Why Philosophy is more exciting
now than ever
To Be Presented on October 18, 2013
7:00 PM Friday at the
By William S Jamison
There are two aspects to this question for me:
1. my personal excitement concerning the subject
2. why it should be more exciting to students
The hardest part of my job each week is knowing everything.
Especially on Mondays, since over the weekend so much happens.
But the most enjoyable part of the job is passing what I learn on to others.
Main Divisions of Philosophy http://philosophy.lander.edu/intro/introbook2.1/x924.html
It may well be wondered, at this point,
as to the exact difference between philosophy and the sciences.
 The following excerpt from the entry "Philosophy" in
the authoritative 1911 Encyclopædia Britannica
explains one aspect of this relation well and is well worth reading carefully:
In distinguishing philosophy from the sciences,
it may not be amiss at the outset to guard against the possible misunderstanding
that philosophy is concerned with a subject-matter different from,
and in some obscure way transcending, the subject-matter of the sciences.
Now that psychology, or the observational and experimental study of mind,
may be said to have been definitively included among the positive sciences,
there is not even the apparent ground which once existed for such an idea.
Philosophy, even under its most discredited name of metaphysics,
has no other subject-matter than the nature of the real world,
as that world lies around us in everyday life, and lies open to observers on every side.
But if this is so, it may be asked what function can remain for philosophy
when every portion of the field is already lotted out and enclosed by specialists?
Philosophy claims to be the science of the whole;
but, if we get the knowledge of the parts from the different sciences,
what is there left for philosophy to tell us?
To this it is sufficient to answer generally that the synthesis of the parts
is something more than that detailed knowledge of the parts in separation
which is gained by the man of science.
It is with the ultimate synthesis that philosophy concerns itself;
it has to show that the subject-matter which we are all dealing with
in detail really is a whole, consisting of articulated members.
Evidently, therefore, the relation existing between and the sciences will be,
to some extent, one of reciprocal influence.
So in short, philosophy as a subject, is to be a science of the whole -
or in more modern jargon, the philosophers job is to know everything.
Worse, philosophers are supposed to know everything and make sense of it all.
Herding cats What significant metaphors can you find in this commercial for EDS?
This even includes the nature of what knowledge is. The first branch is:
Epistemology (includes Logic) – the study of knowledge
Second includes all of the sciences:
Metaphysics – the study of what is real
And usually considered last is:
Axiology (includes Ethics and Aesthetics) – the study of value
So philosophy is exciting because it requires keeping up
with everything that is going on and trying to synthesize it all.
We might narrow this a little and say:
Philosophy is the love of wisdom.
Briefly this means loving knowing things especially that sort of knowledge
that is most useful for leading a good life.
So thinking about what we know, part of the excitement is that
Today we are learning new things faster and faster.
We are so used to these phenomena that we have books and movies named Faster.
But the phenomena is a serious a part of everyday life.
A simple everyday comparison is to point out a little cell phone today
has more computing power than X (fill in something impressive and not too long ago.)
But these phenomena affect all aspects of life. All of them. I can’t think of anything excluded.
So what do we mean by Knowledge?
The soul as the seat of knowledge
What do we know today about knowledge? The history of Philosophy is broadly
traced through Plato who describes the soul in the Phaedo, through Aristotle,
who critiques Plato and so gives us the classic divide between those who think of the soul
as invisible or visible, as the Creed describes the Platonic dichotomy of creation.
Plato’s sense that the soul is somewhat other than the merely physical
and Aristotle’s sense that the soul is the activity of a body.
For Plato the reason the soul knows the ideas is because it is mysteriously
connected to the ideas - it is part of the invisible.
For Aristotle the soul is attached to the physical and
knowledge is primarily linguistic - hence the Organon.
The Middle Ages is a period where Christian Philosophy -
which is arguable a merger of Christian Scripture and
Greek Philosophy, included the Organon as a resource.
A great deal of logic grew during that period, which made things
much more interesting when the rest of Aristotle's known works
were reintroduced around 1100 AD.
Aquinas merges them beautifully in the Summa.
Descartes opens up the question along with Hobbes.
In the start of Modern Philosophy this seems to tilt heavily towards Aristotle.
But today in neuroscience, there are increasing details that seem to tilt the
specifics about the brain and what it does, back towards Plato.
Our soul (psyche – the science of psychology, neuroscience
Stuart Hameroff and Roger Penrose in contrast
with folks like David Chalmers or Thomas Metzinger
set the Plato / Aristotle contrast. Still others like
Antonio Damasio for example, Sam Harris, and Steven Pinker
use tools to develop insights into
how we learn and how we remember.
Narratology is helpful here. David Brooks
The Social Animal
I think then the advances in studying the brain tie into developments in physics.
I am especially interested in the work of Roger Penrose and Stuart Hameroff
Fundamentally we still have at least two ways of talking about the soul.
In our vocabulary today we can speak of the soul as Steven Pinker often does:
“The supposedly immaterial soul, we now know, can be bisected with a knife,
altered by chemicals, started or stopped by electricity, and extinguished by a
sharp blow or by insufficient oxygen.”
But we also have the quantum mechanical – non- local vocabulary
that seems testable and verifiable – that shows our minds are
quantum computers that are integrally connected through time and space
to others including our own brain states.
For those raised with the understanding that the most important part
of being human is having a soul that persisted beyond the
merely secular moment of Now – this is an encouraging development.
It also explains why every choice we make is so important since
it remains an eternal part of our entire character.
In some respects we have not advanced too much beyond Aquinas
http://www.newadvent.org/summa/1075.htm in that we realize
we use the concept of soul in many senses – so clarification of what
we are speaking about is a primary task of philosophy.
On the other hand there is hardly anything more exciting.
But this all makes better sense in the context of what is going on in physics.
The new standard model
I consider it proven that the laws of logic
are at the basis for all other complex systems we use.
In this sense the newest developments are not in the basics of logic
but in the fantastic developments mostly a result of computer technology
and the so called Moore's Law that systems will double in power every 18 months.
As a result we can use computer systems to analyze brain activity,
language communications, Artificial Intelligence seems a more powerful possibility,
we now have Big Data and Meta Data, and we can penetrate the large and the small
in much more powerful ways than ever.
We even have riddled out the nature of chaos and have reached the conclusion
that there is order in chaos if we look at the systems from a large enough perspective.
(See Wolfram A New Kind of Science)
The Linguistic Turn and language games, framing, and models
Here we have cognitive linguistics George Lakoff
See my Being and What
Economics and politics
The study of Beauty.
Modern computer techniques have enabled things like this:
Dove Evolution. Certainly in some respects this set of ideas regarding the beautiful is
simply a continuation of the science from the ancients who knew about the significance of
phi as well as pi. The Golden Ratio.
But with our technology we have the media surrounding us with images
that are perfect.
David before and after.
Sorry. Just a little humor here. But we know more about why we use humor too:
Daniel Dennett Inside Jokes
What srikes me as especially important is how the beautiful in music has led to increasingly
powerful movies and other media - like computer gaming.
Meanwhile, our students had been getting better all the time
for thirty years of testing up until recently
James Flynn effect
But this has slowed and there are some things they are not excelling in.
They had been getting faster but they were working with less data in RAM
than they need. How can we improve this?
To get more young people interested in the task of understanding and knowing as much as possible is the other part of philosophy.