Friday, October 24, 2008

Beyond Belief 3: Candles in the Dark - The Series

This is the official beginning of my annual series in which I discuss each presentation that takes place at the Beyond Belief conference in La Jolla, California.

This is the posting to bookmark if you want a shortcut to the table of contents that will eventually link to all of the other postings. As I write those other essays, I will return here to post a link to those write-ups. In the end, there will be at least one link here to each video posted from the conference.

Last year, I was asked if, on the introduction page, I would skip the essay and quickly get to the links – by somebody who hated scrolling down to find those links. So, I’ll limit myself to one quick statement before starting the Table of Contents:

The Science Network provides these videos for free. It is an excellent service. We need to praise and reward that which we have reason to nurture and grow. So, please, make a contribution to the Science Network.

Roger Bingham: Opening Statement: Roger Bingham introduces the series as one in which participants have been asked to deliver "a potential solution to a problem that they have identified in their area of expertise or informed passion. He then talked about his own perceived problem - that science and science education are not given the attention that such a useful tool to promote human welfare deserves.

AC Grayling: Happiness, Flourishing, and Fulfillment: I divided AC Grayling's discussion into two parts. In this part, I discuss Grayling's suggestion that flourishing (rather than happiness) is "the point" of human activity.

AC Grayling: Flourishing, Fulfillment, and Freedom of Choice: Grayling argues that his concept of "flourishing" argues in favor of freedom of choice - that there is value in choosing one's life rather than having somebody else choose it for you. I compare his Aristotilian defense of liberty with the Millian desire utilitarian defense.

Sonja Lyubomirsky: The Utility of Happiness: Sonja Lyubomirsky presents a brief opening argument that happiness is "the point" of activity, then devotes the bulk of her presentation to showing a wealth of empirical evidence that happiness is also quite useful.

Owen Flanagan: Eudemonia and Existentialism: Owen Flanagan discusses certain existential concerns we have, including the concern that we are mere animals. These concerns drive us towards or away from certain conclusions about the universe. I further ask, "Where do these concerns come from?"

Güven Güzeldere: Epistemological vs Social Atheism: Güven Güzeldere talkes about the existential concern that there is no such thing as "disembodied cognitition" and the relationship between epistemic atheism and social atheism.

George Koop: Addiction vs Flourishing George Koop looks at what happens in the brain that brings about drug addiction. He argues that there are mechanisms in the brain that exist because they prevent too much pleasure or happiness, where it would lead to destructive behavior.

Eudemonia Panel: Happiness. After the talks listed above on human flourishing, the speakers participated in a panel discussion. One of the topics that came up was the fact that happiness can be controlled, not by changing the world, but merely by changing expectations of the world. This post looks at the moral implications of managing expectations, in contrast to managing reality.

Naoimi Oreskes: Science vs Beliefs about Science. Naoimi Oreskes uses the history of global warming to illustrate a huge gap between science and people's beliefs about science. While scientists formed a consensus on global warming decades ago, a substantial portion of the population still believes that scientists are undecided. It is not that they do not know what scientists actually believe. It's that they have a belief about scientists that is entirely false.

Mooney and Kirshenbaum: The Political Voice of Science. This posting actually starts off a series of postings on the issues of promoting science. Mooney and Kirshenbaum, who tried to get a science debate inserted into the Presidential campaigns (where the candidates held around 30 debates, but none on science) illustrates the ways in which we can try to make science important to the electorate. This posting, and the rest of the postings for that week, discuss some of these ideas.

Mooney and Kirshenbaum: Media Coverage of Science. Ultimately, in this debate on promoting science, I argued that the project should be to use moral institution to promote a stronger demand for scientific understanding. Mooney and Kirshenbaum seem to put the cart before the horse. They argue for promoting the supply of science understanding in order to stimulate demand. Whereas I argue that if we promote a demand for scientific understanding, people will come along to fulfill that demand.

Tony Haymet: Non-Human Threats. Tony Haymet came with evidence of two severe threats that we face, in addition to increases in atmospheric CO2 concentrations. One is that this CO2 is being absorbed into the oceans and making it more acidic. A more acidic ocean would be fatal to such sea creatures as snails, clams, oysters, and coral. The other threat is the depopulation of the oceans. Haymet suggests that we have removed up to 90% of the biomass from the sea. In addition, while the government easily comes up with huge quantities of money to bail out businesses and fight wars, a few million dollars to study things that really will save the planet are hard to come by.

Panel Discussion The Energy War. In a panel discussion on science and politics the idea of an Energy War is discussed - an Apollo like project to render oil worthless. One if the issues discussed is whether we need to find a human enemy - an enemy that can be killed and tortured - in order to motivate people to participate in such a project.

Panel Discussion: Be Kind to Religion. In a panel discussion on science and politics, Chris Mooney suggested that we should be conciliatory towards evangelicals because they are now motivating people to be on the right side of the climate change issue. This posting asks the question of what form this conciliatory attitude should take.

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