Neil Tyson And The Value Of Philosophy

Reprinted from Scientia Salon. You can read the original here.It seems like my friend Neil deGrasse...

What Does It Mean For Something To Be Metaphysically Necessary?

I mentioned before, this semester I’m teaching a graduate level seminar on David Hume, and having...

David Hume And The Missing Shade Of Blue

This semester I’m teaching a graduate level course on “Hume Then and Now,” which aims at...

Is Theologian Alving Plantinga For Real? Alas, It Appears So

I keep hearing that Notre Dame philosopher and theologian Alvin Plantinga is a really smart guy...

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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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Common sense says that we are happier when we get more money to spend on ourselves. At least, that’s what passes for commonsense in modern capitalistic societies, from the United States to China.  Indeed, when Elizabeth Dunn and colleagues at the University of British Columbia and at Harvard Business School asked a bunch of their students (the usual subjects in social science studies), that’s exactly what they found: students thought they would be happier getting $20 than $5, and that they would be happier spending the money on themselves than on others.

Turns out, the students were spectacularly wrong.

Research over the past several years has steadily contradicted the capitalistic assumption about human nature. For instance, it is well known that there is only a weak correlation between income level and self-reported happiness across the globe, with the relationship plateauing (meaning that additional money does not increase happiness) at surprisingly low levels of income. And yet, people keep playing the lottery, or its white collar equivalent, the stock market. Why?
If one didn’t wish to do something productive with one’s life, creationists would be a perennial source of amusement. Florida creationists, in this particular case. A new set of science standards has just been approved by the Board of Education of the orange juice and hanging chads State, and both sides are claiming victory, according to an article in Science dated 4 March 2008. How can that be?
The news keeps coming in, and examples of how real science works (as opposed to make believe creationism or so-called intelligent design) are beginning to get so numerous that it is hard to imagine people capable of reading newspaper articles are still capable of denying evolution. Last month, for instance, a spectacular discovery was published in Nature magazine, a finding that has resolved a long-standing question about the evolution of bats. Darwin listed the problem as one of the great mysteries of evolution he was not able to address in “The Origin of Species”: how did bats originate from terrestrial ancestors? The modern version of the conundrum hinged, until last month, on whether flight or echolocation (the amazing ability of bats to generate a sonar-like pulse to orient themselves and locate preys) came first. For decades biologists have been arguing in favor of either the flight-first or the echolocation-first hypothesis.