Everything happens for a reason.

When some tragic instance occurs, the phrase “everything happens for a reason” comforts those in pain, letting them know that there is some bigger picture or plan for all of us. Although this thought is comforting, it actually can bring confusion, anxiety and depression.

In Thomas Nagel’s 6th chapter entitled “Free Will” in his book What Does it All Mean?, he discusses the implications of free will and determinism. If everything happens for a reason, then what is the point of any of our choices? We may believe that we have the freedom to make our own choice, like a major in college, when in reality this is chosen for us by our previous experiences and everything that led up to that decision.

So, then, why is the phrase “everything happens for a reason” so comforting? Furthermore, why do people enjoy the concepts of fate and karma?

I believe that people have several paths that they may take in life. Although these paths are predetermined, they have a high range of variability in-between them. No path to success was ever perfect, and the drawbacks that were found along the way helped them grow and succeed. These downfalls are a part of the path and they help the person succeed. In essence, we have some choice, and can find meaning in several areas in the world. When we are on these paths, we have a set road that we can detour from in a variety of ways, and grow in our lives in the direction we choose.

Brain-Inspired Computer Chip

Last week in class, we read Daniel Dennett’s article in which he imagined a hypothetical scenario in which his brain was removed from his body, placed in a vat, and a computer served as his second “brain.” But is this truly plausible? Most of us, including Dennett, would not think so. However, a recently created brain-inspired chip may pave the way for this to be possible in the future (to an extent). This chip, created by IBM, consists of a densely interconnected web of transistors that aim to mimic the brain’s neuronal networks. Thus, the chip is able to process information like the brain does and recognize human actions. In addition, the chip may even be able to control robots and direct them to perform tasks. Based on this, would it hypothetically be possible to remove a human’s brain, replace it with this chip, and have the human function normally (i.e. perform normal tasks a human can?). Theoretically, if the chip is able to control robots, it should also be able to serve as a “brain” in humans and allow them to perform basic tasks. However, would this chip necessarily give rise to consciousness in these humans? I do not believe so, because as a proponent of the idea that the mind is separate from the brain, I am not sure that the chip carries any component that would allow the human to exercise free will or have a true sense of consciousness. Therefore, I feel that such technology would give rise to philosophical zombies that are able to perform normal functions a human can by command, but do not have consciousness or higher cognitive abilities.

Source: http://www.nytimes.com/2014/08/08/science/new-computer-chip-is-designed-to-work-like-the-brain.html

Science of Consciousness

In class, we’ve been discussing the connection between mind and body. I decided to look up some scientific discoveries related to consciousness. fMRI (functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging) produces vivid images of the areas of the brain that respond to a variety of stimuli. Instead of trying to measure a purely subjective response, such as “that made me feel good”, scientists can also see what part of the subject’s brain is responding, for how long, and to what degree. Neuroscientist Giulio Tononi of the University of Wisconsin-Madison developed one of the most promising theories for consciousness, known as integrated information theory. Integrated information theory starts with consciousness itself, and tries to work backward to understand the physical processes that give rise to the phenomenon. Bernard Baars, a neuroscientist at the Neurosciences Institute in La Jolla, California, developed the theory known as the global workspace theory. This idea is based on an old concept from artificial intelligence called the blackboard, a memory bank that different computer programs could access. Anything from the appearance of a person’s face to a memory of childhood can be loaded into the brain’s blackboard, where it can be sent to other brain areas that will process it. According to Baar’s theory, the act of broadcasting information around the brain from this memory bank is what represents consciousness. What do you think about Baar’s theory? I think it makes sense and explains why we feel a certain way about something because of past experiences.



Science of the Mind

The brain is, currently, seen as the home of the mind.  There is some sort of connection between the mind and the brain, but there is not a way to gauge that connection with current science.  There is no science of the consciousness as of yet.  But there are connections between the brain and the mind that science has found so far.  There is a common belief that the soul/mind is where our personality comes from, and things like our emotions and our memories.

There is definitely a connection between the personality and the brain.  For example, an  American railway foreman, Phineas Gage, had a drastic personality change when he suffered an injury to the frontal lobe in 1848.  He had little to no intellectual change, only his personality became more violent.  Many personality changes come from damage to the frontal lobe, temporal lobe and other changes can come from chemical derailments in the brain.  During scans, there is evidence that parts of the brain are related to emotion.  The brain and the mind are connected on some level, a level so complex, that humans cannot even begin to grasp what it is.  If there is such a thing as the soul/mind as a separate entity from our physical person, I believe that it would be dependent on the brain.  Since injuries to the brain can cause such drastic changes to us as people, there has to be a connection.  The pineal gland in the brand is dubbed the “third eye” and has been called the seat of the soul. There are many parts to our brain that have connections to the spiritual experience of being a human.  While the relationship between our physical self and our spiritual self has not been directly defined, there is evidence that they are both interconnected.

A Buddhist Approach to the Mind-Body Problem/Consciousness

Over the course of the past week in class, we have been discussing the very interesting topic of the Mind-Body problem as it relates to philosophy. We have discussed many theories regarding this topic, and I offer an additional one in this post: the Buddhist approach to the Mind-Body problem. According to Buddhism, the mind and the body are unified, with consciousness (inner subjective awareness) being primary. As per Mahayana Buddhism, the body is viewed “as the densest layer of a spectrum of being that ranges in quality from the dense (body) to the subtle (mind) to the very subtle (pure awareness without thought).” According to a different offset of Buddhism, Zen Buddhism, this very subtle quality of consciousness is believed to be the essential quality of all things, including the body, and is therefore termed “Big Mind.” Interestingly, this view claims that because “Big Mind permeates virtually all things, there can be no actual duality between mind and body.” That is, the mind and body differ only superficially in quality. Additionally, an important point to mention is that though consciousness is seen as primary as per Buddhism, it is not the “first cause.” In other words, consciousness does not cause anything, because such a view would imply that there exists a duality between consciousness and that which is caused by consciousness, a violation of the core ideal of Buddhist philosophy that in the reality of things, there is no fundamental duality between a subject and an object.

Overall, I believe that the Buddhist view of the Mind-Body problem is interesting and certainly plausible. It seems to suggest that consciousness is a phenomenon that just exists within us and permeates throughout our mind and our bodies. Could it then be said that it is fundamental, like David Chalmers postulates? I think it can be, provided that “fundamental” does not imply causation.

Source: http://www.examiner.com/article/buddhism-brain-science-and-the-mind-body-connection

Philosophical Zombies (And Sex)

In our Philosophy class, we recently discussed the topic of “Philosophical Zombies” or people who can function normally in society and experience that same stimuli as everyone else, but have no deeper consciousness and do not feel it in the same way as others do. We discussed the functional consciousness and the phenomenal consciousness, which are basic stimulus response and what David Chalmer’s calls our “inner movie”, or our thoughts about everything happening to us, respectively. Philosophical zombies lack the phenomenal consciousness, making them experience the world in a bland manner.

So, then, can philosophical zombies even exist?

Honestly, I’m not sure. But I do know that there are people who experience nothing when others experience strong emotional and physical cues in the same context: sex.

Some people are asexual, and when they engage in sexual activity they generally do not feel the same as many other people do. Essentially, their phenomenal consciousness may be lacking when it comes to sexual encounters, so they may be seen as philosophical zombies.

Gay Marriage and Maybe More

In our Philosophy class, we discussed differing views on gay marriage provided by Maggie Gallagher and John Corvino. As a firm believer in gay marriage, I choose to side with Corvino, who argues that marriage should be granted to both opposite- and same-sex couples, since they do not necessarily have an effect on each other. I strongly believe that this is a right for all humans, to be able to commit yourself to the one you love for life, but I believe that everyone deserves even more than that.

Recently, a male Ohio State student kissed his boyfriend in public and got punched in the face by a bystander. In the music video “Take Me to Church” by Hozier, a gay couple gets caught and one member gets severely bashed by a bystander.

I do not believe that it is ever morally correct to hurt someone based off of one of their innate characteristics, such as homosexuality. I argue that we need more than just equality, we need acceptance. Everyone deserves to feel safe, and acceptance is the key to safety, therefore acceptance is necessary to fulfill everyone’s basic human needs.

See the article about the student here: http://www.thegailygrind.com/2014/11/08/gay-teen-punched-kissing-boyfriend-sends-beautiful-message-attacker/#.VF_GvIzQJqI.facebook

See the video here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MYSVMgRr6pw

The Australian Study of Child Health in Same Sex Families (ACHESS)

In class yesterday, we discussed the idea of same-sex marriage and Gallagher’s stance on the topic. She is clearly opposed to same-sex marriage, and one of her arguments is that it is better for children to grow up in households with heterosexual parents than with homosexual parents. Having found this argument to be absurd, I decided to do some research and came across a landmark study from earlier this year (July 2014) which found that “children raised by same-sex parents thrive.” In this study, so called the Australian Study of Child Health in Same Sex Families (ACHESS), researchers surveyed 315 same-sex parents across Australia and questioned them about family cohesion, social adjustment, mental health, and general physical health of their 500 children. They then compared the results to those representative of the entire population of Australia. Interestingly, the researchers found that children raised by same-sex parents scored about 6% higher than those raised by opposite-sex parents, even when sociodemographic factors such as parent education and household income were kept constant. Thus, the conclusion was that children raised by same-sex parents are potentially happier and healthier than children raised by opposite-sex parents. Dr. Simon Crouch, the study’s lead researcher, explained that these observed results were due to the fact that parents in same-sex households must “take on roles that are suited to their skill sets rather than falling into those gender stereotypes.” Accordingly, he believes that the familial unit is more harmonious and therefore the children (in same-sex parent households) are happier and healthier.

I think that these results clearly contradict Gallagher’s claim that it is better for children to grow up in households with heterosexual parents than with homosexual parents. In fact, this study found the opposite to be true, that children raised in same-sex parent households do better than children raised in opposite-sex parent households. How would Gallagher respond to these findings?


1. http://www.glaad.org/blog/study-shows-children-raised-same-sex-parents-thrive

2. http://thinkprogress.org/lgbt/2014/07/05/3456717/kids-raised-by-same-sex-couples-are-healthier-and-happier/

Being “Gay” the Norm, “Straight” Minority Short Film

If you haven’t already watched this, I highly recommend it. This short film gives you insight on a different perspective where being gay is normal and being straight goes against social norms. The main girl realizes that she’s different from the other kids because she is attracted to boys. She tries to kiss the boy and he almost kisses her back but his friends catch them and he pushes her away. The girl gets bullied by the other kids physically and verbally. I can only imagine how hard it is to be gay in a society where the majority is straight.



Arguments from Social Science Against Same Sex Marriage

Today in class we talked about how Gallagher could have made her argument stronger. I couldn’t come up with anything at the time but I looked it up and found some things that can support her side. Children need a father figure and they won’t have that if both their parents are women. Fathers exercise a unique social and biological influence on their children. A recent study of father absence on girls found that girls who grew up apart from their biological father were much more likely to experience early puberty and a teen pregnancy than girls who spent their entire childhood in an intact family. This study, along with David Popenoe’s work, suggests that a father’s pheromones influence the biological development of his daughter, that a strong marriage provides a model for girls of what to look for in a man, and gives them the confidence to resist the sexual entreaties of their boyfriends. Children also need mothers. Children with homosexual men as parents will miss out on having a mother who provides emotional security and excel in reading the physical and emotional cues of infants. They also give counsel as they confront the physical, emotional, and social challenges associated with puberty and adolescence. Same sex parents can try to provide the emotional needs only mothers and fathers can provide but it won’t be as efficient.

Here’s the link to the studies: http://www.frc.org/get.cfm?i=if04g01