jueves, 11 de enero de 2018

Consciousness and the Self (with Anil K. Seth)

In this episode of the Waking Up podcast, Sam Harris speaks with Anil Seth about the scientific study of consciousness, where consciousness emerges in nature, levels of consciousness, perception as a “controlled hallucination,” emotion, the experience of “pure consciousness,” consciousness as “integrated information,” measures of “brain complexity,” psychedelics, different aspects of the “self,” conscious AI, and many other topics.

Anil K. Seth is Professor of Cognitive and Computational Neuroscience at the University of Sussex and Founding Co-Director of the Sackler Centre for Consciousness Science. In his work, he seeks to understand the biological basis of consciousness by bringing together research across neuroscience, mathematics, artificial intelligence, computer science, psychology, philosophy and psychiatry. Through the Sackler Centre the aim is to translate an understanding of the complex brain networks underpinning consciousness into new clinical approaches to psychiatric and neurological disorders.

Seth is also Editor-in-Chief of the academic journal Neuroscience of Consciousness (Oxford University Press). He has published more than 100 research papers in a variety of fields, and he holds degrees in Natural Sciences (MA, Cambridge, 1994), Knowledge-Based Systems (M.Sc., Sussex, 1996) and Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence (D.Phil., Sussex, 2000). He has been a Research Fellow at the Neurosciences Institute in San Diego, California, where he worked with Nobel Laureate Gerald Edelman (2001-2006).

martes, 2 de enero de 2018

You aren't at the mercy of your emotions — your brain creates them


Now, when a jury has to make the decision between life in prison and the death penalty, they base their decision largely on whether or not the defendant feels remorseful for his actions. Tsarnaev spoke words of apology, but when jurors looked at his face, all they saw was a stone-faced stare. Now, Tsarnaev is guilty, there's no doubt about that. He murdered and maimed innocent people, and I'm not here to debate that. My heart goes out to all the people who suffered. But as a scientist, I have to tell you that jurors do not and cannot detect remorse or any other emotion in anybody ever. Neither can I, and neither can you, and that's because emotions are not what we think they are. They are not universally expressed and recognized. They are not hardwired brain reactions that are uncontrollable. We have misunderstood the nature of emotion for a very long time, and understanding what emotions really are has important consequences for all of us.


I have studied emotions as a scientist for the past 25 years, and in my lab, we have probed human faces by measuring electrical signals that cause your facial muscles to contract to make facial expressions. We have scrutinized the human body in emotion. We have analyzed hundreds of physiology studies involving thousands of test subjects. We've scanned hundreds of brains, and examined every brain imaging study on emotion that has been published in the past 20 years. And the results of all of this research are overwhelmingly consistent. It may feel to you like your emotions are hardwired and they just trigger and happen to you, but they don't.You might believe that your brain is prewired with emotion circuits, that you're born with emotion circuits, but you're not. In fact, none of us in this room have emotion circuits in our brain. In fact, no brain on this planet contains emotion circuits.








All right. So now many of you see a snake, and why is that? Because as your brain is sifting through your past experience, there's new knowledge there, the knowledge that came from the photograph. And what's really cool is that that knowledge which you just acquired moments ago is changing how you experience these blobs right now. So your brain is constructing the image of a snakewhere there is no snake, and this kind of a hallucination is what neuroscientists like me call "predictions." Predictions are basically the way your brain works. It's business as usual for your brain. Predictions are the basis of every experience that you have. They are the basis of every action that you take. In fact, predictions are what allow you to understand the words that I'm speaking as they come out of my --








are spending millions of research dollars to build emotion-detection systems, and they are fundamentally asking the wrong question,because they're trying to detect emotions in the face and the body, but emotions aren't in your face and body. Physical movements have no intrinsic emotional meaning. We have to make them meaningful. A human or something else has to connect them to the context, and that makes them meaningful. That's how we know that a smile might mean sadness and a cry might mean happiness,and a stoic, still face might mean that you are angrily plotting the demise of your enemy. Now, if I haven't already gone out on a limb,I'll just edge out on that limb a little further and tell you that the way that you experience your own emotion is exactly the same process. Your brain is basically making predictions, guesses, that it's constructing in the moment with billions of neurons working together.


Now your brain does come prewired to make some feelings, simple feelings that come from the physiology of your body. So when you're born, you can make feelings like calmness and agitation, excitement, comfort, discomfort. But these simple feelings are not emotions. They're actually with you every waking moment of your life. They are simple summaries of what's going on inside your body, kind of like a barometer. But they have very little detail, and you need that detail to know what to do next. What do you about these feelings? And so how does your brain give you that detail? Well, that's what predictions are. Predictions link the sensations in your body that give you these simple feelings with what's going on around you in the world so that you know what to do. And sometimes, those constructions are emotions.




















viernes, 29 de diciembre de 2017

The Big Vitamin D Mistake


The incidence of type 1 diabetes (T1D) has been doubling every 20 years. In Finland, the recommendation for daily vitamin D supplementation was gradually reduced from 4000-5000 IU in 1964 to 400 IU in 1992. Concomitantly, T1D increased by 350% in those aged 1-4 years, 100% in those aged 5-9 years, and 50% in those aged 10-14 years []. However, since 2006, T1D has plateaued and decreased after an increase in serum 25-hydroxyvitamin D (25[OH]D) after the authorities’ decision to fortify all dietary milk products with cholecalciferol []. Moreover, the worldwide association of ultraviolet (UV)-B light and vitamin D status with T1D and multiple sclerosis is now more than evident.

Main Body

The incidence of type 1 diabetes (T1D) has been doubling every 20 years. In Finland, the recommendation for daily vitamin D supplementation was gradually reduced from 4000-5000 IU in 1964 to 400 IU in 1992. Concomitantly, T1D increased by 350% in those aged 1-4 years, 100% in those aged 5-9 years, and 50% in those aged 10-14 years []. However, since 2006, T1D has plateaued and decreased after an increase in serum 25-hydroxyvitamin D (25[OH]D) after the authorities’ decision to fortify all dietary milk products with cholecalciferol []. Moreover, the worldwide association of ultraviolet (UV)-B light and vitamin D status with T1D and multiple sclerosis is now more than evident.


Unfortunately, medicine took a very long time to realize that vitamin D is not simply a vitamin that prevents rickets. For that purpose, 400-600 IU/d may be enough. However, we know today that vitamin D is a powerful nuclear receptor-activating hormone of critical importance, especially to the immune system. With the available data mentioned above, the proposed doses would probably suffice to maintain vitamin D levels around or over 75-100 nmol/L, with practically zero risk of toxicity. Undeniably, further studies are needed to clarify the optimal supplementation of vitamin D, although it is uncertain whether a universal recommended dietary allowance is feasible. Meanwhile, actions are urgently needed to protect the global population from the threats posed by vitamin D deficiency.

viernes, 15 de diciembre de 2017

¿Podemos ser honestos sobre las mujeres?

Aquí hay un pequeño secreto que tenemos que decir en voz alta: a las mujeres les encanta la interacción sexual que experimentan con los hombres, y les encanta que los hombres deseen su belleza.

David French de National Review escribió recientemente un artículo en el que preguntaba: “¿Podemos ser honestos sobre los hombres?”. En él, lamenta la avalancha de casos de acoso sexual en los medios, la política y el entretenimiento y pregunta: “¿Cuándo terminará?”.

“La respuesta obvia es nunca”, dice . “Al menos no hasta que miremos la naturaleza humana a la cara, la confrentemos directamente, y llamemos a los hombres a vivir de acuerdo con un propósito más elevado y mejor. Podríamos soportar el apocalipsis zombi, y el mundo estaría lleno de caudillos locales usando su poder y estatus para explotar a las mujeres”. Continúa:
Aquí hay una realidad simple: un gran número de hombres ingresa en profesiones de alto estatus (como entretenimiento y política) en parte o incluso principalmente para obtener acceso a mujeres hermosas. Un gran número de hombres logra riqueza en parte o incluso principalmente para obtener acceso a mujeres hermosas. Un gran número de hombres que ingresan en profesiones de alto estatus o que obtienen riqueza por buenas y virtuosas razones pronto se corrompen por el acceso a mujeres hermosas. Como hemos aprendido, algunos hombres incluso se convierten en lo que llaman “feministas masculinos” principalmente para ganarse la confianza de las mujeres hermosas.
Ponga todas las objeciones que quiera, pero es verdad. De hecho, para los hombres, tener una mujer hermosa en el brazo a menudo es visto como el último marcador de estatus. Conviértase en lo suficientemente exitoso, sin importar su apariencia, torpeza social o dolorosa historial de citas, y una mujer hermosa será su recompensa.

Ciertamente, no voy a poner objeciones, aunque creo que muchos hombres ingresan en profesiones de alto estatus para ser mejores que otros hombres en su campo de experiencia, no solo para obtener mujeres hermosas. La competencia puede motivarlos aun más que el sexo.

De todos modos, no podemos negar que los dulces brazos son parte de eso. No conozco a muchas personas que no estuviesen de acuerdo, lo que explica la popularidad de la Hot-Crazy Matrix. Básicamente, dice que los hombres tolerarán un muchas locuras de una mujer ardiente, y las mujeres soportarán un mucha fealdad de un hombre rico.
Las mujeres no son víctimas desventuradas

French lamenta este hecho básico de la vida, diciendo que los hombres no necesitan ceder a sus impulsos naturales de esta manera. En su lugar, necesitan superarlos. “La tentación sexual es tan poderosa y omnipresente que ninguna sociedad humana estará libre del escándalo sexual, pero existen sistemas morales que, si se aplican, pueden mitigar el pecado original”.

Un buen consejo, por supuesto, y no tengo ningún problema con los puntos básicos del artículo de French, pero discrepo con la suposición de que las mujeres son pasivas e inocentes en esta interacción sexual entre los sexos. Esta podría no haber sido su intención, ya que se estaba centrando en los hombres, pero no podemos permitir que estas conversaciones permanezcan fijas solo en los hombres, como si solo ellos se aprovechasen. No siempre podemos asumir que las mujeres son damiselas desventuradas angustiadas por la forma en que son objetivadas.

Aquí hay un pequeño secreto que tenemos que decir en voz alta: a las mujeres les encanta la interacción sexual que experimentan con los hombres, y les encantan los hombres que desean su belleza. ¿Por qué? Porque es parte de su naturaleza.

Las mujeres quieren ser deseadas por los hombres, atraerlos, ser la única mujer en el mundo para ese hombre. Su belleza es una parte esencial de su atractivo, especialmente cuando hombres y mujeres se conocen por primera vez. Tienen poco más que apreciar porque no se conocen, y la belleza sirve de guía para un mayor interés.

Fuera de una mujer en busca de pareja, su belleza es una fuente de poder porque los hombres y otras mujeres lo valoran. Esta es la razón por la cual las mujeres casadas todavía quieren ser bellas. Es una expresión de su feminidad, que no desaparece en el altar.

No necesitamos estudios que lo confirmen, aunque sí los tenemos. Un estudio reciente de Pew Research dice que la sociedad valora más el atractivo físico en las mujeres. La educación y la empatía vienen después. Los principales rasgos más valorados en los hombres son la moralidad y el éxito profesional. En otras palabras, los hombres quieren mujeres que sean atractivas y emocionalmente conectivas, y las mujeres quieren hombres buenos que tengan éxito financiero.
Esta es una verdad eterna sobre la naturaleza humana

Las feministas dirán que esta es una construcción social de la época victoriana que todavía no se ha limpiado de nuestra sociedad. Yo digo que esto es la naturaleza humana. Lo mismo ocurre en la historia, la religión y los miles de mitos, leyendas y literatura. Las historias de la humanidad están llenas del hombre más competente que gana la mujer más bella. Los hombres se sienten atraídos por la belleza como las polillas por una llama, y ​​las mujeres quieren ser la llama.

En palabras de Lord Byron: “Ella camina en la belleza, como la noche / De cimas despejadas y noches estrelladas/ Y lo mejor de lo oscuro y lo brillante/Se encuentran en sus rasgos y en sus ojos/Así, suavizados bajo la tierna luz/Que el cielo al llamativo día niega”.

James Joyce en Retrato del artista adolescente captura la belleza de una mujer con detalles sensuales:
Una muchacha estaba ante él, en medio de la corriente, mirando sola y tranquila mar afuera. Parecía que un arte mágico le diera la apariencia de un ave de mar bella y extraña. Sus piernas desnudas y largas eran esbeltas como las de la grulla y sin mancha, salvo allí donde el rastro esmeralda de un alga de mar se había quedado prendido como un signo sobre la carne. Los muslos más llenos, y de suaves matices de marfil, estaban desnudos casi hasta la cadera, donde las puntillas blancas de los pantalones fingían un juego de plumaje suave y blanco. La falda, de un azul pizarra, la llevaba despreocupadamente recogida hasta la cintura y por detrás colgaba como la cola de una paloma. Su pecho era como el de un ave, liso y delicado, delicado y liso como el de una paloma de plumaje obscuro. Pero el largo cabello rubio era el de una niña; y de niña, y sellado con el prodigio de la belleza mortal, su rostro. [1]

Las palabras de Joyce son una reminiscencia de la “Canción de Salomón”, un libro en la Biblia lleno de imágenes del cuerpo de una mujer, su belleza y su sexualidad. “Tus pechos son como dos cervatillos, como cervatillos gemelos de una gacela que navega entre los lirios […] Tus mejillas son hermosas como pendientes, tu cuello con cadenas de joyas”.
La atracción no necesariamente explota a la mujer

Hablando de senos, no puedes elegir una revista, encender un sitio web o mirar televisión sin ver tetas. Están por todas partes. Desde selfies hasta fotos de perfil y anuncios; están en pantalla completa. ¿Por qué crees que es? Es porque un hombre se siente atraído por la belleza femenina de una mujer, y una mujer quiere atraerlo con sus rasgos más sexuales.

¿Crees que las mujeres que tomaron estas fotos fueron encadenadas y obligadas a tener sus tetas pegadas en Internet o en la televisión? ¿Crees que las mujeres que ves en las noticias con las piernas cubiertas y los vestidos apretados son obligadas a vestirse seductoramente?

¿Crees que las mujeres de Hollywood que aparecen en la alfombra roja con grandes escotes, revelando las tetas por los laterales, y vestidos transparentes tenían una pistola apuntando a sus cabezas mientras se vestían? No. Ellas quieren hacerlo. Quieren vestirse con ropa reveladora y gastar miles de millones de dólares al año en maquillaje, cirugía cosmética, ropa y calzado, no porque la sociedad espera esto de ellas, sino porque quieren ser bellas.

Las mujeres, por supuesto, no siempre hacen esto conscientemente, y no todas las mujeres se enfocan en su belleza de la misma manera. Algunas ni siquiera lo piensan y probablemente estén horrorizadas por lo que estoy escribiendo, pero la mayoría lo hace. Para ellas, es tan natural como respirar. Así como es tan natural como respirar que los ojos de un hombre sean atraídos por los pechos de una mujer o por sus largas piernas.

Cuando los hombres están siendo su ser sexual, atraídos por la belleza de una mujer, no están explotando a las mujeres. Están respondiéndolas. Las mujeres son el fuego, atrayendo a un hombre hacia su calor femenino.

Esto es cierto incluso para todas esas bellas mujeres que se conectan con hombres ricos y poderosos, el “dulce brazo”. Estaba viendo un partido de fútbol de la Premier League el otro día, y la cámara se centró en uno de los propietarios ricos y su esposa. Era bajo, viejo y terriblemente poco atractivo. Ella era un pie más alta que él, con largos cabellos rubios y piernas kilométricas. Estaba vestida con un abrigo de piel y los diamantes adornaban sus dedos. Ella no se veía miserable en absoluto. De hecho, se parecía al gato que se comió al canario. Uno se tiene que preguntar, ¿quién está explotando realmente a quién?
Tanto hombres como mujeres pueden ser malvados

Por favor, señores, cuando escriban diatribas sobre las depravaciones de su propio sexo, no pinten a las mujeres como puras e inocentes. No lo son. Pueden retorcer y distorsionar sus impulsos y deseos naturales tal y como lo hace un hombre, y lo hacen.

¿Cuántas mujeres intentan atraer a los hombres en la oficina, los medios, la industria del entretenimiento y la política para probar el poder y cosechar las recompensas, sean cuales sean? ¿Están realmente en posición de quejarse cuando un hombre responde? No lo creo. Las honestas saben exactamente lo que están haciendo y aceptan los golpes que provienen de ir por ese camino en particular.

Esto no significa que apruebe la violencia hacia las mujeres, el comportamiento delictivo, la explotación real, el abuso sexual o el acoso laboral. Yo no aprobaría tales acciones de los hombres más de lo que toleraría que una mujer le robe a un hombre, usándolo para sacarle dinero, casándose con él por sus propias razones egoístas solo para abusar emocionalmente de él, o la explotación su éxito para su propio beneficio.

Todos estos actos son inmorales y crueles. El daño que los hombres pueden infligir debido a su fuerza física es, por supuesto, más significativo. Pero no permitamos que este hecho disminuya la devastación que una mujer puede desatar cuando se vuelve malvada. Solo pregúntales a los hombres que luchan por sus propiedades en los tribunales de divorcio después de que ese hermoso unicornio que creía haber capturado se convirtiera en una malvada arpía.

Las mujeres tienen su naturaleza y su pecado. Parte de su sexualidad, su naturaleza femenina es la belleza y el encanto del sexo. Su pecado es explotarlo para abusar y aprovecharse de los hombres, para reducirse a objetos en lugar de cultivar sus mentes y almas, y para concentrarse tanto en las partes externas que olviden el valor de las virtudes internas.
Aceptemos nuestro poder y úsemoslo de manera responsable

Como sociedad, debemos alentar a ambos sexos a que se sientan cómodos con lo que son naturalmente y con todos los giros y vueltas sucios, incómodos, tambaleantes, tentadores y gloriosos que conllevan. Los hombres y las mujeres deben mostrarse mutuamente gracia y respeto a medida que se involucran como seres sexuales en cualquier esfera en la que interactúan.

Ayudaría que supusiéramos lo mejor de los demás en lugar de lo peor. Permita que los hombres amen la belleza de una mujer y que una mujer se deleite en la competencia y el éxito de un hombre. Esto es parte del baile entre lo masculino y lo femenino, y seríamos unos miserables si lo detuviéramos.

No podemos convertirnos en dualistas practicantes, cerrando el aspecto físico de nosotros mismos porque podríamos torcerlo para abusar. No podemos esperar que las personas actúen entre sí como máquinas, desconectadas de sus propios deseos. Nuestros cuerpos, nuestra sexualidad y nuestro anhelo físico el uno por el otro, todas estas partes esenciales de nosotros mismos, son hermosas. Deberíamos cultivar esos aspectos.

Pero no son los más importantes, y no se pueden activar sin control. No somos animales, gobernados por apetitos. Tenemos aspectos más profundos de nosotros mismos que necesitan ser nutridos. Tenemos una mente racional y una conciencia moral para informarnos sobre lo que está bien y lo que está mal. Tenemos un espíritu que tiene una belleza propia, y es una belleza que nunca disminuye, a diferencia del físico, que muere demasiado rápido.

Denise C. McAllister es una periodista con sede en Charlotte, Carolina del Norte, y colaboradora principal de The Federalist. Síguela en Twitter @McAllisterDen.

miércoles, 13 de diciembre de 2017

The Scientists and the Philosophers Should Be Friends


A Symposium in Print
Daniel C. Dennett, Honorary Chair
Rebecca Newberger Goldstein

I’d like to teach you all a little saying

And learn the words by heart the way you should

I don’t say I am better than anybody else

But I’ll be danged if I ain’t just as good!

“The Farmers and the Cowboys Should Be Friends,” Oklahoma! Lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein

There’s been a recent outbreak of philosophy-jeering on the part of some prominent scientists in both the United States and United Kingdom. Whether in books, interviews, or tweets, some of our most high-profile scientists have gone out of their way to opine on the mortal state of philosophy, either declaring its death a thing most devoutly to be wished for or already dancing on its grave.

These gratuitous slams are at odds with the respectful attitudes of such former scientific luminaries as Albert Einstein,1 and they call out for explanation, especially since, almost to a man, the philosophy-jeerers in question are active in the pro-reason secularist movement. The fact that philosophy is, together with science, so essential a resource of reason adds an element of irony to these displays of contempt.

But the recent outbreak of philosophy-jeering is more than ironic. It is:
Ill-informed, because it is based on a misunderstanding of what philosophy is about;
Incoherent, because in order to make their case, philosophy-jeerers must engage in philosophy; and
Irresponsible, because this does happen to be a moment in our species’ history when we’re faced with alarming extremes of irrationality, and we need all the resources of reason that we can muster.

I’m going to concentrate on the first point: the claim that the pro-reason philosophy-jeerer doesn’t know what the point of philosophy is, which will force me to say what its point actually is.

Here a slight complication presents itself. Because there are divergent approaches to philosophy, no one philosophical mission statement will draw the assent of all philosophers, no more than one scientific mission statement will draw the assent of all scientists.2 I’m going to confine myself to discussing analytic philosophy (an approach that values clarity and precision, à la David Hume and Bertrand Russell, and shares with science an antipathy for self-enclosed and obscure thought-systems, à la Hegel, Sartre, and Derrida), and my reasons for doing so are several.

First, it is the philosophical approach that dominates in both the United States and United Kingdom. So when American and British scientists opine regarding philosophy, this is the kind of philosophy they ought to be discussing. Don’t indict the field by quoting some provocation by Slavoj Žižek. To an analytic philosopher, that is as compelling as indicting modern medicine by citing the failure of homeopathy.

Second, analytic philosophy is the approach that is itself so receptive to science that its scientific orientation can well serve as its defining characteristic. So if the philosophy-jeerer wants to dismiss the entire field, he or she must produce an argument sufficiently strong to undermine the philosophical approach that defines itself in its sympathetic relationship toward science. One undermines a position only by undermining its strongest formulation.

Third, analytic philosophy is the only kind of philosophy I’m prepared to defend. Some of what goes by the name of philosophy degrades into nothing more than ideology, by which I mean a rigid system of ideas that so vehemently rejects any possibility of challenge as to transform conformity to itself into a veritable moral standard. Ideology, claiming for itself the last word, is always fatal to the progress of reason and thus to the progress of philosophy. For the remainder of this essay, when I say “philosophy” I shall therefore mean analytic philosophy. And now to its point.

First, let me say what its point is not: Whatever it is that philosophy is attempting to do with its distinctive set of techniques, it is not attempting to compete with what science accomplishes with its own distinctive set of techniques.

A few words about those scientific techniques, the so-called “scientific method”—although that term is, I think, rather misleading, suggesting that there is a numbered sequence of steps that a scientist goes through, methodically, in order to achieve scientific results. That hardly does justice to the creatively freewheeling character of science, the ways in which it utilizes intuitions and even aesthetic judgments; nor to the widely differing types of cognitive activities, and thus talents, that are required by the scientific enterprise, with variations depending on the kind of problem being pursued. Science is less a method and more a grab-bag utilizing a variety of cognitive capacities: data gathering and analysis, theorizing, modeling, mathematical deduction, and experimentation.

A geologist taking samples in order to determine the physical characteristics of soil and rocks to test for thermal resistance is engaging in quite different mental work from a cognitive scientist building a computer simulation of long-term memory, or a computational biologist sifting through Big Data in order to locate genomic polymorphisms, or a theoretical physicist developing the implications of the eleven dimensions of M theory, or an even more theoretical physicist developing the idea of a multiverse as a solution to the measurement problem in quantum mechanics.

And yet, amid the plurality of scientific activities there is a distinguishing aspect of the scientific enterprise, which has to do with the way in which science self-corrects and the way in which science implicates reality in the self-correction. Science is the enterprise that prods reality to answer us back when we’re getting it wrong.

One might disagree on how the scientific enterprise reacts in the face of reality’s pushback—whether science revises itself gleefully, as in Karl Popper’s depiction, in which all that scientists are really trying to do is falsify their own theories; or if rather the reaction is more in line with Thomas Kuhn’s account in The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, with scientists clinging desperately to their cherished paradigms, willfully not seeing the contravening evidence. (Max Planck: “Science advances one funeral at a time.”) But that science does actively provoke reality itself into telling us whether we’re getting it wrong is its sine qua non.

Oh, so you think that simultaneity is absolute, do you? It seems intuitively obvious to you that two events are either simultaneous or not, irrespective of which coordinate systems, moving relative to each other, they happen to be measured in. We’ll just see about that! Relativity theory prodded reality to answer us back and thereby challenge our deep intuition of time flowing at an absolute rate.

It’s a real triumph for our species that we worked out such a grab-bag of techniques—observation, experimentation, theorizing, mathematical description, modeling—in order to modify and even discard some of our most profound intuitions about the nature of reality, about space and time and causality and teleology and individuation, by ingeniously provoking reality to answer us back. This grab-bag has proved powerful, allowing us progressively more insight into the laws of nature, though, of course, every progressive step is provisional; no result stands immune from a revision forced on us by further rebukes from reality that are elicited by those prods we deliberately inflict by way of controlled experiments.

We could even say that there is something ethically virtuous about this enterprise, a “collective virtue” that fortunately doesn’t require any virtue on the part of individual scientific practitioners. Science expresses a humility that is highly appropriate for a pack of evolved apes to cultivate in the face of a reality that wasn’t designed with our cognitive faculties and capacities in mind.

If philosophy set itself up as a competitor to science—if it fancied that its specific techniques could offer a challenge to the grab-bag of techniques that science brings to bear on describing what reality is like—then philosophy would be just as pathetically deluded as the scientific philosophy-jeerer thinks it is. His or her belief that philosophy must view itself as a rival to science is partly based on his or her not being able to conceive what useful intellectual work there can possibly be other than figuring out what exists. What else is human intelligence good for other than describing the nature of what is? Therefore, the philosophy-jeerer concludes, that must be what philosophy is up to—leading to the charge that it is a delusional enterprise.

And then there is a historical fact that also encourages this misinterpretation of what philosophy is up to, namely that philosophers have quite often posed questions that would turn out to be proto-scientific questions. They have speculated regarding questions that would eventually be taken up by scientists who would, using their grab-bag of techniques, make cumulative progress toward answers in which reality itself collaborates, rendering the previous philosophical speculations obsolete.

So it was that all of physics and cosmology and biology used to be contained within the province of philosophers, until the scientific enterprise matured sufficiently to be able to transform them into sciences. Then it was the turn of psychology, and then linguistics, to remove themselves from philosophy’s domain and reinvent themselves as sciences. And so it has gone: the scientific enterprise transforming philosophy’s airy-fairy speculations into a form that allows reality to tell us when we’re wrong—right down to our own scientifically explosive period, when the advancement of cognitive and affective neuroscience and evolutionary psychology have moved human nature itself firmly into the orbit of science.

This is an old story, oft told, sometimes in order to show how scientifically important philosophy is—after all, it poses those science-generating questions—but, in the hands of the contemporary philosophy-jeerer, to show how ultimately futile philosophy is. Philosophy lives only to be made obsolete by science. Philosophy’s role in the business of knowledge is to send up a signal reading Science desperately needed here. And when it makes any noises beyond sending up such a signal, then it’s embarrassing itself, as the advancing frontier of science will soon make clear.

However, preparing the way for science is not the point of philosophy. Philosophers don’t set out to opine prematurely regarding questions that will ultimately be transformed by the empirical sciences. Rather this historical fact is an artifact of what the real point of philosophy is: to maximize our coherence by discovering and resolving the inconsistencies we accrue as we go about trying to get our bearings in the world, which is our distinctively human project. We are the species concerned with getting, in a very broad sense, our bearings. We are concerned with getting a handle on where we are: the nature of the world in which we find ourselves; what we are and how it fits into the rest of the world; and what we are supposed to be about, if anything.

And in the course of this attempt to get our bearings, we ask, broadly speaking, two fundamental questions: What is? and What matters? Posing these questions in pursuit of our getting our bearings is, if not necessary for being human—after all, some are so deprived in their lives as to be concerned almost exclusively with the sustaining of them—at least sufficient. If and when computers start pondering these questions of what is and what matters, and especially if and when they start agonizing over whether they themselves matter, then what we’ll have in our world are non–carbon-based humans, and we’ll be morally obliged to regard them as such.3

By distinguishing between these two general questions I don’t mean to suggest that they can be neatly separated from one another. They are, on the contrary, intimately entwined in complicated ways, the sorting out of which typically falls within the sphere of philosophy. So, for example, what are the kinds of reasons that matter when we are making claims of what is? Epistemology is made from such entanglements. Other ways in which the questions of what isand what matters are entangled with one another should emerge in what I have to say below.

Let’s grant that we’ve got science to best answer what is. To grant this is to grant the truth of naturalism. A strong argument for naturalism falls out from the characterization of science given above. Science is, by definition, the methodology that enlists reality itself as collaborator, and what methodology could possibly compete with so successful a collaboration? And we are, demonstrably, in need of some such collaboration. Just because we have a distinctively human urge to get our bearings doesn’t mean that we’ve evolved brains designed for success in the project. There is ample evidence that we are riddled with innate tendencies to, as David Hume had wonderfully put it, “spread ourselves onto the world.” If we’re to reach justified true beliefs about what is, we’re seriously in need of reality to step in and give us a shove in the right direction—to separate what’s coming from the psychology within from what’s coming from the reality without.4

Are there any kind of similarly effective techniques that philosophy brings to bear on our human project of trying to get our bearings? What are its techniques good for eliciting and discovering?

Inconsistencies: that’s what philosophy’s techniques are good for eliciting and discovering, and so it has been ever since Socrates wandered the agora making such a supreme nuisance of himself that he was finally put to death by the good citizens of Athens. The point of philosophy is to maximize the coherence among the multiplicity of propositions and propositional attitudes that we generate in the course of trying to get our bearings, which is why thought-experiments, counterexamples, conceptual analysis, and formal arguments trying to force all suppressed premises out into the open are such essential techniques of the discipline. These are all techniques designed not to prod reality into answering us back but rather to probe our own internal inconsistencies. Compartmentalized creatures that we are, we cohabit happily with our contradictions. It’s philosophy’s goal to destroy that happiness.

Philosophy shares with science an acknowledgment of human limitations. Like science, there is a collective humility displayed in the enterprise, again, quite fortunately, requiring no humility on the part of individual practitioners. As science humbly recognizes that reality was not designed with our cognitive equipment in mind, so philosophy recognizes that we, who had the audacity to long ago define ourselves as the rational animal, display a remarkable facility for tolerating internal contradictions. For although it may be in our nature to seek to get our bearings, it isn’t in our nature to be coherent in our seeking. For that we require a discipline, a discipline that—just as science does—goes against some of our most natural inclinations and patiently works to undo the fallacies toward which we are so forcefully driven.

Interestingly, there is one recent advance in science that helps to explain why a discipline devoted to rigorously and systematically maximizing coherence is so necessary. I’m referring to evolutionary psychology.

Evolutionary psychology extends the explanatory apparatus of the “selfish gene” to explain many features of human nature, including our being predisposed toward certain propositional attitudes, with which our more deliberating selves might find themselves in conflict. As living organisms we are primed, unthinkingly, to do all we can to thrive; to be more precise, we are primed, unthinkingly, to do all we can to increase the probability that copies of our genes will be perpetuated into future generations.

But we have also evolved to be reason-giving creatures. We offer reasons for our beliefs, and we offer reasons for our actions, and the reasons we are prepared to give to ourselves and to one another in accounting for our beliefs and behavior make no mention of the machinations of the selfish gene. No wonder we evolved into compartmentalized creatures able to withstand incoherence, including moral incoherence, for such compartmentalization serves the purposes of those strategizing genes, which certainly have no stake in our being either rational or moral. But we do, and hence the necessity of a discipline devoted to making us so, which is precisely what philosophy is.

There is some irony in the fact that the very advances in our scientific knowledge of human nature explaining our wondrously elastic facility for faulty reasoning and self-deceptions—yes, even of the smartest among us—should coincide with the dismissal of the discipline devoted to maximizing our coherence. The new sciences of human nature offer enlightening explanations for why our brain, built to protect the self, produces beliefs that preserve our sense of self. I’ve often wondered, when hearing otherwise intelligent people embarrassing themselves while opining on philosophy, whether their own sense of self demands the delegitimizing of a discipline in which they suspect they may not excel.

When I was a graduate student, I was much disposed toward tormenting myself over why I was in a philosophy department rather than a physics department. One moment I was in a class in quantum mechanics, asking questions of my professor to which his answer was usually some variation on Richard Feynman’s “shut up and calculate,” and then the next, or so it sometimes seemed to me, I was a graduate student specializing in philosophy of science. Perhaps I’d been a bit too impetuous in swapping my areas of concentration. In the midst of my crisis, I came across Wilfrid Sellars’s article “Philosophy and the Scientific Image of Man.” The vision of philosophy Sellars proposed dulled my torment, and I’ve carried it with me ever since—not entirely in the same form in which I’d first encountered it but close enough.

Sellars agrees that the proper agenda of philosophy lies in mediating among simultaneously held points of view with the aim of integrating them into a coherent whole. For Sellars, the philosophical focus is trained on the border between what he calls the “scientific image of man-in-the-world” and the “manifest image of man-in-the-world”: “For the philosopher is confronted not by one complex many- dimensional picture, the unity of which, such as it is, he must come to appreciate; but by two pictures of essentially the same order of complexity, each of which purports to be a complete picture of man-in-the-world, and which, after separate scrutiny, he must fuse into one vision.”

The scientific image is the ever-expanding objective description of us that we derive from our self-correcting scientific theories. Updating to now, this would include a description of us in terms of cognitive and affective neuroscience and evolutionary psychology. Sellars explains the manifest image as the framework of concepts and assumptions and standards “in terms of which man came to be aware of himself as man-in-the-world. It is the framework in terms of which, to use an existentialist turn of phrase, man first encountered himself—which is, of course, when he came to be man. For it is no merely incidental feature of man that he has a conception of himself as man-in-the-world, just as it is obvious, on reflection, that if man had a radically different conception of himself, he would be a radically different kind of man.”

We come to our project of trying to get our bearings equipped with a framework, some core of which is so essential that it is necessary for us to possess in order to pursue recognizably human lives. Essential to this framework is our holding ourselves accountable, both to others and to ourselves, for our beliefs and actions. When challenged for why we’ve done A or believe P, we come up with some reason to offer in response—not necessarily a good reason but some reason. And if our reasons are themselves challenged, then we’ll offer reasons for our reasons, acknowledging that all of these aspects of ourselves—our actions, our beliefs, and our reasons for our actions and our beliefs—are subject to evaluation. This view of ourselves as reason-giving creatures, who are thus subject to evaluations, is so constitutive of our self-conception that, without it, we would be different kinds of creatures, “a radically different kind of man.”

Our having an ever-expanding scientific image of ourselves is itself an extension of this aspect of our image of ourselves as reason-giving creatures, applying evaluative standards to the reasons we give. We can’t give up on either of the two images of us-in-the-world without destroying the other, which again demonstrates how the questions of what is and what mattersare thoroughly enmeshed with each other.

But sometimes there is a clash between these two images of us-in-the-world, the scientific and the manifest, and then which is to prevail? This depends, must necessarily depend, on the particular case at hand, since both images are so intimately involved in our being the bearings-seeking, sense-making, reason-giving creatures that we are.

Resolving these tensions, with the goal of fusing them into a maximally coherent vision, cannot be accomplished through science. That is Sellars’s essential point. We cannot get reality to answer us back in regard to the issues that arise in reconciling the scientific and the manifest images of us. It’s in these clashes that the signal sent up doesn’t read, can’t possibly read, “Science desperately needed here.” but rather “Philosophy desperately needed here.”5

A whole class of such problems emerged in the seventeenth century, at precisely the time that both modern science and, not coincidentally, modern philosophy emerged. The new mathematical conception of matter forced a reckoning with our manifest intuition that “the external world” is exactly as it is presented to us in sensory experience. In fact, the very concept of “the external world,” as opposed to the internal world of our experiences, was of a piece with this philosophical reckoning, along with many other concepts and distinctions that became so accepted as to be considered part of the scientific image itself.6

And this new mathematical conception of matter also, for the first time, made consciousness—that internal world of our experiences—emerge as a philosophical problem so prominent that Arthur Schopenhauer dubbed it “the world-knot.” Nowadays we refer to it as “the hard problem of consciousness.” It is the quintessential problem of trying to reconcile the scientific and manifest images of us: What is the scientific description of our brains, whether in terms of its neurological hardware or computational software, that will be able to capture the internal world of conscious life awash with the qualitative details that constitute our most immediate sense of both the world and of ourselves?

And speaking of ourselves, does our most updated neuro-scientific image leave any room for such a thing as the self? There is of course that thing, the brain, consisting of a hundred billion neurons, connected by a hundred trillion synapses. But that brain hasn’t a clue as to what is going on in those trillions of neurons and synapses. The unifying diachronic perspective that we demand of the self, maintaining its identity over the course of a lifetime, seems excluded from the scientific image. Must we then rid ourselves of the notion of a unified self? Or is this commitment to a self so fundamental an aspect of the manifest image that excising it would render incoherent the entire idea of pursuing a human life? Whose life, after all, is one pursuing?

Does the neuro-scientific image of us likewise corrode the manifest sense we have that we are agents, deliberating among options and, for better or for worse, choosing? Does it leave any room for accountability, for not only our actions but also our beliefs? And if it doesn’t, well then doesn’t that in itself undermine the scientific image along with the manifest image? If there’s no accountability for our beliefs, no way of evaluating which are justified and, rationally, choosing to believe on this basis, then how can we even endorse the scientific image? Reason itself unravels at that point.

Such questions emerge from the tensions between the scientific and manifest image of us, and they demand that we try to reconcile these two images in such a way as to maximize our overall coherence. Science, with its nifty trick of enlisting reality as a collaborator, can’t help us out here, since there’s no way for reality to answer us back regarding how to reconcile these two images. These are prototypical philosophical problems, of just the kind Sellars identified, pressed upon us because of advances in the scientific image of us-in-the-world but not answerable by means of that image.

Sellars’s way of demonstrating the need for philosophy is particularly appealing to those among us who deem science the ontological arbiter. It satisfied me as a grad student. But I’ve come, over the years, to think of the class of philosophical problems that Sellars had identified as only a sub-class, not exhaustive of all the kinds of clashes that lay within philosophy’s domain. Philosophy isn’t confined to trying to reconcile the scientific and manifest images. There are tensions deriving from inconsistencies within the manifest image itself, some of them leading to our moral inconsistencies, which, precisely because they’re so self-serving, are particularly fugitive.

Moral philosophy has had a long history of chasing down such inconsistencies, which typically consist in our endorsing moral principles while simultaneously engaging in practices that violate them, most especially when those practices harm only those quite unlike ourselves, with whom we don’t identify sufficiently to release our empathetic response. (This suppression of empathy can also be explained by way of evolution.) From the sixteenth century’s Jean Bodin, a philosopher and jurist who formulated the first arguments against slavery,7 to the contemporary philosopher Peter Singer, whose “argument of the drowning child” spawned the effective altruism movement,8 philosophy’s techniques for detecting inconsistencies has nudged us in the direction of moral progress.

It is an aspect of our manifest image that our inconsistencies, once clearly seen, disturb us, and this is the aspect to which philosophy addresses itself. We may well hide from our contradictions when they serve our desires and interests. But if the arguments exposing these contradictions become sufficiently compelling—most especially if they gain traction with others in our community—the discomfort grows. Eventually a change in moral sensibilities emerges and will be viewed as “what all decent folks feel.” We look back on our slave-owning, wife-beating, witch-and-heretic–burning, gay-stoning ancestors and wonder how they could have lived with themselves. As with the philosophical conclusions that gradually become incorporated into the scientific image, these changes too obscure philosophy’s role in reason’s progress. And out of this obscurity arises the contemporary philosophy-jeerer’s charge that philosophy, unlike science, never makes any progress at all.

It was, of course, the Enlightenment that promoted reason as the only reliable means we have to pursue our distinctively human project of trying to get our bearings. The progress that the Enlightenment unleashed regarding the questions both of what is and what matters has carried us forward to this moment, when we can discourse knowledgably not only about the universal stochastic laws of quantum mechanics but also about universal human rights.

From its very beginning, the Enlightenment attracted vicious attacks—from religion, of course, whose authority over claims both of what is and what matters was being challenged, but also from various political thinkers on both the Right and the Left. These attacks continue into our own day.

A common claim against the Enlightenment has always been, and continues to be, that reason can provide no basis for morality. To anyone familiar with the long history of moral philosophy, this claim sounds as astoundingly uninformed as the assertion that science has provided us no basis for believing there are laws of nature. Unfortunately, the pro-Enlightenment philosophy-jeerer, with an impoverished grasp of the full resources of reason, is in no position to defend the Enlightenment against such absurdities. And when he or she climbs a soapbox as a celebrity scientist to demean philosophy, he or she weakens the very cause of reason the philosophy-jeerer seeks to defend.

We are, at this moment, facing newly invigorated forces of irrationality. Tribalism and authoritarianism are reasserting themselves across the globe. These, too, are means for trying to gain our bearings, which, being primitive, come to us far more naturally and forcefully than do scientific and philosophical reason. Tribalism and authoritarianism are where our species began, and, over the course of our long history, almost every variation of them has been tried. The outcomes, even when not disastrous, are never as conducive to human flourishing as the states of affairs to which reason has brought us. With so much to lose, we need to marshal the full resources of human reason.

The philosophy-jeerer’s denial of philosophy’s role, merely embarrassing in the recent past, now becomes something far more dangerous, allied with the most ominous recent developments threatening to reverse all the progress we have made. The scientists and the philosophers should be friends.

“I fully agree with you about the significance and educational value of methodology as well as history and philosophy of science. So many people today—and even professional scientists—seem to me like somebody who has seen thousands of trees but has never seen a forest. A knowledge of the historic and philosophical background gives that kind of independence from prejudices of his generation from which most scientists are suffering. This independence created by philosophical insight is—in my opinion—the mark of distinction between a mere artisan or specialist and a real seeker after truth.” Albert Einstein to Robert A. Thornton, December 7, 1944, EA 61-574.
Consider the raucous debates among scientists regarding interpretations of quantum mechanics, exposing the differences between the “instrumentalists” who see the point of science in churning out predictions and “realists” who see the point of science in extending our knowledge of reality beyond what can be attained through sensory experiences. And these differences don’t confine themselves to the mission-statement level but yield differences of opinion regarding scientific practice as well.
Then again, it might very well be that these questions come to us so naturally because of our particular evolutionary history, and perhaps this is most particularly true in regard to our concerns with what matters and, even more particularly, in regard to our concerns with whether we ourselves matter. If that’s the case, we may not ever find computers becoming philosophical, no matter how computationally superior to us they become. Perhaps our being philosophical is due to a distinctive bug in our system implanted by the contingencies of evolution. As the philosopher Luciano Floridi recently put it, “... I suspect that AI will help us identify the irreproducible, strictly human elements of our existence, and make us realize that we are exceptional only insofar as we are successfully dysfunctional.” (“Charting Our AI Future,” Project Syndicate. https://www.project-syndicate.org/commentary/human-implications-of-artificial-intelligence-by-luciano-floridi-2017-01.)
Notice that this argument for naturalism, though it designates science as ontological arbiter, is itself philosophical. And naturalism introduces a multitude of further philosophical questions regarding which specific claims regarding what is are actually entailed by science. Besides the philosophical differences between scientific instrumentalism and scientific realism, there are, for example, the problems presented to us by mathematics, a discipline fundamental to science. Does mathematics commit us to an expansion of ontology—a realm of objectively existing numbers and sets, as mathematical realists assert? Or is mathematics ontologically empty, as formalists assert? The argument for naturalism by no means ends the philosophical discussion.
One need not be a professional philosopher to tackle these problems. Philosophically gifted scientists are in an ideal position to wrestle with philosophy. The first sign of having such gifts is to recognize the true nature of the problem and the kind of extra-scientific reasoning called for.
For example, the mathematical reconceptualization of matter prompted the distinction drawn between properties, such as position, motion, shape and size, which, being mathematically expressible, truly inherent in matter, and other properties, such as colors, smells, and odors, which, eluding mathematical expression, exist only in our experiences of matter, caused by the interactions between matter’s properties and our own sensory organs. So our experience of, for example, red, is the result of the interactions between the physiology of our eyes and the light waves reflected off of objects that are absorbing all but the longest light waves that our eyes can detect. It was such seventeenth-century thinkers as Boyle, Galileo, Descartes, and Locke who first drew the distinction between the so-called primary and secondary qualities.
See his Six Books of the Commonwealth, Book I, Chapter 5, published in 1576. Bodin sought to undermine the universally accepted claim that some are born with traits rendering them suitable to be slaves, while others’ traits render them suitable to be free. Bodin boldly argued that “We must not measure the laws of nature by men’s actions, be they ever so old and inveterate.”
Suppose you are wearing your very best suit and shoes and pass a pond in which a child is drowning. You don’t know this child and are very fond of your snazzy duds. Would you nevertheless wade into the pond and save the child? Nobody has to think twice to say yes. The argument then challenges you to formulate how this imagined situation is different from the real situation those of us who are well off enough to spend money on all kinds of luxuries find ourselves in, with impoverished children whom we might save from death and disease by forking over the money we spend on ourselves. Can the fact that we just don’t happen to see them dying before our eyes make any moral difference? And if not, then what does?