Distributed Mind

"I am sending you out like sheep surrounded by wolves, so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves."

Your hosts: J. Lowry, B. Martin.

March 27, 2006

Immigration in the Future

by ben

I am firmly convinced that over the course of the next century, probably within the next half-century, freedom of movement (not just for travel, but for immigration, as well) will come to be recognized as as fundamental a right as the right to free speech, the right to assembly, or the right to a free press. Why? For one reason, democracy requires that persons be able to choose their own government. Immigration is a very basic way to do so. But, more importantly, on what grounds will a democracy reject immigrants? If people are to be free, how can we prevent them from choosing their nation? Should we simply tell them that they were unlucky in their birth place, and leave it at that? As uncomfortable as the idea may be economically, in all other ways, we must admit that any person willing to abide by the principles of the land must be allowed in.

And note that when I say "principles of the land," restrictions on immigration are by definition excluded - assuming that we allow that freedom of movement is a fundamental right - since assertions of rights cannot be prohibited even by law, and if they are, they can be disregarded. (This is the political argument anyway - I do not believe one should break the law unless absolutely necessary, and cases where immigration could be interpreted as "necessary" are few, but this does not mean that I believe people should be punished for it either. The violation of a law, and a law itself can both be wrong. Some theories of civil disobedience would doubtless have a different interpretation.)

I think that it is doubly hypocritical for our nation to ever turn away an immigrant, since only a minute fraction of us are not immigrants (within a historic timeframe, of course), and furthermore since we drove out the original inhabitants to build such a nation. If we have benefited from this, on what moral ground will we oppose immigration? The only possible option is to say that that is too long ago (though immigration has not ended, and we were still killing the native populace only a century ago) and that now we must not bring our current citizens to any economic harm. This may or may not be a good argument, but if we come to recognize immigration - as a specific form of freedom of movement - as a fundamental right, the economic condition of our nation can not be used to override that right. Fundamental rights are supposed to trump all else in a liberal democratic system.

Of course, I understand that almost no one today views immigration as a fundamental right. But I think it is a logical extension of current ideas about rights and liberty, and, as I said, I believe it will be the consensus opinion within a few decades. I thus look forward to a day when debates like the one presently raging in Washington will be viewed much the same way we view the past debates about integration.

02:05:46 - Philosophy - ben - No comments

March 18, 2005

Why Is Radical Egalitarianism So Radical?

by ben

I was thinking a moment ago, somewhat mistakenly, that an important feature of liberalism - classic or modern - was that all humans were equal and deserved equal treatment. After all, classic liberalism gave us such statements as "All men are created equal, that they are endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness." Thus, things like the golden rule or the categorical imperative would be crucial guiding principles. Hence, in so far as modern conservatism claims itself to be derived from classic liberalism, it would be quite mistaken. For clearly modern conservativism - in its most common manifestaton, anyway - believes that this equality is narrowly contained within certain national boundaries, and it seems arguable that limitations on this equality may extend to socio-economic boundaries and ethnic and religious ones (I mean specifically to refer to Islam - not any other religion; I for one do not believe most conservatives want to quash all things that do not fall under traditional Christianity or Judaism, though they sometimes do go too far in such things). It would seem modern liberalism fails to take equality entirely seriously as well (the tendency to simply subsidize everything by taxing the rich is a possible example, though some might take difference with that suggestion, and I am not 100% certain I buy it), but at least it is willing to stand up for those of other nationalities and economic status (we will ignore its failings to erase racial boundaries in the first half of the last century, for the moment).

This is important in that, if one were to give equality its full due, one would have to consider the plight of the innocent person who might be tortured by mistake or the resident of the south side of Chicago who by mere virtue of their place of birth and their ancestry is demonstrably less likely to graduate high school, go to college, is more likely to end up in jail, and who can expect a much lower salary. Or, possibly even the resident of some foreign country that lacked democracy in that to point out their plight under a dictator is not the same as to really consider whether they want violent overthrow of that same dictator, let alone to decide for them. In so far as modern conservativism fails, apparently, to seriously consider any of these, it has merely co-opted some ideas and language of classic liberalism while putting it all at the service of a classist, xenophobic, elitist, small-minded traditionalism.

Of course, then I remembered, as one is so often wont to do in this case, that a significant portion of the people who lived in this prenatal country when the words "all men are created equal" were written did not believe them. In so far as it extended to women, almost none of them believed it, at least in the sense we would today (it is the case that they extended almost all rights to women - voting be a very significant omission, of course). Shoot, the author of that document did not believe this. The only people who came close to believing this for the most part were a bunch of strange religious types (as usual, I revel in the irony of that, as well as the irony that it is considered ironic). Is it any wonder that from such hypocritical origins we today suffer from such a failure to really believe and practice the equality we hold to be so foundational to our society? Thank you very much, Mr. Jefferson. (This is not to say that the United States was not an improvement in most ways over what else existed at the time, but we should also not look to the morality of 1776 or 1787 to be the epitome of human ethical development.)

Regardless of our moral origins, though, I think the only way forward is to take up the idea equality - even if it has never truly been in the past. That we are all equal in the eyes of our creator was a foundational idea of Christianity and Enlightenment morality. As a follower of both ideals (the former without reservation, and the second as a useful practical adjunct), I do not find radical egalitarianism to be such a shocking idea. That it is in our world shows how far we have strayed from the best of our intellectual and moral origins (which were so often limited to begin with).

[I note that in listing things conservativism would have to consider I may have overstated to a degree the case - I certainly have not held back the rhetoric - but I think the idea here is mostly sound, though I suspect it will sound offensive to many conservative readers. I understand that there are complex arguments on all three examples that I mentioned, but I think a careful investigation of at least the second will suggest that it is the case that conservativism is wrong in claiming that equality exists for such people. The first case can merit no serious argument, and I am adamant on that point. The third is my weakest example, but points to a principle I think is both important and deep - namely that violence is of very limited value. I would not automatically disregard any argument on that case, but I am not particularly interested in having such an argument either.]

[Oh, and the religious persons I am of course referring to are our good friends the Quakers. There may be some others that could qualify (the Mennonites and some Baptists among others came close in many ways, for example), but I am mostly thinking of them.]

03:45:03 - Philosophy - ben - No comments

November 15, 2004

War by the Numbers: Korea

by ben

Imagine being a magical Harry Truman, able to look back at 1950 from 2004. So, the Korean War results in a total of nearly 3 million fatalities, of which about 1 million or so are civillian, with some massacres on both sides. (I am using Matthew White's numbers again since I am lazy, and he actually checked multiple sources, most of which I wouldn't have available.) Remember, North Korea started the invasion so technically they are at fault, and morally culpable. Unfortunately, China got involved; that appears to have been avoidable, so that would have helped things alot, but at any rate, we are probably looking at 1 million bare minimum total casualties. Some of those were unpreventable regardless of our involvement; after all, North Korea had already attacked, and by the time anyone had intervened, they had captured nearly all of Korea, and massacred some random civillians (around 100,000 evidently). Thus, only some of the casualties are preventable.

Your alternative is to not get involved. We have a million or so casualties, followed by several hundred thousand (possibly over 1.5 million) political prisoners worked to death, around 2 million famine fatalities (though those may be reduced or eliminated if North Korea is not entrenched against South Korea), (again, borrowing from the better of White's numbers). Additionally, you relegate the 50 million South Koreans and their ancestors to a life of poverty and repression. This is mitigated by the fact that the South Korean government was not so friendly to its people for a long time, so you could take that into account.

I think this is a complex and interesting case study. Especially, since the issues are fairly clear. Justin says there are actions that could be taken, but war was wrong. I think if we allow war, this seems to be a war to fight, having more justification than most wars we have fought, including World War I. But then we all know I have heavy pacifist leanings, so maybe I wouldn't support fighting a war. What would you do? (Consider that you will have to answer victims of the war on the one side, or the new victims of the communist regime on the other, if you don't defend South Korea.)

And by the way, certainly tactics could have been improved. We probably could have ended the war in a few months with no Chinese involvement, had we not passed the 38th parallel, though nothing is ever certain. One could try to argue one way or the other using hypothetical possibilities regarding how the war might have differed. Of course, war, like all things, is not perfectly predicatable.

Finally, it might be interesting to think about the impact of not having the magical 20/20 hindsight. In some sort of sick Kantian/utilitarian ethical hybrid, you could consider not having perfect knowledge of future events combined with an allowance for war (is war allowable in Kantian ethics? - doesn't seem so).

[I suspect my Korean roommate probably has some opinions on this matter; I should ask him what he thinks.]

12:26:31 - Philosophy - ben - No comments

November 05, 2004

Double Plus Ungood - The Left's Own Rhetoric

by ben

Many on the left talked this year about the "Orwellian" terminology coming out of the Bush administration, e.g. the infamous Clean Air Act. Conveniently my pro-choice counterparts among us liberals (who outnumber me by some ridiculous margin) ignore their own occasional loose use of language.

[Remainder of article]
01:24:01 - Philosophy - ben - No comments

November 03, 2004

Alasdair MacIntyre on Voting

by ben

AKMA links to an article by Alasdair MacIntyre on voting. Basically, MacIntyre argues against voting for either of the two parties. Interesting piece, sort of goes to what I have been thinking, though I might not go as far. I voted against the established order in 2004 though, so I won't feel guilty at any rate. (I know MacIntyre via his book After Virtue, but I haven't really bothered to get around to reading anything else of his, and was especially unaware of what he was up to lately, so I found this interesting.)

10:44:30 - Philosophy - ben - No comments

October 31, 2004

Pacifism in Action

by ben

AKMA has a post on pacifism. He is thinking along the lines I have been, but, of course he has been thinking about it much longer than I have, so that is to be expected. Ahem. Anyway, excerpts:

... how odd it is that “pacifism” has become identified as “opposition to war,” when it is much more a matter of living in a particular, nonviolent way. ...

... trying to live a life characterized by aiming at harmony and cooperation in a culture overwhelmingly defined by competition, rivalry, and conflict. ...

Pacifism is more than not serving in the army: it’s living as an emissary of peace in exile in a land of contentiousness. When you begin with treating your spouse and children, your neighbors and students in a way governed by the blessing of peace, of course war is unthinkable — but there’s so much more to be done before the question of war even comes up.

23:07:44 - Philosophy - ben - No comments

October 30, 2004

Food for Thought on Education

by ben

John Taylor Gatto used to be a public school teacher. He even won Teacher of the Year for New York City three times, and New York state once. But, then he rebelled. He has some very interesting things to say about educational practice in this country. He has written several books, parts of which you can read on his web page. I haven't read his books, and I am not sure I agree with everything he says (if only because I haven't heard the whole argument), but I think he may be on the right track, and he has some very interesting things to say.

11:51:07 - Philosophy - ben - No comments

September 25, 2004


by ben

A while back, I wrote about the end of Blade Runner. I said that "the transition that takes place in the two main characters (and antagonists), Deckard and Batty, from calloused enemies to fellow 'men,' is well portrayed and moving" and added the ending suggests "everyone deserves a chance, and no one should be forgotten."

I thought about Blade Runner recently, though, with the passage of time, I remembered it a little differently. I remembered it as Deckard and Batty learning the value of human - or, in Batty's case, something like it - life. But that is not the whole story.

As my original phrasing suggests, there is something that Batty needs to recover from. Roy Batty is not a nice person. He isn't someone we want to like, either. Having already killed, presumably, many persons already, we see him kill Tyrell - his maker, "a crime against nature" - and we know that he kills the innocuous Sebastian, to whom we are led to be very sympathetic. Finally, he injures Deckard. But in the end, after saving Deckard's life, and dying pathetically, the viewer is led to want to forgive this - or forget it.

I wonder which we actually do though; after sometime I had forgotten his crimes, but of course they were fictional crimes with no impact on me. The real challenge would be to forgive Batty. Deckard seems to do that, or maybe he to merely forgets. After all, Batty does very little damage to Deckard himself; and in the end he saves his life. But, it seems clear the writers want us to pass over Batty's previous actions.

So the question is, should we? The killing of Sebastian seems especially harsh, for example. And we pick up at the end of Batty's killing spree. What did he do prior? But, in spite of that, I think the writers are correct, at least in part. Whether Batty repents at the end or not may not be entirely clear, though it seems like he does. But even if he doesn't, there is nothing to gain in continued conflict at the end. Batty is already dead. There is no one in this case to carry on the conflict after Batty, but what if there were? It is not always the case, but sometimes the best way to bring peace is to ignore the harm another has done to us. Whether forgiving or forgetting, both have value. Throughout history so many wars could have been prevented if people had just been willing to let past crimes go. It is not our inclination, but sometimes it is the right thing to do, and more often, it is the only way to peace.

"But I tell you, don't resist him who is evil; but whoever strikes you on your right cheek, turn to him the other also." (Matthew 5:39, WEB)

04:37:23 - Philosophy - ben - 1 comment

September 18, 2004

What Did Iraqis Think About Being Invaded

by ben

I was talking with the resident elf today, and I raised the question of how the Iraqis felt about being invaded, since the party line is either they are free or they are miserable (specifically, I was playing conservative for the moment and going after the assumption the Iraqis must clearly hate what had happened). So, I decided, feigning humility for a second, to look. Turns out there have been national polls. Oxford Research Institute did one in March, and Gallup did one in April. Assuming these studies are not wildly inaccurate (and they do agree where they ask the same question), turns out Iraqis are not as bad off as some people would make them. Shoot, not even close. In the ORI one, 75% of Iraqis were saying the things like electricity, health care, security, schools, jobs were as good or better than before the invasion. Makes me wonder exactly what the press is doing over there. Or rather, not doing over there. Not that I want our reporters ro be risking our necks anymore than I want Americans to be risking Iraqis necks, but just keep in mind the kind of perspective we get can be a little skewed. (My favorite number, by the way, was 80% of Iraqis reported being afraid to worship before the invasion, and only 5% said that they had been afraid since.) One last note, Justin is right, this isn't justification for a war, but I think it should all prompt us to consider, besides the quality of reporting coming out of Iraq, how we will think about future analogous situations. For all you utilitarians out there, my recommendation is you go find someone to invade now. For us pacifists (or near pacifists in my case), we need to think carefully how we will respond.

(Justin did make some somewhat vague suggestions, and suggested others needed to do some research, perhaps he will write somethine here later. Eh, Justin? I did find an article about the Iraqi Committee for Missing Persons though, which was claiming 8 million people killed by Saddam Hussein in a country of 25 million. So, one wonders about embargoes. Not quite ready to return to being a utilitarian though.)

20:12:53 - Philosophy - ben - 1 comment

September 07, 2004

I Hate When Harry Met Sally

by ben

For years, I have fought vehemently against the "When Harry Met Sally position": Men and women can't be friends. Unfortunately, I am losing confidence in my opposition to that claim. The only thing that prevents me from giving in is that it would violate some sort of deeply ingrained feeling I have about the way the universe should really work, as opposed to what experience is telling me (yes, that makes me an ideologue - as far as relationships are concerned). For, experience tells me I break every relationship with every women I know who could be even remotely available. Note that does not apply to women too young, say 5 years younger than me (too much younger than that and we are in really dangerous territory, so don't argue about that line); much older, say more than 7 years older than me; or in relationships that are in any way serious. All those relationships are pretty much safe (yeah, I know that doesn't fit with the original statement made in the movie, but bear with me, anyway). I am worried here about friendships with my single peers.

I seem to destroy these relationships in the following ways:

  1. I demonstrate some sort of romantic interest in addition to friendship, and they clearly (i.e. they say so) are not interested, resulting in the worst case
  2. I am not interested, but they think I am and so avoid me
  3. The above does not happen, but I think it is happening (this seems to be the most common case - unless the above is actually the most common case, which clearly must be considered as a possibility; I have been sort of conditioned to expect this by now)
  4. So afraid one of the above will happen, I stress out over every word that is exchanged, and eventually turn this case into one of the above cases (okay, so maybe this is really the most common case)
  5. I fell perfectly confident, but then begin to suspect they are interested, which would be fine if it was not for the experience in the first case which seems to have left me emotionally unavailable, but I don't walk away because I feel like everybody has to like me, and after all I like everybody, especially nice women, and so we and up in a really big mess where nobody is happy, there is the possibility of this degenerating into the above case, and, finally, I get nominated for the title "Player"

So, based on the fact that almost (almost?) every single relationship I have with an available female of appropriate age seems to have degenerated into one of the above cases, I am beginning to think Billy Crystal's character was not so far off the mark after all. The scary possibility is that maybe my urgent hope that the claim that men and women cannot be friends may be in large part the problem. So, in other words, the problem may be intrinsically set up such that it will fail while the whole time we try to convince ourselves it is not true, though it cannot be anything but true. Whew.

So seriously, anyone have any words of wisdom to rescue the anti-When Harry Met Sally hypothesis? I sincerely hope so, because based on my experience I am failing miserably. And also, if any women actually read this blog, which I know they don't, are men the only ones with this problem? Or maybe I am the only one with this problem... Oh, and finally if any of those single women who happen to know me are reading this... ummm. Beats me, I guess now you know where I have been lately and why I seem to get flakier all the time. If you can save me, hey more power to you. And if you run, I guess I can't blame you.

Finally, notice how self-absorbed all of this seems. I always tend to think that is related to these kinds of problems. The balance is delicate - after all, I think we do have to consider relationships - so in this case I have not really worked through to what degree I should or should not be worried about this, but right now I am, so I guess it makes more sense to be honest and admit it bugs me than to pretend that I am not self-absorbed and that I never worry about how people feel about me, and so I can safely go about saving the world.

Disclaimer: I have seen like 15 minutes of that movie many, many years ago, so don't take this as some serious discussion of the film; that was not my intent.

03:35:04 - Philosophy - ben - No comments

August 28, 2004

Motivational Speech

by ben

We are the revolution.

It doesn't matter who is elected President in November. It doesn't matter if George W. Bush or Dan Glickman (of the MPAA) or Hilary Rosen or Michael Eisner or anyone else in power listens to us. If we do our job, they will have to listen to us. The future is ours to take, and ours to lose. Ask yourself, "How can I change the world - even if just a little - today?" and then go do it; talk about it later.

And don't "do" by yelling and tearing down and whining, but build, create, solve, innovate. (Violence is not only physical, after all.)

If I could live by the above credo, I would be doing well. (And, yes, everything I just said contradicts about 80% of the essence of this journal. But, we only cease changing when we are dead, and hypocrites always make the best critics.)

10:29:22 - Philosophy - ben - No comments

A Parable

by ben

A young man asked one of the sages, "Mr. _____, though old, is not a wise man. Why should I listen to him just because he is old, even if he knows nothing?"

The wise man answered, "Suppose there is a stand of old oak trees so dense that no light shines through their branches, and suppose that among the oaks is a weak tree not native to that area that is just as large as the old oak trees. Now, suppose an acorn should turn to a seedling, and that that seedling should try to grow into a tree. Now, if a harsh storm comes, will the old weak tree stand?"

"Of course not," said the young man. "But I would wager that the young oak will!"

"You are correct. But suppose that a storm does not come, will the young oak be able to grow in the shade of that old, weak tree?"

"No, because there will not be any light for the young tree because the old tree will block all of the light."

"So it is with men as well," said the wise man. "Therefore show respect even to the weak of mind and character [among your elders], lest you suffer from lack of light."

[Believe it or not, this started as an idea for part of a science fiction story.]

02:31:22 - Philosophy - ben - No comments

August 05, 2004


by Earendil
I've been thinking recently about the process by which things come to be. From the chaotic Big Bang to organized galaxies, from cold clouds of gas and dust to stars and planets, from a soup of hydrocarbons to the first microbes, from microbes to fish to mammals (with all the steps in between). From inert lifelessness to sentient beings aware of their surroundings to sentient beings aware of THEMSELVES. Not only aware of themselves, but capable of apprehending infinity, even aware of God. That's the history of the universe up to now.

But we each have our own personal histories, our own stories of becoming. We start as the union of a sperm and an egg, become a fetus and eventually a baby whose sentience is barely more than some other mammals. Finally, we begin to have awareness of ourselves and a will of our own. Unlike other animals, we can choose how much we want to be human, we can actually choose to shrink away from living!

An excellent booklet I read recently ("Becoming Christian", written by my dad!) brought home to me how much direction our chaotic universe has. Because finally, to become human we must become like Christ, reaching out to God. It's as if the whole universe is STILL becoming. Theologically, I think this on solid ground. We understand that the fulfillment of God's creation, and our own becoming, won't come in history.

So where do we go from here? I have trouble believing we will evolve further, rather our medical science and social structures will prevent natural evolution. And who knows how much more time we have. Having Christ Himself come to Earth just 2000 years ago is enough to suggest that the culmination of this universe is fast approaching - we're in the denouement.
09:01:05 - Philosophy - Earendil - 9 comments

July 01, 2004

More on Movies (and Math)

by ben

Well, on the topic of movies, I was listening to the director and writers' commentary for the WarGames DVD while working. I love WarGames. Now, it is definitely not among the top ten films ever made, but it has its moments, and from the perspective of a computer scientist and mathematician it has to be even better. Plus, it gets points for actually making a useful point about nuclear war in an interesting way. Now, as far as the computing technology goes, there are definitely some literary licences taken, but if you assume an artificial intelligence of the magnitude portrayed in the movie were possible anywhere near the era where it is shown (and in fact twenty years later we are still working on it), most of the rest of the problems are nitpicks. What is interesting from the artificial intelligence perspective is the idea of the machine learning, which is possible at some level, and the fact that they use tic-tac-toe to teach it, which is very cute. It is even more interesting from a game theoretic perspective, since it really cuts to the heart of the whole matter: in tic-tac-toe or nuclear war, the problem is you can always force a draw, so who wants to play anyway? Joshua's climactic line is excellent: "A strange game. The only winning move is not to play." If I ever teach a class on modern history, sociology, economics, game theory, decision science, or artificial intelligence, my class is watching this movie.

Incidentally, I found WarGames especially interesting since I had been discussing yesterday how useful applied math was at describing general principles like this. Specifically I cited the prisoner's dilemma. The prisoner's dilemma is that if you have a band of people all arrested by the police, the police will want one of them to confess. Well, if all the suspects hold out and stick to their story, they all get off lightly. If one sells out, then that individual gets off worse than if they all had stuck to the story, but better than if someone else had sold them out first. The problem is that the best outcome occurs if all cooperate, but the temptation, of course, is to minimize risk and try to beat everyone else to selling out. Well, so all of this is related to decision criteria I studied way back in a decision science class (well, I was getting credit for probability from it, but whatever) about decision criteria such as minimax or maximax (optimistic: pick whatever option has the largest possible payout, regardless of the odds) or expected value (use the probability of each outcome to weight the value of the outcome). Each has their own advantage and disadvantage, but the point is it helps to know that there are different ways of deciding things, and they all have their own unique properties. So while talking to my sister about it she mentioned having studied about min-max principles in sociology. I also brought up artificial intelligence - that was where I had first seen some of these. And that takes me back to where I started. Perhaps more significantly though, all of this is good in economics. Where you might notice that the current economy pretty much relies on that aforementioned prisoner's dilemma: the maxim that competition is always preferable to cooperation which is blatantly stupid but more or less assumed throughout capitalist economics (which is actually how we got on the topic in the first place: the history of the game of Monopoly, which it turns out is related to an earlier game the whole point of which was to show how bad capitalism was. Amazing how everything in my life just seems to come together in one neat little mathematical package.)

So, I think my point here is all of that applied math turns out to be good for something. And by the way, this part of math is really easy: practically no calculus, and you can do all the arithmetic on a calculator or computer. Most of it is comprehensible to someone with no more than a background in algebra, though, as always, more math is always useful, but even if you don't have a strong background you can still get alot out of it. Look at optimization or decision science and graph theory. It will give you power (I would have linked to NACME's "Math is Power" campaign, but its over so... so just go to their website and buy the poster instead).

[Warning: The above was written by a raving math lunatic who doesn't really know anything about economics - so take that part of it with a grain of salt.]

[Remainder of article]
14:53:41 - Philosophy - ben - No comments

June 29, 2004

Can Computer Science Help Us Understand God Better?

by ben

Well, Donald Knuth, famous computer scientist and a Christian (in some sense, anyway), thinks so. He wrote a book called God and Computer Science. And he gave a lecture series at Yale on the topic. The audio from those talks is available on TechNetCast. (These are very old, but I was thinking of them recently, so I thought I would post a link so more people could find this.)

While Knuth has some interesting ideas on the topic, some useful and some a little more questionable, studying quantum computing gave me a much greater appreciation of God's universe. Quantum Computation and Quantum Information by Michael A. Nielsen and Isaac L. Chuang was the book we used for the quantum computing course I took. Really, to understand it requires at lest some linear algebra. The physics is mostly explained, though I doubt I would understand it as a physicist would, but at least as far as understanding the computing, it is liveable. Of course, unless you come to IU and take an advanced math class with Zhenghan Wang, you are missing part of the experience, but such is life.

By the way, it turns out that at the intersection of quantum physics, mathematics, theoretical computer science (especially complexity theory), and information theory some interesting things turn up, such as the inherently physical nature of information, say. Feynman opened some of these doors (and asked the questions that led to quantum computing) but there is a lot more than just that. Perhaps someday I will take the time to write a little about that here, but in the mean time reading on any of the above topics will give you a good start.

02:47:43 - Philosophy - ben - No comments

March 03, 2004

Point 1

by Irenicus
There is no god
23:47:14 - Philosophy - Irenicus - 1 comment

February 20, 2004

Something I've Thought About Recently: Group Theory

by Earendil
No, not that group theory...

The dangers of group mentality are the dangers that come with any association of like-minded or like-cultured or like-skinned people. Obviously, people with common properties will be drawn together and any close-knit community is going to have some common foundation (more on that later), but the danger comes when the group becomes important over the interests of others outside the group (a.k.a. nationalism, racism, *-ism). Specifically, when we see ourselves as part of a group (part of an in-crowd) we may feel that we can and should defend the clan from anything that does not secure its position, whatever that may be. The worst thing that can happen is that ethics and truth are pushed aside in the name of the clan, though we're good at rationalizing it in terms of select principles. Today, nationalism is considered an okay thing by many, yet it has led people to give up the very freedoms that they claim their nationalism is founded on (see: Patriot Act) and in the worst cases has led to atrocities (see: wars, genocide).

But what concerns me more than the examples given above, is when shared religious belief forms an unhealthy group mentality. Since religion is concerned with ultimate truth, it is very bad to get into preserving the clan - i.e. to make the church a club. Truth is truth no matter where it comes from and for it to be truth it must be accessible to everyone. In other words, in my book there are no special mysteries (see: Gnostics) to be initiated into.

So there it is...
00:35:22 - Philosophy - Earendil - No comments

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