Friday, April 28, 2006


(1) I'm working on a major re-write of the thought-experiments paper with Ben. This stuff is hard work, but I think it'll be rewarding. I should be able to put a draft online soon. The challenge we take up is to provide a naturalistically unobjectionable account of how we use thought-experiments to gain knowledge, while maintaining certain central features of standard philosophical methodology: in particular, we want the relevant intuitions to be a priori and necessary. I think our view will work. (Then again, if I didn't, it wouldn't be our view...) (2) Headline: Italy restaurant fined for "cruel" lobster display. There are all kinds of funny things about this story. Take this quote from the restaurant owner: "They said that the lobsters, laying on the ice, suffer... They compared them in court to other animals, like cats and dogs." The implication, apparently, is that this comparison is inappropriate. Why? The story does not develop this line. There seems to be nothing at all crazy about the idea that making an animal die by slow suffocation is an infliction of suffering. Sadly, the article seems not to take the issue at all seriously. It appears in 'Oddly Enough' Reuters, and the end of the article compares this complaint to some rather frivolous animal rights causes. (3) Monopoly. I just heard on NPR that Hasbro has decided that Monopoly needs to be modernized. They're replacing the Atlantic City location names with famous American landmarks. If I could stop this from happening, I would.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

A psychiatrist's philosophy of mind

I've been terribly sick the past two days. No fun at all. But I've taken a chance to get started on some things I've been meaning to read for some time, including a book by a Harvard psychiatrist named J. Allan Hobson called Dreaming as Delirium: How the Brain Goes Out of Its Mind. I'm interested in the book because a major part of my dissertation concerns dream skepticism, particularly with respect to questions at the intersection of philosophy and psychology about the nature of dreaming. Following are a three thoughts about the first chapter of the book. Sorry if it's a little long; I'd put it 'behind the fold' if blogger allowed me to. Thought One: One of Hobson's main points is an attempt to establish what he looks at as a radical paradigm shift in thinking about psychology: Hobson claims, with the attitude of someone announcing something revolutionary and shocking, that the mind is identical to the brain. I'm guessing I speak on behalf of everyone who's studied even a little bit of philosophy of mind when I say that his claim strikes me as not a particularly controversial one. It's not universal, but my impression is that this is the mainstream view among philosophers, isn't it? Thought Two: Hobson thinks that when we dream, we go temporarily insane. "There is no madness more delirious than dreaming." He thinks that we hallucinate and form irrational beliefs on the basis of our hallucinations. Then he suggests that we're not bothered by this fact because we "take comfort in our conviction that our nightly madness is an important functino of that incredible handful of jelly that lies behind our eyes and between our ears. I am talking, of course, about our brains." Then he drops his bombshell that there's no difference between the brain and the mind. But I wonder: even if we're not mind-body identity theorists, why should the attribution of our nightly insanity to the brain, rather than the mind, cause us comfort? Everybody agrees that the brain has important effects on mental life. If I learn that I go insane every night while I sleep, why should the thought that it's just my brain relieve any worry I might have? I don't get it. Thought Three: Hobson says:
There are hundreds of thousands ... who have ... problems like anxiety, depression, and neurosis. Society readily assumes that all these people must have some history of psychological stress or trauma that has caused them to be this way. I say no. They [have behavioral disorders] because there is a functional disorder of the state of the brain-mind. They may well have been abused as children, or have lost their self-esteem, and this can cause real emotional stress. But it does not cause the actual anxiety, depression, neurosis, or any other of a long list of problems. These problems are all caused by subtle physiological changes in the state of the brain-mind.
This strikes me as a very bad, and potentially dangerous, argument. That mental disorders are underwritten by, or identical to, brain disorders, does not come close to implying that they're never caused by things like environmental factors. It is obvious that there are causal links between our experiences and our physical brains, so it is entirely plausible (and indeed undeniable) that things like childhood abuse can influence our brain states. So to suggest that the identity thesis Hobson has in mind implies that our experiences don't cause behavioral disorders seems absolutely wrong. It's one thing to suggest that there is a brain-state cause; it's quite another to say that this excludes the causal efficacy of experience.

Sunday, April 23, 2006

SPP Comments

The Society for Philosophy and Psychology is having its annual meeting in St. Louis in June. Shaun Nichols, one of the conference organizers, invited me to comment on a paper by Jonathan Weinberg and Aaron Meskin on a kind of theoretical psychological explanation to the puzzle of imaginative resistance. Cool! (Now I only wish I'd been on the ball sooner, so I could have submitted my own paper. Next year!)

Thursday, April 20, 2006

The State of the Blog (and the dissertation)

This blog has obviously fallen into disuse. Also, I've been academically unmotivated lately; I haven't gotten a whole lot done. I think I'll try to correct both of these circumstances with one policy initiative. I'm going to start tracking my philosophy work in this blog -- setting goals for myself, and discussing ideas as they come to me. This will have an obvious impact on those of you non-philosophers who read here because you are my friends. Or maybe you read for some other reason, though I can't imagine what that would be. This blog may become flooded with material you don't care about. Sorry for that. It won't hurt my feelings if you go away. And if you stay, I'll try to keep things lively and interesting and somewhat informative about my life, too. Basically, I'm going to try for that tricky balance between academic writing and life stuff. We'll see how it goes. So, here are some thing I intend to do soon: Today is Thursday, and I last updated the Papers Blog last Saturday, almost a week ago. It's overdue -- I will update tomorrow, or possibly even tonight. David Sosa has written a review of Colin McGinn's book on imagination. John Bengson helpfully sent me a copy -- I will read and take notes on it tomorrow, too. I've been toying around with a new general outlook on conditionals. I will think about it some more, hopefully enough to write a post about it over the weekend. Background thought: which faculty members at Rutgers should I ask to be on my dissertation committee?

Tuesday, April 11, 2006


A few weeks ago, Ernest Sosa, my dissertation advisor at Brown, announced that he would be leaving Brown this fall to go to Rutgers full-time. He asked me if I'd be interested in the possibility of following him there -- we've looked into it, and today I'm finally ready to announce that I will go. A major change is in store. Funny how life throws those at you. I'll be moving to New Brunswick, NJ in September.