We all have a solipsistic experience nightly, when we sleep and dream. Each night we inhabit a universe which seems to us, convincingly at the time, to have a wealth of external people and places in it. But all of those people and places are created inside our brains solely for the benefit of the dreamer. In the modern world, however, we can place an additional, familiar experience of a solipsistic reality next to that of the dream: the single-player video game.
One of the first things people discovered when modern computing became a reality is that it’s relatively easy to simulate laws of physics, representing aspects of the real world. This theoretically enables an approach to simulation that builds an entire universe from basic building blocks. A quark could be a tiny bit of fundamental matter (whatever that might be), but it could just as easily be a rule programmed into a computer—or perhaps even a coherent thought in the mind of an all-powerful intellect.
In the year 1999 CE, just on the cusp of a new millennium, the then Wachowski Brothers released “The Matrix,” one of the most influential, imitated, and widely discussed movies of its times. It was only four years later, in 2003 CE, that philosopher Nick Bostrom of Oxford University introduced an argument that it is not only possible we are living inside a computer simulation, it is actually significantly likely. Although it may have sounded like a high-concept science-fiction thriller, the argument drew upon well-established lines of logic and a widely held series of assumptions.
Did Nick Bostrom, professor of philosophy at Oxford University, provide the first convincing modern proof of the probable existence of God? At first glance it seems more than unlikely. Bostrom—best known for his notorious theory that the world exists only on a giant computer—isn’t a notably religious man. What’s more, philosophers and theologians have argued for thousands of years whether God exists; whether the existence of God can be proven; and whether demonstrating proof of God’s existence is something we should even try to pursue. Despite all this, in the year 2003, when Bostrom published a new theory detailing the strong probability that God does in fact exist, nobody noticed (except David Pearce).
Randolph Bourne died 100 years ago this December at the age of 32. While his legacy lives on, to properly pay homage to his work we can recover the spirit of his prophetic philosophy, which has too often been overlooked or misapprehended.
Chaucer’s philosophical exploration of human nature takes a dark turn in “The Pardoner’s Tale,” a greedy man’s proud confession of his own corruption.
Despite its many obvious shortcomings, the human mind is a remarkably productive generator of categories—from the Linnaean system of taxonomy to two drinkers in a bar arguing over India Pale Ales, and indeed the person sitting next to them who complains to the bartender about “hipsters” taking over his favorite bar. This natural proclivity to set out a number of Continue Reading …
An excerpt from the recently released book Rethinking Health Care Ethics, which explores, for an audience including health professionals, the limits of formal/philosophical ethics in helping them understand the ethical dimensions of their work.
The excerpt focuses on the distinction between formal and informal ethical discourse and the implications of that distinction for day-to-day clinical practice.
In our last two articles, we’ve explored one book in the exciting new field of cognitive science of religion. And we’ve seen how one of the findings in this area is that belief in God, or something like God, is natural to us, given the types of minds we have. Of course, this doesn’t show that one ought to believe Continue Reading …
In our last article, we explored some recent findings in the cognitive science of religion (CSR). We saw how current research suggests that belief in God, or something like God, comes naturally to most human beings, most of the time, in virtue of the types of brains we have. I’d like to explore Justin L. Barrett’s arguments on this front Continue Reading …
The 2016 US presidential election and the Trump presidency have shown us that a variety of epistemically perilous conditions are far too common in the thought and behavior of Americans. Philosophy has a role to play in addressing this.
“Belief in God is an almost inevitable consequence of the kind of minds we have.” —Justin L. Barrett
John Woo is synonymous with Hollywood blockbuster action films, but his films are actually more about ethics than explosions. His 1989 masterpiece The Killer is a Confucian action film.
“Faith is not to be contrasted with knowledge: faith (at least in paradigmatic instances) is knowledge, knowledge of a certain special kind.” —Alvin Plantinga
“To preach skepticism to us as a duty until ‘sufficient evidence’ for religion be found, is tantamount therefore to telling us, when in presence of the religious hypothesis, that to yield to our fear of its being error is wiser and better than to yield to our hope that it may be true. It is not intellect against all passions, then; it is only intellect with one passion laying down its law.” —William James
Imagine a ship owner who sells tickets for transatlantic voyages. He is at the dock one day, bidding his ship farewell, when he remembers a warning he had received from his mechanics the week before, that the integrity of the ship’s hull was questionable and that it might not be seaworthy. But on some plausible grounds or other he forms Continue Reading …
“If it is to be established that there is a God, then we have to have good grounds for believing that this is indeed so. Until and unless some such grounds are produced we have literally no reason at all for believing; and in that situation the only reasonable posture must be that of either the negative atheist or the agnostic.”
Roger Scruton famously rejected photography as an art form on the grounds that, being causal, photographs cannot represent an artist’s intentions. For Scruton, paintings can enable us to see lines, shapes and colors ‘as’ something other than lines, shapes and colors per se. Photographs cannot do this as they are tied to the visual scene they depict. Wilfrid Sellars’s ideas on the role of phenomenal content in visual perception provide a fruitful approach to questioning Scruton’s thesis.
In our last article we explored Charles Taylor’s concept of “the buffered self,” a peculiar kind of self-consciousness engendered by Enlightenment rationalism, and which has become customary (at least for educated elites) in our own time. We saw how it can be at once a source of pride, a profound source of accomplishment and self-worth, and also a source of Continue Reading …
In our last article, we explored Charles Taylor’s discussion of a new religion that took shape in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries: Providential Deism. Yet, as we saw, it was not entirely new but in many respects a development and expansion of themes already expounded on by the Protestant Reformation. Where the Protestant Reformers accused Catholicism of being authoritarian, superstitious, Continue Reading …