Saturday, September 29, 2012

Consistency and Completeness

To all my regular readers (ha, as if I have regular readers!) sorry I haven't written in such a long time.  I've been busy going overseas to a combat zone.

Anyways, I've been reading Gödel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid and the author brings up an interesting concept.  Can one actually conceive of a universe that doesn't follow logical rules?  In that regard one might use the copout argument that just writing or saying the words means that one can conceive of it.  But that's a silly argument, and doesn't really count.  That's like being able to read Korean script but having no knowledge of what's being said.  Just being able to say the words doesn't mean that it's actually conceivable.

But, it is conceivable?  Think about sci-fi movies and such... or a world that doesn't have mathematical consistency.  Could, even in a movie, there be a world where 1 + 1 = 3?  I'm not talking about the words 'one,' 'plus,' 'equals,' and 'three.'  Even in this world there are a variety of ways to express the number '1' but could there exist a world where having two of something couldn't exist?  In the movies it is easy (or is it?) to blur the lines between conceivable and inconceivable.

The book often references "zen" and that zen readily accepts contradictions.  It seems like cheating to me... like saying 1+1=2 and 1+1=3, and just accepting both as being completely correct.  It's like throwing out Aristotle's laws of non-contradiction.  The same thing, at the same time cannot be two opposite things!  According to Aristotle without these distinctions we cannot know anything, to which zen would probably responds "yes, we cannot know anything."  Accepting contradiction is not a way of dealing with it, it's a way of ignoring it.  I would guess that zen would eventually draw a line somewhere and stick to some standard.  Maybe not, but even if one ignores a fact or a non-fact does that make it any more of a fact or non-fact?

Nothing quite like seeing an airshow from above the planes

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Thomas Aquinas

If you've never heard of him Thomas Aquinas was an apologetics master.  As I've mentioned before, I've been listening to the philosophy podcast and the most recent episode was about Aquinas's proofs for God.  He used the unmoved mover, uncaused cause and other arguments to show that the concept of God is perfectly logical.  I need to read more from this brilliant man!  That being said, this made me think of another reason to believe in God (caveat this is by no means a good reason to believe).

Before I go into that reason, let's discuss "human progress."  The only thing that has really progressed for humanity is hubris and pride.  Okay, when I say only I'm not saying that there haven't been lots of technological advances over the years.  In just my short 30 years (almost 31) there has been huge progress in the power of computing.  That's not what I'm talking about, technological advanced are not true progress, it's just more complicated ways to put together different things in different ways.

Let's look at human progress in the realm of morality or at fixing social ills.  In the past few thousand years, how has humanity progressed at eradicating any of these things that plague humanity?  Hunger?  Poverty?  Disease?  Homicide?  War?  How well have we done in getting rid of these things?

Going back to the topic of great philosophers, hearing some of the writings of Thomas Aquinas made me pause and think about another reason to believe in God, aside from all the great apologists' arguments.  There are dozens upon dozens of brilliant people that have proved time and again that the concept of God is rational.  So, when someone stands up on his or her little soap box and states unequivocally that "God is dead" or "man is God," that person is stating that he or she has more knowledge, wisdom, insight, and logic than many of the greatest thinkers.  Of the history of philosophy podcast that I've been listening to, basically all of the philosophers so far, have believed in some form of god/gods, that includes Plato, Socrates, and Aristotle.  Then there are the other great thinkers like C.S. Lewis, Ravi Zacharias, Thomas Aquinas, and many many more.  I'm not saying there aren't smart people on the other side of the argument.  I'm saying that humanity needs to take a break and remember from where we've come.

Like my last post about believing in God just because without such belief one has no hope, TRILLIONS upon TRILLIONS of people for centuries have believed that there's Something out there that created everything.  Who are you to rail against human history and claim that man is all there is!?

Beautiful view of the Golden Gate bridge from the south side

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Existence is Futile

All of human existence is simply a pointless cycle of boredom - desire - satiety - boredom.  Eating is the most basic example, you're hungry - you eat - then you're full; for a time then it starts all over again.  The past is empty/nothingness, the future is vain unattainable hope.  People try to pass themselves on via procreation and leaving a will, but the person is now gone no matter what they try to leave behind.  In the grand scheme of the universe, time, space and eternity no one makes any difference.  There is nothing worth living for; hoping for the future is in vain and nothing can be gained.  All that one gains in life is lost in death.  Even if one passes on a large amount of possessions/money to one's offspring that person still dies, and becomes nothing.

Interesting though in the  made a point against Epicureanism: One shouldn't dwell on the past; it's gone/a dream, nothing can be done about it.  One mustn't dwell on the future; it's unknowable and always unpredictable.  Lastly, one shouldn't live for the present either; it's fleeting, only here for just a moment then lost to the past, which is a dream.

Where is this coming from, you ask...  I've been listening to this podcast here, and it's based on a translation of Author Schopenhauer's work, The Emptiness of Existence.  I can't believe that there aren't more people that commit suicide based on this work.  If all of life is a short tumble down the hill of existence into non-existence, why go on living?

Along the same lines, a friend and I were talking about the concept of being able to transfer one's consciousness into a machine.  He kept calling that technological advance, "the singularity."  I'm assuming he was referencing this book The Singularity is Near by Raymond Kurzweil.  My friend kept saying that being able to do that would render a person (virtually) immortal.  Total hogwash!  Thinking like this is such a small view of eternity/infinity.  Computers break down over time; data corrupts over time.  On an even larger scale energy sources will eventually run out.  Even the sun will eventually run out.  Infinity is so much farther into the future than computers or electricity or the sun.

Keep in mind that one must caveat that first paragraph with... "without God..."  With God, nothing is futile, everything and everyone has meaning and purpose.  I don't agree with Pascal's wager: that one should believe because it doesn't hurt and in the end if it turns out you're wrong then it doesn't matter. However, this is something similar... if life has no meaning without God, then you should believe, so that your life has meaning.

Love the beautiful central California coast

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Fear of Looking Stupid

I drove (about 3 1/2 hours) down to Monterey California yesterday to hang out and eat at some of the places I used to enjoy when I was attending the Defense Language Institute there.  It was a great trip, I went for a hike/run at one of my favorite parks, Garrapata State park.  Then took a swim in HUGE waves at Carmel Beach.  Then, after lunch and hanging out on the coast I stopped for gas.  While I was filling up my tank I overheard the conversation that started me thinking about this topic.  I heard a woman walking along, talking to a Chinese man.  He asked a question about what the different prices were on the gas sign.  To which the woman responded that the lowest price was "unleaded" and the higher prices were more leaded.  The highest price has the "most lead."

Now, first I want to say, there's NOTHING WRONG with not knowing everything.  No one knows everything!  What I'm worried about, is why she didn't just answer honestly with "I don't know."  Why do we, in general, fear that tiny little phrase!?  There's nothing wrong with that woman not knowing what the difference is between the different octanes.  Where she went wrong is where she made something up an told someone who honestly didn't know something that's not even close to the actual fact, apparently just to save face from having to say "I don't know."

I love this town, hope to move back there some day

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Abolish meta-insert the blank

First, if you've never heard the term, meta- comes from Greek meaning "after or beyond."  It's been used in various compounds, the most famous being Aristotle's works (not titled by Aristotle).  The irony of this is that the title has double meaning: either that it's the chapter/book after physics, or that it's beyond physics; i.e. on a higher plane than physics.  Interesting enough this is the only compound using "meta-" that I think should be kept, and I'll cover more about that later.

First, let's consider metalanguage.  The idea that there's some conception of language beyond language, doesn't make any sense.  The "thing" behind language, is thought.  Now trying to conceptualize thought is virtually impossible because you have to think to think about thinking (like that?).  Now, studying and thinking about what kinds of thought generate language.  Sure, but don't call it "metalanguage."

Next, meta-philosophy, that's like saying the philosophy of philosophy.  First off, philosophy is a vague enough word as it is: love of learning.  What is that?  Why do we romanticize the idea?  I think the term meta-philosophy was made up by a philosopher that wanted to get laid (aka sound smart).

There's a large variety of words that misuse the term "meta-," and I won't go into them all now let's just say that most often the words could be replaced by some other word or concept.

The exception: As I mentioned before I think the term metaphysics should still be used.  Here's why: God exists (only using the term "exists" because of a lack of a term that fits better) outside the human plane of existence, and there's no better term to describe something that is beyond our concept of the physical universe.  I've written a couple times about this topic on my blog and I've posted some on this topic at a philosophy forum.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

I Refuse to Participate

The topic of rape/abortion is swirling around the internet as bad as the typhoon that just passed over Okinawa (and is heading towards the Korean peninsula).  I refuse to participate in this argument!  I've already made my position on abortion clear and I'm sticking to my guns.

What I would like to talk about kind of just fell into my lap.  As I was hiking Saturday, the topic of over-diagnosis/over-medicating ADD/ADHD came up out of the blue.  Then today as I was scanning through the New York Times Opinion pages I ran across this article about the topic.

While I'm not a medical professional and this is just my opinion.  I've seen a variety of articles/Op-Ed pieces about this topic over the years and I still think the way I've thought for a long time.  First, the caveat: YES there are cases where people are helped by medication and there are definitely people that need the help of medication to function.  However, I think the whole system is broken where this is concerned.  While medical science has greatly improved over the years but the brain is still very mysterious, especially concerning cognitive function.  If cognizance is still such a medical mystery how can we rely on medicine to alter people's state of mind.  And yet, that is basically what the medicines that "treat" ADD/ADHD do, alter people's state of mind.  If we don't understand how something works, let's not tamper with it.

Monday, August 27, 2012

Short Comment on Book VI of The Republic

So as I've said before, I've been listening to the audiobook version of Plato's Republic and I've said time and again that I disagree with most of the things he says...  Well, this is one more that is totally crazy (at least, to me)!

Once again, books 1-6 have all been about this supposed "Guardian" class of people that are divided into two sections: gold and silver, i.e. true guardians and auxiliaries.  Well among other things, book six talks about marriage and children among the guardians.  Plato/Socrates places love of the state above ALL else (seemingly on par with love of the gods, which I think might be a part of why he was put to death).  So, in light of that view book six makes sense, though I think he overlooks some important parts of the human nature.  First, a bit about what he says about marriage and children in this perfect state:

Basically, women will be given the same rights and responsibilities as men (which, in that day was very forward-thinking).  However, when it comes to marriage and children all the guardians will share all the women and children.  At a large marriage festival, everyone will gather and the lower classes will be deceived into thinking their marriages were drawn by luck/lot but in reality it's just to keep the lower classes in line and maintain the purity of the gene pool of the guardian class.  So, all the guardians will be mated with other guardians and their children will be immediately taken from them and sent to guardian nursery/training schools to be cared for by specially chosen nursemaids.  The mothers will be only brought in to supply milk and they will be carefully matched so they don't ever nurse their own child(ren).  All the children of a certain age, will call each other 'brother/sister' and call all the people of their parent's generation 'father/mother,' and the previous generation 'grandfather/grandmother.'  Here's the worst part: all the children of the guardian-class couples will be evaluated shortly after birth and if they are found defective they're thrown out like trash and killed, basically, state-sanctioned infanticide.

While the concept of a society-family would be nice (there have been other cultures that do something similar, Korean culture is much more familial than western culture) I don't think this kind of concept will really work.  There's an interesting example in the Bible of state-sanctioned infanticide... it gave birth to Moses, one of Israel's greatest heroes.  I think that Plato/Socrates is greatly underestimating the power of a mother's connection to her offspring; mothers really do have deep connections with their children and wouldn't be able to give them up so easily.  I've said this before, and I'll say it again...  I would never want to live in this type of society.  No matter how good a state is it cannot replace family.  The Nazis tried this kind of eugenics and failed (more or less).  Only the people in charge want to perpetuate this kind of system.  I'm glad that Plato didn't write our constitution because if our state wanted to mandate arranged state-sanctioned marriage and infanticide I'd refuse to have any part in it.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Eidetic Memory and Testing

Do you have an eidetic memory?  According to the Wikipedia article on the subject, you probably don't.  I love Wiki articles as a launching point for further inquiry, and I think this deserves more study. I only know how my own thoughts go and I, most often, think in pictures.  So, the alternate term for eidetic memory is kind of silly, because lots of people think in pictures and recollect via pictures, therefore lots of people have "photographic memories."  I always like to say, I have a photographic memory but the camera is out of focus.  Mostly because I do think in pictures, and, at times, I can recall a specific picture in my mind.  Unfortunately, oftentimes there's a part of the picture that's blurry.

Best example I can think of off the top of my head: I can picture myself in Mr. Gaines' Bible class (not sure what grade, but it was in high school in the "new" building so it must have been between sophomore-senior years), and I'm taking a Bible memory verse quiz.  I can remember that I could picture the verse in my head (though I've lost the verse now) and I could remember the first half, but I was stuck on a certain part.  But, I could remember what column and what part of the page the verse was one and up until that point I could remember the words, but the rest of the page was fuzzy.  I can still picture where on the page it was; left page, right column, a little more than half way down.  So, obviously in some cases I remember in pictures, but when it comes to music, especially music I've heard but not played, I don't always associate a picture with the music in my head.  I just hear it in my mind.

I was listening to Plato's Republic some more today (like that non sequitur?), which again I have many disagreements with, but in one thing (from book four) I agree with Plato; that is: the importance of education.  Then, as I was thinking about how important education is and today's education climate that seems to think that teachers should be held accountable for their student's performance on "standardized tests" which apparently is leading to "gaming the system", I came up with my idea to help.  I know it's not a perfect analysis of the issue, but my initial thought to helping resolve the problem would be to use two tests each year.  I know that seems like it will only lead to more problems and I feel that much of today's education problems stem from too many tests, but I think that if we're going to base teacher's salary, benefits, and promotions etc. on test performance let's make sure we're testing the right things.

Now, about these two tests...  well, first off, it's actually only one test.  Though I don't think it should be the exact same test twice; because, just by virtue of taking the test once all students would presumably perform better the second time.  No, it should be two virtually identical tests which cover everything the class is intended to cover for the whole year.  Yep, you heard me... a comprehensive test which covers everything the student should have learned over the course of the whole year of class.  But here's the kicker... all the students should take this test BEFORE the school year begins, say on the first or second day of class.  You might respond that all the students should fail.  Well, yes in a manner of speaking most of the students shouldn't know hardly any of the answers.  However, the first test serves as a baseline for the second test to show improvement.

Here's my logic behind this... Some people in every class are going to be extraordinary, WITHOUT the teachers' input; some are not...  So, how can we test to show how much someone learns (presumably from the teacher) without a baseline.  The idea of holding teachers accountable is not necessarily a bad thing, but lets make sure we're not just punishing a teacher for having students that aren't as bright as other students.  After students take both the tests (which should be developed by the teacher), as long as some of the students make some progress then the teacher has done his or her job.  That can be quantifiable evidence used in paying, promoting and providing for teachers.  There should be strict proctoring and review of the test by a group of teachers, and as much as possible we should prevent teachers from cheating.  However, if we hire good people to teach the future of humanity there shouldn't be much danger of cheating.  Only the most trustworthy people should be entrusted with the minds of the future.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012


Relativity joke taken from Plato and a Platypus Walk into a Bar; "A man is praying to God. 'Lord,' he prays, 'I would like to ask you a question.' The Lord responds, 'No problem. Go ahead.' 'Lord, is it true that a million years to you is but a second?’ 'Yes, that is true.' 'Well, then, what is a million dollars to you?' 'A million dollars to me is but a penny.' 'Ah, then, Lord,' says the man, 'may I have a penny?' 'Sure,' says the Lord. 'Just a second.'”

What does that joke have to do with barefootedness you ask... well, nothing!  I just like that joke and wanted to use it.

First a bit of my running history: I started running because when I was on the soccer team my freshman year of high-school, the coach said I should try out for cross-country.  Well, since I went to a different campus that didn't have a soccer team the next year I "tried out" for the team, technically they didn't have tryouts, anyone who wanted could be on the team.  I did okay, I made it to the second level of state competition my senior year with a 5k time of 18:35 which, isn't exactly fast but not bad.  After graduating I didn't even try for the college team because I wasn't fast enough and I let my running go all through college and for a couple years after I dropped out, until I decided to join the Air Force.  The first couple years of being in the Air Force I was on a running team and I was getting pretty fast again, though not as fast I was in high school; got my 1.5mi time down to 8:45.  Also, I ran a marathon (first, and only so far) with a time of 3:53 which isn't bad for a first timer.  Just of note, I hadn't really even considered running barefoot up until about 3 or 4 years ago.

Now a bit of my barefooted history: if you don't know me in person you probably don't know that I'm a barefooter/barefoot runner.  I've  been wearing the Vibram Five Fingers (VFF) "shoes" for about three years, and when the weather is nice (mostly) I run completely barefoot.  Unfortunately, I have to wear socks when I'm in Air Force physical training gear so I don't wear my VFFs; I wear Merrell trail gloves.  I've done two half-marathons in the VFFs though I really do prefer completely barefoot.  I've also tried out a variety of other footwear options, including huaraches.  I started down my road towards barefoot/minimal shoes by reading the book Running Fast and Injury Free by Gordon Pirie and the book Born to Run by Christopher McDougall and a variety of blogs and websites.

All that to say I love running barefoot.  It kinda sucks that I won't get to run barefoot at all for the months I'm deployed.  Fortunately, I'm going to be in California (where I'm writing this) for about a month more and I'll be able to go barefoot (at least some) while I'm here.  I went for a short hike the other day barefoot and as soon as I can find more trails I'll do some more.  It kinda sucks, I can't find a place close by to go running.  I've been here a week and I've only been running once.  Hopefully this next weekend I'll get a chance to go to lake Tahoe and go for a hike/run there.

Anyways, happy trails to you all.  And, if you've never tried, go barefoot.  It's not as dangerous or painful as people think.

Edit: Since the writing of this original piece I've done a half-marathon barefooted, other than that I've been wearing my huaraches (updated link).

Monday, August 20, 2012

Plato's Republic, Books 1-3

First I'd like to say, I would NEVER want to live in a country like the one described in the first three books of Plato's definitive work. There's all kinds of interesting concepts even in just the first three parts, but there are all kinds of things I totally disagree with. However, I'll start out with what I do agree with but first a short into:

The first book is a discussion between the characters (the most famous one is Socrates) about what the best kind of society would be like if they could make it so, and the argument about justice vs. injustice. The other characters insist that it's better to be unjust than just, and they offer all sorts of arguments for injustice, though they don't really "decide" anything about this; even after Socrates has his say about why justice is better. They end at an impasse (in greek it's ἀπορɛία; aporia) where no one is "right" no one is "wrong," and the argument is just ended. One of the things that is "decided" in the first book that everyone in the argument more or less agrees with is the idea that each position in society should stick to that position. I, for the most part, agree with this though the discussion doesn't leave any room for hobbies (perhaps because in those days only the über-rich would have spare time to pursue hobbies).

Then in book two, one of the only points that I totally agree with (so far) comes out. That is, the idea that the "defender class" (i.e. the military) should be philosophers or at least think philosophically. It saddens me that the military profession has never really had this type of people in it. Don't get me wrong there are some very philosophical people in the military (many are my peers), but in general philosophy is not really a martial art.

Then book three focuses on the education of the military class, and this is where Plato and I have to part ways. Socrates speaks at great length about how this class should be educated, specifically about the censorship of the writers/poets, art, and music. Like there should be no writings of the gods that shows them doing human-like actions and having distinctly human failures. It's not really surprising the people sentenced him to death. In ancient Greece where the writings of Homer were akin to other sacred texts (the Bible, if you will, for Greek faith), and here Plato/Socrates (assuming Socrates actually taught what Plato was writing that he taught) is teaching that Homer (and others, but Homer is specifically mentioned) should be censored and NOT taught to the military class. That would be like someone in Medieval times preaching that the Bible isn't true. Basically, blasphemy, though of course it's not called that, at least not by anyone I know.

One thing isn't clear (though it doesn't matter I still disagree with him), is ALL art/poetry/music/writing to be censored? Or just that which the military class studies/experiences? Either way I disagree, the only thing I agree with is that we need to be careful about what age we expose children to certain poetry/art/music. Because, (and this is scientifically supported) children lack the ability to discern certain differences between what is real and what is fake or what is right and wrong. There is an innate sense of some right/wrong but children cannot discern real/fake. Also, they cannot see through lies or deceptions or advertisements. Up until a certain age kids don't know the
diference between the TV show they're watching and the commercials. So yes, shield kids from bad influences and temptations that they cannot resist, to a point, then when a person has learned self control/Willpower, let them learn about EVERYTHING (except the darkside of the force, apparently). We want to develop a well-rounded society, so everyone should study as much as he/she can in whatever field he/she is interested in.

I'll continue more on The Republic as I listen to the audiobook, but I'm also trying to read
Gödel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid, and it is a very heady, difficult to read book. My friend also recently sent me, The Language of God: A Scientist Presents Evidence for Belief which I'll be trying to read also while I'm away from home. I did finish Plato and a Platypus Walk into a Bar . . .: Understanding Philosophy Through Jokes, I highly recommend it as a neat/humorous introduction to philosophy.