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#030: Westworld and Philosophy (w/ Kimberly Engels and James South)

#030: Westworld and Philosophy (w/ Kimberly Engels and James South)

In this episode, there is plenty for us to doubt, because we’re talking about philosophy of mind with some moral and ethical philosophy thrown in like sprinkles on top. In what may well become a recurring theme on this podcast, we’re doing another philosophical deep-dive into a television series. This week, we’re analyzing HBO’s Westworld, a cerebral, high-concept series which explores the emergence of artificial consciousness in a theme park modeled after the American Old West and populated by highly sophisticated robots that look and act just like humans from that era.

Joining me for this journey into the maze are two philosophy professors, Dr. James South and Dr. Kimberly Engels, who together have edited an anthology of essays entitled Westworld and Philosophy, a fairly recent addition to the Blackwell Philosophy and Pop Culture series.

Are the hosts of Westworld conscious, and if so, what is their experience like? Would AI have a bias for consciousness? Does Westworld reveal your true self, or does it shape who you are to become? How might we apply moral luck, virtue theory, and the Sartrean concept of existentialism and freedom to the show’s characters? Do Westworld’s hosts possess self-consciousness, or merely phenomenal consciousness? These are just a few of the questions we explore in this episode.

Links:

Westworld and Philosophy book: https://www.wiley.com/en-us/Westworld+and+Philosophy-p-9781119437888

James B. South’s website: http://academic.mu.edu/southj/

Kimberly S. Engels’ website: https://ksengels.wordpress.com/about/

 

Consider supporting me Patreon if you enjoy the show: http://www.patreon.com/aleapofdoubt. Thanks to Jeff Prebeg, Jeanne Ikerd, Torsten Pihl, Chris Watson, and Kim Bojkovsky for being my patrons!

Follow me on Twitter at https://twitter.com/TheNatheist.

The opening clip is an excerpt from the audiobook “God is Not Great” by Christopher Hitchens, courtesy of Hachette Audio. Text Copyright 2007 by Christopher Hitchens. Audio production copyright 2007, Hachette Audio. Used with permission.

The opening and ending music is “Jade” by Esther Nicholson and is used under license. The editing was done by Rich Lyons of the “Living After Faith” podcast.

Check out our website: https://reasonrevolution.org.

Give us a like on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/reasonrevolution.

 

#029: The Post-Fact Era and the Rise of Trump (w/ Nathan Bomey)

#029: The Post-Fact Era and the Rise of Trump (w/ Nathan Bomey)

In this episode, we are applying our doubts and critical thinking toward the myth of “alternative facts” and other lies and fictions of our day that has infected our democracy, ushered in a post-fact era and the digital misinformation age, and helped propel Donald Trump into the White House. My guest for this episode, Nathan Bomey, the author of a new book titled After the Fact: The Erosion of Truth and the Inevitable Rise of Donald Trump. Nathan Bomey is an award-winning business reporter for USA Today, and previously a reporter for the Detroit Free Press.

In this discussion, Nathan Bomey and I discuss the decline of the journalism industry and how its pivot toward sensationalism and partisanship has negatively impacted the public’s perception of truth and helped facilitate the rise of Trump. We also talk about the rise of social media and the ways in which the technological revolution in personal interaction might have contributed to a rise in tribalism and a decline both in empathy for others and in concern for truth and accuracy. We also talk about how social media has been and potentially can be used as a tool by people in power to bypass or circumvent the accountability of journalistic scrutiny, and why the threat of viral misinformation is a new crisis comparable to the Cold War race between the U.S. and Russia that should drive us as a society overcome partisanship to place a new emphasis in education on teaching critical thinking. Finally, we discuss ways in which we can each individually alter how we talk to each other in order to help disparate groups break through barriers and restore trust.

Doubter of the Week: Charles Mackay (1814-1889): Scottish poet and journalist, author of Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds.

Links:

Nathan Bomey’s website: http://nathanbomey.com/

Nathan Bomey on Twitter: https://twitter.com/NathanBomey

Nathan Bomey’s book “After the Fact”: http://nathanbomey.com/after-the-fact

David Weigel, “House Science Committee Chairman: Americans Should Get News from Trump, Not Media,” Washington Post, January 25, 2017, https://tinyurl.com/y7dha3ct.

 

Consider supporting me Patreon if you enjoy the show: http://www.patreon.com/aleapofdoubt. Thanks to Jeff Prebeg, Jeanne Ikerd, Torsten Pihl, Chris Watson, and Kim Bojkovsky for being my patrons!

Follow me on Twitter at https://twitter.com/TheNatheist.

The opening clip is an excerpt from the audiobook “God is Not Great” by Christopher Hitchens, courtesy of Hachette Audio. Text Copyright 2007 by Christopher Hitchens. Audio production copyright 2007, Hachette Audio. Used with permission.

The opening and ending music is “Jade” by Esther Nicholson and is used under license. The editing was done by Rich Lyons of the “Living After Faith” podcast.

Check out our website: https://reasonrevolution.org.

Give us a like on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/reasonrevolution.

Episode 11 | The Interview: Luciano Gonzalez

This week, Justin sits down with journalist, historian, and activist Luciano Gonzalez. They have a wide-ranging discussion about his path out of religion, what it’s like to be an atheist in the latinx community, the growing threat of white supremacy and violent extremism, and the value of history to democracy.

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In Defense of Journalism

In Defense of Journalism

The front page of the June 18, 1972 issue of the Washington Post centered around the Nixon administration’s efforts in North Vietnam, Democratic presidential candidate George McGovern’s chances in the New York primary, and an impending US appeals court ruling involving an airline pilot strike and its demands for stronger protections against hijacking. However, among the other articles on the front page, one became the most important, not only for that day, but for the ensuing two years. “5 Held in Plot to Bug Democrats’ Office Here,” was the headline for an article by veteran Post reporter Alfred Lewis. “Five men, one of whom said he is a former employee of the Central Intelligence Agency, were arrested at 2:30 a.m. yesterday in what authorities described as an elaborate plot to bug the offices of the Democratic National Committee here,” Lewis reported.

It was the beginning of the “long, national nightmare” of Watergate, a scandal so deep and so intricate that it took two years, multiple news reports, congressional testimonies, and a near impeachment to end. The linchpin that kept democracy safe against further abuses of the 37th President was a free press, the news. Bob Woodward & Carl Bernstein’s subsequent reporting in the Washington Post blew the story wide open, took down a president, and made them legends in the process. A free press and unadulterated journalism pushed Richard M. Nixon to resign and for Washington to clean up what had gone wrong for so very long.

It is easy to make parallels from Watergate to our own times. Perhaps our White House’s current occupant is as corrupt, if not more corrupt, than “Tricky Dick.” However the chips may fall with regards to Donald Trump’s alleged collusion with the Russians, it was because of good, unfaltering journalism that we know about it. And a lot of it has come from the very same institution that went after Nixon: the Washington Post.

As it is easy to mention Watergate, it is equally easy to trash the press. Many times, they make it easy for us. When three CNN reports recently went too early and played too loose with sources on a Trump-Russia story, they were asked to resign. Weeks later, CNN went after a reddit user who had a created a WWE-style, smackdown gif of Trump, body slamming a person with their logo over his face, that the president later tweeted. The redditor has since apologized and removed his original gif, but the news network wrote:

CNN is not publishing “HanA**holeSolo’s” name because he is a private citizen who has issued an extensive statement of apology, showed his remorse by saying he has taken down all his offending posts, and because he said he is not going to repeat this ugly behavior on social media again. In addition, he said his statement could serve as an example to others not to do the same. CNN reserves the right to publish his identity should any of that change.

The last sentence, which sent shockwaves through the American zeitgeist, amounted to what some called “blackmail.” In fact, there was even a hashtag started, “CNNblackmail,” addressing their step of potential editorial overreach.

I agree with the critics of CNN in concluding that its actions were extremely unethical, not to mention downright silly. Our country faces immense challenges and you’re wasting time and news copy on a person who goes by the name, “HanAssholeSolo”? It gives Trump and all those who seek to undermine the press the very fuel they need to continue their crusades. CNN shouldn’t have let it get to it and focused on good reporting and solid analysis. But it is cable news, so it doesn’t always act idealistically.

Despite its problems, a free and independent press is essential for the flourishing of our American democracy. Journalism is a bulwark against those who oppress, undermine, and disparage a free society. The post-inaugural success of outlets like the New York Times and the Washington Post speaks to just how important the press is as an institution. They do get things wrong, but the difference between them and Trump, for the most part, is they own their mistakes. When the CNN reporters ran their Trump-Russia story too early, they apologized, retracted the piece, and left CNN respectfully. Imagine Trump apologizing for a falsehood or a complete fabrication. It’s pretty difficult to, right? The press will get things wrong; it doesn’t mean they should be disregarded outright.

It’s pretty fashionable to disparage the media these days. It seems like everyone is getting in on it, despite the fact that it is an indispensable part of our lives and social contract. The goal shouldn’t be to abandon the press altogether. Rather, one should use critical thinking when reading a story. Read something a couple of times. Check the sources in the piece. If an article has hyperlinks, click on them and check out what they’re citing. Read an opposing viewpoint; read many of them. And most importantly, don’t get too comfortable in your own bubble. We all have them; puncture yours every once and awhile and see if you learn something in the process. More often than not, you will.

This issue (no pun intended) matters to me because I see the big picture in ways that others have not. I work with historic newspapers from the state of Indiana every single working day. I’ve seen nearly 200 years of papers, from before we were a state to just a few years ago. It gives me a broader and less cynical perspective. Papers back then were wildly partisan and got things wrong all the time! Some even told you their leanings in the masthead. Papers like the Greencastle Democrat and the Marshall County Republican let you know right off the bat just what kind of paper they were. It compels me, as an historian, to look at multiple papers about the same topic, to get a flavor of how people thought about it back then. People these days think that there was a time when news wasn’t partisan, it was just about the “facts.” That’s a load of bullshit. In reality, papers were incredibly biased and gave you just as much commentary as they did pure news content. That doesn’t mean they weren’t important or weren’t valuable; it just underscored how a free and open press will give you so many ways of seeing events. Your job as a citizen was, and still is, to separate the wheat from the chaff, the good reporting from nonsense.

The reason we must be mindful of journalism’s place in our society is that it is the very thing that can keep our country free. Watergate, the failures of Vietnam, Iran Contra, the failed War in Iraq, and the alleged corruption of the Trump administration were all brought to light by journalism. They work tirelessly, and often thanklessly, to get the story right. They fail, like all people do, but it shouldn’t completely destroy our confidence in them. If we do, our civic life will fall apart. Thus, the founders believed that a free press lived at the heart of our American experiment. As Thomas Jefferson once said, “. . . were it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers, or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate a moment to prefer that latter.” I feel exactly the same way.