Friends and Fans — I have retired from my work as a public intellectual, so Philosophy in Action is on indefinite hiatus. Please check out the voluminous archive of free podcasts, as well as the premium audio content still available for sale. My two books — Responsibility & Luck: A Defense of Praise and Blame and Explore Atlas Shrugged — are available for purchase too. Best wishes! — Diana Brickell (Hsieh)


Science

  • Q&A: Career without Aptitude: 14 Jun 2015, Question 2
  • Question: Should I pursue a career that interests me even if I don't have much aptitude for it? I have a strong interest in the field of bioengineering for what it can potentially accomplish. However, in my own estimation, I have little aptitude for hard science and seriously doubt whether I can succeed academically in the areas necessary to enter the field. This self-assessment is based on my academic history, life accomplishments, and aptitude test results. Should I try to pursue this career against the odds anyway, or should I accept that I don't have the intellectual capability to do so?

    Tags: Career, Causality, Education, Hobbies, Motivation, Science, Skills, Talent, Technology, Values

  • Q&A: The Regulation of Ultrahazardous Activities: 25 Jan 2015, Question 1
  • Question: Would the government of a free society issue bans or otherwise regulate activities dangerous to bystanders? At the turn of the 20th century it was common to use cyanide gas to fumigate buildings. Although it was well-known that cyanide gas was extremely poisonous and alternatives were available, its use continued and resulted in a number of accidental deaths due to the gas traveling through cracks in walls and even in plumbing. With the development of better toxicology practices, these deaths were more frequently recognized for what they were and at the end of summer in 1825 the NYC government banned its use. In this and other situations, it was recognized that the substance in question was extremely poisonous and could only be handled with the most extreme care – care that was rarely demonstrated. The question is this: Should the government step in and ban the substance from general use or should it simply stand by and wait for people to die and prosecute the users for manslaughter? Or is there another option?

    Tags: Business, Epistemology, Government, Law, Philosophy, Regulation, Rights, Risk, Science, Technology, Torts, Ultrahazardous Activities

  • Q&A: Participating in Superstitious Rituals: 4 Jan 2015, Question 1
  • Question: Is it wrong to participate in superstitious rituals without taking them seriously? If I make some perfunctory observance or participation in some superstitious ritual, and do not believe the superstitious ritual is of any literal importance, am I still promoting irrationality? If I regularly read the horoscope in the newspaper, but do not believe astrology has any real impact on my life, does reading the horoscope promote irrationality? Likewise, in Hawaii, almost all retail establishments possess what are called "good-luck cats." A good-luck cat is a relatively inexpensive Asian figurine depicting a cat with one paw raised. Having this figurine is supposed to bring good luck to your business. You can commonly see such good-luck cat figurines in doctor's offices in Honolulu, and for your retail establishment not to have such a figurine would easily strike people as strange. If I spent just a little money on such a good-luck cat to decorate my business, and I didn't literally believe the figurine itself affected my fortunes, would the purchase be a concession to irrational thinking? Would such a gesture be "social proof" that would help other people rationalize more obviously pathological forms of irrationality, such as wasting hundreds of dollars on fortune tellers and psychic hotlines?

    Tags: Business, Communication, Ethics, Holidays, Humor, Rationality, Religion, Sanction, Science, Superstition

  • Q&A: The Relationship between Philosophy and Science: 21 Dec 2014, Question 1
  • Question: What is the proper relationship between philosophy and science? People commonly assert that science proves that the traditional claims of philosophy are wrong. For example, they'll say that quantum mechanics proves that objective reality and causality are just myths and that psychology experiments disprove free will. In contrast, other people claim that philosophy is so fundamental that if any claims of science contradict philosophical principles, then the science must be discarded as false. Hence, for example, they say that homosexuality cannot possibly be genetic, whatever science says, since philosophy tells us that people are born "tabula rasa," including without any knowledge of "male" versus "female." So what is the proper view of the relationship between philosophy and the sciences? Does either have a veto power over the other? Is science based on philosophy or vice versa?

    Tags: Biology, Economics, Epistemology, Ethics, Free Will, Metaphysics, Perception, Personality, Philosophy, Physics, Physics, Psychology, Science

  • Interview: Paul Hsieh on Radiology in Practice: 18 Dec 2014
  • Summary: Most people have seen cool medical imaging devices such as CT and MRI scanners on TV shows. But what do those machines really do? Advanced medical imaging has revolutionized patient care in the past 25 years, allowing doctors to make diagnoses more accurately, quickly, and safely than ever before. Radiologist Dr. Paul Hsieh discussed the basics of modern radiology (x-rays, MRI, ultrasound, and nuclear medicine), how these different tests work, what they show about the human body, and how they help doctors take better care of patients.

    Tags: Health, Medicine, Science, Technology

  • Chat: Design Arguments for the Existence of God, Part 4: 11 Dec 2014
  • Summary: Does the complexity, delicacy, and purposefulness of living organisms prove the existence of God? William Paley argues that it does in his Analogical Argument from Design. Here, we explore philosophical objections to his argument, as well as the alternative explanation of evolutionary theory.

    This podcast is part of ReligionCasts – my series of podcasts on the philosophy of religion.

    Tags: Biology, Christianity, Creationism, Evolution, Evolution, God, Metaphysics, Philosophy, Physics, Religion, Science, Theology

  • Q&A: The Moral Arguments for Veganism and Vegetarianism: 23 Nov 2014, Question 1
  • Question: Are the moral arguments for veganism (and vegetarianism) rational? People often argue for vegetarianism on the grounds that a person can (and perhaps should) regard the lives of animals to be a higher value than the advantages to eating meat such as taste or nutrition. Is this a rational moral outlook, consistent with rational egoism?

    Tags: Animals, Diet, Environment, Ethics, Health, Nutrition, Paleo, Science, Veganism, Vegetarianism

  • Q&A: Evolution's Ethical Implications: 30 Mar 2014, Question 1
  • Question: Should ethics begin with facts about evolution, including altruism? The ethical egoism advocated by Ayn Rand doesn't seem to incorporate genetics or evolution. Having evolved in tribal and family groups, we are creatures tuned to group behavior more than to individual behavior. Altruism wasn't invented by religion. In a tribe, helping those around you helps you survive too. Helping your kin helps your genes survive. The fact is that feeling good when you help others is built into the core of being human. The fact is that much status seeking and other seemingly irrational actions are techniques to ensure the propagation of our genes. Objectivism starts with "A is A." But, if reality is most important, shouldn't people base their ethics on the facts about humans as they actually are – altruism and all?

    Tags: Altruism, Animals, Benevolence, Biology, Egoism, Ethics, Groups, Meta-Ethics, Relationships, Sacrifice, Science

  • Q&A: Concern for Future Generations: 23 Mar 2014, Question 1
  • Question: Should I care about future generations? People often claim that we should act for the sake of future generations, particularly regarding environmental concerns. Is that rational? Why should I care what happens to people after I am dead? Why should I work for the benefit of people who cannot possibly benefit my life and who aren't even known, let alone of value, to me?

    Tags: Environmentalism, Epistemology, Ethics, Future, History, Rights, Sacrifice, Science, Technology, Values

  • Q&A: Government Scientists in a Free Society: 10 Nov 2013, Question 4
  • Question: Would the government of a free society employ scientists? In a fully free society, would there be any scientists employed full-time by the government for police, legislative, or judicial services? If not, how would judges obtain the necessary scientific knowledge to make proper rulings in the court cases that would replace today's environmental and other regulations? Might scientists be hired by the government of a free society for the military or other purposes?

    Tags: Crime, Law, Military, Politics, Rights, Science

  • Q&A: Evolution and Objectivism: 4 Aug 2013, Question 2
  • Question: Does evolutionary theory contradict the principles of Objectivism? I am new to atheism and Ayn Rand's philosophy of Objectivism, and I embrace both wholeheartedly. However, I take issue with the theory of evolution. Atheism seems to imply evolution, but evolution seems to clash with Objectivism. Evolution holds that man is an insignificant piece of the larger, grander picture of the randomness that is life, that man is just one small insignificant step in the collective evolution of the earth, and that man is one with Mother Earth, not superior to it. In contrast, Objectivism holds that man has a purpose and that man is the most significant being, supreme over all other life. Also, Objectivism holds that "A is A" and that "Existence exists." Evolution, in contrast, claims that life came from non-life, fish came from non-fish, and man came from non-man – meaning that A came from non-A. Am I correct in my criticisms? Might some theory other than evolution be more compatible with Objectivism?

    Tags: Egoism, Epistemology, Ethics, Evolution, Human Nature, Logic, Meaning, Metaphysics, Objectivism, Rationalism, Science

  • Interview: Dr. Monica Hughes on Myths about Evolutionary Theory: 19 Jun 2013
  • Summary: Many Americans are woefully ignorant of the basics of evolutionary theory, even while they criticize or reject it. Biologist Monica Hughes explained the basics of evolutionary theory, including some fascinating examples of evolution in action. Then she discussed and dispelled some common myths about it.

    Tags: Biology, Creationism, Evolution, God, Religion, Religion, Science

  • Interview: Michelle Minton on Your Freedom to Eat, Drink, and Be Merry: 13 Feb 2013
  • Summary: The government heavily regulates food and drinks commonly regarded as dangerous or unhealthy. What motivates such regulations? Why are they so widespread? How can they be fought?

    Tags: Activism, Alcohol/Drugs, Free Society, Government, Health, Integrity, Law, Nutrition, Politics, Regulations, Rights, Science

  • Q&A: Free Will and Natural Law: 13 Jan 2013, Question 1
  • Question: Is free will merely an illusion? While I dislike the idea that we're just puppets of physics and natural law, I wonder whether our seemingly "free" decisions are actually determined by the combination of our biology and our environment. After all, if our brain is merely a physical and chemical system, how could any any decisions be made freely? Wouldn't that violate natural law? In essence, how can our knowledge that the physical universe is deterministic be reconciled with our subjective feeling that we choose our actions?

    Tags: Causality, Free Will, Introspection, Materialism, Metaphysics, Science

  • Q&A: Gay "Conversion" Therapy: 6 Jan 2013, Question 4
  • Question: Was California right or wrong to ban "gay cure" therapy for minors? Recently, California banned "reparative" or "conversion" therapy – meaning, therapy that aims to make gay teenagers straight. Such therapy is widely regarded as dangerous pseudo-science by mental health professionals. The ban only applies to patients under 18. So adults can still choose such therapy for themselves, but parents cannot foist it on their minor children. Is such therapy a form of child abuse? Or should parents have the power to compel such therapy on their children, even if they're morally wrong to do so?

    Tags: Ethics, GLBT, Law, Parenting, Psychology, Rights, Science, Torts

  • Q&A: Philosophy Versus Psychology: 16 Dec 2012, Question 3
  • Question: What's the proper distinction between philosophy and psychology? Given that psychology concerns the mind, I don't see how to clearly distinguish it from philosophy. For example, when would emotions be a philosophic concern versus a psychological concern? In other words, where is the dividing line between philosophy and psychology? Can they be separated?

    Tags: Emotions, Mind, Philosophy, Psychology, Science, Subconscious

  • Interview: Dr. Doug McGuff on Strength Training Using Body by Science: 5 Dec 2012
  • Summary: Most people suppose that fitness requires long "cardio" sessions of running, biking, stair-climbing, or the like. In contrast, Dr. Doug McGuff advocates brief, infrequent, and high-intensity weight training using slow movements. Does this approach work? What are its benefits and costs compared to other fitness regimens?

    Tags: Diet, Evolution, Fitness, Health, Paleo, Science, Sports

  • Q&A: Restrooms for the Transgendered in Transition: 30 Oct 2011, Question 2
  • Question: Which bathroom should a pre-operative transgendered person use? The brutal attack at McDonald's on a transgendered person in April 2011 was apparently started because that person used the ladies restroom, which was already occupied by a 14 year old. Was the transgendered person wrong to use that restroom?

    Tags: Ethics, Etiquette, GLBT, Medicine, Personal Identity, Philosophy, Politics, Psychology, Rights, Science

  • Q&A: The Evidence for Free Will: 16 Oct 2011, Question 3
  • Question: Is there objective evidence for free will? After doing some research on free will and determinism, the existence of free will seems pretty unlikely to me – even though the thought of free will is comforting. An argument often used to refute determinism is that the determinist says that we should accept determinism, since on his view, he only advocates determinism because he's determined. That seems unsatisfying, however, since that doesn't prove the existence of free will. Also, even if each person can say of himself, "I have free will," how do you determine whether others have free will? How would you know whether a toddler, a teenager, a person with a brain tumor, or a person with dementia has free will or not?

    Tags: Free Will, Metaphysics, Philosophy, Science

  • Q&A: Genetic Influences on Thinking: 2 Oct 2011, Question 3
  • Question: Do our genes affect our reasoning? Evolution makes fruit taste sweet and burning human flesh smell awful. Presumably, evolution can hard wire pleasures and pains because interaction with that thing has caused our ancestors to live longer or die earlier. Wouldn't this same process make certain actions easier or more difficult, such as sacrificing yourself to save your child versus watching your child die? Couldn't evolution affect that decision by making focus more difficult, so that a person is easier impelled by his immediate emotions?

    Tags: Evolution, Free Will, Psychology, Rationality, Science, Values

  • Q&A: Pharmacies Selling Homeopathic Remedies: 5 Jun 2011, Question 4
  • Question: Should pharmacies sell homeopathic remedies next to real medicines? For example, Cobroxin with Asian Cobra Venom 4x HPUS is sometimes sold next to acetaminophen (or Tylenol). Calms Forte's non-drowsy sleeping pills are often displayed next to diphenhydramine (the generic for Benadryl or Tylenol p.m.). James Randi, a magician in his 80's, took 30 of these sleeping pills with no effect. Basically, these homeopathic alternatives are nothing more than expensive water. So is it wrong for pharmacies to sell them as if they were effective medicine?

    Tags: Business, Epistemology, Ethics, Medicine, Science

  • Q&A: Global Warming: 3 Apr 2011, Question 3
  • Question: How should I deal with the idea of man-made global warming? What is the proper approach to the whole idea? I can't decide on my own whether it's true or false without educating myself in climatology. And how should I treat others who believe in it just because many university professors do?

    Tags: Business, Capitalism, Environmentalism, Government, Law, Rights, Science, Technology

  • Q&A: Acting Silly: 13 Mar 2011, Question 6
  • Question: Is it rational to do silly things? A friend of mine (non-Objectivist) quoted Ludwig Wittgenstein: "If people never did silly things, nothing intelligent would ever get done." So she thinks it's alright and rational to do silly things once in a while. ... Would it be rational to do silly things consciously (in lab, for instance) in the hope that you might end up discovering / inventing something new?

    Tags: Fun, Rationality, Science

  • Q&A: Evolutionary Psychology: 20 Feb 2011, Question 2
  • Question: What is your opinion of evolutionary psychology? For example, a recent study claims that there is a gene for being a political liberal. Or another claim is that studies show that women are "hypergamous" in that they are "wired" to seek out the most "socially dominant" men that they can find in the "sexual market". What is your opinion on all this?

    Tags: Evolution, Free Will, Psychology, Science, Sex

  • Q&A: Causality and Free Will: 30 Jan 2011, Question 5
  • Question: How are causality and free will compatible? If my mind is an effect of my brain, and my brain is a complex physical system which operates in a deterministic way, doesn't that mean that my thoughts and actions are ultimately determined, too? What is wrong with the popular notions of causality and free will that make them appear incompatible?

    Tags: Causality, Determinism, Free Will, Metaphysics, Physics, Science

  • Podcast: Design Arguments for the Existence of God, Part 3: 2 Nov 2009
  • Summary: Does the complexity, delicacy, and purposefulness of living organisms prove the existence of God? William Paley argues that it does in his Analogical Argument from Design. Here, I explain his argument, including his analogy between living organisms and machines.

    This podcast is part of ReligionCasts – my series of podcasts on the philosophy of religion.

    Tags: Biology, Christianity, Creationism, Evolution, God, Metaphysics, Philosophy, Physics, Religion, Science, Theology

  • Podcast: Design Arguments for the Existence of God, Part 2: 16 Oct 2009
  • Summary: Does the complexity and orderliness of the universe prove God's existence? Yes, according to Design Arguments for the existence of God. Here, we consider six objections to two versions of that argument – the Teleological Argument and the Fine Tuning Argument.

    This podcast is part of ReligionCasts – my series of podcasts on the philosophy of religion.

    Tags: Christianity, Cosmology, Creationism, God, Metaphysics, Philosophy, Physics, Religion, Science, Theology, Thomas Aquinas

  • Podcast: Design Arguments for the Existence of God, Part 1: 9 Oct 2009
  • Summary: Does the complexity and orderliness of the universe prove God's existence? Yes, according to Design Arguments for the existence of God. Here, I explain two versions of that argument – Thomas Aquinas' Teleological Argument and the Fine Tuning Argument – both of which appeal to the regularity of the cosmos.

    This podcast is part of ReligionCasts – my series of podcasts on the philosophy of religion.

    Tags: Christianity, Cosmology, Creationism, God, Metaphysics, Philosophy, Physics, Religion, Science, Theology, Thomas Aquinas

  • Podcast: Cosmological Arguments for the Existence of God, Part 2: 25 Sep 2009
  • Summary: Did God create the universe? Is his existence required to explain how and why something exists, rather than nothing? The Cosmological Argument for the existence of God says "Yes." Here, we consider six objections to three variants of that argument – the First Cause Argument, the Temporal First Cause Argument, and the Sustaining First Cause Argument.

    This podcast is part of ReligionCasts – my series of podcasts on the philosophy of religion.

    Tags: Christianity, Cosmology, Creationism, God, Metaphysics, Philosophy, Physics, Religion, Science, Theology, Thomas Aquinas

  • Podcast: Cosmological Arguments for the Existence of God, Part 1: 18 Sep 2009
  • Summary: Did God create the universe? Is his existence required to explain how and why something exists, rather than nothing? The Cosmological Argument for the existence of God answers "Yes" to both of these questions. Here, I present three variants of that argument – the First Cause Argument, the Temporal First Cause Argument, and the Sustaining First Cause Argument.

    This podcast is part of ReligionCasts – my series of podcasts on the philosophy of religion.

    Tags: Christianity, Cosmology, Creationism, God, Metaphysics, Philosophy, Physics, Religion, Science, Theology, Thomas Aquinas


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