Thursday, 25 September 2014

I’m no wiser

When Donald Rumsfeld was pondering evidence to support the invasion of Iraq in 2002, he famously came up with three different kinds of ‘knowing’:
  • known knowns: things we are sure that we know.
  •  known unknowns: things we are aware that we don’t know.
  • unknown unknowns: things we don't even suspect. (Rumsfeld thought there was little evidence regarding whether or not Iraq had weapons of mass destruction)
But Ramsfild left out
  • unknown knowns: facts we refuse to acknowledge that we know
In this last category would come facts like:
  •  The US arms industry and military complex exerts a tremendous pressure on any decision about going to war
  •   Military intervention very often has the opposite effect to that intended (eg mobilising opinion against the aggressor)
We are often clever but seldom wise.
Wisdom is slow. It is a virtue of age - unless overwhelmed by senility.
Were we a genetic mistake?
Could we build a wise machine?
How can put we put a man on the moon but still behave like apes?

Saturday, 20 September 2014

What really matters?

 “It’s all very well, this philosophy business, but will it help me remember where I buried my bone?” asks Gromit.

See my earlier bloggery here:
Under what circumstances can considering Big Questions affect our everyday actions and decisions?

  •        They might inspire us to take on big projects like space exploration, building a cathedral or the Large Hadron Collider
  •        They might help us to face death with less fear
  •        They might help us to see our own lives from a rational perspective so we don’t strut about the world thinking it revolves around us
  •       They might help us to be compassionate to other people and cultures
  •       They help us to think more effectively and carefully about everything
  •       They generate questions which have no answers, and so provide topics for endless discussion. Conversation and discussion are crucial to being human.
Perhaps philosophising is a particular kind of storytelling.
If philosophising and storytelling are natural human traits, they might have arisen because they gave us an evolutionary advantage. What could that be?
  •        Helping to bring a community together
  •        Refining language
  •       Relieving stress
  •        Attracting a mate
Getting back to Gromit’s question – What really matters? His expression suggests he agrees with Voltaire : ‘Just cultivate your garden.’

Friday, 19 September 2014

I am normal

Surely we are very suspicious of anyone claiming to be ‘normal’. Appeal to our desire to seem normal is meant to be persuasive: ‘Put your litter in the bin – others do’. But we are also cajoled by advertisers to be different ‘Stand out from the crowd – buy a car.’
R. D. Lang pointed out that “our normal, adjusted state is too often the abdication of ecstasy, the betrayal of our true personalities.”
Eccentrics can be self-centred bores or they can be imaginative geniuses. Take William Blake – you wouldn’t find him proudly displaying a sign saying he was normal.  

The chap in the picture is clearly odd, for a start he has over-sized hands, feet and bow-tie. Dressed in 18th century garb, he must be a character from a movie – I don’t know which.  On the sole of his left foot it says ‘Made in China’.

Thursday, 18 September 2014

Be reasonable

The little red rubber guy, his head filled with flour, pleads with us to be reasonable. He is worried. He wants us to be open to argument. He is hoping we are not fanatics of some irrational cult. He hopes we are not fascists, zealots, anarchists, bigots or surrealists. He hopes we are not fuelled by emotions as women are supposed to be.
When we are passionate, loyal, in love, mad, patriotic, poetic, intuitive, filled with hatred or remorse, our heart rules our head and we make irrational decisions. Sometimes those decisions turn out to be the same as the ones we would have made by applying rationality. Sometimes we rationalise intuitive decisions after we have made them. Sometimes we act without seeming to make a decision at all.
Neuroscience tells us that every thought we have has an emotional content. It’s impossible to add two numbers together without involving an emotional component. So perhaps the little red rubber guy is being unreasonable.

Sunday, 14 September 2014

Life is improbable

It is very strange that anything exists. Surely it is much more likely that there should be nothing. And if something did exist you would expect it to be something very simple like a quark, or a string, or a dimensionless point, or an energy field. But a woman in a ball gown clutching a rose – that’s highly improbable. But then we make this observation from a privileged position – that of existing - however improbable we are, it seems we do exist.
What are we to make of this paradox? How did we get from nothing to something? And how did we get from simplicity to the world of roses, women, dancing and plastic models?
Did God sit around for aeons of time twiddling his thumbs in empty space, getting bored, then decided to give things a push and created a universe? No – space and time were made at the same er … time! There were no aeons before creation and no space to put the universe in. Did the first explosion of existence contain the instructions to make a plastic model of a woman in a ball gown, just like an acorn is programmed to make an oak tree?
Could anything be said to exist without an intelligence to perceive it? Imagine a universe with no living things. Imagine that life never arises in this dead universe. How would it know it existed? How would you know whether it really existed or not? Now imagine that you never imagined it in the first place. Where did it go?

Suppose time is not a sequence of events but an illusion. All past events happen ‘at once’. Suppose we - the intelligence of the universe - are pulling events from the future.  Suppose God did not push – we pulled!