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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 24 | The Implications of Politics

This episode, Justin sat down with his first return guest, Cory Johnston of the Brainstorm podcast, to discuss a wide range of topics, including: Justin’s criticism of Dave Rubin, the pros and cons of the left and centrism, health care, anarcho-syndicalism, and critically analyzing content creators.

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Episode 19 | The Interview: Cory Johnston

This episode, Justin spoke with Cory Johnston (@HardcoreSkeptic), the host of the Hardcore Skeptic and Brainstorm podcasts.  

They had a great conversation about his deconversion, our respective podcasting projects, misconceptions about “Classical Liberals” and “SJWs”, and the complicated politics of free speech.

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Episode 18 | The Dangers of American Theocracy

This episode, Justin had a conversation with his friend Adriane about abuse, neglect, and harm done in the name of religion. They discussed her upbringing and eventual path to atheism, how religious exemption laws harm public health and children’s rights, the current political climate, and the value of citizenship.

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Episode 17 | The Interview: Karen Garst

This episode, Justin sat down with Karen Garst (@karen_garst), founder of the Faithless Feminist blog and editor of the new book, Women Beyond Belief: Discovering Life without Religion.

They discussed her path of our religion, how her feminism informs her views of politics and atheism, her newest book, and her recent trip to the controversial Mythinformation Conference in Milwaukee.

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Episode 15 | The Interview: Kelsey Gordon

 

This week, Justin talks with friend and historian Kelsey Gordon. They talk about her questioning of faith, her research on mid-century American popular culture, and the current state of American politics.

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Episode 14 | The Interview: Zerin Firoze

 

This week, Justin sits down with ex-Muslim activist Zerin Firoze. She shares her story about growing up in Bangladesh, leaving Islam, facing persecution in her home country, her move to the United States, and her role as an activist.

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Episode 13 | Thoughts on the “New Center”

 

In this special episode, Justin shares his thoughts on the current state of politics and the emerging “New Center.”

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We Must Continue the Dream

We Must Continue the Dream

Heinrich “Henry” Becker arrived in the United States in 1849, stepping off the passenger ship Hermann and claiming a new life for himself in Baltimore, Maryland. His family had lived in Prussia all their lives, but they embarked on a new path for themselves in America. His father, Friedrich Becker, brought his wife, Elizabeth, and their five children (including Heinrich) to United States. He worked as a tailor most of his life in Baltimore but frequently made trips back to Germany. Heinrich, by contrast, likely had odd jobs before settling in Ohio as an employee of an oil mill. He became a  naturalized citizen in 1854 and lived the next six decades in Dayton, Ohio. He died in 1912.

His daughter, Catharine Baker, was born in 1864. She married Harvey Geyer in 1891 and lived in Dayton until around 1899, where she and her family moved to Peru, Indiana. It was here that Paul Richard Geyer was born. He later married Nira Amos and fathered approximately 4 children, of which my Grandfather, Henry William “Butch” Guyer, was born in 1938. Heinrich Baker, the Prussian immigrant and oil mill worker, is my Great-Great-Great Grandfather. His father, Friedrich, is my Great-Great-Great-Great Grandfather. I’m a proud descendent of German immigrants.

This is something I’ve reflected on a lot over the last few days. This week saw one of the most egregious decisions ever made by an American president: the rescinding of DACA, or “Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals.” This policy, started in 2012 by then-President Barack Obama, ensured that children of undocumented immigrants could stay in the country under a temporary permit. If they came to the US before they were 16, were in high school or completed high school, and had no criminal record, they could stay here under the DACA program. Over 800,000 people utilized DACA to stay in the US. The policy loosely came from a Congressional proposal called the DREAM Act, which would have been a permanent version of DACA that couldn’t be manipulated by executive overreach. Despite broad public support (69% in the latest PRRI poll), the program’s rescindment under the Trump Administration throws everything into uncertainty.

The Obama administration created DACA as a stop-gap measure, after Congress failed to pass the DREAM Act in 2010. Some on the right, including the official line from the White House and the Justice Department, argued that DACA couldn’t withstand constitutional scrutiny. This is not as easy as they make it. The Supreme Court recently issued a split ruling (before Scalia’s replacement) on a similar program, but their differences were mostly based on procedural matters. As Drexel University law professor Anil Kalhan noted in an interview with Quartz, “The issue of constitutionality has never been resolved.” The article further debunks much of Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ comments on rescinding DACA, specifically who qualifies and how the program actually works.

Now, we can set aside the legal issues here, which are complicated and unsettled, but we certainly need to discuss the moral nature of the Trump administration’s decision. This leaves the lives of 800,000 people in an worsened state of limbo than they were already in, causing unnecessary uncertainty to employment, schooling, and eventual paths to citizenship. These young people, who came here as children and know no other home, could be deported to a land they have a tangential connection to. It could split up families, dissolve communities, and hurt our economy. As former Microsoft head and philanthropist Bill Gates wrote on Facebook:

DREAMers represent the best instincts of this country and the tradition that the great experiment of the United States is made better by people from other places coming here to dedicate their talents and commitment to continuing to move our country forward.

Corporate leaders, especially from silicon valley, strongly criticized the president’s decision this week. In fact, CEOs from across the corporate spectrum sent a letter to President Trump and Congressional leaders urging the passage of the DREAM Act and the continuation of DACA.

The strongest criticism of Trump’s actions came from his predecessor, Barack Obama. On Tuesday, the former President published an essay on his Facebook that unpacked the real reason for this decision:

Let’s be clear: the action taken today isn’t required legally. It’s a political decision, and a moral question. Whatever concerns or complaints Americans may have about immigration in general, we shouldn’t threaten the future of this group of young people who are here through no fault of their own, who pose no threat, who are not taking away anything from the rest of us.

He’s right. President Trump made this decision to appeal to the xenophobic, and frankly anti-immigrant, wing of his dwindling political base. This was never about the DREAMers; it was about reversing a policy that made our country more diverse simply to placate a minority of extreme conservatives whose views clashed with the majority of Americans.

As a counter to this horrendous view of America, Obama outlined a better path in the closing of his remarks:

What makes us American is not a question of what we look like, or where our names come from, or the way we pray. What makes us American is our fidelity to a set of ideals – that all of us are created equal; that all of us deserve the chance to make of our lives what we will; that all of us share an obligation to stand up, speak out, and secure our most cherished values for the next generation. That’s how America has traveled this far. That’s how, if we keep at it, we will ultimately reach that more perfect union.

With that in mind, I strongly encourage you to reach out to your Senators and Congresspeople. Tell them to pass the DREAM Act once and for all, so that these people can stay here, work hard, get ahead, and become the Americans they deserve to be. I’ll even give you an easy way to do it. Text “RESIST” to 50409. Give them your name, zip code, and a short message letting them know you support DACA and the DREAMers.

Finally, I’ll leave you with a story. Last year, my former home town of Kokomo, Indiana was hit by a tornado. It touched down near a local Starbucks, leveling it to the ground. Fortunately for everyone, no one was hurt, and that was in no small measure to the manager on duty, Angel Ramos. He rushed everyone to the bathroom and saved them from the building’s collapse. His valiant efforts made him a local hero; they call him the “Starbucks Angel.” He was even commended for his actions by Starbucks’ CEO Howard Schultz. He’s recently married and has a new job in construction, “helping rebuild Kokomo.”

Angel is also a DREAMer. He came here from Mexico with his family when he was nine years old. He became a DACA recipient four years ago, and in that time, he has been able to build a great life for himself here in the US. However, with the rescinding of DACA, he faces uncertainty again. This is something I’m not sure the Trump administration understands. Every time they make a policy move like this, they seem to disregard the very human toll it has. And all of it comes from playing petty partisan politics with people who can’t easily fight back.

It’s characteristic of a bully, someone who thinks they’re strong when they’re actually backed in a corner. In a presidency mired in scandal, comfort with white supremacy, and organizational disarray, this “policy move” is another distraction from the very problems this President has. His lashing out turns into real a hardship for people like Angel, his younger sister, and the 800,000 people helped by the DACA program. As Ramos said in a recent interview, “We’re just trying to come here for a better life. So it’s frustrating… just to see everything kind of start going backwards in a very intolerant and prejudice[d] way.”

He’s right. This isn’t good policy or good politics; it’s just prejudice. The hope is that the DREAM Act will get passed and DACA will be extended, but for now, it’s up to all of us to defend the DREAMers. People come to America for opportunity, freedom, and the chance to build a better life. It’s what brought Angel and his family here and what brought my Great-Great-Great Grandfather Heinrich and his family here. Citizenship is not based simply on where you’re from; it’s about who you are and what you do when you’re here. We’re all Americans united under the principles of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Extending the blessings of liberty to all people strengthens our country, not weakens it. To ensure the promise of our nation, we must stand by the DREAMers and their pursuit of their dream.

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