How Physics Sets Us Free (2016, Oxford University Press)
Can it really be that even while you toss and turn late at night in the throes of an important decision and it seems like the scales of fate hang in the balance, that your decision is a foregone conclusion? Can it really be that everything you have done and everything you ever will do is determined by facts that were in place long before you were born? This problem is one of the staples of philosophical discussion. And yet there is no topic that remains more unsettling, and less well understood.
The problem raises all kinds of questions: What does it mean to make a decision, and what does it mean to say that our actions are determined? What are laws of nature? What are causes? What sorts of things are we and how do we fit into the natural order? This book gives answers to these questions, from the point of view of a philosopher of physics. It argues that if we look at ourselves through the lenses of physics, employing notions of self and time and law and cause as they arise in that setting, the result is an abstract and somewhat alien vision, but one that is ultimately affirmative of most of what we all believe about our own freedom.
The book can be found here
The Situated Self (Oxford University Press, 2007,2009)
There is a long tradition in philosophy, supported by powerfully persuasive arguments, that holds that selves resist incorporation into the natural order. The facts about our reflective view of ourselves that underwrite the philosophical arguments are closely related to the pressures that lead to the instinctive dualism of the man on the Clapham Omnibus. They include the intimacy of our reflexive awareness, its immunity to certain kinds of errors, the privacy and irreducible quality of our mental lives, the ability to separate oneself in imagination from all of one’s properties, and the simplicity and apparent unanalyzability of the self. The Situated Self is an attempt to gain some understanding of those pressures, to isolate them, and to see if they can be resolved.
“…an exciting read because it is a fresh and vivid challenge to dualist and physicalist views about the mind, language, and the self…. Ismael’s book is not just another philosophy book–it is feminist scientific theory in the making about mind and language…. Dynamic, thought provoking, and innovative is the only way to describe J. T. Ismael’s The Situated Self. It is a definite must read for those wanting to get their heads into a serious scientific theory driven work in the philosophy of mind and the philosophy of language.”
–Feminism and Philosophy
“How do human selves find their way into the natural order? The answer, Ismael argues, lies in a delicate (perhaps uniquely human) balancing act between emergent organization and directed, self-model involving control. Steering confidently between the ant colony and the inner theatre, Ismael leads the reader on a compelling journey to the very heart of the mind and self. Philosophically incisive, scientifically astute, endlessly challenging and deeply engaging, this is a must for anyone who cares about who they are, and how they came to be.”
–Andy Clark, Edinburgh University
“This is a brilliant study of fundamental issues by a leading philosopher of her generation: clear, deep, and illuminating.”
–John Perry, Stanford University
“The Situated Self is genuinely elegant and philosophically deep. It exhibits a finely-tuned sense for where the hardest and most important problems are, and pares away at the central ideas until they are spare and hardened. It is the work of a powerful and original mind.”
–Elijah Milgram, University of Utah
The book can be found here
Symposium on The Situated Self, Philosophy and Phenomenological Research, 82 (3), p. 733-748, 2011.
Precis (precis, The Situated Self)
Replies to Essays (Responses to Symposiasts)
Essays on Symmetry (Garland Press, 2001)
Structures of many different sorts arise in physics, e.g., the concrete structures of material bodies, the structure exemplified by the spatiotemporal configuration of a set of bodies, the structures of more abstract objects like states, state-spaces, laws, and so on. To each structure of any of these types there corresponds a set of transformations that map it onto itself. These are its symmetries. Increasingly ubiquitous in theoretical discussion in physics, the notion of symmetry is also at the root of some time-worn philosophical debates. Essays on Symmetry consists of a set of essays on overlapping topics drawn from both fields, drawing connections that aim to case light on both sides. The first is an elementary and informal introduction to the mathematics of symmetry. The second is a discussion and defense of a famous principle of Pierre Curie that states that the symmetries of a cause are always symmetries of its effect. The third essay takes up the case of refection in space in the context of a controversy stemming from Kant’s attempt to prove that space is a substance on the basis of the observation that certain material objects cannot be brought into coincidence with their images under reflection by any continuous rigid motion. The fourth essay considers the case of reflection in time. The theoretical strategy followed by statistical mechanics accommodating the temporally asymmetric phenomena which fall under the Second Law of Thermodynamics to the temporally symmetric classical dynamical laws is used to make some very general points about the relationship between the symmetries of laws and the symmetries of their solutions. The long fifth essay articulates a view about the nature of scientific theorizing, one that is suggested by the abstract mathematical perspective encouraged by attention to symmetries.
The book is available on Google Books.
It can also be found on Amazon