Winter Break, Lithuania and the Start of Lent Term

Hello Everyone!

 

I’m a few weeks into my Lent term now, after having the majority of December off and getting the chance to return to the states over Christmas.  I thought I’d use this post to discuss my busy break, New Year’s, and my Lent term course schedule.

 

Winter Break

Over Winter Break I flew back to the states, and, on my way to Ann Arbor to attend the Jones fellowship interviews I managed to work in a 2-day layover in New York City to see a friend.  Being a fan of weird comedy, I went to see Oh, Hello at the Lyceum Theater on Broadway – a 90 minute, two-man play by Nick Kroll and John Mulaney.  It was an hour of scripted comedy and thirty minutes of an improvised fake interview show where Alan Alda came on stage and they pranked him by giving him a large tuna fish sandwich (it’s real, I promise: http://ohhellobroadway.com/).  We also managed to get some discount standby tickets to see The Phantom of the Opera, which was one of my favorite books in high school, and, no matter that we had seats pretty far back in the balcony, I was absolutely blown away by the atmosphere of the performance.  On the way to Oh, Hello we stopped at Bemelmans’ Bar at the Carlyle Hotel to have a very expensive (in my consideration) cocktail at one of the most beautiful bars in New York.

 

Left: picture taken from http://ohhellobroadway.com/.  Right: Bemelmans Bar, with its famous walls as painted by its namesake Ludwig Bemelmans, an Austria-Hungary born American painter and illustrator, in 1947.

 

After New York I spent a couple of days in Ann Arbor to attend the interviews for the next Jones Fellow.  It was a strange experience being back on campus, but very nice to see some familiar faces again.  With the nostalgia a lot of my engineering work came flooding back to me, which was a good reminder that all this philosophy is helping me contribute something greater through my work as a scientist.  It’s unfortunately been easy while in London to jump into philosophy while disregarding my engineering background, so going ahead I hope to integrate the two more in my papers and possibly in my Master’s dissertation, which has been looming with increasing prominence in my mind.

 

New Years

Following Michigan I was able to spend a few weeks at home with family in Minnesota (which somehow managed to be even colder and snowier than Ann Arbor), before flying back to London in time for New Year’s.  I spent New Year’s on Westminster Bridge and saw a wonderful fireworks display over the London Eye with a friend:

 

 

I made a few New Year’s resolutions, and I think that if I publish them online I’ll be more likely to stick to them (fingers crossed).  First, I hope to travel more.  In the fall I became very caught up in my studies and so mostly stayed around the London area.  I’ve decided now to try to travel once a month.  Second, I’d like to learn to swim.  I can swim reasonably well from swimming in lakes as a kid, but I’ve never been able to swim laps in a pool.  As my gym gives free weekly swimming lessons, I had planned to take lessons beginning last fall, but I never worked up the motivation, so I’d like to attend those more regularly this year.

 

As for my travel resolution, I’m off to a good start as I travelled to Vilnius, Lithuania for a few days in January.  Though very cold in the winter, Lithuania is still very lively and has very good food and interesting architecture.  Having been occupied twice by the USSR, with an intermediate occupation by Nazi Germany, Lithuania has a rather tragic 20th century history, which is well-documented in the Museum of Genocide Victims, located in what were once the KGB offices in Vilnius.  However, Lithuania was the first nation to proclaim its independence from the Soviet Union, which it did following elections in 1990.  Lithuania joined the European Union in 2004 and, though it is not among the wealthiest of countries in the EU, according to the National Museum of Lithuania is currently one of the fastest growing economies in Europe.

 

 

Lent Term

And finally, I thought I’d cover my Lent term course schedule.  Two classes I’m taking, Philosophy of Science, and Rationality and Choice, are full units, so they were taught both during the fall and in the spring.  I took one half unit in the fall, Evidence and Policy, and so am taking a second half unit this spring (to fulfill LSE’s three unit requirement for MSc students).  As there were a few half unit courses in Lent term that I’m interested in, I am taking one half unit and auditing two others: (1) Society, Technology, and Resistance, (2) Effective Philanthropy, and (3) Genes, Brains, and Society.

 

Society, Technology, and Resistance

Tarde (1980) famously argued that creativity and invention have none or little regularity, while the diffusion of new ideas and practices follows the ‘laws of imitation’. This idea remains very influential in the models of diffusion of innovation and the linear model of science translated into technical engineering and marketing. The course will examine critically how this model is only valid hen there is no or little resistance in the process which, however, is rare. More common are efforts of techno-scientific mobilizations that encounter resistance, and resistance changes the process by focusing attention where needed; enhancing the ‘collective we-image’, evaluating on-going efforts of mobilization and urging strategic adaptation and delays to the plan. We will explore various conceptions of ‘resistance’ across the social sciences and develop the functional analogue to ‘pain’ in relation to collective activity (Bauer, 1991, 1995 and 2015). In this light, we will examine public resistance, public engagement with science and its debates and impact on the developments of nuclear power, genetic engineering and information technology leading into current mobilizations for Nanotechnology, synthetic life forms, and robotic automation.

 

Genes, Brains, and Society

This course examines, from a philosophical perspective, the ways in which recent developments in genetics and neuroscience challenge our conceptions of what we are — and what we could become.

Topics covered include:

Human nature: Does the concept of ‘human nature’ have any biological basis? Can we distinguish between those traits which are part of ‘human nature’ and those which are not? And is ‘human nature’ fixed, or can it be altered by technological means?

Sex and gender: Are ‘sex’ and ‘gender’ the same thing? Are gender categories natural or social? Are there robust psychological differences between men and women? If so, are they explained by genes or by culture? And should we reconcile ourselves to these differences, or should we try to eliminate them?

Race: Do races exist? Is there any objective biological basis for racial categorization, or are races socially constructed? Does the concept of ‘race’ have a future, or will human societies soon become racially undifferentiated?

Free will and responsibility: Has neuroscience debunked the notion of ‘free will’? If so, can we still be held responsible for our actions? Should neuroscientific data be used to predict—and prevent—wrongdoing?

Right and wrong: Has neuroscience shown that morality is more a matter of emotion than reason? Can we use neuroscience to help us choose between ethical theories, and to help us improve our own behavior?

 

Effective Philanthropy

The course will address key questions in philosophy and social science concerning philanthropy, including:

  • Which motives actually drive philanthropy and which motives should drive it? • What is the nature and extent of our moral obligations to philanthropy? • Is the proper aim of philanthropy to ‘do the most good’? • How should the good aimed at be conceived of and measured? • How, if at all, should people’s rights and the risks of causing harm constrain the pursuit of the good? • What are a charitable organization’s duties of accountability towards its stakeholders (e.g. donors and employees) and those whose lives it aims to affect? • Which career and personal choices should one make in order to further philanthropic aims? • Which moral principles govern the relationship between the state and private philanthropy? Between corporations and charities?

 

(course outlines taken directly from the LSE graduate course guide, found here: http://www.lse.ac.uk/resources/calendar/courseGuides/PH/2016_PH427.htm)

 

 

 

Cheers!

Ashley

 

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Introduction to Philosophy of Science

 

Hello everyone!

I wrote this two weeks ago and for some reason saved it as a draft instead of posting it, so here it is now:

 

To help get my own thoughts in order and to jump into this whole “philosophy” thing, I’d like to define a few definitions from my early classes.

 

Deduction vs. Induction

Deduction is an argument whose conclusion is guaranteed by it’s premises (assuming the premises are true).  An example: It is windy in London.  If it is windy, John is wearing a windbreaker.  Therefore John is wearing a windbreaker.

Induction, in turn, is the act of basing predictions on past observations.  For example: Every time I’ve come near fire, my skin has been burned.  Therefore all fire burns skin.

Whereas deductive reasoning uses evidence to guarantee the truth of the conclusion, induction merely offers support of the conclusion.  I have no way of knowing that every fire is hot without testing it every time, but the notion that all fire is hot is supported by my past observations.

David Hume offers a famous objection to the validity of induction.  First, he refutes the “uniformity of nature” (the idea that nature follows consistent rules that allow the future to be predicted by the past).  As an example of this non-uniformity, Hume offers the example of a chicken that has been raised by a farmer.  No matter that for every day of the chicken’s life it has received food from the farmer, one day the farmer will instead wring the chicken’s neck for his own dinner.  In this instance the chicken inductively relying on the farmer for daily food will one day lead to the chicken’s death.  Nevertheless, Hume admits that some uniformity exists in nature, allowing for often true predictions to come out of inductive reasoning.  His problem with induction comes from its justification.  He says that induction is justified because it often works – often, one can observe, the past can be effectively used to predict the future.  This is in itself a form of induction, and to base the validity of induction on inductive reasoning is a cyclical (and therefore invalid!) argument.

Karl Popper has a response to this, writing that it is wrong to discuss the validity of induction because predictions (or theories) are not in fact based on induction.  Rather, theories are put forth based on preliminary observation, but rather than being “confirmed” by subsequent observations, theories can only be falsified or corroborated – they can be shot down or survive for further trials.  Therefore it cannot be stated that “all fire is hot” is a true statement; instead, one could say that no fire has yet been found that is not hot.

Another example, called “The New Rule of Induction” offers an example of a failure in inductive reasoning:

The new riddle of induction introduces the language L’, identical to English except that blue and green are replaced with “grue” and “bleen”.

An object is “grue” if it is green before time t or blue after time t.

An object is “bleen” if it is blue before time t or green after time t.

Given a series of observations (before time t) that all emeralds found are green (or “grue” in L’), an English-speaking agent would induce that subsequent emeralds will be green.  Similarly an L’-speaking agent would induce that subsequent emeralds will be “grue”, which, after time t means that the agent expects emeralds to appear blue (as after time t “grue” is a blue object).  This leads to translational contradiction, as the two agents, using the same inductive logic, came to two different conclusions about the appearance of future emeralds.

I’m not fully convinced by the new riddle of induction.  I think that, if language L’ existed, agents would not only note the physical appearance of the emeralds in observations, but would also note the time of the observation.  As very few objects change color cyclically over time (the sky being a notable exception), L’-speaking agents would, in my opinion, not be so stupid as to expect the color of stones to change with time just because their language is time-sensitive.  Inductive reasoning would tell them that most “grue” objects which are green before time t (lily pads, grass, etc ..) become “bleen” after time t because they remain green.  Therefore if they observed a series of green emeralds before time t they would expect to see “bleen” emeralds after time t because this how green objects have in the past behaved.

 

Definition of Science

Another interesting concept I’ve been introduced to is Karl Popper’s definition of science.  While most people would instinctively define science as theories methodically based on observation and tested under constrained conditions, Popper offers a different definition.  He says that science is defined by “risky” predictions – the riskier, the more scientific. Scientific theories must be testable, refutable, and interesting.  A “safe” prediction (you will get sick in the next year) may be testable, but is less scientific than a more specific prediction (you will have a cough starting from November 4th and lasting 11 days).  This of course allows many seemingly non-scientific theories to call themselves science.  A medium can claim to have scientific predictions about the future of your love-life and offer incredibly specific visions, but this does not make them “good” science.  Such theories are generally either easily falsified or are so vague as to make them not very scientific to begin with.

 

 

I’ve also included some pictures I’ve taken of London and from my trip to the Cliffs of Dover last weekend.

 

 

Cheers!

Ashley

 

 

 

Information taken from:

Goodman, N. ([1954] 1983) Fact, Fact, and Forecast, 4th ed., Cambridge(MA): Harvard UP, Ch. 3.

Norton, J. (2005) ‘A Little Survey on Induction’, in P. Achinstein (ed.), Scientific Evidence: Philosophical Theories and Applications, Baltimore: John Hopkins University Press, pp. 9–34.

Popper, K. (1963) ‘Science: Conjectures and Refutations’, in M. Curd et al. (eds.) Philosophy of Science: The Central Issues, second edition, New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2012.