Skip to main content


Showing posts from September, 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.

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,

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

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) 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 an

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...


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 .

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 or 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: Starbuc

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) (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)

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.

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

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 Chris

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

--> 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, 15 th 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: Introduced by Stephen Law Speakers include: Ben Goldacre (Guardian columnist, doctor and author of Bad Science ) Michael Marshall (expert on press-release-based

Reasons to Study Philosophy at University

--> 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 rewa

Piling Up The Anecdotes

Piling Up the Anecdotes   (chapter & of my book Believing Bullshit available UK here (US 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

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 realiz

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, 20 th 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 ( Clinica

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, quo