The image of visiting aliens as ruthless invaders hell-bent on destroying mankind in order to colonise our little blue planet for themselves, may be good for the Hollywood box-office, but how likely is it to reflect reality? The deeper we delve into the cosmos, the more likely it appears that we not alone. Even if bio-genesis – the appearance of life from non-living chemical components – is a mind-numbingly rare event, the Universe is so vast, and the numbers of potential star systems so large, that even the slimmest odds could result in millions of occurrences.
I’m not sure whether there are more strange things happening down here in Cornwall than in the rest of the country, or whether I’m just noticing more of them since moving down here a few months ago. Either way, my local on-line rag, the Falmouth Packet, while rarely covering events of earth-shattering significance, is often an amusing source of the bizarre. This morning for instance, the following headline caught my eye: Falmouth man who drove into River Fowey has ‘no idea’ why From reading the story, at least part of the reason seems likely to have involved alcohol, a theory strengthened by his subsequent refusal to furnish a blood sample upon being admitted to hospital. However, this once again got me thinking about the whole knotty problem of Free Will and why it probably doesn’t exist – at least not in the sense that most of us feel it does.
The recent case of Edward Snowden and his leaking of top-secret government information relating to NSA snooping project, PRISM, has come at an interesting time for me, since the collision of ethics and morality is becoming an important topic for a new novel I am writing. There are no doubt many important questions raised by this case, but I’m going to focus on just two: Under what circumstances, if any, is it ever right to whistle-blow? Was Snowden right in this particular case?
Prior to 2008, I had visited Turkey only twice, and both times for business events in Istanbul – the kind of events where sleeping, eating, partying… and of course a little business too… is all conducted within the walls of the same opulent yet generically international hotel. Then in 2008, I met the woman who was to become my wife, and so began a love-affair (well, two I suppose) and a certain fascination with the city and country in which she had been born and raised.
Following my post last week, questioning the consciousness of newborns, I exchanged a number of tweets with a professor of developmental psychology, who made the interesting observation that, The points you make also, paradoxically, show why conscious awareness should not be a criterion for personhood. (and that is a whole bag of worms, potentially, for topics like animal rights theory, “fetal personhood” bills, etc). Good stuff So if you don’t need to be conscious to be regarded as a person, what criteria should be used? What about someone in a persistent vegetative state for example? I put this to my newly acquainted professor, who responded as follows: huge question. I can argue several different sides of it! 🙂 I have different personal vs. political views. Nutshell: sentience She then continued:
In the first part of this essay, I briefly introduced the idea of an empathy continuum, before diving straight into what might have seemed like a totally unrelated topic – our stress response system. In this post, I will try to explain how these two things are crucially connected and what this means for us all. So what is Empathy? The word “empathy” is thrown about a lot these days, often in vague and imprecise ways to cover to a variety of things from sympathy to compassion, but true empathy refers specifically to a natural capacity found in humans and known to exist in other mammals, allowing us to literally feel for others. To empathise is to place oneself in another’s shoes, see things from the other’s perspective, and to some extent, to actually feel what that person is feeling. Before we look at how this works, perhaps the first question should be why. Why did humans evolve empathy?