Archives for category: Philosophy

https://mobile.nytimes.com/2017/04/18/books/review/knowledge-illusion-steven-sloman-philip-fernbach.html

Cognitive scientists now provide additional information supporting the postmodern view of man not being a rational agent. Humans are ignorant by necessity and ‘stupid’ in that most decisions are not rationally arrived at. However, language and thought is exquisitely logical, but the problem is that ontology and epistemology have overwhelmed our inputs. We have the potential of being logical and rational, but we don’t have the time to do a thorough analysis in every case, even in most cases. Individual persons are also the only information processors. So, we must rely on each other (and on technology in the future) but there is a very high premium on each one of us being as rational and knowledgeable as possible in our narrow field – a veritable and vast web of knowledge is the engine of our culture and civilization.

the signal was generated by two objects, each roughly 35 times the mass of our Sun, locked in a decaying orbit the size of Switzerland, circling each other 50 times a second. The energy involved was staggering, briefly exceeding that of all the starlight in the Universe

By Hoak, D. Aeon Magazine

We are most certainly part of something very strange – 50x per second! Gimme a break

Many are aghast at the evil acts suddenly erupting all over the world – most of it in the name of jihad. Not a few are actually inspired by the mayhem and join the fight. The new world order is outrageously brutal; things had seemed so reliably predictable during the cold war. Popular pundits blame George W Bush or Barack H Obama.

Of course, in the old days we were not inundated 24/7 with continuous news streams covering all the wars and ethnic cleansings of the moment in faraway places: Korea, Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, Angola, Czechoslovakia, Uganda, South Africa etc. Total killed in such conflicts in the 20th century ~100 million. The average person was more oblivious in the good old days.

The scary thought is that things may actually have improved over the centuries. We don’t really know what life was like in distant times but this paragraph from a review in the WSJ of a book by Robert Harris on the life of Cicero suggests that evil has always been a prominent part of our social fabric:

“Nonetheless, Mr. Harris captures the senselessness of triumviral intrigue magnificently, not relenting as the players meet their gruesome ends. Crassus was slain at Carrhae in 53 B.C., Pompey on an Egyptian beachhead in 48 B.C., following his defeat at Pharsalus. Both were posthumously decapitated. Cato, having unsuccessfully attempted to take his life, tore the stitches from his wound, pulled out his intestines and bled himself to death at Utica in 46 B.C. Caesar was savagely murdered on the senate floor in 44 B.C. Cicero was proscribed by Octavian and Antony in 43 B.C., losing his hands and head soon after. Antony killed himself in 30 B.C., one year after the Battle of Actium.”

The religious myth that the devil has corrupted our pure souls, or some such, is wrong. Evil resides within each one of us, placed there during the process of creation. It is up to each one of us to find ways to control it. Society and culture tries to promote the good and discourage the bad but things can spin out of control so easily. Science, religion, philosophy and politics all have their roles to play.

Will there be an end to the personal crimes committed by sociopaths, murderers, rapists, thieves and the like? Probably not, but it does seem reasonable to tackle the phenomenon of social movements intent on killing, raping and pillaging. But is there a cure for the waves of mass cruelty and suffering that wash over humanity? The mystery answer has been blowing in the wind for a very long time.

Humankind should of course strive for improvement of our world, if only we could figure out what the problem is more precisely. Commitments to various communities (religious, philosophical, political, ethnic, national, ideological – even tribal or criminal gangs) have been the more obvious strategies for success, but they have actually been the very source of the mayhem  when a mob mentality supervenes. Philosophers tend to be peaceful by default, if for no other reason than they spend their time arguing with each other. Too often, however, fear of the other leads to a fight or flight confrontation.

Somewhat counterintuitively, the solution to this universal problem may reside in a fuller recognition of the important role of the individual. Communities should be organized so as to foster involvement by more individuals to understand and solve problems, and then to act for the common good. This may be the true source of progress. Morality is an emergent quality of a super-complex system of individuals acting independently in their immediate interests as they see fit. All that would be needed is a sufficient number of ‘virtuous’ people who are willing to make the effort – what exactly that means is for them to decide. It does suggest that we be a little more skeptical about the pronouncements of others who claim to know what we should accept as reality.

DNA can identify with almost absolute certainty the person that entered a house and stole a priceless artwork, but had carelessly left a tissue with a few cells on it. Each one of us has a unique combination of polymorphisms – genes that often differ by only a single nucleotide molecule (SNP). The same situation applies to our ancestry. Our DNA bears unequivocal nucleotidal evidence of where our ancestors are from – Asia, Africa, Europe, America, etc.

When it comes to our individuality and our ancestry, there is a remarkable degree of specificity in our DNA. Your genes define you, the individual, with almost 100% accuracy.

It appears that the opposite is true for intelligence. No set of genes has been able to sort out ‘smart’ individuals from ‘dumb’ ones, however such odious terms may be defined for the purposes of a study. A review of intelligence and quantitative trait loci suggests that a particular set of genes may contribute 0.1% or less to the intelligence phenotype of a person. Simple genetic correlations do not define intelligence.

This should not be too surprising for evolutionary reasons: hominids have probably been around for millions of years, H. sapiens only for about 200,000. Human intelligence is a very deep and common feature of all of us. There are definite superficial variations, e.g. “intelligence runs in the family”. Geniuses of various kinds are also hard to explain but these variations seems to have very little to do with the totality or core of human intelligence – the amount of ‘information processing’ that is necessary in order for us to perform at any level is vast, beyond comprehension.

Attempts, therefore, to correlate intelligence with ethnicity, culture, race, class or other physical feature are doomed to fail. Phrenology is a quaint example of how this futile goal did lead people astray. Unfortunately and sadly, many communities, cultures or ethnic groups make a huge deal out of such illusions and waste their time in the pursuit of these very harmful fallacies. 😦

JIHADI JOHN – A BRAND. Prospect Magazine

Majeed Nawaz is the latest darling of the media looking for a reasonable, liberal Muslim:

“Tackling the real issue requires fundamental societal changes to dissipate the extremist Islamist ideology that underpins the brand of Jihadi John, and the circumstances that allow radicalisation of young Muslims to happen in the first place. This needs to happen more urgently than ever, with methods such as internet recruiting of Jihadists making young people easier to access than ever with extremist messages. In a survey conducted by the BBC yesterday, an alarming 11 per cent of British Muslims are reported to feel sympathy for people who want to fight against Western interests.”

His argument is of a type made by all Muslim apologists, and many others, in my experience. These apologists claim that the fundamental problem is not in the foundations of Islam. Rather, it is fundamentally a problem of attitudes and behaviors in Western society: prejudice, discrimination, exploitation, corruption.

This argument is wrong and encourages fundamentalist Islamists.

All faiths have an element of dogma. We BELIEVE this to be TRUE, therefore I shall do thus….  The problem with religions is that they easily conclude that their particular religion is true AND that all else is false. The faith part is underplayed or even eliminated. An article of faith and hope thus transmutes into an unquestionably TRUE statement. All kinds of irrational behavior ensue from such a delusion.

Islam seems to be the most dogmatic of all large religions. Dogmas, however, are part of everyone’s belief system – atheist, agnostic, etc. – and could thus motivate immature or deficient minds of any stripe to do all sorts of horrible things. (E.g. Hitler, Stalin, Pol Pot, etc, etc.) Dogmas should continuously be, but rarely are, subject to review, revision and clarification. Dogmas are the axioms by which we guide ourselves and so most of us are unwilling to question the very foundations of our existence.

Islam is going through some very ugly convulsions now. Its foundational texts are so problematical that a full discussion of faith has not yet occurred. Heads are literally rolling as we speak!