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Massimo PigliucciRSS Feed of this column.

Massimo Pigliucci is Professor of Philosophy at the City University of New York.

His research focuses on the structure of evolutionary theory, the relationship between science and philosophy

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I’m reading a delightful history of chess, The Immortal Game, by David Shenk, and got to the chapter dealing with the dark side of chess: the fact that a small but significant number of top players throughout history have gone off the deep end -- including the famous American world champion Bobby Fisher.

As is usual with correlations (playing chess <=> your brain goes bonk), it is not clear which way the causality goes, if at all. It could be that playing chess at the highest levels affects the mind in negative ways; it may be that abnormal minds are more likely than others to be attracted by the game; or it could simply be that the correlation is spurious, i.e. non-causal.

Shenk does not take sides on this debate, but he does report the pronouncements of a number of Freudian psychoanalysts on the matter. For instance, Ernest Jones (Freud’s biographer and protege), confidently stated that “It is plain that the unconscious motive activating [chess] players is not the mere love of pugnacity characteristic of all competitive games, but the grimmer one of father murder.” What?? That’s right, it’s the good ‘ol Oedipus complex -- itself rooted in the all-encompassing Freudian explanation for human behavior, sex drives -- that pushes players to protect their Queen (=mother) and checkmate the King (=father). Here is some more nonsense from Jones (p. 147 of Shenk’s):
My colleague at the University of California-Irvine, Francisco Ayala, has been interviewed recently by the New York Times about his views on science and religion. Ayala is particularly suitable for the task, being a former Dominican priest and one of the world’s best known evolutionary biologists. I happen to agree with much of what Ayala said in the interview, but of course I will be focusing here on where I depart from his positions.
Here we go again, just this morning the Florida House of Representatives passed a bill that directs teachers to engage in “critical analysis” of evolution in public schools. The bill’s chief sponsor, Republican Alan Hays of Umatilla, says that evolution “has holes in it,” and that “no one has any record -- no fossils have been found.” That will come as a big shock to the thousands of natural history museums around the world, displaying hundreds of thousands of fossils.
Maybe I’ve had elevators on my mind because the one in our building has gone through endless repairs of late, none of which apparently improved its speed or reliability. Or perhaps you simply cannot live in New York City without taking into account elevators as a major component of your life. But then my wife pointed out to me this snippet from an article published recently in The New Yorker (every self-respecting newyorker reads The New Yorker while in the subway):
I have taken issue before (here and here) with the writings of Stanley Fish in the New York Times, and I’m about to do it again. Fish is a professor of law at Florida State University, and often writes reasonably on a variety of topics in the NYT, but there is a streak of deconstruction running through some of his columns, that brings him to espouse pretty questionable positions when it comes to science, religion or philosophy.
Skeptic Society’s mastermind and author Michael Shermer is about to release a review of the latest nonsense entry in the evolution-creation wars: Ben Stein’s movie entitled “Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed.”