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Callum Hackett
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Amongst fellow materialist determinists, I believe the problem of free will is semantic - there's little argument about the function and scope of human autonomy in a physically determined universe, but a lot of argument about definitions and boundaries for the term. In this semantic morass, I choose to consider free will real largely for logical consistency: it seems to me that free will has the same state of realness as phenomena like money and colours. Although these are constructions of human psychology - they are not extrinsic to the species or fundamental to the universe in the same way as something like gravity - we nevertheless do not generally think of them as complete illusions. They are experiential manifestations of physical entities - real, but within a restricted framework.

While I like a bit of consistency, a lot of the toing and froing regarding free will circles around issues of consequence: how does our behaviour change based on our beliefs in free will? How do societies change? How is justice and punishment treated? And, implicitly, shouldn't we choose a definition for free will that we believe will lead to better outcomes?

On social issues, I would argue that beliefs in free will - at least as it is commonly understood as a kind of personal autonomy and responsibility - are formed more by our political identities than our opinions about politics are informed by our beliefs in free will. In general, we seem to have mental check-boxes assigned to our behaviours which we use to indicate whether we believe a person has diminished autonomy and responsibility for that behaviour. While a rigorous belief for or against free will ought to tell us to check either all the boxes or none of them simultaneously, people are generally selective. For example, many people might check the boxes against addictions but not against criminal behaviour even though they are equally determined - as is everything - by physical law. Politics seems more important in this than philosophy because the selectiveness of it indicates a possible connection with our left and right positions on social justice, compassion, communitarianism and authoritarianism etc. as opposed to a logically consistent perspective on the fundamental question.

However, while this selectiveness means that only people who reconcile themselves with a philosophical view will choose to check either all or none of the boxes, it does seem that our attitudes towards particular behaviours can be altered by framing the behaviour in terms of free will. For example, the article linked below briefly discusses a study that seems to demonstrate that belief in obesity as a disease - belief that obesity is the result of pre-determined factors over which we have little or no control and therefore diminished autonomy and responsibility - leads to more behaviours that are detrimental to physical health than if we believe that obesity is in some sense a choice.

Of course, wanting to say that obesity is categorically a choice or a disease misses the earlier nuance regarding the kind-of-reality of money, colours and free will. It's kind of a choice and kind of a disease. Yes, our weight at any given time is pre-determined by physical laws and the genetics they give rise to and the social circumstances they give rise to in turn, but one of those environmental inputs that affects our weight is whether or not we believe that our weight is wholly determined in this way, and if we believe we have more control we can behave as though we do. Do we actually have control? Kind of. I think it's probably best on a broad cultural level to say that the simple answer is "yes, we do", but with footnotes for the interested.
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Jeff Madrick reviews Mariana Mazzucato's recent book about the effectiveness of government investment in new technologies despite popular beliefs that the state is ill-placed and incompetent to make such investments wisely and to our benefit. In actual fact, the hard evidence of the past half-century shows not only that government investment is valuable as a stand-alone source of basic research, but that the people and technologies often cited as examples of the superiority of private control - e.g. Steve Jobs and Apple products - are overwhelmingly dependent on technologies previously developed by government-funded research.

For all that goes wrong with government funding - those few cases that are used to scaremonger the indignant Taxpayer about the loss of their money which could be better spent on killing machines - much more goes right, and state investment is frequently the daring and necessary precursor to the success of private entities which prefer to play safe and capitalise on existing technologies rather than risk too much on developing their own. This is a story that has repeated hundreds of times, all the way from consumer electronics to space flight.
We hear time and again from those who should know better that government is a hindrance to the innovation that produces economic growth. Above all, the government should not try to pick “winners” by investing in what may be the next great companies. Many orthodox economists insist that the government should just get out of the way. A new book, The Entrepreneurial State by Mariana Mazzucato, forcefully documents just how wrong these assertions are...
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This is a provocative article about the common adoration of reading - at least among those who read. It loses its momentum by the second half when it starts to list instead of converse, but the essential idea is worth thinking about, and I love the Eliot quotation:

If we had a keen vision and feeling of all ordinary human life, it would be like hearing the grass grow and the squirrel’s heart beat, and we should die of that roar which lies on the other side of silence. As it is, the quickest of us walk about well wadded with stupidity.
There is no longer any need to write “in defense of” reading—and yet we keep churning out books along these lines. 
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"Accept the world as it is—and simply try to find a few moments of peace in it. The reactionary tendency of such an outlook is easy to grasp."   °nemA

"As the Slovenian philosopher Slavoj Žižek once quipped, “If Max Weber were alive today, he would definitely write a second, supplementary, volume to his Protestant Ethic, entitled The Taoist Ethic and the Spirit of Global Capitalism""

There is a very dark side to this reactionary thinking ala libertarians being puppets.
https://plus.google.com/u/0/107428400395447727870/posts/iEfmqD8f1ez
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This study looked at the effectiveness of different pro-vaccine strategies and found that they were all pretty much useless, and some even made things worse.

I suppose the broader question is: how do you convince people who aren't interested in facts?
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Label'm "biological suicide terrorist"?
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I only go on twitter when I'm desperate to procrastinate, but I saw Lawrence Krauss teasing everyone with this pre-news news. I'm hoping there's a gigantic asteroid heading for earth!
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I think we're safe from asteroids, if not bird viruses, since as far as I know, dogs are still in grace.  ;-p
http://www.gocomics.com/nonsequitur/2012/06/04#.UyPKnj-Sw88
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I don't know if I'm just recently of an age to start noticing when people die, but it feels like we've lost a lot of great people recently.
Colombian author became standard-bearer for Latin American letters after success of One Hundred Years of Solitude Obituary: catalyst of boom in Latin American literature Gabriel García Márquez – a life in pictures From the archive: 1970 review of One Hundred Years of Solitude
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Stochastically, these things can lump up, but also great artist are made in a fire of great heat. Art ebbs and flows in great movements. Look at what happened to Russian literature during the cusp at the 19th & 20th century, up through much of the  middle of the last century.  Thus, those that survived Stalin could reasonably be expected to start dying in proximity (and come to think of it, so did those who didn't survive Stalin).
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The new Monty Python song is the latest thing I feel like over-analysing.

The Silly Walks Song - which might be better called Money is the Root of Evil - has a crowd-pleasing message and it's something we should all think about, but how much truth is there in it?

In the Pythons' case, it feels a bit fake simply because it's coming from five privileged, wealthy white men, but I don't think they're cynical schemers, so that's not the interesting point. That instead regards the message as directed to people who really do work and work at things they have no love for, without ever questioning and without ever benefiting except to keep the reaper at bay another day.

On one hand, with the general public sentiment that we live in economies rather than societies and that it should be the purpose of governments to improve each individual's financial circumstances (ask not what you can do for your country, ask what your country can do for you), I feel a great drive to condemn the centring of public life on our relationship with money. But, however evil it may be, it's necessary, and it's more necessary for some than others. In that sense, for those who have a lot of it - or even just those who are above the poverty line - the message seems to really be that money is fine for us, but it's evil for the poor. Destitution has character and you shouldn't aspire above it.

This is obviously self-serving and it is, I think, very middle class. It's a grim-faced moan from the semi-advantaged who are comfortable enough but take the comfort for granted (myself very often), but who recognise that they're doing badly on the inequality scale and so react piously as though they wouldn't miss their houses, property, possessions or savings. It's like having something you really want snatched away from you only to say, "Yeah, well, I didn't want it anyway!"

Money is corruptive and we need to understand our psychological relationship with it so that we can use it healthily and minimise its abuse, but while this message feels as though it's becoming less and less radical, actual anti-materialists are still wild eccentrics in today's world. It's not so much the philosophy that's striking a chord as it is the unspoken, implicit hatred of the rich.

So long as we're fixated on the question of money, it would be better to strive first for equality so that when we finally have it, then we can have a conversation about materialism and abandon whatever we like as equals. But while inequality exists, the middle classes complaining about the evil of money borders on the same kind of offense as an imagined right-wing white comedian trying to deliver a Richard Pryor race routine.
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It makes you wonder: if we were all more integrated, either directly to each other in our neighborhoods or by pooling our resources through places like this, how much less would we each have to own? How much less would be produced and wasted? How much weaker would the drive for ownership and individuality become?
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Oh my,  Ayn Randians would see this as cause for killing everyone who used the shop, for their refusal to own & defend the concept of private property.
http://www.atlassociety.org/property-rights-and-native-americans
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And I've just seen the sad news: one of the few inspirational living politicians, Tony Benn, has died. Watch the video at the top for a quick encapsulation. "Democracy is controversial everywhere in the world ... every generation has to fight for it."
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It's sad news, obviously because he's no longer around, but also because I don't see enough people built in his mould. 
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The latest addition to the MOOC crowd is World Science U (associated with the World Science Festival) whose initial offerings come from physicist Brian Greene on the subjects of relativity and quantum mechanics.

At the moment, Greene's videos are all that are on the site (and many of those are still in development), so it's not clear yet what direction WSU is going to go in, but it has set a precedent for three levels of content roughly equivalent to YouTube shorts, general public lectures, and university modules.
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Have him in circles
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Primate Writer & Student Linguist
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I studied literature at the University of Oxford where I learned to be jealous of scientists. In 2014, I start graduate study in linguistics, specialising in cognition, computation and evolution, but I remain interested in everything from short-form fiction to particle physics.

In 2013, I was a shortlisted poet for the international Bridport Prize and I have performed as a flautist and conductor, though the piano is my forte. A few too many nervous slips mean that the people who hear me these days are the people I live with.
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