Department of History and Philosophy of Science
Indiana University, Bloomington
Welcome to my home page. Chances are you're investigating something especially creative, unorthodox, outrageous, hilarious, inspiring, or even important that I've allegedly perpetrated. Unaccountably, I've become internationally known in three areas (listed chronologically here): high IQ societies, activism for human rights, and academic philosophy. I'd add "music" as a fourth, but if the clamoring fans in Stüttgart or at Six Flags only know your name after you sign your autograph, I don't think that should count. Links are below for your clicking pleasure, and if they fail to produce an answer to some burning question, please feel free to email me at kvanclea[splat]indiana[splot]edu (address transmorgrified to defeat web robots). I haven't yet invented a question extinguisher, but we'll see if I can help.
I. High (IQ) Society
I hadn't expected to join Mensa, the high IQ society. I knew I qualified ever since my slightly younger sister joined in her teens, but she showed little interest, and I forgot about it. But when I left academia after earning my bachelor's degree, I was suddenly bored. The intellectual challenges were gone, and my social circle dwindled to a few roommates and co-workers. I read voraciously ... which only intensified the need for people with whom to discuss everything I was thinking about. When I finally joined Greater Phoenix Mensa, it was better than I'd dare hope. I volunteered as advertising chairman for the group's annual convention my first two years, then did the same job for two national conventions in tandem with editing Much Ado About Mensa, the GPM newsletter for about three years. When I was presented with the national award for best large group Mensa newsletter, the presenter mentioned that it was somehow "just the most fun to read."
That's how I became the first professional Mensan.
During my third year as a member I was "approached" about maybe becoming editor of the Mensa Bulletin. Go national? As flattered as I was, I demurred for lack of experience in the organization. But, when the phone call came just a couple years later, I accepted. It wasn't just the Publications Officer's urgent, "I need you"; I was ready.
Editing the Bulletin had always been a volunteer job, but it was so huge that it burned people out in just a couple of years. This time American Mensa found a way to pay me, on contract, for what amounted to a half-time job. It lasted a wonderful seven-plus years during Mensa's heyday.
- The Magazine Whisperer. Follow this link for creative and gratifyingly successful solutions I found to produce greater quality while minimizing expenses.
II. Human Rights Activism
Opinions differ as to what should count as human rights, but fortunately most folks agree that liberty and freedom make the cut. Those have always been the focus of my activism.
- A huge practical problem for political reformers is that our political system is quite obviously resistant to reform. For example, the "two-party" structure has the effect of making elections about choosing the lesser of two evils, with no other option regarded as remotely realistic. Read my take on a way to deal with that here.
- They called it "election reform" -- a rush to install electronic voting machines all across the nation in the name of making voting more "accessible" to handicapped citizens. Now it's hard even in principle to verify the legitimacy of elections. I write here about what happened, why, and what we might do about it.
- You know, there's never been complete agreement about what rights a human being naturally has -- that is, rights that don't originate as a matter of law. Personally, I think the answer is rather easy and obvious if you think about it in the right way.
III. Academic Philosophy
The interfaces among philosophy, psychology, and evolutionary biology are among the most fascinating things to explore. My doctoral research has sought to develop and sell an unorthodox way of looking at what mental representation is: how something in the head can "represent" something in the world in such a way that an organism can somehow manage to interact aptly with it. The standard story is that mental representations contain information about what they represent, and brains undertake computational operations with that information that ultimately produce thoughts, beliefs, and actions directed toward the represented. Physical interactions by way of the senses are thought to give us a semantic connection with the world, including meanings, references, and intentionality. I say this is fundamentally mistaken. Here are some links to aspects of my work on this project.
Some readers may be interested in my much older work for my M.A. at Arizona State University in the '90s. Evolution and Philosophy is my old philosophy website, dating back those days. The work there isn't fully mature, but I remain pleased with the promise of the key insights. It's the home of my rather radical "metaethical functionalism," which suggests a way to naturalize ethics. It also houses papers on a range of topics, from philosophy of language to eugenics to rationality. One of the ideas it advances is "metaphysical functionalism", on which I expect to do much more work. [The term 'functionalism' here, unfortunately, is a bit off. No actual functions are involved; I was trying to convey, loosely, a sort of "it is what it does" characterization of things in the world. Perhaps a better term would be 'dispositionalism'.]
Finally, my favorite topics to teach are related to effective thinking: logic, scientific reasoning, critical analysis, etc. -- especially introductory courses. I like to begin by showing students for themselves how predictably (and, at first, almost unavoidably) they make particular kinds of errors in logic, perception, and evaluation, and how difficult it can be to prevent them even with foreknowledge of their treachery. Most find it a rather sobering experience, and eagerly anticipate learning the remedial skills (and more advanced ones) that will give them a dramatic edge in a competitive world. Lately I've also concentrated on the need to adopt a fresh perspective when confronting a new problem. "Thinking Off the Page" consists of a number of examples of how I've found creative solutions to problems by identifying and rejecting certain presuppositions that have blocked traditional approaches.
That should be more than enough for the casual visitor. Thank you for visiting. Please feel free to visit my blog, SuppleMentally. I'm also on LinkedIn and Facebook.