Supertramp, Egg Salad and Darwin

by Daniel A. Kaufman

A terrific takedown of the current, narcissistic “self-improvement” madness.

High quality video of Supertramp playing live in 1979.

My dialogue with Justin Weinberg of the Daily Nous on the current state of Philosophy.

A deliciously vicious dustup between Patricia Churchland and Colin McGinn.  Plus more from Marcia Cavell and McGinn.

The best egg salad recipe.  I’ve literally fed hundreds of people with it.

The late, great Jerry Fodor talking with Elliot Sober about his book, What Darwin Got Wrong.

And an interesting critique by Alex Rosenberg.


30 responses to “Supertramp, Egg Salad and Darwin”

  1. The egg salad recipe sounds good, will try it this week-end.
    The How To Basic Youtube channel is not to everyone’s taste, but its recipe for Egg Salad Sandwich is short and to the point: The sliced banana is an interesting touch. (I’m in eggood mood today.)

    Oh, yeah, Churchland’s remarks do seem unnecessarily shrill…

  2. EJ: It’s great for people who don’t like a very mayonnaise-heavy salad. That said, I usually put a little more mayo than the recipe calls for.

  3. Reviewing the How To Basic, I think that’s sliced potatoes, not bananas; but I wouldn’t want to taste it to find out.

    I will probably add more mayonnaise as well, I’m afraid I’m addicted to it in salads….

  4. dmf

    I think that yer point that many of the questions/lines-of-inquiry of current philosophy are likely of a sort of Wittgensteinian bewitchment by grammar kind of wrongness is a vital one and he changed the topic to something like boredom or fatigue which are not at all the same.
    On the point of the shift of many traditional subjects of philo to the sciences there may be some cases where his point holds true but I think if we check the history than we will find that these matters are more about science offering better answers/tests than some sign of philosophical success (I think in some fruitful ways one can think of the history of science as the gradual overcoming of folk/common-sense wisdoms, and would we count the ever shrinking God of the Gaps as a sign of theological success?) and finally he again shifted the topic from yer rightful observation about the culture wars being waged by red state governments against the humanities to his off the topic observations about some minority of thoughtful conservatives but overall a good to and fro.

  5. dmf

    ps one more thing I think on the question of the marketability of philo I would say 2 things first that while there is a pop audience for philo like with science people enjoy hearing about the findings but generally aren’t drawn to learning the how to of disciplines and the target audiences for philo aren’t likely to include a lot of undergraduates which isn’t the same pool as say NYTimes readers.

  6. DW

    Speaking of mayonnaise, I’ve only recently started using my immersion blender to make home-made mayo. I don’t know why I didn’t do this long ago since it is ridiculously quick and easy. Just made some poppy seed mayo for chicken salad.

  7. Agreed. Homemade mayo is the bomb. And very easy.

  8. DW

    Oh, I’ve seen that Alex Rosenberg video. That whole “Debating Darwin” conference was pretty interesting. I stumbled upon it when I was looking for more videos with Peter Godfrey-Smith. Godfrey-Smith has suggested that if we are interested in studying alien minds, then we should look at the cephalopods and particularly octopuses since they are quite intelligent, live in an environment different from ours, have a very different neural structure, and their most recent common ancestor with us lived half a billion years ago. It’s an interesting idea, and anyway, cuttlefish and octopuses are very cool.

    Godfrey-Smith is also an excellent underwater photographer. His blog is well worth a look:

  9. I agree on the conference. Fodor’s initial presentation was very good too.

  10. DW

    Yes, it was. I wish there were a lot more things like this on the internet.

    I’ll watch that Fodor and Sober video later today. You always have an interesting variety of links in your roundups.

  11. DW

    Wow. So Fodor and Sober was what was on Bloggingheads back in the day. I sure miss the science programs, particularly the ones Laurie Santos did for The Mind Report. In a world similar–but slightly better–than our own, the internet would be full of high quality videos of academics talking though their research and the issues in their fields. In your dialogue with Justin Weinberg, you talked about podcasts. I’m glad they are popular enough to get made, but I find videos to be superior because I can maintain much better concentration if I can see the speaker than if I merely listen. So I’m glad that you swim against the tide and do Sophia as a video.

    In the Fodor/Sober exchange, I think I agree almost entirely with Sober that Fodor has an unworkable concept of what should count as a scientific theory and what we should expect out of our theories. I was kind of expecting Sober to bring up population genetics since it explicates the role of selection pressure in the midst of stochastic drift, and it also is important if you are trying to piece together a detailed causal account of how pressure on some population results in changes in that population. The theory of natural selection isn’t Darwin–it’s Darwin (and Wallace) plus a century and half of further research and development. For Fodor to disparage all this theory development as “Darwin plus gossip” reveals a rather perverse perspective about what has been accomplished.

    Now I’m thinking of watching the Rosenberg video again since I don’t think I remember much of the detail.

  12. I have to say, I agree entirely with Fodor. Indeed, I don’t think Sober really was up to debating him. Seemed like he didn’t quite understand the critique, which is essentially at the levels of philosophy of science and philosophy of language.

  13. DW

    Hmm, well if that is the case then Fodor himself didn’t manage in this dialog to explicate what his critique actually is. I think Sober satisfactorily addressed the issues as they came up here. But it has been years since I have considered any of this, so I doubt I’m clear as to what I take Fodor’s point to be. I think I’ll also rewatch Fodor’s video that you just linked above which should help get me at least somewhat back up to speed.

    I did rewatch the Rosenberg video. Rosenberg is wrong in claiming that there is not selection-for only selection-against. Selection is differential: there must be (at least) two phenotypic variants of a trait. The result of selective pressure (ignoring for now random drift which generally should not be ignored) is that one (or more) increases in percentage while another (or more) decrease in percentage. If a variant becomes fixed, then the now homogeneous population is no longer under selection regarding that trait.

    But if all that Rosenberg means to claim is that selection-for doesn’t exist in isolation, then he’s fine. Although I’m not sure he can still run through the argument that he wants to make. I remember that I had these same thoughts the first time I watched the video, but I don’t think I tried to work it out then. Might consider it now.

    I never knew enough about teleosemantics to know whether the generalizing move that Rosenberg makes at the end is plausible. It at least sounds clever. I guess I’ll go read a few Stanford Encyclopedia articles and see if I’m interested and think I want to look further. I find that I’m much more interested in philosophical ideas than I am in trying to plow through what philosophers typically write. That’s a big reason I like videos.

  14. davidlduffy

    Fodor,and Piattelli-Palmarini make particular scientific claims eg “gradualist adaptationism is marginalized or inapplicable in much of contemporary biology”, “Evolution seems to have achieved near optimal answers to questions which, if pursued by the application of exogenous filters to solutions generated at random, as the neo-Darwinist model requires, would have imposed searching implausibly large of spaces of candidate solutions…this dilemma would hold even if the theory of natural selection were otherwise basically correct. But the issue is arguably academic since the following chapters will show that it isn’t.”, ” this consensus fails utterly to grasp the implications of free-riding
    …because they haven’t noticed the intensionality of selection-for”, which they claim is the “crucial respect in which the way natural selection is unlike artificial selection”. Even experiments where direction of selection is randomly chosen?. :I won’t get into the very large empirical literature on multi-trait selection – there are many examples of “free-riding” easily understood at the mechanistic level in human genetics – the area I have most direct experience of is the genetics of human pigmentation..

  15. It’s the intensionality of selection-for that is the issue, and it is a conceptual problem, not one that can be solved by ever more “mechanistic” grinding. It’s not just in biology. This is true anywhere.

    One of Fodor’s points that Sober just doesn’t get is that there certainly are laws involved, they just are likely at the chemical level, rather than the biological one. Hence also his points re: natural history towards the latter parts of the dialogue.

  16. Parallax

    Since Dan likes video games as a story telling medium:

  17. Yeah, I want to play that one, once the price comes down a bit.

    There was a Doctor Who episode from the Sylvester McCoy era that had a similar premise.

  18. davidlduffy

    Fodor had been making the former point since the 1990s in the context of the evolution of representation/meaning intentionality viz the teleosemantics commented on above. Forget about frogs, bacteria are behaviourally sophisticated enough for a mechanistic grind of the chemical and cybernetic laws underlying the persistence of life.

  19. I finally got around to watching the Fodor/Sober discussion. I was underwhelmed.

    It seems that Fodor wants laws comparable to the laws of physics. Sober gave him some examples, but Fodor thought they were too particular (or part of the gossip around the Darwinian theory).

    In my opinion, Fodor is asking for too much. Physics can have grand laws because it is abstract. But biology has to deal with the messiness that we see in the actual world. The best one should hope for is a bunch of special purpose ad hoc laws. I tend to look at the theory of evolution as a set of broad principles that connects all of those ad hoc parts.

    Earlier, I watched Rosenberg’s talk. And, based on that, it seems that Fodor also wants some grand laws of semantics. But the best one should hope for is a bunch of special purpose ad hoc laws. Semantics is even more of a mess than is biology. And the best hope for a theory of cognition/consciousness would be for a set of broad principles that connects all of those ad hoc parts.

  20. The point is a purely philosophical one. There is no area, period, in which co-extensive terms can be individuated at a more fine-grained level, through a purely mechanical process. To do so requires representation and thus, intentionality. This really is not a disputable point, and it’s understandable that people in the sciences might not quite grasp it. Sober, however, has no excuse.

  21. Parallax

    Thanks for the link. But based on the BBC synopsis “Joy” in We Happy Few is more sinister than the candy in that Doctor Who episode (this is revealed fairly early in the game).

    I have been watching Christopher Odd play this game just for the story, very much like a TV show. In fact with a few tweaks to some of the game mechanics you can easily imagine We Happy Few as a prestige drama on BBC, HBO or AMC. And that reminded me of the diavlog you did with Noah Caldwell-Gervais a few years ago …

  22. Yes, that was my take too – and I’m no fan of Rosenberg. But I’m no fan of Fodor either.

  23. The kindest thing I can say about Lara Prendergast’s article is that it leaves me aghast. Appropriately enough that little image of her at the top of the article shows a barely concealed sneer. The rest of the article enlarges on that sneer, unleashing her withering scorn for men.

    This is all entertaining stuff, written in a certain British tradition, but Boris Johnson does it better, with, perhaps, a little more more elegance and a little more intelligence. Though this characterisation is likely to make the blood of a Corbynite boil.

    The thing is that we are all engaged in the project of self improvement, for perfectly good reasons. We improve our knowledge and understanding. We improve our skills. The university system is probably the acme of our great self improvement scheme. In the churches we try to become more compassionate, more supportive, more understanding and more helpful. In the corporate world we were endlessly toiling on the project of getting our workers and staff to improve themselves. And so on, and so on.

    The reason for all of this is that, unlike other members of the animal kingdom, who can only see the present, our minds are time travellers. We see into the past and we see into the future. Seeing into the future allows us to imagine a better future, better than our past and better than the present. And so we try to realise this better future. We embark on the project of improvement, which no other species can do.

    Crucially though, we are also a reflective species. We not only look backward into the past and forward into the future, but we also look inwards. When we do this we see something inadequate, something that can be improved upon. And then there is a dawning realisation. If we wish to attain a better future, we had better improve ourselves as well. This is a powerful and transformative realisation.

    None of this is new or controversial. But people, being people, will do this in a host of ways, some ill conceived, some foolish and some malign. Some will use it as an opportunity to posture and preen. Some will use it to claim a form of identity, which they will enlarge upon by claiming greater status within their identity grouping. Most of what Prendergast talks about are the foolish and malign ways in which so-called self improvement is nothing more than attempts to assert identity and claim status. They amply deserve Prendergast’s scorn.

    But really, do we expect anything else? The entire primate world does this and we find it hard to defy our primate nature.

  24. Dan-K,
    I loved your video interview on Sophia, the profession of philosophy.

    There is a lot to take in there and it really deserves separate treatment here instead of just being bundled up with a host of other subjects. I will begin with one quick remark(and then go for my run, self-improvement!!). You seemed to be drinking quite a lot of water during the discussion so you should be aware that over-hydration can be quite a serious problem, resulting in hyponatremia( Over-hydration can result in decreased sodium in cerebrospinal fluid, causing inflammation of the surface of the brain.

    Tim Noakes treats the subject extensively in his book – Waterlogged: The Serious Problem of Overhydration in Endurance Sports (

  25. Uh, I drank one bottle of water throughout the entire dialogue. I had a dry throat.

  26. Yes, I guessed as much but thought the point was worth making. The bottled water companies heavily oversell their products, creating a need that hardly exists.

  27. Kannur

    Most of what Prendergast talks about are the foolish and malign ways in which so-called self improvement is nothing more than attempts to assert identity and claim status. They amply deserve Prendergast’s scorn.
    But really, do we expect anything else?
    The entire primate world does this and we find it hard to defy our primate nature.

    Indeed it is just what Prendergast herself is doing.

  28. From the self-improvement article:

    In 2013, Rob Rhinehart, an American software engineer, launched Soylent.

    What, really? Does he sell “Mrs Lovett Pies” as well?

  29. davidlduffy

    “This really is not a disputable point, and it’s understandable that people in the sciences might not quite grasp it…”
    Along with the neurophenomenalists, and all materialists such as Godfrey-Smith, Dennett etc .Let’s just say that there is much that science doesn’t know about evolution, but the bits we do know allow us to test most of the topics that Fodor bring up. As to metaphysical objections, many prefer to revise the metaphysics rather than claim an unbridgeable gulf between human-guided selection and natural selection.

  30. Robin,
    Does he sell “Mrs Lovett Pies” as well?

    Nice one, though I suspect the allusion will be lost on many.