Category Archives: Links

Op-ed of the Day

Gary Marcus and Ernest Davis on the limitations of big data, in the New York Times:

Fourth, even when the results of a big data analysis aren’t intentionally gamed, they often turn out to be less robust than they initially seem. Consider Google Flu Trends, once the poster child for big data. In 2009, Google reported — to considerable fanfare — that by analyzing flu-related search queries, it had been able to detect the spread of the flu as accurately and more quickly than the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. A few years later, though, Google Flu Trends began to falter; for the last two years it has made more bad predictions than good ones.

See also the Language Log commentary. This quote stuck out to me:

Posts here on Language Log (especially those by Mark Liberman) have shown that over and over again, as any regular reader will know. 21st-century linguists would be deeply foolish to stick to typical 20th-century methodology: largely ignoring what occurs, and basing everything on personal intuitions of what sounds acceptable.


Some Experimental Philosophy CFPs

Readers might be interested in the following call for papers (in order of submission deadline, from nearest date):

The Moral Domain: Conceptual Issues in Moral Psychology
Conference Dates: Oct 09 – Oct 11
Submission Deadline: May 01
Location: Vilnius, Lithuania
More Information

5th Workshop of Experimental Philosophy Group UK
Conference Dates: Sep 11 – Sep 12
Submission Deadline: Jun 07
Location: Oxford, UK
More Information

Buffalo Annual Experimental Philosophy Conference 2014
Conference Dates: Sep 19 – Sep 20
Submission Deadline: Jun 30
Location: Buffalo, USA
More Information

Design and Violence

MoMA has curated an exciting exhibit on Design and Violence. There is also an associated series of debates featuring a variety of perspectives, including philosophy (as I learned from Daily Nous).

This is the perfect excuse for me to post my favorite work at the intersection of design and violence, designer Stefan Sagmeister’s 1999 poster for AIGA Detroit.

Stefan Sagmeister's 1999 poster for AIGA Detroit

In Sagmeister’s own words:

For this lecture poster for the AIGA Detroit we tried to visualize the pain that seems to accompany most of our design projects. Our intern Martin cut all the type into my skin. Yes, it did hurt real bad.

Encyclopedia Entry of the Day

The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy has just published an entry on experimental moral philosophy, by Mark Alfano and Don Loeb, that is impressively comprehensive. In addition to discussing problems specific to moral philosophy, the entry also details limitations and problems that might be raised against any experimental philosophical research in other normative domains, such as aesthetics. It is truly valuable resource.

(Admittedly, I might be biased because the entry cites an experimental work on the concept of happiness that Jonathan Phillips, Sven Nyholm, and I conducted. (Jonathan was undisputably the mastermind behind this work.))

My only complaint about the entry is regarding this sentence: “The most common measure of effect size is Cohen’s d”. There are, as I am sure the authors are aware, many different measures of effect size depending on the type(s) of variables used and the associations tested. The sentence, as stated, is mildly misleading. Perhaps the authors are commenting on the fact that within experimental moral philosophy, many studies involve comparisons of means between groups, and so Cohen’s d is the most common measure of effect size in this domain.

Related Research Output:

Jonathan Phillips, Sven Nyholm, and Shen-yi Liao (in press). The Good in Happiness. In: Tania Lombrozo, Shaun Nichols, and Joshua Knobe (eds.), Oxford Studies in Experimental Philosophy 1 (New York: Oxford University Press).

Philosophy Paper of the Day

From the invaluable PhilPapers, I discovered a very intriguing paper, “Feedback from Moral Philosophy to Cognitive Science“, by Regina Rini that is forthcoming in Philosophical Psychology.

Here is the abstract:

A popular argument form uses general theories of cognitive architecture to motivate conclusions about the nature of moral cognition. This paper highlights the possibility for modus tollens reversal of this argument form. If theories of cognitive architecture generate predictions for moral cognition, then tests of moral thinking provide feedback to cognitive science. In certain circumstances, philosophers’ introspective attention to their own moral deliberations can provide unique data for these tests. Recognizing the possibility for this sort of feedback helps to illuminate a deep continuity between the disciplines.

Our project mainly aims to use cognitive science to illuminate philosophical aesthetics. However, Rini’s paper suggests that the influence can go the other way as well — in our case, it would be from philosophical aesthetics to aesthetic psychology. The core idea, applied to aesthetics instead of ethics, is that aestheticians’ introspective reports of their own thought processes constitute a unique and underexplored kind of data that can help us to better understand aesthetic psychology. In turn, the better understanding of aesthetic psychology can then help us to settle ongoing debates in cognitive architecture.

One assumption in Rini’s proposal that I remain skeptical of is the idea that philosophers can be expert introspectors with respect to narrow and specific hypotheses (p. 6-8 in the onlinefirst version). Nevertheless, Rini’s paper has convinced me that, given the potential payoff, it is not a possibility that can be safely ignored.

Big Data Aesthetics?

Experimental philosophers aim to use empirical methods to inform philosophical enquiries. Since many of the early, prominent, influential works make heavy use of the contrastive vignette technique, it is easy — especially for those already hostile to experimental philosophy — to think that experimental philosophers don’t do anything but CVT studies.

That’s a mistake. Methodologically, experimental philosophers are a heterogeneous bunch. Meskin, Phelan, Moore, and Kieran conducted an experiment that involved visual priming. Chandra Sripada used structural equation modeling to shed new light on the side-effect effect. And, to come back to one part of the title of this blog post, Nicole Hassoun and collaborators harnessed the “big data” from the micro-lending institution Kiva to uncover how people think about distributing aid.

Onto the other part of the title: aesthetics. Can “big data” inform philosophical aesthetics?

Before that question can be answered, we need to consider another, even more pressing question. Where can such data come from?

Any proposed “big data” study faces a difficult challenge right from the start: getting the data. The kind of information that is most accessible, such as the ones that can be gleaned from art history textbooks, is also inevitably heavily biased toward the relatively few iconic artworks. Datasets constructed this way would be unlikely to give a fully informative picture of the artworld. So when it comes to highly abstract philosophical questions, say about the nature of art, such datasets seem to be only of limited use.

Where else can we look? Thankfully, as I learned from the wonderful blog Museum 2.0, many museums — notably the Tate — are now making datasets of their collections openly accessible. Although the Tate dataset has only been available since the beginning of this month, there are already fascinating, if preliminary, findings from it. (Of course, researchers also encountered some serious problems in the mean time: notably, not all objects in an art museum’s collection are artworks.)

As a first-pass reaction, there seems to be much that can be learned from “big data aesthetics”. What say you, readers? Which questions in philosophical aesthetics, on your view, would be most amenable to empirical investigations using the museum collection datasets?

[x-posted at Experimental Philosophy Blog]

Art, Race, Curatorship

From NPR’s Code Switch blog comes a fantastic piece about the ethics and aesthetics of curating race- or ethnicity- or gender-centric art shows.

So is there such a thing as “Latino art” or “Asian art” or “African-American art”? Are they “racial hang-ups,” as African-American artist Raymond Saunders put it in his 1967 essay “Black is a color”? Or are they necessary categories that force white-run museums, publishers and concert halls to recognize artists of color?

Included in the discussion is the philosopher / conceptual artist Adrian Piper:

But that brings up a larger issue: Are museums doing an artist a favor or a disservice when they group shows together around ethnicity or gender rather than aesthetics? Adrian Piper believes it’s a disservice. She’s a conceptual artist whose work is in the collections of major museums, including the Museum of Modern Art in New York. She recently demanded that a film of hers be removed from a show of black performance art. Piper preferred not to be interviewed, but she sent NPR the email she sent to the show’s curator. In it she wrote that “as a matter of principle,” she does not allow her work to be exhibited in “all-black shows,” because she believes these shows “perpetuate the segregation of African-American artists from the mainstream contemporary art world.”

(See also her announcement on retiring from being black.)

A truly thought-provoking discussion!