James Robinson has questions. Why does time seem to push us in one direction? Are we living in a branching multiverse? What does phylogenetics research tell us about medieval manuscripts? Can poetry reflect the stars?
Each week Multiverses hosts an expert thinker to open a window into their ideas.
James is one of the founders of Opensignal, a technology company. But in an alternate world, he isn't.
15 | Simon Critchley — Philosophical itches & how to scratch
From what human need does philosophy emerge? And where can it lead us?
Simon Critchley is Hans Jonas professor of Philosophy at the New School in New York, and a scholar of Heidegger, Pessoa, Football (Liverpool FC), and humour — among other things. He crosses over between analytic and continental traditions and freely draws on quotes from Hume, poetry and British pop bands.
Simon argues that philosophy begins in disappointment, not wonder. But its goals can be wisdom, knowledge, enlightenment, and freedom. It can play many roles: as a tool for developing scientific theories, for exposing ideology for tracing the underpinnings of language and experience. Anywhere where other fields fear to tread, that's where philosophers step in.
Show notes and links to books at Multiverses.xyz [https://www.multiverses.xyz/podcast/mv15-what-is-philosophy-simon-critchley/]
(3:00) Beginning of conversation: disappointment as the start of the journey
(7:55) Punk & Philosophy
(11:20) Trauma and tabula rasa
(12:30) Not making it in a band, becoming a philosopher
(19:30) Wittgenstein as a bridge between analytic and continental philosophy
(21:50) Mill and the origin of the label "continental philosophy"
(24:30) Philosophy has a duty to be part of culture
(28:00) The difficulty with philosophy being an academic tradition
(29:30) The Stone
(32:30) Football as a phenomenon for study that invites people in to philosophy
(35:00) Philosophy as pre-theoretic & Pessoa's Ultimatum
(39:00) Will analytic philosophy run out for road and be subsumed into science?
(41:00) Two lines of human imagination
(42:00) Should philosophy ever be a single honours subject, or should it always aid other realms of thought?
(43:00) Philosophy as pre-science
(44:30) Phenomenology as reflection on the lived world
(47:00) Alberto Caeiro (Pessoa) and anti-poetry
(48:50) The saying of ordinary things to fascinate angels
(54:00) Impossible objects will keep philosophers busy
(57:00) The task of philosophy as deflationary, as not making progress
(1:00:00) Should philosophy of physics be part of physics?
(1:04:30) Context: What can't I read Descartes like I'm talking to your right now?
(1:06:00) Is context colour or is it inseparable from ideas?
(1:15:30) Rorty: Continental philosophy as proper names vs problems in analytic philsophy
(1:19:20) Trying to walk the line between two traditions of philosophy
(1:20:00) Obscurantism vs scientism
(1:23:00) Permission to think on their own, to expose ideology
(1:26:00) The internet has been good for philosophy
(1:26:30) Audio as a new platform or agora for philosophy
14| ChatGPT as a Glider — James Intriligator
Large language models, such as ChatGPT are poised to change the way we develop, research, and perhaps even think. But how do we best understand LLMs to get the most from our prompting?
Thinking of LLMs as deep neural networks, while correct, is not very useful in practical terms. It doesn't help us interact with them, rather as thinking of human behavior as nothing more than the result of neurons firing won't make you many friends. However, thinking of LLMs as search engines is also faulty — they are notoriously unreliable for facts.
Our guest this week is James Intriligator. James trained as a cognitive neuroscientist at Harvard, but then gravitated towards design and is currently Professor of the Practice in Human Factors Engineering and Director of Strategic Innovation at Tufts University.
James proposes viewing ChatGPT not as a search engine, but as a "glider" that journeys through knowledge. By guiding it through diverse domains, it learns your interests and customizes better answers. Dimensional prompts activate specific areas like medicine or economics.
I like this playful way of thinking of LLMs. Maybe gliding (LLMs) is the new surfing (of the web).
* James' home page [https://engineering.tufts.edu/me/people/faculty/james-intriligator]
* Multiverses website [https://multiverses.xyz/]
13| Phylogeny & The Canterbury Tales — Peter Robinson
The physical solidity of books encourages notions of "the text" or "the canonical edition". The challenges to this view from post-modernist thought are well known. But there are other ways in which this model of a static text may fail.
Our guest this week is Peter Robinson (my dad!) who takes us through his work on Chaucer's Canterbury Tales. This is a paradigmatic case of a work of literature that defies understanding as fixed text. Originally it would have been read, or performed. What exists now are fragments of transcripts of performances. And copies of those fragments. And copies of copies.
Using techniques from phylogenetics, Peter has led efforts to piece together the relationships between these manuscripts. By tracing how transcription errors (or edits) appear to propagate, we can create a family tree of the texts, just as we can trace the propagation of biological traits through generations.
Sounds simple? "After 30 years of working on this, we're really just beginning to understand what a representation of a textual tradition using these tools gives us"
* Peter's academic homepage [https://artsandscience.usask.ca/profile/PRobinson#Publications]
* Peter's article in Nature on The Canterbury Tales [https://www.nature.com/articles/29667] (there are not many articles in Nature about Chaucer!)
* Multiverses home [https://multiverses.xyz/podcast]
12 | The Long Now — Peter Schwartz
For hundreds of years, things changed slowly. Innovations were infrequent and spread inchmeal. Population, culture, and the atmosphere, all were static decade-to-decade. We now see rapid change.
It's hard to contemplate what now? let alone what next?
Peter Schwartz is a futurist, SVP for Scenario Planning at Salesforce, author of The Art of Long View, and a founder of the Long Now Foundation. He thinks about the future, both envisioning its many possibilities and harnessing these scenarios to answer the question: what do we do now?
In this conversation, we discuss the Long Clock, working with Steven Spielberg, what the future may hold (the ISS becoming a hotel?) what it almost certainly will (accelerating climate change is something we cannot avoid, we must adapt as well as driving down emissions) and how we should approach thinking about it.
* multiverses.xyz/podcast [https://multiverses.xyz/podcast] — the show home
* The Art of the Long View [https://www.amazon.co.uk/gp/product/0385267312/ref=dbs_a_def_rwt_hsch_vapi_taft_p1_i0]— Peter's book on scenario planning
* The Long Now Foundation [https://longnow.org/] homepage — with talks by Peter, Niall Ferguson (sometimes in debate!) Sam Harris, Kim Stanley Robinson and many others
11| AI, Risk, Fairness & Responsibility — John Zerilli
AI is already changing the world. It's tempting to assume that AI will be so transformative that we'll inevitably fail to harness it correctly, succumbing to its Promethean flames.
While caution is due, it's instructive to note that in many respects AI does not create entirely new challenges but rather exacerbates or uncovers existing ones. This is one of the key themes that emerge in this discussion with John Zerilli. John is a philosopher specializing in AI, Data, and the Rule of Law at the University of Edinburgh, and he also holds positions at the Oxford Institute for Ethics in AI and the Centre for the Future of Intelligence in Cambridge.
For instance, John points out that some of the demands we make of AI with respect to fairness are simply impossible to fulfill — not due to some technological or moral failing on the part of AI, but that our demands are in mathematical conflict. No procedure, whether executed by a human or a machine, can consistently meet these requirements. We have AI research to thank for illuminating this.
In contrast, concerns over a 'responsibility gap' in AI seem to overlook the legal and social progress made over the last centuries, which has, for example, allowed us to detach culpability from individuals and assign it to corporations instead.
John also notes that some of the dangers of AI may be more commonplace than we imagine — such as the use of deep fakes to supercharge hacking, or our psychological tendency to become complacent with processes that mostly work, leading us to an unwarranted reliance on AI.
* A Citizen's Guide to Artificial Intelligence [https://www.amazon.co.uk/Citizens-Guide-Artificial-Intelligence/dp/0262044811]
* John's Edinburgh research page [https://www.law.ed.ac.uk/people/dr-john-zerilli]
* Twitter @JohnZerilli [https://twitter.com/JohnZerilli]
* Mulltiverses.xyz website [https://www.multiverses.xyz/podcast/mv11-ai-risk-fairness-responsibility-john-zerilli/]
* Brian Hedden's article on fairness [https://philarchive.org/rec/HEDOSC]
(3:25) Discussion starts: risk
(12:36) Robots are scary, embedded AI is anodyne
(15:00) But robots failing is cute
(16:50) Should we build errors into AI? — catch trials
(29:11) There is no responsibility gap
(42:40) Should we move faster to introduce self-driving cars?
(1:05:00) AI as a cognitive prosthetic
(1:18:14) Will we lose ourselves among all our cognitive prosthetics?
10| Plants, Roots, Spirals and Palaeobotany — Sandy Hetherington
Plants have transformed the surface of the earth and the contents of our atmosphere. To do this they've developed elaborate systems of roots and branches which (sometimes) follow uncanny mathematical patterns such as the Fibonacci sequence.
Our guest this week, Sandy Hetherington, leads Edinburgh's Molecular Palaeobotany and Evolution Group. They take a no-holds-barred approach to understanding plant development by combining genomics, fossil records, herbaria, and 3D modeling.
* Show notes: multiverses.xyz [https://www.multiverses.xyz/podcast/mv10-plants-roots-spirals-and-palaeobotany-sandy-hetherington/]
* Sandy's Twitter: @sandy_heth [https://twitter.com/sandy_heth]
* Hetherington lab Twitter @MPEG_Edinburgh [https://twitter.com/MPEG_Edinburgh]
* In New Scientist on (lack of) spiral forms in ancient plant leaves [https://www.newscientist.com/article/2378234-ancient-plants-leaves-didnt-follow-golden-rule-as-modern-ones-do/]
* BBC article on Herbaria [https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-46374291]
* The Guardian on Sany's work on plant roots [https://www.theguardian.com/science/2018/aug/23/lost-worlds-revisited-the-hidden-life-of-plant-roots]
(2:15) Discussion starts