Hippocratic Oath for Scientists?

Posted by Anti Citizen One on June 24th, 2008

A group within the Institute of Medical Science at University of Toronto in Canada devised this oath for scientists:

I promise never to allow financial gain, competitiveness or ambition cloud my judgment in the conduct of ethical research and scholarship. I will pursue knowledge and create knowledge for the greater good, but never to the detriment of colleagues, supervisors, research subjects or the international community of scholars of which I am now a member.

The part that particularly caught my eye is serving “the greater good”. The greater good of what? Who decides what is in the interests of that greater good? How very utilitarian!

If we decide that the greater good is “humanity”, that supposes it is a static thing. If a non-human were to perform science, would this oath apply? Their oath outlines a little of what science isn’t and gets that little bit muddled too…

I mostly concur with GrrlScientist’s blog post and share her concerns on the integrity of science, but this oath is not an answer. I might have a stab at defining what science is but the attempt might be futile (according to PF).

Anti Citizen One

School Uniforms and Religion

Posted by Anti Citizen One on June 23rd, 2008

A schoolgirl may have to wait until next month for the outcome of her legal bid to topple a school’s decision to exclude her for wearing a Sikh bangle. BBC

I have been interested in case of Sarika Watkins-Singh and her exclusion from school for wearing a ceremonial braclet which is apparently a requirement in Sikhism. The UK high court will rule on this in a few weeks. This case really cuts to the heart of the issue of uniforms and freedom of belief – unlike the Lydia Playfoot case (the Silver Ring Thing) which is entirely optional within Christianity. The high court ruled against Lydia Playfoot back in July 2007 saying her human rights were not violated.

My main reservation with Sarika Watkins-Singh’s case is that if a major religion’s dress code takes precidence over a school uniform, why not a minor religion? And if a minor religion, why not a religion of a few or even one person? Any why then can’t atheists have a choice? It makes school uniforms uninforcable…

And even though I think Sikhism is more likely false than true, I actually support this case as it maintains free speech and free expression. “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.”

Anti Citizen One

Review: The Birth of Tragedy

Posted by Anti Citizen One on June 19th, 2008

The Birth of Tragedy discusses the world view and theatre of the ancient Greeks and how it applies to the culture of his day. Nietzsche borrows several ideas from contemporaries, notably Hegelian dialectic and applies it to Dionysus (thesis), Apollo (antithesis) and Greek Tragedy(synthesis). The Dionysian and Apollonian tendencies were both said to be an answer to the “wisdom of Silenus”.

…King Midas hunted in the forest a long time for the wise Silenus, the companion of Dionysus, without capturing him. When Silenus at last fell into his hands, the king asked what was the best and most desirable of all things for man. Fixed and immovable, the demigod said not a word; till at last, urged by the king, he gave a shrill laugh and broke out into these words: ‘Oh, wretched ephemeral race, children of change and misery, why do ye compel me to tell you what it were most expedient for you not to hear? What is best of all is beyond your reach forever: not to be born, not to be, to be nothing. But second best for you – is quickly to die.’

This idea was echoed more recently by Camus in The Myth of Sisyphus – is a pointless task (or pointless life) better abandoned?

Nietzsche says there are three traditions that answer this question:

1) Dionysus, god of Wine and bringer of ritual ecstasy. His followers rejoice in life as it actually is including all tragedy and discord. Nietzsche closely identifies Dionysus with music, without words, as a mirror of the world in a similar way as Schopenhauer’s concept of music as pure will. In theater, Dionysus is linked with all tragic heroes caught in epic downfalls and myths. Reality is a subjective and is intuitively and instinctively understood.

The truly Dionysian music presents itself as such a general mirror of the universal will: the conspicuous event refracted in this mirror expands at once for our consciousness to the copy of an external truth. Section 17

Here the most profound instinct of life, that directed toward the future of life, the eternity of life, is experienced religiously — and the way to life, procreation, as the holy way. Twilight of the Idols

2) Apollo, god of the Sun and bringer of knowledge, reason, wisdom and plastic (visual) beauty. This movement flatly rejects Silenus and instead holds that man’s goal is to pursue knowledge which in turn leads to beauty, virtue and happiness. The lyricist takes precedence over the musician and the music only supports the words of the writer. The theater, characters become more like the audience and given realistic emotions. The protagonists are now intelligent slaves and cunning men and women while the classic heroes are parodied. This use of realistic characters often makes the story impossible to fit with the expected Apollonian outcome (intelligence/beauty is rewarded) so deus ex machina is used to resolve the story. This shift in style is attributed to Euripides and ultimately to Socrates. Mythology and subjectivity are destroyed and replaced by the theoretic, the objective and history.

“…hence the picture of the dying Socrates, as the man raised above the fear of death by knowledge and reason, is the sign about the entrance-gate of science reminding every one of its mission, namely, to make existence seem intelligible, and therefore justified.” Section 15

If we could conceive of an incarnation of dissonance -and what else is man? – then, that it might live, this dissonance would need a glorious illusion to cover its features with a veil of beauty. This is the true artistic function of Apollo… Section 25″

3) Buddhist tradition which, according to Nietzsche, agrees with Silenus’s nihilism.

Since it is impossible to reach either ideal completely, life and theater is said to be best understood as a synthesis of both the Apollonian and Dionysian tendencies.

For the more clearly I perceive in Nature those omnipotent art impulses […] the more I feel myself impelled to the metaphysical assumption that the Truly-Existent [Dionysus?] and Primal Unity [Apollo?], eternal suffering and divided against itself […] are compelled to apprehend as […] empiric reality. Section 4.

After Socrates, Greek taste shifts towards the Apollonian and Socraties (and his cronies Plato and Aristotle) and culture is still operating under the same system today. People are still considered as rational individuals who can detach themselves from the world they are observing. The problem with the Apollonian ideal is that it is fatally flawed – as any post modernist will tell you!

And as thou hast forsaken Dionysus, Apollo hath also forsaken thee; rouse up all the passions from their haunts and conjure them into thy circle, sharpen and whet thy sophistical dialectic for the speeches of thy heroes – thy very heroes have but counterfeit, masked passions, and utter but counterfeit, masked words. Section 10

As we reach the limits of philosophic reason and consider the boundaries of science, we realize that much of the world is not yet intelligible – and most likely will never be. This fundamentally undermines the claim of Apollonian view.

“If ancient tragedy was diverted from its course by the dialectical desire for knowledge and the optimism of science, this fact might lead us to believe that there is an eternal conflict between the theoretic and the tragic world-view; and only after the spirit of science has been pursued to its limits, and its claim to universal validity destroyed by the evidence of these limits may we hope for a rebirth of tragedy…” Section 17

By emphasizing the objective viewpoint of individual members of the public (rather than subjective view of heroes), Euripides thought the “public” on stage could be a better judge of the play.

But “public,” after all, is only a word. In no sense is it a homogeneous and constant quantity. Why should the artist be bound to accommodate himself to a power whose strength lies merely in numbers? Section 11.

This instantly reintroduces the subjective back into what is intended to be objective. We are instantly drawn back to the Dionysian.

There is a great amount I did not understand in the book as Greek culture is fairly obscure. The style of Nietzsche is more restrained as he mentions other philosophers without pouring scorn on them – particularly notably are Kant and Schopenhauer – who he later rejected utterly. He does identify Socrates as a target at this early stage in his writing.

Anti Citizen One

Political Accountability

Posted by Anti Citizen One on June 12th, 2008

The shadow home secretary has resigned in an apparent attempt to throw down the gauntlet over the governments 42 day detention without charge. Although this is a highly original political move, it has the same air as Monty Python’s Judean People’s Front.

Suicide Squad Leader: We are the Judean People’s Front crack suicide squad! Suicide squad, attack!
[they all stab themselves]
Suicide Squad Leader: That showed ’em, huh?

I can’t blame them for trying.

In a similar battle against the US political majority, Democratic Representative Dennis Kucinich recently called for the Senate to impeach Bush. Political observers do not expect this action to make headway and the resolution has been sent to committee as a delaying tactic.

The problem is the US senate (and the UK parliment) mainly supported the Iraq war and are hardly likely to approve an investigation that might expose their flaws. Since there has been an election in both countries, they know there is no great public pressure to force the issue. The UK government defeated a similar attempt to launch an inquiry into the Iraq war in March 2008.

Anti Citizen One

Don’t Become What You Hate

Posted by Anti Citizen One on June 7th, 2008

It strikes me that several recent government policies have been concerned with resisting a decline in our “way of life”. Security, the economy and our personal welfare are all held by governments as something that is already good and must be protected from immigration, terrorism and violent crime. This view tends to see the world as a place that has no room for improvement and as decline which must be prevented. We are then victims of outside sinister forces. We are almost presented with the choice:

1) To surrender to external forces and see our way of life change.

2) To fight change and maintain the status quo.

The paradoxical (and ironic) problem with resisting change is that to resist, we must already accept change to a way of life!

I will give you an example: fundamentalist terrorists wish to undermine the open society and impose a totalitarian government – all aspects of people’s lives are centrally controlled. The way we are fighting this is to centralize power and rip up the open society! Recent instances: surveillance, long detention without trial, supporting extraordinary rendition, alienation of minority communities and curtailing individual freedoms. All these activities as the characteristics of what we are supposedly resisting.

Surly the best way to resist this trend is to strive for the opposite society is to do the opposite? We should increase transparency of government and police, increase personal freedoms, involve minority communities in government, and encourage personal responsibility over reliance on a father figure government. We can fight terror best by ignoring it. Terrorism is a propaganda tool to force political change. A propaganda tool is defeated if it is ignored. The impact of terrorism can also be reduced by designing infrastructure to be distributed and redundant.

Anti Citizen One

Photo Tampering

Posted by Anti Citizen One on June 4th, 2008

The Scientific American magazine has an interesting slideshow of Photo Tampering Throughout History.


Free Speech on Airlines

Posted by Anti Citizen One on June 4th, 2008

A man flying from Heathrow, London was recently told he could not board a flight wearing a t-shirt depicting a cartoon robot holding a gun.

An even more extreme case from 2006 was a man flying from John F Kennedy airport was refused boarding while wearing a t-shirt with the slogan “we will not be silent” in both English and Arabic.

My concern is any public statement can be suppressed if the forum of discussion is controlled by a private interests. We effectively sign away certain rights when we take a flight, go to the cinema, enter a shopping centre, visit someone’s home or comment on Facebook. We should choose companies that don’t ask for fundamental rights to be surrendered. If we cannot practically choose from alternatives, as with airports, our rights should be protected from the airport operator company.

Anti Citizen One

PS What is stopping the airlines demanding that no one wears the colour green on flights?

The real and the simulated

Posted by on June 2nd, 2008

This weekend saw an enormous fire break out at the Universal Film Studios in Los Angeles. Now apart from the ecological impact, and the possibility of losing some valuable film material this really isnt a story liable to interest me. They are sufficiently rich to be able to rebuild.

News Article here.

However in amongst the details of the story came my quote of the week, from Los Angeles City Councilman Tom LaBonge who offered these words of wisdom:

“It looked like a disaster film”

Ok, I could comment on how ironic this would be, but I realised this has a more serious side to it (intentionally or not). Jean Baudrillard postmodernist philosopher who spent years writing about the real and the hyperreal, signs and signifiers, simulacra and simulation, once had something interesting to say on this matter. I had always found it interesting but had found practical examples elusive.

In arguably his most famous work Simulacra and Simulation he proposes that modern technological man has slowly but thoroughly replaced reality and meaning with symbols and signs. And that mans experience of the real, is more often than not these days an artifical experience of a simulated reality. The signs of culture and media create our percieved reality. Baudrillard goes so far as to suggest that we have got to a stage where we have lost contact with the real, so reliant are we upon these simulacra.

A pop-culture reference to this work could be found in sci-fi film The Matrix (though Baudrillard thought it was a distortion of his ideas).

Anyway it seemed worthy of comment that not only is it ironic that one should describe a devestating fire at a film studio as being like watching a disaster movie – but perhaps this is an example of the linguistic shift away from the real that Baudrillard was on about. The fire wasnt described as being a disaster (which it was), but as being like a disaster movie, which is only a simulation of the real thing. The “real” thing, was so “realistic”, it was just like the “realistic simulation” of the “real” thing we are so used to seeing on our movie screens!!!

Perhaps I am doing a terrible injustice to the poor politician who was hired as a rent-a-quote, but it does all remind me of another Baudrillard quip once made concerning America.

“Disneyland helps us to forget that the rest of America is essentially a theme park.”