Ten Years in the Blogosphere

It has come to my attention recently that I started this blog ten years ago back in May of 2007. Since that time I have written 487 posts and had over 120,000 visitors. It’s been a wild ride, to say the least!

I had begun blogging before starting this blog at The Brains Blog and had had some of my paper online since 2002/2003 when I was at the University of Connecticut, but this was my first real exposure to philosophy in the online world. At the time I was in the habit of jotting down ideas in Word documents. Some of these would get developed into conference presentations or papers for a class, but I had begun to accumulate quite a few of them.  At some point in March or April of 2007 I became aware that Pete Mandik had a blog and then found out that blogs were interactive. At that time I hadn’t quite realized that you could comment on the postings at the blogs and up till then I had just been reading the articles. It sounds absurd now but that is the way it happened! I recall we were waking somewhere after some talk or something and someone said ‘oh yeah that’s what’s fun about them!” I began hanging out online and arguing with Pete about his recent paper ‘Beware the Unicorn’ paper and eventually I thought that maybe I should contribute to a blog. I approached Gualtierro Piccinini who was the owner/manager of Brains at that time. He allowed me to become a contributor and I started posting regularly there in April and early May of 2007.

Soon afterwards I got an anonymous email from someone saying that people would enjoy my posting more if I did so less often and that if I had that much to say perhaps I should start my own blog. The email was sent from an anonymous gmail account and whoever it was said they did not want me to know who they were. That was a shock and I was pretty pissed at whoever sent the email. I forget what I said back but I don’t think it was nice. I never did find out who sent that email but I certainly do have my suspicions….Even so, though, they did make a good point. Maybe I should start my own blog, I thought to myself, and so I did!

I was still a graduate student when I started this blog and I certainly had more time to write back then! Once I got my tenure-track job at LaGuardia I had less time to write but blogging here was a very important source of excellent feedback on many of my ideas. I also learned a lot about how online interactions could spiral towards non-productivity. In fact some of the more unpleasant experiences I had here at this blog led me to include some kind of video component when I started the Online Consciousness Conference. I figured that if people could at least see and/or hear the person they were responding to it might change the tone of the conversation. I think it (mostly/somewhat) worked but who knows!

I am hoping to continue to blog here if only to work out my own thoughts about various issues. Just for fun here are some of the more active posts from the past 10 years.

Top 5 most viewed posts of all time (probably due to their being among the oldest but still):

  1. Why does 1+1=2?
    • [August 2007] -The basic mathematical truths are either true because of how the world is or independently of the world. How could we ever know which?
  2. A Simple Argument against Berkeley
    • [May 2008] -“last week I talked to this guy at the DMV who told me I need to file an address change” –are you now thinking of the guy I talked to in a way that defeats Berkeley’s master argument? I think so
  3. What is Wrong with Eating Meat
    • [November 2007] -a vegetarian/vegan reflects on eating meat (brought on by Thanksgiving and the resulting callous humor surrounding killing and eating turkeys). Can we separate the issue of eating meat from that of killing animals?
  4. The Philosophical Method
    • [August 2008] -‘A good argument for the conclusion that P is a reason to believe that P is true’ -I defend the claim that the method of philosophy commits one to reason and argument as a source of knowledge
  5. God Vs. The Delayed Choice Quantum Eraser
    • [February 2008] -If knowing which path a particle takes entails that the particle displays classical particle properties then God, who always knows which path every particle takes, cannot know about the wave-properties of reality. The main pushback to this line of argument was that this is a by-product of our way of coming to know but I think this interpretation of quantum mechanics isn’t right. It is knowing that matters.

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Towards some Reflections on the Tucson Conferences

As anyone who is even remotely interested in consciousness probably already knows, we are coming up on the big 20th Anniversary Towards a Science of Consciousness Conference in Tucson Arizona. Sadly I am not able to make it this year (due mostly to financial reasons) but I thought I would take a moment to reflect on my involvement with this conference.

I transferred to San Francisco State University in the Spring of 1997. I chose SF State over another college that had an interdisciplinary Cognitive Science program (I think it was Stanislaus, but I really can’t remember) mostly because I loved the city and was thrilled at the chance to set up shop in the Bay Area. I got there and had some adventures, taking Philosophy of Language with Kent Bach, which I really liked (some of the ideas I had in that semester eventually made it into my dissertation). But what really got me was the Philosophy of Mind course I took in the Spring of 1998 (also with Kent Bach), the same semester I was taking a Cognitive Science course. It was in those courses that I met someone who first mentioned the Tucson conference. I remember going home and using the dial-up modem (!!!!) to go online and look into this conference. It seemed really exciting (I also became aware of the Mind and Language seminar at NYU, which I really wanted to be a part of!).

I earned my Bachelors degree in 2000 and applied to exactly two graduate schools, which were NYU and Rutgers. I figured that if I was going to leave California it would be to go study consciousness and mind where it seemed to be flourishing. When I was rejected from both (no surprises there though I did get an offer from the Tisch School of NYU) I entered the graduate program at SFSU that same year. I started working with Mark Geisler in the psychology department and presented at my first professional conference with his lab (the Society for Psychophysical Research in Montreal, on a side note that conference was in October 2001, right during the Anthrax scare…not a good time to be flying around!!). Tucson2002
I suggested that we submit to the Tucson conference in Spring of 2002 and we did. Our lab had two posters at that conference. Mine was “EEG Response to Chromatic and Achromatic Hermann Grid Illusions” where I tried to show that the Herman Grid illusion was at least partially due to activity in V1. It was a great conference, and I remember being in one of the sessions, listening to a talk on how the brain processes information that allows a baseball player to catch a ball and the ways in which these players get it wrong when they talk about it. I thought to myself that it would be really cool to give a talk at this conference some day.

I came back to Tucson in 2006 to realize that goal and give my talk ‘What is a Brain State?’. My session was chaired by Hakwan Lau and I was exceedingly nervous. Even though I had presented at conferences before this was my first presentation in front of a significant number of people and I remember looking out at the audience and feeling a bit nauseated. Even so it was a lot of fun and I had some really good discussions with people afterwards.

I purchased the audio recording of my presentation and then dubbed it over a really bad video of the powerpoint slides so that you can relive this classic moment in Tucson history! Can you count all of the ‘ums’? I lose track…

I came back in 2008 to present “HOT Implies PAM: Why Higher-Order Theories of Consciousness are Committed to a Phenomenal Aspect for all Mental States, even Beliefs” which was less fun for me. My talk was at the end of the session and by the time it was my turn there was only 10 minutes left in the session (barely even enough time to get through the title!). For me it was a lot of flying (which I hate/am deathly afraid of) and a lot of money (which I don’t have and am not reimbursed for) and I thought it was not worth it at all. I remember drunkenly yelling at Uriah Kriegel that I thought that there was not very much time for discussion during the conference and that the conference should be about ideas and discussion rather than profit. Of course I found out how naive that was. The conference is not ‘for profit’ in any serious sense of that word and the format employed is fairly standard for science-based conferences. But it was partially because of my dissatisfaction with my experience that year that I started the Online Consciousness Conference in the summer of 2008.

The next time I was in Tucson was in 2012 when I presented “The 2D Argument Against Non-Materialism“. This was a very different experience. By this time I knew most of the people at the conference, including David Chalmers, and even worse most of them knew me! Perhaps Ironically I missed the days when I could slink into the back of a talk unnoticed by anyone and disappear right afterwards without a trace. I mean, there are worse things than hanging with cool and interesting people and talking about consciousness but it did bring home how much things have changed for me in the last 15 years!

photo by Tony Cheng

photo by Tony Cheng

Here’s to 20 more years!

Zombies vs Shombies

Richard Marshall, a writer for 3am Magazine, has been interviewing philosophers. After interviewing a long list of distinguished philosophers, including Peter Carruthers, Josh Knobe, Brian Leiter, Alex Rosenberg, Eric Schwitzgebel, Jason Stanley, Alfred Mele, Graham Priest, Kit Fine, Patricia Churchland, Eric Olson, Michael Lynch, Pete Mandik, Eddy Nahmais, J.C. Beal, Sarah Sawyer, Gila Sher, Cecile Fabre, Christine Korsgaard, among others, they seem to be scraping the bottom of the barrel, since they just published my interview. I had a great time engaging in some Existential Psychoanalysis of myself!

Commercial Free Philosophy?

I recently cam across Rick Grush’s Commercial Free Philosophy site, a movement which I am deeply sympathetic to (see below)…I have been dying to read the new paper by Michael Gazzaniga but my school is too cheap to subscribe to Science Direct so I’ll never know what the right level of mind-bran analysis is…but anyways, I noticed that there was no mention of presenting at for-profit conferences. It seems to me that the arguments which support abstaining from publishing in for profit journals would also apply to conferences.

Just as an example, and since this one is coming up, take the Association for the Scientific Study of Consciousness,

Late Fees (after Friday 21st of May)
Student Member CA $280
Member CA $430
Non-member CA $530
Tutorials CA $60 each
Conference Dinner CA $70
Accommodation CA $94/night (or $47 shared)

$500.00 just to present a poster!?!?! On top of the money to fly there and have a room…Horseshit! Similar remarks can be made about the Tucson conferences, the SPP, the apa, and virtually every major conference out there. Now, look, I know that you need to charge something in order to offset the money put into organizing the conference (well, you don’t HAVE to (I didn’t) but I can see why one would think it was fair to do so) but these prices are ridiculous…most of us can’t afford that to present our research. It is true that the University helps offset the price but unless one is at a fancy research institution (hint: most of us aren’t) the help is negligible. So, to go to the apa in Vancouver cost me $2,500 and I got $500.00 from LaGuardia…big help. And for what? To be crammed into a session with three other papers plus commentators and five minutes scheduled for discussion? What a joke!


What is Philosophy that it Sucks so Bad?

Brian Leiter wants to know what philosophers think of philosophy in 75 words or less…here is my 50 word stab (longer stab here)

Philosophy is distinguished from other endeavors by its method, which is roughly this: a good argument with the conclusion that p is a reason to believe that p. Philosophers, as we say, feel the force of arguments and are compelled to either accept their conclusions or to show why one needn’t.