Aeon Media Group Ltd.
  5. We are committed to big ideas, serious enquiry and a humane worldview. That’s it.

In-Page Footnotes ("Hains (Brigid) & Hains (Paul) - Aeon: Q-S")

Footnote 1:

"Ramin (Cathryn Jakobson) - Where pain lives"

Source: Aeon, 12 September, 2017

  • Fixing chronic back pain is possible only when patients understand how much it is produced by the brain, not the spine"
  • See Web Link

"Reay (Barry) - A handy history"

Source: Aeon, 21 June, 2016

  • Sub-title: "Condemned, celebrated, shunned: masturbation has long been an uncomfortable fact of life. Why?"
  • See Web Link

"Reeve (C.D.C.) - The anger of Achilles"

Source: Aeon, 11 July, 2017

  • Sub-title: "Homer’s warrior is no mere tragic human figure: fuelled by anger, he is at once a man of honour and a sword of the gods. "
  • See Web Link

"Remy (Steven) - The Malmedy trial: how the truth trumped fake torture stories"

Source: Aeon, 24 May, 2017

COMMENT: See Web Link.

"Rini (Regina) - Raising good robots"

Source: Aeon, 18 April, 2017


"Rini (Regina) - Should we rename institutions that honour dead racists?"

Source: Aeon, 08 December, 2015

COMMENT: See Web Link.

"Robbins (Joel) - How arrogance can make even an obnoxious person popular"

Source: Aeon, 15 March, 2017

COMMENT: See Web Link.

"Roettenbacher (Rachael) - How the face of a distant star reveals our place in the cosmos"

Source: Aeon, 27 July, 2016

COMMENT: See Web Link.

"Romeo (Nick) - Platonically irrational"

Source: Aeon, 15 May, 2017

  • Sub-title: "How much did Plato know about behavioural economics and cognitive biases? Pretty much everything, it turns out."
  • See Web Link

"Ropeik (David) - Fear of radiation is more dangerous than radiation itself"

Source: Aeon, 05 July, 2017

COMMENT: See Web Link.

"Rose (Hilary) & Rose (Steven) - Prometheus Inc"

Source: Aeon, 14 September, 2013

  • "Biotechnology and other life sciences promise to transform our health, identity, even our brains. Should we be worried?"
  • See Web Link

"Rowlands (Mark) - The kindness of beasts"

Source: Aeon, 24 October, 2012

  • Sub-title: "Dogs rescue their friends and elephants care for injured kin – humans have no monopoly on moral behaviour."
  • See Web Link

"Ruse (Michael) - Does life have a purpose?"

Source: Aeon, 24 June, 2013

  • Sub-title: "Nobody expects atoms and molecules to have purposes, so why do we still think of living things in this way? "
  • See Web Link

"Ruse (Michael) - Earth's holy fool?"

Source: Aeon, 14 January, 2013

  • Sub-title: "Some scientists think that James Lovelock's Gaia theory is nuts, but the public love it. Could both sides be right?".
  • See Web Link

"Russell (Andrew) & Vinsel (Lee) - Whitey on Mars"

Source: Aeon, 01 February, 2017


"Russell (Paul) - The limits of tolerance"

Source: Aeon, 02 August, 2017

Brief Notes
  • This is – in general – a well-reasoned paper. Its ostensive aim is to sort out confusion within the Left about toleration and free speech.
  • The paper draws a distinction between “ideological or value-laden commitments, and those that do not carry any such baggage”.
  • The former “ideological” commitments are those that are in some sense optional – political and religious commitments are placed on a par in this respect.
  • Those “without ideological baggage” are those that individuals can do nothing about – they are part of their ontological “identity” – basically, as the sub-title says – “racial, gender, or sexual identities”.
  • The paper does recognise that this is a bit of a simplification and that there are cross-overs.
  • The issue is to what degree should a (left-leaning) liberal society tolerate the holding or the criticism of these two groups of commitments.
  • The basic idea is that anyone should be allowed to hold and promote their ideological commitments, but the various positions need not be accorded equal respect, but can be criticised1 – even fairly aggressively (while retaining a modicum of taste and decorum) – as stupid, ill-founded, malicious or whatever.
  • However, while the non-ideological identities can obviously be held and promoted – they are, after all, non-optional – these “identities” simply reflect “diversity”. Criticism of them is not to be tolerated under any circumstances, in the sense that – for example – society should not allow deprecation – or eulogy – of women qua women. Those who criticise non-ideological identities are “bigots”.
  • So far, so good. In general, I think this distinction is right. However:-
    1. It seems important to the author to restrict “bigotry” to criticism of “diverse identities” as such. So, one political or religious group can rant on against their ideological opponents without thereby incurring the epithet “bigot”. But surely this is to use “bigot” as a term of art2.
    2. The paper’s cover photo (presumably) shows a religious “bigot” ranting (or preaching) against same-sex marriage, and (maybe) being confronted by a lesbian. One might ask whether a minister of the established church might have a duty to promulgate its doctrines. Also, would it always be the case that such a one would be a “bigot” in the pejorative sense?
    3. Some might not be as convinced as others that gender – given the “trans” movement – and sexual orientation are as fixed as this paper suggests.
    4. Is “affirmative action” mandatory or forbidden according to the principles proposed?

  • Sub-title: "A religious worldview cannot expect the same kinds of tolerance as racial, gender, or sexual identities. Here’s why."
  • See Web Link

In-Page Footnotes ("Russell (Paul) - The limits of tolerance")

Footnote 1:
  • So, the author dislikes the term “Islamophobia”, claiming that Islam can be criticised as an ideology, where criticism of Islam isn’t a subterfuge for criticism of people of certain racial groupings.
Footnote 2:
  • So,
    1. Oxford Living Dictionaries (Web Link): A person who is intolerant towards those holding different opinions.
    2. Merriam-Webster (Web Link): a person who is obstinately or intolerantly devoted to his or her own opinions and prejudices; especially: one who regards or treats the members of a group (such as a racial or ethnic group) with hatred and intolerance.
    3. Cambridge (Web Link): a person who has strong, unreasonable beliefs and who does not like other people who have different beliefs or a different way of life.
    4. (Web Link): A bigot is someone who doesn't tolerate people of different races or religions.
  • The Daily Mash thinks the word has lost all meaning: Web Link.

"Sagar (Paul) - The last hollow laugh"

Source: Aeon, 21 March, 2017

  • Sub-title: "Since Francis Fukuyama proclaimed ‘The End of History’ 25 years ago, he has been much maligned. His work now seems prophetic."
  • See Web Link

"Sassi (Maria Michela) - The sea was never blue"

Source: Aeon, 31 July, 2017

  • Sub-title: "The Greek colour experience was made of movement and shimmer. Can we ever glimpse what they saw when gazing out to sea?"
  • See Web Link

"Saunders (David) - The history of brainwashing is a red flag for techno-therapy"

Source: Aeon, 28 August, 2017

Author’s Conclusion
  1. Psychic driving1 might also tell us something about the future, not just the past, of psychological therapy. Few present-day psychiatrists find themselves preoccupied with issues of communism and brainwashing, but Cameron’s core belief in the inevitable merging of technology and psychiatry has proven remarkably resilient. This is perhaps seen most dramatically in the recent explosion of smartphone applications concerned with mental health, with some 10,000 apps on the market offering everything from mood trackers to mindfulness programmes, ambient noise generators to automated hypnosis. Enthusiastic advocates have been quick to praise these pocket-sized therapies as a timely solution to the budgetary pressures and long waiting lists of overstretched mental health services.
  2. However, psychic driving introduces a note of caution to these celebrations. While exotic conspiracies of international espionage are unlikely to be uncovered, Cameron’s work reminds us that we ought to question whose interests, beyond benevolent ‘healing’, are at play. Beneath the optimistic rhetoric of this new wave of ‘techno-therapy’ there is plenty to worry about: applications frequently lack expert medical oversight, few are supported by reliable studies gauging their effectiveness or even basic safety, and many have been found to leak or actively sell users’ sensitive health data to third parties. Clearly such issues must be interrogated further, and the history of psychic driving can bolster the necessary scepticism – and dissent – to do so.

COMMENT: See Web Link.

In-Page Footnotes ("Saunders (David) - The history of brainwashing is a red flag for techno-therapy")

Footnote 1:
  • This is described in the paper.
  • See also Wikipedia: Web Link

"Savulescu (Julian) - Should a human-pig chimera be treated as a person?"

Source: Aeon, 14 July, 2016

Author’s Conclusion
  1. Any human-pig chimera should, then, be assessed against the criteria of personhood. This is by no means straightforward. Just to give one example, if synthetic biology creates a network of neurons in vitro, this would raise the question of whether it could become conscious, how we would know if it did, and then the further question of how it should be treated.
  2. In the absence of conclusive research on these questions, any such chimera should be accorded the highest moral status consistent with its likely nature.
    1. If there is a chance a new lifeform could experience pain or might not be able to interact socially, and we don’t know, it should be treated as if it does experience pain and will have problems of social adaptation.
    2. Likewise, if it could plausibly have higher cognitive functions, it should be treated as if it would have them.
  3. In considering the new life forms we create, we should err on the side of sympathy and generosity.

  1. This paper starts by considering the use of pigs to harvest human organs, using stem cells and a gene-editing technique called CRISPR (see Web Link).
  2. The term “chimera” is rather loaded, as it implies a monster – see Web Link – yet the article posits that mules (Web Link, the off-spring of a male donkey and a female horse) are chimeras as the parents are of different species with different numbers of chromosomes.
  3. The neurological angle comes from research into the production of neurons for the treatment of Parkinson’s disease.
  4. I agree with the author’s conclusion that – where we have reason to suspect it – we should assume sentience and social needs rather than await proof – could it ever be provided. This applies to non-chimeras as well. However, I doubt this cautious approach should be applied to cultures of neural tissue1.
  5. See "Ishiguro (Kazuo) - Never Let Me Go" for the analogous case where human clones are posited as being raised as the source of transplant organs.
  6. As for the article’s tendentious title, human-pig chimeras should only be considered persons if they possess (or may reasonably or prudentially be supposed to possess) the attributes of persons2, not just because they contain human genetic material.

COMMENT: See Web Link.

In-Page Footnotes ("Savulescu (Julian) - Should a human-pig chimera be treated as a person?")

Footnote 1:
  • This claim would take a bit of justification.
  • It presupposes that consciousness arises from the appropriate organisation of neural tissue, rather than from individual neurons. Just what would an individual neuron – or an unorganised mass of them – be conscious of?

"Saxton (Tamsin) - Keeping it in the family: why we pick the partners we do"

Source: Aeon, 11 August, 2017

COMMENT: See Web Link.

"Scales (David) - Doctors have become less empathetic, but is it their fault?"

Source: Aeon, 04 July, 2016

COMMENT: See Web Link.

"Schank (Hana) - Where’s Bobbi Fischer?"

Source: Aeon, 13 July, 2015

  • Sub-title: "Little girls sign up to play chess in droves. So why are so few of the world’s top players women?"
  • See Web Link

"Scharf (Caleb) - Where do minds belong?"

Source: Aeon, 22 March, 2016

  • Sub-title: "Intelligence could have been moving back and forth between biological beings and machine receptacles for aeons. "
  • See Web Link

"Scheidel (Walter) - The bloodstained leveller"

Source: Aeon, 19 June, 2017
  • This is an interesting paper that correctly shows that rectification of extreme social inequality only occurs when the social system receives a shock from some natural or man-made disaster that makes basic labour more desirable or requires the wealthy to dispense with a large proportion of their accumulated wealth to offset the consequences of the disaster (or simply itself takes it away).
  • Unfortunately, the paper doesn’t even consider whether this is always a good thing.
  • Presumably, if the living standards of the worst off – or of all segments of the population – improve over time, this is a good thing even if inequality increases.
  • The paper paints the situation as a zero-sum game, where the wealth of the better-off – and particularly of the plutocrats – is taken directly from the less well-off.
  • Some inequality will always arise unless the more able are constrained such that they or their families cannot benefit from their ability.
  • The question is whether gross inequality is in itself a moral outrage. I doubt this, in that it is difficult for plutocrats to destroy their wealth – other than in wars – and so its use tends to have some trickle-down benefit – historically in the form of public works in pursuit of fame or popularity. Many – if not most – of the great achievements of mankind appear to have been the direct result of gross inequality.
  • This may be too rosy a view, but that of the paper is too negative.

  • Sub-title: "Throughout history, plagues and wars have left greater equality in their wake. Can we get there again without violence?"
  • See Web Link

"Schellenberg (J. L.) - The end is not near"

Source: Aeon, 10 February, 2014
  • This paper compares how we have learnt to look back into deep time (geological time) but not to look symmetrically into the future.
  • We tend to think of ourselves as at the end of time. The Bible and millennialism gets much of the blame for this.
  • If we compare the length of time since “we” came on the scene to when the Earth will cease to be habitable, we’ve hardly begun. Or our descendent species haven’t got started.
  • We think we’re on the verge of solving all the intellectual problems, but we may be mistaken. The example of Kelvin’s confidence that all of physics was basically solved – just before relativity and quantum mechanics upended everything – is trotted out.
  • Some previously jettisoned ideas may come back as relevant, such as “the teleological conceptions of nature”. The example given is Nagel (Thomas)’s allegedly universally panned 2012 “Mind & Cosmos: Why the Materialist Neo-Darwinian Conception of Nature is Almost Certainly False”, though Schellenberg doesn’t like Nagel’s sub-title. I thought the paper had got lost at this point.
  • Schellenberg dislikes, but doesn’t really take issue with, let alone refute, those who think we’re about to cause our own demise. Eg. "Rees (Martin) - Our Final Century: Will the Human Race Survive the Twenty-First Century?".

  • Sub-title: "Thanks to science, most of us accept the deep past – so why are our imagined futures so shallow?"
  • See Web Link

"Schneider (Nathan) - How much does it matter whether God exists?"

Source: Aeon, 30 December, 2015

COMMENT: See Web Link.

"Schwitzgebel (Eric) - A theory of jerks"

Source: Aeon, 04 June, 2014

  • Sub-title: "Are you surrounded by fools? Are you the only reasonable person around? Then maybe you’re the one with the jerkitude."
  • See Web Link

"Schwitzgebel (Eric) - Does it matter if the Passover story is literally true"

Source: Los Angeles Times, 9th April 2017


"Schwitzgebel (Eric) - We have greater moral obligations to robots than to humans"

Source: Aeon, 12 November, 2015

COMMENT: See Web Link.

"Scoles (Sarah) - Earth’s aliens"

Source: Aeon, 09 July, 2015

  • Sub-title: "Alien lifeforms might be living right under our noses, but how can we find them if we don’t know what we’re looking for?"
  • See Web Link

"Seeber (Barbara) & Berg (Maggie) - The slow professor can dish out a more nutritious education"

Source: Aeon, 29 March, 2017

COMMENT: See Web Link.

"Seneca (Lucius Annaeus) & Pigliucci (Massimo) - On the happy life"

Source: Aeon, 27 April, 2017

Author’s Introduction
  1. Lucius Annaeus Seneca is a towering and controversial figure of antiquity. He lived from 4 BCE to 65 CE, was a Roman senator and political adviser to the emperor Nero, and experienced exile but came back to Rome to become one of the wealthiest citizens of the Empire. He tried to steer Nero toward good governance, but in the process became his indirect accomplice in murderous deeds. In the end, he was ‘invited’ to commit suicide by the emperor, and did so with dignity, in the presence of his friends.
  2. Seneca wrote a number of tragedies that directly inspired William Shakespeare, but was also one of the main exponents of the Stoic school of philosophy, which has made a surprising comeback in recent years. Stoicism teaches us that the highest good in life is the pursuit of the four cardinal virtues of practical wisdom, temperance, justice and courage – because they are the only things that always do us good and can never be used for ill. It also tells us that the key to a serene life is the realisation that some things are under our control and others are not: under our control are our values, our judgments, and the actions we choose to perform. Everything else lies outside of our control, and we should focus our attention and efforts only on the first category.
  3. Seneca wrote a series of philosophical letters to his friend Lucilius when he was nearing the end of his life. The letters were clearly meant for publication, and represent a sort of philosophical testament for posterity. I chose letter 92, ‘On the Happy Life’, because it encapsulates both the basic tenets of Stoic philosophy and some really good advice that is still valid today.
  4. The first thing to understand about this letter is the title itself: ‘happy’ here does not have the vague modern connotation of feeling good, but is the equivalent of the Greek word Eudaimonia, recently adopted also by positive psychologists, and which is best understood as a life worth living. For Seneca and the Stoics, the only life worth living is one of moral rectitude, the sort of existence we look back to at the end and can honestly say we are not ashamed of.
  5. That said, and contrary to popular lore, the Stoics weren’t killjoys….
  6. Stoics are often contrasted with Epicureans, and ‘On the Happy Life’ includes passages where Seneca comments on that contrast. Epicureanism, however, should not be interpreted in the modern sense of laissez-faire hedonism (à la sex, drugs and rock’n’roll), as it actually was a philosophy of moderation aimed mostly at avoiding pain (both physical and mental) and at enjoying the simple pleasures of life (like healthy meals and good friendship).
  7. Both the Stoics and the Epicureans valued the practice of virtue and the pleasures of life. The difference was one of priorities: the Epicureans, for instance, withdrew from political life because it was bound to cause pain (consider the recent US elections and you might sympathise). The Stoics, by contrast, would never trade moral rectitude for either the pursuit of pleasure or the avoidance of pain.
  8. Seneca wrote a much longer essay on the same topic of what makes for a happy life, one that includes a set of seven ‘commandments to himself’ (from book XX ‘Of a Happy Life’ - Web Link). They provide a way to philosophically structure our own lives:
    1. I will look upon death or upon a comedy with the same expression of countenance.
    2. I will despise riches when I have them as much as when I have them not.
    3. I will view all lands as though they belong to me, and my own as though they belonged to all mankind.
    4. Whatever I may possess, I will neither hoard it greedily nor squander it recklessly.
    5. I will do nothing because of public opinion, but everything because of conscience.
    6. I will be agreeable with my friends, gentle and mild to my foes: I will grant pardon before I am asked for it, and will meet the wishes of honourable men half-way.
    7. Whenever either Nature demands my breath again, or reason bids me dismiss it, I will quit this life, calling all to witness that I have loved a good conscience, and good pursuits.

  • Sub-title: "With a new introduction and commentary by Massimo Pigliucci."
  • See Web Link

"Seth (Anil K.) - The real problem"

Source: Aeon, 02 November, 2016

Author’s Introduction
  1. What is the best way to understand consciousness? In philosophy, centuries-old debates continue to rage over whether the Universe is divided, following René Descartes, into ‘mind stuff’ and ‘matter stuff’. But the rise of modern neuroscience has seen a more pragmatic approach gain ground: an approach that is guided by philosophy but doesn’t rely on philosophical research to provide the answers. Its key is to recognise that explaining why consciousness exists at all is not necessary in order to make progress in revealing its material basis – to start building explanatory bridges from the subjective and phenomenal to the objective and measurable.
  2. In my work at the Sackler Centre for Consciousness Science at the University of Sussex in Brighton (Web Link), I collaborate with cognitive scientists, neuroscientists, psychiatrists, brain imagers, virtual reality wizards and mathematicians – and philosophers too – trying to do just this. And together with other laboratories, we are gaining exciting new insights into consciousness – insights that are making real differences in medicine, and that in turn raise new intellectual and ethical challenges. In my own research, a new picture is taking shape in which conscious experience is seen as deeply grounded in how brains and bodies work together to maintain physiological integrity – to stay alive. In this story, we are conscious ‘beast-machines’, and I hope to show you why.

Author’s Conclusion
  1. This returns us one last time to Descartes. In dissociating mind from body, he argued that non-human animals were nothing more than ‘beast machines’ without any inner universe. In his view, basic processes of physiological regulation had little or nothing to do with mind or consciousness.
  2. I’ve come to think the opposite. It now seems to me that fundamental aspects of our experiences of conscious selfhood might depend on control-oriented predictive perception of our messy physiology, of our animal blood and guts. We are conscious selves because we too are beast machines – self-sustaining flesh-bags that care about their own persistence.

  • Sub-title: "It looks like scientists and philosophers might have made consciousness far more mysterious than it needs to be."
  • See Web Link.
  • This is an interesting and important paper, which rejects Chalmers (David)’s hard problem in favour of the real problem (“how to account for the various properties of consciousness in terms of biological mechanisms; without pretending it doesn’t exist (easy problem) and without worrying too much about explaining its existence in the first place (hard problem)”).
  • I hope to add a commentary in due course.

"Shanahan (Murray) - Conscious exotica"

Source: Aeon, 19 October, 2016

  • Sub-title: "From algorithms to aliens, could humans ever understand minds that are radically unlike our own?"
  • See Web Link

"Shapiro (Lawrence) - A drop in the sea"

Source: Aeon, 01 November, 2013

Author’s Conclusion
  1. There’s really no reason to think that miracle-observers should be any more reliable than normal human beings. I don’t deny that miracles have occurred, just that the available evidence fails to justify a belief that they have occurred. Be that as it may, if Jesus’s resurrection is the ‘disease1’ and the witness report is the ‘test’, we can now do the algebra to decide whether to believe in the resurrection. The base rate for the resurrection is (let’s say) one in 1 billion. The witnesses go wrong only one time in 100,000. One billion divided by 100,000 is 10,000. So, even granting the existence of extraordinary witnesses, the chance that they were right about the resurrection is only one in 10,000; hardly the basis for a justified belief.
  2. As with the diagnostic test, the question to ask is whether there is a better explanation for the existence of these witness statements than the actual resurrection, which, as we’ve already said, is vastly improbable. What might account for such reports? Who knows, but I imagine any of the following is more likely than the supposition that Jesus actually rose from the dead:
    1. Perhaps no witnesses were present and the story of the resurrection simply grew, as fantastic stories often do, from embellished retellings of Jesus’s life; or
    2. The witnesses reported a hallucination of Jesus that others then took to be a true report of Jesus in corporeal form; or maybe
    3. The witnesses were mendacious and eager to start a cult that might challenge Roman authority.
    How likely are any of these alternative accounts of why the witnesses, if present at all, said what they did? No idea, to be honest, but I’m quite sure that any of them are more probable than a dead person returning to life.
  3. No one is justified in believing in Jesus’s resurrection. The numbers simply don’t justify the conclusion. But the resurrection is just one miracle. If we suppose that all miracles are similarly rare, then, by parity of reasoning, belief in any one of them is similarly unjustified. As noted earlier, my conclusion doesn’t deny that miracles have occurred or might occur, just that the available evidence fails to justify a belief that they have occurred. So, if you wish to continue to believe in miracles, you must do so knowing that the evidence is not on your side.

  • Sub-title: "What are the odds that Jesus rose or Moses parted the waves? Even with the best witnesses, vanishingly small."
  • See Web Link

In-Page Footnotes ("Shapiro (Lawrence) - A drop in the sea")

Footnote 1:
  • Earlier, the author has drawn an analogy between evaluating the probability of one’s having a rare but dread disease. Given that any test produces false positives, you cannot evaluate the probability without knowing two things:-
    1. The rate of false positives, and
    2. The frequency of the disease in the general population.
  • This has been covered in other papers in Aeon, eg. "Colquhoun (David) - The problem with p-values".

"Sholl (Jonathan) - Nobody is Normal"

Source: Aeon, 31 January, 2017

COMMENT: See Web Link.

"Shrage (Laurie) - We need a contract for co-parenting, not just for marriage"

Source: Aeon, 13 January, 2017

COMMENT: See Web Link.

"Simon (Ed) - How ‘white people’ were invented by a playwright in 1613"

Source: Aeon, 12 September, 2017

COMMENT: See Web Link.

"Simpson (Robert) - ‘Free speech’ is a blunt instrument. Let’s break it up"

Source: Aeon, 31 March, 2017

COMMENT: See Web Link.

"Singler (Beth) - fAIth"

Source: Aeon, 13 June, 2017

  • Sub-title: "The most avid believers in artificial intelligence are aggressively secular – yet their language is eerily religious. Why?"
  • See Web Link

"Skibba (Ramin) - To find aliens, we must think of life as we don’t know it"

Source: Aeon, 19 September, 2017

COMMENT: See Web Link.

"Skinner (Michael) - Unified theory of evolution"

Source: Aeon, 09 November, 2016

  • Sub-title: "Darwin’s theory that natural selection drives evolution is incomplete without input from evolution’s anti-hero: Lamarck ."
  • See Web Link

"Smith (David Livingstone) - Freud the philosopher"

Source: Aeon, 10 August, 2017

  • Sub-title: "Before fathering psychoanalysis, Freud first slayed the dominant Cartesian intellectual tradition of mind-body dualism. "
  • See Web Link

"Smith (Justin E.H.) - How philosophy came to disdain the wisdom of oral cultures"

Source: Aeon, 01 June, 2016

COMMENT: See Web Link.

"Sober (Elliott) - Why is simpler better?"

Source: Aeon, 03 May, 2016

  • Sub-title: "Ockham’s Razor says that simplicity is a scientific virtue, but justifying this philosophically is strangely elusive."
  • See Web Link

"Spicer (André) - Had a good think lately?"

Source: Aeon, 14 June, 2017

  • Sub-title: "Not busy-work, ticking off to-do lists or keepingup-with-stuff. Just sitting. And thinking. Is it so hard?"
  • See Web Link

"Spicer (André) - Stupefied"

Source: Aeon, 27 September, 2016

  • Sub-title: "How organisations enshrine collective stupidity and employees are rewarded for checking their brains at the office door."
  • See Web Link

"Spurgin (Lewis) - This island life"

Source: Aeon, 09 July, 2013

Author’s Conclusion
  1. Political beliefs affect science at many levels, from decisions on what research is funded, to the subconscious biases of individual scientists. And for my part, I am sure that my political views have influenced my scientific research, and all along I haven’t had a clue. We constantly make subjective decisions as scientists: which questions get us fired up, which do we ignore, when do we consider a result significant enough to publish, how do we approach an analysis, and how do we interpret our findings. We strive for objectivity, but we can never truly achieve it. Instead we can but hope that the self-correcting process of science weeds out the rubbish, and that truth emerges over time.
  2. So maybe radical scientists are not such a bad thing after all. Perhaps the likes of Gould and Lewontin, who are able to take a step back and look critically at their whole field, play an essential role in keeping science in check, and therefore in moving it forward. They might have overstepped the mark at times, but their critique of adaptationism was one that needed to be made, and is one that has improved the scientific rigour of evolutionary biology overall. Biologists are now much more careful of inventing adaptive explanations for everything they see, and are more amenable to non-adaptive explanations.
  3. As for my paper on pipits, I’m at the nerve-racking stage of submitting it for peer review. After checking and double-checking I can only conclude for now that the founder effects were real, and hope that the peer-review and, more importantly, post-publication scrutiny of fellow scientists will ferret out any problems. Perhaps the best plan will be to find a capitalist lapdog to review it for me.

  • Sub-title: "The strange biology of island populations highlights the role of chance, not just selection, in evolutionary change."
  • See Web Link

"Staudenmaier (Peter) - The Nazis as occult masters? It’s a good story but not history"

Source: Aeon, 09 June, 2017

COMMENT: See Web Link.

"Stein (Alexandra) - How totalism works"

Source: Aeon, 20 June, 2017

  • Sub-title: "The brainwashing methods of isolation, engulfment and fear can lead anyone to a cult. I should know – I was in one"
  • See Web Link

"Stitt (Jennifer) - Before you can be with others, first learn to be alone"

Source: Aeon, 11 July, 2017

Author’s Conclusion
  1. Echoing Plato, Hannah Arendt observed: ‘Thinking, existentially speaking, is a solitary but not a lonely business; solitude is that human situation in which I keep myself company. Loneliness comes about … when I am one and without company’ but desire it and cannot find it. In solitude, Arendt never longed for companionship or craved camaraderie because she was never truly alone. Her inner self was a friend with whom she could carry on a conversation, that silent voice who posed the vital Socratic question: ‘What do you mean when you say …?’ The self, Arendt declared, ‘is the only one from whom you can never get away – except by ceasing to think.’
  2. Arendt’s warning is well worth remembering in our own time. In our hyper-connected world, a world in which we can communicate constantly and instantly over the internet, we rarely remember to carve out spaces for solitary contemplation. We check our email hundreds of times per day; we shoot off thousands of text messages per month; we obsessively thumb through Twitter, Facebook and Instagram, aching to connect at all hours with close and casual acquaintances alike. We search for friends of friends, ex-lovers, people we barely know, people we have no business knowing. We crave constant companionship1.
  3. But, Arendt reminds us, if we lose our capacity for solitude, our ability to be alone with ourselves, then we lose our very ability to think. We risk getting caught up in the crowd. We risk being ‘swept away’, as she put it, ‘by what everybody else does and believes in’ – no longer able, in the cage of thoughtless conformity, to distinguish ‘right from wrong, beautiful from ugly’. Solitude is not only a state of mind essential to the development of an individual’s consciousness – and conscience – but also a practice that prepares one for participation in social and political life. Before we can keep company with others, we must learn to keep company with ourselves.

COMMENT: See Web Link.

In-Page Footnotes ("Stitt (Jennifer) - Before you can be with others, first learn to be alone")

Footnote 1:
  • I think all this might be more nuanced still.
  • True solitude probably involves thinking your own thoughts, rather than merely engaging with the thoughts of others in absentio, by reading or commenting on their work.

"Stone (Dan) - Concentration camps reveal the nature of the modern state"

Source: Aeon, 14 July, 2017

COMMENT: See Web Link.

"Strauss (Michael) - Our Universe is too vast for even the most imaginative sci-fi"

Source: Aeon, 22 February, 2017

COMMENT: See Web Link.

"Strawson (Galen) - I am not a story"

Source: Aeon, 03 September, 2015

  • Sub-title: "Some find it comforting to think of life as a story. Others find that absurd. So are you a Narrative or a non-Narrative?".
  • See Web Link

"Studemeyer (J. Bradley) - How fashion moves philosophy forward"

Source: Aeon, 10 January, 2017

COMMENT: See Web Link.

"Subramanian (Samanth) - The wanderer"

Source: Aeon, 23 October, 2013

Author’s Conclusion
  1. There is some complicated guilt here too, lurking in the corner but unavoidable. I have felt as if I am personally responsible for rupturing traditions that run back many generations and that are still alive, to some extent, in the person of my father. I cannot read or write Sanskrit, my stock of Hindu hymns is meagre, and I am unable to deliver the liturgy for even a single ceremony of worship. This can only partly be blamed on my education, which was styled so strongly after Western curricula that I can conjugate French verbs but not Sanskrit ones. Mostly, it is my own fault — my own deficit of interest, my own coolness towards faith and religion.
  2. Thus, under my uncaring stewardship, a certain continuity has snapped, and a vast body of inherited knowledge has suddenly and irreversibly decayed. This was the price of progress and modernity, I reasoned at first. Only later did I come to think that the loss of cultural knowledge of any kind is always a tragedy. And yet, contained snugly within these same traditions were elements of blind superstition, of Hinduism’s invidious caste system, and of rigid and impractical ritual. These practices, born of less enlightened times, are unquestionably better off dead. So what, then, is the proper amount of remorse for me to feel here?
  3. I struggle still with this slippery question, just as I struggled to grasp the details of my grandfather’s life. For all the mystery in which he cloaked himself, I think now that I also failed simply to be curious enough about him. Perhaps it suited me, the grandson, to consign him to oblivion: the world had changed so much since his time, I must have reckoned subconsciously in my boyhood, that there was no need to understand his era, and therefore no need to understand him. I was committing, of course, the arch sin of the historically ignorant. Only after I grew older, when my life had built its own slim back-story, did I begin to see how vitally the present is inflected by the past, and how much of my grandfather lived on in me. This is how we negotiate our past: we fumble with it, discard it, pick it up again, trying to see what new things it can tell us about ourselves, always hoping that it is never too late to learn.

  • Sub-title: "My grandfather was a legend – a holy vagabond whose life spanned India’s 20th century. Why did I let him elude me?"
  • See Web Link

"Switek (Brian) - Extinction is forever: de-extinction can’t save what we had"

Source: Aeon, 19 July, 2016

COMMENT: See Web Link.

"Switek (Brian) - Keeping kids frenetically entertained is ruining our museums"

Source: Aeon, 07 October, 2016

COMMENT: See Web Link.

Text Colour Conventions (see disclaimer)
  1. Blue: Text by me; © Theo Todman, 2017
  2. Mauve: Text by correspondent(s) or other author(s); © the author(s)

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