If you drove anywhere for Memorial Day, you may have noticed the roads over which you traveled. In Rhode Island, for example, more than half the roads are considered to be in poor condition according to the Federal Highway Administration. (Other states with roads in particularly poor condition include, in alphabetical order, California, Connecticut, Hawaii, New Jersey, New Mexico, and West Virginia, plus the District of Columbia.) So would states use federal infrastructure dollars to repair their roads? This map from The Washington Post shows where states are more interested in new road-building projects (in blue) than in repairing their existing roads (in orange). www.washingtonpost.com/wp-apps/imrs.php?src=https://arc-anglerfish-washpost-prod-washpost.s3.amazonaws.com/public/Z3LEE6W3QNDLDGGVY3XHGECNVM.jpg
Questions of identity -- like, "Am I a mind or a body?" "Am I a product of biology or how I have been raised?" "Do I have a single identity or multiple identities?" -- have been of interest to philosophers for thousands of years. This essay from a philosophy professor at Hofstra University argues for reframing the way we think about "self."
"Both psychological and animalist approaches are ‘container’ frameworks, positing the body as a container of psychological functions or the bounded location of bodily functions. All these approaches reflect philosophers’ concern to focus on what the distinguishing or definitional characteristic of a self is, the thing that will pick out a self and nothing else, and that will identify selves as selves, regardless of their particular differences. On the psychological view, a self is a personal consciousness. On the animalist view, a self is a human organism or animal. This has tended to lead to a somewhat one-dimensional and simplified view of what a self is, leaving out social, cultural and interpersonal traits that are also distinctive of selves and are often what people would regard as central to their self-identity. Just as selves have different personal memories and self-awareness, they can have different social and interpersonal relations, cultural backgrounds and personalities. The latter are variable in their specificity, but are just as important to being a self as biology, memory and self-awareness. Recognising the influence of these factors, some philosophers have pushed against such reductive approaches and argued for a framework that recognises the complexity and multidimensionality of persons. The network self view emerges from this trend. It began in the later 20th century and has continued in the 21st, when philosophers started to move toward a broader understanding of selves. ... The network self view further develops this line of thought and says that the self ... also changes over time, acquiring and losing traits in virtue of new social locations and relations, even as it continues as that one self. ...
"Let’s take a concrete example. Consider Lindsey: she is spouse, mother, novelist, English speaker, Irish Catholic, feminist, professor of philosophy, automobile driver, psychobiological organism, introverted, fearful of heights, left-handed, carrier of Huntington’s disease (HD), resident of New York City. This is not an exhaustive set, just a selection of traits or identities. Traits are related to one another to form a network of traits. Lindsey is an inclusive network, a plurality of traits related to one another. The overall character – the integrity – of a self is constituted by the unique interrelatedness of its particular relational traits, psychobiological, social, political, cultural, linguistic and physical. ... Some traits might be more dominant than others. Being a spouse might be strongly relevant to who Lindsey is, whereas being an aunt weakly relevant. Some traits might be more salient in some contexts than others. In Lindsey’s neighbourhood, being a parent might be more salient than being a philosopher, whereas at the university being a philosopher is more prominent. ... Lindsey might feel conflict or tension between her identities. ... She might feel that some of these are not essential to who she really is. But even if some are less important than others, and some are strongly relevant to who she is and identifies as, they’re all still interconnected ways in which Lindsey is. ... What about the changeableness and fluidity of the self? What about other stages of Lindsey’s life? Lindsey-at-age-five is not a spouse or a mother, and future stages of Lindsey might include different traits and relations too: she might divorce or change careers or undergo a gender identity transformation. The network self is also a process. ... The network self is changeable but continuous as it maps on to a new phase of the self. Some traits become relevant in new ways. Some might cease to be relevant in the present while remaining part of the self’s history. There’s no prescribed path for the self. The self is a cumulative network because its history persists, even if there are many aspects of its history that a self disavows going forward or even if the way in which its history is relevant changes. ...
"Seeing ourselves as a network is a fertile way to understand our complexity. Perhaps it could even help break the rigid and reductive stereotyping that dominates current cultural and political discourse, and cultivate more productive communication. ... Rather than seeing our multiple identities as separating us from one another, we should see them as bases for communication and understanding, even if partial. Lindsey is a white woman philosopher. Her identity as a philosopher is shared with other philosophers (men, women, white, not white). At the same time, she might share an identity as a woman philosopher with other women philosophers whose experiences as philosophers have been shaped by being women. Sometimes communication is more difficult than others, as when some identities are ideologically rejected, or seem so different that communication can’t get off the ground. But the multiple identities of the network self provide a basis for the possibility of common ground. ... By embracing the complexity and fluidity of selves, we come to a better understanding of who we are and how to live well with ourselves and with one another."
Interested in learning a bit of a new language this summer? The Live Lingua Project, founded by a former Peace Corps volunteer, is a repository of free lessons in more than 150 languages spoken around the world! www.livelingua.com/project/
Under the World Bank and International Monetary Fund's Debt Service Suspension Initiative, 73 of the world's poorest countries have been eligible to suspend payments on external debt through Dec. 2021 in order to "concentrate their resources on fighting the pandemic and safeguarding the lives and livelihoods of millions of the most vulnerable people." This interactive map from HowMuch.net allows users to see which countries (in pink) have taken advantage of the DSSI program and, perhaps more interesting, which other countries hold that debt (in blue after clicking on a pink country). howmuch.net/articles/the-state-of-external-debt
Earlier this month, 18 prominent scientists published an open letter in the journal Science calling for a more thorough, transparent investigation of the origins of COVID-19. (China was notably uncooperative in the earlier WHO-commissioned inquiry, having taken down previously publicly available databases and pushing its preferred theory that COVID-19 originated outside of China. The director-general of the WHO has himself since called for a more thorough investigation.) Why does it matter where the virus originated? In the words of technology advisor Jamie Metzl, "When a plane crashes, you could say, 'Well, a plane crashed. We should redouble our efforts to make sure that we have safe skies.' You'd be right. But when a plane crashes, we also want to know why did this particular plane crash? Because that could point to a much bigger problem. You could say, 'there are lots of things that could lead to pandemics. One of them is unsafe laboratories and another is climate change and eco system destruction. We should do all of them.' But to prioritize our response, we need to recognize where the biggest challenges are. If ... COVID-19 comes from an accidental lab leak from the Wuhan Institute of Virology, that's a pretty big problem because that's not the only institute of virology in all of China or in all of the world. We need to prioritize that response now and in the future. If it's something else, that would be our starting point. I think it would be enormously self-defeating to say 'it doesn't matter where the worst pandemic in a century comes from and we should just play nice with everybody and move on and try to do a little bit of everything.'" (Quote from the March 17 "Intelligence Matters" podcast, which is not given to providing a platform to conspiracy theorists, on the considerable circumstantial evidence that China continues to hide what it knows about the origins of COVID-19. www.cbsnews.com/news/covid-19-origins-transparency-china/) The Wall Street Journal also published a good background piece on the recent push to investigate the origins of the virus: www.wsj.com/articles/wuhan-lab-leak-question-chinese-mine-covid-pandemic-11621871125
For centuries, cartographers have experimented with new map-making projections to improve usability and reduce the various distortions that come from trying to make the 3D two dimensional. Here's a new candidate, designed by a team of astrophysicists: geographical.co.uk/places/mapping/item/4018-a-new-world-map-projection-minimises-the-inherent-problems-of-flattening-the-globe
This topological map from the print version of The Wall Street Journal (May 17, p.R4) shows the percentage of each state's total energy consumption that is electricity. (The maps in the online version of the article show the same data but broken out by region: www.wsj.com/articles/electrification-of-everything-11620843173)
Washington University in St. Louis philosophy professor Anya Plutynski has been named the winner of the 2021 Lakatos Award for the year's outstanding contribution in the philosophy of science. Plutynski's book Explaining Cancer: Finding Order in Disorder was praised by the selection committee as "a 'remarkable book' that is 'clear and carefully argued' and that 'covers an impressive amount of ground impressively well' while being 'an outstanding example of how to do relevant philosophy of science'. It is reported to offer a 'densely-argued, wide-ranging and penetrating analysis of the science of cancer research. Anyone interested in the subject would learn much from reading it, and find many surprises, both from the point of view of the science and philosophy'. Plutynski is praised for displaying 'an enviable command of the philosophical literature. She is also highly informative about cancer. The combination gives an unusual depth and sensitivity to the philosophical points that she makes.'"
Spain has two autonomous exclaves in North Africa: Melilla (on Morocco's northeastern coast) and Ceuta (on the Moroccan coast near Gibraltar). Ceuta was in the news this week when as many as 8,000 would-be migrants to the European Union, mostly from Sub-Saharan Africa, decided to swim from Morocco to Ceuta or climb the fence separating the two territories. Although Morocco normally polices the border to prevent that from happening, Moroccan officials apparently chose to express their displeasure with Spain's decision to admit the leader of Western Sahara's Polisario Front to a Spanish hospital by ... not. Most of the would-be migrants have since been sent back to Morocco.
Test your geography knowledge with this quiz, which I found a bit harder than usual without resorting to the obscure :-) Be sure to read the information that accompanies each answer. play.howstuffworks.com/quiz/world-geography-quiz
Like the hurricane season in the northern Atlantic Ocean, the cyclone season in the northern Indian Ocean is generally at its most intense from May to November. Over the last week, the cyclone season began with Cyclone Tauktae (Burmese for "gecko"), the biggest storm to hit the north coastal Indian state of Gujarat in more than 20 years. (Moving nearly 200,000 people in low-lying areas to shelters has also raised concerns about the spread of COVID in the coming weeks.) This satellite image shows Tauktae as it approached Gujarat: c.ndtvimg.com/2021-05/4uaunabc_cyclone-tauktae650_625x300_17_May_21.jpg
This chart looks at casualties over the last 13 years resulting from conflict between Israel and the West Bank/Gaza: www.statista.com/chart/16516/israeli-palestinian-casualties-by-in-gaza-and-the-west-bank
Dam projects around the world are sources of geopolitical conflict and intrigue. A dramatic drop in the quantity of water carried by the Euphrates River from Turkey into Syria is the latest to generate outrage, but, as with so much in Syria, it's complicated:
"The Euphrates River in Syria separates between the lands under the control of the Syrian government and the territories held by the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF). The Syrian government controls the areas located south of the Euphrates and overlooking its right bank, including the areas extending to the southern countryside of the provinces of Raqqa, Deir ez-Zor and Manbij in the countryside of Aleppo. ... The SDF, meanwhile, controls the left bank of the river, which is seen as its first point of control that spans the areas of northeastern Syria, including the northern countryside of the provinces of Raqqa and Deir ez-Zor. The Free Syrian Army (FSA), backed by Turkey, controls the right bank of the Euphrates over a distance of no more than 6 kilometers into Syrian territories near Jarablus. Both the Syrian government and the SDF accuse Turkey of the dramatic drop in the levels of water flowing into the Euphrates River. The Syrian opposition, however, has remained mum, as it does not benefit from the river’s water. During a tour to check on the water situation at the Euphrates River on May 7, the Syrian government's Minister of Water Resources Tamam Raad called on Turkey to release water into the river according to Syria's and Iraq's fair share. He also urged the international community and international organizations to intervene in this regard."
This geo-graphic shows where the last year's urban shuffle, among other things, has driven down prices on the cost to rent a one-bedroom apartment in the U.S.: www.statista.com/chart/24826/change-in-rental-price-for-one-bedroom-apartment
This article from Philosophy Now (UK) explores the link between philosophy and science fiction, arguing through a series of case studies that science fiction's creation of nonhuman minds -- be they robots, aliens, AI, or animals -- is a means of thinking through what it means to be human in the first place.
"At a deeper level any science fiction film is an allegory of the human condition. Accordingly, sci-fi representations of non-humans are molded to serve as a mirror or a contradiction for us. They throw back at us our own existential anxiety, frailties and limitations, as well as our strengths and beauty, but far more than that, our unconscious need to define the meaning of existence. They confront us with intense questions: Who are we? Is there anything special about us? Do we play a unique role in the scheme of things? As a central aspect of the absurdity of our existence (which has been captured so well in existentialism), the human species seems to stand alone in the universe. We meet no other species which can compete with or challenge us. Confronting humans who are accustomed to thinking in anthropocentric ways with ‘competitive species’ can provoke in us the need to seek distinctions and at least somewhat answer fundamental questions about our identity, role, and significance within a vast, empty universe."
This map has been in the news this week as climate scientists are trying to call attention to the impact of cooling waters off Greenland's southeastern coast: www.cbsnews.com/news/climate-change-map-warning/
The National Zoo and Smithsonian museums are starting to reopen. Air & Space's Udvar-Hazy Center is now open. The National Museum of African American History and the Portrait Gallery re-open today. The National Zoo and the National Museum of American History open next Friday (May 21). A handful of other Smithsonian museums are also re-opening. No word yet on the National Museum of Natural History or the National Gallery of Art, among others. All visitors will need (free) timed-entry passes. You can get yours at www.si.edu/visit
Update: The National Gallery of Art is also open as of today.
Ever wonder what role political borders play in divvying up landmasses? This interesting Reddit map removes everything but the political borders: www.reddit.com/r/MapPorn/comments/l95gc5/map_of_the_world_but_it_is_only_the_land_borders/
Last week, the Centers for Disease Control announced that 2020 saw an acceleration in the longtime decline in U.S. birthrates. Total fertility rates in the U.S. now hover around 1.6 children per woman. (A TFR of 2.2 is considered replacement level.) Twenty-five U.S. states had more deaths than births in 2020. This article from Foreign Affairs considers the role demographics plays in geopolitics. www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/world/2019-06-11/great-demographics-comes-great-power
Joining Gorongosa National Park to the north, Mozambique has a new national park near its border with Zimbabwe, created in the Chimanimani Mountains where, just a few decades ago, wildlife poaching was a significant source of funding and food for the armed factions that fought in Mozambique's civil wars. www.nytimes.com/2021/05/03/travel/mozambique-national-park.html
As of last week, the 22 states shown in green on this topological map have lifted all COVID restrictions. (The states with the most COVID restrictions? California and New Mexico.) www.statista.com/chart/21423/us-states-lifting-covid-19-restrictions
This article makes an interesting case for the primacy of the pre-Socratic philosopher Anaxagoras, who by some accounts brought philosophy -- and science -- to Athens, and by extension to the Western World, 2500 years ago. www.sciencenews.org/article/anaxagoras-science-athens-history-philosophy
According to the UN Environment Programme, the world wastes nearly a billion tonnes of food per year. This geo-graphic shows both the quantity of food waste in absolute terms in selected countries (orange bars) and the quantity of food waste per capita (in yellow circles). The reasons for food waste vary with the country; in poorer countries, waste may result from inefficiencies in field-to-table logistics, for example, whereas in wealthier countries more of the waste may be generated by the food service industry. www.statista.com/chart/24350/total-annual-household-waste-produced-in-selected-countries
Summer often means Shakespeare in the park, but you don't need to wait. This article from The Guardian (UK) highlights a dozen of the best Shakespeare productions available to stream right now (some free, some not). www.theguardian.com/stage/2020/apr/22/play-on-12-of-the-best-shakespeare-productions-to-stream
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