I’ll quote Michael Serres’ reply to a journalist who was asking him – I can’t remember why – about the decision to build the Aswan Dam. The committee was made up of hydraulic engineers, specialists on different materials, developers and maybe even some ecologists, but no philosophers, and no Egyptologists. Michel Serres was shocked. And the journalist was shocked that he was shocked, and asked, ‘What would be the point of having a philosopher on a committee like that?’ Serres replied, ‘He would have noticed there wasn’t an Egyptologist.’

July 23, 2013 § Leave a comment


Sensing phantom phone vibrations is a strangely common experience. Around 80% of us have imagined a phone vibrating in our pockets when it’s actually completely still. Almost 30% of us have also heard non-existent ringing. Are these hallucinations ominous signs of impending madness caused by digital culture?

Not at all. In fact, phantom vibrations and ringing illustrate a fundamental principle in psychology.

You are an example of a perceptual system, just like a fire alarm, an automatic door, or a daffodil bulb that must decide when spring has truly started. Your brain has to make a perceptual judgment about whether the phone in your pocket is really vibrating. And, analogous to a daffodil bulb on a warm February morning, it has to decide whether the incoming signals from the skin near your pocket indicate a true change in the world.

Psychologists use a concept called Signal Detection Theory to guide their thinking about the problem of perceptual judgments. Working though the example of phone vibrations, we can see how this theory explains why they are a common and unavoidable part of healthy mental function.

When your phone is in your pocket, the world is in one of two possible states: the phone is either ringing or not. You also have two possible states of mind: the judgment that the phone is ringing, or the judgment that it isn’t. Obviously you’d like to match these states in the correct way.  read more


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