Wednesday, December 05, 2018

New Book Forthcoming: Jerks, Zombie Robots, and Other Philosophical Misadventures

(title provisional)

with MIT Press, slated for their Fall catalog.


I've made the manuscript available here. There will be at least one more chance to revise it, probably in early 2019, and I welcome comments and corrections, either on individual chapters or on the entirety. If you give me helpful comments, I will of course add your name to the acknowledgements at the end of the book.


I enjoy writing short philosophical reflections for broad audiences. Evidently, I enjoy this a lot: Since 2006, I’ve written over a thousand such pieces, mostly published on my blog The Splintered Mind, but also in the Los Angeles Times, Aeon Magazine, and elsewhere. This book contains fifty-eight of my favorites, revised and updated.

The topics range widely, as I’ve tried to capture in the title of the book. I discuss moral psychology (“jerks”), speculative philosophy of consciousness (“zombie robots”), the risks of controlling your emotions technologically, the ethics of the game of dreidel, multiverse theory, the apparent foolishness of Immanuel Kant, and much else. There is no unifying topic.

Maybe, however, there is a unifying theme. The human intellect has a ragged edge, where it begins to turn against itself, casting doubt on itself or finding itself lost among seemingly improbable conclusions. We can reach this ragged edge quickly. Sometimes, all it takes to remind us of our limits is an eight-hundred-word blog post. Playing at this ragged edge, where I no longer know quite what to think or how to think about it, is my idea of fun.

Given the human propensity for rationalization and self-deception, when I disapprove of others, how do I know that I’m not the one who is being a jerk? Given that all our intuitive, philosophical, and scientific knowledge of the mind has been built on a narrow range of cases, how much confidence can we have in our conclusions about strange new possibilities that are likely to open up in the near future of Artificial Intelligence? Speculative cosmology at once poses the (literally) biggest questions that we can ask about the universe while opening up possibilities that undermine our confidence in our ability to answer those same questions. The history of philosophy is humbling when we see how badly wrong previous thinkers have been, despite their intellectual skills and confidence. Not all of my posts fit this theme. It’s also fun to use the once-forbidden word “fuck” over and over again in a chapter about profanity. And I wanted to share some reminiscences about how my father saw the world – especially since in some ways I prefer his optimistic and proactive vision to my own less hopeful skepticism. Other of my blog posts I just liked or wanted to share for other reasons. A few are short fictions.

It would be an unusual reader who liked every chapter. I hope you’ll skip anything you find boring. The chapters are all free-standing. Please don’t just start reading on page one and then try to slog along through everything sequentially out of some misplaced sense of duty! Trust your sense of fun (Chapter 47). Read only the chapters that appeal to you, in any order you like.

Riverside, California, Earth (I hope)
October 25, 2018

Full manuscript here.


Arnold said...

Do you remember..."1.3 The Products of Introspection.
Though philosophers have not explored the issue very thoroughly, accounts also differ regarding the products of introspection. Most philosophers hold that introspection yields something like beliefs or judgments about one's own mind, but others prefer to characterize the products of introspection as “thoughts”, “representations”, “awareness”, or the like. For ease of exposition, this article will describe the products of the introspective process as judgments, without meaning to beg the question against competing views."

Was a view of Transformation even in the competition, that introspection may lead to transformation, thanks, (click external link in Wikipedia-Introspection)

Anonymous said...

In an interview with Cliff Sosis of Patreon on 5/8/18 in an article titled: “What it’s like to be a Philosopher”, you were asked the question: “Best philosopher you disagree with most?”, and you replied in part: “Kant? Nietzsche? I’m kind of love-hate with both of them – though with Kant it’s more like I love to hate him…”

Could you elaborate on what it is that love to hate about Kant?


Eric Schwitzgebel said...

Hi Lee! Sorry I missed this comment when you posted it! Here are a couple of relevant blog posts that express my loving to hate (or at least hate on) Kant:

Then again, I'm quite pro-Kant here: