Metaphysics

The Human Sense of Smell

On Thursday 13 April 2017, a workshop organized at Columbia University by the Centre for Science and Society and the Italian Academy for Advanced Studies in America sought to explore an important and still partly unresolved question: How does our brain make sense of scents and flavors?Importantly, a key goal of the exploration was to debunk some myths about the human sense of smell. Most notably, it targeted the view that our olfactory abilities are underdeveloped and lack cognitive significance. An eminent advocate of this proposition was Immanuel Kant, who wrote the following:"Which organic sense is the most ungrateful and also seems to be the most dispensable? The sense of smell. It does not pay to cultivate it or refine it at all in order to enjoy; for there are more disgusting objects than pleasant ones (especially in crowded places), and even when we come across something fragrant, the pleasure coming from the sense of smell is always fleeting and transient" (2006 [1798], 50-51)The panel sought to bring together different perspectives to show how this view turns out to be incorrect and to investigate the human sense of smell in its many dimensions and from different angles. After some introductory remarks by David Freedberg, Pamela Smith, and by Ann-Sophie Barwich (who will present her new research on this blog in the next few weeks), it was philosopher Barry Smith who started by addressing the role of the sense of smell in perception and conscious experience.Quite often, reasons given for thinking that we do not experience smells all the...

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Being Well

¶ This article originally appeared in Tableau, the Division of the Humanities at the University of Chicago’s quarterly publication, as Being Well | Want a more fulfilling life? Put down your phone and look another human being in the eye by Courtney Guerra. ¶ It’s easy to ignore the sign-offs at the end of email correspondence—they’re essentially content-neutral beyond conveying “message over.” But Candace Vogler, David B. and Clara E. Stern Professor in Philosophy, has a different style. She ends nearly all of her emails with “be well,” and, after talking with her, you get the sense that it’s intended as an actual imperative—albeit a kind and hopeful one. ¶   ¶ It’s a small, subtle habit, but that’s the point. If you’re seeking...

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Non-Apprehension of Existence as a Means of Knowledge - Anupalabdhi

The landscape of the pramana anupalabdhi accepted by Advaita is a strange one lit up by flashes of understanding. As ever negation is the way to knowledge. The Nyaya school do not accept non-apprehension of existence as a distinct valid means of knowledge holding that it is based on perception.First...

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Gods of Confusion

Honestly my parents were hard-working and good people but very sad, very beaten by life and not ones to give me a crisp explanation.  Not of life, not of anything.  Don’t tell a lie, sure but why not, get a job, but why, not quite “just because” but not...

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Being Well This article originally appeared in Tableau, the Division of the Humanities at the University of Chicago’s quarterly publication, as Being Well | Want a more fulfilling life? Put down your phone and look another human being in the eye by Courtney Guerra. It’s easy to ignore the sign-offs at the end of email correspondence—they’re essentially content-neutral beyond conveying “message over.” But Candace Vogler, David B. and Clara E. Stern Professor in Philosophy, has a different...


Gods of Confusion Honestly my parents were hard-working and good people but very sad, very beaten by life and not ones to give me a crisp explanation.  Not of life, not of anything.  Don’t tell a lie, sure but why not, get a job, but why, not quite “just because” but not much more than it either.  If you’ve ever experienced that I think you know. So I went to the school and they explained it to me....


Non-Apprehension of Existence as a Means of Knowledge - Anupalabdhi The landscape of the pramana anupalabdhi accepted by Advaita is a strange one lit up by flashes of understanding. As ever negation is the way to knowledge. The Nyaya school do not accept non-apprehension of existence as a distinct valid means of knowledge holding that it is based on perception.First though the positive thesis. Here I follow the line laid down by the Vedanta Paribhasa by Dharmaraja Adhvarindra. Put at its simplest it may seem...


The Human Sense of Smell On Thursday 13 April 2017, a workshop organized at Columbia University by the Centre for Science and Society and the Italian Academy for Advanced Studies in America sought to explore an important and still partly unresolved question: How does our brain make sense of scents and flavors?Importantly, a key goal of the exploration was to debunk some myths about the human sense of smell. Most notably, it targeted the view that our olfactory abilities are...


The paradoxico-metaphysics of the other - a teaser Working with Jon Cogburn on a paradoxico-metaphysics of the other. This is just a teaser from the text just after defining metaphysiks as the project Heidegger criticizes and métaphysics as the project Levinas wants to embrace (to relinquish all forms of ontologism):The central metaphilosophical question concerns the relation between métaphysics and metaphysiks? It is about how totality and transcendence relate. How can a project attending to totality and another attending to transcendence be put together?...


Panhandling & Free Expression By Michael LaBossiere Embed from Getty Images   Many local officials tend to believe that panhandlers are detrimental to local businesses and tourism and, as such, it is no surprise that there have been many efforts to ban begging. While local governments keep trying to craft laws to pass constitutional muster, their efforts have generally proven futile in the face of the First Amendment. While the legal questions are addressed by courts, there remains the...


Special Issue on Jane Jacobs cosmos & taxisdistributed cognitiondistributed knowledgeJane JacobsSpontaneous order


Black scholarship matters The Journal of Political Philosophy just published a symposium on Black Lives Matter, which initially sounds like a great idea.  However, Chris Lebron writes (in an open letter to the journal): So, if you might – please do – try to imagine my distaste when it was brought to my attention that your journal published a philosophical symposium on ‘black lives matter’ with not one philosopher of color represented, without one philosopher of color to...


Controlled Falling Controlled falling I just had the good fortune to take a modern dance class at Washington University with David Marchant. The class was a wonderful mix of an introduction to a variety of modern dance techniques and their history, along with dance improvisation, and doing David’s always inspired choreography. The central focus of the class, however, has been presence. David asked us to reflect on the first day on the following question: what makes a...


MICHAEL CHABON ROAMS THE WEST BANK WITH SAM BAHOUR Michael Chabon in Literary Hub: The tallest man in Ramallah offered to give us a tour of his cage. We would not even have to leave our table at Rukab’s Ice Cream, on Rukab Street; all he needed to do was reach into his pocket. At nearly two meters—six foot four—Sam Bahour might well have been the tallest man in the whole West Bank, but his cage was constructed so ingeniously that it could fit...


A Grand New Theory of Life's Evolution on Earth Sarah Zhang in The Atlantic: The modern world gives us such ready access to nachos and ice cream that it’s easy to forget: Humans bodies require a ridiculous and—for most of Earth’s history—improbable amount of energy to stay alive. Consider a human dropped into primordial soup 3.8 billions years ago, when life first began. They would have nothing to eat. Earth then had no plants, no animals, no oxygen even. Good luck scrounging up 1600...


A BEAUTIFUL MIND Yesterday afternoon, I wrote a brief message linking to a video of a lengthy lecture given by Noam Chomsky in Paris four years ago.  In this extended post, I am going to lay out what I understood to be the core of Noam’s remarks.  Why on earth am I doing this?  The answer is this:  What I care most about in the world is deep, clear ideas, elegantly expounded so that one can see and...


Bio-Hackers, Home Made Cyborgs and Body Modifications: A New Frontier for Ethics and Policy echnologies are increasingly being incorporated into the body. ‘Grinder’ and biohacking movements are gaining momentum as more and more individuals are beginning to practice increasingly extreme body modifications;using technology to enhance, extend and modify the capabilities of the human body. … Continue reading →


In Defense of (the term) “Genocide” Philosopher Berel Lang on his new book: The United Nations “Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide” was passed in the U.N. General  Assembly on December 9th,  1948.  That Convention has since then, unamended, remained the defining formulation of the crime of genocide.  (The term “genocide” itself first appeared only four years before that, coined by Raphael Lemkin in his Axis Rule in Occupied Europe.) Since its adoption, the charge of...


Notes from both sides of the market - part 5: standing out in a crowded field I began a series last year, "Notes from both sides of the market", as a kind of follow-up to our Job-Market Boot Camp, but this time discussing job-market issues from the perspective of someone who has now been on both sides of the process (I was on the market as a candidate for seven years, and have now served on two search committees). Given that the fall job-market is just a few months away now, I...


When Philosophy Needed Muslims, Jews and Christians Alike, by Peter Adamson From The Three Philosophers, attributed to Giorgione, ca. early 1500’s. It likely portrays a young Italian philosopher, Averroes, and Plato If you were asked to name the most important philosopher of 10th-century Baghdad, you would presumably not hesitate to say ‘al-Farabi’. He’s one of the few thinkers of the Islamic world known to non-specialists, deservedly so given his ambitious reworking of Platonic and Aristotelian metaphysics and political philosophy. But if you were yourself a resident...


Essay Rubric If you are looking for an awesome essay rubric, here's one, in a number of formats, by Micah Lewin:Philosophy Paper Grading Rubric (on One 11x17 PDF Page, on Multiple 8.5x11 PDF Pages, or as a JPEG). 


Panhandling & Free Expression Embed from Getty Images Many local officials tend to believe that panhandlers are detrimental to local businesses and tourism and, as such, it is no surprise that there have been many efforts to ban begging. While local governments keep trying to craft laws to pass constitutional muster, their efforts have generally proven futile in the face of the First Amendment. While the legal questions are addressed by courts, there remains the moral question of whether...


On Cobwebs and Coxcombs: Adam Smith's criticism of Metaphysical technicality At any rate, I cannot allow myself to believe that such men as Zeno or Cleanthes, men, it is said, of the most simple as well as of the most sublime eloquence, could be the authors, either of these, or of the greater part of the other Stoical paradoxes, which are in general mere impertinent quibbles, and do so little honour to their system that I shall give no further account of them. I am...


Obsessive Fantasies of Defeating an Enemy Well, the problem, the problem I said, is I have obsessive fantasies of defeating our enemy; always thinking about it, always hoping it will happen, I have no time to think about anything else. -It seems to me you have plenty of time.  I don’t think that’s your problem. -Well, maybe it’s not, but it’s a problem; maybe the problem is that I am full of fear, fear of defeat and failure; what if we...