Archive for February, 2008

For Young Neurophilosophers

Friday, February 29th, 2008

Flip Phillips, director of neuroscience at Skidmore, sends the following email:

The Neuroscience Program at Skidmore College invites applications for a post doctoral position beginning Summer 2008. This position will run for two-years with the possibility of renewal for an additional two. Skidmore College seeks candidates who are firmly committed to undergraduate education and to faculty/student collaborative research. Excellent teaching and research facilities support many opportunities for faculty/student collaborative work in the classroom, lab, and field. This position will provide a unique opportunity to work with the Skidmore Scholars in Science and Mathematics (S3M), an NSF sponsored program to increase the number of science students from traditionally under-represented groups.

For this position we seek a neuroscientist, broadly defined, but are particularly interested in applicants with specialization in neurochemistry, neurobiology, neurophilosophy and/or modeling. The successful candidate will be expected to teach three courses per year, including Introduction to Neuroscience and an advanced special topics seminar in their area of specialty. This position also includes the supervision of the S3M students as well as direction of the Sophomore Summer Transitional Program. The SSTP takes place over five-weeks in the summer and is designed to facilitate the intellectual development of the S3M students as they begin to understand methods of scientific inquiry and further explore their interests in the sciences and mathematics.

The review process begins immediately.

Skidmore College is a liberal arts institution of approximately 2,200 students and 200 full-time faculty, located in upstate New York. We seek to attract an academically and culturally diverse faculty, welcoming applications from women and men of diverse background. Preference will be given to candidates with a Ph.D. in neuroscience or a related field, and teaching experience. ABD candidates will be considered only if they will complete their degree by Fall 2008. Candidates should send a vita, evidence of excellence in teaching, selected reprints, and three letters of recommendation to: Prof. Flip Phillips, Director, Neuroscience Program, Skidmore College, Saratoga Springs, NY 12866

What Dualism and Materialism Have in Common

Wednesday, February 27th, 2008

In “Giving Dualism its Due“, William Lycan maintains his materialism while also stating that there are few convincing arguments for materialism and against dualism. Two things I find oddly missing from Lycan’s discussion are any mention of Quine (who gave many arguments for materialism) and any mention of idealism (against which both the materialist and the dualist must defend their belief in physical bodies).

Current dualists and materialists would do well to reexamine their common belief in the reality of the kind of physical ontology denied by idealists. In our “Type-Q Materialism“, Josh Weisberg and I write:

Most discussions in contemporary philosophy of physicalism, qualia, and other issues pertinent to the mind-body problem proceed against a seldom discussed yet shared background assumption of the existence of physical objects, while what’s debated is whether to affirm the existence of anything else, for instance, qualia. However, contemporary thinkers would do well to examine the grounds for belief in physical objects and question whether existing considerations in favor of so-called qualia are consistent with such grounds.
Another way of framing the issues we would like to examine in the current section would be to ask what reasons for not being a phenomenalist (a person who believes only in experiences and their properties) wouldn’t also lead to being a full-blown physicalist (a person who believes only in physical objects and their properties). If one wanted to consider such a question and some of the best answers to it, it would be no idle exercise to retrace the thoughts of Quine on precisely these issues.


Friday, February 22nd, 2008

The neuroscience carnival, Encephalon, is back in action [link to the latest edition]. Items include the outlandishly anti-Wittgensteinian Your Brain is Reading This.

Defining “Computation”

Thursday, February 21st, 2008

I’m about half-way through my first draft of Key Terms in Philosophy of Mind, a book under contract with Continuum Books. From time to time I’ll be posting draft entries on Brain Hammer, especially for controversial or especially difficult to arrive at definitions. Here’s “computation”:

computation, the process of arriving at a (typically numerically or symbolically interpretable) state from an initial condition via the application of a set of rules; alternately, rule-governed symbol manipulation. The definition of computation is somewhat vexed, and its historical development has been influence by the not always congruent concerns of philosophers, mathematicians, and computer scientists. The most archaic uses of the term refer to calculation, typically of the sort done by humans solving problems involving numerically represented quantities. The notion of computation came to be associated with the notion of being effectively computable, which involves calculation via procedures that are “mechanical” in the sense of being able to be performed by the application of relatively simple procedures without the utilizations of much insight or ingenuity. This notion was later developed in such a way that made it clear how the procedures in question might be literally mechanical, that is, performed by machines. Such notions were made mathematically precise by Turing via the notion of what sorts of things can be done by Turing machines. Part of the history of these notions, and most significant for the philosophy of mind, is the hypothesis that human mental processes are themselves composed of the sorts of rule-governed and mechanistic processes distinctive of computing machines. According to some, the mind literally is a computer. See also ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE; FUNCTIONALISM; TURING MACHINE; TURING TEST; TURING, ALAN.

[Related Brain Hammer post: What’s so metaphorical about the computer metaphor?]

Cognitive Science Visiting Undergraduate Program

Wednesday, February 20th, 2008

The Cognitive Science Program at Indiana University, Bloomington invites upper-level undergraduate students and students who are graduating from college to apply to the Cognitive Science Visiting Undergraduate Program.
The program is designed to give students interested in Cognitive Science an opportunity to design and conduct their own research while working closely with a faculty mentor, at the top Cognitive Science Program in the country, for a full academic year.

Students selected for the program may enroll in up to 17 credits per semester, but will be expected to devote a minimum of 6 credit hours per semester to research. Students will also have the option to enroll in our outstanding undergraduate courses. The Cognitive Science Undergraduate Program stresses skills acquisition, and aims to foster the abilities that make students into scientists.

The program can provide the following important opportunities and
- Improve your chances of being accepted to a top graduate program
- Build your CV with invaluable lab research experience not available at your home institution
- Design your own research projects
- Work closely with a faculty mentor
- Participate in symposia and colloquia with IU’s distinguished and highly accomplished Cognitive Science faculty
- Learn how to prepare and submit research for publication

Students applying to the Visiting Undergraduate Program must meet the following requirements to be considered for admission:
- Have junior or senior class standing (in exceptional cases, fellowships may be awarded to students with sophomore standing, but such applications are not encouraged).
- A minimum GPA of 3.3 on a 4.0 scale.
- A background in computer science, mathematics, neuroscience, philosophy, or psychology, or some combination thereof.

Students who are accepted to the program will receive an out-of-state tuition waiver. Students will be responsible for the cost of in-state tuition and fees (approximately $8,000 for the year) and the cost of room and board.
To apply, students must submit an application form and materials checklist, which can be printed from the following web site: , or downloaded by right-clicking the link and choosing the appropriate option in your browser. In addition students must submit a 1-2 page personal statement describing the research they would like to pursue; identifying, if possible, the IU faculty member(s) with whom they would like to do this research; CV; Official Transcript; SAT or GRE scores and three letters of recommendation. IU Cognitive Science affiliated faculty may be found on the Cognitive Science program home page at: .

Students who are invited to participate will receive an application for admission to Indiana University. The application must be completed and returned to the Office of Admissions. Visiting Undergraduate Research Fellows must be accepted to Indiana University in order to participate in the program. Students accepted to the program will be classified as transfer students for the year that they are in residence at IU.

The above information should be submitted to:
Cognitive Science Program
Eigenmann, Room 817
Indiana University
1910 E. 10th St.
Bloomington, IN. 47406-7512

The application deadline is March 14, 2008. Those who are accepted will be notified by mid-April.

Type-Q Materialism

Tuesday, February 19th, 2008

Josh Weisberg and I just finished a draft of a paper that my wife likes to call “Avenue Q Materialism” but Josh and I call “Type-Q Materialism” [link to draft].

Here’s a chunk:

As Gibson (1982) correctly points out, despite Quine’s brief flirtation with a “mitigated phenomenalism” (Gibson’s phrase) in the late 1940’s and early 1950’s, Quine’s ontology of 1953 (”On Mental Entities”) and beyond left no room for non-physical sensory objects or qualities. Anyone familiar with the contemporary neo-dualist qualia-freak-fest might wonder why Quinean lessons were insufficiently transmitted to the current generation. Chalmers (1996a, 2003a) has been a prominent member of the neo-dualists, though he does not leave Quine unmentioned. Neo-dualist arguments proceed by inferring from an epistemic gap between the physical and the phenomenal to an ontological gap between the physical and the phenomenal. Chalmers sorts various materialist responses to these arguments as follows: Type-A materialism denies that there’s any epistemic gap in the first place. Type-B materialism accepts that there is an epistemic gap, but denies that the epistemic gap entails any ontological gap. Type-C materialism is like type-B materialism except it thinks the epistemic gap in question is only temporary. Type-Q materialism (Q for “Quine”), according to Chalmers (2003a), rejects the kinds of distinctions needed to formulate both the neo-dualist arguments and the type-A , type-B, and type-C materialist responses to them. Such rejected distinctions include the conceptual vs. the empirical, the a priori vs. the a posteriori, and the contingent vs. the necessary. Chalmers (2003a, 123) charges Type-Q materialism with being incapable of avoiding the problems alleged to arise for the types from earlier in the alphabet. The aim of the current paper is to argue the contrary point that Quineans are inoculated against these so-called problems. We spell out how Quinean allegiance to holism and pragmatic criteria for ontic commitment protect Type-Q materialism from the complaints of the qualia-freaks.


Free Episteme

Friday, February 15th, 2008

From an email by Leslie Marsh:

To promote Edinburgh University Press’s new content management system,
the Press is offering free access to **EPISTEME: Journal of Social
Epistemology** until the end of March.

See here for table of contents:

EPISTEME homepage:

Unfortunately the latest issue, which is on conspiracy theories, is not available. I blame the Illuminati.

Valentine’s Day Reminder

Thursday, February 14th, 2008

There’s no such thing as unconditional love: [link].


Straw Men, Weak Men, and Mind Messing

Wednesday, February 13th, 2008

Getting Duped: How the Media Messes with Your Mind” is an article in February 2008’s Scientific American Mind by two philosophers who, long ago, were philosophy undergrads at William Paterson: Yvonne Raley and Robert Talisse.


The straw man is used in countless other contexts as well. In his acceptance speech at the 1996 Democratic Convention, for instance, Bill Clinton opined: “… with all respect [to Bob Dole], we do not need to build a bridge to the past. We need to build a bridge to the future.” Dole did discuss restoring the values of an earlier America, but Clinton falsely implied that Dole was only looking backward (whereas Clinton was looking forward). People may use a straw man to discredit theories to which they do not subscribe. Characterizing evolution, for example, as “all random chance” is a straw man argument; it misrepresents a complex theory that only partly rests on the randomness of mutations that may lead to better chances of survival.

Recently, in a 2006 paper co-authored with Scott F. Aikin, one of us (Talisse) documented a twist on the straw man tactic. In what Talisse dubs a weak man argument, a person sets up the opposition’s weakest (or one of its weakest) arguments or proponents for attack, as opposed to misstating a rival’s position as the straw man argument does.

Cincinnati Philosophy Colloquium on the Churchlands

Tuesday, February 12th, 2008

John Bickle is organizing a philosophy colloquium on Pat and Paul Churchland at the University of Cincinnati this May. Pat and Paul are giving keynote addresses. I’ll be speaking too. Here’s a tentative schedule

Thursday, May 15
Paul Churchland, Valtz Chair of Philosophy and Cognitive Science, University of California, San Diego
8:00pm- : Speakers buffet dinner with Philosophy graduate students

Friday, May 16
10:00am-12:00noon: Pete Mandik, Philosophy and Cognitive Science, William Paterson University of New Jersey
12:00noon-1:30pm: Lunch (buffet)
1:30-3:30pm: Jackie Sullivan, Philosophy and Neurobiology, University of Alabama, Birmingham
3:30-4:00pm: Coffee Break
Patricia Churchland, University of California President’s Professor of Philosophy, University of California, San Diego; Adjunct Professor, Salk Institute
7:30- : Colloquium Banquet (Location TBA)

Saturday, May 17
10:00am-12noon: William Casebeer
12:00noon-2:00pm: Lunch (on your own—local restaurant guide provided)
2:00-4:00pm: Adina Roskies, Dartmouth College
4:00-4:30pm: Coffee Break
4:30-6:30pm: Peggy DesAutels, Philosophy, University of Dayton
7:00- : Colloquium Closing Reception, all colloquium attendees invited