Sunday, December 31, 2006

The Problem of Pain

Some thoughts on "The Problem of Pain" by C.S. Lewis:

...Divine freedom cannot mean indeterminacy between alternatives and choice of one of them.
Determinism is generally ignored when it comes to resolving the problem (i.e., "Why doesn't God make us love Him and one another?") because, intuitively, love seems to require choice. But if God has no choice, how can He love?
...if God's moral judgement differs from ours so that our 'black' may be His 'white', we can mean nothing by calling Him good; for to say 'God is good', while asserting that His goodness is wholly other than ours, is really only to say 'God is we know not what'.
Lewis spends the rest of the chapter explaining how God uses pain to shape us, and how it may be a means to an end that only He sees clearly. This obfuscates the issue, it doesn't matter if some 'black' is really 'white'. Any remaining 'black' at all contradicts the possibility of an omnipotent loving God. To accept this as a solution is to call all 'black' 'white', which Lewis rejects. He doubly rejects this, indirectly, in the next chapter:
'Let no man say when he is tempted, I am tempted of God' [James 1:13] Many schools of thought encourage us to shift the responsibility for our behavior from our own shoulders to some inherent necessity in the nature of human life, and thus, indirectly, to the Creator.
But if all 'black' is really 'white', then it is 'white' because the evil emergent from sin is necessary.
We must never make the problem of pain worse than it is by vague talk about the 'unimaginable sum of human misery'. [...] There is no such thing as a sum of suffering, for no one suffers it.
The "sum of human misery" is a poor rendering of a common intuition: it isn't the sum, but the universality of suffering that's unimaginable.

Thursday, December 28, 2006

Fake Interfaces

I want to see a website that makes you think you're navigating it, when it fact it's presenting you with information the designer had already decided on. If you clicked on a link, it might take that into account when deciding what to show you, but it wouldn't really be your decision.

A more concrete manifestation might look like this: if a web developer knows that users only visit a fourth of the links in the menu, the developer could multiply the number of links by four and just make sure not to present a user the same page twice. The website would appear much more complex than it actually is.

Love and Power

If international relations are ever going to change, the people in power will have to act in love. Unfortunately, those who love are not power hungry. And those who are power hungry win out for power over those who aren't. It seems like the only way around this is to put people into power involuntarily.

Unheard Music

Music generally takes a lot longer to record than listen to. Folk and lo-fi music is recorded in one or two takes, while modern pop takes time to multitrack, mix, and master. That is., folk has a recording-to-listening ratio closer to 1 than pop music. What would it mean for music to have a ratio less than 1, where it takes less time to record than it does to hear? A composer could distribute recordings of their music that they themselves hadn't yet heard.

Paths to Immortality

If you want to spawn various schools of thought, make exclusive, definitive, yet vague statements on both accessible and esoteric issues. If you want to be read, use the vocabulary of a familiar religion or philosophy to describe a non-complementary system without stating that you do not accept the premises of the tradition behind the words you use. If you want attention, fight for any sort of freedom or vision in an extreme way — especially extreme violence and extreme nonviolence.

You might try introducing new metaphysical metaphors. Or delineate and practice the pursuit of knowledge through new modes of understanding. Devalue the sacred, or revere the secular. It's worked for Wittgenstein, Hume, Nietzsche, Gandhi, Al Qaeda, Hume, Socrates, Popper, and Marx.

If we can delineate all possible movements and paradigm-shifts, what worth do the movements and paradigm-shifts actually hold? And if we can't, then is there anything supremely unique left to do or think?


Sometimes it's easiest to understand a perspective when you hear it from someone who believes it. But no one is a purist. That is, almost no one is solely Platonist, Cartesian, Marxist, etc. To be a purist, you would have to accept one approach in favor of everything else, rejecting even unknown philosophies.

The only possible non-naive purist would be one who can account for new philosophies and make an informed evaluation of them rather than simply rejecting the unfamiliar.

Responsibility Without Freedom

With the problem of freewill, determinism is generally seen as a non-option because it seems to remove the possibility of responsibility. Without choice, how can we be responsible for our actions? Maybe we should reconsider our notion of responsibility. Even in a deterministic world, wouldn't humans still be responsible for their actions in the same way hail is responsible for broken car windows or hurricanes for destroyed houses? We try to protect our cars and houses from hurricanes, so traditional punishments would still apply — just for a different reason.

Sunday, December 24, 2006

An Equality Among Men

Søren Kierkegaard's last written words:

I have nothing more to add. But let me merely say this, which in a way is my life, is to me the content of my life, its fullness, its bliss, its peace and satisfaction. Let me express this, a view of life which comprehends the idea of humanity and of human equality: Christianity implies, unconditionally, that every man, every single individual, is equally close to God...How close and equally close? Because Loved by Him. Consequently there is equality, the equality of infinity, between man and man. If there is any distinction, it is that one person bears in mind that he is loved, perhaps day after day, perhaps day after day for seventy years, perhaps with only one longing, a longing for eternity so that he really can grasp this thought and go through life with it, concerning himself with the blessed occupation of meditating on how he is loved - and not, alas, because of his virtue. Another person perhaps does not remember that he is loved, perhaps goes on year after year, day after day, and does not think of his being loved; or perhaps he is glad and grateful to be loved by his wife, by his children, by his friends, by his contemporaries, but he does not think of his being loved by God. Or perhaps he laments not being loved by anyone and does not think of being loved by God. Infinite, divine love; it makes no distinction! But what of human ingratitude? If there is an equality among us men in which we completely resemble each other, it is that not one of us truly thinks about being loved!
"All is Full of Love" by Björk:
You'll be given love
You'll be taken care of
You'll be given love
You have to trust it

Maybe not from the sources
You have poured yours
Maybe not from the directions
You are staring at

Twist your head around
It's all around you
All is full of love
All around you

All is full of love
You just aint receiving
All is full of love
Your phone is off the hook
All is full of love
Your doors are all shut
All is full of love
From Father Zosima in The Brothers Karamazov:
...truly each of us is guilty before everyone and for everyone, only people do not know it, and if they knew it, the world would at once become paradise.
From "It's in Our Hands" by Björk:
Cruelest, almost always
To ourselves
It musn't get any better off
It's in our hands...
Well, now, aren't we scaring ourselves
Aren't we trying too hard?
'Cause it's in our hands

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Improvised Listening

Free improvisation is a musical movement from the 60s that developed as a response to the almost academic air of precision jazz had adopted. In "Quantum Improvisation", Pauline Oliveros offers a straightforward definition of free improvisation: "nothing is known in advance of making the music".

If the many worlds interpretation of quantum mechanics is valid, then all possible universes necessarily exist. Therefore, every sound that has ever sounded or will ever sound already exists in some world. This makes the listening, rather than the sounding, the improvisation.

Oddly enough, Pauline's comments are preserved. When she talks about "Finding new sounds and new sound relationships", the "finding" only has to be interpreted as "listening to" rather than the natural interpretation, "creating". Her definition of free improvisation is preserved as well — the musicians don't know the music until it happens. That is, until they hear it.

Monday, December 11, 2006

Truth Seeking as Contradiction Resolution

For a while, this is all I've had:

  • Questions are worth asking.
  • Every mode of understanding is worth acknowledging.
The first one should be relatively clear. The second I realized first — by "mode of understanding" I mean intuition, experience, and reason. There may be more or less modes — maybe I should include emotion, or combine experience and intuition, I'm not sure. The principle is the important part.

Today I realized there's an assumption I've been making unconsciously:
  • Actions and beliefs requires justification.
This assumption is revealed when I ask "But why are questions worth asking?", only to produce: "Without answers, we cannot justify action or belief." What if this assumption is false?

I think I've misunderstood justification. In Jain epistemology, they recognize every truth claim as coupled with a perspective; making it silly to talk about the truth claim apart from the perspective. If we look at each mode of understanding as representing a perspective, the issue is no longer justification. Each of the Jain blind men gathered around the elephant has a justification — their perspective is the justification.
  • The man by the leg says the elephant is a pillar.
  • The man by the ear says the elephant is a fan.
In the same way:
  • My intuition says there is hope for all things.
  • My experience shows that some things are hopeless.
Since all these claims are justified, the question turns to resolving the contradictions. We understand how contradictory kinesthetic perspectives fit together in the case of the elephant, but I don't know how different "understanding perspectives" might fit together. Can we formulate a similar principle? Maybe the the modes of understanding have well-defined relationships to each other in the same way spatial perspectives do.

Without a general principle to resolve the contradictions, what should I do? The same thing the blind men do: discuss. They discuss because there is a contradiction, and act/believe when they have a resolution.

So now I have two axioms and a consequence:
  • Every mode of understanding is worth acknowledging.
  • Contradictions are worth resolving.
  • Questions are worth asking.
Truth (as far as we can understand it) can be defined negatively as noncontradiction. Now when I ask "Are these things important: compassion/love/selflessness, truth/trust/honesty, and passion?", and my intuition and experience say yes, while my rationality has no way of saying anything — there's a truth there.

At first it seems strange to see truth seeking as contradiction resolution, but I think it's just because I was distracted by justification and failed to realize that each mode of understanding is already justified in itself.