Monday, October 31, 2011

Blog #53 - Hanna and genetic engineering

The subject of genetic engineering / manipulation came up during Hanna, though in an unrealistic sci-fi scenario where the CIA tried making super soldiers through invitro - genetic enhancement.  But while this sounds like sci-fi now, there are a lot of things today that can be done that are NOT science fiction that are pretty close to genetic manipulation. 
 - what happens if you want a boy in your family since your family already three girls?  What could you do to increase the odds?  Picking the sex of your child can be done now w/ invitro fertilization (IVF) once fertilized eggs divided into eight cells, that mass can be tested for sex and then implanted in the mother's womb. 

- what if you really loved your dog or cat and wanted one exactly like it?  Apparently, a company existed for 2 years called Genetics Savings and Clone and was able to clone a couple of cats.  It shhut down in 2006 for reasons I can't quite fathom (besides my basic revulsion of the idea, other qualms), but here's an NPR link to a radio interview about the company when it opened in 2004

  - Here's a more recent story from 2009 about a Korean company that cloned a Labrador Retriever for $155,000.

 - what if your only child died or had was dying from an accident and making a clone to replace the missing or needed parts was the only way to replace or help that child?   This would be a tough one for me to answer b/c I've never ever been in a situation like this, and I don't know how desperate I might get to save my daughter's life.  If making a clone of my daughter to create stem cells could help her, I would be all for it.  Chances are, scientists wouldn't have to go as far as cloning to help her since our body makes stem cells all of the time. 
 - But, South Korean scientists in 2004 were successful in cloning a human embryo using the same person's cells (  The idea was to aid the woman's health, not clone her.  Even so, a recent poll in America states that 84% of Americans feel that cloning humans is morally wrong.
 - Would you be willing to be part of a genetic experiment that not only strengthened your muscles but prevented them from deteriorating with age?  Gene therapy can allow us to repair damaged cells but apparently scientists at the University of Penn have done such a thing with mice in 2004 - called "Mighty Mice."  This kind of therapy could help people with muscular dystrophy or ALS (Lou Gehrig's disease).  But could it also be abused by athletes and others looking for an edge, especially if they aren't injured?  Gene therapy doesn't usually show up on drug tests since it's supposed to be part of your natural body chemistry, so how do you know who's doping and who's not? 

 - if you had the chance (and it were possible), would you pick certain traits for your child before he/she was born?   Would you want a child that is more predisposed to music, athletics, math, or would you try to pick the hair and eye color and let fate take care of the rest? 

 - Is this kind of genetic selection ethical?*  Would it create a separate subspecies of humans like portrayed in the movie Gattaca - those who have been enhanced and those who haven't?  If you haven't been enhanced, you're stuck in a 2nd class citizenry status much like African Americans were before the Civil Rights movement, while those who have been genetically enhanced (those with money, of course) get the best pick of jobs, lives, etc. 

Pick at least three questions (one must include the last one about ethics*) and answer them by tomorrow before class.  Thanks.  300 words minimum. 

Gallup Poll on Cloning -
Moral Obligation to be part of a medical research study -

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Michael Sandel and Justice

Harvard ethics professor, Michael Sandel, on the Colbert Show.

Also, here's a link to the lecture on Kant (#6) that we watched in class.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Blog #52 - Blank Slate

The three statements we discussed revolved around the same issue (which I borrowed from Steven Pinker's The Blank Slate: The Modern Denial of Human Nature) - when we're born, how do we learn?

Statement #1 - The Blank Slate concept is still influential today - fairly divided the classes.  The BS idea influenced policies in education and politics today as students mentioned regardless of whether the concept was valid, but in 3rd hour wondered how DNA fit into the whole scheme.  Some of you asked - to knock the concept down - how do babies know how to roll over or lift their heads?  How do they know how to suck right away?   How could they have learned those skills if they've never had any interaction w/ other babies?   Babies are constant learning machines, but are they truly blank slates?

 - in Pinker's book, he discussed how the civil rights and women's equality movements cemented the BS concept further in the public's mind, because these movements showed that once treated equally, women and minorities would flourish like white men (hence, we're all equal). 

Statement #2 - Mankind is basically good but society corrupts him/her - this one was a lot tougher to decide upon b/c students could agree w/ part of the statement but disagree with another part.  It seemed that a group of people ended up in the "I Don't Know" category.  This concept has been influenced by the discovery of the New World and the comparison of the Native Americans to Europeans.  The Europeans, in their conceit, couldn't understand how the Native Americans seemed to live in relative peace and harmony (compared to the Europeans and their religious wars), and many philosophers and writers felt that it was a lack of civilization, society or religion that kept the Native Americans conflict-free.  Pinker states that this concept is called the Noble Savage.  Mankind is good, but that society or complex structures and forms, according to Jean Jacques Rousseau, are what finally corrupt mankind. 

 - However, many of you were focused on the romanticized version of sociopaths (Dexter, Hannibal Lector) when discussing good or bad.  Do our actions make us bad or are there just bad people?  Is selfishness bad?  What about self preservation?  In many ways, the phrase, "the apple doesn't fall from the tree" could apply - we follow our parents' lead when we're young until we actually forge our own value unique system.

Statement #3 - When we die, our essence or soul leaves our body - this divided the class like the 2nd statement, because some weren't sure whether or not we had a soul and wanted proof.  Also, we discussed what was someone's essence?  A memory held after the person was gone?  His/her impact on others?  Are we just renting our skin and bones while we're here (thanks, Switchfoot!)?  Some classmates mentioned the impact of ghost-like experiences as well as religion that have helped them through this difficult question.  Are we just worm food when we die or is there something more?

 - Pinker's concept here is called "ghost in the machine" after Gilbert Ryle's ideas about the mind and how Descartes approached mind / body dualism.

Pick one or more of these statements to add to the discussion.  Your answer is due by Thursday, October 27th before class begins.  Minimum of 250 words. 

Steven Pinker's website: 

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Blog #51 - Philosophical Interpretations of Inception

After reading a few chapters of the latest book that examines the intersection of pop culture and philosophy, Inception and Philosophy: Ideas to Die For, I thought to present a few of the interpretations of the movie.  Take a moment to look at each of these and pick one that you think fits the movie best.

1. Since the movie depends upon technology, the dreams aren't actually dreams but a computer simulated environment ("shared dreaming was created by the military so that soldiers could fight each other and not die") designed by an architect like Cobb or Ariadne. The biggest problem with these simulations is that there is a virus in it named Mal (mal-ware), and she has obviously screwed things up.  However, since such a machine / computer is so rare, it's hard to find or obtain a new one.  So, it's not like Cobb or Arthur can get a new one at Target. 

2. Rene Descartes' question - How - if at all - can we know whether the world we experience while we're awake is real or not? - really fries your noodle if you think about it too much.  So I am asking you to apply this question not only to yourself (part 1) but to the movie (part 2).  In the movie, the characters have totems to know whether or not they're dreaming.  But we don't have them to help us out, so how do we truly know?

3. In 1974, philosophy professor Robert Nozick came up with the thought experiment, "the experience machine" from his book,  Anarchy, State and Utopia.  Nozick asks us to think about a machine that would give us whatever desirable or pleasurable experiences that we could imagine (by plugging our brains into it - Matrix?) in a way that we could not distinguish between reality and this machine life.   Nozick asks, if given a choice, which would we prefer, the machine or real life? 

4. How is the movie a metaphor for skepticism / doubt / Socrates?  Socrates has stated that the only thing that he truly knows is that he knows nothing.  One of the consistent things about Inception is that the movie keeps its audience guessing as to what is the true level of reality - whose dream is real or is the movie's reality truly real?  If the movie keeps us guessing or making us doubt, can the movie/director act as a philosopher?

5. This tangent should truly be called an addendum to question #2 because it asks you to answer the unanswerable, but what if we were all just brains stuck in a jar full of nutrients that kept us alive, and much like the Matrix, that we are in some shared dreaming space or computer simulation?  In the album art below for Pearl Jam's BackSpacer by Tom Tomorrow, the band members are controlled by a vat in a jar. 

However, if the brain had ALWAYS been in the jar, according to Hilary Putnam's 1981 book, Reason, Truth, and History, would it have had any experiences like walking or eating an ice cream cone or playing in a sandbox?  No, Putnam claims, b/c the only things the brain could experience would be that of its vat-existence.  Or in essence, if you've never had any interaction or experience w/ the real world, then you can't really think thoughts about that world and tell whether or not those thoughts are real.  This is called the causal theory of reference. 
 - Do you agree with Putnam's dismissal of the brain in the vat theory?  Why or why not?  Or are you unsatisfied w/ this explanation?  Why?

Due Wednesday, October 19.  250 words minimum. 

Brain in a vat discussions -
Nozick's experiment -

Friday, October 14, 2011

Who's Your Philosopher? Teams

The teams are locked!  Let's get ready to rumble.......

1. Descartes - Asia, Patrick, Rebecca and Bria. 
2. Karl Marx - Leah S., Emily A., Charlie and Patrice. 
3. Ayn Rand - Emily N., Jake R., Rachel and Ryan S.
4. Immanuel Kant - Ryan W., Alan, Wes, Oran, Ari and Jack

5. Cicero - Amber, Leah D., Alexis T., Kiara, Philip, Courtney and Khadijah.
6. Galileo - Crystal, Angelina, Alexis B., Brittney, Cheyenne, Melissa and Ellie
7. John Locke - Sydnee, Jasmine, Alyssa, Simay, and Harry
8. Slavoj Zizek - Nick, Alex P., Nona, Claire, Elyse, and Simon.
9. Jean Paul Sartre - Will, David, Sam, Chelsee, Katie, and Jacob S.

Details and roles for this project will be coming by Monday.  Thanks.

Monday, October 10, 2011

The winners of your votes are....

29 votes cast in Pt. 1
1. St. Thomas Aquinas - 19 votes
2. Rene Descartes - 16 votes
3. John Locke - 21 votes
4. Karl Marx and Immanuel Kant - 9 votes each

31 votes cast in Pt. 2

5. Ayn Rand - 11 votes
6. Jean Paul Sartre - 9 votes
7. Slavoj Zizek - 11 votes.

Now we need to add a Natural Philosopher / Greek / Hellenist philosopher and Middle Ages scientist. 
Ancient dudes:
 - Plato
 - Aristotle
 - Democritus
 - Epicurus
 - Cicero
Middle Ages
 - Galileo
 - Newton
Please pick one for each. 

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Blog #50 - The Adjustment Bureau

***DANGER - SPOILER ALERT - If you haven't seen The Adjustment Bureau but still want to, do not read any further. 

While we watched the Adjustment Bureau, I had several questions as did many of you. Here were a few of them:
1. Who was the Chairman? Did Norris and / or Elise see the Chairman during the film or was it earlier in their lifetimes before the film ever began?
2. When Harry said to Elise and Norris that the Chairman rewrote the plan, the book showed a blank space ahead for the two of them.  What do you think that meant? 
3. Alexis and Cheyenne asked why there weren't any female adjusters.  I didn't have an answer for them as to that question.  I also criticized the film's Western / Euro - centered bias when it talked about giving mankind free will during the Roman times and the Cuban Missile Crisis.  Assess the film in light of these flaws. 
4. Is Harry the Chairman?  Why or why not? 
5. Think about Harry's crisis of conscience when Elise and David broke up for the 3rd time (when he left her at the hospital), and he asked Richardson about the rightness of the plan.  Put yourself in one of the adjusters' shoes and try to make sense of it all when you're only given part of the picture. 
6. Looking at Harry's statement at the end (see below), what do you think is the filmmaker's message? Why?

“Most people live life on the path that we set for them to afraid to explore any other [path]/ Sometimes, someone like you comes along and knocks down the obstacles that we put in your way. People should realize that free will is a gift that you’ll never know how to use until you fight for it. I think that’s the Chairman’s real point. And maybe one day, we won’t write the plan, you will.”
Pick two of these questions and answer them for tomorrow, Wednesday, Oct. 5 before class begins. 
250 word minimum.  Thanks.