Tuesday, 28 March 2017

Irrational Emotions, Rational Decisions, and Artificial Intelligence

Thomas Ames (pictured above) is a graduate student in philosophy at the University of Missouri-St. Louis and has interests in epistemology, agency, and disorders of selfhood. In this post, he summarizes some of his current research into what role irrational emotions may play when making rational decisions, and what that may mean for the future of artificial intelligence.

Quite a bit has been written on the role of emotion on the decision-making process. Using cases of traumatic brain injuries that have led to defects in both emotion and rational decision-making, several theories with a neurological framework have been proposed about why that may be. One such prominent theory, somatic marker hypothesis (1, 2), introduced by Antonio Damasio (University of Southern California), posits that emotions play an integral neurological role in decision-making. This is because it was found that in cases of specific brain lesions which affect patients’ emotions, their abilities to make decisions were also adversely affected. It follows, then, that the two are connected: there must be some relationship between emotions, decisions, and acting upon them.

Thursday, 23 March 2017

Addiction: A Philosophical Perspective

Today's post is by Candice Shelby on her new book Addiction: A Philosophical Perspective.

Candice Shelby is Professor of Philosophy at the University of Colorado Denver. She has published in the history of philosophy, philosophy of psychology, metaphysics, epistemology, and philosophy of addiction. She regularly speaks around the U.S. and Europe on the complex problem of addiction, and has recently completed a month teaching on the topic in Beijing, China.

In my new book I argue that most analyses of addiction get off on the wrong foot from the start, by assuming a simple linear cause-and-effect understanding the world. Very little about human beings can be understood in such a straightforward way, and certainly nothing having to do with mind or experience. Like other human phenomena, including mind itself, I believe that addiction is an emergent property of a complex dynamic system. It is better understood as a process than as a disease, a moral problem, or simply an ongoing set of utility evaluations.

Addiction is a process that emerges in some human beings as a function of genetic and epigenetic factors influencing the development of a particular mind/body within a complex, interactive, and specific physical and social milieu. We can speak in an informed way of addiction at the level of neurological structure and function, but we cannot reduce it to just that. We can speak of the family’s influence on one’s vulnerability to addiction, both psychologically and socioeconomically, which is also a viable and autonomous level of analysis, but we cannot assume that such a discussion will encompass all that is involved in addiction. 

Tuesday, 21 March 2017

Imperfect Volitions

My name is Alexandre Billon. I am an Associate Professor in Philosophy at the University of Lille III. My research specialty is philosophical psychopathology, that is, the use of psychopathology to solve perennial philosophical riddles.

In a paper recently published in the Journal of Ethics and Social Philosophy, I argue that in order to be happier, people with desires like us must behave irrationally. This might seem plainly paradoxical: being happier is, other things being equal, being better off. Behaving irrationally is not doing what is best for me. How can I be made better off by not doing what is better for me?

Before debunking this paradox let me briefly present my argument. Many philosophers, thinkers and even religions have claimed that unfulfilled desires diminish our level of happiness. This, I believe is not quite right. There are two kinds of interesting counterexamples.

Thursday, 16 March 2017

Early Childhood Education Towards Equality

This post is by Natalia Garcez, Brazilian graphic designer currently based in Vienna. If you want to know more about her work, check out her research and the project she discusses in the post.

Contemporary European kindergartens were born in the first half of the 19th century. Pedagogues such as Fröbel and Montessori helped to create a model of education which motivates children to develop all their abilities, giving equal opportunities to every kid to learn what fits better their personal talents and personality.

Though the traditional European methodologies are the closest from a model of education which promotes equity among boys and girls, many early childhood educational spaces still do not guarantee a process of raising children free of stereotypes and gendered roles. One example was observed in a kindergarten located in the east of Germany. The place is deeply inspired in Montessorian methodologies, offering children the most varied spaces which all children have equal access to. Inside, kids are free to be what they want. But the freedom children live inside became a reflection of the traditional behaviours taught by families. 

Even in this open-minded educational space, all girls were wearing shades of pink, and all boys were in dark blue T-shirts. All girls were delicate beings, exploring the art's room, dolls, princess' dresses, and make-up, while boys were running around, throwing themselves into piles of pillows, and pedaling outside. By deeply respecting the preferences of each child, the educational space set aside motivating them to explore different activities, reproducing inside the educational space the stereotypes taught at home.

When turning to America, the system created by Fröbel could not be fully applied due to incompatibilities regarding culture and social development: besides the normal gap between kindergarten and home environments, also seen in Europe, the unprepared educational staff and cultural aspects, such as the use of nicknames, the relation with food, formally addressing adults, and so on, required many alterations in the Fröbelian system, coming up something new. What is seeing there are mainly formal and informal child care spaces which keep the children fed and safe while the family works. There is a lack of commitment to education, to the children's development, and, mainly, to raising them towards equity.

The project Design for Equity: Early Childhood Education Towards Gender Equity approaches the role of education in raising children in more egalitarian ways considering the following aspects: how to open dialogues with adults (families and child care spaces) to raise their children towards equity, and how to come up with a feasible system for developing countries in America, introducing poetry, story, music, games, and activities, in the development of educational materials for kids.