Media & Events

Do you have free will?

determinism 1newsome





William T. Newsome, 2004 laureate, discusses Neuroscience, Explanation, and the Problem of Free Will

Are we "all simply pawns in the brain’s elaborate chess game"? Are constructs for human behavior such as beliefs, values, goals, and choices are in reality “nothing but” brain activations, neural circuit computations, collections of action potentials, neurochemical modulation, expression of genetic predispositions, ...

"I argue that mental states and processes, like many other complex processes in our world, are organizational entities instantiated in high-level neural systems within the brain, which resist explanation through eliminative reduction. Understanding organizational entities and processes requires engagement at multiple phenomenal levels and elucidation of the mechanisms that link phenomena at different levels.

I believe that my mental states have causes (I would be worried if they didn’t!)—the key issue is what counts as a cause? For me, the essence of freedom is that my actions are caused, at least in part, by my beliefs, my values, my memories, my choices, my aspirations.

I am most free when my behavior originates in those propositions I consider to be true about the world, and those values and aspirations that I have selected to guide my journey through the flux of events. I readily admit, of course, that much of my behavior is not free. I am subject to all of the negative qualifiers above and more (except, so far as I know, neurological disease)—this is simply part of the human condition. Importantly, however, “free” and “unfree” are not either/or conditions; most of the time our choices and actions lie somewhere along a scale between these poles, influenced to some extent by both. I consider personal growth and maturity to be a life-long effort to move from the “unfree” side of that scale toward the “free”."

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Judaism - Religion or Civilization?

 Abrahamwoody allen













AMOS OZ, 2008 laureate, discusses this question in 'Jews and Words', as reviewed in Haaretz.

They claim that Judaism is not as a religion only or even primarily, but a civilization, a heritage much more than a faith-based belief system. “The heritage,” Oz said, “contains first and foremost books [and] texts, and religion is only one of the components.”

The authors, 'atheists of the book' feel entitled to be “lovingly selective” from within Jewish continuum, a 'Jewish intertextuality' generated from the early religious books,  But to be selective, lovingly or otherwise, presupposes scriptural literacy. Odds are, however, that typical non-observant Jews (outside the world of scholars and the literati) rarely read or think about the Bible or the Talmud or anything else in the “text line” of which the Ozes are so fond.

Do these values retain a unique, or at the very least distinct, Jewish flavor without some substantial knowledge, not just of any books, even those defined as “Jewish,” but of Jewish religious texts and history?

Late in their book the authors say that a Jew is anyone who wrestles with the question, “Who is a Jew?” Jean Paul Sartre, not in any way a Jew, involved himself in that age-old chestnut in the 1940s, and many anti-Semites have as well.


READ THE ARTICLE, by Gerald Sorin, Haaretz, January 27, 2013 'Reading between the lines: How Amos Oz views Jewish identity'


Let's end with an excerpt from Annie Hall in which Woody Allen speaks of an existential dread with a Jewish twist:

NINE-YEAR-OLD ALVY: The universe is expanding.

DOCTOR: The universe is expanding?

ALVY: Well, the universe is everything, and if it’s expanding, someday it will break apart and that would be the end of everything!

ALVY’S MOTHER: What is that your business? [To the doctor:] He stopped doing his homework!

ALVY:  What’s the point?

ALVY’S MOTHER: What has the universe got to do with it? You’re here in Brooklyn! Brooklyn is not expanding!



Adam Michnik: The threat of authoritarian regimes in Eastern Europe and the decline of the region's political culture















In the wake of the Crimea crisis, Adam Michnik, 2006 laureate, warns that "This is the real end of history – the history of dreams about a world governed by democratic values and the market economy. Unless the democratic world understands that now is not the time for faith in diplomatic compromise, and that it must respond strongly enough to stop ... imperial designs, events could follow a logic that is too dreadful to contemplate. 

... we must recognize that the best quarter-century in the last 400 years of Polish history is about to end before our very eyes. A time of tectonic shifts has begun. We must appreciate what we have managed to achieve – and learn to protect it."

Read the article: Project Syndicate, March 20, 2014, 'The Russian Godfather'


"We lack a political culture, a culture of compromise. We inPoland, as well as the Hungarians, have never learned this sort of thing. Although there is a strong desire for freedom in the countries of Eastern Europe, there is no democratic tradition, so that the risk of anarchy and chaos continues to exist. Demagoguery and populism are rampant. We are the illegitimate children, the bastards of communism. It shaped our mentality.

A part of society in our countries would still prefer an authoritarian regime today. 

The democratic institutions in the West are more deeply embedded in the West than in Eastern Europe. Democracy can defend itself there. Everything is still fragile in our countries, even two decades after the end of communism."

Read the article: Spiegel Online, July 31, 2013



Bionics, Transhumanism, and the end of Evolution

 by paraghostmen

'Transhumanists' are planning to upload your mind to a memory stick…

"Transhumanists include life extensionists, techno-optimists, Singularitons, bio-hackers, roboticists, Artificial Intelligence proponents and futurists who embrace radical science and technology to improve the human condition

If we can upgrade ourselves with technology, why not replace the body entirely? Plenty of Transhumanists plan to do exactly that. Ideas range from life-extension genetics to moving beyond our fleshy constraints entirely. Many think the big win is "mind uploading", which is sometimes called "Whole Brain Emulation". It is what it sounds like: mapping out all your brain’s neural pathways and putting them all on a memory stick that you can carry about with you.

The whole project throws up very difficult ethical and philosophical challenges. Is an uploaded mind still human? Should we give "human rights" to an artificial intelligence with a superior intellect to a human? Then there’s the bread-and-butter social problems. Presumably, human enhancement technologies would be disproportionately available to those with greater financial resources, creating a genetic divide. And if you lived forever, are you taking up the place of another generation? What about the more mundane things: what would be a fair prison sentence for murder if we could all live for 200 years? Or the right retirement age. I’m guessing it won’t be 70 if we can all make thirty score and ten. Above all: are we happy about all of this, and can we stop it?

Marvin Minsky, 2014 laureate, is considered the inventor of artificial intelligence, and is a prominent Transhumanist."

Read the article in The Telegraph, April 3rd 2014


Dieter Zinnbauer, 2003 scholarship recipient, tackles corruption. It's doable.









Dieter Zinnbauer works on emerging policy issues and innovation for the International Secretariat of Transparency International (TI) in Berlin. The questions he seeks to answer include: Can we architect and design for accountability and integrity? What does urbanization mean for corruption and corruption mean for urbanization? How can professional value systems be harnessed to foster integrity? Can we capture policy capture? 

He runs a blog on ambient accountability, the systematic use of physical space and the built environment to empower people to more effectively hold officials and service providers to account while engaging architects, city planners, public space designers, signage experts, as well as urban activists and artists.

Ambient accountability aims to help citizens better understand ‘what ought to happen’ (their rights, entitlements), what is actually happening (the performance of the official, institution etc.) and what to do, if things go wrong (who is responsible, how to complain effectively). 

See Dieter Zinnbauer's Ambient Accountability BLOG


Meet the Humanoid Robot 'Roboy'... He's cute


One of the most famous robotic projects in the EU was the development of the ECCE robot led by Professor Owen Holland of Sussex University. ECCE was modeled after the human anatomy and how the body moves. This was to show how robots will be designed in the future to best interact with human beings. With ECCE as its starting point, Roboy was conceived in 2011 via project coordination between internationally leading research institutions and industry partners who are at the forefront of development in mechanics and electronics. One of their first breakthroughs was the anthropomorphic tendon-driven arm (ANTHROB).

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