Why Philosophy and the Science of Human Nature? Another in the series, "For those of us who didn't go to Yale".

I'm having a dandy old time on social media and at several blogs talking with people on different sides of this or that social-political fence regarding the U.S. presidential race. Whether you are a "Libtard", a "Moronative", a Commie, some brand of Anarchist, a Democratic Socialist (sounds so Nazi right? Right?) or a complete and utter Apathetic, we all seem to have some normative, set-in-stone definition of who we are politically, and therefore, certain things annoy the hell our of us. 

One of my favorites kinds of pedestrian pundits is the current breed of constitutional libertarian. I always wonder when I hear someone tell me that they are a constitutional libertarian if they have heard of John Locke or anyone else from the global canon of political philosophy. Perhaps not, but I'm sure their heart is in the right place and they believe they are involved with the right side of the fence. 

I have recommended the books, "The Blank Slate", "Thinking Fast and Slow" and "The Righteous Mind" to everyone regardless of how they define their political place in the world. I do this again and again and am doing so again here. At the same time, I wonder how much this helps. We have several things that contribute to our political biases that are inescapable: our genes, our circumstances at birth, our family, the quality of our education, our experiences and social normative pressures. Of course, this is not an exhaustive list. There is also a vast literature about how grandparents lives influence us the minute we are conceived. It seems we all inherited certain propensities from our parents and ancestors. Imagine that. 

Steven Pinker talks about controversies raised by his book, "The Blank Slate".

Daniel Kahneman talks about "Thinking Fast and Slow".

So what do philosophy and the science of human nature have to do with my political discussions with friends and acquaintances on social media? It occurs to me that although all of us inherit political views from our parents, society and experience, very few of us take the time to reflect upon our points of view in any meaningful way. We simply take it for granted that we are a member of a pure, and righteous political clique. We're certain that if everyone just followed our ideology we could solve all of our problems. We imagine the good old days of Bill Clinton or Ronald Reagan as if they were truly the best of times, forgetting how messy things really were and always have been regardless of who's in charge. This is not to say that a leader can't have an incredibly positive impact. Take Augustus as an example, the founder of the Roman empire. Perhaps Rome never had it so good as when the great Augustus created the Pax Romana and lead his vast empire for the longest period of any Roman leader. Oh, to have been born into those good old days. I sometimes think that Baby Boomers, my generation, had the best of times and worry about what we're leaving behind for the children of Millennials. 

 

You all know that I'm a big fan of continuing education. I think we all benefit by continuing to learn, by broadening our horizons, and picking up new skills. Everyone today needs to be an autodidact, a bit of a skeptic and brush up on their critical thinking skills. We are, like our ancestors before us, trapped on an arch of time that is unpredictable, unfathomable and heading towards a black box we call the future. Even with our science and technology most of us are simply blind to how things really work. Ten years from now things will not be simpler, even if we do swallow handfuls of Modafinil. (Oh, the side effects!)

 

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In an attempt to encourage people to break out of their bubble, to flee the echo chamber for the wide open spaces of endless possibilities I'd like to recommend the wonderful work of one of the most respected professors of philosophy in the world - Dr. Tamar Gendler

Below are some of her lectures and an interesting paper she wrote for the Journal of Philosophy. I truly believe that everyone no matter where you're from or what side of a particular fence you're on, can benefit from this material. Please take your time and listen to these lectures. Listen when you are cooking or cleaning or taking a shower. There's no excuse not to understand ourselves better. We simply must understand each other better if we are going to create a long lasting Pax Homo Humanus. August times can be ahead.

Tamar Gendler at The Big Think: http://bigthink.com/experts/tamargendler

https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PL3F6BC200B2930084  LECTURE PLAYLIST

Alief and Belief Tamar Szabó Gendler1 tamar.gendler@yale.edu Draft of 1 October 2007 Forthcoming: Journal of Philosophy Abstract: I introduce and argue for the importance of a cognitive state that I call alief. Paradigmatic alief can be characterized as a mental state with associatively-linked content that is representational, affective and behavioral, and that is activated – consciously or unconsciously – by features of the subject’s internal or ambient environment. Alief is a more primitive state than either belief or imagination: it directly activates behavioral response patterns (as opposed to motivating in conjunction with desire or pretended desire.) I argue that alief explains a large number of otherwise perplexing phenomena and plays a far larger role in causing behavior than has typically been recognized by philosophers. I argue further that the notion can be invoked to explain both the effectiveness and the limitations of certain sorts of example-based reasoning, and that it lies at the core of habit-based views of ethics. 

http://www.pgrim.org/philosophersannual/pa28articles/gendleraliefbelief.pdf

Philosophy and the Science of Human Nature on iTunes U

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Steven Cleghorn

Steven is an autodidact, skeptic, raconteur and film producer from America who has been traveling since he was a zygote. He's a producer at The Muse Films Ltd. in Hong Kong and a constantly improving (hopefully) Globe Hacker. He's seeks the company of interesting minds.