Does science really say everything that can be said about life?

Joe Humphreys         –          Tues, Sept 3 2013         –         The Irish Times

Scientists rightly object to the description of science as faith, as is sometimes alleged by religious apologists. Science is precisely not faith. It is a process of discovery, whereby theories are tested against experience.

There is, however, something called “faith in science”. This is sometimes known as “scientism”, defined by the Oxford English Dictionary as “an excessive belief in the application of the scientific method”. Like many other “isms”, scientism is not a fixed or timeless doctrine. It has gone through many evolutions, and its current manifestation tends to include a deep hostility to religion and a trusting attitude to new technology.


Forgiveness a poor substitute for justice, but it can play a role in Ireland’s recovery

Joe Humphreys          –          April 4th 2013          –          The Irish Times

As cack-handed apologies go, Sean Dunne’s takes some beating.

Having just sought bankruptcy in the US, leaving behind debts of €185 million with State agency Nama, and a multiple of this with other creditors, he proclaimed: “I am truly sorry that any decisions I made contributed to any Irish person’s economic woes.”

And then he starting talking like a man accustomed to wandering about fairways. “If life is equated to a game of golf, I feel I still have the back nine to play,” he told the Sunday Independent.

“I can always say to anyone that we did our best and came up short but now we move on . . . As in golf, life itself is always about the next shot,” he told The Irish Times.


The philosophical case against anonymity online

Joe Humphreys          –          Jan 9th 2103          –          The Irish Times

OPINION:Online debate appears lively and stimulating. But dialogue between masks always lacks the courage of conviction

This column is for you bigmouth86 and you @jadedcynic and the ubiquitous Lookatmeimsoclever and not forgetting




President Higgins call for ‘independent thought’

Joe Humphreys        –          Nov 27th 2012       –       The Irish Times

A new wave of “independent thought” and “emancipatory scholarship” is needed to deliver Ireland’s recovery, President Michael D Higgins has said.

Speaking at his enrolment today as a member of the Royal Irish Academy, the President said public intellectuals faced “a moral choice – to be part of a passive consensus that accepts an insufficient and failed model of life and economy or to seek to recover the possibility of alternative futures”.


Finding out Ireland’s favourite philosophical saying

Joe Humphreys         –         Nov 15th (World Philosophy Day) 2012          –          The Irish Times

Philosophy Day video

Ireland has a reputation for anti-intellectualism. Even The Irish Times has (until now) failed to report the existence of World Philosophy Day, which is being celebrated internationally for the 10th time today. “You can’t plough a field by turning it over in your mind,” runs an old Irish proverb, and for many this sums up the value of philosophy: as it can’t be obviously monetised, it must be worthless.

“In France, people know their Marx, Freud and Camus; people will engage intelligently with each other,” says Paul O’Grady of TCD’s philosophy department.

“In a way, we have gone from a premodern to a postmodern society without a long period of modernity. We’ve gone from John Charles McQuaid to Father Ted without anything in between.”



Is there a new face of atheism?

Joe Humphreys         –          Oct 26th 2012           –          The Irish Times

ATHEISTS ARE on the march. Census results published last week showed there was a four-fold increase in the number of people who said they had no religion, or were either atheist or agnostic, between 1991 and 2011, with 277,237 people falling into this category last year. The figures, however, only tell part of the story.

Ireland is seeing the emergence of a newer kind of atheist, who is anxious to dispel the myth that they are all one-dimensional, rabidly anti-religious Dawkinsians.

The winds of change could be seen at last weekend’s AGM of Atheist Ireland, where delegates agreed a new focus on promoting “an ethical society”, engaging in charity work and social justice campaigns, and even collaborating with religious groups on issues of common concern.


Ethics and the ‘life settlement’ industry

Tues, Aug 21st 2012 – The Irish Times

Human life is being monetised in a very crude way, writes JOE HUMPHREYS

IMAGINE IF a loved one of yours died and this triggered a payment to an investor who had been gambling on his or her premature death. How would you feel? This isn’t science fiction. It is the reality of the “life settlement” industry, a growing business which is testing the boundaries of financial ethics.

The practice involves acquiring life assurance policies and then trading them in the same way you would savings bonds. The only difference is profits are maximised if your bonds “mature” quickly – ie if the people in your life settlement portfolio die sooner than expected.



Pychology of ‘question substitution’ helps to explain referendum campaign

May 30th 2012         –          Joe Humphreys        –         The Irish Times

…. When faced with a complex question involving uncertainty (and tomorrow’s poll falls slap-bang into that category) people unconsciously substitute it with an easier question and answer that one instead.

This proven psychological bias helped to earn psychologist Daniel Kahneman a Nobel Prize for economics. His research into “question substitution” has practical application for sales and marketing but also helps to explain why the referendum debate has been so disjointed.

It may also explain a peculiar phenomenon of this campaign: people frequently saying that the answer they would like to give on Thursday doesn’t match the question they are being offered.


Boom-time delusions fed by collective amnesia

Jan 3rd 2011      –        The Irish Times         –         Joe Humphreys

‘THE STRUGGLE of man against power is the struggle of memory against forgetting,” the Czech writer Milan Kundera once said. The truth of this statement is underlined by recent attempts by certain politicians, bankers and, yes, journalists too to rewrite the history of the economic collapse to deflect blame from themselves onto others.

This fictionalising of history will no doubt intensify as the general election approaches. While that’s somewhat depressing, it reminds us that we have at our disposal a rich but largely untapped asset in this country – memory.