Using Experimental Philosophy to Shift Perspective, with Jonathon Keats


Using Experimental Philosophy to Shift Perspective, with Jonathon Keats

Jonathon Keats introduces his workshop by listing the following five rules for looking at the world like an experimental philosopher:


1. Ask naive questions,

2. invert perceptions,

3. combine incompatible ideas,

4. remix metaphors,

5. and pursue paradox.

Ask Naive Questions to Shift Perspective, with Jonathon Keats

Jonathon Keats says growing out of childhood was "probably the worst thing that ever happened to us, certainly the most traumatic." Even we re-enter states of naivete and wonder, our impulse as adults is to hide that precociousness from the outside work lest our peers interpreted it as immaturity or denseness. In this video, Keats explains why asking questions from this perspective helps us gain a new approach in solving the problems in our lives.


For example, Keats walks us through one of his most famous experiments, the Honeybee Ballet, which began as a simple naive question: "Could I choreograph a ballet for another species?" Keats then built from his absurd starting point, eventually exploring the not-so-absurd topic of "how we live within a world that is as complex as ours in harmony with other species."

"It's Pretty Weird When You See a Plant Enjoying a Gourmet Meal."

In an example of turning an absurd inquiry into a philosophical exploration, Jonathon Keats once opened a restaurant for plants so that they could experience their own sort of five-course meal. The way he did it was by altering the ways the plants were exposed to nutrient-granting colors of light. By splitting the spectrum over time, Keats was able to "surprise" plants in the process of feeding them.


While no one would ever confuse Keats for Julia Child, he does offer a unique perspective on the joy of "cooking" for plants. His naive question (How can we let plants experience the excitement of good cuisine?) transformed into an exploration of the nature of humanity's relationship with food as well as the overall question of what makes us human. Keats says this is just one example of how we can shift our perspective to tackle bigger philosophical questions.

Combine Incompatible Ideas to Shift Perspective, with Jonathon Keats

Keats explains how a thought experiment in which he attempts to genetically engineer God allowed him to create a situation in which science and religion become compatible. The experiment further opened up an exploration of where the two seemingly irreconcilable elements can be made to merge.

Remix Metaphors to Shift Perspective, with Jonathon Keats

When Jonathon Keats got married, he wanted to find a way to do it that was deeper than whatever sort of legal framework could be thrown his way by the United States government. He wanted to instead be married by a law of nature which, as he explains, is possible today thanks to advances in quantum physics.


As Keats explores this thought experiment, he explains the value of interpreting metaphors literally. Doing this, he says, will open up your mind to the workings of thought and language while shifting your perspective on myriad social normalities.

Pursue Paradox to Shift Perspective, with Jonathon Keats

"String theory is fascinating," says experimental philosopher Jonathon Keats, "for the fact that it reconciles quantum mechanics and general relativity, the two greatest explanations that we have of the fundamental forces of nature in the universe for the first time arguably, but with certain caveats." He explains how string theory, by nature, is somewhat speculative. Also speculative is the real estate market, in particular the booming market where Keats lives in San Francisco. In this video, Keats explains a thought experiment in which he combined the two concepts to explore the ways in which paradoxical elements interact. Part of what he found was that, even though paradoxes feel like dead ends, there are ways to navigate out of them and perhaps even carve a new path of thought through them.

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  • Climate scientists say that Greenland is experiencing ice losses that are unusually early and heavy.
  • Two main weather factors are fueling the losses: a high-pressure system and the resulting low cloud cover.
  • Greenland is a major contributor to sea-level rise.


Four trillion pounds of ice melted in Greenland on June 13 due to unusually warm and sunny weather, scientists report. Although it's normal for ice to melt during Greenland's "melt season," the ice this year is melting earlier than expected and at an alarmingly fast rate.

"It's very unusual to have this much melt so early in the season," William Colgan, senior researcher at the Geological Survey of Denmark and Greenland, told the BBC. "It takes very rare conditions but they're becoming increasingly common."

Greenland's current ice loss is on track to break records. In 2012, the island nation saw similarly severe losses, which, like current melting, was fueled by two main weather factors: a high-pressure system that carried warm air from the Central Atlantic to the skies over Greenland, causing warmer temperatures, and the resulting low cloud cover and snowfall, which allowed sunlight to hit the vast ice sheets.

Frozen white ice reflects most sunlight back into the sky. But melting ice turns into darker colors, which absorb more light and heat. This creates a positive feedback loop that speeds up melting.

"You've experienced this if you've walked down the road barefoot on a hot summer day," geologist Trevor Nace wrote for Forbes.

"The black asphalt is much hotter than the white concrete sidewalk. This is due to the difference in how much solar radiation white versus black reflects. Hence, as Greenland melts more of its ice, the surface is converted from a high albedo white to darker colors. This, in turn, causes more melting and adds to the positive feedback loop."

Albedo

Arctic Monitoring and Assessment Programme/https://amap.no

This figure depicts how radiation from the sun is reflected or absorbed by different terrains. More radiation is reflected by white snow and ice, while more radiation is absorbed by dark surfaces, such as water.

Steffen Olsen, a scientist with the Danish Meteorological Institute, got an eerie up-close look at the changing ice sheets last week. Olsen was on a routine mission to pick up weather monitoring tools on sea ice in northwest Greenland when he saw meltwater pooled up on the sheet's surface, making it look like his sled dogs were walking on water.

Greenland's rapidly melting ice could raise global sea levels.

"Greenland has been an increasing contributor to global sea level rise over the past two decades," Thomas Mote, a research scientist at the University of Georgia who studies Greenland's climate, told CNN. "And surface melting and runoff is a large portion of that."

  • A team of researchers discovered that permafrost in Northern Canada is melting at unusually fast rates.
  • This could causes dangerous and costly erosion, and it's likely speeding up climate change because thawing permafrost releases heat-trapping gasses into the atmosphere.
  • This week, Canada's House of Commons declared a national climate emergency.


A new study shows that permafrost in the Canadian Arctic is melting 70 years earlier than predicted. The melting was triggered by a series of unusually hot summers, said researchers from the University of Alaska Fairbanks, who measured the thawing while visiting remote outposts in Northern Canada. "What we saw was amazing," Prof. Vladimir E. Romanovsky told Reuters. "It's an indication that the climate is now warmer than at any time in the last 5,000 or more years."

Permafrost is ground that's been frozen for two or more consecutive years. This frozen soil helps to structurally support mountain ranges and slopes. "Think of permafrost as sort of the glue that holds the northern landscape together," permafrost scientist Steve Kokelj told CBC.

When permafrost thaws quickly, it not only causes landscapes to erode, but also releases tons of heat-trapping gasses into the atmosphere. This could start a dangerous feedback loop that speeds up climate change and threatens the ability to maintain and build new infrastructure.

For example, there were 87 landslides in one night in Canada's Northwest Territories. Nobody was injured in those remote areas, but Canadian climate scientists have a saying: "What happens in the North doesn't stay in the North."

"It's a canary in the coalmine," Louise Farquharson, a post-doctoral researcher and co-author of the study, told Reuters. "It's very likely that this phenomenon is affecting a much more extensive region and that's what we're going to look at next."

Thawing permafrost might already be limiting where new buildings and infrastructure can be built.

"We have to figure out what we're going to do in the future," Aurora Research Institute professor Chris Burn told CBC. "Because otherwise, when we make an investment in a building [or road] which is meant to last 50 years, if in 15 years it's no good we've wasted a huge amount of resources."

A 'climate emergency' in Canada

Canada is especially vulnerable to climate change. A report issued in April from the Environment and Climate Change Canada said that Canada is warming twice as quickly as the rest of the world, but that the warming is "effectively irreversible." This week, Canada's House of Commons voted to declare a national climate emergency.

"This is a national security issue, it is time we started treating it as one," wrote Green Party Leader Elizabeth May on Twitter.

Jennifer Morgan, Executive Director of Greenpeace International, echoed a similar sense of urgency to Reuters. "Thawing permafrost is one of the tipping points for climate breakdown and it's happening before our very eyes," she said. "This premature thawing is another clear signal that we must decarbonize our economies, and immediately."

  • Earth's orbital space is getting more crowded by the day.
  • The more satellites and space junk we put into orbit, the greater a risk that there could be a collision.
  • Not all materials burn up during reentry; that's why scientists need to stress test satellite parts to ensure that they won't become deadly falling objects.


It's a simple fact that where there are humans, there's trash. Earth's orbit is no exception. The Space Surveillance Network keeps track of 22,300 bits of space junk orbiting the Earth, but there's almost certainly more than this. Statistical models estimate that there are 34,000 objects larger than 10 centimeters; 900,000 from 1 cm to 10 cm; and 128,000,000 objects between 1mm and 1cm in space. And this is a significant problem.

If some of this space debris strikes a satellite, it could destroy that satellite, creating more bits of space debris that may strike other satellites in a chain reaction of catastrophe called the Kessler syndrome. To avoid this, it's important that we design satellites so that they can fall back to Earth and burn up in the atmosphere. This represents part of the mission of the European Space Agency's (ESA's) CleanSat initiative. This initiative is focused on keeping our use of space sustainable so that we can continue to enjoy the benefits of GPS, weather modeling and other satellite-based services.

It's also the reason why researchers blasted a magnetotorquer, a piece of satellite technology, in a plasma wind tunnel, heating it to several thousands of degrees Celsius within the hypersonic plasma until it was mostly vaporized. You can watch it happen in the video above. And here's a picture of the aftermath.

"Satellite reentry is not a single event but rather a process," explains Tiago Soares of CleanSat. "From observations, we see the main body break apart typically at 70–80 km altitude, after which the insides are scattered. The kind of objects that can survive down to the surface are propellant tanks made from materials with high melting points, such as titanium or stainless steel, along with dense items such as optical instruments and large mechanisms."

One such dense item is a magnetotorquer. This device helps satellites interact with Earth's magnetic field to orient the satellite, and it's made of some sturdy stuff. The outside is composed of a carbon fiber–reinforced polymer, while the inside is made of copper coils and an iron-cobalt core.

What is D4D? Design for demise.

Photo: ESA/DLR

The magnetotorquer prior to being melted.

Generally, parts of spacecraft and satellites burn up in reentry, but some sturdy pieces can survive the reentry process, or are instead only broken up into potentially deadlier fragments. In 1997, for example, a woman in Tulsa, Oklahoma, was struck by a small fragment from a Delta rocket, though she wasn't injured. She could have been, however: hundreds of miles away, two Texans were woken up in the middle of the night when the 250kg fuel tank from that same rocket fell just 50m from their farmhouse.

Avoiding incidents like these is why researchers wanted to observe the magnetotorquer as it was subjected to the high heat from the kind of plasma it would generate on reentry. Modern spacecraft are built according to the design-for-demise concept, or D4D. D4D is the idea that satellites should be designed so that as few of their parts as possible can survive reentry or so that they can be safely pushed off into quieter parts of space after their lifespan ends.

Thanks to D4D and modern regulations, there's a 1 in 10,000 chance that a dead satellite in an uncontrolled reentry could hurt anyone on the ground. But some components of a spacecraft are too sturdy to burn up during reentry, such as optical instruments, propellant and pressure tanks, reaction wheels (which are gyroscopes that change a satellite's direction), and magnetotorquers.

"As part of CleanSat," said Soares, "we are looking into making such objects more destructible. Perhaps through new aluminum alloys for tanks, for example. However, even redesigned parts will not melt if they are not exposed to the searing heat early enough. This shows the need to adopt an overall approach to D4D, such as opening up the satellite body as early as possible during reentry." That's why ESA blasted the magnetotorquer in a plasma wind tunnel. Doing so provides insights into the dynamics of satellite reentry, which will in turn enable us to make a cleaner, safer orbital space.


  • The internet is parasitic on traditional media sources, says Keith Whittington. Traditional news outlets do the hard reporting to generate the facts and notable opinions that other outlets respond to.
  • The greatest challenge to truth in journalism is that social media presents news stories out of context; we no longer see news among other news articles, and we may only ever see the headline without the detail and nuance required.
  • Media institutions are working to tackle these challenges, but until then it is our responsibility as citizens and consumers to get smarter about how we navigate news feeds and the hyper-partisan press.
  • Shares of Beyond Meat opened at around $200 on Tuesday morning, falling to nearly $170 by the afternoon.
  • Wall Street analysts remain wary of the stock, which has been on a massive hot streak since its IPO in May.
  • Beyond Meat faces competition from Impossible Foods and, as of this week, Tyson.


Shares of Beyond Meat soared Tuesday after the company announced plans to sell a ground-beef product called 'Beyond Beef' in grocery stores nationwide.

On Tuesday morning, Beyond Meat (BYND) opened at about $200, but by the afternoon fell to $170. The drop was partly fueled by Wall Street analysts saying the company is overvalued. (For context, the highest price target among analysts is currently $123.) Still, Beyond Meat is trading far above its initial public offering price of $25, and analysts seem generally optimistic about the company over the long term.

"Despite the valuation considerations, we continue to expect significant growth potential in the plant-based meat category and believe that Beyond Meat is well positioned as one of the frontrunners leading the new wave of plant-based meat products," said Bernstein, the Wall Street research and brokerage firm.

"Come be among the first to try this delicious new product that delivers the versatility, meaty texture and juiciness of ground beef with less of the baggage!" the company wrote in an Instagram post.

Beyond Meat says its new product is "versatile enough to use in any ground beef recipe," and that it will tenderize and marbelize just like real meat. Last week, the company debuted a new burger patty that contains cocoa butter and coconut oil, which create a marbling effect when cooked. Beyond Meat CEO Ethan Brown told CNN Business his company will probably continue to issue new products and improve upon existing ones.

"It's part of our philosophy and our approach to innovation that we're going to be constantly iterating," he said.

Brown echoed similar thoughts on a call with analysts following Beyond Meat's first-quarter earnings results.

"I am maniacally focused on driving this business forward through innovation," he said. "I have no distraction with an incumbent business, no concerns about upsetting my existing supply chain."

The alternative meat war

But Impossible Foods – Beyond Meat's chief competitor – is also vying to dominate the alternative meat industry.

"They've both publicly stated that their goal is to really reach every single person," Zak Weston, a food service analyst at the Good Food Institute, told Marketplace.

What's more, Impossible Foods might be more popular.

"Based on our search volume data, it is clear that the Impossible Burger is much more popular among consumers than the Beyond Meat burger," Olga Andrienko, head of global marketing at SEMrush, told MarketWatch. "While search volume cannot determine causation, the significant difference in consumer interest for one of its main competitors, the Impossible Burger, points to a larger long-term risk for Beyond Meat in addition to its recent losses on Wall Street."

Tyson – the world's second largest meat processor – also debuted new alternative meat products this week under the Raised & Rooted brand. Ultimately, the winner of the alternative meat war will likely come down to which company can better mimic the taste, texture and appearance of real meat. After all, these companies aren't advertising primarily to vegans or vegetarians – they're going after carnivores.