Articles about Philosophy


How does purpose happen in a spiritless world?

Using biology to understand polling data

…even when the results don’t seem to make sense.

Mathematics, music, and effing the ineffable

Is it possible to describe aesthetic experiences?

How social movements can know things that individuals do not

Evaluating effective knowledge.

Meet my new intentionality machines

Alexa, iRobot, and some thoughts about consciousness.

The simplest proof that free will is an illusion that you’ll ever see

Do you have reasons for making the choices that you make? If you do, then you don’t have “free will”. If you don’t, then you also don’t have “free will”. It’s really just that simple.

Is everything a simulation? Maybe, but not in the way you think.

The most recent episode of Futuristic Now, a podcast by my friend Gray Scott, is about The Simulation Theory: the idea that the entirety of our experience–perhaps our entire universe–may be some form of simulation. Gray goes over some of the ideas people have put forth, and talks about some ways this view could be interpreted. As is always the case with his thought-provoking podcast, he brings up more questions than answers: If we are a simulation, who or what created us? What would the purpose be for creating a simulated universe? Does the mere existence of a simulation even require that there be a “creator” at all? As always, I like to dig in and get technical, and ask what it means for something to be a simulation in the first place.

Faith in religion versus faith in science, versus faith in yourself

In this week’s “Unscripted Chit-Chat” video, I chat with Josiah Jennings about opinions, evidence, science, faith and optimism. This chat was motivated by the many conversations we’ve had about the article “No, you’re not entitled to your opinion” by Patrick Stokes. It’s an article we both agree with, but it is a great jumping off point for asking some questions about the difference between trusting scientific data and having “faith” in religion, what it means to have “faith in science”, the fact that the word “believe” means different things depending on how people use it, and when it makes sense to “believe” in yourself or in an optimistic future.

Unicorns matter: why you shouldn’t laugh at philosophy you don’t understand

What does it mean when you say something exists? Sometimes it means that something is out there in the physical universe. But it doesn’t always mean that. Happiness surely exists, because some people are sometimes happy; but happiness could exist even if nobody were happy, couldn’t it? Right triangles are another example: right triangles have a kind of reality, a kind of existence, that has nothing to do with whether anything in the physical universe has that shape. What about unicorns? Yes, unicorns. Well, they are another interesting case. It turns out that thinking about unicorns might teach you more than you ever thought possible.

What it is like to be a cat

I feel the most like a cat when I wake up late on a weekend. I roll over onto my side, fidget a little, and dab, dab, dab fluff the pillow. What is interesting about my behavior is that I’ve seen almost exactly the same thing in cats. In fact, there are a large number of behaviors that seem conscious and willful and “very human” that are actually completely stereotyped across a wide variety of mammals. This suggests that these behaviors could be primarily driven by biology, and not willful or conscious at all; and it opens up a number of questions about our own intuitions about will and consciousness, and how reliable they are.

Everything happens for a reason
These are things that have a purpose.

Didaskalus and Foititus discuss what it means to say that everything happens for a reason, and whether it is true. Understanding what people really mean when they say that “everything happens for a reason” requires peeling back some layers of meaning, understanding different types of “cause”, and understanding how causes work in large and complex systems.

My soul, and my computer’s soul

It’s easy for an atheist to dismiss the idea of “soul” when you assume that it means something like “ghost” or “spirit” or “translucent glowing thing like in the movies”. But what if it means something different? There are a lot of concepts that are interconnected with the concept the the “soul”, and some of […]

The dangers of a “good argument”

“Good arguments” can be vile things. They are a tool that smart people can use to never question themselves, and feel superior the whole time they are doing it. The core of the problem is this belief: “If I can come up with an argument for conclusion X that sounds logical, then that means I […]

Are we Devils or Fools?

I have a theory that there are two types of people in the world: those who assume that other people are devils, and those who assume that other people are fools. The Devil and the Fool are two powerful archetypes that are engrained in our cultural consciousness. Both characters appear regularly and prominently in our […]

Deconstructing a quote by Ayn Rand

Ayn Rand once said, “…an error made on your own is safer than ten truths accepted on faith, because the first leaves you the means to correct it, but the second destroys your capacity to distinguish truth from error.” This is a ridiculous and meaningless statement, and you need to know why. First, let me […]

Living and knowing mean the same thing

The act of living, the act of experiencing the world, and the act of having knowledge are all the same thing. It sounds very abstract and philosophical, but it’s not philosophy: it’s basic biochemistry. Think about the basic unit of life: the cell. A cell has a structure, and a set of chemical processes that […]

Do bees make hexagons?
Second Circle Bees

It is time for you to consider the deeply profound question: Do bees make hexagons? You look at a honeycomb, the thing that the bees build, and it has hexagons. So the answer seems obvious: sure, bees make hexagons. There are a lot of websites out there that will tell you that bees make hexagons […]

philosophy with aliens

Sometimes I wonder how different our philosophical arguments would be if our language were different. How many arguments might never have happened, or how many puzzles might not even be puzzles, if only for the use of different words? I imagine an alien language where every perceptual word has a suffix to identify who the […]

Building your true self
lower-case "n"

When I was little, I learned how to write my lower-case “n” the same way that everyone else does. I drew it the way that (in all likelihood) it appears on the screen to you now: a vertical line on the left side with a kind of hump on the right side. Later on, I […]