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Raiders of the Lost Link

Last updated on 22 Jun 2018

Raiders-of-the-Lost-Ark.jpgHas biology disproved free will and moral responsibility?

Evolution and Politics, a Cautionary Tale

Opacity and reference – a discussion about Dan Sperber and Maurice Bloch by György Gergely

An Open Letter to Journal Reviewers

The Pope’s Astronomer

Apes and monkeys may have split later than thought at Wired

The Wason Selection Test at Language Log


  1. Chris' Wills Chris' Wills

    On the Wason Selection Test.

    The question about letters and numbers is obvious, you have to check both the D and 7 card. Assuming that all D and 7 cards that exist have the same reverse.

    However, the Beer and over 21 test isn’t a direct equivalent.

    The rule is If someone drinks beer, then (s)he is 21 or older

    So yes we can check by turning over the beer card, but turning over the Age 23 card tells us nothing. People over 21 can drink other things apart from beer (they may even be teatotal), so it may give us confidence in the rule but I don’t think it confirms the rule.

  2. Michael Fugate Michael Fugate

    Readers here might be interested in this new draft proposal for US science standards. I notice that the panel is primarily composed of education professors with a few scientists thrown in, but no philosophers. I have learned much from philosophers such as JSW and think they should be given a seat at the table. Why spend so much time on engineering, but none on philosophy – at least not explicitly stated?
    Here is the link (ok it is long):

  3. Perplexed in Peoria Perplexed in Peoria

    Sorry, Chris. You have flunked the Wason test – at least in the abstract, non-social version. Turning over the 7 card tells you nothing relevant to the hypothesis. But you need to turn over the 5 card. Cuz if there is a D on the flip side, that would falsify the hypothesis.

    Your desire to insert the assumption that all D cards have the same reverse is interesting. If that assumption were justified, then you would be right that there was no need to look at the 5 card. But that assumption was not part of the test.

    The D-7 test and the underaged drinking test are indeed logically parallel. The reason you didn’t see this is your extra assumption. If you tried to insert the same assumptions into the drinking example, the results would just seem weird. “All beer drinkers are the same age.” Or “All legal adults drink the same thing”. You wouldn’t even be tempted to make those assumptions.

    Hmmm. I wonder whether other failures of the original Wason test are due to unwarranted injections of assumptions like yours.

    • Chris' Wills Chris' Wills


      It was an unwarranted assumption and I did flunk the test.

      My main failing in tests like these may be assuming that any other cards exist other than those in the test.

  4. Rachael Briggs Rachael Briggs

    Thanks for the Spiros link. I always worry about whether I’m doing a good enough job as a reviewer, but based on that advice, I am ahead of the curve. (I’ve also had really good luck with reviewers! I wonder whether some ethicist is going to chew me up and spit me out when I finish this deontic logic paper…)

    You read Leiter and Pharyngula, so you must’ve seen this. Shocking that the guy got fired for hate speech, and shocking that he didn’t get fired for incompetence.

  5. Neil Neil

    I saw the original paper on biology and free will. I am looking forward to PNAS publishing papers by philosophers with titles like ‘Did Aristotle refute string theory?’ ‘Are Gettier cases evidence for the causal inefficacy of Hox genes?’ with contents as stupid as their titles.

    • John S. Wilkins John S. Wilkins

      Hey, I’m thinking of submitting one on phylogenies as straight rules of induction….

    • bad Jim bad Jim

      This is as good a place as any to repeat my theory of the experience of consciousness, which is that it’s our first memory of what just happened, not the real thing. This explains why it’s slightly delayed from actual decisions.

      It’s by no means merely an epiphenomenon; in even moderately complex mental tasks we need to use this immediate memory to keep track of where we are. That being said, I’ve had instances in which a complex solution to a problem presented itself to me without any conscious effort of which I was aware.

      It isn’t useful to call the major part of our mental activity “unconscious” simply because we don’t experience it directly, not least because it includes practices which we once had to learn deliberately, using immediate memory and attention, but have long since become habitual.

      The distinction between consciousness and this thing I call experience is demonstrated by dreams, which we experience in the usual fashion but are generally somewhat deranged. Sleep is a difficult topic, but I maintain that evidence of dreaming shows that dogs, at least, experience consciousness the same way we do.

      This is just a wild-ass guess about what neuroscience will eventually reveal, but it’s consistent with what I can observe of myself.

      • Porlock Junior Porlock Junior

        bad Jim’s idea on the experience of consciousness looks to be right on track.

        Comparison of the timing of “the decision to act” versus an action potential seems to rely on the assumption that Consciousness is so unitary and instanteous that we can determine a meaningful “when I made the decision” from the subject’s subjective impression. Is this so?

        Surely everyone has experienced something like this: You’re drifting off to sleep when there’s a sudden sharp noise. You not only hear the noise but see a hallucinatory flash of light by some kind of reflex. But you see the flash before you hear the noise.

        At least, it has happened to me much more than once, and I’m not the only one. Not believing that precognition is a good explanation, I conclude that my judgment of the timing of counsciousness of something sudden just is not to be taken seriously.

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