Monday, June 20, 2011

what's the big deal: mental causation

Mental causation is something that's so natural, so routine, that we hardly ever stop to think about it. Even when we do, it's often to reflect on how obvious it is, and how it's weird that scientists ever ignored it. It makes perfect intuitive sense to think that mental events—thoughts, desires, beliefs—cause physical events, i.e., make us do things. I think the apple looks delicious, therefore I eat it. I believe the tiger will eat me, therefore I run away from it. Even though the intuition in favor of mental causation is so strong, it wasn't until the "cognitive revolution" in the 1960's that psychologists began to take it seriously. But what could be simpler than the idea that our thoughts influence our actions?

Philosophically, though, it's not simple at all.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

summer time, part 2

Okay, so for the time being I'll try to steer clear of anything that could possibly be connected to illegal immigration (see comment here—I feel like the Volokh Conspiracy or something!).

I had a psychology professor in college who used to say science is filled with puzzles of two distinct kinds: problems and mysteries. Problems are those questions that fill up most of a scientist's day-to-day life, and most scientists' entire lives, but mysteries are the sorts of things that require revolutionary theories and ideas. For instance, before Newton came along with his theory of gravity, the orbits of the planets and the pull of the earth were mysteries (notwithstanding some people's continuing state of ignorance). Before Darwin, the complexity of life was a mystery, something not only that science had no explanation for, but that science seemed incapable of ever addressing. The mysteries of the universe have long been the sanctuary of religious and philosophical beliefs; wherever science stops, religion has typically taken over, but the march of science into the domain of the traditionally religious has been constant and unrelenting, leaving less and less room for the mystical and supernatural.

One of the last and biggest mysteries—for me at least—is consciousness. A different psychology professor of mine from college is famous (I use the term loosely) for his contention that humans are "intuitive dualists," that we cling naturally and innately to the idea that our minds and bodies are separate entities.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011


It's summer again! Now that I finally have nothing to do and no employment prospects for the foreseeable future, I figure it's time to go ahead and revive the ol' blog. I miss it terribly. I know you do too. Without a World Cup like last summer, the topics will be varied and eclectic. On the docket and in my thoughts: some amateur philosophy, some current events/politics, and of course, some music. But first up, a quick rant (oh goodie!) about my unfortunate lack of employment prospects for the foreseeable future.