Philosophy & Ethics

This is a commonly used argument, indeed often taken for granted. We can simulate physics on a computer. So, the argument goes, what is to stop us eventually simulating your whole body including your brain? And if so, is it not just a matter of time, and increasing computer power before we have exact simulations of humans as computer programs? Programs whose behaviour is indistinguishable from humans?

This is a staple of many science fiction stories of course. But some logicians, philosophers and physicists think there are flaws in this argument.

We know the laws of physics are incomplete. Could there be physical processes which for some reason are impossible to simulate using a computer program? And could processes like that go on in a human being?

Proof of life beyond earth is coming. Stargazing image via Shutterstock

By David A. Weintraub, Vanderbilt University

Old fashioned scandals meet new-fangled complexity. Andy Dean Photography

By Mark Israel, University of Western Australia

How much risk can health workers be asked to take on? Mike Segar/Reuters

By Catherine Womack, Bridgewater State University

Taking care of sick people has always involved personal risk.

From plague to tuberculosis to smallpox to SARS, health-care workers have put themselves in danger in the course of fulfilling their duties to care for others. Many have lost their lives doing just that.

In 2005, John Ioannidis wrote a paper in PLOS Medicine showing that most published research findings are false. 

There are many different conceptions of God, and endless questions. Credit: Waiting For The Word, CC BY-NC-SA

By Graham Oppy, Monash University

Disputes about the existence of God — like most disputes about religion, politics, and sex — almost always generate heat but not light.

The question of the existence of God seems intractable. As with other philosophical questions, there is no method to follow in seeking to answer it. Moreover, there is no prospect of reaching an agreed answer to it.

Should academics be disciplined by their universities for things said over Twitter? Credit: Flickr, CC BY-SA

By Janna Thompson, La Trobe University

Academic freedom has been put in the spotlight with two universities recently coming down hard on academics for comments on social media.

It is difficult for pharmaceutical companies to have good public relations in an immediate news and social media world - no matter how many trials are done, people can still have adverse effects or even suffer real harm - and social media detractors can just claim they are corrupt and convince a large segment of their followers. 

To make sure the public has as much confidence as possible in new products, all drugs have to undergo exhaustive, time-consuming and expensive testing. When high-profile media events like ebola, which killed 1/13,000th as many Americans this week as heart disease did, happen, there are calls to throw ethics and testing protocols out the window.

Image: author provided

By David Glance, University of Western Australia

In June of this year, Facebook provoked a widespread public outcry after it became known that it had tried to manipulate the emotions of nearly 700,000 of its users as part of a social “experiment.”

Look at a fan rotating its blades. Now look somewhat to the side of it. It seems to rotate slower now. Now shift your gaze slowly back toward the center of the fan. The fan seems to pick up speed. There are not just two appearances of its speed, one fast if I stare at it, and one slow if it is in the periphery of my visual field, but instead the fan seems to pick up speed gradually!