Archive for December, 2004


Thursday, December 23rd, 2004

I frequently read articles about people who threw themselves in the face of impossible odds or indescribable danger in order to rescue another person from a disastrous end. Every time I read one of those, I imagine myself in the position of that person, and realize that unless I was seized by emotion, I would not have acted in the same manner. In fact, I would probably stand idly by and call for help before throwing myself into danger over someone else's calamity. I wonder if this is good or not. First of all, is it simply self-preservation instinct at work to not want to be in a situation where I would die, or is there reason behind the decision? If I have correctly employed reason, that implies that I have either determined that the person is not rescuable by myself, or that I have judged my own life to be more important than the other person's. The first conclusion would be difficult to reach in many life-threatening situations because of the large number of unknowns (especially time until an explosion). The second conclusion seems callous on the face of it, but it tears me. Is saving a human life more or less important than risking my intellect and experience, which is wholly contained in nothing more than a sack of bones and some spongy neural tissue? To me, it's not a question of whether this particular life is worth saving or not, but how many lives I can save in the future through my knowledge and experience, and whether or not this is a valid rationale. Is it reasonable to trade one life now for many lives in the future, or is it never reasonable to bargain with even one life, even if that death may serve the greater good? And then I'm left with the thought that perhaps I'm just apologizing for what amounts to cowardice, by posturing that I might be some great savior of many lives in the future (the extent and possibility of which is obviously unknown). How would I explain to that person that I have just chosen not to save them because it would place myself at needless risk? Or, ironically, what if the compromised person was of much greater intellectual capacity than myself? I would be defeating the very end I wished to serve by making the devilish trade.

Sometimes I am asked how I can be so aloof regarding popular culture. Why don't I know that actor, that movie, that television show, etc. Occasionally I feel like I should be embarrassed that I don't know a particular bit of trivia, but I'm really not. I know this is because all of popular culture is only a temporary mark on history. The fads and entertainment fixations of today are gone in only a few short years as people's tastes yearn for something fresh and new. My capacity for reason compels me to ignore the noise of popular fads and distractions and to dedicate my life as a steward of knowledge and science instead. All we have today could be gone tomorrow, but with the help of the knowledge regarding the human condition and inherent capability accumulated over history, we could rebuild it again. This knowledge was gained through philosophy, insight, intuition, theory, and verified through science. Perhaps we will even transcend science someday as a metric by which to test our intuition against the real universe – perhaps we will be able to test classes of human insight that science cannot even begin to grasp. I feel compelled to contribute to this timeless and ageless body of human knowledge, and it is because of this that I cannot justify allowing my attention to be monopolized by the circuses and fads of today. Occasionally good recreation may be found in a fad, but I cannot allow myself to forget that ultimately popular culture is irrelevant. It is the here-and-now context of this generation. Knowledge and science is what we have to pass forth to all future generations. It is obvious to me which pursuit deserves the most attention.

Some people have speculated that the invention of the atomic bomb or meddling with DNA are just natural selection at work – by inventing these things we have selected ourselves out of existence in the long run. I would like to generalize this cynical theory: A species evolves until the point where it either develops a method wherein its extinction can be intentionally brought about (entropy guaranteeing the rest), or until the point where it accidentally brings about its own extinction. Regarding the latter, it is rather ironic when it is brought about as a side effect of the species attempting to extend its own livelihood.

Another interesting observation. The less inclination for rational thought one has, the more inclined that individual is to breed. Now the hypothesis: If Darwin is correct and furthermore if rational thought is a hereditary trait (as is commonly believed regarding the offspring of intelligent parents), then rational thought will eventually be selected out of the human species. Unfortunately, modern society is probably what permits this natural irony to occur – the stupid people were busy killing each other before we gave each other rights in the form of law. Now they aren't generally killing each other, so they engage the only other activity that an existence ruled by unexamined reaction permits – breed. Does this imply the end of humanity? Bonus points for a survival plan for intelligent folks. Breed more? An interesting corollary is that by this yardstick, the stereotypical self-centered and/or asexual geek is doing nothing more than selecting himself out of existence.

I dislike being in the company of females who act slutty. I don't believe in one night stands, or even “one night stands” that last months. By that I mean that my time, money, and emotional stability is an investment – I don't have any inclination to waste it on a relationship that provides me with no convincing evidence of its permanence, or worse, a relationship that is guaranteed by its nature to eventually fail. I feel that “love at first sight” is a hormone-driven deception. Occasionally, it works out by coincidence. Many of us would like to believe that we were driven together by some form of predestination, that a couple was somehow “meant for each other”. I believe that sentiment is nothing more than wishful thinking. Regarding slutty women, some men enjoy physical flirting especially in casual environments. Physical flirting renders me uncomfortable. Not because I have delusions of inadequacy, but because I want to be in control; when I am being physically flirted with, I am no longer in control because my senses and hormones have assumed control of my thought process. I avoid situations where I am unable to employ reason, and this is one of them. It's rather unfortunate that sex drive is not an optional component of the male physique, in that it cannot be selectively disabled for inappropriate situations. I would prefer for a woman (or anyone else) not to be able to attain power over me through my instinctual responses.

A tactic I frequently encounter in political debates to discredit one's opponent is using the slippery slope argument with respect to the opponent's agenda to avoid a compromise. For example, attempting to discredit a NORML representative arguing for relaxed medical marijuana laws by pointing out that NORML's agenda on the issue is full legalization; “You only want X because it brings you closer to Y!”. While emotionally compelling, this tactic falls apart under scrutiny. It employs a false dichotomy as a component – that eventually either the opponent's agenda will be completely realized or completely destroyed, and assumes further that by rejecting compromise, the opponent's long run loss is guaranteed. It also assumes that moving forth the opponent's agenda is the primary goal of the compromise, whereas in many cases such as med MJ, it is intended to help those immediately in need while secondarily providing evidence that may lend credulence to the opponent's position.

Even activists know that their ideal world will never be realized as long as significiant opposition exists. On a one-dimensional political spectrum as most issues are (two polar extremes with a compromise range in between), activists pick a point on the spectrum and attempt to shift the status quo towards that point. The knowledge that the point will likely never be reached is not a compelling reason to give up an otherwise reasonable ideal position; if the position is wrong, it should be proven wrong rather than simply labeled as too ideal and therefore rejected outright. It is also not reasonable to point to the activist's agenda position and attempt to use that as a basis for rejecting an otherwise reasonable compromise. Of course the activist is going to want to compromise towards his position? Does that imply that his position will be attained? Only if one employs a slippery slope fallacy, which dictates no reasonable implication, only coincidence.


Wednesday, December 15th, 2004

Is hell such a nasty place because of Satan's malevolence or because of God's malevolence?