Is Philosophy Dead?

Has the internet rejuvenated philosophy?

With all the advances in neuroscience and biology it would seem that much of the way that we decipher information into emotive responses would have been explained by now. Biology explains that our emotions are merely chemical responses based on stored memories of similar situations and that when we respond it’s more likely to imitate previous responses if the experience is known.

Biology seems to explain that our brain focuses on simplifying situations like computers compress information for storage. Our reactions are often based on compressed sensation and memory response and these things come together to create seemingly unique experiences.

What’s interesting to me is how easily our mind is tricked. Optical illusions are both infuriating and amazing but again, easily understood. Break down the system into it’s core purpose and it makes perfect sense that we could be tricked so easily. What Dan Dennett doesn’t get into in that linked video above is that our “consciousness” is designed to do a couple things well and those thing are related to survival first and deciphering trickery second (or third). This isn’t something impressive. We used to hunt and be focused on being quick to respond to danger. Both acts require fast responses. Fast responses happen faster if memory, sense and data compression combine. Put yourself in a forest, you’re hungry and you have a bow and arrow. You see motion out of the corner of your eye and it’s big but the shadows of the leaves are in the way and you can’t understand what animal that might be. Shoot, run, or stay put? Our senses are designed to decipher quickly because it’s important. Shoot and you might hit something you don’t want to. Run and it may catch you, stay put and it may get within range. With this in mind, have a look again at the second part of Dan Dennett’s video on TED.

Philosophy used to mean Hegel, Sartre, and some dude you knew who did too many drugs and read Howl too many times. Then Prozac and other medications came around and showed, decidedly, that the neuroscientists and biologists were right after all; your “self” is chemical and those chemicals can be controlled. Suddenly the basic ideals of philosophy could be questioned. Existentialists were just suffering from PTSD and guilt. Ginsberg was on drugs. Hegel, too wrapped up in fame.

Philosophy now has a new realm just out of the reach of its interlopers. Many people, myself included, see the internet as a type of collective consciousness. It’s an environment where, as a whole, it expresses humanity and is, essentially a society that manages itself in most situations. Philosophy, as it relates to both consciousness and human action is then given a new place to exist within the internet. A Kantian place a place where the core of what makes us human can be observed. The internet is both faceless and super-national. Because of this, law is difficult to enforce and individuality is unclear. It’s a perfect environment to test, observe and hypothesize on human nature. There are few places where the core of who we are is disembodied from the physical nature of what we are. The internet gives us all the ability to exist purely by consciousness. If, and Dan Dennett says, that consciousness is “fake” or, as biologists say, is chemical the outcome is the same as if our consciousness is a piece of God in our head. 

Our day to day actions can be explained away through the science of what we are, but our actions online can’t be explained so easily. You can’t test the bodies of a commentator or understand who they are. Everything they’re projecting online may be a fantasy or another person. And so the internet gives life to the study of who we are as an infinite record of any, all and fallacious aspects of ourselves.