Stigmergy and The Soul of the Ant

When I was a kid, one of the books I read that stimulated my sense of awe and wonder in nature was “Die Siel van die Mier”, which in English is “The Soul of the Ant” – written by an important figure (I now realise) in ethology, Eugene Marais. I can still remember his descriptions…

Detecting minds where there are none

You’re sitting in your bedroom and hear three sharp raps at your window. Rat tat tat. Ten seconds later, you hear it again. Rat tat tat. More than likely, you’re going to imagine an agent – a mind – is behind that rapping. That’s agency detection. This happened to me a few years ago. It…

Travels: France – Èze does it

Èze, France – September 2012, Dear Friends, I’m working from Nice this week! Today (Sunday) I woke up at 9:30, not having any plans. I went to bed last night failing to make any. I tried, but I was spoiled for choice. Do I go to Grasse and visit a perfume factory? Or try and…

Essentialism: Basing decisions on beliefs

“The pleasure we get from all sorts of everyday objects is related to our beliefs about their histories.” – that’s a line from Paul Bloom’s book, How Pleasure Works. It’s so obvious, yet I’d never thought of it like that before – not so precisely. Our pleasure with respect to objects is tied to beliefs.…

Believing something is right because we’ve always believed it

Some parts of daily life seem so natural, benign, and commonplace that we don’t consider them to be as awful as they really are. Perhaps we so easily believe something is right, just because it has always been so. Take for example, circumcision. Circumcision as genital mutilation To be clear, I’m referring to male circumcision…

A Lady Stole My Heart Today

At the gym.  Sitting right next to me in our spin session. A lovely lass – she pushed the right buttons and stole my heart. Well, my heart rate, to be specific. Just before the gruelling hour of spinning began, she tried to get the new electronic device attached to her bike to sync with…

Confirmation Bias and Free Will

I’ve been thinking about free will, which has in turn got me thinking about all the flaws we all have in our abilities to reason.  We all have them to a lesser or greater extent – and they’re often surprisingly subtle.  The subtly disturbs me – it leaves the door wide open for bad reasoning,…

The Illusoriness of My Free Will

I now seriously suspect that I don’t have free will.  I can’t say I’ve given it much thought in the past – I’ve always viewed it as somewhat philosophical, somewhat theoretical, and the works of Schopenhauer and Hobbes don’t grip me as they should. A lot of neuroscience, however, makes these questions more interesting, and more…

Being Aware of Rationalising

When I argue with someone, try and justify a belief or a moral, or try and convince myself to do something I know isn’t really great (it’s okay to eat that muffin – I went swimming this morning), I rationalise.  It’s a terrible habit, probably innately human, yet it’s useful to at least be aware…