Wednesday, March 30, 2016

What Am I? Personal Identity and the Nature of Chrysanthemums

Questions of personal identity occur to everyone at some point in time: What am I? When did I begin? What will happen to me when I die? Other questions are more abstruse. 

Who am I? 

We often think of "personal identity" as that which defines us. Our personal identity is that which makes us unique as an individual and different from others. It is the way we see or define ourselves, and the network of values and convictions that govern and bring structure into our lives. You could say that an individual is a property (or a set of properties). Presumably personal identity is fluid - we might have one today that is different than that which we had ten years ago, or will have ten years from now - which begs the question, which identity was ours, and is personal identity even a thing (since it is continually evolving)??


What is it to be a person? What is necessary, and which answers will suffice for that which we call person as opposed to non-person? What does a person have that a non-person lacks? 

In other words, how do we define person

A philosopher would answer this question like this: 
"Necessarily, x is a person if and only if ... x ...", with the blanks appropriately defined. 
More specifically we can discuss at which point in one's development from fertilized egg do they become a person, or what would it take for a Chrysanthemum to become a person?


What would it take for a Chrysanthemum to become a person - that is, for a Chrysanthemum to exist with properties associated with personhood? What sorts of things would have to happen for us to look at a Chrysanthemum and call it a person?

If a Chrysanthemum sang to us, or spoke to us, as the flowers sing and speak with Alice (in Wonderland), would we then consider that Chrysanthemum a talking or singing flower, or would we consider that flower a person?

Which properties must specifically exist for us to consider an entity a person? Who determines which properties defines personhood? Suppose I point to a Chrysanthemum and call it a person. What makes anyone else so certain it is not (a person)? What is it about absurd questions that heighten our understanding of selfhood in a way that addressing it directly does not? Why do philosophers ask so many questions? I digress.

An Answer

An answer to why we do not call Chrysanthemums persons lies in persistence conditions, or in a criterion of personal identity over time (a constitutive rather than an evidential criterion: the second falls under the Evidence question).

The reality is few people ask this question (about Chrysanthemums being persons), but just the same, asking this question arises out of hope (or fear) that we might not be that which we think (we are).

Plato's Phaedo is a famous example. Whether consciousness and other properties we associate with personhood could exist in a Chrysanthemum depends on whether life necessarily exists in one set of properties.

Imagine waking up tomorrow morning as a Chrysanthemum (much like how Gregor Samsa woke up as a giant bug). Would you still consider yourself a person? How would you feel about someone coming along and plucking you from your roots, only to place you in a cold, sterile vase, as a centerpiece on their table?

What could you do about it, anyway? And is the ability to do something about it a property of personhood?


How do we find out who is who, who is a person and who is not a person? What evidence bears on the question of whether the individual writing this article or a Chrysanthemum growing in the author's garden is a person? What ought we to do when different kinds of evidence support opposing verdicts?

One source of evidence is first hand memory. Do you remember being a Chrysanthemum, or do you remember being a human being; and thus, a person?

Another source is physical continuity: Have you always been an individual (i.e., a person) or were you once previously a Chrysanthemum?

If you resemble a Chrysanthemum, or better yet, if the Chrysanthemum is in some sense physically or spatio-temporally continuous with you, is that reason to think you and the Chrysanthemum are one and the same person?

Can first-hand memory count as evidence all by itself, or only insofar as we can check it against publicly available physical evidence?

The Evidence Question dominated philosophical literature (on personal identity) from the 1950s to 1970s (Shoemaker, Penelhum). Despite sometimes being confused with the Persistence Question.

What does it take for you to persist through time; and how might we find out whether you have done so? 

If a Chrysanthemum has fingerprints, and those fingerprints were found at the scene of a florist's crime, and those fingerprints match yours, the courts might conclude that you are a Chrysanthemum.

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Trait 66, 2

In the article Trait 66 I ask Readers, 

"What is it exactly, that can drive a man to rip out his heart to quench a torture so sweet, so ravenously delicious that desire alone would eat him alive?"

Then I ask Readers, 

"What is it in turn, that captures a woman's interest, that causes her to pause, admire, and invite a man closer?"

My conclusion, 

When all of the 66 character traits are aligned (in harmony, in balance), the combination is precisely that which naturally propels humanity forward, or in the scenario above, that which drives individuals toward one another. 

What is it about the combination of these traits that ignites that je ne sais quoi inside all of us, propelling us toward that to which we are attracted? (be it a person, place, or thing)

If you imagine each person as a line segment and each trait a point along that segment, you can further imagine a convergence of the points themselves. Not every point (character trait) is developed in the human psyche, causing gaps (empty space). This empty space is where new experiences fall. (Free) radicals are attracted to these spaces as they are not yet stabilized. 

When fresh energy enters into a space within our psyche that is not yet stabilized, it sends a very loud, resounding signal, a bio-energetic message; if you will, that calls out to all neighboring particles and bio-energetic strands, signaling: "Anybody home?" 

The bio-energetic strands most prominent at that precise moment in time are the ones that respond, accounting for the variations in the human response system.

When a bio-energetic strand is not naturally developed, the result is a snowball effect which can wreak havoc on neighboring strands (otherwise healthy strands). 

One way to minimize this havoc is to develop each character trait. Once each trait is developed, it is more difficult for random energy to negatively affect it. When a characteristic is well developed, negative entering energy is neutralized. This harmonizing effect acts like a giant boulder in the path of the radical snowball, stopping free radicals (random energy) from causing untold damage. 

It is easier to create psychic boulders from within a balanced mindset, rather than from simply pushing random energy fields away from one's self. Pushing energy away from our bio-energetic mechanisms causes contradictory-like external ripples in the fabric of space. On the other side of the coin, pulling random energy into our bio-energetic mechanisms to balance it out inside ourselves wreaks havoc. The body can more easily absorb random energy when it is operating in harmony with itself. 

Some processes are inevitable, such as aging, but others (such as ignorance) can be prevented. Balancing the 66 characteristic traits minimizes the resulting unbalanced bio-energetic pollution that floats around the fabric of space until it finds empty space into which to wreak its havoc. 

Negative thoughts and behaviors play a role in damaging previously balanced character traits. Negativity also makes it more difficult to harmonize traits when they are ignited. For this reason, even low concentrations of positive thinking can reduce the damage free radical particles can wreak on our bio-energetic systems, but more studies into this fictitious hyper-trait are needed to understand this relationship. 

Monday, March 28, 2016

How to Understand Monty Python Football

Socrates, the Captain, scores!
... the most important goal, of his career

As a starting point, an understanding of 
Philosophical thinkers is necessary 
to understand why Monty Python fans 
think this is funny

In Monty Python's skit, Beckenbauer, Der Kaiser ("The Emperor") "is a little bit of a surprise" on the playing field... says the commentator. But is he a surprise? 

He follows an impressive line up: 



Leibniz is known as the last "universal genius". He contributed to the fields of metaphysics, epistemology, logic, philosophy of religion, and also mathematics, physics, geology, jurisprudence, and history. 

If only he had Plato's flair for the written word (Oeuvres complètes, vol. 7, p. 709). "When one compares the talents one has with those of a Leibniz, one is tempted to throw away one's books and go die quietly in the dark of some forgotten corner." (Oeuvres complètes, vol. 7, p. 678). 

"In his writings, Leibniz threw out such a profusion of seeds of ideas that in this respect he is virtually in a class of his own." ("Boole's logical Calculus and the Concept-script" in Posthumous Writings, p. 9). 

Kantian Ethics vs Utilitarianism

Kant argued that human understanding is the source of the general laws of nature that structure all of our experience. 

Kant did not say "of all experience". 
Kant did say "laws of nature that structure all of our experience." 

That subjective experience is our reality; it is our understanding of the general laws of nature; and, consequently, the bottom line: that we cannot know anything beyond that which we first know within. 

He then goes on to say that all experiences, be them core beliefs (immortality, freedom) or learned concepts (scientific knowledge, morality), all stem from the same foundation of human autonomy. 

Hegel came later, he attempted to create a comprehensive and systematic philosophy based in logic as a starting point. The challenge with this is that human beings do not always behave logically. 

When we meet human beings who do behave logically, we often refer to them as "complex". 

Schopenhauer was among the first to publicize that the universe is not a rational place. He felt we should adjust our desires, for the sake of feeling at peace. He would be one of those people telling you to be happy and grateful for what you do have so that you do not desire more than you can achieve; doing so brings torment. 

In other words, if you're not feeling 100% happy with your life, do something creative or nice for someone else and you'll feel better. Basically, he stepped off the train to enjoy the scenery. 

Schelling couldn't really make up his mind, but he was impressively rigorous in the logic he applied to the endeavor. Unfortunately, while standing around trying to decide, other philosophers (who did not suffer from fear of idea commitment) passed him by, leaving him behind in their German Idealistic dust. 

Jaspers started out as a psychologist, and then switched camps. FEELING and BELIEVING got too heavy, so he decided to join the philosophers to THINK ABOUT STUFF instead. 

Reportedly, he was much HAPPIER once he did this. 

Schlegel was a literary critic who saw both sides of the same coin, though his insights were confined to a rather limited circle. The only literary critic on par with Schlegel is Harold Bloom. Both share a romanticized version of idealism in its many forms; letters, in particular. Striving for ideals, interested mostly in that which is unique or beautiful, or a characteristic of excellence, literary critics translate what is "novel" by first having the capacity to recognize it in themselves. Much of what we know of brilliance has not been garnered independently, first-hand; but second-hand, from intellectuals such as Schlegel. 

Wittgenstein brought together logic to metaphysics, via language, and in doing so, illuminated new insights into the very nature of philosophy. It's easy to buy into the idea that you've solved philosophy, that there's nothing left to consider, that everything that could be considered has been considered ... until, something new happens, and then we start considering things all over again. 

In the last few years, I've been hanging out in Wittgenstein's camp. Exploring his ideas because of the independent but related ideas I've entertained. 

Nietzsche was relentless in his enchantment of his readers' thoughts and emotions. His understanding of human nature is what enabled him to convey those worlds just beyond most people's articulation zones. His honest questioning, in prose, enabled others to follow along the journey, and to glimpse their humanity in the process. It is no wonder his ideas have inspired revolutionary-thinking people in all walks of life. 

Heidegger is one of those Schlegels, a modern-day Harold Bloom - only, funnier. Heidegger was witty and clever, and so very well expressed that it is difficult to draw the line where he influenced philosophy and where he merely made it comprehensible. From this platform, he emerges tall; on par with Kant, Kierkegaard, and Nietzsche, without Nietzsche's twisted self-importance. 

 Who, me? 

Heidegger is one of those philosopher's most of us would actually enjoy inviting to dinner. He wouldn't exactly be Chance (Chauncey Gardiner) in Being There, but in my mind, he'd exercise some of those old-fashioned and courtly manners in getting his point across, in a way that is simple, to the point, and cleverly disguised. 

Heidegger and a Hippo (Walk through those Pearly Gates) and Plato and a Platypus (Walk into a Bar) are the two books that opened my eyes to how very funny philosophizing can be (thank you Thomas Cathcart & Daniel Klein). 


It's no wonder one of the greatest defenders in the history of football would take the field, following such a line-up. A defensive, libero player who intervenes proactively in the offensive game of his team; it is no wonder Beckenbauer was awarded the Order of Merit of the Federal Republic of Germany. 

Excellence in any category, be it footballing or philosophizing, is visibly recognized with gratitude by the world. Excellence is awarded for achievements and for the rebuilding of human thinking and doing. Whether our contribution comes in the fields of sports, entertainment, politics, or socio-economic or intellectual activity, our work toward excellence is invaluable to the world, and contributes to the peaceful rise of human potential. 

All the fumbles and fouls, mishaps and missed shots along the way are what make this experience so funny, and are precisely what makes this Monty Python clip funny; if only one is familiar with both teams and their players. 

So, why is this Monty Python skit funny? 

The answers is ... it's not really that funny.
It's mildly funny, at best.

What is funny is that Monty Python thought more people would know of these philosophers and their ideas, and then find the matching of wits funny.

The Monty Python Football skit is about as funny as this post (in comparison).
Therein lies the humor of both the skit and this post.
And like I said: mild, at best.

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Trait 66

What is it exactly, that can drive a man to rip out his heart to quench a torture so sweet, so ravenously delicious that desire alone would eat him alive?

Is the sentiment of being wanted by a beautiful woman so alluring, so utterly irresistible? 

What is it in turn, that captures a woman's interest, that causes her to pause, admire, and invite a man closer? 

Is there one, singular look of desire that can forever pierce a soul? 

What would one do to possess it?

Billions of images float through the minds of men and women as they endeavor to answer these questions.

What is it that causes us to instantly fall madly, clumsily, shamelessly, agonizingly in love with each other?

Where does it begin?

From where does the frenzy of mutual possession assuaged only by our actually imbibing and assimilating every particle of each other's soul and flesh arise?

What is it that causes us to forget ourselves, to leave our worlds behind?

Trait 66 is that which naturally allures beings toward one another. The natural response to allure is follow. In other words, a Peter Pan Syndrome. 

It is when we escape, when we find ourselves away from the prying eyes of the world, when we take advantage of every blessed quirk in space and time to sleek away, half-hidden, for the mere chance, if granted to us, to soothe an incompleteness in any area of our personality in need of relief. 

There are 66 human traits wandering the world. All of them primarily interested in themselves. All which can be defined as habitual patterns of behavior, thought, and emotion. According to this perspective, traits coexist with one another, relatively contained, until the moment a bare shoulder and parting of the hair brings into focus a kind of dramatic conspicuousness: a moody, half-insulted, fatality held in the flimsiest of pretexts, from which no one can escape without the heightened glitter of miserable memories. 


In some cases, traits are something a person has or does not have, but in each are dimensions of extraversion vs. introversion, into which each person falls somewhere along the way. 

Practically every human being is concerned with the maddening complexities of the human psyche. Shock, frustration, determination, courage, optimism, creativity, cooperation, purpose, sincerity ... love. 

Human traits are what makes us who we are; they are relatively permanent aspects of each of us evidenced by the consistency in our interactions. Knowing this, helps us better understand the push and pull we experience when a given trait is ignited or peaked into expression. 

In physics, a force is any interaction that, when unopposed, will change the motion of an object -or- in the case of human beings, their emotional state.


Gordon Allport, the early Pioneer of trait study, identified certain human dispositions, "cardinal" traits that dominate and shape a person's behavior; their rulings passions and obsessions, such as the need for money or power (or white rabbits). 

By contrast, "central" traits such as honesty are characteristics found in some degree in every person,

... and finally, there are those "secondary" traits, those only seen in certain circumstances, triggering a wide variety of responses. 

Among all of these reactions, one particular human response stands out from the rest. Let's call it Trait 66, the occasion when all 66 human characteristic traits are ignited simultaneously. 

When all 66 traits come into play, mass changes its velocity. In other words, acceleration occurs. This force is inversely proportional to the mass of both the object and the forces acting upon it.

Philosophers in antiquity considered the concept of force in the study of simple machines, whereas modern behavioral theorists focus their exploration of cosmological forces naturally expressed in human behavior. 

With different traits being aroused due to different stimuli, the actual trait ignited at any given time is the trait most easily manifest in a given life-space, eg., the most immediate trait. Once combined with external traits, this trait instantly transforms into the product of multiple forces. 

The force that rises above all others is what drives humanity forward. It is that cosmic balancing act, that cluster of stars on a cloudy night, that dreamy eerie half-pleasure-half-pain response that makes human beings quiver in their humanity. It is precisely this moment when human beings are held hostage by their own overriding psychological dispositions, by the culmination of traits in their varying degrees of expression manifest. 

This is the ache that can drive a man to rip out his heart to quench a torture, that can capture a woman's interest, that can forever pierce a person's soul. It is the culmination and ignition of all traits simultaneously expressed, in varying degrees, expressed in another that human beings find so utterly irresistible. 

This is what drives human beings forward: madly, clumsily, shamelessly, agonizingly forward toward the object that ignites. It causes us to forget ourselves, and leave our worlds behind. 

Our natural response is to follow the external compliment to the forces held within, to soothe an incompleteness in any area of our personality in need of relief.

If you wish to know better the drivers of human behavior, thought, and emotion, look to each and every trait: examine it, map it out between the path of low and high-functioning behaviors, and there, somewhere along the road, you'll find a path leading directly to that which resonates, repels, harmonizes, or ignites. 

Human traits coexist with one another until a force acts upon them, bringing them into a kind of dramatic conspicuousness where our rulings passions and obsessions, utter honesty, or individual unicity takes center stage. 

But when all 66 human characteristic traits are ignited simultaneously, fireworks explode, acceleration occurs, and force is inversely proportional to the mass of both the object and the forces acting upon it.  

Cosmological forces naturally expressed in human behavior are aroused due to different stimuli, the actual trait ignited at any given time is the trait most easily manifest in a given life-space, eg., the most immediate trait.

Once combined with external traits, this trait instantly transforms into the product of multiple forces. The force that rises above all others is what drives humanity forward. 

It is that cosmic balancing act, that cluster of stars on a cloudy night, that dreamy eerie half-pleasure-half-pain response that makes human beings quiver in their humanity, forever looking back upon that flurry of pale repetitive scraps like those morning snow storms of used tissue paper one sees whirling in the wake of an article far more tantalizing than that which one might encounter on Wikipedia.