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.