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Thu, 29 Sep 2022
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MindMatters: R.G. Collingwood - The Forgotten Philosopher

Primarily known for his philosophy of history, British philosopher R.G. Collingwood's life was cut short in 1943 at the age of 53. As Ray Monk puts it, his replacement by Gilbert Ryle "changed the course of philosophy forever," and not in a good way. Collingwood's clear, expansive, and incisive style was replaced by the ratiocentric style of the analytic philosophers. But despite his lack of popularity today, Collingwood's works remain a source of profound insight and clear thought. From history and aesthetics, to metaphysics, religion, and political theory, Collingwood was one of the twentieth century's great thinkers, and today, to discuss his life and work (including his classic Autobiography), we are joined by the newest member of the MindMatters team, Lucien Koch.

Running Time: 01:24:22

Download: MP3 — 116 MB


Your best ally against injustice? Terry Pratchett

Terry Prachett
© Kevin Nixon/SFX Magazine/Future/Getty Images
Terry Prachett
Jack Monroe's use of the character Sam Vimes in a critique of cost-of-living statistics shows the enduring power of the author's fury and humour.

When the poverty campaigner and cookbook author Jack Monroe realised that the Office for National Statistics (ONS) was reporting a skewed and unfair version of the cost of living, they reached for Terry Pratchett, the brilliant author of comic fantasy whose books bristle with fury at the injustices of the world. Pratchett best expressed his anger through the character of Sam Vimes, the police chief who grew up on the breadline but, through a chain of unlikely events, finds himself among the monied elite, and one of the most powerful men in the city.*

In Men At Arms (1993), the second of Pratchett's novels to feature Vimes and the City Watch, the author gives his protagonist a searing monologue that he called the "Captain Sam Vimes Boots theory of socioeconomic unfairness". In full, it runs like this:
"Take boots, for example. He earned thirty-eight dollars a month plus allowances. A really good pair of leather boots cost fifty dollars. But an affordable pair of boots, which were sort of OK for a season or two and then leaked like hell when the cardboard gave out, cost about ten dollars. Those were the kind of boots Vimes always bought, and wore until the soles were so thin that he could tell where he was in Ankh-Morpork on a foggy night by the feel of the cobbles. But the thing was that good boots lasted for years and years. A man who could afford fifty dollars had a pair of boots that'd still be keeping his feet dry in ten years' time, while the poor man who could only afford cheap boots would have spent a hundred dollars on boots in the same time and would still have wet feet."


The 'Science' of Manipulation: researchers craft messages of guilt, shame to foster vaccine compliance

There's an entire field of research dedicated to developing messaging designed to persuade "vaccine-hesitant" individuals to get the COVID-19 vaccine.

None of the messaging examined by researchers involves conveying factual evidence that supports the claims — widely disseminated by Big Pharma, Big Media and public health agencies — that the vaccines are "safe" and "effective."

Researchers last month published the results of a clinical trial involving two survey experiments on how to manufacture consent for COVID vaccines.

The Yale-sponsored study, "Persuasive messaging to increase COVID-19 vaccine uptake intentions," examined how different persuasive messages affected
  1. intentions to receive a COVID-19 vaccine,
  2. willingness to persuade friends and relatives to get the vaccine,
  3. fear of those who have not been vaccinated, and
  4. social judgment of people who choose not to vaccinate.

Comment: See also:

Magic Wand

All hell breaks loose when our senses go haywire

Jesus is a Malteser. You might say I'm a liar or accuse me of the most egregious heresy, but the fact remains that Jesus is a Malteser. This is because I have a neurological quirk known as synaesthesia, commonly described as a fusing of the senses. Its most common manifestation prompts people to see colour when they hear music. But my version is the rare lexical-gustatory kind, which means that I can taste words; and so Jesus is a Malteser, Sam is tinned tuna and Donald is a rubber duck bobbing around in vinegar.

This could seem nightmarish: life as a constant assault of rubber ducks and whiffy fish — a gustatory whack-a-mole — but it produces no intrusion. I consider it nothing other than a party trick, although it can also be useful as an aide-memoire. When starting a new job it has helped me remember colleagues' names: the nice lady on reception is a salty white pebble and the security chap is a packet of Cheese & Onion Ringos.

Comment: It remains to be seen just how accurate the author's conclusion is, and whether perhaps it's applicable to some, but not all, of the syndromes mentioned above: And check out SOTT radio's:


In Praise of Disobedience

line of people
© shutterstock
Here we are, all of us, almost two years on, still having to debate what appears to each of us to be incontrovertible. I suspect that most people made up their minds early on, and continue to pay attention only to the articles and news anchors who support their position. Therefore let me suggest that you take a look at a recent article, whichever side of the divide you are on.

Norman Doidge, a psychiatrist who has written beautiful books on neuroscience, recently published a scientifically serious and gently balanced introduction to the major Covid questions in the Tablet (complete version here). Highly recommended.

Doidge refers to the "behavioral immune system" and the "crystallization" that happens after a major dispute, as factors in the hardening divisions that are tearing apart our societies. The poet T.S. Eliot put it baldly: mankind cannot bear very much reality. We are not very well made for the continual work of revision and self-critique that could lead us to change our minds.

Yet change our minds we must, and we need tools to do so. If the jabs have not solved the problem, this would be a great time to have a frank, open discussion among the best educated professionals, with access to as much of the relevant data as possible. Instead, prominent scientists, doctors, and honestly curious laymen are being censored every day.


Needle Points: Why so many are hesitant to get the Covid vaccines, and what we can do about it

vaccine caduceus
'Needle Points,' Tablet's exploration into the sources and nature of vaccine hesitancy, is presented in four parts. Chapter I begins below. Continue to Chapter II, III, or IV . To download a free, printer-friendly version of the complete article, click here.

Since my days in medical school, I have had a fascination with the kernel insight behind vaccination: that one could successfully expose a person to an attenuated version of a microbe that would prepare and protect them for a potentially lethal encounter with the actual microbe. I marveled at how it tutors an immune system that, like the brain, has memory and a kind of intelligence, and even something akin to "foresight." But I loved it for a broader reason too. At times modern science and modern medicine seem based on a fantasy that imagines the role of medicine is to conquer nature, as though we can wage a war against all microbes with "antimicrobials" to create a world where we will no longer suffer from infectious disease. Vaccination is not based on that sterile vision but its opposite; it works with our educable immune system, which evolved millions of years ago to deal with the fact that we must always coexist with microbes; it helps us to use our own resources to protect ourselves. Doing so is in accord with the essential insight of Hippocrates, who understood that the major part of healing comes from within, that it is best to work with nature and not against it.

And yet, ever since they were made available, vaccines have been controversial, and it has almost always been difficult to have a nonemotionally charged discussion about them. One reason is that in humans (and other animals), any infection can trigger an archaic brain circuit in most of us called the behavioral immune system (BIS). It's a circuit that is triggered when we sense we may be near a potential carrier of disease, causing disgust, fear, and avoidance. It is involuntary, and not easy to shut off once it's been turned on.

The BIS is best understood in contrast to the regular immune system. The "regular immune system" consists of antibodies and T-cells and so on, and it evolved to protect us once a problematic microbe gets inside us. The BIS is different; it evolved to prevent us from getting infected in the first place, by making us hypersensitive to hygiene, hints of disease in other people, even signs that they are from another tribe — since, in ancient times, encounters with different tribes could wipe out one's own tribe with an infectious disease they carried. Often the "foreign" tribe had its own long history of exposure to pathogens, some of which it still carried, but to which it had developed immunity in some way. Members of the tribe were themselves healthy, but dangerous to others. And so we developed a system whereby anything or anyone that seems like it might bear significant illness can trigger an ancient brain circuit of fear, disgust, and avoidance.


How to master the art of conversation, according to psychology

Every time we catch up with a friend, we share the stories of our lives, from the mundane to the profound. Swapping stories — and especially secrets — helps to create friendships in the first place. Now new research is providing some intriguing insights into how to get that process going, and keep it going — on how best to handle conversations, to turn acquaintances or even strangers into new friends, and new friends into life-long confidantes.

Do talk to strangers...

Back in 2014, a pair of psychologists published a now classic study of Chicago commuters, which found that although our instinct is to ignore strangers, we are happier when we chat to them. Importantly, this was true for introverts as well as extraverts. The researchers also found that the commuters' reluctance to strike up a conversation with a stranger was down to a mistaken belief that strangers wouldn't want to talk to them. In 2021, a team that included Nicholas Epley, one of the authors of the initial paper, published very similar results from a study of train commuters in the London area. Clearly, this phenomenon applies to British people, too. So, go on, next time you're with a stranger, why not try striking up a conversation — it'll probably go better than you think.


Dogs understand many more words than we think

dog high five
Sophie Jacques, Associate Professor, Psychology and Neuroscience, Dalhousie University, came up with some interesting figures on dogs recognizing words. Starting in 2015, she and a colleague
developed a list of 172 words organized in different categories (for example, toys, food, commands, outdoor places) and gave it to an online sample of 165 owners of family and professional dogs. We asked them to select words that their dogs responded to consistently. We found that, on average, service dogs respond to about 120 words, whereas family pets respond to about 80 words, ranging between 15 to 215 words across all dogs. We also found that certain breed groups, such as herding dogs like border collies and toy dogs like chihuahuas, respond to more words and phrases than other breed types like terriers, retrievers and mixed breeds.

Sophie Jacques, "Yes, Your Dog Can Understand What You're Saying — to a Point" at The Epoch Times (January 22, 2022)
There is a practical value to Jacques's work with dogs and language:

Comment: See also: Dogs recognize when humans speak different languages


Breathing: the master clock of the sleeping brain

LMU neuroscientists have shown that breathing coordinates neuronal activity throughout the brain while sleeping and resting.
© IMAGO / Ikon Images / Ian Cuming
While we sleep, the brain is not switched off, but is busy with "saving" the important memories of the day. To do this, brain regions are synchronized to coordinate the transmission of information between them. Yet, the mechanisms that enable this synchronization across multiple remote brain regions are poorly understood. Traditionally, these mechanisms were sought in correlated activity patterns within the brain. However, LMU neuroscientists Prof. Anton Sirota and Dr. Nikolas Karalis have now been able to show that breathing acts as a pacemaker that entrains the various brain regions and synchronizes them with each other.

Breathing is the most constant, enduring, and essential bodily rhythm and exerts a strong physiological effect on the autonomous nervous system. It is also known to modulate a wide range of cognitive functions such as perception, attention, and thought structure. However, the mechanisms of its impact on cognitive function and the brain are largely unknown.


When art transports us, where do we actually go?


The Hunters in the Snow (1565) • Pieter Bruegel the Elder
Courtesy: Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna
An old Chinese legend tells of the painter Wu Daozi (680-c760), who learned to paint so vividly that he was finally able to step inside his work and vanish into the landscape. Magical though it sounds, this legend iterates the common intuition that artworks are more like portals than ordinary objects: they can transport us into other worlds. When I look at Pieter Bruegel's The Hunters in the Snow (1565), I feel like I was there in the frost-bitten village, rather than the galleries of the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna. When reading Crime and Punishment (1866), the letters on the page conjure a whole world, and in some sense I am no longer in my living room but right there in Dostoevsky's Russia; the cinema, too, is a gateway to faraway galaxies and past centuries.