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Sunday, November 23, 2014

The Philosophical Implications of the Urge to Urinate

The state of our body affects how we think the world works

by Daniel Yudkin
Scientific American
Originally published November 4, 2014

If one thing’s for sure, it’s that I decided what breakfast cereal to eat this morning. I opened the cupboard, I perused the options, and when I ultimately chose the Honey Bunches of Oats over the Kashi Good Friends, it came from a place of considered judgment, free from external constraints and predetermined laws.

Or did it? This question—about how much people are in charge of their own actions—is among the most central to the human condition. Do we have free will? Are we in control of our destiny? Do we choose the proverbial Honey Bunches of Oats? Or does the cereal—or some other mysterious force in the vast and unknowable universe—choose us?

The entire article is here.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

The dangerous shortcomings of empathy

By Joe Gelonesi
The Philosopher's Zone
Originally published November 3, 2014

Here is an excerpt:

Bookshops swell with empathy self-help publications. Go online, and you’ll find the five types of empathy, and the seven healthy habits of empathetic people.

Experiments are conducted on rats, peer-reviewed papers are published on mirror neurons, and authors stride the talk-circuit promoting the wonders of walking in someone else’s shoes.

Let’s not forget that Obama famously compared the dangers of an empathy deficit to the big hole in the federal budget.

It feels right and proper that this sentiment be afforded the space to grow. What’s not to like? In contrast to sympathy, which can be categorised as a distanced, third-person emotional response to others, empathy calls for a deep imaginative commitment which draws one into the emotional space of the other.

The entire article is here.

Friday, November 21, 2014

Physician-Assisted Death

Religion and Ethics Weekly
Originally posted October 31, 2014

Cathy Lynn Grossman, senior national correspondent for Religion News Service, talks with R&E host Bob Abernethy about the case of 29-year-old Brittany Maynard, who was given six months to live after being diagnosed with advanced brain cancer. She made headlines when she pledged to end her life with the help of a doctor rather than continuing to endure her debilitating symptoms.

Several other videos on the topic can be found here.

Mentoring new scientists in the space between how things are and how things ought to be.

By Janet D. Stemwedel
Scientific American Blog
Originally published October 31, 2014

Scientists mentoring trainees often work very hard to help their trainees grasp what they need to know not only to build new knowledge, but also to succeed in the context of a career landscape where score is kept and scarce resources are distributed on the basis of scorekeeping. Many focus their protégés’ attention on the project of understanding the current landscape, noticing where score is being kept, working the system to their best advantage.

But is teaching protégés how to succeed as a scientist in the current structural social arrangements enough?

It might be enough if you’re committed to the idea that the system as it is right now is perfectly optimized for scientific knowledge-building, and for scientific knowledge-builders (and if you view all the science PhDs who can’t find permanent jobs in the research careers they’d like to have as acceptable losses). But I’d suggest that mentors can do better by their protégés.

The entire article is here.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Teaching Moral Values

Panellists: Michael Portillo, Anne McElvoy, Claire Fox and Giles Fraser

Witnesses: Adrian Bishop, Dr. Sandra Cooke, Professor Jesse Prinz and Dr. Ralph Levinson

Teaching your children a set of moral values to live their lives by is arguably one of the most important aspects of being a parent - and for some, one of the most neglected. In Japan that job could soon be handed to teachers and become part of the school curriculum. The Central Council for Education is making preparations to introduce moral education as an official school subject, on a par with traditional subjects like Japanese, mathematics and science. In a report the council says that since moral education plays an important role not only in helping children realise a better life for themselves but also in ensuring sustainable development of the Japanese state and society, so it should to taught more formally and the subject codified. The prospect of the state defining a set of approved values to be taught raises some obvious questions, but is it very far away from what we already accept? School websites often talk of their "moral ethos". The much quoted aphorism "give me the child until he is seven and I'll give you the man" is attributed to the Jesuits and why are church schools so popular if it's not for their faith based ethos? Moral philosophy is an enormously diverse subject, but why not use it to give children a broad set of tools and questions to ask, to help them make sense of a complex and contradictory world? If we try and make classrooms morally neutral zones are we just encouraging moral relativism? Our society is becoming increasingly secular and finding it hard to define a set of common values. As another disputed epigram puts it "When men stop believing in God, they don't believe in nothing. They believe in anything."

Could moral education fill the moral vacuum?

Moral Maze - Presented by Michael Buerk

The audio file can be accessed here.

Terminally ill 'death with dignity' advocate dies

By Steven Dubois and Terrence Petty
The Associated Press
Originally published November 2, 2014

A terminally ill woman who renewed a nationwide debate about physician-assisted suicide has ended her young life with the lethal drugs available under Oregon's Death With Dignity Law. Brittany Maynard was 29.

Maynard, who had brain cancer, died peacefully in her bedroom Saturday "in the arms of her loved ones," said Sean Crowley, a spokesman for the advocacy group Compassion & Choices.

Weeks ago, Maynard had said she might use the lethal drugs Nov. 1, just a couple weeks short of her 30th birthday. Last week, she said she might delay the day. But she went ahead with her original plan.

The entire article is here.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Ambivalence in the Cognitive Enhancement Debate

By Neil Levy
The Neuroethics Blog
Originally posted October 14, 2014

The most hotly debated topic in neuroethics surely concerns the ethics of cognitive enhancement. Is it permissible, or advisable, for human beings already functioning within the normal range to further enhance their capacities? Some people see in the prospect of enhancing ourselves the exciting prospect of becoming more than human; others see it as threatening our humanity so that we become something less than we were.

In an insightful article, Erik Parens (2005) has argued that truthfully we are all on both sides of this debate. We are at once attracted and repulsed by the prospect that we might become something more than we already are. Parens thinks both frameworks are deeply rooted in Western culture and history; perhaps they are universal themes. We are deeply attached to a gratitude framework and to a more Promeathean framework. Hence we find ourselves torn with regard to self-transformation.

The entire blog post is here.

Using Pseudoscience to Shine Light on Good Science

Published on Jul 16, 2014

If instructors want students to think like scientists, they have to teach them about decidedly nonscientific ways of thinking, argues Scott O. Lilienfeld, Emory University, in his APS--David Myers Lecture for the Science and Craft of Teaching Psychology at the 2014 APS Annual Convention.

How to Recognize Pseudoscience

One key to teaching about pseudoscience, said Lilienfeld, is being able to recognize it. While there isn’t a strict dividing line between so-called “good” and “bad” science, there are some warning signs that pseudoscientific findings tend to share, including:

  • extraordinary claims that aren't backed by evidence;
  • overreliance on testimonial or anecdotal experiences;
  • undue reliance on authority figures;
  • emphasis on confirmation rather than falsification;
  • use of imprecise terminology;
  • entrenched claims that don’t accommodate new evidence;
  • an evasion of the peer-review process; and
  • overuse of ad hoc explanations for negative findings

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Anxious, Threatened, and Also Unethical: How Anxiety Makes Individuals Feel Threatened and Commit Unethical Acts

By Kouchaki, Maryam; Desai, Sreedhari D.
Journal of Applied Psychology, Sep 22 , 2014


People often experience anxiety in the workplace. Across 6 studies, we show that anxiety, both induced and measured, can lead to self-interested unethical behavior. In Studies 1 and 2, we find that compared with individuals in a neutral state, anxious individuals are more willing (a) to participate in unethical actions in hypothetical scenarios and (b) to engage in more cheating to make money in situations that require truthful self-reports. In Studies 3 and 4, we explore the psychological mechanism underlying unethical behaviors when experiencing anxiety. We suggest and find that anxiety increases threat perception, which, in turn, results in self-interested unethical behaviors. Study 5 shows that, relative to participants in the neutral condition, anxious individuals find their own unethical actions to be less problematic than similar actions of others. In Study 6, data from subordinate–supervisor dyads demonstrate that experienced anxiety at work is positively related with experienced threat and unethical behavior. We discuss the theoretical and practical implications of our findings.


The findings in this article tell us something new and fundamental about people's behavior when they are under the influence of experienced anxiety. Our findings demonstrate that compared with people in a neutral state, those who experience anxiety tend to behave unethically when the situation permits. This unethical behavior is mediated by perceived threat.

The article is here.