News from IAI_Admin

  1. Submission Statement: The block universe theory, also known as eternalism, proposes a radical perspective on time, suggesting that all moments in the past, present, and future exist simultaneously within a four-dimensional "block." In this article, David Johnson delves into the implications of the block universe theory on the concepts of free will, and subsequently of moral responsibility, criminal justice systems, and religious beliefs. If the future is predetermined, the concept of freely choosing between genuine possibilities becomes untenable. Moreover, the absence of free will challenges the basis for moral responsibility and traditional religious punishment systems. While individuals can still be judged based on their character, moral reproach and punishment should focus on societal protection and rehabilitation rather than retribution. The block universe theory also raises questions about the nature of mortality and challenges conventional beliefs about an afterlife or a linear progression from birth to death. While fatalism can be misconstrued as a reason for inaction, the fatalism entailed by the block universe theory should not lead to such a response, writes Johnson. In contrast to movies like Final Destination, where fate is inescapable regardless of actions, the block universe allows for meaningful choices and consequences.

  2. Abstract: In this talk, Markus Gabriel demonstrates why a conscious mind can never develop in a machine and explains why we may never fully figure out the problem of consciousness. The phrase Artificial Intelligence can be understood either as a sub-discipline of computer science, in which case it is evident it cannot possess consciousness. But it can also refer to the AI system itself to which many have started attributing the capacity for intelligence or even consciousness, based on their ability to solve certain problems faster and more efficiently than we can. But AI systems are not actual thinkers and, thus, they are not really intelligent, argues Gabriel. They are merely thought models of the way in which humans think or ought to be thinking. And although many models appear to be sharing relevant properties with the target systems they are modelled off, they should not be confounded with one another. Consciousness is something that we as humans are acquainted with, possessing it or being it by virtue of our evolution as biological entities – as animals that have developed the awareness of their own conscious nature. Gabriel refers to this view as biological externalism. Based on this understanding, intelligence and consciousness cannot develop in a non-biological entity. It is only an illusion, argues Gabriel, that AI system could gain consciousness the more advanced they become. In reality, they only contribute to enhancing our intelligence, working as problem-solving tools at our disposal.

  3. Abstract: In this interview, philosopher Michael Sandel discusses the tyranny of meritocracy, contributive justice, and our ideas about the common good. Meritocratic hubris has led those who succeed to believe their success is entirely their own, overlooking the luck and good fortunate that’s helped them on their way. The idea of a self-made individual is an appealing but flawed account of human agency that ignores the role of our communities in our success. The idea that a degree is the key to upward social mobility has led to credentialism crowding out the love of learning. As a result, we have arrived at the assumption that salaries are a measure of contribution to the common good – an assumption that’s been deeply undermined during the recent pandemic. We must think carefully, Sandel argues, about what we consider to be the common good, and how we value and reward contributions to it. We must disabuse ourselves of the concept of the self-made success, and recognise our indebtedness to the communities that make our success possible and give meaning to our lives.

  4. Submission Statement: Often times we fail to see through the decision we make, even though we believe they are the right course of action. We give into procrastination or our more immediate desires, like hitting the snooze button on the alarm for a few extra minutes of sleep. Many would argue this is because we are weak-willed. But, at least according to Socrates and R.M. Hare, this is not true, writes Rebecca Roache. On the contrary, it is the choices we make that reveal our true values. Socrates believed that nobody would do one thing under the conviction that another thing would be better and also attainable. Similarly, Hare argues it is better to look at a person’s action to learn what their values are, rather than what they say they value. Thus, hitting snooze does not reveal our weakness of will in getting up early but that we value going back to sleep more at that time when the alarm rings. Therefore, if we accept Socrates’ and Hare’s arguments, we must recognise that we are rational beings, acting in harmony with our values – or at least with the values we hold at that moment. Rebecca Roache concludes from this that we should not always beat ourselves up for making certain decisions that in retrospect seem suboptimal and instead try to understand what values influenced our actions in that particular moment.

  5. Submission Statement: It may sometimes be difficult to always agree on questions of morality, but whatever standards we adopt. They are usually applied to human action. People are less inclined to take a moral stance on human inaction and failure to act. For example, initiating conflict is usually regarded as different in kind to ignoring conflict. In this debate, legendary moral philosopher Peter Singer ,eminent philosopher Julian Baggini and provocative biographer Sophie Scott-Brown clash over morality, in deciding when we are morally required to help those in need. Peter Singer bring forward the argument that it is always morally wrong not to act to reduce the suffering of others, even when we are not directly responsible for their well-being. Julian Baggini raises a concern about overemphasising the intentionality of our actions and disregarding the effect of circumstance. It often happens that you end up helping someone simply because you found yourself in the right place, at the right time. For Sophie Scott-Brown the role of emotions towards the choice of action or inaction should also be given serious thought. Apathy when it comes to political action, for instance, can be a sign of resilience in the face of adversity, which may not be morally reprehensible.

  6. Submission Statement: In this article, David Bentley Hart argues that our inability to explain consciousness and intentionality is an entirely modern problem. Before the modern epoch, very few would have thought it sensible to ask whether it was the soul or the organism to which mental acts belonged. The reason for our struggles in explaining consciousness is that we regard it as a third-person phenomenon that can be objectively analysed. Our efforts are directed towards eliminating subjectivity from our examination to allow for an accurate “scientific” account of consciousness. But this is a logical fallacy, argues Hart. There is no such thing as an empirical science of consciousness because consciousness is a first-person all the way down. It is a phenomenon unfit for the physicalist paradigm that has attempted to explain it. The metaphysical dualism between the machine of the body and its “resident ghost” has created a false philosophical dilemma of trying to assert which of the two is home to the mind. The absurdity then comes from trying to extend this artificial mechanical dualism to everything that composes our reality, including mental phenomena to which it cannot possibly apply.

  7. Abstract: Although Kant dismissed the dogmatic metaphysics as obsolete, Spinoza’s metaphysical monism is resurfacing in the analytic-dominated Anglophone philosophy. The main resistance to Spinoza’s return, however, does not come from a resistance to the dogmatism of metaphysics but from attachment to a different dogma: humanism. The view that humanity occupies a prominent place in nature and its perspective represent the boundaries within which reality unfolds is well entrenched. Spinoza’s challenge to humanism is necessary to reveal the arbitrariness of these deep seated convictions shared by figures as diverse as Pico Della Mirandola, Descartes, Leibniz, Hegel, and Sartre. Spinoza criticised the common perception of humanity as a “dominion within a dominion” and the ideas that humanity is an autonomous entity that can disturb nature, rather than simply exist under its laws.“But if humanity ever sets its step beyond the safe boundaries of humanism, and begin doubting this cult of our last and most magnificent idol: Man, at that very day we should recognize our debt to Spinoza, ‘the all-crushing destroyer’of our ultimate idol,” writes Yitzhak Y. Melamed.

  8. Abstract: In this debate, Philosopher Arif Ahmed, radical linguist Ruth Kempson, and philosopher and author of Closure, Hilary Lawson explore the relationship between language and the world. The 20th century saw language as central to our understanding of the world: from Wittgenstein to Derrida, it seemed that our world is contained within the limits of language. But now language is being dismissed by philosophers as either containing puzzles that are insoluble, or irrelevant to the real issues facing us. Ruth Kempson proposes to look at language as a process, a set of tools of interactions and rules for how to build representation of content incrementally and revise them. The idea that language is an abstract puzzle with fixed meaning that requires us to deciphered it needs to be abandoned, she argues. Hilary Lawson, quoting Wittgenstein, stresses that we can never create a map of how language relates to the world for one simple reason: we cannot explain, from within the bounds of language, how it relates to something outside of it. Language, to him, has nothing to do with the world – it is not a description, nor even an approximation of what reality is. What language can do is hold the world as something, to give it a shared meaning in order for us to be able to exist in it and interact with it. Arif Ahmed rejects that idea that there is any problem of reflexivity when trying to explain reality from within language. He sees language as a part of natural that evolved in many animals – not as any sort metaphysical achievement specific to humanity.

  9. Dark matter is said to account for 85% of matter in the universe. It has been key to explaining the otherwise anomalous speeds of stars and gas clouds in spiral galaxies. Yet decades of searching has produced no evidence for dark matter particles and some cosmologists now claim alternative models that don’t posit dark matter better describe our universe,like MOND. Such a change would be a paradigm shift in the way we understand the universe around us.

  10. Abstract: Espionage is as old as war and although all states, especially in times of conflict, engage in it to some extent, its morality is still under debate. In this article, Cécile Fabre reconciles Sun Tzu’s duty of states to spy with Immanuel Kant’s condemnation of all forms of espionage. On the one hand, Sun Tzu believed espionage can help shorten the war by giving the army a step ahead, and, thus, shortening the people’s suffering. In this sense,the state is morally obligated to spy to protect its subjects from prolonged suffering. On the other hand, Kant saw spying as inherently deceitful, undermining the trust between the warring parties and creating the threat of mutual annihilation. As such, he thought that neither the party that initiated, not the one that has been attacked should engage in espionage. But both these accounts are mistaken, argues Cécile Fabre, as they fail to admit differences in moral obligations between the attacker and the attacked. The country under attack does have an obligation to spy in order to prepare itself against an unwarranted attack and minimise the costs of war and civilian suffering – as Sun Tzu suggested. They are morally permitted to defend themselves by any means necessary, including violence and spying. Nevertheless, from the perspective of the attacker, there is no such thing as a moral duty to spy on its target inorder to maximise even more the advantage it possess and win more effectively.

  11. Abstract: Slavoj Zizek collaborator John Millbank argues that historically in many societies, 'doing good' depended not only on individuals feeling their actions to be good, but also in observers perceiving their actions to be good. This was instrumental in the feedback loop that steadily 'civilised' societies. There are many examples in which such shaming was disproportionate, such as the loss of reputation resulting from a family's loss of fortune in the Victorian era, which disregarded circumstance or misfortune. However as a social function, shame operated effectively. In this video, the panel address the transformation we are currently seeing in the use of shame in society. The relatively new phenomenon of trial by social media has created a globalised form of shaming that is problematic for many reasons, not least because, as Millbank points out, the resulting shame and response is 'false'. It is not an attack of the root cause of an issue so much as a vitriolic attack of the individual whose deeds have exposed that issue to scrutiny.

  12. Submission Statement: We tend to associate cultural expressions with humans but the study of bees has shown we may be mistaken. Although we tend to think of insects and animals as having a fixed set of behaviours, these are more flexible than previously believed. Bees have been found to engage in social learning and influencing, similar to how humans pass on traditions or more fleeting cultural fads. Ultimately, culture is about the flow of information that brings about the reproduction of, and a lasting change in, a behavioural trait. Defined as such, we can see that culture is nimbler and more widespread, going beyond the limits of its human iteration. And this is where the danger of A.I. lies, argues Grant Ramsey. By focusing on A.I systems in isolation we may miss their biggest threat. As they stand now, as isolated individual A.I.s, they resemble human precultural forebears. But if placed together, as a network or “community”, enabling them to freely communicate, compete, learn from each other, and even reproduce, a successful A.I. cultural evolution may spell doom for the human race.

  13. Submission Statement: Nuclear war in Europe is regarded by most as an unthinkable scenario, but nuclear expert Keir A. Lieber warns that we should not be so confident in dismissing Putin’s threats as harmless scare tactics. While Russia’s poor military performance in Ukraine may suggest afuture Russian offensive on a NATO state is unlikely, it also comes as a justification for why Russian nuclear escalation is not out of the question yet. Both strategic logic and international history suggest that when a state finds itself in military inferiority to its adversaries, it has incentives to rely on the coercive power of nuclear weapons. Lessons from the Cold War or more recent clashes between North Korea and US-backed South Korea or between Pakistan and India show how the threat of nuclear war can deter superior adversary from initiating or sustaining conventional warfare. Moreover, from Putin’s current perspective, the tactical use of nuclear weapons makes strategic sense: faced with a devastating loss in Ukraine or, worse, an existential threat to his regime, Putin would choose to send a clear message to NATO that Russia will not accept defeat. “The only wise response to Putin’s nuclear use in Ukraine would be to negotiate some kind of resolution in which all parties could declare Potemkin victories,” writes Lieber.

  14. Abstract: In this debate, Descartes’ famous declaration “I think, therefore I am” is brought under questioning. Bestselling author Miranda Keeling, psychologist Steve Taylor and prison philosopher Andy West discuss whether Western culture has placed too much emphasis on thinking, bringing reasoning to the centre of human existence. The alternative approach, advanced by Dostoyevsky and Nietzsche, warns against thinking too much, proposing that culture should free itself “from the seduction of words and thought” and instead favour the experience of living and being. Steve Taylor disagrees with Descartes, arguing that the thinking self is a superficial or illusory type of self; our most authentic self emerges when our minds are free from thinking, free from the involuntary, ceaseless stream of consciousness and inner chatter. Miranda Keeling brings into discussion the fascinating topic of the state of flow – the state of mind of being without thought, completely absorbed in a creative or meditative process. She recognises, however, the role of thought as the preparatory action that enable those producing culture to enjoy the thoughtlessness of being in flow. On the other hand, Andy West makes the case for the need to make words and thought more even seductive through the dynamics of mutual-improvement societies.

  15. Abstract: The common view held by philosophers and scientists alike is that reality is made up of fundamental “building blocks.” Regardless of what this fundamental level is seen to be composed of – it could be fields, particles or something else – the view supports that the “building blocks” compose everything else, meaning everything is dependent on them while the blocks themselves remains independent. However, the lack of conclusive evidence to support this fundamentalist approach requires us to explore alternative explanations, argues Tuomas Tahko. Coherentism, on one hand, suggests that reality may be constituted by entities that are themselves dependent on each other, in a holistic, symmetric system. Another approach would be infinitism, which eliminates the fundamental level completely in favour of an infinitely descending chain of dependence. While the search for something fundamental that explains reality and, ultimately, our existence may come natural to us, we must remain open to alternative accounts of reality, given our limited empirical evidence, writes Tuomas Tahko.

  16. Abstract: Antonio Damasio and Hanna Damasio propose that it is feelings and not thoughts that are the source of consciousness. Instead of dismissing feelings as secondary to reason, they see them as offering something more than reason in the form of “spontaneously conscious knowledge” about the present state of the organism, allowing it to react to pain, thirst, or hunger in order to save its life. Through the continued presence of feelings, organisms gain a continuous perspective of their body’s processes and so the mind is able to experience the life process together with other perceptions of the world acquired through reasoning or moral judgements. It is this “felt point of view” of the world that gives rise to an “experiencer” – or the self. Thus, not only do we live life but we do so knowingly, thanks to our sense of interoception – a hidden sense that allows us to grasp our inner reality via bodily or homeostatic feelings. This surprisingly simple and yet magical neurological process brings into intimate contact the neural elements and the non-neural flesh that appear to fuse with each other to produce the feeling of life itself.

  17. Abstract: In this interview, Slavoj Žižek explores a Hegelian understanding of historical and current political crises, stressing the inevitability of the dialectical repetition of history but also the potential for progress once mistakes have been made and built upon. Moreover, Žižek foresees a new era emerging in philosophy, moving away from the “transcendental historicism” of the continental tradition and the great metaphysical questions that tend to confound the realm of science with that of philosophy. Times when philosophy is needed are times of trouble – now we need philosophy more than ever, he argues. From the pandemic restrictions to abortion rights, current crises and debates in society rely on philosophers, not to provide solutions but to give directions on how to approach the problems and ask the right questions. Recalling Kant’s saying that reality was created for humans to fight their moral struggles within it, Žižek supports instead the idea of the total contingency of our existence. To him, the art is to be open towards the future, while also understanding that every present moment retroactively interprets the past in a teleological way. Finally, Žižek draws the parallel between philosophy and love: the moment you stop questioning it, it ceases to exists.

  18. Abstract: In this debate, Eileen Hall, Julian Baggini and James Rucker blur the boundaries between philosophy and clinical psychology to explore whether psychedelics can be a window into reality as well as a treatment for mental health. According to Eileen Hall, psychedelics become a tool for entering and understanding the sea of consciousness – the inner reality where all of our feelings, thoughts and memories lie. This is most evident in indigenous societies where people are more in touch with their inner world, their spirit, their dreams and relationships with each other. As such, they allow for a wider spectrum of consciousness and sense of reality, without cataloguing certain accounts of the world as mental health disorders – as opposed to Western societies. Julian Baggini, on the other hand, is sceptical that psychedelics will open up new ways for people to see reality more so than a philosophical discussion or a glass of wine would do. Finally, James Rucker raises the question of our need for a concept of delusion as an attempt to give solidity to our own form of truth. In this sense, while our brains are constantly trying to make reality as precise as possible, psychedelics allows to explore brain states that are otherwise out of reach to us. Psychedelics, thus, expand the repertoire of conscious states we experience and help us challenge the notion of a solid truth that has become common in our society.

  19. Submission Statement: Fiona Hill met Vladimir Putin several times as senior advisor to three U.S. presidents. In this interview, Dr Hill explains Putin’s multiple identities, how he views NATO, why John Mearsheimer’s school of realism and international relations theory fails to explain the invasion of Ukraine, and what our strategy should be towards China and Taiwan. She argues the most extraordinary thing about Putin is that he has been able to rise to the top of Russian politics, and been able to stay in place for so long. She argues the narrative put forward by foreign policy realists like John Mersheimer that he West provoked Putin’s invasion of Russia s an attempt to provide a simple explanation in the face of a complex individual with myriad motives. The biggest failure of the East, she claims, is failing to properly understand Putin and his motives.

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