Summary of “Can there be a “very good dog?” Philosophy has an answer”

In 1798, Immanuel Kant wrote that “The fact that the human being can have the representation ‘I’ raises him infinitely above all the other beings on earth. By this he is a person.that is, a being altogether different in rank and dignity from things, such as irrational animals, with which one may deal and dispose at one’s discretion.”
Mark Rowlands, a professor of philosophy at the University of Miami, and author of The Philosopher and the Wolf, among other books, believes his dog and wolf are good.
He defines goodness as a kind of concern and points also to animal studies and anecdotes that show animals caring for other creatures-including people-taking risks to save them, and hurting them too, as proof that they can be both bad and good.
Humans too do plenty of things thoughtlessly, impulsively or instinctively-we don’t always scrutinize our actions in advance or know why we’re doing good or bad. If a person were to run into a street to save a child from the danger of an oncoming car, it wouldn’t require thought as much as instinct.
Frans De Waal, an Emory University primatologist, also thinks ethics are inherent in animals.
De Waal argues that humans err when they understand morality as the unique veneer that keeps us in check and separate from animals.
People do resist the idea of animal morality though-and that is in part because it calls our own goodness into question.
As the Stanford Dictionary of Philosophy points out, recognizing the capacity for compassion, virtue, suffering, and struggle in animals puts humans in an awkward position.

The orginal article.

Summary of “The Human Use of Human Beings: Cybernetics Pioneer Norbert Wiener on Communication, Control, and the Morality of Our Machines – Brain Pickings”

Half a century before the golden age of algorithms and two decades before the birth of the Internet, the mathematician and philosopher Norbert Wiener tried to protect us from that then-hypothetical scenario in his immensely insightful and prescient 1950 book The Human Use of Human Beings: Cybernetics and Society – a book Wiener described as concerned with “The limits of communication within and among individuals,” which went on to influence generations of thinkers, creators, and entrepreneurs as wide-ranging as beloved author Kurt Vonnegut, anthropologist Mary Catherine Bateson, and virtual reality pioneer Jaron Lanier.
Wiener had coined the word cybernetics two years earlier, drawing on the Greek word for “Steersman” – kubernētēs, from which the word “Governor” is also derived – to describe “The scientific study of control and communication in the animal and the machine,” pioneering a new way of thinking about causal chains and how the feedback loop taking place within a system changes the system itself.
It is in my opinion best to avoid all question-begging epithets such as “Life,” “Soul,” “Vitalism,” and the like, and say merely in connection with machines that there is no reason why they may not resemble human beings in representing pockets of decreasing entropy in a framework in which the large entropy tends to increase.
Society can only be understood through a study of the messages and the communication facilities which belong to it; and that in the future development of these messages and communication facilities, messages between man and machines, between machines and man, and between machine and machine, are destined to play an ever-increasing part.
Just as entropy tends to increase spontaneously in a closed system, so information tends to decrease; just as entropy is a measure of disorder, so information is a measure of order.
Property rights in information suffer from the necessary disadvantage that a piece of information, in order to contribute to the general information of the community, must say something substantially different from the community’s previous common stock of information.
Whether we entrust our decisions to machines of metal, or to those machines of flesh and blood which are bureaus and vast laboratories and armies and corporations, we shall never receive the right answers to our questions unless we ask the right questions.
Nearly a century later, The Human Use of Human Beings remains an immensely insightful and increasingly relevant read. Complement it with the great cellist Pablo Casals on making our world worthy of its children, then revisit Thomas Merton’s beautiful letter to Rachel Carson about technology, wisdom, and the difficult art of civilizational self-awareness.

The orginal article.

Summary of “Keeping Evolution in Mind: The Future of Evolutionary Social Science”

Evolution has shaped the human body, but it also shaped the human brain, so evolutionary principles are indispensable for understanding our psychology.
Teachers, and even social scientists struggle to see how our evolutionary history significantly shapes our cognition and behavior today.
The lack of willingness to view human cognition and behavior as within the purview of evolutionary processes has prevented evolution from being fully integrated into the social science curriculum.
Psychological adaptations for social learning, such as conformity bias, develop in complex and diverse cultural ecologies that work in tandem to shape the human mind and generate cultural variation.
Truly satisfying explanations of human behavior requires identifying the components of human cognition that evolution designed to be sensitive to social or ecological conditions and information.
Applying evolutionary theory to social science has the potential to transform education and, through it, society.
Evolutionary perspectives can help social scientists understand, and eventually address, common social problems.
The researchers recommend that the esteem bullies seek “Should be borne in mind when engineering interventions” designed to either decrease a bully’s social status or channel the bully’s social motivations to better ends.

The orginal article.

Summary of “Rise of the machines: has technology evolved beyond our control?”

In the 1950s, a new symbol began to creep into the diagrams drawn by electrical engineers to describe the systems they built: a fuzzy circle, or a puffball, or a thought bubble.
The purpose of such orders is not to actually communicate or make money, but to deliberately cloud the system, so that other, more valuable trades can be executed in the confusion.
Mirai looks like nothing so much as Stuxnet, another virus discovered within the industrial control systems of hydroelectric plants and factory assembly lines in 2010.
In Hollywood, studios run their scripts through the neural networks of a company called Epagogix, a system trained on the unstated preferences of millions of moviegoers developed over decades in order to predict which lines will push the right – meaning the most lucrative – emotional buttons.
Feeding directly on the frazzled, binge-watching desires of news-saturated consumers, the network turns on itself, reflecting, reinforcing and heightening the paranoia inherent in the system.
Rather than trying to understand how languages actually worked, the system imbibed vast corpora of existing translations: parallel texts with the same content in different languages.
Our understanding of those systems, and of the conscious choices we make in their design, remain entirely within our capabilities.
It remains to be seen whether cooperation is possible – or will be permitted – with the kinds of complex machines and systems of governance now being developed, but understanding and thinking together offer a more hopeful path forward than obfuscation and dominance.

The orginal article.

Summary of “A debate over plant consciousness is forcing us to confront the limitations of the human mind”

A debate over plant consciousness and intelligence has raged in scientific circles for well over a century-at least since Charles Darwin observed in 1880 that stressed-out flora can’t rest.
Plant biotechnologist Devang Mehta, for one, says the answer to the question of whether plants are conscious “Is unreservedly no.” In a February article for Massive Science entitled, “Plants are not conscious, whether or not you can sedate them,” he vehemently opposes the notion that plants can be conscious or intelligent.
Danny Chamovitz, director of the Manna Center for Plant Biosciences at Tel Aviv University in Israel, says that plants are neither conscious nor intelligent, though they are incredibly complex.
Plant awareness shouldn’t be confused with the human experience of existence.
The author of Plant Thinking: A Philosophy of Vegetal Life, Marder tells Gizmodo, “Plants are definitely conscious, though in a different way than we, humans, are.” He notes that plants are in tune with their surroundings and make many complex decisions, like when to bloom.
That said, Marder admits that we can’t know if plants are self-conscious, because we define both the self and consciousness based on our human selves and limitations.
Maybe once we manage to do so, we will finally become conscious of plant consciousness.
Acknowledging plant intelligence could put us in an awkward position.

The orginal article.

Summary of “Scientists weighed all life on Earth. It’s mind-boggling.”

As a sweeping new study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences finds, in a census sorting all the life on Earth by weight, we make up less than 1 percent of life.
There are an estimated 550 gigatons of carbon of life in the world.
Using the new data in PNAS, we tried to visualize the weight of all life on Earth to get a sense of the scale of it all.
All life on Earth, in one chart What you’ll see below is a kind of tower of life.
If the tower of life were an office building, plants would be the main tenants, taking up dozens of floors.
The chart above represents a massive amount of life.
Though plants are still the dominant form of life on Earth, the scientists suspect there used to be approximately twice as many of them – before humanity started clearing forests to make way for agriculture and our civilization.
We do need a baseline understanding of the distribution of life on Earth.

The orginal article.

Summary of “Is there a role for religion in international development?”

Though the terms of change and the very ideology of development have been fiercely contested, with critics going so far as to argue that development interventions might actually be the cause of persistent poverty and ecological damage, more than 60 years later, the adoption of the UN’s latest to-do list – the Sustainable Development Goals – attests to the continuing importance of development as an ideal political project, shared, at least in theory, by governments and nongovernmental organisations across the world.
Acknowledging this fact can prevent development ‘experts’ from becoming what the US development theorist Denis Goulet in 1980 described as myopic ‘one-eyed giants’ who ‘analyse, prescribe and act as if man can live by bread alone’.
While Sen, a self-declared ‘godless scientist’, is averse to granting religion a role in development, his work shifts development onto ethical grounds.
Development means ‘expanding the real freedoms people enjoy’ – these include basic capabilities such as being able to read and write, agency over the decisions that affect one’s life, and participation in civic and political matters.
Development aims to foster not just freedom, but also the exercise of one’s freedom.
In my research in the sacred Hindu city of Varanasi, I found that, while development has brought valued material progress for some, people also lament the accompanying loss of cherished ways of living and traditions, often rooted in religion.
The Catholic view of human flourishing performs an important task by requiring any approach to economic development to consider seriously the moral and non-economic consequences of development.
The process of reflection and critical deliberation is also key for Sen’s vision of development and human freedom.

The orginal article.

Summary of “Where Are the New Antibiotics?”

Penicillin, serendipitously discovered by Alexander Fleming in 1928, and other beta lactam antibiotics also target a part of bacteria that human cells don’t have: the cell wall.
Glycopeptide antibiotics like vancomycin, on the other hand, wrap around the cell wall’s fence posts like a thick bulletproof blanket.
In each case, the equivalent process in a human cell is performed by enzymes that are shaped differently and don’t have the same handholds that the antibiotics need to do their work.
Bacteria can also make new proteins that break open and disarm antibiotics before they can act.
Just changing the end-cap of the cell wall posts from the amino acid D-alanine to D-lactate, a very small adjustment, makes aminoglycoside antibiotics like vancomycin completely useless.
Many antibiotics have come from microorganisms themselves, where the fight for survival has forced one species to make weapons to defeat their competitors.
I’ve spent my career designing better organic chemistry tools for making molecules like antibiotics faster, but even with these new inventions, the process isn’t easy.
Rosen, P.C. & Seyedsayamdost, M.R. Though much is taken, much abides: Finding new antibiotics using old ones.

The orginal article.

Summary of “Human race just 0.01% of all life but has eradicated most other living things”

Humankind is revealed as simultaneously insignificant and utterly dominant in the grand scheme of life on Earth by a groundbreaking new assessment of all life on the planet.
Bacteria are indeed a major life form – 13% of everything – but plants overshadow everything, representing 82% of all living matter.
Another surprise is that the teeming life revealed in the oceans by the recent BBC television series Blue Planet II turns out to represent just 1% of all biomass.
The vast majority of life is land-based and a large chunk – an eighth – is bacteria buried deep below the surface.
The transformation of the planet by human activity has led scientists to the brink of declaring a new geological era – the Anthropocene.
The picture is even more stark for mammals – 60% of all mammals on Earth are livestock, mostly cattle and pigs, 36% are human and just 4% are wild animals.
The destruction of wild habitat for farming, logging and development has resulted in the start of what many scientists consider the sixth mass extinction of life to occur in the Earth’s four billion year history.
“First, humans are extremely efficient in exploiting natural resources. Humans have culled, and in some cases eradicated, wild mammals for food or pleasure in virtually all continents. Second, the biomass of terrestrial plants overwhelmingly dominates on a global scale – and most of that biomass is in the form of wood.”

The orginal article.

Summary of “Steven Pinker’s Ideas About Progress Are Fatally Flawed. These Eight Graphs Show Why.”

By falsely tethering the concept of progress to free market economics and centrist values, Steven Pinker has tried to appropriate a great idea for which he has no rightful claim.
In Enlightenment Now: The Case for Reason, Science, Humanism, and Progress, published earlier this year, Steven Pinker argues that the human race has never had it so good as a result of values he attributes to the European Enlightenment of the 18th century.
Which brings us to another fundamental issue in Pinker’s narrative of progress: who actually gets to enjoy it? Much of his book is devoted to graphs showing worldwide progress in quality in life for humanity as a whole.
Pinker appropriately quotes economist Steven Radelet that these improvements “Rank among the greatest achievements in human history.”
How, we might ask, did this happen? As Pinker himself expresses, we can’t assume that this kind of moral progress just happened on its own.
In reality, many of the great steps made in securing the moral progress Pinker applauds came from brave individuals who had to resist the opprobrium of the Steven Pinkers of their time while they devoted their lives to reducing the suffering of others.
Not surprisingly, the current steps in social progress are vehemently opposed by Steven Pinker, who has approvingly retweeted articles attacking both Black Lives Matter and #MeToo, and who rails at the World Economic Forum against what he terms “Political correctness.”
By slyly tethering the concept of progress to free market economics and centrist values, Steven Pinker has tried to appropriate a great idea for which he has no rightful claim.

The orginal article.