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. - an excerpt from a book on chaos by James Gleick;
4. The Chaos Hyper Text book which includes an intro and chaos's application.
5. - 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 -
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 - 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 -

- Evil genius t-shirts - and the Evil Genius Political Party -

Even get your own evil genius laugh - or this one
- 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. (

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 -

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. Ancient Greek Skepticism - Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy.

2. Nihilism - The Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy