Tag Archives | Ethics

How Much Consciousness Does an Octopus Have?

Octopus fanned-out
Over at Wired, Emily Reynolds explores the mysteries and ethics of consciousness. Will we ever be able to quantify it?

What about an iPhone? And how much consciousness can we meaningfully ascribe to someone in a coma?

Animals ranging from parrots to elephants continue to challenge our perception of consciousness, long-held as a uniquely human trait. But the reaches of consciousness don’t stop at animals. As artificial intelligence gets smarter, we are faced with moral dilemmas of how machines could one day not just think but also feel.

The ethics of consciousness, not just in humans but also animals and machines, is complex. To try and make sense of it, research is currently underway to develop a method for objectively measuring consciousness — a formula that could explain how aware any living, or artificial, being is.

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Portrait of the Buddha as a Deadbeat Dad

I’m not a Buddhist scholar. I’ve read books, but I’ve retained little, and integrated less. I’m a sporadic meditator at best, and have attended maybe three Buddhist services. Nonetheless, I think a lot about the Buddha, and Buddhahood. What would it mean for a person to fully shuck the concept of self? Identity?


It’s totally strange to me that I care to think about the Buddha at all. I never took to Christ in the least. Maybe it’s because I was brought up in Southern Baptist territory, or because I’ve seen Christ used to sew fear among the masses enough times that I can’t visualize the dude without a dingy red Confederate baseball cap. Personal issues aside, Jesus is presented, for the most part, as a compassionate, relatively chill mystic. But like any enduring popular character, he makes some baffling decisions—like rebuking a fig tree for not bearing fruit out of season, and subsequently murdering the insubordinate tree with his veiny Christic prayer-power.… Read the rest

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Freedom or Happiness?

Michael Dickens writes at Philosophical Multicore:

The foundational tenet of morality is to do the most good for the most people. The individual, while important in some sense, is only relevant in terms of the community as a whole. But similar to the question of individual versus collective happiness is the question of happiness versus liberty.

It shall go without saying that the moral thing to do is to try to make the world better — more specifically, to do the most good for the most people. After that, the natural question to ask is, what is “good”? Two very important ideals of goodness (which unfortunately are sometimes in conflict) are freedom and happiness.

What is happiness? Moral philosophers have been asking this question for a while, and John Stuart Mill was one of the first to provide some really good answers. He proposed the concept of higher and lower pleasures.

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Ted Rall: 14 Years Ago, a Woman Vindicated Me Now

"Ted Rall" by Joshin Yamada from Portland, USA - 20070929_MG_8712.jpg. Licensed under CC BY 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

Ted Rall” by Joshin Yamada from Portland, USA – 20070929_MG_8712.jpg. Licensed under CC BY 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

Ted Rall writes at CounterPunch:

A woman walking down the street in West Hollywood saw a police officer roughing up and handcuffing a man, whom he accused of jaywalking. Appalled, she challenged the officer. “Take off his handcuffs!” she demanded.

Noticing the commotion, more passersby approached. Soon a small crowd of people had gathered around. Some people shouted at the officer to stop. Others mocked his aggressiveness, sarcastically suggesting that his unfulfilled sexual desires explained his behavior. Surrounded by pissed-off citizens, the cop replied with a smirk: “I’m SO scared.” Others stood and watched, witnessing.

This happened 14 years ago. The man was me.

None of us knew that the cop, Officer Will Durr, was secretly capturing the audio of my arrest on a tape recorder — some of it, anyway.

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Ahimsa for All the Cecil-the-Lions of the World

This post originally appeared on Consciousness is Everything.

The Cecil the Lion issue happening in the news has had a predictably polarizing effect. Here’s what this swami thinks. Below I quote a Facebook friend who prompted me to address the issue:

I don’t understand the desire to kill an animal for sport. It’s not an accomplishment; you’ve got a gun.

My response:

I understand it. I disapprove, but I understand. As a kid with a bb gun, a logical leap (even if based on poor logic) of testing my skills was shooting birds. The first time I ever shot a bird, it was a robin. When I had hit it, I ran up to it and picked it up. Seeing and feeling this other creature die in my hands because of me, my stomach sank and I knew everything about it was wrong. But I also had this conflicting sense of urgency to hone hunting and survival skills; for what reason I don’t know.… Read the rest

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Jon Stewart & Obama Meetings Ethics Debate


President Obama’s administration used Jon Stewart as a “useful prod.” Stewart was often summoned to the White House before big announcements. A debate about the ethics of the TV host rages on.

Jackie Salo via International Business Times:

President Barack Obama summoned television host Jon Stewart to the White House on several occasions before he made major announcements, according to a Politico article that revealed the secret connection between “The Daily Show” host and the president. News of the private meetings surfaced Tuesday as Stewart prepares to end his tenure as host on Aug. 6.

Some have questioned Stewart’s ethics because he did not disclose his connection to Obama. “The summoning of Stewart to the White House validates the belief that the comedian is more influential on the public discourse than any journalist,” said a Minnesota Public Radio article Tuesday. “But do the rules of journalism apply to a comedian who doesn’t consider himself a journalist even as the people watching consider him one?”

While still at the White House, former Obama advisor David Axelrod kept in touch with the host by phone and email.

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The Psychology of Revenge: Biology, Evolution and Culture

Murder of Agamemnon

“Revenge is a dish best served cold…”
(Ancient Klingon Proverb)

This post originally appeared on Philosophical Disquisitions

When I was younger I longed for revenge. I remember school-companions doing unspeakably cruel things to me — stealing my lunch, laughing at my misfortune and so forth (hey, it all seemed cruel at the time). I would carefully plot my revenge. The revenge almost always consisted of performing some similarly unspeakably cruel act towards them. Occasionally, my thoughts turned to violence. Sometimes I even lashed out in response.

I’m less inclined towards revenge these days. Indeed, I am almost comically non-confrontational in all aspects of my life. But I still feel the pangs. When wronged, I’ll briefly get a bit hot under the collar and my thoughts will turn to violence once more. I’ll also empathise with the characters in the innumerable revenge narratives that permeate popular culture, willing them on and feeling a faint twinge of pleasure when they succeed.… Read the rest

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Being Friends with Murderers and the World of Murderabilia

Painting by notorious killer John Wayne Gacy.

Painting by notorious killer John Wayne Gacy.

My life has been weird in most ways, and my work life is no exception. I have had some odd jobs in my day. I mean I really have. At one point I worked as a prisoner advocate for the ACLU, where I ended up meeting numerous prisoners, including a ton of murderers. It wasn’t like you might think. It wasn’t freaky or scary, it really was just like sitting down with some guy, (and the occasional woman) who was really psyched to see you. And it was interesting. There is no denying that moving among these people, at times as the only person in the outside world they communicated with, was intriguing to say the least.

Once I met a guy who was in prison for murdering his mom. He was schizophrenic, and when I met him in prison, he was just totally shattered.… Read the rest

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Is effective regulation of AI possible? Eight potential regulatory problems

artificial brain

This post was originally published on Philosophical Disquisitions.

The halcyon days of the mid-20th century, when researchers at the (in?)famous Dartmouth summer school on AI dreamed of creating the first intelligent machine, seem so far away. Worries about the societal impacts of artificial intelligence (AI) are on the rise. Recent pronouncements from tech gurus like Elon Musk and Bill Gates have taken on a dramatically dystopian edge. They suggest that the proliferation and advance of AI could pose a existential threat to the human race.

Despite these worries, debates about the proper role of government regulation of AI have generally been lacking. There are a number of explanations for this: law is nearly always playing catch-up when it comes to technological advances; there is a decidedly anti-government libertarian bent to some of the leading thinkers and developers of AI; and the technology itself would seem to elude traditional regulatory structures.… Read the rest

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Clone Ethics: What shouldn’t you do with your clone?

c2k2e (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

c2k2e (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Would it be incest to have sex with your clone? Whitney Kimball explores clone ethics over at Hopes&Fears:

Do clones have souls? How about human rights? Can we kill our own clone? What happens if we… have sex with one? Hopes&Fears consults psychologists, geneticists, bioethicists, twin specialists, theological experts and a Raelian bishop to answer these ethical questions.

A few weeks ago, I was tasked with investigating a highly theoretical question: Can you have sex with your clone? Let’s consult B movies. We know from Weird Science (1985) and its chick flick sibling Virtual Sexuality (1999), it is acceptable and desirable to genetically engineer a person to have sex with you. You can also harvest their organs, build an army, and program them to do house chores, provided said clone transmorgrifies as a parentless, fully-formed adult. (The process has something to do with “tweaking the gamma” and 3D printing, I guess).

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