Thursday, February 26, 2009

The Strange Stability of UCR's Gourmet Ranking

When I arrived at U.C. Riverside in 1997, we were ranked 34th among U.S. Philosophy Ph.D. programs on in the widely-read Philosophical Gourmet Report. Now we're ranked 30th. In the intervening time, we have hovered steadily between the low 20s and the mid 30s.

Here's a full list of tenured faculty from 1997 who are no longer with the department:

(1.) Bernd Magnus (Nietzsche), retired.

Here's a full list of tenured faculty in 2009 who were not tenured members of the department in 1997:

(1.) Maudemarie Clark (Nietzsche), recruited from Colgate.
(2.) Peter Graham (epistemology), hired as Asst Prof from Stanford, later tenured.
(3.) Agnieszka Jaworska (moral psychology), recruited from Stanford.
(4.) Robin Jeshion (philosophy of language), recruited from Yale.
(5.) John Perry (philosophy of language, only part-time at UCR), recruited from Stanford
(6.) Erich Reck (history of analytic philosophy), present as Asst Prof in 1997, later tenured.
(7.) Eric Schwitzgebel (philosophy of psychology), present as Asst Prof in 1997, later tenured.
(8.) Charles Siewert (philosophy of mind), recruited from Miami.
(9.) Mark Wrathall (Continental philosophy), recruited from BYU.

Also in the intervening years we recruited Gary Watson from UC Irvine and lost him to USC. We also tenured then lost two Assistant Professors (Carl Hoefer and Genoveva Marti) and hired three Assistant Professors who have not yet stood for tenure (William Bracken, Coleen Macnamara, and Michael Nelson).

The tenured professors of 1997 (Carl Cranor, John Fischer, David Glidden, Paul Hoffman, Pierre Keller, Andrews Reath, Georgia Warnke, Howie Wettstein, Larry Wright) have continued to be productive. One measure of this is that all but one of them have produced at least one new book from a leading press in the period (if we count Hoffman's forthcoming book and Wright's influential textbook).

I'd hate to think that my impression that the UCR Philosophy Department has strengthed considerably since 1997 is just another of my self-serving delusions. (Not that I know what the other ones are!) The numbers above at least seem to lend some objectivity to my impression.

So what's the explanation of our virtually unchanged ranking? Not conspiracy, of course, nor the ill will of Brian Leiter (who has spoken kindly of us over the years). Some institutions (for example, USC and Yale) have climbed sharply, so it must be possible. Is the issue, perhaps, that in order to pierce the top 25 a department must have at least one full-time super-heavyweight, and no one in the department is perceived that way? Or were we too highly ranked early on? Or have our peer departments improved just as sharply? Or...? I have a feeling there something to learn here about UCR or about the ranking system....

Update, December 15, 2011:
Between 2009 and 2011 we lost about 25% of our senior faculty. We lost Paul Hoffman (death), Robin Jeshion (USC), Charles Siewert (Rice), and Georgia Warnke (UCR Political Science). Maudemarie Clark went from full-time to 2/3 time. We hired one assistant professor, Josef Muller. In 2009 we were ranked #30. Now we're ranked #31. Not that I'm complaining.

Friday, February 20, 2009

The Consciousness Online Conference

has begun, running through the 27th. Online so far:

Barbara Montero, "Russellian Physicalism"
Gualtiero Piccinini, "First-Person Data, Publicity, and Self-Measurement" (I'm one of the commentators on this one).
Katalin Balog, "In Defense of the Phenomenal Concept Strategy"
Matthew Ivanowich, "A Moderate Representationalism"
Clare Batty, "Scents and Sensibilia"
Dave Beisecker, "Zombies and the Phenomenal Concepts Strategy"
Richard Brown, "Turning the Tables on Dualism"
Derek Ball, "The New New Mysterianism"
Justin Sytsma, "Folk Psychology and Phenomenal Consciousness"
David Rosenthal, "Consciousness and Its Function"
I'm not sure yet what I think of the video format. Reading seems more efficient. But maybe video adds some sort of subtle dimension.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Will You Perceive the Event That Kills You?

from 3quarksdaily. (HT: Josh Rust)

(I think it's going to matter whether the trauma directly involves the perceptual areas of the brain.)

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Is Philosophy All in Our Heads?

In a 1998 essay, Alvin Goldman and Joel Pust distinguish between two approaches to philosophy, which they call the mentalist and the extra-mentalist. According to the mentalist, when we do the typical philosophical armchair-reflection thing -- when we think about, for example, whether XYZ on Twin Earth (which behaves like water but has a different chemical formula) is water or not, or when we think about whether a dude who doesn't realize he's in Fake Barn Country knows that the real barn he's looking at is a barn -- we are finding out something not about the world outside of us, but rather about our minds. We are finding out about our concepts. According to the extra-mentalist, in contrast, philosophical thought experiments aim to reveal something about the world beyond our minds -- something about the real nature of water and knowledge, perhaps, or about what is and isn't possible. Goldman and Pust endorse mentalism.

Mentalism has the following great advantage over extra-mentalism: Mentalism makes it clear how it's possible for philosophers to learn something from their armchairs. What they are learning is about their own minds. They're exploring their concepts. It's much less clear how reflecting in an armchair can deliver what the extra-mentalist wants, valuable information about the world beyond our minds. But there are two equally great disadvantages to the mentalist conception of philosophy. First, it trivializes the subject matter. Where we thought we were learning about the world -- about the nature of language, of knowledge, of the fundamental constituents of reality, of the morally good -- it turns out that we're only learning about our concepts of language, of knowledge, of the fundamental constituents of reality, of the morally good. A very different sort of thing. How disappointing!

The second disadvantage of the mentalist conception is this: It turns philosophy into a methodologically dubious species of psychology. If what we're really interested in is our concepts, is sitting in an armchair thinking about Twin Earth really the best way to go about it? Well, that's one way. But empirical psychology offers us a whole stable of other ways, including polling people about puzzle cases, studying reaction times, asking people to list features in terms of typicality, etc. Armchair reflection about weird possibilities, by people who generally have some theoretical skin in the game, does perhaps have something important to contribute to the study of human concepts, but at most it is one part of a larger enterprise that is probably best left in the hands of psychologists.

So I think we must have an "extra-mentalist" conception of philosophy. Philosophers are trying to learn, not just about what concepts our human minds happen to be stuck with, but about reality as it exists beyond our minds -- and within our minds, possibly beyond our conceptions. But then that forces us back to the question of how reflecting in an armchair about strange scenarios, which is a large proportion of what mainstream "analytic" philosophers do, puts us in touch with that reality. My thought is: It doesn't. Well, let me temper that just a bit. Armchair reflection gives us a preliminary take; it helps us develop and discover the consequences of the views that we have inherited or acquired through everyday experience. In those domains where such inherited, everyday views are well-founded (e.g., the behavior of middle-sized dry goods under moderate force, mundane social interactions), our armchair judgments are likely also to be well-founded. The further we get from the ordinary, however, the less we should expect such armchair reflections to be of value. And unfortunately, most philosophical thought experiments are far from the ordinary.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Recoloring the Dreamworld

I'm hard at work these days on my second book, tentatively titled Perplexities of Consciousness. Chapter One, "Recoloring the Dreamworld", draws from these three earlier essays, integrating, updating, and adding new reflections. I've posted it here.

The chapter treats the rise and fall of the view, widespread in the U.S. circa 1950, that dreams are primarily a black and white phenomenon. I argue that it's likely that dreams themselves did not change over the course of the 20th century, but rather that what changed was only people's opinions about their dreams. The view that dreams are black and white was most likely due to an overanalogizing of dreams to the black and white film media dominant at the time. It's also possible, I suggest, that the contemporary view that dreams are in color -- as opposed to leaving unspecified the color of most of the objects represented -- is also due to overanalogizing to film media.

Corrections and objections welcomed, of course, either here or by email. (Unalloyed praise is of course also welcomed, though less useful!)

Thursday, February 05, 2009

Anxiety, Neurosis, Noctural Female Orgasm, and Sabbatical

In rereading some of the old literature on black and white dreaming I came across this:

Perhaps the most striking finding in the present study, however, is that of the high incidence of nocturnal orgasms reported by female neurotics (47 per cent) as opposed to the incidence reported by female controls (8 per cent) (Tapia, Werboff, and Winokur 1958, p. 122).
In clarifying what they mean by "noctural orgasms" Tapia et al. say "A positive response was counted when a subject reported experiencing 'wet dreams', climaxes, or orgasms in his [sic] sleep or dreams" (p. 121). By "neurotic" of course they mean... well, who knows?

Eight vs. 47? Six times higher? Presumably it's not as fun to be a waking "neurotic" as a waking non-neurotic, but it sounds like in sleep the situation is reversed! Or are neurotic women just more likely to report nocturnal orgasms? Well, why would that be?

Winokur, Guze, and Pfeiffer (1959) extend the Tapia et al. results to include "psychotic" women too (perhaps a better-defined group than neurotic), reporting nocturnal orgasm rates of 42% in that group, 46% in neurotics, and 6% in psychologically healthy women. Henton (1976) also reports a positive relationship between high levels of reported anxiety and high levels of reported "sexual excitement during sleep" (though, um, unless I'm reading things very wrong, the numbers on his key table seem to run the other direction; this is what I get for reading crappy journals). Finally (the last report on this topic I can find) Wells (1986) finds anxiety to be predictive of reported nocturnal orgasm in a complex multiple regression taking into account "age, marital status, race, religious affiliation, religiosity, liberal or conservative political views, and hometown population" (p. 428) and 71 other variables including even views about the normality of noctural orgasm, sexual satifaction, and frequency of awakening with non-orgasmic sexual excitement. (I'm not sure I'd have wanted to "control" for those last variables in determining influence on orgasm, since they seem likely to cohere with rather than to confound the factor under study, but what the heck -- even so, Wells got her result.)

This is what you get when you let professors take sabbatical. It turns out they have nothing better to do all day than chase down weird literature on female orgasm.

(I'm not entirely without excuse: Lisa Lloyd was my dissertation chair, and I thought it might make a good footnote.)

Sunday, February 01, 2009

The Legend of the Leaning Behaviorist

I've heard this story orally a couple of times. I wonder if any of you know whether it's actually true. Let's call it the "The Legend of the Leaning Behaviorist".

Once upon a time, long ago and far away -- actually, circa 1960 at a prominent U.S. university -- there lived a behavioral psychologist, an expert in the shaping of animal behavior by means of reward and punishment. One semester, when he was teaching a large lecture course, his students tried an experiment on him. Without letting him know, they decided that when he was lecturing on the left of side of the room, they would smile and nod a bit more often than usual. Conversely, when was on the right, they would knit their brows and look away. Soon, all the lectures were delivered from the left. The students then altered their strategy. Whenever he moved to the left, they would smile and nod; whenever he moved to the right, they would knit their brows. The result was that he drifted ever more leftward, until by the end of the term, he was lecturing while leaning against the left wall. On the last day of class, one of the students asked him why he was lecturing from over there, and he said, "Oh, I don't know. It's close to the ashtray."