Philosophy

Concerning philosophy by school, by behavior, by implication or as a meme.

An incomplete list ~

  • A municipal code: the naming of sins, the punishments that follow.
  • The rules of forgiveness and mercy. An official cultural conscience. An opening for individual conscience, and a wall limiting it. The technicalities, loopholes, and escape clauses from conscience.
  • Shelter from fear. The source of fear.
  • Awakening. Sleep.
  • A road to power. Reliable safe employment.
  • Government. Bureaucracy, Police.
  • A creation story or myth. History.
  • Business. Charity. Club. Social scene.
  • Virus. Immune system.
  • The explanation of people. A pricing guide to their worth.
  • Hypocrisy. Sincerity. Strength. Weakness.
  • Criteria for goodness.
  • Bullying. Protection.
  • The roles of men and women. Expectations. Obligations.
  • A cultural pheromone granting or denying access.
  • Reform. Corruption.
  • A safe hiding place for evil.
  • Poison. Antidote.
  • Social glue. Social tar pit.
  • Buckets of black and white paint for black and white thinkers.
  • Justification for all acts and assertions. An excuse.
  • Context. A Map. A path.
  • The opiate of the masses.
  • Home. Family. Enemy.
  • Carrot. Stick.

If a person describes themselves as Religious, all they have told you is that one or more of these things is important to them.

 

 

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You know when you are at a family gathering and someone mentions something that you know is just an argument waiting to happen? Someone has stepped on a landmine and internally you race through your options: Should I placate, distract, argue, or maybe just run? My thought experiment is about race and culture, subjects that make almost everyone feel this way. At a minimum they make you brace for impact.
These hot button words make people dumb because they either snap into combat mode with arguments locked and loaded or they go all “deer in the headlights”.  It literally initiates a fight or flight reaction which means there is no thought or learning taking place. But I need to get at what these things are and mean, so here I go.

 The Experiment:

  Aliens randomly gather 200 men and women and take them to a faraway island or hidden valley and wipe their cultural memories while leaving personality, basic knowledge and survival skills intact. They leave them alone for 500 years and then return to check on them.
Would they have:
  • some recognizable “racial” traits?
  • a leadership structure?
  • a standard of beauty?
  • a spiritual / religious framework? And some sort of representative (priest, shaman) role?
  • stories they like to tell?
  • music?
  • unique styles of clothing?
  • an attitude towards outsiders?
  • some sort of roles for men and women?
  • a story about death?
  • richer and poorer? Or higher and lower caste?
  • a warrior/defense group?

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Because 9 isn’t enough and 11 is too many.

The 10 Commandments (hereafter known by their DJ name, 10C) are often cited as an important foundation of morality for the west: Sort of the moral grandfather to western civilization. This makes the assumption that without them we would behave badly, that if we are behaving well it is partly due to their influence, and that people without them must behave measurably worse.  Since they are treated as a collection I assume that they are all viewed as good and basically equal in worth. Conservative politicians have made enormous efforts at times to connect them with our government and put them in front of us in as many places as they can. It’s always amusing when a reporter asks them to recite the 10C and they can pull together maybe two of them. 

Since I could remember about the same number, I decided to read them over and evaluate their worth as a moral compass. 

1 “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage. You shall have no other gods before Me.”

This is a message addressed to ancient Hebrews, why it should concern anyone else is unclear. They certainly would not have considered Christians (when they came along) as an appropriate audience for this message. In fact they might well have been outraged. The last bit is interesting because it implies that there ARE other Gods but you mustn’t put them first. Theoretically, it seems to hold out the possibility of worshipping demigods if you don’t get all carried away. As far as western morality is concerned the only link I see here is too monotheism and Christianity in particular. 

2 “You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth; you shall not bow down to them nor serve them. For I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and fourth generations of those who hate Me, but showing mercy to thousands, to those who love Me and keep My Commandments.”

This appears to be a restating of the first one with a sudden very strong disapproval of arts and crafts. The emphasis on jealousy reinforces the “other gods exist” idea because otherwise, what is he jealous of? Finally there is a sub clause explaining that if you violate the arts and crafts rule he will kill your grandchildren and beyond. Message for western morality? Be very serious about Christianity. 

3 “You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain, for the Lord will not hold him guiltless who takes His name in vain.”

Perhaps it means don’t speak the name at all, again a Hebrew thing. Perhaps it means don’t use it out of the context of worship and adoration because that is blasphemy. Perhaps it means don’t pretend you love me: YOU HAVE TO REALLY LOVE ME! In any event it’s a carrying on of rule number one as additional sub-clauses. I think the vagueness inherent in this one may even be intentional, since one is uncertain what it even means, speaking the name is fraught with the danger that one MIGHT be doing something wrong. This serves the whole “tremble before me” thing. Also, this one seems to suffer from a little self referential thought circle e.g. “Don’t do it because… I’ll consider you guilty if you do it. Because I hate it when you do that.” Continue reading

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Blake-TheAncientOfDays-Trans292I am in LOVE with evidence of truly complex and sophisticated systems in Biology. It makes me really happy when something strange and amazing shows up revealing higher-order relationships and systems than anyone thought. I love it because life seems more deep and meaningful in a world of higher orders of mind and connectedness. I feel that they exist undiscovered all around us, but it doesn’t seem strange to me that we have trouble seeing it.  We are locked into a level of existence and limited perception that makes it deeply challenging to learn anything beyond the obvious scope of our senses. Often these exciting results suggest something like intelligence or intent. Not always directly, just through a kind of “How in the world could that work?” feeling. I have a naturally joyous response to scientific recognition of elegantly complex systems. To me, it feels like wonderful news.

In this blog, I state things as if with the force of facts, things I only happen to think are true. Things I see around me and want to share. Occasionally I will report on experimental results that I find interesting or even supportive of my position. The difference is, I don’t call what I am doing Science. I am not a scientist and anyone disagreeing with me would be fair to say I am pretty much just talking out of my butt. Maybe even those who agree with me. I am just making this stuff up, but if it resonates with you, it means you see it now too!

My “theories” are true from where I’m looking. I simply observe them. I find them compelling enough to want to share but I make no exaggerated claims about how much they will change your life. One man’s revelation is another’s “Meh”. Sometimes I challenge myself to figure out and describe something absurdly big and complicated… and the best means I have found to do this is to write about it in public. When my name is on it in a place where someone might see it, I feel inspired enough (or embarrassed enough) to keep returning and improving.

But I am not in any way a creationist or intelligent design advocate. “Creation scientists” have named themselves in a way that suggests they are on par with other scientific disciplines but their work begins with tossing out the scientific method. When they teach science they are peddling a “lite” substitute.

If they want to start a church of intelligent design, by all means do, that sounds like a relatively nice, relatively enlightened  theology. But that is the only appropriate place for their efforts because they are committed in advance to an outcome without testing. Because they conflate experimental results out of proportion to the experiment. Because they start with an agenda and reject counter evidence. Because they accept low-quality research that they agree with. Scientists CAN be religious people without in any way tainting the results. They simply practice each in its own domain.

“Creation scientists” are religious lobbyists in lab coat drag.

 

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  • Genotype: The genes present in an organism, potential or expressed.
  • Phenotype: The genes the organism is expressing.
  • Epigenetics: the turning on or off of gene expression via environmental events…”nurture”.
  • Behavioral Epigenetics: The study of how these events in the environment trigger molecular biological changes in our brains. These include: social experience; nutrition; hormones; and toxicological exposures that occur prenatally, postnatally, and in adulthood. 

A common example is the way that twins, born with basically identical phenotypes, vary as individuals in behavior, appearance and health. Nurture, experience and behavior drive the expression of different genes, leading to generally larger changes over the course of their lives. 

The study of epigenetics is a tiny new branch off the tree of molecular biology and behavioral epigenetics is a bud on that branch. Yet it is already a vast and exciting field. Excitement and ferment in science can be measured partly by how many new questions are bubbling up in that area. Most experiments in this area are yielding more questions than answers but that in a sense describes how deep and rich a mine this is for scientists to explore.  The field is seen as holding the potential to explain and perhaps even solve medical troubles, such as mental retardation, autism, schizophrenia, and neurodegenerative disorders, and even social issues, such as aging, addiction, suicide, child abuse, and child neglect. 

 

Food for thought: 

  • This totally relates to my earlier post “Epigenetics changes everything” The idea that a fear could be passed epigenetically three generations forward with no reinforcement still absolutely boggles my mind. It hints at some of the complexity within this system. 
  • In relation to Darwinism – It doesn’t exactly invalidate Darwinism because at its root, Darwinism is a small group of simple truisms that explain very little. But it further reveals how much more elegant and sophisticated life is than explained in classical Darwinism. Not that Darwin himself can be faulted for not have more advanced knowledge. Interestingly, two of Darwin’s losing rivals for a theory of inheritance, Alfred Russell Wallace and Jean Baptiste Lamarck continue to be redeemed by our advancing knowledge. Wallace saw a potential for improving the lot of the poor through this knowledge and Lamarck believed the experiences of  an organism could cause changes inherited by later generations. Darwin himself favored the idea of harsh competition as the driving force. The importance of Darwinism has always been drawing a hard line between nature and theology. The continued social disputes over Darwinism VS creationism just show how hard it is to make any intellectual advances culturally on hot button issues. 
  • If the experience of gruelling poverty causes measurable impact on children (and thus, their entire lives and descendents) couldn’t this be considered cultural child abuse or at least neglect? 
  • A related but separate issue. Darwin was personally a mild and retiring character but he was wealthy and privileged. In his own mind his theory was also a justification for rich vs poor, upper class vs lower class. EG: We are rich and well because because we are fitter. You are poor and sick because you are less fit. H.G. Wells sketched a nightmare projection of this into the future in his book: The Time Machine with the two branches of the human race, the Eloi (rich) and the Morlock (poor). Although Wells was a socialist, Darwin must have had a somewhat similar picture of the future except for him it would have been acceptable. 
  • I’d like to reference my earlier post “The Neuromechanics of Cruelty” for a number of examples of how Darwin was simply acting out the familiar human traits of rationalizing his privilege and seeing it as based on personal merit. As were all the harsher “social darwinists” who followed. 
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When I’m teaching and a certain magic number of at least 4 students come together I can feel a transformation take place. Before that, I am just ordinary me,  talking to individuals one on one. When that critical mass is reached I become a different person, I am the Teacher, rather than just myself.  I put on my version of a super-suit. Suddenly I possess a remembering, performing, adapting and extemporizing mind. Suddenly I possess a confident game show host personality of almost infinite confidence and patience. It’s an instant flow state and I enjoy it very much, I’d enjoy being this guy more of the time but he is inaccessible when I am alone.

A corollary effect happens to the class students. A circuit of exchange forms between us and we are like two people pumping one of those old railway handcars together. With enough people participating and with a basic level of openness, of receptivity, there is a tipping point for them as well where they become somehow attuned to a common positive frequency that is attuned to mine and we become a self-maintaining energy flow machine. I give them energy in the form of good teaching and their attention and enthusiasm gives enthusiastic energy back to me that absolutely powers my teaching. We work together to achieve lift-off and the key in both of us is happiness, not long term, but an upbeat feeling, a positive charge.

Shared Energy is the Root of Relationship

If students come to class with the idea that this is all drudgery, beneath them, they pull me down with them. They hold onto my ankles and prevent take off. I can feel the lifeless lack of connection and my job becomes harder. I am doing all the lifting and in the end, I am not happy and energized, I am drained and flat. A bored, unreachable class is just dead weight. When the magic doesn’t start, I don’t turn into The Teacher, just a guy bailing out a stalled sailboat. When things go well though, a bigger, better me is summoned from oblivion and cheerfully possesses my body for a couple of hours. What we are is mysterious and flexible, there are unseen versions of us just waiting for a particular random meeting to be born. There are genies in this bottle.

Teaching is a highly specific instance of this kind of group energy exchange but I mention it because I imagine you’ve had this experience too and can relate no matter what side of that event you were on. This is invisible human magic, it has thousands of parallels in our lives but there is something elemental in it that everyone seems to miss. We give up a little bit of our autonomy and independence in order to cooperate, I say give up, but “offer up” is better because it is freely given, it’s a contribution. When we share ourselves, these contributions blend and there is something new to work with, an original concoction. A potluck of personalities and moods begin harmonizing and creating energy together that could not exist alone.

In a classroom, this kind of exchange is never intimate or deeply personal, we are more like random pedestrians running together to roll a stalled car out of traffic. In the classroom, we have an hour of feeling like a unified group with shared energy, intent and goals once or twice a week. When we gather we are like a very insubstantial, temporary individual made of multiple people. It pops like a soap bubble as we part company.

The Third Mind or, Becoming Mr. Blobby

When any two people meet they have this encounter and they generate an insubstantial, blobby bubble self like this by interacting. A third mind is created when any two meet. This mind talks to itself, finds a mood, energy, a temperament, a personality; a self. If excitement and energy are generated, this mind can consider amazing things, dream up and risk trying new things, and entertain itself enormously. As the two contributors part, this mind dissolves though it can be remembered with love, disgust, or disinterest by its agents.

This third mind is the basic social molecule. it is the fundamental social molecule, the catalyst of everything new. The magic of interpersonal chemistry decides much of what happens next. Families start here, as do cold, indifferent workmates. The basic social molecule of two, in a way, has to be intimate, not necessarily good or welcome but intimate. One on One is the molecule of intimacy. There are things two can do that are amazing, but two cannot do everything.

As the number of people meeting rises, the new mind naturally appears, shifting and changing with the new ingredients. This self is less intimate but capable of generating different kinds of energy. The polarity of two opens up with 3 and beyond. Certain kinds of projects and tasks can be energized and tackled by small groups in a way that feels supernatural. We can taste being greater than the sum of our parts at times, we can feel the larger energy unlocking new abilities.

More Powerful, Less Stable

Complexity is still possible with small groups. The excitement of an ensemble working to put on a show or start a business can be electric. There is often a feeling of “auto-organizing” of becoming limbs and organs specializing and working in concert with the virtual body. Of course, many organizations create third-minds that are inert, jealous or contrary. The only guarantee is that SOME mind will emerge at the moment of engagement. The energy that happens when motivated minds meet, this third mind, or these “virtual creature” minds can be enormously powerful but keep in mind, the power is essentially amoral. The power will flow if the “batteries” are present. If the mind is engineering reform or art or charity or terrorism…the energy is there.

Emergent human social behavior is not all good and positive. This energy can go dark and bloody in any mob. Hutus and Tutsis would not have massacred each other without this electric build up and overflow. The Nazis couldn’t have existed without it. When a demonstration becomes a riot it is this.

One of the scariest days of my life was in San Francisco after the 49ers won the Superbowl. The streets were full of people celebrating and in a moment that felt strangely like clouds covering the sun, the mood twisted. There were transitional moments: people shouting words of happiness that sounded oddly angry, people looking a little too hard to see if you were celebrating too. At this moment it was like they were looking for outsiders, looking for something to push back against. Soon things tipped and it was like wild animals except that wild animals do nothing like this. It was like a torrent of human craziness and anger, feeding on itself and igniting like flammable gas. And all because “We won!”. Except not really. I don’t think it had anything specific to do with the winning, except that there was a kind of build-up of a charge. A critical mass of charged up, energized humans bumped into each other like pressurized molecules. This is why large gatherings of people always have a risk component and why well planned large events feature effective guidance of group energy, logistics management, and at least a skeleton of police exuding the “remain orderly” pheromone. It’s just a guess but I bet losing teams have way fewer fan riots than winning teams.

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  1. Mrs. Jackson is traveling west by train to visit her sister. The distance of the trip is 417 miles and the
    train is averaging 37 MPH. For a distance of 30 miles the train slows to an average speed of 14 MPH. Is
    there a God?
  2. A rock falling at 32 feet/second/second for 16 seconds bounces off a trampoline which gives it an
    upward velocity of 16 feet/second. What is the difference between having lived and then died and
    simply never having lived?
  3. Water is dripping into a 2 gallon container at a rate of two ounces per/hour. With what units can we
    measure justice?
  4. The speed of light is 186,000 MPS. If a woman looks at a sunflower 30 feet away in a mirror she is
    holding 2 feet away from her body, where does love go when it’s gone?
  5. A person is walking down the street breathing with an average tidal air volume of 500 Mls each at a rate
    of 16 breaths per minute. How many do they have left?
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1. A detail of a system
2. An individual
3. A “colony”
And every living thing has at least three areas of mind
1. The mind playing a role in the system (a mind we never consciously experience, because we are an element of it. Imagine the Internet as a mind, think of your actions on the web as this element)
2. The individual mind (Day to day you.)
3. The component minds (The cluster of selves and parts of selves that make us up.)
And each level is the emergent product of its components. 
ant

Tim

Take an ant. Take this one in particular. We’ll call him Tim.
1. Tim as one of thousands is how we think of him. As a detail of a system, a tiny component, necessary but utterly replaceable, below recognizing as an individual.
2. Tim from Tim’s perspective; sensing, perceiving, acting as a singular being
3. Tim as a giant colony of tiny components: The cells and microbes that make him up. His corporate essence, emergent from the syntheses of these.
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This isn’t a tortured metaphor, I promise. Many things HAVE changed about America over the years but underneath there is a Kevlar skeleton which controls the ways things can change and grow. Part of it is deeply corrupt.

Here is my proposal: 

The people fighting against admitting and correcting climate change (and against developing alternative energy) are like the slave holders who started the civil war.

This might sound like someone yelling “NAZI!!” every time they hear something they don’t like, but trust me, it isn’t.

Southern slave holders were too blinkered to see that technology was rapidly advancing and that holding slaves would soon be made obsolete. They imagined that their lifestyle would carry on exactly in its God ordained fashion forever, with them perched atop of a pile of lesser beings: those being poor whites and enslaved blacks.

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There’s some disagreement about how long modern humans have existed but the figure of 200,000 years is frequently cited. The lifestyle of the stone age was wandering groups of associated families usually between 25 to 50 people. Pretty much anyone you knew, you knew for a lifetime (yours or theirs). The stone age ended as the neolithic revolution in farming transformed the lifestyle of people into the sort of population dense settlements that have basically carried on to this day.

The Population Reference Bureau estimates that about 107 billion people have ever lived – since the beginning. Scientists suggest that out of that huge number, only about 12% of those people lived in the stone age. 12% doesn’t sound like a very significant number to influence the sort of people we are today. Until you realize that every person since then is a descendent of that 12%. And even more importantly that that 12% of all people was us during 96% of our time on Earth. Our roots are deep, deep in the stone age. 

So our inner cave clan easily breaks through the surface of our modernism. 192,000 years of comforting small groups of closely related people with a distrust of strangers is not something you shake off like a daydream. When we utterly detest racists and xenophobes we are behaving toward ourselves as we might to our dog humping legs at a party or chewing shoes. We shout “NO!” and we drag them off, “stupid dog” we mutter. The dog’s behavior has been momentarily suppressed but not altered in the slightest. And certainly not for the next generation of dogs.  Continue reading

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