Friday, October 31, 2014
How many people consider ambition a virtue? Ambition fits within the Aristotelian model of virtue. Recall that a virtue is a midpoint between an excess and a deficiency in terms of one's emotions, abilities, and circumstances. If this is the case then we ought to be able to provide an account of the excess and deficiency that lie on either side of ambition.
Let's begin with the desire to get more candy...
This is an emotion that is common to those who achieve great things, to those Trick O Treaters who return home with pillow cases full of candy. In Trick o Treating, those at the forefront of candy gathering are those who have the will to be there, to set the new record for Butterfingers and Milky Ways, or to win the largest share of candy on the block. In such competitive endeavors (such as Trick O Treating with friends and siblings), it is a truism that those without the will to perservere to the end seldom get the best candy.
The drive to excel, to get the most Halloween candy is the emotional context for the virtue of ambition. Comparison with cases of excess and deficiency with respect to this emotion will help us better understand those kids who take off running the moment they're released to go Trick O Treating in the neighborhood, rain or shine.
NO CANDY FOR YOU
Consider first the deficiency. The person whose desire to excel is deficient would fit under the heading of that suggestive neologism of Marty McFly's parents' time, "slacker."
This word is typically used to describe individuals who have absolutely no desire to do anything. It could also be applied to someone who lets their desire for achievement be compromised by preferences for comfort and freedom from struggle.
In order for slacking to be a vice in the world of Trick O Treating, it has to be the case that the emotions of the individual who is insufficiently desirous of excellence and large quantities of candy is out of step with what he or she could gain in his or her Trick O Treating circumstances. Consider, for example, two kids with HUGE pillow case Trick O Treat bags that only go Trick O Treating two or three houses down. Just because their little legs can only carry them so far is no excuse for failing to do better, for failing to roam the entire neighborhood (and a few neighborhoods over) in search of the motherload of candy.
These little Trick O Treaters know they could do better, but instead they opt for going home early to have milk and cookies and watch It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown.
These kids might have other virtues, to be sure, but there is no doubt that they lack the virtue of ambition, of going out for Trick O Treat. An ambitious kid like Sally would only give up Trick O Treating for love, but if she didn't get that, if she doesn't get to see the Great Pumpkin, she'd feel ROBBED!
THE MOTHERLOAD OF CANDY
Excess is easy to describe, as it is typically what other parents think when they see one kid toting a huge pillow case filled with candy down the street as compared to their kid's measly little plastic pumpkin half-way filled with candy.
This is the image (above) of the ultimate, self-seeking Trick O Treater who allows his or her desire for M&Ms, Skittles, and Reese's Peanut Butter Cups to override all of his or her other virtues. This Trick O Treater is single minded in the desire for gobs of candy, for achievement, and doesn't tolerate competition. With no sense of personal limitation coupled with the will to use cute little brothers and sisters as a means to get more candy, this Trick O Treater is the polar opposite of the Slacker who won't bother getting dressed up to go Trick O Treating, this ambitious older sibling won't act on anything but his or her own ambitions.
Both types of Trick O Treaters are defective from Aristotle's point of view, which is from the moral point of view. The virtuously ambitious Trick O Treater falls in between their extremes.
TRICK O' TREATER
The virtuous Trick O Treater wants to do great things, and seeks out his canine companions to help him, but is not mastered by his desire for candy. This virtuous little Trick O Treater keeps things in perspective, as it were, and maintains his other moral qualities, never letting his love for Snickers overpower his reason, but certainly not relinquishing his enjoyment for this nutty, chocolately carmel wonder.
He and other virtuous Trick O Treaters like him are reasonable and emotionally aware of their love for candy. They choose good candy goals for their own Trick O Treating purposes and pursue them diligently, all the while maintaining awareness that the little ones always come first.
Virtuous Trick O Treaters have high expectations, but not unreasonable ones, and barring torrential rains on Halloween night, can be happy in the broad sense of enjoying Halloween with friends and family. This is the picture of the virtuously ambitious Trick O Treater Aristotle would paint.
Sunday, October 26, 2014
According to Jeremy Rifkin we are an empathetic generation. Empathy, that ability to understand and share the feelings of others, is essentially human mimicry. The question is whether or not this ability or superpower is all it's cracked up to be.
It is commonly known that if you wish to be successful you should surround yourself with successful people. It is also commonly known that if you can fall into the "wrong" crowd, such as in high school, instead of thriving on the experience of learning and expanding your mind, you could end up smoking and ditching class.
So, why is it that we are such an empathic civilization? And if we're so empathetic, why are some people still going around committing crimes against humanity? Perhaps it is because they are mimicking the "wrong" behavior.
Empathetic mimicry brings beings together. If you are a cute puppy dog and you run into an even cuter little Bambi, then softness of manner is the behavior that denotes empathy. After all, little Bambi is frail and barely standing on her own two legs. Empathic mimicry instinctively tells us that we must pull forth tenderness from our being with which to greet our newfound friend.
But what about morning sickness? Is sharing your wife's morning sickness, despite being highly empathetic, really the best thing for the soon-to-be dad (whose time might be better served being healthy so that he can take care of his pregnant wife)?
In this respect, it could be argued that not all empathetic behavior is good for us. If a hungry cat decides to befriend a little mouse, to treat the mouse as he would like to be treated, he would go hungry (in the wild).
So, when does empathy promote the common good and when is it perilous to be empathic?
TIMES WHEN EMPATHY IS PERILOUS
- When you're a surgeon performing an operation
- When you're driving a car and your toddler falls asleep in the back
- When all your friends jump off a bridge
It is probably in our best interest not to repeat behavior that does not result in a favorable outcome for others or ourselves. But how do we stop being empathetic if we're an empathetic civilization?
Not all cats go hungry in the wild. Irrespective of whether or not a bird saves a mouse from an eagle (above), some animals treat other creatures as treats rather than empathizing with their plight and sharing their kibble.
Maybe the answer lies in the word itself. After all, empathy doesn't really exist. Empathy might have found its way into the dictionary, but empathy is actually a misunderstanding of the word sympathy. Sympathy comes from the Greek sympatheia, which, when translated, means "experiencing or suffering (in the sense of together or at the same time)." Sympathy describes all forms of feeling and understanding the pain of others.
Empathy was actually introduced into the English language in the twentieth century by E.B. Titchener (1867-1927) as a translation for the German word Einfühlung.
In German aesthetics and psychology, Einfühlung describes how people PROJECT their feelings into an inanimate object (in the process giving it a certain life and dignity). So, that is what empathy SHOULD mean to folks. But because empathy sounds so much like sympathy and both words involve the projection of emotion, people use the words synonymously.
Empathy involves "harmony" or "conformity of feelings." We have empathy when we share our friend's disappointment when they do not receive that promotion they were hoping to receive. Here we can imagine or replicate the feeling inside ourselves or put ourselves "into their shoes" and imagine what it might feel like if it were us not getting the promotion. For most people, empathy is when we imagine ourselves in someone else's shoes.
The idea of empathy as resonance comes from David Hume (1711-1776) accounting for our interactions with other people. As Hume described it, empathy can be an unconscious transfer of emotion from one person to another.
The minds of all men are similar in their feelings and operations, nor can anyone be actuated by any affection, of which all others are not, in some degree, susceptible. As in strings equally wound up, the motion of one communicates itself to the rest; so all the affections readily pass from one person to another, and beget corresponding movements in every human creature.
According to Hume, empathy is becoming infected with the emotions of others. Rather than being spread like a germ, empathy is spread by empathetic mimicry.
Monkey See, Monkey Do
Essentially human beings unwittingly mimic the behavior of others, things such as fidgeting, agitation, excitement, passion, and so forth. So basically, if I smile, others smile with me.
Due to our similarity in construction, we are wired to relate to others. But what about those moments when someone is feeling devastated or otherwise distraught? Do we really want to relate to their feelings? Do we want to feel them ourselves?
Monkey See, Monkey Do is essentially human duplication. What was it that Hume said again?
When any affection is infused by sympathy, it is at first known only be its effects, and by those external signs in countenance and conversation, which convey an idea of it. This idea is presently converted into an impression, and acquires such a degree of force and vivacity, as to become the very passion itself, and produce an equal emotion, as any original affection.
Way to go, Hume! Talk about hit the nail on the head (unless doing so would hurt the nail, in which case I'm certain that an empathetic hammer might reconsider).
A Hammer With a Heart
After all these interesting insights, Hume leaves us with the notion that sympathy is "nothing but the conversion of an idea into an impression by the force of imagination."
When someone else feels something that reminds of us something we've felt before, we are more inclined to be sympathetic. The memory (an idea) of it happening to us produces a vivid sensation (an impression) via the imagination.
Neuroscience has taught us that neural activity and brain structure can be mimicked from one person to the next person very easily.
If a monkey rips a piece of paper, the same areas of their brains are active when they see or hear someone ripping paper. These so-called mirror neurons are thought to bridge the gap between knowing what something is like for me and knowing what something is like for you.
Many of the same neurons are active when you imagine an experience that someone else is having. Thus, empathy, even as Hume described it, would literally consist of replicating the brain structure and activity of the person with whom you're empathizing.
Monkey See, Monkey Do reminds us that we should pay close attention to what we allow ourselves to imagine, to the emotions and behaviors of others that we pull in as our own, and to the thoughts - in our own minds - that can lift or otherwise hijack our so-called rational mind away from its regularly scheduled processing line-up.
Having the power to replicate the brain structures of other human beings makes some philosophers wonder if we can replicate other structures in our minds. If other human beings are processed as objects by the human mind, then by contrast we could hypothetically mimic all sorts of structures given the plasticity of the material from which we are organically structured.
Friday, October 24, 2014
Mind reading, or telepathy, is generally understood as the capacity to directly perceive the thoughts of another entity. Together with clairvoyance, empathy with technological devices, lie detection, memory modification, and mind shielding, mind reading can be a particularly enjoyable experience - or not, depending on the thoughts into which one tunes.
Over time, women have become particularly skilled in the art of mind reading - but all mind readers know this!
Although many people associate mind reading as being purely fictional - a thing of science fiction - mind reading powers is a particularly intriguing notion with respect to issues of the mind in philosophy, psychology, and neuroscience. While mind reading is treated differently in each of these professions, the concept of mind reading, the ability to "hear" the thoughts of others as if they were communicating to you verbally, is exactly what researchers hope to understand.
In philosophy, psychology, and neuroscience, mind reading is the ability to use insight and observation to infer the thoughts of others. While methods differ, the result of both skills is the same: acquiring precious information about secret passwords and such.
Now, imagine yourself ordering your favorite caffeinated beverage at your local coffee house establishment. The barista looks distracted, her eyes are downcast and an expression of deep concern is on her face. Without much reflection, you'd probably conclude that she must be having a tough day; you might also speculate that her present thoughts have hijacked her otherwise rational brain.
Instantaneously, you have harnessed a remarkable amount of information about her mind (in its current state), concerning both her thoughts (I wish I were somewhere else right now) and her emotional state (despair). This instant assessment is not so far removed from mind reading. The similarity is present in the final result: you end up with insight concerning the mental state of another individual under observation.
The only difference is in how the insight is achieved: a mind reader can perceive the thoughts of others, usually by hearing them as sentences in his or her own head, whereas we (when we walked into our coffee shop) had to resort to inference to "read" the barista's mind, making GUESSES based on behavior and demeanor.
Let's call the cooler telepathic ability "superkewl mind reading" and the inferential talent that we all share to some degree "amazing but not as exciting mind reading." The first phenomenon has received little consideration in philosophy. The latter, however, is a major topic in the philosophy of mind, which is the branch of philosophy that studies the nature of mental phenomena and their connection with behavior and the physical body, particularly the brain.
Even though philosophers are mostly interested in exploring the amazing but not as exciting mind reading ability and have been rather skeptical of its superkewl friend of a friend version, close observation of mind reading powers is rather illuminating when applied to a variety of classical problems.
In reality, this should come as no surprise. Superkewl humans have long since served as an allegory for real life humans, merely with superkewl powers and problems. Mind reading falls into this category.
The problem with the way other people think is a classical issue. How do we justify that we can infer or understand anything about anyone else's mind by using our mind to do the exacting? Philosophers look to Zombies for answers.
Philosophical zombies differ from undead creatures, but they're pretty unnerving just the same. In The Conscious Mind David Chalmers says that "[a philosophical] zombie is just something physically identical to me, but which has no conscious experience - all is dark inside."
Essentially philosophical zombies are input-output machines with no inner mental life. They can replicate human expressions of behavior, body, brain, expressions, and reactions, but nobody's home.
Thus, the problem with the way other people think is this: we cannot know - for sure - that other people are not philosophical zombies because we do not have access to their minds the way we have access to our own. We are "in touch" with our inner states: we recognize our sensations, we experience our emotions, we consider our thoughts, and we monitor most of our reasoning.
Okay, we monitor some of our reasoning.
Well, some of us monitor some
interesting tidbits related to our reasoning.
I think most of us would agree that when it comes to assessing the mental states of others, most of us are not very good at figuring out what exactly others are thinking. Most of us do not have privileged access to other people's minds. All that we have is observation of external behavior and the context from which this behavior arises. Then, we employ our powers of informed guessing and infer what someone else is thinking. The only determination for accuracy is for someone else to corroborate our GUESSES. Furthermore, we have no idea whether or not they are accurately corroborating our guesses. They might not be telling us what they were actually thinking.
The point here was not to say that there is a problem with how other people think, the point here was to say that the problem is we cannot know how others think. This conclusion returns me to my first philosophical insight: our opinions of others merely reflect ourselves in a period of growth.
(I had this insight at age 14, and despite the many philosophical insights I think I've had since, I returned to this one via Zombies.)
Wednesday, October 22, 2014
With Descartes as my most vocally persistent philosophical guide there is never a shortage of thoughts rolling through my otherwise Greek mind at any given moment. Short of taking over, the amount of thinking going on related to nearly all sensory or intellectual curiosities processed by my brain borders on the difference between good science and pseudoscience. Some of these thoughts naturally follow Dr. Chandra Suresh and Dr. Emoto across a Slip 'n Slide just to enjoy the swoosh!
While notably there is a good deal of swooshing going on in my brain, there is also a little science taking place behind the scenes. Behind each fictive story is realistic explanation of the circumstance leading to its conceptual origin, be that a deeply held belief or a mere passing fancy picked up on a boat ride to Victoria Island.
Medieval alchemists believed they could alter the true nature, the essence, of an object. This belief is still a realistic explanation for why people do what they do, namely, human beings believe they can alter nature, primarily that called "our" own.
Creation of the Birds (1957)
Whatever we do or do not alter is for the more reflective mind to ponder, perhaps it is as Rupert Sheldrake (1942) hypothesizes on formative causation, that "in self-organizing systems at all levels of complexity there is a wholeness that depends on a characteristic organizing field of that system, its morphic field."
Whether morphic fields explain everything from my Hazlenut coffee creamer to the operation of Zombie take-overs is for scientists to debate, irregardless we can choose to explore whether or not we have a genetic morphic field that impacts the inheritable traits we develop.
In doing so, my mind immediately jumps to my future ability to fly. I dream about it. And like the movie says, if you build it (in my case in my mind) they (supernatural abilities) will come.
The intelligent design behind the nature of my sharings is namely that I enjoy talking to myself in my head. Recording this activity merely delights me.
Playing with our own brains is a delightful activity when what is in your brain is delightful. It can also be an interesting journey, if you've put interesting stuff in there; or a satisfying exploration and subsequent discovery, if you're investigating a thought or idea; or a kooky mixture of oddities that tingle the brain with ideas never before conceived, nonsensical but highly rational thoughts given their context type of thinking. All of these elements are present herein.
A Mid-Century Mind at Play
Is there an evolutionary benefit to capturing the mind at play? Perhaps. I dunno. Think about it long enough and I guarantee you we'll find a logical question to consider, but usually those logical questions arise on account of a silly, fanciful thoughts in direct relation to any logical absurdity we've previously perceived.
Truth be told, there is absolutely no point to this particular post, but has information been conveyed?
Do I still wonder whether or not there is a way to turn certain things into gold?
Do I believe in alchemy?
Rather: Do I believe the notion that one element can be transformed into another?
Do I think Nicolas Flamel might be out there, living among us, maybe even in Paris this very moment?
You betcha, I do.
Do I think that Mohinder Suresh is a fraud because he didn't initially believe in his father's theories?
No. Mohinder Suresh is a fictional character.
People change their minds and should change their minds often as a direct result of brining in new information. Just like Mohinder from Heroes.
Tuck produced many novelty cards, some under the Oilette name.
For more delightful novelty card information:
The Science of Novelties aims at novelties found in facts or theories and, when successful, finds many. The more anomalies one finds, the more work there is to be done. When there is no explanation for occurrences, wild ones are conceived of and explored ... in the meantime.
Whatever is considered or observed is notated. Notation is the science. What we surmise is a novelty associated with how each brain processes information.
So, when playing in your brain, when sorting the science from the pseudoscience, remember that each scientific paradigm began by forging a new one.
Sunday, October 19, 2014
The headlock is a poor technique for anything more than annoying younger siblings. It is, however, a very common technique used by older siblings in getting their way; therefore, knowing how to escape from it is important for younger siblings everywhere.
Whole Body Moves
Step 1: The younger sibling's first step in escaping from an older sibling's headlock is to ensure that your arm is not captured. With a short jerky motion, your older sibling can pull in their elbow and turn on their side, giving him or her total dominion and control over your life.
Step 2: If able, turn the tables, try to form a frame under your older brother or sister's chin. Your top arm should be under his or her jawbone, and your top hand should rest comfortably in the grasp of the other hand.
Step 3: By pushing with your top leg, you should be able to move your hips back away from your older sibling.
Step 4: If your older sibling does get you in a headlock, rotate around until he or she is on both of their knees behind your back.
Step 5: Use your top hand to clear your older sister's legs out of the way and step over, brining your foot in tight against their hip. Establish your base by putting both hands on the ground.
Step 6: The younger sibling can now force the older brother (or sister) to release his/her grip on their neck by forming the frame and leaning toward their older brother or sister's head, driving the bone of their upper arm under the older brother or sister's jawbone.
When all else fails,
hug it out.
Step 1: If your sibling is truly driving you crazy, the best way to get rid of them is to hug them. Hugs from siblings are a sure fire method to get your sibling to want to wriggle out of there as fast as possible and leave the room.
Step 2: Now that your sibling has repelled themselves from your presence, it is time to change the password on your phone, install a lock on your bedroom door, and take all necessary precautions to ensure that they do not get into your stuff again.
Saturday, October 18, 2014
A little hamlet
The ideal hamlet should be naturally pleasing and replete with goodness and charm. Her luxuries should be natural and whenever possible, touched by human hands. Manuchihri compares the garden full of natural luxuries to a rich carpet: "Le nouveau printemps endosse ce tapis aux cent couleurs...",
The hamlet is a splendidly regal environment. Bathed in rainbows, nestled among the trees, surrounded by fruits and flowers, animals and charming creatures of all origin, the hamlet exhibits a noble luxury ostentatious displays of possibility fail to capture.
Even the roses surrounding the hamlet exhibit luxury.
"La rose à deux faces est comme un cercle sur une soie rouge, lorsque tu aurais fait passer à son envers un cordonnet d'or."
The court panegyrists delivered high praise for the highly studied and discriminating hamletian experience. Comparing natural elements to fine artifice in the form of rich treasures created by skilled craftspersons, those attending the hamlet envisioned the artifice of the springtime garden,
"les branches des fleurs sont comme des échecs d'argent et de cornaline qui, à la tombé de la nuit, jouent aux échecs sur un tapis de verdure..."
Paths leading to the hamlet are usually at a level higher than the surrounding hamlet and gardens, the geometrical layout of the hamlet allowing for maximum enjoyment and proper usage of any given space. One has the illusion of walking into a peacefully, serene locale surrounded by the most intimate of settings, which have their own unique feel and temperament.
One might compare a hamlet to a finely woven cloth, not only for its natural elements but for its arrangement. The artificer responsible for these creations is Nature, those who serve as custodians simply encourage her beautiful procreation.
Whether communion with nature occurs with self or with a distinct force, I cannot say, but nature is a natural luxury in which one may delight, in which one may communicate outwards directly through sensual experiences of the world.
"le caractère stylisé de la description et les réalités que voit le poète rappellent bien ce que nous connaissons dans notre poésie; mais la progression de la description, la façon dont le poète se met en cause et le contexte général où s'inscrit cette description, rendent les rapprochements difficiles..."
In Surah 16 (12-16) of the Koran, Islam recognizes a parallel between a basic belief in the natural world as a book in which the believer can read divine mysteries:
"And He hath subjected to you the night and the day; the sun and the moon and the stars too are subjected to you by his behest; verily, in this are signs for those who understand.
And all of the varied hues that He hath created for you over the earth: verily, in this are signs for those who remember.
And He it is who hath subjected the sea to you, that ye may eat of its fresh fish, and take forth from it ornaments to wear - thou seest the ships ploughing its billows - and that ye may go in quest of his bounties, and that ye might give thanks.
And He hath thrown firm mountains on the earth, lest it move with you; and rivers and paths for your guidance.
And way marks. By the stars too are men guided."
What one reads into one's own hamlet is entirely of one's own making. When I step back and observe my own little hamlet, I recognize elements, differently arranged, that speak to the most intimate aspects of my being. Some elements serve as tokens until a more personalized touch might be applied, but the sense is of painting oneself onto a canvas, of distributing oneself inside the nooks and crannies with bits and pieces of nostalgic sensibilities that have far more meaning than their simplicity would suggest.
To experience the delights of one's garden, roses and fruit should be smelled and tasted. To remain unresponsive to nature's manifest luxury is to remain unresponsive to altruistic love for life giving sustenance. The world simply does not exist without it. Thus, through direct intention, one can invite the sensual experience into oneself, and through one's efforts, express the same sensory experience outwards. This engagement creates a direct aesthetic by which innocent sensuality blossoms.
My purpose in encouraging sensory experience is expressed with my own unique contribution to the arts and letters. I often times feel like nature's nightingale, singing sensual music of nature's poetry to delight the ear, to reinforce and advance her beauty, and to delight, for myself, in the conception of a divine aesthetic.
Perhaps simliar in nature to the Surah above, recognition of the peace and serenity that abounds in this space is more easily received by those who are in direct communion with their own experience of nature. My own little hamlet is a microcosm of Creation that conveys my sensitivity to the relation between human beings and divine art.
What one interprets is a metaphor for their own creations. If the metaphor speaks of artificiality, then it is clear that artificiality is the author of their perceptions. If one conceives of their garden from an elegant study adapting form to function with economy and grace, then certainly each of those elements will be present. However one designs and orders their liaison with their hamlet, qualities that are essential to their well-being will be at play. We surround ourselves with that which speaks to us, our choices, the arrangements exist, somewhere within us, the construction of them outside ourselves concerns the eye, indeed, all the organized parts of our human nature.
Nature is the immediate artificer of our hamlet's jardin, but her artifice exists only to maintain our sensibilities, according to our unique plans. So honored and valued are our gardens, that we fill them with our highest accolade, our presence.
Monday, October 13, 2014
Week 1 ~ Adventure Planning with Lab
Week 2 ~ The Art of Leaving Extra Stuff Behind
Week 3 ~ The Essentials: Passport + Credit Card
Week 4 ~ What You Need To Know About Where You're Going
Week 5 ~ The Cool Stuff!
Week 6 ~ Playlists
Week 7 ~ Electrified Fences, Running Crocodiles, and Rental Car Management
Week 8 ~ Miles, Miles, Miles!
Week 9 ~ Finding the Right Sanctuary
Week 10 ~ Happy Accidents