You (yes, YOU) can be a genius!

What I’m going to do now is I’m going to take some legitimate science, I’m going to draw a trivial truth from this, and I’m going to word it in such a way as to mislead you into thinking that you can be a genius.  I am going to finish by justifying what I’m doing by using the same defence as I would give a placebo.  Got it?

Legitimate science: “A trait [such as being a genius] emerges only from the interaction of gene and environment.”

Misleading triviality: “Everything about us is determined by the lives we lead.”

So perhaps: You could be a genius*.

What’s more: People who believe this seem to benefit.

Continue reading “You (yes, YOU) can be a genius!”

Religious belief as an infection

Recently I have noticed a stance taken by some members of the new wave of atheists and scientifically-informed ‘sceptics’, who define themselves largely by that which they oppose.  This is the stance that someone’s belief in a god is akin to an infection, from which the rest of their beliefs has no immunity.  To some, a question like this:

Can you be a creationist and be a good scientist?

has to be answered in the negative, since creationism lacks strong evidence and, therefore, a belief in it is incompatible with a rigorous following (I won’t say ‘worship’) of the scientific method.  Now, I think that this is a pretty bold position to take.  It goes much further than saying either of these things: Continue reading “Religious belief as an infection”

20 Questions: A Strategy Guide

The internet is an abundant resource, but it has its shortcomings. After an exhaustive examination I can declare that, astonishingly, it has no adequate strategy guide for the retro lo-tech classic ’20 Questions’ (or “20Q” if you unfortunate enough to have allowed the intangible wonders of your childhood to have been bought and rebadged by Mattel).

This is a guide for The Questioners; a guide for The Answerer is a work in progress.  We’re going to learn together by running through a blow-by-blow account of one game. Please try to throw yourself into this pedagogical relationship by trying to become one of The Questioners.

1. Is it on the planet earth? [Yes] Continue reading “20 Questions: A Strategy Guide”

The Poetry of Soup Blenders

This is a transcript of the latest Kenwood blender advert:

Discover the power of 3,
With the Kenwood triblade,
Kitchen technology to the power of 3,
3 blades faster,
3 blades easier,
3 blades cleaner,
The Kenwood triblade.

Those who think that adverts make ‘claims’ which can be tested and challenged, think again! What evidence, after all, would convince you that the triblade™ is not ‘technology to the power of 3’?

But seriously, I need to try out one of these triblades, because I hate washing up fiddly components, and I’m glad that this is going to make things 3 blades easier and 3 blades cleaner. Granted, ‘blades’ are not a standard unit of comparison, but, well, there are now 3 of them!

The first rule of advertising: give them poetry, not propositions.

Life as a Set of Games

Here I’m going to defend this view: Life is best seen as a set of interconnected games.  I will probably provide little novel content, as I will draw vaguely on ideas from Kant, Quine and – significantly – Wittgenstein.  Since most people know of Game Theory, most people will know where I’m coming from.  These are ‘thoughts in progress’, not a final statement of my views – but this is the manner in which, I believe, most philosophy (if you can call it that) should take place. If people provide comments on this article, I hope they’re of the form “I think you’d find X interesting to read” or “I think Y is a good reason why you’re wrong to see it like this on that point”. If you don’t want to read vague, speculative philosophy, stop reading… now! Continue reading “Life as a Set of Games”

Challenge for PHILOSOPHERS who WRITE

I have noticed that the ‘audience’ of Wittgenstein Tweets comprises a fair number of philosophers and writers.  I employ these terms ‘philosophers’ and ‘writers’ as loosely as they do.  I personally believe that a great deal of good can be created in the realm where philosophical thinking meets creative writing. If you don’t agree with me, stop reading.  Have a biscuit.  Whatever.  Continue reading “Challenge for PHILOSOPHERS who WRITE”

‘Wittgenstein Tweets’ Begins!

So, what would the great philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein have done with a Twitter account? Over the next 6-months I am going to be updating @WittTweets in an attempt to answer this question.  Here you’ll get a drip-feed of updates from a mocked-up Wittgenstein, right from his boyhood to his eventual death (which I imagine will be quite a sad event for me to tweet). This may be the only chance you get to live side-by-side with an accelerated form of Wittgenstein for a long time, so please take advantage. No love for or knowledge of Wittgenstein is necessary!

> > More details on Wittgenstein Tweets

> > Start following!

It’s Comfy Between Dystopias!

Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale reminded me how much I love dystopias.  In fact, this list of dystopian films serves well as a jumbled-up 50 Greatest Films of All Time.   It’s got it all: Orwell, Vonnegut, Dick… WALL-E.

In The Handmaid’s Tale the ingredients for the dystopia seem to have been picked from two different places: the past, which provides sexism and theocracy, and the future, for its abundance of leaky chemicals and annoyingly meltdownable nuclear power plants. Obviously the present (which means the 1980s for Atwood) must still feature holdovers from the past (e.g. Iran, Catholicism, and also sexism, racism and homophobia in the work place) and some ominous glimmers of the future (e.g. DDT, Agent Orange, and nuclear accidents such as Three Mile Island). But it would make little sense for someone to read about one dystopia from within the context of another.

Or would it? Continue reading “It’s Comfy Between Dystopias!”

Philosophy is Dead! Long Live Philosophy

It made me choke on my breakfast this morning to read the declaration from Stephen Hawking and Leonard Mlodinow that the subject I’ve taught for the last two years, and which I intend to study this coming year, is dead:

“[On questions concerning the nature of the universe]: Traditionally these are questions for philosophy, but philosophy is dead. Philosophy has not kept up with modern developments in science, particularly physics.” (‘The Grand Design’, 2010)

I hope that tomorrow I don’t discover that psychology has fallen too, or that mathematics is suffering from an upset stomach. Continue reading “Philosophy is Dead! Long Live Philosophy”

Meyer Spoonbridge’s Diary Entry on Reading Festival

This week I was given the opportunity to see how a different social stratum live, by the accidental procurement of a ticket to Reading Festival.  Not a working class congregation exactly – not with tickets at those prices – but perhaps less upper-middle class and more middle-middle class. The bands (nouveau riche) had wonderfully colourful names like Guns N’ Roses and This is Hell, but I soon realised that these names had little to do with the content of their shows, which was probably for the best.

Continue reading “Meyer Spoonbridge’s Diary Entry on Reading Festival”