Saturday, September 26, 2009


by Alexandre Couto de Andrade

Recent discoveries in neuroscience suggest that free will might be an illusion. If it is indeed so, the ethical, religious and scientific implications could hardly be overestimated. No individual could be held responsible (and, therefore, morally accountable) for his (her) own decisions, actions and choices anymore. At least not fully.

Data published last year suggest that our brain takes decisions up to seven seconds before we are aware of them. Some scientists and philosophers argue that this implies that our behavior is not self-generated and freedom is an illusion.

It does not mean that we simply respond to external stimuli. However, human behavior would totally depend on our internal states (unconscious neural processes), the product of genes and environment in mutual interaction (“nature” and “nurture”).

To Martin Heisenberg, a professor emeritus in the department of biology at the University of Würzburg (Germany), this does not imply that we aren't free:

Does this tell us anything about freedom in human behaviour? Before I answer that, let's establish what I mean by freedom. One acknowledged definition comes from Immanuel Kant, who resolved that a person acts freely if he does of his own accord what must be done. Thus, my actions are not free if they are determined by something or someone else. As stated above, self-initiated action is not in conflict with physics and can be demonstrated in animals. So, humans can be considered free in their behaviour, in as much as their behaviour is self-initiated and adaptive”.

It does not seem to be much of a comfort. We cannot change the facts by giving them other names. Our behavior would be deterministic anyway.


Heisenberg, Martin

Nature 459, 164-165 (14 May 2009) | doi:10.1038/459164a; Published online 13 May 2009

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Changing the Climate for Good: Really?

by Alexandre Couto de Andrade

Recently revealed data shows that climate change is happening at a much faster rate than previously expected. The video below shows how.

If CO2 emissions are not reduced to half of their 1990 levels, an increase of almost 4 degrees Fahrenheit may occur until 2100. The consequences would be catastrophic (watch the video below).

This less than auspicious scenario may prompt calls for Geoengineering, i.e. the deliberate manipulation of climate. This would be an effective though palliative response if such circumstances arise. If we manage to reduce the amount of sunlight that hit Earth by nearly 2%, we will probably reverse the effects of climate change. It is feasible.

One way of doing it would be pumping chemicals into the atmosphere to reflect sunlight away from the planet, mimicking the effects of a major volcanic eruption.

Geoengineering is however highly controversial due to its ethical, political and ecological implications. Watch the video below to know more about it.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

September 11th Conspiracy Theory Debunked

The september 11th terrorist attacks are the object of various conspiracy theorists' claims. Some people argue that the collapse of the twin towers, for instance, was a fabrication. According to them, the towers must have been brought down by a controlled demolition (and not by the fires initiated by the jet fuel).

A computer model created by the American Society of Civil Engineers, in conjunction with the Purdue University, debunks such claims.

The computer simulation shown on the video below is a result of the 2 years study they carried out.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Islands of Enlightenment

As any internet user already knows, most of what can be found on the net is garbage. Nevertheless, there are islands of enlightenment as well. and Academic Earth are two of them. offers a large video collection drawn from live events, lectures, and debates at universities, think tanks and conferences.

Academic Earth offers video lectures from leading american universities such as Harvard, MIT and Yale.

The videos below are good examples of that. The first one is a lecture on science and religion (the first of an interesting series), by Professor Courtenay Raia (UCLA).

The second one is an interesting discussion about Leon Trotsky on the TV show “Uncommon Knowledge”.