THUNK – 99. Braitenberg’s “Vehicles” & the Chinese Room

Braitenberg’s “Vehicles,” Searle’s Chinese room, & Cole’s “Virtual Minds” – some thoughts on thinking machines.

-Links for the Curious-

Some selections from Valentino Braitenberg’s “Vehicles” –

Alan Turing’s fantastic 1950 paper “Computing Machinery & Intelligence” –

John Searle’s paper, cited over 5000 times, about the Chinese Room argument –

David Cole’s “Artificial Intelligence & Personal Identity,” where he posits the mechanism of virtual minds –

A quick note: the response that I end up advocating in the end here is spiritually similar to a sort of philosophical “Pragmatism.” If you’d like to read some more about it, check out its entry in the SEP here:

The SEP article on “functionalism,” one of the philosophies of mind characterized here –

THUNK – 98. Mixed Reality & “Game” Design

Maybe VR isn’t a specific thing, but part of a continuum of physical/virtual experience called “mixed reality.” Regardless of how you think about it, the virtual already plays a significant role in your life, & game designers (as terrible a name as that is) are the ones building your future.

-Links for the Curious-

Paul Milgrim & Fumio Kishino’s foundational 1994 paper on mixed reality –

An article detailing Tencent’s new credit rating app & its truly frightening potential –

Jesse Schell’s 2010 DICE talk, detailing his unique vision of the future as built by game designers –

YouTube channel “Extra Credits,” a great resource for beginning to learn about some of the aspects of game design that are being used to build our virtual future –

THUNK – 97. Autonomous Vehicle Ethics…?

There’s a lot of talk about the ethics of autonomous vehicles…but maybe it’s not as big a deal as people are making it.

-Links for the Curious-

Patrick Lin’s “The Ethical Dilemma of Self-Driving Cars –

“Why Self-Driving Cars Must be Programmed to Kill” –

“How to Help Self-Driving Cars Make Ethical Decisions” –

A chapter from a book on autonomous vehicles written by Lin, detailing many of his arguments for ethical AV design –

“Reciprocal Collision Avoidance for Multiple Car-like Robots”, a paper detailing many of the challenges of creating networked automated vehicles (let alone independent ones) –

“Driver Killed While Using Tesla’s ‘Autopilot’ Feature” –

Some details about the Apple petition to ban the use of toxic chemicals in some of their manufacturing facilities –

THUNK – 96. The Replication Crisis & Belief Perseverence

The sciences are dealing with a crisis of replication…and that’s a *good* thing. How might we learn from them?

-Links for the Curious-

“Psychology is in Crisis Over Whether It’s in Crisis” –

“1500 scientists lift the lid on reproducibility” –

Self-enhancement & belief perseverance –

Abstract & concrete data in the perseverance of social theories: When weak data lead to unshakeable beliefs –

Perseverance in self-perception and social perception: biased attributional processes in the debriefing paradigm –

THUNK – 86. Cognitive Biases & the Socratic Method –

THUNK – 72. Logic –

THUNK – 73. Rigor –

THUNK – 74. What Reason is For –

THUNK – 95. Duverger’s Law & Ingroup Bias

This election is divisive, both in & between parties. Unfortunately, our brains don’t work too well in groups.

*Links for the Curious*

Evidence of an increasing division between political parties in the US –

Tajfel et al’s 1971 paper demonstrating that even totally arbitrary grouping does weird stuff to human brains –

A study about how ingroup/outgroup bias can color what characteristics people are quick to assign to their ingroup/outgroup –

Evidence that we show greater affinity for ingroup members who promote the group’s distinctiveness over those who try to be more evenhanded –

A study showing that simply framing a political argument as coming from the ingroup increases its acceptance dramatically –

Groups also make us prone to riskier behavior, arriving at more extreme conclusions together than we would on our own –

THUNK – 94. #parsimonygate & Occam’s Razor

Occam’s Razor is an important philosophical tool, & it played a central role in the #parsimonygate kerfuffle on Twitter. Learn exactly how it works!

-Links for the Curious-

The Cladistics editorial that kicked this whole thing off –

A fantastic article on Wired about #parsimonygate –

An interesting blog post on the issue –

The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy’s entry on ontological parsimony –

My sister’s *fantastic* hand-written notes –

THUNK – 93. Mathematics: Discovered or Invented?

Is mathematics discovered or invented? Is it the language which encodes the cosmos, or an imaginary human tool? Does mathematics, in its pure abstraction, tap the inherent nature of the universe…or is it just our imagination? In the longest THUNK video yet, we dive into the metaphysics of mathematics, & the seemingly unanswerable questions therein.

-Links for the Curious-

“Contact ET Using Math? Not So Fast.” A lecture at SETI by mathematician & philosopher Keith Devlin –

“The Unreasonable Effectiveness of Mathematics in the Natural Sciences,” by Eugene Wigner –

“Is Math a Feature of the Universe or a Feature of Human Creation?” by PBS Idea Channel –

The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy on:
Mathematical Platonism –
Mathematical Nominalism –
Logicism –
Fictionalism –
Abstract Objects –
General Mathematics –

Hilarious SMBC comic on “pure math” –

THUNK – 92. Fermat’s Last Theorem

Fermat’s Last Theorem: a fairy tale of dramatic mathematics.

-Links for the Curious-

An invaluable Numberphile video about Fermat’s Last Theorem –

Wiles’s proof of the modularity theorem for elliptic curves (& Fermat’s last theorem) –

List of things named after Pierre de Fermat –

THUNK – 91. Spanking & Anecdotal Evidence

A recent study shows spanking probably isn’t a good idea, but almost everyone has a story that says otherwise. Learn where anecdotal evidence is useful, and (perhaps more importantly), where it isn’t.

-Links for the Curious-

Spanking and Child Outcomes: Old Controversies and New Meta-Analyses –

An article summarizing the study’s major points & interview with Gershoff, where the first comment cites anecdotal evidence to rebut the findings –

An example of the type of bias mentioned in the video –

THUNK – 90. Science vs. Philosophy, an Ancient (Non-)Debate

Many scientists call philosophy pointless pondering. They may not know they’re reading a very old script. Learn about the empiric & rationalist schools of medicine from ancient Greece, & how their ideologies play into thought in the modern world.

-Links for the Curious-

Bill Nye’s kerfuffle-causing video response –

The SEP’s summary of the modern version of the empiricist/rationalist divide –

THUNK – 89. The Just World Fallacy

The Just World Fallacy: your brain’s irrational attempt to make sense of a world where Firefly got cancelled.

-Links for the Curious-

An overview of research into the just world fallacy –

Do Innocent Victims Threaten the Belief in a Just World? –

Some evidence of an unjust world –


THUNK – 88. Hume’s Guillotine & Rational Morality

Hume saw problems using facts to justify morals. Learn about Hume’s Guillotine & where reason fits in morality!

-Links for the Curious-

Hume’s “A Treatise of Human Nature” –

GE Moore’s “Principia Ethica,” a text that puts forward a similar argument by different means –

A list of philosophical responses to the is/ought problem –

Related THUNK episodes:

THUNK – 87. Encryption & Quantum Computing

The FBI is asking Apple to help them crack an iPhone’s encryption, but that’s not the whole story. Learn how encryption & code signing work, & how quantum computers might pose a threat to both!

-Links for the Curious-

Physics Girl video on quantum cryptography, using quantum physics to *improve* encryption –

A fantastic Computerphile video on public key cryptography –

Apple’s code signing overview –

THUNK – 86. Cognitive Biases & the Socratic Method

Human thought has hundreds of hard-wired bugs. The Socratic Method gives us a fighting chance to overcome them.

-Links for the Curious-

Paper describing evidence & several implications of availability bias –

Paper describing evidence & several implications of confirmation bias –

Wikipedia’s list of cognitive biases –

THUNK episode 73 on mental rigor –

THUNK episode 64 on the argumentative theory of human reason –

THUNK – 85. Evolution & the Purple Sock

A newly-discovered creature called “the purple sock” reveals & confirms some of the inner workings of evolution!

-Links for the Curious-

The article in question, “New deep-sea species of Xenoturbella and the position of Xenacoelomorpha”, by Rouse et. al. –

Optimization Theory in Evolution, by J. Maynard Smith, 1978 –

An interesting theory about the development of chlorophyll-based life being preceded by creatures which absorbed *only* green light –

The Tree of Life web project, a browsable index of taxonomy –

Also, if you don’t think it’s cool that the theory of evolution predicted that the sun had to be much, much older than the physics of nuclear fission said it must be, preempting the discovery of fusion, you can just get out of my face.

THUNK – 84. Why Prejudice is Impractical

Most agree that prejudice is wrong, but it’s not just an ethical problem; it’s a practical one, for *everyone.*

-Links for the Curious-

The Harvard Implicit Association Test –

A Report from the Department of Labor’s Federal Glass Ceiling Commission –

Carter, Simkins & Simpson’s 2003 paper “Corporate Governance, Board Diversity, and Firm Value” –

Dame Stephanie Shirley’s TED talk “Why do Ambitious Women Have Flat Heads?” –

A Forbes article about the effects of more women in the workforce –

A reminder that sexism isn’t a deliberate choice tp be a jerk, it’s often what seems reasonable –

THUNK – 83. CRISPR & Genetic Engineering

CRISPR is making big waves in biology, and for good reason; the doors to genetic engineering are now wide open.

QUICK ADDENDUM: The CRISPR method is currently only used to modify germline genomes (fertilized eggs), not fully-grown organisms. (That’s why I stress the “new humans” angle.) We have methods to achieve that sort of modification (viruses mostly), but CRISPR just lets us rewrite one DNA at a time really really efficiently.

SECOND ADDENDUM: I said in this episode that high IQ is correlated with depression. This is a highly contentious statement, with no compelling evidence. However, there are good reasons to believe that high IQ is related to bipolar disorder:

-Links for the Curious-

This video is only possible because my amazing sister put together a summary of CRISPR that I could wrap my head around. They’re available here –

A fantastic compilation of CRISPR/Cas9 papers –

A Reddit AMA from Paul Knoepfler, one of the pioneers of CRISPR –

A Nature article on the newly-formed “biohacker” amateur genetics movement –

THUNK – 82. Special Relativity

Many people think special relativity is just for astrophysics majors, but its basic assumptions are pretty easy!

-Links for the Curious-

The derivation of the speed of light from Maxwell’s equations for electromagnetic waves –

The Hafele-Keating experiment, demonstrating the time dilation effect of special relativity –

A great video by a high school student explaining relativity –