Enlightenment and reason make the world a better place _ asu now_ access, excellence, impact

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October 20, 2015 Animal-rights philosopher Singer, ASU physicist Krauss have dialogue on altruism, free will and more

How can we be better people in the 21st century?

Embrace reason and science, said renowned animal-rights philosopher Peter Singer and theoretical physicist Lawrence Krauss at a discussion Friday night.

“Singer & Krauss: An Origins Project Dialogue” was sponsored by Arizona State


University’s Origins Project, a transdisciplinary initiative exploring fundamental questions such as the origins of the universe, life, consciousness, culture and human existence.

Renowned animal-rights philosopher Peter Singer (left, and in top photo) and theoretical physicist Lawrence Krauss, director of the Origins Project at ASU, debate issues of ethics and science Friday in a conversation sponsored by the Origins Project. All photos by Tessa Menken/ASU

Singer gained renown in the mid-1970s as the author of “Animal Liberation,” the landmark book that argued for the first time that animals have rights. His arguments about the ethics of eating meat, biomedical experimentation on animals, and industrial farming changed lives and spawned a new consciousness about animal rights. A professor of bioethics at Princeton University, Singer’s latest books have focused on moral philosophy and applied ethics.

Krauss is a cosmologist and one of the first physicists to suggest most of the universe’s mass and energy lies in empty space — the concept of “dark energy.” An advocate of public policy based on empirical data, scientific skepticism and the public understanding of science, he appeared before the Ohio state school board in 2004 to speak in opposition to the idea of intelligent design. Krauss is Foundation Professor of the School of Earth and Space Exploration at Arizona State University and director of the Origins Project.

“It’s very easy to think that if you look at newspapers and TV things are getting worse and worse,” Singer said Friday night at the Scottsdale Center for the Performing Arts. “That’s a myth.”

Enlightenment and reason have made the world a better place, Singer said. He said the capacity to reason allows us to see and imagine other beings in the world and empathize with them.

“We can understand more what it’s like to be a different being in this world because of science,” he said.

The duo discussed altruism, such as donating blood or giving to a disaster-relief fund for a distant country.

“How is it possible to be altruistic to strangers, to people you don’t know?” Singer asked. “I think it comes from our capacity to reason.”

Singer and Krauss speak Friday in front of a large crowd at the Scottsdale Center for the Performing Arts.

“How do you know what is good?” Krauss asked.

Reasoning is the right way to moral standards, Singer said.

“We have to have experiences and then make judgments,” he said. “What is good is judging what is to be the best outcome.”

Can we make choices in life, or is everything mapped out before we take our first steps?

“I want to spend two minutes on free will, because that’s all it’s worth,” Krauss said. “As a physicist, I don’t think there’s free will. … At some level, the universe is deterministic.”

Determinism is the idea that all events, including human action, are ultimately determined by causes external to the will. Some philosophers have taken determinism to imply that individual human beings have no free will and cannot be held morally responsible for their actions.

The lack of free will does not somehow free us from responsibility, Krauss said. “We feel like we make choices, act like we make choices and we have to take responsibility for those choices,” he said.

Real-world issues at play for fantasy football fans

Fantasy football has become of America’s more popular pastimes, with almost a quarter of the U. S. population expected to play this year.

But this season the game that allows football fans to organize their own virtual “teams” of real athletes for competition among peers has been especially noteworthy. Popular fantasy sports sites such as DraftKings and FanDuel have become regular names in th…

But this season the game that allows football fans to organize their own virtual “teams” of real athletes for competition among peers has been especially noteworthy. Popular fantasy sports In fantasy sports people take the role of “owner,” choosing players from various real-life sports teams to assemble a make-believe team. The owners win points based on the players’ performance in real-life games and compete for the entire season against other fantasy team owners. Fantasy games, which are available for all sports, run the gamut from casual office pools to massive online sites such as ESPN, where play is free. sites such as DraftKings and FanDuel have become regular names in the news as federal officials investigate whether they constitute gambling operations, even prompting Congress to discuss the issue.

And while commercials and television shows often characterize fantasy football players as people who only care about winning, research at Arizona State University has found that some participants are unsettled by the taint of gambling around their beloved pastime.

“Fans are split. Some find it fun, and they’re the ones who are a little more OK with the gambling aspect of it,” said Mary Ingram-Waters, an honors faculty fellow at ASU’s Barrett, The Honors College. “The other respondents are deeply concerned about the stigma of gambling on fan sports in general.”

The topical research is interesting, but it’s just the tip of the iceberg, so to speak, on what Ingram-Waters and her group of undergraduate student researchers have discovered about the fantasy football phenomenon.

Along with the gambling concerns, they’ve found that fantasy football team “owners” punish their fantasy team “players” for their real-world actions, and that these owners worry about their involvement in the ongoing issue of serious injuries and concussions to real-world football players.

“We did find that a surprising number of people — it was surprising to us — felt they were beginning to question fantasy play altogether because of things like concussions and field injuries,” Ingram-Waters said. “Out of 40 people we interviewed, 8 or 9 said, ‘I wonder if I’m doing the right thing. I feel like I’m complicit in these life-threatening injuries.’ ”

A similar reaction extends to the fantasy football lineups as Ingram-Waters’ research shows that fantasy owners are willing to reject high-performing players who have been accused of serious crimes such as domestic violence.

“Even when people said they didn’t care about making any kind of ethical statement with their choices, they actually did,” Ingram-Waters said. “They always drew a line with their choices.”

As a corollary, the research shows that fantasy owners actively seek out players they perceive as “good guys,” such as Tim Tebow, an outspoken Christian.

Arizona State University Barrett Honors College professor Mary Ingram-Waters and undergraduate research assistant Kevin Landauer discuss content they have researched in the past week addressing whether fantasy football is considered gambling at Barrett, The Honors College on Tempe campus Oct. 16. Photo by Deanna Dent/ASU Now

Among the group’s other findings:

• About 80 percent of the fantasy participants are male, but increasing numbers of women are playing.

“They play for the social aspects of it. They want to have something to talk about with their partners or family members,” Ingram-Waters said.

• Trash talking in fantasy leagues has rules of engagement. When the talk becomes more pointed, the words are texted and not spoken. “When there’s a woman or a boss in the league, you have to hide it more,” she said. “The boss changes the dynamic in much the same way as having a woman does.”

• The ever-growing fantasy experience is absent from the stadium experience, mainly because many football venues lack Wi-Fi, so participants can’t keep track of their fantasy players while they watch a real game.

The undergraduates involved in Ingram-Waters’ group are doing real research work — finding interview participants, conducting and transcribing interviews and reviewing literature.

For instance, one current Barrett student is writing a critical media analysis of “The League,” a show on the FX network about fantasy-football-obsessed people.

“I have these young researchers because people are like, ‘I can’t say this to you as an older woman,’ but they can say it to a 22-year-old,” Ingram-Waters said.

Some of the students, like Kevin Landauer, have used their fantasy sports research as topics of the thesis that Barrett students are required to complete. Part of his research involves the ubiquitous advertising of fantasy sports wagering sites.

“I saw they are partnered with 28 of the 32 NFL teams,” said Landauer, a chemistry major who plans to pursue a master’s of business administration with a focus in sports management. “I wondered, ‘How did this rise to fame become so quick?’ ”

His topic is up-to-the-minute current as earlier this month, the New York attorney general began an investigation into the accusation that employees of sites like DraftKings and FanDuel had won big payouts based on inside information.

Because choosing a fantasy team is considered a game of “skill” and not “luck,” the sites are legal in 45 states, but not Arizona. Still, participation is not regulated, and Ingram-Waters’ team has been able to interview fantasy players by promising confidentiality.

Landauer has interviewed about 40 people so far for his thesis, which he will present in May, just before he graduates.

He has explored the idea of “divided loyalty” — when a participant’s fantasy player performs against a favorite team in real life, and how wagering might affect that sentiment.

“It’s hard to put a number on that. If I got $8,000, would I be OK with my team losing, or if I got a million dollars would I be OK with my team losing the rest of the year?”