Philosophy in the News (December 2017 Edition)

Philosophy in the news!

Philosophy in the News is a segment which covers articles with direct and indirect relevance to philosophy. In this month’s post we’ll be covering stories from December of 2017. You can check out previous Philosophy in the News posts here.

This Patient Had ‘Do Not Resuscitate’ Tattooed on His Chest And Doctors Didn’t Know What to Do Writing in The Washington Post, Lindsey Bever describes a situation that doctors at Jackson Memorial Hospital found themselves in last year when a 70-year-old-man with the words “Do Not Resuscitate” tattooed on his chest appeared in their emergency room. The ambiguity of the purpose of the tattoo illustrates issues surrounding patient intent and consent and the degree of authority that a doctor has to overrule what is perceived to be a patient’s wishes in instances where such wishes lead to irrevocable harm.

Black holes are simpler than forests and science has its limits How should we understand scientific complexity? Martin Rees writes in Aeon Magazine about the scope of scientific knowledge and understanding by comparing the subject matters of different types of sciences. For example, Rees highlights that although black holes seem both alien and complex, their underlying mechanics can be easily modeled with math; eradicating the common cold, however, has proven more elusive. With this point in mind Rees questions whether reduction of various sciences to other sciences is always useful, even if valid. Rees also ponders whether or not all sciences, from the quantum to the macro, will hit conceptual limits as a result of the limitations of our cognition.

No Afterlife? No Problem! How to Face Oblivion Like a Pro Scotty Hendricks writes in Big Think about how various philosophers and scientists looked at the issue of death.

Western philosophy asks, “What is being?” Japanese philosophy asks, “What is nothingness?” Olivia Goldhill writes in Quartzy about Japanese and Eastern philosophy and its approach to large existential questions. The post takes a brief look at the historical differences between Western and Eastern philosophy and why both traditions are relevant today.

The African Enlightenment In Aeon Magazine Dag Herbjørnsrud, a historian, writes about Ethiopian philosopher Zera Yacob who wrote in the 17th century. Yacob’s writings invoke many of the same themes as Enlightenment thinkers which he discovered independently, years before the Enlightenment, while living a life of solitude. Although Yacob might appear as an anomaly, Herbjørnsrud discusses another African thinker, Anton Amo, who wrote later but has a similarly nuanced and detailed philosophy. Herbjørnsrud does a great job of placing Yacob and Amo into the contexts of both African philosophy and broader philosophical traditions.

Will artificial intelligence become conscious? In Cosmos Conversation, Subhash Kak discusses the very broad dimensions of consciousness and how they might apply to artificial intelligence systems. This is a great follow-up to last month’s post on metaphysics.

Secret Link Uncovered Between Pure Math and Physics Kevin Hartnett writes in Quanta Magazine about mathematician Minhyong Kim who has taken inspiration from physics and is using aspects of the subject to discover relationships within math.

Natural-born existentialists In Aeon Magazine Ronnie de Sousa questions the metaethical notion of ethical naturalism or the idea that moral values come from properties of the natural world (ie: psychological facts). De Sousa quickly covers some of the historical notions of ethical naturalism and discusses them in light of the strange and peculiar processes of natural selection. De Sousa concludes that in light of natural selection, human nature is incapable of providing us with our ethics. Whether or not he’s right is up for debate; however, his argument is interesting to think about for when we start discussing ethics.

Armchair science What is the role of reflection in learning about the world? In this Aeon Magazine article, Dan Falk talks about the history of thought experiments and their role in philosophy and science. While thought experiments are a means of exploring the implications of a problem or question, many today find the idea quaint and inferior to empirical or experimental investigation. Philosophers like James Robert Brown argue, however, that thought experiments have always been and still are a valuable source of knowledge. Others like cognitive scientist Nancy Nersessian suggest that thought experiments provide a sort of ‘mental modeling’ that can be robust and serve as a great precursor to actual experimental investigation. Regardless of the role thought experiments should play in our investigation of the world, it’s apparent that the debate will still continue.

Honorable mentions:

The ethics of ET

Why physicists need philosophy

Gene editing is now outpacing ethics

Jerry Fodor’s Enduring Critique of Neo-Darwinism

The Hidden Link Between Morality and Language

Our enemies are human: that’s why we want to kill them

Why humans are cruel

Can Kindness Be Taught?

Neuroscience Has a Lot To Learn from Buddhism