Category Archives: philosophy

Future Kirk Kobayashi Marus the Trolley Problem

You know the trolley problem, where there’s a trolley on a track where it will hit and kill five people, but there’s a switch that will move it onto another track with only one person. The ethical dilemma is basically whether it is okay to proactively take a life in order to save five other lives. It’s a no-win situation, sort of like the Kobayashi Maru test from Star Trek.

A young James T. Kirk foiled the Kobayashi Maru by reprogramming the computer, changing the rules of the test in order to make possible a winning scenario. Now, this two-year-old future Starfleet Captain has done something similar to resolve the trolley problem.

h/t @nick_kapur

Nietzsche Family Circus

So, here’s a little something that will keep you entertained for a couple of hours. Nietzsche Family Circus pairs random Family Circus Panels with random Nietzsche quotations. Try it out here.

Here are a few samples:

Die at the right time!
Nothing is beautiful, only man: on this piece of naivete rests all aesthetics, it is the first truth of aesthetics. Let us immediately add its second: nothing is ugly but degenerate man – the domain of aesthetic judgment is therewith defined.

I think I am too sarcastic to believe in myself.

Hauser response to plagiarism allegations

So, I’m not sure exactly how I wound up covering this story here. Somehow I have this vague memory of posting a link. Then there was a green fog, and some comments, and tiny dogs riding tricycles, and Katie Holmes struggling to escape from her Katie-Holmes-shaped prison cell, except she had giant fangs, and next thing you know, here we are.

Anyway, a few days ago I mentioned that Gilbert Harman had reposted his mini-paper in which he lays out the case that Marc Hauser had taken many of the ideas in his book Moral Minds from a young researcher named John Mikhail, and that Hauser had not given Mikhail adequate credit for those ideas. Harman argues that Hauser’s qualifies as plagiarism, not of Mikhail’s words, but of his ideas.

A commenter noted that Hauser has responded to the allegations, and Harman provided a link to Hauser’s response, which he has posted on his webpage. You can view the response here. Briefly, Hauser argues 1) that many of the ideas in the book, which Harman claims were copied wholesale from Mikhail, were, in fact, indebted to a number of non-Mikhail sources, many of which predate Mikhail’s work (e.g., Chomsky), 2) that the scope and thrust of Moral Minds is quite different from Mikhail’s, and 3) that Harman seems to be lobbying for a standard of citation that is not at all standard in the field (or any field), and would result in books being completely overwhelmed with citations.

It is worth remembering that Harman himself has stated that his original allegations (which you can read here) were meant to be “a draft of a case for the prosecution and not a final verdict on this topic.” So I think that even Harman would not want any of us jumping to any conclusions without reading and considering Hauser’s response.

What I would love is to hear from someone out there who is familiar with the work in question, but is not connected to Hauser, Mikhail, or Harman. Does any such person exist out there?

Sunday Linkasaurolophus: October 23, 2011

So, welcome back to Sunday Linkasaurolophus.

Remember, it’s like the Winter Linkolympics, but on just one ski.

1. Philosopher of Biology, blogger, and awesome-name-winner John Wilkins is looking for help to bridge a financial lacuna. If you’re in a position to loan or donate, please do. He’s one of the good guys.

2. Who says high schools aren’t preparing kids to function in our society? One consequence of the decade-long War on Terror™ (a wholly owned subsidiary of Haliburton) is the proliferation of secret courts, which are able to pass down judgments with absolutely no public scrutiny or oversight. Well, the kids are getting in education in twenty-first century American Justice at Alice High School in Texas, where a student was kicked off the cheerleading squad and suspended. The student claims that he is being punished for a same-sex kiss that was caught on one of the school’s surveillance cameras. The school says,

The Alice I.S.D. has recently reviewed the recent removal of a student from the Alice High School Cheerleading Squad. After reviewing the Alice I.S.D. Student Code of Conduct and the Cheer Program Handbook, the removal will stay in effect. The student’s parents are in agreement with the district’s decision. The student code of conduct and cheer handbook are designed to improve conduct and encourage students to adhere to their responsibilities as members of the school community. The student and parents are clearly aware that the student was not removed from the squad for kissing another student at school. While the student is free to discuss certain aspects of his discipline in the media, the District cannot discuss the specifics of this incident and must respect the privacy rights of the students involved in this matter.

Except, that the student’s family is not in agreement, and still claims it is about the kiss. But, you know, privacy concerns, so I guess we’ll just have to trust them. Via Jezebel.

3. Did you know that Oral Roberts has a gay grandson? Me either. He sounds awesome. He’ll be giving a series of public lectures starting today. Read about it here. And no, it appears he is no longer invited to family functions.

4. Global warming is real. Now most people who are not ideologically committed to global warming NOT being true already knew that. So what’s the news here? Well, a group of researchers called Berkeley Earth Surface Temperature has done a careful reanalysis of the major temperature records, and has concluded that, yes, things are getting warmer. The results are important in part because the group is not made up of existing members of the climate-science community, and in fact approached the question with a degree of skepticism. In a rational world, that would satisfy climate deniers. Oh well. Via The Economist.

5. And finally, if you haven’t seen it yet, here’s Pete Seeger, Arlo Guthrie, and a whole crowd of folks singing at Columbus Circle in support of the Occupy movement. Via Boing Boing.

Gilbert Harman plagiarism piece on Marc Hauser back up

So, a few weeks ago, I linked to a short piece written by Princeton Philosophy Professor Gilbert Harman in which Harman made the case that Marc Hauser’s book Moral Minds plagiarized the ideas of a young researcher named John Mikhail.

Then, suddenly, the Harman piece disappeared. Harman commented that he had not meant for the piece to go public. He had posted it to his website in order to get comments from a small circle of colleagues. When it received wider attention, Harman pulled it down so that he could give his ideas some more thought before publicizing his accusations.

Well, an expanded version of the piece is now back up. You can read it here. I haven’t diffed the files, but it looks like the original piece is still there, with some additional discussion at the end.

Connoisseurs of academic scandal, enjoy.

Hat tip to Laila Waggoner.

Edit: Post title had Marc Harman instead of Marc Hauser. Der . . .

Sunday Linkasaurolophus: September 25, 2011

So, welcome back to Linkasaurolophus.

Remember, it’s like Linkasaurus Rex, but paints me as a knowledgable insider, the kind of person who knows the name of more than one kind of dinosaur. Maybe two. To the other knowledgable insiders, it also implies that these links have a big crest on their head, which they may or may not have been used millions of years ago to play a jaunty tune.

Let’s start with Facebook: TNG

You’ve probably by now experienced the panopticon bar that Facebook introduced this week. The winning commentary on the New Facebook comes from Dan Lyons (NB: not the same Dan Lyons I went to high school with, although he, also, is awesome). Excerpt:

I prepared myself. On Wednesday night I ate a light dinner and went to bed early, in order to get extra sleep for Thursday morning. Nevertheless, 24 hours later, my hands are still shaking. I’m unable to focus. No matter where I am, I am thinking about Facebook and the new, deeper connection that I immediately feel to everyone I know. It’s so deep, so rich and personal and dare I say, intimate, that the effect is almost overwhelming. It’s like Stendhal Syndrome, where you get overwhelmed by looking at a work of art. I am shellshocked. No, even that is too small a word. I sit and gaze upon the Facebook home page and my emotions begin to sweep and swirl. One moment I am elated. Then I’m struck by anxiety and panic, and want to hide under my desk. A minute later I’m sobbing, uncontrollably, at the beauty of what they’ve done. Why, Mark Zuckerberg? Why do you do this to me? To the world? You are not a businessman, not a geek, not an engineer — you are an artist, and your canvas is the human race itself, the collective hive-mind of modernity.

If you’ve not already read it (which you probably have, as it’s been making the rounds) do yourself a favor and read the whole thing here.

And, here’s something to keep in mind when you’re griping about the Facebook changes, and your supercilious friend chastises you, reminding you again that you have no right to complain about a service that is provided to you for free:

Hat tip to Chris Smith, who was the secret inspiration for U2s fifth album, The Joshua Tree.

Also, you should get better friends.

In non-Facebook news:

The estimable John S. Wilkins (no recent relation) put up an excellent, and very broadly accessible answer to the question “What is philosophy?” You should read it.

Neuroskeptic posted a discussion of the Nipah virus, which provided the inspiration for the virus in the movie Contagion. (Actually, Nipah provided only part of the inspiration. The rest was provided by the universal desire to watch Gwyneth Paltrow die a horrible, horrible death).

You’ll recall the case of Marc Hauser, erstwhile Harvard Professor, who was accused of scientific misconduct, including possibly falsifying data. Around here, we like to call him “the man who put the a** in a**ertainment bias.” Well, Princeton Philosophy Professor Gilbert Harman makes an interesting case that Hauser’s 2006 book, Moral Minds: How Nature Designed Our Universal Sense of Right and Wrong, may have plagiarized the work of John Mikhail. Or, as Harman puts it, “When the ideas taken from Mikhail are subtracted from Hauser’s book, it is unclear what of value is left.” You can read about it (about three-and-a-half pages) here.

If I’ve missed anything, perhaps Neutrino Superman can fly around the world, so that I have a chance to retroactively add it.