Philosophical Musings

August 23, 2007

Science as Attire is as good as it gets

Filed under: religion,science,society — Elad Kehat @ 9:09 am

Eliezer Yudkowsky is worried that “many people, especially in the media, understand science only as a literary genre.” A worthy read.
Hardly surprising though. There’s no reason really to expect people to behave in the scientific age any different than they did in any previous age, i.e. treat science the same way religion used to be treated.
Most people who believe in evolution, do that just as others believe in ID, and in just the same way that some are protestants, some catholics and some Jews. They choose to believe mainly due to social reasons.
Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not trying to say that science and religion should be treated as equals – science is better simply because in general it’s willing continually test its basic hypotheses and admit mistakes. However, that too is done on the general level, i.e. through culture and over generations, and seldom on the personal – show me more than a few scientists willing to shed off their misconceptions in face of new evidence. Einstein certainly couldn’t.
And regarding the X-Men decidedly unscientific use of mutations, science, and specifically the theory of evolution, is used here as a literary tool just as religion and superstition were used in fairy tales and fantasies of old. The human mind is always looking for an explanation. We aren’t willing to accept fantastic powers and events without one. However, the explanations that we’re willing to accept are surprisingly simple. Apparently most of us don’t require an explanation of the explanation, maybe because that would lead to a chain of “dangerous” questioning that evades any further explanation in the end (god, or the big bang) which could drive you to existentialist musings which inevitably make you feel bad.
Which leads me back to Yudkowsky, and his closing words:
“You had best ask yourself which future experiences your belief prohibits from happening to you.”
Exactly, and most people would rather feel safe than venture to unknown future experiences. We need to separate science as a form of constructive critical thought that can generate an understanding of our world that continuously shatters our previous world views, from science as a social phenomenon, that since the 19th century has ascended to become an attire to don, if you are to be accepted in intelligent society. Most people prefer the latter.

January 7, 2007

The God Delusion – A Review

Filed under: ebooks,religion,society — Elad Kehat @ 7:52 pm

As a kid, I used to have an argument with a religious neighbor that went something like this:

Him: “Of course there’s a god – otherwise, who created the universe?”

Me: “But if god created the universe, who had created god?”


The main argument in Richard Dawkins’ “The God Delusion” is just a slightly more sophisticated version of my simple retort as a kid. Essentially, he claims that the theory of evolution provides a simple mechanism that can explain the amazing phenomenon of life – a prime target of the religious proponents of intelligent design theory. In order to choose between the two options laid above – whether the theory of an omnipotent, omniscient, etc. creator is an explanation or merely a complication, Dawkins suggests that we choose the much simple evolutionary principle and avoid the unnecessarily complex god hypothesis.

The apparent objective of the book is to try and win new converts to atheism. The very thesis of the book though – that religious belief at our age makes no sense anymore, should make it clear that the objective is futile. How can a religious person, who decides to ignore reason where it comes to the matters of his faith, be expected to listen to logic arguments and be persuaded by them? Still, maybe those who are unsure where they stand, or who have never given much thought to the matter, stand a chance to wake up to truth.

The beauty of the book though is in its readability, a quality that Dawkins the author is famous for. This, along with his exquisite British sense of humor, makes the book a joy to read – especially if you agree with its contents as I do, and it simply serves to strengthen you in your position with regards to religiosity.


October 24, 2006

Future History

Filed under: history,society — Elad Kehat @ 7:32 pm

Researchers of not-so-ancient history rely mostly on the written word in order to reconstruct the events of yore. What will future researchers of current times use? Video, no doubt.

It appears that video can supply much more information, being that the auditory and visual senses are the most important in our perception of reality. One need not wonder how things may have actually looked or sounded when it is all available on tape. Will that bring about a better understanding of our time by future generations compared with our understanding of our ancestors? Only to a limited amount.

What reality-capture technologies will be available a hundred years from now? Will there be total-presence communication systems, 3D recordings in which a person can immerse herself completely and feel truly part of the virtual experience? Will there be technologies that connect directly with our brain to deliver recorded sensations? How puny will our high-definition picture, surround sound videos will look to the general public then? I guess that the difference will be even bigger than what we experience when we watch an old black-and-white movie recording a historic event from the 1920s. As much as we may think that our age is recorded at a rate unknown before, our records will remain chiefly the matter that historians use in their day-to-day work, but the general public only experiences occasionally, maybe through some enhanced version designed to bring historic knowledge to a level more commensurate with their technological standards.

Think of archaeology – we all know about it, some may have experienced it by looking at dug-up sites, and excavated pottery and ornaments in museums, but how many have actually taken part in the archaeological work? How many outside the professionals have actually attempted to use their imagination to picture how those tools and ornaments must have been used at ancient times? It is mostly by books and popular films that we experience this – through second-hand imagination.

The same goes for more recent history, where we have written records. It is a scarce few, professionals mostly, who read ancient texts. Some prefer to get the historian’s summary, most prefer the historic-fiction novel or the popular film that depict those times, again, through second-hand imagination.

I do not think that this is just due to intellectual laziness, or the lack of imagination. The primary reason is the medium – we are so used to the much richer experience that a video can supply, or to the accessible language of a modern book, that we forego direct interaction with subjects of the past, and let an elite few deal with the hard-to-digest materials and spew forth versions better suited for our consumption.

The rich medium of today will probably seem very poor to the people of the future. Progressions in technology will render it inaccessible to the majority of society, thus subjecting them to experience our information age through the interpretation of scholars.

July 17, 2006

Copyrights first, Democracy second

Filed under: capitalism,Copyrights,Democracy,Freedom,society — Elad Kehat @ 8:52 am

Today I stumbled upon the website of the RIAA (Recording Industry Association of America), where I found something that made me explode with anger.

The quote the U.S. Constitution’s Patent and Copyright Clause:

“The Congress shall have Power . . . To promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts, by securing for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries . . .”

And then land the bomb:

“Before free speech, before freedom of assembly, before freedom of religion, there was copyright protection in our Constitution. The founding fathers knew copyright protection could improve society by preserving the economic incentive for people to come up with brilliant ideas and inventions.

That as far as the RIAA is concerned, copyright protection is more important than our freedoms is nothing new. But that they’re willing to hijack the Constitution and the founding fathers to support that claim goes beyond fair.

Consider this: the RIA of America is a body that thinks America is first and foremost all about the protection of their economic interests. Forget freedom of speech – that comes later. Forget freedom of assembly – democracy is secondary. First pay the music industry, then we’ll give you some rights.

Silly me: I always thought that America was about freedom first. Thanks to the RIAA I now know that it’s about narrow economic interests and outdated business models first, freedom second.

April 15, 2006

The Real Danger in Third World Labor

Filed under: capitalism,economy,Freedom,society — Elad Kehat @ 8:58 pm

“The fact is, that civilisation requires slaves. The Greeks were quite right there. Unless there are slaves to do the ugly, horrible, uninteresting work, culture and contemplation become almost impossible. Human slavery is wrong, insecure, and demoralizing. On mechanical slavery, on the slavery of the machine, the future of the world depends.” (Oscar Wilde, The Soul of Man Under Socialism, 1895)

The use of cheap labor from third world countries by the west is counter-productive for the west’s own future development and hegemony. The masses of human beings willing to work for what a western person has grown to regard as far less than his bare necessities seems like a boon in the short term, but would prove a disaster in the long term. Billions of Asians sweating for a dollar-a-day or less may seem cheap, but it translates into billions of dollars-a-day making their way from the west to the east. This transfer of wealth is irreversible. Just as Imperialism has once transferred the wealth of the world to Europe, bringing about its prosperity while leaving the rest deprived, it is now the wealth of Europe and North America that is transferred east, making it prosper on the west’s expense.

Do not let the employment conditions fool you. Sweat shops could be found in New York, capital of the Empire State, little more than a hundred years ago. It may be merely a necessary step in the process that has once led to the American Century, and may lead to the current century being named The Chinese. In the process, America shall be deprived not just of title, but of the cultural, economic and military hegemony that it has come to believe as its own by right, forgetting that it is might that makes right.

If you are a believer in Democracy, you should fear this outcome, since liberal democracy is born of western thought. It is the culmination of humanism in an individualistic society. As western hegemony wanes, so shall the prospects of human rights and just government in the developing world.

Keep in mind too that the current system, and as a consequence democracy that goes hand in hand with it, arouses the objections of all of the cheap laborers of the east, the deprived laborers of the west who cannot compete, and the more socially-oriented intellectuals in the west. This is evident by the mounting criticism of globalization.

It is therefore not just our wealth that is at risk, but our very way of life and the values that we hold dear.  The deprivation of human rights from cheap laborers may yet bring about an era of less human rights for all.

April 14, 2006

The End of Youth

Filed under: capitalism,economy,society,youth — Elad Kehat @ 7:42 am

It is not by accident that our capitalist society worships youth, for it is only youth that can maintain such a society. The naïve of youth, and its irrational belief that it will surmount impossible odds and come out on top, are necessary in order to justify a society where the winner takes it all.

The rash, the spending spree, the rising debt, the seeming distance of tomorrow that fools the gullible into believing that it will solve all, these are all signs of young spirit.

The 21st century brings with it a shift in balance, from a young society, in both spirit and corpus, to a society where the old are a majority. Likewise, it must bring with it a change in spirit, a shift in perception towards the mature, wiser skepticism of the experienced. Shall we observe then a shift towards a society that favors the long term?

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