Brian Robinson

Texas A&M University-Kingsville

Author: Brian Robinson (page 2 of 3)

AI and Thanksgiving Traffic

Traveling home on the Sunday after Thanksgiving provided an interesting insight into the future of AI and autonomous vehicles. The Sunday after Thanksgiving is the annual I-35 post-Tday traffic jam. It’s something of a tradition as everyone simultaneously returns home. You never know precisely when or where it will happen or how bad it will be, but you know the traffic will drop from 80 mph to 0. In years past, you’d hit the slowdown and everyone would have to make a decision based on what little they could see ahead of them: Get off or stay on. Getting off the interstate and taking the parallel access road might be quicker by bypassing an accident. Or it might not. It was a gamble either way. And everyone had to make that decision independently. Hence, some got off and some stayed on.

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Cleese, Confusion, and the Toolbox Project

As Daily Nous and Open Culture both reported, the great John Cleese (of Monty Python and Faulty Towers fame, and so much more) recently recorded a series of public service announcements proclaiming the value of philosophy. Daily Nous also included this video of Cleese acting as a philosopher in terrific bit of comedy. While funny in its own right, the clip brought to mind one other way that philosophy can be of value. And it’s something we do at the Toolbox Project. But first, watch the video:

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Research Institute for Humanity and Nature

RIHN-posterMichael O’Rourke and I just returned from Kyoto, Japan, where we spoke and conducted Toolbox workshops with the environmental researchers at the national Research Institute for Humanity and Nature (RIHN). On the first day, we spoke on problems of communication and collaboration in cross-disciplinary research. As a way of introducing the problem, I compared inter- and transdisciplinary research (collectively cross-disciplinary research, CDR) to the game Double Cranko, which comes from an old episode of M*A*S*H. The game is a cross between chess, checker, poker, and gin (both the drink and the rummy).RIHN2There are no rules; players make them up as they go along. The problem for CDR is much worse. Imagine 2 scientists from different disciplines working on a research project and 2 non-research stakeholders in that project (say one from government and another from business). Each knows one game only, and all the rules, terms, and objectives of that game. In collaborating on this project, they have to develop a way to integrate 4 different games (chess, checker, poker, and gin) into one game. But they don’t even speak the same game language. A point we emphasized over the two days with the RIHN researchers is the need for a co-creation of meaning of ambiguous terms or concepts for effective collaboration. In the morning workshop of the first day, we facilitated dialogues among the researchers to begin that process of co-creation of meaning. They had to negotiate various ambiguous terms that we gave them in a set of prompts. In the afternoon session, the researchers broke into their research teams to produce a concept map of their projects from which to find project-specific ambiguous terms or concepts that will have to be negotiated with their projects’ non-research stakeholders. [cross-posted at]

Flags, Racism, and Mixed Messages

The “Confederate Flag”1 should be taken down immediately, at the South Carolina capitol and on any other state grounds (in SC or elsewhere). That it took a racist terrorist attack on Emanuel AME Church and the death of nine people to bring this point into the national conversation is a lamentable and reprehensible. I’m hardly alone in this call. There are a number of petitions ( here, here, and here for instance) that one can sign (and I urge you to do so). Here I want to offer a philosophical analysis and rejection of a common argument against removing it.

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Back from the NIH

I just returned from SciTS 2015 at the National Institutes of Health, where I represented the Toolbox Project (along with Stephen Crowley). I presented some of my ongoing research on philosophical distinctions between various branches of science. In our role working with a wide variety of scientists on interdisciplinary research teams, we have found that differences in worldviews often differ by disciplines. And many of these differences are philosophical in nature. This research in philosophy of science is continuing to progress. I am lead author on two papers in the works right now on this topic, so I expect I will have more to say about it soon (I hope) after additional presentations and publications.

The Myth of Unified Philosophy

maxresdefaultOf late, there has been an interest in our online community on the status of philosophy. Harry Frankfurt and Brian Leiter believe philosophy is in the doldrums, lacking any “agenda-setters” to unify the discipline and create significant movement or progress. I disagreed. Zachary Ernst, formerly an associate professor of philosophy, contends that philosophy lacks unity as a discipline; philosophy is a magpie collections of questions, methods, texts, topics, and thinkers. And he takes this to be a lamentable state for the field. Both of these views, I believe, are based on the myth of a unified philosophy. Ernst is right: philosophy is not unified. But it has not been, will not be, and should not be unified. This lack of unity is a virtue of philosophy, not a vice. Continue reading

Self-Promotion in the Age of the Unread

Two interesting posts appeared on Daily Nous this week. First, there was the depressing-but-not-surprising news that for most humanities articles simply aren’t read or cited (No One is Listening). Second, there was a legitimate question on the permissibilityOld_book_bindings of self-promotion in philosophy (Norms of Self-Promotion).They’re both worth reading on their own. But I want to focus now on the relationship between academic self-promotion and living in the age of the unread (articles). A big part of the reason that self-promotion has become more of the norm is to try to get one’s scholarship read. Continue reading

Philosophy in the Doldrums? Hardly

Brian Leiter recently shared this excerpt from Harry Frankfurt’s contribution to Portraits of American Philosophy:

Harry FrankfurtI believe that there is, at least in this country, a more or less general agreement among philosophers and other scholars that our subject is currently in the doldrums. Until not very long ago, there were powerful creative impulses moving energetically through the field. There was the work in England of G.E. Moore and Bertrand Russell and of Gilbert Ryle, Paul Grice, and Herbert Hart, as well as the work of various logicial positivsts. In the United States, even after interest in William James and John Dewey had receded, there was lively attention to contributions by Willard Quine and Donald Davidson, John Rawls and Saul Kripke. In addition, some philosophers were powerfully moved by the gigantic speculative edifice of Whitehead. Heidegger was having a massive impact on European philosophy, as well as on other disciplines–and not only in Europe, but here as well. And, of course, there was everywhere a vigorously appreciative and productive response to the work of Wittgenstein.

The lively impact of these impressive figures has faded. We are no longer busily preoccupied with responding to them. Except for a few contributors of somewhat less general scope, such as Habermas, no one has replaced the imposingly great figures of the recent past in providing us with contagiously inspiring direction. Nowadays, there are really no conspicuously fresh, bold, and intellectually exciting new challenges or innovations. For the most part, the field is quiet. We seem, more or less, to be marking time. (pp. 125-126)

With respect, I think Frankfurt couldn’t be more wrong. Philosophy is hardly in the doldrums. This comment both misrepresents the contemporary status of our discipline and typifies an antiquated notion of what constitutes non-doldrum, energetic, thriving, and creative philosophy. Continue reading

West Michigan Climate Resiliency Conference

copy-wmsbf-logoYesterday I attended the West Michigan Climate Resiliency Conference in Grand Rapids, MI, put on by the West Michigan Sustainable Business Forum. It was a terrific event that brought together government officials (including the mayor, George Heartwell), local business (including Amway and Spectrum Health), farmers, and academics. Prof. Adm. (ret.) David Titley gave a fantastic keynote address on climate change. I was in attendance with Michael O’Rourke and a contingent from the Toolbox Projecttoolbox_logo. The Project, in conjunction with Penn State’s Rock Ethics Institute, have developed a new Toolbox instrument on climate resiliency. We led facilitated dialogues using the new instrument. In the session I led, there were leaders from the West Michigan Business Forum, including VPs from Amway and Spectrum Health, an academic, small business owners, and a representative from Grand Rapids’s city government. I facilitated their conversation on the prompts in the instrument. The dialogue that followed was a rich exchange of ideas and perspectives on the role of businesses and government in responding to climate change as it affects West Michigan. The new climate resiliency Toolbox instrument is still being evaluated, in part based on the workshops conducted yesterday (so I can’t share it with you). Work will be progressing, so look for more on this front from the Toolbox Project. This is exciting work of engaging local stakeholders in a philosophical discussion about climate resiliency.

Moving to Michigan State

I am happy to announce that this fall I will be joining the faculty at Michigan StateMichigan State University as a post-doctoral Research Fellow. I will be joining the NSF-funded Toolbox Project under Michael O’Rourke. toolbox_logo   Continue reading

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