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Archive for April, 2013


Because there is no end to cruelty, there must be no end to strength.


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What I feel I have in common with Kant is a life of disconnection. From which words flow.


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Is our will forever relativized to the march of infinite time? Is the weight of endless number always heavier than our desire? Since I was young I have had a tirelessly frustrated vision of a life worth living. Is something like that worth speaking until the last syllable of a recorded life?

If not, then—what else to say?

Kant proposed that the noumenon of [ought] could be described as several elements:

            -the idea of a free agent, capable of making a promise and avoiding a lie
            -a transcendent will to universal action that supplants utilitarian              considerations
            -other free agents that we value as such, rather than as objects for whom              respect is prudent

This is not meant to describe any living creature that has ever actually lived in such a manner. A noumenon is an object of thought only, not something that is ever given in experience. It is the sum of the series, the unifying abstract principle that communicates to others a poetry of experiences and hopes. Nothing more. Nothing less.



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The problem with liberal economics (which manifested most recently as Reaganomics) is that it makes assumptions about human existence that tend to destroy cooperativity and the capacity for growth and critical thinking. Liberal economics is the political assumption that government exists merely to secure life, liberty and the pursuit of property. That in our so called “natural state,” we would exist as nothing more than a society of individuals with no claim on one another, beholden to an inefficient system of barter that takes no account of mammalian traits like altruism and reciprocity. That government in its proper function should do nothing more than prevent immediate, physical destruction of one person by another, and secure the means of efficient exchanges of goods (i.e. guarantee the supply of useful currencies). Liberal theory is silent about the long term destruction of an entire portion of the body politic by another portion, about politically enabled abuses of currencies, or conversely about the utility of things like education, growth, critical thought or ethical development. In our postmodern world, these are seen, by the left and the right, as the proper provenance of “personal values” and are considered off limits to others. This is most stridently articulated in the so-called separation of church and state, a principle more honored these days in the breach than the observance. What this deprives us of is the opportunity to have civil debate about our most entrenched social problems: questions of life and privacy, the right to marry, the notions of public benefits and public debts as applied to rich as well as poor. When we assume that we have nothing to say to one another, how can we be surprised that speech is frozen dead and all our problems threaten to swallow us whole?


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Consider the law of entropy. If one subtends a randomly chosen and energetically isolated set of points in space, it will be generally observed that the molecules will adopt a more heterogeneous arrangement over time (order decreases). But if one does not choose a random set of points, instead selecting all the points enclosed by the skin of a living creature for example, one will note that this process does not occur (order is maintained). Note that the result depends very much on the initial choice: choose randomness and randomness will be observed, choose order and order will be observed. The observation depends very much on the region of the universe observed.

We can now understand the 2nd law of thermodynamics as nothing more than the assumption that the entropy of the universe is increasing. Taken from a different perspective, the situation looks different. Likewise, Einstein famously observed that Newton’s universal law of gravitation did not hold for bodies free falling in a gravitational field. Again, the choice of perspective affects the outcome of the observations. To put it another way, the system observed influences the features taken into consideration when formulating our “laws,” which are indeed nothing more than assumptions about which portion of the universe is more or less “important” to us in the moment. In this way the brain appears to discover the synthetic a priori grounds of its conclusions. From a different perspective, however, it appears that what is discovered is merely a predilection to see in a certain way. This is what Nietzsche meant, I think, when he spoke of the prejudices of philosophers. That our choice of words is influenced by our habits of living. And just like choosing to run or swim, grab a hammer or a saw, our choice of words has nothing inherently to do with truth in an absolute sense. We would never say that running was true, merely that it is more or less useful. Why then would we ever believe that a word is true? Is the hammer truer that builds the house or starts the war?



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Here’s my consideration that the 2nd law of thermodynamics is full of hot air:

The 2nd law states that in an isolated system, entropy tends to increase. The corollary is that in order to prevent this, we must put energy into the system to counteract the natural tendency. One way to demonstrate this is to box off one region of space from another, in such a way that the “interior” is energetically isolated from the “exterior” and cannot be subject to energetic inputs. The molecules “inside” then tend to scatter into random, heterogeneous positions, thus “demonstrating” the 2nd law. I have two concerns about this model:

1. System vs. not –system seems to me as an arbitrary distinction. Moreover, setting up the rules of the game in this way stacks the game in favor of verifying the rules. Furthermore, by setting up the rules, we’ve put energy into the system. The result of putting energy into the system in this way in fact seems to increase the entropy of the system. So it seems to me that increases or decreases in entropy depend on how one sets up the system for observation, not on any natural or universal processes.

2. Consider a box which is, to a first approximation, energetically isolated from the surrounding environment. The entropy as we measure it inside the box will certainly increase. There will then exist an energetic potential across the material of the box. In fact, some atoms will tunnel through and some will not. So has the entropy really increased? Because now we have two regions, “higher entropy” inside and “lower entropy” outside. In fact, allowing the system inside to approach greater entropy seems to have created a new “order” when one considers the box and the potential across the surface of the box. Given that these two areas are in fact in communication with one another (atoms tend to slip through with some small but finite frequency), it seems as if in fact the entropy of the “system” has not decreased as much as we thought it would, if at all.

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One of the most important moves that the Buddha introduced to human politics was to put suffering first. What this means is that many things are passed over. Accumulations, alliances, accountings, plots and positionings — all of these are placed lower on the priority list, below the effort to decrease suffering and increase safety and compassion. We learn to let go of the non-essential, the evanescent, the fleeting, and start to pay attention to the nature of the way things are through dis-stress and contentment. This may in time lead to actions that many find perplexing and confusing: we may let go of things, of needings, peoples, pleasures, and places. We may even learn to see life as something we got on loan, which is ultimately returned to the universe. You knew that I needed this life for a time, to give it my all and to decrease what suffering I could. But then you need it too at times, and I surrender it with love and hope for all your infinite blessings. For all the children that will be born today, for all the lovers who meet and start their journeys together, for all the peace treaties signed today, for all the songs sung and poems written, for all the dances danced and bells rung. For all the days that we orbit the universe and connect to the endless, the deathless, the birthless, the breathless and the one. For that, and more.


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In our litigious culture, the pragmatic solutions to problems are often overlooked or undervalued. Pragmatism asks us to understand how event B often follows and is correlated to event A. Factors that influence A will then often influence B without any extra muss or fuss. For example, abortions are often the natural consequence of unwanted pregnancies. Eliminate the latter and there will be no longer any need to for the supreme court to adjudicate the former. Arguments over marriage are often the consequence of ignorance of the fact that any group of people, regardless of age, gender, race, religion or ethnicity, can learn to create nurturing, healthy environments. Again, eliminate the ignorance and the supreme court becomes irrelevant. Actually, in all these matters they already are irrelevant, they just haven’t figured that out yet. Because no matter what habits of hatred, violence, greed, sloth, ignorance or gluttony they promulgate, people will survive and thrive. It cannot be that 9 stupid humans living their isolated lives in one puny city can so dominate an entire planet of sentient beings. Annoy and gadfly us how they will, they cannot govern us.


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When Kant described his idea of the categorical imperative, I believe he was trying to make the world safer for both prudence and duty. The idea here is to understand that sometimes when we talk about morality we mean prudence and sometimes we mean something else more akin to “ought.” The goal is not to separate these two domains as part of essentially distinct spheres of reality, but to enrich human vocabulary by exploring a dialectic of speech. I believe Kant wanted to make us more pragmatic, and more compassionate. I cannot justify that perspective on his writings any more than I can justify my belief in cause and effect or stimulus and response. It’s just where I start from when I read his work. If you happen to start somewhere else and reach other conclusions, then that’s all that can be said about that, as well.


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Many of the most entrenched problems of thought can be referred to this question: what is life? And how does it fit into a universe of non-life? How do bodies, composed of inanimate matter, suddenly wake up and think? One traditional solution has been to postulate a life force that is linked with our inanimate corporeal shell for a time, but which outlasts it. Plato explored this idea as it was handed down to him by the Pythagoreans of Classical Greece. We, however, can now look at it from another perspective. The perspective of modern physics. The 2nd law of thermodynamics says that the order of an isolated system never increases, but always decreases. This is the law of entropy, or randomness. The problem with this model, is that there are no isolated systems. All we can really talk about are systems that we are aware of. When we look at it this way, from a more global perspective, there are indeed systems in which order is increasing. In fact, this is the definition of life. Molecules that tend to replicate themselves with few variations from generation to generation (that strengthen order and weaken entropy) are the basis of the continuity of living cells. And we know that in some systems these molecules are preserved, at least for a time.

True, the “system” requires the input of energy to maintain order. But remember our assertion that there are no truly isolated systems. So, the point here is not to posit some non-material life force that sets the whole process in motion and call it God, but rather simply to observe that the universe contains such local systems within its more global system. What this means is that the universe is not wholly governed by the laws of entropy. Some regions of the universe exhibit an anti-entropy feature. Life is a feature of such systems, which are wholly and completely a part of the material world.

So it seems that life is a feature of non-life. The two are actually one and the same. While the distinction pragmatically does help solve certain problems like how to care for our young, survive predation or build homes and till the earth, it does not help us solve problems like the question of freedom and thought. These are problems that must be addressed by collapsing the traditional dialectic. And affirming that the universe is not in fact an in-animate place. Life then becomes less of an anomaly, less of a mystery, to be sure. And some may not like that. Probably, I would have been burned at the stake for suggesting it a mere 500 years ago. But that can make no difference to those of us who live in time. And entropy does seem to measure that, at least.



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