Give It Up X-Phi Bitches — Science Cannot Measure Ethical Goodness

Neuroscience cultural critic Jonah Lehrer has just written about a strange new subculture: experimental philosophy, or x-phi. These ethical innovators want to combine the scientific method and its tools, like fMRI brain scans, with traditional philosophy. Many x-phi adherents are eager to do things like, say, map the neurology of altruistic behavior. Find out why x-phi is also the first school of philosophy to advocate burning furniture and vidcasting after the jump.

Rarely have I ever learned about a new philosophical trend on YouTube, but that's what's great about x-phi. It's all about the outreach. A guy who could be in Weezer, or could be your TA, offers a 3.5 minute rundown of twentieth century philosophical revolutions leading up to the x-phi revolution in this illuminating mini-lecture (note the stuffed deer head and weird music in background). Then there's the x-phi music video, featuring a burning chair (a reference to the idea that the best tool for doing philosophy is an old armchair).

But what kinds of scientific experiments have these radical philosophers of YouTube conducted? Have they located the seat of reason or judgment in the brain? Have they found neurons that twitch when you contemplate the Heidiggerian idea of "das Ding"?

Apparently, no. They spend a lot of time arguing about what counts as x-phi, and adding crap to their Facebook group page. When you investigate the "labs" where x-phi happens, you find out that they mostly study things like how people use language. They don't have EEG setups; they have discussion groups. The one reference I could find to an actual x-phi experiment involved giving people surveys to ask what they thought about a couple of basic ethical questions about the environment. This is not hard science, people.

I'm not going to take these x-phi geeks seriously until they start cutting up brains, torturing mice, and forcing undergraduates to look at weird pictures while strapped into MRI machines.

Experimental Philosophy [The Frontal Cortex]