Friday, November 26, 2010

"Free Will and the Neuro-Sciences": Do We Really Have a Choice?

    Well, you'll be relieved to learn that YES- we do have free will, contrary to scientific experiments' claims that we do not.  So why have we come to believe that we no longer have this ability? The debate has been largely attributed to a 1985 experiment created by Benjamin Libet that just recently became popularized.  However, there is one specific internationally acclaimed philosopher that has debunked the theory.  Dr. Alfred Mele, professor in Philosophy at Florida State University, visited the University of Southern Mississippi's campus on November 19, 2010 to deliver his speech "Free Will and the Neuro-Sciences," in order to discuss his arguments with Libet's notorious theory.  Similar to Dr. DeArmey's lecture on "Evil and Human Dignity," Dr. Mele stressed the concept of intentions.
     According to Dr. Mele, Libet's infamous claim can be neither directly nor explicitly derived from the evidence obtained in the experiment, as questions arise pertaining to the accuracy and empiricism of the conducted research.  I did not expect that a guest speaker would visit hundreds of miles only to discuss the inconsistencies of a twenty-five year old experiment. This form of information, however, has proven to be especially helpful to many scientists and philosophers who are attempting to recreate the experiment in order to obtain more accurate results. In fact, Dr. Mele has participated in one of the new experiments to test the brain's recorded electrical signals in relation to a quick motion of the hand's muscles.  Though I have never before attended a lecture where a single, simple scientific experiment was under review, I will look for more unique lectures just like this one--exercising my free will all the way.

"Evil and Human Dignity": A Lecture by USM Professor Michael DeArmey

     On November 19, 2010, Dr. Michael DeArmey gave a lecture entitled "Evil and Human Dignity" as part of the Charles W. Moorman Distinguished Professorship Lecture at the University of Southern Mississippi.  Lasting roughly an hour, Dr. DeArmey's discussion was set on the objectives of defining "dignity" with a context of Cosmopolitanism, defining "dignity" in his own words, and ending the lecture with a briefing of "What is Evil?".  Dr. DeArmey, who, happens to be my honors philosophy professor, incorporated a powerpoint presentation and hand-out to aid his audience with understanding his presentation. 
     Throughout the lecture, I had learned many concepts and terms that I had never before heard of or meditated on.  Cosmopolitanism, for instance, is the school of thought that follows the three criteria that 1) an interest exists for the varieties of human life, 2) we have moral duties to all, and 3) that we need a new-world order in order to prevent encroaching and threatening evils from increased globalization.  Following the first part of Cosmopolitanism, I was especially surprised to learn that "dignity" had never before been concretely defined.  According to Dr. DeArmey, dignity is aesthetic, ethical, noble, and heroic; it also rests on three levels, which are marked numerically by intentions, thoughtful intentions produced via pairing, and the autonomous control of intentions by designing one's life. I felt that Dr. DeArmey's presentation had a logical fluency to it and that his discussion of evil to close the lecture was especially praiseworthy (pun intended.)

The De Grummond Children's Literature Collection: The Vitality and Importance of the Bookworm

     One would not expect to find children's fiction books in Cook Library at the University of Southern Mississippi, but a very unique collection is exhibited here--right next to a Curious George mascot, himself.  This cherished exhibit, called the De Grummond Children's Literature Collection, was founded in 1966 by University of Southern Mississippi's children's literature professor Dr. Lena Y. De Grummond with the vision of creating a showcase for the creative processes behind children's literature. Since 1957 when Dr. De Grummond received her first contribution, the De Grummond Children's Literature Collection serves as one of the leading children's literature research archives in North America. Containing over 100,000 historical and contemporary works from over 1300 British and American authors and illustrators, the collection holds orignal manuscripts, dummies, illustrations, and sketchbooks.
     Personally, I was thrilled to walk about the display room for the collection at Cook Library.  Even though most of the collection is kept in the McCain Library and Archives, there were many enticing items contained in this room. I loved being able to see Ezra Jack Keats's illustrations for his book Snowy Day, for this was one of my favorite bed time stories to read when I was a child. I could not believe that I was staring at authentic illustrations from one of my all-time cherished books! Additionally, I had never seen anything like the full-paneled storyboards suspended from the ceiling, and I wish I could have had my face imprinted on a medallion like the winners of the University of Southern Mississippi Medallion Award have earned. All and all, this exhibit was a treat, and I hope it is ever the more useful to researchers today.