Philosophical Multicore

Sometimes controversial, sometimes fallacious, sometimes thought-provoking, and always fun.

Archive for January, 2010

I really like that rose.

Posted by Michael Dickens on January 30, 2010

Another experiment.

So I was walking through the park one day, and this strange little man came up to me. He was barefoot, and had curly little old man toes. He pointed with a shaky finger and said to me, “I really like that rose.”

At the time, I didn’t really think much of it. I tried to avoid eye contact and kept walking. But now that I think about it, that one little sentence changed my life more than anything else I’ve ever heard. It was such a profound expression that only a man like that could express. He found something in that moment that he appreciated more than anything else in the world, and he expressed it to me. He was such a simple man, but he appreciated that rose just so much. If only we could all learn to be like that man.

Posted in Fun | 1 Comment »

Article of the Day: In Defense of Dangerous Ideas

Posted by Michael Dickens on January 28, 2010

This article by Steven Pinker is, as is said by the title, a defense of dangerous ideas.

An excerpt:

In every age, taboo questions raise our blood pressure and threaten moral panic. But we cannot be afraid to answer them.

Do women, on average, have a different profile of aptitudes and emotions than men? . . .

Did Native Americans engage in genocide and despoil the landscape? . . .

Do African-American men have higher levels of testosterone, on average, than white men? . . .

Have religions killed a greater proportion of people than Nazism? . . .

Perhaps you can feel your blood pressure rise as you read these questions. Perhaps you are appalled that people can so much as think such things. Perhaps you think less of me for bringing them up. These are dangerous ideas — ideas that are denounced not because they are self-evidently false, nor because they advocate harmful action, but because they are thought to corrode the prevailing moral order.

After reading this article, I have formulated a proposition. The proposition is this: complete honesty is the best strategy to maximize moral uprightness.

Let us assume, for the sake of argument, that women are far smarter than men. Some people may be strongly opposed to this idea; but remember that it is only for the sake of argument. As it is, we treat men and women as equals, or at least try to. But if men are treated as just as apt as women, then this would certainly be unfair. We may not like the prospect, but the best thing to do would be to treat women and men as they are, and not as how we want them to be. Therefore, honesty and inquisitive investigation is the way to go.

This same logic can be applied to any of the scenarios listed by Pinker. If we make a false assumption because we are afraid of the truth, then in the end we are only harming ourselves.

Interestingly, this does not seem to be true all of the time. But a lot of the time, perhaps most of the time, it certainly is. What is the difference, then? Would complete honesty always be the most beneficial, but our culture gets in the way of it? For instance, you might not want me to tell you that you’re fat, but if you are then it may help you in the long run. But we have strong social pressure not to talk about such things. There also seem to be some circumstances in which honesty really doesn’t help at all. For example, if there’s someone who you think is ugly, but they can’t to anything about it, how can it benefit either of you to tell them? Such honesty is only hurtful. Unless, of course, there is a societal shift. If we start to care less about how people look, then it will no longer be a problem. We all like to talk about how it’s what’s on the inside that counts, but let’s face it. We care what people look like. Basing how we like someone on how they look is completely unfair, but we still do it. If we didn’t do it, though, then there would be nothing wrong will telling someone that we think they’re ugly.

Let’s ask Thomas Jefferson what he thinks about this issue.

Here we are not afraid to follow truth, wherever it may lead.

I think that makes his position clear enough.

I think the sentence that best sums up the article is this:

Rational adults want to know the truth, because any action based on false premises will not have the effects they desire.

I think that this is a wonderful point, and I’ll leave you at that.

Posted in Article of the Day, Ethics | 7 Comments »

Miles Davis: the Electric Years

Posted by Michael Dickens on January 26, 2010

This is a new blogging experiment. I got a friend to type in the title. I will be doing nothing other than sitting down and writing this topic, based only on the title. No research, no talking. Only writing. We’ll see how it goes.

Who is Miles Davis? Honestly, I don’t know. I presume he’s a musician of some sort. I’ve heard his name before, but I don’t really know much about him.

So then, what is there for me to say about his “Electric Years”? Well, they were electric, certainly. It was a time in which he was very successful. He was like lightning. He blew people away with this jazzy stylings, and today is still regarded as one of the greatest musicians of the era. He was actually the inspiration for the entire genre of hip hop. He has something of a cult following; in fact, there is a group called the Electric Miles Davis Coalition, where they run through suburban neighborhoods and knock on doors. When you answer the door, they blast Miles Davis music and dance to it. What’s the point of all this? They really just want people to hear the greatness that is Miles Davis.

Posted in Fun | 5 Comments »

True Coexistence

Posted by Michael Dickens on January 25, 2010

A week ago I participated in a discussion regarding coexistence, in the context of post-Martin Luther King Day. The conversation got me thinking about the meaning of true coexistence.

Current ideas on coexistence are certainly not it. The scope of the popular idea of coexistence is far too narrow: it only includes the human species. The world is moving in a direction to where all ideologies are tolerated. But when will we be tolerant of the needs of living species beyond humans? As it is, humankind is rather poor at respecting other animals. That is not difficult to see. We are cutting down rainforests which contain thousands of species and billions of animals. We are building offices, stores and residences and taking up more and more land for ourselves. There are those animals who have benefitted from the spread of humans, but they are in the minority.

To truly coexist with other animals, we as humans would have to stop consuming so many resources. Overall, that’s good not just for other animals but for us. We’re going to run out eventually. But to become truly sustainable would require major lifestyle changes, perhaps the most significant ever. This is not something as simple as the minute difference between capitalism and communism. This is big.

One question that I am interested in is, how effectively can we coexist with other animals and with the environment, and at the same time retain as much of modern life as possible? I for one am rather invested in modern life, and I happen to enjoy it greatly. A lot of the trick here will be stability. What parts of modern life can we retain and be able to continue them for hundreds or even thousands of years without disrupting our surroundings? A reduction of resource usage will obviously be necessary, but there are other issues as well. We would have to stop expanding our cities; we would have to stop building so much and stop producing and consuming so many goods that end up creating side effects.

But that’s enough of that. Now I will move on to another interesting question. This question is about the nature of society. In our communities, nearly all members are humans. We do have animals (i.e. pets), but they hardly count as they are generally regarded more as objects for our pleasure than fellow members of a community. Would it be possible to integrate animals into society, on the same level as humans? I find tihs prospect to the fascinating. For nearly all species, the practical difficulties of forming an interspecies society — whether it be the language barrier, vastly different morals, or some species’ simple inability to comprehend what society is — would be overwhelming. But there are a few cases in which it just might work. Look at chimpanzees, for example. I don’t know a whole lot about them, but I know that some have learned sign language. It makes me wonder just what kind of conversation one could have with a chimpanzee. For example, could you discuss philosophy? Are there chimpanzees that would be able to understand such a thing? If not, then what about something simpler such as small talk? Could you maybe have a less deep conversation with a chimpanzee, and have it be just as successful as if it were with a human?

Unfortunately, I don’t think that this kind of thing will be possible a lot of the time. Under such circumstances, the best we can do is not to integrate, but merely to coexist.

Now, by my own moral philosophy, the most moral thing to do is to maximize the happiness of as many beings as possible. But I know that we humans are selfish, not just for ourselves but for our species, so we want to maximize the happiness of our species. Will this be possible? I think so. What usually makes people unhappy these days? Some people don’t like their jobs. Other people don’t like their spouses. Still others are in the midst of genocide, or have to walk three hours a day to get dirty, disease-ridden water and bring it back to their family, meaning they have to drop out of school at a young age which ruins their chances of ever getting out of poverty. (Kind of puts things in perspective, doesn’t it?) These problems will not worsen if we make the kinds of societal changes that I have hinted at.

And hinting at them is precisely what I have done. I haven’t been more specific because this is a complex idea which cannot be fully fleshed out in a hastily-written essay. Maybe this is all just pointless speculation about concepts that will never come to fruition. Maybe it is all hopeless idealism. But maybe not. And maybe it will make you think a little. What if we did achieve true coexistence? What if we incorporated other species into the core of our society? Things could get interesting. Very interesting.

Posted in Ethics | 13 Comments »

Relevant to “A New Model of Education”

Posted by Michael Dickens on January 23, 2010

Kiran Bir Sethi teaches kids to take charge. And it actually works. This is relevant to my post, An Ideal Model of Education.

Posted in Education | 4 Comments »

Learning More

Posted by Michael Dickens on January 20, 2010

Yesterday I was partaking in a discussion, and it drifted to the topic of communism. I was a little bit frustrated after a couple of people made some uninformed comments (“it looks great on paper, but has never worked”). Then, I realized that I don’t really know all that much about communism. So that day, I decided that I would read the Manifesto of the Communist Party.

This is not the only time that something like this has happened. I frequently find myself in situations in which I observe other people who don’t really seem to know much about a topic, but then I notice that I don’t know much either. As of now, I am taking these opportunities to teach myself something.

My advice to you for today is: if you find that you are ignorant of some subject, then learn about it. You’re never too old to stop learning.

Posted in Education | 2 Comments »

Everything Comes in Threes?

Posted by Michael Dickens on January 18, 2010

Does everything come in threes? Is three the best number for a set of items? In fact, this is an elaborate illusion that has been perpetrated by our perspective on the world.

Look at it this way. First of all, sets of fewer items tend to be more common. And when we see a set of one item, we don’t really think of it as a set. It’s just one item. Sets of two items don’t really count either: it’s just one thing or the other, on or off, true or false. So a set of three items is really the smallest possible set that we think of as a set, and is therefore the most likely to show up.

Posted in Humor, Off-Topic | 1 Comment »

An Ideal Model of Education

Posted by Michael Dickens on January 17, 2010

The current idea of education, anyone would agree, is severely flawed. In this essay I will develop an ideal model of education, and propose goals that can work towards this model. I will outline the ideal structure of education and the subjects to be taught.

Education at its best will effectively prepare students for the working world. But even as soon as I say even that, its flaws become clarified. Under such a paradigm, an educational system is only as good as its future. The model of career acquisition may itself be flawed. So instead, an ideal education system would not only prepare students for the working world but would also prepare them to become empowered to reform the working world to better suit the needs of the people. There are far too many men and women who are unhappy with their jobs; but with proper education, they could seek careers that not only would contribute to society, but that they would enjoy.

Some would say that such a model is impossible. Others would say that we already have such a model. As usual, neither extreme is fully correct. The primary flaws of our educational system are that: its teachers — and teaching itself — are not highly valued enough; there is little incentive from the outside to improve the educational system; students themselves do not understand the purpose of education; and the results of education are misunderstood.

I will go into detail over each of the flaws outlined above. When these four key problems are rectified, our educational system will be significantly improved.

It is understood by many that teaching is an important job, at least in an archaic sense. But in primary and secondary education, this understanding is rarely put into practice. College professors are highly respected, but elementary through high school teachers are not. Why? For one, many of them are simply not very good at their jobs, but this is a side effect of the lack of respect for the teaching profession. If the profession was more highly respected, then better-qualified people would take the jobs. Teachers are chronically underpaid: even schools that have plenty of money typically waste it on frivolous (and usually nationalistic) expenditures such as a new football stadium. If teachers were more highly respected and received better pay, schools would be able to hire better teachers as teaching would become an attractive option for people in the field. For example, good high school math teachers are hard to come by as most people who are qualified to teach math are in much higher-paying jobs. The only math teachers left are the ones who either love teaching enough to accept the lower pay, or are not good enough at math to get a better job. Unfortunately, it’s usually the latter.

This leads me into the second main problem: there is little incentive from the outside to improve the educational system. This may sound almost paradoxical. The children are the future, after all. But that’s exactly the problem: the children are the future, not the present. Unfortunately, when it comes down to it most people are only really interested in the present. The benefits of investing in education are far off and difficult to see. While people agree that education is important, other more pressing issues tend to get in the way. I see no easy way to incentivize people to invest more heavily in education.

The third problem is that students themselves often misunderstand the purpose of education. Many high schoolers find school pointless, and either put in as little work as possible or simply quit. In some ways, they are right. But they usually fail to see the benefits that even a lousy education can have. I think that most of this feeling can be attributed to the restrictive nature of schools. They think that students cannot be trusted, so place restrictions on students. Naturally, this makes the students want to lash out, further enforcing the idea that they cannot be trusted. This mutual mistrust stems from the lies inherent in our culture; to reach the root of this problem, we must address these lies.

My last contention is the most important. What is the purpose of education? To prepare students for the working world? As I have already stated, the working world itself has flaws which will necessarily be reflected by the educational system. Ideally, an education would open up a student’s options to the greatest extent possible. This would mean teaching not so much facts as the ability to think. Facts, of course, should not be discounted; certain types of facts are empowering, and others are helpful in understanding one’s own culture. Arithmetic is the former; history is the latter. I will now address the four core subjects, and how each fits into a scheme of not facts but thinking ability.

Mathematics is perhaps the most obvious. Math is one of the most loved and most hated school subjects, and rightly so. Current math education is rather dreary. But at its best, math could be not just memorization of facts but an exploration of logical reasoning ability. Such reasoning skills could be easily integrated into other subjects and areas of life.

The current state of science education is better, but not much. To my mind, the single most important thing you can get out of a science education is how to investigate the veracity of real-world claims. This is what I have learned through my self-education of science. Unfortunately, about the closest thing I have ever gotten to this in a high school science class is an education of the scientific method, but even that is not properly applied. What I really would have liked to learn in high school science is how to assess the credibility of propositions. Science is a great place to learn critical thinking skills; and yet we associate critical thinking with the humanities, even though science is entirely built upon critical thinking (along with empirical observation). Learning about mitosis is great and all, but what really needs to be taught is how to rationally investigate a claim. For example, are those real ghosts? Now, I don’t believe that we shouldn’t teach any scientific facts; but we should be giving a lot more time to teaching the art of critical thinking. Then maybe religion would stop trying to sneak into the science classroom.

Seeing as how they are not my areas of expertise, I don’t have as much to say about English and Humanities. I’ll say what I can, though. In History, students learn many historical facts, many of which are useless. Some do help to build a cultural foundation. One thing I do like about these subjects, though, is the essays. Essays help to expand the mind by getting students to focus their thoughts and form a coherent piece of writing on a given subject. This sort of task improves communication ability and helps students understand their own process of thinking things through.

I have presented the four major problems of education, and their root causes. I have also presented the major flaws in the four core subjects, and where ideally they would be. These four subjects should be integrated in order to improve students’ ability to think. When students are better at thinking, all other scholastic abilities will follow.

Posted in Education | 5 Comments »

Wanted: Typing Data

Posted by Michael Dickens on January 16, 2010

In order to improve my typing program, I am looking for good data on typing speed. Previously I had based the scoring system on my own estimation of how hard different movements would be, but now I want something concrete.

If you already use Amphetype, then all you need to do is send it to me off your hard drive. If you have it, post a comment here and I will give you my email address.

If you don’t already use Amphetype, then now is a great time to start. It is a program where you can type into it and it records data on how fast and how accurately you type. Feel free to send it to me after you’ve accumulated a good amount of data.

Posted in Keyboards | 1 Comment »

Other Blog

Posted by Michael Dickens on January 15, 2010

I just uploaded the first real post to my other blog. If I continue at the current rate, it will probably have a new post about once per month.

Posted in Math | Leave a Comment »

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