After long and arduous labor, finally 2015 was born weighing only infinite lb and illimitable oz.
The New Year of 2015 has just been born and as any of her older 2014 sisters, she also feels slightly insecure. There are many things she would like to achieve but the failure of her younger siblings lingers on in her mind. On the other hand, from her first day into this world she already begun to hear glorifications and stories of greatness about some of the older ones, and thus, 2015 now begins to wonder if she will end up like the firsts or the seconds. Even though she already prefers the latter, she doubts if she will ever be good enough to hold the torch and become as great as some once were.
2015 is still a baby, and like all babies she has a mixture of feelings between happiness and bitterness. She would have certainly liked to stay in the warm uterus of ideas and wishful thinking but her 7 billion parents were waiting for her to come. This is how, in a timid and nervous posture, she made her first steps stumbling a little until being able to hold her weight on her own. Her parents, naturally, have endless plans for her, some even say extravagant and unrealistic that most certainly will cause her some future psychological issues. It is amazing how amidst so many parenting advices and guide books, still they can be so irresponsible and immature. This new generation of such demanding parents has lost its path, some will say.
Yet, even in this toddler state, 2015 is already thinking about her path and goals in life. As a daughter in a family of immigrants, she looks forward, towards progress and triumph and with her innocent look, she feels excited to face all of the unknown possibilities and endless opportunities.
So, dear friends, let´s embrace her into our lives with a warm hug and many kisses and let her be herself, discovering the greatness, heroism and merit that is innate within each and every one. She, no doubt, inherited many of our good and bad character yet while recognizing her struggles and encouraging her brilliance and sublimity, she will grow up to be the legend she is already becoming.
HAPPY 2015 EVERYONE!!!
This week I was asked to speak in a conference with an interdisciplinary audience from the Humanities. For that occasion, I decided to transform one topic of my research into a generic perspective to which many would be able to relate. The thought I will discuss is the rise of the political consciousness in the baroque period by controversial narrative. The concept of Narrative hunts me for the past few months and certainly for any modern humanist can, and should, evoke large variety of connotations.
Up until recently (50 years or so) Narrative was used predominantly in literary context describing books, stories and literary work of any sort. This changed in the 60’s and 70’s with the rise of the study of Identity with all its components. Narrative slowly transcended into Narrativity and since then is also being used to interpret cultural and social based sciences (political philosophy, psychology, cultural theory, anthropology, sociology…).
Today, Narrative is more of conceptual term that refers to the reality behind the fiction. For some it is the missing link from representational form to ontological and epistemological thinking. Personally, I am dubious about the use of Narrativity without the important epistemological evidence of narration. To my opinion, it is relatively vague and unscientific to simply relate to one’s hypothetical life of ideas as a Narrative without any sort of physical expression of it. This expression can have multiple forms such as: writing, oral and physical expression, filmed or recorded etc.
As it seems, if we lack a sense or a form of communication, the misconstrued ideas that might be established or provoked are simply too great to be considered as any kind of science. With the help of recent studies in Reception Theory, we are aware of the difficulties with interpretation from written expressions of realities (other theorists as Eco or Sontag had long mentioned some of these reflexions in their work). Considering Narrativity is not necessarily the controversy between prescribing life experiences and describing them (as Kreiswirth and Strawson try to debate).
From this perspective I will probably try to define later this week the literary expressive baroque as an awakening for transmitting political consciousness to other straits of society. Probably the most successful interpretations of this kind of cultural transmission are in the form of political satire and theatrical plays. Even though those voices were first documented in the great Greek and, more predominately, Roman ancient civilizations, it is not until the end of the 16th century that we re-encounter this social intervention in politics in such a large scale.
Thus, we can thank Shakespeare, Lope de Vega, Balzac as well as many anonymous satires (anonymous for obvious reasons) to set the foundation for this recent view about income inequality:
Who would have imagined that studying 17th century philology can cause one to lose considerable amount of money? Apparently, the relationship between one and the other is all about the perspective you are looking from. Philology, to remind those of you who don´t use this word on a daily basis (such as everyone before beginning actually studying it), is the study of textual expression of practically any sort. While the most common application of it is in Literature, one can certainly be engaged in a philological research on mathematic treaties, on city planning and of course on Politics and Economy.
The difficulties begin when an investigator is too absorbed in her research, then, some changes in her life are unavoidable. My friend’s investigation entails different reflections on political theory and economics from both pragmatically and philosophical (the latter from mainly a moral-philosophy perspective). As an inspired investigator, she as well, wanted to experience some of the understanding (or lack) of the issues that occupied her days and began being more mobilize in different areas. Hence, she confided in her banker her curiosities et viola, her first investment in the stock market. Little did she know, this will exhaust her, causing sleepless nights and anxiously staring at the computer screen watching every minute and each movement of the undulation of the market’s points. She thought that after few texts she already understood the essence of a transaction, a visible exchange and the commercial movements, at least until she had entered the beast. Consumed by fluctuating human emotions in an unimaginable speed between the joy of winning, despair of uncertainty, depression of losing and the long, arduous seconds between one update and another.
Today, on the threshold of a new recession, she sees her banker on a daily basis. She already got used to the smell of lack of morning shower, just as she tried earnestly not to be bothered by the amount of scalps accumulated on his shoulders. She told me once how she knows with all her senses and intuition that this person should be the last person anyone should listen to an advice from. However, an unknown, incredible force, prevented her from backing down. Is it the fear of judge oneself as a looser? Is it a gambling addiction? Or maybe simply the adrenaline mixed with the thought of being linked to the writers she is working on? Surely, there are many reasons, some coherent and understandable while others are mysterious and hollow.
The living mind that is called The Stock Market has a life of its own. It is responding to the panic from one hand and euphoric emotions from the other. There is no way to predict where the next point will be. With Trispectivism it is quickly observed how the result of the stock market is, in fact, the sum of millions of individuals interacting at different levels while at the same time its idiosyncratic existence is as one magnanimous entity (a more elaborate post about Economy viewed by Trispectivism in the near future).
In his work, Confusión de Confusiones (1668), José Penso de la Vega concluded in a conversation between a philosopher, a merchant and a broker, how the stock market is an indissoluble knot that no sword can cut. There is nothing else to do but buy and sell in the dark, do little, be armed with patience, and if you lose, pay the difference and prolong the game, constantly following opinions, if a new detail doesn´t appear suddenly.
Patience, -she said in the end,- patience…! – while in her eyes the sound of the falling hard-earned silver coins hitting the floor with the pronunciation of her every syllable Pa tience.
Over 100 MOOCS Getting Started in September! Enroll in One Today!
MOOC (Massive Open Online Courses) provides many interesting, illuminating courses in different areas. The courses are free and also can be a smart way to procrastinate. Summer craziness is over, take your chance today! For further information take a look on MOOC list below.
TED’s Best Of The Week! Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie: The danger of a single story
Chimamanda comes from a conventional, middle-class Nigerian family. In an extremely articulated talk, she speaks about generalizations. Are generalizations helpful? Can we function without them? Is that a default in the way we think and perceive the world? If this TED talk she posit on this issue in a curious and enlighten way. Thus far she manages to capture the attention of more than seven million people, who will be next?
“I left Nigeria to go to university in the United States. I was 19. My American roommate was shocked by me. She asked where I had learned to speak English so well, and was confused when I said that Nigeria happened to have English as its official language. She asked if she could listen to what she called my “tribal music,” and was consequently very disappointed when I produced my tape of Mariah Carey. She assumed that I did not know how to use a stove. What struck me was this: She had felt sorry for me even before she saw me. Her default position toward me, as an African, was a kind of patronizing, well-meaning pity. My roommate had a single story of Africa: a single story of catastrophe. In this single story there was no possibility of Africans being similar to her in any way, no possibility of feelings more complex than pity, no possibility of a connection as human equals.”
Legal murder. Legal abuse.
When someone would tell me to think of animals I would probably imagine a warm picture of myself cuddling my dog, giving her a bath and the good time I have with her. However, when one is removing her pink sunglasses, reality is quite different. What is happening? Humans are using animals for food, clothing, entertainment, and for scientific research. In the US alone around 75,000 dogs (like mine and yours) and 22,000 cats dying every year from vivisection, many of them not even for a life saving medication but for shampoos, mascara and condoms. There are many accessible books and articles written on this subject, but until we witness it with our own eyes it’s all just dry and distant theory. Facebook is a great conscious buster about animal cruelty but is it enough (usually the sympathy doesn´t go beyond a short “it´s terrible” comment. We share the planet with animals, but instead of living with them we exploit, torture and abuse them in various ways, and all of that is today most gruesome Legal Murder, legal slavery, and rape.
If you are interested wish to learn more about this issue, here’s a link to “Earthlings”, an eye-opening documentary directed by Shaun Monson:
Here’s how to you too can do something about it:
– Don´t eat meat everyday
– If you see an abuse report it
– Avoid buying and using testing brands
Waking Up: a guide to spirituality without religion
“I once participated in a twenty-three-day wilderness program in the mountains of Colorado. If the purpose of this course was to expose students to dangerous lightning and half the world’s mosquitoes, it was fulfilled on the first day. What was in essence a forced march through hundreds of miles of backcountry culminated in a ritual known as “the solo,” where we were finally permitted to rest—alone, on the outskirts of a gorgeous alpine lake—for three days of fasting and contemplation.
I had just turned sixteen, and this was my first taste of true solitude since exiting my mother’s womb. It proved a sufficient provocation. After a long nap and a glance at the icy waters of the lake, the promising young man I imagined myself to be was quickly cut down by loneliness and boredom. I filled the pages of my journal not with the insights of a budding naturalist, philosopher, or mystic but with a list of the foods on which I intended to gorge myself the instant I returned to civilization. Judging from the state of my consciousness at the time, millions of years of hominid evolution had produced nothing more transcendent than a craving for a cheeseburger and a chocolate milkshake.”
This is how the new book of Sam Harris begins. To read/listen to
Recommendation of the week, BookSurfing!
A new social experiment
“More intimate than a book club, less process-y than group therapy, and more focused than a cocktail party! Book surfing is a unique way to get to know people, and get exposed to a lot of interesting ideas and texts.
Bring something to read to a small, intimate group (6-8 people), some of whom you don’t know.
The format has been distilled over time into 5 simple rules:
- Everybody present (6-8 people) reads aloud a text of their choice. (Bring two texts: if time permits there is a second round of readings).
- Any text is suitable: it can be Shakespeare, or your diary
- Texts read must not exceed 450 words. (Yes, it’s Twitter-like, but it’s proven a good length.)
- There has to be at least one newcomer to book surfing.
- There have to be some participants who don’t know each other.
Simple rules, but they seem to guarantee an interesting experience!”
If you are interested in this social experiment follow the example of Book Surfing Seattle on Facebook:
For centuries we were preoccupied about independence, let us now begin advocate for interdependence. This is me paraphrasing the conclusion from the documentary Connected, by Tiffany Shlain. This 80min film is a touch of personal quest for the memory of her recent deceased father, the brain surgeon and writer Leonard Shlain, and a call for global recognition of the power of interconnectivity. The legacy of her father is shown to be implanted in an aspiring director and human-being giving way for an aesthetic feature documentary.
I cannot say that the documentary reveals any large scale investigation or even revised common knowledge and preconceptions about the Internet / Smartphone era we are living in. However, it does offer a broader perspective about the interconnectivity between everything on this planet (or the universe, if you ask Neil deGrasse Tyson). The film skillfully intertwines between her autobiography with a eulogy to her father’s work and the impact of technology over our present and future existence. This is a very difficult task, moving back and forth from the individual and the universal with coherent logical continuance, and yet, with the aid of excellent animation director and film narration, Tiffany manages to create eighty minutes of interesting reflection on our life.
I connected to the documentary because of its basic conceptual vision of interconnectivity between the individual and the universal, which is what I investigate in my book Trisipectivism. Unlike many texts written about the good and the bad that people create with new technology (while some creating MOOCs to provide high level education for people around the globe, others succumb into self-indulged egocentric use), the film tries to focus on the big picture of simply making the better choice. The cycle of wrongful doing can always be broken by a simple decision of begin advocating and working for good.
We are on a crossroad, she concludes, and it is up to us to use this power for good. Although I find this conclusion somewhat arrogant for, in this world, it is the constant sensation that we, in this dot of time and space, are all so potent and important for the future. Perhaps it is not as romantic as the film’s narration but it is exactly that fact that might just help us regain consciousness of our place in this world. Maybe she is right, and we should take this role of masters of the universe and actively set the world back into order. Or, on the other hand, maybe if we stop thinking that we are so great, we will naturally be led to living peacefully with our fellow cohabitant of this amazing universe. As much as I would like to choose the second option, it is against nature to stop concentrating on the ‘I’ as the chosen one. Thus, in the end, her largest contradiction might just be the film’s most important message.
Which ever way, the movie speaks not only to your emotional individual being (the loss of a loving father, the birth of a baby, movie against the odds) but also to the universal one (global connectivity, Cosmos etc.). It is left for each and every one to decide which interaction she will choose.
The Video Of The Week!
Sam Harris – Mindfulness Meditation – From Death and The Present Moment
Ted’s Best Of The Week! Can prejudice ever be a good thing, by Paul Bloom.
Paul Bloom explores some of the most puzzling aspects of human nature, including pleasure, religion, and morality.
“Our reason could cause us to override our passions. Our reason could motivate us to extend our empathy, could motivate us to write a book like “Uncle Tom’s Cabin,” or read a book like “Uncle Tom’s Cabin,” and our reason can motivate us to create customs and taboos and laws that will constrain us from acting upon our impulses when, as rational beings, we feel we should be constrained. This is what a constitution is. A constitution is something which was set up in the past that applies now in the present, and what it says is, no matter how much we might to reelect a popular president for a third term, no matter how much white Americans might choose to feel that they want to reinstate the institution of slavery, we can’t. We have bound ourselves.”
Here’s The Psychological Key to Early Academic Achievement
“Working memory is a crucial factor in children’s academic achievement, including their reading ability. The study, which was conducted in Brazil, included 106 children, half of whom were living under the poverty line (Abreu et al., 2014).
The children took a battery of cognitive tests — including one assessing their working memory — and these were matched up with their attainment in mathematics, spelling, reading, language and science. The results showed that the children with the best working memories consistently had the highest performance across all the different areas of learning.
The children who struggled, especially with reading, were those with the poorest working memory.
The project’s leader, Dr. Pascale Engel de Abreu, said:
“Our findings suggest the importance of early screening and intervention, especially in the context of poverty. At present, poor working memory is rarely identified by teachers. Poor literacy, low academic achievement and living in poverty create a mutually reinforcing cycle. There is a chance to break this by early identification of children with working memory problems and by helping them to acquire the mental tools which will enable them to learn.”
Why Living the Questions Is Better Than Having the Answers
“When faced with a question, we:
- Search for the answer
- Determine this is the answer.
- Conclude this must be the answer.
There’s a big gap between steps two and three. The philosopher Wittgenstein would ask about the nature of this must. What gives that must its necessity or oomph? When we decide in advance that there is one and only one solution to a problem and it is this, we force ourselves into a very uncomfortable and perhaps precarious position.
Consider the Greek myth of Procrustes. Procrustes was an outlaw who offered hospitality to people who passed his home. He offered guests a bed that would fit them perfectly. If the guest was too short for the bed, Procrustes put him on a rack to stretch him. If the guest too tall, he cut off parts of his legs.
We become like Procrustes when we decide this must be the answer. We will make our beliefs, hopes, expectations, and actions fit that answer, no matter what. We will stretch ourselves to the breaking point to make something work. We will ruthlessly cut off parts of ourselves or forsake parts of our lived realities that do not fit with the answer.
The woman who marries the man “she is supposed to” instead of the one she loves may try to convince herself to love her husband. She’ll tell herself she had no other choice, that she owed her fiancé, and that she had to lose her love. (…) When you believe you have the right answer and that something must be the answer, you are trapped. Actually, you have trapped yourself. You’ve done a Procrustes on yourself. As Wittgenstein wrote, “A man will be imprisoned in a room with a door that is unlocked and opens inward; as long as it does not occur to him to pull rather than push it.”
17 Air Travel Tips
“..In which Hank imparts some wisdom that he has gained through the last four years of getting on planes once every four months.”
Lately, the conversation (or better to say questions) about the existence of Free Will seems to appear very often in the media. Most of it does recall a kind of exercise in The art of Rhetoric 1.1 more than real debates and while some are readily and enthusiastically reasoning with the God Almighty argument, others, are trying to have empirical evidence-based statistics of lab testing accompanied by neuro-scientific colorful graphs.
Of course, debates and the (philosophical) questioning about the existence of Free Will is nothing new (from political, theological, economics, social and every existing perspective), but it is to argue that we are beginning to see a new and exciting component: technology.
First, let me just say that if you are a deterministic, this article will not be for your liking (but if you do want to comment, please read it first). Now, we should begin with a little thought exercise in the style of what Sam Harris, the neuroscientist and author, uses in his talks. I will present three different incidents and all you have to do is to ponder what will be your choice in each matter.
1 – Choose a book or a film (any book or any film, the first one that comes to your mind).
2 – Finding a little sac with money / hair in your soup you just ordered, what will you do with it?
3 – Do you know what will be your next thought?
And here’s one for the road: can you think of a word you don´t know?
We’ll get back to that later.
Recently, it seems the race for the better android, humanoid or simply an autonomous robot had reached a new level. From Watson, that is now officially the smartest creature on earth, to “Geminoid-F” (L), the Osaka’s Geminoid Summit android that can smile and talk (not about Aristotelian concept of Free Will just yet), and other gimmicks as, naming one example, what will soon to be the car of the future, the Google autonomous vehicle. This is an exciting time (as any time) that offers us a vision about ourselves as never before.
Free Will is considered by the many religious of many religions to be god given. This, of course, evokes a fallacy that is mentioned by non-religious thinkers that doubt and question how it can be Free Will if it is given to you (and with a set of strict rules to accompany it). However, without deviating to a religious debate, it can be interesting to look into it with the examples of technology. The main claim of the ones that deny the existence of Free Will is that we are a product of our past experiences, either by nature or nurture (the level of importance of each vary depending to the perspective of the debater). Meaning, the next phrase you will read will not be because I chose freely to write but because it is the consequence of all my accumulated experiences in a mixture with the character I was born with put together in the context I was trying so hopelessly construct with a kind of logic dictated to me by the English grammar. How, then, technology supports that kind of claim? Firstly, the fact that 40 years from now, people will look back and giggle on the humanoid we have today is evident (similar to how we giggle thinking about floppy disks). Hence, let us try to image the android of the future (which in many ways already exists) with the smile of the Japanese model smiley face and the capacity to communicate that is closer to Watson. Can we say that it will have Free Will? I think no rational mind (aside of her creator) will venture to claim that. Yet it will be able to talk, walk, perform tasks and solve dilemmas. Or perhaps we should ask it differently: can we say that we gave it Free Will?
Now, there are two issues here that I will try to avoid not to get to a circle of arguments and those are: the supposed analogy to man as a combination of circuits, blood vessels and neurons, and the notion of an intelligent design by an omnipotent creator.
It will be much more interesting to continue reflecting of the power of technology and how it sheds new light on Free Will. Such as the question how did Google kill Free Will?
There is a fact that is difficult to digest sometimes and that is that Google has become the Empire it is by simply getting to know what we want before we do. Meaning, from a simple search engine to locate what you search on the web, Google realized that it had struck a gold mine of information and if they will use it wisely, it will magically transformed to… what else, money and supremacy. So, from registering our keywords and preferences of search, they now gain a revenue of 1.2-1.4 billion dollars a year with as magnanimous projects as the Internet for all hot-air balloons and autonomous cars. How come?
This success (and I´m not implying that it was a Pinky and the Brain world domination conspiracy) is by far a significant blow for the Free Will supporters. One reason is that it demonstrates that with right algorithm (hard wire) our Free Will can actually be predicted. The fact that indeed, any decision we make can actually and factually be preconceived solely by calculating all of our prior cybernetic actions is mind blowing. They managed to do that only with our Internet life, not even while reading our minds or physically following us all day (though, in some ways, depending of the level of connectivity we live, they are).
In the end, there seem to be a dichotomy with two possible reasons: the first, if we take the android/maker option, one can argue for a higher being that programmed our minds to a limited cognitive and emotive causality and its interpretations; second, is the Google predictability consciousness which refer to the fact that there is no higher being that supervise our being and we are the product of countless and measureless incidents that got us to where we are today and we are simply acting by inductive and deductive reasoning.
Little girls and boys like to personify their toys (dolls, figurine, etc.), they create meaning in imaginary conversation and gives them a sense of purpose, of Will. Some things, I guess, are just innate (and necessary to try and keep having the will of life).
So what do we do now? Well, whether you feel the inception handiwork of an omnipresent and atemporal being or a box of coagulated past construction circuits, remember that whatever you do and however you think today will be the bases of your future actions. So let’s educate ourselves for good now to live a better tomorrow.
Do something that even Google wouldn´t know you wanted to do, surprise yourself, be more alive the a Japanese robot or a cluster of ninety IBM Power 750 servers know-it-all. More than thinking you have Free Will, be courageous and earn the Will to be Free.