Experimental Philosophy and the Replication Crisis

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sat, 19/05/2018 - 2:40am in

The replication crisis in psychology and other fields, in which researchers have found it difficult or impossible to replicate the results of many earlier experiments (see the Reproducibility Project) is now being addressed by those working in experimental philosophy (x-phi), a subfield of philosophy that borrows surveying and experimental methods from psychology, whose work may suffer from similar problems.

The X-Phi Replicability Project enlisted 20 teams across 8 countries—over 40 researchers—to conduct replications of a “representative sample” of 40 x-phi studies, and has recently released its results. They found that x-phi studies “successfully replicated about 70% of the time.”

By way of comparison, the Reproducibility Project was able to replicate findings in only around 35% of a representative sample of psychology studies.

What explains the relatively high replication rate? The authors consider a number of explanations:

  • the effect sizes in x-phi, especially early on, were large, and it has been found that effect sizes are a good predictor of a study’s replicability
  • because x-phi studies are less costly to run and re-run, there is less of a downside to getting results that are not interesting enough  to publish, and so there is less motivation to engage in “questionable research practices”
  • the effects studied in x-phi are generally “less subtle” than those studied in psychology and more likely to be affected by factors under the control of the researchers
  • the academic culture of philosophy encourages researchers to be “more sensitive to certain methodological questions, such as what counts as strong evidence for a given claim,” or have “a greater tolerance for negative or null results.” More generally, for a few reasons, philosophers may be less susceptible than psychologists to the pressure of “publish or perish” when it comes to empirical studies.

You can read more about the results here.

(via Florian Cova)

Vivian Maier, “Infinite Reflection”


The post Experimental Philosophy and the Replication Crisis appeared first on Daily Nous.

SF Short Film: Robots of Brixton

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 18/05/2018 - 7:19pm in

This is an interesting piece of what Beyoncé would call ‘Afrofuturism’ from the Dust channel on YouTube. Dust specialise in putting up short SF films, like the one above. This film, directed by Kibwe Tavares, imagines a kind of future Brixton, where all, or nearly all the people living there are robots. The film’s hero, a robot with Afro-Caribbean features, walks through the area, before relaxing with a robot friend, by toking what appears to be the robotic version of a bong.

A riot then breaks out, and robot riot police appear to crush it. This is intercut with scenes from the 1981 riots in Brixton, over which is dubbed a voice talking or reciting a piece about ending oppression. The film ends with shots of bodies on the ground, then and in this robotic present. And the quotation from Marx on a black screen: ‘History repeats itself, first as a tragedy, then as a farce’.

People of all races like and produce SF, and there are a number of very well respected Black SF writers, most notably Samuel R. Delaney, who’s been going since the 1960s and ’70s, and Olivia Butler, the author of Clay’s Ark and the Parable of the Sower. A few years ago a volume of SF by Black authors was published with the title Dark Matter, the title also referring to the all the invisible cosmic stuff that’s adding missing mass to the universe. Also in the 1990s over this side of the pond there appeared a book, written by a Black author, about an all-Black mission to save a space colony by turning them Black. This was to save them from a plague which affected only Whites. I can’t say I was impression by this piece, as it seemed to me to be as imperialistic as the White ideologies of civilising Blacks by giving them European civilisation. This seems to be less controversial, though still dealing with a sensitive subject. It is also part of the character of much SF since it first appeared in the 19th century as ‘the literature of warning’.

Casual Engineering

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 16/05/2018 - 9:50pm in



Philosophy and Science Student Wins $10,000 Essay Prize

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 15/05/2018 - 11:43pm in

The Foundational Questions Institute (FQXi) has awarded a number of prizes in response to its call for essays answering the question, “What is fundamental?”, and the top prize has gone to Emily Adlam, who studied physics and philosophy at Oxford and is now a PhD student in the Department of Applied Mathematics and Theoretical Physics at Cambridge.

The prize is $10,000. You can see from the full list of winners and runners-up that she beat out a number of notable competitors.

The mission of FQXi is “to catalyze, support, and disseminate research on questions at the foundations of physics and cosmology, particularly new frontiers and innovative ideas integral to a deep understanding of reality but unlikely to be supported by conventional funding sources.”

Adlam’s essay, “Fundamental?” was described by the institute as “a sophisticated, elegant, witty and original argument.”

Here’s an excerpt:

As realists about science we must surely maintain that there is a need for science to explain the existence of the sorts of regularities that allow us to make reliable predictions—because otherwise their existence would be precisely the kind of strange miracle that scientists are supposed to be making sense of—but there is no similarly pressing need to explain why these regularities take some particular form rather than another. Yet our paradigmatic mechanical explanations do not seem to be capable of explaining the regularity without also explaining the form, and so increasingly in modern physics we find ourselves unable to explain either.

It is in this context that we naturally turn to objective chance. The claim that quantum particles just have some sort of fundamental inbuilt tendency to turn out to be spin up on some proportion of measurements and spin down on some proportion of measurements does indeed look like an attempt to explain a regularity (the fact that measurements on quantum particles exhibit predictable statistics) without explaining the specific form (the particular sequence of results obtained in any given set of experiments). But given the problematic status of objective chance, this sort of non-explanation is not really much better than simply refraining from explanation at all. 

Why is it that objective chances seem to be the only thing we have in our arsenal when it comes to explaining regularities without explaining their specific form? It seems likely that part of the problem is the reductionism that still dominates the thinking of most of those who consider themselves realists about science. The reductionist picture tells us that global regularities like quantum statistics must be explained in terms of fundamental properties of individual particles, and objective chances fit into this reductionist ontology because it seems to make sense to think about them as properties of the objects that exhibit the probabilities, as in the propensity interpretation of probability. But moving away from the reductionist picture would give us many more options, including some which are likely more coherent than the nebulous notion of objective chance.

So seems that we are in dire need of another paradigm shift. And this time, instead of simply changing our attitudes about what sorts of things require explanation, we may have to change our attitudes about what counts as an explanation in the first place.


The full essay is here.

(via @TrueSciPhi)

Nike Savvas, “Atomic: full of love, full of wonder” (photo of installation)


The post Philosophy and Science Student Wins $10,000 Essay Prize appeared first on Daily Nous.

Research on Public Attitudes Towards Philosophy & Philosophers

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 15/05/2018 - 12:01am in

“Science communication is a profession in its own right with journals, higher degrees and careers paths,” notes philosopher Brendan Larvor (Hertfordshire). Yet there does not appear to be much of a “philosophy communication” analog. He notes, “so far as I know there is no research on public attitudes towards philosophy and philosophers.”

These remarks appear in a brief post at Professor Larvor’s blog in which he discusses, among other things, some ideas of Gail Cardew (Royal Institution) regarding the public understanding of science. He describes some of Cardew’s thoughts on the matter:

Can the public be expected to understand science, in any meaningful sense? Perhaps not, so replace ‘understanding of’ by ‘engagement with’. But engagement is a rather undemanding term that sets low and vague success-criteria. It was evident that she regards this as an unsolved problem.

She said two things that stuck with me:

  1. Science communicators are trying to move away from a deficit model in which the public are taken to be in a defective condition of ignorance and unrigour, and the role of the science communicator is to repair this deficiency. This model fails because many of the public are experts and in any case no-one likes to be patronised.
  2. Science communication bodies such as the Royal Institution do research into public attitudes towards science and scientists. For example, there is research on the extent to which the public trusts scientists.

So what is the public thinking when they think about philosophy and philosophers? How would we classify the methods that philosopher-communicators tend to use while engaging with the public? Are such methods supported by any research about their efficacy? And what are the goals of such engagement, anyway? Should we encourage the development of “philosophy communication” as a field of study?

Comments welcome, especially from those familiar with the field of science communication and those who know of any research on public attitudes about philosophers and philosophy.

from Alan Stamaty, “Who Needs Donuts?”

The post Research on Public Attitudes Towards Philosophy & Philosophers appeared first on Daily Nous.

New Series Next Tuesday on the History of Science Fiction

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 09/05/2018 - 12:25am in

According to the Radio Times there’s a new series on the history of Science Fiction beginning on BBC 4 next Tuesday, 15th May 2018 at 8.00 pm. Entitled Tomorrow’s Worlds: the Unearthly History of Science Fiction, it’s a four part series, the first of which is on space. The blurb for it says

Historian Dominic Sandbrook begins his exploration of one of the most innovative and imaginative of all genres with the topic that has perhaps intrigued its creative minds most: what lies beyond our planet. Contributors include William Shatner, Nichelle Nichols, Anthony Daniels, Kenny Baker, Zoe Saldan and Neil Gaiman. (p.77).

Science Fiction Becomes Chilling Science Fact: Plans for Autonomous Drones

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 08/05/2018 - 5:23am in

Last week, the I carried a story reporting the debate over the development of truly autonomous military drones. At the moment these killing machines require a human operator, but there are plans to give them AI and autonomy, so that they can fly and kill independently. I’m afraid I didn’t read the article, so can’t really tell you much about it, except what leapt out at me.

And what did leap out of me was that this is very dangerous. The I itself reported that there was a controversy over the proposals. Some scientists and other people have argued that it’s dangerous to remove humans from war, and leave to it cold, dispassionate machines. This is a valid point. A decade or so ago, one tech company announced it was planning to build war robots to be used in combat. There was immediately a storm of protest as people feared the consequences of sending robots out to kill. The fear is that these machines would continue killing in situations where a humane response is required.

whistleblowers on the American drone programme have also talked about its dehumanising effects. The human operator is miles, perhaps even an entire continent away from the drone itself, and this creates a sense of unreality about the mission. The deaths are only seen on a screen, and so the operator can forget that he is actually killing real human being. After one trainee drone operator continued killing long after he had completed his mission, he was reportedly hauled from his chair by the instructor, who told him sternly, ‘This is not a video game’. Similarly soldiers and pilots in combat may also become dehumanised and enjoy killing. One of the volumes I read against the Iraq War included a letter from a veteran American Air Force pilot to his son, entitled ‘Don’t Lose Your Humanity’. The father was concerned that this would happen to his lad, after seeing it happen to some of the men he’d served with. He wrote of a case where a man continued to shoot at the enemy from his plane, simply because he enjoyed the chaos and carnage he was creating.

Already humans can lose their own moral compass while controlling these machines, but the situation could become much worse if these machines became completely autonomous. They could continue to kill regardless of circumstance or morality, simply through the requirement to obey their programming.

There is also another danger: that the rise of these machines will eventually lead to the extinction and enslavement of the human race. The idea of the robot’s revolt has haunted Science Fiction since Mary Shelley first wrote Frankenstein at the beginning of the 19th century. It’s one of the clichéd themes of SF, but some scientists fear it the danger is all too real. Martin Rees, the Astronomer Royal, included it among the dangers to the survival of humanity in his book, Our Final Minute?, in the 1990s. Kevin Warwick, professor of robotics at Reading University and former cyborg, also sees it as a real possibility. His 1990s book, March of the Machines, opens with a chilling description of a world ruled by robots. Humanity has been decimated. The few survivors are enslaved, and used by the machines to hunt down the remaining free humans living wild in places which are inaccessible to the robots. Warwick was deeply troubled by the prospect of the machines eventually taking over and leaving humanity far behind. He turned to cyborgisation as a possible solution to the problem and a way for humanity to retain its superiority and survival against its creations.

These plans for the drones also remind very strongly of an SF story I read way back when I was a teenager, ‘Flying Dutchman’, by Ward Moore, in Tony Boardman, ed., Science Fiction Stories, illustrated by David Mitchell, Paul Desmond, and Graham Townsend (London: Octopus 1979). In this story, a bomber comes back to base to be refuelled and loaded up once again with bombs, to fly away again on another mission. This is all done automatically. There are no humans whatever in the story. It is implied that humanity has finally killed itself, leaving just its machines continuing to function, flying and bombing in an endless cycle, forever.

Many of the other stories in the volume were first published in the SF pulp magazines. I don’t know when Moore’s story was written, but the use of bombers, rather than missiles, suggests it was around the time of the Second World War or perhaps the Korean. Not that bombers have been entirely superseded by modern missiles and combat aircraft. The Americans used the old B54s against the Serbs during the war in Yugoslavia. These plans to create autonomous drones brings the world of Moore’s story closer to horrifying reality.

SF has often been the literature of warning. Quite often its predictions are hilariously wrong. But this is one instance where we need to pay very serious attention indeed.

Turnbull Shocked That Royal Commission Investigating Banks Not Banksy

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Mon, 07/05/2018 - 8:25am in


Science, banks, Budget

The Prime Minister has expressed concern and annoyance that the Royal Commission that his Government set up is investigating Banks rather than his planned target the artist Banksy.

“This is a most concerning occurrence,” said the Prime Minister. “I mean why would we want to investigate Banks when there are more pressing and dangerous industries and companies around like this Banksy chap.”

“I mean can you believe the nerve of this fellow, putting art on walls. He should be putting art where it belongs on canvases so that it can be hung in galleries and bought by the likes of me for my private collection.”

When asked how the Royal Commission into Banks rather than Banksy occurred the Prime Minister replied: “Well Scotty and I were sitting back quaffing some sherry and discussing the countries most pressing issues. Namely unsightly graffiti when he said we should hold a Royal Commission into Banksy that’ll appease the peasants. We laughed and well we must have written down Banks rather than Banksy.”

“But don’t worry about the Banks I’ll have Scotty give them some tax cuts and incentives in the Budget. I’ll make it up to them.”

Mark Williamson

You can check out our new show Decennium Horribilius at this year’s Sydney Comedy Festival. Hosted by The (un)Australian, the quiz show features teams of some of Sydney’s best comics trying to answer questions about the decade of the 1990s — with prizes for the audience.

Saturday May 5, 5.30pm. The Factory Theatre. Book tickets here.

Resurrecting Brains: Philosophical Questions and New Ethical Territory (guest post)

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 03/05/2018 - 1:11am in

A team of scientists led by Nenad Sestan (Yale) have “restored circulation to the brains of decapitated pigs and kept the reanimated organs alive for as long as 36 hours,” reports MIT Technology Review. The method used to keep pigs’ brains alive outside the body will work on other animals, including primates, Sestan said. The following is a guest post* by Carolyn Dicey Jennings, assistant professor of philosophy and cognitive science at UC Merced, in which she discusses some of the philosophical issues arising from this research.

Resurrecting Brains: Philosophical Questions and New Ethical Territory
by Carolyn Dicey Jennings

Let’s say for argument’s sake that you have a decapitated pig and you are wondering whether you should bring its brain back to life. What ethical issues might concern you? Some brain researchers have been thinking about this and they have a request: “The researchers say that ways of measuring consciousness need to be developed and strict limits set for them to be able to continue their work with the public’s support.” Here are some ideas, but I would like to hear from other philosophers in the comments:

1. Self

If you are going to bring a pig’s brain back to life for scientific experimentation, you probably want to know whether you have also brought back a self. This will be especially problematic when the research is extended to human brains and selves, which is already on the horizon. Of course, some would argue that there are no such things as selves, but I disagree.

Do pigs have selves? They have not yet passed the mirror self-recognition test, which is used by many as a marker of the self. This test requires that an animal recognize its reflection in a mirror as its own. Passing the test is, in normal cases, impressive—a sign of high intelligence, at the very least. Does failing to pass the test indicate an absence of self? No. That bar is too high. Toddlers often don’t pass the test, but ask those who have spent time with toddlers if they have a self. (Hint: yes.)

What these toddlers and many other animals lack is self-consciousness—-an understanding of themselves as selves. Without self-consciousness how could you know that something has a self? Perhaps having a distinctive personality is one sign of self, which pigs certainly display. But disembodied pig brains probably don’t have easily measurable personalities. So what can we do to rule out the presence of a self in a disembodied brain?

One possibility is to rule out the presence of hierarchical frequency coupling. The brain has measurable wave patterns that are cheap and relatively easy to detect through the use of EEG. As I argue in a book under contract with Cambridge University Press, the self is active when low-frequency waves modulate high-frequency waves. So one suggestion is that researchers look for this signature of the self before proceeding with further experimentation.

2. Consciousness

Separate from the issue of the self is that of consciousness—are disembodied pig brains capable of consciousness? This is a hard question. I am teaching a course on consciousness right now and my students have commented on how difficult it is to determine consciousness in nonhuman cases, such as animals and machines, but few think consciousness is absent in animals. One issue is that of language: nonhuman animals have limited to no language, whereas machines have only superficial language abilities (think Chinese Room, or its modern equivalent). It is difficult to discover if something or someone is conscious if you cannot ask them.

Luckily, a number of promising neural markers of consciousness that do not rely on language have been put forward. One is that of feedback from the frontal cortex, likewise measured using EEG. Unlike many animals, pigs do have a frontal cortex, and thus frontal feedback—signals from the frontal cortex to other parts of the brain. (It is called “feedback” because brain processing is normally considered to go from other areas of the brain “forward” to the frontal cortex, and then back again.) If the disembodied brains of pigs display frontal feedback then I think consciousness is a very real possibility.

Another option is to look at the brain’s response to direct stimulation; brains of conscious humans tend to have widespread activation after direct stimulation, whereas brains of unconscious humans do not. This would be a fairly easy test that would help us to look for consciousness in parts of brains or in animals that do not have a frontal cortex.

An advantage of this latter method is that it might capture low-level consciousness, whereas frontal feedback captures only high-level consciousness. Consider this — the difference between standard and so-called “lucid” dreaming is that lucid dreamers report being aware of the fact that they were dreaming. This ability has been found to correspond with greater frontal cortex activity. But surely one need not be a lucid dreamer to be conscious while dreaming (pace Dennett). So frontal feedback may add the awareness that we are conscious, but the absence of frontal feedback would not necessarily mean an absence of consciousness.

3. Pain

A major topic in research ethics is that of pain; causing unnecessary pain and suffering is to be avoided, and this informs current practice. Can we feel pain without a body? One reason to think otherwise is that pain is attributed to parts of the body that signal damage to the brain through the spinal cord. With neither a body nor spinal cord what pain is there to feel? Is whole-body phantom pain possible?

We don’t yet know what happens to a brain without a body. Scientists and philosophers have argued that many forms of consciousness are either partly or wholly dependent on a body. It would be difficult to test for the presence of pain in a disembodied brain because its neural correlates also register non-painful stimuli.

I don’t have a good suggestion for this issue. (I am hoping others do!) The best idea I have had is to start by looking more closely at dreams during NREM sleep. This is the type of sleep we have without even activity in the eyes, when the whole body is at rest. Those woken up during NREM sleep sometimes report dreams. Further exploration here may give us insight into what experience without a body might look like, and whether it could include pain and suffering.

4. New Ethical Territory

I do think that this research is new ethical territory for us. We already allow scientific experimentation on animals that are likely to have consciousness, selves, and sometimes pain. The difference in this case is that these animals (well, brains) are being brought back to life having already experienced death. This may sound absurd, but if the dying brain hypothesis is correct, many of the sacrificed pigs will likely have had near death experiences (i.e. walking in a tunnel toward the light, euphoria, etc.). What will happen when they are brought back? We don’t know. We don’t know if it will cause needless suffering, and thus we don’t know if this work warrants special protections and guidelines. Creating brains in the lab (which is also on the research agenda, and has its own issues) seems importantly distinct from ending, restarting, and re-ending the lives of conscious beings with histories. This is especially true when the beings in question are disembodied brains, which cannot easily communicate the stress or suffering they might be enduring.

art: Wim Delvoye, Pigs

The post Resurrecting Brains: Philosophical Questions and New Ethical Territory (guest post) appeared first on Daily Nous.

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 02/05/2018 - 4:03am in


These channels, called nuclear pore complexes (NPCs), are essential for life, tightly controlling which large macromolecules get in or out of the nucleus. Such activities include allowing vital proteins to enter the nucleus, blocking out harmful viruses, and shuttling messenger RNAs from the nucleus to the cytoplasm, where they are translated into proteins.

This computer simulation starts with an overhead view of the fully formed NPC structure. From this angle, the pore membrane (gray) appears to be at the base and is embroidered in four rings that are the channel’s main architectural support beams. There’s the cytoplasmic outer ring (yellow), the inner rings (purple, blue), the membrane ring (brown), and the nucleoplasmic outer ring (yellow). Each color represents different protein complexes, not rings per se, and the hole in the middle is the central channel through which molecules are transported. Filling the hole is a selective gating mechanism made of disordered protein (anchored to green) that helps to get the right molecules in and out….

Rout and Chait have spent more than 20 years trying to solve the structure of NPCs….