Leah Shutkever: A fit competitive eater

Meet Leah Shutkever, formerly a Woman of Size who lost a ton of weight, hits the gym six days a week, and, on the side, is one of the most accomplished competitive eaters in the UK. Here is her story, along with some of her Food Challenges.

Anti-woke spoof censored in Psychology Today

Yesterday at Psychology Today, a website that can be pretty dire, Lee Jussim, a professor and social psychologist who happens to be chair of the Psychology Department at Rutgers, published an “Orwelexicon”:  a spoof of a genuine Woke Lexicon published by another journal. For spoofing wokeness, Jussim had his piece taken down by the Psychology Today.

First, though, we should note that Jussim has street cred in social psychology. According to Wikipedia,

He has published and spoken extensively on scientific integrity and distortions in science motivated by politics, stereotype accuracy, prejudice, bias, self-fulfilling prophecy, and social constructionism. His works have won professional awards: his 2012 book Social Perception and Social Reality: Why Accuracy Dominates Bias and Self-Fulfilling Prophecy won an American Association of Publishers’ Prize for best book in psychology, and his 1991 book Social Belief and Social Reality: A Reflection-Construction Model received the Gordon Allport Prize for Research in Intergroup Relations. During his recent 2013–2014 sabbatical, he worked with colleagues at Stanford University’s Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences in the Behavioral Sciences and co-founded Stanford’s Best Practices in Science group.

Jussim’s piece was meant as a response to a woke and humorless lexicon published a year ago in BMJ, the new name for the former British Medical Journal. That piece resides behind a paywall, but you can see a run-on transcript here, or a judicious request might yield you a pdf:

Here are some of the neologisms created by Choo, DeMayo, and “Glaumoflecken” (obviously a coward who won’t reveal his/her/hir name). They’re neither clever nor funny, they can be perceived as somewhat misandristic in that they single out white males for special criticism (they could never do this with other groups which, of course, are perfect compared to white males), and this kind of woke stuff doesn’t belong in a medical journal, which is simply flaunting its virtue.

(I do like “Ovalooked, though!)

Well, if you think this kind of mockery is suitable for a scientific journal, more power to you. But apparently it rubbed Jussim (as it rubs me) the wrong way, and he responded by putting up his own “Orwelexicon” mocking the woke mentality that produced the BMJ glossary. You could have seen Jussim’s piece yesterday if you clicked on the screenshot, but what you get if you do that now is the second screenshot:

The article has disappeared!

Jussim is angry about this, as his Orwelexicon (a clever name) was a spoof. The journal simply removed it:

But you can still see it! You can see it at the Imgur link here, and I also have a transcript and screenshot. Here’s Jussim’s introduction and a few terms he coined:

In an article published in BMJ, a major biomedical journal, Drs Choo & Mayo presented a “Lexicon for Gender Bias in Academia and Medicine.”  They argued that “mansplaining” was just the “tip of the iceberg” and so they coined terms such as:

Himpediment: Man who stands in the way of progress of women.


Misteria: Irrational fear that advancing women means catastrophic lack of opportunity for men.

This Orwelexicon is offered in a similar spirit of capturing biases, albeit quite different ones, that pervade academia.  It is also a bit different, at least sometimes, because these words often capture the Orwellian disingenuousness with which some terms are used in academia.

A few examples of neologisms—psychological syndromes—from Jussim’s original Orwelexicon:

If you want to see all Jussim’s examples, go to the Imgur site above.

Well, we all know that every venue of mainstream or liberal journalism (at least those I read) is becoming more woke, so it’s not that surprising that Psychology Today would take down this post mocking Wokeness at the same time that BMJ publishes an article that mocks male behavior. Granted, men in academic situations often behave in a peremptory, sexist, or domineering way, but the medical lexicon is grating and cringeworthy, as well as being a form of racism/sexism that would not be tolerated if directed at any other group—unless all other groups behave perfectly and in a non-tribalistic way.

And, at any rate, Jussim’s spoof is not directed at any ethnic or gender group in particular, but at the pathologies of Wokeness itself. It didn’t deserve to be censored, as it does make fun of things that need to be mocked.

We’ll see if Psychology Today puts it up. Jussim is hopeful; I’m not. For if they reinstate the piece, the Woke will hound the journal to death, calling for the editors’ resignations, and probably for Jussim’s as well. So it goes.

Yesterday’s lunch: Deli

On the recommendation of my friends’ friend, we drove to Brookline yesterday for a deli lunch at Zaftigs Delicatessen. (“Zaftig” means “plump or buxom” in Yiddish, but might also be the owners’ family name.) A secondary goal was to procure bagels at Kupels Bakery, a Jewish bakery just two blocks away.  Kupels is said by my friend Tim to purvey the best bagels in Boston. Perhaps he was right, but the bagels were, as is true with nearly all American bagels, too soft and puffy. (Brookline, a separate city abutting Boston, is the local mecca for Jewish culture.)

Here are my friends Tim and Betsy in front of Zaftigs. They are my oldest friends:  I’ve known them since 1967, when Tim lived on the hall of my dorm at William and Mary, and 1969, when Betsy transferred to William and Mary from Salem College. They got married (in Williamsburg) in 1972, and I’ve seen them at least once a year since. (From 1973 to 1976 we lived together in a basement apartment on Beacon Street in Boston.) More than five decades of friendship!

The inside of Zaftigs, which looks like a deli:

You can see the menu here. (The “loaded latkes” are an unfortunate nod to goyishe tastes.)

My lunch was the biggest sandwich they had: the “New Yorker,” with 12 oz. of corned beef, pastrami, cheese, and Russian dressing on cissel bread (the bread was too insubstantial to encase the meat), served with potato salad as well as dill and half-sour pickles and pickled green tomato on the side. I washed it down, of course, with Dr. Brown’s Cel-Ray tonic, a celery-flavored soda that is the perfect accompaniment to corned beef or pastrami.

Betsy exhibits a can of Cel-Ray tonic. You’ll either love it or hate it:

Tim had chopped liver (chicken liver, of course) with a Dr. Brown’s root beer (wrong choice of beverage) and cole slaw on the side. All sandwiches were pronounced excellent, but I still think the New Yorker should have been served on sturdy rye rather than fragile cissel bread.

I sent a picture of my sandwich to Steve Pinker, who of course grew up in Montreal, home of great Jewish food (Steve’s a secular Jew). His response was mixed:

“Mmmm….. though any Montrealer will tell you that pastrami is far inferior to smoked meat, especially from Schwartz’s Hebrew Delicatessen (forced by the government to change its sign to Charcuterie Hebraique).”

Charcuterie Hebraique! The worst manifestation of Canada’s language laws!

This historic house was next door to the restaurant:

More on the Devotion House from Wikipedia:

The Edward Devotion House is a historic house at 347 Harvard Street in Brookline, Massachusetts. Built about 1745, it is one of the town’s few surviving 18th-century structures, and is of those the best preserved. The house is owned by the town and administered by the Brookline Historical Society as a historic house museum. The home also serves as the headquarters of the Brookline Historical Society. It was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1978.

It’s a lovely old structure:

On to Kupel’s for bagels. They are popular, but I found the bagels okay but not spectacular, especially compared to the dense, chewy, wood-fire-cooked bagels at the Fairmount in Montreal (scroll down in my post).

I didn’t photograph those tori of air and flour, but I did see that the bakery had Hamantaschen on sale, a hard-to-find triangular Jewish pastry (mimicking a tricornered cap) usually sold only around the holiday of Purim (March 9-10 this year). They come in several flavors, but the classic is prune. I purchased prune and apricot, which were excellent:

The array:

An apricot Hamantasch.  They’re not soft, but crunchy like cookies.

Tonight: Dinner at Olé, one of my favorite restaurants in Cambridge (it’s upscale Mexican).

Caturday felid trifecta: How to put on a sweater while wearing a cat; oldest living cat in the U.S. and U.K.; Japanese robot cat waiter meows at restaurant customers

Roger Brawn posted this on YouTube:

Tutorial demonstrating how to put on a jumper with minimum disturbance to the cat round your neck.

Nuff said.


This cat, Tiger, is said to be the oldest living cat in America (though not in the world). As Cole and Marmalade report, Tiger, who lives in Illinois, is a remarkable 31 years old. You can read the article by clicking on the screenshot below.

An excerpt:

Curious as to this oldest living cat’s secrets of longevity, his owner shares with WWBM radio the magic behind his cat’s impressive lifespan:

“Tiger has always eaten dry cat food and will only drink out of the bathtub. He still likes to go outside and sits on top of a car…”

According to Goldstein, he acquired the cat in 1996 from his then-girlfriend, who got him in 1989. The image that caught the attention of Reddit users came just after Tiger’s owner took his kitty to the vet for a routine checkup.

. . .And Tiger isn’t Goldstein’s only pet. He also has a pet pit bull that Tiger makes known who is boss around their home:

“Tiger doesn’t take any crap from the pit bull.  He’ll slap him upside the head.  Just an incredible animal. He’s got more than nine lives,” says Goldstein.

According to Wikipedia, the oldest living cat is Sasha, still alive in the UK at age 33. The record, of course, is held by Creme Puff, who lived 38 years and 3 days on a diet of dry cat food, bacon and eggs, broccoli, and coffee! See the video of Creme Puff, Jake Perry the staff, and other aged cats here.


From the BBC (click on screenshot) we have a robot waiter cat made in China. It’s not yet ready for prime time, but will undoubtedly be wildly popular in Japan:

A robot cat designed to ferry plates of food to restaurant customers has been unveiled at the CES tech expo in Las Vegas.

BellaBot, built by the Chinese firm PuduTech, is one of a number of wacky robotic inventions being shown off at the event this year.

There is also UBTech’s Walker, which can pull yoga poses.

And Charmin’s RollBot. It speeds a roll of toilet paper on demand to bathrooms that have run out of the stuff.

One expert said it was likely that robots exhibited at CES would only continue to get more bizarre in the future.

BellaBot, the table-waiting robot cat, is a service bot with personality.

A video:

More on BellaBot:

It mews when it arrives at tables to encourage customers to pick up their food.

And if the diners stroke BellaBot’s ears, it initially reacts with pleasure.

“The owner’s hand is so warm,” the bot is programmed to say in response.

But if customers continue petting it for too long, its expression changes.

“It gets mad to remind you not to interrupt its job,” explains the firm.

Remember, these bots will take peoples’ jobs. . .

h/t: Merilee, Jeremy

Saturday: Hili dialogue (and Leon monologue)

It’s Saturday, January  18, 2020, and National Gourmet Coffee Day (I buy my beans at Trader Joe’s, which seems to me the best value in high-quality fair trade coffee). It’s also National Peking Duck Day, which once again is cultural appropriation because that is a genuine Chinese dish. In fact, it should be called “Beijing Duck Day.” Finally, it’s Winnie the Pooh Day, celebrating the birthday of creator A. A. Milne in 1882. Here’s Milne at 40:

If you’ve read the Winnie the Pooh books, it’s likely that you identify with one of the characters. Can you guess my Pooh “spirit animal”? Answer below the fold.

Finally, it’s also the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, but there’s no need to care about that since prayer doesn’t work and Christianity is disappearing anyway.

News of the day: Donald Trump has added both Ken Starr (independent counsel in Clinton’s impeachment trial whose investigations led to that episode) and Alan Dershowitz to his legal team in Trump’s impeachment proceedings. Dershowitz has really jumped the rails in the last few decades; I suspect he just loves public attention. And Clinton’s people are still after Starr:

 “Whether it was representing Big Tobacco, obsessing about President Clinton’s sex life or disgracing himself in the Baylor rape scandal, Ken Starr has always been on the wrong side of history, ethics, and common decency,” said Paul Begala, a former White House counselor to Mr. Clinton. “He is therefore the perfect lawyer for Donald Trump.”

On a lighter note,somewhere in America a Magellanic penguin helped a sailor propose to his girlfriend (h/t: GInger K.)

Stuff that happened on January 18 includes:

  • 1486 – King Henry VII of England marries Elizabeth of York, daughter of Edward IV uniting the House of Lancaster and the House of York.
  • 1778 – James Cook is the first known European to discover the Hawaiian Islands, which he names the “Sandwich Islands”.

No, Cook did not find the Polynesians eating hoagies. The islands were named after John Montagu, the Earl of Sandwich. However, Montagu is said to have invented the sandwich.

  • 1788 – The first elements of the First Fleet carrying 736 convicts from Great Britain to Australia arrive at Botany Bay.
  • 1896 – An X-ray generating machine is exhibited for the first time by H. L. Smith.
  • 1919 – World War I: The Paris Peace Conference opens in Versailles, France.
  • 1919 – Ignacy Jan Paderewski becomes Prime Minister of the newly independent Poland.
  • 1943 – Warsaw Ghetto Uprising: The first uprising of Jews in the Warsaw Ghetto.
  • 1967 – Albert DeSalvo, the “Boston Strangler“, is convicted of numerous crimes and is sentenced to life imprisonment.

DeSalvo is said to have killed 13 women, and pleaded guilty, after which he was sentenced to life without parole. DeSalvo was stabbed to death in prison in 1973.

  • 1977 – Scientists identify a previously unknown bacterium as the cause of the mysterious Legionnaires’ disease.
  • 1990 – Washington, D.C. Mayor Marion Barry is arrested for drug possession in an FBI sting.
  • 1993 – Martin Luther King, Jr. Day is officially observed for the first time in all 50 states.

Notables born on this day include:

  • 1782 – Daniel Webster, American lawyer and politician, 14th United States Secretary of State (d. 1852)
  • 1880 – Paul Ehrenfest, Austrian-Dutch physicist and academic (d. 1933)
  • 1882 – A. A. Milne, English author, poet, and playwright (d. 1956)
  • 1892 – Oliver Hardy, American actor and comedian (d. 1957)
  • 1904 – Cary Grant, English-American actor (d. 1986) [JAC: real name was Archibald Leach]
  • 1911 – Danny Kaye, American actor, singer, and dancer (d. 1987)
  • 1941 – David Ruffin, American singer (The Temptations) (d. 1991)
  • 1952 – Michael Behe, American biochemist, author, and academic

Kaye was a remarkable talent: he could sing, dance, act, and make people laugh. Here he is playing Hans Christian Andersen in the eponymous film. (He was Jewish and his birth name was David Daniel Kaminsky.)

As for Behe, who has wasted his life promulgating Intelligent Design (his last book was a flop), this statement still appears on the site of Lehigh University’s Department of Biological Sciences, where Behe works:

That caveat, of course, is there to let prospective students know that he’s the lone loon in the Department, so that the students won’t be deterred from coming to Lehigh.

Those who expired on January 18 include:

  • 1862 – John Tyler, American soldier, lawyer, and politician, 10th President of the United States (b. 1790)
  • 1936 – Rudyard Kipling, English author and poet, Nobel Prize laureate (b. 1865)
  • 1952 – Curly Howard, American actor (b. 1903)
  • 1989 – Bruce Chatwin, English-French author (b. 1940)
  • 2011 – Sargent Shriver, American politician and diplomat, 21st United States Ambassador to France (b. 1915)
  • 2016 – Glenn Frey, American singer-songwriter, guitarist, and actor (b. 1948)

Here’s what I consider Frey’s greatest song, and the live performance is stunning.

Meanwhile in Dobrzyn, Hili is checking out the human loo. She is not impressed.

Hili: I’ve never understood your litter box.
A: Some cats know how to use it.
Hili: It’s not natural.
In Polish:
Hili: Nigdy nie rozumiałam tej waszej kuwety.
Ja: Niektóre koty potrafią z niej korzystać.
Hili: To nie jest naturalne.
And in nearby Wloclawek, Leon and Mietek are cuddling. What a wonderful relationship! (Mietek, by the way, is completely better.)
Leon: Are you already asleep, young one?

In Polish: Leon: Ty już śpisz, Młody?

I posted this on my Facebook page 9 years ago yesterday. I still think it’s darkly hilarious:

This picture, posted by Diana MacPherson on her Facebook page, is also very good:

From Amazing Life via reader Rick: a gorgeous Bengal kitten, apparently named “Bear”. This is the kitten I want, or one just like him:

Titania’s latest tweet, which is pretty much on the mark for the Woke Left:

A tweet I made featuring a story from reader Jacques Hausser:

Two tweets from Heather Hastie. First, Mrs. Lumpy the badger eats an egg:

A panoply of starfish tuchases:

Four tweets from Matthew. Can you see the angry duck?


Sound up on this one. I’m not sure, though, that these skillful hackeysackers are being “casual”.

A nice animation about how ticks bite and suck, from a recent paper in Nature Scientific Reports. The abstract:

Here, we propose for the first time an animated model of the orchestration of the tick mouthparts and associated structures during blood meal acquisition and salivation. These two actions are known to alternate during tick engorgement. Specifically, our attention has been paid to the mechanism underlining the blood meal uptake into the pharynx through the mouth  and how ticks prevent mixing the uptaken blood with secreted saliva. We animated function of muscles attached to the salivarium and their possible opening /closing of the salivarium, with a plausible explanation of the movement of saliva within the salivarium and massive outpouring of saliva.

For those of you with horse benches, you might want to consider a replacement:

Click on “read more” for the answer to see my Pooh spirit animal:

Read More »

Early feminist education

In this world of patriarchy, where structural sexism is ubiquitous, it’s important to educate future women in the nature of their oppression. Here I am teaching little Selma, granddaughter of my friends, about the great women of history, emphasizing that women can be whatever they want.

I also taught her about penguins, which seemed to fascinate her. After all, it’s never too early to learn about biology:

You go, girl!

(Photos by Tim Groves)

Divers give an octopus a new home

This is incredibly cute: the combination of the kind divers helping a vulnerable little octopus, the way the creature explores the proffered shells with its tiny tentacle, and its final acceptance of a new home. Lovely!

Speaking of new homes, check this one out:

Panpsychism: an interview and a critique

Yes, we’re gonna have more on panpsychism today, and, after I read Goff’s book (coming via interlibrary loan) I think I’m pretty much done.

I’ve now finished Annaka Harris’s book book Conscious: A Brief Guide to the Fundamental Mystery of the Mind, and, as I said yesterday, it’s a good read but suffers from her unaccountable penchant for panpsychism, the view that animals like us are conscious because bits of the universe are conscious—not necessarily like us, but in the fact that they have “experiences.”

Harris gives the same two justifications for panpsychism as does Philip Goff in the interview below: there is no way to understand how subjective perception (“qualia”) can arise from purely materialistic phenomena in the brain (this is the “hard problem of consciousness”, and, second, because science cannot tell us what the real intrinsic nature of matter is. Supposedly philosophy can, and that intrinsic nature includes consciousness. How philosophy alone can supply this conclusion baffles me.

But on to Goff, who’s busy flogging his new book on panpsychism Galileo’s Error: Foundations for a New Science of Consciousness. As part of his publicity campaign, he has an interview with Gareth Cook in Scientific American, where Goff is a regular columnist. You can see the short interview by clicking on the screenshot below.

First, Goff assures us that panpsychism doesn’t mean that rocks and electrons have the same kind of subjective experience we do. Rather, their consciousness is instantiated this way (my emphasis):

It might be important to clarify what I mean by “consciousness,” as that word is actually quite ambiguous. Some people use it to mean something quite sophisticated, such as self-awareness or the capacity to reflect on one’s own existence. This is something we might be reluctant to ascribe to many nonhuman animals, never mind fundamental particles. But when I use the word consciousness, I simply mean experience: pleasure, pain, visual or auditory experience, et cetera.

But there are two ways to understand “experience”. First, it’s just the things that could happen to an electron: it could go through a slit, travel into outer space, collide with another particle, travel through a wire, and so on. But that’s just a restatement of what an electron does, not what it is. One could also posit that the “experience” had by an electron is something it somehow perceives. But then we’re back to qualia. And if an electron has “pleasure, pain, or visual or auditory experience,” well, that means it does experience subjective sensation. Defining consciousness in that way means that Goff really does think that particles and inanimate objects have a kind of subjective sensation. But he’s a slippery arguer, changing his positions from article to article and refusing to be pinned down.

Then Goff raises the Two Big Arguments for Panpsychism:

1.) The qualitative experience of consciousness cannot be understood by a program of scientific materialism.  I indent Goff’s quotes:

Despite great progress in our scientific understanding of the brain, we still don’t have even the beginnings of an explanation of how complex electrochemical signaling is somehow able to give rise to the inner subjective world of colors, sounds, smells and tastes that each of us knows in our own case. There is a deep mystery in understanding how what we know about ourselves from the inside fits together with what science tells us about matter from the outside.

While the problem is broadly acknowledged, many people think we just need to plug away at our standard methods of investigating the brain, and we’ll eventually crack it. But in my new book, I argue that the problem of consciousness results from the way we designed science at the start of the scientific revolution.

A key moment in the scientific revolution was Galileo’s declaration that mathematics was to be the language of the new science, that the new science was to have a purely quantitative vocabulary. But Galileo realized that you can’t capture consciousness in these terms, as consciousness is an essentially quality-involving phenomenon. Think about the redness of a red experiences or the smell of flowers or the taste of mint. You can’t capture these kinds of qualities in the purely quantitative vocabulary of physical science. So Galileo decided that we have to put consciousness outside of the domain of science; after we’d done that, everything else could be captured in mathematics.

This is really important, because although the problem of consciousness is taken seriously, most people assume our conventional scientific approach is capable of solving it. And they think this because they look at the great success of physical science in explaining more and more of our universe and conclude that this ought to give us confidence that physical science alone will one day explain consciousness. However, I believe that this reaction is rooted in a misunderstanding of the history of science. Yes, physical science has been incredibly successful. But it’s been successful precisely because it was designed to exclude consciousness. If Galileo were to time travel to the present day and hear about this problem of explaining consciousness in the terms of physical science, he’d say, “Of course, you can’t do that. I designed physical science to deal with quantities, not qualities.”

Other philosophers disagree, and I think that, first, consciousness doesn’t have to be described in equations; many phenomena, such as evolution, can be understood without many (or any) equations. If you can find a way to detect consciousness—and we are arriving at ways of doing that—then you can study mechanistically how it arises. And when you do that, as Patricia Churchland argued in 2005, you have understood the mechanics and origin of consciousness. It is simply what you get when a certain neuronal pathway is followed. As she argues, you don’t need to experience the results of the experiment personally (consciousness) to study how it arises.  This first argument for panpsychism is simply an argument from ignorance, whose solution is the Particle Consciousness of the Gaps.

2.) Only panpsychism, deduced through pure philosophy, tells us what the intrinsic nature of matter is, and that matter has a form of consciousness. 


 But what philosophers of science have realized is that physical science, for all its richness, is confined to telling us about the behavior of matter, what it does. Physics tells us, for example, that matter has mass and charge. These properties are completely defined in terms of behavior, things like attraction, repulsion, resistance to acceleration. Physics tells us absolutely nothing about what philosophers like to call the intrinsic nature of matter: what matter is, in and of itself.

So it turns out that there is a huge hole in our scientific story. The proposal of the panpsychist is to put consciousness in that hole. Consciousness, for the panpsychist, is the intrinsic nature of matter. There’s just matter, on this view, nothing supernatural or spiritual. But matter can be described from two perspectives. hysical science describes matter “from the outside,” in terms of its behavior. But matter “from the inside”—i.e., in terms of its intrinsic nature—is constituted of forms of consciousness.

The claim that there is an intrinsic nature of matter not accessible to empirical study but to philosophers alone defies belief. It is both obscurantist and infurating. What is that intrinsic nature, given that most physicists don’t think anything is missing from our description of particles, nor that there are “intrinsic” properties of matter in principle inaccessible to science? To Goff, those properties apparently comprise consciousness. But how do we test whether matter, the Universe, or the Big Wave Function are conscious? This is what interviewer Cook asks Goff, and Goff simply gives no answer. Look how he avoids the question:

Do you foresee a scenario in which panpsychism can be tested?

There is a profound difficulty at the heart of the science of consciousness: consciousness is unobservable. You can’t look inside an electron to see whether or not it is conscious. But nor can you look inside someone’s head and see their feelings and experiences. We know that consciousness exists not from observation and experiment but by being conscious. The only way we can find out about the consciousness of others is by asking them: I can’t directly perceive your experience, but I can ask you what you’re feeling. And if I’m a neuroscientist, I can do this while I’m scanning your brain to see which bits light up as you tell me what you’re feeling and experiencing. In this way, scientists are able correlate certain kinds of brain activity with certain kinds of experience. We now know which kinds of brain activity are associated with feelings of hunger, with visual experiences, with pleasure, pain, anxiety, et cetera.

This is really important information, but it’s not itself a theory of consciousness. That’s because what we ultimately want from a science of consciousness is an explanation of those correlations. Why is it that, say, a certain kind of activity in the hypothalamus is associated with the feeling of hunger? Why should that be so? As soon as you start to answer this question, you move beyond what can be, strictly speaking, tested, simply because consciousness is unobservable. We have to turn to philosophy.

The moral of the story is that we need both the science and the philosophy to get a theory of consciousness. The science gives us correlations between brain activity and experience. We then have to work out the best philosophical theory that explains those correlations. In my view, the only theory that holds up to scrutiny is panpsychism.

So Goff evades the question, not telling us how or even whether panpsychism can be tested. Very slippery!

So we have two alternatives: First, like Goff, assert that the problem of consciousness is completely inaccessible to science, and the solution relies on philosophical propositions that are untestable. Alternatively, one could say, “Well, we don’t yet understand how consciousness arises, but we’re going to plug away at the problem with science and hope to answer it. After all, we’ve already made progress.” I don’t know about you, but I find the second program far more promising.

Finally, at Wiring the Brain, genetics/neuroscience professor and writer Kevin Mitchell levels a harsh critique at panpsychism, which you can read by clicking on the screenshot.

You can read Mitchell’s incisive critique for yourself, but I’ll give just one excerpt that, to my mind, reveals the big flaw of panpsychism:

Goff claims (here) that panpsychism “solves the hard problem of consciousness” – the mystery of how mere physical matter can give rise to subjective experience. This would be pretty remarkable, if true, given that is one of the deepest mysteries left for science to even begin to resolve. The “solution”, however, is simply to assert that consciousness is a fundamental property of all matter. There’s no real reason to think that is the case – certainly no evidence that it is. Nothing follows from the assertion. It makes no predictions, testable or otherwise. It doesn’t explain the nature of subjective experience that a rock may be having or how that property comes to be. The hard problem remains just as hard – harder even, as now we have to ask it about electrons and photons too.

Indeed, you can make exactly the same series of arguments with respect to “life” instead of “consciousness”, highlighting the absurdity not just of the claim, but of the logic:

  1. We don’t understand the intrinsic nature of matter.
  2. Some forms of matter are alive.
  3. It is therefore parsimonious to conclude that all forms of matter are a bit alive.

Again, that’s a simple statement, but it’s not a simple theory, because it’s not a theory at all.

If you would counter that “life” is too nebulous a concept for this comparison to be apt, I would argue that though the boundary between living and non-living is fuzzy at certain points, if you think about the boundary between living and dead, that makes it pretty clear that being alive is a real, definable property of some things, under some conditions, and not others.

More broadly, the comparison with life highlights a huge unstated premise – the hidden assumption – that underlies this chain of logic. It is that the properties of organised, complex, dynamic systems derive solely from the properties of their components (or at least may do so). Though Goff refers to the theory as “non-reductive”, I can’t think of anything more reductive than claiming that the most crucial property of what may be the most complex system we know of – the human brain – inheres in its simplest components.

The answer to the mystery of consciousness – and it remains very much a mystery – surely lies in a nonreductive physicalism that recognises that complex, even seemingly miraculous properties (like consciousness, or life itself), can and do emerge from the dynamic interactions of matter when it is organised in certain highly complex ways, not from the bits of matter themselves. In this view, consciousness is a property of a process (or of many interacting processes), not of a substance.

So, after due consideration (maybe more than it is due), I will stick by my assessment, that panpsychism is not even wrong. But I remain willing to be convinced that it is.

I had thought of the life analogy as well, and to some extent it merges with the supposed problems of consciousness because a.) we don’t understand how it evolved, and b.) there is something it is like to be alive. But nobody raises the “hard problem of life” the way they do the “hard problem of consciousness.”

I’m convinced that panpsychism is the Emperor’s New Clothes moment of modern philosophy, for it’s simply an untestable assertion, supported by no evidence at all, that many people are buying into. Fortunately, people like Pigliucci, Mitchell, and especially Churchland, some of whom are philosophers like Goff, are pointing out the follies of panpsychism.

Remember, an assertion that is both untestable and purports to explain everything is not only an unscientific claim, but one that we can ignore. Give us some evidence, panpsychists!

h/t: Harry

Addendum by Greg Mayer:

Brian Leiter, a legal philosopher at the University of Chicago, has also caught wind of the upsurge in panpsychism, and seems to be both amused and appalled. In the first vein, concerning Goff’s article detailed by Jerry above, he wrote yesterday

Panpsychism makes “Scientific American”!

What’s next, intelligent design? (OK, bad joke.)

Today, he asks “Which currently fashionable philosophical view is the most preposterous?“, and is holding a poll among six philosophical views. The candidates include panpsychism, external world skepticism, and libertarian free will. (Jerry will like inclusion of the latter!) Philosopher Michael Strevens, tongue firmly in cheek, suggests to Leiter that “I think that panpsychism is likely to come out looking much better if you let everything vote, not just people,” to which Leiter replies that voting by possible people in possible worlds might affect the result, too.  You can follow the link to Leiter’s site and the poll, and can click to see the results (even if you haven’t voted). Although done in good fun with no expectation of a scientific polling result (as his exchange with Strevens shows), I think Leiter’s original idea was to get his philosopher readers to respond to the poll, so I would advise not voting unless you’re a philosopher. (I didn’t vote.)

Lunch with Pinkah, and a preview of his next book

When I’m in Cambridge visiting old friends, I always try to get together with Dan Dennett and Steve Pinker—separately— for I enjoy the intellectual stimulation this provides (and, in the case of Dan, the inevitable stentorian arguing as well). Dan’s out of town this week, but yesterday I managed to dine with The Pinkah at Legal Seafoods near Harvard Square. (Coincidentally, a reader recommended that restaurant in a comment yesterday).

Pinker had just finished lecturing at the Kennedy School next door, and we had a longish lunch over seafood and brewskis. Since Pinker is wickedly smart, eloquent, and apparently remembers everything he’s ever read, lunch with him is not just a culinary experience, but a bout of cerebral ping-pong. While ingesting the food one must also try to absorb his arguments, which come fast and furious. We talked about determinism, free will, the evolution of music (Steve thinks that there is not an adaptive evolutionary basis for music and musicality, even though music is universal in all cultures), the penal system, evolutionary differences between the sexes, speciation, Sewall Wright’s shifting balance theory of evolution, evolutionary psychology in general, Steve Gould, and other diverse topics.

Below is my lunch: Legal Seafoods’ famous crabcake (sadly, only one in the lunch portion). I also had a Belgian sour ale. Steve had an IPA (as I recall) and salmon cooked as rare as they could. (I told him he should have just asked for lox.) My crabcake, which was fabulous—all crab and no filler—came with a salad that contained walnuts and cranberries:

Here’s Pinkah after lunch, resplendent in his dark suit and elephant cowboy boots (he immediately assured me that the elephant was legally culled to reduce population size, not to harvest its skin).

At some point I asked Steve what his next book will be (there’s always a next book for him). He first referred me to its nucleus, the article in Proc. Nat. Acad. Sci. below (click on screenshot to see the whole article). I’ve also put up the abstract:

So I told Steve that I wouldn’t reveal the topic of his next book, but he said it was more or less an open secret, and even sent me a summary of its topic, which I have permission to publish. Here’s what he said:

This PNAS paper is a preview of the ideas and the research from my group that will be the core of the new book. Its tentative title will make it sound more controversial than it actually will be:

Don’t Go There: Common Knowledge and the Science of Civility, Hypocrisy, Outrage, and Taboo.

Though I’ll discuss outrage and cancel culture and social media shaming mobs, they won’t be the focus of the book—there is no shortage of articles documenting and deploring them, any day of the week. This one will probe the game theory and psychology behind them, together with other example of coordination like fads, bank runs, political protests, network externalities, moral norms, social conventions, and everyday informal cooperation. I’ll probe at the psychological phenomena beneath them, including the sense that certain things are public (“out there”), emotions such as shame, embarrassment, guilt, and outrage, and nonverbal displays including blushing, cringing, crying, laughter, and eye contact.

So you can look forward to that (as usual, the Pecksniffs will come out in force to criticize it, no matter what he says). Steve said he’ll start writing it in about a year, and I suspect it won’t be long after that until it’s finished (he wrote The Better Angels of Our Nature in only a year and a half).

Finally, before lunch I tarried for a while in the book section of the Harvard Coop, and found that they had moved the biology section down to the first floor, right inside the door—where it deserves to be. There’s even an “evolution” section (which, unaccountably, is missing WEIT). But several copies of Faith Versus Fact reside in the History of Science section, also where they should be. I’ve seen them in “Theology” sections, but they could also be comfortable in “Philosophy of Science” sections. (I have to tout my books because, unlike Steve’s, they’re not self-touting!)

Readers’ wildlife photos

Today we feature a couple of photos from the past month or so, all sent by reader Christopher Moss. His captions are indented. The first pictures are of a Mystery Bird.

I’m stumped with this one! Starling sized, thin beak (unlike a grosbeak or finch beak), yellow breast and vent, with a whitish belly. No white lines around the eyes like the yellow breasted chat (and the chat doesn’t have the white edging to the primary wing feathers this one has). The best I can think of is that it might be a female northern oriole, Icterus galbula (aka Baltimore oriole, or Bullock’s oriole for the western race). If it is a northern oriole, it really ought to be in Florida or Mexico by now. But then again, I also have a flock of goldfinches that ought to have gone off to their trailer parks in Florida like good Canadian “snowbirds” by now! Here she is:

Readers, can you help?

Vagrant Northern Cardinals (Cardinalis cardinalis) in Nova Scotia, where their appearance is rare:

I finally managed to catch both Cardinals in one frame, but they wouldn’t sit together on the jury-rigged bird table I put up in haste for the shyer birds. Below is a Cardinal with the Northern Oriole, and a close-up of the female oriole. I also had a pair of white-breasted nuthatches doing acrobatics on a hanging feeder but they wouldn’t consent to a photo!

We have four kinds of woodpecker in the garden: Hairy, Downy, Pileated and the Flicker. This one is a female Hairy (Leuconotopicus villosus), and she gets her name from the little tuft of yellow feathers above the beak. The male looks much the same except for a red patch on the crown of his head.

Finally, an unusual mutant mammal:

A better shot of our piebald White-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus). Looks like she’s been stealing from the birds!