September 10, 2014

Baseline Melancholia - Don't Worry Or Be Happy, Be Content


UPDATE - More on happiness....

How to be Happy:  A Guide Through Ancient Philosophy

What Happiness Conceals by John Quiggin, Aeon, March 27, 2014

The Meanings of Life - Happiness is not the same as a sense of meaning, by Roy F. Baumeister, Aeon, September 16, 2013

ORIGINAL POST:
by
Yuval Noah Harari
The Guardian, September 5, 2014

I shouldn't be so cynical when it comes to essays about happiness, but I always am. Harari's essay, though, is a good one.

I tend to think less about my happiness and more of my qualia (inner, personal states) such as freedom from pain or fear, or the level of my general wellness. Pain, fear, and well being apply to the in-the-present condition of all sentient animal life forms. Happiness as humans define it seems to ask for too much. I can reasonably conclude that a chimp or goose, for example, is experiencing pain, fear, or well being based on its behavior. However, only humans, using language, tell each other or write, in excruciating detail, about their inner states. That is, to what degree they are experiencing or not experiencing pain, fear, and well being in terms of their happiness.

September 5, 2014

Epistemic Roundabout I


COSMOLOGY

"The Mathematical World" by James Franklin, April 7, 2014


I've read this essay once. My thinking the first time through kept me going to my effort some time back to understand the concept of time in a universe where humans did not exist -http://jameselassiter.blogspot.com/2011/05/time-does-not-objectively-exist.html?m=1 

On that occasion I felt somewhat comfortable that time is indeed an artifact with no objective existence prior to its invention by humans.

But the present essay has me fairly well convinced that mathematics, at least the natural shapes and processes it accurately accounts for, exists independent of humans inventing it. As I read with that notion under tow, I began to think that perhaps time might also exist independent of humans "discovering" it. The intervals between cosmic and quantum events are real. Call them time if we must.

I can ease my dilemma if I couch these notions in an explanation/understanding that acknowledges that both exist - objective mathematics and time on the one hand AND the artifactual constructs we create and use to think about and discuss them on the other. This seems to square with modern science - the objective existence of preexisting regularities (predictabilities) in the universe AND the formulation of laws, equations, and descriptions that represent and explain those conditions.

Then again, without our "mathematics" and "time" the universe would only be matter of various types, combinations, and shapes, in motion. Certain outcomes of this motion would repeat themselves (events we would describe as being in conformity with natural laws) and other motion outcomes would be novel or emergent. Period.

Let me read it once again....


EARTH

"Our Lonely Home in Nature" by Alan Lightman, May 2, 2014


"Nature can survive far more than what we can do to it and is totally oblivious to whether homo sapiens lives or dies in the next hundred years. Our concern should be about protecting ourselves — because we have only ourselves to protect us."

Really?! Lightman does place human empowerment a far second from the power of nature. The problem with his conclusion is his, I think, unfounded assumption that nature can withstand whatever humans do.

July 9, 2014

Anti-Intellectualism In American Life - Excerpts And A Comment


The further I read in this great, Pulitzer Prize winning book the more amazed am I that the principles of the Enlightenment – the improvement of society through reason; the challenging of ideas grounded in tradition and faith; and the advancement of knowledge through skepticism, scientific method, and intellectual interchange - have not by now been completely rooted out and discarded by mainstream America and the politicians that prey upon, serve, and ultimately rule them. [Perhaps this is in fact the real American story, that Enlightenment principles remain in place at all.]

Maybe we are experiencing the last chapter in the current conservative, Christian, Republican effort at such an eradication and societal takeover.  For the holders of this vision seem to be ever-more numerous, determined, and entrenched in power. If they ultimately succeed, and current events in the US continue to strengthen my belief that they might, a new and much more brutal Dark Age will soon and surely follow.

June 8, 2014

Suffering And Injustice - Whose Awe, Truth, And Hope Will Prevail?



I am not angry at God and certainly do not fancy myself being him, as some I’m sure accuse me. In fact, I would never want to be God and have and use his imputed power and knowledge. Not even for a moment in which I might rid the world of, say, human suffering and injustice. The responsibility for such an act aside, removing suffering and injustice and all that causes, attends, and follows from them would be an unprecedented intervention in the unpredictability of the Cosmos. 

Eliminating any of the unpredictability of the Cosmos would forestall the possibility of certain serendipitous events taking place in the future. A look at the list of past serendipitous events and conditions that contributed to the origins of the Earth and life upon it, including our own, though a rare but not necessarily extraordinary occurrence in the vastness of the Cosmos, should make one, especially a God-for-the-moment human, hesitate to make any wholesale changes in how it all works. A cosmic intervention would also require certain violations of the predictable laws of the Universe that we are aware of - gravity, for example - and a number of others we so far have not discovered but would be briefly known to me, the God of the Moment, The Great Intervener. My mere tinkering, which is what it would be for such an omniscient and omnipotent one as me, would redefine every thing and every process, everywhere, forever.

May 19, 2014

Reason And Compassion - Hallmarks Of Human Nature



This new journal premiered in March 2014.  It describes its aims and purpose as follows:

Science, Religion, and Culture is an open access interdisciplinary journal focused on bringing together research and theoretical analysis from the physical, biological, and social sciences with ideas from philosophy, theology, and religious studies. It aims at exploring the unique relationship between science, religion, and culture, and it welcomes submissions from all perspectives and religious traditions—including Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism, Taoism, secularism, humanism, and naturalism. Given that science and religion are two great manifestations of human culture, special focus is given to the various ways modern science—including the disciplines of physics, cosmology, biology, psychology, neuroscience, mathematics, sociology, and anthropology—support, oppose, inform, or are informed by religious, theological, and cultural perspectives. Additional focus is given to perspectives on science, religion, and culture from different geographical regions, cultures, religions, and historical epochs.

The articles in the first issue include:

Victor Stenger

Massimo Pigliucci

Robert E. Pollack

John Shook

Timothy Helton

The journal’s appearance prompted an online discussion between me and some of my local fellow freethinker friends (secular, freethinking, humanist, atheist/agnostics).  With reference to the first two articles by Victor Stenger and Massimo Pigliucci, one friend said that s/he had a low tolerance for faith-based ideas such as those of the Abrahamic religions and therefore sided with Stenger.  His/her implied assertion was that these religions, and other faith-based belief systems, have not made the world a better place.  Since it is impossible, his/her argument went, to know what the world would have become without the influences of religions, the assertion that the world is a better because of them is a non sequitur.  The following is my response, which I have expanded a bit since the discussion: 

April 15, 2014

The Ethnosphere - What And Where Is Human Nature, Really?


I am in full agreement with almost everything Pigliucci says in the above-linked essay about "human nature." I am concerned, however, about what I see as his opinion that a good (unified, comprehensive?) theory of cultural evolution may one day be established.

"...despite much interest and a number of valiant efforts — we really don’t quite have a good theory of cultural evolution at hand."

Though he doesn't directly address the reasons for this lack of a good cultural evolutionary theory, Pigliucci is right about this.

The lack of a "good" cultural evolutionary theory, however, has less to do with our not yet coming up with one than it does with our scientistic expectations. That is, the incorrect belief and insistence that the patterns and practices of human cultural adaptation, extant cultural adaptations and all of those throughout history and prehistory, are reducible to a unified theory containing equations, formulae, and genetic mapping in a manner similar to what mathematics, physics, chemistry, and biology apply to other phenomena.

An illustration of only a fraction of the ideas in the Ethosphere and our commentary on them.  This graph represents co-citation patterns based on all articles published between 1993 and 2013 in Nous, the Journal of Philosophy, the Philosophical Review, and Mind.  Photo Credit:  Philosophy@MHS

The reason we don't have a good theory also, and more importantly, has to do with the complexity of culture as an adaptive process.


Culture and cultural evolution are not fully explained by the Darwinian-Mendelian theory of biological evolution, or more recent related efforts called evolutionary psychology and memetics.  Worse, the approaches taken and speculations used in most of these two latter-day efforts are misinforming the public.

March 10, 2014

Between Global Tyranny And Anarchy - Where Do You Stand?

by Michael Hiltzik, Los Angeles Times, March 9, 2014

There are many rich and powerful people throughout the world, especially in the fields of politics, business, and religion, who work very hard to undermine Humankind's ability to think clearly and independently. Being skeptical, using reason and logic, and placing high value on scientific knowledge are portrayed as threats to the well-being of members of the working class, whose votes and support they need, to the nation, to the national culture, and sometimes to the whole of civilization. What they fear most, however, is the harm critical independent thinking may do to their maintaining and increasing their power and wealth. Conservative political, economic, and religious leaders in the US and elsewhere have developed and perfected a way of undermining such freethinking - plant seeds of doubt about science and couple this with their peculiar notions of patriotism and freedom, as explained in the above article.

This is not a new approach. That is, the use of governmental and economic power (including the use and threat of military force) combined with religious indoctrination to subdue and exploit people and their resources has many historical precedents. In the West, for example, a version of it was adopted as the 19th century strategy for the European colonization of Africa. Those who governed, owned the deep coffers of commerce, and purveyed the Christian religion in Europe, pushed their way into Africa, justified and emboldened by their conviction of the superiority of their values, beliefs, behaviors, and technology.

January 6, 2014

The Ownership And Immortality Of The Self


The following recently-published articles display some of our current misconceptions, fantasies, and worries about the brain, mind, and self. Such essays by learned experts help define who we are, how we treat others, and what our future might be. They therefore merit our attention and their arguments should not be accepted based on an implied argument from authority. What are they trying to tell us about these important matters and why?

“Possessive Individualism:  Can We Really Own Ourselves?” by John Médaille, The Imaginative Conservative, December 2013

 “The Closing of the Scientific Mind” by David Gelernter, Commentary, January 1, 2014


Notice that all three articles are not published in professional, peer-reviewed scientific or philosophical journals, rather in periodicals intended for widespread public consumption.  What they write in science and philosophy journals has less impact because the circle of readership is smaller.  Therefore, all of us should be concerned about the impact of their ideas on the global public through articles such as those above.  Why?  Because how we as everyday people treat ourselves and others is largely influenced by such public-targeted articles and books.  If our concepts of our selves and the selves of others are given inaccurate meanings, touted as something that scientists want to prove are of lesser significance compared to the functioning of our genes and brains, or when our selves are wistfully portrayed as virtual commodities that might one day live forever embedded in computers, our lives and treatment of each other may easily become adversely affected.  The facts and argumentation in all such for-public-consumption writings should be treated with skepticism and subjected to scrutiny.