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Archive for August, 2013



Plato it seems to me wanted to found a community of philosopher mathematicians just as Nietzsche wanted a community of philosopher poets. And whether we embrace the rationalism of art, religion or science, the positivist urge remains the same. On the other hand I believe Kierkegaard and Wittgenstein saw the problemitization of living as part of the question of community itself. Rather than striving to step outside it once again, they tried to speak through their own suffering with a more personal honesty, of demonstration.


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The possibility that there is no ultimate reality within reach of human apperception need not condemn us to a life of apathy. Just because we cannot know the truth does not mean we should stop looking. For it seems to me that the hell of nihilism is no more necessary than the heaven of certainty. I think we create only ourselves.


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Watching the movie “The Hunger Games” for the first time, I found myself wondering if Descartes was on to something when he insisted on the primacy of human intuition. Could this have been his own personally ironic answer to the technologies of modernity, the attenuation of meaning, the sacrifice of life to our cultural thirst, for the entertainment of cruelty? If I think what I am then indeed, I believe one smart brave young woman, all on her own, can save the world.


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The brain seems to think in categories. We could hypothesize about how this increased the number of copies of genes that got into the next generation for individuals who thought more in categories than not, in the past. Many many categories: subject/predicate, self/other, blue/green, high/low, good/bad, etc. Categories also come with bias. We tend to ignore information that is inconsistent with the category. This can be both helpful and harmful. Another category: helpful/harmful.


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Almost 500 years ago, Copernicus published a work that revolutionized the way we think about ourselves and our world. He proposed a return to an observer centric model of the cosmos, in which the position of the observer is taken into consideration. This spelled the beginning of the end of absolutist vocabularies. Still they persist even to this day. Einstein, though he relativized space and time, persisted in the belief in a Galilean absolutism, viz. that the laws of physics (written in the language of mathematics) must be the same for all observers. Indeed, it is hard to do science without such an assumption. And yet a consistent theory of everything (“quantum gravity”) still eludes us. And the possibility of a stochastic reality has led to some truly relativistic models, such as the possibilities of multiverses, or of a completely atemporal collapse of the quantum wave function. Are we perhaps finally learning to find our way back to the undetermined world, in which the possibility of science is built upon the (useful) illusion of being able to step into the same river as often as we wish?



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The clinging to basis I suspect has been a large part of many peoples’ sufferings. I’m glad I learned to let go at such a tender age! 😉


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For me the brilliance of any of our modern luminaries for peace, is not that they presented yet another political manifesto, drawn in the blood of a violent lexicon, but that they stood up for themselves. Their voices were the voices of the understood, the spoken, the undenied. They managed to live a new form of life that slowly, compassionately, becomes equal to its own silence.


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From the perspective of a critique of the cruelty that is racism (or any other bullying –ism) I believe we live in a privileged era. I say this because I suspect that to an average Greek or Roman citizen of even the most culturally civil classical era, such cruelty might have simply seemed part of the natural order of things. In those times I suspect that the principle that the state existed primarily for the preservation and protection of property was an idea accepted by all but the most philosophically minded. And the notion of universal natural rights is a relatively new, and rather odd (though fortuitous), invention of another landed gentry: the aristocracy of the English baron classes at home and abroad. That it arose from their rebellion against the violence of their king is a very fortunate, and not at all necessary, accident of history for which we could be very grateful. Nevertheless, I believe many modern western city states continue to cleave to a more narrowed vision of human rights as pertaining primarily to property, and remain inadequately convinced of their duty to oppose all cruelty. So the question naturally arises, upon what ground does a contra-cruelty humanism stand? By what right do we truly possess, and use, the concept? Historically I believe we can trace it back not so much to those English barons who wrote both Magna Carta and the colonial Declarations, but rather to the Florentine renaissance of 1400 and its effect on the source of knowledge. It was during this and subsequent European re-birthings that the western ground of knowing was re-conceived. What more can be said about the Cartesian “cogito” (I think, therefore I am)? In one brilliant sentence, the source of life and being was stripped both from god and the state and placed within the individual. This one phrase, this one simple declaration is, I believe, the historical source of subsequent, really anti-political, declarations. From here we can trace the activist genealogy of Mahatma Gandhi, Helen Keller, Rosa Parks, Martin Luther King, Jr., Aung San Suu Kyi, Tenzin Gyatso, Desmond Tutu, and many others. All of whom stood up not just for the next political manifesto, but for a humanism of universal cooperativity, to the end of all cruelty.


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This blog is my expression of private irony, for the hope of more public cooperation, against cruelty.


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The way to synthesize the “nature vs. nurture” dialectic is not I think a by a change of terminology exclusively, but through improvements in education. I say this because, from observations of my students, I hypothesize that they are needlessly trapped in this ineffective dialectic as a result of not understanding contemporary models of biological development. If they did they would understand that every individual is seen (in such models) as 100% the product of both nature and nurture. They would understand that to speak of relatively invariant or “hard wired” traits is to refer to data about populations not individuals. They would understand the problems facing a species with such adaptability of behavior that such data often has limited reliability and validity. They would understand the challenges that face a species that transmits so much of its behavioral habits (biases) through language, over vast expanses of space-time, and in ways not remotely conceivable by the original actors, that maladaptation can spread like wildfire, as we have seen time and time again in the 20th century.


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