Surprise! There’s Philosophy About That
If you ask a person on the street what philosophy is about, that person may respond with…
- “No thanks.”
- “Do I know you?”
- a faster gait
- pepper spray
or perhaps some examples of big philosophical questions about the meaning of life, right and wrong, knowledge, freedom, minds, rationality, and crystals. Apart from the crystals, that’s not too bad a characterization, even if it leaves out a lot.
Among what it leaves out are topics that (a) are of interest to plenty of people who aren’t philosophers, (b) are not the kind of thing the average person expects there to be philosophy about, yet (c) are indeed the focus of work by philosophers.
I’m thinking of topics about which a non-philosopher might reply, “I didn’t know there was philosophy about that.”
So I thought it might be useful to compile some examples of philosophical work on “surprising” topics. In the comments, please offer up your suggestions. Your comments should include not just the topic, but an example of a philosophical work on it (include the title and author at least, and a link if you care to). Who knows—maybe we’ll be surprised ourselves at what turns up.
How to think about and treat pain:
“Pain and the field of affordances: an enactive approach to acute and chronic pain” by Sabrina Coninx and Peter Stilwell, in Synthese.Report
Is anything and everything really a worthwhile subject for philosophy? An equally interesting question may be: what would be non-worthwhile topics of philosophical analysis?Report
what would be non-worthwhile topics of philosophical analysis?
The philosophy of floor sweepings? The philosophy of what I just ate for breakfast? The philosophy of wet-naps? The philosophy of christmas tinsel? I mean, we can maybe make up something for all of these things, but I’m not sure it would be worth-while.Report
you could validly argue that Zen has a philosophy about floor-sweeping.Report
In “Walden,” Henry David Thoreau does mention the pleasure he receives when emptying his cabin of furniture and sweeping the floor. – From memory though, I couldn’t tell you which page, edition, etc…Report
about sweeping of floors, or about the stuff swept from floors? Even in the first case, it seems more like an instance of a more general idea than a topic in its own right, but it was the detritus I had in mind.Report
I thought that was philosophy. I tend to focus on the philosophy of philosophy it’s one magic step more objective than plain ole philosophy! Of course my friends are into studying the philosophy of philosophy, they insist I am an idiot and I believe them to be a a cult.Report
I thought that Justin’s excellent question would lead to analysing what is common to phenomena that are worth doing philosophy about – and likewise, what is common to phenomena that it isn’t worth at all to philosophise about.Report
That there’s extensive philosophical reflection on the nature and purpose of games, from Bernard Suits’s classic The Grasshopper to C. Thi Nguyen’s recent Games: Agency as ArtReport
It’s gratifying that The Grasshopper is now regularly described as “classic” (which it is). At the time it was turned down by any number (maybe 17?) different publishers.Report
I believe I first learned of it from your work, Tom!Report
How about the Philosophy of Surprise? Roughly, the question here is why some improbable events are surprising or striking or crying out for explanation and others aren’t, despite being at least as improbable. The key discussion on which most of the literature builds is in chapter 5 of Horwich’s Probability and Evidence; a recent paper by Martin Smith on this (“Why Throwing 92 Heads in a Row is not Surprising,” Philosophers’ Imprint 17) won the inaugural Sanders Award for Public PhilosophyReport
Oh, excellent, Andreas! Your question about why some improbable events are striking and others aren’t reminds me of The Pattern Recognition of Humor, by Evolutionary theorist Alastair Clarke. It addresses the emotional reward of something very like surprise, as an essential element of the evolution and survival of our species.Report
Here’s a quick list of article titles from a brief glance at Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. I’m sure there are many, many more examples just on SEP that we could add on here, but I’ll just list the ones I see right now:
(1) The Philosophy of Dance
(2) Philosophy of Theater
(3) Philosophy of Sport
(4) Philosophy of Film
(5) Philosophy of Architecture
(6) The Philosophy of Music
(7) The Philosophy of Digital Art
(8) Philosophy of Technology
(9) Philosophy of Immunology
(10) The Philosophy of Childhood
(11) Philosophy of Humor
(12) Philosophy of Medicine
(13) Philosophy of Money and Finance
*Note: I skipped over a whole bunch of sub-fields in philosophy of science that would be surprising to a lot of people.Report
Since no discipline or area of study is immune to needing independent scrutiny, I’ve always thought that there might be a philosophy of everything from A to Z (e.g., from philosophy of art to philosophy of zoology). But I’ve never tried to find an example for each letter.
Has that been done yet? If not, it’d be cool to see such a list arise from this page…Report
If conceptual analysis is a philosophical method, then for any subject matter for which there are terms that are amenable to analysis, there is a philosophy of that subject matter in at least this minimal sense.Report
Physics is actually an example of this, in the sense that almost everyone outside academia who asks what I does is amazed that there could be a philosophy of physics.
It’s an unusual example in that inside academia it’s quite widely known :giving examples probably isn’t necessary in this case.Report
The Concept of the Positron, by Norwood Rusell Hanson is an excellent book about an example of this! 🙂Report
Yes, agreed. (I used to do philosophy of physics while simultaneously holding odd jobs like waiting tables, and people were always shocked and intrigued. David Bohm got a lot of book recommendations from 2003-2009!) I even know physicists who are shocked by this!Report
Just here for a bit of shameless self-promo: I have a book coming out on the philosophy of psychedelic drugs. Chris Letheby, Philosophy of Psychedelics, OUP 2021.Report
I have a chapter in Guidebook to Hallucinogens… can’t wait to see your book!Report
… HANDBOOK FOR MEDICAL HALLUCINOGENS…Report
Yes, I saw that – haven’t gotten round to ordering it yet, but that handbook looks amazing!Report
Isn’t philosophy just meta-X for any X that is a coherent concept?Report
Phenomenology of psychedelic experiences is fascinating. The book is: Noumenautics: Metaphysics – Meta-ethics – Psychedelics, by Peter Sjöstedt-H.Report
Philosophy of Mathematics, I think most people have no idea there is such a thing. Seems people have the idea it’s a completely objective, no different points of view kind of thing.
People don’t think about the invention of the Zero, for example.
One terrific book on the subject is:Greek Mathematical Thought and the Origin of Algebraby Jacob KleinReport
Philosophy of Language — the meaning of meaning
Philosophy of Humor – “Pattern Recognition Theory of Humor,” by Evolutionary theorist Alastair ClarkeReport
David Wallace in these comments mentions physics, which is a wonderful example. More generally, then, is philosophy of science itself.
People seem to think “science” is “truth” and objective and free of dogma and opinion, but that’s a rather dangerous delusion that actually leads people *away* from good science.
Here’s a terrific book on Methodological Variance!
Methodological Variance: Essays in Epistemological Ontology and the Methodology of Science, by Pandit, Giridhari LalReport
For any x, there is a philosophy of x. A quick Google search turned this up: http://www.stormthecastle.com/stamp-collecting/articles/the-philosophy-of-stamp-collecting.htmReport
For any “philosophy of x there is at least one philosophy of philosophy of x”.Report
Philosophy of Drinking!
How to Drink: A Classical Guide to the Art of Imbibing (Ancient Wisdom for Modern Readers) by Vincent Obsopoeus (Author), and Michael Fontaine (editor)Report
This is going to seem completely out of left field, but pace Justin’s opening comment there’s plenty of important philosophical writing about crystals too: Aristotle (Meteorologia), Theophrastus (De Lapidibus), Pliny (Natural History), Sennert (Hypomnemata physicae), Leibniz (Protogaea), Steno (De solido inter solidum), Louis Bourguet (Lettres philosophiques sur la formation des sels et des cristaux), Kant (Critique of the Faculty of Judgment), just off the top of my head. People you encounter who don’t know this history and are getting their enthusiasm for crystals from recent New Age sources are at least expressing a sort of late-stage, diluted and demotic interest in natural-philosophical questions that were at the center of philosophical attention until the mid-18th century, concerning, broadly speaking, the forms and powers of natural substances. I myself spend a lot of time trying to work New Agers back, when I meet them, to the historical roots of our shared interests, rather than dismissing them. But even before this work is done, I consider them generally more aware than most academic philosophers of the range of questions in which a philosopher should be expected to take an interest.Report
Interesting turn of phrase: “I consider them generally more aware than most academic philosophers of the range of questions in which a philosopher should be expected to take an interest”
What sorts of questions are those? And expected by whom?Report
Roughly the same range of questions Aristotle tackled. The “should” is mine, and you can take it or leave it I suppose.Report
In one sense, I stop myself rushing gto judgment, thinking that they lack objectivity with their beliefs held as their own truths, with respect to crystals. In the same, I can’t say say they are completely Subjective by some sort of occult science mysticism when crystals have had a profound place throughout antiquity.
If you asked New Agers their thoughts on a ‘lucky rabbits foot’ and holding superstition, they might say it depends on the energy it imparts or absorbs or collects in its space. But, the foot is not in itself lucky, there is another component. Being open-minded on exploring such nature of physical and non-physical materials, is one part major Aristotelian and another minor part Bacon.
Theory & Practice,
Evidence based practice vs practice based evidence, inductive vs deductive s abductive,…
Academia can be a very close-minded environment and I spent many years inside of it and outside of it, researching & conceptualizing numerous science disciplines. It’s first an art before it becomes science, and fundamentally it is based in philosophical reasoning. If you live in academia and rush to finger it as, “woo”, check your bias to open your bias on world view. That refresh and learning to flip subjectivity into objectivity just may change your life in how you perceive and think about everything. We know a lot about ourselves, yet we know almost nothing about anything that’s truly out there. Maybe there is some fundamental nature to crystals and more, but we havent found the right inquiry to set a hypothesis that we can measure & observe. Quantum physics and relational interpretation of interactions, has you not focusing on distinct entities but on the interactions. Waves of probability or particles of instantaneous experience… The notion of particles is a human derived concept, there is no such thing as a hard material mass, it is something based on energy, vibrations/oscillations, fields of force, electromagnetism (gravity is not truly a force but a representation of a field of force relating to curvature in space-time).
Consciousness is there somewhere, too, but for now it is held in mysticism. I still believe in prayer, though, as a form of meditation, reflection and introspection.
IN QUANTUM PHYSICS, “REALITY” REALLY IS WHAT WE CHOOSE TO Observe.
Physicist Bruce Gordon argues that idealist philosophy is the best way to make sense of the puzzling world of quantum physics
Whoa James.. uh, I need you to critique a book I’ve been at for 3+ yrs.Report
It shouldn’t be surprising academics work in limited areas; with the sheer amount of knowledge and ideas we have about the world these days, aiming for the range of Aristotle seems to risk spreading oneself too thin – even with a mind as exceptional a mind as his.
Anyway, if I may ask about crystals. Are there still any philosophically interesting issues in the 21st century, given that their effects are indistinguishable from those of wishful thinking?Report
Help! Now we’ll need to come up with The Philosophy of PhilosophyReport
Yes! Like a infinite loop! Gödel theorem and the philosophy of methaphilosophy!Report
Timothy Williamson already has that taken care of! https://www.wiley.com/en-au/The+Philosophy+of+Philosophy-p-9781405133968Report
There is a surprising amount of thoughtful philosophical work on the normativity of archery.Report
The aspect of Creativity.
Albert Rotherberg, Harvard psychologist, has spent decades studying the nature/ fundamentals, distinct processes in fusion of thinking or holding simultaneous perspectives (he termed as, ‘Janusian & Homospatial Thinking’, being two-sided Janus of differing perspectives), the multifaceted ability for an evolving inquiry, the underlying habits that may spark creative juice to flow, and so on.
Investigating the creature minds and processing of Einstein, Planck, Darwin, numerous other Nobel winners, along with artists (all inclusive).
The last time I checked in on his Researchgate/ Academia projects, he was looking into whether individuals with such modes of thinking process time in itself differently.
“Flight From Wonder – An Investigation of Scientific Creativity”, Albert Rotherberg.
Lol, not ‘creature minds’.
–> ‘creative minds’Report
Perhaps the philosophy of surprise is that we shouldn’t really be surprised about anything as if it happened then it must be possible, therefore not surprising. That is why we aren’t particularly surprised by throwing 92 heads in a row, because if one is educated in mathematics you know that it is possible though rare. I imagine that might be how an AI would see everything, they wouldn’t be surprised at anything. Humans are only surprised at things because of ignorance, no one can possibly know anything.Report
Nick Bostrom has a Ph. D. in philosophy. He is founding director of the Future of Humanity Institute at Oxford University. His book “Superintelligence: Paths, Dangers, Strategies” contains lots of philosophy. I will also pitch my publication, which I think contains philosophy: “Existential Risk/Opportunity Singularity Management,” available at http://www.global-risk-sig.org/pub.htmReport