Disputes about consciousness, its roots and requirements, are more than philosophical. They are of importance in real-world settings, especially in clinical contexts.
Clinicians routinely face the difficult situation of deciding whether a patient in an unresponsive state after severe brain injury may recover — or at least regain some minimally conscious state. This task is not easy, and the error rate in such cases reaches 40%. Still, immediate treatments, including pain medication, require timely decisions. These decisions often rest on limited data.
The term minimally conscious state (MCS) suggests some form of responsiveness to an induced stimulus, such as sound…
Imagine you are visiting a modern art exhibition. The exhibition leads you through several rooms with various pieces in the installation. Next, there’s a corner with a large fatty smudge on the wall in one of the rooms. Is this art, or should it be cleaned?
This question is far from rhetorical. In the 1980s, a cleaner in Germany had accidentally destroyed a piece in the exhibition of the artist Joseph Beuys. The work simply constituted a large pile of butter smeared along the edges and corners of a room. This incident soon gained notoriety and has even turned into…
A short string of words may end up having a much greater resonance in your mind than the entire book in which you read them. These words often have a long yet indirect history that echoes with something in yours.
The novelist Tom Wolfe wrote a story about test pilots trying to become the first astronauts at NASA. Wolfe’s story was picked up by the philosopher Isabelle Stengers in her book on the pace of modern science. Stengers wrote about the ethos surrounding certain professions like pilots, scientists, … and, as it suddenly struck me: philosophers.
“If a test pilot…
Imagine you wake up with your vision twisted.
Just like in a Kafkaesque dream, one day, you wake up, and you cannot move your eyes to what lives in your periphery. Everything is in prime focus only, with no subtle presence of an indefinite scenery with all the movement and color of things residing at the back of your conscious awareness. Your visual world is full-frontal, and, suddenly, your brain has to substitute and fill in all those missing details.
Neuroscience tells us that our brains cannot cope with absences, and so it creates meanings and forms when there’s mere…
Listening to a good interview on a podcast makes conversation feel deceptively simple. People just talk, after all, right?
Three years of listening taught me otherwise.
I recently wrote a book, “Smellosophy: What the Nose tells the Mind” (Harvard UP, 2020). And it could not have come into being without smell experts in neuroscience, chemistry, psychology, philosophy, perfumery, and winemaking lending me their voice.
I conducted hundreds of hours worth of interviews. Some happened over a couple of beers at the bar. Some took place at conferences or laboratory visits. Others over the phone. Or in the car. Some lasted…
It took me a year to make a rash decision.
The decision to leave social media, I mean really quitting (not pausing, taking breaks, silently checking here and there — quitting), came rather unceremoniously for something where I had spent lots of energy and time over the past five years. FIVE YEARS. Unless you are 80plus, five years is a long time for any person to think about the past. Besides, if you are 80plus, five years is an even longer time if you look to the future.
A friend had sent me a mail: Why not quit? Why not…
2021 began with a migraine.
The familiar knifing of my brain did not let me sleep through the end of Twenty-Twenty. It had tainted every waking moment of the past few days, and now it greeted my morning as if nothing had changed. But things should change — with all hopes having converged toward this new year. It must be a break from a year of stagnated frustration and depleted mirroring of each day with itself. It simply has to. A migraine then.
The clock showed something past eleven. Almost half of the day was already gone without even an…
I arrived in Santiago de Compostela today.
Amid the pandemic, an audiobook was probably the only way to go on a pilgrimage. It turned out to be more than just a pastime. The questions that running can answer also arise to me. Maybe that’s why, despite months of hesitation, I decided to write down daily impressions again.
It’s strange listening to yourself thinking again. It’s not quite my own voice yet that I think I hear. But she changes her pitch with a few sentences. Then she trembles and shifts to a pitch with some sentences. Then she trembles again and transforms into a tone of voice that distantly approaches the next words again.
We shall now see to whom these words lead.
It’s a strange thing, arrogance. You hardly hear arrogance listed as the key defining trait in anyone’s self-description. People like to be likable and to embody socially approved characteristics. Being kind, just, supportive of others, several cookie-cutter virtues. Tell me a little about yourself. Who you want to be. Arrogance is not one of the traits you have on your list of introductions. Although not everyone has the comfort or luxury of abnegating negative social traits. Not everyone fits the social type that turns negative attributes into endearing quirks (as the philosopher Agnes Callard recently talked about).
Once you set…