Partially Examined Life tracks on Soundclound

#partially-examined-life

Hannah Arendt on the Banality of Evil (Part One)
Partially Examined Life

On Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil (1963). Are we still morally culpable if our entire society is corrupt? Arendt definitely thinks so, but has a number of criticisms of the handling of the 1961 trial of Nazi war criminal Adolf Eichmann. Israel used the spectacle to remind people of the horrors of the Holocaust, but missed the opportunity to explore what would make a really rather ordinary man a party to such heinous acts. They were committed to the view that he was a monster, when the reality, says Arendt, is more frightening. He was really more of a clown: a status-obsessed, cliche-spouting, self-pitying bureaucrat who, far from having no moral compass, was extremely dedicated to obeying a warped version of the Categorical Imperative: "Act in such a way that the Führer, if he knew your action, would approve it." She also had problems with the jurisdictional claim of Israel: Eichmann was tried by Israelis for crimes against the Jewish people. She thought that the Holocaust was not just the worst of a history of pogroms, but that genocide constituted a fundamentally new type of crime that needed clear philosophical analysis: The effort to snuff out a whole civilization is a crime against humanity as a whole beyond the individual murders involved. Arendt advocated for a permanent, international criminal court (which didn't materialize until 2002). This constitutes a test case for our previous discussion of psychological situationism: In a situation where the whole society is oriented toward evil, then the pull of duty runs counter to one's conscience, which is reined in just like in ordinary circumstances one's disruptive impulses are reined in, because conscience is disruptive in that milieu. Eichmann could have chosen not to participate in the way that he did, but considered this unthinkable; abandoning one's duty in that way "just wasn't done." All dissenting voices had been silenced. “It was not his fanaticism but his very conscience that prompted Eichmann to adopt his uncompromising attitude during the last year of the war" (from Ch. 8). Arendt still thought that he deserved execution, that we are responsible for engaging in concrete moral thinking—grasping other people as real others and not just as labels or roles—no matter what the environment. But she thought it important that we not gloss over factual details for the sake of making a political point: Eichmann was not in a position to have "masterminded" the Holocaust as was alleged, never pulled a trigger himself or directly ordered an execution, though he did order many deportations, even after his immediate superior had ordered that they cease, knowing full well that most of those deported would be killed. She also wants to be realistic about the guilt of those who helped the Nazis either through active cooperation (e.g., Jewish leaders who worked with the Nazis to provide them with information on the Jews in the area and their property, before the Final Solution was in evidence) or through inaction, and describes countries like Denmark where the "machine" didn't work because local officials would not cooperate in handing over their Jews, and troops on the ground didn't have the heart to press through such resistance. The full foursome tries to figure out why we assigned ourselves such depressing holiday reading and whether we in the modern day might be subject to any kind of comparable moral blindness to what was going on in Nazi Germany. How slippery is the slope when you start considering your main social ill the "problem" of immigrants? Does loyalty to a leader commit one to denying obvious truths that the leader denies?

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More James's Psychology: Self and Will (Part Two)
Partially Examined Life

Concluding on William James's Psychology, the Briefer Course (1892). We briefly cover emotions and spend the bulk of our time on will. Talking about emotions allows us to refresh on James's overall theory of mind: An organism's activity basically involves various signals coming in through the senses and going out to produce reaction. This chain can reach to a greater or lesser extent into consciousness: from a reflex (mindless) action at one extreme, which might be or simply start as an instinct, or might have once been a choice but then became a habit. An emotion is a physiological reaction that we then notice; this feeling of the physical change is the emotion. Attention (accompanied by memory) is the faculty that filters the confusion of the stream of experience into identifiable things. A voluntary action is one taken with a memory that such an action can be done (so it must have been done the first time by instinct, reflex, or chance) with a plan to produce the same effect. This gives a partial picture of what "will" amounts to. It's not a single faculty, but a combination of different phenomena, mostly related to attention. You could consider every voluntary action to be "willed," but many such actions don't hold our attention more than a moment or are part of a habitual chain, such that they don't actually attract our attention unless something goes wrong. I might be thirsty and reach for the water in front of me while concentrating on something else. Did I "will" the action? Well, the only times we generally use that term is when there's some difficulty in the decision or the action: I reach for the water, but I'm very tired and have to overcome my tiredness to reach for it, as if the obstacle is saying "are you sure?" Or maybe the drink is whisky and I stop to think whether I’ve already had too much. In short, these input-output chains can conflict, which then brings attention to bear, and when we do make a decision, that’s where the explicit “fiat” that we typically call “will” comes in (even though many more actions are voluntary and hence willed as opposed to against-your-will). James thinks that whichever idea is held in attention the longest tends to have causal efficacy. If my desire for the alcohol is great, then repeated acts of attention would be required to pull myself back from that desire and consider the idea that enough is enough. Insofar as we have to exert this kind of effort, that really feels like will. With this picture established, we spend some time bickering about James’s stance regarding free will. He explicitly says that he’s not going to deal with that in this essay, that we can still talk about moral psychology with just the facts of temptation and effort as described above, and we can judge someone’s virtue from their apparent capacity to summon up such effort. As a scientist, James says that he’s committed to the idea that all actions have a physiological cause, yet he can distinguish phenomenologically between actions that seem like involuntary, reflex actions from ones that seem deliberative and voluntary. But are we really, metaphysically, free? The scientist must remain silent on this point, as metaphysics is outside the scope of science.

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More James's Psychology: Self and Will (Part One)
Partially Examined Life

On Psychology, the Briefer Course (1892), chapters on "The Self," "Will," and "Emotions." Continuing from ep. 179, we talk about the various aspects of self: The "Me" (the part of me that I know) that's divided into physical, social, and spiritual aspects, and the "I" (the part of me that has experiences), which is pretty problematic, but which we need not posit as a "soul," but which should play some role in the problem of what unifies experience over time so that we consider it all belonging to the same person. Part 2 will cover James's influential theory of emotions, which suggests that an emotion is just our experience of certain physical feelings: Danger gives rise to increased heart rate, dry mouth, etc., and we feel those changes and call them "fear." We then turn to James's take on what willing is and how willed acts differ from reflex and habitual acts. This gets us going on animal consciousness, ethics, and of course free will.

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William James's Psychology (Part Two)
Partially Examined Life

Continuing on Psychology, the Briefer Course (1892), completing "The Stream of Thought" and covering the chapter on "Habit." James thinks that psychologists focus too much on those parts of consciousness that get picked out by substantive words; we neglect those "fringe" parts that are harder to pick out specifically. Do elementary particles have "habits"? James describes habit as part of a general natural pattern in which things that happen once tend to create pathways for themselves in surrounding material to allow the same thing to happen again more easily. Be careful what you do, because your organism is recording all of your bad behavior and corrupting your character!

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William James's Introspective Psychology (Part One)
Partially Examined Life

On The Principles of Psychology (1890) chapters 1 & 7, and Psychology, the Briefer Course (1892), the chapters on "The Stream of Thought," "Habit," and some of "The Self." Can we talk about the mind in a way that is both scientific and also does justice to our everyday experiences? James thought that previous philosophers talking about the mind weren't accurately reflecting how things actually seem to us when we introspect. The empiricists like Locke thought that the basic unit of mentality was the idea, and that particular mental states were combinations of ideas. Spiritualists like Descartes thought that mental states are faculties of a spirit. James found both of these views overly simplistic and ultimately uninformative. He stressed first and foremost that mental activities are in some way unknown to us correlated with brain activities (whether they literally are brain activities is a metaphysical question that can be set aside during science), and that mentality was an evolutionary development, and so psychological explanations should take into account how the organism engages with its environment. These assumptions persist in modern psychology, but the addition that was very in fashion at the beginning of the 20th century, largely because of James, was introspection. In this way, James presages a lot of the findings of phenomenologists like Husserl, Heidegger, and Sartre by being willing to say what experience is really like. James favored direct introspection even while acknowledging that introspective observations, like all observations, are often mistaken. The alternatives as he described them (in Principles Ch. 7) are experimental psychology, which was coming into favor in Germany and bored James to tears, what with the incessant repetition required; and comparative psychology, which would administer surveys to large groups and bring animals, children, and the mentally impaired into their analyses. James thought that we should make use of all of these methods as applicable and not be the servant of any of them. In "The Stream of Thought" chapter, he reports that consciousness is not a concatenation of discrete ideas, but is a "blooming, buzzing confusion" out of which we make some sort of order, largely through the use of our attention: we pick out some things as salient, and the rest becomes an indistinct fringe. We talk through some of the features of this fringe and the puzzle of what constitutes personal identity, i.e., what makes a particular thought seem owned, what makes it hang together with the rest of the stream of consciousness. In the second half of the discussion, we turn to habit, which logically comes before all this talk of consciousness, because once something is habitual, you don't need to bring it up before consciousness. James's whole picture of a person's interaction with the outside world is that of a pulse coming in (e.g., through a sense organ), and then a reaction pulse going back out. Sometimes these loops come all the way to consciousness, but sometimes they don't. There are plenty of reactions that are purely reflexes, other more complex ones that are still instinctual, and some that reach all the way into our awareness so that selective attention, deliberation, and/or potentially an effort of will are involved in producing the reaction. Habit is part of that dynamic, where something starts as perhaps a conscious choice or an instinctive reaction, and the more we do it, the more that pulse pathway gets burned into our organism (especially our very plastic brain) so that we're likely to act that same way in the future. James then has a lot of interesting things to say about how best to inculcate good habits and break bad ones.

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Nietzsche as Social Critic: Twilight of the Idols (Part Two)
Partially Examined Life

Continuing on Nietzsche's 1888 book. Is there any ground from which we could judge life as a whole to be good or bad? Is N. more about saying "yes" to life or saying "no" to all the numerous things that piss him off? We also talk Becoming, whether producing great art is more important than being nice to everyone, and whether Nietzsche is ultimately someone we'd want to hang around. End song: "Oblivion," written for this episode by Tyler Hislop. Listen to Tyler on Nakedly Examined Music #24. Hear the track by itself.

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Nietzsche as Social Critic: Twilight of the Idols (Part One)
Partially Examined Life

On Friedrich Nieztsche's 1888 book summarizing his thought and critiquing the founding myths of his society: traditional morality, free will, Socratic reason, and the idiocy of "Deutschland Uber Alles!" Nietzsche defends instinct as the source of values, but these instincts must be "spiritualized" into frenzied creativity. Nietzsche as artist is an appealing figure to us, but he also praises Napoleon and says lots of nice things about war as the antidote to a complacent society sliding into decline. He thinks we're all degenerates, but we can't help it. So what does he actually want from us? Nietzsche wrote this book in just over a week, and it's packed full of juicy quotes (like "What does not destroy me, makes me stronger") and psychological insights (e.g., virtue doesn't make you happy; being happy makes you tend to be virtuous). Wes, Mark, Dylan, and Seth sketch out the best and weirdest parts and try to figure out what Nietzsche would have to say about our world today, from social justice warriors to Louis CK. If you want to learn more about Nietzsche, or some of what we're saying here sounds mysterious, then you should review our past episodes: Episode 11 on The Genealogy of Morals (1887) Episode 61 on his essay "On Truth and Lies in a Nonmoral Sense" (1873) Episode 84 on his essay The Gay Science (1882) Episode 119 on The Birth of Tragedy (1872) Nietzsche picture by Genevieve Arnold. Don't wait for part 2! Get the unbroken, ad-free Citizen Edition now! Please support PEL! Make sure to pick up a 2018 PEL Wall Calendar!

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Guest Russ Roberts on Adam Smith and Emergent Order (Part Two)
Partially Examined Life

Continuing with the Econtalk host on the moral aspects of economics, focused by Adam Smith's The Wealth of Nations and Theory of Moral Sentiments. Should we sacrifice ourselves to the machine of the economy? Smith wasn't just all about monetary gain: how does his idea of virtue and talk of the "impartial spectator" line up with economic growth? If growth is the key to long-term happiness for the greater good (because relief from material hardship enables other kinds of moral goodness), then isn't the moral thing to become a venture capitalist? Is it fair that entrepreneurs are rewarded over other types of created work, and does it make sense to demand that the economy be fair? It is if the function of the economy is to provide for our material needs, but what is the "function" of the economy? Is one of its functions to provide for something for all of us to do? We also talk about government itself as an "emergent order," how to engender social change, the limits of effective government regulation, and economic existentialism.

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Guest Russ Roberts on Adam Smith and Emergent Order (Part One)
Partially Examined Life

The host of Econtalk provides his take on our ep. 174 on The Wealth of Nations, and explores with us the idea of emergent economic order. As preparation, we all listened to a June 2017 episode of Econtalk that featured Russ, Mike Munger, and Don Boudreaux, so you should too! For a graphic introduction to this idea, see wonderfulloaf.org. Is the economy profitably thought of as a machine? Like the behavior of a natural system like a liquid or gas whose behavior can be described using simple laws and perhaps manipulated? As a garden? A rainforest? Are the unplanned results of mass economic activity always good? Russ leans libertarian but has a nuanced view honed through over 600 episodes of Econtalk, where he's talked to economists of all stripes. Like Smith, Russ recognizes that wealth is not the only good, that the economy is not going to serve all human needs, and that government regulations and infrastructure can be helpful and even necessary. We talk through what "invisible hand" really means, tariffs and trade policy for less-developed countries, dehumanizing labor, self-interest, how Adam Smith's picture in The Wealth of Nations relates to his account of moral judgments in The Theory of Moral Sentiments (discussed on PEL and at great length on Econtalk), how to induce changes in popular mores, and whether Smith's moral concepts can handle the progressive character of morality (e.g., how people figured out over time that slavery was bad).

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Situationism in Psych: Milgram & Stanford Prison Experiments (Part Two)
Partially Examined Life

Continuing with Dave Pizarro on articles by Stanley Milgram, Philip Zimbardo, and John Doris about situationism, which entails that people's level of morality will vary by situation, as opposed to virtue ethics, which posits that how people will act in a novel situation will be determined by the quality of their character. We get into Doris's article, "Persons, Situations, and Virtue Ethics" (1998), where he argues against the traditional idea that we have virtues like "honesty." Instead, these traits are more situation-specific, so even someone who doesn't cheat on his or her taxes or spouse might well still steal candy. Doris sites a 1975 study by Levin and Isen where people who found a (planted) dime in a phone booth were much more likely to then help someone who dropped some papers as the subject was leaving the booth. Does this really show that helpfulness isn't a stable virtue in people, or is something else going on here and in Milgram's experiment? Does situationism excuse bad behavior? Would any one of us do just what most the citizens of Germany did during the Nazi regime if we were in that situation? Can we maybe train ourselves to better resist social pressure, not just in specific situations we've rehearsed in advance, but across the board?

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Situationism in Psych: Milgram & Stanford Prison Experiments (Part One)
Partially Examined Life

Psychologist Dave Pizarro of the Very Bad Wizards joins us to discuss Stanley Milgram's "Behavioral Study of Obedience" (1963; read it), Philip Zimbardo’s "Interpersonal Dynamics in a Simulated Prison" (1973; read it), and John Doris’s "Persons, Situations, and Virtue Ethics" (1998). Do difficult situations make good people act badly? Are there really "good" and "bad" people, or are we all about the same, but put in different situations? Situationism is supported by Milgram's experiment, where most subjects could be easily pressured into delivering shocks to an innocent person (really an actor… punked!). A more immersive example was provided by The Stanford Prison Experiment, where students took on the roles of guard and prisoner, and quickly became sadistic and passive respectively. John Doris argues that situationism is a direct attack on virtue ethics, that really there is no such thing as a virtue like "bravery" or "generosity" that cuts across all sorts of situations. While there are of course consistent personality traits, these don't map against the virtues as depicted by Aristotle and our common cultural notions. Rather, they're more context-dependent, specific to certain types of situations. David and his pal Tamler Sommers (who previously appeared on PEL ep. 93 on free will) previously discussed situationism back in Very Bad Wizards ep. 9. By comparing the two, you can objectively compare the quality of the two podcasts and/or Dave's virtue at 2012 vs. 2017 and/or how he talks with many fewer listeners vs. a very large audience. Watch the new version of the Milgram experiment as shown on the BBC. Read about the criticisms of the experiment on Wikipedia. This episode of The Psych Files podcast talks about the recent replication of the study at Santa Clara University. Watch the documentary on the Stanford Prison Experiment. Watch Zimbardo's 2007 talk about The Lucifer Effect (the book that the recent film about the experiment is based on) and his experience defending one of the defendants in the Abu Ghraib torture case; he describes Milgram's experiment and those following it. Netflix subscribers can see both studies dramatized in films from 2015: The Experimenter and The Stanford Prison Experiment. Listeners may want to revisit PEL's three episodes on Aristotle's Nichomachean Ethics, staring with ep. 5. Don't wait for part 2! Get the full, unbroken, ad-free Citizen Edition now. Please support PEL! Milgram picture by Olle Halvars.

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Blade Runner: Androids and Humanity (Part One)
Partially Examined Life

On Philip K. Dick's Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? (1967) and the films Blade Runner 2049 (2007) and Blade Runner (1982). What makes us human? Dick's novel about androids emphasized their lack of empathy, while the movie adaptations portrayed the "replicants" as plenty capable of emotion, but unjustly treated as servants or targets. Attention: The second half of this special bonus episode is available only to supporters. You should go ahead and get the full, ad-free Citizen Edition. You can also hear it with a $1 or more pledge at patreon.com/partiallyexaminedlife. All of these works are about a demonized "other" that is similar to humans but not granted "personhood." A bounty hunter ("blade runner," the term used for the movie, was actually taken from an unrelated book) kills these outlaws and is supposed to feel no remorse. But what if he's an android himself? What if he doesn't know he's an android? Or what if he's attracted to the android? What if he finds himself feeling empathy for androids? What if he is assigned to kill an android that looks just like the one he just had sex with? What if he's an android in love with a programmed hologram girl who has sex with another android that the hologram girl is (nearly) synchronizing her motions with? Dark humor and/or long, slow visual effect shots set to atmospheric music is what! One of the more interesting features of the book is the religion, Mercerism, that involves a) status and ritual attached to taking care of an animal (which are hard to obtain, as most were wiped out in World War Terminus), and b) having a technologically induced multi-users-feeling-each-other online trip up a Christlike Sisyphus's mountain. Both of these things are supposed to embody this ethic of empathy, but they may be more like social control à la 1984 lite. Or maybe not: the ubiquitous TV host "Buster Friendly" who best conveys the spectacle ends up being an android who has it out for Mercerism. Mercer himself (the guy climbing the hill with whom the people bond in the ritual) is both a self-admitted phony and an authentic divine intervenor as he appears to two characters at key moments in the book. As is often the case with thoughtful fiction, there's a tangled mass of themes thrown out there and not explored in any systematic philosophical way (in the book and the films), and you get the feeling that key philosophical questions are simply being written as answered according to how the author happens to devise the details of the situation. For example, there's no real reflection on the question of whether machines can actually think or self-reflect; they're simply given as fulfilling all the normal qualities of personhood apart from some emotional abnormalities. They're even made of biological material (so Searle should be OK with them thinking). So the question is just, are humans justified in treating them poorly, given that many of those humans themselves act without empathy, without appropriate affect, without truly authentic motivations or an independently achieved real appreciation of life? Clearly, the answer is "no," but luckily there are more interesting things going on in the book and films beyond this simple implication of the depicted conception of humanity. Buy the book or try this online version. If you've never seen Blade Runner, watch the climactic scene featuring replicant Roy Batty's goofy monologue. Also, here are the excised monologues. Here's a clip from the new film. End song: "Wounds and Nihilism (Quantum Androids)," written for this episode by Tyler Hislop (feat. Mark Lint). Listen to Tyler on Nakedly Examined Music #24. Dick pic by Olle Halvars.

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Adam Smith's "Wealth of Nations" (Part Two)
Partially Examined Life

Continuing on the foundational text of economics. Is Smith's position the equivalent of "greed is good?" (No.) What's the deal with the "invisible hand?" We talk about Smith's picture of the (sort of) self-regulating economy, and why he thinks we shouldn't have tariffs or guilds or other restrictions on the mobility of goods, workers, or capital. We rant a bit in ways that will hopefully be cleared up in ep. 177, when Russ Roberts from EconTalk joins us to discuss economics and Adam Smith further. Stay tuned! End song: "With My Looks and Your Brains" by The Mr. T Experience. Listen to an interview with the singer/songwriter Frank Portman on Nakedly Examined Music #56.

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Adam Smith's "Wealth of Nations" (Part One)
Partially Examined Life

On Adam Smith's An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations. We discuss the foundational text of modern economics, first published in 1776. How does the division of labor and our instinct to exchange lead to the growth of wealth? Is the economy sufficiently machine-like to enable us to manipulate its output, or at least to tell us how not to screw it up? The selections we read were: Book I, Ch. I–X with following omissions: the end of Ch. 5 (stop at "Though at distant..."), the end of Ch. X, pt. 1 (stop at "That the chance..."), and part of Ch. X, pt. 2 (stop at "Secondly" and start again at "I shall conclude..."). This covers the division of labor, the origin of money, and factors that contribute to prices, wages, and profit. Book II, Ch. I and III (stop at "The annual produce of the land and labor of England..."). This covers the accumulation of stock and the difference between productive and unproductive labor. Book III, Ch. I and IV (stop at "Merchants and manufacturers are the people..."). This covers the symbiotic relationship between town and country in the economy. Book IV, Ch. II (stop at "This order, however, being contrary to the natural…"), Ch. III, pt. 2 (stop at "It is in consequence of these maxims…"), Ch. IX end (start at "The greatest"). This is about why we shouldn't have tariffs or other protections for local trade over foreign trade. Book V, Ch. I, pt. 3, Article 2, about the economic incentives involved in education. For more on Smith's moral views, listen to our ep #45. For a longer treatment, Econtalk recorded a six-part series on The Theory of Moral Sentiments. We also covered economics in our ep #123. For some potential alternatives to the stupefying effects of the division of labor, check out ep #83 on New Work and ep #103 on Thoreau. Adam Smith picture by Solomon Grundy.

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Relating to American Indian Philosophy (Part Two)
Partially Examined Life

More with Jim Marunich on Black Elk Speaks, traditional stories about Coyote the trickster and creation, and three articles: "Philosophy of Native Science" by Gregory Cajete, "What Coyote and Thales Can Teach Us: An Outline of American Indian Epistemology" by Brian Yazzie Burkhart, and "Language Matters: A Metaphysic of Non-Discreet, Non-Binary Dualism" by Anne Waters. We get further into the specifics of the articles, talking about propositional vs. procedural knowledge (e.g., the agricultural story of the Three Sisters), process philosophy (read Jim's thesis), the personhood of the world, what we owe to nonhuman nature (respect!), and a flexible, non-rules-based, phenomenological ethics. Listen to part 1 first or get the ad-free Citizen Edition. Please support PEL! Are you a member of a native culture in the Western hemisphere? Do you feel like we missed the boat in our discussion and that you have something to contribute to our audience's understanding? Please contact us ASAP at [email protected] to discuss a blog post or potential follow-up recording. End song: “Circle’s Gotta Go” by Kim Rancourt, as interviewed on Nakedly Examined Music #52.

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Relating to American Indian Philosophy (Part One)
Partially Examined Life

Mark, Seth, Wes, and Dylan are joined by PEL fan Jim Marunich, who got his M.A. in this area. As with our Confucius episode, we were faced here with a radically different point of view, unconnected with the founding figures of Western philosophy that may systematically prejudice our thinking, formulated in languages that may even involve different underlying ontological assumptions: While we say "the dog is brown," which sounds like it's relating two entities (the object dog and the property brown), they would say "the dog browns," making the having of the property into an action. Unlike in the case of ancient China, we need only look back less than a century to find people practicing a fairly pure form of this tradition. Some preliminaries: Yes, Jim tells us that "American Indian" is more acceptable to native peoples than "Native American," though really there's no agreement. Ideally, we should just be talking about different tribes, as there are multiple languages and traditions here, but scholars have found value in articulating some general themes common to the philosophies of these different groups, so we're attempting to follow suit here. This was an oral tradition, and philosophical scholarship regarding it is fairly new, with a small body of literature and philosophers working on it. Jim recommended three essays to us from American Indian Thought: Philosophical Essays (2004): "What Coyote and Thales Can Teach Us: An Outline of American Indian Epistemology" by Brian Yazzie Burkhart (a Cherokee) (read it online) "Philosophy of Native Science" by Gregory Cajete (a Tewa) (read it online) "Language Matters: A Metaphysic of Non-Discreet, Non-Binary Dualism" by Anne Waters (a Seminole; she edited the anthology; read it online) For primary sources, we read chapter 19 from Black Elk Speaks (here's an online version, which lacks the many helpful notes in the paper one) by John G. Neihard (1932), an American writer who took down (and embellished) the reports of a Lakota (Sioux) medicine man. We also read some stories about the trickster Coyote in part 7 of American Indian Myths and Legends, plus another fable, "How the Buzzard Got His Feathers" (read it online). Finally, we read Jim's thesis: "Process Metaphysics in the Far West: American Indian Ontologies" (read it online), which gave us the clearest connections to Western philosophy. Another helpful secondary source was The Great Courses' World Philosophy lectures by Kathleen Higgins: Lecture 6: Traditional Beliefs and Philosophy and Lecture 7: American Indian Thinking. That's a lot of material, and our goal was not to go through each source to detail what the various authors had to say. We encourage interested folks to read the articles yourself to get a better flavor of how these ideas are conveyed. Instead, we picked up on some overall themes as conveyed by the articles and tried to make sense of them: Relationality: What does it mean to say that everything is related to everything else? Experience and tradition: How do we know what these ethical duties are? Concrete practicality over abstract principle: According to Burkhart, American Indian thought lacks a paradigm in Kuhn's sense. Stories and rituals as cultural transmission: Instead of principles, we get ritually prescribed actions and narratives that are supposed to remind us of our relationality and pass on specific insights about the natural world, Lack of firm labels and dichotomies: Anne Waters argues that a different attitude toward labeling things makes American Indian viewpoints inherently more tolerant to those that don't fit into a strict binary gender framework. Process over substance ontology: Why the lack of emphasis on labels? Because everything is in flux, per our Heraclitus episode. Intuition and the subconscious: Why this emphasis on immediacy against conceptualization? Black Elk picture by Solomon Grundy.

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Mind, Self, and Affect with Guest Dr. Drew (Part Two)
Partially Examined Life

Continuing with Drew Pinsky on “Attachment and Reflective Function: Their Role in Self-organization” by Peter Fonagy and two articles by Allan Schore. Fonagy claims we gain the ability to emotionally self-regulate as a result of achieving secure attachment with a caregiver as infants. Schore claims that if this fails, we can end up fundamentally disengaged. So what are the philosophical implications here? What about the clinical implications? We talk shame, experience machines (the matrix), psychic equivalence (not distinguishing between what you know and what you know that someone else doesn't know), and love as the potential answer (though not usually). Listen to part 1 first, or get the ad-free Citizen Edition. Please support PEL! End song: "Anything but Love" by Steve Hackett, as featured on Nakedly Examined Music #45.

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Mind, Self, and Affect with Guest Dr. Drew (Part One)
Partially Examined Life

Radio legend and PEL fan Dr. Drew Pinsky introduces us to some psychology papers on the theory of mind and the establishment of the sense of self: “Attachment and reflective function: their role in self-organization” by Peter Fonagy and Mary Target (1997) “Attachment and the regulation of the right brain” by Allan N. Schore(2000) “Right-Brain Affect Regulation" by Allan N. Schore (2009) "Theory of Mind" is not what philosophers talk about when dealing with the philosophy of mind, but a term in psychology referring to how we impute intentions, desires, and goals to other people. Fonagy uses the term "reflective function" to describe our ability to "read people's minds," in the sense that we can predict others' behavior based on our ability to think of them as having minds. A schizophrenic, for instance, can't do this, and so everyone else is strange to him. He doesn't know how to behave as other people would want him to because he doesn't know what they want, or really think of them as wanting at all. Much of the story here is developmental: Like learning language (according to the Chomskyan picture of language acquisition at least). Reflective function is a built-in human ability, with a number of predetermined steps in its development, but individuals can vary in how it develops, and certainly things can go wrong for various reasons. Using a story that goes back to John Bowlby, Fonagy points at attachment with caregivers as a key component in the normal develop of this faculty. If our parents are attentive, then they react to us as babies as if we have minds, and in this way we figure out what having a mind is, and that both others and we ourselves have them. If this doesn't happen, we not only fail to connect with others but don't even have a coherent sense of self. This idea that we get our own sense of self from interaction with another should be familiar to PEL listeners, and a lot of the purpose of this discussion was to reflect on some of these older philosophical ideas using modern, experimental psychology. We recommend that you check out first and foremost our episodes on Hegel's Phenomenology (#35 and #36) where we more or less introduced this topic. We gave variations on this story in our Kierkegaard, Buber, and Lacan episodes, among others. We also refer to the distinction that Sartre made between "the me" and "the I" in ep. 47, and his consequent views on freedom described in ep. 87. Another recent stab we made at discussing this confrontation with "the Other" was in our Levinas episodes (#145 and #146). Listen to Dr. Drew's various podcasts at DrDrew.com. He has actually interviewed Allan Schore; this older episode can be accessed by becoming a premium member of his site: PodcastOne.com/premium.

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Buddhism vs. Evolution with Guest Robert Wright (Part Two)
Partially Examined Life

Continuing on Why Buddhism Is True. We discuss the "no self" doctrine as articulated in Buddha's so-called Second Discourse, the "Anatta-lakkhana Sutta: The Discourse on the Not-Self Characteristic" and the modularity-of-mind psychological theory that Bob claims supports the Buddhist position. What's the ethical implication of the no-self doctrine, and do we really need meditation to instill ethical insight or the power of self-control? End song: "Alphalpha Bhang" by Anton Barbeau, as interviewed on Nakedly Examined Music ep. 50.

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Buddhism vs. Evolution with Guest Robert Wright (Part One)
Partially Examined Life

Bob joins Mark, Seth, Wes, and Dylan to discuss his new book Why Buddhism Is True: The Science and Philosophy of Meditation and Enlightenment. Bob is a best-selling author and scholar in the area of evolutionary psychology (as well as a podcaster: check out bloggingheads.tv). His past books like Nonzero and The Moral Animal lay down foundations for talking about the evolutionary reasons why we feel ourselves to have the sense of self, emotions, moral sentiments, and purposes that we do. Now, he applies that insight to explicating the human condition as Western Buddhism describes it: We are fundamentally deluded in a number of ways, and Bob thinks that meditative practice can help us see the world more truly, discarding some of what makes us suffer. Our feelings and desires are leftover instructions from an evolutionary past, and in many cases they just don't fruitfully apply to today's world. We don't need to go into fight-or-flight mode, certainly not in reaction to social anxiety or other modern worries. While we certainly don't want to ditch love, we don't thrive when controlled by really needy, jealous love. In fact, the whole unified sense of "self" that you have, and the consequent helplessness you may feel when things are out of your control, are illusions according to Buddhism. If your emotions like jealousy really were you, then (argues the Buddha) you'd have control over them. But you don't: emotions just happen, and you shouldn't take them so personally. There certainly is no central, unified decision-maker running the show in your mind. That's just another trick of evolution: we need to present ourselves as unified and in control in order to impress mates and to act decisively in do-or-die situations. Bob points to the modular model of mind to support the idea that this unified self is an illusion. On this model, the mind is a collection of processors, all competing for control with other modules, and the module that gets most pumped up with emotion wins the day. By just stopping and looking at the emotion as it starts, you keep that module from taking control. Ironically, you become more self-controlled the more you can see that you are not a unified self. The other big Buddhism trope besides "no self" that Bob reinterprets for his own purposes is "emptiness" (discussed in its more traditional form in our episode #27 on Nagarjuna). Experiencing emptiness is seeing things without a superadded "essence," which Bob characterizes as the emotional affect we add to things. Most importantly, we attribute these essences to people, characterizing them (maybe without realizing it) as friend or foe, as having some certain, established positive or negative charge that then influences how we interpret their actions in the future. Again, meditation is supposed to reveal to us the workings of our mind, the ways in which we attribute these essences, and allow us to distance ourselves from such attributions, to see things and people more clearly. But does any of this amount to seeing metaphysical truth? And what's the epistemic status of explanations in evolutionary psychology anyway? You can read excerpts at whybuddhismistrue.net. You can also hear Bob elaborate more of his personal story and his ideas on NPR, on the Secular Buddhist podcast, on Very Bad Wizards, on Slate.com, and in several discussions on his meaningoflife.tv site. The book has been written up in the New York Times and the New Yorker.

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