Not-Very-Mini-Heap & The Subscription Problem

I didn’t publish any “Mini-Heap” posts over the summer for two reasons.

First, I’ve been trying to reduce how much time I spend on Daily Nous over the summers, so as to be able to use that time for other kinds of work.

Second, Mini-Heap posts originated as a response to requests from readers, some of whom wanted comment space to discuss the links, and others who subscribed to the site by email and wanted to be notified when new material was added to the Heap of Links—and the subscription service wasn’t working properly last Spring.

Over the summer, I discovered that the app I had been using for the subscription service for many years (Postmatic) died, so I went back to the native WordPress service. Chances are, if you had signed up for a subscription sometime in the past 8 years or so, you did so with the now-dead service, so if you’d like to receive email updates of new posts at DN, you’ll need to resubscribe. You can do that by entering your email in the “subscribe” box that’s located at the bottom of the Heap of Links on the main page. It looks like this:

On a laptop or desktop computer, the Heap will be on the left side of the screen. On a phone, you’ll find it by scrolling down on the main page past recent posts and comments.

I’ll be restarting the Mini-Heap posts this week or next. In the meanwhile, below are all of the links I added to the Heap over the summer.

  1. “We might have lived in a world in which every atom was different from every other one and where nothing was stable. In such a world there would be no regularity whatsoever, and our conscious activities would cease” — Hermann Helmholtz is “interviewed” by Richard Marshall at 3:16AM
  2. “‘Absolutely not,’ I told my husband from the bed as he tried to find the right place on his dresser for Marcus Aurelius Antoninus. ‘I don’t need him staring at me all night’” — a couple disagrees over the wisdom of Stoicism (NYT)
  3. The philosophy and science of consciousness — a discussion across multiple posts, between Jonathan Birch (LSE) and Hedda Hassel Mørch (Inland Norway)
  4. “The political theory defended in Crito is fundamentally wrong, and wrong in a very deep way” — Dan Little (UM-Dearborn) on Socrates the absolutist
  5. “The public philosopher is neither an authority figure who has special access to the answers for our social problems nor are they a clever but disinterested observer who can discuss all sides to a given issue” — rather, says William Paris (Toronto), they aim at making problems intelligible
  6. There was an evidentiary hearing in the Kershnar case this week — the story is covered in the New York Times
  7. “Some more self-awareness of the costs and risks of focusing on arguments would make analytic philosophy wiser” — Eric Schliesser (Amsertdam) on arguments, considerations, systems, and imagery in philosophy
  8. “The life and legacy of a man who helped philosophy onto British TV and radio” — an appreciation of Bryan Magee, from Angie Hobbs (Sheffield), Barry Lam (UC Riverside), MM McCabe (Cambridge), Peter Singer (Princeton) and others, on BBC radio
  9. “Why make a law about something that doesn’t exist?” — the puzzle that prompted philosopher Daniel Hoek (Virginia Tech) to discover that what we’ve known for 300 years as Newton’s first law is based on a mistaken translation
  10. “Works of art that illustrate philosophy are inventive in their presentation of abstract philosophical ideas in concrete visual form even as they attest to the importance of written philosophy as a source of artistic inspiration” — Thomas Wartenberg (Mount Holyoke) on how art can illustrate philosophy
  11. What it is like to be a philosopher in Ukraine–before 1991 and after — a report from Viatkina Nataliia (Skovoroda Institute of Philosophy, National Academy of Sciences of Ukraine)
  12. “Technology tempts us into being satisfied with pseudo-friendships” — Paul Woodruff (Texas), who says his “end is near”, reflects on technology and friendship
  13. “When you long / To invent right and wrong / When you’re glad / To explore good and bad / But you’re through / Telling folks what to do — That’s metaethics! — Nomy Arpaly and Jamie Dreier (Brown) sing about metaethics, backed up by Michael Smith (Princeton) on guitar
  14. “Admirers of Marx and Freud tend to claim both that their ideas had a positive net effect and that these ideas would not have been proposed had Marx and Freud never lived” — ” I concur with the latter claim, but not with the former,” says Jon Elster (Columbia) (from 2011, via MR)
  15. “In our scholarly community, the onus should not be solely on early-career researchers to put themselves out there and network. It’s also up to us tenured folk, to help create structures and opportunities for them to do so” — Helen De Cruz (SLU) on networking in philosophy
  16. “There is this tension in the way people write about mathematics — some philosophers and historians in particular” — an interview with mathematician Andrew Granville on how insights from philosophy help shed light on the social dimensions of mathematics
  17. “The rent will be used to address crumbling infrastructure as the upkeep of a completely underground cave is no easy thing” — Plato’s Cave has a new property management company, and it’s raising the rent
  18. “I’m a philosophy professor and I’ve been thinking about love” *picks up axe* — Georgi Gardiner (Tennessee) explores the relationship between our love-related concepts and our love-related experiences (in a rather unusual video)
  19. “Many effects of learning manifest themselves much later” — what are the implications of that for a course’s learning outcomes or student evaluations? Remarks from Martin Lenz (Groningen)
  20. How to participate in philosophy conversations — included in the Heap previously, this is a useful guide for students by Olivia Bailey (Berkeley)
  21. “The expectation that college will help them land a job has led too many students to approach college like a job in its own right: a series of grim tasks that, once completed, qualifies them to perform grimmer but better-paid tasks” — it would be better if they saw it as “a unique time in your life to discover just how much your mind can do”
  22. What are dreams for? Perhaps they are part of how brains “learn the body” — the work of philosopher Jennifer Windt (Monash), neuroscientist Mark Blumberg (Iowa) and others discussed in The New Yorker (via Gary Bartlett)
  23. “In philosophy good positions are interesting in and of themselves. Good arguments can help that, but they are far from necessary” — Liam Bright (LSE) an analytic philosophy’s argument fetish
  24. New exhibit includes never-before-displayed portraits of Nietzsche along with items belonging to him and his sister — “The Private Nietzsche” has opened at the Klassik Stiftung in Weimar
  25. What’s the deal with Leibniz’s hair? — “the wig takes on enhanced significance if juxtaposed not only to philosophy in general but also to Leibniz’s philosophy in particular,” claims Richard Halpern
  26. “It is no longer detectable at conventional levels of statistical significance” — the gender wage gap among faculty at public research universities in the U.S. (via MR)
  27. The military use of AI-directed weaponry raises a “wicked ethical conundrum” of responsibility in which a person “could end up serving as… a ‘moral crumple zone”” — new military technology may require new ethics
  28. “Absolute truth, off the table. But practical truth? That’s real, and that’s what we’re striving for” — Daniel Dennett, interviewed in The New York Times (via Paul Wilson)
  29. A thoughtfully constructed and detailed example of “a unique approach to teaching analytical writing to introductory philosophy students” — the “levels system”, as taught by Dustin Locke (Claremont-McKenna) (via Kenny Easwaran)
  30. “There are no mistakes, just chances to improvise” — against perfection in music. Is there a philosophical analog (no pun intended) to this?
  31. What are your most underappreciated works? — scholars in the humanities and social sciences are invited to nominate their own writings, though there are some conditions
  32. “The leisure that is necessary for human beings is not just a break from real life, a place where we rest and restore ourselves in order to go back to work. What we are after is a state that looks like the culmination of a life” — Zena Hitz (St. John’s) on the “interior discipline” of leisure
  33. “GPT4—an extremely optimized, probabilistic, domain-general reasoning machine—commits the same systematic errors that have been used to argue that humans couldn’t be optimized, probabilistic reasoning machines” — Kevin Dorst (MIT) on what’s to be learned from the “cognitive biases” of LLMs
  34. “Nature cannot afford to generate beings that just pretend to be sentient” — the evidence for (and implications of) insect sentience (via The Browser)
  35. “The world isn’t simple, what the evidence shows isn’t always clear, and things are not always as they seem” — Eric Winsberg (South Florida) on the importance (and mistreatment) of scientific dissidents
  36. “For both Kierkegaard and Eliot, remarkably fertile years as artist-philosophers followed a momentous, life-defining personal choice” — Clare Carlisle (KCL) on Kierkegaard, Eliot, and marriage
  37. “Nothing reveals to me the totality of the context-collapse in which the younger generations pass their lives more clearly than the widespread philistinism and prissiness that prevails with regard to art” — a Gen X howl from Justin Smith-Ruiu (Justin E.H. Smith)
  38. Ukraine faces “a cultural genocide” — Jason Stanley (Yale) interviewed on PBS, from Kyiv
  39. “Trust in science,” “appreciation for common sense,” and “suspicion of infallible knowledge,” are some of the factors an LLM says influenced its answers — Claude, the LLM from Anthropic, takes the PhilPapers survey
  40. “I don’t think that Aristotle is compatible with modern science or with the metaphysics that is implicit in modern science” — says Edward Halper (Georgia), and “once you see why, you can also see a real metaphysical difficulty with modern science—and another with Aristotle”
  41. “I am not endorsing Sellars’ vision… But there is something interesting, tantalizing even, about how Sellars went about that project, of ‘doing justice’ to what he thought would ultimately be eliminated” — Bas van Frassen on Sellars’ “apocalyptic vision”
  42. What’s “the X that might be required for consciousness… in current LLMs”? — David Chalmers (NYU) looks at six possibilities
  43. “I don’t think you’ll be able to resolve all conflicts in life. And some of those conflicts are going to be between beauty and morality” — Alexander Nehamas (Princeton) in conversation with Jonny Thakkar (Swarthmore)
  44. Personalized medicine “purports to both tailor health care and drive down costs, but the more it succeeds at individualization, the higher go the prices” — Jim Tabery (Utah) on the tensions between personalized medicine and public health
  45. The claim that nothing is true, some say, is “incoherent or otherwise self-defeating,” or epistemically “costly” — but it’s neither, argues Will Gamester (Leeds)
  46. “It’s reasonable to say that analytic philosophy has always been in a state of (meta-)philosophical crisis” — Aaron Preston (Valparaiso) on analytic philosophy, moral knowledge, metaphilosophical eudaimonism, personalism, political discourse, and more
  47. “Motivated and biased reasoning can bring knowledge and understanding, even when it involves ignoring good quality information” — Kathleen Puddifoot (Durham) on why cognitive bias doesn’t always lead people astray
  48. “The most important form of progress in philosophy: opening up new ideas about what might possibly be true” — Eric Schwitzgebel (UC Riverside) on “philosophy that opens”
  49. “We cannot go back in time and undo the processes that pushed female philosophers into the periphery” of early analytic philosophy — but “historians can play a role in correcting the omissions, oversights and even downright mistakes our predecessors made,” as Jeanne Peijnenburg (Groningen) and Sander Verhaegh (Tilburg) do
  50. “The attribution of lying can yield the best interpretation of an author regardless of how strongly he condemns lying” — argue Roy Sorenson and Ian Proops (Texas). Their main example? Kant.
  51. “We need to come to our senses and abandon an unprecedented and perverse form of acculturation that is bad for current and future generations alike” — Talbot Brewer (Virginia) on attention, markets, and the “ongoing tragedy of the cultural commons”
  52. “Dewey inspired Ambedkar to evolve a sort of pragmatism that targeted caste oppression, but which built up a vision of democratic social systems that allowed individuals to matter” — Scott R. Stroud (Texas) on the development, in India, of “something absolutely unique in the pragmatist tradition”
  53. What can metaphysics do? — physicist Sean Carroll in conversation with philosopher Katie Elliott (Brandeis)
  54. “Our intuitions about beauty are sharply conflicting… We emphasize that it is a matter of luck, but we cannot stop ourselves from treating it as an achievement” — Becca Rothfeld on the actions of being beautiful
  55. “People with our training can do a lot of good in the intelligence business” — Arnold Cusmariu, a philosophy PhD who joined the CIA, provides some intelligence on why intelligence might be a good career choice for people who’ve studied philosophy
  56. Actually useful internet search advice — you should be able to do more than just type a word or phrase into Google (via The Browser)
  57. “It’s not all good, it’s just everything” — on the complications of beauty, especially other women’s beauty
  58. “Einstein’s theory of relativity shows that qualia, the elements of subjective experience, must be in the same place as their neural correlates,” that is, in your head — Neil Sinhababu (NUS) explains why, and its implications (e.g., it makes dualism “more scientific and less magical”)
  59. “The conception of moral philosophy at which I had thus arrived put me at odds not only with the standpoint dominant in contemporary moral philosophy but also with the established analytic understanding of how philosophical inquiry should proceed” — Alasdair MacIntyre (Notre Dame) on why “contemporary academic moral philosophy turns out to be seriously defective as a form of rational inquiry”
  60. “These interviews are a seismic social epistemology project; a venue for disabled philosophers to identify with each other; and, they draw sharp attention to power and disability. The series is a crucial step for disability visibility in philosophy and beyond” — reflections on the “Dialogues on Disability” interview series from the many people Shelley Tremain has interviewed for it
  61. “For a while now I have been unable (unwilling is what I should say, but from the inside it feels stronger than that) to really commit to doing philosophy research” — “this post,” writes Liam Kofi Bright (LSE) “is me trying to reason aloud as to why that might be and whether the feeling is worth indulging”
  62. “Barbie has long functioned as a proxy onto which cultural aspirations and anxieties about womanhood are projected” — Carol Hay (UMass Lowell) on how a feminist might come to appreciate Barbie
  63. Epistemic permissivism, Pascal’s Wager, God’s mental states, belief-credence dualism, and more — an interview with Liz Jackson (Toronto Metropolitan)
  64. Should we use idealized models in policymaking? — Yes we should, argues Hannah Rubin (University of Missouri)
  65. “Silence, whatever it is, is not a sound — it’s the absence of sound. Surprisingly, what our work suggests is that *nothing* is… something you can hear” — a new study, with a video of an experiment you can try. (Is “Holes: Study Shows We Can See Them” next?)
  66. The goods of focusing on “canonical” figures in philosophy: “a community of readers, a corpus accessible across the globe, a common language to converse about many things we might only begin to understand” — how Martin Lenz (Groningen) became pro-canon, in a way
  67. “Every spring, I suffer the Summer Illusion, building up big plans and hopes. Then…” — Eric Schwitzgebel (Riverside) names and explains that all-too-common phenomenon
  68. A conjecture: “When a question about a story that calls out for an answer lacks an internal answer, but has an external one, then that is a flaw in the story” — Brad Skow (MIT) on what that means and whether it’s correct
  69. “The goal was to exhibit some of the best and most significant work the journal has published over the years, in a way that was sensitive to changes in the journal’s editorial vision and the field of philosophy of science during that time” — for the 90th anniversary of Philosophy of Science, a curated and free selection of 3-4 articles from each of its decades
  70. “Prioritising in attention traits that do not reflect personhood – which… include demographic properties – over those that do – which… include professional identities and passions – is a… subtle way of disrespecting an individual’s personhood” — Ella Kate Whiteley (LSE) on being thought of as “a woman first and a philosopher second”
  71. “Incorporating expert scientists’ preferences for dissensus would change marginal funding decisions for ten percent of projects worth billions of dollars per year” — science, funding, and disagreement: “in contrast to funding agencies… scientists systematically prefer to fund projects with more reviewer dissensus” (via MR)
  72. Daniel Ellsberg, who died this month, is “best-known as the military analyst who leaked ‘the Pentagon Papers’ in 1971” but he “made a significant contribution to philosophy, in the area of decision theory” — Nikhil Venkatesh (LSE) explains Ellsberg’s philosophical insight and applies it to his decision to leak the papers
  73. “The controversies that have haunted the publication of Heidegger’s work are significant, insofar as they concern not merely occasional and understandable editorial lapses but instead suggest a premeditated policy of substantive editorial cleansing” — Richard Wolin (CUNY) on the editorial manipulation of Heidegger’s texts
  74. “Passport strength is almost invisible in the discipline as an axis of privilege” — if you are a holder of a US or Western European passport, you should really read this conversation between Tushar Menon (Dianoia) and Rachel Fraser (Oxford) about what it is like to have weak “passport power” and how it affects one’s work
  75. “The notion of ‘cancellation’ is an exemplary bit of ideology. It appears to be content-neutral—a purely procedural complaint about ‘intolerance’ and the failures of the ‘free marketplace of ideas’—but in fact is substantively political” — wide-ranging reflections on free speech, academic freedom, politics, student culture, and more from Amia Srinivasan (Oxford)
  76. “The only way to determine the ethical status of such an entity might… be unethical” — the science and ethics of embryo models
  77. “Philosophers are far more likely to suffer from depression than to write about it” but depression does raise “questions that philosophy can help us answer” — Brendan de Kenessey (Toronto) on depression and the good
  78. “They… reflect a commitment to reasoned inquiry, openness to new evidence, and respect for both the achievements and the limitations of our current understanding” — when you have ChatGPT take the PhilPapers survey and then have it describe the common themes across its answers
  79. The idea that philosophy must be good in order to be valuable “contributes to an exclusionary attitude that seeps into our unarticulated assumptions about who and what philosophy is for, and thereby shapes our professional practices in ways that we may not always be aware of” — Alida Liberman (SMU) offers a defense of doing philosophy badly
  80. The EU’s Artificial Intelligence Act would ban certain forms of AI, including predictive policing — but “the ethical landscape of predictive policing is more subtle and complex” than the act suggests, argues Duncan Purves (Florida)
  81. “The narrative that there ‘was no political philosophy within analytic philosophy’ before Rawls is a lie that keeps us in a self-imposed tutelage” — Eric Schliesser (Amsterdam) on Susan Stebbing’s “Ideals and Illusions”
  82. “Epistemic cosplay” — that’s what’s usually going on when people “do their own research,” argues Joshua Blanchard (Oakland), and “it is not especially valuable”
  83. “Why does so much of professional philosophy today seem so boring?” “Who’s an underrated philosopher that we should be reading more?” “What’s the most common topic you see crossing the desk of the [Journal of Controversial Ideas]?”? — Tyler Cowen (GMU) asks Peter Singer some questions
  84. “Irrationalist narratives” from psychology and behavioral economics have contributed to a disastrous loss in “epistemic empathy” — but those narratives are highly questionable, argues Kevin Dorst (MIT), whose blog has a new home on Substack
  85. “Computer says no” — when AI’s “black boxes” are used in ways that affect us, “we don’t know the reason something’s happened, we can’t argue back, we can’t challenge, and so we enter the Kafkaesque realm of the absurd,” says Alexis Papazoglou
  86. “The people who find immoral jokes to be less funny because they are immoral are not in good positions to judge how funny immoral jokes are! You wouldn’t let someone averse to sweets judge a cake competition, would you?” — Connor Kianpour (Colorado) defends strong comic immoralism
  87. A philosophy student became an investment banker who became a collector of rare philosophy books — Michael Walsh has donated his collection, which includes a first edition of Hume’s Treatise and other gems, to the University of Toronto
  88. “They provide us with a relatively recent, further perspective beyond continental philosophy from which to understand and critique the dominant approach in Anglophone philosophy.” — American women philosophers in the speculative tradition in the first half of the 20th Century
  89. “The most useful, freely accessible Classics tools online” — a list of 100 open-access websites and resources curated by the team at Antigone
  90. “Kant’s antinomies, properly digested, only require you to step back from the whole affair, to quit trying to find dogmatic solutions to metaphysical problems… But how do you step back, when everything seems to bring you to a similar impasse?” — and Justin Smith-Ruiu does mean everything: flying, disability, air conditioning, almonds…
  91. “All these different technical hacks are really motivated by exploiting a philosophical principle of computation of meta code” — an interview with Scott Shapiro (Yale), whose new book is on hacking and hackers: “It’s like to understand God, you’ve got to understand the people who made him”
  92. Do philosophers and economists tend to agree on how much less future benefits and harms should matter compared to present benefits and harms? — yes, “although on the basis of very different intellectual arguments”
  93. “I’ve always thought of science, and especially scientific modeling, as fundamentally value-laden enterprises. But I’m really starting to feel like philosophers of science have fallen behind the curve on this” — Eric Winsberg (South Florida) is interviewed at “What Is It Like To Be A Philosopher?”
  94. “The point is not to reject new technology but to help students retain the upper hand in their relationship with it” — why some profs, including philosopher David Peña-Guzmán (SFSU) are teaching low-tech, screen-free courses

Discussion welcome.

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10 days ago
Paul Wilson
10 days ago

“Second, Mini-Heap posts originated as a response to requests from readers, some of whom wanted comment space to discuss the links”

I second that request.