Bob Muller, close friend and colleague, died last Monday (Sept 16, 2013). His life was remarkable in breadth, richness and the number of people he loved and influenced. Bob occupied space, lots of space, now a vacuum. Not a vacuum, really; we have memories, achievements and the influence Bob had on so many. Alex, Bob’s daughter, read an email he sent while she was struggling as a novice marine biologist, trying to tag and collect tagged fish. Bob’s email was what we had come to expect: funny (very funny), warm, insightful and wise (although minus the scatological humor regularly heard from Bob).* Continue reading
A science versus humanities war is brewing. Triggered by Steven Pinker’s excellent article in the New Republic (Science is not the Enemy), Leon Weiseltier, a “Humanist” and literary editor of the New Republic, retorted “Science is the Enemy” (rough translation; Crimes Against Humanities: Science wants to invade the liberal arts. Don’t let that happen). I am not the first to complain about Weiseltier’s screed. Daniel Dennett does an excellent job in the Edge (Dennett on Wieseltier v. Pinker in the New Republic. Lets Start With A Respect For Truth).
But I want to make one simple point. Weiseltier is not making an argument, he is making an assertion.
For example, Wieseltier states,
… the differences between the various realms of human existence, and between the disciplines that investigate them, are final.
Huh? who said so?
For all his complex words, Wieseltier is a dualist.
Pinker rejects the momentous distinction between the study of the natural world and the study of the human world
It is fine for Wieseltier to be a dualist. Dualism is a respectable framework. But one cannot assert that it is true, just as one cannot assert that materialism is true. Assertions are not arguments, they are articles of faith.
The advantage of the scientific/materialist framework is that it can expand. Gradually, it can explain more of the natural world. With the rise of Neuroscience, materialism is beginning to explain and understand aspects of the mental (human) world. As truth-seekers we should rejoice in this. But Neuroscience is not alone. I interpret much of the work in the liberal arts as a search for truth that is not a conflict with materialism.
Will there be convergence? Will we understand the mind — the “hard problem”? I don’t know. But simply to assert the impossibility of the task — and to attack those who attempt to bridge the divide — is turf protection and the opposite of scholarship.
“I act therefore I am” — anonymous
In previous blog posts I’ve supported John Locke’s account of Personal identity. Briefly, identity is the awareness of a continuous conscious experience extending from birth to the present and extending into the future (links: here, here, here). Locke’s conception is old, but is, I believe, consistent with modern mind-based views of identity.
Although I believe this conception is powerful, and an essential component of identity, it doesn’t seem complete. Perhaps an additional critical component is a person’s concept of his or her agency. Continue reading