An Existential Void: Liminality As Transition Between Rule-Spaces

by Jochen Szangolies Even if you’ve never played chess in your life, the image in Fig. 1 is probably readily identifiable to you. The regular grid of the chessboard, white and black standing in opposition, perhaps even the individual pieces—knights, pawns, bishops, and so on—are a cultural staple. If you have some familiarity with the…

Hidden Worlds: Science, Truth, and Quantum Mechanics

by Jochen Szangolies Hearing the words ‘quantum mechanics’ usually invokes images of the impossibly tiny and fleeting, phenomena just barely on the edge of existence, unfathomably far removed from everyday experience. Perhaps illustrated in the form of bright, jittery sparkly things jumping about in a PBS documentary, perhaps as amorphous, hovering blobs of improbability, perhaps,…

How Things Hang Together: the Lobster and the Octopus Redux

by Jochen Szangolies This is the fourth part of a series on dual-process psychology and its significance for our image of the world. Previous parts: 1) The Lobster and the Octopus, 2) The Dolphin and the Wasp, and 3) The Reindeer and the Ape A (nowadays surely—or hopefully—outdated) view, associated with Descartes, represents animals as…

The Reindeer and the Ape: Reflections on Xenophanes’ Rainbow

by Jochen Szangolies This is the third part of a series on dual-process psychology and its significance for our image of the world. Previous parts: 1) The Lobster and the Octopus and 2) The Dolphin and the Wasp Rudolph, the blue-eyed reindeer With Christmas season still twinkling in the rear view mirror, images of reindeer, most commonly in…

The Dolphin and the Wasp: Rules, Reflections, and Representations

by Jochen Szangolies In the beginning there was nothing, which exploded. At least, that’s how the current state of knowledge is summarized by the great Terry Pratchett in Lords and Ladies. As far as cosmogony goes, it certainly has the virtue of succinctness. It also poses—by virtue of summarily ignoring—what William James called the ‘darkest…

The Lobster and the Octopus: Thinking, Rigid and Fluid

by Jochen Szangolies Consider the lobster. Rigidly separated from the environment by its shell, the lobster’s world is cleanly divided into ‘self’ and ‘other’, ‘subject’ and ‘object’. One may suspect that it can’t help but conceive of itself as separated from the world, looking at it through its bulbous eyes, probing it with antennae. The…

Erring on the Slippery Earth: Conceptions of Moral Identity

by Jochen Szangolies Who Are You? I want you to take a moment to reflect on the answer that first came to mind upon reading this question. Was it something related to your job? Are you a baker, a writer, a physicist, a construction worker? Or did you start thinking about your passions—the things you…

Fake News and Phase Transitions: The Physics of Social Interaction

by Jochen Szangolies Aristotle characterized humans as zoon logon echon, the rational animal. In general, we like to believe that our opinions are formed through reason—that we have arrived at them by means of a process of weighing the alternatives, selecting that which we deem most appropriate. This implies a certain mutual intelligibility—I might not…

Doomsday and the Dark Forest: The Fall of the Berlin Wall and our Quest for the Stars

by Jochen Szangolies J Richard Gott and the Fall of the Berlin Wall J Richard Gott, now an astrophysicist famous for the notion that the universe might have created itself by reaching back through time, visited the Berlin Wall in 1969, while an undergraduate at Harvard. There, he made the following prediction (paraphrased): The Wall…