Brain Pickings

Posts Tagged ‘knowledge’

26 APRIL, 2012

Philosopher John Searle Defines Consciousness


‘Consciousness is real and irreducible — you can’t get rid of it.’

Understanding what it means to be human and, more specifically, the nature of consciousness, has long occupied scientists and philosophers alike. We’ve seen consciousness explained as a connectome, a rainbow, and a kind of meaningful whole composed of meaningless parts. In this short video, philosopher John Searle defines consciousness by its four features — it’s real and irreducible, caused by brain processes, exists in the brain, and functions causably — and argues for a biological understanding that counters many of the philosophical conceptions. Perhaps a reductionist take — does the whole of our existence and purpose really amount to a set of biological processes? — but a fascinating one nonetheless.

We have to think of consciousness as a biological phenomenon. It’s as much a part of human and animal biology as digestion, or photosynthesis, or the secretion of bile, or mitosis… The main difference, at least in our present state of knowledge, is that we have a better understanding of digestion than we do of consciousness. The brain is a tough nut to crack.

For a deeper dive, see Searle’s fascinating Mind: A Brief Introduction. Pickings has a free weekly newsletter and people say it’s cool. It comes out on Sundays and offers the week’s best articles. Here’s what to expect. Like? Sign up.

29 MARCH, 2012

Brian Cox Explains Entropy and the Arrow of Time with Sandcastles and Glaciers


Understanding the joy and tragedy of the human condition through desert sand and polar ice.

It’s hard not to be perpetually perplexed by time and its arrow, which we’ve previously examined through a BBC documentary, a visual history of the timeline, and 7 essential books. After Minute Physics’ animated one-minute explanation of entropy and the Arrow of Time, here comes physicist Brian Cox with his penchant for using ordinary objects to explain the extraordinary: In this fantastic segment from BBC’s The Wonders of the Universe, Cox builds sandcastles in the Namib Desert to explain why, thanks to the second law of thermodynamics, entropy is the reason time flows in one direction.

Entropy always increases… because it’s overwhelmingly more likely that it will.

In another segment from the same program, Cox uses the Perito Moreno glacier in Patagonia, Argentina to explain the Arrow of Time and its unidirectional movement:

The Arrow of Time dictates that as each moment passes, things change, and once these changes have happened, they are never undone. Permanent part is a I a fundamental part of being human. We all age as the years pass by — people are born, they live, and they die. I suppose it’s part of the joy and tragedy of our lives, but out there in the universe, those grand and epic cycles peer eternal and unchanging. But that’s an illusion. See, in the life of the universe, just as in our lives, everything is irreversibly changing.

Cox’s new book, The Quantum Universe: Everything That Can Happen Does Happen, came out last month and is a mind-bender of the most stimulating kind.

The Kid Should See This

Donating = Loving

Bringing you (ad-free) Brain Pickings takes hundreds of hours each month. If you find any joy and stimulation here, please consider becoming a Supporting Member with a recurring monthly donation of your choosing, between a cup of tea and a good dinner.

You can also become a one-time patron with a single donation in any amount.

Brain Pickings has a free weekly newsletter. It comes out on Sundays and offers the week’s best articles. Here’s what to expect. Like? Sign up.

29 MARCH, 2012

Heinz Dilemma: A Hand-Drawn Interactive Animation to Test Your Moral Development


Would you steal to save a loved one’s life, and how would you justify doing or not doing it?

Swiss developmental psychologist and philosopher Jean Piaget is arguably the most influential scholar of children’s moral development. In the 1960s, psychologist Lawrence Kohlberg built upon Piaget’s work with his own theory on the stages of moral development. Much of his reasoning was based on the Heinz dilemma, which explores how people justify and rationalize their actions when placed in similar moral quandaries.

This cleverly conceived and beautifully executed interactive video by Carlo Pisani, Andres Jud, and Maria Stalder offers a simplified version of the Heinz dilemma to test for moral development by asking you, the viewer, to choose one of several scenarios that would solve Heinz’s predicament. It then “diagnoses” you with one of the three stages of moral development — pre-conventional, conventional, or post-conventional. (For the interactivity to work, make sure YouTube annotations are set to “on.”)

For a related treat, see Open University’s six famous philosophy thought experiments, animated in 60 seconds each.

Brain Pickings has a free weekly newsletter and people say it’s cool. It comes out on Sundays and offers the week’s best articles. Here’s what to expect. Like? Sign up.