March 28, 2007
I'm sure that Wafa Sultan would express some dissent on that position, but nevertheless it's a popular notion that is taught in schools and universities all over the place.
I think that insofar as one is referring to the basic, practical rules of conduct, then this idea is fine. It doesn't matter which side of the street one drives on so long as the rest of traffic agrees. It doesn't matter whether or not one eats dessert first or last. It doesn't matter which language you speak. It doesn't matter if people kiss to greet one another or shake hands. Those things aren't important.
What is of supreme importance, however, is that a culture maintain a respect for individual rights.
I was watching the Star Trek series entitled Enterprise the other night and all of this was what I was thinking about. I used to enjoy Star Trek a lot but I started realizing how morally subjective it would be at times. And the other night was one of those cases.
The crew of the Enterprise encountered this race of people with three sexes, male, female, and a cogenitur. Apparently, the third sex secretes an enzyme that aides in reproduction. There weren't any illustrations so I am not clear on how this enzyme actually enters the field of play. Just trust me. There were men, women, and this one person who was somewhere in the middle and they needed it to reproduce.
Allow me to digress a moment. Why would a race with three sexes not have pronouns for the third sex and instead us the impersonal third person all the time? "It does this," "It does that," they would say. I think they should get a word for those people. "Schmoopie does this or that."
They treated this third sex person -- who didn't even have a name, by the way -- as if they were a pet and schmoopie basically acted like a sullen teenager or a retarded child.
Well, this situation bothered one of the humans and he set out to educate the cogenitur who chose Charles as schmoopies name. Charles was very smart, actually. Schmoopie learned to read in one day. And schmoopie wanted to get a job and basically live schmoopie's life as schmoopie's own.
Makes sense to me.
Well, these aliens were outraged and wouldn't hear of it. An interspecies conflict arose out of this. "HOW DARE YOU JUDGE OUR CULTURE?!?!" etc. Captain Archer was very angry with Trip, the guy who wanted to educate and free Charles.
How dare I judge a culture? How about the fact that you keep slaves?
I don't care where you go, what year it is, or what planet you're on. Keeping slaves of rational animals is wrong.
These aliens refused to allow the congeniturs to learn or even take names. They just pass them around like toys (Again, there weren't any illustrations. I don't know how apt that analogy really is.) to be shared among everyone on the playground. And the cogenitur didn't have a choice.
Apparently, the writers of the show couldn't come to a conclusion on the matter because rather than force the crew of the Enterprise into a difficult spot, they wrote in that Charles commits suicide. Apparently, schmoopie would rather live free or die. I respect that, but suicide is a bit extreme. I wish schmoopie'd gone down fighting.
It's irritating that they couldn't just recognize the fundamental issue here and had the heroes, Captain Archer and the rest of the crew including the Vulcan lady, recognize the fact that individual rights are necessary and non-negotiable.
Just ask Wafa Sultan, right?
March 16, 2007
The point of the discussion was to discuss the impact of the concept of determinism on the concept of free will.
Many people think that if the present state of things is determined (deterministic) by the identities and interactions of the myriad constituent elements, then the future of things is similarly defined and predictable (fatalistic).
Determinism would appear to be a corollary of causation which is a corollary of the axiom of Identity.
And while Determinism looks backward and studies the mechanisms that brought things to their present way of being, Fatalism looks ahead and projects how thing will be thanks to those same mechanisms.
At a casual glance, Fatalism would appear to be a natural, logical progression of the Deterministic premise, which, in my mind, is a very logical extension of Causality. This presents a significant challenge to the notion that people are free to choose to do things as they please.
The author of the book is focused not so much on the philosophy, but the science of these things. He argues that determinism does not lead naturally to fatalism at all.
His solution leads to a discussion of chaos theory, which does not appeal to me at all, mostly because I don't have a lot of patience or an aptitude for mathematics.
The idea is that the minute effects of some past cause may, in themselves, collaborate to become causes for massive effects. You might think of it as something like that old, silly story about a butterfly in Africa causing Hurricane Katrina and a ban on partially hydrogenated oils in New York.
While the future is generally predictable, we can't determine specific outcomes or events.
The metaphor offered to illustrate the difference is that while we know that it will be cold next December, we can't say whether or not it will snow on Christmas Day.
This theory is interesting to me and that's why I'm sharing it. I haven't fully integrated the concepts, though, so it's a challenge for me to analyze it to any deeper ends.
March 05, 2007
1. an inborn pattern of activity or tendency to action common to a given biological species.
2. a natural or innate impulse, inclination, or tendency.
3. a natural aptitude or gift: an instinct for making money.
4. natural intuitive power.
Ayn Rand held that people don't have instincts. She also defined an instinct as being knowledge that one is born with.
I'm at work jotting these notes, so I can't just whip out the "Objectivist-approved" definition of knowledge and I sadly find myself unable to pin it down with certainty or confidence. At the moment, I'd define it as the integrated grasp of some concept, but I know there's more to it.
Curse my lack of a photographic memory!
In trying to read about instincts and DNA and all that, I find that no one else uses instinct in that way, really.
I recently read about an "instinct" for language. The evidence offered is that all human languages are equally complex in form and application. Second-generation speakers of pidgin dialects adapt them to be as complex as either root-language. Etc. Apparently, people are adept at language. Duh. This to me demonstrates not an instinct for language but the universal human ability to form concepts, the end step of which process involves assigning a name to the concept, which requires what? Language.
In poking around on Kip Esquire's site, he asserts that Ayn Rand was just slap-wrong in her discussion of instincts:
Hear a baby cry, see a Snickers Bar, go skydiving for the first time. Then try claiming there's no such thing as "human instinct" or "emotion detached from reason."
There IS a reason people respond to baby cries. We all know about babies and what it means to cry. That's not a response detached from acquired knowledge.
There is also a reason people salivate at the sight of food. that's also not a response detached from acquired knowledge. (More on this in a moment.)
People are not even born with a fear of heights. Babies will, in fact, crawl right off the edge of high places if they see something they want to go after. They learn later that they will fall. So, that's also not an example of inborn knowledge.
Back to the food thing. I believe (I'm not prepared to cite anything) that there are odors and flavors that people respond to more positively than others, sweet, while there are also flavors that people respond negatively to, bitter. People don't KNOW anything about sweetness, but our biology tells us that it's good. People will drink anti-freeze and love it. People don't always like to drink medicine even when it will save their lives. So, more strongly this time: responses to sensory information including flavor and scent are not instinctual in the sense that Ayn Rand meant.
Animals do automatically engage in behaviors that they've not observed before. They do have trouble when they are not socialized with others of their species, particularly with more complex behavior like hunting and courtship rituals, but to a degree that would be surprising if observed in humans, they automatically know how to do things.
I'm questioning the accuracy of Ayn Rand's definition still, however. I will have to look it up and consider it, but if I recall it correctly, almost no one seems to use it in the same way.
Scuze my ramblings...
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