Wednesday 1 November 2023

Patricia Hill Collins awarded prize


I'm delighted to see that Patricia Hill Collins has been awarded $1 Million by the Berggruen Institute.

I've been a huge fan since I started teaching feminist philosophy five years ago and stumbled across her work on intersectionality and epistemic injustice. It was her writing on the agonies of raising Black children in a racist society that first moved me. There is also something gorgeously optimistic in her work, in the way she centers and cheerleads the bravery and creativity of unsung women on the margins. She exposes hypocrisy and injustice, but always with a friendly twinkle in her eye that says 'Let's talk, we can fix this.' She says "this is the way I want to write: critical, informed but where there is space for you to enter."

Wednesday 4 October 2023

The ignorance of experts

 You can now watch me chatting to Julian Baggini and Ben Burgis about whether we should trust science, at How the Light Gets In at Hay last year. Full video via the Institute of Art and Ideas 

I argued against the idea that we should bash anti-vaxxers for being wary of politicians who insist they are following the science.

Monday 25 September 2023

Solo mama role models

I had a bit of an emotional time last week, post-summer blues and despair at how behind I feel with everything. The house seems to be sliding inexorably further away from decent-enough-to invite-people-over. I've got drawers in the kitchen whose contents keep spilling out because the front has fallen off and I can't figure out how to get it back on. The garden is sprawling with weeds, broken furniture and unloved pots (good job I like unkempt gardens, ha!) My bills are eye-watering and consistently outpacing my salary. And work seems to be piling up faster than I can tackle it too.  

Generally feeling overwhelmed and in failuresville, then, and that was before I started reading all this stuff about how single mothers have health problems and reduced life expectancy, even when controlling for poverty (I'm still very much luckier in that regard than most single mothers!) because of all the stress and depression.

What does one do when it all feels too much? I started casting around for role models,

Sunday 3 September 2023

Tuesday 18 July 2023

Book check-in

Well this blog has clearly been floundering of late. Six months with no new posts. That seems like a bad thing. It's not all bad news though.

Monday 12 December 2022

You sure axolotl questions

So I fell down a google hole for a little personal project I started recently on life forms that can regrow and become rejuvenated after serious injury and loss of parts. It's something I got interested in ages ago through reviewing a James Elwick book which detailed the way regeneration was a topic of fascination for biologists in the 19th Century. Apparently Richard Owen, the founder of the Natural History Museum and head honcho biology man in the UK until a certain mr Darwin came along and dethroned him, was particularly enamoured of the problem of explaining why some creatures could grow new bits to replace ones that fell off, and others could not. For Owen the ability of a lobster to regrow a claw, or a lizard to replace its tail, was a central mystery of life and held the key to understanding not only how life works but how to prolong it. 

Owen's research program fell into disfavour in the late 19th Century because he never got along very well with Darwinism. I still find his explanation for varying regenerative capacity fascinating though. He theorised that in higher life forms, the vital essence had become centralised in the nervous system, especially the brain, which is why higher forms can only reproduce if they're imbued with 'fecundating principle' A.K.A sperm. Simpler creatures have their life force spread out more evenly throughout their bodies, which is why if a fragment breaks off it can simply regrow. I don't know why this appeals to me so much.  

The axolotl is a bit of a poster child for regeneration, because it regrows not only its tail but other limbs and even internal organs.Sea cucumbers get the prize for self-repairing not just comprehensively but rapidly, regrowing lost parts in as little as a week. Hydras outdo their mythological name sake, because any fragment larger than a few hundred epithelial cells that is isolated from the body has the ability to regenerate into a smaller version of the whole. They're also thought to be truly immortal, because they show no processes of senescence -aging.  They can just renew indefinitely. A planarian flatworm can also grow back its entire body from a speck of tissue,

One interesting thing is that there is often a key area or body part that must remain intact, in order for regeneration to be viable. We all know (right?) that an earthworm's future depends on where you split it. But did you know that if you cut it after its 13th segment (counting from the head) then it can regrow its head, but not sexual organs? Whereas cutting it between segments 20 and 21 can create two whole new worms? but cut between the 23rd and 55th segments and you'll end up with no worm at all. Mind you, this is just 'red wrigglers', while 'blackworms' will actually self-amputate in response to temperature shifts. And one unfortunate species can be induced to develop a head at both ends.

Why can't humans regrow limbs and organs? The standard modern line would, I think, be that such regenerative powers in a complex multicellular would be too risky, because it would make cancers more dangerous. But this isn't really a complete explanation. Axolotls are pretty complex after all - why doesn't cancer destroy them? Why do some very complex organisms suffer little or no cancer at all? Variable regenerative power could be a product of inherited constraints, frozen into certain lineages by chance. 

Makes me wonder if there is any cool scifi imagining humans with axolotl-like abilities. Some superheroes have it, sure, but what if everyone did - how would that change society? It wouold affect our attitude towards risk, presumably. And create interesting new possibilities for body modification.

Right i should really get back to work now.............

Thursday 8 December 2022

"Nothing was wrong with his mind"

Blown away by these moving words on mental illness from philosopher justin_garson. Great article. I hope the abyss is kind. 

One day I'll write about my own brushes with mental illness, and the services that were supposed to help. But not today.

Friday 25 November 2022

The P-Value Podcast

I don't normally get on that well with podcasts, annoyingly. They rarely seem to hold my attention adequately, and my mind starts wandering onto something else while it fades into background noise, then i realise i've missed a bit, but im not sure how much. It's really hard work to keep attending to it properly.

But i've nevertheless been meaning to listen to this one for a while, because it features my close friend and awesome philosopher Rachael Brown, and I had a feeling it would be something special. I was unprepared for quite how *cool* and engaging it is though! 

I love the series on the role of values in science, and I think my students will love it too. I know many people are different from me, and find podcasts easier to attend to than text, so its great when i'm able to offer further resources in a variety of different modalities. 

Rachael is based in Australia, but in the UK at least, academics get little to no formal recognition for creating this sort of resource, which I think is a great shame, because it is hard to carve out time for anything that isn't essential to one's career. All the more reason then to thank Rachael for making this freely available!

Listen here!