Schizophrenia affects about one out of two hundred people. It’s a serious mental disorder that typically involves distortions in perception, especially vivid auditory hallucinations, and bizarre and usually paranoid delusion. Imagine trying to carry on a conversation with while at the same time you're surrounded by four other people, talking loudly to you, often about thoughts you might have considered to be private. That’s an exercise support groups often use to suggest to family what it's like to be a schizophrenic.
The best-known portrayal of a schizophrenic is probably the movie `A Beautiful Mind’. Russell Crowe plays John Nash, a mathematician who won a Nobel Prize in Economics. In the movie, Nash’s hallucinations are portrayed as both auditory, visual and tactile. But that’s really not at all common, and wasn’t truly the case with Nash. Like most schizophrenics, his hallucinations were purely auditory.
There is some debate whether schizophrenia is just a label for a bundle of commonly co-occurring symptoms, or a single underlying disease. There are no laboratory tests for schizophrenia. However, it is frequently associated with excess dopamine --- a neuro-transmitter in the brain. On the basis of this, there are some pretty good medications.
John Nash in real life, and in the movie, preferred not to take medication. That’s very common. There are side-effects, and the schizophrenic also often sees the medications as part of a conspiracy.
Schizophrenia is interesting to philosophers for several reasons. Schizophrenics often think the thoughts they're directly aware of in their own minds belong to someone else. Sometimes they just mean that the thoughts come from the outside --- perhaps in radio transmission through their fillings, or some other bizarre way --- and they can’t control them. But sometimes they insist that the thoughts actually and literally belong to someone else.
I think when people say healthcare is a right, or ought to be a right, they don’t always have the same thing in mind. I think everyone would agree that you shouldn’t be denied healthcare on account of race or religion or ethnic origin, or sexual orientation. Well, maybe everyone wouldn’t agree, but it’s not what people usually dispute about. The question is whether you can get healthcare if you don’t have money to pay for it.
And you know that question is still not so clear. Does it mean that you have a right to healthcare even though you can’t pay for it, but you still get billed and have to deal with it one way or another eventually? That’s pretty much the current situation; if you’re broke you can go to an emergency room of a publicly supported hospital and get taken care of, and then maybe get a bill for $20,000 a month later.
Or does it mean that healthcare is basically free, in the sense of covered by taxes with no debt or out of pocket charge to the recipient, the way it is in some other countries?
Quantum mechanics developed in the last century to deal with the tiniest parts of nature. It seemed that classical physics, which applied to everything from stars to grains of sand, should have sufficed. But it didn’t. A whole new theory was needed. To it we owe modern bombs and modern computers. It’s been called the most empirically powerful and accurate theory ever developed.
But quantum theory has been a pain, or at any rate a challenge, for philosophers since its beginning. In the first place, the quanta turn out to be neither particles, or waves --- each of which classical physics could deal with --- but something that shares the properties of both, in a way that is impossible to picture. This used to bother people more than it does now. There is a consensus that if we can understand things mathematically, or at least physicists can, we don’t need picture them.
More worrisome is the strange role for the observer in quantum mechanics. The idea seems to be that the systems move along from quantum state to quantum state in predictable and unproblematic ways as long as there is no observer. But these quantum states are just probabilities about what’s happening. But as soon as there is an observer, things have to resolve themselves one way or the other. And this seems to not be determined by the quantum state.
So, to use Schrödinger’s famous example, you put a cat in a box with bottle of gas rigged up so that if a particle ends up in one place, it will be released and the cat will die, but if doesn’t’ end up in that place, the cat will be OK.
Quantum theory tells us exactly what the probabilities are, but not what happens. But when someone opens the box and looks in, the cat is alive or dead. Some how the observer forces the world make up its mind in some way the laws of quantum physics don’t.
Well some physicists, and some philosophers, say that what happens is the world splits, with the cat living in some and not in others, matching the probabilities. I think that is really weird.
Philosophy Talk is devoted to public philosophy. But we mean two different things by that.
OUR first aim is to encourage the public - our listeners and participants in our blog - to do philosophy, to engage in the ongoing activity. That’s because we think it's something a lot of people enjoy, and that it leads to better discussions and decisions.
The second thing we try to do is to present what influential philosophers of the past and present, are thinking about.
The latter aim is definitely secondary. We're mostly interested in what philosophers think about, because we believe our audience may want to think about the same things.
So given that, what are we worrying about when we ask about the state of public philosophy?
People sometime worry that modern-day philosophers don’t have the same impact on the public that philosophers have traditionally had, and continue to have in some other countries.
That is what our experience suggests. Lots of public radio stations and their program directors are startled to hear about a show on philosophy. They're very skeptical that their listening public would be interested. In fact, one of our motives in doing the program is to make philosophy more a part of public life.
Sunday’s guest is Robert Rowland Smith, author if Breakfast with Socrates and Driving with Plato. These books explore how the sorts of events that happen to everyone can give rise to philosophical thoughts, provide examples of philosophical insights, and be enriched by considering those insights.
From his picture, Smith looks to me like a young guy. I don’t know how he has lived long enough to read all the philosophers he discusses. He has really mastered a fascinating kind of essay. He takes an ordinary event, like taking a bath, and finds all sorts of interesting things to say about it. The chapter ``Going to a Party’’ leads from Leslie Gore --- of ``It’s my party and I’ll cry if I want to” ---to Machiavelli.
As I read Breakfast with Socrates, it seemed to me that Smith and I seem to take exactly the opposite approach to philosophy. I usually start with something people find intrinsically philosophical and mysterious and extraordinary, like personal identity or consciousness or freedom, and put a lot of effort into finding that nothing all that fascinating is going on. That’s not really how I think of what I do, but it’s how lots of other intelligent people react to it. As if I were trying to make the philosophical into the banal.
Smith, on the other hand, takes having a bath, or driving to work, which seem sort of banal, and makes them philosophically alive, examples of insights from Socrates to Sartre.
'Ilunga’ means a person who is ready to forgive any abuse for the first time, to tolerate it a second time, but never a third time. That’s a word I’ve just imported into English from Tshiluba. A bunch of linguists voted it the world’s hardest word to translate. Then they gave us a translation. I’m so happy to have this word. It allows me to think thoughts that I couldn’t think before. I wonder if Obama is basically an ilunga. My wife is definitely not an ilunga. She’s all over me after my first abuse.
I don’t know about you, but I do most of my thinking in words. If I don’t have the words, how can I have the thoughts? And if you can’t have the thoughts, you can’t make plans. Tonight I’m going to do some schoogling. Until I learned the word, I couldn’t have had that plan.
While 'schoogling' sounds like something we can’t talk about on Public Radio, it’s just googling the names of old schoolmates. It’s increasingly the cause of cylences. Cylences: are the long gaps in a phone conversations that occur when a person is reading e-mail or cybershopping while talking on the phone. Or schoogling.
I think there are lots of thoughts we can’t think without having the right words. Or at least, wouldn’t be very likely to. Different languages and cultures have different words, and hence have different conceptual schemes, and even see the world differently
An atheist is someone who not only doesn't believe in God, but believes, with some confidence, that there isn’t a God.But ambiguity remains.Does that simply mean rejecting the classical Judeo-Christian all-perfect God?Or does it mean rejecting Hume’s much weaker criterion: that the world was created by some thing or things bearing some remote analogy to human intelligence?
I’ll call the more radical view “strong atheism”.It says the world was not created by, and is not controlled by, any intelligence, or anything having any remote analogy to intelligence whatsoever.There is not one all-perfect God, nor are there several less than perfect gods.Not even the Great Pumpkin.To be a strong atheist is to reject supernatural deities of all forms and kinds.
Ken and Louise Anthony, our guest, both are, or are in the neighborhood of, being atheists of tis kind.The more interesting point for this show is that they find it a rewarding, sustaining, and even inspiring point of view.Let’s pose some questions, and imagine their answers.
At first glance, it seems odd to find inspiration in the non-existence of something.What’s it like to be converted to atheism?We have many accounts of conversions to religion.The world suddenly takes on new meaning; your sorrows are lifted when you learn that there is someone up there who cares.But when you’re converted to atheism, the world goes from meaningful to meaningless, from caring to uncaring, from hopeful to hopeless.It really sounds depressing -- the source of despair, not inspiration.If Richard Dawkins are Christopher Hitchens set up a traveling revival show, to convert people to atheism, would the converts appear revived?Or sort of depressed by their new-found belief in themeaningless of everything?
But, our enthusiastic atheists will reply, conversion to atheism is not usually a sudden event.It’s a more gradual process, and it comes in two parts.First, it becomes clear to you that there’s no evidence whatsoever for God, and considerable evidence against anything like the Christian God, or any lesser version of God.That can be depressing, we all must admit.
But with more thought it becomes clearer that not as much depends on God as you might have thought.You still have fun.You still have friends.Certain things still are valuable, others less so.And, unlike what Ivan Karamazov thinks, not everything is permitted.
What about the afterlife?Isn’t it depressing to give up that belief?
Well, admittedly, there is no afterlife without some miracle worker like God to provide it.But as Hume said, all the years before I existed weren’t so bad for me.Why think the years after I die will be so bad?
But what about the question Dostoyevsky’s Ivan poses:Why isn’t everything permitted for the atheist?What sort of fact is it that something is wrong --- say that torturing innocent children is wrong?It doesn’t seem like a fact of nature; nature seems all in favor of all sorts of undeserved pain.It doesn’t seem like a rule of etiquette.It seems like an objective fact about the world.Who could the fact-maker be, if not God?
But what’s implicit in this question is the Divine Command theory of right and wrong.Something is wrong because God says it was wrong.But that’s not the only theory of objective right and wrong.You might think there are just moral facts -- like mathematical facts -- without God having anything to do with it.You might think that morality derives from perfectly objective facts about pleasure and pain, life and death, human nature, reason, logic, cooperation and the like.The atheist has no shortage of answers to Ivan’s claim.
Granted all of that, doesn’t it still seem strange to define one’s life by a negative claim, by the non-existence of something.You can become the village atheist, and make it your mission in life to tell religious people what idiots they are.But that doesn’t seem very fulfilling.
To which Ken andLouise Antony will reply, no doubt, that they don’t define their goal in life to rag on the religious, but rather to explore the joys of positive atheism. I find atheism difficult to resist, but I'm not quite so sure I should be joyful unto the non-existence of the Lord. We shall see.
Lincoln is revered as our greatest President; he is virtually an American Saint. In Sunday’s program, we look at his philosophical ideas --- both political and religious.
Some of these are disturbing. The Second Inaugural Address --- the one that’s carved on the wall of the Lincoln Memorial --- is really quite chilling. Especially if you think it really represents the philosophy of someone who has just pursued a path that led to the death of half a million people.
It ends with a very moving statement:
With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation's wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan, to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations.’’
Those words express a noble philosophy: charity, fairness, compassion.
By the language of responsibility, we mean the way we report events for which someone might be held responsible --- events for which someone might be blamed, or praised. For example, in reporting a famous event witnessed by millions of people on TV, I might say "Justin Timberlake ripped off Janet Jackson’s blouse, revealing her naked – uh --- chest." Well, actually, her right breast, not to be overly euphemistic.
Our society, taken as a whole, can’t make up its mind about Gays and Lesbians. On the one hand, many studies have documented increasing tolerance of homosexuality, especially among younger, more educated, more affluent, and more liberal Americans. On the other hand, a substantial number of Americans still don’t think gays should be allowed to marry, serve in the military, adopt or even teach children. The extent of how divided we are about gays and gay rights is evident in our politics. While there's substantial grass-roots activism in favor of gay rights, surprisingly few national politicians -- even politicians who are progressive on other issues -- are willing to actually stand up and lead the charge in favor of gay rights. I can’t think of a single national politician who has taken on gay rights as a cause célèbre. To be sure, there was San Francisco’s former mayor, Gavin Newsom, who officiated at all those gay weddings. But given that it was San Francisco, it’s not really clear how much courage that took. But in any case, there’s no shortage of politicians wiling to demagogue against the so-called “gay agenda” and demonize gays and their so-called lifestyle.
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