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.

My plane touched down in Chicago some time after 5 p.m. local time last Friday. I had almost two hours to spare before making my connection. But the plane was late and others on board were anxious.

The couple behind me had less than an hour to catch a flight to Paris.

For some time now, I've been skeptical about the neuroscience of consciousness. Not so much because I doubt that consciousness is affected by neural states and processes, but because of the persistent tendency on the part of some neuroscientists to think of consciousness itself as a neural phenomenon.

The Struma was sunk by a Soviet torpedo in February 1942 as it sought to carry its cargo of Romanian Jews to safe harbor in what was then called Palestine by way of the Black Sea.

This terrible event isn't very well remembered today, but it marked the lives of my family. My father Hans Noë, who is now 86, shared this chapter of his story with me and my mother recently.

If you watch the World Series tonight, you'll notice that if Matt Harvey, the Mets pitcher, reaches a two strike count against one of the Royals batters, the whole stadium — as if with a single mind — will rise to its feet and roar with excitement and encouragement.

Their shared interest in the action, and their understanding of it, unites them and brings them into coordination. No doubt the impulse to jump up and scream is also caused, in part, by the fact that so many people around you are doing it, too.

I had a chance to see the Andy Warhol exhibition that just closed at New York's MOMA this past weekend. The high point of the show, indeed — one of art's high points — is Warhol's series of Campbell's soup cans. They were painted and first shown in Los Angeles in 1962, and all 32 of them are seldom on display altogether.

I've always been a little skeptical about the scientific method.

Science isn't one thing, after all. Just as sports isn't one thing. There isn't one way to win, or one way to get the gold. And, so, there isn't one way to conduct research in fields as different as chemistry, economics, climate science and ethology.

When baseball fans think back on memorable events from the season that just ended, there's no doubt that the Matt Harvey Affair is one of the things they'll remember.

Matt Harvey is a star pitcher for the New York Mets. He's in his first season back from Tommy John surgery. With a playoff spot in plain view, Harvey's agent, Scott Boras, went public a few weeks back with the claim that Harvey's doctors didn't want him pitching a full load this season.

Diesels are more expensive than gasoline powered cars. But they drive better; they've got better torque. And they're way more fuel efficient.

The downside is that they're dirty. They spew deadly particulate matter and nitrogen oxides (NOx) that make it hard to breathe.

Carl Safina, in his new book on animal minds — Beyond Words: What Animals Think and Feel makes a strong case for the claim that animals, such as wolves, elephants — and maybe also crayfish — have rich mental lives.

The science press was atwitter with excitement about the blind spot this week.

The headline of a Washington Post article from Aug. 11 reads: "It turns out parenthood is worse than divorce, unemployment — even the death of a partner."

Woody Allen's lovely new movie, Irrational Man, tells the story of an alcoholic philosophy professor, played by Joaquin Phoenix, who arrives one summer to take up a teaching gig at an idyllic, elite liberal arts college.

I'm not sure what is more far-fetched, the proposition that the entire campus is aflutter with erotic anticipation at the "brilliant" man's arrival, or the idea that Joaquin Phoenix is supposed to be a brilliant philosophy professor.

When I was a kid, I noticed that sometimes fear and anticipation felt the same way.

I'd get butterflies, a kind of queasiness in the stomach. To figure out what I was feeling, I came to realize, what was needed was not introspection, but attention to the context.

No need to be a baseball fan to get caught up in the drama that unfolded before our eyes during the television broadcast of the Mets-Padres game at Citi Field in New York on Wednesday evening.

It wasn't a baseball drama, but a life drama that puts all of us — and our reliance on, and misplaced confidence in, Twitter (and other new technologies of would-be connectedness) as a source of information — on the spot.

I have an unusual name. As I've mentioned before in this place, it is difficult or even impossible for me to tell someone my name over the phone. If they don't know it, they can't hear it. It's just too unexpected.

In my experience, this is a quite general phenomenon. We see and hear what we expect to see and hear, at least a fair bit of the time. I don't have to actually hear your response to my "How are you?" to be pretty sure what you said in reply.

Our Robot Servants

Jul 17, 2015

Industrial robots are big machines capable of merciless speed and power. In a recent report in Time, a robot "grabbed and pushed" a man against a metal plate at a Volkswagen production plant, crushing him.

The new Pixar animation Inside Out, directed by Pete Docter (Monster's Inc., Up), is the playful and ambitious story of the emotional life of a young girl, Riley, who is uprooted when her parents move to a new city so that her father can take up a job. Like a lot of science fiction, however, the fiction drags because the science never really makes any sense.

Soldiers with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) — a trauma-induced condition in which individuals experience heightened emotional arousal and anxiety — see a world full of threat.

A new study by Rebecca Todd, and colleagues at the University of British Columbia and the Hospital for Sick Kids in Toronto, shows that that they really do. That is, they experience the presence of real threats the rest of us cannot see.

Cheating in science has been in the news lately. The Office of Research Integrity — which is part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services — punishes on the order of a dozen scientists a year for different sorts of misconduct, such as plagiarism and making up results, according to the founders of one watchdog group.

A couple of years back, my neurosurgeon showed me some snaps she'd made on her flip phone of my open forearm during a surgery she had performed on me.