Shakshuka, Mental States, and Iron Maiden

by Daniel A. Kaufman

The flagship feminist philosophy journal, Hypatia, still reeling from the scandal involving its treatment of Rebecca Tuvel, finds itself humiliated once again, this time by a Sokal-style hoax.

For those who need a refresher on the Tuvel affair:

Rare, amazing footage of Iron Maiden from their New Wave of British Heavy Metal days.  (The band, since changing singers in 1983, developed into a power/progressive metal outfit.)

Terrific debate between Peter Hitchens and his brother, the late Christopher Hitchens, on Peter’s 1999 book, The Abolition of Britain (which I strongly recommend).

A delicious recipe for Shakshuka.

Hilary Putnam’s foundational paper on Functionalism in the philosophy of mind, “The Nature of Mental States,” published in Mind, Language, and Reality (Cambridge University Press, 1975). (I just finished teaching it in my Philosophy of Psychology course.)


25 responses to “Shakshuka, Mental States, and Iron Maiden”


    Can we have some shakshuka? It can be very tasty. Dried camel shit always is.

  2. Hey!! Shakshuka is delicious!

  3. The Western world is infested with paunchy radicals

    Oh, I love British humour! Now I must watch the rest.

  4. The video in the article discussing shakshuka made me hungry. And I had just eaten.

    I confess I miss Christopher Hitchens. I did disagree with his siding with the Neo-Cons during the Iraq invasion. But he did say, discussing it, one true remark, that Islam was in the middle of a civil war between the Sunni and the Shi’a (again). But that should make us diligent in not getting overly entangled in that region, except and only in our own interests. Otherwise it’s a morass of conflicting religious interests, shifting alliances, tribal grudges, unpredictable consequences of seeming ‘solutions.’

    However, Hitchens’ wit, his dogged determination to butcher sacred cows, his occasional flashes of insight, even his occasional frivolity bordering on triviality, made him always interesting.

    He dealt a deft blow when he got Peter to admit that he saw Thomas Paine and The Nazi Luftwaffe in the same light – thus unwittingly insulting every American who remembers Paine’s contribution to the American Revolution (which, perhaps, in his John Bullishness, Peter thinks of as one of those tragic moments in the decline of the Empire).

    This is not to deny any insights on contemporary culture Peter might offer in his book The Abolition of Britain (which I haven’t read). But here he seems intent on a precursor argument for Brexit. And while a handful of British conservatives still think that a “hard Brexit” is going to make them wealthy (the personal agenda of Johnson and Farage is really all too clear), the fact is that no one, whether on the street corner or in the Parliament have the slightest idea what closing England off behind, let’s say, a Mesh-Wire Curtain – will do to the people of England, Scotland or North Ireland. I suspect that in a few years, Scotland will secede, and Ulster will petition for a secularized union with Dublin….

    Hey, this could be a good thing – John Bull reduced to a an aging, toothless shrunken relic of itself – too small to cause anyone annoyance except through the occasional fart and loss of bladder control.

  5. I did watch some of the Iron Maiden video; I confess that the clothes of the guitarists kept reminding me of This Is Spın̈al Tap.

  6. It amazes me that a journal like Hypatia still can’t smell a hoax. I would have thought that every journal in every field would be on guard for this kind of thing.

    I have always thought that journals in evolutionary psychology would be vulnerable to this kind of thing. If I had more time on my hands I might try my hand myself.

    Only, come to think of it, some of those papers in EP I have read may already be Sokal style hoaxes, especially one on the evolutionary psychology of being a drag queen.

  7. It was the times.

  8. I know. I can’t understand it either.

  9. Boghossian et al claim that this is a serious study (although it is not itself published in any peer reviewed journal) and that some very wide ranging conclusions can be drawn from it.

    To summarise their argument they appear to be saying that if it is possible in any field to construct absurd arguments in favour of any propositions and have those argument published in peer reviewed academic journals then we have a warrant to disbelieve the conclusions put forward by that field ie:

    … one conclusion this project provides is a permission slip for academics and others to openly doubt the scholarship that seems to legitimize and institutionalize these conclusions as factual

    So if we can get some absurd arguments in favour of various propositions in peer reviewed biology journals then we have a warrant to dismiss the findings of biology, for example.

    I look forward to their forthcoming paper in which they make this argument rigorous.

  10. The thought did occur to me “oh good, they found the stage” 🙂

  11. I don’t take seriously their talk about having done any kind of study. They’ve done nothing of the sort. All they’ve done is caused people to expose themselves. Given what’s going on in philosophy and the humanities and social sciences more generally, it was an important thing to do.

  12. For those interested, the paper I referred to earlier was “A Natural History of the Drag Queen Phenomenon” published in Evolutionary Psychology, an open peer reviewed journal,

    The abstract:

    The drag queen cultural phenomenon has been described at length. However, the depiction of outlandish and hyperbolic womanhood and taunting and formidable behavior at the core of drag queens’ public persona has still to be fully accounted for. We argue that these aspects of the drag queen’s public appearance could best be understood in a signaling framework. Publicly donning extravagant woman’s costumes attracts harassment and brings financial, mating, and opportunity costs, generating the conditions for the transmission of honest signals. By successfully withstanding those odds, drag queen impersonators signal strategic qualities to members of the gay community. Data collected among gay and straight participants support a costly signaling reading of the drag queen cultural phenomenon. Participants generally agree that successful drag queens typically incur costs, while gaining specific social benefits.

    I think that this might fit the bill as: “a permission slip for academics and others to openly doubt the scholarship”.

  13. With Dan’s permission, although somewhat off-topic, I would like to offer a reading which I came upon this morning, complimentary to an issue I tried to raise in commentary to Dan’s discussion with Prof. Cartwell, namely the unfortunate effect of ‘reality TV’ on current politics:

  14. I’d rather not get into the Hypatia controversy, We may be reaching a point where there’s a journal to everyone’s taste, and standards are simply determined by such taste.

    That’s true just about in every media, especially the Internet. That it is now true in the academy is disappointing, but not surprising. Controversies then become merely – quarreling over taste; and of course that is pointless.

    Working on the Putnam essay though; would like Dan’s remarks concerning it….

  15. I would have thought that:

    . All organisms capable of feeling pain are Probabilistic Automata

    Was a non-starter.

    It seems we have had agreed in the past that a probabilistic automaton cannot feel pain if the probabilities involved are limited to 0 and 1. I can’t see how relaxing that constraint would provide the ability to feel pain.

  16. “… have agreed …”. I used to have a little note on my screen “PROOF READ!!!”. I should put it up again.

  17. Putnam renounced the view later in his career. The paper is from 1975. An important artifact, written during the golden age of the paradigm it describes. Perfect for my students.

    Next, they’ll learn all the objections.

  18. Well, yes. Given that there have been defenses such as “it was a one-off mistake” or “it only happens in poor quality open journals” then this is useful. Maybe it will lead to better quality checking in the future.

  19. The Hypatia response is predictable and just plain wrong:

    1. “Referees put in a great deal of time and effort to write meaningful reviews
    Value is not measured by effort but instead by clarity, relevance and insight.

    2. “that individuals would submit fraudulent academic material violates many ethical and academic norms
    Does it? That is an interesting discussion in itself, worthy of another essay. The real problem here is that she evades her accountability for her own problems by accusing others of serious violations.

    3. “It is equally upsetting that the anonymous reviewer comments from that effort were shared with third parties, violating the confidentiality of the peer-review process
    Hiding behind claims of confidentiality is a time honoured way of concealing abuses. And for good measure throw in another accusation. Then raise the emotional defence that it is “upsetting”. In any case opening matters to general scrutiny is the finest way of arriving at truthful understanding.

    4. “Wiley, Hypatia’s publisher, is investigating in accordance with industrywide ethical guidelines, she said.
    Since when should we appeal to a trade body for ethical guidance? Trade bodies act only in self interest. This is a smokescreen that creates the appearance of earnestly responding to the accusations of misconduct.

    These are the responses one would expect from a shady politician(lots and lost of them in my country!), not an academic. Academia, at the end of the day, is concerned with truthful understanding. Her response, instead of seeking truthful understanding, seeks to evade it under the cover of accusations and misleading statements. But what else could she do if she refuses to admit wrong?

    Her refusal to admit wrong ties in nicely with the Hilary Putnam paper. She is experiencing emotional pain. Is this a brain state? Or is it a ‘a functional state of the organism‘ ? Or is it ‘a behavior disposition‘ ?

    But clearly her emotional pain has activated a defensive behaviour disposition. It takes great strength of mind to overcome this and we are all vulnerable.

  20. John Bull reduced to a an aging, toothless shrunken relic of itself – too small to cause anyone annoyance except through the occasional fart and loss of bladder control.

    Let me reply in the same spirit 🙂

    Your tasteless schadenfreude will in time be displaced by the painful reality of America’s inexorable decline into an ageing, obese, self-addled, drug addicted, consumer cow, confined to a pasture with the sole purpose of being an outlet for Chinese products.


    The fortunes of countries rise and fall. None of us should indulge in schadenfreude. A more appropriate emotion is regret and sorrow. A more appropriate cognitive response is to seek out and understand the forces at play. Insightful understanding is our calling while certain kinds of emotions are our downfall. Popular stereotypes are traps that feed our emotions and strangle our thinking.

  21. In the context of my general comment, the toothless John Bull remark was intended as general rebuke of Brexit. I take no joy in Britain’s decision to step away from Europe and wrap itself in the tattered rags of fallen empire. Exceptionalist nationalism is a disease, with potentially fatal consequences – in the US as well as England: “America’s inexorable decline into an ageing, obese, self-addled, drug addicted, consumer cow, confined to a pasture with the sole purpose of being an outlet for Chinese products” is quite likely our future if we continue to renege on treaties, engage in senseless trade-wars, rattle our sabers, – just on the basis of a belief in our own inevitable victory in every contest because we’re somehow a divinely appointed ‘city on the hill.’ It is not our power that makes America great, but our willingness to engage in ideas, and to encourage others to do so, in every field. We are losing that, and if we do , we will have little to offer the world.

    England, too, would be better served if it cooperated with its neighbors, rather than hoping to dominate them in an inevitable competition.

  22. Here, I’m afraid I disagree with you, EJ and agree with P. Hitchens. He is anti-Brexit, but pro leaving the EU. The problem with Brexit is that it was a referendum, and referendums, in my view, have no place in a representative democracy.

    I understand your worries about nationalism, but I am much more worried about super-nationalism. I believe that the nation state is the largest viable political entity there can be. And if I was English, I would absolutely resent the capacity of un-elected people in Brussels to make decisions about my life, trade, etc.

  23. For the sake of brevity, I’ll just provide a quick snap-shot of my reasoning: First, although I can’t say I’m happy with globalism, I think some form of it is inevitable. Second, in a world with an ever expanding population, nation states are not the best structure for the management and distribution of dwindling resources. Third, nation states invite increasing competition and inevitable conflict, to the detriment of all. Fourth, the hope of a federal system or a confederacy is one of the real contributions to political thought made by the American Revolution and the process that led to the Constitution. An argument against “the capacity of un-elected people in Brussels to make decisions about my life, trade, etc.” seems to me an over simplification of the issues involved. (Southerners made much the same argument, that they had not voted for Lincoln, and so felt no need to stay in the Union.) And in fact there are many instances in a representative democracy when neither law nor policy can be made by direct election – the most obvious instance – and most pertinent, given events this week – are decisions of the Supreme Court.

    I am aware that we always begin with our families and then our communities, and expanding our sympathies beyond these becomes a rather hazy process. requiring difficulties and effort. But if we’re going to build walls along our borders – not just between the UK and the EU, not just between the US and Mexico, but between, say, Pennsylvania and West Virginia – we have to wonder where it stops; should the town of Gates, just outside the city of Rochester, build a wall along its border with Rochester? And in doing so, how would it achieve the necessary self- sufficiency, given that many of its residents work in Rochester? And I’m not being entirely facile here – Gates was one of the many suburbs of Rochester that experienced a population boom during the “white-flight” years of the ’70s, and many of its residence kind of wish Rochester didn’t exist.

    A part of me wants to make the ‘reason would indicate -‘ argument that as we recognize our shared humanity, our differences will diminish; but I myself am not convinced that this makes a strong claim. And my second paragraph certainly indicates the kind of argument Rorty made, about increasing inclusiveness in our loyalties to the ever wider communities we belong to – a much stronger argument with some sociological support. But my opening argument is where I am really grounded – certain processes, however difficult, are inevitable, and some others are preferable to their alternatives.

    Finally, I admit that many federations, confederacies, nations and nation states, even ‘super nations,’ seem broken now. Indeed, the whole world system seems crippled somehow (and I believe, after Braudel and Wallerstein, that the world functioned as a system long before globalism). But there is not any one reason for this, and the blame game that nationalists like to engage in when difficulties arise only clouds perception and discussion of possible solutions to work on.

  24. An argument against “the capacity of un-elected people in Brussels to make decisions about my life, trade, etc.” seems to me an over simplification of the issues involved.

    It is hard to see how that is an over simplification. There is a large bureaucracy in Brussels, making important decisions that affect the everyday life of Britons. These officials are indeed un-elected and Britons have very little input that can in anyway sway their decisions.

  25. I can’t say I’m happy with globalism, I think some form of it is inevitable.

    That all depends by what you mean by ‘globalism’. There is financial, trade, industrial, cultural and political globalisation which have very different meanings and impact. Every one of these forms of globalisation have severe local impacts that gravely decrease the chances of political globalisation. For example, Chinese imports have devastated our local textile and footwear industries. Large numbers of people have been displaced to the margins of society where they cling on for dear life. The resentment and anger that it generates makes political globalisation impossible.

    The severe pain and dislocation generated by globalising forces draws local groups together as they attempt to somehow make sense of what is happening to them and to use their local group identities for strength and defence.

    Globalisation is becoming the rapacious dominance of the strong and ruthless. The inevitable result of this is that local groups will once more assert their identity and independence.