Thursday, December 06, 2007

weighty fantasies

Beijing Man, I believe

The dreaded lurgie has struck me again - something absorbed from the environment has set off my compromised immune system and again I'm sniffling and coughing and going through two or three hankies a day and it won't go away until I visit the doc and get antibiotics to clear things before it turns to pleurisy or pneumonia. Apart from that I feel generally hale, but the constant sniffling and throat-clearing affects my stamina a bit, as well as my sociability.

Just wondering about the word lurgie. Its etymology seems pretty uncertain but the phrase the dreaded lurgie was popularised by an episode of the Goon Show. Well done lads.

I'm still not free of commitments, but I'm catching sight of the light, and I have a few challenges ahead, re making a living. I'm also trying to get fitter - I bought some quite snappy trousers today, not uncomfortably tight, just enough to draw attention to the wrong kind of bulge above the waistline. Could've gone for wider, but I needed to bring my target into better focus. I'd say I'm about 7 or 8 kilos above perfect trim. My diet's fine, it's mostly the exercise that's the problem [bad word - I've been told not to think of it as exercise, just activity]. Trouble is, guys always put their weight on around the tum, and find it well-nigh impossible to remove it from same.

Avoiding the internet a little lately too, getting my stimulation from more traditional sources. Everything stimulates, and an article in Cosmos about important and puzzling archaeological finds in Dmanisi, Georgia, as well as more reading about the ongoing Homo floresiensis controversy have made me want to summarise, for my own benefit, the current thinking, insofar as it can be summarised, on hominid ancestry. This has led to further fantasies, of giving talks on various mainly philosophical issues, before a select audience...

1. Human self-knowledge and self-deception: a scientific approach.
We've known for millenia that we can't be trusted to be judge in our own case, and experimental evidence suggests that even people who have known us for no more than five minutes are better predictors of our behaviour than we are. At the same time, immediate, internal access tells us that in some essential way we know our minds better than anyone else possibly can. How can these two findings be reconciled?

2. Human origins: the current state of knowledge
Does anyone remember Java Man? Peking Man? How about Cro-Magnon Man? Why were they all men? What place do those old guys have in the current picture of human and pre-human ancestry? What exactly is a hominid? How does Australopithecus relate to Homo erectus? Is John Howard really the last Neanderthal?

3. Morality: a triumph of reason over impulse, or a rationalisation of survival instincts?
David Hume notoriously wrote that reason is the slave of the emotions, but until recently this view has found few champions among philosophers. Professional prejudice? What role does reason really play in our sense of right and wrong? And what exactly is reason anyway? Important new work in cognitive anthropology and evolutionary psychology throws some fascinating light on these questions.

4. Philosophy and science: friends, enemies or strangers?
What's the difference between a philosophical question and a scientific question? Does the philosophy of science have any relevance to scientific practice? What exactly is a scientific theory, and what makes the term so controversial? Is it true that science can only answer how questions and not why questions? How so - or why so?

Evolution and religion: what's at stake?
Various thinkers, religious and non-religious, have been at pains to argue that the theory of evolution and religious belief are entirely compatible. Others have been at pains to point out precisely the opposite. Certainly the vehemence of religious, and particularly Christian, attacks on evolution suggests a certain discontent amongst those lucky enough to be made in God's image. Surely the Primate can't really be a primate?

And so forth. Don't hold your breath.

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At 7:57 am , Anonymous said...

Nope. You've done it now. I'm holding my breath.

At 12:31 pm , Blogger Stewart said...

Well, thanks, but don't kill yourself on my account. The message from those close to me is - fascinating [yawn] but count me out. Having just spoken to someone else about this project, I'm feeling very annoyed about others' indifference, which is better than feeling depressed, I suppose. Or maybe it's just a precursor....


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