Thursday, December 16, 2010

Upcoming movies with philosophical content

Here's one called I Am by director Tom Shadiak, director of Bruce Almighty and Ace Ventura

Here's an interesting, but highly improbable movie called The Source Code:

This is the preview for The Adjustment Bureau that I showed you in class:

Friday, December 10, 2010

Blog #38 - How would our culture differ if we lived in Plato's Republic?

Watching the Great Books episode on Plato's Republic got me started thinking on how our culture would be different if suddenly its cultural requirements were imposed upon the United States.  For this blog, we'd have to suspend our disbelief about the probable mass confusion / rebellion that might explode across the nation while transitioning from freedom of expression and protected 1st Amendment rights to a society where poets and writers bow to reason (to borrow a phrase from the video). 

Bertrand Russell divides up Plato’s Republic into the three neat sections. You may find his simple outline helpful:

1.Books I-V: The definition of “justice” and the Utopian Republic
2.Books VI-VII: The definition of “philosopher” and Philosopher Kings as the ideal rulers
3.Books VIII-X: Discussion of the various forms of government (their pros and cons)

  - Bertrand Russell, History of Western Philosophy, Book I, part 2, ch. 14 (2)

I will quote Socrates in Book III of Plato's Republic as to why there needs to be censorship:

"Some tales are to be told, and others are not to be told to our disciples from their youth upwards, if we mean them to honour the gods and their parents, and to value friendship with one another...But if they are to be courageous, must they not learn other lessons besides these, and lessons of such a kind as will take away the fear of death? Can any man be courageous who has the fear of death in him?  And can he be fearless of death, or will he choose death in battle rather than defeat and slavery, who believes the world below to be real and terrible?

It sounds as if Socrates wants his warriors in the ideal society to not fear death but fear defeat and slavery instead.  Stories of myths, ghosts and the gods can somehow convince warriors that the underworld / Hades / afterlife is real and that if the warriors believe that from these "incorrect" stories, the Republic's warriors might be willing to accept death as an alternative to surrender. 

"Then we must assume a control over the narrators of this class of tales as well as over the others, and beg them not simply to but rather to commend the world below, intimating to them that their descriptions are untrue, and will do harm to our future warriors.  Then, I said, we shall have to obliterate many obnoxious passages, beginning with the verses...

"And we must beg Homer and the other poets not to be angry if we strike out these and similar passages, not because they are unpoetical, or unattractive to the popular ear, but because the greater the poetical charm of them, the less are they meet for the ears of boys and men who are meant to be free, and who should fear slavery more than death...

"Also we shall have to reject all the terrible and appalling names describe the world below--Cocytus and Styx, ghosts under the earth, and sapless shades, and any similar words of which the very mention causes a shudder to pass through the inmost soul of him who hears them. I do not say that these horrible stories may not have a use of some kind; but there is a danger that the nerves of our guardians may be rendered too excitable and effeminate by them...There is a real danger, he said.  Then we must have no more of them."

Ghost stories might make our leaders too nervous if they're exposed to them.  I guess it's time to stop the remakes of Friday the 13th and Halloween.  Because if the leaders are too scared, then the warriors / guardians might be as well.  But what happens if a warrior loses a friend in battle, is that warrior allowed to grieve?

"Reflect: our principle is that the good man will not consider death terrible to any other good man who is his comrade... And therefore he will not sorrow for his departed friend as though he had suffered anything terrible... Such an one, as we further maintain, is sufficient for himself and his own happiness, and therefore is least in need of other men...And for this reason the loss of a son or brother, or the deprivation of fortune, is to him of all men least terrible... And therefore he will be least likely to lament, and will bear with the greatest equanimity any misfortune of this sort which may befall him." 

In essence, when a warrior would lose a friend or family member, he/she wouldn't take a moment to grieve b/c in the whole scheme of things, that person was just one human.  But what about comedy? 

"Neither ought our guardians to be given to laughter. For a fit of laughter which has been indulged to excess almost always produces a violent reaction... Then persons of worth, even if only mortal men, must not be represented as overcome by laughter, and still less must such a representation of the gods be allowed..."

So, apparently no comedy.  Sad.  What about fiction, you ask?  I wondered the same thing myself.  Socrates equates fiction w/ lying and only reserves that "right" to doctors and the State:

"Again, truth should be highly valued; if, as we were saying, a lie is useless to the gods, and useful only as a medicine to men, then the use of such medicines should be restricted to physicians; private individuals have no business with them...Then if any one at all is to have the privilege of lying, the rulers of the State should be the persons; and they, in their dealings either with enemies or with their own citizens, may be allowed to lie for the public good.

But nobody else should meddle with anything of the kind; and although the rulers have this privilege, for a private man to lie to them in return is to be deemed a more heinous fault than for the patient or the pupil of a gymnasium not to speak the truth about his own bodily illnesses to the physician or to the trainer, or for a sailor not to tell the captain what is happening about the ship and the rest of the crew, and how things are going with himself or his fellow sailors."

For a leader to lie to the public, it must be "for the public good."  Well, I wonder, what the difference is between a politician's lie and a broken campaign promise.  If Obama said he would end President Bush's tax cuts for the wealthy but then has gone back on his promise (like he has recently in a compromise to extend unemployment benefits), is that a lie?  And what is the public good?  Is keeping knowledge of the discovery of extra-terrestrial aliens a public good?  Or what about news of an asteroid hurtling towards the planet that could have a dramatic impact on our climate - is that in the interest of the public good? 

And in the interests of truth?  How does lying work in the best interests of truth?  I'm still not happy w/ Socrates' answers with this one. 

As for crime / mystery stories, I'm in agreement with him:

"Because, if I am not mistaken, we shall have to say that about men poets and story-tellers are guilty of making the gravest misstatements when they tell us that wicked men are often happy, and the good miserable; and that injustice is profitable when undetected, but that justice is a man's own loss and another's gain--these things we shall forbid them to utter, and command them to sing and say the opposite." 

In summary, Socrates explains why he wants his warrior / guardians to hear only positive things in his very specialized society:

"If then we adhere to our original notion and bear in mind that our guardians, setting aside every other business, are to dedicate themselves wholly to the maintenance of freedom in the State, making this their craft, and engaging in no work which does not bear on this end, they ought not to practise or imitate anything else; if they imitate at all, they should imitate from youth upward only those characters which are suitable to their profession-- the courageous, temperate, holy, free, and the like; but they should not depict or be skilful at imitating any kind of illiberality or baseness, lest from imitation they should come to be what they imitate."

In the end, my question is, how would our American culture change if Socrates had his way about the arts?  Provide specific examples by using points listed above and songs / TV shows / artists / movies from our culture today. 

Due Monday, December 13.  Minimum 200 words. 

Further reading:
1. Plato's contribution to society - specialization / division of labor -

Online books, Book III, Plato's The Republic.

Plus, a great quote from a cool movie:
"BILL MURRAY: “What did you study?”
BILL MURRAY: “Yeah, there’s a good buck in that racket.”
SCARLETT JOHANSSON: “Well, so far it’s pro bono.”
Lost in Translation (2003)

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Blog #37 - Which of the six philosophers best fits your personal views?

In the article, "Philosophy 101," we surveyed five major philosophers and came up with some modern-day applications / examples of their ideas.  What you should do with this blog is review their ideas and pick which one best suits your own personal outlook on life or views about the world.

I. Ancient Greece
  A. Plato - he believed in the idea of the perfect form, that there is a perfect concept for everything (person, horse, chair, etc.) and that everything manmade or natural on Earth is an imperfect copy of that perfect form (In the picture to the left, you have a photo of a chair, a definition of a chair printed out, and an actual chair - each one is a chair but they each have different degrees of reality to them - the farther away from the ideal form they are, the less perfect they are).
 - Plato felt that achieving this perfection would be impossible but it would be important to live a good life by striving for perfection. 

  B. Aristotle - Some of his ideas included deductive reasoning (that we might see in cop/mystery movies or forensics TV shows), the Golden Mean (choosing between two extremes), and the feelings of catharsis or an emotional cleansing.  Aristotle was also one of the first true scientists of the ancient era who had the means to study and catalogue numerous plants and animals. 
  - With the Golden Mean, Aristotle might feel today that a balance should be struck somewhere between being totally in touch with one's friends through social networking and cutting one's self off completely.   
  - Here's an interesting website about a concept called the Overton Window - the points along the scale (if you mapped out the spots between one extreme and another) at which the public is willing to accept an option. 

II. Modern Philosophy
  C. Rene Descartes - He is the father of modern philosophy and started many snowballs rolling downhill, but the one we focused on here was the idea of dualism, the mind and body are separate and not linked. An example the article gave was that if you died in a dream, you wouldn't die in actuality.  Movies like The Matrix and Inception deal fully with this mind / body dualism.   Descartes is also known for the statement "I think, therefore I am" in which in order to exist, you must first think.  Quite a concept! (See link for a further elaboration on different types of dualism).

  D. David Hume - This Scottish philosopher improved upon some of Descares' ideas like skepticism (that we cannot truly ever be sure of something b/c it might not reoccur - the article uses the example of a bottle breaking when knocked off of a table).  Part of the reason that this type of skepticism exists is b/c of the randomness of life and the infinite number of variables that play into it (later to be called the chaos theory in Jurassic Park or the butterfly effect).  Lastly, there's the post hoc fallacy, or to believe that because we see two things occur together, one must have caused the other.  Let us say that one morning I get up and turn my coffee machine on, but at the same time, the dishwasher starts up.  Does that mean that X (turning coffee machine on) causes Y (dishwasher turns on)?  No, not necessarily. 

  E. Immanuel Kant - One of his biggest ideas was the categorical imperative, or in other words, putting yourself to a moral test for each of your actions.  You should consider what would happen if everyone followed your course of actions and how that would impact society.  Applying this standard to all of your actions would be the key to living a righteous life. 
 - Also, perception matters, and it differs for everyone.  We can never fully perceive what we perceive b/c we are not that object which we perceive. 

  F. Georg Hegel - Hegel had an idea that had been around for awhile but he refined it to something called absolute spirit - a network that connected every thing to ideas, people and other things around the universe.  Hegel also came up with an idea called zeitgeist (German for time-spirit) where peoples' thoughts are guided by the political and cultural atmosphere of a specific time in history.  For instance, our time period represented the angry Populist revolt of the Tea Party.

Your job: pick which of these six best fits your own personal philosophy at the beginning of our class.  Explain why.  You may find that your ideas come from a couple different guys, so include that. 

200 words minimum.  Due Thursday, December 9 before class begins.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Blog #36 - Remove one thing from this world...

After watching most of The Invention of Lying on Wed. and Thurs., we discussed what the true intentions of the movie were.
  • Was it trying to show us that lying has its good points (little white lies, brutal honesty that numbs us to those in trouble around us, insults that should be better left unsaid)?;
  • Was it a critique of religion as false hope? When Mark was on a TV interview show for a brief second at Anna's house, he looked and sounded like just another televangelist;
  • Or did it show, even if religion may be a false hope (in the moviemakers' eyes), that hope is worth believing in b/c it gives the people in this world that their lives weren't for nothing (you're a loser on Earth and now you'll be rotting in the ground - geez, what's the point of life then? Look at Jonah Hill's character and his insistent research into suicide);
  • Did the filmmakers add deliberate philosophical tie-ins with Nietzche (bending reality to fit to one's will and lying creatively) or Christianity w/ Mark acting as a stand-in for God when he gave Anna the chance to love him on her own accord a few times (much like the Christian scholars have said that God gave mankind free will so that we can love Him on our own accord)? Though, I'm not sure what Mark sees in Anna...

So, your job is to think about something, just one single thing, that you would remove from our world in order to create a parallel world like the one in the movie so that this parallel world would somehow be better than our world.

Explain how your new world would be different, and try to be imaginative by thinking of both the positives and negatives. Don't be discouraged if someone has already taken your idea. Build on what they've already written or go off in a different direction or rethink your approach.
Due Tuesday, March 9 by 11:59 p.m. 200 words minimum.

Please try to stick to ONE thing; several of you have put down 2 things.  That's fudging, and it's also unfair to those who haven't written a comment yet.  Thanks. 
The Editor. 


Saturday, February 20, 2010

Blog #35 - Do It Yourself - Ask the Nagging Question

This one will be a little bit easier for me and a little bit harder for you. I've got 6 pm rehearsals this week in Ypsilanti w/ 1.5 hr drives there and back. It's going to be a long week. But after Feb. 28, life should return back to normal.

I am asking you to pick a topic/concept from any time during the semester that still puzzles you, baffles or confounds you, or something that just doesn't satisfy you. It could be a new take / angle on something that we've already discussed (b/c I know sometimes when you get a chance to stop and think about things we've discussed, it might 2 or 3 days later). Maybe you saw a movie that had some philosophical concepts - share it. For instance, I saw the movies 9 and Moon over break. Both had some wide ranging themes that we've talked about - what is a soul?; Man vs. machine; the right type of government; what does it mean to be human? Also, if you get a chance to see Creation, discuss what you saw or ask a question about the movie.

Due Monday, March 1 - 200 words.

Pick one of the questions below and answer it. Please do not pick your own.
1. Is being a Sunday Christian morally wrong or unjust in any ways? - Armen

2. Is the world “all in our heads?” How do you know? Will anyone ever know? If you realized you were living in a dream, would you jump off a cliff to see if you could wake up? - Jake P.

3. If you were given a timeline/future history of your life to come would you ignore it or take it into consideration throughout the rest of your life mapped out? If you would ignore, why? If you take it in, would you try and change things throughout your life knowing what's coming? Or is the future inevitable and can't be changed? Why? - Marcus

4. From Emily Wilson's ten criticisms of Socrates, ranging from the "chatter-box" to the rationalist thinking, which do you think is the worst criticism he has brought on to himself? (what is the #1 thing wrong with Socrates) - Armen

5. Who do you believe is the evil genius is our society/world? - Bianca, Stefanos

6. When God created Adam and Eve, he gave them free will, allowing Adam (and Eve) to sin. In heaven, there is supposed to be no sin, pain, sadness - everything is supposed to be perfect. Does this mean that there is no freedom in heaven? - Jules

7. When we talk about evil/wrong/bad in class, we talk about murder or nuclear bombs or diseases, but I don't think we have ever talked about whether some things are only a little bad, or if one thing is more wrong than another. Is there more than one degree of evil/bad? Can something be percieved as only a little evil/bad? For example, some people believe that smoking marijuana is bad, just like killing someone is bad. Could "bad" have more than one definition? - Olivia

8. Is your generation going to be different than previous ones? Will your generation change the world? If yes (to either), how so? How will your upbringing play a role in your generation’s actions? Is the generation headed in the right direction? - Jake P.

9. How come religion was such an important part of people’s lives a few centuries ago and is now “less important”? Do people have more doubt? Or is there something else? - Laetitia

10. Is death the end of everything or is there a soul that continues to exist after death? If so, is the soul immortal? - Sam T., Ben

11. Technology and other scientifical advantages seem to further divide religion and science. One example is Darwinism/evolution. What is another example that we may or may not have studied? - Sammy V., Stephen

12. How can you be sure that you are real and the people around you are real, if you can't trust your senses? - Irina, Jake P., Stefanos, Raphy

13. If you argue that man has no soul, what makes man want to be kind and love others?; If you argue man has a soul, where in the body is it? Does it have a place in the heart or in the mind? Maybe in the foot...? - Dayna

14. Do you believe that history could truly be manipulated like it was in George Orwell's 1984? - Jules

15. Spinoza’s philosophy claims that our world is deus sive natura, or “either Nature or God”, but how can it possibly be a question of either? It seems to me that either both exist, or neither exists. If only God exists, then he is malevolent in making a false nature that we perceive, and if only nature exists, then how could it have been created? - Claire

16. If we do, in fact, come into this world with “tabula rasa” do you think that eventually everyone ends up with the same general concepts on their slate or is what ends up on the slate determined by the individual? - Jessie

17. Given the recent intentional plane crash of an angry man into an IRS building (that killed one IRS agent) in Austin, TX, should the definition of a terrorist be redefined? In your own words what is a terrorist? Do you think the definition of terrorist changed over time? And what separates a terrorist from a freedom fighter or a martyr? - Moose

18. Which era do you believe was most significant in coming up with discoveries and ideas? (Rationalism, Empiricism, Enlightenment, or Romanticism?) - Stefanos

19. At what point does life end? At what point does life begin? If we define life as ending when the heart stops, then should we define life as beginning when the heart begins to beat or when the child is born? If we define life as beginning with the first heartbeat, is it ridiculous to label the mother a murderer during a stillbirth or would that be total heresy? - Eric S.

20. Is philosophy a waste of time since the meaning of life cannot truly be found? - Dayna

21. What makes someone a “philosopher?” Is it a way of thinking? Does it require a certain level of intelligence or understanding? Or is it something anyone is capable of doing if they truly set their mind to it? - Jessie

22. How have movies, especially horror and mystery movies, influenced our perception of reality? Have movies sometimes made you question reality and made you think about whether things are real or not? - Richard

23. Is dialectic materialism a circle? Since I saw the timeline of cultures affected by each other on our Marxism notes I have wondered if the process is linear. There has to be a limited amount of ideas so they would have to repeat themselves once in a while, but perhaps the amount is so vast that that is not possible. Or does it have an end like Marx says at which Communism is the end point? - Claire

24. What makes us think we can trust our senses? Explain. - Richard, Jake T.

25. Why is Darwin being placed in a philosophy book with men that pondered where we came from and questions that can’t be answered while his theories are based off of data and facts? - Lisa

26. Have the philosophers discussed in class changed your views on life at all? How so? - Megan

27. Do you believe that each person has one true love that they are destined to find, or that there are multiple true loves for each person? - Sara D.

28. Do people need to have faith in a higher power, or anything for that matter, to be successful in life? - Amanda

29. Society has many laws, rules, regulations, and consequences for those who don't follow them. Do you think that people derive the sense of right and wrong from these laws, rules, regulations, and consequences, or sentiment and feelings that Hume suggest? - Raphy

30. Would you drink the cool-aide? If someone presented you with a drink that could make you meet the eternal god and, guarantee you passage into heaven, would you drink it? It’s like would you press the button for a million dollars? Can we believe what we hear, do we hear the truth, or do we inherently believe what we want to hear? - Eric S.

31. The author of Sophie’s World appears to have a fanatic obsession with romantic irony. The fact that he is constantly reminding us every chapter about how he is in fact simply writing a book about a man who is writing a book about characters that may actually exist in the fantasy world that he (the author) has created proves this statement. My question is, why has the author gone to such great lengths with his use of romantic irony? What does it achieve for the novel? - Tyler F.

32. Do you believe the theory of evolution disproves the existence of God or does God and Darwin's theory of evolution go hand in hand? - Stephen

33. Was G-d or a higher power created in man's image? Why or why not? - Amanda

34. Communism has never been achieved in any country. Do you think that it’s the actual process/idea of communism that is flawed or the nature of mankind that is flawed that prevents the idea from working? - Annie, Tyler F.

35. Can there be perfection outside of situations in which there is a clear definition of what it means to be perfect? i.e. Bowling the perfect game - 300! - Sam G.

36. Do you believe that the average American is intelligent? - Jake T.
37. Freud said that "we have unconscious drives that can affect our actions without us knowing about them." Do you agree or disagree? Why or why not? - Alesia
38. Can anything be infinite? (you have an infinite number of numbers between 1 and 2, and an infinite number of numbers between 2 and 4. are there twice as many numbers between 2 and 4 than there is between 1 and 2??) Why or why not? - it doesn't even have to apply to numbers. - Ben

39. If you assume that the universe is expanding, do you believe that it is expanding into something? Why or why not? - David M.
40. Does the idea of hell or a punishment seem reasonable with a just God? Why or why not? - Colin
41. As humans we are so needy, in this day and age technology is at all time high. Do you think people like Amish people have an advantage even though they are without, them being less depend it on the things we consider a necessity. Why or why not? - Alyssa T.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Blog #34 - What is history?

"Who controls the past controls the future. Who controls the present controls the
past" - George Orwell

On Tuesday, I asked you to fill in the blank - "History is ___________" and we saw lots of different responses. We heard lots of different responses from "stupid" and "irrelevant" to "just sort of there" to "something that can be misused." I talked about my own personal feelings towards history: that it is something that doesn't necessarily repeat itself - which is why some teachers say you should teach it. I feel that history is our civilization's collective knowledge about itself and other past societies on earth, and that it is one generation's job (mine, for instance) to interpret it and pass it down to the next (yours, in this case). Soon, it will be your job to continue that legacy with the next generation. But, is there an end point at which we stop passing this history down?

George Hegel had thought so. For him, the French Revolution and Napoleon's invasion of the German states in the early 1800s was that end point. Hegel felt this point was the end of history b/c the Revolution and Napoleon were upsetting the old order of aristocrat and peasant in an effort to try and forge a more "universal and homogeneous state in which lords no longer looked down contemptuously on bondsmen" and people would recognize each other for their individual self-worth (Palmer 235-6). For about 15-20 years, this era of equality lasted, and would not emerge again in a widespread fashion across Europe until after the Cold War was over. When the Cold War was over, another historian, Francis Fukayama called that time period "the end of history" as well, b/c in the battle of worldviews, democratic capitalism had defeated communism and had proven to be the best of all systems. Therefore, the search for the system of government / economy that benefits most people w/o killing or exploiting the least was determined; hence, the end of history.

As for what path history follows, Hegel believed that God determined history's outcome - it is an unchangable, set-in-stone fact.

"Spirit does not toss itself about in the external play of chance occurrences; on the contrary, it is that which determines history absolutely, and it stands firm against the chance occurrences which it dominates and exploits for its own purpose" - George Hegel 2

We can trace this back to our examination of the differences in how Indo-Europeans and Semitic cultures have viewed history throughout the ages. Hegel's view seems to fit into the Semitic scheme that history is linear w/ a beginning and end, and it stands to reason that if God can interfere with or manifest himself in our history, then it makes sense that God has fixed history for all eternity.

My personal issue with this determinist view of history is that with six billion + people on the planet, I think it also stands to reason that occasionally, history is influenced and has been changed by chance events, random, wacky things that no one had planned for or anticipated. Two perfect examples that I use come from the American Civil War: 1. Union soldiers finding General Lee's orders which show how his army is separated into 5 very vulnerable parts, easy for the Union army to pick apart and destroy (only if they had the right commander, which the Union didn't). 2. The chance encounter of Stonewall Jackson's men with his own soldiers the night of the battle of Chancellorsville - the men of a North Carolina regiment on picket duty shot Stonewall and his officers fearing that they were Yankee cavalry on a nighttime raid. Stonewall survived the gunshots, but died a week later of pneumonia.

Neither of those examples were destined to happen, but they did occur by chance, and it is safe to say that they had a cumulative effect on the war's outcome. Random events determine life or death situations all the time. Just ask some of the survivors of the Twin Towers collapse from Sept. 11, 2001. Little random things made them miss being in the building at the time when the planes hit.

However, determinist skeptics would say that these weren't random events and that God has had a hand in all of these things. At that point, I'd ask for proof other than faith.

Your questions:

1. Fill in the blank, "History is _________________" and explain why you answered it that way.

2. Can history have an end point? If so, what would that be and why? If not, why not?

3. Do you agree with Hegel's assertion that history is determined by God or another higher power? Why or why not?

250 Words. Due Friday (Feb. 12, 2010) at the latest.


1. Palmer, Donald. Looking at Philosophy: The Unbearable Heaviness of Philosophy Made Lighter, 4th ed. McGraw Hill Higher Education. New York, NY: 2006.

2. Burrell, David. "A Historian Looks at Hegel Philosophically." Original 1991. Accessed 2/10/10.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Blog #33 - How do we know that we have a mind?

This concept about minds is something that I've been thinking about for a long time since I've been a long time dog owner. My wife and I have had dogs for almost 19 years, and during that time we've watched some interesting dog behavior and ascribed some human-like characteristics to those behaviors.

Our first dog, Shadow, a Lab-Shepherd-something mix, was hyper and hated riding in cars. He was very protective of the house, but he also loved to bolt out of the front door when it was opened. There were a few times where we swore it looked as if he contemplated the reward / punishment choices - run free around the street for a minute or two while his owners yell at him / then sit in the bathroom alone for 5-10 minutes - and then chose the reward. When he got back to the house, he went straight to the bathroom. Obviously, that's conditioning, b/c he knew what came after a "jailbreak" from the house.

Our next three dogs were all Golden Retrievers. We got Kelsey in 1994 and she has been the mellowest dog I've ever had. She had her crazy puppy year, but after that, nothing fazed her. I could work in the front yard with her and she'd wander around but never leave my sight. If she did, she'd always come back. We did little to train her to be that way. Was it her personality that made her that way?

We got Riley in 2007 when Kelsey was on given a month to live. Kelsey lasted 18 more months w/ this pup (Misdiagnosis? Sure, and we go to another vet too). We think that some of Kelsey's mellowness rubbed off on Riley and she continues to be mellow to this day. If you know Golden Retrievers (or like most big dogs), they love to eat. Kelsey had a thyroid condition and ballooned up to 120 pounds but so far we've been watching Riley and keeping her more active and she's stayed at a good weight so far. Riley loves to swim; she can't wait to get the pool cover off in the spring and get in! Also, Riley is very submissive and a people pleaser as are most GRs. When she plays with other dogs, most times, she'll lay on her back and show her belly. She's not a fighter. Our oldest dog, Kelsey, could care less about other dogs. Why are they like this?

We got our newest dog, Izzy, in the summer of 2008, and we were able to have the pick of the female litter. She's Riley's half-sister - they have the same mom - and her breeder picked the sire for a mellow temperament. When the dogs were born around Memorial Day, we had about 7-8 weeks to pick out one that we liked the best. We went back and forth, but the true test came when we brought Riley to meet the puppies. Two of them wanted to feed off of Riley as if she was their mom, another wanted to sit on her head (we didn't want a domineering dog) and Izzy came up to her with her tail down and sniffed her. Then they proceeded to play and were smothered by the other pups. According to dog behaviorists, Izzy's behavior was the "proper" way to approach an adult dog that wasn't their parent if the dog will have a good temperament. However, Izzy has been the opposite of a good dog since we brought her home - probably b/c I've spoiled her. She's super hyper, has ripped up our couch, and is very high energy. She weighs at least 10 pounds less than Riley and doesn't have the same kind of fuzzy coat as Riley does. She's also been domineering with Riley and hated swimming at first but now enjoys it (or at least pretends to).

I use my dogs as examples of how animals seem to have different personalities much like everyone else has. But where do these different personalities come from? Is this what we mean by a mind? Other animals would have minds and personalities too if we spent enough time with them (look at Jane Goodall's research with the primates of Africa, for example). If this is so, what separates us from the rest of the animal kingdom?

Pick two of the following questions to answer in 200 words or more:

1. We really don't have a mind but it's an explanation to describe how we think - we currently don't possess the language to accurately describe the thoughts or process going up there (points to brain). Agree or disagree. Why?

2. We cannot fully understand how our brain works and ourselves (including why we react emotionally to some things and not react to other things) and that's why attempts at creating artificial intelligence have failed. Agree or disagree? Why?

3. Is there a spiritual aspect to the mind (i.e., the soul)? Why or why not? If it's not the soul, then what?

4. O.k. So we have a mind. Then what? How does your understanding of the mind from this unit affect your decision-making in the real world with moral and ethical issues like the following:

- Abortion - does a fetus have a mind? If so, at what stage? If not, why not?

- Competency issues for mentally ill people who commit crimes - how responsible are they? Should temporary insanity actually be a defense (it's actually been around since 1858 in the U.S. and was successfully used as a defense in a sensational murder trial when a NY Senator, Daniel Sickles, killed his young wife's lover - Sickles' defense attorney was Lincoln's future Secretary of Defense Edwin Stanton)? Should mentally ill murderers be sentenced to death?

- What about the Terry Schiavo case in 2005? This is the woman who'd been living on artificial life support for over 10 yrs and her husband wanted to take her off the life support and try to move on with his life. Her parents had blocked her husband through the courts until it came down to the President and Congress getting involved in early 2005. Mostly, it became about pro-life politics, unfortunately, vs. the right to die w/ dignity, and her parents had denied her that a long time ago. Her husband eventually won this very public battle over what probably should have been a very private death.

Due Monday, February 1st. Study hard!

Monday, January 25, 2010

Just for fun - Faked moon landings

According to this article in Discovery News, one man has discovered the clues to the faked moon landing, and they have been right there in front of us all the time!

Famed, eccentric film director Stanley Kubrick (who has directed 2001: A Space Odyssey, A Clockwork Orange, Full Metal Jacket, Spartacus, and Dr. Strangelove) has apparently confessed to being involved in the staging of the fake moon landing through cleverly placed clues in his adaptation of Stephen King's film, The Shining.

The article contends that (according to the conspiracy theorist Jay Weidner) the U.S. government hired Kubrick to film the moon landing while he was filming 2001: A Space Odyssey which was released in 1968. The moon landing took place in July 1969, so at least the timing is right. Please read the stuff for yourself:

Mythbusters took on some of the biggest myths in 2008 and cracked them wide open, exposing them for the fraudulent loads of donkey dung that they are.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

#32 - Evil and its Nature

We talked recently about evil and what it is and what it isn't.

There can be a natural evil - something like a natural disaster (like we have seen so vividly in Haiti in the past week that may have killed almost 200,000 people and possibly left a million people homeless); diseases like cancer, AIDS, etc; accidents or other things that don't seem to have an intent to do harm but just happen (an agentless cause).
- 4th hour broke this one down to discuss a thing like lung cancer. If lung cancer is caused by someone's smoking habit, then it can be considered evil. The cigarettes themselves, however, cannot be thought of as evil, because they needed to be used in order to become toxic. If a person develops lung cancer b/c he/she lives in a high pollution area and has lived w/ heavy smokers his/her entire life, then the person wouldn't be considered evil. An evil has been done to him/her by another person's free will (the smoker, the polluting company).
- 5th hour broke it down with the atomic bomb - we tried to figure out if an object itself could be evil w/o an agent to use it. Discussing the atomic bomb, I think we came to the conclusion that there had to be some agent who needed to enforce his/her will upon the atomic bomb to make it do his/her bidding. Otherwise, the bomb could be used as a planter, couch, etc. without such an agent and therefore isn't evil.

Then there are moral evils. These have an agent as the cause or someone or something doing the evil with intent. We tried to break things down to universals - is there a universal evil in every society? Wikipedia broke the nature of moral evil down into 4 groups:

"Views on the nature of evil tend to fall into one of four opposed camps:
Moral absolutism holds that good and evil are fixed concepts established by a deity or deities, nature, morality, common sense, or some other source;
Amoralism claims that good and evil are meaningless, that there is no moral ingredient in nature;
Moral relativism holds that standards of good and evil are only products of local culture, custom, or prejudice;
Moral universalism is the attempt to find a compromise between the absolutist sense of morality, and the relativist view; universalism claims that morality is only flexible to a degree, and that what is truly good or evil can be determined by examining what is commonly considered to be evil amongst all humans. Author Sam Harris notes that universal morality can be understood using measurable (i.e. quantifiable) metrics of happiness and suffering, both physical and mental, rooted in how the biology of the brain processes stimuli." 1

As we had mentioned in the past unit, St. Augustine thought that evil was not doing God's will. Judaism believes (correct me if I'm wrong) that evil results when one forsakes God.

Then there is the problem of evil - why does it exist at all? This is the school of thought that if God (or any all knowing, all powerful good diety) existed, why would that diety allow evil to exist? If it did allow evil to exist, then is the diety really good and/or all powerful? There are many ways to look at this - see Problem of evil - here - and here - and here - for ideas. Some religious types think that this argument is so corrosive that they devote a lot of energy to debunking it - they think it might lead to atheism.

C.S. Lewis, author of the Chronicles of Narnia, wrote this about his early athiest days:

"My argument against God was that the universe seemed so cruel and unjust. But how had I got this idea of just and unjust? A man does not call a line crooked unless he has some idea of a straight line. What was I comparing this universe with when I called it unjust?... Of course I could have given up my idea of justice by saying it was nothing but a private idea of my own. But if I did that, then my argument against God collapsed too--for the argument depended on saying the world was really unjust, not simply that it did not happen to please my fancies" 3

Occam's Razor is an idea credited to 14th Century friar William of Ockham which states that the conclusion based on the fewest assumptions is most likely the right one. 2

Questions (pick 3 of 4 questions to answer):
1. Is it better to prevent evil than to promoting good when making rules or standards to live by? Why?
2. Do you agree with the problem of evil - that a benevolent, omnipotent diety wouldn't allow evil? Why or why not?
3. Are we making this more complicated than it has to be? Or should we just reduce it to the simplest explanation (Occam's razor - see above)?
4. If we as humans can conceive of evil or evil acts and thoughts, does that mean we are evil by nature? Why or why not?

Due Thursday, January 21. 200 words minimum.

1. Evil,
2. Occam's Razor
3. Problem of Evil
4. Problem of Evil
5. Problem of Evil
6. Problem of Evil

Monday, January 11, 2010

The Lost Questions have been FOUND AND ARE DUE FRIDAY 1/15/10

They are available on my Groves class' website.

Homework update: Test on TUESDAY. REVIEW SHEETS HAVE BEEN PASSED OUT AND THEY WILL BE POSTED ONLINE TOMORROW. Review session is on Tuesday morning at 7:45 a.m.

Links to Destination: Lost (called Ep24, pt 1-5)
Pt. 1 -(there's nothing on the video for the first 20 seconds).

Pt. 2

Pt. 3

Pt. 4

Pt. 5

If the embeds don't work, you can search YouTube by looking for Lost Destination Lost ep24 as a summary of season 1.

Blog #31 - Henry Poole

Pick one of the following topics and write about it based on your own personal experience (150 words minimum). Highly recommended that you get this done by tomorrow (because of the LOST questions - they're very close to being found), but not really due until Thursday 1.14.10.

1. You can’t go to the past to fix the present.” - Esperanza said when Henry visited his parents' house. Agree or disagree? Why?

2. Noam Chomsky said: "As soon as questions of will or decision or reason or choice of action arise, human science is at a loss" 1.

Patience quotes him in the movie, and then follows it up with these lines: "It means that not everything needs an explanation. Sometimes, things happen b/c we choose for them to happen. I chose to believe."

Is she saying that because she believed the miracle on Henry's wall to be true, then that made it true? Or is she saying something else? If you could choose for one thing to come true / exist, what would that be and why?

3. During the dinner date, Dawn said to Henry as he tried backing away from getting closer to her was: "I know you're gonna die. But all that either of us have is right now, and we should pay attention to that." We talked today about how Henry might be feeling selfish and keeping people out w/ the way he's acting. But when he said, "I am paying attention." And that's why he can't do this (meaning fall for Dawn, go where the date will eventually lead ). Did Henry stop being selfish there for a moment? Or did he revert back to himself again? Why?

4. I get the feeling that Henry senses that there are greater forces at work, somehow helping him, coming to heal him, yet he feels unworthy of this sense of grace. Why he feels unworthy, I don't know. Maybe it's not unworthy, maybe it's pride or stubbornness in his own beliefs that life has just dealt him an awful hand. Maybe he has accepted this fate, for lack of a better word, and decided to deal with it in his own way despite a higher power demanding an audience. What do you think of this idea?

5. During 5th hour, I had an insight into the characters: there's got to be a reason why Patience is named Patience. Then I had a hunch about the name Esperanza. It's Spanish for Hope. what made me think about Hope (besides the Obama-themed poster of Henry) was when he was about to destroy the wall and he yelled, "Hope can't save you!" And the last of the virtues would be Love symbolized by Dawn and Millie.

Henry, on the other hand, would symbolize the seven deadly sins - sloth, gluttony, lust, greed, anger, envy and pride. A stretch? Maybe. How would he symbolize the seven?

Thanks. I hope you enjoyed the movie. I was glad to have found it.

"Promises", by Badly Drawn Boy

I promise you will get old / I promised you everything

To protect you wherever you go / I'll give you this diamond ring

Just promise you will remember A promise should last forever

Right up to the dying embers / Of a fire that burns so slow

It's a different day everyday / Don't want you to walk alone

But how can we carry on When all of these things have gone

Just promise you will remember / That promises last forever

Still after the last dying embers / Of a fire that burns so slowly

It's a beautiful thing to do / Sometimes you just have to walk away

Remember I do love you / Have courage in what you say

And promise you will remember / That promises last forever

Still after the dying embers / The fire that burns so slowly

And sometimes you just have to walk away

Sometimes you just have to walk away

Wishing today was yesterday

Yeah, sometimes you just have to walk away

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Blog #30 - Your Favorite Hellenistic Philosophy?

Since it appears that the world will end soon (see below), we might as well find a philosophy with which to face the oncoming destruction of our very existence. The great Roman Cicero had said "that to study philosophy is nothing but to prepare one's self to die" and this is because, as Michael de Montaigne stated:

"study and contemplation do in some sort withdraw us from our soul, and employ it separately from the body, which is a kind of apprenticeship and a resemblance of death; or else, because all the wisdom and reasoning in the world do in the end conclude in this point, to teach us not to fear to die" 1
In the face of the coming apocalypse (if we're left behind after the Rapture on May 21, 2011 or the latest baloney with the end of the Mayan calendar on Dec. 21, 2012), how should we face the next 1.5 to 3 years?

Cynics believe:What good is philosophy if it never moves you to criticize your comfortable habits and actually change yourself for the better?’ Cynicism was conceived of as a way of life unbeholden to social convention or political demand, that is, a life lived according to nature. (This phrase is a recurring theme in debates among the Hellenistic philosophies.)

For Cynics, nature is the opposite of society’s conventions and norms. All that the ordinary social herd is interested in is getting on in this world. They flatter, they beg, they posture. Such people think that they are better if they can throw a big fancy party! ‘How shallow! How fleeting! How ridiculous!,’ say the Cynics. These people have lost touch with nature. 2

Here's a song by Extreme called "Cynical":

"And whatever you do / someone's done it first / though it's sad but true / this us just another verse / if you can't take it with you / then what's the use? / I never saw a u-haul / being pulled behind a hearse."

Skeptics: Pyrrho of Elis (c. 365/360-275/270 BCE) was the first celebrated Skeptic. He was said to have accompanied Alexander to India. His philosophical position was that we can only know how things appear to us, and we can’t rightly resolve disagreements as to what appears. This is all very disturbing. Wouldn’t it be better just to suspend judgment and live according to probable opinion and custom?

- "Skeptics aimed to undermine the supposed certainties of all their other philosophical competitors. While this might seem to limit it to making only a negative contribution, Skepticism did at least provide a voice for humility and tolerance, even if the Skeptics themselves did not always practise those qualities." 2

Epicureans: "Epicurus modified the materialistic philosophy of the 5th century bce atomists, Leucippus and Democritus. Everything is composed of matter, more specifically, of atoms moving in a void. For the most part, they move in regular ways. Their principal movement is to fall down in straight lines. (How ‘down’ can be identified in a void is a problem that the Epicureans did not clarify.) However, occasionally atoms ‘swerve.’ From these irregular movements, atoms began to collide and clump together. and the universe we know through our senses began to form. The movements and interactions of atoms suffice for a complete explanation of the world. The swerve is also the basis of Epicurus’ defense of free will.

- "Epicurus takes this absence of a cosmic purpose to mean that pleasure is the only good. Indeed, pleasure is the meaning of the good. The Greek word translated as ‘pleasure’ is the root of the English word, hedonism. Hedonism is the view that pleasure is the highest good." 2

Editor's note: If this quote to the left attributed to Epicurus can be accurately pinned to him, then maybe there's more than just the anti-hedonist attitudes like Cicero's that this school has had to endure. It could most definitely have come from a church that had tried to solidfy itself over the centuries.

Stoicism: "your average Hellenistic Joe Schmoe feels his life running away from him in fifty directions—but God has got it together. There is a pattern to it all, despite what Epicureans will tell you. There is a grand plan—no—a perfect plan, behind the seemingly haphazard affairs of life, a logos." (<--Bust of Zeno, the founder of Stoicism) 3

- "Unfortunately, as the world is entirely material and perfectly ordered it is also thoroughly determined. Thus, it is also correct to name the divine as fortune. The earlier Stoics put a brave spin on this, and said that the plan evidenced divine providence, a reassuring God. Later Stoics, who must have been a bit discouraged by suicides, exiles and the like, thought that the plan was more like an impersonal, implacable fate.

- "The Stoics argue that, since every person has logos, the natural law is a universal law for all people, irrespective of ethnic background and political allegiance. Our true citizenship is not with any particular city and its parochial little customs. We are all citizens of the city of the world—the cosmopolis. The Roman Empire adopts Stoicism as the official ideology, exactly for this view." 2

Now that we've looked at the main schools of Hellenist philosophy (heck, throw in NeoPlatonism in there w/ ol' man Plotinus in there too), how will you face the end?
1. In essence, which one of these five is your favorite (or as someone expressed to me a couple of days ago, "can I do my least favorite?") and why? Explain how it might help you with dealing with daily life and face an uncertain future.
2. Also, please discuss a little about why you think America seems to be obsessed with the end of the world right about now (this should only be about 1/3 of your blog).
3. Does this kind of end of the world talk bother you or do you dismiss it or a little of both? Why?
250 words due Tuesday, January 12.