Alva Noë

Alva Noë is a contributor to the NPR blog 13.7: Cosmos and Culture. He is writer and a philosopher who works on the nature of mind and human experience.

Noë received his PhD from Harvard in 1995 and is a professor of philosophy at the University of California, Berkeley, where he is also a member of the Institute for Cognitive and Brain Sciences and the Center for New Media. He previously was a Distinguished Professor of Philosophy at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York. He has been philosopher-in-residence with The Forsythe Company and has recently begun a performative-lecture collaboration with Deborah Hay. Noë is a 2012 recipient of a Guggenheim fellowship.

He is the author of Action in Perception (MIT Press, 2004); Out of Our Heads (Farrar Straus and Giroux, 2009); and most recently, Varieties of Presence (Harvard University Press, 2012). He is now at work on a book about art and human nature.

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13.7: Cosmos And Culture
12:01 pm
Fri March 27, 2015

The Fight Against Addiction: Is Love All You Need?

Ben Goode iStockphoto

If anything deserves to be called "the establishment view," it is what Johann Hari — in his new book on addiction and the war on drugs, Chasing the Scream: The First and Last Days of the War on Drugscalls the pharmaceutical model of addiction.

The pharmaceutical model says that addiction is about chemicals. Addiction is a chronic incurable disease of the brain. The brain's pleasure centers are hijacked.

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13.7: Cosmos And Culture
12:12 pm
Sun March 8, 2015

Who Was Mr. Spock?

Actor Leonard Nimoy in 2006.
RIC FRANCIS AP

Leonard Nimoy, who died on Feb. 27 at age 83, wrote two memoirs. One was called I Am Not Spock and the other was called I Am Spock.

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13.7: Cosmos And Culture
7:49 am
Fri March 6, 2015

Evolution And Airplane Security

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Originally published on Fri March 6, 2015 4:29 pm

On my way to Vancouver by air recently, I found myself wondering about the practice of using service trolleys to block access to the cockpit when the pilots need to unlock their secured doors to come aft.

The problem is a real one; opening the door to the flight deck gives would-be maniacs a chance to rush the cockpit. The question is: What's the fix?

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13.7: Cosmos And Culture
11:14 am
Fri February 20, 2015

Taking A Good Look At Touch

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Vision comes first in our society. The study of perception has tended to be dominated by the study of vision. Vision, said Aristotle, is the queen of the senses.

There's something to it: I may hear you in the kitchen — but there's a sense that when I see you, only then do I really know exactly what you are doing.

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13.7: Cosmos And Culture
1:13 pm
Sun February 1, 2015

A Case Against The Phrase 'No Problem'

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Originally published on Mon February 2, 2015 3:22 pm

The phrase "no problem" has always struck me as a fine way to respond to an apology. It is friendly to say to a person who has interrupted you, or cut you off, or woken you up, or missed an appointment, that the problem they caused you is no problem. By minimizing the wrong done — by saying that it was no problem — you both acknowledge the apology and express forgiveness. Perfect.

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13.7: Cosmos And Culture
11:29 am
Fri January 23, 2015

The Ethics Of The 'Singularity'

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Originally published on Mon January 26, 2015 9:31 am

Some people argue that we will one day reach a point when our machines, which will have become smarter than us, will be able themselves to make machines that are smarter than them. Superintelligence — an intelligence far-outreaching what we are in a position even to imagine — will come on the scene. We will have attained what is known, in futurist circles, as the "singularity." The singularity is coming. So some people say.

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13.7: Cosmos And Culture
5:28 am
Fri January 16, 2015

Making A Brain Map That We Can Use

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It is now conventional wisdom that the brain is the seat of the mind; it is alone through the brain's workings that we think and feel and know.

But what is a brain, anyway?

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13.7: Cosmos And Culture
9:14 am
Fri January 9, 2015

The Biased Eye

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Recent events give us occasion to think hard about racial stereotypes and the way they may bias even the unprejudiced mind.

Studies have shown that prejudice can operate in us covertly. Even people who openly reject racial prejudice, for example, may express prejudice in the way they react to situations. Prejudice can operate, in the language of social science, implicitly (or unconsciously).

Remarkably, this sort of implicit bias can affect even the way we see.

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13.7: Cosmos And Culture
8:45 am
Tue December 30, 2014

In Search Of A Science Of Consciousness

Originally published on Tue December 30, 2014 1:43 pm

Any color you choose can be matched by a mixture of short, medium and long wavelength light (i.e., blue, green and red light). This perceptual observation led to the formulation, early in the 19th century, of a neurophysiological hypothesis: The eye contains three kinds of distinct color-sensitive receptors (cones); just as colors themselves can be composed of lights of different spectral character, so we can see the vast range of visible color thanks to the joint operation of only three distinct kinds of receptors.

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13.7: Cosmos And Culture
6:34 am
Fri December 12, 2014

Do People Like To Think?

Visitors look at the restored statue The Thinker by Auguste Rodin at the Singer Laren museum in 2011.
Toussaint Kluiters AFP/Getty Images

Originally published on Fri December 12, 2014 5:37 pm

When I was a kid, I used to lie in bed at night listening to Mets games on the transistor radio, or to the top 40. Sunday evenings were hard because there was no baseball and most of the music stations went to talk.

As I got older, I came to take comfort in the talk. I learned to love Father Bill Ayers' call-in show late on New York's WPLJ.

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13.7: Cosmos And Culture
3:51 pm
Fri November 21, 2014

Artificial Intelligence, Really, Is Pseudo-Intelligence

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Originally published on Fri November 21, 2014 5:14 pm

One reason I'm not worried about the possibility that we will soon make machines that are smarter than us, is that we haven't managed to make machines until now that are smart at all. Artificial intelligence isn't synthetic intelligence: It's pseudo-intelligence.

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13.7: Cosmos And Culture
11:51 am
Fri November 7, 2014

What Is That Guy Doing, Anyway?

Originally published on Sat November 8, 2014 8:09 am

Can you tell language from non-language? Meaning from noise? Words from random movement or sound?

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13.7: Cosmos And Culture
5:44 am
Fri October 31, 2014

Three Cheers For The Instant Replay

Madison Bumgarner and Buster Posey of the San Francisco Giants celebrate winning Game 7 of baseball's World Series against the Kansas City Royals.
David J. Phillip AP

Originally published on Fri October 31, 2014 4:25 pm

The Giants challenged a call in Game 7 of the World Series Wednesday night. It took the umpiring crew — in conference with the umpires holed up in the video monitoring station in New York City's Chelsea district — almost three minutes to overturn the on-field decision. They called the runner out at first, giving the Giants a potentially game-changing double play.

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13.7: Cosmos And Culture
4:11 pm
Fri October 17, 2014

What Art, And The Game Telephone, Teach Us About Copying

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Originally published on Fri October 17, 2014 7:21 pm

In the game of Telephone, a message gets repeated from person to person in a chain. By the time it comes around again, it's been transformed.

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13.7: Cosmos And Culture
4:46 pm
Fri October 10, 2014

Why Can't Dutee Run?

Dragan Trifunovic iStockphoto

The case of Dutee Chand — the Indian sprinter who has been banned from competing as a woman because she has naturally high levels of androgen — casts international sport in a bad light.

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13.7: Cosmos And Culture
6:33 am
Sat October 4, 2014

Is A Picture Always Worth A Thousand Words?

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The beheadings of journalists, aid workers, tourists and countless soldiers by the group calling itself the Islamic State (or Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant or Islamic State of Iraq and Syria) are noteworthy for their terrifying depravity, but also for the fact that they are staged as acts of political theater or, more accurately, video.

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13.7: Cosmos And Culture
3:25 pm
Sat September 27, 2014

A Reflection On Random Acts of Kindness

James G. Brey iStockphoto

Not so long ago, I was driving with a friend from Berkeley to Marin County. I waited patiently to pay my toll; I'd let my FasTrak account expire, so I needed to pay cash, the old fashioned way.

As I pulled up at the booth and handed over the money, the toll taker waved my cash away. You don't need to pay, he said. Those people, in front of you, they paid for you.

Surely there was some mistake, I remonstrated. I wasn't driving in a caravan. There wasn't anybody up ahead of me who might have paid for me.

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13.7: Cosmos And Culture
9:49 am
Sun September 21, 2014

Finding Answers In Our Stories

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In a fascinating interview on the topic of atheism versus theism over at The Stone in The New York Times, Yale University philosopher Keith DeRose, in email conversation with Gary Gutting, makes the claim that theists don't know that God exists and that atheists don't know that there isn't a God. It's a stand off.

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13.7: Cosmos And Culture
4:26 pm
Fri September 12, 2014

Why Atheists Need Captain Kirk

Actors in the TV series Star Trek (from left) Leonard Nimoy as Commander Spock, William Shatner as Captain Kirk, DeForest Kelley as Doctor McCoy and James Doohan as Commander Scott.
AP

Originally published on Sat September 13, 2014 3:06 am

"European society is very advanced, very civilized. Between holocausts."

The painter Barnett Newman is said to have replied along these lines to a friend who was bemoaning the sorry state of American political life and praising European social democracy.

It's a good joke. It casts light on the whole religion versus science controversy as well.

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13.7: Cosmos And Culture
2:47 pm
Sat September 6, 2014

Civilization In The Time Of Selfies

iStock

Originally published on Sat September 6, 2014 2:50 pm

According to a paper just published in the PNAS, our Neanderthal cousins made pictures.

Or at least they found reason to use stone implements to carve shapes onto the surfaces of cave walls. This was hard work requiring hundreds of scrapes. Whether compositions of lines of this sort should be thought of as images, or pictures, or as proto-pictures, of this we can be sure — making them was a deliberate act and it was important to someone.

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