by Alex Rosenberg, Department Chair and R. Taylor Cole Professor of Philosophy, Duke University
In Geoffrey Harpham’s first contribution to “On the Human” he wrote,
One of the most striking features of contemporary intellectual life is the fact that questions formerly reserved for the humanities are today being approached by scientists in various disciplines such as cognitive science, cognitive neuroscience, robotics, artificial life, behavioral genetics and evolutionary biology.
There is an interesting question as to why those in the humanities – most notably literary studies – have felt so dissatisfied with their performance as not just to re-invent themselves – which is fine and healthy – but to attempt to destroy their very rationale. I want to examine a tendency amongst some of
by Colin Allen
Dept. of History and Philosophy of Science
Program in Cognitive Science
Center for the Integrative Study of Animal Behavior
College of Arts and Sciences, Indiana University, Bloomington
The prospect of machines capable of following moral principles, let alone understanding them, seems as remote today as the word “robot” is old. Some technologists enthusiastically extrapolate from the observation that computing power doubles every 18 months to predict an imminent “technological singularity” in which a threshold for machines of superhuman intelligence will be suddenly surpassed. Many Singularitarians assume a lot, not the least of which is that intelligence is fundamentally a computational process. The techno-optimists among them also believe that such machines will be essentially friendly to human beings. I am skeptical about the Singularity, and even if “artificial intelligence” is not an oxymoron, “friendly A.I.” will require considerable scientific progress on a number of fronts.
When, if ever, should we intentionally shorten our lives? Programming our own deaths is not a subject many people seem to have thought much about. But think about it we must. For biotechnologies continue to advance, our psychological identities continue to depend on our being embodied, and more and more of us spend our last days in debilitated confused states. Were we to find a means of safely and effectively cutting short the suffering and frustration of older and older age, wouldn’t it be unethical not to use it?
by James A. Serpell Marie A. Moore Professor of Humane Ethics and Animal Welfare Director of the Center for the Interaction of Animals & Society (CIAS) School of Veterinary Medicine, University of Pennsylvania
Although meat is said to be the most highly prized category of food in the majority of human cultures, it is also, according to a recent ethnographic survey, “vastly more likely to be the target of food taboos,” than any other type of edible substance. People throughout the world display strong aversions to killing and
by Harriet Ritvo, Arthur J. Conner Professor of History, Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Professor Harriet Ritvo
People were on the move in the nineteenth century. Millions of men and women participated in massive transfers of human population, spurred by war, famine, persecution, the search for a better life, or (most rarely) the spirit of adventure. The largest of these transfers—although by no means the only one—was from
Philosophers have traditionally assumed that knowledge of our own thoughts is special. Descartes famously believed that knowledge of our current thoughts is infallible. He also believed that those thoughts themselves are self-presenting, so that whenever one entertains a thought, one is capable of infallible knowledge of it. Many figures in the history of philosophy have
by Les Kaufman, Professor of Biology, Boston University and Conservation International
Professor Les Kaufman
Slow news days send hungry journalists back to the old springheads of mystery and metamorphosis: dark matter, how the brain really works, human cyborgs, life on other worlds. The nature of humanity’s relationship with Nature — the oldest campfire subject on the books, and kissing cousin to the meaning of life —
by Vigdis Broch-Due Professor of Social Anthropology and International Poverty Research at the University of Bergen, Norway
Professor Vigdis Broch-Due
It is a commonplace that East African pastoralists like Turkana of Northern Kenya identify themselves with their animals. However it really goes far beyond that. To grasp not just the emotional intensity of Turkana bonds with their cattle but the ways in which their life projects are intertwined, is to feel the
Our Forum is for scholars in the humanities and sciences to share their ideas and research. The Forum offers specialists as well as members of the public the opportunity to engage experts on questions concerning the meaning and significance, if any, of human life, especially at its edges. Read more...
alex rosenberg: I'm glad to be taken to task by Geoffrey Harpham in so indulgent and learned a manner. Pleasure, enjoyment, enrichment, the rewards of reading, listening, watching and looking, are...
Bill Benzon: Well, it's one thing to argue that, for example, the newer psychologies and other developments are relevant to humanistic inquiry and ought to be taken into account. It's something rather...
Charels T. Wolverton: The essence of Frank Williams' Popper quote seems to be that determinism implies that decision making is an illusion. To which I can only reply "doh!". For a somewhat more...
The Star Wars character C3PO is so convincingly depicted that we may have to remind ourselves that there was no real robot behind the elegant mannequin. The passage of time has not remedied this deficiency; nor, alas, have I a blueprint to offer. I do believe, however, that it will repay us to identify some attributes a robot would need in...