Ontario Humanist
Posted: 19 December 2006 05:36 PM   [ Ignore ]
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My name is Jayar (pronounced J.R. like that fictional oil tycoon :wink:) and I live in the Niagara region in Ontario.  This past September I finished my Master’s degree in Philosophy at McMaster in Hamilton.  In my thesis, I explored some issues in the quest to "naturalize" the qualitative aspects of mental states.  I am, on the whole, optimistic that the great mysteries of consciousness, feelings, etc. are on their way to being explained in a way that is totally amenable to science.  Give it 100 years, maybe, and we’ll have it. 

My experience researching the thesis and discussing it with colleagues and friends uncovered a passion I have for detailing scientific ideas and discoveries to non-specialist audiences.  I found it exhilarating to relate cutting-edge cognitive science research in discussions about fundamentally ¤humanisticË topics such as the appreciation of art, the nature of imagination, and the source of our ethical sense.  However, I was surprised and somewhat disappointed at how often these ideas were met with suspicion, dismissal and phobic reactions (from students and profs alike! :?).  What I considered to be valuable and groundbreaking research was simply science overstepping its boundaries and encroaching on the human ╗lan vital.

I believe that sort of criticism of scientific ideas is too often the result of scientific illiteracy, the consequences of which are seldom so benign. Seeing our way through complicated and incendiary issues such as stem cell research, global warming, and genetic privacy crucially depends on our understanding the science behind the controversy.  This understanding, in turn, depends upon an effective liaison between scientists and the public, policymakers, and educators.  I kinda want to do my part to help out, so I’m returning to school this coming September to get some journalistic training.  I want to be a science writer/journalist.  :D

So that’s my story!  You have a nice board here, I can’t wait to get involved!  I’d especially like to hear from other Humanists, Freethinkers and Brights (I’m still not quite clear on what the differences are there) from the GTA and Niagara.

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Posted: 19 December 2006 05:36 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 1 ]
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Ontario Humanist

My name is Jayar (pronounced J.R. like that fictional oil tycoon :wink:) and I live in the Niagara region in Ontario.  This past September I finished my Master’s degree in Philosophy at McMaster in Hamilton.  In my thesis, I explored some issues in the quest to “naturalize” the qualitative aspects of mental states.  I am, on the whole, optimistic that the great mysteries of consciousness, feelings, etc. are on their way to being explained in a way that is totally amenable to science.  Give it 100 years, maybe, and we’ll have it. 

My experience researching the thesis and discussing it with colleagues and friends uncovered a passion I have for detailing scientific ideas and discoveries to non-specialist audiences.  I found it exhilarating to relate cutting-edge cognitive science research in discussions about fundamentally “humanistic” topics such as the appreciation of art, the nature of imagination, and the source of our ethical sense.  However, I was surprised and somewhat disappointed at how often these ideas were met with suspicion, dismissal and phobic reactions (from students and profs alike! :?).  What I considered to be valuable and groundbreaking research was simply science overstepping its boundaries and encroaching on the human ╗lan vital.

I believe that sort of criticism of scientific ideas is too often the result of scientific illiteracy, the consequences of which are seldom so benign. Seeing our way through complicated and incendiary issues such as stem cell research, global warming, and genetic privacy crucially depends on our understanding the science behind the controversy.  This understanding, in turn, depends upon an effective liaison between scientists and the public, policymakers, and educators.  I kinda want to do my part to help out, so I’m returning to school this coming September to get some journalistic training.  I want to be a science writer/journalist.  :D

So that’s my story!  You have a nice board here, I can’t wait to get involved!  I’d especially like to hear from other Humanists, Freethinkers and Brights (I’m still not quite clear on what the differences are there) from the GTA and Niagara.

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Posted: 20 December 2006 02:39 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 2 ]
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Welcome, Jayar. I am not sure if I am Humanist, Freethinker or Bright, but I am from GTA.

I agree with you that

...the great mysteries of consciousness, feelings, etc. are on their way to being explained in a way that is totally amenable to science.

I am now reading Moral Minds by Marc Hauser. And I’ve been thinking that the reason why the book is over 400 pages long might be because we know so little about the consciousness. The less we know, the longer it takes to explain something.

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Posted: 20 December 2006 01:13 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 3 ]
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Hi Jayar.  As a retired physical scientist I sympathize with you.  I’ve had similar problems from the other perspective.  Whenever I’ve tried to connect the principles of science and scientific thought with philosophy and ethics people seem to respond in a way that indicates “You’re a scientist.  You don’t know anything about philosophy or ethics so stop trying to find common threads.”  Ah well.  smile


Occam

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Posted: 20 December 2006 04:28 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 4 ]
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[quote author=“dougsmith”]I am surprised to hear about the “phobic” reaction you got from professors. I hope they weren’t philosophy professors, although I know that any department will contain all kinds of opinions. The ones with which I was familiar were only “phobic” of naturalizations to the extent that they didn’t think they were going to be as easy as us young folk seemed to believe.

They were philosophy profs, in fact.  And several are highly regarded leaders in their research fields.  And all of them Continentalists, mind you.  I did my undergraduate degree at a university where British and American philosophy was never discussed.  I did, however, get a good dose of Heidegger, Nietzsche, Foucault, Derrida, and Merleau-Ponty.  I don’t mean to say that reading those fellows was a waste of time (but regarding Heidegger and Derrida, perhaps it was :D).  But their critiques of science are pretty far off mark, I think (M-P is an exception there, and I find more and more he is being read by analytic philosophers of mind ... one of the big buzz-words in philosophy of mind as of late is “embodied cognition”, which comes straight out of Merleau-Ponty).  One prof in particular (an M-P scholar) was fond of telling me that there is a difference between “science” and “scientism”, and that reductionist theories of mind fall into the latter camp.

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Posted: 20 December 2006 04:33 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 5 ]
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[quote author=“George Benedik”]I am now reading Moral Minds by Marc Hauser. And I’ve been thinking that the reason why the book is over 400 pages long might be because we know so little about the consciousness. The less we know, the longer it takes to explain something.

Absolutely.  It seems to me that at this point we are still asking the preliminary questions.  There are a lot of different opinions out there about what “consciousness” means at all, and no real consensus has emerged yet so far as I can tell.

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Posted: 20 December 2006 04:43 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 6 ]
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[quote author=“Occam”]Hi Jayar.  As a retired physical scientist I sympathize with you.  I’ve had similar problems from the other perspective.  Whenever I’ve tried to connect the principles of science and scientific thought with philosophy and ethics people seem to respond in a way that indicates “You’re a scientist.  You don’t know anything about philosophy or ethics so stop trying to find common threads.”  Ah well.  smile Occam

It’s really hard to put your finger on exactly how things got to be this way, isn’t it?  I mean, its easy to see why religious folk would want to resist scientific input into matters of human nature, since it makes their “god of the gaps” smaller and smaller.  But I can’t really say I understand where the mistrust comes from in the case of other academic departments.

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Posted: 21 December 2006 01:09 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 7 ]
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[quote author=“Jayar”]They were philosophy profs, in fact.  And several are highly regarded leaders in their research fields.  And all of them Continentalists, mind you.  I did my undergraduate degree at a university where British and American philosophy was never discussed.

This makes more sense. Sorry, I have no use for Continental philosophy. I find that it is basically garbage, and the few decent ideas they have are so poorly articulated and larded over with overheated rhetoric as to make them useless.

Post-Modernism is a scourge that the academy should have dispensed with years ago.

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Posted: 21 December 2006 06:39 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 8 ]
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[quote author=“dougsmith”]Post-Modernism is a scourge that the academy should have dispensed with years ago.

I’m with you there.  In hindsight, I didn’t even really know what real philosophy was until the first year of graduate studies.  I did have help from one prof - a Kant and Descartes scholar - at my undergraduate institution, who saw that I had an interest in studying analytic philosophy and urged me to get out while the gettin’ was good.  That poor philosopher, he has endured so much (if you’re interested to see just how much, click here and here , but be warned that these documents compromise the anonymity of the department in question, and effectively make what I am saying gossip!)  In the last two years the department has lost their logic prof and another 18th-century philosophy scholar to retirement.  They have since been replaced with a Continental feminist philosopher, and another Eastern philosophy scholar to add to their store of 4 or so (in a department of maybe 10-12 faculty!).  All the while, the department has NO courses in:  philosophy of science, philosophy of biology, philosophy of mind, philosophy of language, or metaphysics.  Pretty much you name it, they don’t have it.  :?  My undergrad transcript lists some of the following classes:  Hermeneutics, Existentialism, Post-Modernism, Nietzsche, etc.  The most analytic course I took, if you can believe it, was Philosophy of Religion! 

Of course, this department is somewhat of an anomaly so far as I can tell.  But I think almost every philosophy department is under some pressure to give equal time to such ideology-based philosophies.  If there is anything to my prof’s comparison, it would be like psychology departments being pressured to hire phrenologists, or for biology departments to hire IDers!

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Posted: 21 December 2006 06:54 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 9 ]
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Yes, it is quite sad. The better departments have fewer continentalists around. I don’t mind a careful philosopher or two who teaches some Existentialism, Nietzsche, etc., but too many of them (or too many careless ones) at one place and it becomes “creative sharing” instead of scholarship, as they say.

And Derrida is a joke.

rolleyes

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