Category Archives: Volition

Gaslighting and the ethic of veracity

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Gaslight

I don’t know who are worse. Is it the cultists like Fox News’ Stuart Varney who says with a straight face that “Donald Trump has never lied to the American people”?  Or the Machiavellian congressmen and religious leaders who downplay the lies for their own endgames? Or the cynic’s shrugged-shouldered “All politicians lie”? My longstanding ethical credo has been that… Read more »

This is disturbing; therefore, it is not true

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Trinity College Library

Where is the Life we have lost in living? Where is the wisdom we have lost in knowledge? Where is the knowledge we have lost in information?”  (T. S. Eliot, The Rock, 1934) The question “What is truth?” has vexed theologians and philosophers for many centuries. According to the Biblical story, even Jesus did not have a spoken answer to… Read more »

Donald Trump and the moral conversation – part 2

The moral conversation

In Part One of this post I looked at the first two “vectors” of the moral conversation that “walks our brain” through its different moral and ethical decision-making sub-parts as we contemplate the moral state of the Trump Presidency. In this last part I will “complete the circle” by looking at two more ethical vectors, empathy and meta-ethics.

Donald Trump and the moral conversation – part 1

The moral conversation

In a post last year I proposed a method with some decent theological, philosophical and scientific bases for conducting moral conversations about those difficult issues on which “good people disagree.” It is time to attempt to have that conversation about the state of the U.S. Presidency.

Schlemiels, schlimazels, probability and free will

Laverne & Shirley

“The brain is a machine that remembers the past in order to predict the future.” — Dean Buonomano [1] Schlemiel and schlimazel are two Yiddish words known to many only by their mention in the theme song to the old television show Laverne and Shirley. In the classic definition, the schlemiel is the bungler who is always spilling soup on… Read more »

The three languages of right and wrong

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You likely don’t realize it, but whenever you talk about issues of “right” and “wrong,” you are at least “bi-lingual,” and often “tri-lingual.” Just as many Americans unconsciously and fluidly slip between speaking English and Spanish in a linguistic hybrid, most of us intermix at least three “cultural languages” when expressing our views on morality and the law. [1] I… Read more »

Bad habits and the Bayesian brain

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A long-standing battle between two different philosophies of “doing statistics” appears to play itself out in trying to understand how the human brain exercises volition (or “choice”, or “free will”), and it appears that our brains have decided to stand with the “Bayesians.” All life on this planet naturally seeks to “change the odds” of its own survival and procreation…. Read more »

Left-brain versus right-brain ethics

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NPR science correspondent Shankar Vedantam hosts an excellent podcast entitled Hidden Brain, focusing on the science of human behavior. A recent episode features brain researcher and psychiatrist Iain McGilchrist, author of a book that tries to sort the myths from the science regarding the differences between our “left brain” and “right brain.” The two brain hemispheres sometimes appear complementary or mirrors… Read more »

Can self-driving cars be moral?

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Caltech physicist Sean Carroll presents one of the best science podcasts, called Mindscape, and a recent episode featured philosopher Derek Leben. Leben has been researching how self-driving vehicles might be programmed when faced with what we would typically call a moral dilemma if faced by a human. For instance, if there were no choice but to swerve the car into a brick… Read more »