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  #1  
Old 04-24-2010, 02:31 AM
Bloggingheads Bloggingheads is offline
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Default Science Saturday: Sex, Pleasure, and God (Jesse Bering & Neil Sinhababu)

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  #2  
Old 04-24-2010, 05:07 AM
cosmic_electrons_dancing cosmic_electrons_dancing is offline
 
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Default Re: Science Saturday: Sex, Pleasure, and God (Jesse Bering & Neil Sinhababu)

Oy! Mental masturbation without lubrication leads to neural-chaffing. I need a hot shower and a stiff drink. Perhaps before watching this diavlog?
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  #3  
Old 04-24-2010, 10:07 AM
Ocean Ocean is offline
 
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Default Re: Science Saturday: Sex, Pleasure, and God (Jesse Bering & Neil Sinhababu)

BhTV administrators, I'm 10 minutes into the diavlog, if this continues I suspect you'll have to hide most of the comment section.

BhTV is no longer family media!

I must say these guys are good at talking about these topics with a relatively straight face...
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  #4  
Old 04-24-2010, 10:58 AM
Bloggin' Noggin Bloggin' Noggin is offline
 
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Default Re: Science Saturday: Sex, Pleasure, and God (Jesse Bering & Neil Sinhababu)

This is a completely bizarre discussion so far as hedonism is concerned. Neil seems to be reasoning in complete ignorance of the critique of hedonism advanced by philosophers before him. Maybe this is just a consequence of this pairing and Neil has some response in his paper -- which, at the moment I can't seem to access. Or maybe, the whole thing becomes clear later in the diavlog -- but it's not looking like it so far.

First, to provide some clarity that the diavloggers fail to do, there are several views that can be labeled "hedonism":
1. psychological egoistic hedonism -- the claim that people always in fact attempt to maximize their own pleasure. This is not a plausible view, and it is not the one under discussion here.
2. Rational egoistic hedonism -- the claim that, even though people may at times seek something other than maximal pleasure for themselves, they are acting rationally if and only if they are seeking to maximize their own pleasure.
3. Evaluative (universal) hedonism Some things are valuable in themselves, apart from any further consequences they bring about (e.g., pleasure). Call these "intrinsic goods". Others (e.g., going to the dentist) are valuable only insofar as they are means to intrinsic goods. And then there may be another class of things that is valuable both for it's own sake and as a component of a larger good. (For an example, the hedonist would accept, consider the single pleasant experience of smelling a rose. This single pleasant experience is not the same as a happy or good life, yet it might be pursued, NOT as a mere instrumental means to such a happy or good life, but rather as a constituent of such a happy life.
Evaluative universal hedonism says that the only thing that is of any value intrinsically is pleasure (whether my pleasure or your pleasure or a chimp's pleasure and the only thing bad in itself is pain (yours, mine, or any sentient creature's). Something like this is the topic under discussion in the first part of the diavlog.

Now to the problems I mentioned.

1. What is pleasure? All versions of hedonism above would be easiest to defend if there were some one single mental state called "pleasure", which accompanied all and only the experiences we call "pleasant", and which varied only in quantity (intensity and duration) between experiences. Pleasure then functions as the fungible universal currency of the psyche. This would be nice and simple, but it's terribly implausible. If I enjoy sex and I also enjoy reading Tolstoy and I also enjoy bungee jumping, what is the single experience which accompanies all of these experiences? Introspection (which Neil credits with being reliable) itself tells us that there is no such single experience or quality of experience.

2. Socrates vs. the fool or Brave New World and the Lotos eaters vs. us. Putting aside the above problem for a moment, it seems clear that sexual pleasure is (when you do it right) a more intense pleasure than most (or probably any) intellectual pleasures. If the amount of pleasure is all that matters intrinsically and if amount of pleasure is to be understood as intensity times duration, then the hedonist is committed to the view that we ought to choose the lives of the people in Brave New World (whether the Alphas or the brain damaged Gammas and Deltas). We should prefer to be a pig satisfied to being Socrates dissatisfied (in Mill's terms). Yet, as Mill (himself a hedonist) acknowledges, this is not a plausible evaluative position. Mill himself tries to get around this by granting that some pleasures can be more choiceworthy than others even though they may be less intense, because pleasures are not all of the same quality. I think Mill is right to retreat at least this far -- the hard-nosed hedonism he rejects isn't plausible -- the problem is whether or not what remains counts as a version of hedonism. If pleasure A is more valuable than pleasure B, but pleasure A is not more pleasant than pleasure B, doesn't that show that pleasure is not the only intrinsically valuable thing? (It bears emphasizing that to deny hedonism is NOT to say that pleasure isn't intrinsically valuable -- it is merely to deny that it is the ONLY intrinsically valuable thing.)


The Experience Machine.
Returning to my first point, what is left of hedonism once we reject the view of pleasure as a psychic universal currency? The best I can do is to redefine pleasure as the class of states of consciousness that are choiceworthy purely on the basis of their conscious content. The state of mind of the person who is loved by his family and friends is not different from someone with the same state of mind, but whose family and friends all hate him but ACT exactly like the people who love the undeluded person. The person who really achieves something important and the person who is merely deluded into thinking so may not differ at all in their state of mind. The hedonist on this view tells us that (insofar as we are concerned only with our own good), we should have no preference between actual achievement and actual love and delusional achievement and delusional love. We should (in Robert Nozick's famous thought experiment) be indifferent between a world in which we step into an experience machine that gives us the experiences that we actually have in our lives and the living of those actual lives. Yet people are not in fact indifferent -- they would prefer, if given the choice of the same experiences caused by the machine and caused by reality, they would prefer the latter.
The hedonist can insist that we are irrational to prefer this, but on what grounds? He has already given up the view of pleasure as fungible psychic cuurrency -- pleasure is simply "choiceworthy consciousness" on his revised view. In reality, most of us regard certain conscious states as choiceworthy and pleasant based on other things than the nature of the states themselves. I may find learning Greek pleasant, but the pleasure of that learning is partly based on my belief that I am really learning a real language that people actually speak. If I discover that I'm being taught a purely imaginary language that I'm being told is Greek, then these same states of consciousness do not appear so choiceworthy to me.
If the hedonist admiits that conscious state A is pleasanter to person P than conscious state B, simply means that P prefers conscious state A to conscious state B based on its intrinsic qualities -- he has really adopted a view of the good as preference satisfaction, but with a limitation to states of consciousness. Yet this limitation appears arbitrary, and it appears to give us the wrong answers to certain evaluative questions. Why not go all the way to a preference-satisfaction theory of the good? Why not admit that people actually do desire real love and real accomplishment and that when they get what they desire (not just a simulacrum of it), they are really better off? Why not admit that people prefer some conscious states to others, not on the basis of their intrinsic qualities, but based on non-conscious features of the experience -- and why not admit that this is just as rational as our preferences regarding the conscious properties of experience?
Neil doesn't clearly address this, but perhaps his answer is that we are more certain of the nature of our conscious states. (I can't be sure this is his answer because he's addressing a far narrower issue of whether the pleasure of bestiality is really good or not -- it's quite open to the preference theorist to give the same answer that Neil does regarding the morality of bestiality). But if this is his answer, it is kind of a non sequitur, as far as i can tell.
It's dubious that we are really more certain of our introspective states than of facts about the outside world, but even granting this, it isn't plausible to argue that therefore, only conscious states exist and the material world is just a way of talking about our sense-data. Similarly, even if we grant that we can be more certain about the goodness of pleasure than about the goodness of other things, it hardly follows that those other things aren't good in themselves.
He goes further than this and speaks, not of certainty but of "reliability", but on what grounds does he claim that our view of the goodness of things beyond pleasure are (not just less certain but) unreliable?

If you want a sense of a real philosophical conversation on ethical issues, I don't think this diavlog is a very good sample, since neither participant seems to have studied philosophy. (Hmmm -- I wonder if this comment will be hidden -- it's not nasty, but it's also not flattering).

Last edited by Bloggin' Noggin; 04-24-2010 at 11:03 AM..
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  #5  
Old 04-24-2010, 11:32 AM
xgy3 xgy3 is offline
 
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Default Re: Science Saturday: Sex, Pleasure, and God (Jesse Bering & Neil Sinhababu)

Whatever happened to the science part of science Saturday ?
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  #6  
Old 04-24-2010, 11:40 AM
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Default Re: Science Saturday: Sex, Pleasure, and God (Jesse Bering & Neil Sinhababu)

Thanks for your thoughtful and detailed commentary. As I watched the diavlog, I had a sense that the scope of the discussion was being limited to such a narrow set of parameters that the conclusions being drawn were not convincing to me. Some of the points you made helped me to understand my unease.
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  #7  
Old 04-24-2010, 11:54 AM
Jay J Jay J is offline
 
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Default Re: Science Saturday: Sex, Pleasure, and God (Jesse Bering & Neil Sinhababu)

Man, a ill intentioned consumer of bloggingheads (or maybe just a smart ass) could get some hella dingalinks out of this one right?
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  #8  
Old 04-24-2010, 12:02 PM
badhatharry badhatharry is offline
 
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Default Re: Science Saturday: Sex, Pleasure, and God (Jesse Bering & Neil Sinhababu)

I skipped the first part.
So much good stuff to ponder in this conversation.

1)Philosophers think that someday truth will be described as sparingly as H2O.
Somehow I can't imagine a philosopher describing anything sparingly.
Personally, I don't think there will ever be an objective truth that we can describe, it's an ongoing thingy.

2)Should we describe good as what is utilitarian? or what is ontologically true?

3)Neil says" psychology is going to tell me about what processes..... what processes I can regard as unreliable." I have thought for a long time cognitive science is changing philosophy and this sort of proves my assumption.

4)Because of language, masturbating on bhtv would be a short term gain.

5) We are born with the underlying assumption that things happen for a reason. Neil kept advocating that this assumption could be learned. Yes, but the hardware exists, otherwise the behavior would be impossible.

6) Jesse described some studies with chimpanzees that suppose that they don't ask the deep questions. But what would it look like if they did. How can we tell? Certainly chimpanzees attribute intentionality.

7) as far as babies getting away from bugs....that's what moms are for.

Last edited by badhatharry; 04-24-2010 at 12:23 PM..
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  #9  
Old 04-24-2010, 12:14 PM
badhatharry badhatharry is offline
 
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Default Re: Science Saturday: Sex, Pleasure, and God (Jesse Bering & Neil Sinhababu)

Quote:
Originally Posted by Bloggin' Noggin View Post

If you want a sense of a real philosophical conversation on ethical issues, I don't think this diavlog is a very good sample, since neither participant seems to have studied philosophy. (Hmmm -- I wonder if this comment will be hidden -- it's not nasty, but it's also not flattering).
It's not hidden now. But I wonder what a 'good' sample would be? It seems that a good sample would vary as much as you say the experience of pleasure does.
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  #10  
Old 04-24-2010, 12:20 PM
Ocean Ocean is offline
 
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Default Re: Science Saturday: Sex, Pleasure, and God (Jesse Bering & Neil Sinhababu)

Bloggin' Noggin, thank you again for your contribution to a diavlog that quite didn't get us anywhere.

The problem I see with the "Experience Machine" thought experiment is that most people would not be able to consider the two kinds of experience (real and fake) as completely equivalent. I think that in the back of our minds we think that the fake experience will fail somehow. Either the quality is not exactly the same, or the whole plot will fall apart, or something else will happen that will render that experience less valuable. Towards the end of the diavlog the discussants started to get at the limitations imposed by our cognitive abilities. We have learned that "real" and "simulated" are different, and that sooner or later we'll find out. I think it would be difficult for most people to escape that anticipation to truly consider both internal states of mind as equivalent.

I agree with many of the points you make in your comment, although I barely know anything about the topic. It is a pleasure to learn*, if not from the diavloggers, at least from our knowledgeable fellow commenters.

*Do not construe this part of my comment as a vote for hedonism. (Pun intended here)

Also, at the end of the diavlog they engaged in a discussion about the evolutionary disadvantage of newborns not being able to walk. The incomplete motor development of the newborn is a consequence of the disproportionate development of the human brain, the size of the head and the overall size of the baby in relationship to the size of the mother, her pelvis and also the limitations to birth imposed by the pelvic changes involved in bipedalism. Babies have to be born before they reach a more mature stage of development because of all that. It's an accident of evolution, not an end in itself. Here is a reference.
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  #11  
Old 04-24-2010, 12:28 PM
badhatharry badhatharry is offline
 
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Default Re: Science Saturday: Sex, Pleasure, and God (Jesse Bering & Neil Sinhababu)

Quote:
Originally Posted by Ocean View Post
The problem I see with the "Experience Machine" thought experiment is that most people would not be able to consider the two kinds of experience (real and fake) as completely equivalent. I think that in the back of our minds we think that the fake experience will fail somehow. Either the quality is not exactly the same, or the whole plot will fall apart, or something else will happen that will render that experience less valuable. Towards the end of the diavlog the discussants started to get at the limitations imposed by our cognitive abilities. We have learned that "real" and "simulated" are different, and that sooner or later we'll find out. I think it would be difficult for most people to escape that anticipation to truly consider both internal states of mind as equivalent.
I didn't watch the first bit and this question may have been answered, but isn't it possible for psychologists to fashion an experiment where real and simulated aren't distinguishable?
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  #12  
Old 04-24-2010, 12:29 PM
Bloggin' Noggin Bloggin' Noggin is offline
 
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Default Re: Science Saturday: Sex, Pleasure, and God (Jesse Bering & Neil Sinhababu)

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Originally Posted by badhatharry View Post
It's not hidden now. But I wonder what a 'good' sample would be? It seems that a good sample would vary as much as you say the experience of pleasure does.
I mean a sample representative of the kind of sense philosophers can bring to confused and confusing issues. Philosophers worth their salt would at least take account of arguments on the other side of a long standing debate and would attempt to distinguish carefully between evaluative hedonism and the claim that bestiality is OK, so long as no one is harmed (including the animal).

To say that there's nothing wrong with bestiality is not to commit oneself to the claim that pleasure is the only intrinsic good -- as I pointed out above. Yet Neil acts as though the only arguments against hedonism are along the lines of bestiality intuitions, and he doesn't consider the possibility that bestiality could be fine, yet evaluative hedonism still could be false. He seems just as confused as any ordinary person who had not studied argument or the specific arguments regarding hedonism that go all the way back to Plato.
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Old 04-24-2010, 12:38 PM
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Default Re: Science Saturday: Sex, Pleasure, and God (Jesse Bering & Neil Sinhababu)

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Originally Posted by badhatharry View Post
I didn't watch the first bit and this question may have been answered, but isn't it possible for psychologists to fashion an experiment where real and simulated aren't distinguishable?
That's not the point of my comment. I'm not sure what you're asking.

I would think that, yes, an experiment can be designed where real and simulated can't be distinguishable. But, the thought experiment I was referring to, which Bloggin'Noggin mentions in his post, is about giving people a choice between living their lives in a "real" environment or living their lives in a simulated environment (for example created by a virtual machine). Most people prefer the real situation even when the outcome may be uncertain, or even adverse, compared to the machine which could be programmed to create pleasant situations.

My point is that even when the thought experiment requires that people consider that both real and virtual "feel" exactly the same, it is unavoidable to have a conscious or unconscious expectation that the virtual reality will be of a lesser quality.
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Old 04-24-2010, 12:44 PM
badhatharry badhatharry is offline
 
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Default Re: Science Saturday: Sex, Pleasure, and God (Jesse Bering & Neil Sinhababu)

Quote:
Originally Posted by Bloggin' Noggin View Post
I mean a sample representative of the kind of sense philosophers can bring to confused and confusing issues. Philosophers worth their salt would at least take account of arguments on the other side of a long standing debate and would attempt to distinguish carefully between evaluative hedonism and the claim that bestiality is OK, so long as no one is harmed (including the animal).

To say that there's nothing wrong with bestiality is not to commit oneself to the claim that pleasure is the only intrinsic good -- as I pointed out above. Yet Neil acts as though the only arguments against hedonism are along the lines of bestiality intuitions, and he doesn't consider the possibility that bestiality could be fine, yet evaluative hedonism still could be false. He seems just as confused as any ordinary person who had not studied argument or the specific arguments regarding hedonism that go all the way back to Plato.
I actually skipped the first part (bestiality and disgust) and clicked through to moral truth. Thanks for the clarification.
However, is it always true that philosophers must consider the work that is gone before? Are they never allowed to start with a brand new sheet of paper? I know Neil is a professional and not an armchair philosopher, so something else maybe expected of him....and as I say I didn't watch the first bit.
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Old 04-24-2010, 12:47 PM
badhatharry badhatharry is offline
 
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Default Re: Science Saturday: Sex, Pleasure, and God (Jesse Bering & Neil Sinhababu)

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Originally Posted by Ocean View Post

My point is that even when the thought experiment requires that people consider that both real and virtual "feel" exactly the same, it is unavoidable to have a conscious or unconscious expectation that the virtual reality will be of a lesser quality.
Thanks for the clarification and I agree. People are very interested in having real experiences.
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Old 04-24-2010, 12:55 PM
Ocean Ocean is offline
 
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Default Re: Science Saturday: Sex, Pleasure, and God (Jesse Bering & Neil Sinhababu)

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Originally Posted by badhatharry View Post
I actually skipped the first part (bestiality and disgust) and clicked through to moral truth. Thanks for the clarification.
However, is it always true that philosophers must consider the work that is gone before? Are they never allowed to start with a brand new sheet of paper? I know Neil is a professional and not an armchair philosopher, so something else maybe expected of him....and as I say I didn't watch the first bit.
I think the saying "why reinvent the wheel?" applies.
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Old 04-24-2010, 01:09 PM
Bloggin' Noggin Bloggin' Noggin is offline
 
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Default Re: Science Saturday: Sex, Pleasure, and God (Jesse Bering & Neil Sinhababu)

Hi Ocean,
Thanks for the kind remarks (also thanks to listener above).

In response to your objection on behalf of the hedonist*, it's true that the hedonist might make respond as you suggest. But what is the importance of finding out? If finding out that your cure for cancer isn't real would be disappointing, doesn't this show that you actually prefer certain psychological states over others, NOT on the basis of anything intrinsic to them, but on the basis of something extrinsic to them -- namely their relation to reality.

Suppose you have a piece of apple pie that is the most amazing apple pie ever. We then let you know that the apple pie wasnt real -- it was just an expierience in the Experience Machine (EM). You might have some reason for being disappointed at the discovery, but in this case, I'd be inclined not to care in the least that it wasn't an actual piece of apple pie -- it felt like one and not only that it had NO CALORIES!
At the very casual end of sexual experience, one might have the same feeling. If it's always been your fantasy to have sex with George Clooney, you might well be happy to enter the EM for a few hours with an X-rated Clooney program, knowing full well that this wasn't really Clooney or even a person at all. Complications could obviously arise here (couldn't you find yourself falling in love with the Clooney character?), so it's probably best to stick with the apple pie.
My point here is that when it is simply the intrinsic qualities of the experience alone that you are concerned with, no delusion is required. You can get out of the experience machine exactly what you would get out of the real world. Why would we be disappointed to find that our experience of saving the world or learning a language or being loved by our friends is just an illusion of the EM -- as we would not if we found out that the apple pie wasn't real? Surely it is because we actually value these experiences partly on the basis of something other than their intrinsic phenomenal character.

Even granting your point, there is a fact which the non-hedonist can explain more plausibly than the hedonist can -- namely the fact that some pleasures are not so desirable when we don't believe them to be real (the experience as of curing cancer), while others are just as desirable whether "real" or not (the experience as of eating the most amazin apple pie in the world).

*I say "on behalf of the hedonist" rather than "for hedonism" advisedly. You rightly distinguish between arguing for hedonism and attempting to expose a flaw in an argument that is intended to count against hedonism.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Ocean View Post
Bloggin' Noggin, thank you again for your contribution to a diavlog that quite didn't get us anywhere.

The problem I see with the "Experience Machine" thought experiment is that most people would not be able to consider the two kinds of experience (real and fake) as completely equivalent. I think that in the back of our minds we think that the fake experience will fail somehow. Either the quality is not exactly the same, or the whole plot will fall apart, or something else will happen that will render that experience less valuable. Towards the end of the diavlog the discussants started to get at the limitations imposed by our cognitive abilities. We have learned that "real" and "simulated" are different, and that sooner or later we'll find out. I think it would be difficult for most people to escape that anticipation to truly consider both internal states of mind as equivalent.

I agree with many of the points you make in your comment, although I barely know anything about the topic. It is a pleasure to learn*, if not from the diavloggers, at least from our knowledgeable fellow commenters.

*Do not construe this part of my comment as a vote for hedonism. (Pun intended here)

Also, at the end of the diavlog they engaged in a discussion about the evolutionary disadvantage of newborns not being able to walk. The incomplete motor development of the newborn is a consequence of the disproportionate development of the human brain, the size of the head and the overall size of the baby in relationship to the size of the mother, her pelvis and also the limitations to birth imposed by the pelvic changes involved in bipedalism. Babies have to be born before they reach a more mature stage of development because of all that. It's an accident of evolution, not an end in itself. Here is a reference.
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  #18  
Old 04-24-2010, 01:18 PM
Bloggin' Noggin Bloggin' Noggin is offline
 
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Default Re: Science Saturday: Sex, Pleasure, and God (Jesse Bering & Neil Sinhababu)

Quote:
Originally Posted by badhatharry View Post
I actually skipped the first part (bestiality and disgust) and clicked through to moral truth. Thanks for the clarification.
However, is it always true that philosophers must consider the work that is gone before? Are they never allowed to start with a brand new sheet of paper? I know Neil is a professional and not an armchair philosopher, so something else maybe expected of him....and as I say I didn't watch the first bit.
What credential would a professional philosopher have to mark himself off from the amateur type other than a better awareness of arguments and distinctions with respect to the issue both pro and con and a better grasp of the principles of argument?
It's one thing, of course, not to know ALL the arguments advanced FOR your position -- or even to be ignorant of some little-known problem for your view from some obscure journal - but not to know long-standing and well-known objections to your view undermines your claim to authority in philosophy as it would in science.
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Old 04-24-2010, 01:43 PM
Ocean Ocean is offline
 
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Default Re: Science Saturday: Sex, Pleasure, and God (Jesse Bering & Neil Sinhababu)

Zero calorie apple pie and George Clooney? Where is that EM miracle? B'N, you're psychic!

Now more seriously, I hope, let's go back to your examples. From my perspective, I'm more interested in understanding why the example of the fake apple pie ends up being favorable. In this case apple pie, has a positive quality, its taste, which brings pleasure to me. On the other hand, it also has a bad quality. It has too many calories, which make me fat and pose an increased risk to my health. The EM works well, because it provides the good part and spares the bad.

I can't quite come up with anything negative about the Clooney experience, so I'll leave it alone.

But, the cancer treatment is worth looking into. An effective treatment for cancer, has an immediate positive effect, it gives me hope and relieves me of the anxiety of expecting a terrible course of illness and suffering. That aspect could be expected from a real and a fake treatment. However, there is another aspect to the treatment, that it actually eliminates the cancer, so that I indeed will have a better health outcome. This second aspect is only true for the real experience and not the fake one.

The point I'm trying to make is that these examples tend to contain multiple qualities, some positive, some negative, some can be replicated by the EM machine and some not. The value we place in those qualities is what makes us decide on wanting the EM experience or rejecting it. I don't know what this would be considered in philosophy, but I think that ultimately, we're dealing with choices based on multivalent properties.
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Old 04-24-2010, 02:49 PM
BornAgainDemocrat BornAgainDemocrat is offline
 
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Default Re: Science Saturday: Sex, Pleasure, and God (Jesse Bering & Neil Sinhababu)

Time to defund philosophy as an independent academic discipline on the face of it I would say, and let the history of philosophy be part of intellectual and cultural history in general, dealt with in history and humanities curriculum.

On the other hand, I would be interested in knowing whether pleasure and pain are independent or correlative phenomena. Can an organism be capable of experiencing one and not the other? I mean over the course of a lifetime?

If they are correlative, this raises the question of whether hedonism is biologically possible as a successful strategy for human happiness? Or is there perhaps some kind of built-in symmetry or parity between these two states of feeling, the good and the bad? Gluttons die of boredom, etc..

Surely that is a subject psychologists and modern-day neuroscientists ought to be able to shed some light on, and, who knows, the results might tell us something about how we best ought to live.

At the moment, unless I am greatly mistaken, we know little about this issue in terms of brain science, and even less about the complex ways pain and pleasure interact with the higher emotions. Aren't these important parts of human experience?

Last edited by BornAgainDemocrat; 04-24-2010 at 02:57 PM..
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Old 04-24-2010, 03:18 PM
SkepticDoc SkepticDoc is offline
 
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Default Re: Science Saturday: Sex, Pleasure, and God (Jesse Bering & Neil Sinhababu)

I propose that Osmium should be promoted to the main section to discuss true Science.

It is disturbing that this diavlog was posted, even if it would have been classified under philosophy.

I hope nobody ever has an urge to discuss NAMBLA either, universally deviant behavior can only be discussed in the context of crime, punishment and rehabilitation if available, never rationalizing justification ( BTW, Frontline aired a recent documentary about pedophiles in Afghanistan, the Taliban had banned the practice, but it came back via Pakistan, the USA needs to reassess their friends in that region...).
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Old 04-24-2010, 03:21 PM
Ocean Ocean is offline
 
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Default Re: Science Saturday: Sex, Pleasure, and God (Jesse Bering & Neil Sinhababu)

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Originally Posted by BornAgainDemocrat View Post
Time to defund philosophy as an independent academic discipline on the face of it I would say, and let the history of philosophy be part of intellectual and cultural history in general, dealt with in history and humanities curriculum.

On the other hand, I would be interested in knowing whether pleasure and pain are independent or correlative phenomena. Can an organism be capable of experiencing one and not the other? I mean over the course of a lifetime?

If they are correlative, this raises the question of whether hedonism is biologically possible as a successful strategy for human happiness? Or is there perhaps some kind of built-in symmetry or parity between these two states of feeling, the good and the bad? Gluttons die of boredom, etc..

Surely that is a subject psychologists and modern-day neuroscientists ought to be able to shed some light on, and, who knows, the results might tell us something about how we best ought to live.

At the moment, unless I am greatly mistaken, we know little about this issue in terms of brain science, and even less about the complex ways pain and pleasure interact with the higher emotions. Aren't these important parts of human experience?
Interesting comment. Neuroscience has a significant amount of information about some of what you mention.

For example, "pleasure" can be defined in different ways. If you talk about a state of contentment, being relaxed, this state can be maintained for relatively extended periods of time. Our neurophysiology allows that. However, from a practical perspective, such state would not allow you to function in our society as we know it. It would be more in tune with a monastical life, with a slow pace, no competition, no pressures, simplicity. So we need to be in a more "ready for action", fast paced, competitive mode with its corresponding brain chemistry, in order to lead our "normal" life.

If you consider pleasure as those acute moments of pleasurable release, those are mediated by neurophysiological pathways and neurotransmitters that are time limited. They are brief pulses of higher intensity. These are the "reward" pathways of the brain.

The rest of the time, I guess we are in relatively neutral states or in some degree of suffering/ pain.

Fun, isn't it?
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Old 04-24-2010, 04:34 PM
Bloggin' Noggin Bloggin' Noggin is offline
 
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Default Re: Science Saturday: Sex, Pleasure, and God (Jesse Bering & Neil Sinhababu)

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This is a completely bizarre comment so far as this diavlog is concerned. BN seems to demand that whenever a hedonist opens his mouth in public, the hedonist must recite intro-level stock objections to hedonism, and answer those objections, before he can be allowed to say anything about anything else. And BN seems to assume that the only possible explanation for why Neil did not recite intro-level stock objections to hedonism is that Neil is unable to do so. BN is just wildly wrong here. Neil has a PhD in philosophy from UT-Austin and he's spent years in the trenches of the war for hedonism. The idea that Neil is unaware of anything that BN says here is absurd; and the demand that all hedonists always say all of the things that are said in an Intro to Ethics course is unreasonable. .
The diavlog was far more bizarre than anything I said. My point is not that he should have "recited" objections to hedonism. My point is that his argument for hedonism ought to have been more cogent (you can approve of bestiality and not be a hedonist; you can also disapprove of bestiality and be a hedonist), and he should have shown some awareness of at least the question of how to understand "pleasure".
Yes, it's quite possible that there's some other explanation for the diavlog as it emerged -- perhaps they were getting into some very bizarre discussion that has been carrying on for months on the web somewhere that I don't know about, where somehow it had been shown that if you couldn't find a good objection to bestiality and if you believed in progressive taxation, then you really just had to be hedonist, and they just left out that bit because they assumed that everyone else was in on that discussion.
But if we assume that this discussion is supposed to be pitched for people who have not been involved in this peculiar discussion and who are probably talking about hedonism for the first time, then I don't think my comment was "bizarre" -- the diavlog is bizarre.
I stand by my critique of the diavlog. But I concede I was too harsh on NS -- maybe he hadn't had his coffee or his Wheaties -- and I really should read his paper. Still, I'm not all that swayed by credentials. If the paper is similarly bizarre, I may not be bowled over by the degree and the position.

Added later: To be clear, NS's argument for hedonism depends on the claim that disgust is behind objections to hedonism. The "stock" objections I'm bringing up do not depend on disgust. It strikes me as monumentally unfair, when these arguments (the ones I pointed out above) are well known to assume that arguments depending on disgust are the only thing standing in the way of establishing hedonism.

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Old 04-24-2010, 04:55 PM
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Default Re: Science Saturday: Sex, Pleasure, and God (Jesse Bering & Neil Sinhababu)

I'll add my opinion as a lay person.

I also found the diavlog disconnected. I felt topics were touched on very superficially. It seemed that Jesse was trying to pin a few things down but Neil kept going on tangents. It was bizarre. It seemed like they really didn't know much about each others' work. I can't make a judgment on their overall knowledge of the topic, but I can give my opinion in how their interaction came across, and about how effective or ineffective they were in communicating with their audience.
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Old 04-24-2010, 05:04 PM
listener listener is offline
 
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Default Re: Science Saturday: Sex, Pleasure, and God (Jesse Bering & Neil Sinhababu)

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I'll add my opinion as a lay person

I also found the diavlog disconnected. I felt topics were touched on very superficially. It seemed that Jesse was trying to pin a few things down but Neil kept going on tangents. It was bizarre. It seemed like they really didn't know much about each others' work. I can't make a judgment on their overall knowledge of the topic, but I can give my opinion in how their interaction came across, and about how effective or ineffective they were in communicating with their audience.
Also, I seem to remember that on a number of occasions, Jesse asked Neil to come up with a concrete example to illustrate what he was talking about, and (with the exception of the bestiality example) those examples never materialized, which was frustrating.
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Old 04-24-2010, 05:29 PM
Wonderment Wonderment is offline
 
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Default Re: Science Saturday: Sex, Pleasure, and God (Jesse Bering & Neil Sinhababu)

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It seemed like they really didn't know much about each others' work.
Really? I thought they were familiar with each other's work. It seemed to me that the salient point they wanted to discuss (post-long lead-in) was the central thesis of Jesse's book, a thesis that Neil wasn't buying. He was not persuaded that we needed an "innate" explanation for agency, a supernatural listener, etc.

From the brief conversation I was inclined to go Neil's way. The "belief instinct" sounded like a just-so story, an explanation in search of data. But I haven't read book, and I'm sure the idea is fleshed out much better there.

I agree that the bestiality/hedonism discussion was not explored in much depth.

I was intrigued by the idea that moral arguments will all be resolved empirically given enough time. I am enormously skeptical of that prediction, but I'd like to hear more.
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Old 04-24-2010, 06:01 PM
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Default Re: Science Saturday: Sex, Pleasure, and God (Jesse Bering & Neil Sinhababu)

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Really? I thought they were familiar with each other's work. It seemed to me that the salient point they wanted to discuss (post-long lead-in) was the central thesis of Jesse's book, a thesis that Neil wasn't buying. He was not persuaded that we needed an "innate" explanation for agency, a supernatural listener, etc.

From the brief conversation I was inclined to go Neil's way. The "belief instinct" sounded like a just-so story, an explanation in search of data. But I haven't read book, and I'm sure the idea is fleshed out much better there.

I agree that the bestiality/hedonism discussion was not explored in much depth.

I was intrigued by the idea that moral arguments will all be resolved empirically given enough time. I am enormously skeptical of that prediction, but I'd like to hear more.
With a significant degree of effort, and putting the whole thing together in the context of other discussions on related topics, yes, one can figure out what they were talking about. Usually the work of putting it all together and presenting a topic cogently to an audience, should, at least in great part, be done by the discussants. In my opinion, they failed at doing that.

I still don't even know what the relevance of the bestiality example was, other than giving flashy subtitles to the diavlog. If they wanted to talk about bestiality, then discuss it in depth. If the topic is moral intuitions, then discuss that.

You suggest that the topic may be Jesse's thesis that agency may be innate. The example of the chimpanzee was very poor. In that part I tended to agree with Neil. Also the discussion about why human newborns are so motorically immature, was also wrong headed, as I commented above. In terms of the idea of the "all seeing eye", well, I don't know what exactly Jesse's claim was.

In terms of whether moral arguments can be resolved empirically, it appears that we are going back to the discussion about Sam Harris's talk in TED and the online back and forth with Sean Carroll. Science can provide important information about how moral arguments arise, what they may imply, and can be a useful tool for decisions but ultimately, there may always be a point of choice that is separate from the facts. We are so far from understanding all that goes into moral choices, that it's difficult to predict. If that was the central topic, why not discuss it from the beginning.

Perhaps, if this is someone's favorite topic, the discussants can do another diavlog, but get more organized first. And preferably don't use a Science slot.
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Old 04-24-2010, 06:12 PM
MarcMerlin MarcMerlin is offline
 
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Default Re: Science Saturday: Sex, Pleasure, and God (Jesse Bering & Neil Sinhababu)

I was also disappointed in this diavlog, but not because I doubt the standing or knowledge of either of the participants.

My experience with bloggingheads has been that the best diavlogs are a result of impromptu collaborations. It is not enough to present ones own points effectively, but one must work with ones partner to manage the flow of the conversation, to amplify areas of agreement and to explore points of disagreement in a way that helps the "heads" and the audience better understand what underlies differences of opinion.

In this particular diavlog Jesse seemed to be aware of his responsibilities to the "collaboration" and Neil did not.

This may be due, in part, to technical problems with the connection between them, as indicated by the fact Neil seems unsure at times whether Jesse has spoken or not. There's also a lot of stop-start confusion in their alternation of speaking that may be attributable to communications delays.

That said, I think that these kind of less than stellar performances are to be expected with this new medium. It's important to bring new talent on-board and to take some risks. The only specific recommendation that I have right now is that new heads be encouraged to take a look at past diavlogs so that they can get a better appreciation of what works and what doesn't.
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Old 04-24-2010, 06:18 PM
themightypuck themightypuck is offline
 
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Default Re: Science Saturday: Sex, Pleasure, and God (Jesse Bering & Neil Sinhababu)

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Also, at the end of the diavlog they engaged in a discussion about the evolutionary disadvantage of newborns not being able to walk. The incomplete motor development of the newborn is a consequence of the disproportionate development of the human brain, the size of the head and the overall size of the baby in relationship to the size of the mother, her pelvis and also the limitations to birth imposed by the pelvic changes involved in bipedalism. Babies have to be born before they reach a more mature stage of development because of all that. It's an accident of evolution, not an end in itself.
I was quite surprised by this argument and the lack of the obvious response. Leave it to a philosopher to think innate affixes when a baby makes its way out of a vagina. I wonder if Neil is an all around blank slater or just in this context. I found the hedonism argument quite interesting but not really expounded upon for whatever reason--probably because the interlocutors lost track of their obligation to the audience.
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Old 04-24-2010, 08:01 PM
breadcrust breadcrust is offline
 
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Default Bring back the "1"

English used to have a pronoun by the name of "one." With it, one would say, "so if one is having sex with one's dog and the dog doesn't mind, then it's probably fine," instead of, "so if you are having sex with your dog... " (which just sounds accusatory.) "One" should also be used in non-dog-fcuker contexts. Otherwise, it's good to see liberals telling the whole story when discussing taking money from people, as usual.
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Old 04-24-2010, 09:35 PM
badhatharry badhatharry is offline
 
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Default Re: Science Saturday: Sex, Pleasure, and God (Jesse Bering & Neil Sinhababu)

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It's one thing, of course, not to know ALL the arguments advanced FOR your position -- or even to be ignorant of some little-known problem for your view from some obscure journal - but not to know long-standing and well-known objections to your view undermines your claim to authority in philosophy as it would in science.
I am so happy that you answered because the strangest thing happened today. I went to my favorite used book store and was wandering around the tables and saw a curious book called How to Read a Book, the classic guide to intelligent reading. This book was written in 1940 and updated in the 70's.

In the chapter named Agreeing or Disagreeing With an Author, it makes this startling claim. "The ancients, for example, clearly distinguished between what men can sense and imagine and what they can understand. Yet, in the eighteenth century, David Hume revealed his ignorance of this distinction between ideas and images, even though it had been so well established by the work of earlier philosophers."

The author was also sufficiently unimpressed with Hume that he didn't include him in the discussion of philosophical conceits, particularly the dialogs. I always thought Hume's dialogs were very well regarded.

I have never experienced Hume so maligned but it was also ironic because we are having somewhat the same conversation. Maybe Neil and David belong to the "I thought of this first' school of philosophy.

Last edited by badhatharry; 04-24-2010 at 09:50 PM..
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Old 04-24-2010, 11:08 PM
Ocean Ocean is offline
 
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Default Re: Science Saturday: Sex, Pleasure, and God (Jesse Bering & Neil Sinhababu)

If people were to speak only when they have an original idea, this world would be very quiet, and these forums wouldn't exist.

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Old 04-25-2010, 01:21 AM
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If people were to speak only when they have an original idea, this world would be very quiet, and these forums wouldn't exist.

You are inspired today!
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Old 04-25-2010, 02:20 AM
Wonderment Wonderment is offline
 
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Default Re: Science Saturday: Sex, Pleasure, and God (Jesse Bering & Neil Sinhababu)

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And preferably don't use a Science slot.
Good point.
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Old 04-25-2010, 03:18 AM
hamandcheese hamandcheese is offline
 
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Default Re: Science Saturday: Sex, Pleasure, and God (Jesse Bering & Neil Sinhababu)

Neil asked some fairly silly questions near the end, with respect to innate mental capacities. The intentional stance is far more basic than walking, for example, and babies don't "suck" and do basically nothing (Where the heck did that come from. Baby's are incredibly complex and can do a lot, even if its subtle).

The intentional stance is the foundation of social interaction -- its what keeps us from being solipsistic robots; what lets us distinguish subjects from objects and communicate. Jesse's thesis is essentially that these innate capacities for theory-of-mind sometimes misfire, like when we stub our toe on a chair leg and then yell at the chair leg as if it were a person, only in Jesse's case we are praying to the chair leg.

This isn't hard stuff to understand, yet Neil's questions, like why we don't come equipped with an innate capacity for walking at birth, is a complete non-sequitur and betrays an -- to be generous -- eccentric level of comprehension. It should be pretty obvious, though, if he's still wondering. It's because its a freaking baby. We probably do have many innate capacities for human motion, including walking motions, but baby's can't stand up let a lone walk. Baby's can open their eyes and make noises, however, and sight and sound are enough to begin socializing.
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Old 04-25-2010, 10:38 AM
badhatharry badhatharry is offline
 
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Default Re: Science Saturday: Sex, Pleasure, and God (Jesse Bering & Neil Sinhababu)

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Neil asked some fairly silly questions near the end, with respect to innate mental capacities. The intentional stance is far more basic than walking, for example, and babies don't "suck" and do basically nothing (Where the heck did that come from. Baby's are incredibly complex and can do a lot, even if its subtle).
I agree that his questions at the end seemed naive. He was perhaps trying to argue that since babies don't have certain capacities at birth, they could be learned instead of innate. The example I remember was when he asked whether the studies done on nine month olds (the dot bumps into something and moves back, the dot bumps into nothing but moves back) were done on new-borns. To give him the benefit of the doubt, I think he was saying that this test says nothing about innate perceptions of intentionality because nine month olds could have learned by then.

Also, I think philosopher types have to play these kinds of devils' advocate games when they are examining their own theories. But he didn't seem to know a lot about innateness.

The bit about walking babies was his questioning, albeit in a strange way, of evolutionary theory. I didn't mind it. I think he was just thinking out loud. And the conversation didn't go on long enough to reach a satisfactory conclusion.

I was disappointed that Jesse never mentioned HADD, the hyperactive agent detection device.

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Old 04-25-2010, 08:36 PM
Alexandrite Alexandrite is offline
 
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Default Re: Science Saturday: Sex, Pleasure, and God (Jesse Bering & Neil Sinhababu)

I like how since emotive / cultural claims to morality results in us being against beastiality and incest, but rational claims say it's perfectly fine, that therefore means that the emotive and cultural claims are wrong, and rational approaches are right. And not, you know, a sign that rationally driven attempts to develop a complete theory of morality only result in absurdities.
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Old 04-25-2010, 09:18 PM
daveh daveh is offline
 
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Default Re: Science Saturday: Sex, Pleasure, and God (Jesse Bering & Neil Sinhababu)

Shorter Bloggingheads:

Philosophy supports progressive taxation and gay sex.

Christianity supports progressive taxation and gay sex.

Judaism supports progressive taxation and gay sex.

Science supports progressive taxation and gay sex.

and so on ....
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Old 04-25-2010, 09:57 PM
chamblee54 chamblee54 is offline
 
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Default Re: Science Saturday: Sex, Pleasure, and God (Jesse Bering & Neil Sinhababu)

Thank you for this highly entertaining conversation. It was a soundtrack for me to copy one hundred year old color pictures of the Russian Empire. The story is on my blog under the title "Disgust Response".
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Old 04-25-2010, 10:05 PM
AemJeff AemJeff is offline
 
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Default Re: Science Saturday: Sex, Pleasure, and God (Jesse Bering & Neil Sinhababu)

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Shorter Bloggingheads:

Philosophy supports progressive taxation and gay sex.

Christianity supports progressive taxation and gay sex.

Judaism supports progressive taxation and gay sex.

Science supports progressive taxation and gay sex.

and so on ....
Shorter anybody reading this post:

"Huh?"
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