In Broken Images

Posted by Anti Citizen One on January 31st, 2010

He is quick, thinking in clear images;
I am slow, thinking in broken images.

He becomes dull, trusting to his clear images;
I become sharp, mistrusting my broken images,

Trusting his images, he assumes their relevance;
Mistrusting my images, I question their relevance.

Assuming their relevance, he assumes the fact,
Questioning their relevance, I question the fact.

When the fact fails him, he questions his senses;
When the fact fails me, I approve my senses.

He continues quick and dull in his clear images;
I continue slow and sharp in my broken images.

He in a new confusion of his understanding;
I in a new understanding of my confusion.

Robert Graves

The Voyage of The Beagle

Posted by Anti Citizen One on January 29th, 2010

I finished The Voyage of The Beagle about Darwin’s early travels. People keep asking me who wrote it – as if all historical figures can only be seen in light of later historians! Well, he wrote it himself based on his personal journal. The trip was probably an inspiration for evolution but at the time, he held more conventional beliefs. The book focuses on observations while sailing and on land expeditions in the southern hemisphere. He discusses a wide variety of social, biological and natural phenomena – this generalist approach to science is refreshing. He occasionally makes positive religious references and comparisons. He feels great patriotic pride at being English and the improvement, as he saw it, of various peoples around the world, primarily through missionary activity. He often makes clear his strong feelings against slavery. A few observations are striking as possible foreshadowing his later work, including:

  • Certain species occur together and never occur separately
  • Certain species are unique to a particular habitat and do not occur in a distant similar habitat
  • Many species are comprised of sub-species
  • Habitats, geology, ground level and climate change in time, sometimes suddenly and sometimes slowly
  • Two nearby places can be completely different habitats
  • Some habitats often have new arrivals of species, others are isolated
  • The vast majority of fossils correspond to extinct species
  • Some species are very rare and are hardly ever seen by humans. (Why would God bother creating that?)
  • Rushing to hasty conclusions is a common mistake

Anyway, a good book there. I also have “Origin” but I will take a rest from biology for a few weeks.


Bad Laws

Posted by Anti Citizen One on January 28th, 2010

The way Britain is governed has gone wrong and is in urgent need of reform, a group of former Whitehall chiefs has warned in a highly critical report.

The former civil servants paint a picture of badly trained ministers rushing through “ill thought-out” legislation to satisfy media demands. BBC

Which reminds us:

I heartily accept the motto,—“That government is best which governs least;” and I should like to see it acted up to more rapidly and systematically. Carried out, it finally amounts to this, which I also believe,—“That government is best which governs not at all;” and when men are prepared for it, that will be the kind of government which they will have. Government is at best but an expedient; but most governments are usually, and all governments are sometimes, inexpedient.


Existential Films: Characters Explicitly Facing Existential Choices (3 of n)

Posted by Anti Citizen One on January 27th, 2010

Previous part

Three Colours Blue A woman’s family are killed in a car crash. Being of independent means, she decides to exist without any personal attachments. They say “no man is an island” but she attempts to simply existing without desire or pain. A fine plan, at first, but she is faced by repeated, unintentional entanglements with people and she begins to lose her apathy. She is also haunted by a musical theme that her late husband (possibly) was composing for the unification of Europe and probably represents fraternity (of the French motto Liberté, Égalité, Fraternité). The film is themed on “liberty”, in opposition to fraternity and the tension between these conflicting goals is played out through the film. Philosophically, this story is attempting to avoid existential choices by escape into nihilism. (This film might be the polar opposite to Taxi Driver.)

Julie Vignon: Now I have only one thing left to do: nothing. I don’t want any belongings, any memories. No friends, no love. Those are all traps.

High Noon A recently resigned sheriff (Kane) gets married to a pacifist, only to discover that his nemesis Miller (and his goons) are arriving shortly by train. The town, although grateful for him bringing peace and order, tells him this is not his fight and giving him every opportunity and excuse to leave. Although his usual allies are originally keen to help, they equivocate and eventually beg to not be forced to assist the sheriff. Kane is forced to make a choice: to step away from the town he helped create, or to suicidally fight Miller’s gang alone. The choice is made existential as it is without public support, potentially risky/fatal and motivated by personal values. I hear the film is also an allegory of McCarthyism and the failure of Hollywood to stand in solidarity.

Martin: You risk your skin catching killers and the juries turn them loose so they can come back and shoot at you again. If you’re honest you’re poor your whole life and in the end you wind up dying all alone on some dirty street. For what? For nothing. For a tin star.

See also: 13th Floor, eXistenZ

To be continued…

The Law of the Infinite Cornucopia

Posted by on January 20th, 2010

The Philosopher Leszek Kolakowski who rejected his former Marxism and embraced a humanistic rationalism proposed this law of the infinite cornucopia.

Which suggests that for any given doctrine one wants to believe, there is never a shortage of arguments by which one can support it.

An example given is theology and the bible. For any doctrine a biblical theologian wants to believe there is never any shortage of biblical evidence to support it.

The centre of Kolakowski’s conceptual universe was the individual – a rational and freely acting subject, aware that there is a spiritual side of life, yet eschewing absolute certainty of either an empirical or transcendental sort: “I do not believe that human culture can ever reach a perfect synthesis of its diversified and incompatible components”, he said. “Its very richness is supported by this very incompatibility of its ingredients. And it is the conflict of values, rather than their harmony, that keeps our culture alive.” (extract from the Daily Telegraph Obituary of Kolakowski in 2009)

What role then the philosopher?
It was not the philosopher’s role to deliver the truth, but to “build the spirit of truth” by questioning what appears to be obvious, always suspecting that there might be “another side” to any question. The true philosopher should approach any issue with scepticism and humility: “A modern philosopher who has never once suspected himself of being a charlatan must be such a shallow mind that his work is probably not worth reading”, he said.

Thoughts of a troublesome priest

Posted by on January 19th, 2010

I’ve recently been reading a biography of Fr. Jerzy Popieluszko, a Polish Catholic priest who became chaplain to the striking Warsaw Steel workers in the early 1980’s. He was to become heavily involved in the Solidarity movement (the first non-communist controlled trade union federation) providing spiritual guidance and material assistance to prisoners and dissidents and their families particularly in the repressive period of Martial Law between 1981 and 1983 imposed by the Military Council of National Salvation (the cadre of Polish and Soviet Army officers who enforced totalitarian military rule on behalf of the Polish Workers Party). The Solidarity movement, which although quickly banned survived underground and eventually became the first democratically elected government of the post-soviet Polish Third Republic, was comprised of an unusually broad range of political positions including persons associated with the Roman Catholic Church (socially conservative) and the anti-soviet Left.
The Church though severely restricted was not virtually wiped out as in the Soviet Union and as a consequence provided one of the few public forums for political dissident gatherings. As a consequence the Solidarity movement acquired a non-violent character. Fr Jerzy’s sermons which lead to his numerous arrests and interrogations by the secret police became major sources of political inspiration to the Solidarity movement even when it was forced underground.
The religious aspect of the Solidarity movement could be described as a theology of liberation (though distinct from the Marxist inspired Liberation Theology of South America) and recieved public support from the Polish Pope John Paul II.

Here follow some interesting quotes from Fr Jerzy.

“Love cannot exist without justice, love outgrows justice but at the same time it finds reaffirmation in justice…
And justice means acknowledgement of the rights due to each individual; fair pay for honest work, with no fear of dismissal or demotion for holding personal views concerning the good of the nation. Justice is the equality of all citizens before the law. Every court must be free and impartial…
Justice means pluralism for trade unions, and for creative groups which were promised under martial law. Justice would allow young people to form their personality according to models chosen by themselves and not those officially imposed upon them…
These are the fundamental features of a lawful government:
1. The government must play the part of a servant towards the nation…
2. The government must always follow the truth and justice…
3. The government should create happiness for all, asking from each individual only what he or she can give, without any kind of coercion…
Any government which has no means of implementing its policies other than the use of force is not a government but a blasphemous usurper, and the people are as defenceless as an unarmed man confronted by a highway robber. Even if this man were as innocent and as holy as Christ Himself, nothing could save him, neither his religion nor the law nor any moral norms. The cry of Abel only arouses the fury of his brother Cain. You cannot expect anything good from people who do not respect your dignity or freedom.”

Fr Jerzy was kidnapped and murdered in a bungled operation by agents of the State Security Police in 1984 and only after massive nationwide protests were the officers responsible (including a Captain Piotrowski) tried and imprisoned for murder. However as a wry Polish national joke observed at the time “Question: Why did Piotrowski get twenty-five years imprisonment? Answer: One year for killing Father Jerzy and twenty-four for messing it up.” the popular belief since reinforced by documentary evidence is that the order came from high up in the government in order to silence this “turbulent priest”.

Quite aside from the religious imlpications of his words I am often reminded of them when considering the role that the state plays in the governance of our own country today.

Further Design Argument Considerations in Excruciating Detail

Posted by Anti Citizen One on January 17th, 2010

Comment on previous post: ‘Picky point I guess, but the argument from design makes no reference to “good intentions” – that would be a moral telological argument (a combination of more than one set of assumptions).’

You are right that my point is not well developed in this area but I omitted a full explanation because it is rather verbose with perhaps little reward. The design argument that most people remember is “the universe looks designed therefore designer exists” but this is really only part of the full argument. The more complete statement of the design argument is the Watchmaker Analogy or similar, which is really in the same “family” of arguments as the teleological argument.

To move beyond a superficial application of the Watchmaker Analogy, we must ask “what attributes of object X that makes us think it is designed?”. Often, it is only an argument from ignorance that makes people conclude something was designed (which is a fallacy). But it is more legitimate to consider an argument by analogy and compare the design process (and to remember that “similar causes prove[/imply] similar effects, and similar effects similar causes”). So, a divine designer is compared to a human designer and both share attributes that make the comparison possible – usually the designer wants the designed object to achieve some teleological goal. A potential difficulty is we must be able to determine the “teleological purpose” in a particular object, as a step in the argument before we conclude there is a designer. (Because we must assume a teleological purpose exists, I now notice that we are in danger of circular argument.) My hand waving reference to “good intentions” was a nod to this ill defined set of designer attributes. By a “good” designer, I am also thinking “competent” and “motivated” designer, with less emphasis on the moral aspects. This would probably be clearer with a concrete example, but I have never heard one I liked.

To relate this back to my post on the problem of evil, we again see the difficult in assessing the teleology of things (which itself is a defense against the problem of evil argument). If we start trying to define criteria that may be used to assess teleological purposes, we are forced to start making assumptions on the designer (e.g. a motive) which may be without basis, particular in context of the design argument. (Random thought: what if the designer wished to create a universe that appeared to have no designer? Can we a priori know a designers attributes?)

Since I am rambling on about the design argument, Hume also raises a further objection in making an analogy between human process and divine process, due to us having no a posteriori knowledge of the latter (at least within this argument).

“That all inferences, CLEANTHES, concerning fact, are founded on experience; and that all experimental reasonings are founded on the supposition that similar causes prove similar effects, and similar effects similar causes; I shall not at present much dispute with you. But observe, I entreat you, with what extreme caution all just reasoners proceed in the transferring of experiments to similar cases. Unless the cases be exactly similar, they repose no perfect confidence in applying their past observation to any particular phenomenon. Every alteration of circumstances occasions a doubt concerning the event; and it requires new experiments to prove certainly, that the new circumstances are of no moment or importance.”

“To ascertain this reasoning, it were requisite that we had experience of the origin of worlds; and it is not sufficient, surely, that we have seen ships and cities arise from human art and contrivance.” Dialogues concerning Natural Religion

The point being that we can only draw analogies between things that we have previously experienced and analogies are merely inductive in nature.

And I will one day have to destroy the concept of “irreducibly complexity”, I have a good rebuttal in my head. Hint: are natural process always additive?

Anti Citizen One

PS The BBC just did a piece on the problem of evil.

Increased Paranoia/Security at Airports

Posted by Anti Citizen One on January 5th, 2010

I was just thinking about the proportionality of beefing up airport security. With 15.1 million passengers per year flying through the major UK airports, and say it takes 10 minutes to queue and clear security, that amounts to 287 person-years of waiting (per year). Now assuming the average person has 43 years remaining to live (life expectancy 82 years, average age 39 years). So security in UK airports uses enough time to consume the time of 7 peoples remaining life spans (on average, per year).

Anti Citizen One

Update: Recent analysis of airport security on The Register is very relevant and interesting:

First: It is completely impossible to prevent terrorists from attacking airliners.

Second: This does not matter. There is no need for greater efforts on security.
Terrorism simply isn’t a visible factor in your chances of dying while flying, or indeed while doing anything else: it is insignificant, a problem that has been almost totally eliminated for Western citizens since its not-very-serious heyday in the 1970s and 80s, and you shouldn’t worry about it. It would make absolutely no noticeable difference to your or my chances of violent death/injury if terrorism was eradicated overnight. Lewis Page

Self-Reliance by Emerson

Posted by Anti Citizen One on January 3rd, 2010

I recently finished Self-Reliance and Other Essays by Emerson. It was well worth reading. Emerson was ordained as a pastor but distanced himself from institutional religion. He developed his ideas of transcendentalism and the value of the individual. He utilizes paradoxes in writing and his call for to me at peace with your own nature puts him as a precursor to existentialism. (He is a contemporary of Kierkegaard but I am not aware of any cross influence. Nietzsche did read Emerson but probably not Kierkegaard.)

Nothing is at last sacred but the integrity of your own mind.

In his iconoclastic “Divinity School Address” he calls for ministers to use ones own instinct to reinterpret religious teaching and not to rely in previous experts to define doctrine that is set in stone.

Meantime, whilst the doors of the temple stand open, night and day, before every man, and the oracles of this truth cease never, it is guarded by one stern condition; this, namely; it is an intuition. It cannot be received at second hand. Truly speaking, it is not instruction, but provocation, that I can receive from another soul. What he announces, I must find true in me, or wholly reject; and on his word, or as his second, be he who he may, I can accept nothing.

But by this eastern monarchy of a Christianity, which indolence and fear have built, the friend of man [Jesus] is made the injurer of man.

Men have come to speak of the revelation as somewhat long ago given and done, as if God were dead.

They think society wiser than their soul, and know not that one soul, and their soul, is wiser than the whole world.

As you can probably tell, his writing style is very quotable. But it takes a surprise effort to read, as his sentences tend to be fairly lengthy. This is not ideal for scan readers. In agreement with Kierkegaard, he does think there is an objective (and transcendental) truth behind everything. But the unknowableness of this objective truth makes it rather superfluous to my mind.

Anti Citizen One

The Problem of Evil and the Design Argument

Posted by Anti Citizen One on January 2nd, 2010

A quick recap on these two arguments:

  • We observe that universe has certain properties
  • These are consistent with properties that we would expect from a designer (with good intentions)
  • Therefore the universe was designed
  • Bad things happen
  • A good and omnipotent God would prevent bad things from happening
  • Therefore God is not both good and omnipotent
  • A Defence: what apparently is “bad” might have be “good” but we cannot fully comprehend it from our current point of view.

Recently, I noticed an interesting thing. If we admit this defence of “bad things” are really good, we therefore say “we are not in a position to assess the attributes of the universe”. This statement may then be applied to the design argument, which undermines the first axiom of us observing the “designed” attributes of the universe. So these arguments are in fact the same argument, two sides of the same coin! So things that appear designed at this point in time might be the work of a short sighted designer, only to backfire later (or as the product of many other origins). This possibility cannot be distinguished from a competent designer using the design argument.

(I omit discussing the other objections to both these arguments, false dichotomy being the most obvious.)

Anti Citizen One

PS Happy new arbitrary length of time!

PPS Ireland’s anti-blasphemy laws come into effect that forbid causing “outrage among a substantial number of the adherents of [a] religion”. Nice step backwards. They need to amend their constitution to remove the moronic basis for this law. Given the hysterical nature of many religions, we can look forward to curtailment of free speech… idiots.

PPPS A topical quote that illustrates some of the above issues:

“God is ultimately responsible for the earthquake in Haiti and has a reason that is beyond our ability, trapped in time, to understand or comprehend. But it would be theological ignorance coupled with absolute arrogance to try and interpret God’s actions as a judgment against a particular person or nation.” — Dr. Robert Jeffress, pastor of First Baptist Church of Dallas, for Newsweek.