Sunday, September 30, 2012

Heavy Dexters Gig Tuesday night

I'll be playing drum kit with the Heavy Dexters at The Bullingdon Arms on Cowley Rd, Oxford OX4 1UE, this coming Tuesday evening from about 9.45pm till midnight. In the back room. Funky dancing.

Demo 2011 cover art

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

The American Dream - and anecdotal evidence

George Monbiot has written a thought-provoking piece on Romney and myths about self-made men and women in the "land of opportunity", the United States.

The piece reminded me of a conversation I had a while back. I was at a dinner at Christ Church College Oxford, attended by some very, very wealthy people (sponsors of an event I shan't name).

I talked to the person sitting next to me. He explained he was a self-made multi-millionaire who had made it after moving to the US. He said he knew many others (some in the room) who had done the same, which demonstrated that the US mentality and culture was really far superior to that in Europe.

In response, I said: wasn't there actually less social mobility in the US than there was across much of Western Europe, and especially the supposedly "socialist" countries such as Sweden, Norway and Denmark? If you are born poor in the US, surely you are rather more likely to stay that way than if you lived in Sweden, say?

My dining companion was absolutely convinced I was mistaken about that. After all, he himself knew several people just like him: people who had gone from rags to riches. That showed the American Dream is a reality.

Actually, the American Dream is just that - a dream. In 1931, James Truslow Adams defined the American Dream thus:

life should be better and richer and fuller for everyone, with opportunity for each according to ability or achievement.

The American dream, that has lured tens of millions of all nations to our shores in the past century has not been a dream of merely material plenty, though that has doubtlessly counted heavily. It has been much more than that. It has been a dream of being able to grow to fullest development as man and woman, unhampered by the barriers which had slowly been erected in the older civilizations, unrepressed by social orders which had developed for the benefit of classes rather than for the simple human being of any and every class.

Yet the US is not the "land of opportunity" it pretends to be, as various studies show. You have a much better chance of climbing the social ladder if you live in a Nordic country than if you live in the US. But of course, Americans, even very poor Americans, really passionately believe they live in the quintessential "land of opportunity". They believe the Dream.

As the wiki page on social mobility points out:

The American Dream Report, a study of the Economic Mobility Project, found that Americans surveyed were more likely than citizens of other countries to agree with statements like “People get rewarded for intelligence and skill”, “People get rewarded for their efforts”; and less likely to agree with statements like “Coming from a wealthy family is ‘essential’ or ‘very important’ to getting ahead,” “Income differences in my country are too large” or “It is the responsibility of government to reduce differences in income.” While another report found such beliefs to have gotten strong over the last few decades.

If the American Dream is a myth, why do so many people buy it? Monbiot points out it's in the interests of the rich to perpetuate it.

However, there's a further reason why it's comparatively easy to perpetuate the myth. The reason this misperception of the US as "a land of opportunity" is so persistent is that an anecdote psychologically trumps a dry statistic every time.

My wealthy companion at that Christ Church dinner personally knew a few individuals like himself who went from rags to riches. And of course there are other popular anecdotes to draw on re Abraham Lincoln, Benjamin Franklin and even Bill Clinton (all supposedly rags-to-riches individuals).

These anecdotes really resonate with people in a way that graphs and statistics demonstrating a lack of social mobility do not. When you personally know the individuals concerned, they resonate even more. As I point out in my book Believing Bullshit ("Piling Up The Anecdotes"):

Anecdotal evidence may be largely worthless as evidence, but it can be highly persuasive. Humans love a story, especially if it’s shocking, weird, or emotionally arresting. We enjoy comedies, tragedies, stories of wrongs righted, of revenge, of ghosts, aliens. One reason we find such stories appealing is that they tap into our tendency to feel empathy with others. We enjoy imaginatively putting ourselves in the subject’s position, imagining how it must have felt to exact that bloody revenge, see a ghost, or be abducted by aliens. The more emotional impact the story has, the more memorable it is. 

As a consequence, a juicy story can psychologically trump a dry statistic, even when the statistic is rather more informative. The result of a double-blind clinical study of the efficacy of prayer is a dull set of figures easily forgotten, whereas a handful of emotionally arresting anecdotes about prayers answered may resonate with us for a long time.

The fact that it's possible to trot out emotionally arresting anecdotes about US individuals who have gone from rags to riches does not, of course, show that there are comparatively high levels of social mobility in the US. The statistics  show the opposite is true. But people will always be persuaded by such anecdotes, nevertheless. That's how snake oil salesmen peddle their miracle cures. It's how you peddle the American Dream.


[Post script: I also met a US academic earlier this year with whom I discussed this. Again, he was incredulous re the suggestion that the US did not lead the field in terms of social mobility. Even smart, college professors believe the Dream].

Monday, September 24, 2012

Could a machine think?

 
 
This dialogue is taken from my book The Philosophy Gym (see sidebar to the left to buy a copy). I am speaking at a Faraday Schools Conference in Reading tomorrow - Robot Day. This is for those attending. Plus anyone else interested. BBC are recording a snippet for Breakfast, I've just been told..

Kimberley and Emit
The year is 2100. Kimberley Courahan has purchased Emit, a state-of-the-art robot. She has just unwrapped him, the packaging strewn across the dining room floor. Emit is designed to replicate the outward behaviour of a human being down to the last detail (except that he is rather more compliant and obedient). Emit responds to questions in much the same way humans do. Ask him how he feels and he will say he has had a tough day, has a slight headache, is sorry he broke that vase, and so on. Kimberley flips the switch at the back of Emit’s neck to “on”. Emit springs to life.

Emit. Good afternoon. I’m Emit, your robotic helper and friend.
Kimberley. Hi.
Emit. How are you? Personally I feel pretty good. Little nervous about my first day, perhaps. But good. I’m looking forward to working with you.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Talk on thursday in Oxford 27th Sept

Stephen Law is coming to give a talk based on his 'Evil God Challenge'.

It is due to take place at 7pm on Thursday 27th. The room has yet to confirmed but it will be on Oxford Brookes gypsy lane campus.

Please note that only members of Brookes ASH will be let in free. The charge for non-members will only be 50p (this is a half-price of the usual price as it is a special first event)!

You can become a member of Brookes ASH for £3 (one year) or £5 (lifetime).

Details here (including room details when known) http://www.facebook.com/events/516955898317770/

My socialist rant

Warren Buffett: “There’s class warfare, but it’s my class, the rich class, that’s making war, and we’re winning.”

Interesting article on research indicating the very wealthy will become richer and the poor poorer as we come out of recession here.

As we get older we're supposed to slide politically to the right. I find myself going the other way. In fact, I am now persuaded that the Tory party in the UK and Republicans in the US are, at root, little more than organizations funded and steered by the very rich and big business to act economically always in the interests of their rich backers. They are conducting class warfare. My cui bono test strongly suggests as much, for example.

The real triumph of these organizations is to have persuaded even the less well-off to vote for them. They have succeeded by means of a combination of religion (in the US), a libertarian philosophy of "individual responsibility"(which repackages the naked self-interest of big-business and the rich as a noble bid for human freedom), "trickle down" voodoo economics, and smears and fallacies such as the supposed "culture of dependency" (see e.g. Mitt Romney) and "politics of envy" (and other ad hominem fallacies).

As Thomas Frank (What's The Matter With Kansas?) sadly notes:

“This situation may be paradoxical, but it is also universal. For decades Americans have experienced a populist uprising that only benefits the people it is supposed to be targeting. In Kansas we merely see an extreme version of this mysterious situation. The angry workers, mighty in their numbers, are marching irresistibly against the arrogant. They are shaking their fists at the sons of privilege. They are laughing at the dainty affectations of the Leawood toffs. They are massing at the gates of Mission Hills, hoisting the black flag, and while the millionaires tremble in their mansions, they are bellowing out their terrifying demands. 'We are here,' they scream, 'to cut your taxes.

The trick will be to provide an alternative vision of what our countries, drifting ever more economically rightwards and becoming ever more unequal, could look like.

Sweden, for example, which continues to have a highly successful economy even while taxing heavily and progressively to fund its excellent free schools, excellent free health care, excellent benefits, and so on. Or Denmark, which runs a fully comprehensive state-run school system widely acknowledged to be one of, if not the, best in the world.

These countries also demonstrate comparatively high levels of social mobility, unlike the UK, which beats the United States to the title land of least opportunity among these nine developed countries.http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/c/c7/Intergenerational_mobility_graph-1.jpg

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Animation project

I have a script for an animation on philosophy (a futuristic detective case) which I wrote a while back. It occurred to me there might be animators out there, maybe looking for a final year project, who might be interested in making use of it. If so, do please get in touch or pass this on to them. My email address is in the header above. It would be nice to see it made...

Elemensus

Have just been playing this and can confirm it's the ideal present for the geek in your life. It's produced by a friend of mine so I do have an interest but really - it's great. Buy here. The following video gives better impression but won't embed: go here.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Wittgenstein Reading Group

This takes place every two weeks in London to provoke informal but serious discussion of Wittgenstein's philosophy. The reading/topic for the following session is decided (democratically) at the end of each meeting.

If you are interested in coming along please register your interest by forwarding your email address to a.brockless@heythrop.ac.uk or shaun.choquet@kcl.ac.uk. You will then receive the selected reading attached to an email about a week before each session.

The meetings are held at a Starbucks on The Strand with a spacious downstairs area that they reserve for the group every second Friday between 4:30 and 6:30. The address is: Starbucks, 32 Fleet Street, London EC4Y 1AA.

I'll give talk at your school

BTW If you want me to give a talk at your school, feel free to email me at the address think (AT) royalinstitutephilosophy.org (easy to get address wrong - note no "of" between "institute" and "philosophy").

Obvious subjects would be A Level Philosophy and RS topics, or any subject relating to my books and/or research. Younger kids too (e.g. on my Really, Really Big Questions).


(P.S. I do usually charge a fee, though not for most deserving cases e.g. comprehensive in a deprived area)

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

The "culture of dependency" argument for cutting benefits



David Brookes in NY Times on Romney's latest gaffe.

The final thing the comment suggests is that Romney knows nothing about ambition and motivation. The formula he sketches is this: People who are forced to make it on their own have drive. People who receive benefits have dependency. 

But, of course, no middle-class parent acts as if this is true. Middle-class parents don’t deprive their children of benefits so they can learn to struggle on their own. They shower benefits on their children to give them more opportunities — so they can play travel sports, go on foreign trips and develop more skills. 

People are motivated when they feel competent. They are motivated when they have more opportunities. Ambition is fired by possibility, not by deprivation, as a tour through the world’s poorest regions makes clear. 

Source here. Discuss.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Jonathan Sacks on raising children to think and question

Continuing with the Jonathan Sacks (the Chief Rabbi) vs Richard Dawkins theme, I have just been listening to Jonathan Sacks, the Chief Rabbi, talking to Richard Dawkins on a TV programme (currently available here). Sacks says he thinks children should be raised to think and question. Sacks adds that in "Jewish tradition, the first duty of a Jewish parent to a Jewish child is to teach them to ask questions" (from about 16 mins 50secs). Re Abraham and Isaac, Sacks says, "God gave Abraham a seminar: Teach your child to argue. Teach your child to challenge" (from about 17 mins). Not surpisingly, Dawkins agrees. Smiles all round. 

Actually, Sacks's enthusiasm for raising children to think and question is rather more qualified than you might have guessed from the above exchange. I discussed Sacks's view on the importance of raising children to be critical thinkers, as set out his book The Politics of Hope, in my own book The War For Children's Minds. Here's a brief excerpt....

Sacks on tradition
Of course, not every defender of Authority-based moral education wants to turn us into unthinking automata blindly treading whatever path tradition lays down. This is certainly true of Jonathan Sacks and Melanie Phillips, for example. It would be unfair to caricature them as wanting to transform us into lobotomized slaves of tradition.
         Still, while hardly anyone is recommending complete, blind, unswerving loyalty to whatever tradition dictates, it is clear that Sacks, Phillips and many others believe the young should, in the first instance, adopt an attitude of deference to what they both call “external authority” on moral questions. Independent critical thought is only to be allowed when individuals have been fully and properly immersed within the tradition.
Sacks, for example, says that before we can properly criticise a practice, we need to set foot within it, “finding our way round it from the inside”. This, says Sacks,

presupposes distinctive attitudes: authority, obedience, discipline, persistence and self-control. …There is a stage at which we put these rules to the test. We assert our independence, we challenge, ask for explanations, occasionally rebel and try other ways of doing things. Eventually we reach an equilibrium… For the most part…we stay within the world as we have inherited it….capable now of self-critical reflection on its strengths and weaknesses, perhaps working to change it from within, but recognizing that its rules are not a constraint but the very possibility of shared experiences and relationship and communication… autonomy takes place within a tradition.[i]

So Sacks acknowledges the importance, in a mature citizen, of a critical, reflective stance towards his or her own tradition. But he emphasizes that we must first be fully immersed in that tradition. And he stresses the importance of deference to Authority in the earlier stages of assimilation. He believes that

autonomy – the capacity to act and choose in the consciousness of alternatives – is a late stage in moral development… It is not where it begins.[ii]

What Sacks means by “a late stage” is unclear. At what point Sacks is willing to let individuals adopt a more reflective, critical stance towards their own tradition? At eleven? At fifteen? At twenty five? It’s hard to say. In fact it’s not at all obvious whether reflective, critical examination of the tradition in which you are brought up is something Sacks would at any stage be willing to encourage. It’s merely something he thinks will spontaneously happen at some “late stage”.
So while Sacks is prepared to tolerate some freedom of thought and expression at some unspecified point in the individual’s development, it’s clear Sacks wants moral education to be much more Authority-based than it currently is (or at least as it is outside the more conservative religious schools). He believes more emphasis should be placed on more-or-less uncritical deference to Authority than it should on independent critical thought ( at least until some “late stage”). So, as we have defined Authoritarian with a capital “A”, Sacks is an Authoritarian (though it’s possible to be far more Authoritarian than Sacks – Sacks may be on the Authoritarian side of the Liberal/Authoritarian scale, but he’s not at that extreme end of the scale). Sacks would oppose the highly Liberal approach to moral and religious education advocated in chapter three. He wants schools more like Authoritia High, less like Liberalia High.
The question is: why is more-or-less blind, uncritical acceptance of the pronouncements of Authority required at any stage? Why does raising individuals “within a tradition” require that we begin by actively stifling their freedom to think and question?
Sacks cites MacIntyre in support of his Authoritarian stance on moral and religious education. But MacIntyre’s plausible point that reason is inevitably rooted in tradition – that it cannot be applied independently of any tradition – does not require that individuals should be discouraged from applying their own powers of reason once they are able. And it is clear from the kind of studies looked at in chapter three that children are remarkably adept at applying their critical faculties to moral questions from very early on. Some immersion in a tradition may indeed be required before their critical faculties can be properly engaged. But once they are engaged, once the child is striving to engage them, once they are beginning actively to question and explore (which does come very naturally to them), what then is the case for actively suppressing their application to moral and religious belief? Particularly until, as Sacks puts it, some “late stage”? For if Sacks wants to restrict the child’s ability to think and question until some “late stage”, he is going to have to actively suppress this natural tendency. In fact it’s hard to see how Sacks is going to avoid having to relying pretty heavily on the kinds of psychological manipulation outlined back in chapter three.
What Sacks tries to extract from MacIntyre’s point about tradition looks suspiciously like an open-ended invitation for him to shut down the critical faculties of young people long enough to get them heavily religiously indoctrinated. Sacks leaves the door open for years and years of religious programming at the hands of some moral Authority, sending new citizens out into the moral world intellectually armed with little more than a tokenistic, last-minute bit of critical reflection grudgingly tolerated at some “late stage”.
If this is what Sacks is after – and I haven’t yet found anything in his writings to suggest that it isn’t – then he’s going to need a much better argument to justify it. Certainly, MacIntyre’s plausible point about the impossibility of applying reason independently of any tradition fails to support it.





 

Dawkins Anti-Semitic, says Chief Rabbi

The Chief Rabbi, Jonathan Sacks, has accused Richard Dawkins of being anti-semitic. That's a pretty serious charge.

In a BBC TV exchange (which you can view here), Sacks says that a passage in Dawkins’s book The God Delusion - in which Dawkins says that "the God of the Old Testament" is a "vindictive, bloodthirsty ethnic cleanser" as well as "misogynist", "homophobic", "racist", "pestilential" and "infanticidal" - is “profoundly anti-semitic”. According to Sacks, the passage reflects a centuries-old anti-Jewish attitude.


Of course there are centuries-old anti-Jewish attitudes, but this is not an example.

According to Sacks, Dawkins has misunderstood those sections of the Hebrew Bible because he is a "Christian atheist" rather than a "Jewish atheist".


Dawkins, says Sacks, reads the Old Testament in an "adversarial way," and that is "Christian" because Christianity’s New Testament is supposed to have "gone one better" than the Old Testament.


The truth, of course, is that Dawkins read the Old Testament in the way almost anyone one would coming to it for the first time, be they Christian or not.

Alexander Waugh has a nice illustration of this in his book God - The Biography:


Randolph Churchill, son of Winston, had been annoying his friends by talking too much. They wagered he could not keep quiet for a week. Churchill, a keen gambler, thought he could win the bet by reading the Bible. But he didn't last long. After a few pages, he was heard to exclaim, "God! God's a shit!"

Randolph didn't come to the shocking conclusion that God's a shit because he was already committed to reading the Old Testament in an anti-semitic way, but because that's the conclusion that any sensible person would draw after reading it at first blush. 

In fact, Dawkins's point is hardly new. As the Christian Paul Copan points out, Enlightenment thinkers like Robert Ingersoll were arguing back in the 19th Century that the God of the Old Testament was a cruel and unjust person, and that no one in their right mind could be a Christian as a result.

As Sacks must surely be aware, Christians, just as much as Jews, have strived to show that the Old Testament God is not the monster he might seem to be. They're still at it. Here, for example, is a Christian Apologist attacking Dawkins et al for concluding that the Old Testament God is a moral monster. Here's another. Here's another. Here's another. Here's another.

Clearly, it's not pro-Christian prejudice that leads people to conclude the God of the Old Testament is a moral monster. Rightly or wrongly, it's the Old Testament itself that leads them to draw that conclusion.

Argue, if you wish (and as the above linked posts do), that those atheists who draw the conclusion that the God of the Old Testament is a monster are reading the OT texts in too literal a manner, or are at least unwarranted in drawing that conclusion based on the texts. But the atheist's mistake, if there is one, is clearly not a product of some sort of deeply-ingrained, anti-semitic culture.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Journalism, Churnalism and Media Bias - December 15th PLEASE SPREAD THE WORD

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CFI UK and Conway Hall present

JOURNALISM, CHURNALISM AND MEDIA BIAS

Ben Goldacre, Rich Peppiatt, Michael Marshall, Greg Philo

How much journalism is churnalism - the uncritical regurgitation of press releases? To what extent can we trust what we read in the press about medical and other scientific discoveries and breakthroughs? How impartial is mainstream media coverage of key political and economic issues? And just how much of tabloid news is just, well, made up?

Saturday, 15th December 2012

Conway Hall
25 Red Lion Square
London WC1R 4RL

11am-5.15pm (10.30am registration)

£10 (£5 students concessions). Free entry for Friends of CFI UK.

Bookshop and signings.

Tickets on the door and from the BHA website here:http://www.humanism.org.uk/meet-up/events/view/196

Introduced by Stephen Law
Speakers include:

Ben Goldacre (Guardian columnist, doctor and author of Bad Science)

Michael Marshall (expert on press-release-based churnalism)

Rich Peppiatt (a former tabloid journalist, now touring a show based on his experiences)

Greg Philo (Research Director of the Glagsow University Media Group). Greg will be speaking about the role of the media in the production of public confusion and consent.

Reasons to Study Philosophy at University

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Why study philosophy?

Philosophy is fascinating, which is one of the best reasons to study anything. But there are other good reasons to study philosophy, particularly at university. Here are three.

1. Transferable skills that employers value. Many degree programmes focus on teaching facts to be memorized (teaching that can soon go out of date). Philosophy, on the other hand, focuses much more developing skills – skills that you will find valuable whatever your chosen path in life. These skills include:

The ability to cut through waffle
The ability to spot errors in reasoning
The ability to make a point with clarity and precision
The ability to analyze complex issues and arguments
The ability to think independently and creatively (to “think out of the box”)
The ability to build a strong, rigorous case.

Philosophy develops an approach to thinking and problem solving that employers value – particularly when it comes to the most interesting and rewarding careers.

2. Philosophy degree programmes produce some of the most intelligent and able university graduates. 

The skills philosophy programmes generate translate into higher performance on standardized tests for graduate education (GRE, LSAT, GMAT, etc.), as well as success in the professional world. In the GRE tests of 3rd year degree majors (major = main subject studied) in the U.S.:
  • Philosophy majors rank FIRST among all majors on the verbal section of the GRE.  They even outperform those who take a degree in English.
  • Philosophy majors rank FIRST among all majors on the analytical section of the GRE. That’s predictable, given philosophy’s emphasis on analytical and critical thinking.
  • Philosophy majors rank FIRST among humanities majors and ninth among all majors on the quantitative (mathematical) section of the GRE.  Only students following programmes with a large mathematical component (e.g. maths and physics) scored better.
  • Philosophy majors ranked FIRST among all majors on the U.S. Law School Admissions Test.
Here's a graph plotting degree major GRE results on two of the three components. Where is philosophy? And where are the "useful", "career-friendly" degree majors like, e.g. accounting and business administration?

3. What can you do with a philosophy Degree? “Anything you want”.

Philosophy graduates succeed across a very wide variety of professions, including Journalism, Law, Banking and Management.

“I credit my success to my ability to logically think through problems and my writing skills, both items I attribute to my philosophy classes.”

Kim Feazle, Philosophy Graduate and Financial Analyst, Hill & Knowlton

“When I went to law school, I was told by all my professors that they were going to teach me how to ‘think like a lawyer.’  I soon found out that I already knew how to do that; I had learned to do so as a philosophy major.”

John S. Paul, Philosophy Major and Attorney (Bryan, Texas)

“The quality that Philosophy graduates possess and that is lacking in non-graduates is the ability to examine a selected subject, identify key components and their relationships to each other, and assess the consequences of a component change. It is this analytical ability of philosophers that gives them the edge over their contemporaries in the modern environment.”

Tommy Attaway, Jr., Project Management Specialist, Switzerland

“While no single curricular path is the ideal preparation for law school, you should choose courses that sharpen analytical reasoning and writing skills. Law schools prefer students who can think, read, and write well, and who have some understanding of what shapes human experience.”

From the Law School Admission Council’s Official Guide to U.S. Law Schools

I have been pursuing a top job at one of the leading investment banks in the world. This position was "short listed" to 150 people as interviews went on concurrently in various countries around the globe. At the end of the process, I received the offer and am now working in New York as a Senior Strategist at one of Wall Street's leading firms. After accepting the offer, I asked the Board, who ultimately made the final decision, why I was chosen above the others. Without blinking an eye, the Head of the Strategic Hiring Committee stated a list of reasons, the very first of which was "Out of all the people we considered, you were the only one who studied Philosophy, not to mention having a Masters Degree in it. That told us immediately that you can think outside the box." I have come to realize the answer to the question perpetually posed, "Philosophy? What are you going to with that?" The correct response is "Absolutely anything you want."

Jordan Kotick, Vice-President J.P. Morgan, Wall Street


Sunday, September 9, 2012

Piling Up The Anecdotes

Piling Up the Anecdotes
 (chapter & of my book Believing Bullshit available UK here (US amazon.com here) [below is the original, uncorrected text]). New Scientist interview with me about the book here.

An anecdote involves the recounting of a short story or episode, supposedly true, and often testimonial in nature. There’s nothing wrong with anecdotes per se—they can usefully be used to spice up a dinner party conversation, provoke a discussion or illustrate a point. I’ve told a few in my time. However, alarm bells should start ringing whenever anecdotes are supposed to provide significant evidence in support of a claim, particularly a supernatural claim. Here are a few examples:

I know I’m psychic. For example, last week I was thinking about Aunt Sue, whom
I hadn’t talked to for ages, when the phone rang. And it was her.

Prayer clearly works. I prayed for Mark, John, Karen, and Rita and they all got better.

I have no doubt that ghosts are real. My mother saw one just last week. And she’s
a trustworthy woman not prone to making things up.

Anecdotal evidence is also a staple of snake-oil salesmen everywhere, who can usually produce a handful of supporting testimonials to the efficacy of their remedies: 

John ate three of my patented magic beans, and his cancer disappeared. Here’s his sworn testimony!

People are attracted to anecdotes. We especially love hearing tales of the extraordinary and supernatural. Many of us are easily swayed by anecdotal evidence for the existence of psychic powers, ghosts, or the efficacy of prayer or of some alternative medicine. Yet, as evidence, anecdotes are almost entirely worthless. Why? For a range of reasons. Here are a few examples.

Friday, September 7, 2012

Why Study Philosophy at University?

OK, bankers's endorsements aren't worth what they once were, but still, this article illustrates an important point... For more info on why study philosophy rather than e.g. business administration, go here. You might be amazed...


Why study philosophy?

A statement by Jordan Kotick, Vice-President J.P. Morgan, Wall Street

While considering what to study in my first year as an Undergraduate, I decided to take a few Philosophy courses. When informed of my decision, those I knew murmured, "Philosophy...what are you going to do with that?"

Soon after my first year was complete, realizing that I enjoyed these courses and my intellectual curiosity was peaked and challenged, I decided that one of my double majors as an undergraduate was going to be Philosophy. The echoes grew louder as those I knew grumbled "Philosophy? What are you going to do with that?"

After four years and a Bachelor of Arts Degree under my belt (with a major in Philosophy), I realized there was more Philosophical work to be done. I decided to go to Graduate School. You can only imagine the reaction I received when I announced that I was going to spend the next two years beginning and hopefully completing my Master of Arts Degree in Philosophy. They shouted "Philosophy? What are you going to do with that?" as the cries of derision grew exponentially.

It is interesting to note what has happened since completing my M.A.. To make a long story short, of late, I have been pursuing a top job at one of the leading investment banks in the world. This position was "short listed" to 150 people as interviews went on concurrently in various countries around the globe. At the end of the process, I received the offer and am now working in New York as a Senior Strategist at one of Wall Street's leading firms. After accepting the offer, I asked the Board, who ultimately made the final decision, why I was chosen above the others. Without blinking an eye, the Head of the Strategic Hiring Committee stated a list of reasons, the very first of which was "Out of all the people we considered, you were the only one who studied Philosophy, not to mention having a Masters Degree in it. That told us immediately that you can think outside the box."

I have come to realize the answer to the question perpetually posed, "Philosophy? What are you going to with that?" The correct response is "Absolutely anything you want." As Robert Frost said, "Two roads diverged in a wood, and I took the one less traveled by. And that has made all the difference."

Source here.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Speaking West Midlands Faith Forum event, Sept 14th


Louder Than Words: the riots, one year on - now what?

Friday, September 14, 2012 at 9:30 AM - Saturday, September 15, 2012 at 3:30 PM (PDT)

Birmingham, United Kingdom. Book here.

 

I am speaking at 11.40 on Saturday.

HEALING POWERS OF THE MIND? event 20th October

CFI UK and Conway Hall present

HEALING POWERS OF THE MIND?

Chris French, Andy Lewis, Mike Heap, Serena Roney-Dougal

Do some people have the power to heal others by psychic means? Would medicine benefit by being more aware of our “spiritual” dimension? Where do psychic and spiritual approaches to medicine end and quackery begin? Does hypnosis work, and if so, how? Does meditation offer real benefits – and if so, what are they?

Saturday, 20th October 2012

Conway Hall
25 Red Lion Square
London WC1R 4RL

11am-4pm (10.30am registration)

£10 (£5 students concessions). Free entry for Friends of CFI UK.

Tickets from the BHA website now or on the door.

Speakers:

11am-12.00 Chris French (Professor of Anomolistic Psychology at Goldsmiths) on psychic healing

12.00-1pm Serena Roney-Dougal (parapsychologist and Director of the Psi Research Centre) "Is long-term meditation related to psychic awareness?"

2-3pm Michael Heap (Clinical and forensic psychologist working in Sheffield who has published widely on hypnosis in scientific journals and books and has taught and lectured on the subject throughout Europe and North America.) ‘Hypnosis: Suggestion or Trance?’ 

3-4pm Andy Lewis (Quackometer) on “Anthroposophy and Spiritual Science”.


Introduced by Stephen Law (Provost of CFI UK)

Image.

Monday, September 3, 2012

New book out in October - Really, Really Big Questions About Me


Philosophy and science stuff for kids, following up my Really Really Big Questions About Life The Universe and Everything book. It's endorsed by the Science Museum so it must be jolly good, right?

You can order it on the amazon websites etc.

Webpage for book is here. Her's the blurb:


What am I made of? How do I know I’m real? Will I still be the same person at eighty? Following up on the success of Really, Really Big Questions, and Really, Really Big Questions About God, Faith, and Religion here comes an entertaining book that explores the important, weird, and sometimes metaphysical questions that children have about themselves. From the physical—Why do I like chocolate? How does my brain work? —to the philosophical—Is my memory what makes me? Is there life after death? —this book takes on the deeper questions that come with growing self-awareness. Throughout it all, humorous writing, funky art, and fun features like optical illusions, amusing stories, quotes, and mind-teasers keep it light and make this philosophic journey unforgettably interesting.