Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Blog #29 - Agent Smith's Outlook on Humanity

During Morpheus' interrogation, Agent Smith reveals to Morpheus why humans rejected the first version of the Matrix, the perfect version of it, 1.0:

"Did you know that the first Matrix was designed to be a perfect human world? Where none suffered, where everyone would be happy. It was a disaster. No one would accept the program. Entire crops were lost. Some believed we lacked the programming language to describe your perfect world. But I believe that, as a species, human beings define their reality through suffering and misery. The perfect world was a dream that your primitive cerebrum kept trying to wake up from, which is why the Matrix was redesigned to this: the peak of your civilization"1

In fact, Smith goes on to define humans as a virus that destroys anything and everything in its path; we spread across the planet like a plague and annihilate everything.

"I'd like to share a revelation that I've had during my time here. It came to me when I tried to classify your species and I realized that you're not actually mammals. Every mammal on this planet instinctively develops a natural equilibrium with the surrounding environment but you humans do not. You move to an area and you multiply and multiply until every natural resource is consumed and the only way you can survive is to spread to another area. There is another organism on this planet that follows the same pattern. Do you know what it is? A virus. Human beings are a disease, a cancer of this planet. You're a plague and we are the cure" 1

Kind of a bleak outlook on humanity, but what would you expect from a computer / artificial intelligence who had been trying to destroy our kind for 200 years? But, ironically, these thoughts didn't come from a computer but the minds of the Warshawsky Bros. who wrote the script.

However, using the phrase, "mankind is like a virus on the planet" to search Google, I discovered several interesting articles including one from a "Save the Whales" activist who feels that mankind is killing its host, the Earth and that we need to reduce our population to around one billion 2. The right-wing article doesn't really do the original article justice so I included a link to the original -http://www.seashepherd.org/news-and-media/editorial-070504-1.html , but apparently, the extinction event is just one in a cycle of extinction events - we are in the 6th extinction cycle! And this whole current cycle began 50,000 years when:

"a relatively hairless primate stumbled out of equatorial Africa and began wiping out the megafauna of the time. Wherever this creature (our ancestor) went, their arrival was followed by large die-outs of megafauna. Primitive hominids were well-organized, efficient, slaughter crews. As they advanced, the mammoth, sabre-toothed cats, cave bears, giant sloths, camels, horses, and wholly rhinos fell to their stone weapons and deliberately set fires. The extinction of all of these great mega-species is directly attributable to "primitive" human hunters. The hunting down of the mega-fauna was followed by the advent of agriculture and the domestication of selected animals. Domesticated cows, goats, sheep, and pigs grew in numbers and denuded large areas of grasslands. Irrigation systems began to toxify land. Then agriculture was followed by industrial activities, and finally, by the burning off of vast amounts of fossil fuels." 3


Maybe we'll all be better off if we turn our cities and suburbs into Amish colonies with the horse-drawn carriages and little to no electricity. Or some of these of these people are over-reacting. Or both?

Question: Does mankind act like a virus in the way we consume resources and destroy our living space? Why or why not?

Due Wednesday, January 6. 200 words minimum.

1. Internet Movie Database - http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0133093/quotes
2. Business and Media Institute - http://www.businessandmedia.org/articles/2007/20070506180903.aspx
3. Sea Shepherd Editorial 2007 - http://www.seashepherd.org/news-and-media/editorial-070504-1.html

A little music to make the blog go easier: Shinedown's "Devour" - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0QXNtLaOnSE plus the lyrics for the song:

Take it and take it and take it and take it and take it all
Take it and take it and take it until you take us all
Smash it and crash it and thrash it and trash it
You know they're only toys
Try it you'll like it don't hide it don't fight it, just let it out
Steal and shoot it and kill it or take another route
Take it and take it and take it
You know they're only toys
Devour Devour
Suffocate your own empire
Devour Devour
It's your final hour
Devour Devour
Stolen like a foreign soul
Devour Devour
What a way to go
You want it, you want it, you want it, you want it
Well here it is
Everything everything everything
Isn't so primitive
Take it and take it and take it and take it and take it all
Nobody nobody wants to feel like this
Nobody nobody wants to live like this
Nobody nobody wants a war like this
Devour Devour
Suffocate your own empire
Devour Devour
It's your final hour
Devour Devour
Stolen like a foreign soul
Devour Devour
What a way to go
What a way to go

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Blog #28 What is Wrong with Socrates?

We read the articles by Emily Wilson with her alternative take on the life of Socrates. In "What's Wrong with Socrates?"in The Philosophers' Magazine, 2nd Qtr., 2008, she listed 10 things that conflicted with the myth/legend of Socrates that we have grown familiar with.

Among Socrates' perceived transgressions (in Dr. Wilson's eyes), he was:
1. An amateur and prided himself in not getting paid;
2. Irresponsible to leave his wife and two children behind;
3. A chatterbox (talk over action is valued);
4. Psychologically naive - with statements like "nobody does wrong willingly", Wilson tears him apart;
5. Felt that pain didn't matter - if you were good, though wrong/harm was done to you, the real harm is in the sinner or the wrongdoer;
6. Anti-political - he felt that few if any are smart enough to run a government properly, but could he do it? Could anyone? If not, why have gov't in the first place?
7. Parochial - there was little that Socrates believed could be learned outside of the walls of Athens;
8. Arrogant - when Dr. Wilson says arrogant, apparantly she means ill-mannered and inconsiderate among other things listed in the article;
9. Superstitious - sometimes, philosophers mean that someone who is religious is superstitious, but the way she wrote this passage, she made him sound a bit loony (eccentric if you want to put a good spin on it) for listening to the voice inside his head. Is that voice his conscience or was hearing voices like the math professor in A Beautiful Mind?
10. Rationalist - normally, you wouldn't think there's anything wrong with being rational, but Dr. Wilson finds that Socrates puts such a strong emphasis on being rational that he leaves no room for emotion in solving problems. He is devoid of emotion.

So, your job here is to pick 4 of these criticisms and discuss whether or not you agree or disagree with them. We heard from many of you in class, and here's your chance to refine or air out your ideas.

200 words minimum. Due Tuesday, Dec. 15.

(if you lost the article, it is available on the T drive, in my handout folder, in Philosophy, and then in articles. There are six pages).

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Blog #27 - What is beauty?

One of the eternal questions that most if not all civilizations question is "what is beauty?" By figuring out what beauty is, we can discover other kinds of answers.

Keats' "Ode to a Grecian Urn" (Can beauty reveal truth?)

'Beauty is truth, truth beauty,—that is all / Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know.'

Is Mathematics Beautiful?

Bertrand Russell (1872-1970), Autobiography, 1967, v1, p158.
"It seems to me now that mathematics is capable of an artistic excellence as great as that of any music, perhaps greater; not because the pleasure it gives (although very pure) is comparable, either in intensity or in the number of people who feel it, to that of music, but because it gives in absolute perfection that combination, characteristic of great art, of godlike freedom, with the sense of inevitable destiny; because, in fact, it constructs an ideal world where everything is perfect but true."

The Study of Mathematics
"Mathematics, rightly viewed, possesses not only truth, but supreme beauty -- a beauty cold and austere, like that of sculpture, without appeal to any part of our weaker nature, without the gorgeous trappings of painting or music, yet sublimely pure, and capable of a stern perfection such as only the greatest art can show."

Aristotle (384 B.C.-322 B.C.), Poetics
Beauty depends on size as well as symmetry.

Here are some questions that we can discuss about beauty that should really get the ball rolling:

1. Can we argue rationally about whether something is beautiful?

2. Is beauty both skin deep and in the eye of the beholder?

3. What's the difference between surface beauty and deep beauty?

18th Century German philosopher Immanuel Kant thought that if we think something is beautiful then we want everyone to agree with us. Is perception a skill?

4. Would the world be better off if everyone agreed on what is beautiful? Nehamas thinks the world would not be better off because what we find beautiful is a reflection of our personality and individuality.

5. What can we learn about ourselves from what we find beautiful? Some people believe that it illuminates our style.

6. Is taste a function of education and economics? Explain.

7. Is natural beauty ever better than constructed beauty, like in art or music?

8. Do beauty and happiness go together? Why or why not?

Please pick 4 of the 8 questions to answer on beauty and aesthetics.

250 words minimum - Due Friday, December 4.

Many of these questions were taken from a discussion found on the website below:


Thursday, November 5, 2009

Blog #26 - What is history?

"History is the witness that testifies to the passing of time; it illuminates reality, vitalizes memory, provides guidance in daily life, and brings us tidings of antiquity." Cicero 1

"What experience and history teach is this-that people and governments never have learned anything from history, or acted on principles deduced from it." G. W. F. Hegel 1

"History does nothing, possesses no enormous wealth, fights no battles. It is rather man, the real, living man, who does everything, possesses, fights. It is not History, as if she were a person apart, who uses men as a means to work out her purposes, but history itself is nothing but the activity of men pursuing their purposes." Karl Marx 1

During the 18th and 19th Centuries, history and what it means underwent a major transformation. As we read in the Romanticism chapter, von Herder described history as a dynamic process. He also went on to add that each historical epoch had its own characteristics.

While today, we might see this insight and say, "duh!", others would disagree. Rush Limbaugh, famous conservative radio show talk, has said that history is simple: facts are facts, in essence, indisputable. However, most historians would say that history is about how you interpret those facts.

For instance, there was a terrorist attack on America on Sept. 11, 2001 (by saying the event was a terrorist attack is including my interpretation of the event). How would someone interpret this event? Do you deal with just the facts only? How do you deal with the facts when they are being seriously questioned - even if some of the questioners are using dubious physics and logic? And do we have all of the facts?

If you interpret this event, from what angle do you do this? Do you agree with George Bush that we were attacked by "enemies of freedom" in "a world where freedom itself is under attack"? 2 That we were attacked for no reason than pure hatred?

Or do you interpret the terrorist attack as the end result of American foreign policy in the Middle East - our inability to solve the Palestinian problem, our support of Arab dictators in exchange for cheap oil? That we were attacked b/c the U.S. abused its power and spread poverty throughout the affected countries?

Or do you interpret the attacks as something different: the forces of modernity (America) vs. medievalism (radical brand of Islam)? That this attack has little or nothing to do with either thesis listed before but has more to do with a battle of civilizations in a fight for supremacy of the world?

The Question: In essence, when you examine history, do you use the facts only or do you use the facts to make an interpretation of what has happened?

Use the 9/11/01 example if you like, or come up with one of your own.
200 words minimum, due Monday 11/9/09.

1. http://www.historyguide.org/history.html
2. http://www.americanrhetoric.com/speeches/gwbush911jointsessionspeech.htm

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

The Final Flash Forward Blog Ep. 6-8 (new due date)

Watch Episode 6 here: http://abc.go.com/watch/flashforward/235637/239645/scary-monsters-and-super-creeps

Episode 7: http://abc.go.com/watch/flashforward/235637/240432/the-gift#sl-0

In episode 6, we finally learn more about Simon Costa (Dominic Monaghan from Lost and Lord of the Rings) and Lloyd Simcoe - that they're involved in this flash forward / black out that "killed 20 million people." According to Wikipedia, Costa is a Stanford quantum physicist who worked w/ Simcoe. In later episodes, Lloyd has second thoughts about what they have done and wants to come clean and expose his involvement in the experiment. Simon comes to L.A. to "clean up" this mess - possible exposure to the world about this experiment (in particle physics?). And then lately, Lloyd and Simon play a game of poker for the right to turn to expose the experiment to the press. Lloyd cheats in order to win!

Simcoe's son, Dylan, an autistic boy who provides an extremely awkward moment when he arrived at the Benford resident in episode 6 saying, "this is my home too." Of course, Bryce, the fomerly suicidal intern, has caught on to Dr. Benford's cold shoulder for Lloyd. And, I think Bryce has the hots for the tragically doomed beautiful babysitter, Nicole (and after watching episode 9, vice versa). Just a thought.

As the FBI investigation goes forward, Benford, Noh and the rest discover what seems to be a "death cult" called the Blue Hand where people with no flash forward visions tempt fate and play Russian roulette, indulge in weird fantasies, etc. In essence, nihilism at its worst - everything goes b/c there is no tomorrow. Ironically, what brought the Blue Hand all together is the FBI's website, the Mosaic.

At the end of the episode, "The Gift", Agent Al Gough jumped off of the L.A. FBI building so that he would not kill a woman in the future, one he is overheard talking about in his flash forward. It seems that in episode 8, "Playing Cards with Coyotes", his death, his sacrifice is hailed as a sign that the future isn't written in stone (Duh!). Agent Gough's death has been an inspiration to all (as well as a tragedy for his fictional family and all the ladies who were looking forward to him as weekly eye-candy).

And Agent Hawk recovers from her gunshot wounds and comes back to work in episode 8. Is it still possible that she has a baby? Who knows? But the attack on her makes no sense. This is referenced throughout episode 8 that there must be some leak in the LA office - that this group is one step ahead of them. Remember, just b/c things occur at the same time doesn't mean there's a causal relationship.

But still so may questions remain and there's barely half the season gone:

1. When the FBI task force was in Washington D.C. and they were attacked by that heavily armed, highly skilled group of Asians, I think that we (the audience) were left to assume that the attack and the Blue Hand were one and the same. Then you have to add in the attack on Agent Janis Hawk and something doesn't add up. I think this has something to do with the woman who warned Demetri about his death (she was in Hong Kong!). Just b/c two things occur at the same time doesn't mean they're connected - one of our philosophers said this. What do you think?

2. What is going to happen with Lloyd and Simon after the exposure of their experiment? What did they do that affected the entire world?

3. Who is Suspect Zero at the Detroit Stadium?

4. How is Olivia and Mark's daughter connected with this? How does she know about D Gibbons if what she saw in her flash forward involves her hanging out at the Benford house with Dylan Simcoe? The only other person in the house is Lloyd Simcoe. Could Lloyd be D Gibbons? *Does anyone find it amazing that for a doctor and an FBI agent they both lead "regular" lives

5. What is gonna happen with Aaron and his daughter (who apparently witnessed something terrible in Afghanistan - something that military contractors Jericho had perpetrated)? In episode 8, in Aaron's flashback, an Afghan medic tells him that the "accounts are secured".

6. What would you do if you had no flash forward? How would you prepare for the end?

7. Do you think that by killing the tattoed man did Mark change his future? Or was he just one of many tattoed military-looking men that we see at the end of episode 8 (could be Jericho? Could this thing that Lloyd and Simon were working on be a weapon that Jericho is pioneering (given the awkward Oppenheimer / atom bomb reference at the very end)?)

Pick 3 of the questions (one of them should include #6) and complete it by MONDAY evening, 11:59 p.m. November 30th. Max 12 pts.

The Mosaic - http://abc.go.com/shows/flash-forward/mosaiccollective

People add/invent their own stories about what they were doing in their flash forward. Kinda cheesy, but an interesting social experiment.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Flash Forward extra credit blog #5 - "Gimme Some Truth"

The show begins with a sudden attack on Benford, Special-Agent-in-Charge Wedeck, and other FBI agents as they're leaving a parking garage. A big black panel van smashes into their car, three Asian men emerge from the van and blast the FBI car w/ a rocket propelled grenade. We don't know who survives until probably next week. Despite the call from the mysterious woman in Hong Kong, could this be the moment that Demetri is killed instead of March 15, 2010?

Also in this episode, we see that Special Agent Wedeck is buddies with the President of the United States. Apparently, most of the world's leaders decided not to reveal what occurred in their flash forward, though the show gives us a glimpse into what happened w/ the President's FF. He's lying in bed and is awoken by a Secret Service agent who tells him that "something's happened." The President states that there's too much to do in the present to worry about the future, but with all of the world's leaders staying silent about their FFs, I'm beginning to think that their silence plants the seed for a thousand conspiracy theories within the reality of the show.

- Why the silence?
- What could it possibly give away?
- What do the leaders know that's so vital?
Also, if this unknown event that is looming in the President's future has already occurred before he was woken up, how come the Mosaic or Benford's group hasn't picked up on it from everyone else's stories or another source?

We're also given glimpses into Wedeck's background as he returns to Washington D.C. to testify at the Senate's finance committee. There's a reference to something shady or damaging in his past that involves the senator who's in charge of the committee that would provide funds for his Mosaic task force. What do you think this damaging past could be? But, the President offers Wedeck the important Cabinet post, Director of Homeland Security.

Olivia overhears Benford and his sponsor, Aaron, discussing Benford going to an AA meeting since he's in a stressful situation. She discusses the possibility of Mark drinking again, and Aaron reminds her that alcoholics "never need a reason to drink."

During this episode, the President mentions that "the Chinese see opportunity in chaos." Is this an allusion to chaos theory? The theory could mean trying to find order in random or chaotic systems (1), or in mathematical circles in which a system is highly sensitive to minute changes like the weather (2). Where some people see insanity and mayhem, others see order. In fact, chaos theorists show what might have been a tiny error at the beginning of a chain of events could lead to a much bigger error later on. In other words, things may appear to be random at first, but in fact, they are determined by that tiny error or fluctuation that occurred in the beginning.

You may have heard of something very similar called the butterfly effect:
"The flapping of a single butterfly's wing today produces a tiny change in
the state of the atmosphere. Over a period of time, what the atmosphere actually
does diverges from what it would have done. So, in a month's time, a tornado
that would have devastated the Indonesian coast doesn't happen. Or maybe one
that wasn't going to happen, does."
(Ian Stewart, Does God Play Dice? The Mathematics of Chaos, pg. 141) 1
Add the newest revelation that Olivia's future lover, Lloyd Simcoe, might be involved with the blackout (given the call at the end of this episode), it makes me wonder what went wrong and how he's involved.

With this in mind, there's a couple things to think about (pick two to answer):
1. Do you think that such a thing as the butterfly effect is plausible? Why or why not?
2. Speculate on how Lloyd Simcoe is involved in the blackout and how his relationship w/ Olivia might begin;
3. What would drive Mark Benford to start drinking again? Olivia said it occurred last when he was away from home and testifying in a committee hearing.
4. Why do you think world leaders have chosen not to reveal their FFs?

Due next Friday, November 6 at 11:59 p.m.

To dig deeper into chaos theory, follow these:
3. http://www.mountainman.com.au/chaos_03.htm - an excerpt from a book on chaos by James Gleick;
4. http://hypertextbook.com/chaos/ The Chaos Hyper Text book which includes an intro and chaos's application.
5. http://www.societyforchaostheory.org/ - The Society for Chaos Theory in psychology and life sciences.
Choas is defined in the following quotes:
"The complicated, aperiodic, attracting orbits of certain (usually low-dimensional) dynamical systems." Philip Holmes - mathematician

"A rapidly expanding field of research to which mathematicians, physicists, hydrodynamicists, ecologists and many others have all made important contributions. And: A newly recognized and ubiquitous class of natural phenomena." Hao Bai-Lin, physicist

"Apparently random recurrent behaviour in a simple deterministic (clockwork-like) system." H. Bruce Stewart, applied mathematician
"The irregular, unpredictable behaviour of deterministic, nonlinear dynamical systems." Roderick V. Jensen, theoretical physicist
"Dynamics with positive, but finite, metric entropy. The translation from mathese is: behaviour that produces informatin (amplifies small uncertainties), but is not utterly unpredictable." James Crutchfield, Santa Cruz collective

"Dynamics freed at last fromt he shackles of order and predictability ... Systems liberated to randomly explore their every dynamical possibility ... Exciting variety, richness of choice, a cornucopia of opportunity." Joseph Ford (3).

Monday, October 26, 2009

Blog #25 - How do you know you have a mind?

One of the biggest questions that modern philosophers have struggled w/ is the idea of what our mind really is. How do we think? How does the process work, from thinking about what I'm going to say to sending signals to my fingers to type these words. Back in Descartes' day (1596-1650), there was a lot less known about how our bodies work; but even today, we're still figuring out new ways that the brain works. His famous saying is, "I think, therefore, I am." In other words, b/c we can think about our minds, that means we have a mind.

We discussed lots of different ways to figure out whether or not we have a mind. The points included:
- Our minds interpret sensory input and compare that input to our memories / experiences, in essence, a great synthesizer. Our mind is a combination of memories, experiences and emotions. One piece of evidence that shows we have a mind is that we demonstrate reason, morals and problem-solving;
- Society defines what our minds are - our consciousness gives us awareness;
- We don't have a mind at all, but what we call a mind is our way to describe how we think; we don't possess the language to accurately describe what goes on in our heads; Alex added that since we exist in the natural world and we can't fully understand ourselves, and this failure to comprehend how our brains work is the reason why we haven't created a true A.I. (artificial intelligence);
- I don't think we came to a conclusion on whether there's a spiritual aspect to the mind (is this our soul)?
- Lastly, a couple of you said, in effect, "yeah, we have a mind. So what?"

I started thinking of examples of why we need to understand the mind-body problem. In class, we mentioned the Terry Schiavo case (2005) and whether or not a fetus has a mind. Additionally, I thought that getting a better picture of this dichotomy would help w/:
1. Analyzing the competency of a mentally ill suspect to stand trial for crimes he/she had committed;
2. What does our "real" self consists of - Is it just a bunch of grey matter?
3. Figuring out what animates zombies - are they just animated bodies w/o a mind? Check out this link for more info - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/P-zombie
4. Are we really responsible for our actions if something inside our mind makes us react? Think fight or flight idea.

Here's a video on the use of MRI technology to see what is going on in your mind:

Now that you've had some time to think about this concept again w/ some new perspectives (I'll bet you never thought I'd come up w/ zombies, did ya?), tell me your thoughts about your mind. Has your concept of what the mind changed since before you started the class? Why or why not?

Due Friday, October 30 - 150 words minimum.

Here's another video talk from Ted.com - Henry Markram talks about a brain in a computer.

Enjoy. :)

Monday, October 19, 2009

Blog #24 - Evidence to show our world is / is not controlled by an Evil Genius?

Monday, we discussed the appearence of evidence in our world that we are or are not controlled by an Evil Genius (to borrow Descartes' term - also his rationale for the existence of God).

- Arguments for our world being controlled by an Evil Genius:

1. Anything we assume is faulty b/c we could be deceived by the EG - He / She / It could have tampered w/ our preconceived notions;

2. "Life isn't fair" - if there weren't an EG, life would be fair;

3. Crime and sociopaths, war, disease, genocide, ADD / ADHD and death by random events are all evidence of the EG;

4. Is God evil if He allows evil or an EG in the world?

5. We really don't have free will b/c it's really just an illusion created by the EG.

- Arguments against our world being controlled by the Evil Genius:

1. There's still too much good in the world to justify an EG;

2. If there wasn't any good in the world (in one controlled by an EG), then how would we know what evil is (and vice versa)?;

3. If you are a religious person, you already believe that God influences our world;

4. There are no references to an EG throughout history (except in Descartes' writing), so if the EG was really all that powerful, wouldn't we have heard of him before 1600 C.E.?;

5. If the EG is all powerful and influences us, then the EG wouldn't allow for a conflicting sense of values (good) to exist in its world.

My questions for you:

1. Pick any two arguments - one from each side and discuss how well or how poorly the arguments stood up to logic and reason.

2. How likely is it that we live within a computer simulated game, whether like the Matrix or created by some higher life form? Explain.

Due Tuesday, October 20th. 200 words minimum.

Please also read the "Spinoza" chapter in Sophie's World and check the class' website for additional homework.

How has the evil genius worked its way into our society?

- Descartes' proof of God's existence from Oregon State University - http://oregonstate.edu/instruct/phl302/philosophers/descartes-god.html

- Evil genius t-shirts - http://www.cafepress.com/evilgeniustees/1838789 and the Evil Genius Political Party - http://party.evilgeniuscomics.com/

Even get your own evil genius laugh - http://www.evilgeniuscomics.com/sounds/laugh08.wav or this one http://www.evilgeniuscomics.com/sounds/laugh02.wav
- A funny look at the Evil Genius concept by the band Eleventyseven with their song, "Evil Genius":

Friday, October 16, 2009

Flash Forward Extra Credit Blog #3 - Leap of Faith

Well, after this 3rd episode, some things may have become slightly clearer (how vague is that statement!).

Commentary about the episode:
1. Somehow, the widespread death (murder) of crows is possibly connected to the blackout - as evidenced by the scene in Somalia in 1991. The tower that the boy saw appeared to be man-made - there was a clear scene of a ladder on the outside of it. Is this tower transmitting some kind of radio waves or microwaves that kill the birds and cause mass unconsciousness?

2. We discover a date when Demetri Noh will be murdered - March 15, 2010 (Ides of March -the day of Caesar's murder??), but the mystery woman calling from Hong Kong won't divulge any more details.

3. The date that the blackout occurred was October 6, 2009, a date that is entirely plausible for a baseball game to occur in Detroit (if it hadn't been for the Sports Illustrated cover jinx and the Tigers collapsed down the stretch against the Twins and White Sox in the last week of the season - how's that for fate or self-fulfilling prophecy?).

4. Aaron's daughter's DNA was matched w/ the corpse that was buried two years previously.

5. The Nazi might have just "outed" Agent Hawk w/ his analysis of why she's wearing a ring on her left thumb. After that scene, I would like to take back my prediction that she and Noh would hook up and becoming pregnant. She's been very straight forward from the beginning that she doesn't want a baby nor has a boyfriend.

Blog Questions:
I would pose a few questions and you should do at least two (I thought that this episode was supposed to be a character-developer and didn't have much plot/action to it, so there's little to discuss):

1. Signs are pointing to something man-made causing this flash forward + blackout. Several questions popped up: If this happened before in Somalia in 1991, did the people see the future too (and did the future come true for all of them)? Were there any side effects for the Somalis affected by the black out (if it kills crows, it's reasonable to assume that there might be side effects on humans)? Did the black out have anything to do with the famine that killed 300,000 in Somalia later that year or the civil war that tore the nation apart? What do you think?

2. More self-fulfilling prophecies: The FBI director's wife is already counting on being the new adopted mother of the boy in her vision. She said that "people are saying that these visions are true" at lunch w/ Dr. Olivia Benford. I've heard that saying in all three episodes (I think), but my larger question is, how do people know that these visions are true if they haven't come true yet? What constitutes Truth for someone in this situation? Just b/c five billion people say it's true, does that mean it is (I'm being facetious here, but only sorta)?

3. If it's true/accurate that Aaron's daughter's body is really in the casket, then how does he explain the vision? Is the TV show showing us w/ the possibility that some of these visions can be incorrect? Or, even more insidious, what if the vision is correct and his daughter is still alive? Why would the military have covered that up? Check out the 60 Minutes story on former NFL player turned military man, Pat Tillman, here for a story of a military cover-up.
- To expand on this for a second, given the infinite possibilities within the human experience, it has to possible to assume, even likely, that not everyone saw the future (Demetri Noh, sheriff in Pigeon, Utah) or that some of these events are bound to be incorrect b/c of circumstances beyond their control.

4. I think the Nazi w/ news of 137 seconds connected to the Kabbalah might just be a red herring (or false lead). The people associated with Lost are not above dropping false hints in public interviews, and so I wouldn't be surprised to find out that these numbers mean nothing at all. There is the obsession with the Lost numbers, so maybe the producers of FF are trying to copy it or fake it.

5. When Benford and Aaron talked about a leap of faith, this could be a direct reference to Danish philosopher Soren Kierkegaard's concept of a leap of faith. SK believed that a leap of faith was necessary in order to believe in Christianity b/c there were some contradictory elements in it that you could not accept at the same time. To quote Wikipedia's page:
In his book Philosophical Fragments, Kierkegaard delves deep into the paradoxes that Christianity presents. One of these is the belief that there existed a being (Jesus) who is both 100% man and 100% God. Since neither logic nor reason can reconcile this, one would require faith to believe it in light of the paradox. So, when one decides to have faith that a being existed as both God and man, one makes a qualitative change from non-belief to belief, and thus makes a 'leap of faith' that it is true. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Leap_of_faith)

Do you think that Kierkegaard is right and that we need a leap of faith in order to believe? Why or why not? If someone is not a believer in a higher power, then the leap of faith could be applied to different situations that are relevant to his/her life.
Please pick 2 of the questions above and answer them by Friday night, October 23, 11:59 pm.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Blog #23 - The Moral Ramifications of Scientific Discoveries

We are reading about the amazing leap of scientific discoveries during the Renaissance that take the geocentric world of Ptolemy and scramble it like an egg. After the Euro scientists Copernicus, Kepler, Galileo and Newton got through with analyzing and presenting their version of the universe (that took into account new data that had puzzled apologists for the geocentric world for years), the sun was at the center of our system and Earth was just another rock orbiting around that great big ball of light.

Copernicus didn't publish his book - and this is in dispute - Sophie's World says in fear of disrupting the natural order of the world. Other places I've looked say that he was a bit of a perfectionist and he wanted his data squared away with his conclusions. The following website states why his findings were a bit disconcerting to the Middle Aged mind:

"Man, it was believed (and still believed by some) was made by
God in His image, man was the next thing to God, and, as such, superior,
especially in his best part, his soul, to all creatures, indeed this part was
not even part of the natural world (a philosophy which has proved disastrous to
the earth's environment as any casual observer of the 20th century might confirm
by simply looking about). Copernicus' theories might well lead men to think that
they are simply part of nature and not superior to it and that ran counter to
the theories of the politically powerful churchmen of the time."

So what if we lived on a planet that rotated around the sun instead of the other way around? Well, that was just the beginning. Italian scientist Giordano Bruno took it a step (or five) further by suggesting that space is infinite and that our solar system might just be one of many systems out there in space, and .... (wait for it)...there might be life on other planets! For this leap of logic, he was burned at the stake by the Inquisition (don't we have the cable news networks for that today?).

Galileo discovered 4 additional moons of Jupiter (1610), observed a supernova (1604), and the detailed surface of our own moon (1609) with his new and improved telescope - a discovery that shattered the idea of a universe that never changed (if scientists like Aristotle didn't find the moons or the supernova, then they shouldn't be there - forget the idea that G might have improved his telescope). Also, in 1632, his book, Dialogue Concerning the Two Chief World Systems supported the Copernican system and the not the discredited Ptolemaic system. That was enough for the Pope and the Church which had him recant his ideas and placed under house arrest for the rest of his days. 2

Kepler published his laws of planetary motion in 1609 that were consistent with the Copernican system (The Roman Catholic Church kept fighting these new discoveries and stuck to their guns, while some new Protestant churches accepted these new scientific findings, so the science took on a whole other political / religious dimension). Kepler also supported Galileo as well but was soon caught up in the poltical battles in Germany and Austria and lost his post in 1630.

Isaac Newton came up with his laws for gravity and motion that not only tied all of this together but did it with the simplicity of math - he used the math to show that this new Copernican interpretation was God's intention all along. He synthesized Copernicus, Galileo, and Kepler and tied it all together in one neat system that in many ways still stands up today. 3

After all of this, however, I was wondering about the moral ramifications of a scientist's discoveries. In this case, these men upset the natural order of the known scientific world. As we'll read later, Darwin will knock mankind from his pedastal w/ his Origin of Species in 1859. Then later Einstein will usher in the age of relativism w/ his theory of relativity (historian Paul Johnson asserted that this theory blew down the boundaries of right and wrong and made EVERYTHING relative - you don't have to agree w/ him; it's his theory). After that, we had nuclear bombs and germ (bio) and chemical warfare available for use.

1. Is he or she (scientist or discoverer) responsible for the ways that their discovery is used / abused? Why or why not? What are the implications of holding someone accountable for their invention?

2. If you discovered something potentially dangerous or blasphemous, how would you handle it? Would you pull a Copernicus and publish posthumously (after death)? Would you release the results and try to protect and defend the discovery like Galileo and Kepler? Or is there another alternative?

150 words minimum - Due Tuesday, October 13.

2. The Galileo Project - Rice University - http://galileo.rice.edu/index.html

I would like to recommend a very readable book about this tumultuous period - it has the science but it isn't overwhelmingly technical. It's Galileo's Daughter by Dava Sobel. Good stuff!

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Flash Forward Extra Credit Blog #2

In episode #2, we watch Officers Benford and Noh discover the real D Collins who arrives at the Los Angeles' FBI office b/c of her vision. She's complaining to her credit card company about the charges racked up on her bill. She didn't do it, she said. She doesn't know anything about pigeons.

Pigeon, Utah is where Benford and Noh head next. The sheriff of Pigeon tells them that she didn't have a vision (like Noh), and when the shooting starts, she ends up dead. Uh-oh, you're thinking the same thing I'm thinking. Demetri Noh is toast and will not marry the love of his life and dance to "Islands in the Stream."

In the rubble of the blast at the doll factory, they find a melted cell phone which Agent Hawk is able to get some numbers off of. Soon, we discover that the person who used this phone also was awake during the black out (or can we assume that?) because apparently the phone called the dark. mysterious guy at the Detroit baseball stadium (called Detroit's Outside Super Stadium) who was caught on film being awake.

At issue:

1. The officers interpret dark mystery guy (DMG)'s movements as deliberate and fully aware of what is going on, as if he was involved in the conspiracy to make the entire planet lose consciousness for 137 seconds. I would disagree with that assessment. I think, judging by the man's movements, he looks disoriented, shocked, and not exactly sure of himself. Logic also follows that if he was involved in the plot, why would he be somewhere where he knows that he would be filmed like at a live baseball game? Why would he want the world to be able to see him? (It will just be a matter of time before we see the man's face when the image comes back from the supercomputers at the NSA).

2. What was the deal with the whole elaborate bomb at the doll factory? The 2nd mystery person (2MP). Hard drives left in fish tanks full of flammable liquid? 2MP standing near them with lighters - how did he get away w/o blowing him/herself to pieces? How did Benford and Noh survive this blast? It looked pretty wicked, but then again, Hollywood blasts tend to big on bang, small on substance. Again, maybe I missed something, but Benford jumps to the conclusion that 2MP was looking for the cause of the black out too. Why did he jump to this conclusion? What was his evidence?

3. I've got a theory on how Agent Hawk becomes pregnant. Near the end of episode 2, it seemed that she and Demetri shared a nice moment together, and that made me think that either the two have a history or maybe they might hook up before he dies. She falls for him, they have a fling, he's killed, and a piece of him lives on in the baby girl that she's carrying inside her (and for some reason having an ultrasound at 10 pm at night? - not a normal time for these procedures). What do you think?

4. Mark and Olivia Benford's daughter, Charlie, seems to be the key to unlocking the secrets here. She doesn't want to play the "blackout game." She recognizes the boy, the son of the man who is supposed to have the affair w/ Olivia but doesn't recognize his father. And did anyone catch a mention of nightmares? Is it possible she's having additional visions? Last, Benford burned the friendship bracelet in a fleeting hope that by destroying his daughter's gift he'll change his destiny. But I have a feeling Charlie will notice the first one is gone and make him another one; I came to this conclusion based upon the observation that in the flashbacks, the one Benford was wearing was brighter and more vivid in color whereas the first one was sorta blah.
Your thoughts on this idea?

5. Thinking about the intern, Bryce, and the babysitter, Nicole, and both of them turning to God for the explanation why the blackout occurred, why is it these two in particular turned to God? What were they doing at the time of the blackout? Did that have anything to do with their explanation?

6. The big picture: why would the blackout happen? What could be the overall purpose and how could this actually happen?

Pick 3 of the 6 questions above and answer them by 11:59 p.m. Friday, October 16.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Blog #22 - Skepticism - The right approach to life?

Let's get this out of the way first.

26-20 OT MSU!!!


In class yesterday, we discussed more Hellenistic philosophy (a rehash of Greek ideas as philosopher Will Durant stated, really nothing new) especially the new branch of Skeptics led by Pyrrho and NeoPlatonism. The Greek noun, skepsis, means examination, inquiry or consideration. Apparently, the main thing that leads people down the road to skepticism is the wide range of disagreement on issues that are so fundamental to us: for instance, how much about the natural world can we really know or discover? The second question concerns the idea of making judgements whether in our day to day lives or on larger moral matters. 1

(Coach Dantonio says, "Wolverines, the road to Ann Arbor is THAT way.")

With skepticism, we have a very pessimistic (in this editor's opinion) outlook on life, but one I sort of agree with. I don't think that we'll ever know the total sum of knowledege or everythin there is to know about our natural world, mainly b/c it's so vast and constantly changing. But I also believe in the unconquerable mind / spirit of mankind to overcome the limits of its own ignorance and discover new things, cross new frontiers, and leap over boundaries that were thought never to be reached. If this seems contradictory, then so be it.

To quote Wikipedia on Pyrrho:

"The proper course of the sage, said Pyrrho, is to ask himself three
questions. Firstly we must ask what things are and how they are constituted.
Secondly, we ask how we are related to these things. Thirdly, we ask what
ought to be our attitude towards them. Pyrrho's answer was that things are
indistinguishable, unmeasurable, undecidable, and no more this than that, or
both this and that and neither this nor that. He concluded that human senses
neither transmit truths nor lie. Humanity cannot know the inner substance of
things, only how
things appear."

His approach to things sounds like modern nihilism (all values are baseless, believe in nothing, have no loyalties and see no purpose in life maybe other than to destroy). Friedrich Nietzche was the most popular proponent of this school of thought - “Nihilism is . . . not only the belief that everything deserves to perish; but one actually puts one’s shoulder to the plough; one destroys” (Will to Power). 2

Also on Friday, near the end of class, as we discussed what a soul is, we got into the concept of good and evil and making a judgement on right and wrong. Some of you voiced the concept (much like the Sophists in ancient Athens) that we can't make a judgement on individuals b/c even though they might have done wrong / evil, that person might have been thinking he/she was doing something good at the time. Immediately, we took the worst / best example of modern world of evil (Hitler and the Holocaust) and discussed the logic of not applying the concept of evil to what he and the Nazi party perpetrated on Europe during World War 2. We also used the concept of killing - is it ever justified? I defined a few cases in which I thought it was: self-defense, war (not innocents), and a couple of others I'm not remembering right now. Death penalty? In deciding whether or not to kill, I am exercising my judgement.

So, we have questions concerning our outlook on life.

1. Do we believe in the limits of the human mind, or the opaqueness of the universe? Or is there a different option?

2. Do you feel that it's important to use your judgement not only in just your day-to-day life, but in choosing your lifestyle (earth friendly?), or in deciding much larger matters like right and wrong or good and evil? Why?
-- if you answer no ->(At what level do you think your judgement should stop? Why?)

Due before class begins, Tuesday, October 6th. 200 words minimum.

Plus, you need to read The Middle Ages, Renaissance and Baroque chapters by the end of this coming week (October 5-9).

1. http://www.utm.edu/research/iep/s/skepanci.htm Ancient Greek Skepticism - Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy.

2. http://www.iep.utm.edu/nihilism/ Nihilism - The Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Extra Credit - Flash Forward Blog #1

Flash Forward is the new TV show on ABC whose premise is that the entire world blacks out for 2 minutes and 17 seconds. During that blackout, many people had visions of events that would occur 6 months into the future, on April 29, 2010 at 10 p.m. (Pacific Daylight Time). Here's the TV show's summary from their website:

"Los Angeles FBI Agent Mark Benford (Joseph Fiennes) is
desperate to uncover why this happened and who or what is behind it. And he's
not the only one. Before long, everyone starts asking, "What did you see?" As
Mark and his team struggle to figure out what caused this bizarre event, they
begin to piece together the future by creating a huge database of people's flash
forwards from all over the world - The Mosaic Collective. No one knows what
these flash forwards mean or exactly what the future really holds. But it is
clear that across the globe people who've never met will somehow be intimately
connected and will have an impact on each other's lives in the next six months.
Some will fear what's coming, others excited; but not a single person will be

The questions that we raised in class concerned concerned self-fulfilling prophecies. How likely are the characters to fulfill their destinies? Mark Benford, the FBI agent investigating the blackout, worries about falling off the wagon. His wife, Olivia, worries about breaking up her marriage w/ a mysterious stranger. Will Demetri Noh, Mark's partner, figure out why he didn't have a vision in time to avoid a potential death? How will fellow FBI agent Janis Hawk become pregnant? Will Mark's AA sponsor and friend, Aaron, find his daughter alive in Afghanistan after believing she'd been dead for 2 years?

"Just because we saw these things doesn't mean they have to happen."

Questions (choose one of the following):
1. If you see a vision like the ones that these folks have seen, why doesn't it have to happen? Or, do you believe the opposite: these visions are glimpses of the future and that no matter how hard you try, you won't be able to avoid it? Or maybe we wish / desire something to happen so badly that it actually occurs?

2. Why do you think that some of the characters (Nicole, the babysitter and Bryce, the intern who almost committed suicide) turned to God as an explanation for the black out? Is it easier to turn to God as an explanation for this event or harder? Why?

3. Could our consciousness move somewhere else? In the TV series' example, it moves temporally six months into the future. Do you think it could happen? Why or why not? As a related question, where does our consciousness go when we dream?

Answer one of the questions with a minimum of 150 words and have it completed by Sunday night, October 12th, 11:59 p.m.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Blog #21 - Whose arguments do you think make more sense to you?

Since we're discussing Plato and Aristotle in our Greek unit, we should analyze the rift between the two concerning what is more reliable: our reason (Plato) or our senses (Aristotle)? To quote Sophie's World, Gaarder writes:

"Taking it to extremes, we could say that Plato was so engrossed in his eternal
forms or "ideas" that he took very little notice of changes in nature.
Aristotle, on the other hand, was preoccupied with these changes ...or natural
processes. To exaggerate even more...Plato turned his back on the sensory world
and shut his eyes to everything we see around us...Aristotle did the opposite:
he got down on all fours and studied frogs and fish, anemones and poppies"

- Plato put eternal forms above and beyond the senses (the reality that we sense isn't the True reality, only the eternal forms are True). When we see a chair, it's just a reflection of the ideal or eternal form of a chair (like in the Matrix where the computers tried to estimate what steak or chicken taste like even though they're just sensory inputs to our brains). These eternal forms resided in our soul; therefore, we are born w/ innate ideas.

This chair wouldn't last forever like the eternal form of a chair, and there are multiple interpretations of this chair throughout history - you can see them in a museum or even at IKEA.

- Aristotle feels that you need to use both your reason and senses to interpret reality. He also disagreed with Plato in that this world we inhabit is the real world. According to Ari, we have to use our senses to figure out this world - our natural world - and that nothing exists in our minds that hasn't already existed previously in nature. In essence, we are born as blank slates and that our senses and reason help make us who we are.

Unlike Aristotle, Plato feels that nothing can exist in the natural world that doesn't already in the Eternal Idea/Form world (our soul). In some ways, Plato believes more in the nature side of the argument (who we are is hardwired into our brains and determines more of our personality than our surroundings) of nature vs. nurture, where as Ari sided with the environment nurturing human development as we grow up.

So, which Greek philosopher do you think makes more sense to you? I realize that some of Plato's ideas might seem esoteric, but contemplate the whole of his system.

Blog response is due by Tuesday, Sept. 29, 2nd hour. Minimum 200 words.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Blog #20 - Escaping Your Fate

Even the bus is #42!

In the episode of the Unusuals, "42" that we watched in class, we saw how Detective Leo Banks tried to escape his perceived fate (to die at 42 b/c of family members who had done so). As a foil to Detective Banks, there was the psychic who wholeheartedly accepted her fate and did just about everything she could to meet it with open arms.

On the other hand, Detective Cole has altered his destiny of crime and reinvented himself as a religious young man who became police officer. His former accomplice (and villain in this episode, Frank Lutz) appears to be very jealous of Cole's transformation and demands that Cole pay some sort of restitution for this. In the end, detectives Schraeger and Walsh cover for Cole and Lutz ends up dead. In essence, they approve of Cole's new life by not turning him in.

And in a superstitious way, Banks, Walsh and Delahoy refused to go into the hospital for various reasons. But, it could all be just a way of avoiding the ever-present danger of death prevelant in their job.

Each person, in their own way, dealt with their fate either by changing it (Cole, Banks), accepting it (the psychic), fighting it (Lutz), or avoiding it (Walsh and Delahoy).

Question: If you had a similar fate with one of the characters in the story, pick one and tell us how would you deal with it? Where would you fit into this scenario? Why?

Due Monday, Sept. 21. (150 words minimum).

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Blog #19 - Natural Philosophers

You should read the chapters, "Natural Philosophers" and "Democritus", pgs. 30-48 in order to do a great job answering the blog question.

The natural philosophers discussed in these two chapters sought the answers as to what substance makes up our world and how to account for perceptible changes in life.

What was the substance of life?

- Was everything made of water as Thales stated? Or air in different combinations like Anaximenes commented? Or something called the"boundless"? Empedocles went further and felt that everything in life was a combo of 4 roots - earth, air, wind and fire - and that all things that have ever been and will ever be come from infinte variations of those roots. Anaxagoras was ahead of his time by envisioning material items being made up of tiny particles called "seeds."

- Or, as Democritus hypothesized, is life made up of immutable, tiny particles that are much like Lego pieces? The pieces are not all uniform in size and shape, and so that's what accounts for the infinite possibilities of these pieces he called "atoms".

What makes things change?

- Parmenides believed like all Greeks that nothing could come from nothing, and so things really didn't change. If he saw that the leaves were changing colors but his reason told him that nothing could really change, so what gives? Parmenides says that you can't trust your senses.

- Well, Heraclitus says Baloney! Everything's in flux, he says, but the thing that keeps everything whole is the logos or universal reason.

- Empedocles blended them both together with his 4 roots theory. Things change, but the roots are immutable and you can trust your senses.

So, with this info and more out of the book (and stuff we've talked about in class), you have alternative questions:
1. Which of these natural philosophers best reflects your personal views of life / universe? Why?


2. Which of these natural philosophers is the most opposite of your personal views of life / universe? Why?

200 words minimum - Due Tuesday, Sept. 15.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Blog #18 - What's wrong with Americans?

Many have criticized Americans for not being too philosophical, especially when compared to Europeans. In Europe, philosophers can actually make a decent living by writing books and giving lecture tours, but in America, they are university professors (or high school teachers!).

Maybe this dislike for philosophy comes from the super specialized language that we hear in philosophical circles (remember the bottle of tea example from Zizek!). If we can't seem to talk about it or explain it in straight forward language, forget about it!

Also, America tends to have an anti-intellectualism streak to it. If you follow our history, there have been movements that have looked upon scientific advances or theories w/ suspicion and even fear (evolution just being one). This is the same country that revels in Redneck jokes.

But parts of me wants to disagree with this idea that Americans hate philosophy. A popular TV show like LOST is full of philosophical and religious references with some main characters named after dead philosophers. The 1999 movie, The Matrix, is a modern version of Plato's allergory of the cave, how mankind learns (and may learn too much). The movie calls into question simple things that we take for granted - can we trust our senses? If not, what do we trust? The Matrix was hugely popular and spawned two sequels (though not as good).

Plus, do we not need some kind of personal philosophy to guide us along life's journey? A moral compass of some kind to steer us through the tricky waters? Or is that what religion is for?

If we don't philosophy for a moral guide, then what good is it? British philosopher Sir Bertrand Russell said the following:

Philosophy is to be studied, not for the sake of any definite answers to its
questions, since no definite answers can, as a rule, be known to be true, but
rather for the sake of the questions themselves"

Every generation asks the big questions: why am I here? What's the purpose of life? What is good/evil? Is there a god?

And every generation comes up with their own answers. The Matrix and LOST are just a couple examples of those answers.

Your question: From your observations, do you think most Americans really care about philosophy? Why or why not? Use specific examples from your own life.

Minimum, 150 words. Due Friday, Sept. 11.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

#17 -The Final Post -Self -Assessment

Yeah, yeah, class is technically over. But you still have this 20 point blog to do complete. I wanted to wait until after the finals were over to let you decompress, chill out and give you time to reflect on your learning this semester in Honors Philosophy.

Let's get a couple things out of the way first: Your grade doesn't hinge upon your answers (meaning I won't mark you down if I don't like your answers), though your grade will go down a little if you don't complete the blog by Monday morning, March 9, 2009 at 9 a.m. Also, if you say that you didn't learn anything or get anything out of this class and you think that gets you off the hook for this blog, think again. Paradox? Let's just call it the Wickersham Contradiction.

I'm asking you two questions:
1. What is the thing you learned most about yourself from this class? Why?
2. What is the thing that you learned most about life/people/society/politics/religion/etc. from this class? Why?

300 words minimum.

Thanks for all of your positive input this semester and constructive contributions to the class. You've made it worthwhile teaching this class.