Hey Kids! Epistemology!

by John Holbo on April 14, 2007

If you, like me, are a professional philosopher, sometimes it seems like you have to talk about the whole Descartes thing … well, sometimes it seems like you couldn’t swing a dead cat without hitting yourself giving a lecture about how maybe there’s an Deceiving Demon messing with you to a considerable extent.

Now: probably you don’t have good art skills, so you just draw a circle on the board and announce to the students, with confidence that brooks no demurral, ‘this is YOU’. (Or, rather, your MIND.)

Students [collective Troy McClure imitation]: It’s like he’s known me all my life!

You [blushing modestly]: Well, I do have a Ph.D.

But suppose your students still insist that they don’t get it about the whole Deceiving Demon thing. Well, with this one-size fits-all graphic, you can explain 53% of all known epistemological problems. I give you: Superman’s Pal Jimmy Olsen’s Brain In A Jar!


hat tip: ISB

Those are some clear and distinct shorts he’s wearing, if I do say so myself.

TOMORROW: Hawkman explains the Treaty of Versailles.

Smarter, Taller, Healthier ?

by John Q on April 14, 2007

John Holbo’s naming of the two-step of terrific triviality reminded me that this manoeuvre is one of the basic steps in the nature-nurture dance. I looked at
Pinker0211-1Steven Pinker’s agile performance
a while back.

Anyway, this reminds me of a vaguely related point I’ve been meaning to make for a while. Debate over the relative influence of environment and heredity on intelligence has been going on for at least a century without much change or resolution, or any obvious reduction in the level of vitriol. The only significant new information in the last few decades has been the discovery that average IQ scores have risen substantially over time (the so-called Flynn effect). There has been vigorous debate over whether this effect is real or spurious.

On the other hand, no-one seems particularly exercised about the relative effects of nature and nurture on height, even though the observed patterns seem to be much the same: a fairly high correlation between parents and children, significant class effects, a correlation with wages and a surprisingly strong increasing trend over time.

And much the same things can be said about health, except that the parent-child correlation is specific to particular conditions.

Height, health status and measured intelligence are all positively correlated so it seems as if we should be looking for the same kind of explanation in all cases. This will be left as an exercise for readers (that is, I haven’t got around to working on it myself).

Update The comments do a good job of making my point. There’s plenty of vitriol on the subject of intelligence, but not much new. On the other hand, there’s some interesting, and reasonably civilised, discussion of genetic and environmental determinants of height.