For original research, see my projects page.
Doing good philosophy isn't just be a matter of saying the right things on paper or in a classroom. It's a matter of fulfilling your philosophy in your thoughts and actions.
Why I'm a psychologist and why I think ethical standards should be kept reasonably low.
Allegheny College's class of 2011 had three valedictorians: yours truly, Zach Piso, and Kimberly Fierst. On 3 May 2011, at an awards ceremony about two weeks before graduation, Zach and I delivered a joint address on the vague theme of intelligence. The subject matter is very heterogeneous for such a short speech, but I like how I managed to explain everything that I thought was really big and really important in three paragraphs.
A statement that everyone deserves compassion.
I argue for tolerating opinions one disagrees with, even opinions that are themselves intolerant. There's always the danger that we're wrong, and we all have a lot to gain by getting along.
The difference between qualities we think people deserve (like laziness or kindness) and the qualities we think people are merely subject to (like blindness or perfect pitch) is often indistinct. I argue that the practice of doling out praise, blame, punishment, and reward on the basis of whether people really deserve it is ultimately counterproductive.
I discuss a common thread in a wide variety of social problems, which is skepticism towards the notion of objective truth and reverence towards personal experience. These problems include pseudoscience, pseudomedicine, belief in the supernatural, questionable philosophies and policies in the name of social justice, questionable educational practices, and a lack of concern for the consequences of one's own life. If we want to make the world a better place, we should believe in the world.
Even formal methods with optimality guarantees, particularly statistics, are not enough to completely determine how observations should affect our beliefs. We also need certain assumptions about how to value beliefs, such as what mistakes we'd rather make. This state of affairs is bad for empiricism and science, but not fatal.
An attempt to reconcile my materialist tendencies with my strong belief in the primacy of mathematics.
You only have time to do a few things. In fact, you only have time to understand a few things.
Are male-to-female transgender people really female? Are nonbinary gender identities real? I argue that actually, these questions don't make sense. Our real concern when it comes to controversial gender identities should be concrete questions like "What information should be recorded on a birth certificate?" and "How should bathrooms be segregated (if at all)?". Considering practical matters like these on their own terms makes it clearer that whether or not somebody is "really" a woman is of no significance.
A short book on the psychology of sexuality. Its goal is to determine what sexual attitudes we should endorse if we want our attitudes to be as faithful as possible to the available empirical evidence. I've aimed to make the book scientifically rigorous but also accessible to a general audience.
I argue that the common assumption that art is good and necessary is unjustified. The case for why we should promote art is dubious, and I worry that art can be profoundly distracting.
A cynical hypothesis to explain why smut (sex, violence, drugs, and so on) are characterized as "adult": because describing smut as inappropriate for children comforts adults about the dangers of smut without requiring adults themselves to forgo such guilty pleasures. Note that the experiments I've run so far have been unsupportive.
In which I speculate wildly that inventing and administering psychotherapies is a little like learning and teaching programming languages.
This piece is perhaps history's only example of psychometric humor. Upon rejecting it from Perspectives on Psychological Science (in September 2016), the editor described it as "cute".
I protest the dishonesty of euphemism and the harm euphemism can do to the language.
I argue that ridicule is a bad means of communication, whether you want to persuade or just inform. It only makes people angry.
I complain about the ambiguity of the terms "serious", "formal", and "mature" and the concepts to which they refer.
I show with an example that even in situations as simple as linear regression with two predictors, it's difficult to estimate (in advance of measuring the criterion) the consequences of unreliability for predictive accuracy.
Some hints on how to design data-entry and data-storage systems for social science to make using the data as painless as possible.
Please follow these few guidelines when asking a question about data analysis, whether on Cross Validated or elsewhere. These details may seem unnecessary, but providing them is likely to get you better, more complete, and more useful advice (partly by avoiding what's called the XY problem).
A didactic essay on chaotic dynamical systems, with snazzy SVG diagrams. I wrote it for a topology class in my senior year of college.
My undergraduate thesis in mathematics. Unlike my undergraduate thesis in psychology (two theses? aye, such are the trials of a double major), it's not original research, just an explication of an existing paper. Here's the abstract:
I discuss a 2003 paper by Alfredo Peris, making it accessible to undergraduates with some knowledge of analysis and topology by providing background material and more detailed proofs. The main theorems identify chaotic families of functions on the sequence spaces c0 and ℓq. These functions can be expressed as a backward shift composed with an operator that applies a fixed complex-valued polynomial to each sequence element. The background material proves facts about c0 and ℓq and complex dynamics.
An attack on such bad habits of college students as note-taking and studying, with a few bonus jokes at the expense of Waldorf education. I intended the snarky tone of this piece to be humorous, not offensive. I did, however, seriously mean what I said here. Mostly.
In tenth-grade English, I was required to write a short story from a third-person limited perspective in which (a) the protagonist is in love with another character and (b) the feeling isn't mutual but (c) the protagonist thinks otherwise. Retelling the myth of Daphne seemed like a natural choice.
The first part of Goethe's Faust, as retold by Dr. Seuss. I wrote and performed in this for a high-school course on Faust. The script turned out quite well considering that I can't scan.
I once created an Uncyclopedia article on the Bolzano–Weierstrass theorem. In 2012, it was deleted for some reason. Here it is again. It remains my most elaborate attempt at mathematical humor.
A fantasy novel I wrote as a teenager. It has its strengths and weaknesses, although it gets better over the course of the book, since it was my first (and only) novel and I took years to write it. It can be thought of as a response to His Dark Materials in a similar way that His Dark Materials is itself a response to The Chronicles of Narnia.
I created this beautiful abomination, based on an in-joke, for a seventh-grade art class. I originally hand-wrote it on large-format paper. Here, I've transcribed the text, and I've used images for the drawings and magazine clippings.