Top News, Articles, and Interviews in Philosophy

The End of an Age: The Failure of Catastrophism

Colin Campbell, the founder of the association for the study of peak oil and gas (ASPO) explaining the essence of oil depletion. The considerations below originate from a post by Michael Krieger where he describes how he is so dismayed by the reaction of the public to the current epidemic that he is closing his blog to rethink the whole matter over. You can read of similar feelings in a post by Rob Slane of the "Blogmire" and of Chris Smaje on "Resilience." Many others are dismayed at how badly the Covid-19 crisis was managed: a threat that was real but by all measures not so terrible as it was described. Nevertheless, it generated an overreaction, more division than unity, political sectarianism, counterproductive behaviors, and it ultimately led people to accept to be bullied and mistreated by their governments and even to be happy about that.The "peak oil movement" was started by a group of retired geologists around the end of the 1990s. You could call us "catastrophists," but catastrophe was not what we were aiming for. We were not revolutionaries, we never thought to storm the Bastille, to give power to the people, or to create a proletarian paradise. We were scientists, we just wanted society to get rid of fossil fuels as soon as possible, although we did think that the final result would have been a more just and peaceful society.  But how to reach this goal? Of course, we understood that humankind is nothing homogeneous, but we saw no reason why the people in [More]

The epidemic in the US: a comment by the virologist Guido Silvestri

Many have noted the spike in the number of coronavirus cases observed in the United States. The fear is, obviously, that this increase will result in a corresponding spike in the number of deaths after some delay. The virologist Guido Silvestri wrote a comment in Italian on Facebook about the situation and I thought it was interesting to translate it in its entirety and post it here. This translation is made by smoothing a Google-translated text and it remains rough, but I verified that it maintains the meaning of the original. This text was written a few days ago and, so far, we saw no large changes in the trends of cases and deaths in the US. But, as Dr. Silvestri himself says, we need to wait a few more days in order to see if the spike will continue and result in an increase in the number of victims. On this subject, see also this post by Chuck Pezhensky.COVID-19: SITUATION IN AMERICABy Guido SilvestriJune 28 at 7:51 AM Many ask me to talk about the situation of the COVID-19 epidemic in the US. I try in these lines to start from the data, without making political considerations. Science, always science, and very strongly science, as you and I like it :)First of all, I would start from the curve that you see in the graph, above. Today (28 June), it was the second-highest day in terms of number of cases (yesterday was the highest ever). So it is clear that we are in full pandemic with many new cases diagnosed, especially in the large southern states (CA, TX, AR, FL, GA [More]

Why do people touch each other all the time? Sex among holobionts

Nowadays, we are encouraged to exterminate our skin microbiome by means of various poisonous substances. But this is not a good idea. We are holobionts, and our microbiome is part of us. If we kill the microbiome, we kill ourselves. Touching each other is a way to keep our microbiome alive, it is a form of sex ("holosex") intended as a form of communication.  The lady in this picture seems to understand the point, at least judging from her unhappy expression. (see also the "proud holobionts" group on Facebook)Humans tend to touch each other. They hug, pat, rub, kiss, cuddle, clutch, caress, clasp, embrace, each other a lot. Think of the kissing habits ("la bise") that's typical of the French society, it is done also in Italy and in other Latin countries. In most societies (*), at least some kind of skin contact is supposed to be a sign of reciprocal trust and confidence.But, today, we are seeing a completely different pattern diffusing all over the world. With the coronavirus epidemic, people are not shaking hands anymore, to say nothing about kissing and hugging each other. Not only people don't want to touch other people, but they are also positively scared of getting close to each other. It is called "social distancing" and it involves a series of ritualized behaviors of dubious efficacy against the epidemic that include wearing face masks, sanitizing one's hands, spraying disinfectants all over people and things, raising plexiglass barriers, and more. So, what's [More]

Why do people touch each other all the time? The ways of sex among holobionts

Nowadays, we are continuously encouraged to exterminate our skin microbiome by means of various poisonous substances. But this is not a good idea. We are holobionts, and our microbiome is part of us. If we kill the microbiome, we kill ourselves. Touching each other is a way to keep our microbiome alive, it is a form of sex ("holosex") intended as a form of communication.  The lady in this picture seems to understand the point, at least judging from her unhappy expression. (see also the "proud holobionts" group on Facebook)Humans tend to touch each other. They hug, pat, rub, kiss, cuddle, clutch, caress, clasp, embrace, each other a lot. It is part of the various cultural habits of different societies. It is true that some cultures don't encourage this kind of contact in public (*). But, in many cases, reciprocal contact is common, think of the kissing habits ("la bise") that's typical of the French society, it is done also in Italy and in other Latin countries. In most societies, at least some kind of skin contact is supposed to be a sign of reciprocal trust and confidence.But, today, we are seeing a completely different pattern diffusing all over the world, even in cultures that, up to now, had encouraged physical contact. With the coronavirus epidemic, people are not shaking hands anymore, to say nothing about kissing and hugging each other. Not only people don't want to touch other people, but they are also positively scared of getting close to each other. It is [More]

Was the Lockdown Effective in Stopping the Spread of the Coronavirus? The Aztec Dilemma

This post was inspired by a post by Chuck Pezeshki on the Aztec civilization, highly recommended as an introduction. Scene: Inside the temple at the top of the great pyramid of TenochtitlánCharacters: the ArchPriest (Master) and the Young Priest (Prentice)___________________________________________________________________Prentice: Grand Master, where are you? (walks around, looking). Grand Master? Grand Master:  Uh...? Prentice, is that you?Oh... there you are, Master. It's me. Yes. I am sorry to disturb you when you are praying, but...Hmmmm... I was taking a nap. What's happening?Master. I need your advice.Ah...?See, Master. The time of today's sacrifice is coming. Yes, of course, I know... I know. We have to start preparing. I must have my obsidian knife somewhere.... By the fangs of of Xipe Totec, it is already getting dark. We have to prepare. . . Master, you see, I wanted to tell you something. Ah...?  Yes, Prentice. We still have some time. But where the Xochiquetzal is my obsidian knife..... Master, I have a problem....Oh, yes, here it is. Good old knife... So many hearts I took out with it! But what were you saying, Prentice?Master, I was thinking of something.Hmmmm.... Now I need my Mictlantecuhtli mask, should be around. And what have you been thinking?Master, we always say that if we don't sacrifice every day to the sun god Huitzilopochtli, the sun will stop moving in the sky.  Eh... yes.... that's the point of the sacrifice, of [More]

Three months later, Florence restarts. But not quite

The owners of a shoe repair shop in Florence (*). In this picture, taken just after the end of the coronavirus lockdown, they are preparing to reopen their shop. They look happy, even euphoric. Time will tell if that optimism was justified.The epidemic is almost over in Italy. After almost three painful months of lockdown and the loss of about 30.000 lives, the daily number of victims of the coronavirus is slowly dwindling to zero. In a couple of weeks at most, the epidemic will be completely gone. It is time to restart, but the damage has been terrible.The lockdown is over and the Florentines are back, walking in the streets, wearing face masks, but free to go wherever they want, provided that they don't form groups ("assembramenti"). A few tourists can be seen, slowly walking around, a little bewildered. Many shops have reopened, but not all of them -- maybe 30% are still closed. For what I could see this morning downtown, all the open shops are empty of customers. The restaurants also look empty. The buses are nearly empty, too. Here is a picture taken this morning, with me and my wife the only passengers of a bus that used to be packed full before the epidemic. Note the signs saying "You cannot sit here!" They don't seem to be necessary, given the situation.To pass to you some idea of the somber atmosphere in Florence these days, here are two fragments of conversations I had or witnessed in the street. Maybe these people are too pessimistic, but I have a feeling that [More]

The Fascinating Story of the Oscillating Epidemic.

I was surprised, today, to find this graph on Google. What struck me was the evident periodicity in the number of deaths in the US. Most of the deaths take place on Thursdays and Fridays. On the contrary, the minima in the curve are almost always on Sundays. Why don't people die on Sundays?It may well be just a case of bad reporting. I went on, exploring for more data and I discovered that there is something of a worldwide "beat" that generates a weekly periodicity in the deaths. Here are the data.  In this case, instead, people seem to like to die on Fridays and Saturdays, but they stay more alive on Tuesdays.  Some regions show clear oscillations, such as the Netherlands, as shown here. In the Netherlands, people die mostly on Wednesdays and survive best on Mondays. Other countries, such as Italy, don't show a clear periodicity in the number of deathsSo, what can we conclude? Well, I think that the hypothesis that it is a reporting problem is the most likely, yet it is a little strange for various reasons. Possibly it is the bad quality of the data that messes things upBut there is another possibility that I have been considering: that the deaths caused by the coronavirus feel the weekly "beat" of the world activities. In other words, people have a weekly rhythm of working and moving around. It is a periodicity that is reflected in the number of social contacts, then reflected in the number of infections, and finally in the number of deaths. It is an [More]

The Fascinating Story of the Oscillating Epidemic. (it is true that complex systems always surprise you!)

I was surprised, today, to find this graph on Google. What struck me was the evident periodicity in the number of deaths in the US. It is the same if we look at the number of new casesIt is clear just by the raw data that the periodicity is weekly. A Fourier analysis (courtesy of Riccardo Zamolo) confirms that (for those of you unfamiliar with the Fourier analysis, let's just say it detects the frequencies of a periodic phenomenon)But what causes this periodicity? Initially, I thought it was a question of reporting: maybe hospitals are understaffed on weekends and the reports of new deaths are postponed. But I quickly discarded that hypothesis: the number of deaths peaks mostly on Thursdays and Fridays and that can't have anything to do with underreporting occurring on Sundays. And you would think that a virus doesn't know which day of the week it is when it infects a person. Unless the little beasties are much smarter than we think!So, I scratched my head for a while, looking for other cases with similar trends. I didn't perform a complete search (if readers can suggest further cases, please do that in the comments), but I couldn't find any such periodic oscillations for most European countries. Then, eventually I did find one: Sweden. Here are the data (on Google we only have data for new infections, not for deaths).And yes, the same weekly cycle of oscillations we see for the US.Now, what do Sweden and the US have in common? Maybe they both have a tradition of [More]

Questions about the coronavirus: the epidemic seen in a historical perspective

The figure above shows the effect of the two major outbursts of plague in Europe (you can find a detailed discussion of this subject in my book "Before the Collapse"). Here, Rorberto Mussi developes a historical perspective of past epidemics and of how that can help us understand the current one. (image from Langer et al., 1964)   Guest Post by Roberto Mussi The COVID-19 epidemic is generating a lot of questions from scientific, medical, political, and societal points of view. It not yet the time for complete answers, they will come slowly in the future together, hopefully, with antiviral treatments. But we can at least ask correct questions: this article tries to do that by looking at past history.The first question that comes to my mind is about the conditions that generate a pandemic outbreak. Are pandemics completely random events or do they spread only when some specific conditions occur in society? Historians can provide information about similar events of the past. They tell us that the "Black Death" arrived in Europe after the economic downturn of the late 13th century (some talk about a true economic revolution occurring between the 11th and 13th centuries [1]). It’s also a pretty intuitive statement: a virus can attack more easily an undernourished population [2]. In modern terms, the reproduction number (R0) depends on the context. In a historical dimension, pandemics are a consequence of a crisis, not a cause. So, the consequent question is: why now? [More]

The downfall of 'Professor Lockdown': triumphs and failures of science based policies

Scientists normally think that a scientific theory can be good or bad independently of the moral status of the person who proposes it. But in politics, the messenger can be blamed. That was the probable reason for the downfall of Dr. Neil Ferguson, nicknamed "Professor Lockdown," whose moral position was destroyed by a petty sexual scandal. For most scientists, Dr, Ferguson's personal misbehavior has no relevance to the validity of his models, but for politicians and for the public, it does. A lot. You all read the story of the downfall of Professor Neil Ferguson, aka "Professor Lockdown" trashed worldwide in the media for having had his lover, Ms. Antonia Staats, visiting him during the lockdown period that he himself had recommended for everybody else. It was a blessing for tabloids and there is no doubt that Dr. Ferguson deserved much of the scorn and the ridicule that was poured on him. Yet, there are some elements in this story that make it different from an ordinary story of philandering.Let's review what we know: it seems that Ms. Staats and Dr. Ferguson met first over an internet site and then it was Staats who went to visit Ferguson at his home in London, and the same Staats who told the story to friends who, in turn, diffused it around. These encounters took place about one month before the story was revealed in the media. Ferguson didn't deny the media reports and he immediately apologized and resigned from his post of government advisor in epidemiologic matters. [More]

Latest News


Here are some of the things going on in philosophy
and the humanities.

See all News Items

Philosopher Spotlight


Conversations with philosophers, professional and non-professional alike.
Visit our podcast section for more interviews and conversations.

Interview with

Dr. Robert McKim
  • on Religious Diversity
  • Professor of Religion and Professor of Philosophy
  • Focuses on Philosophy of Religion
  • Ph.D. Yale

Interview with

Dr. Alvin Plantinga
  • on Where the Conflict Really Lies
  • Emeritus Professor of Philosophy (UND)
  • Focuses on Epistemology, Metaphysics, Philosophy of Religion
  • Ph.D. Yale

Interview with

Dr. Peter Boghossian
  • on faith as a cognitive sickness
  • Teaches Philosophy at Portland State University (Oregon)
  • Focuses on atheism and critical thinking
  • Has a passion for teaching in prisons
See all interviews

30500

Twitter followers

10000+

News items posted

32000+

Page views per month

21 years

in publication

Latest Articles


\
See all Articles