Monthly Archives: May 2013

Individuality shaped by experience in genetically identical mice

“What is individuality” debates continue, but the scales have been tipped away from genetics somewhat by a study published this week in Science. Genetically identical mice were placed in the same complex enclosure for three months. Individual mice that explored the environment more broadly grew more new neurons than less adventurous mice. The results suggest a link between experience and brain plasticity, and that exploratory behavior may promote individuality even among genetically identical animals. “To out knowledge, it’s the first example of a direct link between individual behavior and individual brain plasticity,” said one of the researchers on the team. Not all differences are environmental, he cautions, as some mice were more prone to explore at the outset. Still, he added, “the environment amplified that difference”. Studies like this could help explain how much human individuality is based on genetic predisposition and how much is shaped by actual life experiences.

Hurricane on Saturn

Saturn Hurricane

This photo of a 1,250 miles wide hurricane on the surface of Saturn was taken in November 2012 by the Cassini spacecraft. Via NASA:

The spinning vortex of Saturn’s north polar storm resembles a deep red rose of giant proportions surrounded by green foliage in this false-color image from NASA’s Cassini spacecraft. Measurements have sized the eye at a staggering 1,250 miles (2,000 kilometers) across with cloud speeds as fast as 330 miles per hour (150 meters per second).

Before we were born

An often cited anxiety when facing mortality comes from thinking about all of the experiences and opportunities missed due to one’s own death, or because of the loss of a loved one. I thought of that when reading this quote by Mark Twain:

I do not fear death. I had been dead for billions and billions of years before I was born, and had not suffered the slightest inconvenience from it.

It’s a condition, Twain says, identical to death to simply not yet be born. We don’t lament missing out on any of the amazing experiences that came before us in human history, to any real degree, so it suddenly seems strange to me that we would have a great deal of anxiety over not having the opportunity to live out those experiences that follow us in history. On a more personal level, we don’t suffer greatly over having missed some early parts of a loved one’s life — the years that preceded us in our grandparent’s, parent’s, or spouse’s lives — and maybe there’s some comfort in that thought when facing future parts of life that don’t include them in ours, or us in theirs. The moments we share when we are here are all the ones we get to enjoy, and those are plenty for a lifetime.

Derby Day

In honor of Derby Day, from Hunter S. Thompson’s “The Kentucky Derby is Decadent and Depraved” (1970):

Steadman wanted to see some Kentucky Colonels, but he wasn’t sure what they looked like. I told him to go back to the clubhouse men’s rooms and look for men in white linen suits vomitting in the urinals. “They’ll usually have large brown whiskey stains on the front of their suits,” I said. “But watch the shoes, that’s the tip-off. Most of them manage to avoid vomitting on their own clothes, but they never miss their shoes.”

What do philosophers believe?

A recently published survey of beliefs among contemporary philosophers found the following (some of them surprising) percentages of agreement on various perennial discussions that come up in philosophical debates. The survey was conducted among 1,972 faculty members in 99 leading departments of philosophy around the world.

  1. A priori knowledge: yes 71.1%; no 18.4%; other 10.5%.
  2. Abstract objects: Platonism 39.3%; nominalism 37.7%; other 23.0%.
  3. Aesthetic value: objective 41.0%; subjective 34.5%; other 24.5%.
  4. Analytic-synthetic distinction: yes 64.9%; no 27.1%; other 8.1%.
  5. Epistemic justification: externalism 42.7%; internalism 26.4%; other 30.8%.
  6. External world: non-skeptical realism 81.6%; skepticism 4.8%; idealism 4.3%; other 9.2%.
  7. Free will: compatibilism 59.1%; libertarianism 13.7%; no free will 12.2%; other 14.9%.
  8. God: atheism 72.8%; theism 14.6%; other 12.6%.
  9. Knowledge claims: contextualism 40.1%; invariantism 31.1%; relativism 2.9%; other 25.9%.
  10. Knowledge: empiricism 35.0%; rationalism 27.8%; other 37.2%.
  11. Laws of nature: non-Humean 57.1%; Humean 24.7%; other 18.2%.
  12. Logic: classical 51.6%; non-classical 15.4%; other 33.1%.
  13. Mental content: externalism 51.1%; internalism 20.0%; other 28.9%.
  14. Meta-ethics: moral realism 56.4%; moral anti-realism 27.7%; other 15.9%.
  15. Metaphilosophy: naturalism 49.8%; non-naturalism 25.9%; other 24.3%.
  16. Mind: physicalism 56.5%; non-physicalism 27.1%; other 16.4%.
  17. Moral judgment: cognitivism 65.7%; non-cognitivism 17.0%; other 17.3%.
  18. Moral motivation: internalism 34.9%; externalism 29.8%; other 35.3%.
  19. Newcomb’s problem: two boxes 31.4%; one box 21.3%; other 47.4%.
  20. Normative ethics: deontology 25.9%; consequentialism 23.6%; virtue ethics 18.2%; other 32.3%.
  21. Perceptual experience: representationalism 31.5%; qualia theory 12.2%; disjunctivism 11.0%; sense-datum theory 3.1%; other 42.2%.
  22. Personal identity: psychological view 33.6%; biological view 16.9%; further-fact view 12.2%; other 37.3%.
  23. Politics: egalitarianism 34.8%; communitarianism 14.3%; libertarianism 9.9%; other 41.0%.
  24. Proper names: Millian 34.5%; Fregean 28.7%; other 36.8%.
  25. Science: scientific realism 75.1%; scientific anti-realism 11.6%; other 13.3%.
  26. Teletransporter: survival 36.2%; death 31.1%; other 32.7%.
  27. Time: B-theory 26.3%; A-theory 15.5%; other 58.2%.
  28. Trolley problem: switch 68.2%; don’t switch 7.6%; other 24.2%.
  29. Truth: correspondence 50.8%; deflationary 24.8%; epistemic 6.9%; other 17.5%.
  30. Zombies: conceivable but not metaphysically possible 35.6%; metaphysically possible 23.3%; inconceivable 16.0%; other 25.1%.

Please don’t make me link up all the Wikipedia articles for these topics, but please do use the comment section if you’d like to add your own thoughts or ask for clarification on any of the topics listed.