Tuesday, April 29, 2014

The 1935 Preface to Kant-Studien

When I was in Berlin in 2010, I spent some time in the Humboldt University library, looking through philosophy journals from the Nazi era, in connection with my interest in the extent to which German philosophers either embraced or resisted Nazism. (Summary version: about 1/3 embraced Nazism, about 1/3 rejected Nazism, and about 1/3 ducked their heads and kept quiet.)

The journals differed in their degree of Nazification. Perhaps the most Nazified was Kant-Studien, which at the time was one of the leading German-language journals of general philosophy (not just a journal for Kant scholarship). The old issues of Kant-Studien aren't available online, but I took some photos. Here, Sascha Fink and I have translated the preface to Kant-Studien Vol. 40 (1935), p. 3-4 (emphasis added):


Kant-Studien, now under its new leadership that begins with this first issue of the 40th volume, sets itself a new task: to bring the new will, in which the deeper essence of the German life and the German mind is powerfully realized, to a breakthrough in the fundamental questions as well as the individual questions of philosophy and science.

Guiding us is the conviction that the German Revolution is a unified metaphysical act of German life, which expresses itself in all areas of German existence, and which will therefore – with irresistible necessity – put philosophy and science under its spell.

But is this not – as is so often said – to snatch away the autonomy of philosophy and science and give it over to a law alien to them?

Against all such questions and concerns, we offer the insight that moves our innermost being: That the reality of our life, that shapes itself and will shape itself, is deeper, more fundamental, and more true than that of our modern era as a whole – that philosophy and science, which compete for it, will in a radical sense become liberated to their own essence, to their own truth. Precisely for the sake of truth, the struggle with modernity – maybe with the basic norms and basic forms of the time in which we live – is necessary. It is – in a sense that is alien and outrageous to modern thinking – to recapture the form in which the untrue and fundamentally destroyed life can win back its innermost truth – its rescue and salvation. This connection of the German life to fundamental forces and to the original truth of Being and its order – as has never been attempted in the same depth in our entire history – is what we think of when we hear that word of destiny: a new Reich.

If on the basis of German life German philosophy struggles for this truly Platonic unity of truth with historical-political life, then it takes up a European duty. Because it poses the problem that each European people must solve, as a necessity of life, from its own individual powers and freedoms.

Again, one must – and now in a new and unexpected sense, in the spirit of Kant’s term, “bracket knowledge” [das Wissen aufzuheben]. Not for the sake of negation: but to gain space for a more fundamental form of philosophy and science, for the new form of spirit and life [für die neue Form ... des Lebens Raum zu gewinnen]. In this living and creative sense is Kant-Studien connected to the true spirit of Kantian philosophy.

So we call on the productive forces of German philosophy and science to collaborate in these new tasks. We also turn especially to foreign friends, confident that in this joint struggle with the fundamental questions of philosophy and science, concerning the truth of Being and life, we will gain not only a deeper understanding of each other, but also develop an awareness of our joint responsibility for the cultural community of peoples.

-- H. Heyse, Professor of Philosophy, University of Königsberg


In the 1910s through 1930s, especially in Germany, philosophers tended to occupy the political right (including cheering on World War I and ostracizing Bertrand Russell for not doing so) -- deploying, as here, the tools of their discipline in the service of what we can now recognize as hideous views. Heidegger was by no means alone in doing so, nor the worst offender.

The political views of the mainstream 21st-century philosophical community are very different and, I'd like to think, much better grounded. It would be nice, though, if we had a more trustworthy method for distinguishing tissues of noxious rationalization from real philosophical insight.


For a transcription of the original German, see the Underblog.

For a fuller historical discussion of the role of Kant-Studien in the Third Reich, see this article (in German).

If you zoom in on the title-page image above, you will see that it promises two pictures of Elisabeth Foerster-Nietzsche, Nietzsche's famously antisemitic sister. The volume does include two full-page photos of her (though one appears to be merely a close-up of the other), alongside a fawning obituary of the "wise, gracious" Elisabeth.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

How to Be a Part of God's Mind

I'm at the biennial Tuscon conference Toward a Science of Consciousness, so wild speculation about consciousness is the order of the day! In the first plenary session, psychologist Don Hoffman argued that the world contains no physical objects, only minds in interaction with each other, each of which is massively deluded about its environment. After that, my paper in the next session arguing that "if materialism is true, the United States is probably conscious" seemed relatively tame. So in the spirit of the day, let me uncork another one of wild possibilities I've recently been considering: idealist pantheism, the view that the world consists only of one thing, God's mind.

Might idealist pantheism be true? I'm not sure why it couldn't be. I can't refute it by, say, kicking a stone. Seeming tactile and visual experiences of stones, without physical stones underneath, might all be part of God's plan. It's a bizarre view, perhaps, sharply in conflict with common sense. But something bizarre might well be true. Indeed, I've argued that something bizarre must be true about the basic structure of the cosmos: Common sense is not well-tuned to get it right about such matters, and all of the viable options (e.g., multiverse theory) appear to be highly bizarre.

If idealist pantheism is true, then my mind would have to be part of God's mind. How would that work?

We would have to deny a certain version of the view that consciousness is unified. Assuming that you exist and that I can neither access your thoughts directly nor experience your thoughts as my own, then it must be the case that some parts of God's mind are out of touch with other parts. I see no incoherence in this idea, though, as long as we allow divine mental unity at some higher level of organization.

Divine mental unity might work in part through introspection. God might be able to directly introspect the contents of each individual's mind. On an access view of introspection, this might involve God's having direct access to the contents of each of our minds rather than indirect access (via perception of our bodies). We might imagine a causal process by which each mental state of each individual mind directly produces a judgment, in some part of God's mind to which no individual person has access, that that person is in that mental state. One way this might be realized would be through a divine version of Global Workspace Theory: Each person might be like a separate processing module in the cosmic mind, whose contents are fed into a divine cognitive processing system that integrates the inputs.

But in order for this to be introspection rather than perception, these inputs into the divine mental workspace would have to be inputs from pieces of God's mind rather than inputs from things external to God's mind. And that means that God would have to think with and through us, instead of merely about us. And this probably requires some kind of divine limitation or restraint or trust. If every one of my thoughts is independently assessed by God and handled suspiciously -- if those thoughts do not, in some sense, normally speak for God or for some part of God, if those thoughts are normally held at a distance for evaluation as though not God's own, then I think what we would have is not pantheism but rather the more ordinary view that I am one thing and God is another thing who judges me.

What I am imagining, then, is a rather unusual conjunction of views: vast divine knowledge of the contents of our minds combined with a lack of divine mental independence. God would have to have lots of knowledge but not a lot of processing power in the central workspace -- whatever processing power God has would have to be to a substantial extent actually distributed among us. If so, then presumably our collective judgment would have to in some manner constitute the divine judgment and probably too our collective action would have to in some manner constitute divine action. Otherwise we would not be part of God's mind but something outside of God.

Let me admit that the likelihood of all this being true seems to me rather small -- though since it seems at least possible and since I mistrust common sense in matters cosmological, I'm not sure what justifies my inclination against it.

[image source]

Monday, April 14, 2014

What Kelp Remembers

Weird Tales, one of the best and oldest horror and dark fantasy magazines, has just launched a new series of ultra-short flash fiction (under 500 words), Flashes of Weirdness. To inaugurate the series, they've chosen a piece of mine -- which is now my second publication in speculative fiction.

My philosophical aim in the story -- What Kelp Remembers -- is to suggest that on a creationist or simulationist cosmology, the world might serve a very different purpose than we're normally inclined to think.

At some point, I want to think more about the merit of science fiction as a means of exploring metaphysical and cosmological issues of this sort. I suspect that fiction has some advantages over standard expository prose as a philosophical tool in this area, but I'm not satisfied that I really understand why.

Friday, April 11, 2014

Meta-Analysis of the Effect of Religion on Crime: The Missing Positive Tail

I think the most recent meta-analysis of the relationship between religosity and crime is still Baier and Wright 2001. I'm reviewing it again in preparation for a talk I'm giving Sunday on what happens when there's a non-effect in psychology but researchers are disposed to think there must be an effect.

I was struck by this graph from the Baier and Wright:

Note that the x-axis scale is negative, showing the predicted negative relationship between religiosity and crime. (Religiosity is typically measured either by self-reported religious belief or by self-reported religious behavior such as attendance at weekly services.)

The authors comment:

The mean reported effect size was r = -.12 (SD = .09), and the median was r = -.11. About two-thirds of the effects fell between -.05 and -.20, and, significantly, none of them was positive. (p. 14, emphasis added).
Hm, I think. No positive tail?! I'm not sure that I would interpret that fact the same way Baier and Wright seem to.

Then I think: Hey, let's try some Monte Carlos!

Baier and Wright report 79 effect sizes from previous studies, graphed above. Although the distribution doesn't look quite normal, I'll start my Monte Carlos by assuming normality, using B&W's reported mean and SD. Then I'll generate 10,000 sets of 79 random values (representating hypothetical effect sizes) normally distributed around that mean and standard deviation (SD).

Of the 10,000 simulated distributions of 79 effect sizes with that mean and SD, only 9 distributions (0.09%) are entirely zero to negative. So I think we can conclude that it's not chance that the positive tail is missing. Options are: (a.) The population mean is higher than B&W report or the SD is lower, (b.) The distribution isn't normal, (c.) The positive effect-size studies aren't being reported.

My money is on (c). But let's try (a). How high would the mean have to be (holding SD fixed) for at least 20% of the Monte Carlos to show no positive values? In my Monte Carlos it happens between mean -.18 and -.19. But the graph above is clearly not a graph of a sample from a population with that mean (which would be near the top of the fourth bar from left). This is confirmable by a t-test on the distribution of effect sizes reported in their study (one-sample vs. -.185, p < .001). Similar considerations show that it can't be an SD issue.

How about (b)? The eyeball distribution looks a bit skewed, anyway -- maybe that's the problem? The graph can be easily unskewed simply by taking the square root of the absolute values of the effect sizes. The resulting distribution is very close to normal (both eyeball and by Anderson-Darling). This delivers the desired conclusion: Only 35% of my Monte Carlos end up with even a single positive-tail study, but it delivers this result at the cost of making sense. Taking the square root magnifies the difference between very small effect sizes and diminishes the difference between large effect sizes, inflating the difference between a study with effect size r = .00 and a study with effect size r = -.02 to a larger magnitude difference than the difference between effect size r = -.30 and effect size r = -.47. (All these r's are actually present in the B&W dataset.) The two r = .00 studies in the B&W dataset become outliers far from the three r = -.02 studies in their dataset, and it's this artificial inflation of that immaterial difference that explains the seeming Monte Carlo confirmation after the square-root "correction".

So the best explanation would seem to be (c): We're not seeing the missing tail because, at least as of 2001, the research that would be expected, even if just by chance, to show even a non-significant positive relationship between religiosity and crime simply isn't published.

If researchers also show a systematic bias toward publishing their research that shows the largest negative relationship between religiosity and crime, we can even get something like Baier and Wright's distribution with a mean effect size of zero.

Here's the way I did it: I assumed that mean effect size of religiosity on crime is 0.0 and the SD for the effect size among the studies was 0.12. I assumed 100 researchers, 25% of whom only ran one independent analysis, 25% of whom ran 2 analyses, 25% of whom ran 4, and 25% of whom ran 8. I assumed that each researcher published only their "best" result (i.e., greatest negative relationship), but only if the trend was non-positive. I then ran 10,000 Monte Carlos. The average number of studies published was 80, the average published study's effect size was r = -.12, and the average SD of the effect sizes was .08.

And it wasn't too hard to find a graph like this:

Pretty similar except for Baier & Wright's two outlier studies.

I don't believe that this analysis shows that religion and crime are unrelated. I suspect they are related, if in no other way than by means of uncontrolled confounds. But I do think this analysis suggests that a non-effect plus a substantial positivity bias in publication could result in a pattern of reported effects that looks a lot like the pattern that is actually reported.

This is, of course, a file-drawer effect, and perhaps it could be corrected by a decent file-drawer analysis. But: Baier and Wright don't attempt such an analysis. And maybe more importantly: The typical Rosenthal-style file-drawer analysis assumes that the average unpublished result has an effect size of zero, whereas the effect above involves removing wrong-sign studies disproportionately often, and so couldn't be fully corrected by such an analysis.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Philosophy Festival: "How the Light Gets In"

Interesting philosophy festival coming up in late May, in western England: Speakers are drawn from a wide range of fields in addition to philosophy, both in the sciences and arts. Among the philosophy speakers are Thomas Pogge, Huw Price, John Heil, Simon Blackburn, Angie Hobbs, Ted Honderich, Margaret Boden, Mark Rowlands, Jennifer Hornsby, Nancy Cartwright, Barry C. Smith, James Ladyman, Daniel Stoljar, Bernard-Henri Levy, Hubert Dreyfus, and Mary Midgley. Lots of other super-cool folks too: Stephen King, Roger Penrose, Cory Doctorow....

Wish I could be there!

Monday, April 07, 2014

The Incredible Shrinking Kid

Tania Lombrozo's newest post at NPR reminded me of a phenomenon I've often noticed: After going away on a trip for several days, when I return home it seems to me that my children have grown enormously over those few days!

It's not that they've actually grown, of course. My hypothesis is this: During my time away, my memory of my children grows a bit vaguer. Whereas my memory of them when I come home tonight might be an average of their appearance over the last few days, my memory when I come home after a week away might be an average of their appearance over a longer span of time -- maybe a month or two. Then when I return, they seem to have done a month's worth of growing in just that one week. The effect has been most striking during the periods my children have grown fastest (infancy to early childhood, and then my son's incredible middle-school growth spurt).

I'm not sure I'd test this hypothesis by drawing lines on the wall, as the researchers did in the article Lombrozo discusses. I suspect that my memory of my children's height is much more accurate than can be measured by wall markings -- e.g., that I'd easily notice an inch of growth, even if I might be off by several inches if asked to estimate their heights on a blank wall. A more valid measure, if it can be done right, might be to artificially age a picture by tweaking it slightly toward or away from the kindchenschema (the characteristic infantile facial features that slowly fade as we age).

Friday, April 04, 2014

A Negative, Pluralist Account of Introspection

What is introspection? Nothing! Or rather, almost everything.

A long philosophical tradition, going back at least to Locke, has held that there is a distinctive faculty by means of which we know our own minds -- or at least our currently ongoing stream of conscious experience, our sensory experience, our imagery, our emotional experience and inner speech. "Reflection" or "inner sense" or introspection is, in this common view, a single type of process, yielding highly reliable (maybe even infallibly certain) knowledge of our own minds.

Critics of this approach to introspection have tended to either:

(a.) radically deny the existence of the human capacity to discover a stream of inner experience (e.g., radical behaviorism);

(b.) attribute our supposedly excellent self-knowledge of experience to some distinctive process other than introspection (e.g., expressivist or transparency approaches, on which "I think that..." is just a dongle added to a judgment about the outside world, no inward attention or scanning required); or

(c.) be pluralistic in the sense that we have one introspective mechanism to scan our beliefs, another to scan our visual experiences, another to scan our emotional experiences....

But here's another possibility: Introspective judgments arise from a range of processes that is diverse both within-case (i.e., lots of different processes feeding any one judgment) and between-case (i.e., very different sets of processes contributing to the judgment on different occasions) and yet also allows that introspective judgments arise partly through a relatively direct sensitivity to the conscious experiences that they are judgments about.

Consider an analogy: You're at a science conference or a high school science fair, quickly trying to take in a poster. You have no dedicated faculty of poster-taking-in. Rather, you deploy a variety of cognitive resources: visually appreciating the charts, listening to the presenter's explanation, simultaneously reading pieces of the poster, charitably bringing general knowledge to bear, asking questions and listening to responses both for overt content and for emotional tone.... It needn't be the same set of resources every time (you needn't even use vision: sometimes you can just listen, if you're in the mood or visually impaired). Instead, you flexibly, opportunistically use a diverse range of resources, dedicated to the question of what are the main ideas of this poster, in a way that aims to be relatively directly sensitive to the actual content of the poster.

Introspection, in my view, is like that. If I want to know what my visual experience is right now, or my emotional experience, or my auditory imagery, I engage not one cognitive process that was selected or developed primarily for the purpose of acquiring self-knowledge; rather I engage a diversity of processes that were primarily selected or developed for other purposes. I look outward at the world and think about what, given that world, it would make sense for me to be experiencing right now; but also I am attuned to the possibility that I might not be experiencing that, ready to notice clues pointing a different direction. I change and shape my experience in the very act of thinking about it, often (but not always) in a way that improves the match between my experience and my judgment about it. I have memories (short- and long-term), associations, things that it seems more natural and less natural to say, views sometimes important to my self-image about what types of experience I tend to have, either in general or under certain conditions, emotional reactions that color or guide my response, spontaneous speech impulses that I can inhibit or disinhibit. Etc. And any combination of these processes, and others besides, can swirl together to precipitate a judgment about my ongoing stream of experience.

Now the functional set-up of the mind is such that some processes' outputs are contingent upon the outputs of other processes. Pieces of the mind stay in sync with what is going on in other pieces, keep a running bead on each other, with varying degrees of directness and accuracy. And so also introspective judgments will be causally linked to a wide variety of other cognitive processes, including normally both relatively short and relatively circuitous links from the processes that give rise to the conscious experiences that the introspective judgments are judgments about. But these kinds of contingencies imply no distinctive introspective self-scanning faculty; it's just how the mind must work, if it is to be a single coherent mind, and it happens preconsciously in systems no-one thinks of as introspective, e.g., in the early visual system, as well as farther downstream.

[For further exposition of this view, with detailed examples, see my essay Introspection, What?]