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Theoretical physicist Carlo Rovelli.

I wrote about this guy last year: http://clantilyscad.com/2012/05/25/science-is-not-about-certainty/

He’s back with an Edge Conversation about Free Will and Physics.

Via Rovelli on a new Edge.org article:

Any attempt to link this discussion to moral, ethical or legal issues, as is often been done, is pure nonsense… There is no contradiction between saying that a stone flew into the sky because a force pushed it, or because a volcano exploded. In the same manner, there is no contradiction in saying we do not commit murder because something is encoded in the decision-making structure of our brain or because we are bound by a moral belief.

Free will has nothing to do with quantum mechanics. We are deeply unpredictable beings, like most macroscopic systems. There is no incompatibility between free will and microscopic determinism. The significance of free will is that behavior is not determined by external constraints, not by the psychological description of our neural states to which we access. The idea that free will may have to do with the ability to make different choices on equal internal states is an absurdity, as the ideal experiment I have described above shows. The issue has no bearing on questions of a moral or legal nature. Our idea of being free is correct, but it is just a way to say that we are ignorant on why we make choices.”

I haven’t studied philosophy formally at all, but I like what this guy has to say about it so far. I’ll tab Rovelli on my list of favorite scientists who also know how to write.

From what I understand from my superficial philosophical dialogue-watching, I agree with Sam Harris that free will is an “incoherent concept.”

But free will is a mindfuck of a thing to get your head around. Even without any discussion of quantum mechanics.

Categories: Knowledge has vagina dentata so don’t you fuck with it, Science Tags: Carlo Rovelli, determinism, Edge, free will, metaphysics, philosophy, physics, quantum mechanics

Hat-tip to Paul Gilmartin via The Mental Illness Happy Hour for the mental health class tip.

I thought this would be good follow-up to the Cara Santa Maria post.

Coursera is offering a bunch of free summer courses that you can enroll in today and start a bit later.

The Social Context of Mental Health and Illness starts June 24th and lasts 6 weeks. I was looking at it, but then, while browsing other courses, I found Epigenetic Control of Gene Expression from the University of Melbourne. And then I found Virology I from Columbia University. Score! Free learning!

The Gene class starts July 1 and lasts 6 weeks. Virology starts August 1 and lasts 11 weeks.

I couldn’t decide which one of two I wanted to do more, so I signed up for both. It’s only a two week overlap. I’ve never taken a Cousera class before, but I’ve heard good things.

I’ll post reviews for the classes on here in a couple months.

#nerdlife

Categories: Knowledge has vagina dentata so don’t you fuck with it, Science Tags: biology, college, coursera, education, free, free classes, learning, science, summer

If you watch The Young Turks, you’ve probably heard of her. If not, well, you have now.

She is my favorite scientist-turned-writer-turned-TV-personality.

Cara Santa Maria.

I’m going to put the phrase “Cara Santa Maria hot” in here just because I know that’s a phrase people are going to be Googling to find this page.

CSM was the senior science correspondent for the “Talk Nerdy to Me” series for The Huffington Post until April 2013.

According to wiki, she has a Masters in neuroscience and dated Bill Maher (Ugh, well, I don’t envy her taste in pretentious men.) for two years. She has done a lot of neuropsychology research including, “clinical psychological assessment, the neuropsychology of blindness, neuronal cell culture techniques, and computational neurophysiology.”

She is now pretty much a full-fledged member of the TYT cast.

So, she gives me inspiration for science jobs beyond research monkey.

Another one of my favorite scientists that became a writer is Dr. Robert Sapolsky over at Stanford. He wrote Why Zebras Don’t Get Ulcers: An Updated Guide to Stress, Stress Related Diseases, and Coping. Sapolsky did not trasnsition out of academia, but you can see in his Ted Talk that he is awesome at breaking complex topics down into highly accessible language.

I’ve blogged about him before.

He is arguably much less adorable than Cara Santa Maria.

Man, “senior science correspondent.” That’s a nice title.

A blogger can dream.

Categories: Science Tags: Cara Santa Maria, inspiration, neuroscience, Robert Sapolsky, science, scientists, The Young Turks, writer, writing

Stuart McMillen is a comic artist from Australia who uses comics as a medium to explore deep, often philosophical topics.

This month he writes about the experiment that purports that well-socialized and stimulated rats will actually choose opiate withdrawal over giving up their normal interactions. The rats in isolation cages do not.

Read the entire comic here.

Wiki article: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rat_Park

Despite all our rage, we’re still just underfunded rats in a cage.

Categories: Science, Social commentary Tags: addiction, comic, drugs, heroin, opiates, rats, stuart mcmillen, webcomic

…but this is the best lecture on the basic biology of depression.

“I’ll make the argument here… that basically depression is the worst disease you can get.”

-Dr. Robert Sapolsky

He really is my favorite professor who I’m sure gets mistaken as a homeless guy.

Categories: Science Tags: biology, depression, major depressive disorder, mdd, sapolsky, stanford

If you pay attention to the Internet, you’ve probably seen commentary on the Newsweek article about heaven written by a neurosurgeon.

Sam Harris, who has a PhD in neuroscience, rips this guy (and the integrity of Newsweek) a new one.

Everything—absolutely everything—in Alexander’s account rests on repeated assertions that his visions of heaven occurred while his cerebral cortex was “shut down,” “inactivated,” “completely shut down,” “totally offline,” and “stunned to complete inactivity.” The evidence he provides for this claim is not only inadequate—it suggests that he doesn’t know anything about the relevant brain science…

Alexander believes that his E. coli-addled brain could not have produced his visions because they were too “intense,” too “hyper-real,” too “beautiful,” too “interactive,” and too drenched in significance for even a healthy brain to conjure. He also appears to think that despite their timeless quality, his visions could not have arisen in the minutes or hours during which his cortex (which surely never went off) switched back on. He clearly knows nothing about what people with working brains experience under the influence of psychedelics.

I think what Sam Harris is saying is, “I’ve totally done DMT.”

I like Sam Harris a lot. I don’t always agree with him but think his simple writing and speaking, while kind of boring, is really effective. This article is probably the most outraged I’ve ever heard his tone. Probably because the guy writing the original article is supposed to be highly educated in brain science.

Anyway, I think I’ve posted this before, but here’s a free printable poster of list of contradictions in the Bible from Sam’s website:

http://www.project-reason.org/gallery3/image/102/

Categories: Science Tags: atheism, Christianity, DMT, heaven, newsweek, nueroscience, Sam Harris