So I linked to a super awesome discussion of Leibniz’ Monadology the other day, right?
Well, if you’ve listened to that (if you haven’t go do it now, fools!), I highly recommend The Partially Examined Life to get more amazing discussions of a wide variety of philosophical works by some of the major dudes in philosophy. Click on the “Podcasts” tab up at the top to see the whole list of discussions.
Seriously, these are awesome. Next up for me is HUUUUUUME! Freakin’ love Hume, man. That’s why I have this shirt.
Also, UI drama is happening because of my tuition waiver thingy. I had whole rant typed out but I deleted it because I’m trying to deal with frustration in a more constructive manner this year. That will probably end with me repressing everything because that’s just how I am, but what’re you going to do?
OH, and if any of you haven’t seen/heard this yet (or seen anything by DJ Earworm):
Yes, this post was heavy in the “stuff on the internet that’s not mine” material. I’m stressing about the upcoming semester, deal with it.
So I’ve been thinking about that video I posted yesterday. I think the reason I liked it so much is because that video basically shows all the reasons why I believe in hylozoism. Something so incredibly vast and beyond comprehension like our universe cannot, in my opinion, be devoid of life itself. It doesn’t just contain bits of life like us and trees and turtles and dogs. It is life. Every infinitesimal bit of the universe holds “life” in my opinion. It may not be life in the way we’re able to see it like we’re able to see the life of a person or the life of an elephant, but I think that in order for atoms and electrical impulses and chemical reactions to come together to every so often create life as we define it, there must be something that’s present in all matter that holds some form of life on its own. It seems too implausible that only very specific combinations of the universe’s material can attain life and can only do so when amassed with just the right selections of other materials.
When the narrator talks about us “answering” the universe with respect to knowing what the universe is, in my opinion that’s a very potent expression of this idea. We are the universe. We are clumps of it that, for a VERY brief time, happen to take on an existence that is aware of itself, that is aware of the ridiculous distances between everything, even down to the relatively extreme distance between a nucleus of an atom and its cloud of electrons, but is also able to bridge this distance by acknowledging it. We know that our own little galaxy is vast beyond the human mind’s capability of understanding distance. We know that the relative distance between the nucleus of an oxygen atom and the inner most electrons is incredible. And yet we still function within the universe, a universe that allows for such extremes to exist but yet also allows for everything on all scales to work as a cohesive, living, thriving unit.
I see it as evidence that everything in the universe contains life when I see such extremes—the very large and the very small and the distance at both levels—working as one. How can we deny the universe a life of its own when we witness the effect of the smallest building blocks of our universe, quarks and leptons and whatnot, on the grandest events we’ve had privilege to witness: super novas and black holes and stars consuming one another? How can we say that the individual components of our universe exist as lifeless “things” when things so seemingly different have such a great effect on one another and the culmination of all these effects is existence itself?
That is how I define this “life.” The fact that things exist and the fact that they keep on existing shows that every component of our universe is responsive to every other component. And again, I don’t mean “responsive” necessarily in the way that humans respond to one another or the way a bee responds to pollen. The response could be chemical, it could be electrical, it could be in ways we can’t even witness because we don’t know what we’re looking for.
And we’re part of this! It’s common to look up at the vastness that is our universe and think of how insignificant we are. But we ARE significant! We are but for a brief moment a mass of “universe stuff” that happens to take the form of “human.” But in the blink of an eye, in the smallest fraction of a second on the time scale of the universe, we won’t be anymore! Maybe in 30 million years a part of me will be a part of a newly forming star. Maybe in 23 billion years a part of me will be a part of a meteor that splits a planet into fragments. Maybe in 80 billion centuries a part of me will be part of another thing that is also aware of the ridiculous distances between everything, from the galaxies to the components of an atom, and is able to bridge this distance by acknowledging it, just as I am as a human today. But regardless of what my parts become, they will retain this “life” that, in my opinion, is present in everything everywhere, always.
And that’s COOL.
Next week in Environmental Philosophy we will be discussing deep ecology. Says Wikipedia, “deep ecology is a contemporary ecological philosophy that recognizes an inherent worth of other beings, aside from their utility.” We’re also going a bit beyond that, exploring the opinion that EVERYTHING in nature has inherent worth, including non-sentient things like mountains and rocks and sand.
Of course, as we were having our initial discussion before we delve into the literature for next week, one of the prominent comments I heard was that the view that ALL things in nature have inherent worth (to the extent that humans have worth) is “stupid.”
So I can already tell next week’s going to be difficult.
As I’ve blogged about before, I identify myself with Hylozoism (or panpsychism, it depends on how you define things). Loosely, it’s the belief that all matter is, in some sense, “aware” or has a conscience*. As such, I can’t really place myself in opposition with the view that things like mountains or sand lack a worth comparable to the worth of, say, a dog or a pigeon or even a tree.
I can’t put my finger on EXACTLY why a Hylozoistic viewpoint overlaps with deep ecology in a sense and I can’t really explain EXACTLY why this viewpoint is probably going to get slaughtered next Thursday, but I’m pretty sure it will be. I think I might just keep my mouth shut the whole time, haha.
Whatever. I’ll probably say more about this after next Thursday, so be prepared.
*But not necessarily consciousness as humans experience it.
God, I love Hume.
Now that I’m an actual factual philosophy grad student, I think it’s time we revisited this website. And in the spirit of Hume:
ALSO: I am in a severe music rut, which is bad for this “download a new song every day” business. So friends, neighbors, subscribers, random blog passers-by, could you please suggest some songs for me? I’ll listen to anything at least once.
I’m also thinking of adding a page that actually lists all the songs I’ve downloaded for 2010/2011, so look for that in the next few days if you’re interested at all.
Okay, that’s it.
So now that this thesis nonsense is 95% over*, I can finally screw around on the internet again. Today, I found this site containing a bunch of different morality (and other miscellaneous) surveys.
What’s super cool about this site is that it gives you your results in comparison to self-identified conservatives and liberals (and, for some, libertarians and moderates). For example, here are my “moral foundation” results (in green) compared to self-identified liberals (blue) and self-identified conservatives (red). The higher the score, the more you endorse that particular moral foundation.
*Still have to actually turn it in for publishing, but that comes at the beginning of August. And it’s electronic submission, so it’s all good.
I went to the grocery store today because I needed broccoli and ended up impulse-buying some shrimp, because shrimp sounded good and I haven’t had them in forever.
Long story short, some lady coming down the aisle in the opposite direction decided that I, amongst the fifteen or so individuals milling around the meat section, was the one she would not-so-subtly criticize as she strolled by with her cart. She basically insinuated that I had no morals whatsoever, and my purchasing of meat was a direct ticket to hell—a ticket the righteous vegetarian would never purchase.
And so I must rant.
I know I’ve already posted a “why I’m not a vegetarian” blog before, but obviously the issue must be readdressed here. I suppose I can understand where this lady (and many others) is coming from. I’ve seen Earthlings, I know all the animal cruelty that goes on in slaughterhouses and fisheries, and I know that that’s what a large proportion of vegetarians/vegans oppose.
However, I also know that a decent proportion of vegetarians don’t eat meat because they have issues with taking the lives of animals for food that humans can live without. As I said in my vegetarian post, it strikes me as extremely contradictory that we assign so much more value to the life of, say, a pig, than we do to the life of a stalk of wheat or a sunflower. I understand that the sentience of a pig and the sentience (or lack thereof) of wheat aren’t the same, obviously. But I do believe that everything in the universe has some form of life, and if we promote the saving of certain lives, it just seems wrong that we don’t treat other lives the same way, you know?
So yeah, maybe plants don’t process getting chopped in half the same way a cow would, but do those who subsist solely on vegetation take into account the billions of lives that are extinguished to provide their food? Pain-perceiving or not, there’s no denying that there are lives being cut short (no pun intended).
Sorry, that just really got to me. Why value the life of a shrimp more than the life of a grain? Humans can, of course, subsist without meat, but that doesn’t, in my opinion, act as a suitable excuse for the difference in value between what we deem sentient beings and beings like grains and flowers.
Bah, I dunno.
Today’s song: Jimmy Olsen’s Blues by Spin Doctors
One of my mom’s favorite things with which to counter my determinism argument is this: “if we don’t have free will and we can’t choose what we do, then why aren’t we all just lying in bed doing nothing with our lives?”
I can see where she’s coming from, of course. It’s similar to a viewpoint fought against by many of the early Existentialists (Sartre, Camus, etc.) who had to respond to people claiming that an Existential outlook pretty much doomed you to something along the lines of, “oh, well, life is meaningless, so why bother?” Similarly, when you’re someone who believes in free will, the idea that all of our actions and “choices” are predetermined (and that we have absolutely no say in anything we do) is pretty freaking distressing. Why do anything if everything that’s supposed to happen happens regardless of what we “choose” to do? Why bother with anything?
Here’s how I see it: determinism doesn’t make us brainless, opinion-free automatons who stand passively aside as the world and our actions in it are dictated to us. It’s obvious we all have opinions and make conscious choices to do things. Examples: I like the color orange, I decided to go to the rec center today. I think a lot of people who oppose the idea of a deterministic universe think that these things—choices, opinions, even indecisiveness—are incompatible with determinism. Makes sense—how can our universe be deterministic if I can’t decide whether to wear pants or streak through the backyard?
That’s the thing about determinism (the way I see it, at least): it kind of sits in the background, unnoticed as we go about our daily lives. I’m not going to use the puppet master/puppet show analogy ‘cause that doesn’t translate exactly (puppet master = god and I don’t buy that), but that’s generally the idea. In other words, our opinions and choices are all determined, even though they don’t appear as such to us (unless we think about it constantly, then things start getting weird). So what does this mean? Well, if I’m a person who buys into a deterministic universe (and I do), and I were to consciously say to myself “screw this noise, I’m going to go play Fallout 3 until I die of thirst,” I would do it—but only if I were determined to think that thought and act accordingly. But me being me, I know I won’t do that. But it’s not my own choosing that prevents me from a Fallout 3-related death—it’s determinism. I’m determined to choose (or determined to believe I’m choosing, I guess, is more appropriate) to get up and go do stuff tomorrow (apart from Fallout 3), just as I’m determined to like orange, you’re determined to read this blog (because you are if you’re reading this sentence), and my mom is determined to resist the idea of determinism.
In fact, I think that’s why so many people (at least, so many people I talk to) are against the idea of a deterministic universe. They know that they have opinions, they make choices, they grow indecisive about some things. It seems odd to consider that all such things are, ultimately, determined.
At least, that’s how I see it.
Today’s song: I Predict a Riot by Kaiser Chiefs
First off, all our morals are screwy, it’s just the way we all are. So please try not to judge me too harshly for this; if the following doesn’t seem to make sense, it’s probably because I’ve never really openly discussed it. But it makes perfect sense in my head. Okay? Okay.
So. Vegetarianism. Those who read these bloggies semi-regularly may have seen one of my posts about hylozoism—the belief that life, to some extent, is present in all matter, not just in things that we classify as conscious or even just in things that are considered animate.
I suppose in a sense that my “why I’m not a vegetarian” argument stems more from the panpsychism perspective. That is, the idea that all things possess some form of sensation or consciousness (you drop an iPod, that iPod senses it or is aware of it).
I am of this view. To me, everything responds to what we do to it. If you break a pot, that pot “feels” the break, if you cut the grass, the grass “feels” itself being sliced. I’m not saying it causes pain necessarily, but who’s to say it doesn’t? I’m certainly of the idea that the material responds in some way, and I definitely think such an argument could be put out there for things we typically consider sentient.
This is where the whole vegetarianism thing comes in. If a person wants a cheeseburger, they’re aware on some level of the fact that they’re eating a part of a cow that had to be killed for the person to consume it. They’re probably less aware of the amount of wheat that had to be cut in order to create the bun (I don’t know the general number of wheat stalks that go into an average hamburger bun, but you get what I’m saying). Or the tomato that gets picked to provide a slice.
Yeah, I know that sounds crazy. But think about it. It just seems weird to me to place more value on beings that emit an audible scream when we slaughter them than silent yet still living beings like wheat and peas. Even if such “lower organisms” don’t have pain receptors and therefore don’t respond to being removed from water/nutrients/the means to continue living the same way organisms like cows and pigs do, it doesn’t change the fact that they’re being killed.
Call me a hippy, call me crazy, call me stupid, but that’s how I see it. There are only two ways, as I see it, to provide equal “ethical” treatment to both beings like cows and beings like wheat—either don’t eat either of them (or anything else that was once living), or eat both of them. And since I probably can’t live on air (like the Astomi people apparently could), I choose the latter.
Please note: I am not condoning things like inhumane poultry housing or cruel slaughtering techniques—that’s not what I mean. Read this as if the comparisons between higher and lower organism slaughter involve the most humane way of killing, say, a cow, with the most humane way of harvesting grain.
Today’s song: Crystal Ball by Keane
Haven’t had a crappy pun title in awhile now.
Polymathy and Knowledge in the 21st Century (or, “The Crazy Ramblings of a Super-Hyper Person, Feel Free to Disregard This Whole Blog”)
I don’t remember when or where I read this, but somewhere a few years ago I came across the idea that the polymath in its truest form is not really something that’s accomplishable nowadays, as there is so much more things to know today than there where back in the time of the polymath. From either the same source or a different one there was the mention of the fact that “back in the day” much more time was given to pure thinking—that is, people devoted solid blocks of time to working on their ideas and inventions, something that we with our daily time-consuming jobs (and school) rarely do. So I suppose they were trying to say that idea of a polymath exists as an anachronistic ideal; the “all knowing man” is something that today seems unobtainable.
Think about it. Think about the birth of the Age of Enlightenment, when there was this sudden boom of yearning for knowledge (in Europe, at least). There was this ability back then, perhaps due to different lifestyle or some ideal balance between what was known and what was unknown (or perhaps due to both) that allowed for polymathy to develop. There was this beautiful merging of everything creative and scientific (obviously not mutually exclusive categories) that gave rise to this insanely productive, inspired time. It makes you wonder what it was about this specific period in time, in that specific geographic area, that caused such a wonderful explosion of knowledge. It also makes you wonder why that’s not going on right now.
If you look at psychological development books you’ll see in almost every one something called the “critical period” for such developmental milestones as language learning, walking, and some other stuff I don’t remember because hell if I paid attention in Infancy class. Language is probably the best example, as it has the most incidents documented wherein an individual fails to either be exposed to language entirely or fails to be exposed to enough of it within this critical time frame, and thus fails to fully develop language to the extent the majority of people do.
I think analogous critical periods exist for a lot of different human endeavors (I just spelled that with the extra “u” before backspacing, kill me now). There has to be some sort of ideal balance between lifestyle, existing knowledge, and knowledge yet to be discovered for periods like the Age of Enlightenment to happen. The drive that spurs people on to create may not dissipate or change significantly from generation to generation, but other things are apt to (and do) change.
For instance, think about how much busier our lives are now. Think of how we’ve managed to pack our existences with this meaningless dribble just so we can “survive” in modern society. We don’t allow ourselves to stop and just think. We don’t allow significant time for mulling over of ideas (unless we do so at our jobs/on the bus/during class, in which cases I think it’s much less productive than just mulling outright) to bring them into fruition, or to even develop significant ideas. I’m not necessarily talking individually here, but when you look at it from a larger scope, I think that there’s a significantly smaller percentage of pure “thinking” that exists in our society today than there was, for example, back during the beginnings of the Age of Enlightenment. In short, we’re too busy to delve, but too focused in our specific school work/job/what-have-to-you gain breadth. That’s a problem.
Now think about how the balance between known and unknown has changed since the Age of Enlightenment. We know SO MUCH MORE than we did at the beginning of that shift in information, but we’re also equipped with far more tools to delve deeper into our universe. What’s stopping us today from having the same strides in discoveries, expansion, and overall innovation that were found then? I don’t think we’re running out of things to discover. I don’t think we’ll ever run out of things to discover. What I do think, though, is that there’s been some sort of fundamental change over the last several centuries in what is left to discover that we’re unable to reach previously set records of leaps and bounds in knowledge due to the way we’ve been approaching what’s left to discover.
We’re all yocto- and yotta- and gamma wave now, we’re past a large amount of those things that can be seen with the naked eye here on this planet and have moved on to the microscopic, macroscopic, and invisible (for a small but good example of this, just look at the SI prefixes and the change in dates from the mid-range prefixes to the very large and very small ones). Time that was before spent on envisioning, creating, and fine-tuning the machines whose purposes were to get to these other worlds is now being spent actually utilizing these machines, searching for what we think is out there because we finally can. And I think one of our problems is that we’re going about things with that old mindset, not with any new way of thinking about things.
It’s hard to explicitly explain what I mean by this…it’s like we haven’t done anything to refine our technique to help us reach past this “eye level” of invention, creation, and discovery, and therefore are having difficulty reaching out into these new and different areas. It’s like if you were a master fisherman—all you’ve ever done is fish—and suddenly there are no more fish in the sea so you have to utilize your technique elsewhere in order to procure food. So you look up at the sky, realize there are birds up there you can catch, and so you start casting your line into the air with the intent to catch these birds. Now you may be a master fisherman, you may cast your line better than anyone else, you may have the technique perfected, but you’re still casting it into the sky. You can be as perfect as you like, you’re not going to hook any birds. So what you have to do is redefine your technique—tweak it to fit the new circumstances. I don’t think we’ve managed to do that yet with how we look at things in terms of discovery.
So why don’t I think there’s another Age of Enlightenment going on now, when we’re fully equipped with all these wonderful scientists and wonderful machines to help us along our journey of discovery? We’re too busy, we’re too set in our ways of methodology, and we seems to be unable to break free of either of these things, at least anytime soon.
There was a whole lot more I was going to say on this, but I’ve discovered my secret stash of Pocky and have found one of the coolest songs ever, so I’m going to try and calm this hyperness down so I can hopefully sleep tonight.
Today’s song: Kärlekens Alla Färjor by Detektivbyrån (it’s FANTASTIC)
Warning: this blog may piss you off.
(Though I guess it’s rather unfair to preface this blog with a warning when I fail to do so for 99% of all my other blogs, though they may piss you off as well. Though I don’t know how a graph showing a breakdown of song genres per month could piss you off, but there are some freaky dudes out there.
Claudia, shut up and blog.
This might just be me and I might be a horrible monster for it, but every time I read something along the lines of “scientists and doctors have worked together to discover [insert something phenomenal here] that might aid in the elimination of [cancer/AIDS/malaria/some disease-related death/heart disease-related death/diabetes-related death] by the year [insert fairly close date here],” I think, “that’s great, but won’t this contribute to overpopulation in some sense?”
I know it may make me sound mean/heartless/cruel/whatever, but whenever I hear of a new medical breakthrough that promises to save millions of lives, I can’t help but think of the fact that that means a million more people still living while the population continues to grow at an insane rate. We’re not 6 billion strong anymore. That was back in 1999. We’re up to 6.8 billion now and are estimated to hit 7 billion by next year (source: CENSUS BUREAU, BITCHES!). If this keeps up we’re going to be screwed pretty soon, if we’re not to that point already.
I’m no population expert (duh), and I think a good argument against what I’m saying is that regardless of how ever many diseases/ailments we cure or lessen the effects of, the lifespan of the majority of people will still be < 100 years, so it’s not a big deal.
I’d counter-argue with the fact that, with advances in medicine that may at some point eliminate such things as cancer, AIDS, and malaria, people may not be living much past 100 (if at all), but a large proportion of them—those that may have succumbed to the effects of such diseases/illnesses—will certainly be living longer, and therefore will take up more resources.
In short, I don’t see some sort of Bicentennial Man insanity where we’re all going to be living to 200 years old or something (and become Robin Williams robots), I see people who would have perished due to these ailments living a somewhat average lifespan, using resources they obviously wouldn’t have used if the ailments hadn’t been cured. Thus, resources will be stretched more than they would be if these ailments, pardon my language, “removed” a portion of the population.
Another argument against what I’m saying could be the argument of “well, let the population expand. Resources will become scarce, but the fight for said resources will even things out as some people get a hold of them and others are left to die without them.” I say, though this may be the case, I don’t think some sort of resource-war would be something anyone would really want to look forward to. You see how insane we can be with oil. How would we act if we had to fight with the entire rest of the world for fresh water?
I’m NOT saying that certain people have less of a “right” to live than others. It might be assumed from what I’ve said so far that I’m insinuating that all those people in, say, Africa, who are affected by AIDS should just be left to die without treatment. That’s not what I’m saying.
I’m just saying we should watch what we’re doing. So say some scientists found a cure for AIDS. Great, awesome, rock on. Distribute the vaccine/pill/whatever to those who need it. But for the love of god, at least help slow the ever-increasing-upward line of the human population by educating people on some freaking birth control. I don’t know if this is true anymore, but like seven years ago I was reading this report on how it was very common in a large proportion of sub-Saharan African families to have a crap-ton of kids to help with farming and food production, mainly because many family members fell ill due to various problems and the help of many children was needed to keep farms going.
If someday there were a cure for AIDS and it was distributed in such areas as described, I think some sort of “balance” could be achieved by discussing the idea of birth control and the idea that the fewer the individuals, the more resources would be available for everyone to have so that things wouldn’t have to be stretched so far.
I don’t think I’m making sense anymore, as it’s about 3 in the morning and I didn’t really sleep last night. I hope I don’t come off as heartless, ‘cause I’m not, but I do think the population issue is a problem and I think we need to find some way of curbing it while still being able to develop drugs/treatments that help cure/lessen the effect of large-spread and common ailments.
Today’s song: Superman by Lazlo Bane