Top News, Articles, and Interviews in Philosophy

Understanding the Brain

“Maybe human brains aren’t equipped to understand themselves.” That thought is offered up by Grigori Guitchounts, a Ph.D. student in neuroscience at Harvard University, in an article surveying some current brain research at Nautilus. One branch of such research is connectomics, which “strives to chart the entirety of the connections among neurons in a brain.” Guitchounts writes: In principle, a complete connectome would contain all the information necessary to provide a solid base on which to build a holistic understanding of the brain. We could see what each brain part is, how it supports the whole, and how it ought to interact with the other parts and the environment.  Jeff Lichtman, a professor of molecular and cellular biology at Harvard, works in this area, attempting to provide a map of the brain. Here’s how he does it: The 68-year-old neuroscientist’s weapon of choice is a 61-beam electron microscope, which Lichtman’s team uses to visualize the tiniest of details in brain tissue… [and] a machine that can only be described as a fancy deli slicer. The machine cuts pieces of brain tissue into 30-nanometer-thick sections, which it then pastes onto a tape conveyor belt. The tape goes on silicon wafers, and into Lichtman’s electron microscope, where billions of electrons blast the brain slices, generating images that reveal nanometer-scale features of neurons, their axons, dendrites, and the synapses through which they exchange [More]

Scholars Object to Publication of Paper Defending Race Science

Scholars are objecting to the decision of the editors of the journal, Philosophical Psychology, to publish an article that calls for “free inquiry” into the heredited genetic bases of group differences on IQ tests. The article, “Research on group differences in intelligence: A defense of free inquiry,” is by Nathan Cofnas, a graduate student in philosophy at the University of Oxford. Here’s its abstract: In a very short time, it is likely that we will identify many of the genetic variants underlying individual differences in intelligence. We should be prepared for the possibility that these variants are not distributed identically among all geographic populations, and that this explains some of the phenotypic differences in measured intelligence among groups. However, some philosophers and scientists believe that we should refrain from conducting research that might demonstrate the (partly) genetic origin of group differences in IQ. Many scholars view academic interest in this topic as inherently morally suspect or even racist. The majority of philosophers and social scientists take it for granted that all population differences in intelligence are due to environmental factors. The present paper argues that the widespread practice of ignoring or rejecting research on intelligence differences can have unintended negative consequences. Social policies predicated on environmentalist theories of group differences may fail to achieve their aims. [More]

A Philosopher Takes on Evolutionary Psychology

“Evolutionary psychological inferences commonly fail to satisfy reasonable epistemic criteria.” The failures are so significant that good evolutionary psychology may not be possible.  So argues Subrena Smith, a philosopher at the University of New Hampshire. Her paper, “Is Evolutionary Psychology Possible?“, was recently published in Biological Theory. In it, she argues that the popular research program of evolutionary psychology is methodologically unsound. Dr. Smith also wrote a shorter version of the argument that was published at The Evolution Institute. In it, she first presents a description of the aims of evolutionary psychology: The mandate of evolutionary psychology is to give true evolutionary explanations for contemporary human behavior. Evolutionary psychologists believe that many of our behaviors in the present are caused by psychological mechanisms that operate today as they did in the past. Each mechanism was selected for its specific fitness-enhancing effects, and each of them is responsive only to the kinds of inputs for which it is an adaptation. To achieve the aims of evolutionary psychology, researchers “need to show that particular kinds of behavior are underwritten by particular mechanisms.” More specifically, evolutionary psychology confronts what Dr. Smith calls “the matching problem”: For a present-day psychological trait to be related to an ancestral psychological trait in the way that evolutionary [More]

2019 Popper Prize Winner Announced

The British Journal for the Philosophy of Science (BJPS) has selected Carlos Gray Santana (University of Utah) as the winner of its 2019 Karl Popper Prize for his “ground breaking” paper in the philosophy of geology. The Popper Prize is awarded annually to the article judged to be the best published in that year’s volume of the Journal, as determined by the editors-in-chief and the British Society for the Philosophy of Science Committee. Professor Santana won the prize for his article, “Waiting for the Anthropocene“. The BJPS editors-in-chief, Steven French (Leeds) and Wendy Parker (Durham), write: Are we at the dawn of a new geological epoch? Many have answered ‘yes’, coining the term ‘Anthropocene’ to designate the impact of humanity on the geological record. In this ground breaking paper, Carlos Santana notes that answering that question requires a radical shift in perspective for a historical science such as geology: whereas previously the identification of formal units of geological time was based on the groupings already present in the stratographic record, establishing such a distinction in the case of the Anthropocene requires the geologist to project herself into the future and imagine what that record will be, looking back to the current time. Santana argues that from such a future geologist’s perspective, we should refrain from adopting the Anthropocene as a new geological epoch, because of the fragility of such a projective move and [More]

Thomas Kuhn and the paradigm shift – Philosopher of the Month

Thomas S. Kuhn (b. 1922–d. 1996) was an American historian and philosopher of science best-known for his book, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions (1962) which influenced social sciences and theories of knowledge. He is widely considered one of the most influential philosophers of the twentieth century. The post Thomas Kuhn and the paradigm shift – Philosopher of the Month appeared first on OUPblog.         Related StoriesOur souls make us who we areMary Astell on female education and the sorrow of marriage (philosopher of the month)Seven events that shaped country [More]

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