About Rationally Speaking

Rationally Speaking is a blog maintained by Prof. Massimo Pigliucci, a philosopher at the City University of New York. The blog reflects the Enlightenment figure Marquis de Condorcet's idea of what a public intellectual (yes, we know, that's such a bad word) ought to be: someone who devotes himself to "the tracking down of prejudices in the hiding places where priests, the schools, the government, and all long-established institutions had gathered and protected them." You're welcome. Please notice that the contents of this blog can be reprinted under the standard Creative Commons license.

Friday, February 07, 2014

Massimo's suggested readings for the weekend

* The fascinating mess that is contemporary fundamental physics.

* Are we close to an awful Gattaca-type scenario for the future of humanity?

* How to pick among experts who disagree.

* CBT beats the crap out of psychoanalysis, at least in the case of bulimia.

* In defense of... me! By a theist!! (Oh boy, the New Atheists are really gonna be pissed off now.)

* Julian Baggini on the philosophy of food.

* The age of infopolitics and our digital selfs.

* The Pope should rethink the Catholic Church's stand on abortion, says Catholic philosopher.

* Kiss me, I'm an atheist. The type of PR the atheist movement really needs.

* Happiness and its discontents, a critique of our obsession with it.

* Fifty States of Fear: why Americans are being encouraged to being afraid of the wrong things.


  1. It's a pity that aRemonstrant lives on the opposite side of the puddle, because I'd love to hear the two of you in a podcast. I'm sure you or, say, John Wilkins would indeed be able to spend hours together with him in a Starbucks whereas any of you and Jerry Coyne-- well, maybe he's nicer in person than he comes across in his writing.

  2. Somewhat amusing (to me): I read that the theist (aRemonstrant'sRamblings) is a member of the Society of Evangelical Arminians, so is perhaps as likely interested in evangelizing/debating Calvinists as Atheists.

  3. Several thoughts.

    1. On "happiness," too many people seem to seek an ephemeral short-term happiness rather than "contentment," which we might call, per ancient philosophy, something halfway between ataxaria and eudaomonia.

    Related to this, the "positive happiness" movement of Seligman et al has in several recent pieces been shown to be an intellectual fraud.

    2. Wrong fears? In a column two weeks after 9/11, for the newspaper I edited at the time, I noted that cigarettes kill as many people every couple of days as were killed in 9/11, avoidable health and diet deaths did so every 10 days or so, and even avoidable car accident deaths (no seat belts, DWIs, etc.) did so every month or so.

    However, since 9/11, cigarette smoking has shown no major decline, the American diet and lack of exercise has gotten even worse and driving habits haven't gotten noticeably safer.

    Wouldn't it be cool if that was a new warning label on a pack of Marlboros? "This week and every week, cigarettes will kill twice as many people as died in 9/11."

    3. Kiss an atheist? Totally agreed, WITH some caveats. I'd never kiss Rebecca Watson or most other nth-wave feminists of Atheism Plus. The lawsuit worries wouldn't be worth it. (Sets timer waiting for how long it will take Michael Fugate to blow another gasket.) That said, Matthew Hutson tends to read his own PR clippings a lot.

    4. Infopolitics? Using a browser add-on like Ghostery to block tracking cookies is a good starting point to fight the whole spreading concept of infopolitics. Speaking of, we really need to get Massimo to blog about Yevgeny Morozov!

    5. Foodism? Doesn't this tie to false, or misweighted fears, bad diets, and related issues? The phrase "comfort food" is as true as ever. And, then, that in turn ties to happiness vs. contentment.

    6. The Theist Who Likes You? Per his Twitter screen grab, I just Tweeted Sammy Boy: The difference between what IS philosophically true and what one wishes could be true has a measurement unit, the "SamHarris." And (cue Michael Fugate again), he notes of Dennett: "The New Atheists are typically dismissive of theological / philosophical explanations. They are ridiculed as “deepities” (Dennett)." ...

    1. As I have pointed out numerous times in my comments, I don't support new atheism unconditionally - this is obviously too nuanced for you to understand. Just because I thought you were too arbitrary in you condemnation of all new atheists, you seem to think I am one. I have neither advocated scientism nor condemned philosophy. I certainly have never defended Sam Harris or even Dawkins (if you had read my comments, you would realize this). I am still trying to find out why you are so motivated in your hatred ( I know you claim hatred is too strong, but it is clearly becoming pathological on your part) of new atheists. I understand Massimo sees this as an issue of scientism and others have made the same conclusion including Baggini. Eric McDonald who formerly blogged on the right to die and someone I respect also found the scientism argument compelling. I think what is driving this is the idea floated by many that theology is a way of knowing. This argument has been promoted by major science organizations without any attempt at justification. I keep asking philosophers who should know how different fields produce knowledge and the answers are sketchy at best. They are really sketchy when they come to theology - because theology is so wrapped up with religion and religion is so often wrapped up in sacred texts. So you get Christian theology, but not a general theology - see a think tank like the Center for Theology and the Natural Sciences. Science may not be the only way of knowing, but is theology a way of knowing and if so how does it work? Do some new atheists go overboard in favor of science, of course, do some anti-new atheists duck the question of how other fields generate knowledge and try to open a pathway for religion and theology without any justification, of course.

      To make a long story short, it seems two arguments are made against new atheism - the charge of scientism and the charge of anti-theism/anti-religion. I would feel I could much better argue against scientism if I had a better idea how non-scientific field generated knowledge and how they are fundamentally different from science. I would especially be interested in any light that can be shed on theology.

    2. You seem to be obsessed with A+ - I suppose the main difference between secular humanism is that it includes liberal religious people whereas A+ does not. If you don't have a problem with secular humanists then don't obsess with A+. (Disclaimer I do not self identify as an Atheist so Im probably excluded from A+ but I'm probably as anti-religion as they come)

    3. Deepak, it's a "branding" issue, per the one link Massimo provided. I don't normally call myself an atheist because of the self-inflicted black eye Gnus inflict. Massimo focuses on scientism and philosophy issues, rather than marketing and PR, of course. If his focus were different, he'd be talking about folks like American Atheists President Fred Silverman, who's the leader of the "shoot yourself in the foot" angle.

      It seems that, on the "evangelization" angle (and I feel comfortable using that word), Gnus in general also haven't learned the old phrase, "you catch more flies with honey than with vinegar." That said, despite their professions of wanting to spread the movement of atheism, I don't really think they do want that.

      Rather, as I have said once before, they remind me of an observation Camus made about many atheists in "The Rebel." They **need a god against which to rebel.** Hence, my use of the "tar baby" on another post of Massimo's.

      I know some people may not like that observation. Again, though, I'm not alone in making it, I'm not the first in making it, and I'm not even the best at making it. Camus goes into a bit of depth on this issue.

      Deepak, I have no problem with secular humanism. Your statement to me is a non sequitur. Rather, I should worry all the more about Gnus/Plusers, arguably, if the well poisoning spills into more general "secular humanism."

    4. As for my comments about Watson, they're more about how a certain politically correct nth-wave feminism has tainted Atheism+ even beyond problems I see with many Gnu Atheists. I see a high degree of martyrology there, if we we want to talk about religious or theological terms.

    5. As for Michael, since we first started tangling, I don't think I've claimed you have personally "defended" Sam Harris. As I said on a previous post of Massimo's, though, you seem to be worried about defending, in general, the PR of Gnus. So, even if you don't personally defend a particular Gnu, to use an bit of analogy, when I ring my particular version of Pavlov's bell, you come running. And, nobody's forcing you to do so.

    6. I suppose the main difference between secular humanism is that it includes liberal religious people whereas A+ does no

      Why are conservative religious excluded?

    7. I still waiting for an argument from you about anything, Gadfly. I ask, you evade. You can't even articulate why your despise new atheism, your stance is all rather baffling.

    8. From what I've observed, those who are religious conservatives are also political conservatives, and 'conservative humanist' is contradictory. E.g., from an American Humanist Association film:

      “The ‘bitter pill’ that is necessary to rid the country’s health care system of the cancer that’s killing it is the single-payer system that has been proven to work in countries all over the world.”

    9. Well, Michael, I've given you evidence. (Or in the case of Denning's algorithmic claims, evidence of lack of evidence.) If you choose not to discuss that, that's your business, not mine.

  4. Massimo, you look like Heisenberg from breaking bad, very scary!

  5. The fundamental of physics: =

  6. Happiness And Its Discontents. It's well written and worth the read, but I've got to disagree with her that happiness is equivalent to "our rational understanding of how our lives are supposed to turn out." Then she further blurs the distinction by putting Freud in the same camp as this supposedly rational position. A psychoanalytic notion of happiness and a pop psyche notion of happiness are NOT the same as applied rationality. And, if you want to be an ambitious lustful capricious person, I agree with her, why not? Unless, and she looks this aspect straight in the face and says the wrong thing in my opinion, you have kids. If you choose to have kids (which should be a moment of applied rationality in the era of birth control, then you are responsible to them and you will need to put your continental philosophy urges on hold a couple of decades).

  7. Gutting's arguments are all over the place, but his talk about miscarriages are uniquely terrible. There's an obvious difference between intentionally aborting a child and environmental/biological factors that result in the unintentional miscarriage of a child - not in terms of whether said child is alive or a person, but in moral culpability on the part of the woman involved. Further, the idea that people are blind to miscarriages is ridiculous - this isn't something you can fight just by research, but also by various health initiatives and awareness.

    The whole argument on this front is an exercise in distraction. You may as well argue that people in favor of Obamacare are really hypocrites because they aren't devoting most of their energy towards helping out the poorest of the poor in Calcutta, ergo they don't REALLY care about people's health.

    1. To stand Gutting on his head, self-purported Catholic Francesco Ayala said god was the great aborter.

      He's also either ignorant of, or deceitful about, most actual abortions. In many, the fetus would have died later in term, without being born. In others, a birth might have resulted without an abortion, only with a painful death in the first year or so of childhood.

      As for the preventative research issue? Red herring. We're decades away from doing the type of in-utero manipulation to prevent miscarriages, horrible genetic defects, etc., from happening. And, if we are eventually there, per another link from Massimo, what about Gattica?

      Or, Brave New World, which Massimo could have mentioned without even a link.

    2. To stand Gutting on his head, self-purported Catholic Francesco Ayala said god was the great aborter.

      Self-purported? Since when? Last I checked Ayala was an ex-priest who stonewalled when asked if he even believed in God.

      Nor do I think Gutting is either ignorant or deceitful about 'most actual abortions'. To read your description, one would get the impression that the vast majority of abortions are due to fatal birth defects in the child. That's ludicrous.

      Gutting's point about preventative research I think is wrong, but largely wrong in the way he tries to apply it. Insofar as miscarriages can be practically fought right now, they are. Insofar as research would be needed, various factors make it clear why they aren't prioritized over other related issues.

    3. Gutting's article is so atrocious, so full of non-sequiturs, and so remarkably bad it needs to be seen to be believed. I was delighted when Massimo (rightly) skewered Gutting for sophism and lack of rational arguments in his On Being Catholic article. We should hold philosophers to a minimal standard of logical rigor and coherence - one which Gutting fails to meet every time he decides to write on religion, ethics, politics, and metaphysics.

  8. I want to add a plug for the effectiveness of CBT or in my case the form I am familiar with is Marsha Linehan's Dialectical Behavioral therapy or DBT. http://www.dbtselfhelp.com/

    DBT is basically CBT + mindfulness and I think more people really should be aware of it.


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