Audio: Ed Witherspoon on Skepticism (Elucidations @ U. Chicago)

We wanted to let you know that the August 2010 episode of Elucidations (a monthly podcast hosted by Matt Teichman and Mark Hopwood, both graduate students in the Department of Philosophy at the University of Chicago) features a conversation with Ed Witherspoon (Associate Professor of Philosophy and Religion at Colgate University) on the topic of skepticism. To listen to the episode, click here.

Prof. Witherspoon is the author of (among other things): “Conceptions of Nonsense in Carnap and Wittgenstein” in Crary and Read’s The New Wittgenstein and “Houses, Flowers, and Frameworks: Mulhall and Cavell on the Moral of Skepticism” in the European Journal of Philosophy.

On the Media: The Uncanny Valley (animating the human face)

The expression of soul in a face. One really needs to remember that a face with a soulful expression can be painted, in order to believe that it is merely shapes and colors that make this impression. It isn’t to be believed, that it is merely the eyes — eyeball, lids, eyelashes etc. — of a human being, that one can be lost in the gaze of, into which one can look with astonishment and delight. And yet human eyes just do affect one like this. “From which you may see….”

— Ludwig Wittgenstein, Remarks on the Philosophy of Psychology, Vol. I, §267

I thought some of you would be interested in a story that the radio show “On the Media” recently aired about “the uncanny valley.” To find out what the so-called “uncanny valley” is, listen to the show by clicking here. (Thanks to my colleagues Jim Shepard and Christopher Bolton for referring me to this episode.)

Here is an excerpt from the show’s transcript (and below that, a short video about the uncanny valley effect):

BROOKE GLADSTONE: Yes, it’s Oscar time. Avatar is the great blue whale the smaller films must beat. Among its qualities, the exquisite 3-D rendering of the Na’vi, the aliens we come to love.

Because they are aliens, filmmaker James Cameron was able to leap over the dangerous chasm into which many computer-driven movies fall, never to recover. It’s a fear-inducing phenomenon called the “uncanny valley.” On the Media’s Jamie York explains.

JAMIE YORK: In 2001, DreamWorks was paying approximately 60 million dollars for an animated movie about a green ogre named Shrek. And the animation brain trust tasked with making this 60-million-dollar investment pay dividends was well on their way.

Loveable, if grotesque, green ogre, check. Donkey sidekick that cracks wise, check. Fantastic world for everyone to inhabit, check. There was just one problem. In test screenings, the heroine, princess and motivating force behind the movie, was having a most unexpected effect.

LAWRENCE WESCHLER: They were so good at doing what they were doing with the princess character that when they showed it to audiences of children, the children started crying and freaking out because there was something wrong.

JAMIE YORK: That’s Lawrence Weschler, a long-time journalist who wrote about this incident for Wired Magazine. It’s true, the animators of Shrek were so good, so sophisticated that they were scaring their intended audience. Why? Their princess had fallen into what’s known as the “uncanny valley.”

LAWRENCE WESCHLER: Which was this notion by a Japanese roboticist named Masahiro Mori. The notion was that if you made a robot that was 50 percent lifelike, that was fantastic. If you made a robot that was 90 percent lifelike, that was fantastic. If you made it 95 percent lifelike, that was the best – oh, that was so great. If you made it 96 percent lifelike, it was a disaster. And the reason, essentially, is because a 95 percent lifelike robot is a robot that’s incredibly lifelike. A 96 percent lifelike robot is a human being with something wrong.

JAMIE YORK: Mori called it the uncanny valley, a play on Sigmund Freud’s idea of the uncanny: something familiar and yet foreign, at the same time.


Interview with Ruth Leys (University of Toronto Quarterly)

We wanted to let you know that the current issue of the University of Toronto Quarterly includes an interview with Ruth Leys (Humanities Center, Johns Hopkins) about her important work in the history of science (regular readers of the blog will recall that we posted about her recent essay on Paul Ekman here). To access the interview online, please click here.

Here is an abstract of the interview article, which is entitled “Navigating the Genealogies of Trauma, Guilt, and Affect: An Interview with Ruth Leys”:

In this interview, Ruth Leys discusses her career as a historian of science and her research on contemporary developments in the human sciences, including Trauma: A GenealogyFrom Guilt to Shame: Auschwitz and After, and her current work on the genealogy of experimental and theoretical approaches to the affects from the 1960s to the present. Among the topics she covers are her investigation of the role of imitation or mimesis in trauma theory; why shame has replaced guilt as a dominant emotional reference in the West; the ways in which the shift from notions of guilt to notions of shame has involved a shift from concern about actions, or what you do, to a concern about identity, or who you are; why the shift from agency to identity has produced as one of its consequences the replacement of the idea of the meaning of a person’s intentions and actions by the idea of the primacy of a person’s affective experience; the significance of the recent “turn to affect” in cultural theory; and why the new affect theorists are committed to the view that the affect system is fundamentally independent of intention and meaning because they view it is a material system of the body.

Interview: Yoshiaki Kai speaks with Michael Fried about photography

We’ve just learned that a recent number of the Japanese publication, Photographers’ Gallery Press (no. 9), includes a long interview with Michael Fried about his recent work on photography, in particular his Why Photography Matters as Art as Never Before (Yale Univ. Press, 2008). Prof. Fried has mentioned to me that he was impressed by the thoughtfulness of the interviewer, Yoshiaki Kai, so I think this is an interview well worth tracking down. I haven’t managed to get my hands on a copy, but I wanted to let our readers know, since I know many of you, like me, have a deep interest in Fried’s work. To access the Japanese language webpage for this journal issue, please click here.


Philosophy Bites: Susan Wolf on “Meaning in Life”

The podcast Philosophy Bites has just released a new episode featuring Susan Wolf (UNC Chapel Hill), speaking about “what makes a life meaningful.” Here is a brief description of the episode:

What makes a life meaningful? Is the choice of where we find meaning completely arbitrary? These questions are different from the question ‘What is the meaning of life?’ Susan Wolf discusses meaning in life in this episode of the Philosophy Bites podcast.

To listen to the episode, please click here.