Since my last entry in this series was a bit light, here are four articles for this month. Two are from The Economist, with one of them on how physics might help answer an age-old philosophical question and the other on how appearances count for more than we think. Of the remaining two, one is from CNN on a novel use for the laser technology originally conceived for the Star Wars anti-missile program and the last one is from the BBC on yet another piece of news “proving” that playing games is good for you.
The philosophy problem to start with. The question is no less than whether or not reality exists when we’re not looking at it, and if it exists, does reality behave in a different way when we’re not looking than when we are? Drawing on the theoretical work of Lucien Hardy who proposed a thought experiment whereby a pair of matter and antimatter particles could meet but do not mutually annihilate themselves under the condition that the interaction remains unobserved, two independent teams of physicists successfully performed the experiment as described. So it seems that people can indeed tell whether or not someone is honest just by looking at his or her face.
Continue reading Recent Interesting Science Articles (March ’09)
The chief movement of modernity, Kierkegaard holds, is a drift toward mass society, which means the death of the individual as life becomes ever more collectivized and externalized. The social thinking of the present age is determined, he says, by what might be called the Law of Large Numbers: it does not matter what quality each individual has, so long as we have enough individuals to add up to a large number – that is, to a crowd or mass. And where the mass is, there is truth – so the modern world believes.
-William Barrett in Irrational Man
First published in 1958, Irrational Man is something of a dinosaur next to the sexily titled and slickly paced philosophy books that fill today’s bookshelves. Despite its age and the sad fact that some of the ideas in the book have aged less than gracefully, it remains as its back blurb says, “widely recognized as the finest definition of existentialist philosophy ever written”.
These days existentialism takes a back seat to its offspring, postmodernism, and it is unfortunate that in the minds of most people, the “scientized” sophistry, sometimes frivolously so, and abstruse language that so characterizes contemporary postmodern literature is inevitably linked to existentialism as well. It may therefore be surprising that I, the author of a site dedicated to reason, identify strongly with some of the central tenets of existentialism.
Continue reading A Book: Irrational Man