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They are Made out of Meat by Terry Bisson

They are Made out of Meat is a piece of science fiction written by Terry Bisson in order to convey a new insight on humanity from the outside standpoint. In his work, Bisson deals with the idea of human chauvinism and superiority of human race.

The short story consists of a dialogue between two characters represented by intelligent beings that are travelling across the Universe at a blistering pace in order to detect any living aliens and races with a high level of intelligence and build contacts with them. The subject of their discussion became a discovery of carbon-based life on the Earth. They identify representatives of the human race as “thinking meat”. In the end, they decide to delete the records about their discovery and to mark the Solar System as the “unoccupied” one.

Thereby, the author raises the issue of human chauvinism in the article. It is often assumed that wherever the extraterrestrial life may exist, it has a similar physical structure to ours. However, the author rejects the idea of carbon-based life and mental processes as those that can only arise from the physical processes happening in the human brain. Still, despite a different physical structure, the minds of the aliens seem to work the same way as ours. The critical and arrogant attitude of the aliens toward human beings reflects our own attitude toward other forms of life and shows that preconceptions are often wrong and any kind of bias is inherently unfair.

To my mind, it is a great story that questions our evolution and all our remarkable achievements. It also raises a question about our place in the world as in the story human beings are shown as a primitive form of life in comparison to the aliens. The story also mentions other species with incredible anatomies and bodies, but discloses no peculiarities or details about them. I think that the story is too short to discover the meaning of the whole tale. It would be interesting to read a fully-fledged novel where human race representatives could compare with other races or even cooperate with them.

Zombie Gladiators by Dale Jacquette

Dale Jacquette, in her essay Zombie Gladiators, which appeared in the collection Zombies, Vampires, and Philosophy – New Life for the Undead (edited by R. Greene and K Silem Mohammad) entertains a novel view of zombies, which offers a stark contrast to the commonly known Hollywood zombies. Jacquette ponders the idea of so-called zombie gladiators, senseless and merely acting creatures, who would fight and die in tournaments for our entertainment.

One of the central claims that the author is making is the blurry difference between zombies and non-zombies, along with different implications that go with it. Jacquette’s essay presents one of those philosophical works that try to uncover the veil behind the human mind and sentience. Right at the outset, she warns the reader against thinking of her ideas in terms of the imagery of the Hollywood zombies. In trying to untangle the philosophical sense that she puts in her zombies, she takes time over explaining at length that the human body of zombies does not necessarily have to be looking ugly or unruly to qualify for a zombie. Instead, what matters is the content. Jacquette argues that the bodies of zombies and non-zombies look about the same, with the only difference lying in their minds. Such feelings as joy, pain, fear, and desires are unknown to Jacquette’s zombies, as they are only capable of perfectly acting out their emotions.

So she asks the reader if it could be in anyway justifiable to kill a zombie, even though it looks like a human being. To my mind, the underlying idea here is being natural vs. being artificial in real life. I would probably ask Jacquette whether or not she meant just that. She is somewhat hinting that acting and being artificial is clearly inferior to expressing real feelings. That may be why the author accepts the possibility that her human-like “zombie gladiators” could be killed for fun, as their mind is senseless and their behavior fake.

Is the Brain’s Mind a Computer Program? by John Searle

John Searle, in his work Is the Brain’s Mind a Computer Program?, attempts to emphasize the distinctions between computerized algorithms and the human mind. Originally published in 1990, his article has received mixed feedback from computer scientists, philosophers, neurophysiologists, and cognitive psychologists. His work clearly goes against the opinion of functionalists who draw scientific parallels between the intentionalism of the human mind and certain computer programs or lifeless objects, like newspapers or printers. He rebuts two popular functionalist approaches.

In disproving the strong and weak approaches to artificial intelligence, Searle cites the so-called “Chinese Room” argument, concluding that machines cannot really understand the content of the information they are processing. To back his claim, he expands on the hypothetical experiment with a person in an empty room who does not know Chinese. The person is given sets of symbols in Chinese, along with the rules for their correct combinations (computer program prototype). In combining the symbols according to the rules, the person hands them back in to the person outside the room who speaks Chinese. The latter testifies that the phrases make a complete sense in the Chinese language, thus proving that symbols CAN be combined correctly using algorithms only. However, the person in the room does not realize what she just did, as she does not know Chinese.

Thereby, Searle does not attempt to say that machines cannot think; more so, he calls humans biological thinking machines. What he attempts to say, however, is that the thinking process comes down to the “causal power” of the hardware or substance that generates thinking. Searle says that a program powered by the human mind may be considered as thinking, yet the same program running on a machine made of beer cans and wires cannot. Nonetheless, it would be helpful for the author to enumerate the criteria for determining such “causal” and “non-causal” substances.

The Puzzle of Conscious Experience by David Chalmers

The Puzzle of Conscious Experience by David Chalmers wishes to examine the complex phenomenon of human consciousness from several theoretical standpoints. Thereby, Chalmers makes a reservation that there is no all-encompassing scientific model shedding light on the common, yet mysterious question of consciousness. As a likely reason for this scientific underrepresentation he names the daunting subjectivity of individual consciousness. In trying to locate the problem of consciousness in his scientific framework, Chalmers sets aside several objective criteria, which he examines from a practical standpoint. For example, how should we treat the ubiquity of information that characterizes so many seemingly unconscious objects, e.g. thermostats or silicon-based systems? All of those are capable of holding or processing different information, but they obviously cannot be said to experience consciousness. Alternatively, if they do, their experiences will be far simpler than even basic color or sound experiences, accompanied by no emotions or thoughts.

Chalmers gives credit to neuroscience in claiming that it can explain certain things in our understanding of brain-mind dualism and conscious experiences. With that intention, he divides mind and brain activity into two categories by their perceived usefulness: 1) parts of the mind and brain that have a pronounced role in behavior, and 2) parts of the mind and the brain that have no particular purpose and can thus be dispensed. As the first category is more pliable for scientific inquiry by neuroscience, it can be studied more eagerly and successfully. A harder question arises with the second category where it is hard to assess the partial and mutually complementing roles of the seemingly useless mind and brain functions. They constitute a subjective conscious reality, which cannot be studied so easily.

The author’s main claim is that the subjective experience of consciousness is unique and normal; and its foundation can partly be examined from a scientific point of view. However, Chalmers might have provided some mind tools for eventual (individual or universal) understanding of consciousness in its complex entirety.

Zombies, Blade Runner, and the Mind-Body Problem by Read Hauser

Michigan State University’s Read Hauser, in his essay Zombies, Blade Runner, and the Mind-Body Problem, tries to get in the minds of zombies from the movie The Blade Runner and append their image to the existing philosophical understanding of a zombie. Hauser provides a wealth of support for his arguments that traditional materialist sentiments are not applicable to zombies. He claims that the theory of materialism, stipulating that nothing exists beyond matter and its movements, cannot include zombies as they are seen to exhibit certain intentional behaviors. For example, Hauser cites the incidences of zombies eat their victim’s brains as an example of such “intelligent” behavior. The central point of Hauser’s arguments is whether zombies can be considered autonomous and independent in their quest for new brains.

It appears that, according to Hauser, Blade Runner zombies are designed to imitate human beings, except for the ability to emote. Although feelings such as love, fear, hate, or envy are strange to zombies, they could over time develop their own intrinsic emotional responses. This was the case with Blade Runner zombies, who were capable of expressing some human-like feelings. In fact, by their intellectual capacity, they were so similar to humans that it took Deckard, a character in the movie, over one hundred questions to tell that Rachel, another character, was a zombie.

There is one important distinction in Blade Runner replicants as compared to “regular” zombies, however. They are made out of different substances than we are; rather than containing carbon as human beings, they are comprised of silicon, as computers. It has implications on the way humans and zombies think and feel. Overall, Blade Runner replicants offer fresh contrast to philosophical materialist zombies in that they manifest certain human feelings embodied in a variety of lifeless substances.

Divine Omniscience and Voluntary Action by Nelson Pike

Nelson Pike, in his essay Divine Omniscience and Voluntary Action, analyzes the notion of omniscience and voluntary action as related to God and His creation. Pike’s central idea is that God stretches throughout the past, the present, and the future in his infinite knowledge of people’s actions. According to this view, all we do is preordained and determined by God’s will and that it is not within our power to change that.

Pike’s philosophical discourse presents the continuation to a previous theological debate on God’s omniscience and free will. According to Classical Theism, God ordered everything to happen exactly in the way it would happen in reality; He had the initial knowledge of future, which is always true. According to Open Theism, there is such a plenty of possibilities of actions and developments over time that they simply cannot be knowable ahead. In such a way, Open Theists leave some space for variation, thereby denigrating God’s omniscience to an extent. Pike’s arguments here seem to take the side of Classical Theism in that no human can influence God’s everlasting foresight and that humans are void of free will.

Pikes cites an example of Jones and his inevitable decision to mow his lawn on Saturday. Thereby, Pike rests on several axioms that God is omniscient, God’s beliefs are always true, and that no one has the power to make a contradiction true or disprove His past beliefs. Consequently, Jones does not have the power to either erase or falsify God’s beliefs and knowledge, present or past. Therefore, he will mow the lawn.

In my opinion, Pike’s argument is of little practical importance for our understanding of God, yet it can offer some clues about our understanding of freedom. Do we under all circumstances do things that have been preordained by God? If presumably God knows of our sinful nature and can know ahead everything we will do, it leaves too little freedom for us indeed. If God does not change over time, but we do, is that still possible that He knows the direction in which we will change to predict our actions?

Free Will by Timmons & Shoemaker

Timmons & Shoemaker in their reading outline the foundations of free will and its location in connection to determinism. Observers defining free will as liberty from determinism are referred to as incompatibilists. Others defining free will outside the determinist frame of reference are referred to as compatibilists, as they believe that free will and determinism can coexist. According to Libertarians, free will is so only when the choice being made is not conditioned by preceding events. Similarly, it holds true when alternative choices could also have been made with the same pre-existing conditions.

The principle of free will presupposes certain legal, religious, scientific, and ethical aspects. Speaking of law, free will is included in the judicial decisions on proper penalties or rehabilitation for criminals. From the religious perspective, individual will can be compatible with the will of God. Scientists can conceive of different ways to predict human behavior drawing on our capacity for free will. And last but not least, the ethical aspect of free will determines the confines of moral responsibility for misdeeds resulting from free will.

In my opinion, determinism and free will likely remain contentious issues, as they cut deeply into the unresolved philosophical questions of our purpose in life and the control over our own destiny. To me, the ideas of Libertarians are quite appealing, although they seem to lose ground in face of what we observe on the mixed examples of apparently preordained lives of many people surrounding us.

Alternate Possibilities and Moral Responsibility by Harry Frankfurt

Harry Frankfurt, in his Alternate Possibilities and Moral Responsibility, refuses to accept the existence of free will and alternative courses of actions. His essay pursues an idea that the person can be held morally responsible, even though there were no other choices for a particular action. Another idea that Frankfurt puts forth is that the person can also be responsible for what he did even after having been coerced to do so. The author’s main goal in the essay is to illustrate the first principle of alternate possibilities and back it up by his examples. He is also trying to provide support for the second principle, which appears harder to do, however.

In backing up both of his claims, Frankfurt uses the cases of Jones 1, Jones 2, and Jones 3. Put simply, Jones 1 and 2 decided to do something involving Jones 3. Jones 3 decided to do something on his own without joining Jones 1 and Jones 2. The latter warned Jones 3 of possible penalties for incompliance. However, Jones 3 still chooses to proceed in his own way, regardless of the penalties. Therefore, Frankfurt argues that if the penalty were harsh enough to change the course of action by Jones 3, he would still be responsible for his alternate decision.

However, as opponents argue, the threat may have no bearing on Jones’ eventual decision to join or not to join the group in doing the action. It can be concluded then that no matter what Jones did was the only available alternative under the present circumstances. He could have always done otherwise, but he did not. That is why he had no other alternatives but one – to do what he did. In our opinion, Frankfurt could have made his point stronger by outlining, at least theoretically, the moral dimension of responsibility in either case. Following his current argument, it seems that the extent of responsibility stays the same whatsoever.

“Leopold and Loeb” by Clarence Darrow

“Leopold and Loeb”, the crime story of the 20th century in the USA, happened in 1924 when two undergraduate students of law at the University of Chicago, Nathan Leopold and Richard Loeb, kidnapped and murdered another student of that school, Bobby Franks, under quite bizarre motives. Clarence Darrow, a famous lawyer at the time, stood for their defense. The story as such would not have been different from other unfortunate crimes of the kind, yet it bore one striking aspect in its rationales. The offenders were guided not so much by the desire to receive money in form of ransom or other common criminal motive, but they were driven by the concept of a perfect crime and excitement. The question puzzling the minds of most Americans at the time was what could compel two well-off college graduates to overstep the boundaries of the law in such a deliberate, cold-blooded manner.

Clarence Darrow put up a spectacular 12-hour defense of the two murderers by trying to link their offense to a mental disorder. At the same time, he conveyed his philosophical point of view that human behavior is mainly controlled by physical, psychological, and environmental factors, not an acknowledged choice between right and wrong. His vehement appeals to the judge and the jury bore fruit and his plea for mercy was satisfied. The two young men received a life sentence instead of the death penalty.

If we put the professionalism of Darrow aside, it probably does not really matters now what each of the murders should have deserved in that situation. What really matters is how our surroundings shape our view of the world and behavior. If so, how can we tell that we are not under the adverse influence of emotions or circumstances, which can push us to doing something similar to what those people did without realizing it?

John Locke, Personal Identity, and Memento by Basil Smith

In one of his essays, John Locke, Personal Identity, and Memento, Basil Smith scrutinizes some ideas on identity put forth by John Locke and other observers. He also refers to the movie Memento by Christopher Nolan, which entertained the notion of memory and its repercussions for our identity.

John Locke defined a person as someone being aware of what he thinks. Consequently, such a person is always cognizant of himself as himself in different places and periods of his life. In such a way, Locke’s view of identity is determined by the idea that every person should be able to repeat any experience or behavior they lived through in the past. Locke then argued that any past experience that cannot be reconciled with the present manifestation of that experience breaks away from the person’s identity, as he does not identify himself with that past action any longer. To Smith, who is trying to rebut this, Locke’s inference means that a boy that later became a general cannot be considered the same identity. Given that in certain transitional periods of the person’s life, some experiences change and some overlap, this controversy cannot be thought of as absolute.

Smith also mentions the Memento movie, which depicts a person suffering from a short-term memory disorder because of a traumatic incident with his wife, who had been assaulted. Guy Pearse, the character in question, confesses that the attackers have crippled his ability to live. This takes us to the conclusion that memory carries an essential role in our lives. Smith put forth this conclusion in preparing the reader for his theory of survival without identity. Another important repercussion of his discussion is who should be held responsible when identities keep shifting. An important thing to ask here would be, does the memory really define identity or is it some transitory characteristic the person is simply accustomed to (unlike the color of their eyes, their race or gender, which may in fact determine identity)?