Saturday, January 03, 2009

Are people starting to get the fact that the high tech hucksters are - well - hucksters?

"Leading thinkers predict technologies that will turn the world upside-down," according to James Randerson at the Guardian, a prediction which he realizes, which isn't at all likely. (January 1, 2009)

Flying cars, personal jetpacks, holidays on the moon, the paperless office – the predictions of futurologists are, it seems, doomed to fail. The only thing predictable about the future is its unpredictability.

But that has not stopped – the online intellectual salon – asking which ideas and inventions will provide humanity's next leap forward. In its traditional New Year challenge to the planet's best thinkers it asks, "What will change everything – What game-changing scientific ideas and developments do you expect to live to see?"
By the way hat tip for this and a half dozen earlier stories to Stephanie West Allen at Brains on Purpose. I never purposely ignored her; I was just trying desperately to clean out an overloaded Inbox.

Beyond the Mind-Body Conference ... individual presentations now available

Apparently, the individual presentations have been split, which will be very convenient, especially for teachers. Thanks much to all.

Here is a text version, and links to other versions.

Neuroscience and criminal justice: Voodoo, for example ...

A friend draws my attention to the attempt to incorporate brain scanning into criminal justice.

Neurolaw and Criminal Justice

By Ken Strutin, Published on December 28, 2008

Rapid advancements in forensic neuroscience are having an impact on criminal justice. The use of neuroimaging has emerged from medical analysis identifying abnormalities and dysfunctions to delving into lie detection and decision making. The courts are facing evidence about what the brain's form and function can reveal about human behavior and knowledge.

Currently the application and validity of neuroscience in criminal cases is being debated, particularly as a basis for prosecution. See, e.g., Judges Junk Bogus Neuroscience, New Scientist, December 21, 2008 (Judge John "Kennedy's gathering, at the New Jersey Judicial College in Teaneck, agreed that brain scans, if accompanied by the opinion of a medical professional, can reveal if a person is in pain or mentally competent to stand trial, but cannot be used to determine a state of guilt."); India’s Novel Use of Brain Scans in Courts Is Debated, New York Times, September 14, 2008 ("Now, well before any consensus on the technology’s readiness, India has become the first country to convict someone of a crime relying on evidence from this controversial machine: a brain scanner that produces images of the human mind in action and is said to reveal signs that a suspect remembers details of the crime in question."

I am deeply skeptical of this trend, and glad if it is being treated with an appropriate amount of distrust (= a lot of distrust). This is really no different in principle from the "recovered memories" fad - an effort to use occult systems of knowledge to discover what cannot be learned by conventional methods.

My own view is that whatever cannot be learned by conventional methods should just be considered inaccessible for present purposes. There is otherwise a vast scope for well-intentioned abuse. And well-intentioned abuse is often the worst kind, because it tends to be widely accepted.

How much better is this really than "If the Sacred Chicken pecks in your direction, you must be guilty ... "?


Recently, a friend sent me this Google alert for "evolutionary psychology"

As follows:

Ooga Ooga! Men Overspend to Attract - New York,NY,USAThe finding, detailed in the current issue of the journal Evolutionary Psychology, did not hold with women. Vying for women is simply what men do and have ...See all stories on this topic

Study: Men's overspending hard-wired from caveman - Austin,TX,USA... "Male Financial Consumption is Associated with Higher Mating Intentions and Mating Success," printed in the journal Evolutionary Psychology. ...See all stories on this topic

A Resilient Suburbia 4: Accounting for the Value of DecentralizationThe Oil Drum - USABoth evolutionary psychology and modern commerce suggest that cities may actually be counter-productive in these functions. Dunbar's number, for example, ...See all stories on this topic

Status, sex prime for aggressionMinnesota Daily - Minneapolis,MN,USA... deny the senselessness of such violence, but recent University of Minnesota research indicates that such behavior could indeed make evolutionary sense. ...See all stories on this topic

Feeling lonely? Genes might be at fault CNN - USA... University who runs the psychology department's Self, Emotion and Behavior Lab. Part of the explanation for loneliness is evolutionary, experts say. ...See all stories on this topic

Gifts often wrapped in self-interest - Don Mills,Ontario,CanadaHarvard psychology professor Ellen J. Langer reports that giving gifts "typically makes us feel competent, empowered and engaged," allowing us to feel like ...See all stories on this topic

Daily Digest: Legal doping; aggresive behavior and status Minnesota Daily - Minneapolis,MN,USA... and Social Psychology. It says that fighting for status is similar to fighting ofr survival of their genes and not doing so can be evolutionary suicide. ...See all stories on this topic

Nietzsche and MoralityPhilosophy Now (subscription) - London,UKNietzsche's The Genealogy of Morals is an exercise in 'animal psychology', studying (in Nietzsche's own words) "the physiology and evolutionary history of ...See all stories on this topic

Ooga ooga ...

I keep having to remind myself that some people think this is science.

I remember science in Grades Eleven and Twelve. It was about measuring things accurately, estimating according to fixed rules, and - above all - understanding how the laws of physics and the periodic table worked. If I were a Darwinist trying to make some order in my life and career, I would begin by banishing "evolutionary psychology" from any pretense whatever to be a science. I do not know what they can lose, but I can sure see what they would gain.

Hmmmm. Maybe it's just as well for me that they will never actually do it!


Religion: There is atheism, ... and then there is materialist atheism ...

A friend wants me to contribute to the Atheism is Dead blog. I will try to do this, as I have time (though I never seem to have a lot of that).

For the record, my own view is that materialist atheism is indeed dead. As I explain here, the things that materialist atheists needed to happen have never happened - and that's why their idea is dead.

There are, of course, non-materialist atheist traditions, like Tibetan Buddhism, which are not at all threatened by the demise of materialist atheism in the West.

Materialist atheism is a pretty low-class show, to begin with. Materialist atheists want you to believe you are an animal, not really responsible for what you do. Bears fight, and so do people ... and it's all the same thing in the end. Is it?

Hundreds of millions of people worldwide have been atheists who nonetheless thought that humans are morally responsible. Typically, they belong to traditions where we must work off our sins in a future life. So if you want to spend this life using and abusing everyone and everything around you, fine - but according to them, you will work it off in another life. There is no free lunch in those traditions, as there is in materialist atheism.

Anyway, I just want it on the record that I have far more respect for traditional atheists, agnostics, and deists- among whom were some really major Western philosophers - than I do for the current crop of "We're just the 98% chimpanzee"crowd. All I can think of to say is, "Speak for yourself, Bud."

In fact, as a traditional Christian, I would say - in criticism - that that is exactly the problem with non-materialist atheism. There is no grace. Grace is not a free lunch. It is, for example, a father going out to meet his wayward son, when the latter has chosen to return.

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