Thursday, December 30, 2010

On Beauty

Philosophy is a good endeavor, but it fails to connect with most people. The mass of men are at least vaguely philosophical about life, but it's the sort of late-night, half-baked philosophizing that they do.

Aesthetics is one of those areas that garners less and less attention in genuine philosophical circles while, compliments of shows like Project Runway, My Fair Wedding, What Not to Wear et al. This isn't because philosophers are losing interest in it, but since aesthetics is a judgment of an internal nature, it's slowly being absorbed into neuroscience and the study of mind. These are experimental sciences.

This isn't entirely surprising. Philosophy has a grand history of having areas hijacked by experimental science, which is a good thing. But when most people talk about aesthetics, they're not discussing experiments involving control groups and finely tuned experimental elements. For most people, beauty is actually a thing. Some things have it, while others don't.

How philosophy as an industry has managed to fail engaging a world so engrossed with beauty in some substantial way is beyond me. The subject has been thrust upon us. All we have to do is produce the books. A deeply complex discussion of fashion throughout the generations, or architecture. One of the only very good examples of this sort of writing is The Architecture of Happiness, which was an excellent look at architecture and what it means. But one book does not a genre make. Moreover, it wasn't a very accessible book. It was loaded to the brim with flowery language and longer-than-necessary sentences. Basically, it was interesting to me because I already had an interest in the subject. It had no effect on outsiders.

Compare this with the monstrous success of The Secret. A wannabe philosophical book entirely composed of pseudo-spiritual drivel. Yet it sold. Holy shit did it sell. It sold because it tapped into what people wanted. They want meaning, power, and answers. It makes the world seem less scary and more understandable. That's the fucking point of philosophy! We should have a monopoly on this stuff! Yet, we don't. We continue to write for journals read only other philosophers.

Beauty is the most obvious example of something that is generally accepted by the population, enjoyed and consumed in large amounts, and is a legitimate philosophical concept.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Ponderings on Truth

Truth is something that can never be attained. That's obvious to me. Mathematical and logical truths are not truths, they are tautologies. Two and two equal four in the same way that the reverse is "true."

I'm instead focusing on what a proposition must have in order to be true. We can not achieve a complete account of a true statement, but we can at least say that a statement is definitely not true if such-and-such a requirement is not met.

I actually go way back to the verification principle. Remember, this is only a metric we're using to toss out things that are necessarily not true. If a proposition cannot be verified, it is not true. It isn't false, and it might actually turn out to be true, but until it is verifiable, we cannot label it as "true."

The proposition must be both internally and externally consistent. Internally means that the basic elements of the statement do not contradict. Externally means that other statements outside of the proposition that have not been shown to be necessarily not true do not contradict the proposition.

The statement must be meaningfully believable. By this, it must fulfill the first two requirements and also be understandable in some linguistically non-nebulous way. Two types of propositions can be meaningfully believable: internal and external. External propositions correspond to something in empirical reality. "Dog," or "el perro" correspond to dogs. "The dog is running" corresponds to the sight of a dog running. "The dog is an odd number" is not meaningfully believable because no dogs are odd numbers. All external propositions must be empirically verifiable to be called true.

Internal propositions correspond to things that are only apparent to the logical entity speaking the proposition. "me so horny" has two meanings. The speaker means that they are experiencing certain things that they associate with the word horny. The listener is seeing certain behavior that they associate with the word horny and other people. As such, propositions that don't appear to be logically tied with something actually are, it just depends on where that thing is. For example, when I declare "oh shit!" that statement is logically tied and represents sensations that I am feeling.

This is where other minds come in. We make the assumption that other people's internal worlds are at least similar to our own. As such, we project our internal world on other people. There are likely very many evolutionary reasons for this, not the least of which is empathy. So when somewhen says "me so horny," we don't say that this person is behaving in a way that I usually behave when horny, or in a way that frequently ends up with them copulating. No, we say, with great assurance, that they feel horny. We state that we know what's going on inside their head.

But even here, it's an unfounded assumption. For example, if someone frequently said "me so horny," but sex was never correlated with this statement, it might take awhile, but we would stop assuming that their internal world was the same as ours. The empirical information would reveal itself to be the true determinant of our assumptions about someone's internal world.

As you can see, I dodge neo-Wittgenstein by not regarding atomic elements of propositions as directly corresponding to "things," only the propositions themselves. All propositions correspond to something. Unlike words, we can definitely define a proposition.

Where the disconnect happens is the internal/external difference. Sometimes, we as listeners can never truly be sure of to what a proposition corresponds. "Oh shit!" could correspond to fear, or elation. We rely on context to help make this determination, but the speaker knows precisely to what the proposition corresponds.

Obviously, I can say this with confidence because I am making an assumption. I am assuming that other minds exist and that they are similar to me. I say "oh shit" very frequently, and I am quite aware of what this statement logically represents, even though other people are not. That does not change the fact that it does definitely represent something, and I know what that is. That means, under my assumption, that other people's statements who's logical foundation is not available to me nonetheless have a logically specific foundation, even if I don't know what that is.

As such, if a statement cannot be shown to represent something internal or something external, it cannot be true.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Julian Assange

Apparently, Julian Assange's OKCupid profile from four years ago has been identified. He sounds like the self-righteous, politically charged super-geek that everyone suspects that he is/was. My god. The sheer number of people I've met with this personality profile is shocking. It's also a bit of a conflict, for me, because while I think that what Assange is doing is of great value and importance, I'm utterly sure that I would hate him if I ever met him. I have hated everyone I've ever met like him. How can you not? Kudos to him, though. Most guys like him become young Republicans. So that's something.

Assange's OKCupid Profile Sounds Like Assange Sex Musings (Updated) (Jezebel)

Saturday, December 11, 2010

The First Thing We Do, Let's Kill All the Teachers.

Education is the single most important thing in the country. Nothing else is more important. Not health care, not the environment, not foreign wars, nothing. Education is the only path we have to abandonment of old beliefs and dogmas. For example, do you think if the country was as educated as would be ideal that there would be any debate about global warming? We'd all be riding around on bicycles and installing as many windfarms as we could manage. The environment is important, but education will provide the solution.

It is with this that I say we need to shit-can our current educational system and start anew. This thought train (like a soul train, but with less soul) was started with a Manhattan high school's riot after the principal decided that the correct response to a fight breaking out was to close down the bathrooms for everyone. This is startling.

Forget the obvious problems with punishing everyone for the actions of a few, much less the absurd idea that stopping people from peeing is correct punishment for anything, and instead focus on the fact that the principle thought that this was a good idea.

I have heard the argument that to attack teachers and destroy their unions is wrong because these teachers truly care. I'm sure that many of them do. My problem is not with their hearts, but with their minds. They're incompetent. This principal is in charge. This principal has power. This principle is a moron! How the hell are our teachers this out of touch? This principal undoubtedly thinks that Silly Bandz are the work of Satan. I remember when my teachers were banning slap bracelets and Troll dolls. We're not past this? We're not past teachers banning things in, apparently, some desperate effort to prove to every fucking student that they have that anything and everything which they have to say is worth ignoring? This situation is one of many, just amplified to a comic level. These teachers don't know what they're doing.

Our teachers are out of touch because the vast majority of people who become teachers, today, were never cool. They were never the bright energetic kids. Those kids are off doing cool things and earning lots of money. They were the awkward kids. The lower the grade taught, the worse it gets. In Freakonomics, the authors posit that the reason for the fall-off in teacher quality is women's-lib. Basically, fifty to sixty years ago, job prospects were pretty grim for women. But from that point forward, things got increasingly better. Obviously, the best women started leaving the work force in droves as they started being accepted into board rooms and positions of prestige. Essentially, we're now left with all of the people who can't get jobs elsewhere, because if they could, they would.

I completely advocate the elimination of teacher's unions. Once, they made perfect sense. Eighty years ago, when the first teacher's unions started forming as collective-bargaining bodies, teachers were women (a big strike against them, already) who were seen as poorly-skilled people who simply regurgitated a curriculum. They were, effectively, factory workers using lessons instead of rivets. Anyone who's seen as practically worthless needs a union, lest they get walked all over.

But that's no longer the case. Teachers are highly-skilled people with the most important task our country has: its own enlightenment. Standardized testing is nonsense, so we need more flexible ways to assess teacher performance. Student evaluations, final grades, peer review, etc. Whatever combination of those forms of evaluation is settled upon, the answer is clear that we need to do it.

We can't simply go forward with out of touch, loser teachers who, regardless of their motivations, are so completely lacking in skill and finesse that I wouldn't trust them with a dog.


I wanted to link to a well-written defense of teacher's unions. The author touches on a few concerns I have for things like charter schools, namely that the dynamic would simply result in segregation by race and economic status, but dodges the big gun aimed at unions: they offer no solutions for the flagging US education system.

Yes, yes. Unions "support" many great things. I don't care about what they support, I care about what they're doing to raise test scores, increase college admissions, and stop high-school drop-outs. Moreover, the author doesn't say anything about the biggest strike against teachers, that pay is determined by seniority, not performance.

Students Riot After Bathroom Ban (
Teacher's Union EXPOSED
It's Not the Teachers' Unions (The American Prospect)

Friday, December 10, 2010

Amelia Earhart's Resting Place Fingered?

Apparently, a finger fragment has been found that may tie Amelia Earhart to a remote island. I've been captivated by the Amelia Earhart story for years, but I find it highly doubtful that she was ever on the island in question. No plane has ever been found, no "Amelia was here" etchings, no absolute proof that she was there. The Island would have provided more than enough food and water for one or two people, and people from a British expeditionary group landed on the island and colonized it only 18 months later. If she was there, she was injured and died quickly, which would explain the lack of "Amelia was here" sort of stuff, but it doesn't explain the complete lack of airplane wreckage.

Wednesday, December 08, 2010

Check Out The Hypocrisy

The best website for highlighting the hypocrisy of those who stand against Wikileaks is Techdirt and their coverage thereof.

I want to send as many links this way as possible. This is something that as many people as possible need to see.

Friday, December 03, 2010

Do Cell Phones Cause Cancer?

The cell phone cancer debate strongly smacks of the power line cancer debate from over a decade ago. As in everyone is all hyped up about it now, lawsuits will undoubtedly flow for awhile, then everyone will forget about it. The meta-study of research showing that industry-funded studies were much more likely to show no connection, while non-industry-funded research was the opposite should indicate that the answer lies in the middle, i.e. LIFE causes cancer. If there was a connection, and the industry was trying to hide it, nearly 100% of non-industry studies would show a connection.

For example, smoking and cancer. We have studies showing that there is a connection between smoking and cancer and they are more or less in agreement. There is very little deviation from the accepted theory. When test results are all over the map, it doesn't indicate hidden truths, it means that there's nothing there.

Debate Continues: Do Cell Phones Cause Cancer? (LiveScience)

New Life

I was dismayed when the third biggest discovery we could have made regarding life was made, and it garnered nary a mention in the major news outlets. There are only two bigger discoveries we could make, three if you include a subset of one of the others: non-carbon life and life on another planet. Sentient life would be the biggest, but I include that in life in general.

This is HUGE. Fucking HUGE, and major news organizations all but ignored this. We should have had Bill Nye doing a special on it, discussions with experts, CGI animations, the whole nine yards. Instead, The Situation takes a shit and 7,000 people Twitter about it.

Thankfully, Gizmodo was one of the first publications to break the news, and their post has over one million views and two thousand comments. Thank God for the geeks. Someone cares.

Nasa Finds New Life (Gizmodo)

Thursday, December 02, 2010

Wikileaks is Great

I'm puzzled by the furor over the Wikileaks leak. For one, it actually paints the US in a surprisingly good light. It shows the US working hard to do legitimately good things. Bravo! Moreover, it has politicians saying things that we want them to say in public (like Putin is a weak leader). Second, what was released is borderline unimportant.

Wikileaks itself is also a good thing. Many seem to think that they released this information to specifically embarrass the US. If they did, they didn't release terribly embarrassing information. Even Assange has said that the goal if Wikileaks is not to embarrass, but to prove that nothing is secret. If nothing is secret, there can be no "conspiracies." That's Assange's term, and I don't like it, but you get the picture. If people think that there will be sudden, global oversight to anything that they do, people won't do some of the shit that government has been prone to do. No more secrets.

Movie Videos & Movie Scenes at