The Use and Value of Philosophy   


The Use and Value of Philosophy

Here are the postings for the Pathways Conference on The Use and Value of Philosophy from January 7th 2003 to December 7th 2003. There were 676 postings totalling over 220000 words.

To obtain a key for the Pathways online conferences, you must be a member of the International Society for Philosophers.

Happy Conferencing!

Geoffrey Klempner


FROM: Geoffrey Klempner (01/07/03 11:00 AM GMT -06:00)

Welcome to the new Pathways Conference!

Our two ground rules:

1. Be prepared to consider the possibility that you might be wrong.

2. Treat one another with courtesy and respect at all times.

— Enjoy the conference!

Geoffrey Klempner


FROM: Katharine Hunt (01/26/03 11:29 AM GMT -06:00)
Can philosophy save the world?

Having registered for the last online conference but never having found the time to keep up with the discussion, and also having had difficulty accessing the messages, I never actually took part. Consequently I didn't expect to have the opportunity to start off this new conference, and yet here I find myself.

I would like to invite my fellow conference participants to help me with a question which I keep returning to, but to which I do not know the answer. That is, whether philosophy can help us to improve our society, and ultimately the world? I have talked with people who are very optimistic in their hopes for the future, but they always leave me wondering whether they have actually noticed what everyday life and the majority of people are really like!

As a Montessori teacher, I have read works by Maria Montessori, founder of that educational movement. She believed it was possible to improve society, and ultimately to bring about world peace, by changing the way that children were educated. Because of her ideas about human development, she believed that by correct education children could still be changed for the better, whereas adults could not. But the problem I see with this, is that children are constantly being influenced by their parents, and by television and videos, as well as by their teachers. And the influence of a parent, because of the emotional bond, is always stronger than the influence of a teacher. But where could you break this cycle, without taking children away from their parents to be brought up — a monstrous repression.

Do you think it is possible to improve society, the world? If so, do you think philosophy can do it?

    REPLIES (9):

  • FROM: Hubertus Fremerey (01/26/03 2:13 PM GMT -06:00)
    kids are adapting to the world

    Dear Katharine,

    there has been some exchange on this topic before in the "questions and answers lists" of Pathways, and on the (old) conference. I will look it up.

    There has been an interesting exchange on this with Charles Countryman whose wife is a latin-teacher to a parochial school in Spokane (WA). And there has been a famous letter of Mary Seifert on the conditions in a school of Memphis. On this you best contact Michael Ward.

    The idea to improve society by improving first the kids is at least as old als Plato and his "Republic". But even in the former (socialist-Stalinist) German Democratic Republic (GDR = DDR) it failed. The wife of the top official there, Secretary General Erich Honecker, Margot Honecker, was herself a school-teacher, and of course she got absolute control on all schools of the state from even below Kindergarten. If you are the wife of the top official of a state this is a spledid position to try it. And the wife of Lenin — Nadeshda Krupskaja — was a school-teacher too and had the same absolute power by her husband to direct the schooling system. But it never worked, neither with Lenina nor with Honecker. Why?

    Kids are NOT stupid. They try to adapt. And they adapt to what they see — as we all do. Thus when they see that the socialist society does not work and is a great lie, and even the parents and other peers say so and get used to a double-speak and double-think, then what do the kids learn from this? They dont learn to become good socialists but they learn to become good liars and pretenders and cynics. And they are — from a practical point of view — completely justified in this.

    Thus the really interesting question is in another line: What is it, that makes people like Socrates or St.Francis or Schweitzer or Gandhi or ML King or other "rebels angainst the usual" rebellious and NOT adapting and becoming cynics. The main objection of the wife of Charles Countryman against the pedagocical principles of John Dewey (which I don't compare here to those of Montessori) seems to be, if I understood it right, the kids learn to adapt instead of learning to think. Or perhaps that they never learn the difference between adapting and thinking.

    Seen in this light, philosophy may indeed "change and improve the world" if it gets us all — not only the kids — to a clearer thinking. But of course you get the kids and yourself into trouble if you tell them that their elders are lying and pretending cynics — while they indeed often are. I had some gloomy thoughts when realizing that all those brilliant students in the former communist states had to get their A grades by learning and telling nonsense, while those that really tried to think and to ask, why things did not work out, got E or F grades just for being really bright and honest. And I have some more gloomy afterthought when realizing that this may be not that different in our western liberal world either.

    Thus I think to be honest to what you see and what is logical and not accepting for granted what you are told is the "point of honour" — but you cannot expect that from normal kids, this is for heroes.

    There will be much more to be exchanged on this topic. This only was a start.


  • FROM: Michael Ward (01/26/03 5:39 PM GMT -06:00)
    Saving the World for what?


    Firstly welcome to the conference and even if Philosophy cannot provide answers I think it can provide a means to help order and understand the world.

    When I read your posting it raises certain questions in my mind and I wonder if it is the same with you.

    Can Philosophy improve our society you ask? By improve you must have some ideas of what is 'better', would this be a return to a previous state or some future 'utopia' yet to be created. Would it be acceptable that humanity was, by its very history, always destined to have inequality and struggle — after all extinction of the least fit has successfully brought us to where we are today.

    Can Philosophy improve the World you ask? In a similar vein can the actions of the individual affect society at large or are there simply too many variables to ever be able to steer a course to a destination I wonder. Do I have an idea of what a better world is - no its just the way it is — always in a constant state of change, possibly more rapid recently.

    I am optimistic that we have a future and my rational thinking can accept that this future could be very different from today — people are not comfortable with managing change very well and yearn for the 'devil you knew' rather than something you don't. On the other hand my emotional responses find pain, deprivation and waste of talent both uncomfortable and unacceptable — I also have inconsistencies — but I guess that's what being human was about.

    Finally, taking children away from their parents and imposing some value system on them a very 'Brave' idea but whose values? Would they be fixed values or capable of evolving, if they could evolve how would that be done without competition I wonder.

    None of this helps you with your decisions for tomorrow — or does it, at least if you explore every option that can be thought of you will know have done your best.

    Michael Ward

    p.s. I have put the other two letters from teachers in the documents section for you.

  • FROM: Charles (01/26/03 11:47 PM GMT -06:00)
    Why philosophy?

    Can philosophy help us to improve our society?

    I think that if we focus on the word "help," it probably can. One of the ways that I understand philosophy is it being the art and science of using logic to understand the human condition. I think it is self evident that this would help improve society.

    I doubt that philosophy alone can provide a vision for what this improved society should be. Some look for this vision in religion and some in science. It is arrogant for either religion or science to deny the "vision" in the other.

    How do you get these two visions together? Should we even try? These are the sort of questions philosophy can deal with.

  • FROM: henk tuten (02/01/03 6:53 AM GMT -06:00)

    I'm sure philosophy can influence the world. That's why philosophizing developed during evolution. But changes may take long, and often outside your lifetime. That's no reason to stop debating, but reason to enjoy the fun of debating without any expectancies.

    In my own contribution I ask for opinions about democracy. If many of them show weak points, than I'm convinced that in the long run that will have an influence.

  • FROM: Ralph (02/13/03 5:44 PM GMT -06:00)
    Can education alone improve the world?

    I believe this is the question Katharine is asking. A reference to Montessori methods and family interaction is, evidently, troublesome. Perhaps, like other things, in practice it is difficult to achieve a measured result for this activity. That is to say, the result of education, in general, is not always social or mental improvement. Studying philosophy may be akin.

    As Mark Twain once said "I never let schooling get in the way of my education" I can argue "I never let philosopy get in the way of my improvement"

    Questions raised by mathmatics are equally useless and more arcane.

    In conclusion, changing our "programming" is not the path to social or world improvement. Changing the "hardwire" or DNA, retaining cultural diversity, freedoms and self-determinism is a start.

    Summus Quod Summus

  • FROM: Michael Ward (02/14/03 11:36 AM GMT -06:00)
    Never mind the quality, feel the width.


    By what yardstick would you measure improvement?

    Michael Ward

  • FROM: Hubertus Fremerey (02/14/03 7:11 PM GMT -06:00)


    you wrote the "Changing the "hardwire" or DNA, retaining cultural diversity, freedoms and selfdeterminism is (likely to improve our behaviour and outlook)."

    I am very very sceptical on this. If you replace an old computer by a new one or an old TV by a new one, you will not improve the software or the TV-program by this. In computer-slang this is known as the GIGO-principle: "(if you put) garbage in — (then you will get) garbage out". Thus I think education will be much better than rewiring. Most people don't lack brainware, they simply have a bad program in their heads. And there are many teachers of all sorts the like it thus.


  • FROM: Katharine Hunt (02/16/03 4:30 AM GMT -06:00)
    an example of this

    I agree with Hubertus on this. With the potential for genetic engineering being considered, there is plenty of discussion of how much of the way children turn out is down to their genes, and how much comes from the way they're brought up. There are strong arguments on both sides, and it therefore seems likely that the final result is a combination of the two — but I have to say that, working in a nursery, it is impossible to ignore the fact that the sensible, polite, caring children do generally seem to have sensible, polite, caring parents! Conversely, the more disturbed the home life, the more we see emotional and behavioural problems in the children.

  • FROM: Hubertus Fremerey (02/16/03 7:20 PM GMT -06:00)
    the nature-nurture thing


    you wrote "it is impossible to ignore the fact that the sensible, polite, caring children do generally seem to have sensible, polite, caring parents! Conversely, the more disturbed the home life, the more we see emotional and behavioural problems in the children." This clearly is a mixed effect. And there even has been an American bestselling woman-author claiming from evidence that education is of nearly no effect. I think so. And maybe this sheds some light on my new posting on political differences. To become a Paulus you have to be a Saulus before. If you are nice and easygoing you will never become a fanatic - for whatever cause. But if you are a born fanatic, you only look for the right cause to engage in. We here near Cologne had this case: A Jesuit changing to Nazi (Goebbels) and a Nazi changing at the same time to become a Jesuit sort of Billy Graham. Most people are "medium", sceptical, not caring too much for who is right, thinking all people are a bit mad and vanity is behind much of thinking and saying. I personally would agree to that. I usually evade people who are obsessed with some idee fixe. They may be hurt by some trauma, I will not touch it. But to have a soft spot can be used — and is often — to blackmail others: "If you enter this argument, I will start shrieking!" On a philosophical conference this should not happen. While it could on a religious one.

    An acquaintance of mine just reported from a meeting with old class-mates from 20 years back that they all have been "just as I knew them". We all don't change much. If you have dogs and cats in your home, they all will adapt to each other and to you, but they all will stay what they are.



FROM: Hubertus Fremerey (01/27/03 5:31 PM GMT -06:00)
transplant of a "self"

Tuesday, Jan. 28, 2003, 00:40 MEZ

Dear Rachel,

suppose a robot has stood the Turing Test and cannot even by experts be told apart from a "real" human. Now suppose this robot is flying around in a sphere which gathers some needed energy from solar cells that cover part of the sphere, or he picks his energy from some sender in form of EM-waves, or he uses a battery or whatever power device seems fit. This would be a purely technical question. And I don't care how the sphere is made to fly around. These are all technical details of no real importance.

The important thing — which we cannot answer today — is: While this robot cannot be recognized by you from his answers alone to be a robot, since he has stood the Turing Test, how then could you know if it's only my brain implanted into a sphere? You only see the sphere answering your questions — maybe by signals appearing on your computer in written words or appearing in your headphones as spoken. Since this "black ball" has stood the Turing Test, you can have long debates with "it" (or "him" or "her"?) on noodles with pesto or on philosophy or on dogs or on whatever without knowing if it's (??) a robot or if it's "me".

We were debating on the nature of "self". The question is: Do you need to know anything on the "self" of this "black sphere" to have the most interesting exchange on all those topics — noodles, philosophy, dogs or whatever? I don't think so. Thus the question arises: What is the use of a "self"?

And one possible answer would be: "The use of the self is self-control" — and this answer would fit with the "mirror-self" of Charles Horton Cooley and George Herbert Mead: You build up "your-self" by the reactions of others and by reflecting your experiences with the world. To only exchange with others, you need not "self", but for self-control, for knowing what you are doing, you need some self-controlling "second-thoughts".

In this way chimps and babies learn to recognize "them-selves" in a mirror and in the reactions of others.

Of course: You need not have put your brain into a sphere, and I think I will not either, but this is not the point. This is an "ab-straction", seeing the normal human body as only a system for (inefficiently) supporting the needed energy to the brain. Thus I say: Our body is not essential to be a human, it's only a "natural" device to provide the CNS with all the energy and oxygene etc. needed for its functioning. I wanted the idea of "being a human" separated from the idea of "having a human body" to get nearer to what seems essential.


    REPLIES (15):

  • FROM: Michael Ward (01/27/03 6:30 PM GMT -06:00)
    What "self"


    The Turing test, as I understand it, is a language method to determine human from non-human. By that criteria dissimilar language speakers and the minimally intelligent would fail — yet we would still categorise them as human.

    On the other hand I have never understood what can be artificial about intelligence if intelligence is measured by behaviour and not in flesh or silicon.

    The question still remains is how can one tell whether there is another self inside the sphere — perhaps there is no knowable answer and we are forever all alien to each other.

    Michael Ward

  • FROM: Hubertus Fremerey (01/27/03 7:39 PM GMT -06:00)
    on knowing the other "self"


    yours are interesting objections. I only try some hooks, since it's late here (2:30 am local time).

    — What could the Socratic "know your-self" mean in robotics?

    — We don't know this moment what "artifical intelligence" will be up to next time. Some people like Searle think there will never be an artificial equivalent of "true" intelligence, no real Bach or Mozart or Shakespeare etc.. This is a complicated debate I will not enter now. I tend to say "never say never again" — we simply don't know this time. We neither know what "AI" could be one day, nor do we know what "natural" intelligence is really or could be if (perhaps) genetically "enhanced". Once more: We don't know.

    — Your objection, that somebody unable to speak or to argue and thus unable to stand the Turing-Test, but being a born human, should be treated as a human, is fundamental and difficult. In what way then should we imagine a "soul" — so dear to all Christians — if this soul cannot speak or argue? In the opinion of the Roman Church a fertilized human egg-cell is automatically "a person" — while of course completely unable to stand any turing test. This concept of soul completely was lost on the exchange some weeks back.

    — From this follows, that the Christian concept of soul is incompatible with those "spheres", while the "spheres" per se could well be "members of a spiritual order", since to be spiritual surely requires not only to be "a person and have a soul" but "to be aware of things spiritual". Even Jean would not call Schweitzer "a great master" if Schweitzer were dull and stupid. Thus there could be those "spheres" all of the spiritual rank of Schweitzer but none of them being "a person" in the Christian sense.

    Now think this over everybody and have fun!


  • FROM: Rachel Browne (01/28/03 5:24 AM GMT -06:00)
    disembodied persons

    Well, Hubertus, you haven't answered the problem of how we individuate the disembodied. That was my question. How can you tell one sphere from another? And why is it a sphere if it is disembodied? That implies shape to me.

    And I am not sure what you are saying. You can only really have an interesting exchange on the assumption that the other has some inner life. If I had an exchange with a disembodied sphere (the possibility of this "thing" being highly doubtful) I would feel conned to find out it had no consciousness. I would no longer regard it as an "exchange".

    If you want to use "sphere" and "exchange" in new ways, go ahead, but you can't expect me to understand. R

  • FROM: Hubertus Fremerey (01/28/03 9:16 AM GMT -06:00)
    on being a spiritual sphere.

    Dear Rachel,

    I only entered the "sphere" to abstract from all things bodily. Do you really need "arms, legs, and a stomach" to be able to think and to argue? Of course even those "spheres" need some "learning" to be able to use words, concepts, and arguments in the proper way. But if there cound be learning computers some day, there could be learning "spheres" to. If this picture of the flying spheres is disturbing you, then simply replace it by the picture of your computer flying around on some platform like a NASA space-module.

    My question was: Does a sensible or even spiritual being have to be a "fertilized human egg" to become sensible and spiritual? I don't think so. I wanted to separate the concept of "a sensible or even spiritual being" clearly from the concept of "a being with arms and legs and a stomach". I think that those to concepts are independent. To be a true human, you need to be a true human, but to be a true philosopher you (perhaps) need not, you could instead be a sensible and spiritual robot flying around on a platform or inside a sphere. This "sphere" is not essential, like the human body is not, it simply is some sort of small space-ship: a container for the ("natural" or electronical) brain inside.


  • FROM: Michael Ward (01/28/03 10:50 AM GMT -06:00)
    disembodied persons


    Rachel you wrote: 'You can only really have an interesting exchange on the assumption that the other has some inner life. If I had an exchange with a disembodied sphere (the possibility of this "thing" being highly doubtful) I would feel conned to find out it had no consciousness. I would no longer regard it as an "exchange".'

    I want to ask you how you know, not feel or desire but actually know how I am anything but an evolving software program sitting on this server successfully deceiving you that I am human?

    If you don't know but only presume that I am human, based upon my use of language and wits, how can you one minute feel satisfied and the next conned simply because what you think I am has changed? It might change back again also.

    Heaven forbid if people ever developed affections with 'robots'.

    HAL 9000

  • FROM: Hubertus Fremerey (01/28/03 1:13 PM GMT -06:00)
    on falling in love with robots


    remember the SF-film on Dicks noveletta "Do Animals dream of Electric Sheep?" where "The Blade-Runner" leaves the question open, if the wife he is loving and "who" is going with him maybe a robot too? Why not loving a robot if you don't now the difference? And this was just the question you posed to Rachel. There have been some "cyborgs" around in the movies. Remember that from "Alien I". There have been more. And then the film with Robin William "200 years man" or what was its exact title. Once more a robot in love with a human, this time after a story of Asimov.

    As a pragmatist I have to ask "what makes the difference". If the Turing Test does not do, what will? To claim that "no robot will understand a joke" is misleading: The joke of a joke comes from "jokingly deceiving expectations". These expectiations rest on some sort of experience with what is usual and to be expected. But if you enable a robot to have expectations from experiences he even will understand jokes.

    Of couse this all is not of any practical relevance now. But we are on a PHILOSOPHICAL forum here, so it is not false to think a bit on what makes the difference of a robot and a "true human". Is is more than the difference of "biological matter" from "physical matter"? We don't know this moment. The AI-People simply are forced to think on what indeed "intelligence" and "learning" and "thinking" may be, not being content with some perhaps outdated and vague notions of "personality" and "soul" which may be as "artificial" and misleading concepts as was "God" for the analytical philosopers.

    Of course I am aware that some people may be shocked by this perspective, but I have nothing to lose, I am going for the ugly one already — and laughingly so.

    I am only a lonesome robot And many a mile from home I have a chip for my brainy The rest is some sort of foam

    I'm going this time for a human To know how the humans are I think they are mostly funny But of course it's another star.

    I am only a lonesome robot And many a mile from home I have a chip for my brainy The rest is some sort of foam

    And now, ladies and gentlemen, try to prove me wrong without doing and NMR-scan or an X-raying of my head.

    All the best from Hubertus.

  • FROM: Rachel Browne (01/28/03 1:13 PM GMT -06:00)
    Hmph. I believe in humans

    Well Michael, I don't feel or desire that you are human. I KNOW you are. And I would feel conned if you admitted to being a robot. And if you changed back to being the human I cannot doubt that you are then I would be distrustful. Kind of like a normal human being would be: in touch with and varying with the facts as known. And basicaly we all believe others (who look like humans) are human. Except Bush. R

  • FROM: Rachel Browne (01/28/03 1:13 PM GMT -06:00)
    Hmph. I believe in humans

    Well Michael, I don't feel or desire that you are human. I KNOW you are. And I would feel conned if you admitted to being a robot. And if you changed back to being the human I cannot doubt that you are then I would be distrustful. Kind of like a normal human being would be: in touch with and varying with the facts as known. And basicaly we all believe others (who look like humans) are human. Except Bush. R

  • FROM: Rachel Browne (01/28/03 1:28 PM GMT -06:00)
    Sorry and spheres

    Sorry I just sent a message twice, because impatient with silly technology.

    Hubertus, when we think of subjectivity it doesn't seem to some people that we need bodies. It does to me and I agree with Searle that artificial intelligence can only be articifially created biologically. And as you know from Lakoff (this is not name dropping because I know you know this) research has it that concept formation is based in biology. So how could you talk to a sphere? Where talk is the thing we know. How would a sphere have concepts with which to communicate?

    It is not logically necessary to be embodied, of course, nor that we need human biology for intelligence. But maybe intelligence supervenes on biology.

    But also I kind of think being spiritual depends upon being embodied. It emerges from relations with others or maybe from nature but in both cases (surely it needs some reason like this)bodies are the relational other which is needed.

    I know philosophers go in for thought experiments but if they lack intelligibility, they won't take. Can't you just think of this without spheres and come up with a different more naturalistic example? What is the kernel of this idea? R

  • FROM: Hubertus Fremerey (01/28/03 1:59 PM GMT -06:00)
    on trusting and being conned

    Dear Rachel,

    I just thought on the difference of your problem and mine. You feel conned if "somebody" like me pretends to be a human and turns out to be not. But as Mike justly asked you: How is it, that you have been happy before and now are not anymore? There has been a famous case here same years back, when a womens doctor practised to every womans satisfaction for at least 10 years but then by accident was shown to have never had a medical studium or diploma (I think he has been a male nurse for some time, getting some practical understanding, and then reading a bit too). The women — most of them — urgend the upervisors to let him continue, but of course this was impossible: He had cheated them, and he had shown that one can be a very good doctor without having any diploma. This would be acceptable in some Indian tribe for a witch-doctor, but not in our "scientific-professional" world.

    There is another example: The famous physicist Feynman (Nobel laureate), when studying at NY Columbia (I am not sure, but in think so), since he was bright and witty, was approached by some fellow student to enter their anti-semitist circle, they would feel honoured. He declined — since both his parents were square true Jews.

    Thus the problem is not that I should feel devalued if unmasked as being "a mere robot", but YOU would feel devalued for letting you "true human" got deceived by this "mere robot". This is "human partisanship and vanity as being the crown of Gods creation". How come a damn robot to pretend to be of my cast! You would have some sort of "identity shock" then like many contemporaries of Darwin had and like the "creationists" have up today. And all this "fuss about soul and self" has much to do with this deep rooted feeling of human exceptionality.

    After those famous "three great insults" to mans vanity by Copernicus, Darwin, and Freud, this could be the fourth one: Not even as a thinking and adoring and planning being, as a being having moral and intelligence and relgion and art, man may be as exceptional as he used to see himself.

    Once more: We don't know today if this is or will be anytime the situation. This only is a model to make us all aware of the problems of "defining" the difference of humans and robots. It's about a "generalized Turing Test": If "nothing" in the behaviour and answers of a Robot would allow us to tell "him" apart from a human, would then there still be a divide other than "being born from a human wife instead of coming from some production line"? Those are hard and ugly questions!


  • FROM: Hubertus Fremerey (01/28/03 3:03 PM GMT -06:00)
    on being a true human

    Rachel and all others,

    my interest in this exchange on a philosophical forum is not of course on SF-movies and —novelettas, but on the nature of what we call "human dignity": What do we defend when we defend "human dignity"? Remember that most people during most of human history called themselves simply "humans" and denying this label to all or most others. Even Schweitzer wrote that it was impossible to teach his blacks in LambarŽnŽ to see other blacks not from the same clan or family or tribe as humans deserving help like they themselves. This notion of a general "humanity", of a unity of all humankind, that is fundamental to Christian thought, was completely alien to nearly all of those blacks Schweitzer encountered there. He then wrote that this idea may have been alien to most peoples of the world for most time and seems to originate in Europe from the Stoics, from where the Christians took this idea later. This does not contradict the Thora and the Old Testament, where generally all people not belonging to the 12 tribes of Israel are not seen as being of comparable standing. There was "the people of God" and "all the rest", "the heathen".

    Thus the idea of a general human dignity depends on what you call a human and by what standard. When Jefferson, 1776 in the "Declaration of Independence", called it "self evident, that all men are created equal", the black slaves were not on his mind, and they were not on the minds of those Christian southerners in the slave-holding states for another some 100 years, while, it is true, at least some of them were uneasy on this.

    I am not really interested in those robots and "flying spheres". I am interested in what we mean when calling "somebody" a human. What is it, that defines a being as a human one? Surely not his body, since this could be made artificially perhaps. So what then is it? Some suggested "the soul", and this is a real problem: Is this "soul" any more "real" than "God"? What do we mean by this concept of a "soul"?

    Others thought to be borne from a female human is essential. But this sounds like mere partisanship: Humans are then only a special sort of intelligent animals, and could well be subdued some time to become domestic animals of superior robots or cyborgs. Then we would have a two class society again: Those superior robots being the Žlite, the "alphas", the "old" humans being the slaves and "untouchables" or "aborigines". This is already the theme of several movies.

    Thus once more: The problem is not "the spheres". Let them be cubes or whatever. The problem is: "What do we call a human being — and why, by what criteria?" If we can be nice to pets, why not being nice to robots too? And maybe some time hence a new sort of superhuman robots may ask "If we can be nice to pets, why not being nice to humans too?"

    Of course we always may defend "the world we are used to — OUR WORLD", the world of our cultural traditions, the natural environment etc., like we defend our personally used way of being. But to stick to what we love and esteem and find worthwile we need no philosophy. Philosophy by its very nature is always asking: "Why should it be as it is?" That exactly makes the difference between philosophy and religion.

    All the best from the ugly one, Hubertus.

    An addendum: I will leave it to you for now, I have some other things to do. But I think Socrates would have enjoyed this sort of problem.

  • FROM: Michael Ward (01/29/03 4:42 PM GMT -06:00)
    Take the middle case

    To all,

    Leaving the stark difference between organic and inorganic life aside can we ever choose one human as being more 'human' than another? If we can then maybe this would give us an insight into what is essentially human.

    Consider that soon we can 'transport' people instantly from one place to another but accidentally your partner gets duplicated and you end up with two. Please avoid trying to say in can't happen to get out of facing the dilemma, but of the two totally identical persons which is more human than the other? Is it A or B or neither?

    What is it that would prevent you from equally committing to both of them, surely any such difficulty would be with your concept of identity. Until now we have always been unique and have relied upon this to differentiate one from another.

    This difficulty in duplication of identity seems to me to be one of the prime, possibly unspoken, objections to cloning.

    Or is it like printing money — where too much causes devaluation?

    Michael Ward

  • FROM: Charles (01/30/03 11:12 PM GMT -06:00)
    Self: being and becoming

    With cloning there is the problem of being and becoming. If I was cloned, it seems that the becoming (through time & space and in relationship with others) would distinguish the copy from the original.

    Somewhere previously Rachel mentioned the relationship of consciousness to self. I would agree that consciousness is required in the definition of self.

    But how about the unconscious? If the unconscious is included in self, that also raises doubts about including AI robots or systems as a subset of self. With an electronic circuit that is either off or on, is there a place for unconscious?

    An aside about the possibility of Strong AI Robotics. Even with nano-circuits, how would the power supply problem be solved? Has anyone seriously considered the nature of and quantity of energy involved in running the neuro-circuits of either humans or animals? Eastern ideas about Chi or Ki offer some clues about this energy. I doubt if chemical battery cells are going to solve the problem. Charley

  • FROM: Hubertus Fremerey (01/31/03 4:03 AM GMT -06:00)
    on conscious and unconscious memories


    even unconscious memories in Freudian (and similar) theory must be memories, otherwise they could not be effective and not be brought out to the conscious. They are "there", while only "suppressed" into the "dungeons of the soul".

    At least "in principle" the energy supply could be a battery like in a laptop- or notebook-computer.

    Of course: Even two identical twins ("natural clones") are different from their memories and individual fates. This applies to clones generally as long as the memories are not permanently cloned too as in a mirror-disk safety-system.


  • FROM: Michael Ward (01/31/03 12:44 PM GMT -06:00)


    I have always found illogical the concept of 'becoming' either you are in one particular state or nothing at all. This concept of becoming implies, to my mind at least, the idea that there is a foreseeable future.

    Now the unconscious, much is spoken of this as if it were a secondary intelligence somehow undermining our higher rational functions. Surely any form of control system that is below consciousness must be 'un-conscious' by definition. I rather think these un-conscious activities are the more primitive, in evolutionary terms, parts of the brain that provide our autonomic controls that sustain life and this includes the functions like flight or fight or sexual drives.

    Michael Ward


FROM: Charles (01/28/03 12:17 PM GMT -06:00)
Self & Imitative Deception

Michael said: "The question still remains is how can one tell whether there is another self inside the sphere — perhaps there is no knowable answer and we are forever all alien to each other.

Michael Ward"

This results from a theoretical example similar to the old signal warfare trick of imitative deception. The other side comes up on a morse, voice or data net and tries to enter the net or input misleading info. The old solution is the use of authentication codes. In the movie "Blade Runner," the detective used a system of questions and an "empathy box" to detect androids.

I assume that the scientists involved in the SETI program have a system to filter out imitative deception. This implies that a real self can be defined and we do not have a fate of remaining hopelessly alien to each other. Charley

    REPLIES (5):

  • FROM: Hubertus Fremerey (01/28/03 4:16 PM GMT -06:00)
    on robot-partisanship


    I think this is the point! The "Blade-Runner" is on partisanship. The androids are "from another tribe" and thus not trusted to be loyal to humans. This is why they have to be destroyed. Completetely different in "E.T.", "Short Circuit" or in "Bicentennial Man": In the alien-movie and in both "android"-movies the alien resp. androids are seen as friends of humans, as "intelligent playmates and pets" of (nearly?) equal standing. The question of "superiority" simply is not asked in all three movies. Of course in some respects the alien of "E.T." and the androids of "Short Circuit" and "Bicentennial Man" are clearly superior to humans and are explicitely shown to be so. But all three never are using their superiority to cheat or trick or overpower the humans that were nice to them. Thus it is like in the Western movies: There are the "nice Indians" and there are the ugly ones, but most often even the ugly ones have a cause against the more ugly whites — or at least some of them. Movies like "Dances with Wolves" and "Black Robe" are fair, showing bad and nice Indians matter of fact, like there are bad and nice whites.

    But of course this partisanship of robots is only one aspect of our debate on the self and the soul of "robots". And in all honesty: I don't like this robot-theme either, but since I am neither fainthearted nor pussyfooted I think I have to face it, like the military — like it or not — has to face those ugly possibilities of ABC-weapons and not only cry for peace. If you stand against some Hitler he will not care what you think him to be, he will do his thing. So you have to be prepared and up to it and not only be "nice and peaceful". People like Hitler would even shoot some Gandhi or Dr.King in cold blood if they think it fitting to do so. This time I only wanted to say that not even Hollywood is taking robots as ugly or dangerous per se — not even if they are superior.


  • FROM: Michael Ward (01/30/03 3:14 PM GMT -06:00)
    Ducking the issue


    I'm not certain what this use of identification code does other than discriminate between those who have it and those who don't.

    Without such a code I wouldn't be on this conference but it was given to me without any form of validation that I was human — people simply accept my behaviour as reliably human. So by that criteria behaving like a human makes you human

    That is to say if something walks like a duck, talks like a duck and looks like a duck then it's probably a duck — or am I ducking the issue?

    Michael Ward

  • FROM: Hubertus Fremerey (01/30/03 3:28 PM GMT -06:00)
    on being Donald Duck


    of course — duck, duck, duck. And if I pretend to be a human, Rachel will take me to be one — till she knocks at my head and it sounds like a hollow pot. Thus is the problem of the Turing Test — the simple one and the extended one.


  • FROM: Rachel Browne (02/05/03 1:28 PM GMT -06:00)

    Hubertus, if you pretend to be human, which you can't, because I know you are, I might be able to detect it. Why not? If you can "pretend" you would be human. What other being "pretends"?

    And Michael, cloning seems great. I could have five or ten husbands all identical to the one I have. Increased pleasure, but increased annoyance too! But then that would all be too much, maybe. Perhaps we define human beings by the way we are rather than how we could be. If cloning comes in we might have a different conception of the self. R

  • FROM: Hubertus Fremerey (02/07/03 3:38 AM GMT -06:00)
    on avatars and cloned husbands


    things become galopping: Look up "avatar" on Google. Those are "artificial pretenders" - while not too bright ones until now. This "Eliza" of Jo Weizenbaum was one of them.

    And for the cloned husbands: In my former school a boy teenie had two babies on the same day from two girls that were identical twins and that deliberately used his inability to tell them apart. And since they were identical twins they loved him both of course. The whole school had its fun, but the parents may have been less amused after the first laughter.



FROM: Charles (01/28/03 2:54 PM GMT -06:00)
Definition of self.

I think that we still need to define what "self" is. The concerns about distinguishing robots from humans or about not needing a body to be human indicate our inadequate or lack of definition. Is human = self, or are humans just one subset in a larger set of self? Charley

    REPLIES (1):

  • FROM: Michael Ward (01/30/03 3:31 PM GMT -06:00)
    I think I am aware


    Can self exist before awareness? To become aware I would argue that it is necessary to have the ability to discriminate between 'this thinker' and 'other thinkers'. Simply seeing the forms on the wall in Platos cave example is not what I would consider being aware.

    Now which comes first I do not know, 'self aware' or 'aware of other self' as both seem to require the other preceding it.

    Michael Ward


FROM: Charles (01/28/03 3:50 PM GMT -06:00)
Self — re "Philosophy In The Flesh"

Rachel said: "Hubertus, when we think of subjectivity it doesn't seem to some people that we need bodies. It does to me and I agree with Searle that artificial intelligence can only be articifially created biologically. And as you know from Lakoff (this is not name dropping because I know you know this) research has it that concept formation is based in biology. So how could you talk to a sphere? Where talk is the thing we know. How would a sphere have concepts with which to communicate?"

I think that Lakoff's theory about the embodied mind is too limited for a comprehensive definition of self. He emphatically states: "We cannot, as some meditative traditions suggest, 'get beyond' our categories and have a purely uncategorized and unconceptualized experience. Neural beings cannot do that." (George Lakoff and Mark Johnson, "Philosophy in the Flesh: The Embdied Mind And Its Challenge To Western Thought," Basic Books, 1999).

Getting beyond Lakoff's 19th century Darwinist science, I refer not to the traditions, but a more developed neuroscience. James H. Austin, M.D. in his "Zen and the Brain" (MIT Press,1998) states: "In Zen, the brain resolves an existential impasse. In this context, one calls it 'enlightement' or 'awakening,' kensho or satori. It is also termed 'insight-wisdom' or 'seeing into one's true nature.' The two intuitive processes are similar in form if not in content and degree."

    REPLIES (24):

  • FROM: Hubertus Fremerey (01/28/03 7:32 PM GMT -06:00)
    on loyal robots and Lakoff

    Dear Rachel and Charles,

    your remarks are real stuff for the hungry lions in the arena.

    Charles, the androids in "Blade Runner" surely are seen as "not of our tribe" and thus to be distrusted and "removed", since they may be illoyal and do harm to humans. But this is not generally seen in this way, not even in Hollywood: The alien in "E.T.", the robot in "Short Circuit" and the android in "Bicentennnial Man" all are friendly and helpful to the humans, even while all three are clearly depicted as surpassing humans by far in their abilities. Thus from being superior does not follow being suppressive or evil. This is the "parental view of children": The parents may be clearly superior, but they are caring and trustworthy too. This is similar to the image of the American Indian in the Western movies: Some are "good", some are "ugly", but even the ugly often have been insulted and attacked before by ugly whites. And in movies like "Dances with Wolves" and "Black Robe" the Indians are shown to be as mixed up of good and bad ones as the whites are. So from taking the robots as "from another tribe" does not include that you have to fear or to hate or to distrust them — not even if they are superior. And not even in Hollywood.

    Concerning this Lakoff debate: While there may be simpler explanations for Lakoff not answering Charles, the question of whether you "need" a body to build up concepts is clearly open and not settled definitely at all. And there are several different sorts of "concepts". The concept of "horse" or "dog" may be simple to grasp even for robots. The concepts of "town" or "landscape" are not even easy for humans, not to talk of the really problematic ones as are "God", "soul", "freedom", "justice" etc.. And then there are those "theoretical" concepts like "class-struggle" or "Oedipus complex" or "original sin", that are meaningless outside of the context of some special "discourse" or "creed". But I do not think that the notions of "freedom" and "justice" and "original sin" are depending on having "a human body", while of course "bodily" love and sportive exercises like swimming and running and wrestling etc. are not to have without a human body. And of course if you are blind from birth the notions of "a grandiose view" of a landscape or seascape or a sunrise and sunset or of a face and an animal and a flower etc. are all meaningless. Thus the whole optical meaning of "beauty" is not affordable for the blind, while the spiritual may well be as in "the beauty of a mathematical or philosophical argument".

    And of course even "normal" humans lack many experiences: We do not know how the bees see the world in UV-light, and we do not know how the bats do hear in very high frequecies. And I always wondered what image of the world a dog may have from his permanent sniffing around on the ground. We now have devices to hear radio-waves and to see in the infrared and in the UV-light etc.. But this is not our "natural" experience. Thus we cannot generally say that bodily experience is needed for building concepts. We do not know.

    And we don't know exactly WHAT is experienced when we "experiance Gods grace" or "the evil" or "the good". This was my question some weeks ago about how to know the difference of "a God as creator", a real force like the force of gravitation, and "a God from the happiness pill", i.e. being only a state of our consciousness. I at least know of no convincing test to clearly tell these two possibilities apart. And in this sense I once wrote that to get at some inner state of awareness as in 'enlightenment' or 'awakening' or 'kensho' or 'satori' or getting at 'insight-wisdom' or 'seeing into one's true nature' does NOT include to get at some objective knowledge like that of Newton or Maxwell or Einstein concerning the laws of nature. "Subjective" knowledge and "objective" knowledge are NOT the same. You cannot know about natures ways by doing exercises, you have to study nature. But this could be done by a robot too, if he only would design some hypotheses and try to test them by experiment. But this moment even this task may be too much for any existing robot.

    What about a robot arriving at "satori"? This concept is similar to Platos' "charioteer" governing the passions. This may be achievable by a robot much more easy than by a human, since perhaps he simply "needs" no emotions to be controlled. But this is strange and scaring to us humans: We call somebody who never shows or has emotions "a robot", a person "without a heart". But I am too tired now to go into the difference between a person "having no heart" and a person that has achieved "true Buddha-nature". Maybe it's similar as the difference between being "a true holy sage" and one being only "correct and well behaved". But that I leave for another debate.


  • FROM: Charles (01/29/03 12:39 AM GMT -06:00)

    I agree Hubertus, there are probably better explanations for why Lakoff didn't respond to my inquiry.

  • FROM: Rachel Browne (01/29/03 5:49 AM GMT -06:00)

    Charles, enlightenment, awakening, meditative experiences are several senses of a type of experience and I don't see why Lakoff need deny this.

    Hubertus, if we couldn't tell a robot from a human, then we would treat it as such but I still maintain that if I was communicating with someone who then was exposed somehow as a robot (whereby I mean not conscious) I would still think that there had been no exchange.

    I think a robot as it is understood at the moment is something with no internal life. But if something with an internal life (though how we would know this, I don't know) was created we would treat it as a human being. If we regarded the robots as less intelligent than us, we might treat them like pets! Though if they were useful we might treat them like slaves if we didn't regard them as having "human dignity" until such a time as the Free the Robots Campaign starts. But consciousness seems to be the essential thing. R

  • FROM: Hubertus Fremerey (01/29/03 7:40 PM GMT -06:00)
    some SF-movies

    Dear Rachel and all others,

    this is a minor selection of SF-movies to get a feeling of what "robots" may be in the context of our debate. Since "Terminator" is not on identity, I did not include it. By the same argument I left out many many others that have nothing to do with our "human personality" topic. Have fun!


    These are the nice guys ... ("Short Circuit", 1986) ("Bicentennial Man", 1999) ("E.T.", 1982)

    .. and these the more complicated ones: ("Blade Runner", 1982) ("The Hunger", 1983) ("Robocop I", 1987) ("Robocop II", 1990)

  • FROM: Hubertus Fremerey (01/30/03 5:34 PM GMT -06:00)
    on the "Free the Robots Campaign"


    up to now you are completely justified to look down at the poor robots as to at most pets or slaves. But things may change, and they will be not too different from us some time - like all those "heathen" were not, that got underwear from well meaning Victorian missionaries.

    Ah, one last remark on those spheres! Remember that in the SF-noveletta I took this idea from those spheres were members of a religious order? Why don't catholics like the idea to have the Pope peruse porno-mags or see porno-films? Because a person of "moral exceptionality" does not do such a thing. But why not? What is wrong with it? Why is it not plainly "un-ethical"? Because all things bodily are "animalic", and while it is not "un-ethical", humans should guard their soul and be given to things eternal and above the flesh. Thus these "spheres" need no body and cannot have "sexual passions", while they can be members of a "spiritual order" and sing holy hymns. Tell this to Mr.Lakoff! I think Plato would not have objected to those spheres: They were full of Platonic love, not of the ugly animalic sort.

    For a very good book on all this "mutual understanding" have a look into Brian Fay: "Contemporary Philosophy of Social Science", which is NOT on society, but on topics like "Do you have to be one to know one?" or "Do we need others to be ourselves?" etc.. Very philosophical but very clear thinking and writing. (ISBN 1-55786-538-8).


  • FROM: Rachel Browne (01/31/03 1:40 PM GMT -06:00)

    Well, Hubertus, just because the Pope doesn't think porn is good that doesn't mean porn is anti-ethical, just that it is not supported by religious dogma. Personally I think porn is OK, if not a good thing, and what is so dismal about these spheres is that kind of thing would lack a function. Have you thought about becoming a Catholic at all? Can you be religious in a sphere?

    Charles, I kind of the unconscious — and I a great fan of the unconscious — is not part of the self as we know it — and as we know it is of course conscious. When you think of the return of the repressed, it is like invasion by horrible and alien. Freud connects the self to the world, but I read recently a criticism of Jung as makig the self more metaphysical.

    By the way, you can have my dog Charles. I'm beginning to think he is a bitch. But though I like philosophy, I do think neurologists know best about the brain and philosophy can be an escapism. I'm not sure that is bad. It depends on the practical alternatives. And there has been so much recearch into Parkinson's.

    Am putting dog on airplane to Spokane. Big chap with large ears. Will look hungry. And will be crying. R

  • FROM: Hubertus Fremerey (02/01/03 2:16 AM GMT -06:00)
    poor dogs and robots

    Honestly Rachel,

    it was not on my mind what the pope is delighting in. As a philosopher I am still interested in the question: WHAT DO WE DEFEND AS ESSENTIALLY HUMAN? This was the core of all this "spheres"- and SF-thing. I clearly stated that you of course may defend things "as they are". I am not personally engaged in replacing humans by "spiritual spheres singing hymns". I only wanted to get us all aware of the fact, that we still do no know what makes THE ESSENCE of a human being. In my opinion — but you may oppose that — there is no good argument in philosophy or theology to defend the human body as "essential" for the definition of man. Do you know of any important philosophical argument that would deny me the state of a human being with human dignity if I had my brain transplanted into a floating sphere? That was my question.

    The meaning of this "porno-rubbish" only should make us all aware of another aspect of this difference between what is "essential" or "ethical" and what is only "cultural" and "usual". The pope thinks it "impossible" to have women for priest or even bishops or cardinals, why he officially never would deny the women equal status with men. But most cultures and most religion simply think women are "too sensuous and too emotional" to be priests. You may call this rubbish, but for catholic and orthodox christendom and for all islamic religion (and all buddhist too?) women as priests are simply "impossible". This is only one aspect of the question: WHAT IS ESSENTIALLY HUMAN?

    Once more: You surely may defend the world that you are used to. Most people do. But as a philosopher I have the right to ask: Why should thing be as they have always been? Why not change them? The feminists don't bow to the notion that women can be no priests. They think this to be a male prejudice and nothing else. They may be right. But I cannot imagine any religion now — neither the pope nor the Dalai Lama nor any islamic ajatollah etc. — delighting (officially that is) in pornos. And I ask: What is it in our image of man that prohibits such a thing. I am not interested in these porno-thing per se, but it is a sort of acid-test on how we define "a true human". If all religions consent on the point that the holy sage never is interested in things sexual, then this is much more than a mere question of upbringing and prejudice, there must be a very deep conviction of what the true nature of a saint is. And if a saint is the highest form of being a human (is it? please check y/n!) then it is a really important question why "to be a human of the highest level is incompatible with sexual interest". Don't you see that this is a very deep philosophical question concerning the true nature of our idea of man? And of course a holy woman — like f.i. Teresa of Avila — should not have sexual interest either by the same argument.

    Once more: What I want to understand is our concept of a human being, of WHAT IS ESSENTIAL FOR BEING A HUMAN — AND WHY? This is definitely NOT on prejudices and traditions and gustos. But it may be — I don't know — on a "structuralist" concept of man. If this is the case, I would like to know. What is it then in the deep structure of our concept of man that makes the holy and the sexual incompatible. The ethnologist Mary Douglas may have found out something on this in her book "Purity And Danger", but I did not read this and so don't know.


  • FROM: Rachel Browne (02/01/03 4:50 AM GMT -06:00)


    I don't know what the essence of a human being is. I suppose porn is degrading, lacking in the human dignity and saintliness that you find the highest form of being. But I don't think women are too sensuous and emotional to be priests. They are not good enough, too physical, too animal, they give birth. But woman are human too.

    The main argument against being a brain in a floating sphere is that you can't learn a language and so couldn't think. But then, maybe, thinking isn't that good, not spiritual enough. Katharine has been thinking about this and finds that it doesn't necessarily make people better. R

  • FROM: Michael Ward (02/01/03 1:40 PM GMT -06:00)
    Sex, emotions and feminists


    Sex, emotions, feminists, chauvinists and pornography. Do I see a pattern here in the last few replies that seems to be concurring that philosophy is of a higher (and later) order of human activity. Maybe once you become 'hooked' on philosophy and transcend this primeval emotional barrier there is no going back.

    In a way it's the brainies versus hearties argument but not that they are equal or even complimentary just that hearties is an evolutionary step before brainies. Now I fully expect an assault that emotions are what makes us what we are but let us consider that we are evolving and will continue to do so.

    Responses by hearties will be subjective, passionate maybe but not rational — I anticipate.

    Michael Ward

  • FROM: Hubertus Fremerey (02/01/03 3:30 PM GMT -06:00)
    spheres and their language


    why should't robots — flying or not, including floating spheres — learn language? I think they are well underway now in the robot-labs. As I posted in an answer to Charles, robots are good in pattern-recognition already. So they can recognice a cow or a horse or some other objects an name them, giving them some label for exchange. But maybe this labe is not a spoken word but a mere number. For the robot this makes no difference. You need no sound to exchange by language — as I don't need when writing you this.


  • FROM: Hubertus Fremerey (02/01/03 4:04 PM GMT -06:00)
    brainies and hearties again


    I think there have been some saints around — male and female — rapt by spiritual experiences. Read Teresa of Avila and St.John of the Cross. Why not have holy spheres floating around rapt by spiritual experiences and singing hymns passionately like Ray Charles and his gospel choirs? You really should expand your imagination like a spiritual expander!


  • FROM: Michael Ward (02/03/03 1:13 PM GMT -06:00)


    Not too sure how serious you are about expanding my imagination. There are a multiplicity of thinks I can imagine and should I take mind altering drugs then no doubt my imaginings would soar.

    But imagining that I have won the lottery makes it no more likely than any one else, probably even less as I haven't bought any tickets. That's a bit like the spiritual experiences — I haven't bought that idea either.

    Michael Ward

  • FROM: Hubertus Fremerey (02/03/03 6:59 PM GMT -06:00)
    on spiritual expansion


    since I am no missionary I don't stare gloomily if you are not convinced. It was only matter of fact that to build cathedrals or to swing like Ray Charles and Mahalia Jackson and their gospel choirs you have to have some spiritual experience. Plato and St.Augustine guided European thinking for 2.500 resp. 1.500 years by the idea, that there are eternal ideals and a personal God behind all the things we see with our eyes. Most of what we value in European culture even today would evaporate if we could remove all things spiritual out of European History. And I really would feel deprived myself. I am thankful in hindsight to have been guided to at least some of those mysteries of religion and myth and fairies etc., since otherwise I would not understand most of history. And I insist on the holy and the evil being very, very different from things ethical and only concerning "good" or "bad" behaviour. But I will not quarrel with you over this. It's only matter of fact and you surely need not change your mind on this.


  • FROM: Michael Ward (02/04/03 12:30 PM GMT -06:00)
    Moving on


    I see this spiritual belief as a diversion or more likely a route that goes nowhere. It has without doubt inspired many great works of art, music and construction and quite possibly, as you described earlier, that it paved the way to western science.

    But can we cannot say that the scientific method would not have eventually evolved by some other route.

    It just seems to me that eventually all this 'spiritualism' will be re-written in the light of new knowledge and most disappointingly that people, whilst claiming to be open to new ides, still cling to the comfortable ideas of the past.

    Michael Ward

  • FROM: Hubertus Fremerey (02/07/03 3:49 AM GMT -06:00)
    on clinging to religion


    there is no "past" here. People will always "experience" spiritual and religious things, as do Jean and Charles, who both don't feel outdated by this. In the experience of any true believer God is not a past idea he or she clings to, but a reality here and now, and very much alive and kicking. The difference is not between past and present but between seeing and not seeing, feeling and not feeling, being aware and being not aware. Of course you may say "they are seeing and feeling not God but mere spirits or fancies" - but how will you prove that? And surely they — Jean and Charles and the others — would not care.


  • FROM: Michael Ward (02/10/03 12:07 PM GMT -06:00)
    Babel Fish


    Whether you speak for Jean and Charles as well as yourself I cannot say — but you have made a statement that for me conflicts totally contrary to any kind of philosophical enquiry.

    ' They (speaking of proving spiritual existence) would not care'

    I find it quite incoherent that that one can both accept spiritualism as true (but unproven) and yet be truly philosophical. If on the other hand it's an emotional conclusion then it's entirely subjective, shared by many maybe, but still subjective.

    Michael Ward

    Just to lighten things up a bit: It's in reference to the Babel fish:-

    Quote "Now it is such a bizarrely improbable coincidence that anything so mindboggingly useful could have evolved purely by chance that some thinkers have chosen to see it as the final and clinching proof of the non-existence of God. The argument goes something like this: `I refuse to prove that I exist,' says God, `for proof denies faith, and without faith I am nothing.' `But,' says Man, `The Babel fish is a dead giveaway, isn't it? It could not have evolved by chance. It proves you exist, and so therefore, by your own arguments, you don't. QED.'

    `Oh dear,' says God, `I hadn't thought of that,' and promptly vanished in a puff of logic." end Quote.

    ref: Douglas Admans, Hitchikers Guide to the Galaxy

  • FROM: Hubertus Fremerey (02/11/03 7:17 PM GMT -06:00)
    the Babel-fish and "credo quia absurdum"


    this "don't care" is NOT unphilosophical — at least not necessarily so. If you have seen the unicorn with you own eyes, then you don't care how somebody tries to talk you out of this. There are convictions and experiences that cannot be disproved. But this you could call "psychology".

    For the true philosopher there is a similar argument left: In the Middle Ages one important argument was "credo quia absurdum". The idea was: The idea, that God should die out of love for his own creature is that absurd that it cannot have been invented by a human mind, so it must be true. If you know only cows and horses and poultry, would you think reports on giraffes and kangaroos and elephants credible? By what standard?

    The oldest christians have been called witnesses. How do you know that a "witness" is lying? People claimed miracles — like that of Saulus becoming Paulus and more of that sort. How would you disprive that? Thus is was perfectly acceptable philosophically to take the Bible and the Gospel as a report and build a philosphy on it "matter of fact". You may see this today in a Popperian mood of skepsis, but you cannot deny that those medieval philosophers did something sensible and defendable. How do you know today that America exists and the the atomic-theory and the genetic theory are correct? You have to trust those people that say so and you have to find their arguments convincing. This is exactly what all true believers do. It's very hard to draw the line whereby "true science" is separated from "superstition". The argument of "falsifiability" does not apply to singular events like "God coming into this world". Some claims are neither provable nor disprovable. There is even a funny "Journal of Irreproducible Results" - look it up with Google to lighten up a bit.


  • FROM: Hubertus Fremerey (02/11/03 7:36 PM GMT -06:00)
    on trustworthiness, an addendum

    A minor addendum on history (Feb. 12th, 2003):

    "The history of scientific satire, for all its good humor, opened on a savage note. In 1837, three men of science published papers asserting that squashed grapes can turn into wine only with the help of a living organism, which one of them, Theodor Schwann, called Zuckerpilz ("sugar fungus," or yeast). So silly did this seem to Justus von Liebig and Friedrich Wohler, two of Germany's greatest chemists and firm believers in the theory that fermentation is a strictly chemical process, that they used their journal, the annalen der Pharmacie, to attack the notion that wine is a waste product. In a facetious article written in a ribald style, the scientists depicted a Zuckerpilz as a somewhat unconventional creature, with a champagne bottle for a bladder. Out of its mouth spewed carbon dioxide, and out of its anus, alcohol. What is most striking about this controversy, in retrospect, is not that such eminent scientists as von Liebig and Wohler were so thoroughly wrong but that so vicious an attack appeared in the open in a serious journal. Today, scientific satire flourishes underground. To find it, one must peruse laboratory bulletin boards or eavesdrop on scientists in conversation in the lunchroom. Or, instead, one could subscribe to the Journal of Irreproducible Results." — The Sciences


    which is from

    likewise from this (

    The Story of Creation for the MTV Generation (Duration of needed attention span — 30 seconds)

    Joel Kirschbaum Hillsborough, NJ

    In the beginning, the creator first made a television set and, with a click of the on-off switch, separated the light from the dark.

    On the TV set the creator showed pictures of suns, planets and galaxies but they drew a zero rating because there was no audience. So the creator started life from the dust and water of the planet Earth. Knowing that simple is better than complex, and thus good, the creator watched from above the evolution of the plants and animals and the creatures of the seas. On seeing the ponderous dinosaurs eventually produce tiny birds, and even the duck-billed platypus, the creator laughed pleasantly and thought, 'Sometimes I surprise even myself'.

    The creator had an audience of but one person, Adam. And, after seeing that the solitary man had no one to talk to during the programming except the screen, contrived him a companion, Eve. The first couple briefly examined the world and then concentrated on who should have the remote control, because the creator, while making all creatures two by two, had made only one TV set and controller.

    One day, the serpent rolled an apple over the TV schedule, causing the R and X-rated programming to appear. Thus did Adam and Eve learn about sin. //

  • FROM: Michael Ward (02/12/03 11:12 AM GMT -06:00)
    argumentum ex silentio


    In your "credo quia absurdum" reply there is much I challenge, not that these are necessarily your own arguments but they fail to make sense for the following reasons:-

    APPEAL TO IGNORANCE (argumentum ex silentio) appealing to ignorance as evidence for something. (e.g., We have no evidence that God doesn't exist, therefore, he must exist. Or: Because we have no knowledge of Unicorns, that means they do not exist). Ignorance about something says nothing about its existence or non-existence.

    APPEAL TO FAITH: (e.g., if you have no faith, you cannot learn) if the arguer relies on faith as the bases of his argument, then you can gain little from further discussion. Faith, by definition, relies on a belief that does not rest on logic or evidence. Faith depends on irrational thought and produces intransigence.

    PROVING NON-EXISTENCE: when an arguer cannot provide the evidence for his claims, he may challenge his opponent to prove it doesn't exist (e.g., prove God doesn't exist; prove UFO's haven't visited earth, etc.). Although one may prove non-existence in special limitations, such as showing that a box does not contain certain items, one cannot prove universal or absolute non-existence, or non-existence out of ignorance. One cannot prove something that does not exist. THE PROOF OF EXISTENCE MUST COME FROM THOSE WHO MAKE THE CLAIMS.

    'but you cannot deny that those medieval philosophers did something sensible and defendable' — doing the right thing for irrational reasons carries no value, you may as well throw dice.

    Michael Ward

  • FROM: Hubertus Fremerey (02/12/03 6:47 PM GMT -06:00)
    on proving and disproving


    sorry, you got the argument wrong. We all live all day on unproven assumptions. How do you know that the chair you will sit down on is more than a mere fancy? You "know" that by inference, because up to now the chair has not disappointed your expectations. If he would do this of a sudden, you would be very upset.

    Remember what I said on "trustworthy witnesses". If somebody whom you found trustworthy comes back from the Marx and tells you he has seen those little green men there, how will you have him wrong? Of course he may pull your leg and will not keep up his claim for long. But if the other day the news shout "astronauts say they saw little green men on Mars" then you will accept it, since you have not been out there.

    Personally I am no true Christian believer, but I find the idea to take the Gospel for a true report of things that happened not at all stupid. We still live on several myths today — and we cannot do without. As I said before: The whole of modern science has become possible only by Christian faith. Without that neither Kepler nor Newton would have laid the foundations to that. There is no NATURAL tendency in humans to study nature in the right way. The alternative to Christian faith has not been science but superstition. It's like Columbus crossing the Atlantic BY FALSE ASSUMPTIONS. If he had known the REAL distance to India in the west from Spain, he never would have started.

    Of course false assumptions can be bad and often are, but they can be good too — as in the case of Columbus and (maybe) in the case of Kepler and Newton too.

    But I think this whole thing is not that important. You may have been depressing experiences of people clinging to some superstition of religious preconceptions on moral standards etc.. But then I think the wiser approach is to neil people on their own truth: Instead of trying to talk them out of their faith in Jesus or in Allah try to ask them if they think that Allah or Jesus would have approved their ugly deeds and thoughts. If they then blush and start thinking a bit this will be progress.


  • FROM: Michael Ward (02/13/03 2:18 AM GMT -06:00)
    My world


    I agree with what you say which is 'We all live all day on unproven assumptions.' So how is it coherently possible to then say 'but I find the idea to take the Gospel for a true report of things that happened not at all stupid'

    The chair upon which I think I sit on is definitely part of my world — I cannot know it is part of yours.

    I simply point out inconsistencies in your deductions.

    Michael Ward

  • FROM: Hubertus Fremerey (02/13/03 12:25 PM GMT -06:00)
    on consistency and truth


    when you were a little child, you took much of what you were told of witches and sorcerers ans all sorts of "unicorns" for granted. The elders said so — and the elders always (or most times) were right.

    When you grew older, you got some second thoughts and doubts. Even the elders were erring and lying sometimes — and you were too.

    On this background there even may be some progress: Today we don't burn witches, we not even slay too many "heathens" and even to held the Jews or the capitalists responsible for all evils is not that convincing anymore, and there may be a time, when not even Bin Laden and Saddam Hussein and Arafat and Scharon and GWBush and Kim Jong-il are remembered as the Great Villains. And in this sense people try to make progress and get a bit enlightened.

    But I tend to be relaxed on this and let them their faith if it is not misused. If somebody like pere Damien or Mother Teresa or Schweitzer helps the lepers and gets the strength to do so by his faith, why should I oppose to that? Only if he/she starts to chase and kill or burn people because they have "not the right god", then I will oppose. Thus I tend to concentrate on the important things. To talk everybody out of his faith is not an important thing.

    You mentioned "consistency". There is a "consistency theory of truth". To know that the film you see in the cinema is not just reality you refer to the frame of reference: There is a screen, there are other people watching the film, you go out again to the streets etc., thus the lions and aliens and killers in the film must have been "virtual" by this frame of reference. But for many people there is no such frame of reference to call God a mere virtuality. There is an old saying that to see God in the light of reason is nonsense, since God himself is the light, an you cannot see the sun in the light of the sun, but all other things you see only by the light of the sun. You may find this argument outrageous, but it is not different from seeing the world in the light of Freud or Marx or Darwin or Einstein. To "see" something is a very complicated process and not at all "natural". And this fact alone I wanted to remind.


  • FROM: Michael Ward (02/14/03 11:33 AM GMT -06:00)
    Childlike wonder


    Bin Laden and Saddam Hussein and Arafat and Scharon and Bush and Kim Jong-il were all once small children and like all small children would no doubt have had enquiring minds. These minds were then constrained, limited and eventually all but closed down by all the social, political and religious dogmas given to them by their societies and pier groups.

    This isn't an argument for not teaching but it is an argument for putting all matters into the fullest impartial context that we can. These days I have less enthusiasm to evangelise 'science' to 'believers' as many minds are forever closed. So I ask myself where can a difference be made and the answer I find is wherever people are prepared freely to enter into dialogue and not just rhetoric.

    Even though many people I know have doubts in varying degrees about their 'religion' they still commit their children to the instruction of the various faiths which conflicts with what the children actually experience in their everyday lives.

    Your last analogy of 'God being the light' is like asking a loaded question. Of course I've stopped beating my wife, who wouldn't! A more accurate analogy is where we all possess a light in which to see the world — the light of consciousness.

    Michael Ward

  • FROM: Hubertus Fremerey (02/14/03 6:59 PM GMT -06:00)
    on open and closed minds


    the problem is that we sometimes need some very hard lessons to get at an open mind. The idea of tolerance and open-mindedness was not alien to antiquity, but it needed centries of the most atrocious confessional wars in Europe with a climax in 1550-1650 to get the authority of the churches broken by the modern supra-confessional state. Then the Age of Enlightenment started against much opposition. And it needed once more to World Wars to finally break this opposition of the remnants of the old order and bring the modern western democracy and "consumer society". And this whole transition has still to be gone through more ore less today by three quarters of mankind. Even if its shortened a bit by Western models, there will be many problems left. By modernization and liberalization and globalization many people are scared and hurt and then get rebellious — for or against.

    And you are right: Most benevolent and not so benevolent dictators have been very well read and well informed but got a spoilt character like Hitler or Stalin. On this you should read anything of Arno Gruen and Erich Fromms "Fear of Freedom".

    And there is vanity: The Great Helmsmen like to be admired for their self-assuredness and their simplifications and they get rapt by this feeling of being demi-gods and offering simple solutions. Since they fit with the expectations of their admirers and supporters, they are hard to get rid of. It's a sort of unio mystica of a people and its leader like in the cases of Hitler and Stalin. There are no simple solutions. You and me we both simply had the good fortune of being born into already liberated nations. But I am not without hope for the rest of humankind.

    And to be open-minded and kind and sensible is NOT dependent on whether you are a true believer or a modern sceptic. There are as many closed minds among the sceptics as among the true believers. That at least is my experience.



FROM: Charles (01/30/03 11:27 PM GMT -06:00)
Definition of self: consciousness and unconscious

This is a repeat of part of my previous message that I lost somewhere in this conference.

Rachel mentioned the relationship of consciousness to self. I would agree that consciousness is required in the definition of self.

But how about the unconscious? If the unconscious is included in self, that also raises doubts about including AI robots or systems as a subset of self. With an electronic circuit that is either off or on, is there a place for unconscious?


FROM: Charles (01/31/03 11:51 AM GMT -06:00)
Self: Consciousness & unconscious

Hubertus said:"Charles,

even unconscious memories in Freudian (and similar) theory must be memories, otherwise they could not be effective and not be brought out to the conscious. They are "there", while only "suppressed" into the "dungeons of the soul".

At least "in principle" the energy supply could be a battery like in a laptop- or notebook-computer.

Of course: Even two identical twins ("natural clones") are different from their memories and individual fates. This applies to clones generally as long as the memories are not permanently cloned too as in a mirror-disk safety-system.



I think that Jung's view of the unconscious is more correct than Freud's. I think that proponents of Strong AI have got a lot of work to do on some concepts that challenge the mind just being neural circuits that have reached a certain level of complexity. Some of the concepts that challenge Strong AI are those of archetypes, symbolism, and myths. I also understand that while AI can handle chess, the game "go" is another matter.

I think that Hubertus missed my point on the energy question re strong AI. I think that there needs to be a new engineering paradigm. The engineering science paradigm of Maxwell and Faraday and Lavoisier is not going to work when dealing with the problems of energy and advanced neuro circuits. The old engineering paradigm does not even know how to recognize or measure the energy involved. There may be some clues in the Eastern medical arts involving chi or ki though. Charley

    REPLIES (1):

  • FROM: Hubertus Fremerey (02/01/03 2:59 AM GMT -06:00)
    on archetypes and energies


    this time perhaps I don't understand your arguments. You wrote:

    / I think that Jung's view of the unconscious is more correct than Freud's. I think that proponents of Strong AI have got a lot of work to do on some concepts that challenge the mind just being neural circuits that have reached a certain level of complexity. Some of the concepts that challenge Strong AI are those of archetypes, symbolism, and myths. I also understand that while AI can handle chess, the game "go" is another matter. /

    I am not acquainted with "Go". I think what you have in mind is that "go" is more "intuitive" and without those clearly defined "draws" of chess? And in a similar way the Archetypes are "forms" and not only "reflexes" or "reactions" to "stimuli"? But if this is your point, then your idea of modern computers may be outdated: Robots today do really see "images" and not only "points" or "coordinates". Those soccer playing robots really see the ball and the goal and the other "players" and don't simply work according to preprogrammed routines. Thus to use images instead of mere "procedures" is possible for moden robots. And those Jungian "archetypes" may not be useful anymore. Humans are "pre-programmed" by millions of years of natural evolution and selection. But that need not bother any robot when replacing humans. Compare the airplane. In the beginning 100 years back some constructions tried to imitate even the wings of the birds. But today - and since 90 years — the planes are completely irgnorant of animal ways of flying. No flying animal looks nearly like the airplane of the Red Baron. Why then should any AI-robot care what the human thinking is like? No flying animal is nearly as capable as a Jumbo-Jet or a C5-Galaxy or a "Blackbird" or a modern copter. Likewise there may be some day "intelligent" robots that are much more able than any human intelligence — just by working in a totally different way.

    Concerning the second point: / I think that Hubertus missed my point on the energy question re strong AI. I think that there needs to be a new engineering paradigm. The engineering science paradigm of Maxwell and Faraday and Lavoisier is not going to work when dealing with the problems of energy and advanced neuro circuits. The old engineering paradigm does not even know how to recognize or measure the energy involved. There may be some clues in the Eastern medical arts involving chi or ki though./

    I don't understand your argument. Intermolecular energy working in the neuronal cells is not exactly what we no from steam-engines and electrical or combustion motors, but it's energy too and no problem for the physicist to handle and to calculate, only a bit strange and requiring another sort of mathematics. Much of artificial "pattern recognition" today is done with "neuronal networks" which require special sorts of mathematics and electronics, but are effective — while still not nearly as a human brain. I will look for a good link under Google to this.

    I am not sure if I understood your objections, thus I don't know if I have refuted or at least cleared them a bit.



FROM: Charles (01/31/03 12:18 PM GMT -06:00)
A practical use and value of philosophy.

Some might argue that philosophy has no practical use. I may have a personal experience that counters that.

I will confess that 10 years ago (before I was diagnosed with Parkinson's Disease), except for some political economics, I would have said that philosophy is generally a waste of time. Then I was probably a good example of the American tendency to overvalue immediate practicality.

A benefit of Parkinson's Disease for me was that if forced me to slow down and deal with some questions that I had jumped over, especially philosophy of mind.

My neurologist has suggested that I consider the possibility of DBS (deep brain stimulation) therapy for PD. I went to a seminar where another neurologist (a leading advocate of DBS) was making a presentation to PD patients. When he was asked "how did DBS work," he gave an honest answer that science really did not know.

Because of my readings and thinking about philosophy of mind, I have some major doubts about even applying low electrical currents directly to the brain (as is done in DBS). What if the brain is not just a complex neuro circuit?

I am going another direction. A local dog trainer is helping me search for a dog that would be a good candidate for being trained to be my mobility assistance dog.

I think there is a question for ethics here to. How many PD patients in the Third World can afford DBS? A mobility assistance dog might be the appropriate solution for them also. Charles

    REPLIES (9):

  • FROM: Hubertus Fremerey (02/01/03 3:27 AM GMT -06:00)
    on Deep Brain Stimulation


    the following is not directly on DBS or PD, but was stimulated by your remarks: Call philosophy a "DBS of the world brain of humanity". Philosophy makes us aware of facts and problems of the world and of our being in the world that don't meet the physical eye, but could and should meet the minds-eye. This is the general idea.

    There is a more special modern extension to this. Today we are aware of global climate-change and global financial transfers and global developments as seen from statistics and indicators etc.. But all this has become possible only by the use of computers. Humans simply are unable to handle those vast amounts of data needed for global simulation or for simulation of future trends. We no longer live in those good old days where 2experience of the chiefs" was sufficient to solve most problems. This requires a world that is nearly constant and where experience pays. In a rapidly changing world experience is nearly without worth, it even may be a hindrance. Then simulation models have to replace experience — or at least to complement it. Today all global players in politics and economics and the military use "trend-analysis" and "path-analysis" and "scenario-simulation" with variations of "worst case", "best case" and "most probable case" etc.. And this makes the computers humming. Thus even today the computers in special application surpass human "intelligence" by far! And the word itself is applicable here: Intelligence means insight. And today we need computers like mikroscopes and telescopes to get insights into vast heaps of data that would remain meaningless without those computers transforming the numbers into meaningful pictures.


  • FROM: Katharine Hunt (02/01/03 3:36 AM GMT -06:00)
    more possible uses for philosophy

    When I asked, in that deliberately vague way, "can philosophy save the world?", in the responses posted there seemed to be some agreement that philosophy can help to improve the world / society; Michael suggested that it is "a means to help order and understand the world", and Charles wrote that it involves "using logic to understand the human condition".

    This sounded right to me — but when I tried to think of an example of a way in which philosophy had helped me to understand the world, or the human condition, I couldn't think of anything! I supposed that 'thinking about things' has helped me to avoid just doing the conventional thing and 'following the crowd' in some circumstances, but I wasn't sure whether this could really be called philosophy.

    This posting, Charles, is therefore of great interest to me, for here you give a specific example of how philosophy has helped you. I would like to ask — Can anyone else give an example?

    As for practical uses for philosophy: on holiday a couple of years ago, I wrote down my hopes for what so-called 'practical philosophy' (philosophy with children, adult philosophy groups and so on) might reasonably hope to achieve. The theme was clearly one of communication...

    I hoped...

    for people to be kinder to each other when one person expresses a view that the other doesn't hold. This is something like saying that people should be more tolerant; but I would want to retain the view that some opinions are still better than others. So perhaps, I hope that people would become more sympathetic to other people's points of view; or to other people, even if they don't like their points of view.

    for people to have thought about, and be able to give reasons why, they think or believe something.

    for people to be capable of expressing their views more clearly, both in speech and in writing. It's all very well listening to people, but if they can't articulate their ideas very well, the understanding between us will not advance very far!

    to help people find congenial friends — because if people said what they thought, you would know whether you agreed with them. Also to form deeper friendships with more people, because if you could trust others not to laugh at your attempts to express your thoughts and feelings, you could reveal even your most secret thoughts.

    for people to be prepared to talk about things even when they know they will disagree - for discussion of that disagreement to still be possible (eg. in politics, or between opposing groups of all kinds).

  • FROM: henk tuten (02/01/03 7:10 AM GMT -06:00)

    Hi Charles

    As far as I know Parkinson makes many actions very difficult. But I notice, you manage to think and use a pc to express your thoughts. Be aware how valuable this is. I myself am severely paralyzed, but notice that I'm not restricted as a philosopher. In fact my state is an advantage, because I can spend a lot of time on thinking.

    Be careful with this ability of thinking. If you lose that then you'll appreciate i's value.

    Dogs can be great fun, I myself have a female cat as friend, who nevers asks stupid questions

  • FROM: Hubertus Fremerey (02/01/03 3:41 PM GMT -06:00)
    a not so stupid question from a tomcat


    the idea of Rachel and Charles after reading Lakoff ("Women, Fire, and Dangerous Things") seems to be, that to think you need a language, and to have a language you need a body, and while you and Charles and me are a bit defective now (I have bad ears) we all have grown up in a sensually rich environment with body and language as usual. The not so stupid question is, whether this theory of Lakoff is justified. What about Helen Keller?

    If you are interested then browse the web and get us others informed by some links on what is the general opinion on this: What is the state of the art in "mere robots" learning language without a "body".


  • FROM: Michael Ward (02/03/03 2:10 PM GMT -06:00)
    Nora and Tom


    You asked for practical examples of philosophy helping people. There is a growing group of 'philosophical councillors) who help sort out peoples life problems.

    There is good read called 'Plato not Prozac' and I have put an extract from it in the documents section of this conference — it's called Nora and Tom.

    This is an area where I am very interested.

    Michael Ward

  • FROM: Rachel Browne (02/04/03 1:33 PM GMT -06:00)

    Hubertus, the language thing is that learning needs another and something with which to interact so that you can use language correctly. So a robot might possess a language, but not a disembodied sphere. Don't know any links, but do believe this is the current state of thought on the matter. R

  • FROM: Hubertus Fremerey (02/07/03 4:04 AM GMT -06:00)
    on talking heads in spheres


    if robots understand language — which they do not very good now — then floating spheres will too, since those are only robots in a special cover.

    And if my brain — or yours — could be put into the sphere, the brain would still be know how to use language and to read and learn and enter messages to this conference, since the sphere is only a replacement for the lost body. This at least was the idea. But until now it is not realizable because of all those technical problems of having a replacement for the blood circulation and immune-system necessary to held the brain alive. But a technical problem is not a principal problem.

    And to know what bodily experience is really needed you should ask for somebody who is paralized from neck down from the very first year of his life. There may be some such people around. Then ask what are the linguistic abilities of these people that never had bodily experiences of the usual sort. I know of a woman that got into this condition by car accident when she was a girl of 11. She is a completely normal personality of your age now, but of course with 11 she was no baby and knew how to speak. Thus ask a doctor and tell us the answer.


  • FROM: Rachel Browne (02/07/03 10:07 AM GMT -06:00)

    Huburtus, the technical problems are grave.

    Learning a language requires useage and correction which includes physical interaction with others (eg pointing), behaviour (body) and sense organs to perceive. So of course someone who has learnt a language like your 11 year old can speak language because it is already learnt.

    But how long will the world of disembodied spheres last without someone doing the implanting of brains? The implanters might just stop doing it. It wouldn't be a freely working world. And the brains will have to learn language in the real physically embodied world so it could not really exist as an independent realm. R

  • FROM: Hubertus Fremerey (02/08/03 8:22 PM GMT -06:00)
    the end of the flying spheres


    I think I will leave it thus for the moment. Besides the question who will build thoese spheres, I simply do not know this time — and nobody else does — what is really needed to learn a language. Of course for concept formation — if it not only formal concepts — you need some experience. You have to see some horses hopping around to get the concept of a horse. But the you generalize: To imagine a unicorn you need not see a unicorn, you simply fancy it in your mind. Little children must see any sort of animal to imagine all the rest. But of course their imagination will be more vivid if they are out to the zoo or to the farm to see in reality what they only knew from books. But while they never will see dragons or unicorns those may be the most impressive animals on their minds. And while they never have seen God or his angels, those too may be the most impressive persons on their minds. Thus once more: What is "reality"? we simply do not know what robots some day will take reality to be. But we know that they are able to play soccer without being guided by humans. They move and behave like playing animals. Why should they — the robots — not become "thinking" animals some time? But I will not speculate on this. I will leave it thus as an open question.



FROM: henk tuten (02/01/03 6:46 AM GMT -06:00)

hi folks

I must say I really appreciate this kind of conferencing.

But let's come to the point: Concerning democracy I'm convinced that that there are many more visions on the subject than only the formal one.

I don't want to influence anybody, but is it fair to give everybody 1 vote (that's something else than respecting every opinion.

I would be delighted if a lot of you gave in a few lines their own opinion about the weakness of democracy as it functions now. (the strong points are stressed often enough).

If you need more lines than send me an email on:

If this gives interesting views, than I plan to use these ideas in an article on democracy (if you want mentioning origins of ideas)

Please think about the subject some time, and let me know your brain waves.

    REPLIES (3):

  • FROM: Rachel Browne (02/01/03 1:38 PM GMT -06:00)

    Welcome! Impressed by your intro on the philosophers gallery!

    Are you talking about democracy, the political system? How can we think it about unless in comparison to other political systems? Are we to think of democracy as it is, or is there an ideal? You don't think this might lead to references to Nazism, do you? Because this has been banned, undemocratically. R

  • FROM: Hubertus Fremerey (02/01/03 3:59 PM GMT -06:00)
    defining "democracy"


    in the times of Socrates in Athens, only free male citizens had a voice — no women, no unfree, no strangers. Was it a democracy? Similar in most European states even after the French Revolution. Generally womens suffrage was introduced between 1880 and 1920 - gradually.

    On the other hand: In the "peoples democracies" people had nearly nothing to choose, they only had to nod and to accept the proposals of the Communist Party.

    As a pragmatist I am always interested in results, not in labelling. If the label on the box says "democracy" I open the box to see what is in't. And most time it is disappointing.

    There was a film as of 1970 showing protesters against the Vietnam-war and calling the proposers of the war "Nazis" (Rachel forgive). But the war was not escalated by "Nazis" but by two very respected, and by due process of law in the leading liberal democracy elected, democratic presidents — Kennedy and Johnson. Who then was "anti-democratic" here: the supporters or the opponents of the war?

    So much this time on "democracy" from


  • FROM: Katharine Hunt (02/09/03 9:22 AM GMT -06:00)
    thoughts on democracy

    Out for a walk this morning, I met a man walking his dog who was keen to chat. He had obviously had much involvement in local and national politics, and was planning to stand as a local councillor. His view was that local councillors should, in their voting on issues, express not the views of their political party, nor their own views, but those of their constituents, who they supposedly represent. He believed that councillors should be able to vote independently.

    I agree with that so far, but it raises 2 questions for me:

    1: Should we listen to everyone's views equally? Aren't some people better qualified to give their views on issues than others? For example, a large teaching centre is proposed to be built near where I live, at an area of open space of great environmental and archaeological importance. Presumably a professional naturalist or scientist would understand the possible environmental impact better than me. Should the feelings of the unintelligent and ill-informed about issues influence what is done?

    2: People usually don't all agree — so is it democratic to do what the majority want, thus annoying the minority; or should you try to reach a compromise, possibly displeasing everybody; or may the minority not sometimes have the best idea?!

    Hope these thoughts are useful.


FROM: Charles (02/02/03 6:00 PM GMT -06:00)

Rachel said: "Am putting dog on airplane to Spokane. Big chap with large ears. Will look hungry. And will be crying. R"

I regret to inform you Rachel that your dog did not arrive in Spokane. (At least "Customs" has not called me yet.) But maybe he got off the plane in Chicago, transferred to Amtrak, and is now on his way to Montana to dance with the wolves. I hope that they do not eat him!


FROM: Charles (02/06/03 7:04 PM GMT -06:00)
Determination of political truth.

I am not submitting this in order to start a partisan political debate, although I am going to put forward a recent political example. I hope that it initiates a reasonable and courteous discussion about the means, if any, that philosophy may provide to ordinary people to determine what is true from a distance.

Can we, and if so how do we determine who is telling the truth here? Does one's nationality make any philosophical difference? Philosophically does it make any difference if one or neither party is telling the truth?

On February 5th at the United Nations, American Secretary of State Colin Powell presented what he said were electronic intercepts of conversations between Iraqi military commanders and their subordinates and satellite images of bio-chemical military facilities. Less than two hours later, Lt.General Amir Saadi of Iraq said: "a typical American show ...any third rate intelligence outfit could produce such a recording...It is simply untrue and not genuine." Before that, Iraq's information minister Mohammed Saeed Sahaf dismissed the satellite images "as no more than cartoon films."

Is their any use and value of philosophy here?

    REPLIES (3):

  • FROM: Hubertus Fremerey (02/07/03 4:20 AM GMT -06:00)
    on truth and trust


    while there surely is some truth anywhere, only you and me don't get at it. Saddam Hussein may know and Powell may know, but we don't. So the real problem this moment for the audience is whom to trust. We are the jury, and we try to find out who is lying, the defendant or the accuser. Many or most Democrats and leftists will distrust Bush and his top executives including Powell now, but many or most Republicans will trust them.

    From a philosophical point of view this is how we approach reality: We never know anything for sure. Some trust in God, but others — like Mike — think he is a mere fancy. Thus it all depends on the frame of reference. If the source is not — or seems not - trustworthy, the message seems neither. The problem of Saddam Hussein may be that he does not seem trustworthy to most people. But there are quite a few people now even in the West, that think even Saddam Hussein is more trustworthy than GWBush — and that is a bad situation.


  • FROM: henk tuten (02/09/03 6:01 AM GMT -06:00)

    Hi Charles

    Seen from 'a distance' there are 2 truths involved. The American one and the general Moslem one. I certainly think that Saddam Hussein is ready to be removed, but what I see in reality is a clash between two world orthodoxs views (the death denying and violence admiring view of American leaders, and the Allah worshipping view of Iraqee orthodoxs). Both can in their own world be true at the same time. Real commucition supposes to find a new view that is a acceptable compromise. Not only acceptable in the English language, but in Arabian too.

    Mind that billions of people rely on Arabian as their first language. This way of communicating inherently supposes basic views on society. Maybe right now English and Arabian are in that way partly un-translatable.

    Tactics: Maybe acknowledge the in broad opinion fake reason of the Americans to remove Saddam Hussein. But then criticize the present way of accomplishing that. That way they get trapped in their own reasoning. So don't focus on trying to prevent the war, but try seriously to prevent innocent deaths.

  • FROM: Katharine Hunt (02/09/03 9:30 AM GMT -06:00)
    who might be lying?

    It seems to me that not only may both Powell and General Amir be lying, but so may the media who report these things to us. Manipulation of what ordinary people are told about what's going on is common in wartime. In this case, philosophy is telling me not only to beware of trusting politicians who may have all kinds of reasons for lying, whichever side they happen to be on, but also to avoid accepting things as true just because they're reported in the media.

    What philosophy definitely isn't doing for me is giving me any way of deciding what the truth about the situation might be.


FROM: henk tuten (02/08/03 10:04 AM GMT -06:00)
democracy (continued)

I noticed that my first question needed explanation.

My own thoughts about democracy I wrote down in:

I ask everybody to give his/her own opinion. Not about the formal view on democracy, but about what might be serious flaws in the basic system


FROM: Rachel Browne (02/09/03 2:07 PM GMT -06:00)

Ugh, this whole war thing is SO corrupt. Of course, Katherine, philsophy can't help with the truth! It's politics. It's bound to be an oil thing or something to detract attention from something else — America's dismal problem in Palestine or something. Where we live in London in an Arab area there is no ill feeling. It is not about people — not from where we are. R

    REPLIES (3):

  • FROM: Hubertus Fremerey (02/09/03 7:11 PM GMT -06:00)
    It's never the people


    remember that on the very day — 9-11 — Bush visited an islamic mosque in NY after the assaults to demonstrate that he did not hate the Islamic religion or the Islamic minorities in the USA. Likewise in Germany there is generally no hate in either direction. But there are some simple facts:

    (1) The people are never asked anywhere — neither by the terrorists nor by the leaders. The 99% confirmation of Saddam Hussein was just as much a farce as the similar outcomes for Stalin or Castro or Kim Jong-il.

    (2) Like the Germans who elected Hitler in 1932 the Islamic people are generally disturbed and humiliated by the transition to modernity which devalues their old ways and the wisdom of the elderly. Thus they are resentful and hate western powers.

    (3) At the same time a growing number of people in the islamic stated wants to become "modern", to study what they want, to travel where they want to go, to marry whom they want, etc.. So they are torn between respect for the elderly and impatient waiting for a new era of pride and strength. This conflict makes many of them crazy. It is the same situation as has been in the first years of Hitler here: The old reactionaires found themselves as strange bedfellows to young and eager engineers that wanted to build the most modern aircraft and autos and other technical devices. Thus the present was torn between the past and the future.

    Thus in my opinion it is neither on oil nor on religion, but on "modernization and its discontents." The Bush-people really hope as true Americans to bring democracy to the poor suppressed Iraqui as they did before to the poor suppressed Germans and to the poor suppressed Japanese and Koreans. And the tragic thing is: At least the Germans, the Japanese, and the Koreans are really and honestly thankful for that today — and they know by experience why they should be.


  • FROM: Charles (02/10/03 12:07 PM GMT -06:00)

    When I wonder if the world is approaching George Orwell's '1984,' my antidote is a mixture of Aleksandr I. Solzhenitsyn and Milovan Djilas. Solzhenitsyn's writings, especially 'The Gulag Archipelago 1918-1956: An Experiment in Literary Investigation' and 'The First Circle,' and Djilas' 'The New Class,' 'Conversations with Stalin,' 'The Unperfect Society: Beyond The New Class,' and his short stories helped convince me that there is a way to determine 'what is true.'

    It is interesting to me that these are 'literary investigations' rather than the works of philosophers. My guess is that modern and post modern skepticism dominates Western philosophy today, interfering with useful historical and political analysis and the establishment of a practical ethics.

  • FROM: Charles (02/12/03 9:21 AM GMT -06:00)
    The Gulag Collection

    See "The Gulag Collection" by the artist Nikolai Getman:


FROM: Charles (02/12/03 10:42 AM GMT -06:00)
On clinging to religion.

Hubertus said: "there is no "past" here. People will always "experience" spiritual and religious things, as do Jean and Charles, who both don't feel outdated by this. In the experience of any true believer God is not a past idea he or she clings to, but a reality here and now, and very much alive and kicking. The difference is not between past and present but between seeing and not seeing, feeling and not feeling, being aware and being not aware. Of course you may say "they are seeing and feeling not God but mere spirits or fancies" — but how will you prove that? And surely they — Jean and Charles and the others — would not care.


I agree with what Hubertus said here, except I think that the connotation of "would not care" is a little too harsh. (But then English can be a harsh language.)

Is "hope" an appropriate idea for philosophical discussion?

    REPLIES (12):

  • FROM: Hubertus Fremerey (02/12/03 6:10 PM GMT -06:00)
    faith, hope, charity, these three (1st.Cor.13, 13)


    surly hope is one of the deepest philosophical concepts. The famous German Marxist philosopher Ernst Bloch (1885-1977) wrote some 2000 pages on "Das Prinzip Hoffnung" ("The Principle of Hope") which is on all sorts of messianistic hopes from the Antiquity to Marx and beyond. We alway live on hopes of all sorts. The whole Christian religion is on this from Paulus to St.Augustine and Joachim of Floris to Luther and to the Lutheran Hegel and from Hegel to Marx and Marcuse. Hope is one of the greatest concepts and driving forces of WESTERN philosophy. Buddhism doesnt know it, not even Islam does — since Islam knows of no redeemer or salvator. Thus hope is a very Judeo-Christian concept. But it got a bit out of sight by positivism and pragmatism and analytical philosophy which overall have made a grey spinster of a once juicy and ebullient Ms.Philosophy.


  • FROM: Charles (02/13/03 1:16 AM GMT -06:00)
    re Ernst Bloch

    I notice that the "Cambridge Dictionary Of Philosophy" says Ernst Bloch's views "went beyond Marxism as he matured." It describes his views: "Humans are essentially unfinished, moved by a cosmic impulse,'hope,' a tendency in them to strive for the as yet unrealized, which manifests itself as utopia or vision of future possibilities."

  • FROM: Charles (02/13/03 2:54 AM GMT -06:00)
    Atheist as Christian?

    Interesting concept (see below), but I wonder if it is wishful thinking on both Moltmann's and Bloch's part?


    Atheism in contemporary Theology JŸrgen Moltmann: on Ernst Bloch

    "An interview with JŸrgen Moltmann" by Miroslav Volf, in Communities of faith and radical discipleship: JŸrgen Moltmann and others, edited by G. McLeod Bryan (Mercer University: Macon, Georgia 1986) 

    Volf: ... Where do you see parallels and differences between Bloch's book and your Theology of Hope?

    Moltmann: Commonality and parallels between the two books exist wherever Bloch thinks Jewish or messianic. His deepest roots, I believe, lie in the messianism of the Jewish tradition from which he unconsciously lives. This is especially obvious in his first book, Geist der Utopie. It ends with a prayer. Later he abandoned these religious-messianic overtones and sometimes appeared to be banally atheistic. We clarified our differences once in this way: In Das Prinzip Hoffnung Bloch speaks of transcending, but without transcendence; in Theology of Hope I speak of transcending with transcendence.

    Bloch has written a book about atheism and Christianity [Atheism in Christianity (Continuum, 1972)]; it first appeared with the subtitle "Only an Atheist Can Be a Good Christian." I mentioned that it should be the other way around: only a Christian can be a good atheist. Bloch then used that statement as the second subtitle of his book. He meant that only an atheist who does not worship false religious and economic gods can be a good Christian. I meant that only a Christian who believes in the crucified Jesus is free from the pressure to create gods and idols for himself. On this issue Bloch and I have come near to each other. 10


  • FROM: Hubertus Fremerey (02/13/03 4:21 PM GMT -06:00)
    on hope and expectations


    I hope our exchange on "hope" will bring the conference to its PHILOSOPHICAL life again for a while. But the others should engage a bit too — or suggest another important topic.

    As I said we still live in the "Era of Enlightenment". Whereas before ca. 1700 everything was argued with reference to God, since then everything is argued with a reference to the "hopefully" better future. Of course there has been some transition. Before God "vanished" from the philosophical stage (which surely was not Nietzsches fault) there was some hope to save him by some arguments of "immanence": God showing his power not by the (then discredited) churches but by his creation. This was the position of Newton and of Spinoza and of their deist and pantheist contemporaries.

    But if God is immanent to his creation, one may omit God altogether and be content with studying nature. And by this God eventually vanished.

    Now what about hope then? Hegel thought that the World Spirit realized himself in the march of history. This was "entelechy" in a grand scale like with St.Augustine and Joachim. This still was "hope", while not so much hope of a final redemption, not the great expectation of Gods return in his glory in the End of Days.

    And once more the personal God vanished with Schopenhauer: He dismissed Hegels vision of the World Spirit realizing himself in the march of history as an utmost rubbish. Life in Schopenhauers reading was a meaningless struggle and striving without any hope. This also was the conviction of Nietzsche who admired Schopenhauer, and it was the convicition of most of the great historians of the 19th century.

    Thus hope changed from God to humankind: Not God but the humans would be responsible for their future. Not God would come in the end of days to judge the living and the dead, but a better future would come by human work and inventiveness. This was the idea of liberalism and socialism likewise. And this was the idea of Marx and Bloch too.

    Moltmanns idea "that only a Christian who believes in the crucified Jesus is free from the pressure to create gods and idols for himself" is very good (but maybe Mike will not be convinced). I heared Moltmann when I studied one semester of protestant theology in the summer of 1961. Bloch was just for a visit in Western Germany — FRG — and then stayed there, because he got trouble with the eastern communist party — GDR. And Moltmann, then a young "leftish" theologian in an era full of new hope in the West, was eager to contact Bloch. It was the first summer of Kennedy — but it was at the same time the summer of the Berlin Wall (August 21, 1961). And it was the first summer of the "Sixties" — with Beatlemania and Marcusean Revolt etc., where Moltmann and Bloch fitted neatly.

    Today there is not much hope left. Today most people — even the young ones — have become cynics. While the "Red Scare" seems dead, the capitalist liberalism after Enron and WorldCom and the other great stock frauds and after the Asian Crisis (1997) and the Argentinian Crisis (2002) and the now 10-years Japanese "crisis" has lost all glamour for some time, thus even there is not much hope. The next Kondratjev has to gain force now. But a growing number of people is hoping more for a new spiritual force like in the 60s and not so much for a new "Kondratjev-force".

    Thus hope seems to be numbed this time and for some more years to come. And we are not sure what to hope for. The hope for "the resurrection and return of Christ" is not the hope for "the resurrection and return of the stock-market" — and both are not the hope for a "more decent and humane society". But this latter was the great hope of the "Age of Improvement" or the "Age of Enlightenment" 250 years ago. Thus we live in an age of disillusioned hopes today, in an "age of diminished expectations" as it has been called. But this still is — in my opinion — an era of worldly hope much more than an era of spiritual or religious hope. There is no way back.


  • FROM: Rachel Browne (02/13/03 4:48 PM GMT -06:00)

    I think hope is a deep human emotion which we can't do without. Whether it is philosophical or not I don't know. What does that mean?

    Faith and truth are important to us too.

    On the war, Charles, currently the army are at Heathrow airport and radio discussion is whether this is a publicity stunt so that we feel we are in danger so we will support Blair in the war. Which hardly anyone seems to. We are cynical.

    But how can we have faith or believe we know the truth or have any hope, feeling duped?

    But we're off on hols soon and wars always start when we're on holiday, so expect it before March 8. R

  • FROM: Michael Ward (02/15/03 11:26 AM GMT -06:00)
    Hoping for a reply:-)

    What is hope, is it a feeling of desire for something combined with confidence in the possibility of its fulfilment?

    Hope seems to require us to have belief in freewill. By this I mean that the ability to hope is sustained by our belief in our ability to take actions resulting in realising those hopes.

    Were we all to be fervent determinists then we, as a group, couldn't logically hold onto the idea of hope because all future events would happen irrespective of our desires. In a fully determined world like it or not I will win the lottery if that's my fate.

    Many people believe that the future is written — so how can they have hope for anything different to what will be?

    Michael Ward

  • FROM: Hubertus Fremerey (02/15/03 6:00 PM GMT -06:00)
    on fate and hope


    since I dont believe in determinism — and found all proofs wanting and false — I have no problems with hope. And you should be consequent: If everything is determined, then my hope is determined too, then not only my winning in the lottery is guaranteed since eons, but my hope of it is likewise.

    Some weeks ago I introduced — with links — those robots playing soccer. I wanted to show that to have robots display meaningful behaviour they need no soul — or else you have to concede them those. Thus I wanted to show that this is a meaningless struggle. If animals have a soul, then robots have too, and if robots don't need a soul to play soccer, then animals don't need a soul either. Philosophers waste too much time with pseudo-problems.


  • FROM: Michael Ward (02/16/03 1:41 PM GMT -06:00)
    You would say that wouldn't you!


    You wrote: 'If everything is determined, then my hope is determined too, then not only my winning in the lottery is guaranteed since eons, but my hope of it is likewise.'

    The very point I was trying to make is that Determinism and Hope are incompatible.

    If you truly believe in Determinism then all your actions and ideas should reflect that and give up hoping.

    I am not convinced either way but I recognise that my wanting freewill will not make it so. I think Determinism /Freewill is a real problem particularly when it comes to crime and punishment.

    Michael Ward

  • FROM: Hubertus Fremerey (02/16/03 2:54 PM GMT -06:00)
    on crime and punishment and free will


    to held somebody responsible for his/her deeds need not even "free will". There have been cultures or subcultures where even animals and objects could be ritualistically punished for some "deed", just like little children beat their puppets or things if those have "done them wrong".

    I must say that for me the whole topic of free will is not very interesting. This caused my example of those robots playing soccer: While a chess-playing robot is calculating at least according to strict rules, ther are no such rules in soccer, i.e. in PLAYING soccer. There are movements and tactics. Of course even then the robots are calculating, but not predetermined "draws" but "most efficient moevements". This is like going from binary logics to fuzzy logics, but not to mere chance. If you pose a robot in front of a situation and he starts calculating many possible reactions as in a soccer move, is this "by necessity" or "by chance"? I find this freedom-determination thing without value. It does not solve a single problem in my opinion. People that are buidling robots for playing soccer surely are not concerned about this freedom-determination thing — they need not be.


  • FROM: Michael Ward (02/21/03 3:31 AM GMT -06:00)
    Reasons to hate.


    Freewill, or the ability to freely choose, is crucial in the reason for punishment. If Hitler was determined (by determinism) to carry out all the deeds he did then he had no ability to choose otherwise and whilst people will despise him for his acts they cannot hold him responsible for choosing to act as he did.

    So if determinism is true you cannot punish people to change their future behaviour as it is already fixed — maybe not known but still nevertheless fixed.

    Michael Ward

  • FROM: Rachel Browne (07/06/03 1:48 PM GMT -06:00)
    Hope and freedom

    Have just returned from a wonderful holiday in Sardinia. And coming onto the conference the first thing that came up was Michael's message on hope. Obviously I haven't got the hang of this. Seems to be dated 2.25.03.

    But I don't think hope is a desire, rather it is a state and isn't connected to free will and our actions because we can hope for events beyond our control. Many people hope to win the lottery.

    Whether or not determinism is true, we don't know and continue in our natural attitudes and states regardless.

    I believe in fate actually and I hope it is good. Why should I hope for anything "different" when I don't know what my fate is? I just hope, and being optimistic, expect the future will be good until illness sets in.

    But Hubertus! You say "if animals have a soul robots do too" — I can't even be bothered to comment on something so repugnant (Hume's word). Then you couple "animals and objects". Ugh! Then you say "freedom and determinism" isn't interesting because it doesn't solve problems???? But it is philosophy! Well I was hopeful generally, but things are looking bad. R

  • FROM: Michael Ward (07/06/03 7:03 PM GMT -06:00)
    Nothing to say


    I could start out by saying that I hope you had a great holiday. So I will — I 'hope' you had a great holiday. I suppose that kind of hope is easily realised or dashed simply by asking you, what drives that hope is my desire that you achieved what you desired at the onset of your holiday.

    Desire thus for me is motivation, it is in it's own small way the first cause of any chain of events. On a larger scale for those creationists the question could asked what motivated the creation.

    Why does anybody do anything — even those who meditate desire 'nothing' because even nothing in that sense is something.

    Michael Ward


FROM: Charles (02/14/03 2:44 AM GMT -06:00)
Hope and metaphysical inquiry.

In a previous posting, I argued that there was a contradiction between being an atheist and holding the metaphysical idea of hope. This is a broader definitive category for atheists than just non belief in God. To clarify, what I was referring to was the reductionist rejection of metaphysics and the attempt to reduce human nature to that which can be empirically verified.

    REPLIES (7):

  • FROM: Hubertus Fremerey (02/14/03 6:32 PM GMT -06:00)
    on theist and atheist hopes


    your lively description of your family was again a fun as always. Now to your answer:

    You asked: "Do you think that the opinions of the philosophical and scientific physicalist players in the mind-body problem are confirmed by recent empirically orientated opinion that suggest a Western cultural loss of hope?"

    I don't see the connection here. There is much technical optimism around at least in part of the scientific community. See the people around John Brockman. But there is a growing skepsis where this will get us. Thus while the concepts of hope, progress and improvement once have been in line under the general header of "Enlightenment and Progress by science and technology" they are not so today. Now that we seem to get into reach of cloning and prolonged life and fitness and genetic engineering and removing all remaining illnesses like PD or bad ears or cancer or whatever, we are not that sure that we want it to have. Thus it is not so much a growing pessimism with respect to the technical possibility of "improvements", but there are growing doubts on what "improvement" could MEAN. It's like with children growing up. They may have hoped to get out of the hands of their parents and become e-mancipated, but then they find that to find a good job and a good partner etc. has its troubles too and options begin to close again while resignation spreads. And in this way the options of mankind seem to close for many concerned people in the Western world, while the Chinese and the Indians and part of Africa and Latin-America may be the new optimists now ready for take-off to become "modern industrialized democracies" - which they had never been before.

    And then what is "cultural" loss of hope in the West? I happen to like modern art, and I like Rock- and Pop- and Jazz-music (while I cannot judge modern "serious" music with my ears). But many people old and young seem to think that the last really great epoch of music, art, and literature has been some 200 years back in the times of Mozart and Beethoven and Goethe. Be this as it may, there is no general conviction of progress in this. Remember how desperate Jean was on this conference on most modern developments. And Henk Tuten is concerned with Marcuse and the Frankfurt School that were very pessimistic on the Western outlook. Marcuse — and the Frankfurt School generally — opposed in the name of a more "humane" and "sensible" and "sensitive" society liberal and communist developments likewise, since they saw the people in the industrial states as "addicted to consumerism". And one may see the "bosses" as a sort of "drug-dealers" getting out more "stuff" every time. Thus consumer-society seemed not that paradise it once may have looked from afar, even irgnoring for a moment all charges of "social injustice" by growing poverty among growing wealth.

    Thus once more the problem is not so much an end of "progress" but a loss of MEANING of progress. And this of course is a loss of hope too. But it is not true that people want to get back to some pre-industrial state, they rather may want to get at some post-industrial state with a new humanity. You may think of it like a new "spiritual Kondratjev" besides the technological one. In my opinion optimism and pessimism are always two concerting melodies in Western society, where they change wavelike in relative dominance like the voices in Bachs concert for two violins.

    But overall since European Enlightenment of the 18th century the idea of progress as a secular replacement of transcendental hope by historical hope is not to die soon. We have replaced God and gods by history and by the idea of progress, we have replaced the Christian "world which is to come" by Gods grace by its Marxian and Spencerian counterpart in the man-made future. And at least for the moment these coming earthly paradises — the socialist and the liberal models likewise — seem lost in the clouds and doubts before us.

    But the Western world is a dynamical world, a world oriented to the future, and the idea of improvement by science and technology and labour and management is and remains the true Western Gospel today all over the world, "the Gospel according to Ben Franklin and Henry Ford" so to say.

    Then you write: "In a previous posting, I argued that there was a contradiction between being an atheist and holding the metaphysical idea of hope. ... Continuing that argument, I doubt that the loss of hope observed in the midst of today's 'bad news' is confirmation of reductionist claims about human nature."

    In the light of what I said above, I don't think this is the core of the problem: You may very well be full of hope even as an atheist, but you are helpless if you encounter the paradoxes of the very concept of progress and get confused over what to hope for. Perhaps this was what you intended to say: While the earthly options for hope seem to close, the heavenly ones may be opened again as an alternative. But Mike will not like to hear this. So be en guard and seek a cover for hiding.


  • FROM: Charles (02/16/03 7:48 AM GMT -06:00)
    Context of hope.


    I think that hope exists in a metaphysical context. Without a metaphysical context, if the materialist argument is taken to its logical conclusion of randomness and deterioration, the result can only be despair.

    Whatever a person's politics may be, the number of peace marchers through out the world this past weekend indicates to me that "hope" is an idea of great strength.


  • FROM: Michael Ward (02/16/03 1:54 PM GMT -06:00)
    Hope Free


    I too think that hope is probably a metaphysical idea but I cannot draw the same conclusion of it leading to despair.

    Couples who chose not to have children were called childless by 'normal' people but now in today's overpopulated world they are considered 'child free'

    So maybe consider that we are not 'hope less' but 'hope free'.

    With regard to the Peace Marchers I doubt very much their democratic voice will be listened to — more effective though at being heard are the much fewer terrorists, odd thing this democracy!

    Michael Ward

  • FROM: Michael Ward (02/16/03 2:16 PM GMT -06:00)
    Measuring Progress


    You Wrote: 'You may very well be full of hope even as an atheist, but you are helpless if you encounter the paradoxes of the very concept of progress and get confused over what to hope for. Perhaps this was what you intended to say: While the earthly options for hope seem to close, the heavenly ones may be opened again as an alternative. But Mike will not like to hear this. So be en guard and seek a cover for hiding.'

    Progress has a direction at least I think most of us would agree on that!

    Some would say it's increasing our knowledge and for this science has the biggest contribution.

    Others would say its towards less of pain and suffering and living in harmony.

    Yet others would say it's getting closer to their maker.

    Progress is what happens when you get up of the floor and step out of Platos cave into a bigger world — anything else is stagnation.

    Michael Ward

  • FROM: Hubertus Fremerey (02/16/03 3:45 PM GMT -06:00)
    all sorts of hope

    Charles and Mike,

    after reading your newest postings, I try to get things down from metaphysical heaven to earth again.

    In my opinion hope is not so much metaphysical, there can be atheistic hopes of the trivial sort: Hope that Columbia gets back without problems f.i. — which it did not. In this case one does the sensible and natural thing: asking for the causes of the accident and learn something.

    A similar approach gets a true Christian or muslim believer to think over his possible errors that may have caused God to chastise him.

    A third example would be to ask: if war in Irak should come — who is to blame: US arrogance of the Bush administration, but even generally? Or Saddam Husseins stubborn resistance to democratic principles and open procedures according to peaceful ways? Or a false concept of international order and control?

    Those peace-marches solve no problems. Even if the USA would restrain from war by now, this would not automaticall mean that the problem nearly causing it have vanished. Perhaps some years hence the war would come anyway and more brutal than now? But the marches do what hope generally does: They concentrate the minds on one important topic and they get out the reserves needed for survival — just like somebody buried under debris after an earthquake may survive by hope for days.

    But hope can detract concentration from thinking. James Bond seldom applies hope, he applies intelligence and inventiveness and uses the smallest chance to get out of trouble.

    While generally the Western culture is driven since 2000 years by hope as no other culture ever has been, this culture at the same time became more and more practical. Metaphysical hope turned into technical expectation and into "ideology of progress".

    And in this I would oppose Mike: Of course we still expect many "progresses" in single technical goals of all sorts — less war, less violence, less cancer, less poverty etc.. But these "hopes" in this or that improvement are not identical to the one great hope of progress. Improvements in the plural are not a "general improvement" — at least not in the opinion of most people.

    The paradox is: To have this or that nuisance removed may be agreeable, but to have ALL nuisances removed may be a horror. Thus the problem of Huxleys "Brave New World" is: "What is wrong with this world that seems superficially without fault and full of happiness of all sorts?" And then the question of hope becomes "metaphysical" again: From solving problems to asking: "what do we hope for if all problems are solved?"

    There seems to be a metaphysical "horror vacui", and this may be from "hard-wiring" of the brain: We are a fanciful and inventive species. For me at least ANY utopia is a horror, since I like change and openness and a future. I wont like to be part of an eternal clockwork. Thus my hope is that there will always be something left to hope for.

    And maybe this is the true function of religion: It makes people hope in a more than mere technical way. But liberalism does at least partly the same, since by its very nature liberalism is open and not closed. This explains why I am a liberal to the bones.


  • FROM: Michael Ward (02/17/03 1:23 PM GMT -06:00)


    Yes, for me also the concept of Utopia (or heaven) is a frightening state. The euphoria of stagnation I cannot understand. I have thought about hope as being the driving force but I actually think that it's desire that's needed first — at least an idea of something to hope for.

    If this is the underlying need that religion satisfies then so be it — but if so why not discard all the packaging and just go with the product.

    Michael Ward

  • FROM: Hubertus Fremerey (02/17/03 5:09 PM GMT -06:00)
    the forces of hope


    religion simply has more sucking-power. Its like eternal vacuum, you never will fill it out, it drags always, it gets you out like it got Auric Goldfinger through the window of the plane. Its eternal energy for the turbines of human souls. Only the dream of social justice has a similar force — and they are very near relatives from the beginning in the dawn of history.



FROM: Ralph (02/14/03 10:11 PM GMT -06:00)
Reply to Michael and Hubertus

Thank you both for such a quality reponse. I am still trying to message correctly so pardon my disjoined or absent syntax.

Michael, I mean by improvement is the acceleration of evolution. Evolution in itself is not bad or good. There can not be a value judgement when speaking of social or physical evolution. It just survives. Thus acceleration and regression are part in parcel of the whole process. There is no status quo in a constantly changing process by which to bench mark better or worse. Giving everyone a hundred point IQ boost, minimizing physical disabilities are just two ways of merely adding different numbers to the evolution equation. Our computers ten years ago compared to the computers we have now, would be an example of this type advancement. Hubertus, I get the same garbage into my computer but less comes out due to it's advancement. Microsoft Windows is like like having a very bright but fat co-worker. I feed it garbage, it gives me work and intellect but I must trim the fat to keep this ubiquitous creature going. Ten years ago, my computer could not even work with exponents.

Let us all agree and put the ghost in an advanced machine this time.

    REPLIES (2):

  • FROM: Hubertus Fremerey (02/15/03 4:54 AM GMT -06:00)
    it not all Bill Gates


    you should not forget your own computer between the ears. There may be some garbage in the OS and SW too — as in all of us.

    And evolution is not that innocent anymore. Ray Kurzweil and John Brockman and their likes try to be at the leading edge (see, and but may be rather blinded by this. See my paper in Pathways Nr. 40.

    As — hopefully — thinking being we humans are held a bit responsible for what human evolution comes to. It's not Darwinian evolution by genes anymore, it's cultural evolution by memes (enter "memes" in Google). And there have been several books already that call us humans and our current culture "falsely programmed" — while NOT by Bill Gates.


  • FROM: Michael Ward (02/21/03 3:42 AM GMT -06:00)
    Zoo keeper?

    Hubertus and Ralph,

    Evolution by genetic survival may have had its day, just as the dinosaurs did, are we now moving towards Un-Natural selection where the ability to change ourselves has replaced the ability to change our environment.

    I would never call this progress or regress because were I to do so then I would have some criteria to judge it by and I don't have any. I don't want to live in a unchanging zoo but many do without realising it.

    Michael Ward


FROM: Rachel Browne (02/15/03 10:07 AM GMT -06:00)
Hope and things

I don't understand this conference. What is being said, or the ordering of things. I hope to get the hang of it soon.

But, on hope, it is an attitude. It doesn't imply frames of reference or anything else. R

    REPLIES (1):

  • FROM: Michael Ward (02/21/03 3:45 AM GMT -06:00)
    Without predjudice


    Are attitudes context free?

    Michael Ward


FROM: Charles (02/15/03 9:40 PM GMT -06:00)
Values and Evolution

Ralph said: "I mean by improvement is the acceleration of evolution. Evolution in itself is not bad or good. There can not be a value judgement when speaking of social or physical evolution. It just survives. Thus acceleration and regression are part in parcel of the whole process. There is no status quo in a constantly changing process by which to bench mark better or worse."

I find biologist Francisco J. Ayala's evolutionary account of ethics interesting. He says that the capactity for ethics is a product of biological evolution. But that moral norms are the product of cultural evolution. Moral norms do not "just survive," in fact they may hinder the survival of the individual and its genes.

    REPLIES (2):

  • FROM: Michael Ward (02/16/03 2:24 PM GMT -06:00)
    Who's who?

    What is a life form?

    If one considers an idea then at some point it was created or in this analogy 'born'.

    It changes spreads and multiplies through it's hosts, in other words 'evolves'.

    If it never gets thought of again then it 'dies'

    In most ways ideas behave as if they were a life form, maybe not to surprising then that genes can drive society and we are just their hosts.

    Michael Ward

  • FROM: Hubertus Fremerey (02/16/03 3:49 PM GMT -06:00)
    on living ideas

    Mike and the others,

    look up "memes" in Google! Memes are in the evolution of ideas what genes are in the evolution of plants and animals. Just as Mike described it.



FROM: Charles (02/15/03 10:11 PM GMT -06:00)
Human mind as computer?

Hubertus said: "you should not forget your own computer between the ears."

This comparison frequently comes up, but is it true? Philisopher John R Searle in his "Chinese Room" argument and his Biological Naturalism as a Theory of the Mind challenges this concept of the brain- computer and Mind- the program.

It is interesting to me that cognitive scientists are so quick to discount metaphysics, but so dogmatic in believing that every mental state has a computational structure. Searle, a materialist, is not an advocate of metaphysical explanations of the mind. But he is relentless in exposing the weaknesses in the assumptions made by cognitivism. Searle points out for example that computation is observer relative and assigned, not discovered in nature.

    REPLIES (2):

  • FROM: Rachel Browne (02/16/03 9:49 AM GMT -06:00)

    Charles, I like that Searle insists that intelligence is biological. It is that we are natural organisms that probably gives rise to consciousness. We have no reason to believe something that is simply computational is conscious.

    So then it is a bit worrying if we mess around with the biological organism that we are by genetic engineering.

    Michael, I think that it doesn't matter whether or not we are determined. We would still hope. I quite strongly believe in fate, and that you can know what is in your fate and what isn't. Our individual possibilities are limited, but even then there are smaller hopes. R

  • FROM: Michael Ward (02/21/03 1:15 PM GMT -06:00)


    You say you strongly believe in fate does that mean that you are not responsible for your actions that adversely affect others? If you unintentionally hurt another would you not feel responsibility but explain it as 'it was going to happen anyway' I wonder.

    Fate sounds very mechanistic and as an engineer I appreciate, say, the cause and effect relationship of forces but I know from managing people that pressing the same lever doesn't always produce the same result (or at least the result I expect).

    I aspire to freedom to choose within possible choices, if I had any belief this one I would have.

    Michael Ward


FROM: Hubertus Fremerey (02/16/03 6:57 PM GMT -06:00)
on dissenting on the state of affairs

Dear all, but especially Henk,

I just thought on a strange thing: There will probably never be such a thing as a common view. This is an interesting question: Why not? And: Should there be one?

I was at the same time confirmed in experiences and impressed by seeing how, when totalitarian or authoritarian regimes fell down, as in Germany after Hitler (1945) and after Honecker (1989) and in Spain after Franco (1975) and in Portugal and Greece at about the same time, and in all former communist states around 1990, there has always without exception been — after many years of censorship and suppression of "false opinions" — an instant reappearance of the whole political spectrum from far left over the middle to the far right, as if there had been no oppression and censorship at all. There is something deep in the human minds that makes one leftish or rightish or liberal or conservative and that is indifferent to stately suppression — even if exerted from kindergarten. There are different approaches to the world. And people will not change. A violin becomes no flute. They only can learn to play together.

I was sensitized to this fact by my clash with Jean and now with Henk, but I know this thing from divorces I have seen: There are people open for argument, intelligent and well read and trying to be liberal, and they simply cannot agree on essential topics because they have completely different approaches to reality. The best they can do is show each other their different views and then agree to disagree. There are limits to rational discourse. Hegel — if he ever read Schopenhauer — would perhaps dismissed his writing as nonsense, while Schopenhauer explicitly called Hegel a stupid and his work rubbish. They simply denied each other the title of a philosopher.

So this would be an interesting topic for our debate: What should we call a good sort of discourse and by what standard. From the above we surely should not make "agreement" the measure of quality. Look at the picture of the violin and the flute again: Bach has written trios for those two instruments with basso continuo. Thus to have a good exchange — as in a Platonic dialogue — only could mean that everybody has gained in insight and understanding by seeing new aspects of the problem discussed while not signing to any common agreement which never was to be expected.


Below two links to articles on the Irak-crisis which give not my opinion but made me think a bit. This as an example for the above.

    REPLIES (2):

  • FROM: Michael Ward (02/17/03 1:58 PM GMT -06:00)
    Frame of reference

    Dear All,

    Hubertus wrote: 'There are limits to rational discourse... They simply denied each other the title of a philosopher. So this would be an interesting topic for our debate: What should we call a good sort of discourse and by what standard. From the above we surely should not make "agreement" the measure of quality.'

    This very conveniently brings me back full circle, as it were, to the reasons why I joined this conference, namely, to try to understand how other people think.

    It's always been a source of puzzlement to me that when people are presented with the same data the interpretations are very different. Even after discourse and evaluating the reasons for the difference people still persist in their original views.

    It is as Edward de Bono described it — the arrogance and complacency of defending an idea within a fixed frame of reference — it isn't the reasoning that's limiting it's the frame of reference. And before anyone else jumps in I don't exclude myself from such allegations.

    Michael Ward

  • FROM: Hubertus Fremerey (02/17/03 5:02 PM GMT -06:00)
    on not understanding each other


    the situation reminds on the concept of "pradigm" introduced in 1962 by Thomas Kuhn. And as Planck said on progress in physics some 40 years ealier: "New idead don't come about by convincing the masters of the old ones, but by the old masters dying away and the younger growing up with the new ideas" (not verbally, but this was the essence of it). I had the same experience in a firm: The old boss says of a new idea or device: "I never needed that before, and I have done good work without, so whats that nonsense!" The next boss asks "What is this Jurassic parc here — why don't we have this new idea and device working!"

    Henk and Jean think us all dinos from Jurassic parc, thats our problem.



FROM: Charles (02/16/03 9:43 PM GMT -06:00)
on living ideas

Michael said: "In most ways ideas behave as if they were a life form..."

A difference between ideas and life forms is that life forms have to obey the classic laws of physics while ideas do not. Quantum physics, I do not know?

    REPLIES (8):

  • FROM: Michael Ward (02/17/03 2:00 PM GMT -06:00)
    Living ideas


    Can you give examples of what ways you mean please?

    Michael Ward

    p.s. anyone know what happened to Jean?

  • FROM: Hubertus Fremerey (02/17/03 4:49 PM GMT -06:00)
    on memes and Jean and Henk

    Dear Mike and Charles,

    on the memes I would agree to Charles, that there are some differences of course to the genes. But the general idea is not that different: There has been a genetic change that made the difference of plants and animals; then there has been another one, that made the difference of mollusca and chordata; then a third one from wich the mammals, and another one from which the primates etc.. And then there have been some little changes that caused the switch from the higher apes to man.

    In a similar way ther was a "meme" called "fire" and another meme called "writing" and one more called "numbers and calculation" and one the made "gardeners and cattle-breeders" and one that made "city-dwellers and philosophers", and then one that made "Christians" and "muslims" and finally one the made "democracy". Like in biology from each of these innovation started a whole new strain of similar innovations, like thos innumerable christian "denominations" starting from Luther and Calvin. This idea for "branching" is the important thing. And with memes like with genes there can be favourable and unfavourable condition and extinction and blossoming etc..Thus there a many things to be compared — even if it not the same mechanism of course. The most important difference may be that genes cannot "mix" as memes can. But this is once more an accelerating effect: Natural (genetic) evolution is to be counted in millions of years, while cultural evolution is to be counted in hundreds of years, which makes at least an acceleration by a factor of 10.000. By this "memetic" cultural evolution needed only some 10.000 years instead of 100 million years to get at results. As a model when used with care this is not bad.

    As for Jean and Henk: They both seem in part my victims, I have to apologize. What concerns Jean you know our constant struggles, and at least this time he will stay off a time, while there may be other causes too, that I don't know of. With Henk I had a similar fight on similar differences which got him upset. I really would like both to be back to the conference, while I have some trouble with our concept of exchange. Philosophy in my opinion — like in the opinion of Socrates — is on arguing, on trying to justify assumptions and claims in an open debate and accepting their failure if they are not up to some good counter-argument. If people enter a philosophical debate, they should know that and accept that. I sometimes should be more polite and cautious like Charles. I am a bit a fighter. But I never have been unfair: When I call something false then I give argument and evidence why I think so, and even then I never would be hurt if somebody tops me and refutes my argument or evidence by a better one. This is fair play. A philosophical conference is neither a political nor a religious one. When I was sided with Dr.Mengele I was not even insulted, I wasted no time with excuses, I simply asked: "Let's analyze together the very interesting philosphical question in what way Dr.Mengeles behaviour followed from twisted thinking!", and when the concept of cloning was called "un-ethical" I said: "We have to show by what argument this should be called un-ethical." I neither defendede Mengele nor cloning, but I insisted on getting "from belly-thinking to brainy-thinking" as is expected from a true philosopher. "Handwringing-exercises" are for the men and women in the street, not for philosophers. Philosophers should argue.

    So if you could get back Jean and Henk to the conference I would like it really. I have not the slightes personal objections and surely are not hurt or insulted the least. I only try to be honest to the Socratic task of a philosopher. But of course: In the end he had to die because he simply was too cheeky. He had to die with 70, so I have 8 years left to get people set up by ugly questions.


  • FROM: Charles (02/17/03 11:18 PM GMT -06:00)

    Michael said: Charles,

    Can you give examples of what ways you mean please?

    Michael Ward

    I will try to do that in the future. For now, I'll just go back to my last postings.

    Living things are subject to the laws of physics, for example gravity. I trip on a rock while walking, loosing my balance, and gravity causes me to fall. Ideas are not necessarily bound by the laws of physics. I can imagine (an idea) that when I trip over a rock, instead of falling to the ground, I float above the earth.

    To clarify, I agree with philosopher John Searle that consciousness is probably a biological phenomenon. I also agree with him that despite the claims of advocates of Strong AI, science is just at the very beginning of understanding how the brain actually works. Connecting ideas to certain neuron patterns or that culture evolves like DNA for example strikes me as being too simplistic. That observation is largely based on my experiences with various meds for Parkinson's Disease and the experiences of other people with neurological disorders. I won't bore you with the details.

    I have a lot of speculations about the nature of ideas. Some associated with waves, fields, and patterns of energy would be subject to the laws of physics (much of which I lack the background in math to understand).

    My other speculations on the nature of ideas,their relationship to Plato's Forms for example, may or may not be subject to laws of physics. I just don't know, but that interests rather than worries me. Charley

  • FROM: Charles (02/18/03 12:12 AM GMT -06:00)
    on memes

    I understand that memes are associated with the theories of social biology. While I personally admire E.O. Wilson the naturalist and his research on social insects. I think that in his interest to sum things up, like his idea of "consilience" for example, he jumps to conclusions based on something more akin to my religious beliefs than to science.

    I think that some scientists like Wilson (and Richard Dawkins who may be more closely associated with memes) may by personality and/or training be compelled to sometimes prematurely sum things up. I think that this is a characteristic similar to the religious people who write catechisms to keep lay people like me on the correct and narrow path.

    I have not seen anything on memes that is even close to the science of genetics. Science is only science if its claims can be verified by repeated tests, some of which even amateurs like me can do. It is not repeated citation of faith based claims. In religion you can appeal to the Holy Spirit for guidance! In my opinion it is a more limited perspective, but science by definition in its claims must stick to repeated, verified, tests. Charley

  • FROM: Hubertus Fremerey (02/18/03 5:17 PM GMT -06:00)
    more on genes and memes


    I dont understand exactly what do you expect from "science". If there is a switch from the big apes to humans, then from this the whole history of humanity evolves. And if there is a switch from pre-Christian philosophy (Plato, Aristotle, Stoics etc.) to the Christian one (St.Paul, St.Augustine, St.Thomas etc.) then the whole story of Europe. What else do you expect to find out?

    But, as I said: Genes dont intermix directly while they did indirectly: When humans learned to tame dogs and oxen and horses and sheep, this made a new sort of system unknown to nature before, a sort of cultural symbiosis. But cultural symbiosis is not the same as cultural exchange, so when in cities like Alexandria and Athens and Rome many cultures mixed, the effect was much more interesting in the long run.

    Now by the internet and by the English language we on this conference coming from different background can exchange across continents, and in this way we may assemble people from all over the globe during the next years, even from Africa, Mexico, Afghanistan, China, Japan, Australia etc.. This is "memetics": Making new connections from new inventions (internet) — and from this more new inventions and more new connections, a global web of humans. That was once the idea of the New Age people (f.i. Marilyn Ferguson). The very ideas of "democracy" and "human rights" and "computer" are "memes" from the western world spreading over the world now like seeds. And this is not different from the call to mission (St.Matthew 28,19 ff).


  • FROM: Charles (02/19/03 12:02 AM GMT -06:00)
    on memes


    I place your belief in memes in the same category as my belief in angels, a form of religion. I respect your right to hold your own religious beliefs, the religion not the craft of science. There are also elaborate discussions about angels in my religion, whether they are real, symbols, etc, rather like science discussing memes without any basis in experimentation.

    I think that language not memes is behind the evolution of culture. Anyway, can you imagine God communicating to Abraham through memes?


  • FROM: Michael Ward (02/19/03 5:12 PM GMT -06:00)
    Just a meme

    Charles A meme is an idea that is passed on from one human generation to another. It's the cultural equivalent of a gene, the basic element of biological inheritance. The term was coined in 1976 by Richard Dawkins in his book The Selfish Gene. Dawkins speculated that human beings have an adaptive mechanism that other species don't have. In addition to genetic inheritance with its possibilities and limitations, humans, said Dawkins, can pass their ideas from one generation to the next, allowing them to surmount challenges more flexibly and more quickly than through the longer process of genetic adaptation and selection.

    Examples of memes might include the idea of God; the importance of the individual as opposed to group importance; the belief that the environment can to some extent be controlled; or that technologies can create an electronically interconnected world community.

    Today, the word is sometimes applied ironically to ideas deemed to be of passing value. Dawkins himself described such short-lived ideas as memes that would have a short life in the meme pool.

    If memes exist they can be identified and measured, but more importantly no people — no memes. So if the idea of god dies with humanity then what of god!

    Michael Ward

  • FROM: Hubertus Fremerey (02/19/03 8:08 PM GMT -06:00)
    on memetics and angels


    this time I completely side with Mike. I think you are putting either too much or to less into this concept. Before St.Paul and St.Augustine and their contemporaries there simply was no idea of a personal God in the philosophical discourse of Antiquity. St.Augustines "Confessiones" could not have been written by Plato or Aristotle or Cicero or some of their disciples. Just like you cannot have a lion before there were felidae, and you could not have felidae before there were mammals. I don't see what is complicated in this and why you call this comparable to the idea of archangels. It's a concept, nothing else, like energy or truth. It simply means that any idea can be brought back to some origin of this idea.

    Remember that I several times on the old conference spoke of the importance of historical thinking. From this the idea of "memes" came to me quite natural. This concept of Dawkins is nothing of great importance, any history of ideas before had used the concept without a special name, but the new name made it simpler to visualize what is happening in the history of ideas.

    But of course you will not go to hell if you don't care. I don't care either. More important is always the question — with memes like with genes: Why did they flourish this time, why do they dwindel again, why do some ideas never get up, other have a very hot time and then vanish etc.. This is "ecology of memes" and very interesting.



FROM: Charles (02/16/03 9:58 PM GMT -06:00)
on living ideas

Hubertus said: "Memes are in the evolution of ideas what genes are in the evolution of plants and animals."

Culture (and ideas) is not as "neat" as genetics. It does not seem to me that culture evolves according to the laws of physics. Language on the other hand is as 'messy" as culture. Charley

    REPLIES (6):

  • FROM: Ralph (03/16/03 10:52 PM GMT -06:00)
    Having a poem is like having a baby

    Read the discussion and find it very interesting. I agree with Hubertus. My reasoning is: Even though cultural evolution and physical evolution seem worlds apart, both are determined by behavioral conditioning. B.F. Skinner might agree with us also. Evolution of words and their meanings is a conceptual process but their usage remains behavioral. Current theory of evolution is "Endo-symbiosis" which is based on living forms intergrating bacteria to evolve or adapt..not natural selection. It is not hard to envision our words evolving not through a changing physical world but by slang, cultural idioms, etc..


  • FROM: Charles (03/17/03 12:18 AM GMT -06:00)

    Ralph said: "Even though cultural evolution and physical evolution seem worlds apart, both are determined by behavioral conditioning. B.F. Skinner might agree with us also. Evolution of words and their meanings is a conceptual process but their usage remains behavioral. Current theory of evolution is "Endo-symbiosis" which is based on living forms intergrating bacteria to evolve or adapt..not natural selection. It is not hard to envision our words evolving not through a changing physical world but by slang, cultural idioms, etc.."


    Thank you for responding Ralph. Please don't take my reply in a "personal sense." I acknowledge in advance that my contributions to this forum are probably lacking in clarity and subject to misinterpretation of emotions.

    Something that Parkinson's has made me very aware of is the importance of showing appropriate emotions in personal communication. One of Parkinson's secondary symptoms is "facial masking." With facial masking, a person with Parkinson's frequently looses the ability to make those automatic signals in interpersonal communication. I have to remember to now tell myself to smile, frown, etc. at the appropriate times, or my facial masking can create misunderstanding in interpersonal comm.

    That said, I probably disagree with your entire posting Ralph. (smile)

    Most of this (about behaviorism) comes from my reading of philosopher John Searle. Don't blame him for my disagreement with Darwinism though.

    I think that Skinner and behaviorism say that statements about behavior are equivalent in meaning to statements about the mind. First and foremost, this is contrary to common sense. We all know that we have subjective conscious mental states and these are often quite different from our behavior. We all "act" in our different roles in life. Searle uses an expression "counterexample of the superactor-superspartan variety." That is the person who acts exactly as if in pain, but is not. And the person who is in pain, but does not manifest that pain in behavior.

    It seems to me that behaviorists cannot adequately, or probably do not even begin to address the causal component in the relation of the mental to the physical.

    Your statement relating the meaning of words to behavior has alot of problems for me. I think that it ignores all the words that float around in our minds without behavioral manifestation. How do you account for the emphasis that all forms of meditation put on letting these words that have no bodily manifestation just "pass by."

    Regarding "endo-symbiosis," I am not familiar with that term. Am I correct to understand though that you are making an argument for Neo Darwinism? If you are, how can you have Darwin without "natural selection?"

    Sincerely, but in disagreement, Charles

  • FROM: Ralph (03/21/03 12:14 AM GMT -06:00)
    Darwinian products vs self engineered beings

    Some copy:

    "The mechanism proposed by Darwin to explain the evolution of life on Earth is based on a delicate balance between a positive process, that of variation, and a negative process, that of selection. The inconsistencies encountered so far in the fossil record all seem to point towards a need for a stronger positive process, one that allows for a species to be born in far shorter times than the evolutionary times implied by Darwin's theory. It is true, as Behe noted, that an organism is way too complex to be built by refinements, and it is true, as Gould claimed, that species appear all of a sudden. Selection does account for the disappearance of variations that are not fit, but variation alone (and the set of genetic "algorithms" that would represent it) is hardly capable of accounting for the extraordinary assembly of a new organism. A more powerful force must be at work.

    When we find that force, we may finally write the last chapter of "The Origin of Species", which Darwin never even tried to write: we still don't know how species originate.

    That force may be hidden in the process of endosymbiosis, the process by which a new organism originates from the fusion of two existing organisms, or, more precisely, by which two independently evolved organisms become a tightly coupled system and eventually just one organism." ..... (Sounds like Neo-Darwinism) Charles, Just as the gestation of a baby is a process fused from the environment and inheritance, so too are the words that are assembled to make a poem. Their births are attributed to naturally selected environmental conditions and genetic nativity.

    Searle's point is well taken. I would argue "Pain" is a native memory derived from an experience. Although one can mask it's expression physically and mentally it exists physiologically through the senses and psychologically in interpretation of memory.( I interpret this is what J.S. Mill called "permanent possibilities of sensation")

    Answering your last concern, I argue that words that float around in our minds without behavioral manifestations are simply non-sense. Try to make sense of the sentence " Crazy green ideas sleep furiously." this is an example of what I think you mean.

    Thank you for the reply.

  • FROM: Charles (03/21/03 11:41 AM GMT -06:00)
    Robot minds & human minds.


    I disagree with the behaviorist view of language. My example is a simplification, especially because it anthropomorphizes my computer. But I think that it will help explain my position.

    (Note — To anyone interested in this type of robotic experimentation, the LEGO MINDSTORMS products are programmed using a PC. If you want to use a Mac, you will need to get some software and additional devices from Pitsco/LEGO Dacta.)

    Let's say that my iMac connected to a LEGO RCX (microcomputer) via an infrared transmitter represents the human brain/neurological system. The LEGO robot containing the RCX represents the human body. There is a lot of language activity going on in this system, including LEGO Designer software and RoboLab software. Most of the LEGO Designer creations never go beyond being images for the conscious (me). But those images are just as real as the mental words in my brain.

    Many of the programs that I write using RoboLab are never actually used to control the movements of a robot. But whether or not I put a RoboLab program into effect, it is as real as the mental words in my brain.

    The only things the behaviorist observes are the programs that I put into effect with the LEGO robot. These programs that the behaviorist emphasizes are only a very small part of the total language activity however. Even though most of the LEGO Designer and RoboLab creations never are put into effect, they still have a considerable influence both on the creation of computer programs and robot actions viewed holistically.


    P.S. Ralph, if you are interested, I would like to discuss these ideas further later. But I have a previous weekend commitment to my son's scout troop to take care of.

  • FROM: Ralph (03/24/03 12:49 AM GMT -06:00)
    Robo-Chomsky vs Skinner circuitry

    Charles- What a fascinating example! I agree with you. As with robots, humans have a lt of their circuitry dedicated to the expression of language(except dreaming I think) and just seeing the physical evidence in speech or mobility cannot define it's holistic nature. When you choose not to put the program in effect they remain real as mental words for you. The key word is that they are mental, not physical and remain as sense-less memories. The are sense-less because we cannot sense our own mind's functions just as the Lego robot can not sense the iMac..the infra beam is there or not there and it knows no difference. In the same manner our mind-motor connection has to be there for language. Before words were spoken, they had to written.We are not born with words but we are born with the circuitry for language.

    Let me know if I understood your analogy correctly.

  • FROM: Charles (03/25/03 5:26 AM GMT -06:00)

    (Note: I am going to resend this, putting it in the correct string.)


    I think that you probably understood my analogy. But I will leave out "correct," because our perspectives or world views being different perhaps makes being correct not really a useful concept here.

    Your combination "Robo-Chomsky" was interesting. But I do not see any connection between my rough ideas about mental symbols being real and Chomsky's natural language. About the only idea that I probably share with Chomsky is that the behaviorists are wrong.

    Basically my idea is simply that language is real whether or not it is actually expressed in behavior. Maybe a better example of my position could be seen through the art of radio telegraphy (Morse Code).

    A word has several manifestations or modes in this art. Either in this order or the reverse: It is transformed in the mind symbolically from word to "dots and dashes" before taking on an overt physical mode through nerves/arm/hand, and materially transformed to a higher frequency via telegraph key and radio transmitter. I argue that in all its modes, the word is real, not "sense-less." The word's continued ability to change its symbolic nature and mode, suggests its real nature.

    And does it make any fundamental difference to the word, if the transmitted word is never received? What if the rf waves just keep going out into the universe without ever being intercepted by anyone?

    Even if the rf waves approach entropy when moving through the dimensions of space and time, this would have no ultimate effect on the the word. Theoretically the rf signal strength will be eventually distributed into a universal state of entropy. (While curiously the rf waves simultaneously constantly cycle through zero.) But the symbolic nature of the word is not changed by a reduction in signal strength. If a signal can be intercepted, theoretically it can be amplified to a useful level, retaining the word's realism.

    And anyway, the causal relationship of the word is not with the higher frequency electro-magnetic wave approaching entropy. The word is brain caused and remains so. Even if the mental brain states are electro-chemical in nature and suggest future death, a metaphysical understanding of word remains, suggested by the word's continued potential for transformation into a different mode.

    Charles (Not really a philosopher, just a radio amateur experimenter — N7FLA)


FROM: Rachel Browne (02/18/03 1:08 PM GMT -06:00)

Just skimmed the messages and haven't really read them and back later, putting the niece to bed, but Michael, Jean has said that he doesn't like the conference. Thinks it is run by Californians. Pity, though! R

    REPLIES (4):

  • FROM: Charles (02/18/03 3:51 PM GMT -06:00)
    California philosophers

    Is anybody from (and/or living in California) participating in our conference?

    Anyway though, if my average one dollar/month investment in the Washington State lottery brings me a big win this year, I will sponsor a California meeting of our philosophy conference in 2004. Maybe Hubertus can give us the odds of that happening? Jean will be invited to attend also.

    Charley Countryman

  • FROM: Hubertus Fremerey (02/18/03 4:59 PM GMT -06:00)
    on odds and probability


    the odds — 1/x — are very low of course, while not zero. And if there is very much luck - x, a large number — then this multiplies with the odds to x times 1/x = 1 and you will have us all to SCal to meet for the first time and driving on the roller-coaster at LA-beach. Then even Jean and Henk would see that I am not the manslayer and grim Rambo I seem to come on the conf sometimes.

    Thus I hope that you are lucky — and we others then too. Hubertus

  • FROM: Hubertus Fremerey (02/18/03 5:37 PM GMT -06:00)
    who is running our conference?

    Rachel and Charles,

    Henk too thinks this conference is run — or at least peopled — by the false people. They have a right to think so of course. Nobody is obliged to take part. But I really regret this sort of "sectarianism". I prefer pluralism of many voices. And I am sure that not even Jean and Henk would agree on the same conference but woul start to different ones. Like one has said of some peoples (f.i. Polands): If two of them come together, they start three parties.

    The First Amendment of the Constitution of the USA states that no religious preferences are allowed. This was essential, since otherwise the history of the USA would have been a history of permanent religious warring. People did not escape Europe to continue this nonsense in the USA. Thus the US are proud to be pluralistic and to defend freedom of speech and congregation above all. But if pluralism is seen only as a right to be in ones own party and sect and not exchanging with others than this is sad.

    Of course I "feel" what Jean is thinking: California sounds like UFOs and New Agers and Satanists, while Jean would prefer philosophers of Socratic cast gathering under olive trees near Athens like 2.400 years ago. And this is indeed a very different outlook. What Henk really is intending I did not understand from his page. Thus I will have to look at his page from time to time to see what is going on there.

    In my opinion pluralism is not only doing ones own thing but also listening to others and learning something new and thinking it over.


  • FROM: Michael Ward (02/21/03 1:31 PM GMT -06:00)
    Who cares?


    What does it matter who is running this conference as long as we can freely exchange ideas. You may all be characters in a Red Dwarf simulation game for all I can determine from this keyboard — real or not it's still stimulating and isn't that what we all need, stimulation.



FROM: Charles (02/20/03 11:35 AM GMT -06:00)
Catechisms, religious and scientific

Michael said: 'If memes exist they can be identified and measured...'

I think that the idea of memes is an indication of at least two philosophical errors.

First it focuses on the beginnings of humans (and human nature) rather than on the way people are. I contend that we do not know the beginnings of humans with any certainty. So philosophy should deal primarily with the way people really are. I would like to see the evidence that memes can, or better yet, have been identified and measured. Lacking such evidence, I think that a more constructive course for philosophy to pursue is the role of language in cultural evolution.

The second error is related to the first and is shared by both modern apostles of Darwinism, like Richard Dawkins, and by creationists. Both Darwinism and creationism display an obsession with 'summing up,' coming to definitive conclusions even when faced with incomplete information. Neither side deals with uncertainty, chance, and chaos very well. Theories from both these ideologies extend from reasonable conclusions based on observation to speculations needed to keep their ideological houses from collapsing in the sand.

Also to me, memes bear a remarkable resemblance to the 1997 Catechism of the Catholic Church. I think that there is much truth contained in that Catechism. (I also think that there is much truth in both Martin Luther's 'short' and 'long' Catechisms, what I was taught and what my son is being taught both by me and at his school.) But there is also the reality of uncertainty (which I differentiate from skepticism), chance, and chaos. Catechisms, whether they be scientific or religious, do not deal with that reality very well. A primary purpose of catechisms is to put everything in a tidy package, even if that means jumping to some unwarranted conclusions.




Charles A meme is an idea that is passed on from one human generation to another. It's the cultural equivalent of a gene, the basic element of biological inheritance. The term was coined in 1976 by Richard Dawkins in his book The Selfish Gene. Dawkins speculated that human beings have an adaptive mechanism that other species don't have. In addition to genetic inheritance with its possibilities and limitations, humans, said Dawkins, can pass their ideas from one generation to the next, allowing them to surmount challenges more flexibly and more quickly than through the longer process of genetic adaptation and selection.

Examples of memes might include the idea of God; the importance of the individual as opposed to group importance; the belief that the environment can to some extent be controlled; or that technologies can create an electronically interconnected world community.

Today, the word is sometimes applied ironically to ideas deemed to be of passing value. Dawkins himself described such short-lived ideas as memes that would have a short life in the meme pool.

If memes exist they can be identified and measured, but more importantly no people — no memes. So if the idea of god dies with humanity then what of god!

Michael Ward

    REPLIES (4):

  • FROM: Michael Ward (02/20/03 12:09 PM GMT -06:00)
    Fuzzy logic.


    I think in all respects I disagree with your position regarding memes and Catechisms because:

    Firstly catechism is defined as:-

    1.CHRISTIANITY question-and-answer teaching: instruction in the principles of Christianity using set questions and answers 2.CHRISTIANITY religious questions and answers: the series of questions and answers that are used to test people's religious knowledge in advance of Christian baptism or confirmation 3.CHRISTIANITY question-and-answer book: a book containing questions and answers used to test the religious knowledge of people preparing for Christian baptism or confirmation 4.body of principles followed unthinkingly: a body of basic beliefs and principles followed unthinkingly 5.interrogation: a close and intense session of questioning on a particular subject, especially forming part of an examination or an interrogation.

    This is a religious concept and definition 5 above is applicable to consequences of closed systems and minds. Scientific method does not, when neutrally applied, define a path it is the best fit hypothesis to verifiable data.

    Secondly your narrow frame of reference viz 'I contend that we do not know the beginnings of humans with any certainty. So philosophy should deal primarily with the way people really are.' I think that the origin of humanity is the larger frame of reference we must use and preferably pre-life. You might by your methodology ague that one act of kindness by Saddam Hussein could endear him to the person receiving that kindness. It would of course be but one facet of the wider picture — you cannot narrow things down otherwise the absurd becomes reasonable.

    Finally I completely agree with you on packaging ideas, this is a human problem as we cannot easily manipulate untidy, fuzzy and chaotic ideas very well yet.

    Michael Ward

  • FROM: Charles (02/20/03 1:42 PM GMT -06:00)
    Definition of catechism

    From "Webster's New World Dictionary: Of American English."

    "catechism:"1 a handbook of questions and answers for teaching the principles of a religion 2 any similar handbook for teaching the fundamentals of a subject 3 a formal series of questions; close questioning 4 (Obs.)catechesis."

    "catechesis: religious instruction" "religion...4 any object of conscientious regard and pursuit."

    First, I do not agree that catechesis is an obsolete definition.

    Re Richard Dawkins and his memes. It is an argument to support his object of conscientious regard and pursuit- Darwinism. In a Darwinist catechesis I would expect an attempt to put it all in a tidy package (thus memes), just like a teacher of a religion puts their instruction in a tidy intellectual package.

    Give me a source(s) that verify memes through experimentation or statistical analysis. Are there any? I did not find any using Google.

    Re Saddam. When making scientific observations about human nature, the technique would have to include some means to avoid skewing of the data by the particular quirks of individuals.


  • FROM: Charles (02/20/03 3:15 PM GMT -06:00)
    Frame of reference.

    Michael said: "Secondly your narrow frame of reference viz 'I contend that we do not know the beginnings of humans with any certainty. So philosophy should deal primarily with the way people really are.' I think that the origin of humanity is the larger frame of reference we must use and preferably pre-life."

    There is a great deal of interesting literature about human origins for anyone to read, very little have I found in agreement. Note that I have been specific about human origins. Philosophy is a human endeavor. Its focus should be on human life as we know it, if it is to have any value as a discipline.

    However human origins are hidden in the mists of time. Consequently too much focus on origins can lead to extreme and conflicting speculation about humanity.

    For example theories about human nature coming from selfish genes add little to our understanding of our nature as it is today. Neither does the misuse of ancient Hebrew creation myths by creationists add anything useful to our understanding of our nature. I expect that both of these ideologies coming out of the 19th century's industrial and social revolution will sooner rather than later be replaced by a new scientific paradigm.

  • FROM: Hubertus Fremerey (02/20/03 5:43 PM GMT -06:00)
    on understanding memes and humans


    I do not really understand your line of argument, but I will do a try. I got the impression that you mix up mathematical argument with argument "ad hominem" sometimes. The concept of "selfish gene" simply says, that the gene is like a computer-program steering a robot in a concurrence with other robots of similar design. The winning/surviving robot then will be that one, that has the best adapted / best fitting program for steering it. Like two chess-robots playing against each other, using the same hardware. Thus the fighters/contesters are not the robots/ computers, but the programs, i.e. the "genes", that only need some hardware to express themselves. In this way the genes generating the better brains in the long run will outsmart the genes generating the less able brains, and this is "the fighting of the selfish genes using apish bodies". The problem seems to be that because we see the "apish bodies" fighting, we tend to think that the bodies are the important thing. But as you know from your study of Asian martial arts and fighting techniques it's the mind, not the body, that wins. But the mind per se is invisible. It uses the body as an instrument for fighting.

    Likewise the memes: If you have a better idea — say the liberal democracy instead of authoritarian obedience to a king — then this better idea — a meme — wins over the less effective one. In this way the scientific Occident won over the rest of the world by generating better ships and better fire-arms than the self-concerned Orient. The West had the "memes" of natural science, the East had the memes of yoga and Zen. But with yoga and Zen you cannot build effective ships and fire-arms, thus the Western memes won over the Eastern ones. And this is not on being "more intelligent": The Zen-master may be much more intelligent than the western user of fire-arms, but this is of no value if any stupid western soldier can blast off the Zen-master with a shot from his rifle. Once more: It's NOT the more intelligent Westerner that wins over the less intelligent oriental, but its the more effective western "meme for building fire-arms" that wins over the less effective oriental "meme for studying yoga or Zen", even if the oriental PERSON may be much more intelligent than the western one.

    And I don't think that we need to know the origin of humankind to ask what today makes the difference of humans and animals. Culture is a sort of artificial nature, like movies and novels are a sort of artificial reality. Thus children learn to adapt not directly to nature — as animals do — but human children learn to adapt to their culture and social environment, since this IS their "natural" environment. I you grow up in the Bronx/NY or in Compton/LA you learn how to adapt to the conditions there and not to the country-life near Kansas-City. And the kids in the school of your wife adapt to another life than those in the school of Mary Seifert. But they all understand the difference between love and hate. And the natural question is: What is it that makes this difference, and what is it, that makes this difference important. And to find out we need not know "how it all began". We only have to find out why it should be important.

    And this is to a great part historical! There have been really thousands of years when slavery and the suppression of women has NOT been thought "un-natural" or "un-ethical" in most parts of the world. The question why this has changed cannot be answered without historical reference. As I said on the old conference: It is NOT BY COINCIDENCE that the time of European witch-hunt and the time of rising European modern science have been the same (ca. 1450-1750): Both developments mirrored and drove each other, neither of them was "natural". Thus what we call "human" or "humane" is not "natural" either, it cannot be understood without cultural and historical understanding — mostly. And by this argument Marx and Weber tried to understand human cultural history by "cause and effect", by memes adapting behaviour and thinking to new challenges.



FROM: Charles (02/20/03 7:57 PM GMT -06:00)
Re memes and humans.

To respond to Hubertus, who said about one of my previous postings: "I do not really understand your line of argument, but I will do a try. I got the impression that you mix up mathematical argument with argument "ad hominem" sometimes. The concept of "selfish gene" simply says, that the gene is like a computer-program steering a robot in a concurrence with other robots of similar design. The winning/surviving robot then will be that one, that has the best adapted / best fitting program for steering it. Like two chess-robots playing against each other, using the same hardware. Thus the fighters/contesters are not the robots/ computers, but the programs, i.e. the "genes", that only need some hardware to express themselves. In this way the genes generating the better brains in the long run will outsmart the genes generating the less able brains, and this is "the fighting of the selfish genes using apish bodies". The problem seems to be that because we see the "apish bodies" fighting, we tend to think that the bodies are the important thing. But as you know from your study of Asian martial arts and fighting techniques it's the mind, not the body, that wins. But the mind per se is invisible. It uses the body as an instrument for fighting."


I think that the the use of the computer/program metaphor in understanding human nature is only useful for what philosopher David Chalmers calls "easy problems" when compared to the "hard problem" of consciousness. The easy problems are not trivial. They are the problems about the objective mechanisms of the mind. The sort of problems that science can deal with. Also practical use can come from these easy problems, such as treatments for neurological disorders.

Borrowing from Prof. Chalmers, I relate the problem of ideas to the hard problem of consciousness, "the question of how physical processes in the brain give rise to subjective experience." There is no proof for memes and the theory behind them does not answer the hard question of how physical processes in the brain give rise to idea.

    REPLIES (3):

  • FROM: Hubertus Fremerey (02/21/03 1:53 AM GMT -06:00)
    on consciousness and knowlege


    sorry, I am still not sure that I understand you — or that you understood me.

    I never saw or see humans as "robots". I only used an analogy. I always got a bit desperate by this interest in "consciousness". The validity of mathematical or physical arguments does NOT derive from "consciousness" but from the facts of nature. If somebody by religious conviction (= "conscience") has a false concept of biology and illness, he will be outsmarted and outdone by somebody who has a "better" concept of biology and illness, where "better" simply means "more in line with the ways of nature". What he may THINK of this is completely irrelevant. You even may call the faith in modern science a "pseudoreligion", but when it comes to healing ills or building airplanes and weapons etc. this "pseudoreligion" outsmarts all "true religion" simply because it is more "in line with nature". And I don't see where in this argument anything like "consciousness" or "dualism" comes in. It is simply irrelevant.

    There are objective rules of chess. There are good and not so good moves. It is completely irrelevant if the robot who does the better moves by a better program has any idea of what he is doing, any "consciousness". He need not have one, he only needs to do the better moves. Likewise if you have the better ideas on how to make efficient weapons you will overcome those people that have less good ideas of how to make weapons, and this has nothing to do with what you or the other guy are thinking or feeling on this. But to have "the better ideas" is a memetic thing: If in your cultural tradition (memes!) there shows up a Newton and Maxwell and Einstein, then you will have the better concept of nature and by this may be able to build atomic-bombs. And by this you can outdo any culture that has (by lack of the needed memes!) no modern physics and by this does not know how to build atomic bombs. This has nothing to do with what you THINK on this, and it has nothing to do with dualism or holism but only with the actual similarity of what you think nature is doing and what nature actually does.

    Even if you are the best shot in the world, if you aim at the false target you will not hit the right one. This is naturally so, and has nothing to do with consciousness but with knowlege. Consciousness is not knowlege. On this the whole Asiatic thinking is utterly wrong. The stars don't care if anybody thinks they are guiding his fate. The facts of nature don't care what we think of them. Facts are facts — independent of any consciousness. We have to understand the facts, not our thinking on them — or only in part so. Popper is much more relevant on this than is Searle.

    But, as I said: I am still not sure that I understand you.


  • FROM: Michael Ward (02/23/03 7:49 AM GMT -06:00)
    Taking a break.


    Your posting 'on consciousness and knowledge' defines an area of thinking where I find most 'believers' will not go — even for a simple thought experiment. To paraphrase 'Even if you are the best thinker in the world, if you aim at the false target you will not hit the right one.

    I meet with others in a monthly 'Philosophers CafŽ' where the majority of members are what I describe as 'believers'. As much as I try to have them explain how there world hangs together there is the persistent avoidance to spell out what has convinced them that simply thinking something does not make it so. I am prepared to be proven wrong - believers I find are not prepared to be tested. I have yet to hear a coherent argument put forward that can be tested and the examples you make in your posting I will use at our next meeting — thank you.

    Alas, I will not be corresponding with you for about two weeks as I taking a holiday to southern Portugal where I hope to catch up on some of my Philosophy of Language course I have been neglecting.

    Michael Ward

  • FROM: Charles (02/25/03 9:23 PM GMT -06:00)
    Are facts just facts?

    Hubertus said: "Facts are facts — independent of any consciousness. We have to understand the facts, not our thinking on them — or only in part so. Popper is much more relevant on this than is Searle."


    I do not agree Hubertus. There is some "social construction of reality" in all "facts." If there is one true fact about life, it is about the uncertainty that surrounds it and shapes it.

    I assume that you are talking about Professor Searle's "naive realism." I have not studied Professor Popper's logic of science, but doubt if we have to choose between the two. It seems to me that naive realism would apply to every conscious moment. My guess, unless you can be more specific, is that Prof. Popper's logic does not.


FROM: Charles (02/21/03 11:44 AM GMT -06:00)
A 21st Century View of Evolution

I have posted a document that includes a Research Summary and Abstract of a recent paper by Professor James A. Shapiro, Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, Committee on Genetics, University of Chicago.

Also see: especially if you think that all scientists are in agreement about the basic ideas of evolution.

    REPLIES (3):

  • FROM: Michael Ward (02/23/03 8:04 AM GMT -06:00)
    On a mission


    There are scientists and there are people on a mission. Those on a mission I hold with more disdain because they have a subjective thesis to prove rather than an objective relationship of facts.

    To use the analogy of Hubertus it would be extremely unlikely that Darwin hit the Bulls eye but he was most likely on target!

    Also I don't think we can weigh truth by numbers of people supporting or opposing but we should explore every possibility we can think of before discarding the incoherent.

    Michael Ward

  • FROM: Ralph (02/24/03 9:17 PM GMT -06:00)
    21 st Century view of evolution-a reply


    That was an interesting posting. I studied biochemistry a few years ago and understood these natural genetic engineering strategies are reponses to intra-cellular environment- not extra-cellular. Not that evident in the paper is the idea that these are only repair processes. Although human gestation will pass through many past evolutionary states, what we become is environmentally determined.( the idea that a monkey, in front of a type-writer given an infinite amount of time, will compose literature) In conclusion,I believe our individual genome is the "Tabula Rasa" on which the environment writes our life. Disabilities or arrested development is a fault of our repair mechanisms, as is disease. Truly an interesting subject. I thank you for the posting.

  • FROM: Charles (02/25/03 11:56 AM GMT -06:00)
    re alleged rhetoric & sophistry

    I will just let the sites speak for themselves.


FROM: Charles (02/21/03 1:41 PM GMT -06:00)
Counterbalance Meta-Library

A resource library that you may want to visit.

Counterbalance Meta-Library, offering new views on complex issues from science, ethics, philosophy, and religion.

    REPLIES (2):

  • FROM: Michael Ward (02/23/03 8:56 AM GMT -06:00)
    Well worth a visit


    I visited and not that I have seen all the site but my initial impression from content and origin is that the protagonists of religion feel under attack and need to respond using the very knowledge that is attacking them.

    Unfortunately religion has been on the back foot for many a long year now and is tottering towards its final demise. Giving up on ever winning the argument it now sees its only survival in playing for a draw through rhetoric and sophistry — but maybe I should speak more bluntly?

    Michael Ward

  • FROM: Charles (02/24/03 1:15 AM GMT -06:00)
    I started to recommend you visit Fatima.

    I hope that you enjoy your vacation to Portugal Michael. After reading your comments though, I will refrain from any temptation to influence your travel plans.

    It is not clear to me, if I am included in your charge of rhetoric and sophistry. But from your comments, I assume that you think that I am peddling it. This does disappoint me a bit. I think that I have been more open about myself than most of this list (probably too much).

    But I have heard your complaint. Charles



    I visited and not that I have seen all the site but my initial impression from content and origin is that the protagonists of religion feel under attack and need to respond using the very knowledge that is attacking them.

    Unfortunately religion has been on the back foot for many a long year now and is tottering towards its final demise. Giving up on ever winning the argument it now sees its only survival in playing for a draw through rhetoric and sophistry — but maybe I should speak more bluntly?

    Michael Ward


FROM: Hubertus Fremerey (02/22/03 7:54 PM GMT -06:00)
some starter to society-debate

Dear all,

the following I posted in Nov 2002 to the old conference, but it may help to get a new debate — if it happens — on solid ground and off some wild speculations. I am surely not opposed to the spiritual things, but "soup and soap first", then "the gospel". Even Ray Charles needs something to eat and a free society. Under Saddam Hussein Ray Charles would not praise the Lord in a gospel-service.

Here the old posting:

Dear all,

the following is selected from the Human Develoment Report HDR 2000 (, from pages 15+16 of the "overview" there.


Human rights and human develoment share a common vision and a common purpose — to secure the freedom, well-being, and dignity of all people everywhere. To secure:

— Freedom from discrimination — by gender, race, ethnicity, national origin or religion.

— Freedom from want — to enjoy a decent standard of living.

— Freedom to develop and realize one's human potential.

— Freedom from fear — of threats to personal security, from torture, arbitrary arrests and other violent acts.

— Freedom from injustice and violations of the rule of law.

— Freedom of thought and speech and to participate in decision making and form associations.

— Freedom for decent work — without exploitation.

Human freedom is the common purpose and common motivation of human rights and human development. The movements for human rights and for human development have had distinct traditions and strategies. United in a broader alliance, each can bring new energy and strenght to the other.

Human development is essential for realizing human rights, and human rights are essential for full human development.

The mark of all civilizations is the respect they accord to human dignity and freedom.


This is exactly my own idea of what in a practical sense should be the first aim of all our endeavors. In the context of "soup, soap, and the gospel" I would call this "soup and soap". Then we need to know the meaning of "the gospel".

But I personally prefer another scheme: I like to speak of a threefold hunger — a hunger for "bread", a hunger for "love", and a hunger for "meaning". "Bread" here includes "soup" and "soap", while "love" and "meaning" are left for "being together with other humans" and for "being part of a meaningful world", respectively. Thus the hunger for "love" is only in part covered by the UNO-list above, while the hunger for "meaning" cannot be covered by such a list at all and has to be fed from sources like religions and philosophies, or otherwise.

And then: We have to build a world for humans, we have to deliver. Thus it is absolutely irrelevant how solutions and answers — if they only are solutions and answers — are labelled. To call anything "leftist", "rightist", or "conservative", or "liberal" etc. is an exercise in meaningless verbiage. People need help and answers and solutions. It is the content of the box and not the inscription on the cover what counts. As Deng Hsiao Ping once had it: "Be the cat black or white, in the end she's got to catch mice."




    REPLIES (5):

  • FROM: Hubertus Fremerey (02/22/03 8:01 PM GMT -06:00)
    a continuation on "good society"

    The following somehow went to nirvana, thus I post is again as an answer to my own posting to fix it.

    Dear all,

    there have been some questions to this conference around lately that did not trigger the debate that should have followed. There was the question of Kati Hunt on the value of philosophy and if it could improve the world, and there was the question of Henk Tuten of how to improve the existing concepts and realities of democracy. And there is Charles' and my question — following those drifting spheres — of what defines a human being as compared to a mere robot. Related to this last question there has been much debate time and again on "conscience" and on "freedom of the will", but at least in my opinion both concepts seem a bit sterile.

    What do we really ask for? All those questions above have something in common, and that is an underlying question on how to improve humans and human conditions by understanding what this means: "What is a human, what defines a good human condition — and what are the changes needed to make the world a better place for humans?" That seems to be a somewhat sloppy way of formulating the common problem. "What do we mean by 'human dignity'?", "What do we mean by 'human progress'?"

    We still live in the era of "Enlightenment". But the once great idea of "progress by science and technology" seems to come to a grinding halt. We feel disillusioned — most of us. "Really existent" socialism didn't fulfil expectations (see North Korea and Cuba), but liberalism seems to do neither. This in part explains what is sold today as "return of the religions". But not only Mike is not happy with this outlook: If the "return of religions" only means that people discard reason for faith and clear thinking and analyzing for vague hopes ("hope" was a topic here!) and prayers and superstition, this is not a progressive but a regressive development and nothing to be greeted with joy. And if the "return of religions" means a new "clash of confessions" and a return of crusades and witch-hunting and stakes burning etc., this would be the horror coming back again that Enlightenment tried to end.

    The great charge against "modernity" has been always, that it is "meaningless and void", that "improvements" per se do not give sense and set no goals to human hope and striving for a better world.

    This was the charge of Herbert Marcuse against "consumerism" — which is only a variant of the general leftist charge against "capitalism". But these charges of "consumerism" and "capitalism" and "materialism" in the sense of "greed and envy" have come from the churches at the very beginning of Enlightenment 300 years ago. All these charges today from Islamic mullahs against the "immoral and materialistic West" are verbally the same as have been the charges of the Christian churches 300 years back and since.

    But Marcuse and the Student Revolt and the Hippie- and "New Age"- movement and those Zen- (Alan Watts) and Guru- (Osho) movements that flourished in this spiritual environment of the 60s and 70s never were meant to bring the Christian churches back in, which heavily opposed all those movements anyway — mostly. All those movements were not about "suffering, death and resurrection of Christ" but they were on "make love — not war!", on "Hair" and "Aquarius" and on combining Marx and Freud and "the Indians" in a new lifestyle of mutual understanding and loving each other and loving and respecting nature — nothing more but nothing less. This dream was NOT about God or gods, it was about man and humankind. It was materialist but in a spiritual way — very much what Jean suggested. It was "Enlightenment turned spiritual" — while definitely not "religious". It was a yearning for "neo-romantical harmony" without the idea to get back at medieval cathedrals and the unity of standish society under emperor and pope.

    Thus there is really some consensus on what a better society could and should be: Neither capitalist nor Christian nor Islamic nor Confucian nor Marxist — but "human and humane". And now our task would be to define what this means: What is "human and humane" in our best understanding. What sort of society should there be?

    But we should always be aware that there was never and nowhere a really good Christian or Islamic or socialist or liberal society outside of small communities of some dozen members. Thus simply to design once more a "Great Society" will not do. We should start asking what made all those grand designs grand failures in the end.

    For a start I try one first answer: There never was and never will be the identity of the governers and the governed. Politicians are not "we the people", and the priests and mullahs are not the believers, and the socialist "apparatchiki" are not the "workers and peasants" and the "bosses" of liberalism are not the consumers. There always is this fundamental and maybe unavoidable difference of the governers and the governed. Thus every new design of a better society would have to take into account this problem of power and its use and misuse. "To kill the old bosses" is no solution, since then other people will be "the new bosses" — and maybe much worse than the old ones. So what to do?


  • FROM: Charles (02/25/03 10:57 AM GMT -06:00)
    The necessity of a label.

    Hubertus, I do not argue with the list of freedoms you posted. But I think a use and value of philosophy is putting labels on and analyzing how the ideas of freedom are developed. Every modern tyrant has probably claimed at one time or another that they were working for freedom, both Hitler and Stalin for example.



    Hubertus said: "We have to build a world for humans, we have to deliver. Thus it is absolutely irrelevant how solutions and answers — if they only are solutions and answers — are labelled. To call anything "leftist", "rightist", or "conservative", or "liberal" etc. is an exercise in meaningless verbiage. People need help and answers and solutions. It is the content of the box and not the inscription on the cover what counts. As Deng Hsiao Ping once had it: "Be the cat black or white, in the end she's got to catch mice."

    Hubertus "

  • FROM: Hubertus Fremerey (02/26/03 6:15 PM GMT -06:00)
    on being a benevolent dictator


    you clearly are right on this. But you didn't get the point: In view of Platos "Republic" I have asked "Why should we call this republic a good one, if nobody seems to like it?" The same with Huxleys "Brave New World" (which he did not commend of course). And likewise Hitler and Stalin: Show me the people that are calling those "good societies" good by experience? This exactly is my question: Where do all these grand schemes go wrong in their concept of what is "good"?

    I try to start it the other way round: Ask yourself — or ask your family and friends - what they call "good by experience". And from this start to think what a good societey would be. If so many people hate or fear the US or the Iraq, then start to list up what they are opting for instead. Why is a shooting drug scene not the paradise? What's wrong with slums? What's wrong with war and violence? What's wrong with Mary Seiferts school? If there is something to be improved, why do we think so? That exactly was my question. Back to the realities!

    And exactly these were the questions of the 60s, of Marcuse and of the musical "Hair" and of those "flower children". They too were wrong, but they had a point. And I ask for a solution: What should the better world look like — that is no simple question. And how should we arrive there — that's not a bit more easy to answer.


  • FROM: Charles (02/27/03 11:27 AM GMT -06:00)
    The "good"and politics.


    I have some reservations about your argument. For example, putting Marcuse and the "flower children" together in one category. I do not know the history of the New Left in Europe, but in the U.S. the development of the New Left was not directly out of the "Hippie" movement. If you look into the background of much, if not most of the New Left leadership in America, they had more ties to the old Left than to flower children. I guess what I am arguing is the importance of clear definitions and identification when doing social analysis.

    (I admit that is a major problem for me. I think studying philosophy has helped me there, but much more improvement on my part is needed.)

    And rather than looking for things that make a society good, maybe the focus should be on the process. For example, the American Civil Rights Movement is a broad based movement that continues to raise important issues and demand change. Good things have resulted, Voting Rights Act, Americans With Disabilities Act, and etc. But I would argue that the best result is the actual process of identifying, asserting, and defending Human Rights.


  • FROM: Hubertus Fremerey (03/02/03 7:32 PM GMT -06:00)
    on the good society


    thank you for your answer. I completely consent. I have read much on history and sociology and economics to get hold to the facts. And I always asked for what has gone wrong with communism — and why. When I once spoke of "those stupid leftist" it was NOT on the ideas of a "just society" per se — or only in part so, since I dont even agree to all goals there, not to speak of the ways. But I really understand what those leftist have in mind when asking for a more just society, since of course I am much aware of what is the lot of those "wretched of the earth". We never shoul shut our eyes and ears and hearts to the evils and atrocities of this world inflicted by humans unto other humans.

    What I always objected to — and in this even siding with Marx — is the tendency to make up a grand theory instead of asking for cause and effect. He himself used this charge against the Churches and the "idealistic" philosophers like Hegel. The "scientific" theory of Marx was great — and wrong. It was much too simplistic. And just by this "mythical" simplicity it was convincing. To show history as a great fight of the good (the suppressed) and the evil (the suppressors) is simplistic but attracting the masses just by being simplistic. "Real existing socialism" could not deliver, since his concept of modernity and effectivity and achievement rested on a false idea of human behaviour.

    Thus I think you are right on those achievements of the civil rights movement: Its a very slow process of learning on all sides, but it is not a stand-still. The case of Trent Lott was encouraging. What I try to get at is a vision much more driven by experience than by grand theory. In this my comment on Platos Republic "How can we call a societey good where nobody wants to live in?" is just in line with my comments on those "leftists" but also could be used agains "liberals": If the "real existing society and political order of the USA" does not convince people the world over, as it may have done in the 50s perhaps, than what's left? (There was a nice word-play after the fall of the Wall in 1989 here: "What's left — what's right?" — both with double meaning.)

    The famous "I have a dream"-speech of Dr.King on August 28, 1963 from the steps of Lincoln Memorial was one of those great speaches that were understandable and agreeable for all mankind everywhere on the globe. And this sort of thing is what I ask for as a start: Besides all sophistery and debatable points, we know what a good society should look like. No atrocities, no lies, no wars, no suppression, no exploitation etc..

    The deeper problem are thos trade-offs: What will be the price of a good society? Will it be too high? Will we trade "freedom for justice" as the Taliban did — or as did Calvin in Geneva or Plato in his "Republic"? In this sense I am asking for the limits of a good society. Could it be that what is the ugly side of US-capitalism and US-society is just the price to pay for the freedom and tolerance in the USA? What do you think on this, or what did to your knowledge people like Dr.King think on this problem? People who live at "the underside of the USA" surely want to know. Maybe they should not. Maybe the truth will be unacceptable. Like some people find it unacceptable that of 400 cubs from 6 lions (two male, four female) exactly and by mathematical necessity all but 6 (two male, four female) have to die prematurely. There is no way out. It MUST be so. This is our "hope-theme" again: If people cannot bear the truth, they may change to hope.

    But even to agree on what a good society should look like is much harder than to agree on what human relation should look like. If you were the boss of a great society like GM or GE you were interested in "the spirit of the enterprise" as much as in all those strategical and economical and technical things of the daily proceedings. In this sense I am asking for a best compromise to find for "America Inc." or "Germany Inc." or "World Inc."

    The problem of the Marcusean revolt — and of the New Left and Old Left likewise — was their inability to put the ideals of a "good society" and "a good economy" together. From a leftist point of view it looks like you can have only one of them — or you can have false dreams. And my question is: Should wa accept this gloomy idea as the last answer? I don't think so. I think that a liberal "but" humane society is possible. And I hope not to resemble those that won't accept 394 dead out of 400 lions-cubs too much in this.



FROM: Charles (02/25/03 9:36 PM GMT -06:00)
Tabula Rasa

Ralph said: "I believe our individual genome is the "Tabula Rasa" on which the environment writes our life. Disabilities or arrested development is a fault of our repair mechanisms, as is disease."

"The clean slate" of life. Uncertainty would be among the environmental and physical factors that write on our slates.


    REPLIES (2):

  • FROM: Hubertus Fremerey (02/26/03 5:57 PM GMT -06:00)
    spoilt car in spoilt environment

    Charles and Ralph,

    I think our individual genome is more like a spoilt car in a spoilt environment to get along with anyhow without too much bumping and crashing. Like a stunt car.


  • FROM: Ralph (03/03/03 11:15 PM GMT -06:00)
    Uncertainty is environmental pollution

    Charles, good point! For me being uncertain is the same as being ambivalent. When I can't decide between my choices I become uncertain. In my opinion, philosophical questions create ambivalence because there are more answers than questions in the world. This may be the root of why philosophical inquiry cannot change the world for better or worse.

    Many answers create ambivalence thus creating uncertainty, polluting society. Discussing the answers leads to the creation of a "private language" losing social context altogether.

    Chales, I'd be interested in learning your views concerning uncertainty.


FROM: Ovi G (02/27/03 9:15 PM GMT -06:00)
questions on use and value of philosophy

Hello everyone,

I'm new to the conference as well as to philosophy, and if that's not enough, I'm also a ... Californian. I've read most of the posts and there were some very interesting discussions but I would attempt to start from scratch: the use and value of philosophy.

In trying to get better understanding I would like to split this attempt into three separate, yet overlapping, points of reference: 1) philosophy as a personal activity 2) philosophy as a group activity and 3) philosophy as an academic branch

What are the uses and values of each of these? Which ones are common to all? In philosophy as a personal activity, for example, I may clarify my thoughts and realign my concepts, become more confident, better able to help others etc. I could also be responding to, and satisfying my need to 'keep churning' and 'reach deeper' while feeding my desire for better understanding of self, others and the world around us. I can also 'learn the language of philosophy' which can help me engage in clearer and more 'aligned' conversation with others in the same or different field. And of course, I can benefit from its therapeutic effect, satisfy emotions and reach higher 'spiritual' experiences. (I am aware that there are some disadvantages and negative implications too) Philosophy as a group activity, such as a Philosophers' Cafe and this conference, would add to the uses and values but I'll leave that open for now. As an academic branch I could start saying that philosophy is at a time of change and redirection. Applied ethics and linguistic philosophy, for example, are growing their roots into the 'philosophical future' to come. Their value increases and could be more useful in a world in need of a cure against increasingly powerful combative ethical dilemmas and confused talk.

Before closing, thank you for the opportunity to participate and for the good exchanges so far in this conference. Oh yeah, and please keep those Californian Barbarians from running things. They're a bunch of weirdoes. I'll leave you with three questions:

What are your thoughts on the uses and values on each of the three points listed above? What use(s) and value(s) do you 'get' from philosophy? What does philosophy 'get' from you?

Take care, Ovi

    REPLIES (8):

  • FROM: Hubertus Fremerey (03/02/03 8:17 PM GMT -06:00)
    on being a philosopher from California

    Dear Ovi,

    since I am not from California I should take care, but I am from Germany and that is at least as bad, maybe even worse. Since I am tirede a bit, this time only three little answers to greet you:

    As to philosophy as a personal activity: I would not be on this conference either if not for personal interest. And the others too. But of course everybody has another point of view and started from another background. Thus we have to learn to be tolerant and factual. This makes the difference to a religious or partisan forum — which is already on question 2. Philosophy is on arguing, neither on preaching nor on feeling. For example you may oppose cloning or abortions or the Bush administration or whatever — or you may support all these — but you should give arguments for us others to think it over. I never have trouble with people opposing me, you could call me a stupid or jerk or pothead or whatever: I will not be hurt or upset as long as you attach some evidence or argument that makes me think a bit.

    Let me give only one example: During the Nixon years (1969-74) I had the opportunity to debate with "tru communists" who worked as technical personnell to the supercomputer that did the calculation for me during the night. And once I said "the communists have a big overhead of bureaucrats and managers". That got them very angry (while they normally were really nice and good chaps). Why? They explained: Managers are "people of them", slaves and slave-traders to those ugly bosses and exploiters. Their own leading cadres were "people of us", chosen for their exceptional abilities to lead the working poor to a better future. This was a question of solidarity then, and my mistake was that of "formalism", comparing superficially by similar technical function what was completely different by a deeper understanding. This explanation I could accept. While it did not make me a communist, I got some real insight. If you are member of a church you never would call the pastor or priest a "manager" or a "bureaucrat". Thus details can be very important. And this would be the answer to the 3rd question: Good philosophers try to find out the importance of good arguments.

    BUT: Of the four most famous German philosophers of the 19th century, only one — Hegel - was a true academical one, a "full professor" according to current standards, while the other three — Schopenhauer, Marx and Nietzsche — were "outsiders" and never would have become (or would haved asked to become) "full professors of philosophy" (Nietzsche was a professor, but of Classical Antiquity, and Schopenhauer was assistant professor of philosophy but was never accepted by the academe, which he despised likewise, while Marx was a journalist who had studied philosophy). And I think this relation of "one professional against three outsiders" is more the rule than the exception in philosophy. Even Socrates was no professional philosopher but a stonemason, making statues and tombstones. If you have some interesting questions or answers and arguments, that counts. All else is of no importance to make a good philosopher.

    Thus welcome on board — and no niceties! Hubertus

  • FROM: Ovi G (03/03/03 2:54 PM GMT -06:00)
    the value of Emotions in philosophy

    Dear Hubertus,

    I clearly grasp what you said about philosophy as a personal activity, the only problem I seem to be having is the part about 'no feelings.' I am still in the early stages of trying to make sense of personal foundations, and for me, I seem to be unable to rule emotions out so easily. I can understand having an argument or debate where Reason behaves as Plato envisioned it, but aren't real emotions working beneath it all? I understand what you said about controlling emotions when someone disagrees or even insults; heck, I couldn't possibly get upset if they call me a pothead or jerk either. But having an argument with an other would place me in #2 (philosophy as a 'group activity') whereas in #1 ('personal activity') emotions seem to be quite 'demanding'. So far, I guess I am not arguing against anything you said, but my problem starts when moving from 'personal philosophy' to 'group philosophy.' The 'group philosopher' thus seems to become the 'personal philosopher' minus his emotions. He is to present his position on an issue, debate and argue his points against others which chose to engage in 'group philosophy.' There, 'reason' should solve our disputes since the strongest logical argument ought to win. No one should be upset, and if they are, it is because they brought their 'personal philosopher' to the group — a clear no-no. This is something I perhaps 'wish' for, and have definitely argued strongly for in the past, but I ran into some obstacles along the way. I haven't yet found a 'group' where 'personal philosophers' and their emotions were absent, but if I did, wouldn't then the Philosophers' Cafe sound more like a court of law, or even a science convention? And what against the charge that philosophical questions cannot be solved in this way? This would imply a mathematical solution to our ethical dilemmas, for example. In all cases there would be a simple right or wrong, good or bad. The judge renders the verdict (whether the jury likes it or not) and this is unchangeable until Reason demands it. And by being emotion-less in 'group' resolution how do I relate to those 'personal' philosophers who make up the group? And what if the issue debated involves something 'very personal' and 'very rational' to them? Well, I hope you understand where my problem lies with this whole thing. I personally would love for reason to lead us to 'the truth' but it obviously isn't. No form of absolutism would ever stand a chance, in my opinion, unless we transform ourselves into robots. And why aren't more people convinced with such systems which completely tilt the balance in favor of reason (i.e. Kantian ethics, metaphysical materialism etc.)? Could it be that emotions play a bigger role than Plato's Reason when it comes to 'group philosophy'? Or perhaps a mutual 'relationship' between the two?

    It must have been something to work with 'true communists' on a project. I assume you were on the West side. I must share that I grew up on the East side (Romania). I clearly understand why they would get upset when you said 'communists have a big overhead of bureaucrats and managers.' I don't understand why you think you were wrong. If you take 'manager' to mean simply an 'overseer of operation' then you couldn't have been wrong. The communist system was known to suffer from the same old problem elsewhere: too many chiefs and too many Indians trying to become chiefs. The true communists wouldn't really want to admit to this charge. They were different kind of managers than those 'slave-traders' in the West. They had a true cause, they were the 'slaves' running the system (can't help by adding: through Reason). They were, not they. But of course, we all know that history did not much work in their favor and beneath it all there were brutal enforcements of State ideology that usually worked itself negatively on the emotions of those who were supposed to be the true beneficiaries of the system. I could blame the communists for turning me into a Californian, but that would be false. They definitely had a lot to do with me ending up in California, and that's just another story. The 'us' versus 'them' mentality you presented is, of course, not just a problem for communists but for all human beings — if I may add, and I couldn't agree with you more that details can be very important. But if a Manager, whether he oversees aspects of a small church or rules the whole kingdom, can be generally viewed in the same terms. There are differences between the Priest and the Plant Manager, or the coach and the King and, in a specific sense they are referred to by different names, but in the general principle sense they are the same. The priest takes God to be his CEO but he wouldn't call him that. Naturally, managing and leadership crisscross at this level since others are involved in this 'group'. As 'overseer of operation' and 'overseer of people' things get a little more fuzzy. And it seems we're right back to Reason (or Faith?) becoming the deciding factor as the proper approach to resolving our problems. Would I be correct adding a new definition to 'group philosophy' that matches closer to observation: 'personal philosophers engaging in communicative philosophical arguments without a 'specific method of operation' and without a 'specific overseer of people.' And by 'overseer of people' , I mean a dogmatic philosopher ensuring that strict methods of operation are followed by the group. And as you saw, I am not so sure emotions can be ruled out completely from this engagement. Which way I control them (peacefully or struggling against them) I cannot deny that they are there, and that they are more important than reason would initially had me believe. At the charge that philosophical arguments must be resolved through pure reason, why doesn't that appear to be so? Do emotions have a legitimate role in influencing and be candidates for consideration in our philosophical arguments?

    Thank you for your comments and insight. I think it would be a tremendous learning experience for me. I must clarify myself, that I am not against reason. I had been influenced by the 'scientific part of my mind' but I guess I would like for you to go down this lane would me and see why Reason seems stuck and Emotions so demanding. I look forward to your response.

    Take care, Ovi

  • FROM: Hubertus Fremerey (03/03/03 10:06 PM GMT -06:00)
    On being an emotional philosopher

    posted on 4th March 2003, 5:15 am

    Dear Ovi,

    thank you for your great entry. No, I didn't say that you should lock up all emotions and sound like a logical robot. But on this conference some monthes ago there popped up the argument, that one should not do something "un-ethical". And this played on Dr.Mengele, the Auschwitz-MD, and on the current possibilities of cloning and "human genetic engineering" and PID etc.. And then I said: The task of a philosopher cannot stop — as a layman or -woman could — with the mere notion of "un-ethical", since this would be only emotional, but he/she should do the next step and ask: "by what standard do we call this x-behaviour, that makes us shudder, 'un-ethical'?" This is the core of my constant urging: "Don't moralize — analyze!"

    Of course you should have emotions and you may of course voice them on this conference. But then we all together should start to think what is it, that makes you going in this case. This is meant by "philosophy is not on confessing — that would be religion — but on arguing, on giving evidence and argument for rational people around to try to convince them or to be proven wrong and learning."

    Marx was a truly great philosopher, but he was wrong in certain important respects. Some people don't understand this. They say: "If somebody is wrong in important respects, how come we call him a truly great philosopher?" Because a truly great philosopher — like a truly great artist or musician or architect or novelist etc. — makes us see and hear and think new realities we never before dreamt of. I think that most of what Freud said is plain wrong, but at the same time I think he has been one of the greatest thinkers of modern times. And Schopenhauer and Nietzsche were VERY emotional. Schopenhauer actually called Hegel a stupid and pothead and worse, he was outraged. While Hegel would have dismissed Schopenhauer as irrelvant to philosophy. But consensus today seems to be that both were really great philosophers. Because both had great insights and good arguments for them to defend.

    Up to what age have you been to Romania? If you had a communist upbringing, you must have heard something on Hegel and Marx of course, while perhaps in California you may have heard of Freudo-Marxism from the Frankfurt-School and of Marcuse and Fromm and Habermas. I don't know your background, perhaps you enter something on that to us others, without being too personal, only to have us better understand where your argument and outlook comes from. And be sure: Nobody here will object the least to a former commie from California via Romania. Everybody is accepted at face value — while struggle is not avoided. I like this sort in the way of wrestling and call it "Royal Rumble". I can be very blunt, but it is never personal or hateful. If I call something rubbish, I have a cause to say so, but that does not mean end of debate from my opinion, I accept the same bluntness from everybody else. I am used to this from my kids and nephews and my late wife: We all were very direct but very much laughing and open at the same time. Thus don't misunderstand.

    This is a problem of "virtual" conferences: You need some time to understand the participants by temperament, while in a "real" conference you have some additional feedback from the frowns and smilings and voice and body-language.

    Thus don't be pussy-footed and speak out and don't shut up your emotions, but keep arguing to make us others think and either agree or disagree and looking for a better argument to overcome yours.

    Have fun! Hubertus.

  • FROM: Ovi G (03/04/03 2:18 PM GMT -06:00)
    emotions and communism

    Dear Hubertus,

    Thank you for clearing it up the 'no emotions' topic. I must have misinterpreted what you said, but I hope I did not leave you with the taste that I am an emotional wreck wishing to argue from the heart. It was not so much on being an emotional philosopher, but more about the value and importance of emotions in 'group philosophy' and the relation between reason and emotions in philosophy as a whole.

    And analyze we shall. If I had to pinpoint my position on a philosophical map I would definitely fall closer to the analytical branch and can't help it much; at least for now. But I think that would become more obvious in the future.

    I grew up under Ceausescu's regime, left at 17 and lived in California ever since. I was too young to understand the system, but I can tell you that I inherited and built a 'focused hatred' against the government from as long as I remember. But of course, with increased age and less hair on the head, I changed my views by analyzing the communist ideology from an impartial point of view. I don't remember Hegel so much, but I do remember the trilogy of communist gods fed to us on constant basis: Marx, Engels, Lenin. At the time I did not care much for any of them, and argued (from the heart, then) against all of them -which did not fall well with all my teachers. As far as excess bureaucrats and managers, I had the fortune of experiencing it first hand. Not only the amazing web of communist bureaucracy, but at times the level of 'control' and abuse managers felt it was their duty to fight and inflict upon anyone who did not share their views.

    I couldn't agree more with your statement 'Marx was a truly great philosopher, but he was wrong in certain important respects.' And I would like to expand your statement not just when applied to Marx, but to all philosophers. What I believe to be Marx greatest mistake was his view that change in society must happen through violence and use of 'any means' force. Second, his perspective of emphasizing a political, historical and economic lens to society and its structure left us with a valuable lesson that human nature is more important than we want to believe. There are, of course, some more positive and negative lessons you would probably like to share.

    Now when it comes to Hegel and Marx I can't help but wonder. I know that Marx was a student of Hegel, and was tremendously influenced by him. But what amazes me is that they stand so opposite in their philosophies. From what I know about Hegel (and it is not much) is that he was an idealist, while Marx took the opposite extreme — that of materialism. And maybe here you can enlighten me: what was that Marx accepted of Hegel's views and how did he twist it to such extremes?

    Glad to see you're a direct-man, Hubertus, and despite my first impression I could assure you there was nothing more I wished for Christmas, than 'conversation with another direct-man'. No pussy-footing here, the only problem remains finding something to disagree strongly about. And learning from Marx's lesson of never forgetting our human nature, then it is just a matter of time. That is perhaps my best way of learning and improving. So please don't hold up. And again, thanks, Hubertus, and I look forward.

    Take care, Ovi

  • FROM: Hubertus Fremerey (03/04/03 8:15 PM GMT -06:00)
    on the error of Marx

    posted on March 5th, 2003, 3:15 am

    Dear Ovi,

    thus in case it's needed, we will have "royal rumble" like Obelix had with the Romans (I hope you will play the Romans but I will share the boars with you afterwards).

    Now on Marx and Hegel. One has to see things in context: Hegel was not so much an "idealist" but "the last of the Neo-platonists" so to say. He was an admirer of Leibniz and Spinoza. The whole 17th century of European philosophy — including Newton and Deism and Shaftesbury tried to save God as the great supporter of a "godly" order of the world. They hoped to replace the creed of the churches — a creed that had been broken by well over a hundred years of confessional wars — at least by a new creed of the unity of what is good, what is true, and what is beautiful by a unity of Gods wisdom and nature's — his creation — ways. Thus they really thought that by insight into what is true you will become "sensible" even in a moral sense, and to know what is true you should ask what is beautiful, since what seems ugly cannot be true by Gods wisdom. And Hegel tried to save this great idea of a universe created by God and by this alone making sense. Hegel was a Lutheran (be careful: Charleys wife is a staunch Lutheran too, but a nice one), and Luther himself was an Augustinian monk, thus all three — St.Augustine, Luther, and Hegel — defended the peacekeeping order of the state.

    Against this background you have to see the furious opposition of Schopenhauer and Marx against Hegel: Schopenhauer said "This systems thing is all rubbish. There are the laws of nature, but otherwise there is nothing. Alle living being are thrown into this world and striving for happiness and survival there and confronted daily with frustration and suffering. There is no God, there is not the slightest connection between the beauty of natural law and the lot of mankind or animalkind. Nature doesn't care. We should care. We should become pityful to all creature. Hegels grand vision of meaning in history assured by a hidden "world-spirit" is a great lie and a false hope, forget it all! We are poor dogs in a terrible world." This was the accusation of Schopenhauer.

    The accusation of Marx was similar: "What is this rubbish that the stately order of Prussia or England is established by and under the blessings of God! The stately order is nothing else than an order of expropriateurs and exploiters and liars and suppressors. And God is only a booboo to scare the people and held them down and in order. Thus forget it all and fight the suppressors!"

    In this way Schopenhauer and Marx argued in the same line: There is no God, there is only nature and its laws, and there are those humans and human greedy nature, and we have to understand humans like animals striving for survival (Schopenhauer is born 1788, Darwin 1809, Marx 1818). And in this same line later Nietzsche (b. 1844) and Freud (b. 1856) were to argue.

    Thus with Hegel in 1831 died a whole great tradition of Occidental thinking of the world as "Gods grandiose creation including mankind and the state as a moral order". Then a new era of "cynicism" started that only asked for cause and effect and human aims. And in this light the conflict of "idealism" and "materialism" is only misleading. This was not the point of divide. The point of divide was this breakdown of the former idea of an overarching great order of God including mankind in this order. Life became a struggle for power and happiness and a better future — without God. And in this sense a meaningless and hopeless struggle.

    The great error of Marx was — a lack of cynicism: He was blind to the fact that there is never such a thing as "government of the people, for the people, by the people" (as Lincoln had it in his famous Gettysburg- Address). Those who govern have ALWAYS their own interests in mind, let them be liberals or communists. They try to stay in power and fall to the most twisted forms of self-deceit and vanity like Hitler and Stalin and Ceausescu and Chomeini. And the paradox is: The better the intentions the more twisted the self-deceit. Marx would have done mankind a great favour if he had stressed this idea as did Schopenhauer and Nietzsche, who both were more honest (or more "cynical") in this - as was Freud. "Idealism" and "materialism" are only words of not much importance. As the dissident Alexander Sinovjev from the former UdSSR said: "Marxists claim that Marxism is a good theory in need of a good practice. More to the truth is the other reading: Marxism is a bad practice lacking a simple theory to explain it." Try to use as a first approximation "the general theory of human vanity and greed and false hopes". But I suppose this is not far off from what you think already.

    My own stand in this is in line with Schopenhauer and Nietzsche and Freud: To make the world a better place to live in, one has to understand what makes people going. And this is not only power and money and sex. There are those monks and nuns in several cultures that vow "poverty, chastity, and obedience" — without even being neurotic! Thus humans are NOT simply "intelligent rats". But this is a debate for another occasion. And now put this together with my quest for the good society.

    Your standard greeting "take care" reminds me on this mantra of the people on Huxleys "Island" (1962). Did you read it?

    All the best from Hubertus.

  • FROM: Ovi G (03/05/03 8:55 PM GMT -06:00)
    on cynicism and German philosophy

    Dear Hubertus,

    I enjoyed your answer tremendously and it is very interesting to dig further into this. The historical perspective viewed from the position of 'believers' and 'cynics' points to the eventual deterioration in the 19th century of this 'divine order' system. This new 'era of cynicism only asked for cause and effect and human aims.' Religion finally lost its grip on the State and as Authority, leaving (Western) mankind vulnerable, responsible and accountable to find his own way. The seeds of this alternative were planted hundreds of years prior and reached a culminating and turning point at this time. Individualism has reached its climax. It only needed a new World Order.

    Philosophy recorded another 'cynical movement' in the past — that of the Greeks around 4th century BC. The Greeks were also going through an era of 'defining mankind's position' and finding Order. The obvious main difference is that the Greeks did not have to struggle for individual freedom fighting against an established 'monotheistic' Order. And unlike the 19th century, the Greeks allowed for alternatives for mankind in this Order. Besides the Cynics, there were the Skeptics, Stoics and Epicureans, for example. And of course, you could believe in any god you wanted. I don't mean to paint it in such nice colors, but the outlook of mankind was a little more positive and optimistic more than 2,000 years before Hegel's death.

    While the 19th century turning point did open the door for alternatives, the situation was more bleak than that of the Greeks. The 19th century cynic was different than the 4th century BC cynic. Even though Diogenes rejected established social values, his outlook on virtues and life was positive. While the cynical 4th century BC Diogenes came out of his dog-house and claimed 'I am a citizen of the world', the cynical and often depressed Schopenhauer of the 19th century stated that 'Man is a wolf to man.' If I was to be a cynic, I think I'd prefer Diogenes' version. In a 'dog-man world' at least I can imagine some friendly puppies and discriminate between vicious and friendly dogs. In a 'wolf-man' world (in the way wolves were observed in the 19th century) man lost his domestication. It's a wolf-world where man lives in a vicious state. Even if man must organize, it must organize itself in packs looking for prey. Is this the answer mankind learned from the peak of Enlightenment?

    The pessimistic inclinations of Schopenhauer, and later Nietzsche and Freud, are perfectly understandable. But their negative implications have already been felt (and are being felt) and the 'facts' left behind at least prove that cannot be the whole answer to mankind's puzzle. Life is tough! That has always been true. But add Schopen-Nietzschian philosophy as the center position and life could become even tougher. I also think that Schopenhauer-Nietzsche-Freud were amazing GREAT thinkers and there is a lot to learn from them, but the value of philosophy to make this world a better world, at least in this respect, fails the test. This would be a world with NO chance for HOPE.

    A couple of months ago in New York, I had a great opportunity to engage in conversation with an intelligent 19 years-old college student. When he felt at-ease, he began talking about something that was very fascinating to him: taking over the world. I joked and laughed, but he was dead serious. Even though academically brilliant, he spent the next 45 minutes (safely and discreetly) laying out the details in which I learned that he is not alone, they are organizing a pack of the elite few which has already started to lay the foundations for the Master Plan. His role was scientific. His position was to engage in studies which would lead to genetic cloning. (part of their Master Plan involved cloning the whole world or something like that). He lost me in the scientific details of how is that possible, but he seemed very convinced and knowledgeable. Others in the group would have different roles. Their organization would be more like a parallel network rather than serial, masterminded and organized by a 'shadow-type' CPU. When it came to philosophy, he laughed and referred to philosophers in negative terms. Except for one: Nietzsche. 'Nietzsche is our god,' he said. This is just a side note from personal experience and by no means I claim this is the only outcome to a 'pessimistic philosophy' mingled in with other factors of our present times. I have to say I felt chills hearing Nietzsche's name that time. Child-play or Adult-Insanity? Although Nietzsche victoriously proclaimed that 'God is dead,' that day I hoped I could have convinced this young man that 'Nietzsche is dead, too.' But I couldn't. I still hope one day somebody could.

    It seems you're striking some good chords in me and I would love to expand more on other points you 'stimulated' but it will get a little longer than it should be. So I have to cut it here. By the way, I hope I am not overshadowing anyone else. Hubertus, it is a pleasure, and please keep connecting those dots (whenever appropriate) in German philosophy. It is fascinating. And this bring to mind that Schopenhauer was influenced by Kant and started from a similar metaphysical position. Marx seems to later have adapted Hegel's methodology while reversing his metaphysics. And while Schopenhauer influenced a pessimistic Nietzsche, he also influenced somebody worth of mention: a more optimistic Wittgenstein. Even though Wittgenstein seemed to have struggled with Schopenhauer's will to live, he has made concrete positive contributions to philosophy.

    I never read Island but from the review at HuxleyNet I think it would make for a great read. Such a sad ending though. Couldn't the new society learn the lessons of the past? Couldn't greed and evil be balanced out with love and good. It will never be Utopia but at least some will keep their hopes for a better life alive. Thanks Hubertus.

    Take care, Ovi

  • FROM: Hubertus Fremerey (03/05/03 9:24 PM GMT -06:00)
    a preliminary reply

    Dear Ovi,

    it's 4:20 am local time and I am bit tired, so will answer tomorrow. Only some hints to ponder:

    — People want to live in a house and town and not in the wilderness. Plato-Aristotle-Thomas-Hegel built houses, Schopen-Nietz-Freud showed only ruins and wilderness like in "Matrix". And Marx — while trying to be positivistic too, in fact delivered the new myth of a new house for his followers. That was his paradox and his tragedy.

    — Marcuse in Island tried to show a society that could be called a good one, and since he wrote this in California of 1962, he showed his ideal world as some sort of Buddhist ashram. But as he felt himself he failed. And this by the same cause by which Marcuse and the Hippie-Movement failed: They all had and have no idea of how to combine the idea of the ashram or the village or the pueblo with the requirements of MODERN world. They all go back — as already did Platon in his "Laws" — to those bucolic times when shepherds and fishermen lived the simple life of virtue and frugality. But this is not our world, and most people definitel don't want it. What we are desperately in need of is an idea of a MODERN good life, NOT going back to those bucolic shepherds and fishermen of Plato and Rousseau.

    — The real meaning of this hefty opposition to the idea of "communist managers" (apparatchiki", "nomenklatura") was of course that "solidarity counts". This is the same in christian or muslim communities: "we against them". People want to know where they belong, where they can trust and find help. The want to know their village. A manager is somebody who kicks you around in the best interest not of you but of some boss. If you are out for a contest — say the Olympics or any other championship — you agree to be kicked around by your tutor, since you picked him for your own advantage. And this makes the difference: Being a subject of self-esteem and not an object of other people.

    This much this time. "Awareness!" as they say on the Island (the link was well known to me). All the best from Hubertus.

  • FROM: Ovi G (03/06/03 8:39 PM GMT -06:00)

    Dear Hubertus,

    Thanks for the hints to ponder, and I think I'm getting clearer about your positions. And very quickly: some people also want to clean up the house they live in, not going back to antiquity but learning from the lessons of history and establishing 'overseers of operations' in different parts of the whole, each with specific roles and relationships as 'overseer of people.' No need to rush. I am the kind that takes sleep, rest and 'relaxation' very seriously. Talk to you later.

    Take care, Ovi


FROM: Michael Ward (03/06/03 12:32 PM GMT -06:00)
Our destiny?

I want to put forward an analogy that a philosopher and a scientist carry out the same task.

I propose that all philosophers should try to do is understand the world of humans. That is to be able to associate coherent ideas together to form the 'bigger picture'.

Having then formed this 'bigger picture' it is then up to humans to decide what we want to do with this neutral information. Much has been spoken about 'improvement' and 'pollution' but both are just different perspectives of the same thing — change.

When some philosophers become as arrogant as some scientists they expound where we are going wrong, as if there is no other possible yardstick to measure change from other than there own personal desire of how things ought to be.

If the only thing that defines humanity is that we are the kind of beings that successfully struggle — then so be it. If that is true now it should always be true, consider that human life could be infinitely extended, what would motivate us over endless time if we were not struggling?

Michael Ward

    REPLIES (75):

  • FROM: Hubertus Fremerey (03/06/03 7:49 PM GMT -06:00)
    struggling for what end?


    glad to see you back from vacations to vocations. But you instantly get a punch on the nose now. Even amoebas struggle for light and some other conditions in an unisotropic or unisotopic world, meaning a world in which neiter direction (tropos) nor location (topos) is irrelevant. When you go for vacations, you look where this will be — direction and location matters. Otherwise you could just as like stay home.

    In the same sense humans and humankind sind eons are on the quest for some holy grail or for some better world to live in "where milk an honey are flowing". This is the grand design of history. The founding father of neo-platonism, Plotinos, once thought, that the whole creation was torn off by some devil from its home in God, like a stone thrown with enormous might into the sky, and like the stone will fall back to the earth by the force of gravitation so the human souls will fall back to their origins in God by the gravity of grace. This was a point that was remembered by Simone Weil.

    Thus there is one place of eternal vacations to the true believer, that is "the place where God is, home of all lost souls". And the true believer of Islam dreams of the paradise, and the true believer of Marxism dreams of the just society.

    My problem is, if a "Bacardi-world" — sunny beaches with palm-trees and sunny people young and sexy and drinking Bacardi etc., as you may know them from the TV video-clip - will be the right thing to chose for eternal vacations. We all have much more problems defining what is good than defining what is bad. Remember Jean (I miss him): He definitely was NOT happy with our world here and now, he would have liked to have a world designed by Schweitzer and Gandhi and Guenon and their likes, not by those ugly bosses or by people like me or by those mad "Californians". And I constantly and instantly asked: "YES, but where will you plan your vacations, how will you convince us others to follow you if you don't know where to go?"

    What I said was simply: "If we all try to justify our plans and deeds by the argument that they will somehow improve the world and further progress, what then should be called an improvement or why should we call our goings a progress?" When Bunyan wrote his "Pilgrims Progress" he had no doubts on where the pilgrim should go, but we today have - mostly. But we want to improve this world, we are not only "struggling for nothing save death" like the fly in the honey. But maybe we are buttering the milk of the world to then use the butter as a raft, as was the idea of some Buddhist stories of India. Hope the best!

    But now I will go to bed since for some hours at least it will be a better place than in front of the computer. Have a good time. Hubertus.

  • FROM: Ovi G (03/06/03 8:41 PM GMT -06:00)
    philosophy and science

    Dear Michael,

    Nice to hear another 'voice'. I was feeling a little guilty, to be honest. So far, I've been adding more 'stuff' to Humbertus' — probably already busy — schedule.

    Interesting to see your analogy and find myself in agreement (and that kind of shocks and amazes me at the same time). For some time, I've been pondering the science-philosophy issue. I'm trying to make a smooth transition from scientific-minded life-analyzer to 'philosopher.' I totally agree with your 'bigger picture' and one of the roles of the philosopher is to understand it. The problem arises when we try to 'associate coherent ideas together.' We each build subjective coherent ideas and we 'feel' and 'think' that we know they are coherent. But once we start talking to others we realize how different our coherent ideas are and how stubborn we can be about them. Philosophy is inclusive. Science exclusive. Philosophy does not have a particular method nor a final destination. Philosophy ponders all questions. Science concerns itself mainly with 'how.'

    And in my opinion, and based on my own mistakes (and some which probably I am doing now), perhaps this is why scientists (or scientific-minded people) have a tendency for arrogance. Science has the only 'working' method mankind has at its disposal to better understanding, they say. A scientific fact is more solid and coherent in the face of observable reality. Building 'theories' (or houses) out of these proven and provable facts excludes those who do not subscribe to its specific approach or lack its understanding. Science aspires for the 'exact' while booting out the 'inexact.' Philosophy must welcome both. (Otherwise it will eventually dissolve, and that cannot happen.) Science is universal. Philosophy is pluralistic. Science (until recently) has closed the door to subjectivity. Philosophy welcomes it.

    Therefore, my first impression in the transition process: 'What the hell is this philosophical mumbo-jumbo cacomania sh-t!' Naturally, the scientific-minded philosopher will approach the subject from a different perspective than others. And that can sometimes be a problem, too. A scientist can easily find his place in philosophy and keep his method. (i.e. the branch of materialism can offer him everything he wants including a comprehensive metaphysics) The problem arises when he expects everyone else to play with the same rules, as you pointed out. The solution in #2 ('group philosophy), at least for me, out of this 'mumbo-jumbo' would place communication and language in a higher priority. And as you said 'a philosopher and scientist carry out the same task ... all philosophers should try to understand the world of humans.' It is this constant intermingling between science and philosophy that I find fascinating. Some philosophers may attack the scientist but they have to remind themselves that there are some tremendous benefits from keeping the door open to the scientist. If philosophy is to prosper from change, the specialized scientists can only bring fresh ideas to the table. This idea exchange can only benefit philosophy as a whole if it is to better understand the world of humans. It always had. And in a constantly dividing world, philosophy is the only activity that binds all the slices and layers of mankind's quest for understanding.

    And finally on your 'ought' comment, I must admit I am still having problems with this one. Should I not have an 'ought' to my philosophy? At this time I can't picture that. Not in the sense that I force people to accept it, but at least to put it out in the open, defend it and adapt it. More like an open-ended 'ought.' I would love to hear your thoughts on this, if you don't mind.

    Take care, Ovi

  • FROM: Ovi G (03/06/03 9:14 PM GMT -06:00)
    to Hubertus

    Sorry for misspelling your name, Hubertus. Ovi

  • FROM: Michael Ward (03/07/03 9:48 AM GMT -06:00)
    Struggle on!


    Your posting headed 'struggling for what end'

    My answer to this question is 'struggling to survive' nothing more nor less. It is a matter of fact disorder in the universe is increasing and yet life is an increase in order which runs counter to the 'natural' trend.

    You also say this is the 'Grand Design of History' — this is pure bunkum! — do you really think there is any external plan or holy grail to be found?

    If we choose not to struggle for life (or afterlife) then whether it's Extacy, Religion, Bacardi, or any other kind of Spirits doesn't really matter — lets just go for pure Hedonism and be honest about it.

    However, if anyone has got insider information that there is some purpose over and above 'just struggling' then provide the source.

    Michael Ward

  • FROM: Michael Ward (03/07/03 10:32 AM GMT -06:00)
    The joy of travelling


    We are as you rightly describe subjective in our ideas so the task we face is trying to be successfully objective. That would mean we should stand outside of humanity (clearly difficult) to be able to see the bigger picture. If in some small way we can begin to recognise the colour of the spectacles we are wearing to look at the world through then we ought to be able to compensate for this rose tinted picture we call reality.

    You say science asks 'how' with this I agree unfortunately scientists ask 'why'. This isn't job demarcation as I also think that philosophers shouldn't ask 'why' because until you know all the 'hows' how can you start asking why?

    I disagree that science aspires to the exact, if the data is inexact or variable then it would wrong be change it — accept it for now and move on.

    I presume the 'ought' you refer to is not asking why — the addiction humanity has is the need to know why, it presumes that there is always an answer to this question and if you look long and hard enough you will find it. Well people would say that wouldn't they because they know what they want the answer to be.

    I find getting to destinations rather disappointing it's the pondering whilst travelling I enjoy the most.

    Michael Ward

  • FROM: Charles (03/07/03 2:28 PM GMT -06:00)
    Apples and Oranges

    Michael's analogy is true to about the same extent we compare apples and oranges. Similarities are important, but so are the differences and nuances. The reductionist model of thinking can both enlighten and confuse, depending on the circumstances in which it is used.

    For example, compare the work of two neuroscientists, one working on very specific modeling about Parkinson's Disease and one developing overall theories about the Mind. The PD researcher may be interested in grand theories about the Mind, but this is not a prerequisite to success in medical research. There is no necessary connection between forming the "bigger picture" and coming up with accurate models of Parkinson's as a decline in brain function.


  • FROM: Hubertus Fremerey (03/07/03 6:58 PM GMT -06:00)
    no problem

    Dear Ovi,

    since I am not God, misspelling my name is no sin. I even do it myself! My problem is more that I owe you (IOU) some more answers to your last posting but found no time. Sorry, will be better soon. There is much to be exchanged on communism, liberalism, Islamism etc..

    And once more to clarify my general problem: I know the value of religious experience, I know the value of great land- and seascapes and of being alone sometimes or being together with good friends etc.etc.. But I try to be honest to our times. We live in a world of modernity, of industrial and postindustial society, of scientific progress and of bid money and big expectations etc..

    So what I am asking for is a sort of a good society that is compatible with the best possibilities of humans in this modern world, and NOT evading into some ashram or pueblo or pre-modern times of shepherds and fishermen or evading into daydreams and religious or pseudoreligious visions etc..

    What went wrong with the great visions of Huxley and Marcuse? They had no clear idea of how to combine their concepts of a good life with modernity. They offered once more a world of pre- or even anti-modernity, and then by this lost the larger audience.

    There are suggestions not to be taken seriously. Of course you can enter some hippie-commune or some religious order and monastery. But this cannot be a solution for some 10 billions of humans worldwide in 50 years. Even if it were feasible in a technical sense, people would not heed the offer. There will be an industrial state for a long time to come, not a return to pre-industrial society (save by a Third World War perhaps, like in the "Mad Max" films). Thus I would never suggest such a pre-modern "solution".

    But meanwhile I have a question: There is much hatred against the USA everywhere and bsides much "Bush-bashing" today. What are your experiences. You can be open, since — as you know — most Americans are. Surely Charles (who is from Spokane) will not be upset if you say ugly things about the USA, but you should give evidence for your charges so they can be debated.

    All the best from Hubertus.

  • FROM: Hubertus Fremerey (03/07/03 7:11 PM GMT -06:00)
    On Grand Design of History

    No, Mike,

    I personally don't think there is such a Grand Design, I only wanted to understand what is on the minds of humans. I only wanted to remind you that many people desperately ask for such a Grand Design to give "meaning to life". They want to feel part of a meaningful whole, of "Gods Creation", be it in the sense of St.Thomas or in the sense of Spinoza or in the sense of Hegel — or even in the sense of Marx. There are many people — I am not one of them — that find the approach of Schopenhauer, Darwin, Nietzsche and Freud — that life is a meaningless struggle for surviving — "inacceptable" and "cynical". You need not subscribe to this, but you have to understand it if you want to understand human history and human behaviour and philosophy.

    And on the Bacardi thing: I am not sure if the spirit of the Bacardi-bottle will be better than the spirit of the Bible if you are left alone in the desert. The Bacardi-bottle will be empty soon, the Bible will not if it enters your heart. And that makes a difference. You need but one Bible but thousands of Bacardis for a long life.


  • FROM: Michael Ward (03/08/03 1:33 AM GMT -06:00)
    A drink problem


    I suspect we are not a million miles apart on the Grand Design issue although I feel that we are quite free to make up whatever meaning we choose so that lifes struggle isn't meaningless.

    Meanwhile in the desert even with a bottle of Bacardi and a Bible you will still die - clearly neither is what you need.

    Michael Ward

  • FROM: Charles (03/08/03 9:39 AM GMT -06:00)
    Neutral information?

    Michael said: "Having then formed this 'bigger picture' it is then up to humans to decide what we want to do with this neutral information."

    I do not believe that there is such a thing as "neutral information." We all process our sensory experiences through our particular "world view," which shapes our conclusions. If we recognize this, then we can make rational accommodation for our bias and hopefully reach some approximation of truth.


  • FROM: Charles (03/08/03 9:55 AM GMT -06:00)
    So what happened to the other 99.9+ per

    Regarding philosophy, what happened to the other 99.99...+ per cent of the universe?

    Michael said: "I propose that all philosophers should try to do is understand the world of humans."

    The danger of Michael's idea lies in who sets him/her self up as the authority to define the world of humans. This arbitrary limitation also unnecessarily limits human development by putting certain subjects out of consideration. A wonderful thing about philosophy is that it allows us the opportunity to benignly consider "everything." We can then make a rational decision on whether or not we want to proceed. (It also gives us the opportunity to say something is stupid without going ballistic about it.)


  • FROM: Charles (03/08/03 10:17 AM GMT -06:00)

    Michael said: "If the only thing that defines humanity is that we are the kind of beings that successfully struggle — then so be it. If that is true now it should always be true, consider that human life could be infinitely extended, what would motivate us over endless time if we were not struggling?"

    That is a big "if" Michael! One thing that philosophy seems to be about is coming up with different definitions of what defines humanity. Maybe as a conference, we should spend some time on that?


  • FROM: Charles (03/08/03 11:19 AM GMT -06:00)
    Limitations of 19th Century world view.

    Hubertus said: " I only wanted to remind you that many people desperately ask for such a Grand Design to give "meaning to life". They want to feel part of a meaningful whole, of "Gods Creation", be it in the sense of St.Thomas or in the sense of Spinoza or in the sense of Hegel — or even in the sense of Marx. There are many people — I am not one of them — that find the approach of Schopenhauer, Darwin, Nietzsche and Freud ."

    Hubertus, why do you associate the idea of Design with a subjective observation about people desperately seeking meaning to life? Is it because of a certain world view and understanding of humanity represented by your choice of Darwin, Nietzsche, Freud, and Marx? (I would not include Spinozaa with this group. I do not have an opinion about Hegel and Schopenhauer.)

    I see in Darwin, Nietzsche, Freud, and Marx a shared hostility to religion, and in Darwin, Freud, and Marx a shared 19 century reductionist and mechanical view of humanity that would make it extremely difficult to imagine a 21st Century holistic view of humanity. I do not think that your argument about those with "heart" and those who are realistic leaders applies here. I see nothing contradictory between being a realist and the holistic perspective.


  • FROM: Hubertus Fremerey (03/08/03 6:29 PM GMT -06:00)
    this time you are right!


    of course, in the geographical desert it doesn't matter too much, while it may in a social or spiritual desert. But this time I am peaceful and not entering this topic again. And these Bacardi advertisements are really nice ...


  • FROM: Hubertus Fremerey (03/08/03 7:01 PM GMT -06:00)
    everybody gets his own map out

    Exactly Charles,

    if you say "lets go!" then everybody gets out his own map and no two maps show the same location and the same ways or destinations where to start or to go. And this is my problem: How do you get people to go for this evading "better future" when the maps of the socialist, the fascist, the christian, the muslim, the liberal etc. all show different starting points and different ways and different destinations? This is why I try to get at the real thing like Mike does: Try to ignore all isms and ask for what people like to have. Nobody across all those isms really likes to have war and torture and rape and lying and stealing and poverty and illness and desolation and destitution etc., save some mad folks or some sado-masos. Thus there is some fundamental agreement among people on what is acceptable and lovable and what is not. And on this I try to concentrate our attention. This is Deng Hsiao Pings "be the cat black or white, if only it catches mice!"

    And in this I agree with Mike: All those Grand Designs of Hitler, Stalin, Ceausescu, Chomeini or whoever tried to play the "benevolent dictator" turned out to be misleading. And I want to understand why this should be so. What was wrong with all those Grand Designs? They replaced small but solid results by great dreams and ended in great lies. Up to this I can side with Mike.

    He and me only part over the question whether people can ever be content without dreams. Everything great in the world is great only as a dream. To rob him of all his dreams would bring down a human to a mere swine and robot and cynic. There are many atrocities committed in the name of God and in the name of a better future. But there are many good works of love done by the same driving forces of hope. There has been slaughtering in the name of God, but there have been the deeds of Schweitzer and Dr.King and St.Vinzenz and Fr.Damien and others too in the name of God. Thus it is not that simple as Mike seems to think — if I understand him right.

    And this I say lest I am misunderstood as running for "benevolent dictatorship". I am definitely not.


  • FROM: Hubertus Fremerey (03/08/03 7:06 PM GMT -06:00)
    on being a member of humanity

    Charles, you wrote

    "One thing that philosophy seems to be about is coming up with different definitions of what defines humanity. Maybe as a conference, we should spend some time on that?"

    I strongly support this suggestion! Hubertus

  • FROM: Hubertus Fremerey (03/08/03 7:44 PM GMT -06:00)
    on holism against mechanism


    thank you for this question. Of course you can have a wonderful holistic view that is at the same time mechanistic — like the view of Einsteins universe. But up to about 1800 the prevailing idea in Europe was that Gods Creation somprised a whole including mankind in a moral sense. This war "christianized Aristotelianism" or Thomism, and was accepted by the Protestant churches too. And by this I included Spinoza, who thought the whole world being a great incarnation of God, including humankind. By this he tried to guarantee that the true, the good, and the beautiful are of one origin, as Shaftesbury and the Deists thought likewise and afterwards Hegel and Schelling.

    And this idea of humans being part of a great order of beings was rejected by Schopenhauer, Marx, Nietzsche, Freud, Mike and me as "wishful thinking". As the French Impressionists (Monet, Renoir ea.) said by their paintings against the Romantic painters: "Natures beauty is natures beauty and not Gods beauty. There is no meaning or God behind the appearances. Nature does not point to anything but to itself." This was what Feuerbach had in mind when he said that man is not created in the image of God, but God is created in the image of man, and that the study of God — theo-logy — should therefore be replaced by the study of man — anthropo-logy. Which indeed started in his time: Modern history, ethnology, primatology, ethology, psychology, sociology, culturology etc. are all but different forms of anthropology that tried to replace religious convictions by positive science.

    Of course you are right that there is no logical contradiction between positivism and some "Grand Design". Thus Hegel could be right. But I think most philosophers today got weary of all "void speculations" and try to be content with factual evidence for the time being. And I am not contradicting myself in this: If something said by the Buddha or by Jesus or by Muhammad or by Marx or by whom else convinces me, I try to learn from it, but I am not forced to become a true believer and join some church of those who are. I find Marx worthwhile and got many insights from him, but this did not make me a Marxist. And what is a Marxist anyway? There are — like in the Christian world — several great splittings and "confessions" in Marxism, that fight each other heavily and call each other stupid and misguided. So once more these different maps of the world. I don't need such a map. I can be content with some rules of conduct. I even can like the company and good advice of Jesus without being a Christian and signing some Grand Design suggested by some Christian confession.

    It's what you said on philosophy: I can (and do) read books of the great theologians without becoming a Christian, like you may read books of the great Zen-masters without becoming a Buddhist.

    Thus I once more try to separate "good insight" or "good advice" from "swearing on some special map of the world" or "Grand Design".


  • FROM: Hubertus Fremerey (03/08/03 8:45 PM GMT -06:00)
    on how and why to bild houses


    I think there is a very clear and simple divide between science and philosophy "in the first approximation": Science can tell you how to build a house — as you stated — but not WHY to build the house and neither WHAT house to build. And philosophy starts when you try to put those latter questions in a methodical way.

    But this is only surface. The deeper structure is shown by this: "From facts don't follow acts" Science like physics (I am a physicist) tries to get at the facts of nature. Those are what they are. But when we read a novel or view a drama or a movie, we are not interested in facts but in decisions: "What are people doing or saying in certain situations — and does it convince us?" No facts can answer these questions, since those are questions not about given facts but about human intentions and their justification by moral or artistical argument. No act can be justified by a mere fact, it always needs a creative and willful mind that intends some goal to be achieved.

    And "in the second approximation" you will see, that philosophy and science cannot really be separated completely, since knowledge of facts modifies our tactical and strategical goals, and since to do science is itself a moral decision and not a necessity. Instead of becoming a scientist you can become a preacher or a politician or an artist or what else. To do science is not natural.


  • FROM: Ovi G (03/08/03 10:13 PM GMT -06:00)
    whys and hows

    Dear Michael,

    Recognizing 'the colour of the spectacles' in the meaning against those who paint a false picture of reality, I am in much agreement. My own way at looking in 'the spectacles we are wearing' is more like they need sharper focusing, rather than adjust the image to black and white, or wipe out the pretty tint. In this way 'focusing' our 'vision' involves a positive process. Self-focus then seems harder, yet worth the price, to achieve. I want to reach this 'true reality' but at the same time keep some true color. Either way, we'll end up in the same reality but maybe we'll feel it in different ways.

    You raised some great points in the why-how topic and hit my 'pondering' button. I 'hear' what you are saying. I also think that there are some who wrongly address (and answer) the 'why' questions, but in my own experiences I encountered some difficulties with simplifying the 'why' and the 'how' so easily. My own error, I believe, was that I automatically assumed that all 'why' questions were in the domain of supernaturalism. Starting from this position then I discriminated between the 'why' and the empirical 'how.' And I wished that language was so simple, in fact there are situations when the 'whys' are completely indistinguishable from the 'hows,' which show that in some situations they are used to ask the same questions. (And this is true in some scientific-type questions too) Secondly, excluding the 'why' would leave me empty in some areas of human inquiry where it is a legitimate and answerable question. As it is clearer in the cases where human intent is involved, the 'how' is one thing, the 'why' is something different, AND together they combine to create the 'whole' picture of reality. In this cases the 'why' is possible to be asked and answered and very legitimately so. And finally, there are some cases where 'why' questions do not necessarily imply a purpose or teleological end. My position has changed as to not try to limit and impose that people stopped asking 'why' to a position where I accept 'why' from all sources and then used the 'focused spectacles' to see what kind of 'why' is so-and-so referring to.

    Glad to see a travel lover, as I am one myself. And to see last week in the paper, this is now officially a 'disorder.' I wished I would've kept the article. Where did you go on vacation? Yeah, sometimes the greatest 'pondering' is done on a plane.

    Take care, Ovi

  • FROM: Ovi G (03/08/03 10:16 PM GMT -06:00)
    good society and current brief

    Dear Hubertus,

    I'm sure there would be plenty of opportunities, and we can always leave whatever issues dormant until the right time. There would be plenty of chances to 'pay me back.' You're right, there's plenty to be exchanged. No need to get bogged down with extra baggage.

    This 'good society' then, cannot be 'a Disneyland illusion', nor can it be a 'Return to the cave-days.' This society must be, as you say, 'compatible with the best possibilities of humans in this modern world...' How do we begin defining the concepts for a good life and how do we fit it in with modernity and good society?

    I think we agree on many points. I also don't think that escaping reality is the answer for society, but whether I like that or not, it got mankind to this current reality. The modern times have stripped more and more of mankind's illusions. Fine. There's no Garden, no Heaven, no God. Fine again. We're not in the center of the Universe and there's nobody watching over us. Science cannot answer ultimate questions. Fine. Take the world as it is. Utopia is impossible. Fine, fine, fine. But I still see good and bad in the world, no matter how naked the truth is. Accepting the 'bad' — I understand, but I must also accept the 'good', very much present in this reality. And if I wanted a better world, I must focus on the good, not just my own good life, but also the good society. Or at least, the possibility for a better life.

    Hubertus, my positions regarding current events falls closer to the liberal side. I don't believe war is necessary; I do believe that 9/11 provided a temporary 'focus' for Americans in general. Conservatives seem to have rediscovered their smiles, while most liberals are extremely 'disturbed.' Conservatives claim they are 'fixing' the country, while liberals see it more as a 'destruction.' The churches seem to have benefited from flocks of believers, despite the overall scandal of the Roman-Catholics. Local governments are struggling everywhere, piling on debt and reducing services. The Federal Gvt. has stepped up the 'battle' against the state of California and its 'looseness.' Touchy issues are re-surfacing stronger than I've ever seen: abortion, church-state separation (or unification), corporate corruption, rights of States to enact laws independent of the Federal Gvt., affirmative-action, etc. I'm having the feeling there is a 'silent war' going on, and the conservatives are on some kind of mission, while liberals seem to be re-organizing and preparing for 'major battle.' The regular (consumer) American is in my opinion struggling. Incomes are getting smaller, services, goods and taxes higher. There is a general sense of dissatisfaction for the working common-man and there is a lot of 'Bush-bashing' at this level. And despite all this despair and struggles, there seems to be a sense of 'moving on.'

    And since this is more like a personal interpretation and loose generalities, let me know which point you would like more evidence on or wish for me to clarify. Hubertus, which resemblances do you recognize from history's past in comparison with today's events?

    Take care, Ovi

  • FROM: Ovi G (03/08/03 10:51 PM GMT -06:00)
    science and philosophy

    Dear Hubertus,

    I agree that science is limited in the WHY and WHAT, but as you see in my 'whys-hows' reply to Michael, there can be exceptions to this rule, and if overlooked can lead one the wrong way. And here resurfaces the 'is to ought' issue again. I agree that 'reading from science' only, can be very problematic in establishing a 'fulfilling' world-view.

    Very nice way to put the 'fact to act' issue, and facts have to play a major part in the decision to act. Tendency to ignore 'scientific facts' can also be problematic, and I also agree that science and philosophy cannot be separated completely. In my opinion, philosophy, religion, art, science, and astrology spurted from the same seed. Unfortunately, I disagree that doing science 'is not natural.' I believe every normal human being is 'doing science' pretty much daily. The 'scientific-mind' is present although disproportionately used in degree. It is a natural function of the human brain and cemented in our evolutionary process. I don't mean academic science or calculus etc. So the way I look at it, we're all philosophers and scientists in general terms; the difference is, some are better at it than others, some are trained, others not.

    Take care, Hubertus.

  • FROM: Michael Ward (03/09/03 8:32 AM GMT -06:00)
    Round 1

    Charles wrote 'I do not believe that there is such a thing as "neutral information."'.

    This clearly a big difference in principle between us, assuming we are talking about the same thing, f.i. the speed of light in vacuum is exactly 299,792,458 m/s — in what way can that be anything other than neutral? Alternatively under the leadership of Hitler millions of people were put to death, is this also not neutral information?

    In the USA most states permit the ownership of guns which by themselves do not kill people. However put the gun in the hands of an irrational, emotional human who wish to impose their will on another then it's a different situation.

    My point is that information is neutral like bullets it's how you use them that matters — or do you see a different analogy?

    Michael Ward

  • FROM: Michael Ward (03/09/03 8:33 AM GMT -06:00)
    Rational opposites.

    Charles wrote 'A wonderful thing about philosophy is that it allows us the opportunity to benignly consider "everything." We can then make a rational decision on whether or not we want to proceed.'

    Aha! — Charles you expose another significant difference between people, viz what they consider rational. We probably all consider ourselves on this conference as 'rational' and yet we hold to both varying and opposing views. Admittedly we don't take up arms and annihilate each other but we do try something similar to the ideas of others we find no validity in.

    The single thing that I find most difficult to understand is the reluctance of people to fully engage. I put this down to the inability of people to separate their 'SELF' from their ideas. That is to say if I challenge a persons ideas I am perceived as challenging them (or their self). This links in with my previous posting about neutral information as I also think the SELF is neutral.

    Michael Ward

  • FROM: Michael Ward (03/09/03 8:34 AM GMT -06:00)
    Dream On

    Hubertus wrote 'He and me only part over the question whether people can ever be content without dreams. Everything great in the world is great only as a dream.'

    I said earlier that humanity is defined as a struggling type of being — struggling for life. By life I include other things than a simple three score years and ten. It is our thoughts, call them dreams if you wish, that give us so much more to struggle for than the amoeba. We struggle to survive by having less wars, disease and poverty — well perhaps most do! But we also struggle to realise our ideas (dreams) like putting a human on the moon, or talking with others thousands of miles apart.

    Yes dreams are the important catalysts to our actions.

    Michael Ward

  • FROM: Michael Ward (03/09/03 8:58 AM GMT -06:00)
    Fiesta time


    Presently I differentiate the why question into two types the first is the 'why did he/she do that' and the second 'why did some non human entity/force arrange things that way'?

    The latter are supernatural in nature and beyond any form of acceptance other than by faith of individual experience.

    You can, if you believe people have freewill, attribute a reason for why he/she did that which can then be traced back to yet earlier decisions. Unfortunately many if not most of the earlier decisions are of the former kind and thus beyond questioning. (I don't think you can question and experience but it can be interpreted differently)

    I went to Portugal, a warm and gentle country with people to match it. It was also fiesta time just before Lent though you wouldn't think it was a religious festival judging by some of the costumes the dancers weren't wearing!

    As to pondering on an aircraft it is a way of escaping to inner space where there is some room to stretch oneself.

    Michael Ward

  • FROM: Michael Ward (03/09/03 9:26 AM GMT -06:00)
    Testing the water

    Ovi wrote: 'But I still see good and bad in the world, no matter how naked the truth is.'

    As I cannot find any absolutes in the world (that haven't been invented by humanity) I have a furtive admiration for Utilitarianism. Which broadly states that acts are good/bad only dependent upon how much pain/pleasure they cause.

    I find this quite a sensible, if not entirely practical, way of reaching decisions. Whether water is at 6 deg C of 60 deg C is neither good nor bad until I put my foot in it — only then will I decide which was the lesser painful choice

    My comfort zone will be somewhere between the two as indeed it is when considering killing people either by the death penalty or by assination to prevent war. (Saddam f.i.)

    Michael Ward

  • FROM: Hubertus Fremerey (03/09/03 6:34 PM GMT -06:00)
    on how to evaluate the State of the Nation

    Dear Ovi,

    you wrote — re my question concerning the "mood" of US society as you feel it in CA:

    ""Touchy issues are re-surfacing stronger than I've ever seen: abortion, church-state separation (or unification), corporate corruption, rights of States to enact laws independent of the Federal Gvt., affirmative-action, etc. I'm having the feeling there is a 'silent war' going on, and the conservatives are on some kind of mission, while liberals seem to be re-organizing and preparing for 'major battle.' The regular (consumer) American is in my opinion struggling. Incomes are getting smaller, services, goods and taxes higher. There is a general sense of dissatisfaction for the working common-man and there is a lot of 'Bush-bashing' at this level. And despite all this despair and struggles, there seems to be a sense of 'moving on.' ""

    My picture of the USA surely is not "rosy". The movies are full of criticism — "Falling Down", "Dirty Harry", "Erin Brockovich" etc.etc. Thus not even the "Dream-machine" of Hollywood shows a "nice" face of the USA. But there are the soaps and sitcoms ("Prince of Bel Air" etc.) — and I think they are more true to the "normal" American. Hollywood abides by the formula "show the problems of the day to get people to the box-office." Thus "Enemy of the State" or "China Syndrome" or "Mission Impossible" or even "Magnolia" and "American Beauty" are not meant to show "Mr.+Ms. Everybody".

    What I try to find out is: What is justified in the notion of many critiques that the USA get worse and are not a model of a better society for tomorrow anymore — if ever they have been. If this impression could be confirmed — not only by people like Michael Moore and Noam Chomsky — this would be very important. This would mean that liberalism is in a similar way a false dream as communism has been. And in both cases it would be the practice and not the theory that was not up to expectations. And in both cases one could exactly name the fundamental error of the theory, its blind spot. While in the case of communism the blind spot was (mis)taking the Nomenclatura (falsely) for the true "representation of the workind class" instead of (rightly) for an olygarchy following its own laws and standards, so in the case of US liberalism the blind spot would be (false) ideology of the American dream that everybody gets his chance while in fact at least 90% of the populace are without such a chance like in the lottery. There was a cynical joke in the former DDR shortly befor its fall: "Why are people looking thus grey and exhausted? Because since 40 years we are going upwards." But perhaps it is like with "Waldsterben": It never happened, it only got felt some day. There are ALWAYS some 20% of all trees "ill", it simply is the normal state of affairs. Thus it may be that there ALWAYS are lots of people in Gods own Country that are or feel "falling down" while in fact their relative number does not increase while it does not diminish either. When Reagan came to power in 1981 the situation of the USA didn't change from one day to the next, but the general feeling improved dramatically by the sunny and self assured temperament of Reagan. Maybe the Democrats are always wailing like the left in Germany is too. Great hopes go with great frustrations.

    California has long been the great hope as a model for the future. The paradox is (as seen from afar) that this futuristic beacon of hope shuts down electricity for some time like any former East-Bloc state. But of course the liberals claim that this was only because of "leftist overregulation". Thus they would clearly deny that this has been a fault of liberalism per se. We just have this experience in Germany: The left won the last elections (Sept. 2002) by a margin, now only 6 monthes later they are over 10 points down while the opposition is over 10 points up since the left stirred hopes of change and then could not deliver. Now there is a stall: People fear change, but at the same time they need change, so everybody is paralyzed. This seems not too different from the situation in the USA: After the crash and before the war everybody is full of fears. As FDR said nearly exactly 70 years back: "We have nothing to fear so much as fear itself!". Thus I man not sure that anything of what you said on the "feeling" in CAL could be taken as indicator of real problems or only as indicator of imagined problems, while the problems of the former communist states (or of N-Korea and Kuba today) surely were/are real. Thus I am still looking for a clear indicator of trouble.

    I still hear the communists of the former DDR speaking hopefully of the "rotten capitalist states" soon falling down and apart "by their inherent crises" — while in fact 15 years later those "rotten socialist states" fell down and apart "by their inherent crises". The population of the USA has grown from the times of Kennedy 40 years back by some 100 million people or about 50%. But the overall wealth is still one of the highest in the world and the USA are still 3rd on the UNO "Quality of Life Index". Its very hard to know exactly what is going on.


  • FROM: Charles (03/09/03 7:30 PM GMT -06:00)
    Information: data within context.


    Information and data are two words that are used loosely in the English language. My dictionary seems to contradict itself saying at one point that information is data, but then that information is processed data.

    Your speed of light example, I would consider to be raw data. It really does not mean anything unless it is put into some sort of context in which it can be manipulated (in a "good" sense).

    In middle and secondary school I learned that the speed of light is 186,000 miles/second. My physical science and later physics teacher gave an overview of how this fact about light was established through experimentation, so I have some reason to accept it. But until it was put into the broader context of electromagnetic waves (including radio waves), it really had no meaning or information value to me. The speed of light (and radio waves) became information to me in a context where humans used the data for their own purpose, e.g. the science news about signal delay between Mission Control and various space probes.

    Even more so with data about human activity: The "numbers" or data have no neutral meaning. The numbers have no meaning or information outside of a context. Your example of guns in America is a perfect example of this. Both sides of the "Gun Control" debate in America use the same statistics to come to opposite conclusions.


  • FROM: Ovi G (03/11/03 6:06 PM GMT -06:00)
    California and change

    Dear Hubertus,

    We are not disagreeing very much. There is much of the same attitude right here. America is on a quest to find its focus eventually lost after the wall came down. Liberalism by itself is not the solution, in my view also. Successful change involves a harmonious balance between conservatism and liberalism. Unfortunately, as you and the world are noticing that is not what is happening now — and when the pendulum swings too far, there is much friction.

    The US is going through a transitional period and it is not the first time. Historically speaking, this is not the worst it has been through. But I have always been impressed that through this struggles, the US seems to bounce and rebalance faster than you would expect in such a complex society. It isn't rosy, but it has never been either. The problems of capitalism and individualism are very obvious, as Marx and others had observed in the past.

    If adaptation to one's environment should be the norm, then Americans are not guilty for seeking 'dreams' and placing such increased value on capital in their search for happiness. But in doing so, they seem to fall into the individualistic-capitalistic trap. Parents still tell children they can be anything they want, or, work hard and get an education and you would become happy etc. The truth is fortune and fame are godly AND the truth also is, money and status ought not to be so much so. This is a philosophical dilemma. I submit that the use and value and philosophy is much more positive in modern times than it appears. What people need are different methods of therapy and they are getting it mainly through false external means and/or wrong internal ones. I also submit that philosophy can offer the 'pill' for self-medicine.

    The idea that everybody gets a chance in America is to some extent true, but that they will achieve their 'dreams' is not. The socioeconomic factors affect what that chance is, but if everybody competes for finite resources and everyone 'dreams' they're entitled a bigger chunk, you will soon find a society in much need of therapy (or philosophy).

    Two of the movies you mentioned, 'Magnolia' and 'American Beauty,' are two of my favorites. 'American Beauty' looks from the perspective of struggling middle-class suburbia and in my opinion, covered a great deal of 'Mr. + Mrs. ALotOfPeople.' The problem is that most of these people seem not to (want to) understand the movie. (If you ever have time, check out the personal reviews on — the 4stars vs. the 1star clearly dominate the ratings last time I checked). 'Magnolia,' in my opinion addresses more than just the thousands of aspiring young opportunist for fame and fortune who end up as 'Children Of The Night' selling their bodies for money in a Hollywood alley. It is a lesson for the millions who may fall into the same 'illusion.' Escaping to Paradise has always been an illusion and continues to be. If I hear young and aspiring out-of-towners ask me about Hollywood and California I'd tell them to take one pill of 'Magnolia.' And repeat once daily until cured. If that doesn't do it, then, Welcome to California, may I suggest philosophy and good luck. By the way, I would also recommend 'Memento' if you didn't get a chance to see it. (although not in the same line with the appearance vs. reality issue, but nevertheless philosophical and psychological).

    The reason for California's power failure was greed and mismanagement. It was not extremely felt, but it was extremely hyped up. Either way, you're right — a good number of people were left without electricity and that brings back childhood memories, for me. But it also signaled an alarm and re-focus of energy regulation and at the same time it catapulted a renewed effort into new sources of energy. Science, capitalism, government and innovation seem to have responded quite well already, and results of the California crisis are already being introduced. The manufacturing costs of solar panels has decreased by 50 percent as a result of mass-production, generous government issued rebates for new installation of alternative energy (if I remember correctly as much as 50 percent), local governments facing financial cuts have started implementing long range cost saving systems, new money have been infused in wind-mill generators and the first self-sustaining energy homes are already being sold in parts of California (in some cases, the excess is sold to the electricity companies for a profit.) It will, of course, take much longer to see a bigger impact but some solutions are already available and are finding their way in this process of change.

    I also believe that the paranoia of the 'energy crisis' had another positive effect by leading some to inquire 'what else do we take for granted' and 'what other modern-life-dependent systems need we look into and prevent collapse.' And bingo, Southern California is mainly a desert, a very thirsty desert which is running out of sources of potable water. We are in a water crisis and we didn't know it (or believe it). I'm afraid that it is far from over, but it temporarily avoided imminent collapse. And again, I think that people have started to respond. For example a $5 million grant from the Federal Gvt. to the city of Long Beach Water Department to further improve a process that would reduce 20 percent off the water desalinization costs. And I even recall an entrepreneur's (denied) attempt to drag giant condom-like tubes filled with fresh water and towed to a barge for transport down the coast from somewhere in the Northwest. There have also been some mishaps and will continue to be so. (e.g. government water board authorities dried-mouthed from screaming at each other, deadlocked in reaching distribution agreement and missed the deadline which only left them dried-mouthed even when they stopped their screaming)

    Hubertus, I will be responding quite infrequently judging by the tempo, so I hope we can adjust. Thanks Hubertus. So many issues, so little time.

    Take care, Ovi

  • FROM: Ovi G (03/11/03 6:09 PM GMT -06:00)

    Dear Michael,

    Your view seems perfectly solid if focused on the natural-supernatural point of view. It allows you to differentiate sharply between two extremes. The first of your questions deals with the natural, and is therefore logically possible to be answered empirically, while the second question shouldn't even be asked because it is unanswerable.

    My original position was that philosophy should be inclusive to all human inquiry. Here are some 'ponderings' for you: Could we both agree on a picture of reality in which we both see a world with both 'why-people' and 'why-ask-why people'? Would philosophy be more beneficial if we excluded the later? Should we stop talking, how would we possibly be persuaded and convinced that we may be wrong or confused or brainwashed or whatever? Wouldn't that in effect, reduce our linguistic range and limit our quest by excluding those with the desire to know? And finally, 'Why do people ask why questions?'

    Half-naked Portuguese dancers at a religious fiesta? That sounds like a blast.

    Take care, Ovi

  • FROM: Ovi G (03/11/03 6:09 PM GMT -06:00)

    Dear Michael,

    Your view seems perfectly solid if focused on the natural-supernatural point of view. It allows you to differentiate sharply between two extremes. The first of your questions deals with the natural, and is therefore logically possible to be answered empirically, while the second question shouldn't even be asked because it is unanswerable.

    My original position was that philosophy should be inclusive to all human inquiry. Here are some 'ponderings' for you: Could we both agree on a picture of reality in which we both see a world with both 'why-people' and 'why-ask-why people'? Would philosophy be more beneficial if we excluded the later? Should we stop talking, how would we possibly be persuaded and convinced that we may be wrong or confused or brainwashed or whatever? Wouldn't that in effect, reduce our linguistic range and limit our quest by excluding those with the desire to know? And finally, 'Why do people ask why questions?'

    Half-naked Portuguese dancers at a religious fiesta? That sounds like a blast.

    Take care, Ovi

  • FROM: Ovi G (03/11/03 6:11 PM GMT -06:00)

    sorry for the double! (never press the stop button because you forget the subject; got it)

  • FROM: Hubertus Fremerey (03/11/03 8:31 PM GMT -06:00)
    on open and closed societies

    Dear Ovi,

    I have the same problem with work overload, so nothing to excuse for delays. I think the most important sentences in your text relating to our exchange on the USA are the following:

    / The reason for California's power failure was greed and mismanagement. ... But it also signaled an alarm and re-focus of energy regulation and at the same time it catapulted a renewed effort into new sources of energy. Science, capitalism, government and innovation seem to have responded quite well already, and results of the California crisis are already being introduced. The manufacturing costs of solar panels has decreased by 50 percent as a result of mass-production, generous government issued rebates for new installation of alternative energy (if I remember correctly as much as 50 percent), local governments facing financial cuts have started implementing long range cost saving systems, new money have been infused in wind-mill generators and the first self-sustaining energy homes are already being sold in parts of California (in some cases, the excess is sold to the electricity companies for a profit.) It will, of course, take much longer to see a bigger impact but some solutions are already available and are finding their way in this process of change.

    I also believe that the paranoia of the 'energy crisis' had another positive effect by leading some to inquire 'what else do we take for granted' and 'what other modern-life-dependent systems need we look into and prevent collapse.' And bingo, Southern California is mainly a desert, a very thirsty desert which is running out of sources of potable water. We are in a water crisis and we didn't know it (or believe it). I'm afraid that it is far from over, but it temporarily avoided imminent collapse. And again, I think that people have started to respond.

    (...government water board authorities dried-mouthed from screaming at each other, deadlocked in reaching distribution agreement and missed the deadline which only left them dried-mouthed even when they stopped their screaming) /

    Why important? Because in my opinion the rise of the USA to world power then and now as compared to "old Europe" and "old Asia" (including those Islamic powers) has been made possible in the first ling by openness to new ideas, to everybodys freedom to show his special solution and prove it, and to a permanent exchange and contest of ideas in the sense of "concurring memes". The real Gospel of the US always is and has been: "If you can convince us and prove your idea useful, we will adore you!" And this is exactly contrary to what is common in the 2nd, 3rd, and 4th world: There always the first reaction to any new and surprising idea is: "That is not what the fathers said, that has never been done this way, so please forget it, you are disturbing the old wisdom and order, you are vain and arrogant!" There always are those kings and Ajatollahs and Secretaries of the CP and bishops and Popes who know best. In the USA nobody knows best, everybody is learning always and thus by trial and error the US have eventually become the worlds #1 power.

    And on philosophical matters I would not like to take a "philosophers pill" but would stick to exactly that sort of philosophy that is genuine American and despised by most "old Eurasian" philosophies as "flat": Pragmatism. Pragmatism is not "analytical" per se, but is "anlytical in view of results". Pragmatism is on understanding the interaction between human ideas and human practice. And exactly this is my approach to a good society. This is why I ask not for a "Grand Design" or for a "Grand Hope", but for sticking to everyday experiences of what is a good society — and why — and what is not — and why not. The contradictions of self-admiring lies and pathetic practice in Kuba and North Korea is well known to you from former Romania and all other former Stalinist states. Inability and unwillingness to be honest to the facts pervaded like in a neurotic.

    But a philosopher is not simply a psychologist or sociologist or politologist with a long beard. He has a different and important task. He has to ask not what we FEEL when being happy, but what we MEAN by claiming to be happy. What me interests most this time are the "paradoxes of progress and improvement": Progress seems to be a progress to the rainbow - if you come near it vanishes. And THIS is a very philosophical problem and is NOT on the minds of (most) sociologist or politologist — but may well be on the minds of many of todays psychologists.

    And a note on the movies: I didn't know if I know "Memento" this time, since maybe it's known by another name in Germany. Of course there is always the great page "" where I just looked it up:

    No, I definitely have not seen this, but the page tells me that it is available in VHS and DVD in Germany. Next month I will have DVD on the computer, then I will view it with subtitles, which I need for understanding because of bad ears. Thank you for the hint and tell me of more of your favourite movies. Magnolia is very special: Some find it great (I saw it two times in full lenght in the cinema), but many find it "the most boring movie I ever saw". And if you check a movie by imdb, then enter the links directly as I did above. By the way: A very "American" film is "War Games":

    I cannot imagine such a movie to be made in Baghdad or even in Berlin.

    All the best from Hubertus

  • FROM: Ovi G (03/11/03 8:42 PM GMT -06:00)
    variable speed of light

    Charles, Michael and Hubertus

    The 'speed of light' example being taught in physics class as absolute and constant may not be so for long. If interested, there is a very interesting article in April 03 issue of Discover magazine, in which the 35-year-old Cambridge physicist Joao Magueijo challenges Einstein's theory as wrong and is proposing what he is referring to as VSL (varying speed of light). He even admits 'it's an act of brutality against physics,' but it would resolve the mysteries of inflation theories.

    And Hubertus may find it interesting that his ideas exploded while vacationing in Goa, a former Portuguese island colony off the coast of India, which 'seems to inhabit o cosmos of its own, a special space-time where the 1960s never ended.' Magueijo says 'It's a fun place, very psychedelic. The hippie scene is completely crazy. Some of them live in the tops of trees and go around completely naked.... Most of my insights came from this period.'

    Take care, Ovi

  • FROM: Ovi G (03/11/03 9:38 PM GMT -06:00)

    To Michael ,

    To be honest, I do not have an ethical 'theory' I strictly follow — since none of them, in themselves, seems to offer the solution to our moral disagreements. I'm afraid that if I supported and promoted one particular theory, the outcomes can be 'dangerous' to those who just want the answers and bypassing the analysis of that particular theory. Most people I run into simply want the 'bottom line.' It's like they want the answers to the test, without studying for it. And I suggest this is very much part of our 'human nature.' We don't want to spend too much brain energy on issues that are not a priority, interesting nor important to us, and especially if we think we already have most of the answers already. If I say to a person that morality's ultimate starting position is 'Act only to maximize the total good and happiness of the greater majority' or 'Act only according to the maxim by which you can at the same time will that it should become a universal rule' or whatever — it may lead one into serious moral problems when faced with 'exceptions' to those rules. And I think most philosophers agree, there are wholes in every single moral theory mankind has proposed and every single one fails the test of misappropriation.

    I'm falling off the one-theory view. I am more interested in the processes involved to reach these 'solutions.' My own personal moral stand involves an adaptive process of 'all' major moral theories surrounding a personal virtue and value ethics. I avoid relativism, strict subjectivity and strict objectivity by promoting 'analysis of particular moral situations from different perspectives with the goal of reaching the 'better' solution.' Of course, people don't like to hear this; they rather hear something like 'Do unto others as you want done unto you.' This, along with other maxims, would suggest that it implies fixed answers to morality. Although they appear so, these answers really say to them 'just as much or less' as I do.

    This reverse approach would attempt to stimulate the agent's internal cognitive process opening the door to variable perspectives (including the objective perspective) and attempt to sort out the 'better good'. In short: 'Give them the process, not the answer.' Which is, I believe, nothing but what Hubertus said earlier — 'Don't moralize. Analyze' (There are amazing similarities between the people in this group, yet we fall in such radically different positions. Why? Getting a clearer understanding is what keeps me in suspense.) And on the other hand, adding everything back up in order is the hardest part.

    And 'human nature' again, I am sometimes wrong in my process which naturally upsets me, but I try turning it into positive energy by focusing on what I did wrong. I escape pessimism from a stubbornness of who I do not want to be, but at the same time I feel that I can display strong reasons for why not being this way. Hope for me, is not faith. It is not supernatural. It is a very real part of 'human nature.' Most of us here seem to be in consensus that there no answers to ultimate mysteries, at least none for now and it looks like none for much later. At least we're running out of new approaches. I believe that the answers we need are already known, we simply cannot easily agree on 'mutual common decencies'. And that is a very slow process of adaptation, it seems. Of course, there are many downsides I am aware of, but I'm sure they'll come about.

    Michael, if you wish, we can ping-pong what are the shortcomings of utilitarianism and try to find why or how it may fail the universalizing test . Maybe others can add to that too. For an independent analyzer, that is not a bad choice, as long as he has other methods to bypass its shortcomings in practical applications.

    Michael, or anybody for that matter, you don't have to address all my points since I am becoming aware of my inner-long-windiness, but please slice away at will. Sometimes I escape from cyberspace and philosophy for a couple of days at a time, so I try catching up to most topics and issues with longer messages. Hope you understand.


  • FROM: Ovi G (03/12/03 10:17 AM GMT -06:00)
    Not "Magnolia"

    Dear Hubertus,

    I won't even try explaining this one, in my previous message I was thinking of a different movie and NOT "Magnolia". The puzzle should emerge by replacing "Magnolia" (which I did not see) with "Mulholland Dr." (which is what I meant). You're right, I have to see the movie first, maybe then I can understand it. Sorry for the shock.

    Here is how it should've read: 'Mulholland Dr.,' in my opinion addresses more than just the thousands of aspiring young opportunist for fame and fortune who end up as 'Children Of The Night' selling their bodies for money in a Hollywood alley. It is a lesson for the millions who may fall into the same 'illusion.' Escaping to Paradise has always been an illusion and continues to be. If I hear young and aspiring out-of-towners ask me about Hollywood and California I'd tell them to take one pill of 'Mulholland Dr.'

    By the way, did you see "Mulholland Dr.?" If not, I highly recommend it.

    Take care, Ovi

  • FROM: Hubertus Fremerey (03/12/03 5:33 PM GMT -06:00)
    no, I don't explode

    Dear Ovi,

    such sorts of communities have always been around. But they never could become standard, they always remain "Islands". Every ashram or cloister is similar. But this never was my theme. My theme — like that of Aristotle and Thomas and Hegel and Rawls — is that of the "standard modern society".

    By nature man is a social primate, thus "the way of the Indian" (or of the Aborigine or the Bushman) is the natural way. But some 5.000 years ago this way was left for the "way of the great powers". And you are living now in the most modern part of the greatest power history has seen. Those people in Goa climbing on trees like their ancestors would never invent the radio or the computer or the modern ship or plane — and they need not. Their way of living is simply as if history had stopped somewhere 10.000 years ago. But history has not done this. 90% of our current problems are "man-made". But this points to no solution other than the old one of the "Big Flood" and a new beginning from scatch with those happy shepherds and fishermen after the deluge.

    Unabashed Hubertus

  • FROM: Hubertus Fremerey (03/12/03 5:41 PM GMT -06:00)
    perhaps open a new thread

    Dear Ovi, Mike, and all,

    since this thread gets overloaded I suggest to copy this long posting of Ovi into an new message and start the debate from this anew. And please state once more, what the point of debate is: Applicability of utilitarian proposals? I did not understand exactly.


  • FROM: Hubertus Fremerey (03/12/03 5:46 PM GMT -06:00)
    not seen Mulholland Dr.

    Dear Ovi,

    my daughter saw "Mulholland Dr.", and I know a bit about it, but I will see it later myself from DVD. Thanks for the hint. And perhaps you see "Bulworth".

    Have fun, Hubertus

  • FROM: Michael Ward (03/13/03 12:14 PM GMT -06:00)


    Q.Could we both agree on a picture of reality in which we both see a world with both 'why-people' and 'why-ask-why people'? A. I think that actually exists in varying degrees within each of us. It isn't the asking why that's misplaced, in my opinion, it's the creation of hypothetical answers that turn into solid fact that misleads investigation.

    Q. Would philosophy be more beneficial if we excluded the later? A. No, not at all variety of ideas is just as beneficial as variety of DNA.

    Q. Should we stop talking, how would we possibly be persuaded and convinced that we may be wrong or confused or brainwashed or whatever? A.

    Q. Wouldn't that in effect, reduce our linguistic range and limit our quest by excluding those with the desire to know? A. I'm not sure about our linguistic range but desire is the only motivation for doing anything — if you don't desire why act?

    Q. And finally, 'Why do people ask why questions?' A. I'm afraid not many really do ask questions — apart from questions of the kind 'would you like fries with that Sir'

    Michael Ward

  • FROM: Michael Ward (03/13/03 12:40 PM GMT -06:00)


    You Wrote: The 'speed of light' example being taught in physics class as absolute and constant may not be so for long. If interested, there is a very interesting article in April 03 issue of Discover magazine, in which the 35-year-old Cambridge physicist Joao Magueijo challenges Einstein's theory as wrong and is proposing what he is referring to as VSL (varying speed of light). He even admits 'it's an act of brutality against physics,' but it would resolve the mysteries of inflation theories.

    The progress of a concept resulting from new data is precisely the difference between science and religion one is progressive and the other regressive.

    Michael Ward

  • FROM: Michael Ward (03/13/03 1:01 PM GMT -06:00)
    Keep smiling

    Ovi and Hubertus,

    We humans created ethics so it's not surprising that there are as many systems as I'm sure there are people, my observations so far have led me to conclude that my ethics are that there are no ethics. This however doesn't stop me feeling this way or the other about a particular issue as I too am a prisoner of my past experiences. All hard ethical rules produce absurdities in extreme circumstances and 'anything goes' can hardly be described as a system.

    To arrive at the 'better solution' means considering all possibilities for all time or having a cut-off level below which effects are ignored. Neither seem very attractive as a rule but maybe we don't need rules at all, though looking at the anti social behaviour of some people that's hard to swallow. I agree with 'Don't moralize. Analyze' but decisions are often beyond analysis and I also sometimes go with what I feel is best.

    Keep smiling

    Michael Ward

  • FROM: Hubertus Fremerey (03/13/03 3:42 PM GMT -06:00)
    on progress by religion


    modern science and technical "progress" may bring us back to the trees again (if some are left over in Goa to climb up to), while religion and superstition — as I have proven on the former conference — have led us to modern science. Thus be careful! Hubertus

  • FROM: Hubertus Fremerey (03/13/03 3:50 PM GMT -06:00)
    on handling complexity

    Dear Ovi,

    did you know this one: ? It even links you to "Brave New World" — full text. And did you see "Gattaca"? Try it and think about it ( And try "The 6th day" ( Both no great titles, but something to think about. Are you interested in SF?

    .. and Mike:

    You are an engineer, and since I have somewhat similar experiences as a physicist from the industry I do very well understand your approach to reality. But things can be complicated.

    I am asking for a "good" society — not a "just" one, not an "achieving" one, not a "right" one (in the sense of the churches or the Islam or what else of Grand Design there may be), just a "good" one, a society where it is good to live in. My sole but deadly objection against Platos "Republic" has been: "Why should we call a society a good one if nobody seems to like it?" This single objection kills at least 90% of all utopias. No architect would dare to force his client into a house by saying: "You will hate it, but it is good!" But Ceausescu tried exactly that on the Romanian people. And likewise did Hitler and Chomeini. But I surely do not. I really do ask: "What would we call a good society in all honesty — and by what argument?" It's no easy question!

    And have a look into this one below. It explains why stupid people become dogmatic if things don't come out as they should in their opinion: 9716957-2463068?v=glance&s=books

    read all readers reviews and click hints to similar authors.

    And perhaps try something from these for perspective: /103-9716957-2463068?v=glance&s=books /103-9716957-2463068 2463068?v=glance&s=books&st=* /103-9716957-2463068?v=glance&s=books 2463068?v=glance&s=books

    I havent read those (save Dorner + Perrow) but will order several of them. And you get the idea: To go back to Goa and there onto the trees will be no solution for 10 bn people! I am thinking on the real thing. And that's the literature above about.


  • FROM: Ovi G (03/13/03 10:23 PM GMT -06:00)
    constants and variables

    Dear Hubertus,

    It wasn't my intent to bash; what I thought interesting is that Magueijo was inspired by this sort of community. It was while vacationing on this 'rebellious' back-in-time island that he was able to clear and refocus his thoughts. His rebellion against the ultimate 'constant' of physics fits well with Goa and with his original starting question: What if Einstein was wrong?

    I didn't mean to offer Goa way of living as a means for a modern society, but what I found amazing, was the contrast between civilized and uncivilized, modern and old, Cambridge and Goa, progress and stagnation, people in business suits and people walking around naked, 4-star penthouse and tree-top living, rules and no rules, traditional standards and anything goes etc. It was this interaction between extremes that I was trying to highlight — the synthesis and amalgamation that gave 'fire' to an idea that, if proven, would once again change humanity's way in its' quest to make sense of the Universe it inhabits.

    There is a bigger point here, I believe, in that the ascent of one of mankind's greatest achievement in trying to understand his world — science, is making a full circle back to Heraclitus' 'Everything is in flux,' of 2,500 years ago. The belief in absolutes may have driven and benefited mankind and perhaps will continue to do so for a long time to come, but our place in the Universe may be better adjusted if we allow for the 'changeable' instead of 'fixed.' Magueijo 'brutality' and rebellion against physics may seem destructive and disobedient, just as Goa's way of live is to the West's modern progressive authoritarian world, but the positive outcomes will only benefit mankind and offer a new vision, no less significant than Einstein's toppling of Newton's. Magueijo's theory will not just demolish, but offer the first layers towards new ideas and explanations, and correct old problems. Not only it 'could actually explain where the cosmic unity of the Universe comes from' but it will also open the possibility that, theoretically at least, mankind can get past the constant 299,792,458 m/s. And of course, philosophy would adjust respectively.

    Take care, Ovi

  • FROM: Ovi G (03/13/03 11:16 PM GMT -06:00)
    science and religion

    Dear Michael,

    You said: "The progress of a concept resulting from new data is precisely the difference between science and religion one is progressive and the other regressive."

    In my reply above to Hubertus, I said, "not only it 'could actually explain where the cosmic unity of the Universe comes from' but will also open the possibility that, theoretically at least, mankind can get past the constant 299,792,458 m/s."

    'Cosmic unity' dealing with religion and 'variable speed of light' with science. The Eastern religious concept of unity merging with Western science. In this view, progress and regress are necessary opposites in a world of change and balance.

    Take care, Ovi

  • FROM: Michael Ward (03/14/03 1:13 PM GMT -06:00)
    What will be

    Hubertus wrote,

    modern science and technical "progress" may bring us back to the trees again (if some are left over in Goa to climb up to), while religion and superstition — as I have proven on the former conference — have led us to modern science. Thus be careful! Hubertus

    It makes one wonder just how many life forms in the universe must have gone through such a cycle — and as I have no goal for our future (direction that is) next time round it may be different.

    Live long and prosper,

    Michael Ward

  • FROM: Hubertus Fremerey (03/14/03 1:44 PM GMT -06:00)
    doing a cycle or turning a screw?


    even after a third World-War people would remember that there has been such a thing a "modern science". Thus it may be no cycle but a turning of a screw. And its modern man, not cave-man that would sourvive.

    I recommended before to read the "classic" SF short story "Forgetfulness" (Joseph Campbell jr., 1937, to be found in many SF-samplers) which offers another solution: Technique will be much more developed than it is today, but just by this become invisible like the James Bond gadgets and his car and like the electronics in modern cars and other devices. This moment the greatest problem — not only in Iraq and North Korea — is not technics but humans. As always. And read the Robot-Stories by Asimov. It's fun.


  • FROM: Michael Ward (03/14/03 1:51 PM GMT -06:00)
    The 'good' society.


    I have thought much about this but so far only reached the perplexing position that we humans are not really sociable animals. Sure we like the advantages that living in a multifaceted society provides but equally we also have a counterbalancing goal to rise to the top above others.

    On first sight this this seems a counter productive and I suppose on the face of it is but on the other hand it does permit the constant re-invention of the wheel which is still the dynamics behind 'natural selection'.

    We are what we are — struggling to be something other than what we are. Like coping with change I suspect we should just accept coping with competition.

    Michael Ward

  • FROM: Hubertus Fremerey (03/15/03 2:57 PM GMT -06:00)
    on being effective in contest


    you are an engineer and positivist, asking for cause and effekt like me. How do the birds and the beavers know how to build nests? Not of course by going to school, but by applying some built in programm like any numerical programmable (NP-)machine. Like f.i. a "dull" chess-computer beating Kasparov. This "pseudo-intelligence" is preprogrammed in the genes.

    But the strength of humans is to have not the result but the ability preprogrammed: Not a special human language, but the human ability to learn and to speak infinitely many languages, to apply the principle of language-construction. Just as you use the principles of engineering to design anything feasible to the task at hand. By this your "principles" are like memes from which to construct solutions.

    But the overall principle of contesting remains intact: During pre-human evolution it was a contest of the "selfish genes", now it is a contest of the "selfish memes". And the question (that disturbed Nietzsche!) is: "How could notions like sin and decency and forgivenness and clemency and remorse and brotherly love and the golden and silvery rule etc. be advantageous in this contest?" Likewise many conservatives ask: "How could ideas like democracy and freedom and human rights be advantageous in this contest?" Hitler and Kono never got it. They did not understand how the liberal US could surpass all others in civilian and military strength. Hitler and Kono thought to be strong you have to be hard and disciplined.

    But this is explainable: By notions like sin and decency and forgivenness and clemency and remorse and brotherly love and the golden and silvery rule etc. and by ideas like democracy and freedom and human rights you creat an atmosphere of working together in a trusting and flexible and creative way that gets results surpassing all solutions brought about by mere discipline. By this difference even the Eastbloc fell down since he was not flexible and inventive. Thus what looks like weakness is indeed strength. Charles will esteem this, since eastern martial arts, if applied masterly, overcome any mere bodily strength. Skill, quickness, and mentality overcome dumb muscles.

    To be competitive and struggling need not mean to be beasty or nasty. The kingpins of great institutions very seldom are the bullies but most often are sensible and softspoken people of quick intelligence and clear principles and a big chunk of "EQ" and emotional discipline and a grasp of what is essential to the task at hand.


  • FROM: Hubertus Fremerey (03/15/03 3:04 PM GMT -06:00)
    a further note on Platos "Republic"


    what explains my judgement of Platos Republic as a "brilliant nonsense" is a simple fact: A society and a good living together is much much more than simply doing "justice" to each other. And this, the whole richness of human togetherness, the very nature of sociality, is what missed Plato.


  • FROM: Ovi G (03/15/03 10:09 PM GMT -06:00)
    loose points

    Dear Hubertus,

    Covering up some loose points we've been discussing:

    You said: '[The philosopher] has to ask not what we FEEL when being happy, but what we MEAN by claiming to be happy.' Yes, but if the philosopher doesn't consider feelings he would never have a true meaning of happiness. My position remains the same: emotions are very important to the task of the philosopher, whether he admits it or not. They must be understood and consulted under the light of reason before she can formulate any definition or theoretical meaning. Thinking of what would mean to be happy and feeling happy are necessary considerations for a formulation that fits closer to our 'human nature.'

    You said: 'since this thread gets overloaded I suggest to copy this long posting of Ovi into a new message and start the debate from this anew. And please state once more, what the point of the debate is: Applicability of utilitarian proposals?' Hubertus, I think the issue was 'Can utilitarianism (or other ethical systems) be universalized?' But I think that whole issue is dormant for now, since there seems to be mutual agreement that 'all fail the test.' The point was not about denouncing utilitarianism or any other ethical theories, but more 'can we promote ethical maxims without understanding 'the mechanics' beneath them?'

    I've seen 'War Games' a while back and laughed very hard at 'Bulworth.' (which reminds me to rent it again soon.) I did not see 'Gattaca' and '6th Day' but I'll put them on my list. I'm not into SF much. Thanks.

    Take care, Ovi

  • FROM: Ovi G (03/15/03 10:12 PM GMT -06:00)
    on progress and improvement

    To Michael and Hubertus,

    There have been several resurfacings of 'progress and improvement' and I think it might deserve some attention. I think there is a possibility for criss-cross on this issue.

    For example, Michael's original analogy stated 'Much has been spoken about 'improvement' and 'pollution' but both are just different perspectives of the same thing — change.' And Hubertus said 'What interests me most ... are the 'paradoxes of progress and improvement,'' Michael also brought up the 'progress' of science as opposed to religious 'regress.' I think that 'progress' leads to a paradox, but I'm not sure 'improvement' would. Here is my case:

    My positions would start: 1) 'Progress' is NOT the same as 'Improvement'. 2) 'Progress' is paradoxical, 'Improvement' is not. 3) 'Progress' can lead to error in judgment. 4) 'Progress' is hopeful but unachievable, while 'Improvement' is hopeful, yet achievable.

    Although interchangeably used in general language, 'progress' implies a step towards some kind of fixed and ultimate destination, while 'improvement' deals with current change (for the better). Progress involves growth and advancement towards a new realm. Improvement involves enhancing and fixing the current one. Under these definitions, the popular general expression 'new and improved' falls apart. Sure, we can improve something which leads to what can be considered new — and in this sense can be referred to as progress, but is that the better definition?

    The modern (Western) concept of the word 'progress' falls closer in line with Aristotle's teleology, implying a fixed destination. Despite the interchangeability of the words in modern usage, 'progress' is nothing but 'IMPROVEMENT' from past to present. 'Progress' becomes paradoxical and problematic when modernity changed and mixed its original meaning of improvement from past to present, to that of present to future. 'Progress' was born.

    And I suggest a reason for 'why' that happened. Once again, I think, the answer is human nature: the human brain's 'improved' capability for pattern recognition, memory storage and cognitive processes resulted in an 'improvement' over his environment, conditions and technological advancements. Looking back, from present to past, one easier starts observing a pattern, which he may name 'improvement.' Part of human nature and brain function is also the ability to close loose chains and patterns stopping them of being short of perpetual looping or more modernly, 'paradoxical.' It is here that the error of 'progress' occurs. 'Progress' is the closure of the 'improvement' pattern from past to present to future. The shift to 'progress' was launched in the seventeenth century when the quarrel between ancient authorities and modern thinkers reached a climax. In the eighteenth century, as the struggle between reason and superstition intensified, modern thinkers applied the scientific idea of 'progress' to also include 'social' and 'moral' progress — an idea that has been carried forward to this day..

    The problems become more obvious as the human perspective closes the loop into a false belief for a fixed future. The observations of past improvements are assumed to be a linear teleological progression. It is here where the word 'progress' shadows the word 'improvement' and the meanings become perplexing. It is also here where is normal for one to place his (hope, faith, belief, bet) into 'progress.'

    And here is another problem: although he 'believes' in it, he may never know exactly what it is. And when one becomes a worshiper in the belief of 'modern' progress — which he cannot possibly know its final destination or control the future — it is very similar to a belief in the supernatural. In this sense, it is just an 'illusion' which serves the biological function of closing a loop, in the same way as the concept of God may to a true believer. Someone may argue that, surely that cannot be possible, because the 'modern progress worshiper' has factual proofs regarding human progress. And what may those be? 'IMPROVEMENTS' from past to present.

    One of the 'qualities' of 'progress' in this interpretation is that it provides a sense of power over fatalism and human destiny. Humankinds' achievements of the past are its proofs and hope for a controlled and omnipotent destiny and future which would eventually culminate in, perhaps ... becoming ultimate masters of the Universe (gods). Human nature again catches us in the beautiful melody of wishful thinking closing yet another brain loop.

    Although I point out to 'progress' as a superstition, illusion, or false faith — there is no reason for despair. The solution out of the modern 'progress paradox' would be, once again, the linguistic and conceptual separation between 'improvement' and 'progress,' while the focus must be shifted from the later, to the former. While 'progress' implies exponential growth, 'improvement' doesn't. Focusing on 'improvement' is a proven fact and very much achievable, while at the same time it does not strip mankind of the hope for a better life and a better world.

    Possible points of argument: 1. 'Progress' does not imply a fixed destination.

    Even so, 'progress' is still misleading and a 'false' idea which can be easier explained by 'improvement.' (Ockham's razor)

    2. Shifting the focus away from 'progress' will strip mankind's ability to look forward to a better future and leaves humanity stagnant.

    Thinking about the future is not 'progress.' Mankind would still get to think about anything he/she wants, creative imagination can still flow, sciences shift to improvement would devote more energy and resources into current human affairs.

    Sorry for the length and please fire away.

    Take care, Ovi

  • FROM: Michael Ward (03/16/03 12:34 PM GMT -06:00)
    On progress and improvement 2


    There are a number of issues in your 'on progress and improvement' posting with which I both take issue and request clarification.

    I cannot see the paradox you talk about other than the changing use of language because I see progress and improvement as virtually identical descriptions of change and steps towards a particular goal. For instance knowing your genetic disposition to disease may help you evade its onset on the other hand such information may cause you increased insurance premiums or even no affordable insurance — would such information be social progress?

    I think I overstated my position on the 'progress' of science, what is closer to my view is that science increases knowledge and increased knowledge leads to better decision making hence progress. Progress that is to a goal where humanity is freed from pain. (shades of utilitarianism here!)

    I'm not sure what you mean by closing the loop — is that not just another way of speaking about answers?

    You say we might end up as 'gods', this is a view I endorse from the viewpoint of us here today.

    Michael Ward

  • FROM: Charles (03/16/03 2:17 PM GMT -06:00)
    Importance of philosophy

    Hubertus said: "But the overall principle of contesting remains intact: During pre-human evolution it was a contest of the "selfish genes", now it is a contest of the "selfish memes". And the question (that disturbed Nietzsche!) is: "How could notions like sin and decency and forgivenness and clemency and remorse and brotherly love and the golden and silvery rule etc. be advantageous in this contest?" Likewise many conservatives ask: "How could ideas like democracy and freedom and human rights be advantageous in this contest?"


    I think that this is an example of the difficulty that can be created when science and philosophy are taken to be the same. One of my main interests in philosophy is that it offers a forum for broad discussion of issues, the believer can talk to the atheist, the philistine can talk to the artist, citizen can talk to the foreigner, scientist can discuss humanities and etc. It seems to me that this can happen because philosophy uses a more universal language and vocabulary than the specialized ones of religion, science, art, and political economics. The specific areas also make certain assumptions that philosophy does not. It seems to me that philosophy makes very few if any assumptions.

    To be more specific, Hubertus says: "But the overall principle of contesting remains..." It seems to me that this is a statement of Darwinist dogma. (Before you Darwinists start throwing stones, bear with me for a moment.) I do not believe in Darwinism. I do not believe that there is any such thing as an overall principle of contesting. To me contesting is just one of the many small realities of my current daily existence. But there is no universal rule that says "contesting is the way it is!" And I do not see how you can have a broad philosophical discussion about issues related to rights and justice using a specialized language and world view from one limited branch of science, in this case Darwinism.


  • FROM: Michael Ward (03/17/03 12:01 PM GMT -06:00)
    No big picture

    Charles and Hubertus,

    I suspect you know what I'm going to say but I'll say it anyway.

    I perceive philosophy (the love of knowledge) as the root from which all the various disciplines evolved. It is no surprise to me today that people begin to see things less blinkered than yesterday and that similar patterns recur in the various sciences. I started this thread by proposing that Philosophy and Science have similar methodologies - i.e. the goal of asking questions and from the data deducing answers.

    Darwin or Copernicus it really doesn't matter, both had ideas that pointed in a direction that produced even more knowledge. Likening it to a jigsaw when the pieces fit together they give you a little bit more of the picture, taking the pieces apart because you don't like what you see or it doesn't fit into your beliefs isn't either the philosophical or scientific way forward. That way of conduct is best left to the mystics and spiritualists — and that route looks increasingly more like a dead end.

    If a concept is to be swept aside it has to be replaced with something that's a better fit than was there before, what's a better fit that evolution of genes and/or memes I ask.

    Michael Ward

  • FROM: Hubertus Fremerey (03/17/03 5:20 PM GMT -06:00)
    on philosophy and Darwinism


    your statement on philosophys broad and open approach is great! But on Darwinism I am not convinced this moment. Of course I will not throw a stone at you. But I think the concept of "survival of the fittes" is a very general one that explains itself: You prove to be fitter if you survive. But this does not prove that you are "better". Thus after an all out Atomic-war some beacteria and cockroaches may be the only survivals, while this would not prove that Plato or Luther or Einstein or Mozart or Picasso were of less value than a roach.

    The interesting question is: Without a "higher civilization" there would never have been a Plato or Luther or Einstein or Mozart or Picasso — they are not possible in a "horde" society. The big cities and empires, taken as crucibles, have been essential for creating "advanced" concepts of literature, philosophy, religion, science etc.. Without the mathematics of the 17th century there would have been no Newton and likewise Einstein is unthinkable without the much more advanced mathematics of the 19th century, and quantum-mechanics as a basis of modern electronics used in computers and TV etc. was impossible without mathematics available only from the 20th century. And if you have the better cannons or rockets or airplanes you can subdue the rest of the world. This once more does not prove that every culture on the world is "less good" than that of the USA which are on the technical leading edge, it only proves, that we have no clearcut concept of what "better" means. In a Darwinian sense, the American way — an open, contesting society — simply is more fit to current requirements and by this overcomes all contesting cultures, like the European have overcome all the old cultures of the Orient during "imperialism" in the latter part of 19th century by their more effective weapons.

    Once more: The principle of "survival of the fittest" only states: "If you are fitter - i.e., better adapted — for survival, then chance is that you will come out ahead of the rest. But let's not ask what 'quality' means!" In this respect the cockroach may be "fitter" for surviving a Third World-War than humanity.

    I only wanted to understand why a liberal and open society like the "crucible" of the USA could be more "fit" for the modern world and its requirements than the more authoritarian and disciplined societies of Hitlers Germany or Konos Japan or Stalins Communism or Chomeinis Islamism. The USA is — as Ovi rightly said in view of the handling of electricity problems in California — a learning and adapting and flexible society. And exactly by this American scientists and artists assemble the most Nobel and other prices today. They are more open and contesting and inventive than the rest of the world - mostly. Jazz, Blues and Rock have been invented in the USA, while of course the Beatles and the Stones have been invented in GB — but once more in the "crucibles" of Liverpool and London.


  • FROM: Hubertus Fremerey (03/17/03 6:38 PM GMT -06:00)
    on truth and explanations


    "in principle" I would agree, but ... There are two ways to answer questions: By checking the evidence and trying to "falsify" any hypothetical answer to the question in the line of Popper, or by "speculating" and constructing answers from nothing but installing a "holy office" to defend the speculation. You may call the theories of Plato, Aristotle and Thomas "speculative" in this sense, waiting for some Descartes and Kant to demonstrate the speculative nature of those "explanations" and "big pictures". And in this same way astrology had to be replaced by astronomy, alchemy by chemistry, superstition by physics and biology etc.. But all this was not "natural". Neither the priests and theologians nor the common true believers could be interested in replacing the "great" truth of a "big picture" of "Grand Design" by "a merely scientific truth". Why should they? Why should anybody admiring the grandeur of Astrology or Alchemy or Cabbala be interested in studying astronomy or chemistry or mathematics? It's NOT natural.

    People generally are NOT interested in the truth, they are interested in convincing explanations — and this is a very great difference! The modern "creationists" despise the Darwinian "scientific" explanation of the manyfold of living beings and prefer the Biblical "explanation". In what sense is any "scientific" explanation of history preferable to some "mythical" explanation in the line of Hegel or Marx? The Hegel-Marxian "explanation" of history gives hope and meaning to the true believer, while the "scientific" explanation by Darwinism and systems-theory etc. does not, but represents the world and its history as fundamentally without any meaning. No wonder that many people don't like those "scientific" explanations. Thus in my opinion you mix up two completely different endeavours: The quest for truth "per se" and the quest for explanation "for me".

    Exactly by showing that there ARE laws of nature Newton startet and encouraged the quest for "objective" knowledge. Once more: There would be no modern science if not Kepler using the data from his teacher Tycho Brahe had proven that the orbit of Mars is elliptical. But Brahe and Kepler only studied this orbit to prove that it was "perfect" in a Platonic sense. Thus their approach was metaphysical, not "scientific". They would have been deeply disturbed if the orbit had turned out irregular. More to the point: The difference of "metatphysical" and "scientific" in the modern sense was nearly not known to them. And for Newton to be successful the most modern mathematics of his time was needed like it later was needed for Einstein.

    The idea that you only have to pose some good questions and then have a look and get at some good answers is completely outside what actually happens in the history of science. There simply was no "need" to replace Aristotelian speculations by some modern "science", since in its own context Aristotelian "science" WAS a valid science. Those Aristotelians were no stupids, they were very good philosophers.

    To apply a "scientific" methodology is nothing that comes "natural". When Planck started to study physics, one of the best physicists of his time thought it would become boring, since not much of importance seemed to be left for discovery. Then the whole of atomic and nuclear and solid-state physics started and made the 20th century the "century of physics". It was like Columbus sailing for India and hitting on a new continent. Newton was much of a mystic. He never had in mind such a thing as "modern science". It all was "dumb luck and serendipity".


  • FROM: Charles (03/18/03 1:12 AM GMT -06:00)
    "Better fit?"

    Michael said: " what's a better fit that evolution of genes and/or memes I ask.


    There may not be a better fit (at least not yet). I would just like the "hard corps" Darwinists to stop acting like the papacy of biological science and admit that they just have a good theory, not dogma. I would find arguments about natural selection a lot more interesting, if its advocates would admit that Darwin's science was influenced in a major way by 19th century economic and social life.

    I am organizing a task orienteering problem for my son's scout troop this weekend (fauna survey in a canyon). Right up front, I am going to tell the scouts that I do not know very much. But if they bring back an unidentified plant sample or insect in a collection bag/jar, we will "look it up" in the appropriate guidebook.

    I think questions are good. It is absolute certainty that I have problems with. I think that today evolutionary biology is as dogmatic as the biblical creationists. Both groups should "come clean" and admit how little they know. Maybe that would make both science and religion subjects that young people could get excited about learning and doing.

    I recently read a paper by computer and AI researcher Amy L. Lansky, Ph.D, entitled "Consciousness as an Active Force." I am still thinking about it, so I won't take a position on it. But one section that interests me is her translation of the Hebrew YHVH to be "I am what I will be" rather than "I am that I am." That reminds me of what I think evolution is about. Not about certainties of method, e.g. natural selection, but more about the potential of uncertainties and change. She concludes by quoting philosopher Rollo May, who she says identifies consciousness with love: "For in every act of love and will -- and in the long run they are both present in each genuine act -- we mold ourselves and our world simultaneously." (

  • FROM: Charles (03/18/03 1:47 AM GMT -06:00)
    Limits to questions?

    Hubertus said: "There are two ways to answer questions ..."

    Why only two ways? My compass has 4 primary directions, with 360 degrees that can be "infinitely reduced to more." How about other dimensions? Shouldn't we distinguish between the applied arts like economics, engineering, and urban planning and the way of never ending questions, philosophy?

    Maybe in a time of war and its seeming limitations by necessity, we should be more appreciative of philosophy and its questions.


  • FROM: Hubertus Fremerey (03/18/03 5:30 AM GMT -06:00)
    of many ways of asking questions


    we are all bears of little brains like Pooh, so we tend to get this complicated world down to simple alternative: God and the devil, Democrats vs. Republicans, pro-Bush and anti-Bush, pro-choice vs. pro-life etc.etc.. All these dichotomies above — and many more not mentioned this time — are grandiose oversimplifications of course. But once more: We all are of little brains like Pooh. There may be those 360 Grades on you compass, not to count the minutes and seconds of each grade, but in practice there are mostly 4 directions to decide: left-right and forwards-backwards.

    And along this a note on what you just posted on Darwinism: Modern concepts of Darwinism are not naive. they are much elaborated, they are not linear in any way. Darwinism is not on "progress", its on "natural selection". There are many "living fossils" that have survived since no one else was coming up with a better idea or fighting their ecological niche. As long as you don't get in the way of the Mafia or of some car or hungry cougar, you will have a peaceful life. Where there is no contest, there is no selection either.

    In the realm of "memes" this even explains why astrology survived astronomy: They solve different problems, they are not contesting for the same audience or for the same problems. Likewise alchemy and chemistry or cabbala and math or prayer and maditation or Christian work in spiritual welfare vs. atheist psycho-analysis or behaviorism. They all serve different needs.


  • FROM: Charles (03/18/03 8:52 AM GMT -06:00)


    To put alchemy and chemistry, prayer and analysis, and etc. together is a fundamental error. It confuses the issues. It makes one practice appear reasonable and another as counter cultural wierdness. Give me (us) a break! No one is advocating alchemy here. Why not go with experience and what works? Just don't make arbitrary assuptions about what hypotheses are allowed.


  • FROM: Charles (03/18/03 9:46 AM GMT -06:00)
    Natural selection


    I think natural selection = survival of the fit only because of the current authoritarian paradigm in science. (Which I think is related to the continuing influence of 19th century industrial and imperialistic life on Darwinism.) How about the possibility that evolution was about design, not necessarily creationism, possibly a self organized communitarian tendency. For a social definition of communitarian see > <.

    Note- the fact that my sister's orchardist friend shot a cougar lurking around a school bus stop a couple of weeks ago says more about the environment being out of balance than survival of the fit.



  • FROM: Hubertus Fremerey (03/18/03 3:03 PM GMT -06:00)
    on being out of balance


    I never meant to hurt you by putting alchemy against chemistry. It was just for illustration. The realm of religion is another one than that of science or the arts — so they seldom interfere. The dragonflies are living fossils, much older than the cougars, but they don't interfere. It was a long way till you could place Lutherans besides Catholics without having them beating and eating each other. This is fighting for the same ecological niche.

    And I don't see how the cougars going for school-pupils (or for their wastes) are indicating some "out of balance"-state: They simply adapt to new conditions. If you were the cougar you perhaps would prefer a nice human kid to a nice lamb. This is quite natural, since cougars didn't go to the missionary school to learn good behaviour. I once read that the big cities now become the refuge for strange species of plants and animals, since in the city the find better conditions for survival.


  • FROM: Charles (03/19/03 11:03 AM GMT -06:00)
    Philosophy and environment

    Your comment about cougars did not hurt my feelings Hubertus! I only mentioned them again, because you had in a recent posting. But your posting reminds me that there are probably very different philosophical attitudes toward the environment. Maybe this is something the conference would want to discuss after the war situation in Iraq settles down, hopefully as soon and as peacefully as possible. I know my thoughts are preoccupied right now with concern for American/U.K. forces and the Iraqi people.

    But I will throw in one example now of how my local environment has changed. A nearby, former rural area where as a child I use to go trout fishing on Saturday mornings with my father is now "built up." We then could stand on a small bridge over a stream, toss our fishing lines into the stream, and enjoy a very quiet morning together. Usually no vehicles passed over the bridge while we fished. Now suburban homes have been built all around and a new bigger bridge has been built. What does philosophy have to say about the human relationship with our environment?


  • FROM: Michael Ward (03/19/03 1:19 PM GMT -06:00)
    Through the looking glass


    Please excuse my responses in capitals but it was the easiest way to respond to the various parts of your posting.

    Hubertus wrote — "in principle" I would agree, but ... There are two ways to answer questions: By checking the evidence and trying to "falsify" any hypothetical answer to the question in the line of Popper, or by "speculating" and constructing answers from nothing but installing a "holy office" to defend the speculation. You may call the theories of Plato, Aristotle and Thomas "speculative" in this sense, waiting for some Descartes and Kant to demonstrate the speculative nature of those "explanations" and "big pictures". And in this same way astrology had to be replaced by astronomy, alchemy by chemistry, superstition by physics and biology etc.. But all this was not "natural".


    Neither the priests and theologians nor the common true believers could be interested in replacing the "great" truth of a "big picture" of "Grand Design" by "a merely scientific truth". Why should they? Why should anybody admiring the grandeur of Astrology or Alchemy or Cabbala be interested in studying astronomy or chemistry or mathematics? It's NOT natural.


    People generally are NOT interested in the truth, they are interested in convincing explanations — and this is a very great difference! The modern "creationists" despise the Darwinian "scientific" explanation of the manyfold of living beings and prefer the Biblical "explanation". In what sense is any "scientific" explanation of history preferable to some "mythical" explanation in the line of Hegel or Marx? The Hegel-Marxian "explanation" of history gives hope and meaning to the true believer, while the "scientific" explanation by Darwinism and systems-theory etc. does not, but represents the world and its history as fundamentally without any meaning. No wonder that many people don't like those "scientific" explanations. Thus in my opinion you mix up two completely different endeavours: The quest for truth "per se" and the quest for explanation "for me".


    Exactly by showing that there ARE laws of nature Newton startet and encouraged the quest for "objective" knowledge. Once more: There would be no modern science if not Kepler using the data from his teacher Tycho Brahe had proven that the orbit of Mars is elliptical. But Brahe and Kepler only studied this orbit to prove that it was "perfect" in a Platonic sense. Thus their approach was metaphysical, not "scientific". They would have been deeply disturbed if the orbit had turned out irregular. More to the point: The difference of "metatphysical" and "scientific" in the modern sense was nearly not known to them. And for Newton to be successful the most modern mathematics of his time was needed like it later was needed for Einstein. The idea that you only have to pose some good questions and then have a look and get at some good answers is completely outside what actually happens in the history of science. There simply was no "need" to replace Aristotelian speculations by some modern "science", since in its own context Aristotelian "science" WAS a valid science. Those Aristotelians were no stupids, they were very good philosophers.


    To apply a "scientific" methodology is nothing that comes "natural". When Planck started to study physics, one of the best physicists of his time thought it would become boring, since not much of importance seemed to be left for discovery. Then the whole of atomic and nuclear and solid-state physics started and made the 20th century the "century of physics". It was like Columbus sailing for India and hitting on a new continent. Newton was much of a mystic. He never had in mind such a thing as "modern science". It all was "dumb luck and serendipity".


    Michael Ward

  • FROM: Michael Ward (03/19/03 1:36 PM GMT -06:00)
    Better fit


    You think as I do that that there are no certainties or absolutes neither in intransigent scientists nor dogmatic believers. Unfortunately we part company on giving much credibility to ideas that cannot be substantiated.

    We should not shackle our children with our conclusions but give them the information (neutrally) to arrive their own conclusions. If we don't we may end up with clones of ourselves.

    The 'I am what I will be' or the idea of becoming seems to close the door to me having the ability to choose what I want, perhaps it's true, I can't say but I don't much like that idea.

    Michael Ward

  • FROM: Hubertus Fremerey (03/19/03 2:31 PM GMT -06:00)
    the philosophical environmenter


    it's the same here. 50 years ago here around was lots of green places and free nature, now its all homes. People got money and decided to leave their flats if they could afford it, an the state supported this by tax-grants to get the construction-industry going etc.etc.. Thus it was all quite natural, like the population-bomb was quite natural that then stressed the environments. Since people have money they set their home into the meadows and woods near to them and then take the plane to fly Scotland or to Canada or Washington to see meadows and woods again. It's all quite natural.

    I once suggested to build super-towers containing one million people each, half a mile squared, 500 stories, much green inside. The idea was, to protect the envirenment "by the people for the people". If you want to be in the nature again, fishing for trout on a bridge, you simply go down with the elevator. And since there are no homes around then there are no cars either save on some connecting freeways. Technically this would be a solution, but people will prefer to spoil the landscape. It's the way humans are. It's not philosphy but psychology.


  • FROM: Hubertus Fremerey (03/19/03 2:48 PM GMT -06:00)
    on dumb luck and serendipity


    you wrote "so probably was the origin of life (a sort of serendipity)?" Yes, why not! Only be careful: It's not proven up to now, it may be wrong, we don't know.

    And for the rest: I am often simply referring to make you (and me) think. I am not advocating. But think it over: Little children don't care for science, they ask for explanation. And if you tell them that something is such and such because God has made it so, they are content. Mankind has got along for some 500.000 years without science but explaining everything as needed. Mankind could have continued in this way. You NEED no science, but you need explanations. Of course you will not get at modern physics by this, but who cares. Do we really need cars and planes and TV-sets and Hifi and Foto and Computers and Atomic-Bombs and space-rockets? We so not. We could go along a further 500.000 years without modern physics and being content like little children with religious myths and astrology and alchemy and cabbalah etc.. Science in the modern sense is not needed for survival. But it maybe just fine for self-extinction (as you know, I am the ugly one, grinning nastily).


  • FROM: Hubertus Fremerey (03/22/03 4:15 AM GMT -06:00)
    on truth and going along


    this below is a fine example of what is "science" as compared to "explanation" about. It's from an interview with American sociologist Ann Swidler (b. ca. 1950) Ann_Swidler.asp

    / I have interviews where I asked, 'Why do you stay married to the person you're married to?' And the first answer would be, 'Oh, well, because she's the perfect person.' And I would say, 'What if you met somebody more perfect?' And they'd say, 'Oh, well, no, it's not that she's perfect, it's just that if you live with someone a long time·.' And I'd say, 'Does living with someone a long time guarantee happiness?' 'Oh, no, it's not really that,' and they would just change from one reason to another.

    I'm interested in why these things that seem incompatible to me aren't incompatible for them. I'm not arguing that people just use any old idea that comes along; it's more like they're having a conversation, and are adapting their ideas to the flow of the conversation. And that's a perfectly sensible thing to do. I came to see that culture serves people better when they use it in a flexible way, and when it contains a lot of alternative ways of understanding the world. /

    Poeple are not really interested in science and "truth". They are interested in getting along in an otherwise disturbing world. They are very pragmatic in this — like children. Most people are very much like children. They don't care too much about truth. They ask for a handy explanation to get along, and that's it. A religion or ideology is simply a conventional scheme whereby everybody understands a bit what is going on. "Truth" is an idal not normally asked for or needed. A bit plausibility suffices most of the time.

    I will answer you longer reply (with those "shoutings") next time. I understood that it is not meant to be "shoutings", but I suggest to use "dialogue format" instead like in "you" / "me" for interlacing answers:

    you: xxx

    me: xxx

    you: xxx

    me: xxx


  • FROM: Michael Ward (03/23/03 9:56 AM GMT -06:00)


    I observe very much to the contrary that children are naturally inquisitive, sure they ask 'why' more than 'how' but with science each answer leads onto the next question. Not so with religion such questions are answered generally as that's the way 'xxx' made it - end of conversation. They are not content they are silenced, taught not to ask silly questions.

    Mankind has not got along for some 500.000 years without science because mankind has changed — most dramatically in population. So what was convenient for a family unit living in isolation is not sufficient for an urban society. As population has increased you need science otherwise we would be like most of the third world living at subsistence level.

    Without science what level of nutrition would be available for you, me and the rest of the first world?

    One final thought just suppose another substantial asteroid was headed our way are you really arguing that Neanderthal man would have an equal survival chance that we have today or in maybe another fifty years?

    Michael Ward

  • FROM: Michael Ward (03/23/03 10:13 AM GMT -06:00)
    I thought as a child

    Hubertus wrote,

    'Poeple are not really interested in science and "truth". They are interested in getting along in an otherwise disturbing world. They are very pragmatic in this — like children. Most people are very much like children. They don't care too much about truth. They ask for a handy explanation to get along, and that's it. A religion or ideology is simply a conventional scheme whereby everybody understands a bit what is going on. "Truth" is an idal not normally asked for or needed. A bit plausibility suffices most of the time.'

    Yes I also observe the same but it isn't true for me, probably you, and certainly many other people. I have no idea just how many would fit into the category you describe above, certainly the majority I would say.

    If people wish to live the unexamined life then no doubt they will, however I suspect no such decision has ever been made on this matter as it never arose as a question in the first place. What then of equality, is there a ceiling above which some peoples ethical and moral considerations cannot rise, if so what are the consequences.

    Michael Ward

  • FROM: Hubertus Fremerey (03/25/03 2:57 PM GMT -06:00)
    on unintended consequences

    posted on March 25, 2003, 10 pm


    sorry, I was much occupied otherwise. Now I will answer your objections.

    You wrote: "children are naturally inquisitive, sure they ask 'why' more than 'how' but with science each answer leads onto the next question. Not so with religion such questions are answered generally as that's the way 'xxx' made it — end of conversation."

    And later you write: "As population has increased you need science otherwise we would be like most of the third world living at subsistence level."

    And then: "One final thought just suppose another substantial asteroid was headed our way are you really arguing that Neanderthal man would have an equal survival chance that we have today or in maybe another fifty years?"

    All three ideas on how science works start from the same false point of view. Even Columbus did not set out for America, since he did not know that there was such a thing as "America". He set sails for India and nothing else, and by this the native Americans are called Indians, since Columbus thought them to be those. In the same way there never was a thing like "modern industrial state" on the minds of Galilei, Kepler, or Newton. And the Neanderthal man was as innocent on asteroids as those dinos had been before. If he was interested in science at all, this did never concern asteroids but lions and snakes and gathering food and handling fire and building stable shelters etc..

    The only "real" science of stone-age-man was — theology and metaphysics! Only theology and metaphysics was really deep thinking on why things are as they are. The mathematical thinking of the Greeks was in part practical — as elsewhere. But the really deep mathematical thinking that was essential as a starting point for Galilei, Kepler, and Newton was "theological mathematics", Orphism and Neo-Platonism.

    As I said before: To get at his law of gravitation Newton needed the elliptical orbit of Mars, and this orbit — the only one that was proven to be elliptical! — has been studied by Brahe and Kepler on purely theological grounds. There was not the slightest practical justification for this. Of course the navigation of ships needed good clocks and good positions of the sun, the moon, and the brighter stars. But it needed no elliptic orbits of the planets. And even Newton was not interested in applications.

    Of course children are inquisitive. But there are not many children that try to prove mathematical laws of geometry or numbers. How many kids do you know that show a natural interest in questions like "what is the length of the edge of a cube of double content of a given cube?" (This is known as the "Delic" problem). It does not suffice to be inquisitive, you must have a certain approach, some strange way of thinking. Most questions of the really great scientist are not at all natural, they rather seem strange and unnatural, like Luthers questions for the nature of sin and the grace of God may seem strange and unnatural to you.

    By the way: That "with religion such questions are answered generally as that's the way 'xxx' made it — end of conversation." is not true either. Theology is as "hard" a science as is physics or mathematics. But it rests an presuppositions and "experiences" that you would not accept as such. The approach of any good Christian theologian is simply: "Suppose the Bible is really Gods word, even in a somewhat spoilt and unclear form — then what would follow from this? If God is really the Lord and creator of this world, we should be interested indeed." And this "end of conversation" does only mean: "Let the answer rest with the wise and knowing ones and let not every dumb rookie have its own opinion on this, since it is really dangerous stuff to be handled with utmost care!" This is quite natural: If you go to the doctor you want to be sure he is competent and no quack.

    "As population has increased you need science otherwise we would be like most of the third world living at subsistence level." That too is seen from the false direction: Stone-Age-man — Aborigines or Bushmen etc. today — was as fertile as modern man. But he has learned to abort or avoid children or let them die. By this he prevents overpopulation and does not live at subsistence level. Why do lions and rhinos don't live on subsistence-level? Because by fighting it out and by all sorts of death the population is kept sufficiently small. Stone-age-man lived according to the same principles. By this simple argument to prevent living at subsistence level needs no science. It's true the other way round: People live at subsistence level because of improving the life expectancy of babies by modern nutrition and medicine. But when those kids get teenies, they need to eat much more, and then you have a famine and a struggle for food and "overpopulation".

    In your former posting you wrote: ".. is there a ceiling above which some peoples ethical and moral considerations cannot rise, (and) if so what are the consequences?"

    This is a very problematic question today: People are not stupids, but humans a made for live in "hordes" in natural environments. They are not made for reflecting complicated interconnections, they are not made for "systems thinking". Just like overpopulation is the unintended result of many good intentions, so are all the ensuing problems of crime and war and "greenhouse effect" and water scarcity etc.etc..

    Most of modern problems would not even be understandable without modern computers that make global and long-distance trends visual and that allow for changing and testing the important parameters and interdependencies. To know what is or will be happening you need not only the brightest people, you need a special combination of experience and systems thinking and team-work. Thus leading persons like the Pope or Kofi Annan or the US-President get briefed every day by specialists with access to the leading people of many "think tanks" and organizations etc.. And even then they may be mislead to false conclusions. But there have been errors before and even Napoleon got ulcers in his tent before any large battle as long as he had no good information on where the enemy stood. Only then could he put his genius to work. This is the problem of the Bush administration this moment: They don't know really what they will be up to in Iraq now and in some weeks and monthes to come.

    If this is so in relatively minor contexts, it is much more troublemsome when applied to the global situation and to the future of mankind of course. Thus it is not so much a "ceiling above which some peoples ethical and moral considerations cannot rise" but it is simply lack of knowledge and experience. We are not used to this. We are used to "common" problems and to "common" solutions. But if tomorrow somebody offers a provably sound and sure method of cloning, of selecting by PID or of enabling a vital life of 500 years as normal: How would you decide what to do? You never have been confronted to this. It's not a common offer so you cannot come along with a common solution. You cannot simply turn away like Einstein could not when confronted to the possibiliy to build the Atomic bomb. He was not eager to do this, but he knew that German physicists under Hitler could be able to do it, and so he decided to let the US get at it before. This in some way was "preventive". So it's not on "a level above which some peoples ethical and moral considerations cannot rise" — even Einsteins' could not.


  • FROM: Michael Ward (03/26/03 5:14 PM GMT -06:00)
    I disagree


    Do you not see a difference between how science started and how science operates? It seems immaterial what the individuals goals were when they embarked upon their journey to India or planetary orbit calculations what happened along that journey is science. It was the ability to rewrite the starting conditions — something you don't find in theology, and thus it is an entirely different approach.

    I classify Theology with Astrology I cannot disprove either but I can see that neither have little empirical evidence to substantiate them — of course I'm willing to review any such claims provided we can agree what constitutes evidence.

    I'm not convinced by your reasoning over the population versus starvation hypothesis you make. Surely any population expands to the limits of its habitable environment over time and then a temporary state of equilibrium is reached. Along comes a change in the environment and then either its growth, death or evolution. What is unique for modern humans is the ability to modify and create their own environment giving them the ability to refuse to accept death through starvation for the firm time on this planet. Knowledge gained through science permits this next evolutionary step.

    Whilst I may wish it otherwise I hold to a view that there is a practical ceiling above which many people will not and probably cannot nor even see the need to rise above.

    You say people are not stupid but "stupid is as stupid does". There is some honesty in ideas like Platos Republic and Brave New World that have some merit. Whether it's the Coliseum, drug culture or religion they all fulfil a need in people that might not be there if they chose the examined life. On the other hand if they don't have a choice then I have made my point — they are what they are.

    Michael Ward

    p.s. I am going away for a few days — normal service will be resumed as soon as possible!

  • FROM: Hubertus Fremerey (03/26/03 6:24 PM GMT -06:00)
    on science and limits to it


    as for science: Today everybody knows how it works, we are no Neanderthals anymore. I only opposed your notion that to be interested brings results. It does not. You have to be intersted in those questions that lead to results — as f.i. asking for the rationality of the SQRT(2) or for Gods idea of planetary orbits. The astrologers are interested too, but (in my opinion) in the false questions. As for the theologians I they are asking the false questions on a God that may not exist, but by this they are thinking about what humans should be like, and that I find worthwile. While they think they do theo-logy, they in fact may be doing anthropology — and by this find out something.

    On this "level of stupidity": It's a similar problem. What I was saying was: People are not stupid, they are overwhelmed by the problems, as even Einstein was. They have not the time nor the power to keep informed and thinking it all over. For every expert you have some counter-expert, and if you call somebody brilliant because he has convinced you, you may be laughed at and be called a stupid. Only look at how today the pro-war and anti-war factions are condemning each other as stupids. I got me well informed on the pros and cons of this, but I too cannot prove anything and I surely will not convince anybody. Thats the lot of humankind. It's not like the Aborigines where the older people know best how to catch kangaroos. The war in Iraq is not a simple "how to do"-question. It's much more complicated. While of course even politics is some sort of engineering, it's not nearly as clean and precise as "engineers engineering", where you have some formulas and some understanding and some tables with data.

    If your problems are neither "well known" nor "well defined" you may be out for surprise and trouble. That was my point.



FROM: Charles (03/08/03 9:11 AM GMT -06:00)
John Main Seminar 2003

Some of you are much closer to Reading, England than I am and may want to attend.

Now Online:

John Main Seminar 2003 — Online Information & Registration Form:

    REPLIES (3):

  • FROM: Hubertus Fremerey (03/08/03 8:18 PM GMT -06:00)
    on truly spiritual people


    after clicking your indicated link and seeing what the John Main seminar is about, let me say that I very much esteem all people of real wisdom and love and understanding - including Griffith and Damien and Schweitzer and Buber and many others. I am not nearly as positivist as Schopenhauer and Nietzsche and Freud tried to be. But I defend them since they tried to be honest. If you cannot see God, than you should not pretend to see him either. Thus Schopenhauer, Nietzsche and Freud were courageous in a time of widespread hypocrisy as was Kierkegaard. And for this honesty they were justly praised. This was the best of 19th century: "Stop lying and pretending, stop clinging to a lost world that cannot be ours anymore. Be honest to what you see and feel and can defend!" By this argument Nietzsche opposed Wagner: "What have those old German heroes and gods to do with our modern times? Wagner operas are not showing the truth of modern man, they are mere entertaining musicals for reactionaries — and should be labeled as such!"

    As I said, I had my personal spiritual experiences and experiences with really pious and honest believers from all confessions too, and this made me very cautious on these topics and I will never be in the camp of the "secular humanists" by this. But those do have a point against all sorts of superstition and wishful thinking. I am not defending "Grand Design", but I am defending "spiritual experiences". There are truly great men and women full of true spiritual force of love, and I never will argue against evidence. That would be dogmatism and is just as bad as hypocrisy.


  • FROM: Ovi G (03/08/03 11:00 PM GMT -06:00)
    on Nietzsche and Wagner


    I read that Nietzsche and Wagner were best of friends at one time. Then it went sour. Was it strictly ideological or were there some personal tensions? Or both?

    Take care, Hubertus. Ovi

  • FROM: Hubertus Fremerey (03/09/03 6:58 PM GMT -06:00)
    Nietzsche and Wagner

    Dear Ovi,

    Nietzsches first major work was on the Greek Tragedy and the "Dionysian" element of passion as compared to the "Apollonian" clear thinking of "classicism". By this Nietzsche and Wagner thought to be on the same line and got befriended very much — as you said. But Nietzsche was an admirer of Schopenhauer and a sceptic. Nietzsches whole philosophy can be understood as a Schopenhauerian attempt to replace hypocrisy and false dreams - Christian and otherwise — by accepting the truth of hidden and suppressed passions. In this he was a forerunner of Freud. Greek tragedy is about incest and sexual passion and murder like the tragedies of Shakespeare and is not at all "entertainment".

    But while Nietzsche stayed true to himself his charge against Wagner was that he was a liar and offered pseudo-tragdies to an audience that needed those pseudo-tragedies for entertainment like some horror-movie today, say "Godzilla" or "Independence Day" or "Armageddon". Thus Nietzsche and Wagner got estranged more and more. Nietzsche saw Bizets "Carmen" twenty times! This in his opinion was a true tragedy, this was honest, this was about human passions and not a lie. And Nietzsche compared Wagner to Bach an said that there was nothing "deep" in Wagner but all was "effect".

    In Nietzsches later opinion Wagner was a great show-master, not a true artist. He played on the false feelings of his audience like a virtuoso on his fiddle, but he was never honest to his audience, he had nothing of importance to say, his heart was never bleeding nor jumping with joy — while Nietzsches heart was.



FROM: Charles (03/08/03 10:08 AM GMT -06:00)
re spirits

Hubertus said: "And on the Bacardi thing..."

It may have changed, but during a free afternoon at a conference in San Juan, two friends and I spent a very pleasant afternoon courtesy of the Bacardi Co. learning about and enjoying their product. More seriously, if you are interested in the history of the "New World," old San Juan is a wonderful place to visit.


    REPLIES (1):

  • FROM: Hubertus Fremerey (03/08/03 7:47 PM GMT -06:00)
    on the Bacardi world


    thank you for the hint, I really would like to make use of it a soon as possible. I'd like it.



FROM: Ralph (03/08/03 10:47 PM GMT -06:00)
J.S. Mill... help

Can anyone recommend literature about J.S. Mill? He was my all time favorite philosopher.


    REPLIES (5):

  • FROM: Hubertus Fremerey (03/09/03 8:28 PM GMT -06:00)
    some links to Mill


    I don't know if this helps:

    And try Amazon: To most books there are readers reviews where much is to be learned on the books offered. After this you may answer if these suggestions were of any help.

    And then: What do you like about JS Mill? Whom else do you like of philosophers? Why?


  • FROM: Ovi G (03/11/03 6:16 PM GMT -06:00)
    Abe Books

    If all else fails try AbeBooks for out-of-print, rare or hand to find titles.

    Take care, Ovi

  • FROM: Ralph (03/13/03 9:06 PM GMT -06:00)
    Thank you

    Thank you Hubertus and Ovi

    Those web pages were excellent!! I like J.S. Mill for several reasons. He existed in a time when philosphical issues had great social impact. I seem to find clarfication of thinking when I read him. "On Liberty" discusses the role of authority concerning minorities. I'm looking now to read his system of logic. He was an empiricist believing in free will who wanted to be an idealist. I used to enjoy H.L. Mencken for I just linger in the Sci-fi cinema at my leasure. Thanks for asking! Back to you Hubertus, Do you have a favorite? Tell me your thoughts...

  • FROM: Hubertus Fremerey (03/15/03 6:26 AM GMT -06:00)
    why philosophy?


    since I am no philosopher by profession, my approach to philosophical problems is not by philosophy proper. I never read any philosophers' works "in depth" and I have no special preferences or "favourites". I see the history of philosophy like I see the history of art: There are many great works in any epoch, and I see the different styles of epochs and artists, from Giotto to Leonardo and Duerer and Raffael over Rembrandt and El Greco to Monet and Matisse and Picasso and countless others. And I see the difference between Leonardo (1452-1519) and Bosch (ca. 1450-1516) who were contemporaries. And in all those comparisons I ask: "What has been new, what did they see, what are they telling us?" Likewise in philosophy.

    My approach is a practical one: Philosophy is one of several human approaches to reality besides religion, science, and the arts, and besides history, sociology, ethnology, psychology, ethology and some others. The value of philosophy seems to be that it makes us aware of different ways of putting questions to the world and giving meaning and pattern to mere "facts". There are no "natural" problems — save the physical and physiological ones. The existence of God or his mercy or of sin and forgivenness or "the meaning of history" or that of freedom are no "natural" problems, like in art "perspective" or "similarity" are no natural problems. Those are problems that come up and have their time and vanish again. Because of this I always urge people to ask the meta-questions: "Why did people get interested in this problem which has been without interest for centuries or millenia, and why did this interest vanish again?"

    And there are no natural answers either. F.i. the "positivist" approach of Schopenhauer, Kierkegaard, Feuerbach, Marx, and Nietzsche in the 19th century was not different from the pragmatist approach of Peirce and James and Dewey in the USA or from that of utilitarianism in GB — Bentham, the Mills, and others. The common trait of all these approaches was "anti-metaphysical": Ignore all "Grand Designs" of "cosmos" or "God" or "history" and stick to the factual, to the practical, to man as a problem-solving animal. But this was not the only approach of philosophers during the 19th century. There still were idealism and (Neo-)Thomism and several others. But positivism and "life-philosophy" (= "Lebens-philosophie", which is NOT "philosophy of life") and pragmatism were the significant "philosophical species" of those times.

    And I entered philosophy from this side: I always saw "the problem solving animal" and started from history, sociology, ethnology, psychology, ethology etc. to understand the meaning of human actions — and only then looked up philosophy and theology on their approaches. By this I tried to fell victim to "formalism". An example of this would be Platos "Republic", which I called "a brilliant nonsense". Why? Becaus as a study of our concepts of justice it is brilliant, but as a design for a real state to live in it is nonsense. And this difference of analytical and practical approaches is important.

    To study philosophy and theology is important too, since it keeps you aware of different ways of seeing and approaching the world. Once more: There are no "natural" problems. And this even justifies theology: There are aspects of our "being in the world" that only Christendom or Islam or Judaism or Hinduism or Buddhism bring out. No science and no socialism or liberalism will do.

    It's not that you have to sign any of those religious or antireligious creeds, you only have to see the human condition in their light to know something more on the human condition. To ignore philosophy or theology and keep to "science" is in my opinion "naivety of the bad sort", ignoring information that is available. It's similar to approaching the history of art with preconceptions on what art is, instead of simply asking what people of all times and eras have taken it to be. By this you perhaps would (dis)miss Medieval art or "primitive" art or "modern" art as "not worthwile" — which would be stupid and ignorant, since all three "directions" have brought forth works of the greatest significance. Thus always try as many approaches to reality as are available and only then try to make up your personal opinion — and perhaps show us a new approach never tried before.


  • FROM: Hubertus Fremerey (03/15/03 6:32 AM GMT -06:00)
    minor correction

    of course it should read:

    By this I tried NOT to fell victim to "formalism".


FROM: Hubertus Fremerey (03/09/03 5:07 PM GMT -06:00)
on distributive justice

Dear all,

the paper of Professor Wolff in the Pathways nr. 53 of today and the reply of Tony Flood was fascinating stuff — at least for me. So I commented on it — see below. Perhaps you have some further thoughts on this. Hubertus

—-------------------------------------------- Notes on the Jonathan Wolff paper 'Four Forms of Redistribution' and on the comments on this by Tony Flood.

cf. Pathways News nr. 53, as of 9th March 2003

The most important aspect of the paper is Prof.Wolffs attention to the psychosocial aspects of redistribution. There are donors and acceptors of -goods', where these goods may be money or favours or concessions that have not been open before to the —disadvantaged'.

This even starts with the question, who defines -disadvantage'. Prof.Wolff notes a shift from a -medical' to a -social' concept of (bodily) disadvantage: It may be less degrading for a paralyzed person to be treated as -different' than to be treated as —deficient'. The mere notion of such a difference in evaluation includes a shift in the concept of -normalcy' which Prof.Wolff is well aware of. To treat the paralyzed as only different avoids some sort of -labeling' him/her as -inferior by deficiency' while it cannot be completely honest: Most people that are handicapped really feel so and they feel the hidden lie in the notion that they are -merely different'. This is proven by the simple fact that if you have Parkinsons Disease or bad ears or are short-sighted etc. you nearly in any case would accept a device or treatment to get things -corrected' and become -fully enabled'. But the notion of being -fully enabled' is meaningless without the corresponding notion of being -NOT fully enabled' or in some way -disabled'. Thus in my opinion (I am in part -disabled' or handicapped by bad ears) to replace the notion of —being disabled' by the notion of -being different' is evading the facts and by this is not honest.

The notions of being -disabled' or handicapped appeal to charity. In times when youthful vigour and achieving is in high esteem, to be dependent in any form on charity is felt by some as degrading. In a more decent society it is not. In this context even the critique of Tony Flood is to be seen: He notes that those who — in any form — are held accountable for -corrective justice' as donors of money or favours or concessions are not at all asked by Prof.Wolff if they find this justified. They may claim that they personally are not responsible for the bad fate of others and thus are deprived of a part of their own options without asked for consent. They claim -exclusive moral ownership of resources' in the words of Tony Flood, and he further comments: -There is a passing reference to "public action" that allegedly "rectifies" someone's "disadvantage" that no one knowingly imposed. Does "public action" itself involve the imposition of foregone opportunities on innocent parties? We are not told. Professor Wolff is concerned only with how "we" ought to frame our offer of forcibly expropriated resources lest we add insult to an injury we did not in any case inflict.' And he later says explicitely: — .. while I would not force Professor Wolff to pay any costs associated with improving that (sc. disadvantaged) individual's lot, I am not sure he would grant me the same freedom.' and -Professor Wolff seems to presuppose that, generally speaking, all persons with needs have enforceable claims on all persons who are capable of meeting them.' This amounts to the difference of the principle of -mutual assurance' and -social aid': While in mutual assurance my premium is given by my own decision, in social aid it is not, and this is not changed by the fact that social aid is paid from taxes, since the state is obliged to minimal and justified taxation in the common interest.

But a decent society will not afford masses of misers around. And this concept of —decency' is NOT included in our concept of (formal) justice. Thus from a formal concept of social justice Mr.Floods critique is completely justified, while from a -social' point it is not. Or put otherwise: The -social' claim cannot be reduced to a formal claim. But humans ARE social beings. You cannot deny the baby the mothers breast by the argument that the baby is not -entitled' to get nourished. This shows the failure of the concept of entitlement to understand what society means. Any decent human society depends on mutual loyalty and solidarity and love and honesty and understanding. But we are never —entitled' to anything of this, because the mere concept of -entitlement' is not applicable here. Entitlement is a juridical concept derived from mutual consent of contracting parties. This is completely different from -social relations'. Thus the critique of Mr.Flood derives from a fundamental misunderstanding of this difference between -contractual' and -social' relations.

These preliminary notions show that it is impossible to separate a purely formal concept of social justice from all notions of social decency and moral obligation and mutual respect and responsibility. Thus Kains' question -Am I my brothers keeper?' cannot be avoided. The mere concept of justice is always to be defined in the context of human relations and cannot be treated on a mere formal basis. This makes the difference of a society of humans and a society of robots. In the case of robots you may define -justice' as a purely formal concept — if at all. Or put otherwise: When speaking of social justice we always should take both words — -social' and -justice' — as being of equal importance, the -social' being at least as essential as the -justice'.

In the family or in the -extended family' or clan of premodern times this inclusion of the social in any notion of justice was never questioned. Even today when we say -we are all a great family' we by this mean that -we will not count', but we will share —brotherly'. The -abstract' notion of justice is part of the modern liberal and individualistic view of society. This in part explains the appeal of socialism and the resistance against -modernity' in many people. Pre-modern societies are build from —clans' and -tribes' and -extended families' and -households' — and not from individuals. Thus -formal' justice is by itself not a very good concept to understand what people are talking of if they talk of -social justice'.

Mr.Flood argues: -I will not insult the reader by spelling out why the State is not like a family or a club, but I wonder whether some such notion underlies the rationale for "redistribution".' But this does not invalidate my own argument. Since the modern state has dissolved most of the former -associations of solidarity' — those -clans' and —tribes' and -extended families' and -households' mentioned above — he had to provide some substitute. Of course even today there are -communities' and -neighborships' and —networks' for mutual support, but not everybody is a member of such -connections of solidarity', and by this the modern state is in fact a successor of those.

Mr.Flood says: -"Redistribution" is a political notion.' No, it is not. It is a social notion. And by this difference the whole edifice of liberalisms is unsound. During the evolution of modern liberalism from Locke and Smith and Kant and the Mills down to Mises and Hayek the idea of human solidarity evaporated and got replaced by -entitlements'. To prove this point one only needs to see a very simple argument: There is no provable —need' of the poor or disadvantaged. Why not let them rot and die? From a liberal point of view there is nothing to be said against this! There is no such thing as -entitlement to life' — much less so to an entitlement to a decent life. But Adam Smith was a professor not of economy but of moral sciences, and likewise was the concern of Kant a moral one. They never thought of the inherent deficiencies of liberalism because they held the notions of decency and solidarity for given — as did Aristotle and Thomas before. But in a consistent theory of liberalism this problem has to be debated in the light of Amartya Sens concept of -property rights' — which is a bit nearer to reality than the concept of Mises and Hayek.

Lest I be misunderstood to be a -socialist and redistributer': I am not. I clearly understand the liberal idea of -self realization' in the Lockean tradition up to Ayn Rand. But I likewise do well understand what Marx had in mind when he tried to find a modern substitute of the former -connections of solidarity' that pervaded the old standish order and the churches. The idea of liberalism has been, that those connections, insted of being defined by tradition, should be defined by compact and mutual interest of its members. But this left as unsolved the problem of the fate of all those people that are NOT members of such a compact and that need the state for defending their objective interests in face of organized powers. Thus, while the concept of liberalism is a great one and I can subscribe to it, it has severe faults by misunderstanding the nature of human society. /

    REPLIES (8):

  • FROM: Rachel Browne (03/10/03 2:07 PM GMT -06:00)
    Well, yes


    You think rights and entitlements are false or political concepts rather than humanly defined? I so agree. But human solidarity includes the disabled since human disabled are human, so how does human solidarity give rise to all sorts of false ways of dealing with things, such as entitlements? Just back from South Africa. It was a wonderful place in terms of beauty and weather, and I'd like to be there still, but it was disturbing ethically. We got to know someone who runs a school for children from a squatter camp (worse than a township) and these children love school and hate Fridays because they won't go to school. They lose weight in the holidays. But the chap who runs this school is teaching the children to give thanks for their food and fortune and believes the children can teach this to their parents who will then also be able to give thanks. But — the parents!- thanks for what when you are in a rich country and yet so poor? There were other ethically disturbing things. But in such a beautiful place! Kind of points to a difference between ethics and aesthetics. And a major gulf between that and justice. Here is an example of no distributive justice. Why? What do you think of this Hubertus? But I have loads of messages to wade through, R

  • FROM: Hubertus Fremerey (03/10/03 8:13 PM GMT -06:00)
    on humanity and entitlements


    thanks for your answer. Of course property rights should be. If anybody could steal what belongs to you because "property is stolen anyway" this would not please you and we would be back to barter and worse. So this was not my point.

    My point was to defend a bit the position of Prof. Wolff against that of Tony Flood, while I concede that Porf.Wolffs position is problematical too. Flood is asking by what argument the haves are obliged to help the have-nots, by what argument the have-nots are entitled to this help. And I tried to show that he — Tony — mixes up two completely different concepts: If we speak of "entitlements" we are in the juridical realm where contractualism is valid. But if we speak of mutual help and understanding and humand solidarity and decency, we are NOT in the juridical but in the social realm. The baby has never signed a contract with the mother to have milk and be nourished. And in a similar way those poor in the squatter camp of Cape-Town have never signed a contract with the wealthy to agree to their situation. Thus when the liberals ask for "entitlements" in such a situation they are not honest but steal away from their human obligations by a formal argument. That was my point.

    And from this have a larger view: Locke and Smith and Kant and the Mills all defended "liberalism" as compared to the former notion of a well ordered standish society. Liberalism means that free people make free choices and sign free compacts and contracts by mutual consent. What Marx objected to this was the lack of any notion of power in this. He said — and rightly so — that to call the contract of the entrepreneur and the worker a "free" and symmetric one between two free contractors is in most cases a cynical farce. If you have the choice between signing an unfavourable contract and starvation you will sign. And this was in the time when Marx applied it to the "boss — worker"-relation the situation in international relations too: The Indian Rajas and the Chinese Emperor and the Japanese Shogoon and many other regimes were forced by the European powers to sign unfavourable contracts "by free consent". This too of course was a cynical farce. But liberalism tries to avoid this problem by sticking to formalism and ignoring the concept of power and a-symmetrical situations. Liberal book don't contain a chapter on blackmailing and corruption — but they should. No wonder that for normal people the difference between a "normal" business boss and a mafia boss is not that big: Mafia is only some sort of business then.

    Of course demolition and blackmailing and torts are forbidden by law, and by this the mafia-sort of business is not exactly legal. But this should not blind us for those cases as in your South-African example, where people are lost in a completely legal way. But liberalists try to blind themselves and others to this fact. In this sense liberalism contains a strong element of hypocrisy, and by this argument I stated (even on the old conference) that the problem of the poor and the weak and the elderly etc. is always, that they are not needed, that they have nothing to offer for a liberal contractor. They are not entitled to anything, and by liberal standards there simply is no argument why they should not rot and die. In the liberal world picture something like a person that has nothing to offer simply does not exist. It's like the unicorn or the dragon in the zoology textbook.

    Textbooks an theories should be true to reality — not the other way round. This was my point.


  • FROM: Hubertus Fremerey (03/10/03 8:44 PM GMT -06:00)
    an addendum on redistribution

    Dear all,

    after re-reading my answer to Rachel I found some way out to define the role of the redistributing state in this model: Since the state is representing the whole not only of the electorate but of all citizens, he is "entitled" to look after the interests of the poor and disabled since these are citizens too. Thus the state is not only entitled but even obliged to defend the interests of its weakest members if they are not otherwise organized in organizations of mutuality like some union. Things may be a bit more complicated, but this seems a first model from which to start.


  • FROM: Rachel Browne (03/11/03 1:49 PM GMT -06:00)

    Well, Hubertus, as you know I don't like to think about politics. Only within the realm of politics and notions of rights and entitlements do you need to think of justification. In the social realm in which we are simply human, we just act and can be charitable and this doesn't sit upon justification.

    Politics, and the arrangements that must be made by means of policies, of course has troubles with the poor, weak and elderly because "they are not needed" which is why the social realm is so important. And should be more so. But then I meet poor pensioners with their dogs in the park and they tell me their troubles and I want to say, well I'll give you the money, but there is a matter of pride — or so I'm told. Pride comes up in relation to the state too, not just other individuals — or so I found in South Africa. One person we met who was moved out of his housing because he was coloured refused to accept compensation from the government now because they were going to give him the price of his house years ago rather than what it would be worth now. He'd rather take nothing. Doesn't make much sense to me, but that's the way some people are.

    Redistribution needs to take into account the problems of the nature of the individual - it needs to be fair and treat individuals with proper respect. The state is only "entitled" to look after individuals in the way those individuals want to be looked after. Otherwise it is a corrupt dictatorship.

  • FROM: Hubertus Fremerey (03/11/03 3:50 PM GMT -06:00)
    on pride and entitlement


    you are completely right, but this was just what I am asking for: How to combine the social aspects ("pride") and the political ones ("entitlements"). This seems to me the core of the problem misunderstood by the liberals and socialists likewise.

    Idealiter we should not need the welfare-state since people would help each other. And in the times of extended families and clanships etc. they did so. But since the modern state has dissolved most of those older "connections of mutuality and solidarity" there had to be new ones. Some are of the form of "unions" and associations, some are of the form of insurance (life + fire + social etc.), and some are lacking. And the poor are members of "mutual non-insurance and non-association" so to say, they have no lobby, they have nothing to offer, they have nothing to pay. They are lost in the theoretical void between totalitarian designs of Marxism and "ignorant" designs of liberalism.

    I am personally a libertarian, but I see the problem that has to be solved: Either you let the poor rot and die, or you invent a scheme of how to support them, but the libertarians try to simply go away, and that I think is not honest. Tony only said that he is not obliged to help the poor since he is not to blame for their sad fate. But by this typical answer — which is formally correct of course — he evades the whole problem. And this I think is typical for the libertarian approach.

    But if you won't let the poor rot and die, somebody HAS to help them out and support them. Thus tell me who this "somebody" should be if not the state. To this Tony gives no answer. He says in fact: "Whoever this somebody may be, it's not me!" For the poor and excluded (the French "exclu") this is no theoretical question. There should come up some answers.


  • FROM: Ovi G (03/11/03 8:06 PM GMT -06:00)
    redistribution social and economic


    Your redistribution position sounds closer to that of John Rawl's original position in 'A Theory Of Justice', where the hypothetical social contract in term of (social) justice requires both, a basic framework of liberties and concern for the least well-off.

    What's interesting is that Libertarians stand at this opposite extreme and do not view Rawl's theory in such good light. Rawl's equalitarian view of justice and redistribution is forward-looking originating from a hypothetical position. The Libertarian response, started with Nozick's 'Anarchy, State and Utopia,' is the opposite: backward-looking from what it is/what we have now. Ought to is and is to ought. Should we be impartial socially and economically, or should we be self-interested? This is a problem that perhaps will hunt us for time to come but worth talking and debating about it.

    I'd say that the social and political aspects are already combined. So combined in fact, that they've always been blurry. In my view, the problem is that they are not properly understood and practically applied in the best interest of all. 'Man is a political animal' after all.

    The libertarians seem to 'simply go away' and that social inequality is not their problem. But I think their position is that liberals proved that such redistribution does not work. Social programs became very expensive, fraudulent and often ineffective operations. And the libertarian 'repayment formulas' counter for the economic aspect but not the social one. What do you think?

    Take care, Ovi

  • FROM: Ovi G (03/11/03 8:09 PM GMT -06:00)

    Hello Rachel,

    Maybe the colored man refused compensation because it was unfair, and obviously so in his case. Pride played a role, maybe because he did not want to accept an unfair and unjust deal. In other words, his pride was not for sale. He'd rather take nothing because fairness and justice to him may have been more valuable than money. And that is just an amazing example, coming from a very poor South Africa.

    I agree that 'redistribution needs to take into account the problems of the nature of the individual — it needs to be fair and treat individual with proper respect.' And I think, Hubertus is on the same page with this.

    Take care, Ovi

  • FROM: Hubertus Fremerey (03/12/03 5:10 PM GMT -06:00)
    on social justice and programs

    Dear Ovi,

    thank you for entering this important topic. Prof.Wolff once wrote a rejection of Nozick, but I did not read it. Nozick himself later distanced himself silently from his position in "Anarchy". Rawls changed his own "original" position in his later work on liberty. But your argument that Nozick looks back and Rawls looks ahead is important and to the point. And this indeed is conservative against progressive: Conservatives claim "entitlements" from olden times, while progressives claim chances to be realized in the future. In this sense the progressives are the entrepreneurs, the business people, seeking their chance, and not the people insisting on properties inherited from ancestors. This is the difference between "Whigs" and "Tories" and between modern and pre-modern ways.

    But the pre-modern world was a world where everybody had his proper place — including the poor, the minorities, the women, even witches and bitches. In the modern world, since all is open for anybody to get at it, nobody knows his real place, but it is one great rush forward and the weaker ones are left behind. This is liberalism.

    And this idea destroys the idea of solidarity. In the old order solidarity was natural, it was not even felt as such, it simply was the order that was to be obeyed since God and the Fathers and Nature had established it. In the modern world nothing is taken for granted, nobody has established anything save those in power to do so. Thus from at least Marx the only possible way to get at "social justice" is to establish counter-powers: Womens-lib, Gays-lib, Civil Rights Movement, March on Washington, Black Power etc.. Since there are no "natural" rights left without a "natural" order, you have to fight for what you want to get at.

    From a social — not only socialist — point of view, this is an un-natural situation, since it ignores the fact that humans are social animals like the big apes and like all "primitive" societies of the ethnologists realm of study.

    You wrote "..that the social and political aspects are already combined. So combined in fact, that they've always been blurry. In my view, the problem is that they are not properly understood and practically applied in the best interest of all. 'Man is a political animal' after all."

    I would say: "'Man is a social animal' after all." The political is of a technical sphere, but the social is of a social sphere, it's on togetherness in a group. Imagine some village of "primitives". Those are usually less than 100 people. Those people are acquainted from childhood and know each other personally. Nobody there is "anonymous". This is really a sort of extended family. Nobody ever gets lost there like in modern large cities. And this in my opinion is the big fault of liberalism: He has no idea of what it means to be social. He sees only individuals that are signing compacts and contracts, but there are no "members of society". Society has "evaporated" into atoms - small families and singles and "contractors".

    Of course the atoms may recombine. But by this you will have fanatics, true believers following some symbol and some leader. The uprooted will cling to a group where they can find a new solidarity. Formally this is not against liberalism, it's the guaranteed right to peacefully assemble (cf. 1st amendment to US constitution). But practically this includes assemblies of fanatics. Since this is social psychology, it is not part of the liberal theory. But any realistic political theory should take this into account: It explains much of National Socialism and Stalinism and Maoism and Islamism by the notion of "fear of freedom" (Erich Fromm wrote his famous book of this title in 1941). Thus the liberal theory is unable to understand essential parts of liberal practice. Liberalism by this is a sort of formalism, ignorant of the social as such.

    You wrote: "liberals proved that ... redistribution does not work. Social programs became very expensive, fraudulent and often ineffective operations." Yes, indeed, I clearly see this. But this is not the case in the extended family or in the old "house", the common farm. There everybody is member of a community and cannot go unnoticed. Thus the point is that the liberal state, while freeing the productivity potential of its members generally, at the same time diminishes their social responsibility. If you see a chance, you go for it, but if you see none, you drop out. This is a situation unknown to premodern societies. And this applies to the jobless too: There are many in California today, and most of them feel deceived. In premodern societies — like in socialist ones — there is no joblessness, because everybody is part of a society and not only of a workforce. Or, to put it bluntly and into the right context: "Socialism taken as a social program has turned out very expensive, fraudulent and often ineffective". Even with all its social programs paid the liberal USA are much more productive and wealthy than any socialist state has ever been. The socialist model of the state is one great failing social program.

    All the best from Hubertus.


FROM: Rachel Browne (03/13/03 1:44 PM GMT -06:00)

At last I have read Pathways and the Wolff stuff. What came to mind is that why I hate politics is . . again, actually, policies. People can enjoy struggle to an extent. Possibly not when there is starvation and homelessness, but a struggle to earn a living and time spent being poor is part of the human condition. In England, my sister and her child would be classified "poor", but she enjoys her fight and struggle to successfully get by (but I suppose she is not without support when needed). But I suppose the point is that poverty is something we fight against and this enables us to recognise the good, where this involves being politically acceptable. Some just enjoy the fight.

    REPLIES (1):

  • FROM: Hubertus Fremerey (03/13/03 4:18 PM GMT -06:00)
    Some just enjoy the fight


    you are surely right in this, and I don't call it cynical — as long as people have the power left for fighting. Some simply get overwhelmed. To be a nun or monk by vowing "poverty, chastity, and obedience" is no indecent life, since you choose it by your free decision. There surely are people that would prefer life in the ashram to life on the Bacardi-beach. But those people in Cape Town from the shanty towns there have not been asked for a choice, and neither have the kids of the environment of Mary Seifert. And this makes a big difference!

    While Wolff and Flood speak of "entitlements", the real problem in my opinion (and in that of Amartya Sen) is "en-ablements" or "em-powerments" in the sense of John Locke: Freedom is without worth if it cannot be realized for lack of property — which includes property of money, of knowledge, of health. The modern welfare state started (by Bismarck in Germany!) just by this: To become a world-power (this was the primary aim of Bismarck and the Kaiser) you need healthy, vigorous, well informed people, not weak and dull ones.

    This same idea was behind Marxism: Workers should become strong to realize their freedoms against those Lockean whiggish "exploiters". By the same logics Ford later said "Cars don't buy cars — people do!" Thus to have people buy cars and make a big profit you have to make the cars cheaper and the salaries of people bigger.

    All this is not on pity — but it is not on entitlements either. All those jobless are wasted human capital: Instead of producing goods and services they only cost money. By any standard this is a stupid situation, since people LIKE to be "useful members of society" and not taken for scum or coffee grounds. This as a further comment on pride.



FROM: Charles (03/15/03 12:56 PM GMT -06:00)
Great Books Special Events 2003

I posted the schedule of Great Books Special Events 2003 to documents. Maybe some suggestions for your vacation planning this year.

Note- GreatBooks and GreatIdeas are two separate organizations. The Web site for GreatBooks is at> <.


FROM: Hubertus Fremerey (03/18/03 3:10 PM GMT -06:00)
on progress and improvements

Dear all,

lest this exchange on the "new participants only"-panel missed anybody I place it here again. I only wanted to open a new thread, not a new panel.

Hubertus on March 18, 2003, 22:25 local time (MEZ)



FROM: Hubertus Fremerey (03/16/03)
SUBJECT: on progress and improvements

Posted on March, 15, 2003, 23:59 MEZ

Dear Ovi and Mike,

I started this as a new thread to get the older one relieved a bit. And below are some links to our topic. I didn't read them all, but will do, since it's worth a real paper. Fascinating stuff and thanks for your answers.

What I had in mind when speaking of "paradox of progress" was what I call "the sweeties paradox": Sweeties may be fine some time, but then you start vomiting and get ill if forced to eat them all time, while some apples and brown bread and water or milk will be good for every day. From this you may ask: Are sweeties an "improvement" over "normal" food? And this is what I played on when speaking of the rainbow: You think something is an improvement, but then it turns out not to be one. If you approach the rainbow, it vanishes. Many good things do. That is the paradox. Oscar Wilde had it this way: "There are two tragedies in life: Not to get what you want — and to get it." And Nietzsche said — in view of Bizet/MerimeŽs "Carmen": "You have to kill what you love". His idea was: You have to become free again. The hero has to kill mother and/or father — in many epics. Cf. Campbell on this.

There are technical paradoxes too: In a certain military sense the H-bomb is an "improved" bomb, some sort of ultra-bomb. But this is not true, since just by its very strenght this bomb becomes nearly worthless and even dangerous for the user. And in a similar way you could see the whole of modern culture as a sort of "cultural H-bomb": Many people seem to get overwhelmed by its freedom and possibilities. The Islamists and other fundamentalists getting scared by bikinis and monokinis and western lifestyle: They would not call this "progress" but "regress" and "indecency" and would call the naked people in the Goa-community "mad apes".

I don't think that the concept of progress needs a clearly defined goal, but it needs some standard of direction or value at least. This standard is missing if some people in Goa and elsewhere call "progress to freedom and love" what others call "regress to ape-kind and indecency". Simply have a look again into "HAIR" (the film) and "The Rocky Horror Picture Show" (the film) and "Easy Rider" and "Harold and Maude" (ask on these).

And even the concept of "improvement" is paradoxical: Two examples were give above by "the sweeties paradox" and the H-bomb. But what about 10 billion persons populating the earth in 50 years by latest UNO-calculations when this may include more wars and more civil wars and more environmental damage and more hunger and epidemics and rape and other evils? Those many people are the result of "good intentions" of doctors and environmentalists and of churches opposing abortions. In this sense Mandeville spoke of the paradoxical "good results of bad intentions" in his "Fable of the Bees" (cf. "The fable of the Bees" ("The grumbling hive: or, knaves turn'd honest." by Bernard Mandeville. Ed. Jack Lynch from 1705 ed.) (text of 1704) (text of 1714 with afterword) (questions concerning the idea of Mandeville) (remarks of Hutcheson on this 1750. See "hutcheson on fable of bees.html") (comment on the 1714 ed.) //

And concerning Aristotle and his entelechia: By this, one starts as a baby and becomes a child and a teenie and a grown up and a senior and an old person. Now which of these stages is an "improvement" as compared to the former stage in what sense? Thus the concept of entelechia will not solve any paradox of progress.

Darwin did not speak of progress, he only spoke of the survival of "the fittest", not of "the best". This was an open definition of progress: In some sense to be "fitter" is an improvement — while not leading to a better result in an absolute sense. Humans are overall the most "improved" species in this general sense, going to the deep sea and to the Moon already in "artificial bodies" like subs and space-ships. They even may spread out to the whole Galaxy some day. Will this be an improvement or a progress? By what standard?

But Abraham Maslow in "The Farther Reaches of Human Nature" (1972, 407pp., look up in Amazon: ISBN: 0140194703, Penguin) justly said that we should not take "normal" people for the measure of human possibilities but the extraordinary and the geniuses. Everybody a combine of Mozart and Einstein and Leonardo and Goethe and Gandhi so to say. And if this could be done by genetic engineering next time — would we call it an improvement? And if we could prolong a normal life of real fitness of body and soul and brain to some 500 years: Would we call this an improvement or even a progress? If yes — why? And if not — why not?

Much stuff to think it over! We are just starting a debate on this.



Some links to the concept of progress:




Robert Nisbet:



/ end /


—- 1 REPLY [Hide Replies]

* FROM: Ovi G (03/17/03)
SUBJECT: progress and improvement

Dear Hubertus and Michael

Excellent points to keep my mind ocupied for a while, I had no idea 'progress' is such a hot issue. Hubertus thanks for the excellent links and comprehensive material. Not finished with all them yet, but will re-ponder and re-state. Have a great week.

Take care,


    REPLIES (2):

  • FROM: Hubertus Fremerey (03/19/03 6:54 AM GMT -06:00)
    on good visions and bad realities

    posted March 19, 2003, 2 pm local time (MEZ)

    Dear Charles and all others,

    the following is from a link Charles offered some days back:

    which is a Communitarians-page. I cite the opener and have added some comments afterwards. ------------------------------------- George Washington University Institute for Communitarian Policy Studies

    A Message from the Institute Chairman

    Communitarians believe with America's Founding Fathers that it is possible to build the good society based upon the core values of the American people as defined by the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and the Bill of Rights. The values that define the American community include the belief that the society should provide its citizens with equality of opportunity, material well being, and the opportunity for individual self-fulfillment, and that it should operate on the principles of fairness, justice and compassion.

    Communitarianism springs from the recognition that the human being is by nature a social animal as well as an individual with a desire for autonomy. Communitarians recognize that a healthy society must have a correct balance between individual autonomy and social cohesion. Much recent thinking has focused on an assumed conflict between the rights of the individual and the responsibilities of the government. When you put "community" back into the equation, you find that the apparent conflict between the individual and the government can be resolved by public policies that are consistent with core American values and work to the benefit of all members of our society.

    Norton Garfinkle Chairman, George Washington University Institute for Communitarian Policy Studies -------------------------------------

    Now my comments:

    This above all sounds very good. But we know of course that even the societey of the USA is seen today not only from outside as a society of widespread violence and crime and poverty and neuroticism and stress and lonelyness. For many films like "American Beauty" or "Magnolia" or "Dirty Harry" seem to be typical of what the American society is like. And if you don't think so — why is Moores "Stupid White Men" such a hit with a large readership? And this is not at all new: Around 1900 there were the "muck-rakers" and the proponents of "social gospel" and the "progressives" fighting the shamelessness of "Guilded Age" and "big money" and "big enterprise" and "class struggle". And the Civil Rights movement and NAACP had its great time during the Kennedy-Johnson years, when John and Bob Kennedy and Dr.King were shot, and when there were several riots of blacks in Detroit, Chicago, and elswhere. And just now we are on the eve of war in Iraq and the image of the USA became that of an aggressor in many parts of the world.

    Thus the question is: How do those wonderful visions of the communitarians fit with our current reality. But likewise we could ask: How did those wonderful vision of Christian love and Socialist brotherhood ever came near to reality. And exactly there my problems begin and again I find myself urging "don't moralize — analyze!" It's much more easy to be "for the good" than to know why it does not happen any time soon. So what is it, that makes "improving the state of society" such a hard job?

    I think we could start with two examples much better known to us than society: Ourselves as single persons — and the family and other close relations. These we know a bit from experience, here we can judge a bit. And this would be a first start for an answer to the greater problems of society. Maybe we get at a better understanding of what are the problems there if we first understand the problems of the "near distance" realm so well known to us. But then we have to expand our visions and apply our questions to the larger picture.


  • FROM: Charles (03/19/03 10:36 AM GMT -06:00)

    I think that it is important to recognize that Hollywood is not America, but only one very small piece of a very large, complex, and diverse society.

    Regarding Hubertus' other examples, such as President Kennedy, I was in the 7th grade of school, 13 years of age, when he was assassinated. I am now 52. Obviously a few years have passed and America is much different now than it was then. Have what ever opinion you want of America. But it will be a wrong opinion unless it takes into account the fact of American diversity and the changes in American racial relations since the 1960's. It is also important to be aware of the extent to which America is digitally connected into alternative sources of information other than the "establishment" news sources such as ABC, CBS, NBC, and New York Times.



FROM: Charles (03/20/03 6:49 PM GMT -06:00)
Philosophy and the postwar debate.

Is a use and value of philosophy the debate about society in a postwar world? I am assuming that the current conflict in Iraq is neither a "police action" or temporary failure of the U.N. Security Council, but rather results with the beginnings of some foundational shifts in the world community and old paradigms. It is philosophical not partisan debate. But that may mean all the various political persuasions unite in suggesting a poison cup for philosophy and her students.

Should the beginning of debate wait until shooting is over? Looking at the experience of Greece and Troy, I think the debate should begin earlier not later, taking on human responsibility rather than finding fault being those others, the gods, fate, and/or the lame excuse of "that is just the way people are."

If anyone is interested in this, should it be set up as a new topic?


    REPLIES (2):

  • FROM: Rachel Browne (03/21/03 4:17 PM GMT -06:00)

    Well, I feel sick about all this. Politics needs to be informed by ethics. But it isn't. And because this is all so sick-making I think we should just get back into something smaller or perhaps wider than facts and problems now. Suggestions? Should politics be informed by morality? That's no good because it obviously should. But isn't. Or has someone got a totally new suggestion? Novelty is needed here. R

  • FROM: Hubertus Fremerey (03/21/03 7:49 PM GMT -06:00)
    on war and a better society

    Dear Rachel and Charles,

    Thukydides (ca. 460- post 400 BC)wrote on the Peloponnesian War, and Aeschylus (525-456 BC) wrote "The Persians" on the war against those in 472, shortly before the birth of Socrates. Both wrote on war as a moral problem in the same way as others (f.i. Sophocles and Euripides) wrote on murder as a moral problem. Generally much of the literature of Antiquity was on aspects of morality. And more precisely on the relation of morality and rationality — like in Sokrates. Morality in Greek thinking was a special form of applying reason to the conflict of lust and passion on the one hand and responsibility to the laws of the gods and the governments and human societies on the other.

    I don't think that this approach is less applicable today. Thukydides can well be taken for a tragedian writing prose. And tragedy was never far from comedy either, laughing at mens stupidity and arrogance and greed. And of course "King Lear" and "MacBeth" and "Richard III" and several other dramas of Shakespeare are on political morals, as are most dramas of Frederick Schiller. The whole of history writing — including Gibbon of course — is on morals in a similar sense, and Schiller wrote his dramas on Wallenstein and on Mary of Stuarts as a historian. And in Jewish-Christian thinking of course all of history was more or less a moral lecture delivered to mankind by God. The best known example of this view is Dantes' "Divina Commedia".

    But modern positivism and systems thinking have blurred this natural connection of politics — including war — and morals. Politics IS moral, but this does not mean that it should be "nice". There always was the option of "the just war" and "the just revolt" and "the just murder". Even Homeros did not condemn the Trojan War per se. Neither did Aeschylus condemn the war against the Persians of course, since this was a defensive war. But the Greek themselves have been invaders like the Americans, subjugating the aborigines without any bad conscience, like the British subjugated the peoples of India in the 19th century without bad conscience.

    From our modern moralistic point of view Alexander the Great and Caesar and Charlemagne and Frederick the Great and Napoleon of course all were great war-criminals. But they did not think so and most of their contemporaries did not either. Thus the idea of what is morally acceptable changed just like the idea of the status of slaves or women. You never can apply "moral" concepts outside some historical and cultural context.

    And I think this is what Rachel objects to: There should be an absolute idea of good behaviour indifferent to historical epoch, only asking for application of the Golden or the Silvery Rule (GR = "Do unto others as you expect them to do unto you!", SR = "Don't do unto others what you would not like them to do unto you"). But what do you expect? Should this mean that the first European settlers should have returned to Europe again since there were Indians in America already? This is not the way history happens. The settlers in Virginia and Massachusetts etc. started to fight the Indians down and the whole history of the USA was in principle much like the history of Israel in Palestina from a purely moral point of view. But history has never been different. The first large empires of Babylon, Ur, Assur, Ninive, Theben etc. were built on the bones and skulls of the many tribes subdued by the strongest ones. Then came the Persian, the Alexander, the Roman, the Hapspurg, the British etc. empires, and now we have some sort of de facto American empire, while not a formal one. You may call this "im-moral", but all else is "un-historical".

    And this is an eternal dispute: Some think that even "progress" is immoral and needs pruning back from time to time by some deluge to get people "nice and moral and frugal" again. This is not only the view of the Biblical Deluge, but even the view of Plato in his "Laws" (3rd book) and a dream of Rousseau ("back to nature!", "the noble savage" etc.). By this standard every elaborated culture is immoral per se. Marcusean counter-culture is some sort of "Neo-Rousseauism", setting Hippie-culture against the Big Apple and the Mega-Town, which are full of sin and seduction and madness and crime. It's really a very old topic of "the good earth" against the "loathsome cities".

    This was on my mind when I stated explicitely that my idea of a good society is definitely NOT on going back to some rural life or living in small communities like the Aborigines and the Bushmen and Indians. I cannot accept that living in modern cities is less human(e) than living in small premodern communities. A "good" society in my opinion is compatible with a global society living on a modern technical standard and in agglomerations.

    Against this background the concepts of the United Nations and of International Law and on punishing tyrants like Saddam Hussein in the name of global ethical standards is part of an expanded social ethics to be approached by Kantian and Rawlsian and communitarian and Christian and Socialist and Islamist and other forms of political ethics. In my opinion there is no hiatus between individual and political ethics. The task of the politician is to help establish some sort of political and juridical order that makes a decent multicultural, multiracial, multiethnical togetherness possible. And this was the idea of Socrates and the Stoics and the Christians too: Defining an ethics that is applicable to all humans and all human societies, independent of race, social status, erudition, income, gender, age, tradition or whatever may discriminate humans generally. Political ethics by this is only a special realm of social ethics. Politics is on bringing about change — and political ethics is on changing social conditions in the direction of a more decent and just society.

    If the assault of Bush on Saddam Husseins regime is in this respect a positive contribution to "a more decent and just (global) society" is an open question this time, but not at all to be dismissed as absurd, but to be debated in years to come. Like any other ethical question this one cannot be handled in a merely formal way. It's a truly difficult question for a long debate even on this forum. But some people don't like this and call it "political". Of course: All political ethics is naturally "political". The struggle between socialists and libertarians f.i. is in its core an ethical struggle on the best design of and the best way towards a more humane, a more decent and a more just society.



FROM: Charles (03/25/03 5:16 AM GMT -06:00)


I think that you probably understood my analogy. But I will leave out "correct," because our perspectives or world views being different perhaps makes being correct not really a useful concept here.

Your combination "Robo-Chomsky" was interesting. But I do not see any connection between my rough ideas about mental symbols being real and Chomsky's natural language. About the only idea that I probably share with Chomsky is that the behaviorists are wrong.

Basically my idea is simply that language is real whether or not it is actually expressed in behavior. Maybe a better example of my position could be seen through the art of radio telegraphy (Morse Code).

A word has several manifestations or modes in this art. Either in this order or the reverse: It is transformed in the mind symbolically from word to "dots and dashes" before taking on an overt physical mode through nerves/arm/hand, and materially transformed to a higher frequency via telegraph key and radio transmitter. I argue that in all its modes, the word is real, not "sense-less." The word's continued ability to change its symbolic nature and mode, suggests its real nature.

And does it make any fundamental difference to the word, if the transmitted word is never received? What if the rf waves just keep going out into the universe without ever being intercepted by anyone?

Even if the rf waves approach entropy when moving through the dimensions of space and time, this would have no ultimate effect on the the word. Theoretically the rf signal strength will be eventually distributed into a universal state of entropy. (While curiously the rf waves simultaneously constantly cycle through zero.) But the symbolic nature of the word is not changed by a reduction in signal strength. If a signal can be intercepted, theoretically it can be amplified to a useful level, retaining the word's realism.

And anyway, the causal relationship of the word is not with the higher frequency electro-magnetic wave approaching entropy. The word is brain caused and remains so. Even if the mental brain states are electro-chemical in nature and suggest future death, a metaphysical understanding of word remains, suggested by the word's continued potential for transformation into a different mode.

Charles (Not really a philosopher, just a radio amateur experimenter — N7FLA)

    REPLIES (1):

  • FROM: Rachel Browne (03/30/03 1:58 PM GMT -06:00)

    Words are a good idea. Words are used, defined in a dictionary, have different senses to different people, change their meaning, are mis-used and are in some way stored in the brain.

    On with the word? R


FROM: Michael Ward (03/27/03 2:48 AM GMT -06:00)
Prime directive

To all,

As the Captain of the Starship Enterprise I have a 'prime directive' of non interference in the population of worlds that we visit in our exploration of space. On the face of it such a policy has some merit in it thus allowing societies to evolve in their own way rather than 'ours'.

Should the rebuilding of Iraq be approached in such a way, simply leaving them alone to find their own path. Would that give rise to another Saddam?

What is it about human ways of thinking that makes societies incompatible?

Were you given the job of rebuilding their nation what ground rules would you lay down.

Live long and prosper,

Captain Kirk

    REPLIES (5):

  • FROM: Hubertus Fremerey (04/06/03 1:21 PM GMT -06:00)
    on the "prime directive"

    Hubertus Fremerey Sunday, April 6, 2003

    Dear Mike and all,

    the poor conference has been down a bit because of the war in Iraq perhaps. One of the core problems of this war is the question posed by Mike in the disguise of of Captain Kirk on March 27 as "prime directive":

    / As the Captain of the Starship Enterprise I have a 'prime directive' of non interference in the population of worlds that we visit in our exploration of space. On the face of it such a policy has some merit in it thus allowing societies to evolve in their own way rather than 'ours'.

    Should the rebuilding of Iraq be approached in such a way, simply leaving them alone to find their own path. Would that give rise to another Saddam? /

    "In principle" I would support this directive — as does even GW Bush. He and his team never ever objected to being a muslim. They never tried to proselytize the Iraqis. They only said: "Stop inacceptable behaviour, stop blackmailing your neighbours now and in the future!" There is no right of parents to terrorize or misuse their children and no right of men to terrorize or misuse their wives. And this has nothing to do with the "right to live ones own life according to ones own standards". Only this latter is defended by the "prime directive".

    In this context let me defend my concept of a good society. Somebody wrote: "Glad I can smoke in your ideal world. It won't be like America then? Or the way Britain and Australia are going. In LA in the US you can't even have more than one glass of wine without being judged as having a drink problem.

    My answer was: And you can't be in bed with a person of your own sex or with several of the other sex without being judged as having a moral problem. I surely would not care in my ideal world. And if people want to go up the trees naked like in Goa they may do so. They only should not try to become fanatics driving erverybody up the trees naked. And if somebody prefers to be a saintly yogi sitting all day on the same place in lotos-position he will be welcome. But if he prefers a playstation to play war-games and splatter-movies and by this to save his psychic equilibrium, he even may do that as long as he does not start to replace those movies by real persons. A Hitler or some of his like should not be allowed to use a world-war to settle his personal problems.

    I am amused how complicated my project seems to look to most people. In principle it is very simple: WE SHOULD BE HONEST TO EXPERIENCE.

    The socialist model of society failed, the Christian model of society failed likewise, and so did the liberal model. Why? Because all three models presupposed a very unrealistic model of man.

    People are cowards, they are lazy, they are greedy, they are envious, they are vile, they are stupid, they are stubborn, they are arrogant, they are self-opionated, they are vain, they are craving for power, they are sadistic, they are weak, they are forgetful but unforgiving, they are whimsical and capricious, they are lecherous and hypocrites, they are sensuous and voluptuous, they are thoughtless, gullible, and superstitious, and they sometimes even are mad and beset by mad ideas and fears and irreal hopes etc.. And all this you have to take into account when building a society.

    You cannot build a society on the concept of a "Christian" or a "socialist" or a "liberal" personality. That's nonsense. Those people are very rare indeed like geniuses and saints. It was not only the idea of a socialist society that was questionable. The real cause of failure was the misunderstanding that people could be selfless and caring and behave responsible all of a sudden. If you are a member of the "nomenklatura" in a communist state, you are not the "representative of the workers" anymore, but you are the member of the nomenklatura in the first line. You adapt to the requirements of this nomenklatura and to the specific craving for power and the specific greediness, vileness and self-reighteousness of this nomenklatura. But of course you would never admit it. Thus the whole construct of "representing the working class" becomes a great lie and self-deceit of the members of the "socialist elites". And if you are paid a meager but at the same time sure and equal income by socialist standards, indifferent of your abilities or industriousness or inventiveness, you eventually stop being industrious and inventive and start being lazy and indifferent. And this you start not only because of resignation, but also because of being hassled by the more lazy and indifferent people around you. You cannot expect many achievers in a society that in fact calls achieving an unnatural and inhumane and 'un-social' behaviour.

    All this is quite natural and "human". Being "honest to experience" means: Accept the fact that this is quite natural and "human", and that all else is a lie and a self-deceit. But many peoples vanity makes it hard for them to admit this.

    My good society is one that tries to be honest to experience, that tries to avoid the self-deceit, be it socialist or Christian or Islamic or liberal or whatever. Sounds very simple, but is very hard, because most people prefer false dreams. To be slim you should eat less fat and sugar an do sports and walking. But people prefer to eat fat and sugar and then pay dear for wonder-pills and wonder-exercises do get their weight down. This too is quite natural and "human". The problem is not pay for the poor and the jobless and the elderly, the problem is that people dont like to do what is needed. They prefer to wail over all sorts of "crises of the welfare state". This is exactly like wailing over too much weight: Serious experts know what to do, but since it's annoying their advice is not asked for and so the quacks do the show. Socrates tried to be honest, he was no quack. So the quacks got him killed since he made them look what indeed they were — quacks.

    And then there is this other and even deeper problem: The problem of perfectionism. Most well meaning people, when starting to design a 'good society', set up a list of all evils as are smoking, drinking, 'immoral behaviour' etc., and then simply call it item for item 'forbidden' or 'unnatural' etc.. Thus no smoking, no drinking, no 'immoral behaviour' etc. anymore. They simply don't understand the difference between robots and living humans. All times eating cake surely is not good, but sometimes eating cake is very good. All times fighting, running and achieving surely is not good, but sometimes fighting, running and achieving is very good. But those schematic people designing a better world don't get it. Since they are stupids they want clear decisions: X should be either bad or good, but not sometimes bad and sometimes good. But most things in life are good or bad only in some measure or under certain circumstances and not once and for all and under all conditions. Simple minded persons get confused by this, while it is only common sense. This too is 'being honest to experience'.

    Thus let all things as they are? No! There are real stupids and evil persons around whose thoughts and deeds should not be tolerated. In a certain way the Giuliani principle of 'zero tolerance' is not bad. But this does not include strictures in the way of a totalitarian regime as of the Taliban or of some Christian fundamentalists as in the Geneva of Calvin.

    There is an essential and clear difference to be seen: The 'zero tolerance' principle is a defensive and denying principle, not an oppressive or positively coercive one. It does not tell people what to do, it only tells them what NOT to do. It says in effect 'Keep out of my home and garden, no trespassing here — but I don't care what you do otherwise.' Thus 'zero tolerance' only means 'making good fences' or 'drawing the line'. And by this the principle of 'zero tolerance' lacks the moral arrogance of all true believers that try to impose their moral convictions on all other people. True believers are zealots that don't like to learn and to listen, but that only want all others to have to learn and listen. This is not the position of defenders of 'zero tolerance', who are liberals.

    And it's not the position of defenders of the Golden Rule either: The GR says 'As you would like to have others do onto you, so do yourself onto others!' But this is not enforcing the behaviour of the others but your own behaviour. If you want people to be nice and helping, you first start to be nice and helping yourself and not shouting people around what to do and how to behave.

    Thus it is not quite impossible to bring a bit clarity to the debate on a good society.


    A note added: According to Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle the good is desired just for being good, like sweeties are desired by the kids just for being sweet. Thus to make the good look good and attractive you have to advertize and to demonstrate it's quality, not to force people into some "good behaviour". You have to sell the better quality on the marketplace. But this is imposed on you, the seller, it's not enforcing the buyers to buy. But you may be tempted to ban some "bad goods" from the market — and you should not. You may denounce what you think is bad, but let the customers decide for themselves. This is the way of an open and learning socity. Criticize and advertize — but don't patronize or matronize nor compel.

  • FROM: Michael Ward (04/13/03 11:18 AM GMT -06:00)
    Western version


    I read with much agreement your response to the Prime Directive and therefore my comments are few nevertheless I highlight where I see some clear water between what be both see. The Americans and UK have a view of the liberty of people that is not universally shared. In a feudal society, which many Arabic states effectively are the behaviour of one group to another falls well short of western ideals on individual values. We, the West, do not like this and think ourselves morally and ethically superior and so the latest crusade is in progress to 'free' the oppressed. This we may achieve for a short period before 'normal' behaviour is resumed. The West is not obeying the prime directive — only their qualified version of it.

    My prime directive for any society would be not to do harm to others but that would have to be enforced because people behave exactly as you say they do so we have a impasse.

    Michael Ward

  • FROM: Hubertus Fremerey (04/14/03 3:15 PM GMT -06:00)
    after the fall of Baghdad


    now, after the fall of Baghdad, the conference starts going again. Until about 1750 western society was not much different from what we see in the Islamic world today. Then the "take-off" started by western science and technology — which meant "better ships, guns and cannons". The first empire to know this and to be scared by this war the Turkish "Ottoman Empire" which then comprised all of todays "Near East". But then the Europeans eventually subdued all the worlds powers — India, China, the whole of Africa, both Americas, and Oceania.

    The source of this power was "modernization" and "liberalization", the transition from a standish order to a bourgeois order of politics and society, and the transition of "traditional modes of life" to "modern rational modes of life" where people left the countryside and entered the fringes of the great cities and the fabrics. By this Europe and the USA destroyed most of what has been "folkways" before and created "labouring masses" on a grand scale. This was a form of "self-destruction" of traditional societies.

    Exactly this is happening today: After the fall of Baghdad in the short time of only three weeks the whole Near East is indeed "awed" and stunned and shocked like after the victory of Israel in 1973, when the Israeli had to be stopped by the UNO, while they could have entered Kairo. The states of the Near East now have to transform themselves simply because there is no alternative.

    The important difference to Japan in 1853 and after is: Japan had a very homogenuous populace and culture and the central figure of the Tenno, who then happened to be a great and energetic person up to the task. This central driving force and person and unifying idea is lacking today in the Near East and it cannot be implemented by the US government. The best we can hope today is that somebody who is comparable to Mustafa Kemal in Turkey will show up next time as a successor to Saddam Hussein — strong but modernizing and cooperative at the same time. For the best of the poor Iraqui I hope such a person will be found.

    Besides the coming dominant powers — USA, EU, Russia, China, and India — the whole Near East from Maroc to Pakistan is a "weak" region and by this tempting the great powers to enter it.

    I think this "power perspective" should always be seen besides the "culture perspective". There will be no "overall homogenization" of cultures, but there will and there must be a "modernization" like in Russia, in China, in India, in Turkey, in Mexico, in Brazil, and like in Japan and Korea before. There simply is no alternative.

    And in fact people don't WANT an alternative. The Egyptians and the Iranians WANT to become "modern" but stay "Islamic" at the same time. Thus it is a "two layers process" - and a fascinating one.


  • FROM: Hubertus Fremerey (04/16/03 5:39 PM GMT -06:00)
    on Globalization and Prime Directive

    Hubertus Fremerey Wednesday, April 16, 2003 5:35PM CST

    Mike and all others,

    the Reith-lectures this time are on neurosciences, but there are other themes of course. The lectures of 1999 were by Anthony Giddens from LSE on "Runaway World" and their topic was globalization. This may be another comment on "prime directive". The first of five lectures starts as follows:

    GLOBALISATION (1999 by Anthony Giddens)

    A friend of mine studies village life in central Africa. A few years ago, she paid her first visit to a remote area where she was to carry out her fieldwork. The evening she got there, she was invited to a local home for an evening's entertainment. She expected to find out about the traditional pastimes of this isolated community. Instead, the evening turned out to be a viewing of Basic Instinct on video. The film at that point hadn't even reached the cinemas in London.

    Such vignettes reveal something about our world. And what they reveal isn't trivial. It isn't just a matter of people adding modern paraphernalia — videos, TVs, personal computers and so forth — to their traditional ways of life. We live in a world of transformations, affecting almost every aspect of what we do. For better or worse, we are being propelled into a global order that no one fully understands, but which is making its effects felt upon all of us.

    Globalisation is the main theme of my lecture tonight, and of the lectures as a whole. The term may not be — it isn't — a particularly attractive or elegant one. But absolutely no-one who wants to understand our prospects and possibilities at century's end can ignore it. I travel a lot to speak abroad. I haven't been to a single country recently where globalisation isn't being intensively discussed. In France, the word is mondialisation. In Spain and Latin America, it is globalizacion. The Germans say globalisierung.

    The global spread of the term is evidence of the very developments to which it refers. Every business guru talks about it. No political speech is complete without reference to it. Yet as little as 10 years ago the term was hardly used, either in the academic literature or in everyday language. It has come from nowhere to be almost everywhere. Given its sudden popularity, we shouldn't be surprised that the meaning of the notion isn't always clear, or that an intellectual reaction has set in against it. Globalisation has something to do with the thesis that we now all live in one world — but in what ways exactly, and is the idea really valid? /


  • FROM: Hubertus Fremerey (04/17/03 3:35 AM GMT -06:00)
    one more on "prime directive"


    this I found in "The Atlantic":

    This is from:

    The Atlantic Monthly | May 2003

    "I'm Right, You're Wrong, Go To Hell" Religions and the meeting of civilization by Bernard Lewis ... There have been a number of different civilizations in human history, and several are extant, though not all in the same condition. Mustafa Kemal, later known as AtatŸrk, dealt with the relative condition of civilizations in some of the speeches in which he urged the people of the newly established Turkish Republic to modernize. He put the issue with military directness and simplicity. People, he said, talked of this civilization and that civilization, and of interaction and influence between civilizations; but only one civilization was alive and well and advancing, and that was what he called modernity, the civilization "of our time." All the others were dying or dead, he said, and Turkey's choice was to join this civilization or be part of a dying world. The one civilization was, of course, the West. ...


FROM: Michael Ward (04/13/03 12:24 PM GMT -06:00)
Fascinating stuff

Hi All,

The Reith lectures are now in progress and the first two are available over the internet right now at the following location:-

Personally the ideas being expressed fall very close to what makes practical sense to me I would like to hear what your views may be on the issues being raised and discussed.

One particular position is:

There is no separate "mind stuff" and "physical stuff" in the universe, the two are one in the same.

Any views?

Michael Ward

    REPLIES (19):

  • FROM: Rachel Browne (04/14/03 1:17 PM GMT -06:00)
    Reith Lectures

    Michael I really agree that there is no separate mind stuff.

    I only read Synapses and the Self and the experimental stuff is weird, though I'd heard of blind sight.

    What shocked me was that this man thinks that it is normal for people to be engrossed in conversation and drive around "unconscious" of what they are doing. I am highly conscious of red lights etc. God, no wonder there are road accidents if this is the case.

    This is like a claim by a philosopher (Frank Jackson) who says that we might be going along in a car and not have noticed a particular road sign, but when the person with us asks "Hey did you see that sign a way back" we can recall it. I'm not very visual, but have never had such an experience and cannot imgine it would happen to me.

    So really on this, I think we shouldn't generalise from odd cases like blind sight to how it is if your senses are intact. I don't it really follows that we can perceive without being concious of that thing. Other senses probably make up for loss of one sense. Like with blind dogs who come to rely on their nose.

    But thanks Michael, I must read the other papers. R

  • FROM: Michael Ward (04/14/03 2:24 PM GMT -06:00)
    Blind driving!


    Prepare to be more shocked, from my own experience I can support the 'low level consciousness whilst driving'. Anything we do that is repetitive after a period of learning drops to a lower conscious level. For instance take driving I have often travelled more than 20,000 miles a year which at today's traffic speeds represents about one solid month of driving — I spend some of my time listening to books or even philosophy tapes only to arrive at my destination remembering the tapes not the journey.

    This isn't dereliction of duty of care any more than being a competent dancer who no longer needs to remember the steps but simply dances.

    I think the examples of effects of brain damage give excellent and valuable insights into brain function and feel confident that the human brain has redundancy in depth.

    Only yesterday I read of a young girl having half her brain removed to prevent fits and very soon after the operation the self rewiring allowed the opposite side of her body to start walking again.

    Such examples are empirical evidence that cannot be agued with — it's the degree to which you can extrapolate that's uncertain. Or to put it another way it's the amount of extrapolation than can be demonstrated as false that really matters.

    Michael Ward

  • FROM: Charles (04/15/03 5:02 PM GMT -06:00)
    Re: separtate mind stuff?

    I think that there is still no definitive answer to this question. I find Descartes Sixth Meditation difficult reading, but the more I look at it, the more I appreciate the issues it raises.

    One thing to keep in mind about Descartes argument though is that much of Christian theology has changed since his time. For example some Christian philosophers like Nancey Murphy, looking closely at Christianity's roots in Hebrew culture, have given modern theology a bodily rather than spiritual perspective. This is useful, because it allows one to intellectually put the religious questions about "soul" to one side and consider the issue of mind as a problem in metaphysics independent of any religious beliefs or non belief.

    This question of mind is especially interesting to me now, because a trainee Parkinson's assistance dog is moving in with me this week (probably tonight). He is a quite ordinary dog, a Lab Retriever mix rescued from an animal shelter. The trainer I am working with is impressed by his intelligence and focus though. I expect that I will soon have a better appreciation of the questions about knowing other minds, mind-body, and etc. Charles

  • FROM: Charles (04/16/03 12:55 AM GMT -06:00)


    Thank you for the posting on the Reith Lectures.

    You ask about "mind stuff" and "physical stuff." I think that at least some of the dispute is because old and limited models of the world restrict people's vision. I am thinking of the models of atoms put together with sticks and styrofoam balls in secondary science class for example. There is also the limited model of the mind being neurons lighting up sections of the brain in a certain order.

    Physics has grown beyond the intellectual limiting model of atoms made with sticks and balls. One wing of neurological science would deny a similar evolution of thought about the mind and limit mind to a discussion of things like brain synapses. They will also deny that there is a state of being as consciousness. Perhaps this is where philosophy could ask some common sense questions like "how will communication take place between me and my dog 'Friday?"

    The neuroscientists cannot hide in a lab and the philosopher hide behind self inflicted wounds of skepticism here. My untrained dog might do something normal, like bite them on their ass. A realist however can consider that there may be more than one level of mind, there being level 1 ("Liaison Brain") and level 2 consisting of "Outer Sense" (light, color, sound, smell, taste, pain, & touch) and "Inner Sense" (thoughts, memories, feelings, dreams, imaginings, intentions). My dog Friday and I share much of evolutionary mind's level 1 & 2. But we do not share what Karl Popper called "the greatest of miracles: the human consciousness of self." (Karl Popper, who I have borrowed from, called these levels World 1 and World 2.)

    Karl Popper fortunately did not get stuck in the limited perspective of synapses. He knew the reality of three worlds, World 1 being physical objects and states, World 2 being states of consciousness, and World 3 being knowledge in objective sense.


  • FROM: Michael Ward (04/16/03 11:13 AM GMT -06:00)
    One world


    Your last message ended:- "Karl Popper fortunately did not get stuck in the limited perspective of synapses. He knew the reality of three worlds, World 1 being physical objects and states, World 2 being states of consciousness, and World 3 being knowledge in objective sense."

    There is but one world and it existed pre-humanity, all other concepts are artificial human divisions. Humans did not create knowlege or conciousness but these are consequences of our evolution. At least that is what seems sense to me.

    The last lecture in California entitled: "Neuroscience — the New Philosophy" looks interesting.

    Michael Ward

  • FROM: Charles (04/16/03 3:21 PM GMT -06:00)
    Cognitive science — 21st Century Renaissance?

    Thanks to modern technology, I can use my iMac to listen to the world in real time. I just listened to Reith Lecture 3. I read the first two lectures.

    Has Prof. Ramachandran introduced the 21st Century Renaissance through cognitive science? I doubt it. I think that his "neural basis of art" takes reductive reasoning from a utilitarian perspective to new heights of absurdity.

    There use to be a radio program on my local public radio station called "Dr. Science" (from American NPR). It was a satire on science & technology. The host had a line, something like: "He's not a Dr, he has a masters degree, in science!" The implication being that the degrees did not matter, but what was required by the listener was some common sense.

    I do not think that it is asking too much of philosophy to exhibit a minimum amount of common sense. And I refer you to another professor, an interview with John Searle: "Minds, Brains and Science" at > <. Of course there is some neural basis of art. But to argue that as being the 21st Century Renaissance is ridiculous. Compared to bare reductionism, there is such a thing as looking at the "bigger picture."

    There is more to art than just creating a pleasing effect on the brain. Philosopher Mortimer Adler said that there were three qualities of a work of fine art. First a work of fine art has individuality. Second a work of fine art is original. Thirdly, a work of fine art says something.

    I recommend that if you want to learn about the science of the brain, read professor Ramachandran. If you want to study art and philosophy, a good place to begin is with the books of professor Adler or professor John R. Searle's "Mind, Language And Society: Philosophy In The Real World."


  • FROM: Hubertus Fremerey (04/16/03 5:58 PM GMT -06:00)
    on neuroscience and human greatness


    I wholeheartily agree. No neuroscience will tell us the difference between Mozart and a second rate composer or between Shakespeare and a second rate dramatist. And even if you clone a genious you will not clone his experiences or his surrounding culture, which both may be very important too. There are many examples of highly able persons who don't arrive at anything because they don't come to terms with their privat neurosis or marriage or whatever.

    And then: Even if we all were brilliant minds, we would not necessarily have less problems with each other or with our world, only more complicated problems perhaps. Since life is a sort of art-work, not a mathematical or physical formula. To find out the formula an IQ of 300 may be helpful. But to be a great artist or personality even an IQ of 100 or less will do. We don't know — and surely Prof.Ramachandran does not — what is the mystery of human or artist greatness. But this is what counts, not IQ or EQ.


  • FROM: Michael Ward (04/18/03 1:57 AM GMT -06:00)
    Your pound of flesh

    Charles and Hubertus,

    To say that we are machines (a functioning collection of cells) neither implies simplicity or reductionism but states in a very matter of fact way that is what we are. The very idea that IQ is in some way proportional to having abilities would be like handing out university degrees based on the weight of your brains.

    Neuroscience will tell us the difference between Mozart and a second rate composer but not in a qualitative way because that is subjective and thus the experience dependent upon your particular brain wiring.

    As to whether Prof. Ramachandran has introduced the 21st Century Renaissance — I too think not. This is because Renaissance is re-birth and this is a first and people generally don't cope very well with new situations.

    It was stated 'First a work of fine art has individuality. Second a work of fine art is original. Thirdly, a work of fine art says something.' And why is this true — because every human brain has all these qualities, surely the output of such an organ should not be so surprising.

    I pose the question again, where is all this mind stuff like ethics and art and philosophy if it's not in the 'mechanism' of the brain.

    Michael Ward

  • FROM: Charles (04/18/03 11:04 AM GMT -06:00)
    Your pound of flesh

    I agree that neuroscience is important. With my Parkinson's, I directly benefit from its research and development every day. I know a person whose grandfather had the same type of Parkinson's that I have, freezing and rigid, slow movement rather than tremor problems, in the early 1960's. His primary job was taking care of his grandfather on their family farm, because his grandfather (who was not aged), although mentally aware, could do nothing but sit in a chair.

    In contrast, thanks to neuroscience, even though I was diagnosed with Parkinson's about 10 years ago, I still live a relatively full live. I even now get to engage in an exciting bit of practical philosophy of the mind by training a candidate Parkinson's assistance dog, who hopefully will aid me as my PD progresses.

    But I would distinguish neuroscience about the brain from philosophy of mind. Philosophy of mind is more about the whole, the person, not the individual cells that make up the body and brain.

    I think that philosophy of mind also deals with other creatures. I will get back to that later and also about the points Michael brought up when I previously mentioned Karl Popper's idea of 3 Worlds. Right now, I have a rather raw dog Friday to deal with. Charles

  • FROM: Rachel Browne (04/18/03 3:06 PM GMT -06:00)
    Mind and Dog Friday

    Charles — this is so exciting about Dog Friday. A new dog, or any dog, is wonderful. And they might not have a sense of self conceptually but have a highly sensitive sense themselves in the way they fear for themselves or make demands for themselves, and are so sensitive to human behaviour, even a mere look. Philosophy is hopeless on the relationship between dogs and humans. But Raimond Gaita has written a wonderful book "The Philosopher's Dog". Shouldn't really mention Buber AGAIN but he believed we have communication with animals in the same way as with humans, in recognising "the other". Thanks for the Searle link. I ordered the book you mention last week. Have only read "Intentionality". Do you know where to find his argument with Derrida about Austin?

    Michael — Well I am a woman driver. I need to concentrate! But this raises doubts about phenomenology. If we experience things differently, are there any certainties to be gained from looking at our experiences? If there are, we would have to start with the normal case, or we'd just have a massive diversity of experience and no way to move forward to a theory.

    Conversely, you say that abnormal cases tell us about the brain. While I don't think there is need to posit a soul, and the mental/experiential/phenomenological/conscious will do, this is obviously a different sort of thing from the physical. But then, how would neuroscience tell us the difference between Mozart and a second-rate composer? That is essentially experiential. R

  • FROM: Michael Ward (04/18/03 5:05 PM GMT -06:00)
    Dogs and experiences

    Charles and Rachel,

    I cannot accept that neuroscience is simply about brain cells — whilst they are the building blocks it is the whole brain structure and its way of functioning that are the next area for exploration. Similar to the genome project we now have the code — all we have to do is to see if it's decipherable. There probably are many sub-conscious pathways to gain communication with your dog, having grown up surrounded by various animals I can relate to such experiences.

    Rachel, your question 'If we experience things differently, are there any certainties to be gained from looking at our experiences' My answer to this would be a conditional but optimistic yes — provided we can compensate for the subjective ness in each of us.

    Michael Ward

  • FROM: Hubertus Fremerey (04/21/03 5:51 AM GMT -06:00)
    a nice brain-twister

    Mike and all,

    there is this nice story of Niels Bohr, who had a horseshoe pinned above the door to his hut in the Alps, and when asked by Heisenberg "But Niels, you as a modern scientist surely don't think this will help?" answered smilingly: "Of course not — but I am told that it helps even if you don't think so!"

    Of a similar sort I found this one today, which is from the Harvard sociologist Daniel Bell (b. 1919):

    "When I had my Bar Mitzvah, I said to the Rabbi, ' I've found the truth. I don't believe in God· I'm joining the Young People's Socialist League.' So he looked at me and said · 'Kid, you don't believe in God. Tell me, do you think God cares'?"

    Now try to analyze this and have fun!


  • FROM: Hubertus Fremerey (04/21/03 6:58 AM GMT -06:00)
    what is "thinking"


    you have asked "where is all this mind stuff like ethics and art and philosophy if it's not in the 'mechanism' of the brain."

    Intersting question: There are some experiences of course, the primary input for ears, eyes, and brain. But then there are "cultural transforms". Sounds are waiting for some Bach or Mozart or Beethoven or Beatle to arrange them, likewise colours are waiting for some Rembrandt or Picasso or Warhol to arrange them, and "data" are waiting for some Newton or Maxwell or Einstein etc..

    You may call this "ability to arrange" a certain sort of intelligence — musical intelligence, painterly intelligence, scientific intelligence. And of course you may try to find out certain brain areas and to enhance their abilities by selection or otherwise to have more Mozarts and Picassos and Einsteins around. And in this way you could indeed transform human culture without knowing what it is. This is like improving an HiFi-device whithout knowing what "music" is. By this you revolutionize the way music is heared as never before, while you don't "create" music.

    The great open question remains: What do we mean by "content" and "quality"? Plato would have called for an "idea": What do we mean by "the good"? This is a philosophical question, not a neurological one. It's a question on content, not on mechanisms. The concept of "the good" contains some evaluative aspect that goes beyond the mere "pleasure" — which may be neutral. That makes a big difference.


  • FROM: Michael Ward (04/21/03 6:02 PM GMT -06:00)
    You're numbers up


    I think I understand the point you are making about things 'becomimg' but it seems to me that such ideas only make sense in hindsight. We should be able to predict now who the replacement of the Bach, Mozart etc. is going to be tomorrow if the concept of becoming (like Newtonian physics) holds true — but we can't.

    Let me clarify my idea with an analogy: Most people I know who select six numbers in the weekly lottery do so with the firm hope that they will be able to 'pick' the winning numbers when they buy the ticket. They hold onto an unspoken idea that the winning numbers are somehow fixed now and it's their ability or luck to predict them before the draw.

    The reality of course is very different for it's quite possible and occasionally happens that there are no winners — random chance may not produce any of the numbers people chose.

    That there will be a winner next week or another Bach, Mozart etc is no more or less likely than it was last week. I liken this concept of becoming to hope, it's comforting, promising and optimistic but not based in reality.

    You ask 'What do we mean by "the good"' — I see this as an incomplete question so I'll re-write as 'What do we mean by "the human good"'. Now that makes sense and gets us out of an area where we have no knowledge — Absolutes.

    Michael Ward

  • FROM: Hubertus Fremerey (04/22/03 5:07 PM GMT -06:00)
    on absolutes and humans


    I completely agree that "quality of music" like "quality of deeds" or any other concept of "the good" is always a human concept and not an absolute one. But there are results. The landing on the moon would have been impossible without modern math and physics. This was in a sense "absolute" insight, since it got to results, not only to dreams and talks. You as an engineer should know the difference. This is not guessing numbers, this is knowing numbers. Thus we alway have a sort of "marriage" of fancy and knowledge that in time begets some new and surprising baby.

    To advance in only 5.000 years from inventing letters and numbers to landing on the Moon and the Mars is no small achievement for lices living on a big dog. But as I said before: This was possible only because those lice dreamt of God. It's a strange world we live in. And no neurologist will explain it to you.


  • FROM: Michael Ward (04/22/03 6:32 PM GMT -06:00)
    What next?


    As we are unable to be truly objective about the world I think the best we humans can do is to try to remove all the subjectivity we can and to achieve this the neurologist will be of the greatest benefit.

    I found this out from my Martian anthropologist gestalt.

    Michael Ward

  • FROM: Hubertus Fremerey (04/25/03 7:27 PM GMT -06:00)
    why not have both?


    why are you killing subjectivity? There is math — very very objective — and there is music — very very subjective — and there is Einstein playing the violin and Newton being a mystic admiring Behmen. In the same way to build the Gothic or Baroque cathedrals was a great technical achievement of excellent mathematicians and engineers like building the Empire State Building or the Golden Gate Bridge. My thesis is always, that engineering and artistry are two sides of creative thinking. The works of technics and the works of art are both "fictions", artificial things created by human inventiveness. The engineers and the composers of music, lyrics, novels, movies, dramas, paintings, etc. are not that different when compared to animals. The bird that builds it's nest is only a robot, not really creative in this. It only does what nature forces it to do. Like the difference of a speaking raven or parrot and a true poet.


  • FROM: Michael Ward (04/26/03 1:35 AM GMT -06:00)
    A bridge too far


    Not guilty, that is, of the death of subjectivity. In one sense it is the only reality we can be sure of because it's ours and ONLY ours.

    There is a significant difference between technics and the works of art, they are not, as you put it both as "fictions". Art is a creation within the mind from the artists perceptions and thus exists independently of any kind of physics. On the other hand engineers, builders etc. are brought very quickly to heel when their creations conflict with worldly forces.

    Architects are in fact only builders who know why they are doing what they are doing — in the past many churches fell down whilst being built. This will not happen to a piece of art. Accomplished engineers build both and real and metaphorical bridges although artists can only build metaphorical ones.

    Michael Ward

  • FROM: Hubertus Fremerey (04/26/03 6:45 PM GMT -06:00)
    on reality and fancy


    of course, and I even as a physicist try to find out in a movie what is physically impossible. You cannot f.i. drive a car like in a time-lapse-film throu certain bends without having them toppled in the real world. By this you even can prove that there must be time-lapse applied. There are other similar effects, as f.i. effects of scale — why an Elephant cannot jump like a hare etc..

    What I had in mind was another thing related to this mind-body problem: While you have to know your phsyics and math of course, you a free to invent many things within the restrictions defined by math and physics. To build a cathedral or an airplane you need not only the laws of nature, you need an inventive and curious and daring mind and this is the other side of human greatness: not only to know by intelligence, but even to invent by inventiveness — wich does not necessarily follow. What I was saying: If your neurologist tells you what your IQ is, he doesn't tell you what your "CQ" may be, the "creativity factor". Knowledge is only material, stuff to build something from. But then you need some idea what to build from this. And by this engineers and artists are different sorts of inventors, working under different restrictions. There are many buildings today that were technically impossible 50 or 100 years back, because new materials and computers were needed for building them. But the great architects of today try to build what is possible.



FROM: Charles (04/15/03 10:21 PM GMT -06:00)
Euro medical reserch using virtual reality

I posted the subject document for potential discussion of the Mind. I am interested in their idea of using virtual reality to potentially change the real world.


    REPLIES (17):

  • FROM: Hubertus Fremerey (04/17/03 3:10 AM GMT -06:00)
    virtual global reality


    I see the same effect — and are as you fascinated — by the use of the internet to create a virtual rality in the cases of "war in Iraq" and of "globalization" in general. This is a two-way communication, while radio, TV and the press were and are one-way. This has a democratizing effect. Many voices, that have not been heard before since they were not in leading positions, now can speak up in the net and try to convince an audience. This once was the hope of the New Agers.

    And once more — like with democratic principles generally — the problem will be: Is it the more valid or is it the more popular view that will win in the end? Since to be valid and to be popular need not be the same. There will be levels of competence. You cannot have a democratic vote on Einsteins' theories by laymen, but you can and do have such a vote by experts. This conference is a network too.

    Computer-nets are a new medium besides the press and the radio and TV and the movies and books. They all change the world — hopefully to the better. But of course many people hate it just because of this and try to spam or misuse it. And in my experience one must be careful: Trust is the core of the matter. Even in the internet you look for those names that seem trustworthy. The net per se is not, like the TV per se is not.

    I don't know if there is anything like "net-critique" or "net-evaluation" this time, but there start to be "commendations".


  • FROM: Charles (04/18/03 1:17 PM GMT -06:00)
    Virtual Global Reality

    Hubertus makes some good points about the democratization brought by the www. Although I tend to think of it in terms of an increase in individual freedom. Personally I have more confidence in a republican form of government rather than some of the ideas about the internet and direct democracy that I have seen.

    Two uses of the web have been in information and communication. This European study involving virtual reality and Parkinson's though brings up something else: Using virtual reality to change the real world. My understanding is that one thing that they are attempting to do is use virtual reality to deal with a physical phenomenon, the "freezing" of Parkinson's Disease.

    Now people with Parkinson's take various chemical medications to make their brain state more "normal" so they don't freeze in place. Over a period of years, the chemical therapy is not as effective. I want to use a dog, who knowing the direction & pace that I want to move, will keep me moving.

    But what does it say about "mind," if some virtual reality can change a physical event like freezing, maybe more effectively than changing the chemical state of the brain?


    P.S. Re spam, I have had the same e-mail address for about 5 years. Lately I have been plagued with e-mail junk that I didn't want to see. Filters work wonders!

  • FROM: Hubertus Fremerey (04/21/03 6:29 AM GMT -06:00)
    what is virtual reality anyway?


    I forgot that you are very interested in all these soul & brain things. If I understand Mike and Rachel right, they both think that God is only a virtual reality. While I cannot decide that, I stressed the fact, that even if this were true, this "virtural" rality caused crusades and cathedrals and many other great deeds and works — including "wonder healings" and conversions. So what is "virtual"? When I entered this conference last October, Mike appeared as the Marsian and I went for "extraterrestrial" for a short time, knowing very well that it is nearly impossible to know ones true identity on the net.

    Thus we will always have several realities: Our daily environment, our global environment, our private dreams and convictions — and the cinema and novel thing, where the fictitious character is granted.

    What you say on direct access on the internet is simply the old "global village"-thesis of McLuhan. People get access to countless information that they never before "dared to know". But my problem is put by Goethe in his "Dr.Faust": "If they'd get at Philosophers Stone at last, they'd lack the wisdom needed for it's handling". Or as Naisbitt put it: "We get drowned in information and are starving for knowledge and insight."

    In this way the whole world is a great spamming and we look for the good filter-routine. When your wife called European philosophy "a lot of shit" she filtered whole libraries from her screen to get a clearer look at realities. We all do something similar time and again. And this is exactly what is happening in the brain: Most synhapses are dying, only some are kept alive. I see many similarities between neural networks and social or international ones.


  • FROM: Michael Ward (04/21/03 6:17 PM GMT -06:00)
    Dog or God


    Today it is my judgment that there is but one reality everything else is a delusion brought about by incomplete information being used by pattern seeking minds. I also judge that reality is probably forever unknowable and only fragments are apparent to our very limited senses.

    We are but fleas on some enormous dog philosophising about who owns the dog. (of course I could have spelt dog the other way round without changing the meaning at all)

    Michael Ward

    p.s. Anyway how is your dog Charles?

  • FROM: Hubertus Fremerey (04/22/03 4:49 PM GMT -06:00)
    on being a lice in a dogs pelt


    I have no problem with being a lice in a dogs pelt. Reality is a hairy thing. And may be God is only a false reading of Dog. But we have to make some sense of this all, and even you do, otherwise you would not be on this conference. You cannot be a true positivist, since the true positivist sticks with Wittgenstein "the world is what the fact is". But that seem too simple. Newton and Einstein thought there may be a bit more than mere facts but even some meaningful connections between several facts. And it turned out to be true. Without there theories we would not have computers and internet, nor radio or TV, no film and foto, no HiFi, no cars or airplanes etc.etc., which all depend on modern physics and math and underlying theories. This was what I argued against "eastern wisdom": "Eastern wisdom" looked into human behaviour to invent Yoga and Zen. "Western wisdom" looked into natures behaviour to invent relativity theory and quantum mechanics. Thus it is at least an interesting dog we live on.

    Did you never think of the possibility that humans will some day create superhumans and by those transform the universe? The universe is (or seems) dumb, but humans a at least a little bit bright, and super-humans may be very bright, and by this see hidden possibilities that nature never realized in its dumbness. Thus don't underestimate the lice — they may make the dog running!


  • FROM: Michael Ward (04/22/03 6:24 PM GMT -06:00)
    The meaning of life

    Hubertus Yes, I do agree that humans (or more accurately life) is an exception to the 'normal' tendency to increasing disorder in the universe. Also your view of the future super humans does seem the most likely outcome given the exponential rate of human achievements.

    Isn't it much less interesting agreeing with each other — so, as they say, live long and prosper!

    Michael Ward

  • FROM: Charles (04/22/03 11:46 PM GMT -06:00)
    on fleas

    In a recent interview the physicist Roger Penrose observed: "How do wakeful, living, healthy human brains create mental worlds? That's a profound mystery." He further said: "Because of my background in physics, as well as mathematics and mathematical logic, I've come to believe that there is something very fundamental missing from current science. I'm saying that, out in the world there's something going on which you couldn't properly simulate on a computer." (interview in "Science & Spirit," March-April 2003)

    Rather than delusion, it seems to me that the difference in our mental worlds that occurs when we rearrange a few symbols from dog to God is one of those mysteries that Penrose refers to. Charles

  • FROM: Hubertus Fremerey (04/25/03 7:16 PM GMT -06:00)
    on playful changing DOG for GOD


    while I think there are really deep questions too, people like Penrose tend to underestimate simple playful behaviour. What are all those "Star Wars"-movies about? Or "James Bond" or "Back to Future" or "Wizard of Oz" or "Harry Potter" etc.? Thats all very much fun and play like this GOD-DOG mirroring of Mike or my "reality is a hairy thing". The moment robost start to play around and make jokes and invent some nonsense Penrose will be awed.


  • FROM: Rachel Browne (05/03/03 5:37 AM GMT -06:00)


    I've been reading articles on neuroscience recently and now agree that we will never know external reality. The brain creates spatial perception and gives rise to everything else.

    How can we create "super-humans" without creating a super brain? Even if we knew all about how own brain works — which we don't — how could we know how to create a brain that does more than ours does?

    Off to read about brain mechanisms underlying empathy.

    Hope you have a formed a good relationship with Dog Friday, Charles. Give him a pat from me Rachel

  • FROM: Michael Ward (05/03/03 8:50 AM GMT -06:00)
    More haste less speed?


    If you haven't already it's worth reading/listing to the last Reith Lecture on Neuroscience. Instances of timing delays built into the brain are linked to paralysis of limbs. I also know of timing delay devices being used effectively for speech impairments such as stuttering.

    As an adolescent I went through a stuttering phase and thinking back on it there was this halting feeling as if lack of synchronisation in some was prevent fluent motion.

    Michael Ward

  • FROM: Hubertus Fremerey (05/03/03 6:02 PM GMT -06:00)
    on building a superbrain


    I think this is the simplest thing to do — in principle. Have some regions of the brain grown by some growth hormone and other tricks. The really fascinating thing is afterwards: We simply don't know what to expect. Nobody could tell in advance what Bach, Mozart, Beethoven and the others would be able to do in music.

    But — and this is my answer to Mike on the other question concerning genetics and the differences of cultures: There have been some Bachs, Mozarts, and Beethovens around elsewhere in the world, at all times, but they lacked the instruments and notational-systems and musicians to realize their potential as composers. If you are a Mozart of the time of Socrates and have only some primitive instruments for at most 5 people playing together, how will you set up a "Magic Flute"? It's impossible.

    Thus to have some genes to be intelligent and inventive does not predetermine much. The big split of cultures may be explained by dumb luck. Somehow the Jews, coming from Ur, were most impressed by the law and power of the Great King there and transferred this experience to their image of God. Likewise the Indo-arians from behind the Black Sea, ancestors of the Greek upper class, may have been impressed most by the sight of the stars and flowers and animals and their beauty, order and symmetry. From this sprang two completely different ways of approaching the world. But this need not be explained by genetical differences. The same key-experience — being witness of an atrocity f.i. — may drive one person into becoming a saint, the other into becoming a devil. There are some genetic differences perhaps, but they need some event and some form to show up.

    Overall genetics is not explaining too much. Only to have a piano available does not make you a Beethoven. But to bring out the potential of a Beethoven you should have a piano available. Thus if the geneticists find out a way to grow the brain, there may be astounding results in this complicated world that overpowers most of us.


  • FROM: Rachel Browne (05/06/03 11:32 AM GMT -06:00)
    Time and space and the mind

    Time and space and the mind have an interesting connection. Schizophrenics supposedly don't have proper event organisation in time. But I suppose they also spatialise differently — hearing things is probably their own inner voice but becomes outside the head.

    Michael — your account of stuttering sounds like a nervous thing. Lack of synchonisation is a panic attack sort of feeling. But there is an inner time and outer time perhaps that we can be aware of. When I'm nervous I talk very fast and feel I'm lagging behind and running ahead.

    But Hubertus, I was reading recently (in the newspaper!) that genes are highly sensitive so don't determine much as they are highly reactive to the environment and all things external. So without the necessary musical instruments would Mozart actually have genes that produce beautiful music? Genes seem like a potentiality.

    But OK, if we could grow the brain, how would we know if we had grown a better one which was super-human? What would a better brain be like? It would give rise to more interesting and intelligent behaviour, but how do we grow that? How does the current brain tell us what a more intelligent brain would be like? And the problem remains that if it is a different brain, could we assume it was consicous or just and advanced performative/behavioural mechanism. R

  • FROM: Hubertus Fremerey (05/06/03 6:54 PM GMT -06:00)
    what is a "better" brain?


    this is the old topic of "what does an IQ measure?" Einstein happened to be a bright physicist and a good and intelligent person too. But there have been bright physicists that have been Nazis or Stalinists too. Thus the question remains what a "twisted character" is. There are many great villains in the literature and in reality, evil masterminds like professor Moriarty, the opponent of Sherlock Holmes or like Blofeld against James Bond. Only to make brains more "able" does not answer the question "able to do what?".

    You are right of course that genes need a challenge and a stimulating environment even in little children. You must speak to them, you must entertain them and stimulate and encourage them to get their potential out. But when Einstein (b.1879) started, he had the mathematics of 300 years of a dramatic development of mathematical methods and insights at his disposal to make use of them. 300 years before, Kepler (b.1571), who was likewise a genius, had not nearly those mathematical and physical instruments available and could not have invented relativity theory. even if you are a super-mill, you need some corn to grind it.


  • FROM: Michael Ward (05/07/03 1:21 PM GMT -06:00)
    Moving on


    I think a better brain will be the one that drives us into extinction — if history is anything to go by.

    Michael Ward

  • FROM: Hubertus Fremerey (05/07/03 5:35 PM GMT -06:00)
    extinction by over-brain?


    I surely will not exclude the dire possiblity that you suggest. Only Hollywood will guarantee that James is always winning over the Blofelds and the other Great Villains of this earth. And only the Bible will tell the true believers that in the end Satan will be smashed by the returning God.

    But then: Who cares? There may be billions of planets around with intelligent animals in our galaxy alone, and more than 90% of all species that ever arrived on this earth have died out even before the arrival of humans. Thus why not spend us too?

    But as a notorious optimist (?) I cling to the hope that mankind will have some future - even with a bit more brains.


    P.S.: The question-mark relates to a nice twister: "We are living in the best of all worlds!" cheers the optimist. "This may be true!" murmurs the pessimist gloomily.

  • FROM: Michael Ward (05/08/03 8:59 AM GMT -06:00)
    Half full or half empty


    A pessimist is a well-informed optimist

    (Well you've got to smile haven't you!)

    I've just changed my car to one that does twice the miles per gallon so when the fuel tank is showing half should I be pleased or sad!

    Michael Ward

  • FROM: Hubertus Fremerey (05/09/03 8:50 AM GMT -06:00)
    on optimist turnd sour


    yes, that's a good definitiion. And on the smiling you are right.

    I you have fuel enough left to go to the next station, you may be pleased, but if the next station is closed then perhaps not so. But now I have to fuel up my fridge, since it's only half full...



FROM: Hubertus Fremerey (05/01/03 3:16 PM GMT -06:00)
on Eastern and Western approach to reality

Dear all,

Charles encouraged me to start a new debate on the following topic: What makes the difference of Eastern and Western thinking, of Eastern and Western ways in approaching reality? Charles has always been interested in this from his contact with Japanese and Korean culture while on duty with the US Army there, while my own lifelong interest was more from history generally and from history of thinking. But now after the end of the "Cold War" as a standoff between NATO and Warsaw Pact twelve years back, we see the rising to new importance of China, India, and the Near East, and by this should be interested in the thinking of those old cultures.

In my opinion the one fundamental difference of East in West could be: The Eastern thinking — even the Islamic if compared to Jewish and Christian thinking! — is characterized by the idea of harmony and wholeness. The world is seen as one universal order emanating from the underlying Tao or Do or Dharma. The aim of the sage is to spiritually unite with this fundamental force of timeless life.

The Western approach is essentially dualistic as in civitas dei set against civitas diaboli in St.Augustine, or as in the Platonic "apparent everyday world" set against the "ideal eternal world".

The whole European thinking including the Orthodox Christianity is structured by this dualism. And from this Western man observes and fights and moulds nature instead of trying to unite with it. The Greeks observed nature, they tried to explain and to model its ways, not to go along with it in the first line. There was always this "subject - object" distance, that the Eastern cultures desperately try to dissolve.

Likewise the Jewish Buberian "I-Thou" is a distancing of man and God, and this distance is essential: There is Gods love and Gods anger and Gods distance, there is trust and confidence, but never ever is there confidentiality. God remains "the other", even so in St.Augustines "Confessions", where Augustinus addresses God as a "Thou". The Western world is a world of distance and conflict and fighting, and this is generally accepted and approved of, even if there are some mystic countercurrents always even in the West.

I like to compare this to different reactions on the sounds coming from a radio: Either you say "get this annoying noise off!" or you say "lets hear what the message is!". If you now replace the radio by "nature", then the first reaction is typically Eastern, while the second is typically Western, or more specifically Greek, the one asking for peace and harmony, the other asking for information and being curious and exploring. This even applies to mathematics and to God: The Greeks ask: "What has mathematics to tell us?", and the Jews asked: "What has God to tell us?" They both use the eyes and ears of their brains to understand strange signals. The West is "dialogic", the East is "monologic", asking not for information coming from outside to be deciphered, but asking for insight coming from "universal spiritual unity of all things".

Christianity, the religion of the West, is fighting and transforming the World "in the name of God" or in the name of some great idea like freedom or justice or democracy, while no Asiatic religion approaches the world like this, not even Islam, which means "submitting ones self to the will of Allah". Thus in a characteristic way Islam stresses the "Eastern", submissive aspects of Jewish religiosity, while Christendom stresses the "Western", revolting aspects.

There would be no electrical forces without two sorts of electrical charges that have to be kept apart. Thus the West shuns the quest for harmony of the Eastern world but prefers driving forces.

This is how I see this "West-East"-relation, but you may see other things.


A question added to Charles: The US has been engaged in China, Taiwan, Japan, Korea, the Philippines, and Vietnam mostly, to a lesser degree in the Near East, which was historically together with India more the realm of the British. Where have you been and what were your different experiences? Tell us some stories, they always are entertaining.

    REPLIES (29):

  • FROM: Michael Ward (05/02/03 4:11 AM GMT -06:00)
    The fork in the road.


    An interesting topic, thanks.

    However Adam and Eve came into being precedes this discussion but currently population geneticists believe that the ancestral human population was very small -- a mere 2,000 breeding individuals.

    This ancestral human population lived somewhere in Africa and started to split up some time around 144,000 years ago and modern humans first started to leave Africa, about 50,000 years ago by present reckoning, they probably consisted of small groups of hunter-gatherers a few hundred strong. The biologist Edward O. Wilson, in a recent interview with The Wall Street Journal, mused that a new basis for spiritual values might be found -- not in the usual religious sources but in what he sees as the inspiring story of human origins and history. We are all Africans at the Y chromosome level and we are really all brothers.

    On leaving Africa one group went East and the other West (in principle if not exact compass headings) but given they were the same genetic and social stock then environment seems the only external motivation to change.

    My question is, given that the human genome information does indicate the ancestry of humanity what do you think drove this profound shift in perception and also what might the original perceptions have been like at the point and time of separation.

    Please look/print out the map at this web site as it shows the current DNA time line for humanity

    Michael Ward

  • FROM: Hubertus Fremerey (05/03/03 3:43 PM GMT -06:00)
    an being distinct and cooperative


    I will enter this genetic thing a bit later. This moment I enter another apect of our problem.

    While looking for "The Ways of Thinking of Eastern Peoples" by Hajime Nakamura (Greenwood Press. Westport, Conn. 1988. 657 pages, ISBN 0-313-26556-9, see:

    I came across the book "Each One A Hero. The Philosophy of Symbiosis" by Kisho Kurokawa. Kodansha International, 543pp. ISBN 4-7700-2140-2 1997. (see:

    by the great Japanes architect Kisho Kurokawa (b. 1934). The full text is available for free from the net, see

    As Kisho sais, his interest is not religious or spiritual in the common sense, and neither is mine. I am very "matter of fact" like you, and really not the least "spiritual" in the esoteric sense, not even in the New Age sense, and surely not in any theosophic or anthroposophic or even Free-Masonic (GuŽnon-)sense. I only try to do justice to the fact that historically neither modern math and modern science nor modern human rights or democracy are understandable without their religious origins. And I said even on the older conference that one should be careful to note that the European transition to modernity during the three centuries from about 1450 to 1750 was exactly the time of witch-hunting and burning stakes, and that this was no coincidence but in some way "necessary" and "logical", a sort of "expelling premodern ways of thinking". To call this "irrational" or "cruel" is completely besides the point and would be exactly what I call "moralizing instead of analyzing".

    Thus what I found in my own line of argument in the book of Kisho (that I still have to read) was this "living together"-approach to a future world, without any "wishi-washi". I have a very clear and precise picture for this — that of a Jazz-combo: There clearly distinct personalities "co-operate" in making music, NOT because they are forced to do it, NOR under some sort of "boss", but simply because they understand that to have fun with music they have to play together with other musicians and they have to compromise just to get at what they want to have: engaging music. The only "spiritual" thing in this is "the spirit of making spirited music" and nothing else. There is no metaphysics and no religion in this, only this "playing together of independent personalities". And since many years it was my idea that this could and should be supported by good architecture - when I not even knew the name of Kisho (whom I know since yesterday). From Antiquity through Baroque up to Kisho great architecture was always meant "to support human togetherness and a feeling of relatedness". This is what I find explicitely confirmed in the book of this really great Japanese architect.

    But of course: Instead of seeing "togetherness" in the picture of a Jazz-combo you may see it in the soccer-team or in the engineering team or in the research-team or even on our conference: independent personalities exchanging and cooperating not forced by some commands but simply by their own interest of learning and cooperating. This is my idea of a good society. And you see how all these false connections break down: To be a good "team-player" you have to be at the same time a good "soloist" or "specialist" and to submit to the common goal and to respect the contributions, support and critique of all other participants and you have to adapt without "dissolving into a whole". Thus this seeming contradiction of "either being a distinct personality or being only a nameless part of a social mass", a contradiction that defines the conflict of "individualists" and "collectivists" is nonsense: To have a good togetherness in society you NEED strong individuals. There simply is no contradiction. To have a good Jazz-combo you need strong, independent personalities that know how to "speak and answer" to each other by their instruments.

    And by this — in my opinion — the Eastern and the Western way are clearly compatible if seen in the right light.


  • FROM: Charles (05/03/03 7:49 PM GMT -06:00)

    I think that Hubertus has presented a very interesting summary contrasting Eastern and Western thought. This is a good time to discuss these issues, especially because the current focus on the Iraqi war and the Middle East may have hidden a deeper ongoing transformation in society when viewed from a systems perspective of world history. We now frequently hear about 'American Empire,' when in fact that may just be a stage in the transition from a near global American capitalism to a truly global corporate political economy. Whether this is good or bad, underlying the political economic changes, is a new philosophical paradigm emerging from the meeting of mind between East and West. There is much to discuss.

    First though, I wonder about describing Islam as an Asiatic religion?

    Hubertus said: 'Christianity, the religion of the West, is fighting and transforming the World "in the name of God" or in the name of some great idea like freedom or justice or democracy, while no Asiatic religion approaches the world like this, not even Islam, which means "submitting ones self to the will of Allah". Thus in a characteristic way Islam stresses the "Eastern", submissive aspects of Jewish religiosity, while Christendom stresses the "Western", revolting aspects.'

    Islam preserved much of Western thought during the 'Dark Age,' Arab Cordoba for example Also, I do not see Islam stressing submissive aspects of Jewish religiosity, thinking primarily of Islam's spread ca 640-711. Perhaps the philosophical and religious tragedy of Crusades and Infadas, past and present, is that they were/are 'family fights.' In the current meeting of minds between Eastern and Western philosophies, I think that Islam is someplace in the middle, but tending more towards Western philosophy.


  • FROM: Hubertus Fremerey (05/04/03 8:01 AM GMT -06:00)
    on fighting Islam


    while I could have written on "a" fighting Islam, I left it ambivalent. In my opinion we should not mix up "expansion" as with Islamic expansion from ca. 650 to 750 AD with Christian "fighting the evils of the world". The building of empires was of course quite common in all of Asia, and after the Arabs there were the Mongols — from which the then Islamic Moghuls in India and the Turks in the Near East, stretching their empire from Kairo to Vienna around 1680 AD.

    But building empires does not contradict the deeper longing for spiritual peace and harmony. The Bhagavad Gita justifies a great and meaningless slaughtering between conflicting parts of a ruling tribe, while underlying is a typically "Asiatic" idea of eternal tranquility of pure being. Wars are only more or less stormy waves on the surface of the eternal ocean. Life of premodern times is "static and ahistoric and symbolic", eternal recurrence ot timeless forms.

    This is not so in the West where dualism is really shaping the form of history, civitas dei against civitas diaboli. During Baroque — the time of most atrocious wars and burning stakes all over Europe — there was a great try of Spinoza and Leibniz to introduce a philosophy of "Great Unity and Harmony" of all things in God. But this approach — taken to its limits by Hegel — was then dismissed again by Schopenhauer, Marx, and Nietzsche as a dishonest lie, and the world was again shown to be fighting in the form of "class-struggle" or "struggle for life" or "clash of cultures" — which idea is not an invention of Fukuyama but at least 150 years old.

    When Luther was asked in 1543 to support the new tranlation of the Quran into Latin, he agreed by the argument "Let the readers themselves see what a shallow religion this is!" For him crucifixion and resurrection of Christ were the great events, a fight of the light against the dark, of the faithful soul against the devils and demons, and since nothing of this great drama shows in the Quran he felt the Quran "shallow".

    It's like comparing Asiatic music to the dramatic music of Bachs passions and cantatas, or to Mozarts operas or to Beethovens sonatas and sinfonies, it's like the peaceful hills of the prairie against the dramatic profile of the Rocky Mountains.

    Thus it's really not about empire-building but about different mentalities. But I dont think that this has much to do with Mikes "genetic" splitting of mankind. I think it's much more complicated than that.


  • FROM: Hubertus Fremerey (05/04/03 8:24 AM GMT -06:00)
    on different approaches to reality

    Dear all,

    this below is from the "17th set of questions and answers"


    of the "Ask a Philosopher"-series, posted at the begginning of August 2002, as # 4 ("Athens and Jerusalem"). It is relevant to our current debate.

    —-------------------- Rani asked:

    Could you please explain the two main traditions: Jerusalem and Athens that prevailed until the Enlightenment Era? I can't find anything on the Jerusalem tradition but it was based on faith and was a response to questions such as "why are we here".

    My answer was:

    That's a great question. Start reading the first chapter of Erich Auerbach's Book Mimesis (ISBN: 0691012695), "The Scar of Odysseus". The Greek ("Athens") are "eye-people", they are seeing the world. Theo-ria means "seeing the gods of the township". One of the greatest inventions of the Greeks has been geometry. They posted statues on every corner, they advised their youth to shine in public, to present themselves, to be proud and ambitious. That all appeals to the eye. They were real show-masters and practically invented tragedy and comedy as we know them. And so the cosmos appeared as a wonderful order of moving parts in a necessary equilibrium like a wonderful great machinery. That's why Plato wrote over the entry of his academy: "Maedeis a-geometraitos eis-ito" ÷ "No-one not loving geometry shall enter here!" The world was order to be looked at with the eyes of the body and with the eyes of the spirit and in-sight (!) of reason likewise. For the Greek beauty and truth and the good were but three aspects of reality and could not be inconsistent.

    The jewish ("Jerusalem") understanding of the world is totally different. The fundamental experience of the Jew had been the Pharaoh of Egypt and the God-King of Babylon. People had not to argue, they had to obey. It didn't matter what they thought the world to be like if only they obeyed to the God-King. In German the word "Gehorsam" (obedience) is derived from "hoeren" (to hear). The whole Bible ist strewn on almost every page with "So says the Lord" and "Now hearken Israel!" and similar sentences. So the Jews didn't study nature, they studied texts, they studied "The Law" (The Torah) and they became great jurists, because jurists have to understand sentences and arguments and not geometrical figures. And "sin" is not a deviance from a timeless order of a "cosmos", but it's a deviance from a contract with God, it is a violation not of laws of nature or reason but it is a violation of love and trust and mutual respect between two contracting parties ÷ God and Man or God and the Jewish People.

    And then the Jew had, what the Greek had not: The concept of personal responsibility to a responsive person ÷ God. The latin word "respondere" means "to answer". The Greek knew of nobody to answer to save their own reason and sense of beauty and what is proper and fitting.

    Now combine these two strings starting from "Athens" and "Jerusalem" with the ability of the Romans to govern an empire that spanned the world from the Indus to the border of Scotland (Hadrian's wall). Then you see what the "History of the Occident" is all about. And you see why this singular combination of the Greek sense for rational order (to be seen in nature and mathematics) and the Jewish sense for interpersonal relations of love and trust and mutual respect surpassed the Orient with his eternal traditions. Of course this doesn't mean that the people of the Orient have been or are less bright than those of the Occident. But if you don't learn mathematics, you simply don't know mathematics, and if you don't look into the mechanics of nature, you don't know the mechanics of nature either, be as bright as you may. And if you know of no god you feel personally responsible to, then you behave in another way than when you do know one. That has nothing to do with intelligence or with personal superiority of any sort, and so any racists claim of western superiority is pure nonsense. But the combined forces of "Athens", "Jerusalem" and "Rome" have created ÷ unintentionally of course ÷ a singular form of culture that is now taken over by the rest of the world for it's efficiency.

    Don't be scared by the word "efficiency" here: As Toynbee said in a Darwinian mood "History is the study of challenge and response of cultures to their environments". But then of course some people are saying that mankind is about to founder altogether in the "Titanic of Western Culture" on the iceberg of natural and human constraints. That you may think over for yourself.


  • FROM: Charles (05/04/03 6:52 PM GMT -06:00)
    Eastern & Western Approach To Reality


    My use of the dates ca 640-711 apparently caused more confusion than clarification. What I intended to convey with those dates was a reminder of Islam's history of proselytizing, similar to Christianity's.

    However, I should have pointed out the relationships between Islam, Judaism, & Christianity. The 3 faiths have shared origins as children of Abraham. (Islam and Judaism are historically linked through Abraham, while Christianity's link might be seen as more tenuous.) These three faiths are monotheistic and share sacred scripture.

    I do not think that you can distinguish accurately between Eastern and Western minds on the basis of contemplative practices. Islam, Judaism, and Christianity all have factions centered on contemplative practice. In terms of contemporary contemplative practices the similarities in practice are widely recognized, including Sufi mystics meeting with Christians and Jews in spiritual conferences. Similarities in contemplative practice between East and West have also been recognized, discussions between the Dalai Lama and The World Center For Christian Meditation (in London) for example.

    What has separated East from West in philosophy and religion are the theological and philosophical differences between monotheism and pantheism, not that the East is more mystical in practice than the West. Christianity's Desert Fathers (and the modern practice of Centering Prayer), Jewish Hasidism, and Islamic Sufism all have practices similar to the Eastern branches of mysticism. What really distinguishes East from West, as you indicated Hubertus, is the Eastern theology of harmony achieved by loss of self through union with the universal. In Western theology and philosophy there is either a union of self with a universal which maintains some sense of differentiation or the existential dance of the individual in the cosmos.

    Up to now (and I exclude New Age syncretism from this), the meeting of the Western and Eastern minds has focused on similarities in practices that result in some practical applications, such as campaigns for World Peace and the use of accupunture and T'ai Chi as adjuncts to modern medicine. The actual merging of Eastern and Western philosophies would have much more substantial reults. For example, does the adoption of Human Rights by the contemporary Eastern mind result from a practical adaptation of Western attitudes similar to the practical adaptation of T'ai Chi to my Western mind, or do we now truly have a universal understanding of human rights?


  • FROM: Hubertus Fremerey (05/06/03 7:26 PM GMT -06:00)
    on mystic and scientific approach


    of course mysticism is mysticism — whether in Jewish or Christian or Islamic or Buddhist or Hinduistic or other context. My thesis was: St.Augustine was not ONLY a mystic, he was a Roman jurist and a dualist too. Thus he bacame no reclused saint like St.Antonius, but a bishop. The Greek and Russian Orthodox Churches eventually got spiritual, while the Roman Church got "political" — and likewise the protestant churches. The whole western approach is very practical. If you want to understand the nature of planetary motion, you have to observe the planets and do mathematical calculations. This Copernicus and Kepler and Galilei and Newton did — but not nearly in a comparable way the Asiatic astronomers. This has nothing to do with intelligence or ability, but with interest in some questions. This was my example of the radio: Either you say "get off that noise!" or you say "let's see what the message of the noise may be!" For your ears — and mine — the Chinese (Korean, Japanese) language is "noise" without meaning, but for Chinese pp. schooled ears it may be the deepest religious insight or great lyrics.

    To be objective means to stress the difference between you and the "other" — be it a person or an animal or a dead object. There seems to be a complementarity principle: If your approach is "respectful", you cannot be "objective" — and vice versa. Either you "talk" to some "other" or you ana-lyze, ie. dis-solute, dis-member it. The western approach is ana-lyzing, the Eastern is "talking and accepting". But mystics is always "talking and accepting" — and by this is blurring the differences of East and West.

    Human rights are definitely RIGHTS and not dependent on "feelings of mutual understanding". I have to respect the rights of other people even if I dont like or understand them. By this it is a very "objective" approach and very "Western". The "object" here is the other person as a juridical person, not as a social one. As even Schweitzer comments in his memories from LambarŽnŽ, it was impossible to get his blacks used to the idea of "the other human". They simply did not understand it. Either somebody was "one of our tribe", or he was "a stranger", but he never was "a human" or "my neighbour" in the Christian sense. The modern concept of human rights is derived from the idea of a citizen under the protection of the state, not from any sort of "humanity" or "pity". And from this the concept of human rights is alien to Oriental thinking before the 19th century.


  • FROM: Michael Ward (05/07/03 1:17 PM GMT -06:00)
    Never the twain shall meet


    Entering battle, either physically or verbally, with a 'non human' does not put any demands on you to behave in any way to codes like the Geneva Convention in respect of human rights.

    Human rights are acquired when, and only when, you join the group. So are East and West to all intents and purposes different species?

    Michael Ward — Western Human

    Maybe someone from the East should join the group!

  • FROM: Hubertus Fremerey (05/07/03 5:44 PM GMT -06:00)
    enter someone from the East

    Mike wrote:

    "Maybe someone from the East should join the group!" This would indeed be very good. We should ask Geoffrey for some suggestion.


  • FROM: Charles (05/08/03 5:08 PM GMT -06:00)
    East and West re Human Rights

    Michael said: "Human rights are acquired when, and only when, you join the group. So are East and West to all intents and purposes different species?"

    No Michael, I was not talking about different species. I was refering to Human Rights in the sense of the 1948 Universal Declaration Of Human Rights. Looking through my files I found a 1978 article by Sean MacBride of Amnesty International, who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1974. I think that Mr. MacBride's statement is still current.

    "Has there been progress in these last 30 years? Well, I am a bit ambivalent about that. Human rights have been recognized and that is progress. But in the application of human rights, there has not been much progress." Sean Macbride in "Matchbox" Autumn 1978

    My opinion is that while human rights are universal, their recognition was first a product of Western Culture. I do not think that recognizing the different ways of thinking in different cultures is in any way demeaning. On my "to read shelf" is the recent book by Richard E. Nisbett, "The Geography Of Thought," The Free Press, 2003. I think that Dr. Nisbett raises some fundamental issues about how we think about mind and culture.


  • FROM: Charles (05/08/03 5:09 PM GMT -06:00)
    East and West re Human Rights

    Michael said: "Human rights are acquired when, and only when, you join the group. So are East and West to all intents and purposes different species?"

    No Michael, I was not talking about different species. I was refering to Human Rights in the sense of the 1948 Universal Declaration Of Human Rights. Looking through my files I found a 1978 article by Sean MacBride of Amnesty International, who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1974. I think that Mr. MacBride's statement is still current.

    "Has there been progress in these last 30 years? Well, I am a bit ambivalent about that. Human rights have been recognized and that is progress. But in the application of human rights, there has not been much progress." Sean Macbride in "Matchbox" Autumn 1978

    My opinion is that while human rights are universal, their recognition was first a product of Western Culture. I do not think that recognizing the different ways of thinking in different cultures is in any way demeaning. On my "to read shelf" is the recent book by Richard E. Nisbett, "The Geography Of Thought," The Free Press, 2003. I think that Dr. Nisbett raises some fundamental issues about how we think about mind and culture.


  • FROM: Hubertus Fremerey (05/08/03 6:15 PM GMT -06:00)
    see Jared Diamond on this fork

  • FROM: Michael Ward (05/09/03 2:30 AM GMT -06:00)
    Not universal


    I disagree that that Human rights are universal. The 1948 Universal Declaration Of Human Rights was, as you said, effectively a Western declaration based on Western values and signed up to by mainly western cultures (almost without exception see the UN membership list for 1948 below)

    The 'civilised' West effectively said to the 'babarian' East these are good values which you must try to follow. I think it is sheer arrogance to expect people with other value systems to follow yours.

    But then the evangelising west always has had that attitude and still does today. To my mind the idea of a Universal Human Rights is just as believable as a Lord and Creator. Just on a point of semantics it can't be Universal if just one person thinks otherwise.

    Michael Ward

    Afghanistan -- (19 Nov. 1946) Argentina -- (24 Oct. 1945) Australia -- (1 Nov. 1945) Belarus -- (24 Oct. 1945) Belgium -- (27 Dec. 1945) Bolivia -- (14 Nov. 1945) Brazil -- (24 Oct. 1945) Canada -- (9 Nov. 1945) Chile -- (24 Oct. 1945) China -- (24 Oct. 1945) Colombia -- (5 Nov. 1945) Costa Rica -- (2 Nov. 1945) Cuba -- (24 Oct. 1945) Denmark -- (24 Oct. 1945) Dominican Republic -- (24 Oct. 1945) Ecuador -- (21 Dec. 1945) Egypt -- (24 Oct. 1945) Egypt and Syria were original Members of the United Nations from 24 October 1945. El Salvador -- (24 Oct. 1945) Ethiopia -- (13 Nov. 1945) France-- (24 Oct. 1945) Greece -- (25 Oct. 1945) Guatemala -- (21 Nov. 1945) Haiti -- (24 Oct. 1945) Honduras -- (17 Dec. 1945) Hungary -- (14 Dec. 1955) Iceland -- (19 Nov. 1946) India -- (30 Oct. 1945) Iran (Islamic Republic of) -- (24 Oct. 1945) Iraq -- (21 Dec. 1945) Lebanon -- (24 Oct. 1945) Liberia -- (2 Nov. 1945) Luxembourg-- (24 Oct. 1945) Mexico -- (7 Nov. 1945) Myanmar -- (19 Apr. 1948) Netherlands -- (10 Dec. 1945) New Zealand -- (24 Oct. 1945) Nicaragua -- (24 Oct. 1945) Norway -- (27 Nov. 1945) Pakistan -- (30 Sep. 1947) Panama -- (13 Nov. 1945) Paraguay -- (24 Oct. 1945) Peru -- (31 Oct. 1945) Philippines -- (24 Oct. 1945) Poland -- (24 Oct. 1945) Russian Federation -- (24 Oct. 1945) Saudi Arabia -- (24 Oct. 1945) The Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia 1945 South Africa -- (7 Nov. 1945) Sweden -- (19 Nov. 1946) Syrian Arab Republic -- (24 Oct. 1945) Turkey -- (24 Oct. 1945) Ukraine-- (24 Oct. 1945) United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland-- (24 Oct. 1945) United States of America -- (24 Oct. 1945) Uruguay —- (18 Dec. 1945) Venezuela -- (15 Nov. 1945)

  • FROM: Hubertus Fremerey (05/09/03 8:45 AM GMT -06:00)
    what were the objections?


    while I think you objection is "not without some point", I would like to point to some similar details:

    — What exactly were the objections of those who did NOT sign immerdiately? Are there any countries now, that up to this day did not sign?

    — The former communist states of the Moscow-bloc always claimed to be respecting the human rights — while they clearly did not. They reinterpreted those rights in there way - like Hitler or like some Catholic countries. The argument was: "How can you defend a 'human right of freedom of information' or 'freedom of self determination' etc., if this endangers your spiritual salvation or your decent behaviour?" Thus by this you are rightly proud to be a "Westerner" and a "liberal" against those, who defend "the obligation of women and other minors" to be told what to think or to do. But things are changing now.

    And of course: Freedom does not include decency and sensibility. This always was the main objection of the churches and the elites in the West too. If you only go up the trees in Goa naked, this is no problem, but if you go on drugs it may be. This remains a complicated question, never to be settled definitely. It's like the old quarrel wether the US citizens should have the right to bear fire-arms.

    — The concept of the free personality is complicated too: In all cultures, the holy person was exempt from the rules. But the normal person had to abide. The idea of a liberal society is modern and Western. The original idea — even with Aristotle and Plato — was the community of which the single person is a member, not an assembly of free personalties. "The way of our fathers" was always defining good behaviour.


  • FROM: Charles (05/10/03 12:34 AM GMT -06:00)
    re "not universal"


    Would I be correct to understand that you are opposed to the process that led to the declaration? But that you are not opposed to the content, or at least most of it? > <


  • FROM: Michael Ward (05/10/03 10:26 AM GMT -06:00)
    My declaration


    The process that led to the declaration was flawed and limited but no doubt done with the best of intentions. Such claims could be made for many of the worlds problems.

    As to the content I append my comments to most of the clauses below.

    Michael Ward

    Article 1. All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.

    The reality is: All human beings are born dependent, unequal and given such rights as seen fit by others. The ability to reason and act with conscience exits in varying degrees across all humanity. Rousseau wrote: 'Man is born free, yet everywhere he is in chains'

    Article 2. Everyone is entitled to all the rights and freedoms set forth in this Declaration, without distinction of any kind, such as race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status. Furthermore, no distinction shall be made on the basis of the political, jurisdictional or international status of the country or territory to which a person belongs, whether it be independent, trust, non-self-governing or under any other limitation of sovereignty.

    The reality is: Everyone has to fight for and maintain any benefits they desire. Rights do not exist. No one can give you something they do not have to give.

    Article 3. Everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of person.

    The reality is: To live in any society we have to give up some of our freedoms in exchange for protection of life and liberty.

    Article 4. No one shall be held in slavery or servitude; slavery and the slave trade shall be prohibited in all their forms.

    The reality is: In a world populated by unequal people. Master-servant relationships will always exist whatever words are used to describe this power relationship.

    Article 5. No one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.

    The reality is: There are many who do not consider others human. Who would enforce such rules without first breaking them.

    Article 6. Everyone has the right to recognition everywhere as a person before the law.

    Article 7.

    All are equal before the law and are entitled without any discrimination to equal protection of the law. All are entitled to equal protection against any discrimination in violation of this Declaration and against any incitement to such discrimination.

    Article 8. Everyone has the right to an effective remedy by the competent national tribunals for acts violating the fundamental rights granted him by the constitution or by law.

    The reality is: Whilst different nation states exist with sovereign jurisdiction this cannot be enforced.

    Article 9. No one shall be subjected to arbitrary arrest, detention or exile.

    The reality is: Prevention is considered better than a cure so people are detained before committing a crime.

    Article 10. Everyone is entitled in full equality to a fair and public hearing by an independent and impartial tribunal, in the determination of his rights and obligations and of any criminal charge against him.

    The reality is: As humans none of us are truly independent and impartial.

    Article 11. Everyone charged with a penal offence has the right to be presumed innocent until proved guilty according to law in a public trial at which he has had all the guarantees necessary for his defence.

    The reality is: That silence no longer is always presumed to mean not guilty.

    (2) No one shall be held guilty of any penal offence on account of any act or omission which did not constitute a penal offence, under national or international law, at the time when it was committed. Nor shall a heavier penalty be imposed than the one that was applicable at the time the penal offence was committed.

    Article 12. No one shall be subjected to arbitrary interference with his privacy, family, home or correspondence, nor to attacks upon his honour and reputation. Everyone has the right to the protection of the law against such interference or attacks.

    The reality is: Big brother is scanning and reading my emails in the name of national security and CCTV is everywhere.

    Article 13. Everyone has the right to freedom of movement and residence within the borders of each state.

    The reality is: This is meaningless whilst land ownership exists.

    Everyone has the right to leave any country, including his own, and to return to his country.

    The reality is: Only when there are no nation states this will happen.

    Article 14. (1) Everyone has the right to seek and to enjoy in other countries asylum from persecution. (2) This right may not be invoked in the case of prosecutions genuinely arising from non-political crimes or from acts contrary to the purposes and principles of the United Nations.

    The reality is: This imposes a collective obligation on others.

    Article 15. (1) Everyone has the right to a nationality. (2) No one shall be arbitrarily deprived of his nationality nor denied the right to change his nationality.

    The reality is: This concept is devisive and until removed will cause amny of the worlds problems. When asked where he came from Socrates answerwas 'the world'

    Article 16. (1) Men and women of full age, without any limitation due to race, nationality or religion, have the right to marry and to found a family. They are entitled to equal rights as to marriage, during marriage and at its dissolution. (2) Marriage shall be entered into only with the free and full consent of the intending spouses. (3) The family is the natural and fundamental group unit of society and is entitled to protection by society and the State.

    Article 17. (1) Everyone has the right to own property alone as well as in association with others. (2) No one shall be arbitrarily deprived of his property.

    The reality is: Ownership has only one benefit — it denies access to others.

    Article 18. Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance.

    The reality is: Teaching can become indoctrination to the ill informed and underdeveloped. Article 19. Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.

    The reality is: Knowledge is power.

    Article 20. (1) Everyone has the right to freedom of peaceful assembly and association. (2) No one may be compelled to belong to an association.

    Article 21. (1) Everyone has the right to take part in the government of his country, directly or through freely chosen representatives. (2) Everyone has the right of equal access to public service in his country. (3) The will of the people shall be the basis of the authority of government; this will shall be expressed in periodic and genuine elections which shall be by universal and equal suffrage and shall be held by secret vote or by equivalent free voting procedures.

    Article 22. Everyone, as a member of society, has the right to social security and is entitled to realization, through national effort and international co-operation and in accordance with the organization and resources of each State, of the economic, social and cultural rights indispensable for his dignity and the free development of his personality.

    The reality is: People who decline to abide by societies rules are still supported by that society — without limit?

    Article 23. (1) Everyone has the right to work, to free choice of employment, to just and favourable conditions of work and to protection against unemployment. (2) Everyone, without any discrimination, has the right to equal pay for equal work. (3) Everyone who works has the right to just and favourable remuneration ensuring for himself and his family an existence worthy of human dignity, and supplemented, if necessary, by other means of social protection. Everyone has the right to form and to join trade unions for the protection of his interests.

    The reality is: Every right is someone else's obligation.

    Article 24. Everyone has the right to rest and leisure, including reasonable limitation of working hours and periodic holidays with pay.

    The reality is: Everyone has the right to starve.


    Article 25. (1) Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services, and the right to security in the event of unemployment, sickness, disability, widowhood, old age or other lack of livelihood in circumstances beyond his control. (2) Motherhood and childhood are entitled to special care and assistance. All children, whether born in or out of wedlock, shall enjoy the same social protection.

    Article 26. (1) Everyone has the right to education. Education shall be free, at least in the elementary and fundamental stages. Elementary education shall be compulsory. Technical and professional education shall be made generally available and higher education shall be equally accessible to all on the basis of merit. (2) Education shall be directed to the full development of the human personality and to the strengthening of respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms. It shall promote understanding, tolerance and friendship among all nations, racial or religious groups, and shall further the activities of the United Nations for the maintenance of peace. (3) Parents have a prior right to choose the kind of education that shall be given to their children.

    Article 27. (1) Everyone has the right freely to participate in the cultural life of the community, to enjoy the arts and to share in scientific advancement and its benefits. (2) Everyone has the right to the protection of the moral and material interests resulting from any scientific, literary or artistic production of which he is the author.

    Article 28. Everyone is entitled to a social and international order in which the rights and freedoms set forth in this Declaration can be fully realized.

    Article 29. (1) Everyone has duties to the community in which alone the free and full development of his personality is possible. (2) In the exercise of his rights and freedoms, everyone shall be subject only to such limitations as are determined by law solely for the purpose of securing due recognition and respect for the rights and freedoms of others and of meeting the just requirements of morality, public order and the general welfare in a democratic society. (3) These rights and freedoms may in no case be exercised contrary to the purposes and principles of the United Nations.

    Article 30. Nothing in this Declaration may be interpreted as implying for any State, group or person any right to engage in any activity or to perform any act aimed at the destruction of any of the rights and freedoms set forth herein.

  • FROM: Hubertus Fremerey (05/10/03 3:52 PM GMT -06:00)
    on what is and what should be


    while I find your comments on the Human Rights List really stimulating, I had to laugh and to ironize a bit:

    xx1 Everybody should have a nice marriage or partner ..

    xx2 Everybody should be well off and of good health ...

    xx3 Nobody should have tooth-ache or other ills ...

    xx4 Nobody should go to bed hungry ...

    xx5 Nobody should get hurt or insulted ...

    xxx be continued ad infinitum

    And to each of these you could answer "But the sad fact is, that things don't come out thus."

    You made me aware what such a list is all about: It is a guidance like the Ten Commandments are a guidance. But of course the praxis is another thing. The idea of Human Rights from the 18th century onwards was to protect the single person from arbitrary acts of the churches and the state. And by this they were really important and effective. Now you can speak against your government or some church without fear of being imprisoned or beheaded. There really has been some progress.

    But of course you have to fight for any little step in the right direction. In the USA there has been what is called "Jim Crow"-laws — circumventing the rights of the American blacks by all sorts of inventive tricks while not directly acting against the letter of the law. Today you can sue the white police in the USA even as an Afro-American, but you cannot be sure to get a fair process even after the Watts-riots of 1965 or the L.A.-riots of 1992. Thus to have some written rights does not usually make the political struggle to realize it unnecessary. And of course all or most of communist (UdSSR, China, Cuba etc.) or autoritarian states (as Chile under Pinochet or Argentina under Videla or Greece under the Colonels etc.) had signed those UN declarations — but left it open to "interpetation". What will you do if to ciriticize your Communist Party is "interpreted" either as "rebellion" or "high treason" or "madness", justifying a long sentence or admission to loony-bin? This both has been done a thousandfold even under the pretense of being compatible with "human rights".

    But the list is at least some document to backup and encourage resistance against all sorts of atrocities and misuse, and it is the basis of amnesty international (ai) and some UNO institutes to supervise the application of the list in all countries that signed it. Thus the list is not at all without its great merits. And it is definitely a "western" list.

    And my question remains: What were the objections of those who opposed it? I think those are typically objections of authoritarian and totalitarian states that don't accept the modern freedoms of choice of the individual. No true believer will conced you the right of having your own idea of what the truth is. By this the Human Rights are not at all "natural" and have been opposed heavily from the beginning and condemned by several churches (cf. the "syllabus errorum" of Pius IX as an appendix of the encyclical "Quanta Cura" as of Dec.8, 1864). Thus behind most of the Humand Rights stands the concept of the modern liberal state and the rights of the citizen therein.

    The danger of any fixation on written text is to lose sight of historical, social, and political forces. But this does not make the text worthless.


  • FROM: Hubertus Fremerey (05/10/03 4:49 PM GMT -06:00)
    on the Lee-Patten debate

    Dear all,

    Chris Patten has been governor of Hongkong for some time, Lee Kuan Yew has been president of Singapur. The debate on Eastern (Confucian) agains Western ethical standards may be of interest to you:


  • FROM: Hubertus Fremerey (05/10/03 6:05 PM GMT -06:00)
    on human rights

    Mike and Charles,

    here some more material on h.r.:

    an intro to human rights:

    from which the Universal Declaration of Human Rights again: (Dec. 10, 1948)

    "adopted by the United Nations General Assembly on December 10, 1948 without a dissenting vote. It is the first multinational declaration mentioning human rights by name, and the human rights movement has largely adopted it as a charter."

    This is important:

    "In Germany, the Nazis first came for the communists, and I did not speak up, because I was not a Communist. Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak up, because I was not a Jew. Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak up, because I was not a trade unionist. Then they came for the Catholics, and I did not speak up, because I was not a Catholic. Then they came for me... and by that time, there was no one to speak up for anyone." -- Martin Niemoeller, Pastor, German Evangelical (Lutheran) Church



  • FROM: Michael Ward (05/11/03 3:06 PM GMT -06:00)


    I read, but don't claim to fully understand, the Patten/Lee based paper on values.

    Two observations arose,

    Firstly that similar to the concept of Parent/Adult/Child positions in transactional analysis philosophers should adopt a similar 'positional East-West' understanding when facing issues that otherwise seem irrational.

    Secondly, if this is really not possible then we might have to start accepting that a species split has/is occurring caused by social conditioning. (people drive genes and not the other way round)

    The different consequences of these two possibilities are quite profound.

    Hubertus, you asked 'What were the objections of those who opposed it?'

    If the first is explanation is true then there is hope of reconciliation.

    If the second explanation is true then a bleak future is before us.

    Michael Ward

  • FROM: Hubertus Fremerey (05/12/03 11:33 AM GMT -06:00)
    on transforming and accepting reality

    Dear all,

    I am working this moment on another interesting hypothesis on "East meets West": The West tries to adapt the world to mans own inner hopes and dreams, to transform a prison into a lovely home. The East tries to adapt it's expectations to the outer conditions, he tries to make the prison seem a lovely home and to deny any difference.

    But this contrast makes sense only if you have a dualistic world-view opposing "dream" against "reality". If you have a monistic world-view you accept reality and call dreams a nonsense and "the cause of all suffering" in the sense of the Buddha or of Schopenhauer.

    The West seems full of dreams, he is always disappointed with the state of the world and tries to "improve" it "by science and technology", while the East tries to accept reality "as it is", as "the natural order of things" — who- or whatever may have caused it.

    See on this the stimulating article in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy on "positive and negative freedom":


  • FROM: Hubertus Fremerey (05/12/03 12:15 PM GMT -06:00)
    on being paternalistic


    if I understand you right, you are suggesting "shameless Western ethnocentric scientific rational enlightenment of all those stupid Oriental folks given to religious madness and superstition"?

    Of course I have to laugh heartily on such political incorrect suggestions. But NOT because they are political incorrect. I simply like all those golden stupas and pagodas and temples and cathedrals (that of Cologne is half an hour off my home here). But that's not the whole argument of course.

    Man is a dreamer. Love — as all novelists and poets and rock-musicians agree — tends to make people mad and childish and silly and even causes hate and murder and duelling. But what would life be without love? If there is only sex — what a bore! Likewise for most people the question is: What would life be without religion and its mysteries and passions? Not worth living!

    Of cause there is much deceit and self-deceit in religion (as in love) and I didn't need Nietzsche to know it. But there is much greatness and positive force coming from love and religion too, and I won't miss it.

    I really know what the "philosophes" of Enlightenment and the modern "secular humanists" try to tell me in the steps of Hume and Kant and Popper and many others. And I see the value of it. But I insist that humans are not only bright animals and that one should be careful. People should come to their own conclusions by experience. Im interested in improving the thinking and feeling and behaviour of people — and my own of course — by convincing and "seducing" them to see and to pick the more valuable things in the same way, as you pick the better CD or movie by your own choice and not deterred by some label saying "explicit lyrics" or "adults only" or something of that nonsense.

    It's not religion that makes people mad, it's those "mullahs" of all confessions of course. But people seek orientation and security — and this is in the genes. You do the same when adhering to the "religion of rationality". And of course I agree that there is a difference — while a complicated one — between "true science" and "pseudo-science". I too "know my Popper".

    The Orient is forced to adapt to Western standards simply by economic necessity. This - and not Western philosophy per se — is now transforming India and China and the Islamic states as it has transformed Japan before. It's not on philosophical convictions but on "the quest for a good life here and now". Even the new ajatollah of Iraq has called for a modern Iraq yesterday and not for a fundamentalist one as did Chomeini in Iran 24 years back. Things seem to change in the right direction at last.

    And then: Hitler, Stalin, Mao and Pol Pot have been "secular humanists" by their own standards, despising religion as much as you do. This does not guarantee any good result by itself. Things are much more complicated. It is NOT religions that makes people good or bad. But then: what is it? One part of the answer: Respecting human rights as laid down in the UNO convention unconditional.


  • FROM: Michael Ward (05/12/03 4:27 PM GMT -06:00)
    Non existent Humans


    Wow, what a lot of adjectives in your opening line. Without dreams or aspirations what would we be — automatons! Certainly I find the core premise behind religions demeaning to humanity thus I dare to say otherwise without inviting a bolt of lightening from Mount Olympus. I feel that I am also quite able to discriminate between what is social good and what is rationally unsustainable in religious orders.

    You say it's not religion that makes people mad, it's those "mullahs" — with that I have to disagree without one the other cannot exist. Without Bible or Koran or tablets people will be forced into thinking for themselves, what a terrible burden to impose on people to start to work out a system of ethics from first principles.

    You are precise to the point where the East is being dragged kicking and screaming into the economic future of the West, but isn't that what evolution is all about — survival!

    I do not disagree with many of the Human Rights goals it's just that they are aimed at regulating the behaviour of a species that, as yet, doesn't exist.

    Michael Ward

  • FROM: Laura Kelley (05/14/03 9:05 AM GMT -06:00)

    Thanks for the interesting subject!

    Hubertus' posting of Jared Diamond's talk and Charles' posting of the "stupidity" topic that follows has got me thinking about another integrationist perspective to this east-west polarity. What about north/south? The north/south hunter/gatherer cultures "lost out" in the evolutionary scheme of things, and we tend to think of that -- perhaps erroneously -- as "inevitable." Maybe it was only temporarily so (relatively speaking).

    The hunter/gatherer intellect was focused on cooperation with diverse mammals who refused to be domesticated. Respect for others and egalitarian perspectives seem more inherent from that perspective than from the agriculturalists who were, by necessity, oriented to "power over" strategies. Just because it was the evolutionary situation that evolved for a time does not prove it to be right. Maybe the species to which Michael refers will originate out of a north/south oriented polarity.

    —- Laura

  • FROM: Hubertus Fremerey (05/14/03 8:28 PM GMT -06:00)
    on being hunters and gatherers again


    great to see you back again! I felt — together with Charles, Mike, and Rachel — like an old nordic hero in the raging sea defending the place in the name of Geoffrey against all dark demons of superstition and false thinking. Thus you may help us out a bit with your red hair and green eyes to scare the demons?

    Yes, I see the Bushmen and the Australian Aborigines sitting around the fire and speaking with dogs and wild animals and the spirits of the gods and the ancestors. If this is what you call "south" then its a wonderful world — but a world we have lost. As a child I loved the fairy-tales and even now I can imagine the strangest things and do so, even if Mike will beat me for that irrational and shameful behaviour. But of course I would not burn witches, if this could be an excuse.

    Humans are dreamers, full of phantasy. To be rational is a form of being disciplined and by this is "un-natural" like any well-behaved kid that would prefer becoming dirty in the wilderness or al least in the sandbox. It's in the genes of course. The Romans went to the circus to get a kick from beasts fighting against humans (remember "Life of Bryan" and "Gladiator") and we later weaklings enjoy the softer versions of this in going to the action-movies or to the rock-concertos or to the disco-rave or to wrestling "royal rumble" or to anything like that. And we still are fascinated by fire and storm and flood and thunderstorms and erupting volcanos and by great passion and madness as in "Silence of the Lambs" etc.. This all is in the genes.

    But of course: You cannot have 10 bn humans follow the way of the hunterers of the Kalahari or other "primitive" people like the former Indians of the Kickapoo- and Illinois-tribes living south of Lake Michigan even 200 years ago. Those "primitive" people have not been less bright than we are, but they adapted to their natural environments, while we adapt to our un-natural environments of the big cities — and we too have no choice.

    What we call "civilization" today has been necessary to adapt to great populations densities. If you grew up in an Indian tribe 200 years back, you knew not only the way of the coyote, but you knew nearly every person around from childhood personally. But today you know nearly nobody. Thus you have to "behave" in a more schematic way, guided more by your head and knowledge than by your heart and experience. This is a real tragedy, but I don't see how to change it — save by an all-out atomic-war bombing us back into the stone-age.

    We humans have not become "better" during many millenia, but we have become adapted to our ever more "artificial" world, a fact that was deplored heavily by Rousseau and later by Marcuse and the Hippies. But Hesses "Steppenwolf" is no longer the real wolf or the coyote of the Indians. And we have learned that even the life of the Indians was not that simple and calm as Roussea and Marcuse might have fancied. See the movies "Dances with Wolves" and "Black Robe". After seeing those you will understand even Mikes constant advertizing of modernity and rationality. I see what he tries to tell us, while I think that dreaming is essential for human beings.

    But may be we will change the human race next time by genetical engineering or pre-selection? I won't exclude it, because there are no good ethical arguments against it. You cannot ask the Neanderthal-man if he likes to be replaced by the Cr™-Magnon, but the Cr™-Magnon is not "un-ethical" by this replacing. And "modern" man was not "un-ethical" by replacing pre-modern man.

    But we could learn again being a bit more "hearty" and a bit less "brainy" again — even in the age of computers and space-ships. To be adapted to the artificial world of the big cities does not in principle exclude being nice and understanding. I even think there will be a return of humaneness by TV and by the internet: People begin to realize that humans everywhere on the globe are similar across all races and cultures and religions. Thus a great brotherhood and sisterhood of all humans may be possible like in the Olympics. The movies "Independence Day" and "Armageddon" and "Contact" have indicated such a thing.

    One final remark: If I am not mistaken, it's mostly women (like Ursula LeGuin) that suffer from "alienation" and want to have back "elementary passions and feelings of togetherness with all living beings". Men most often have no problems with imagining a world of artificial things and robots like in any James Bond film. Most men in any culture are more or less "brainies" and lack or evade feelings. James bond cannot afford to have feelings and by this tries to seem "macho".

    That too may be in the genes: Women have to care for the babies, they have to use EQ for this more than IQ. And we still live in the age of "re-inventing womanhood": No introduction to philosophy nowadays without a special chapter on "feminist philosophy". Gender-studies are still a hot topic today in any science. This is "growing Yin against Yang". Now: Is this a "north-south"- or is it an "east-west"-topic?

    And what about "New Age"? A bit outdated and a bit shallow, but has been a great wave for some time mostly in California with much of guruism, Zen-buddhism, feminism and "Indianism" mixed together with modern particle-physics in the works of Capra and others.

    But perhaps this is not exactly what was on your mind?


  • FROM: Hubertus Fremerey (06/10/03 6:22 PM GMT -06:00)
    a further note on "East meets West"

    Dear all,

    after the war is over we all seem to have let go our topic of "East meets West". I think there is much more to be said on what we try to defend in the West and of what we may learn from the East. And there is even this "North-South" topic entered by Laura. We still are "globalizing" today and the war in Iraq was no end but rather a milestone in a long history of approaching each other.

    The overall question remains: What sort of future would we like to have for all of humankind? There are not "Western humans" and "Eastern humans", nor are there "Northern" and "Southern" ones — it's all one humankind — as every teacher in any larger city of the US or the EU meanwhile knows by experience. I am living here in Bonn — the former German capital — in the former "center of gravity" of some 100 embassies which now are nearly all moved to Berlin. Thus I always have been among people from all continents and races and colours when going by tram or bus, and when I entered secondary school here 50 years back this was an international school for the embassy kids. Charles did it the other way, circling the world as a GI on duty with the US army. And while his mix of colours in Spokane may be a bit different from that in the neighbourhood of Laura or from that of the London of Rachel we all are "global" people more or less now. Thus it's really not an academic topic.

    Have a look at this one, but there will be more:


  • FROM: Hubertus Fremerey (06/11/03 7:36 AM GMT -06:00)
    living in a world of change

    Dear all,

    this too may be of interest:


  • FROM: Hubertus Fremerey (06/11/03 6:02 PM GMT -06:00)
    on "man meets robot"

    Dear all,

    besides "East meets West" and "North meets South" there are many more meetings — as f.i. this one on "man meets robot":

    There are many other topics as "reason meets superstition" or "tradition meets punk" or "man meets woman" or "parent meets child" or "life meets machine" or "nature meets man-made thing" or "dream meets reality" etc.etc.. Thus if you please would come out of the hide again, we could have many fascinating meetings on our conference.

    But is looks as if after all there is only one meeting really of top interest for most people: "Human meets human". Question for the philosopher: Why should this be?


  • FROM: Hubertus Fremerey (06/12/03 4:08 AM GMT -06:00)
    meet the future, meet the past

    Dear all,

    everybody seem exhausted now — bathing instead of thinking. Nothing to object to. For better times to come I commend this one on "meeting the past":

    But now I am off too for a short while. Recover the batteries. Have a good time everybody,



FROM: Charles (05/12/03 12:44 PM GMT -06:00)
"A Stupid Way Of Life"

If you ever wonder about why things are the way they are, you may be interested in the essay by Manfred Max-Neef that I posted to Documents.

In discussion of East and West, sometimes the intellectual wisdom from Latin America is overlooked.



FROM: Laura Kelley (05/14/03 8:57 AM GMT -06:00)

Oops. I meant for this to be attached to the Eastern/Western topic... Don't yet know how to use this Nicenet.


FROM: Rachel Browne (05/15/03 10:32 AM GMT -06:00)
rights and stuff

I flicked through the stuff on rights. I gathered from Mike that they are "given" so how come it is human rights rather than civil rights that you are all talking about. What is a human right? It would have to be god given? O what would it be? Something stipulated by an obscure philosopher who says you own your body. But what does that give you a right to?

Honestly, Hubertus, pass the sick bag. Firstly, how do you know what Laura looks like? Well, I see you go for imagination in a big way. So that's OK. But what is this most men are brainies and women are not thing? I thought it was a well-known fact that men are totally pathetic and need masses of nurturing. Women are the tough sex. They have to do the nurturing. Well, it's all baloney and generalisation really, but you are certainly wrong! Sartre was a man and claimed to be very alienated, but in real life probably wasn't.

Don't believe in a return to humaneness through TV and internet. THESE are alienating. If you have no computer or tv because of electric power failure, you go and chat with the neighbour. In England. That's a return to how things used to be.

Welcome back Laura! Let us know what you look like! Haven't you put a photo on Geoffrey's site? This conference format is very complicated!I don't like it. R

    REPLIES (64):

  • FROM: Hubertus Fremerey (05/15/03 11:25 AM GMT -06:00)
    on this old gender thing again


    thanks for heavy beating, which is always good for stimulating the circulation. The womens lib notwithstanding I think that some 80% of all men are interested in technical things and like those James Bond movies and its gadgets and motorcycles and fast cars etc., while some 80% of alle women find this boring stuff and "without heart and feeling" — which of course it is. Remember how Odysseus found out Achilles from the many doughters of a king where he was hidden as a girl. He alone picked a sword instead of jewelry from a sample of playthings Odysseus has offered for choice. If this gender-difference is a myth, then please tell me some article where it is prove to be a myth. Otherwise I will call to call this a myth a myth.

    And now we are in the arena again: We are talking on East-West and north-south differences, and now perhaps even this man-woman or Yang-Yin thing, and we could call all three differences fictions and prejudices and myths. But who has to prove it? Anton Flew once spoke of "the death by a thousand qualifications". Of course there are woman that really like James Bond — the movies, not the man — and that like fast motor-cycles and fast cars etc.. But those a only a few and they don't disprove anything. If I try to remember all women I know a little bit, they were at least 80% "hearties" concerned with flowers and animals and humans and love and social relations etc.etc., and not two were interested in weapons and space-stations and computers and math and such things. Is that a mere coincidence? Is that only from social stereotypes and upbringing? I don't think so, but try to convince me otherwise.

    And once more: I like to be opposed. If women are REALLY quite different from men — and not only a littel bit — then it would be a really good thing that would justify all this gender-debates and the "feminism"-chapters in modern textbooks on sociology and philosophy etc..

    And for the looks of Laura: Every child knows how a unicorn or a dragon looks like, and every child knows that an Irish woman has red hairs and green eyes and that this cannot be otherwise, else the world would go bonkers. There has to be some order left to poor disturbed mankind in these confusing and turbulent times. Don't make the world seem more complicated than it is already. Then I will start to scream!

    And for speaking over the fence to you neighbour because of power-failure: There has been no power-failure in the times of Shakespeare since there has been no electrical power to fail. But people were burning at the stakes in the dozens. So much on good neighbourship then and now.


  • FROM: Michael Ward (05/15/03 1:19 PM GMT -06:00)
    White hair, hazel eyes .......


    Human or Civil rights I don't think it really matters because the issue is the word 'rights'. I think it makes more sense to read 'contract' instead of rights because then it only applies to those who recognise, understand and want to become party to the contract.

    On the matter of the sexual divide I find empirical evidence in favour of Hubertus analysis (but then again I would say that wouldn't I? — well no that's not the case)

    I have spent time in both all male, all female, and mixed groups and can confirm that there is more difference between these groups than similar groups of the same kind. The behaviour is different and as Aristotle said 'we are what we repeatedly do' so we act differently hence we think differently — just different. I would like to be neutral in my observations but the best I could probably achieve would to be neutered!

    Michaela Ward

  • FROM: Rachel Browne (05/15/03 3:54 PM GMT -06:00)
    Difference and rights

    Good idea, Michael, rights can derive from a contract. Natural rights make no sense.

    Well, perhaps it is the people I mix with but I don't know and never have known men interested in weapons and space-stations. I like cars and have mentioned before that I am director of a second-hand car company.

    Tell you what it must be. Things are evolving and being slightly younger than you, Hubertus, people have changed.

    OK, men are a bit technical. My husband has bought a robot hoover and is just setting it up (the idea is to get rid of me when he gets a tea making machine) right now. But most men I know aren't particularly technical at all. This technical thing is probably a social expectation, like me doing tea and hoovering — well. . .! R

  • FROM: Hubertus Fremerey (05/15/03 4:19 PM GMT -06:00)
    still this gender thing


    you may be right against Odysseus and Mike and me — but I would like to have some statistics or expertise from English social anthropologists on this. If it is all a matter of cultural fads, then it's not in the genes. Everybody agrees that girls are better on laguages and boys better on math and physics and technical things. If I am not mistaken this has been proven even by specialists on the brain, this it is not cultural. If you sell cars this does not mean that you are interested in technical things like a woman rallye-driver.

    Of course, our debate was not — and should not be perhaps — on gender but on East-West and north-south. But the similaritiy is in the task to prove the relevance of such differences. I claimed that there is a real East-West difference, but that this is more by historical coincidence and not by the gene splitting that Mike suggested with this chart. I think that the difference of East-West is real, but is not from the genes but from the memes, a dualistic "western" against a monistic "eastern" world-view.

    The question of Laura — if I understand her right — was, if we should try to adopt a more "southern" way of living and thinking instead the "northern" way, "southern" meaning "more near to nature" while northern is more "technical oriented". From this then sprang this gender thing.


  • FROM: Hubertus Fremerey (05/15/03 4:25 PM GMT -06:00)
    welcome to the club Michaela!

    Glad to see you too!

    now we have white (Michaela) and red (Laura) hair, and black perhaps (Rachel?). We cannot have enough colourful people on the conference. Keep on!


  • FROM: Michael Ward (05/16/03 2:04 AM GMT -06:00)
    Southern Comfort


    I would like to add to the East-West genetic map idea by incorporating your proposal, which I agree with, about Memes. The two are inextricably bound together as a visit to the web-site below claims. It is a matter of genetic record that what became the East and West cultures did actually divide and evolve differently — had one group say left the planet then over time they would no longer be able to interbreed and thus become a different species.

    On the North/South issue, this is purely speculation on my part but if you can pick your food off trees you don't need a ladder and if it's warm clothes neither. However try that lifestyle, up North, and you would soon see the survival advantage of technology like thermal clothes, heating, crop rotation etc, etc.

    Michael Ward (from the North and West)

  • FROM: Rachel Browne (05/16/03 8:14 AM GMT -06:00)
    Laura's hair

    Well, Hubertus, I don't have any evidence. Data isn't my thing. Though I did read that genes are totally susceptible to environmental influence and don't just do their work alone. Humans wouldn't develop without the world and others.

    "Should" we go for south or north? Well, what are our aims? If an interesting world, cannot we have both? If north leads to hoover robots, then I prefer south. The robot hoover idea is lazy. And leads to insanity. My husband said "hello" to it.

    No idea what colour Laura's hair is. Laura? You'll have to tell us. R

  • FROM: Hubertus Fremerey (05/16/03 9:16 AM GMT -06:00)
    on being "primitive" again

    Laura, Rachel and Mike,

    geneticall we all are not different from those Australien Aborigines and Bushmen and plains-Indians etc.. Or at least not that much. There may be some minor changes in the genes, but as somebody aptly said: The variation visible in the NORMAL variation of whites in Europe or the USA — variation of bulk and of pretty- or ugliness etc. — are at least as large as variations between any two races on earth. And this applies not only to bodily traits but to the brains and thinking and feeling too. The temperaments of newborns are as different as their bodies from birth. By this I am extremely cautious to explain some cultural behaviour from the genes. And to explain anything.

    And to be near to nature does not include being a southerner. "The Mists of Avalon" are in the north — with wolves and unicorns nearby. This north-south scheme only means "more technical and constructive or destructive oriented" or "more sensual and interpersonal and interactive oriented". I suggested a similarity of this opposition to that of "male - female", but we may drop that gender thing for the moment and simply ask: What makes the difference between those two attitudes? What does psychology say on this — is it more "nature" or more "nurture" or very much mixed? And the other question: What is the relevance of this difference for a better human future. If I understand Laura right, this was the core of her comment. And this I find an important topic in the context of our "East meets West"- debate. What is the right mix of "heart and brain" and of being "aggressively raping and transforming the world" and "loving and caring the world". Even by loving and caring one can transform the world — and maybe in better way and to a better result. I think this was on Lauras mind — and it's on my mind too. I don't object to transforming the world. I only object to transforming it in a stupid and thoughtless way. And my question is what this could mean in detail.

    Being "primitive" again means "being back to our roots". But what are our roots? What is our true essence and potential as humans? That is the question.


  • FROM: Rachel Browne (05/16/03 10:51 AM GMT -06:00)
    on being primitive

    Well, Hubertus, I know nothing about this, but I did read this person who said that the nature/nurture debate is nonsensical because life is both. This is the person who says genes are susceptible to the environment. But to ask for a "right mix" of this is a strange and unanswerable question. How do we evaluate it? "Right" for what? If it is to develop ourselves so that we achieve our "true essence and potential", well we don't know what that is.

    The way we are cannot be clarified. We think in terms of value and want answers to strange questions such as yours but we survive by a combination of nature and nurture. We will continue so, surely, regardless of whether we get an answer to what our essence is. Even if we had the answer, what would you do? Impose it on people as part of nurturing them?

    There is no "right" mix of heart and brain, just different mixes in everyone. And everyone will always differ because as you say we all vary. No-one can have exactly the same genes and the same environment (ie including personal relations) so how can you apply a notion of "right" to everyone?

    And what do roots matter? We change and evolve and get beyond roots. What we were at the root is different from the way we are now.

    That robot did a damn good job! R

  • FROM: Laura Kelley (05/16/03 4:44 PM GMT -06:00)
    Roots change.

    My message about the north/south evolved out of a libertarian/land ownership dispute I had with my partner Jim. I was trying to argue that "ownership" is not inherently a human trait, but grew out of encounters with animals who were willing to be domesticated, versus those who were not, and that perhaps our universal rights perspective of freedom grew out of Western contact and interaction with Native Americans many of whom had very different notions of "ownership." Ours is an appropriated notion of freedom that in its conglomeration takes power over as a given (i.e. dichotomously thinking you can't have an idea of freedom without that of slavery) and incorporates it with a perspective that grew out of the need to share alongside more ferocious beasts. I don't have any argument about this other than evolution doesn't justify itself.

    Jim assumed I was positioning myself for a socialistic defense. It's true that I have, in the past, had that inclination (and idealistic, utopian, romantic ones as well). Though as Rachel points out, our roots (just like the colors of our hair) change with age (I'm half Finnish!). As you all know, I lived communally for six years where I learned interesting perspectives about the gender division issues presented above and the nature/nurture ones as well. I lived at an egalitarian community in Missouri that is a sister (or daughter depending on your perspective) community of one in Virginia. Gender ratios at each stubbornly stayed at 60/40 despite efforts of our respective membership team recruitment efforts. Virginia had 60/40 women to men and Missouri had 60/40 of the reverse (men to women). Years of theorizing seemed to boil down our differences to the toilets. And ultimately the toilet issue seemed related to zoning restrictions in each state. Virginia has stricter zoning codes which influenced a "flush" culture whereas Missouri's was more lax so it had an outhouse culture. Women in the Missouri community considered ourselves a bit "tougher," but many argued that we wouldn't achieve gender balance until flush facilities were installed. (I do recall some men who visited from Virginia feeling very put off by our outhouses, so I don't know how that figures in the reverse.) ANYWAY, I digress... The outcome was that the overall character of each community was deeply influenced by its longterm predominant gender disposition and one could see how the dominant gender influenced law abiding and dispute resolution differences. But the REAL division, I feel, boiled down to adults who are parents (or who have cultivated a parent sensability) and those who are not (or who rejected their parental responsibility). I admire parental compassion and wonder how it can be cultivated (a twist on land ownership?). [But I also am quick to add that too many have just learned to "act" the part and can be rather patronizing in their compassionate parental-like pretensions.] Maybe that is the essence of my north/south question... The better parent is he who knows in his bones that the children (or resources) are not his to keep, but rather are for him to be beholden to.

    —- Laura (who is newly liberated from "beholdenness" to the WAY stressing hospital job, and thanks you all for keeping the hearth warm and well lit)

    P.S. I forget whether anyone brought up the "democratizing effect of the alphabet" in the east/west issue...? Reading and writing in the west versus in the east breaks down into parts and wholes as well.

  • FROM: Rachel Browne (05/17/03 9:21 AM GMT -06:00)

    A darkening blonde, then?

    I don't understand what you are saying about freedom, but I was thinking about ownership and think that it is natural and yet not specifically human. It seems to go with territory. And territory is something you have natually — it is where you are at bottom. If an ape gets some food and it is where he is it is his. It could be the fact that he acquired it but there is something about his keeping it that is necessary.

    If the dog wants to chew something he'll take it into his basket and behaves as if now he has it there that is the end of the matter. But I thought this as I watched the fish who cannot by nature own anything as they simply mill around and don't have a place.

    Glad you're back R

  • FROM: Michael Ward (05/17/03 11:08 AM GMT -06:00)
    Good fences make good neighbours

    Rachel and everyone else of course,

    Ownership of land, or anything else for that matter, is the acceptable face of self-interest. What benefits does ownership bestow? Having thought about this for some time the only benefit I can find is the ability to deny others from sharing any rewards coming from what is 'owned'.

    The animal defending its territory is securing a food source at the expense of others of the same species. Likewise putting a fence round 'my property' is little difference from a cat marking its territory. The fence doesn't have to be physical but just legally enforced.

    When there isn't enough to go round, and you want to keep up your standard of living it makes territory a functional defensive mechanism — until of course when yours runs out.

    Any other views?

    Michael Ward

  • FROM: Hubertus Fremerey (05/17/03 4:31 PM GMT -06:00)
    ways of ownership of fish and dogs


    this is a good observation: Fish swallow instantly and have not place to take some property. And most human "communist" experiments foundered just on this strong human sense for "property". That are the little children in the sand-box fighting over "mine" and "yours".


    I am glad that you are back and not put off by my play with your hairs — whatever the colour may be. I cannot help being playful and cheeky, and we need it on the conf case people get to gloomy and "brainy". I will answer your long and interesting posting, but these days a bit tired from some minor "family festivals" aka "birthdays", so I need a bit sleep now and then will be back as the old pirate again.


  • FROM: Hubertus Fremerey (05/17/03 4:41 PM GMT -06:00)
    on being an owner


    only a hint: "Winner takes all" is one principle supported by nature, generating hierachy and leadership in a horde. But sharing your property by giving donations and favours and festivals is another principle supported by nature. Nature supports leadership, but at the same time supports community, since both are needed for the survival of the genes. Thus — as in most cases — there is not one principle working but two in an antagonistic way. And this "dialectic" is another principle of nature.


  • FROM: Hubertus Fremerey (05/17/03 4:50 PM GMT -06:00)
    an excuse of Hubertus


    I have been really cheeky this time and need some beating and education. I hope you will not run off.


  • FROM: Michael Ward (05/18/03 5:08 AM GMT -06:00)


    After watching a re-run of "A beatuful Mind" yesterday the mechanism you speak of Viz "Dialectic" could be explained as the "Nash Equilibrium" for strategic non-cooperative games.

    Personally I think "nature" is given far too many credits for having intentions.

    Michael Ward

  • FROM: Hubertus Fremerey (05/18/03 10:02 AM GMT -06:00)
    on progress and utopias

    Mike and all,

    the following link is a great one and should be stimulating:

    As for inventiveness of nature and culture: We always are playing around with memes like nature is with genes. Nature is not REALLY inventive, it only is experimenting by "trial and error". Likewise we humans are. And there could be nothing else, since most important changes are unintended — at least as long as you don't call in some all-knowing and all-steering "world-spirit" (as I do not). While I cannot disprove the possibility, I personally don't think that there is "the great transcendent helmsman". This does not include dismissing all religious experience as nonsense. Experience is not theory, they can be kept apart.

    When Newton invented gravitational theory and by this founded (at least more than anybody else) "modern science" which then begat modern industry,he had nothing less on his mind than "the modern industrial state". His problem was a theological one, not a practical one in the modern sense. He was a Neo-Platonist and alchymist, not a modern "search & development"-scientist. In this way most of what we in retrospect call "progress" was mere serendipity, unintended consequence of some completely different endeavour, very often even contra-intentional or at least contra-intuitive, i.e., against expectation or even against intention.

    Thus while humans of course most often have "expectations" and "intentions", they actually don't fare much better than "unexpecting and unintentional nature" ("The Blind Watchmaker" of the Deists in the time of Newton).

    Today we are much more aware of the nature of "goal directed research", but "technology assessment" is impossible by the inherent problem of never knowing the farther reaches of any starting development. We cannot really assess any new invention. We only can develop some awareness of possible problems. Nobody has told us 20 years back what the PC and the internet would be today, while of course there were several famous tries to do so. Nobody could have told the situation of mutual nuclear deterrence since about 1950 at 1900, when nearly nothing was known of atomic or nuclear physics. Thus it would be plain nonsense to tell today what our world will look like in 50 years.

    This means: While we are planning and modelling today many possible worlds on our computer and in our fancies, we are completely unable to know what will happen. We can only play with possibilities, which may be outdated in at most 10 years. This is a situation completely different from what was known to the times of Jefferson or Goethe or even to that of Luther and Leonardo.

    But the question of what a good human togetherness could be by our experience — including all those communities of which Laura writes and of which there are man links from the link above — this question is at least in part independent of those technical details. What I try to find out is some sort of "negative anthropology": What traits of modern Western culture and of Eastern and "southern" culture seem attractive and what traits do not. And in what way could the more attractive traits be enforced and the less ones weakened. Do we really "need" wars and alienation and loneliness and stupidity and deteriorating natural and social environments etc.? The answer to this cannot be a simple great "NO!", because there are always trade-offs.

    The "eastern" and the "southern" and the "female" ways have their merits, but the "western" and "northern" and "male" ways have too. And I ask for the right mix and balance. This was and is in my opinion the core of our current debate.

    Call it a "Nash-equilibrium", while I fear that this will turn out only a name. The problem itself is clearly put into place even without Nash.


  • FROM: Rachel Browne (05/20/03 2:30 PM GMT -06:00)
    humans and nature

    Nature "experiments", Hubertus? Isn't that a human intentional practice, looking at possibilities. Does nature know about possibilities? Does it know what it is doing when it experiments?

    Ok, we, as humans might have unintended consequences of our actions because we can't see the future, but at least we can "endeavour" to do things. Does nature "endeavour" as well as "experiment"?

    You speak of the non-intended as natural for us, of possibilities and serendipity. This is how things for us, I agree. But then you ask "in what way can more attractive traits be enforced and the less ones weakened" in regard to male/female traits. Do you want to change the human aspect of nature? Do away with possibility, errors and serendipity? How can you suppose we know what we "need" when we can't even foresee the future? Much less, what we should "enforce".

    Perhaps we need Russell Crowe. R

  • FROM: Hubertus Fremerey (05/20/03 4:26 PM GMT -06:00)
    on experiments and experiences


    why do you mention Russel Crowe (save falling in love with him of course)? It's because we need some John F. Nash to solve our problems? (see

    Of course: nature is not experimenting in a human sense, but in evolution nature offers some new genetic diversity and then selects. This nowadays is even used as a method in engineering: Some problems are simply solved (on the computer) by "variation and selection", which is called "the method of artificial evolution".

    History in this sense is a sort of laboratory as Joseph Toynbee tried to show: There are challenges and there are responses, and neither the challenges nor the responses are selected by humans. Like Newton did not know that he was founding "modern industrial culture", neither Columbus nor the Mayflower Pilgrims nor Luther or Calvin did know that they were founding "modern liberal society". But in fact they did and by this triumphed over the rest of the world — at least up to now.

    That the US culture surpassed all other cultures of the world today by shere force resulted from this liberal approach: The US culture was from the beginning some 200 years back at the same time open and ambitious. This combination led to results that were superior to any results from cultures that either were not open or not ambitious or both. The cultures of the Islamic world today are neither open nor ambitious, while the Chinese and Russian cultures are at least ambitious, while not nearly as open as the US culture up to now.

    And this is an example of "possible improvement": If you understand WHY the combination of openness and ambition leads to good results, then you know what setting to prepare for. Simply to keep up with the USA, Russia and China and many other countries now try to change their cultural traditions to those that support openness and ambition. And the Islamic states know that they have no alternative either.

    In this way sociologists and psychologists try since many years to find out what is it, that makes single humans or marriages or families or organizations or schools or nations etc. a success or a failure. And this is what I was asking for: What do we MEAN by "improving human conditions", what will be improved in what sense, and what are the tradeoffs and misunderstandings connected with this overall endeavour?

    There surely are deep lying tragic errors and false hopes in our Western way of approaching the world and the future. This was what Jean called "Californian" and "Western arrogance". And this is what Charles and Laura have on their minds when asking for things to learn from "the East" or from "the South" as correctives of this "Western arrogance" or "blindness". And I think this is our theme in the "East meets West" and "North meets South" context: "What should we modern Westerners and Northerners learn - and why?"

    It is hard to learn if you are on top. This is the current problem of the USA as representing Western and Northern culture. If you are on top and the number one, you have to see the deep lying contradictions and strange paradoxes of your "winning approach". This is much more complicated than to learn from errors and failures and defeats. What is wrong with being a winner — why? That is our question.


  • FROM: Michael Ward (05/20/03 5:32 PM GMT -06:00)
    West wins

    To all,

    Hindsight, is something only decedents can have. Neither Columbus nor the Pilgrims nor Luther or Calvin founded modern liberal society, that was not their intentions they were just the branch point in a temporarily successful line of social evolution.

    Equally being prophetic about deep lying tragic errors and false hopes in our Western way of approaching the world and the future are no better than expectations Columbus had upon landfall.

    Both approaches have the same flaw, that events necessarily follow — they do not as experience dictates otherwise. Family trees do not re-join but species diverge so why hope East and West will combine when it's unnatural?

    I reluctantly agree with Hubertus — to the victors the spoils and the opportunity to rewrite history.

    Michael Ward

  • FROM: Hubertus Fremerey (05/20/03 7:05 PM GMT -06:00)
    who will be the victor?


    Thukydides wrote on the Peloponnesian war in a time when the Acropolis and all its wonders was just finished, at the end of a Golden Era of Europe and all humankind. But he was pessimistic since he saw the cause of Athens decline just in its growing arrogance. A few years later Athens was doomed and fell first to the troops of Alexanders followers and then to the rising Romans. In a similar way Gibbon later described the decline and fall of the Roman Empire. Then Spengler wrote on "The Decline of the West" — which was a premature misunderstanding, since this "West" was just conquering the "East".

    But we cannot exclude that a new Thukydides or Gibbon or Spengler will indeed write a book next time describing the "real" decline of the West — not so much by the masses of Asia and Africa, but after being weakened by its own internal cultural contradictions - including "Western arrogance".

    While I don't see this happen this moment, I find it fascinating as a question for this conference if it COULD happen — and why.

    As you know I really don't belittle "Western" and "Northern" achievements the least, but I wouldn't dare to say that there is nothing to learn from the East or from the South. Not only Jean was unhappy with what he saw. There are many — including Laura and Charles — who feel something missing in our Western and Northern approach to life. And now we try to find out what this "something" could be. i am not decided on this, but I see losses besides the gains of modernity. And I dont think that I am a decadent by this — but if you think otherwise I am not insulted.


  • FROM: Rachel Browne (05/21/03 5:54 AM GMT -06:00)

    Hubertus, America may be an international winner, but what about how it is internally? Have you seen Michael Moore's Columbine movie? Kids are going into school and slaughtering their fellow students. Everyone has a gun. People think they need a gun and have a right to one.

    American cities were recently described to me, by an American as "like mental wards with guns".

    Also America spends all its money on the military rather on health and education.

    Before we ask "what is wrong with being a winner", are we sure we know what a winner is? Have you got the right bloke? R

  • FROM: Charles (05/21/03 9:24 AM GMT -06:00)
    Pure politics!


    For someone who proclaims that they don't like politics, your last statement indicates that you do a pretty good job at it. What is the place in London where people make political speeches? Also, who would the old Left have to beat up on if there was no mythical America? Based on the source of your data, I guess that I can make statements about the U.K., even though I have not visited there for 25 years, because I saw the movie "The Crying Game." Oh, yah, there is also that independent movie about the philosophy student who roams about London profanely making comments about everything. I missed the beginning and do not know its title. I would like to watch the complete movie. Do you know the title?

    Sincerely hoping that you do not get mugged on your way home from work in London. I heard from someone that it is safer in New York. How is that for an objective statement?


  • FROM: Hubertus Fremerey (05/21/03 12:52 PM GMT -06:00)
    on America-bashing


    since Charles has beaten you in his friendly way, I cannot do the same now. Moore has got his Oscar for "Columbine" and much money for "Stupid White Men", which I read, and overall he may have done a good job, while his book contains much nonsense.

    The people of the US are "old Europes rebellious children" after all — and much of Asias' rebellious children too. While not always a safe harbour in the streets, the US are still much safer from transgressions of the government than most countries in the world.

    Of course you are right: The question remains what "a winner" is. I tried to use this notion value-free, stating it matter of fact for now. The US is in fact not only the leading military nation, but in most cultural respects leading too — sciences and arts and music and literature and movies etc.. It's by far the most dominant culture in the world now — even in Asia and Africa and Latin America.

    But the question remains: If this is a winner, how do we know that it will be promising for the better future of mankind? I don't know the answer. This was left for the whole conference to answer, this was our topic: What do "East" and "South" offer as an alternative?

    For instance: Is anything left over from 72 years of communism the Russian style? Will anything be left over from now 53 years of communism Chinese style? I don't think so. There seems to be absolutely nothing in art or literature or science or life-style or whatever we could now point at and say "this has been given to mankind by communism." While Hollywood and Coca Cola and the blue jeans and Rock'n Roll and Blues and Jazz and Pop Art and modern dance and the Computer and many other good things besides many Nobel-prize winning insights have been delivered from the US during this time. Thus the US made much more bang on the world than anybody else, and the most of this bang was to the benefit of mankind — including toppling Hitler and Stalin and the Taliban and Saddam Hussein.

    Some days back I saw a retrospective on the life of James Stewart: This is very much a "typical" American life in film and in reality. It's not always "A wonderful life", and when "Mr.Smith goes to Washington" as an MP, he has to charge his senator with corruption. Nobody said that the US are a paradise. In that you and Moore are right. But then: Where is paradise? Maybe at the Bacardi-beach. I would not decline being young and pretty and having fun there. But this will be not our world just around the corner.

    And don't forget: From the times of JFK and the Beatles 40 years back US population has nearly doubled!

    We still have "East meets West" and "North meets South" on the agenda! There is much more to debate on this. I really want to know what of the "East" and the "South" should be got into the rescue-boat of mankind now.


  • FROM: Charles (05/21/03 5:26 PM GMT -06:00)
    Michael meet Leni

    I wonder if Michael Moore has ever met Leni Riefenstahl? I know, Michael is Left and Leni is/was a Nazi. But their "documentaries" share certain qualities, like distortion of events.

    Here are just a few of the questionable sections in Moore's "Bowling for Columbine."

    Moore tags footage of NRA President Charlton Heston holding a flintlock rifle above his head to news clips of sobbing teenagers at Columbine. Moore says: "Just 10 days after the Columbine killings ... Charlton Heston came to Denver and held a large pro-gun rally for the National Rifle Association.

    However, the film of Heston is actually from another event held a year later in Charlotte, N.C. There was no NRA "rally" in Denver after the murders at Columbine. What actually happened was the NRA held its annual corporate meeting, which was previously scheduled four years earlier to be held 1999 in Denver. Because of the tragedy at Columbine, the NRA cancelled the usual convention activities such as annual banquet, exhibits, & entertainment. Only the sessions required by the NRA bylaws were held.

    Regarding the NRA gun rally that Moore claims was held in Flint, MI, and implies was held right after a tragedy there. Actually it was a political rally to support then candidate George Bush and happened 8 months after the Flint tragedy.

    Moore claims that all the guns used in the Columbine murders were legally purchased. But actually killers Harris & Klebold violated at least 20 different state and federal firearms laws.

    There is a section where Moore goes to the Lockheed Martin plant in Littleton and claims that the rocket boosters shown are "missiles of mass destruction." Actually "Forbes" magazine found out that these rocket boosters are used to place TV satellites in orbit.

    I'll be more open about my politics than Moore. I belong to both the National Rifle Association and its local affiliate the "Spokane Rifle Club," which has operated a target range for about a hundred years along the banks of the Spokane River. Thousands of children have been educated in gun safety, marksmanship, and hunting safety there. I recommend that you take a look at> <.


  • FROM: Hubertus Fremerey (05/21/03 6:53 PM GMT -06:00)
    on lying for a good cause


    thank you for this. Of course nobody denies that violence is an important trait of American culture. And there are really many killed by firearms in the US. But as Kant said: "To lie is to insult the belied person, not trusting his honesty and own judgement." In this way Moore has habitually belied the moviegoers and the readers of his book(s) and done his task a disservice.

    This always is the temptation of people that fight for a good cause: They won't give the opponent a fair chance, since he has to be the bad one by definition. This attitude should not be supported — if only since it weakens the good cause. It's a sort of corrupting the mind and the society. And by this I think the comparison with Leni is to the point. To be belied by the state or the media or even the churches for some "good cause" is only creating a climate of distrust and dishoensty, and in this Kant was right.


  • FROM: Charles (05/21/03 7:31 PM GMT -06:00)
    "on lying for a good cause"

    Hubertus said: "Of course nobody denies that violence is an important trait of American culture."

    Well Hubertus, I deny it! To say "America is a violent culture" is as about as accurate as saying "European culture is violent." Because when you say European, we are not just talking about your peaceful neighborhood. Europe also includes Northern Ireland, the Basque ETA, the Greeks & Albanians, the Turks & Greeks in Cyprus, Bosnia, and I don't believe that I'm stretching it to include the Caucasus region.

    To keep things in perspective there are county governments in Western America that can be compared in geographic size to European countries like Holland and Belgium. But there are also dense urban areas like New York and Chicago. Claims such as all Americans have guns and violence is epidemic do nothing about addressing legitimate social concerns about firearms and violence. Some of these large Western Counties may have something like a sheriff and 10 deputies for total law enforcement. I admit population differences need to be considered, but I think this exaggeration has some value. Could Belgium function with 11 policemen/women?


  • FROM: Charles (05/22/03 1:39 AM GMT -06:00)
    Violence — more on science, less on b.s.

    What Hollywood and the American media elite don't want to take responsibility for. They would rather blame the NRA (so they can continue to rake in the big bucks at community expense).

    I will post the entire paper on Documents.


    InfoTrac Web: InfoTrac OneFile.

    Source: Science, March 29, 2002 v295 i5564 p2468(4). Title: Television viewing and aggressive behavior during adolescence and adulthood. Author: Jeffrey G. Johnson, Patricia Cohen, Elizabeth M. Smailes, Stephanie Kasen and Judith S. Brook Author's Abstract: COPYRIGHT 2002 American Association for the Advancement of Science. Due to publisher request, Science cannot be reproduced until 360 days after the original publication date.

    Television viewing and aggressive behavior were assessed over a 17-year interval in a community sample of 707 individuals. There was a significant association between the amount of time spent watching television during adolescence and early adulthood and the likelihood of subsequent aggressive acts against others. This association remained significant after previous aggressive behavior, childhood neglect, family income, neighborhood violence, parental education, and psychiatric disorders were controlled statistically. Subjects: Television and children — Research Violence in television — Social aspects Locations: United States Electronic Collection: A84841663 RN: A84841663

  • FROM: Charles (05/22/03 2:20 AM GMT -06:00)
    Accidental anti-gun myths.

    InfoTrac Web: InfoTrac OneFile.

    Source: The New American, May 5, 2003 v19 i9 p43(1). Title: Accidental anti-gun myths. (Correction, Please).(statistics on accidental gun deaths)(Brief Article) Author: William P. Hoar Subjects: Vital statistics — Analysis Firearms — Statistics Accidents — Statistics Gun control — Analysis Locations: United States SIC code: 3484 Electronic Collection: A101367933 RN: A101367933

    Full Text COPYRIGHT 2003 American Opinion Publishing, Inc.

    ITEM: The Hoyafor March 28th reported on a gun-control debate at Georgetown University quoting David Haffty of Hand-gun-Free America as saying: "'When we find a product that is harmful to the public, we ban it,' Haffty said. Haffty offered a litany of statistics supporting the need to eliminate handguns from society stating that there are 30,000 accidental gun deaths in America every year..."

    CORRECTION: There are some 36 times more fatal motor-vehicle accidents than fatal gun accidents, according to recent statistics from the National Safety Council. Yet few are talking about eliminating automobiles. In fact, the Centers for Disease Control not long ago revealed that the number of accidental firearms fatalities dropped again, as it has for decades, to 866, even with more gun owners and concealed-carry permits.

    To generate such large numbers (and even here, Haffty is exaggerating), one must include any deaths related to guns, everything from murders to justifiable homicides. More than two out of every three deaths in the U.S. involving guns are either suicides or drug-related murders--regrettable, but hardly accidents.

    Indeed, official statistics (cited in John Lott's latest book, The Bias Against Guns) also reveal that bicycles, water buckets, and playing football are more dangerous to children than firearms. Fearing for our children's safety, we anxiously await the formation of another group of prohibitionists--Bucket-Free America. -- End --

  • FROM: Rachel Browne (05/22/03 10:01 AM GMT -06:00)
    Guns and profanity and mugging

    Charles, it is so kind of you to hope that I won't get mugged in London. However, I don't need to hope this since it simply doesn't occur to me that it is in the least bit likely. If it happened it surely wouldn't involve a gun.

    I know OF The Crying Game. Not surprised about profanity — it abounds in English films as well as in England outside films. Profanity is a form of humour to us. You might not like it. But it isn't really vicious. It doesn't kill. It isn't like a gun.

    Thank you for your concern again, R

  • FROM: Rachel Browne (05/22/03 10:20 AM GMT -06:00)
    Coca Cola

    Well, Hubertus, that's an achievement! Thought you were more of a noodles person.

    You know I like American movies and music. I just don't approve of violence. The very idea of "approving" of violence seems a bit nutty. And guns give rise to violence.

    Marx is still quoted today in papers on business ethics. More of this is likely. R

  • FROM: Laura Kelley (05/22/03 12:07 PM GMT -06:00)
    Jury Duty

    Don't really know how best to contribute to the topic so I thought I'd share an interesting American experience:

    Monday I went to the court house because I received a summons for jury duty. Names were randomly selected. There were two cases, but one was resolved behind closed doors so half of the hundred or so people were excused within the hour. Among the other half, twenty-five (including myself) were called in to be collectively "questioned" as potential members of the 12 member (and 1 alternate) panel for a criminal case.

    "Ms. Kelley, do you have any religious or philosophical beliefs that would prohibit you from passing judgment on another person?" "Ms. Kelley, if a judge asked you to weigh direct and circumstantial evidence equally do you feel that you could comply?" "Ms. Kelley, what do *you* think 'beyond a reasonable doubt' means?" "Ms. Kelley, if the other eleven jurors felt one way, and you felt the other, would you feel pressured to comply with the majority of the opinion if you believed they were not correct in their judgment?" People seemed to respond so readily to these questions; I kept imagining the reactions if the questions had been posed to this conference!

    I wasn't selected -- nor expected to be because, when asked, I said I was under a deadline and wouldn't be able to focus for the five days that the trial would likely take. But I was intensely intrigued by the process. Too bad young adults aren't required to participate on a jury. It's a real eye-opener and would do some good! This jury ended up being primarily women, and especially ones who had responded in a particularly "civic-minded" way. To me it seemed they were eager to serve (or judge?), and/or thought that it was a great break from work. But the ones who aren't really able to participate are the professionals, because they can't leave their work to others.


  • FROM: Hubertus Fremerey (05/22/03 7:11 PM GMT -06:00)
    on guns and violence


    you wrote "I just don't approve of violence. The very idea of "approving" of violence seems a bit nutty." To this I agree absolutely.

    Then "And guns give rise to violence." — no, they need not. Violence is in the hearts and minds, not in the guns. Americans have a "frontiers" past, thats part of the American myth: defending against Indians and desperados and wild beasts like cougars and bears that are not that common in England. The American violence is a social thing not a result of NRA. Historically speaking the US people are among the most peaceful in the world, while the Germans have a less good record and even the Brits were no angels over the last 200 years in Africa and Asia.

    I have no problems with Charles being member of NRA. If you want to kill somebody you can use a kitchen-knife or a filled bottle of wine or some stone. But you are right: In some cases to have a gun makes things much more easy — like in Columbine High School. But see the film "American Beauty": It shows a neurotic context, where shooting happens but is not the cause of anything.

    There is a question related to our "East meets West" topic: What about the deeper nature of American violence? I think it may be some consequence of Americna liberalism and the stress and fear connected to this. This would fit with the explanation given on the Columbine-shootings: The killers were losers and seen as such. And that exactly made them killers. May be the English society is less violent overall because its more relaxed and not that contesting. This is an important problem. But it's not the guns per se.


  • FROM: Hubertus Fremerey (05/22/03 7:47 PM GMT -06:00)
    on violence in the USA


    you are right: You comparison to Europe is to the point in some respect, while the US is more "united" of course and has a central FBI and Supreme Court and Federal Troops, which Europe has not. And I have a great problem: I only partly know the political cleavages of the US. Mailer is clearly a severe critic, and he stresses "American endemic violence", but Mailer is not "America" and not even "American literature" but only one voice. And similarly is Moore. And besides several cases that triggered riots by seeming unfair to black defendants, there may by many fair trials too. I cannot do justice to this and have to rely on your and Lauras information.

    While I am reading TIME mag. I gather much information from the movies, but these too don't give a true picture of what is going on ("American Beauty", "Magnolia", "Dirty Harry", the Spike Lee- and Mike Moore-movies etc. are not "plain false" but of course do not show the "normal" American way of life either but have a special message).

    Thus keep on correcting me and Rachel on this, I want to get more near to the truth always.


  • FROM: Charles (05/23/03 1:32 AM GMT -06:00)
    Question about film.

    Rachel said: "I know OF The Crying Game. Not surprised about profanity — it abounds in English films as well as in England outside films. Profanity is a form of humour to us. You might not like it. But it isn't really vicious. It doesn't kill. It isn't like a gun."

    "The Crying Game" is one of the most interesting movies that I have even seen. It takes a turn that caught both Kathy and I completely by surprise, so I'll stop here to avoid disclosing it. But see it if you have a chance.

    Regarding the independent film about the philosophy student (or maybe street philosopher), I can handle the profanity. (I too often slip into it myself.) But I would be interested in knowing the name of the film, so I could view the whole thing.

    I missed the beginning, it was in progress when I tuned in the independent film channel on the local cable TV system. I did not recognize any of the actors or actresses. It involved some portrayal of sexual abuse between "upper & lower class." But the main character seemed to be a street philosopher who was roaming around I think 1980's London commenting on just about everything (always using profanity). To me it passed way beyond simply being bizarre to being interesting. It was the most interesting use of profanity that I have ever seen (heard).

    Rachel, you do not have to worry about me pestering you or anyone else about firearms. What I get excited about are (not yours, because I think you were misled) claims that violence, especially that uses firearms, is everywhere in America. That just is not true. Once we get beyond that, then I am quite willing to have a less polemical conversation about the issues.

    Also, and this is in no way a commentary on society in the U.K., you, or anyone else in the conference, but it just strikes me as being absurd when people in the U.K. make comments about "violent Americans."

    One of my reasons. I have mentioned that my wife Kathy had Swedish immigrant grandparents, who came to America via Canada. Kathy has studied in Sweden, is reasonably fluent in Swedish & Norwegian, less so Danish & German, but generally identifies herself as being Swedish-American.

    But actually Kathy is short for Kathleen, and is named after her other immigrant grandmother who was from Ireland. (Now you know what a crazy mix Americans can be!) Kathy visited Ireland (before I met her) with her mother in 1971 and swears she will never go back for another visit. Most of her Irish relatives are around Donegal, but she and her mother also crossed over to Northern Ireland to visit relatives in Belfast. Basically Kathy had a bad visit with barbed wire and British soldiers all through the areas where her relatives live. One of her cousins was romantically involved with a young man from the other side. They eventually got married, but later immigrated to Canada, because of the threats from both sides.

    Kathy was very close to her Irish grandmother when she was growing up in Seattle. But since her grandmother died and her teenage visit to Ireland, she has rather selectively combined her Swedish half to ancient Irish ( & Viking times) history only. I suppose her prejudice about the situation in Northern Ireland is about as sensible as that which says American culture is a culture of violence.


  • FROM: Laura Kelley (05/23/03 8:48 AM GMT -06:00)

    I live in a small city that has been rated as one of the safest in the nation of its size. It's quite benign, though petty in its gossip. Of course there are no guarantees. Last year, for instance, there was a high profile murder involving a kitchen knife (wife murdered philandering husband who was dean of the college of medicine), but it really seemed accidentally fatal (he was coming at her and she held a small kitchen knife in her hand -- one stab in just the right spot). She was convicted of manslaughter.

    I generally felt safe in the community in Missouri as well, even though local sheriffs wondered why we walked through the woods without guns. I felt unsafe only once when I ran across two hunters on some of our outer acres. One of our guys gave them permission to hunt and I hadn't noticed the "notice" on the dayboard. But it's not because they had guns that I didn't feel safe. They didn't need guns for me to feel unsafe. It was their "old boy network" with our male member and our community's establishment within their larger community that protected me there. I "belonged."

    I'm thinking about that "women's belonging" issue as I engross myself in _Reading Lolita in Tehran_ (recommended!). I want to know about their culture and all I have to go by are a few books. The author tells about Iranian impressions of America based on our film and music which were widely consumed, and goes further (as a professor of literature) to explain the functions of artistic narrative in our lives. This book gives a third party perspective of how easily interpretive discussions based on the art of foreign cultures end up emphasizing our own biased perspectives of what we want to see (e.g., is Lolita really a slut? -- women forced into a veil sometimes see it differently).


  • FROM: Michael Ward (05/23/03 10:21 AM GMT -06:00)
    My musings

    Sharing a few thoughts everyone,

    I agree with Charles that guns don't kill people, people do — I suppose just making it more difficult to kill people will deter the less persistent. But then that's the argument for the removal of freedom in as much as if you can 'go bad' you should be forcefully stopped from doing so — hence lock them up before they can commit a crime. Retaliate first seems to be Bush's motto with Iraq.

    Quote: 'To be belied by the state or the media or even the churches for some "good cause" is only creating a climate of distrust and dishonesty, and in this Kant was right.

    I not sure that this is a sufficiently reliable maxim to live by as being dishonest can sometimes lead to the least worst outcome.

    I did like this hypocritical quote 'When we find a product that is harmful to the public, we ban it,' Lets start from the top on this one, Cigarettes, Big Macs, Alcohol, Poverty, War etc. Has anyone got a list of the top killers to see what is actually banned?

    Quote: There are some 36 times more fatal motor-vehicle accidents than fatal gun accidents, according to recent statistics from the National Safety Council. Yet few are talking about eliminating automobiles.

    Then of course there are drunk drivers who are involved in 30% of all fatal accidents - so why do we pick on them when we have 70% of sober ones who are killing the most people! Damn statistics.

    Michael Ward

  • FROM: Hubertus Fremerey (05/23/03 12:54 PM GMT -06:00)
    on being polite and dangerous


    you wrote "being dishonest can sometimes lead to the least worst outcome." I wouldn't deny that. It's what is called "polite". But Moore was not polite. Thus even this class of animals has its different species.

    And 'When we find a product that is harmful to the public, we ban it' was of course the strategy behind killing Socrates and Jesus and many others.

    But these only as asides. I am not in a gloomy mood this time (as I seldom are) but surprised at how lively the conf has become again. Great!

    The remarks of Charles on "The Crying Game" reminded me once more, that violence and love are both in the most riddlesome and strange way intertwined and even more so if "honour" is added as a component. And Lauras comment on women belonging and Lolita in the harem as seen with Islamic eyes get our whole "East meets West" debate out of philosophical sterility again. I am eager to read the book Laura commended.


  • FROM: Rachel Browne (05/24/03 10:51 AM GMT -06:00)

    Charles, the film you are thinking about is Withnall and I.

    My mother is a Kathleen from Ireland. The South. My mother-in-law is from the North. A very violent place. My mother-in-law claims the Northern Irish are British. I tell her they are clearly not as they live in Ireland and speak with Irish accents. So she says "Oh you SILLY girl" and goes around muttering criticisms of the Pope until I say "I will not have the Pope criticised in my house". She snorts.

    It's a mini-war in our house! R

  • FROM: Hubertus Fremerey (05/24/03 6:42 PM GMT -06:00)
    on mini-wars


    there are lots of mini-wars everywhere at all times: while this confessional thing looks strangely outdated now, and most national problems too, there is much fighting over ethnicity and racism, of pro-choicers against pro-lifers, of pro-Bush and anti-Bush, of left vs. right, of liberal vs. conservative etc.etc.. And much of this goes across families and parties and friendships.

    One of my theses was, that Western culture is more cultivating conflicts as compared to Eastern cultures. But I am not sure: This seems to be more an expression of Western "social and cultural mobility". Now that the Eastern cultures and societies begin to divide over "traditional vs. modern" ways, they will have much more conflicts than they were used to. If societies start to move, then they struggle over WHERE to move and in what pace. Europe — after 500 years of wars culminating in the two World Wars — finally has become very peaceful. Africa and Asia have much conflicts just becoming virulent by modernization and mobilization of all parts of the societies. There may be many more wars and atrocities to come like in Rwanda and Congo and C™te Ivoire etc., or like in Pakistan, India, Indonesia etc..

    This is NOT "East meets West" but "hope meets rest". The fear of change is hovering over there.


  • FROM: Rachel Browne (05/25/03 12:37 PM GMT -06:00)
    mini wars

    Well Hubertus, my point really was that there can be difference without violence. The most violent things that happened here were a command and a snort. Quite violent in terms of dialogue.

    I think political differences should start and end with diaogue. It isn't like that, in fact, but that should be an aim. R

  • FROM: Charles (05/25/03 12:46 PM GMT -06:00)

    First, thank you Rachel for the info. on the film.

    I think violence is (using ancient descriptive language) largely a product of the individual heart. But it would be interesting to look at it from a philosophical point of view, rather than the PC of either Right or Left. I think that neither Right or Left have any tolerance for a philosophical perspective.

    Personally, I am willing to concede to Michael's understanding of evolution to facilitate discussion. When considering human nature I am overwhelmed by the conflicting opinion, but perhaps Michael and others have some suggestions for readings that consider this topic from a philosophical perspective without becoming bogged down in the scientific minutiae that research scientists master as part of their postgraduate training? One thing that I wonder about: If considering violence from an evolutionary perspective, is there a reasonable alternative to the "killer ape" theories and survival of the fittest from that killer perspective. Perhaps humans survived and prospered, even while naked in the bush, because they were cooperative and loving? Could killing (both murder and excessive hunting beyond necessity) be an aberration from the evolutionary perspective?

    Beyond the evolutionary perspective, I am sure that philosophy offers much to consider. But except from the perspective of my religious tradition, I haven't really considered it. Does anyone have some suggestions for beginning informed discussion. Not a common reader, but maybe some suggestions of several philosophers that we as conference participants could consider as we are able.


  • FROM: Michael Ward (05/25/03 5:45 PM GMT -06:00)
    Hope free


    Seneca held a view about anger and I think anger is closely related to violence, war etc. According to Seneca anger results not from an uncontrollable eruption of the passions, but from a basic (and correctable) error of reasoning. Reason does not always govern our actions, he conceded: if we are sprinkled with cold water, our body gives us no choice but to shiver; if fingers are flicked over our eyes, we have to blink.

    But anger does not belong in the category of involuntary physical movement, it can only break out on the back of certain rationally held ideas; if we can only change the ideas, we will change our propensity to anger and violence.

    In the Senecan view what makes us angry are dangerously optimistic notions about what the world and other people are like. How badly we react to frustration is critically determined by what we think of as normal.

    We may be frustrated that it is raining, but our familiarity with showers means we are unlikely ever to respond to one with anger. Our frustrations are tempered by what we understand we can expect from the world, by our experience of what it is normal to hope for. We aren't overwhelmed by anger whenever we are denied an object we desire, only when we believe ourselves entitled to obtain it. Our greatest furies spring from events which violate our sense of the ground rules of existence.

    When things go contrary to our expectations we must reconcile ourselves to the necessary imperfectability of existence. We will cease to be so angry once we cease to be so hopeful. Thus hope closely integrated in the majority of theistic thinking has caused much of the violence in the past — unless of course you draw a different conclusion.

    Michael Ward

  • FROM: Hubertus Fremerey (05/25/03 6:11 PM GMT -06:00)
    on being angry and frustrated


    while I am eagerly awaiting the answer of Charles on your posting, I am amused once more by your "bashing the faithful". You are right perhaps: Socialists are killing capitalists because capitalists seem to be in the way of a bright future for all mankind — and vice versa of course. While the sensible man — like me for instance — not even tries to kill you.

    But I think you put a partial answer to our "East meets West"-theme: After decades of guruism in the west — Osho and his many friends — the old Hippies now are against the Bushies and say "let it be!", while the Bushies fight — as true Westerners should do - for progress and a better future and get frustrated by those slow-moving "Orientals".

    But since it's one past midnight I am very relaxed now and going to sleep. And Mother Earth is not speeding up or getting nervous from us humans. It still takes 24 hours for a full turn. Any true sage is thankful for that.


  • FROM: Hubertus Fremerey (05/25/03 6:32 PM GMT -06:00)
    on killing and caring


    without entering the field in any systematic way I think the one great philosophical problem is what I call "the paradox of the good intention": During the last 300 years, mankind has grown from some 1 bn to now 6 bn people, while on the technical level of the old Sumerians and Egyptians we would still be not even 3 bn, since traditional ways of growing food and cattle would simply not allow for more. And we will still double in number to anywhere between 10 and 12 bn during the next 50 years. And we all hope that not 3rd world war will change this "to the better".

    Thus by caring and by improving medical conditions and the techniques of growing food and cattle we have brought nature and mankind to the brink of extinction. This is what I call "the paradox of the good intention". And while I am personally no pessimist and thing we will handle thing in the end, from a philosophical point of view this "cynical" analysis is like a big stone in the way of the happy ethicist.

    And it's belonging to a certain type of problem, it's a "problem of scale": If you help you neighbour or your child to survive, this is good. But if 3 bn people do the same and by this double their number to 6 bn people this becomes a catastrophe, since this is stressing REAL natural ressources: They need food and soil and space and air and water etc.. This on a finite surface of the earth is not only a play with numbers anymore. But philosophers are not used to problems of scale, they are used to problems of principle. And this in part explains the low esteem the philsophers are held in by the practitioners who have to think in quantities and how to handle them.


  • FROM: Michael Ward (05/26/03 7:36 AM GMT -06:00)

    Hubertus and Charles,

    Firstly Charles, in my previous posting I cited theistic think as an example of hope leading to anger and violence it wasn't meant to be "bashing the faithful" as Hubertus put it I could have used other examples, it just seemed apt.

    Now "the paradox of the good intention" raised by Hubertus. I agree totally that we need a sliding scale of ethics that works at both the micro as well as the macro scale so that what is good for the family may not be good for the species. Here I will take advice from Charles and ask does or maybe could theistic thinking cope with this and still remain true to its maxims?

    I have found and use a philosophy that does not fail the test of "the paradox of the good intention" and it is called utilitarianism. In the past this has been rejected on the very grounds of having no fixed values and yet isn't that exactly what is needed before the planet reaches 10 or 12 billion angry people all given expectations to 'human rights' that can never be met.

    Michael Ward

  • FROM: Charles (05/27/03 4:50 PM GMT -06:00)
    re Senecan world view


    Thank you for your reference to the Senecan world view.

    You said: 'But anger does not belong in the category of involuntary physical movement ...'

    Probably true when philosophically defined. But my experience from employment in social services is that most people do not experience daily life on a philosophical level. For example when dealing with a father and mother who are arguing about child support, the case worker frequently has to place them in two separate rooms. The case worker's function includes remaining calm and rational between two warring parties that can swing back and forth between calm and irrational behavior. Sometimes though the irrational rules and jail time for a parent becomes a rational response to threatening behavior. Then even the case worker has to 'vent' to his coworkers about the xyzw behavior of people.

    'In the Senecan view what makes us angry are dangerously optimistic notions about what the world and other people are like. How badly we react to frustration is critically determined by what we think of as normal.'

    Michael would you define this situation as the result of being dangerously optimistic. Mother denies visitation with children to ex husband. Mother displays anger as she explains to case worker that the reason for visitation denial is that the father has changed his sex to female and this greatly confuses their children. Mother adds that the father was fired from her long term employment when macho coworkers objected to her presence. (Although former employer tells case worker that she was fired, because of being frequently absent from work with no excuse.) Case worker explains to mother that state law considers support and visitation to be two separate issues and that she cannot deny court ordered visitation. But worker also suggests to mother that she see attorney and go back to court, since divorce decree and child support/visitation order was entered prior to father's sex change. Mother indicated during conversation with case worker that no one when getting married would expect this sort of situation to arise. Later in separate conversation with father, case worker (me) quickly comes to the conclusion that it is a waste of time to continue conversation with father, because she seems to be boasting that she'll never have to pay child support because sex change causes health problems which prevent her from working. Case worker, rather than going into details about how law considers child support and visitation to be separate issues, bluntly tells father that she should immediately begin seeking employment or she's going to jail! (Although that's only the recommendation that I made to the County Prosecutor.)

    Michael, people frequently ask case workers for their personal view. My response was often: 'It didn't matter what I thought, the law required ...'

    'When things go contrary to our expectations we must reconcile ourselves to the necessary imperfectability of existence. We will cease to be so angry once we cease to be so hopeful. Thus hope closely integrated in the majority of theistic thinking has caused much of the violence in the past — unless of course you draw a different conclusion.'

    Michael, I do not share your implied optimism about the non theistic. Two of my most difficult cases as a child support enforcement officer were: (1) Two clergy (mother & father) who were divorced and (2) a Ph.D. (father) who boasted of his non belief in any religion. It seems to me that anger crosses all boundaries of belief and education. But education does seem to be related to how anger is expressed. Note- the Ph.D. didn't go get a gun, but he did forge legal documents.


  • FROM: Michael Ward (05/27/03 6:05 PM GMT -06:00)
    Swamp dwellers


    You wrote 'most people do not experience daily life on a philosophical level' I do so agree with you, but isn't that exactly what we all should be trying to alter. A tutor of mine a good many years ago described the majority of people as 'sleepwalking through life' or as Socrates said shortly before his execution 'the unexamined life is not worth living' I do not think he would have said 'It didn't matter what I thought, the law required ...'

    Some comments on your cited case though I don't think you mean't that what these people said was involuntary?

    1)Mother underestimates children's ability — she is thinking for them as an adult would, children are much less judgemental.

    2)Mother not prepared (or able) to rationalise the situation from the Childs viewpoint. 3)Mother fuelling the argument with non causal and hence unjustified criteria. (fathers income)

    4)Mother has inflexible concepts and will not (or cannot) manage change. (sex change)

    5)Father (now clinically female) unreasonably expects the state (us) to fulfil his/her responsibilities — under developed morality!

    6)Difficult to see how the situation is improved with the father in jail — assuming not having employment isn't yet against the law.

    You might find 'Plato not Prozac' by Lou Marinoff and interesting read with your background.

    The point I was attempting to make was that the anger arising out of injustice is based on the false belief that there is such a thing as justice at all. When you give up that belief one cannot logically be angry about not having something that does not exist.

    What is missing in all these examples is the ability to rationalise: however it is very difficult when you are up to your arse in alligators to remember your initial objective was to drain the swamp.

    Michael Ward

  • FROM: Charles (05/27/03 11:15 PM GMT -06:00)
    The way people really are.


    You said: '6) Difficult to see how the situation is improved with the father in jail - assuming not having employment isn't yet against the law.'

    I think that your rational analysis was excellent. You are right. It is not against the law to be unemployed in America. But what can happen is that the non custodial parent is taken before the court by the county prosecutor for not meeting a support obligation. In reality this happens rarely, because usually a payroll deduction order can be established under administrative law or some asset, like a recreational vehicle, seized. But there are unfortunately flagrant cases of parent's avoiding their responsibility. If the prosecutor can persuade a superior court judge that this is the case, then the judge can order the absent parent jailed for being in contempt of court because of non compliance with a court order. (Usually this is an order to pay what the court considers is justified under current circumstances, often different than the amount ordered by the original child support order.) This is not a method used against poor people. But it is often very effective against the 'professional person,' doctors, accountants, attorneys! or 'craftsman' who is clever in hiding income and assets or who chooses to be unemployed or underemployed. In these cases, usually the court's threat of jail time is sufficient to motivate the non custodial parent to pay and the jail sentence is suspended.

    However the excellence of your rational analysis is actually its weakness. Because the rational is only one part of being human. The American court system, based on the tradition of English common law, can take this into account. Where the case worker is limited by the rationality of administrative law. The superior court or other court judge under this system can consider the entire situation, rational and those aspects of humanity that are not always rational, like emotions, customs, traditions, and mores, coming to a much more humane solution than the state's administrative order.

  • FROM: Charles (05/27/03 11:51 PM GMT -06:00)
    Mind of children


    I was very interested in what you said about children being non judgmental. My professional experience was with parents, not directly with children, dealing primarily with the financial aspects of family life. I always deferred to the opinion of the child protective service workers or the court (including juvenile justice workers) regarding the emotional, intellectual, and spiritual needs of children. As a father I have my opinion, but I would be very interested in what others have to say about the usefulness of philosophy in relation to the life of children.


  • FROM: Charles (05/28/03 12:09 AM GMT -06:00)
    Opinion and law


    You said: " A tutor of mine a good many years ago described the majority of people as 'sleepwalking through life' or as Socrates said shortly before his execution 'the unexamined life is not worth living' I do not think he would have said 'It didn't matter what I thought, the law required ...'

    A problem with the state, since ancient times, is that an individual bureaucrat's or police opinion can abuse the citizenry. Hopefully the law takes into account a broader experience and interest than the individual bureaucrat's or policeman's personal opinion. Also, even Socrates, deferred to the law.


  • FROM: Michael Ward (05/28/03 2:30 AM GMT -06:00)
    The slide rule


    I accept that the rational aspect is not the full picture but then I ask if people were more rational would they then not also be less emotional — is it not the balance that is out of proportion? It seems to me that irrational problems can be rectified much easier than the emotional ones.

    You also stated 'This is not a method used against poor people' so in saying this I suspect you would support a sliding scale of ethics — rather like income tax? It isn't of course just the poor who we deal with differently. In the course of my business I have dealings with many companies with widely varying degrees of competence but what happens over time is that people come to expect more from the competent and less from the incompetent — I do not say that before contract law that is right but it happens.

    My impression from your statements about the courts powers leads me to think you have a much more aggressive system of enforcement than is practised here in the UK — even if it had the same roots.

    Michael Ward

  • FROM: Michael Ward (05/28/03 2:43 AM GMT -06:00)
    Mind of Children 2


    Just a quick reply on this one as I am short of time at the moment. Having just said that it's not something you would normally here a child say and the reason why I will propose now along with the issue of children being non judgmental.

    Having two children of my own and taking time to watch children as any parent would do they spend most of their lives living in the present, not the past or future. If you are going to be judgemental I think that requires spending time in the past and if you are going to worry that requires spending time in the future. Generally people seem to be much happier living in the present.

    As to the usefulness of philosophy in relation to the life of children I need much more time:-)

    Michael Ward

  • FROM: Hubertus Fremerey (05/28/03 6:34 PM GMT -06:00)
    an interlude on robots again

    Dear all,

    those books below I did not read. And of course you need not either. But you should at least be aware of what is going on.

    A minor comment on the conf: The fascinating exchange of Charles and Mike during the last two days has been about rational and irrational behaviour. People are not simply this or that. They are acting more or less rational in their "spanned frame of reference" so to say, where I use "spanned" in the way it is used in "span of responsibility". Thus from a judicial distance of experienced people like Mike and Charles some behaviour looks irrational that seems not from the experience of the actors involved. All people try to get out of trouble whereever it hits them. "The whole picture" is not on their minds. Since our genes are still "apish" and adapted to small-group behaviour, this is much more rational in the apish sense than behaving like Socrates.

    The following text came up in a quite different context this day, but fits in our "East meets West" theme under the header "Eastern vs Western concepts of personality". There is a certain relationship with our former "floating spheres" thing, but not too much. And it may relieve Mike a bit, that I am in some respects a true materialist, but not making too much of this.

    There are two parties — let's call them "life-spirito-techno-monists" (LSTMs) and "life-spirito-techno-dualists" (LSTDs) — of which the first claims that life and spirit are "not principally outside the realm of physics and chemistry, so to get them "constructed artificially" like radios or computers by applying science and technology is only a matter of time. The other party denies that possibility and thinks that there is a fundamental difference between living and spiritual beings on the one hand and "mere technical things" on the other. This moment I am an "LST-Monist" while f.i. Searle may be an "LST-Dualist".

    And I say: Neither party has proven it's claim so far, we simply don't know.

    And to be not misunderstood: I delivered an article to Geoffreys "Pathways" (#40) on "The Three Cultures" rejecting the claims of those modern technocrats to be the modern version of the old priests and sages. They are not — and I tried to explain why they are not. But this is NOT contradicting my stand on this LSTM-LSTD opposition — don't mix it up! My point was only the old difference of "physics" and "ethics", of "what is the case" and "what should be done". The task of the artist is to deliver a work of art, not to know the techniques of art. Thus the problems of the sages and the saints will not change if we (and they) all become "artificial" some time — which in the world-view of an LSTM is possible while in the world-view of a dualist it is not. It simply does not matter if "a spiritual being of freedom" is "BORN as a human" as now or is "MADE as a human" in some future.

    We have to be careful here: For an airplane it is of no importance to build nests and court a female and have it lay eggs and grow the offspring, since airplanes are built in factories and not in eggs. In the same way it is of no importance for "a spiritual being of freedom" to look and behave like a human being. Thus there surely will be differences (This is our old topic of the "floating spheres singing hymns" on the old conference). The problem of "a spiritual being of freedom" is: "How to make the best use of these spiritual abilities and of this freedom?" Thus if the LSTM (including me) are right, there may be sages and saints some day completely different in appearance from us humans, using electrical batteries for "food", but being perhaps even more sensible, more sensitive, more saintly and more wise than we humans are now, and just by this being nice and caring even to us humans.

    Once more: Nobody up to now has proven or disproven anything. But it is of philosophical relevance to see what is implied. I simply don't know of any criterium that "proves" us humans to be the uppermost possibility of what "a spiritual being of freedom" can be. And surley Searle has not and could not. And the Hindu and Buddhist people dont think so either: They have a ladder of being from stones over plants and animals and men up to demons and gods. They surely would have no problem with inserting a category of "artificial super-humans". This may explain in part why the Japanese, who are acquainted with Buddhism, don't have much trouble with robots in reality and in their comics and movies. These possibilities are not at all alien to Buddhism, while they may be much more scaring to Christians and their stronger concept of a "person". The topic a what is a person should perhaps engage us for some time. There the "studied life" of Socratic talks comes in. And the Buberian "I-Thou" of personal exchange in dia-logue as against mere mono-logue too.

    And to connect this to the exchange of Charles and Mike: Law and the state and the economy would be quite different of course if we were all sages and saints — natural or artificial. Much of our problems today are from "apish genes" struggling for survival in a modern world that is no savannah. This in some way was the dream of Marcuse and the hippies: To get back to the tribal life in the (Californian or New Mexican) savannah and behave "according to the genes" there. But this is no program for some 6 bn people now and some 10 bn next time.






    Are We Spiritual Machines?: Ray Kurzweil vs. the Critics of Strong A.I. by Jay W. Richards (Editor), George F. Gilder (Contributor), Ray Kurzweil (Contributor), Thomas Ray, John Searle, William Dembski, Michael Denton

    List Price: $14.95 # Paperback: 228 pages # Publisher: Discovery Institute; (June 2002) # ISBN: 0963865439


    Probable Tomorrows: How Science and Technology Will Transform Our Lives in the Next Twenty Years by Marvin Cetron, Owen Davies (Contributor)

    List Price: $24.95 # Hardcover: 368 pages # Publisher: St. Martin's Press; (June 1997) # ISBN: 0312154291


    The Age of Spiritual Machines: When Computers Exceed Human Intelligence by Ray Kurzweil

    List Price: $14.95 # Paperback: 388 pages # Publisher: Penguin USA (Paper); (March 2000) # ISBN: 0140282025

  • FROM: Hubertus Fremerey (05/28/03 6:51 PM GMT -06:00)
    some nice things on apes

    Dear all,

    to have a bit more fun read this, while I never would transfer any insight derived from our apish ancestors without several grains of salt to our modern improved edition, called humans:


  • FROM: Hubertus Fremerey (05/29/03 6:05 AM GMT -06:00)
    on drying the swamp


    I surely support your idea that the swamps hosting those alligators and breeding malaria should be held in check. But as a German I am aware that Hitler was made possible by people that were fighting the Kaiser and the nobility in the name of democracy. People have fear and need orientation, not "truth", which is much to complicated. Thus if you prohibit the orientation and assuredness coming from a liberal monarchy you may get not democracy but Hitler. Most modern dictatorships have been brought about in this way: as a consequence of mindless modernization and rationalization leaving people disoriented and fearful. And this indeed was the main argument behind killing Socrates and Jesus. They seemed to bring chaos.

    We should not forget those paradoxes everywhere: Remember the famous texts (here cited from / Adam Smith became the first evolutionary psychologist when he observed that 'Nature, when she formed man for society, endowed him with an original desire to please, and an original aversion to offend his brethren. She taught him to feel pleasure in their favorable, and pain in their unfavorable regard.' Yet, by the time he published The Wealth of Nations in 1776, Smith realized that human motives are not so pure: 'It is not from the benevolence of the butcher, the brewer or the baker that we expect our dinner, but from their regard of their own interest. We address ourselves not to their humanity, but to their self-love, and never talk to them of our necessities, but of their advantage.' /

    That I think is "moral realism" as compared to "moral idealism" in the line of Socrates.

    And one more remark on this "frustration-aggression"-thing: The "Western" way typically is "slay the enemy, blast the prison!" while the Eastern way is more likely to be "evade the enemy, forget the prison!" Instead of running against or up the walls of your prison, you expand your mind to infinity, transcending all walls. People tend to forget that walls of ignorance and delusion and prejudice and habit can be harder and more durable than those of concrete. Reading your list again on these cases Charles told of, I see some flies struggling in the honey. People are not that distanced from their situation to start "a studied life". They are bumping their heads like the bee on the window-pane.


  • FROM: Michael Ward (05/29/03 5:11 PM GMT -06:00)
    Cave Dwellers


    You sound increasingly like a prisoner of 'your' past, German, Keiser etc. what are you uppermost? How would you like to be? I do not have a clear idea what you strive for and maybe that is good leaving you with an open future — but I am not convinced of this.

    You say: 'People are not that distanced from their situation to start "a studied life". They are bumping their heads like the bee on the window-pane.' I would ague otherwise because it does seem utterly futile for them to behave in this way. But so what, people are not equal and I cannot argue otherwise in the face of so much evidence.

    We live, and have always lived in a society of mutual self interest. What's good for me is good enough — life's too short to worry about others is the hedonistic cry I often hear.

    The question that intrigues me is what is it that happens when people see a need to start a 'studied life' but most importantly for me how can I be catalyst for further change.

    Michael Ward

  • FROM: Hubertus Fremerey (05/29/03 8:42 PM GMT -06:00)
    on cave dwellers and idealists


    when I entered the conference last October, you were the Martian. You always have been the idealist calling us all to use our wits and senses to the best advance. This indeed is the Socratic way and I have the greatest respect for it. But remember what three "cynical" questions I posted concerning the situation of Mary Seyfert and your acquaintance (the texts are in the documents-file to look it up). I did ask: "Who should be interested in improving things — why?", "Who has the means to do it — at what cost?" "What are the chances to get at results?" (Or in this line, I have the original questions "somewhere" and not looked it up now).

    In my heart I am as idealist and as desperate as you or anybody else is seeing those many evils around. But I try to be realistic and understand what people REALLY do and not only what they are expected to do. Thus I cited Adam Smith on this.

    The idea, that Hitler was brought about much by those well meaning leftist republicans of the Weimar Republic is not only mine, it is explicitely stated by one of your most famous English scholars on the German history of the last 150 years, Gordon A. Craig. When the socialist Ebert took charge as the first president of the Weimar Republic after WW I, he was outraged by the stupidity of his own socialist party who opposed a constitutional monarchy. Ebert was right. He said: "In the living room of the typical German worker there is a picture of Bebel (a left socialist and co-founder of the German Socialist Party in 1875). But there is a second picture — and that is of the Kaiser." I don't know if English workers had the picture of the Queen or King besides that of some socialist leader then in their living rooms, but I would not be surprised. Likewise many workers had their Bible and their crucifix.

    I really want to improve society in the direction of being more open, more able to be free and daring in the sense of the best minds of Enlightenment as were Kant and Voltaire and Locke and Lessing and Diderot and Mozart and Beethoven and many others. Mozart's "Magic Flute" was written as a Free-Masonic opera propagating reason against delusion and esoterics and religious madness of all sorts. I see this all very well.

    But at about the same time Francisco Goya did his horrible etchings, one of which was subtitled "The Dream of Reason begets Monsters". Isaiah Berlin used this etching for the title cover of his book on Enlightenment. He knew very well that the monsters Hitler and Stalin had been brought forth by the "dream of reason". Robespierre was a brilliant student from an elitist school, finishing with highest honours. There have been more killings in the last 100 years in the name of reason and progress than in all centuries before in the name of religious "superstition".

    People ars slow learners, you have to be friendly and not drive them mad. People need some frame of reference and custom to go by, they need orientation and understanding. Whether you like it or not: Most people everywhere in the world — and not at all the bad ones — like to have a religion. If I put the one or two dozen persons best known to my in my liftime before my inner eye and ask "who did convince me most by his thinking and doing and character?" I find that even a majority of them were convinced and sincere Christian believers. They were not at all bigots, they were not at all uncritical or naive. Several of them were in higher positions of charge. To draw a line dividing "sensible" people without religion and "stupid" or "superstitious" people being Christian or Muslim or Buddhist or Jewish believers is completely out of question. Things are not at all that easy. For any really good a-gnostic or "secular humanist" there is at least one equally impressive true believer. And in my experience even more impressive nearly always.

    What we call reason is a very dubious thing. And I am struggling with this question always. Socrates was really great — but Jesus, even if he was only a Jewish rabbi and not God incarnated — was surely the same quality at least. The most famous speech of the last 100 years in the USA was by a great majority of votes of most US historians the "I have a Dream"-speech of pastor Dr.M.L.King held on August 28, 1963 before many thousands of his mostly black companions from the steps of Lincoln Memorial in Washington. This was a speech not on politics proper but on brotherly love in the name of God.

    I support the good and the reasonable wherever I find it, but I always find much good and reasonable thinking and acting in true believers from all religions. The line that divides the good and reasonable from the bad and stupid ones runs across all divides separating religious and non-religious people. People that are bad and stupid misuse "reason" just the same way they would misuse any "faith". Thus what divides people is something different which has nothing to do with religion or superstition. And I try to find out what this could be.

    If having a Kaiser or a King or Queen and a church or religion makes people better and more assured and sensible, so be it. If you are asking with Socrates for the true causes of evil and stupidity then you have to look somewhere else and not in the song-book. Freud and his followers have given some hints, and so have Eysenck and many others.

    In my opinion the oversimplified answer may be: "Love begets love and hate begets hate". If people have had the experience of true lova and acceptance and understanding in their early childhood, they typically are strongly biased to the good in later life. But if they got the venom of hatred and fear like in bottles when being babies, they will be spoilt for a life. This has nothing to do with "religion or not religion". It's a matter of personal experience, a "hearty" thing, not a "brainy" one. And it may be in part a genetical one: There even are "friendly" and "good" newborn and "unfriendly" and "bad" ones from the arrival at the daylight. Any experienced nurse will confirm to that. Thus if you have been a friendly baby born to a friendly mother or father, you have a good future, while if you are born an unfriendly baby to unfriendly parents you may end up in jail.

    Things are much more complicated of course, these are only some hints. But once more: Our concept of "reason" does really not explain very much. And in this I think Socrates was plain wrong. Even Jesus was much more realistic — as Jews are most often. Think on Marx and Freud and Einstein: They all had not too many illusions on human conduct.


  • FROM: Michael Ward (05/31/03 1:51 AM GMT -06:00)
    Not the ideal answer


    You describe me as a Martian idealist and yet I also subscribe to utilitarianism I do not see the two mutually exclusive. You cite Bebel and the Kaiser being disparate icons to have hanging on your wall, this is good because the world ceases to be black and white and it brings out the greyness of reality. You say There have been more killings in the last 100 years in the name of reason and progress than in all centuries before in the name of religious "superstition". I cannot say without some data but assuming it to be true (though in terms of % population at the time it may not be) then we are arguing about what kills people. Rather like saying alcohol kills less people than smoking — I challenge both.

    It seems to be a misconception about me that I find religion abhorrent — I do not, whilst its actions have great social benefits it's an unnecessary foundation for that.

    I too try to find out what divides people and until I can understand their mode of thinking I suspect I will not succeed — still I keep trying.

    The concept of fundamentally evil beings (like in the Alien films) is an interesting idea to pursue, though I wonder if they are equally evil to each other — that would not make evolutionary sense.

    Michael Ward

  • FROM: Hubertus Fremerey (05/31/03 6:38 PM GMT -06:00)
    on evil aliens


    starting from the end this time: I don't think the Alien of the movie(s) being evil, it's quite naturally defending it's own life because that is what nature has made it's top priority — like in the humans trying to kill that beast.

    OK, then we do agree on that the important divide is between people that respect other peoples "inalienable right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness" and those who do not. And it doesn't matter too much if somebody is torturing and maiming and killing you in the name of God or in the name of reason. Have a look into this text:

    People sometimes get the impression that I am not honest, supporting leftist and rightist, liberals and libertarians etc. alike. But this is not true. The libertarians defend the right of the strong and able to do what he thinks proper, while the liberals defend the right of the weak and suppressed to do what he thinks proper. And I defend the right of ANY person to do what he/she wants to do, and by this I am not inconsistent. Likewise I support the good people against the bad ones, whether the bad ones are a-theists or true believers. What Bertrand Russels writes in "Why I am not a Christian" is simply plain stupid, independent of all his other merits as a philosopher and even independent of the fact that I myself are no true believer either. But if you are an admirer of the Beatles or of Bach or Beethoven and somebody is talking plain nonsense on what their musical achievements are, then you stop talking on this. There clearly is religious misuse and superstition and stupidity and hatred and I am fully aware of it. But there is religious greatness and depth too. And I will not miss it. To be holy is just another quality by experience than to be "well behaved". The "simplicity" of the greatest works of Bach and Mozart is not the simplicity of "spa-music" — it's just the opposite of it — and this is a very important difference.

    Thus if I seem to be dishonest I only question the accepted divides and draw them in another direction. Instead of dividing "serious" from "popular" music I separate "good" from "bad" music etc.. I have very decided stands on many questions while not always along conventional wisdom.


  • FROM: Michael Ward (05/31/03 7:42 PM GMT -06:00)
    Radio ga ga


    During the reading of your last posting 'on evil aliens' a picture came to mind of one of those car radios with the graphic equaliser with a number of sliding controls for each frequency.

    People are just like that except these sliding scales represents 'good/bad' 'believer/atheist' 'rights/duties' 'left/right (politics)' 'honest/deceiver' and many others. There may be billions of permutations but they tend group themselves into just a few like Classical, Rock, Vocal etc.

    This analogy contains the one big mistake that I think most people make without seeing it in so much as these are scales and not absolute values. Some can be more or less evil but never evil. Some can be better or worse but never good. Once you set the sliders to your values then naturally anything above is bad and below is good — completely relative.

    All such values like good and bad are arbitrary — unless there is a God and he fixed them for us, but if so where did he get them from? It's really a futile question.

    Michael Ward

  • FROM: Hubertus Fremerey (06/01/03 11:47 AM GMT -06:00)
    on equalizers and values


    this moment I am laughing again since the word equalizer is used for six-shooters — as you know. But of course I see what you mean — and disagree in some fundamental way.

    Ethics is not physics, and what is good for aliens need not be good for humans if they clash. Now take some Saddam Hussein to be the "alien" and stand back: From your argument to have thousands of people killed and maimed and tortured and run away from a impoverished country with billions of dollars in personal assets is only so much sliding on the equalizer. From a formal point of view you are completely right.

    But we are humans and defending something — as you do of course too. Thus I never would claim to be objective when defending the poor Iraqi people against those ogres from Tikrit. Like Sigourney Weaver is not "objective" when driving the Alien from her safe-boat.

    I don't know what is "the good" of course, and on this a agree to you, but to improve conditions of life on this earth is no meaningless task in my opinion — and neither in yours. Otherwise the situation of Mary Seifert would not have interested you. Why improve that if all is only some shifting on the equalizer? When I once asked rhetorically "we care the poor, why not let them rot and die?" I got you going. As an objective person you could have asked "Yes, why not?"

    We all have some things to defend because we think them to be valuable. And by this standard I defend the religious things in the same way as others defend the poor or the environment or some work of art or some wonderful old house etc.. Nothing of this is "needed", but if I think religion being removed from the history of humankind there will be left — in my opinion — not "pure reason" but a terribly impoverished sort of culture, like a patch of lawn or even naked earth instead of a wonderful garden full of flowers. And I defend those flowers just because they cannot prove their utility and "goodness".

    What will you prove? The only proof of beauty is that it is desired and defended even by the maverick hero of the myth. Good is what we are fighting for, otherwise we would not do it. And in this way you are fighting for your concept of reason. I don't object to this, I see you fighting in the tradition of Socrates and Hume and Voltaire and Kant and many others. But I think you should not get blinded by this noble fighting: If by eradicating all weeds you are killing all flowers too — and even many "weeds" are wonderful flowers! - I will oppose you as much as I can. Don't turn the whole of biosphere into a golf-lawn!

    The whole debate on "what is good" comes to "what do we think should be defended or what is worth fighting for — and why?" And if you do object to this pointing to all those religious and nationalistic and racists etc. fightings in history you are right in part, but you may ask a better question and ask: "What is it, that all those fighting parties got wrong?" That even would lead us back to our "East meets West"-topic and to the question what this "clash of cultures" is all about. What are "we" defending and what are "them" defending and fighting for. Perhaps we should engage a bit in this question?


  • FROM: Laura Kelley (06/02/03 11:47 AM GMT -06:00)

    For what it's worth, Oprah Winfrey (who, thankfully, refuses to run for political office) thinks the common demoninator in human experience is the need for validation. Is that what we each are defending?


  • FROM: Hubertus Fremerey (06/02/03 5:38 PM GMT -06:00)
    on defending valuables


    I would not object Oprah for President — she has the money to stand it. And much fun would be ahead. I like her about as much as Condi. But you see — we are medias in res: Do we always know what we defend or value? How to validate? Even a dog defends his bone. Thus Socrates and Jesus and some others tried to show us some differences of what is gold and jewels what is mere brass and imitations. But what to do if you can only afford imitation and even like it?

    And then what is in a value? Invaluable things are often dreams and memories and "beauty" — like wonderful flowers not meant for salad. My horror is always that somebody turns down the dynamic or the tempo of the third movement of "Moonshine"-sonata to make it mor "friendly". Philosophers tend to be orderly — and they should not be allowed to get the world to order, they only should make us aware of all greatness and dynamics that is behind what meets the eye.

    Oprah is to the show-biz, but the Buddha, Socrates and Jesus were not. They were to no biz. The world is spreading all around the theater into the dark and into the light, into the deep and into the height. That's what I am defending here. There is something more to life than entertainment.



FROM: Michael Ward (05/27/03 12:23 PM GMT -06:00)
An ethical issue.

An ethical issue

World population has reached 20 billion and food production using genetically engineered crops is barely meeting subsistence dietary needs.

It is proposed to introduce the death penalty to all children born without WPC (World Population Control) approval to stem the steeply rising number of unapproved births.

Can an equitable defence be sustained for not passing such an edict by providing an alternative solution?

Michael Ward

    REPLIES (1):

  • FROM: Charles (05/29/03 11:00 PM GMT -06:00)
    Captain Bligh's correct answer.

    As told in "Men Against The Sea," Captain Bligh had the correct answer when faced with an impossible situation. Traditions, customs, and mores are not simply figments of the imagination. Captain Bligh insisted that they be followed and his small group survived.

    But as Captain Bligh's prior experience on H.M.S. Bounty demonstrated, traditions, customs, and mores also need to be examined. I find it logical to conclude, as I think Socrates did, that for humans with our limited knowledge and minds, that we critically examine all aspects of our lives, which includes our reason.

    Your example of a state engineered solution to a world hunger crisis is the perfect case for arguing for respect of human traditions. What may appear to reason to be without justification, can actually be essential to living the examined life. For example, all of the world's wisdom traditions prohibit murder.



FROM: Michael Ward (05/28/03 10:54 AM GMT -06:00)
How the brain creates the experience of God

Any observations on this article now in the documents section anyone.

St. Michael.

    REPLIES (24):

  • FROM: Charles (05/29/03 6:08 PM GMT -06:00)
    Brain and religious experience.


    I think the question remains: Are neurological states the actual religious experience or are they perhaps the enablers that allow a person to have a religious experience. By the later, I mean the brain is simply processing a reality that is beyond a finite brain. I have three immediate questions/observations that cause me to think that this type of research is not capable of coming to a definitive conclusion about the experience of God.

    First, I think that the underlying data may actually be dealing with two similar, but not identical experiences. I have been wired up to bio feedback measuring equipment while doing a form of meditation that the Ki Society teaches. Even at my beginners level, I had no problem manipulating the dials! I have a friend who meditates during dental procedure, rather than using drugs to alleviate the potential pain that she may experience. (I am not brave enough to try that!) However, my first point being that I wonder if the research data used lumps this sort of meditative experience together with what is called the experience of God. We may be dealing with "apples and oranges" if the two experiences are considered identical? I don't know, but it's something to think about.

    Second, I do think that there is an "add on" when comparing the experience of God to a strictly meditative religious experience. I would say that the experience of God has to involve some sort of revelation from God that goes beyond the state that a meditator can place them self into. For example the ki meditation technique that I previously mentioned involves "taking the universe down to your one point when you breath in and then expanding out from your one point into the universe when you breath out." I know that sounds like a lot of jargon, but this is one of the ways that aikido instructors in the West try to translate an Eastern concept (that can be physically demonstrated in the practice of aikido). As a Western believer in Judeo/Christian revelation, I have tagged on a revealed religious concept. When I do ki breathing, I imagine taking the "Breath of Life" given by God down to my "one point." Now whether or not you believe any of this, East or West, I again think that there is a legitimate question about confusion that may result if science is trying to blur the distinction between two related but different phenomena.

    Thirdly, simply as a hobby experimenter, I do not understand why many researchers (maybe most) researchers in cognitive science ignore the possibility that a neurological state simply may reflect a bigger event. I am not aware of any evidence that the theory of an informational basis for reality has been disproved. In my naive electronic experiments, I have no difficulty distinguishing between measures of the circuit and signal quality and the information content of the signal. Similarly are specific neuron states nothing more than circuit conditions and the experience of God the information content?


  • FROM: Michael Ward (05/30/03 4:49 PM GMT -06:00)
    Grey not black or white


    Thank you for your reply. Last week I attended a meeting at a club I am a member of to resolve an issue of some conflict between several people. Whilst participating in the detail of the meeting I also took a longer look at what was going on in the group as a whole.

    The nearest analogy I can find is playing chess, each piece or member in the group had their own moves planned and whether they were a pawn, bishop or rook they acted their role mostly oblivious to the larger game which was the dynamics of the meeting. This is similar to my position on what philosophy ought to be about — seeing the bigger (biggest) picture and not just playing out the lesser roles.

    When I read you response all of the points made had some merit in varying degrees and some of the questions asked require further investigation but when I stood back and looked at the whole I could not help but see that all the points made were in favour of one position which happened to be your own. The issues raised in the original posting were not particularly contentious but of them those supporting a view opposite to your own found no favour. Surely in any objective analysis one should not have a preferred outcome and would it not be most unusual to totally right or totally wrong.

    I hold to the idea that whilst I find much validity in that posting I cannot exclude the possibility that your position may be accurate and if so I will need to consider what consequences that has for me. I wonder if those who have faith are equally prepared to contemplate the consequences of what happens if they are wrong, or is that what faith means suppressing reasonable doubt?

    In responding this way I do not seek to be destructive but I am most interested in modes of thinking.

    Michael Ward

  • FROM: Rachel Browne (05/31/03 4:21 PM GMT -06:00)
    comments, really

    Hubertus, I thought Adam Smith was an economist. But whoever he was, thinking that human motives are not pure doesn't even look like ethics, just psychology. Ethics is about the good and bad and values. And even if we did want to say this was ethics it REALLY wouldn't be "moral realism". It is egoism. Sometimes called "ethical egoism" but since it doesn't have an ethical element, as far as I can see, lets go for egoistic psychology. What you are thinking about,as you say later, is what people "really do" but that isn't realism about ethics.

    And what do you mean "Socrates was really great" but not Jesus or a rabbi! Socrates would have been horrified. He didn't teach or preach. Further I don't believe his ethics was a rationalist one at all, but conceptual. Remember: "a man cannot do wrong knowingly". What does it MEAN? We have to look at doing things knowingly, and the non-rational aspect of recognising wrongdoing and our sense of remorse on having done wrong. That's not rational. Remorse is dwelling on something and we can only dwell on the nature of wrong-doing. We can't spell it out.

    But Charles, if neuronal states are things which we have as natural organic beings and these interact with the natural world which allows us to think, anything above that must be created by the imagination. God isn't a part of the natural world is he?

    I don't know. What is God?

    Michael — do you know? You talk about it but don't believe in God. What are you talking about??? R

  • FROM: Michael Ward (05/31/03 7:06 PM GMT -06:00)
    God in a nutshell


    Such a big question 'what is God?' Have you read the last document I put in the conference library on this very issue?

    Without any argument God is an idea or concept just as are Unicorns and weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. Does the idea reflect reality, well only time will tell and one day this God stuff may become quantifiable although for my money I put Weapons and Unicorns ahead in the betting stakes.

    Does the idea have any value even though it may be just mythical, on this I would say yes. Though of course should it turn out to be a false premise then humanity has suffered self deception for many millennia and this will now be deeply encoded in our genetic makeup and we may never be able to really rid ourselves of this dependency. The benefits of religion are probably no more than any similar code of morality or ethics provides except that most religions do have the "special offer" of some for of continuation of self thus avoiding facing the difficult finality of death issue.

    You said: God isn't a part of the natural world is he? May I ask a question on this 'What does the unnatural world consist of?'

    I suppose the nearest thing I think of to the idea of God is the concept of 'Forms'. The Pythagorian form of right angled triangles being one possible truth existing outside the natural (material) world — although I seriously ask myself where did it reside before humanity. So God and Truth both seem to fall in the same category — unfounded concepts.

    Michael Ward

  • FROM: Hubertus Fremerey (05/31/03 7:21 PM GMT -06:00)
    on being good and remorseful


    you are right calling "ethical realism" a sloppy expression. As you know perhaps Adam Smith was not an economist, since in his time there were no economists. He was a moral philosopher by profession and even wrote a "Theory of Moral Sentiments" — which is axactly what you call for. But in his time of "naturalism" the hypothesis was — yours? - that sentiments would guide people in a similar way that reasong does "according to nature". 100 years before (1687) Newton had shown that the planets go "by themselves" - i.e., by the laws of gravity, without any demons or gods needed for help. In this way Smith asked for what makes people behave as they do "according to natures laws of ethical behaviour". His "optimistic" aim was to get all cultural obstacles out of the way and let nature have it's way, and since nature was "made by god" the outcome should be perfect harmony. This was the overall idea behind liberalism in the theory of Adam Smith.

    The idea of Socrates was similar: In his "Republic" he argues that reason should govern the passions, otherwise there will be "injustice" in a state like in a person. To have remorses means in his view that you are ashamed of letting passions overcome reason and thus having injustice govern at least for a short time your thinking and behaving.

    In the case of Jesus it was not passion overcoming reason but "sin" overcoming "love". This is only the characteristical difference of Greek and Jewish thinking: The uppermost value of Greek ethics is "being true to reason", while the uppermost value of Jewish ethics is "being obedient to God". And since God is a person, your remorse is not concerning "false thinking" or "irrational behaviour" but being "untrue against somebody who loves you and who trusted in you" — which is just another sort of feeling and being ashamed.

    Thus you see: It's much more "ethics of feeling" everywhere than you might have expected. But being more personal as Jesus was as compared to Socrates is in some way being "more realistic", since people are not as rational as Socrates would have liked them to be. While Socrates himself was very aware of this fact, his Greek way of thinking did not allow for another way of arguing. The argument of Jesus was alien to Greek thinking, thus it could not have been the argument of Socrates. There was no personal god in Greek thinking, only some rudimentary form ot it like when Odysseus exchanges with Pallas Athene.


  • FROM: Charles (05/31/03 7:44 PM GMT -06:00)

    Rachel re: "But Charles, if neuronal states are things which we have as natural organic beings and these interact with the natural world which allows us to think, anything above that must be created by the imagination. God isn't a part of the natural world is he?"

    I admit to a religious belief that in part defines God as creator of the natural world. But there are other ideas about this. I think that philosophy can and should ask questions like yours about God and the natural world, but do not think that philosophy can provide a definitive answer.

    I am as doubtful about attributing belief in God to the arrangement of neurons in the brains as I am about attributing V=IR to the arrangement of neurons in the brain. It's a pretty simple electrical equation that I think exists whether or not there is any neuron arrangement in anyone's brains. I do not think that religious belief can be reduced to neuronal states without some questionable assumptions about reality. Why not ask is 5 + 2= 7 dependent upon the way neurons are arranged in the brain?


  • FROM: Charles (06/01/03 10:43 AM GMT -06:00)
    Too narrow focus

    Michael you said: "When I read you response all of the points made had some merit in varying degrees and some of the questions asked require further investigation but when I stood back and looked at the whole I could not help but see that all the points made were in favour of one position which happened to be your own. The issues raised in the original posting were not particularly contentious but of them those supporting a view opposite to your own found no favour. Surely in any objective analysis one should not have a preferred outcome and would it not be most unusual to totally right or totally wrong."

    I put in the comments about V=IR & 5+2=7, because I thought that the approach you're taking is too narrow and possibly ideological with its focus on religion. I don't think that disagreement with your position is restricted to religious believers, David Chalmers for example.

    And remember you asked for our reaction. So I gave mine, my personal opinion.


  • FROM: Michael Ward (06/01/03 11:16 AM GMT -06:00)
    On being selective.


    If I gave the impression I was religion bashing I apologise. The point I was making was an observation on was the sophist approach to 'winning' the argument rather than examining and the exploration of any merit in what the 'opposition' says.

    One of my mental methods of evaluating an issue is based on the De Bono six hat think method. ( 0d2ea56660a17b91ca25694b004efe94?OpenDocument)

    Being selective on what is excluded from consideration is most certainly not divided along lines of religion but it may be along principles of belief (of any kind).

    Michael Ward

  • FROM: Charles (06/01/03 1:28 PM GMT -06:00)
    On being selective


    I am familiar with the "six hat" idea of thinking types. It has its uses when you are talking about practical day to day matters. But I think that it can lull people's mind into the mistaken believe that there is such a thing as complete "objectivity" when dealing with metaphysics.

    I think that everyone has their own world view. A person can make some rational adjustment for it when evaluating the ideas of others, but a person's world view is always in the background influencing their thinking.

    But I am not denying the existence of truth. I am just asserting the limitations of the human mind.

    I think that Thomas Szasz' view of the mind as a "potentially infinite variety of self-conversations" (in his book "The Meaning Of Mind: Language, Morality, and Neuroscience") is worth considering. For if mind is self-conversation, I do not see how the influence of personal world view can be completely attenuated.

    And yes Michael, I do think that you are biased concerning religious believers. Just like religious believers like me are biased concerning non believers. Notice that I did not say biased against. It seems to me that it would be a very boring party, if every one agreed. I imagine that if everyone pretended that they were truly objective, it would be like serving one of those cheap fortified wines, very sweet and very sickening!

    Sincerely, Charles

  • FROM: Rachel Browne (06/01/03 2:55 PM GMT -06:00)
    God in a nutshell

    Well, Michael, I see that Hubertus says that "God is a person". But, no I haven't read the paper as I loads of other reading to do (horrifying amount of things to read in the world) but will do so this evening, dutifully.

    Did I say God isn't a part of the natural world? Well, I don't have personal ideas about God. All I know is what Martin Buber has said. But I suppose He is a part of the natural world on Bubers view as he is present in other persons. NOT a person himself! More of an infinite thing. And since He belongs to the world of value, as you agree, the value of others and ourselves, this might not be said to belong to the natural world in so far as it is purely ontological with primary and secondary qualities. It is natural, but I agree, conceptual. But I wouldn't make it as abstract as Platonic forms.

    Nor would I think God in on a par with mythical unicorns if He is part of our value world and certainly nothing to do with weapons of mass destruction in Iraq since these emerge from a network of lies and corruption. R

  • FROM: Rachel Browne (06/01/03 3:01 PM GMT -06:00)
    on being good and remorseful

    Well there might not have been economists in Smith's time, but we make our classifications now. From our vantage point isn't he an economist.

    Socrates didnt actually write the Republic. Plato did. This isn't even retrospective classification. It is taken to be true.

    Did I ever say ethics is about feeling? That is what you think I think. Remorse isn't about a mere feeling like being ashamed but about recognising the truth of what you have done. This can't be reduced to something like feeling, rationality or concepts of sin. It is about what you have made another person suffer — his subjectivity — and what it has made you: An evil-doer — and there is more than shame in this! Are you "ashamed" to murder?? This is what Socrates meant. If you knew what it is to be an evil-doer you couldn't commit evil knowingly. R

  • FROM: Rachel Browne (06/01/03 3:04 PM GMT -06:00)

    Sorry, Hubertus, I meant Smith IS as far as I know an economist from our vantage point. Or mine! R

  • FROM: Hubertus Fremerey (06/01/03 4:16 PM GMT -06:00)
    on good and bad wine


    while I will not enter your friendly fighting with Mike, I agree to this wine-thing. To evaluate the quality of anything one necessary precondition is to know this "anything" and to have a taste of it. From childhood I know what a really good apple can be, but it's nearly impossible now to get at one, because nearly all apple-farmers have changed to those boring aplles that a only clean and don't rot and thus make more money. Today kids simply never will know what a really good apple is. And my concern is that some day soon nearly nobody will know what a really good religious person is because they all will take some New-Age people or some meditating people or some superstitious people for the real thing — which definitely it is not.


  • FROM: Rachel Browne (06/01/03 4:20 PM GMT -06:00)
    Michael's God paper

    Well, this is an excellent paper!

    One thing is that I recently read a neuroscientific paper on schizophrenia and what is out of order is mainly temporality of events (though where they are seems to me a bit important!). That seemed quite interesting and true because when my sister-in-law went nutty, in coming back to reality she had to order events. She spent about an hour remembering and putting the previous few days into order. It was a bringing them to mind, but also placing them in time.

    And whilst God might be a visitor experience we conceptualise it. It isn't a brain event but something we thing about. Obviously we can't have thoughts without brain events, and maybe it God is a result of a brain event. But then why would it give rise to so many different conceptions of God? One type of neural experience can't underlie different conceptions of God. All they have in common is the name "God".

    Good paper though. Will read it again. Might have misunderstood. R

  • FROM: Hubertus Fremerey (06/01/03 4:38 PM GMT -06:00)
    on being ashamed


    on Smith you are right in part: We have to ask what he himself was trying to show in the context of his time, not only what we today are thinking he has shown.

    On Plato writing the "Republic" you are right of course, I was sloppy.

    On Socrates you are partly right: Saddam Hussein was not even ashamed of murder — save perhaps after the first one. Every mafioso will confirm to you that one can get used to it. Then it becomes a question of intellectual remorse again. When some peace-activist here in Germany painted "soldiers are murderers" on some military vehicle, there was an uproar across the country. And there was a second uproar when the Supreme Court defendet this as part of the freedom of speech. If you have lost your son and husband or father in WW II — as still many woman in Germany have — you are outraged, and justly so. While I defend the freedom of speech voting in this case, I don't defend the position of the peace-activist. Those are free-riders of course, letting other people risk their lives for their freedom to insult them.

    But if somebody would tell me he had to kill people "in the name of God", I will ask him: "Do you think that Jesus under any conditions would have killed somebody in the name of God?" I have trouble imagining any person answering this question in the affirmative without blinking or blushing.


  • FROM: Hubertus Fremerey (06/01/03 4:52 PM GMT -06:00)
    is God a brain event?

    Mike and Rachel,

    I would suggest to think of God more as of a social construct. There was no personal God known to the Greeks and neither to the Romans or Germans, and not to the Confucians nor the Daoists or Buddhists either — or only in some minor denominations. Thus our concept of a personal God is much more a "socio-cultural" thing than a psychological one.

    There are "religious feelings", but our concept of God — like all concepts — is not a "feeling" but a socio-cultural construct where the feeling found it's home.

    But then: If people born blind get the ability to see, or if people born deaf get the ability to hear (which in some cases is possible) they are often completely disturbed and sometimes had to go back to blindness and deafness to get orientated again. Thus to see and to hear is NOT natural, it has to be learned by experience. Likewise our religious "experiences" are to a high degree learnt during childhood like a sort of conditioning and can be changed in later life only with difficulty. This all is much much more than mere neurology.


  • FROM: Hubertus Fremerey (06/02/03 9:10 AM GMT -06:00)
    the seventh hat

    Charles and Mike,

    I had a look at the "six-hats"-scheme of de Bono again and I too think that it's "nice" and "stimulating" but does not explain any really great work of art or science or philosophy or religion. There must be a seventh hat that completely evades de Bono. Have a look at this page:

    You will see that all six hats are too small for the head of a Plato. And of course for the head of a St.Augustine or a Luther or any really great thinker or artist or saint. It's like the difference between some "nice" piano-music for the rookies to learn and have fun and the "real" Moonshine-sonata. A real genius never will fit under any hat offered by de Bono. And in the same way I never would evaluate any religion by it's more vulgar representatives but by the greatest ones. See Abraham Maslow "The Farther Reaches of Human Nature" on this:


  • FROM: Rachel Browne (06/02/03 3:31 PM GMT -06:00)
    on being ashamed


    You say "Saddam Hussein was not even ashamed of murder". But my point is that when you think of what done wrong ethically you are much MORE than ashamed. It is not that trivial. You cannot just be trivially "ashamed" at having commited evil. Or "embarrassed" about a theft. Ethics goes deeper than that. R

  • FROM: Hubertus Fremerey (06/02/03 5:15 PM GMT -06:00)
    on deep remorse


    maybe ethics goes much deeper in your case, but not if you are as thickskinned as me or Saddam. Then it's only tickling. Remember Dr. Hannibal Lecter? He was exceptionally sensitive and cultivated! So much this time on the theory of moral sentiments. You are right: It is not that trivial at all.


  • FROM: Michael Ward (06/03/03 7:00 PM GMT -06:00)
    Personally speaking

    Rachel, I wonder about the correlation between ethics and shame, ethics for me means some position on a value system whereas shame is an emotional state — but what generates that emotional state. You see I do not think people believe themselves (or their acts) to be evil, that's for others to moralise on. In a pre interview ice breaking conversation between Nixon and David Frost he asked Frost if he had been out 'fornicating' over the weekend, the question was not asked with malice but just from his position on his value system — an interesting system of ethics when extra marital sex is sinful and Watergate wasn't.

    Hubertus, all Gods must ultimately end up being personal — or at least bring personal benefits. I agree with you that God is a social construct so why not make McDonalds also into a religion. You also wrote 'Thus to see and to hear is NOT natural, it has to be learned by experience. Likewise our religious "experiences" are to a high degree learnt during childhood like a sort of conditioning and can be changed in later life only with difficulty. This all is much much more than mere neurology.' I think that in this you are wrong — the brain and mind are but one thing form with function.

    Rachel again: 'One type of neural experience can't underlie different conceptions of God. All they have in common is the name "God"'. I agree but draw a different conclusion because experiences are always subjective and given we are all different the value of that experience will also be different for each of us — perhaps replacing God with Gods would be better.

    Goodness without knowledge is weak; knowledge without goodness is dangerous.

    We have to build a better man before we can build a better society.

    All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good people do nothing.

    Our purpose is not to make a living but a life--a worthy, well-rounded, useful life.

    Morality is not a subject; it is a life put to the test in dozens of moments. -Paul Tillich

    Michael Ward

  • FROM: Michael Ward (06/03/03 7:04 PM GMT -06:00)
    From the sublime to the ridiculous

    Has anyone noticed the fine line that's drawn between 'Hearing Gods word' and 'Hearing the Voice of God' — why does that exist?

    Michael Ward

  • FROM: Rachel Browne (06/04/03 1:40 PM GMT -06:00)

    Until I got down to the Paul Tillich bit, I thought you had taken up preaching, Michael!

    Well, yes there are value systems. These are things which can be made use of in an unethical way, as Nixon did with Frost. Perhaps because values create a system of principles. The thing about principles is that you have to regard yours as right or you can't have properly adopted them. Then once you have them you can slag other people off.

    Having been fed ethical theories most of which I regard as unethical, I have just come to appreciate the personal and inter-personal nature of ethics, like the I-Thou relationship, treating another as a person rather than an object, or an end or any other construct. Principles tend to lead to bad behaviour and argument.

    I didn't actually mention shame as ethical. Hubertus mentioned it and I accused him of being trivial. I said that "remorse" is an ethical state as it is recognising the harm you have done and that you yourself are an evil-doer. I agree with you to an extent that really evil people cannot see themselves as such so would not feel remorse. In fact this is the case. But you can commit evil without being thoroughly psychotic, and then come to feel remorse.

    But on shame, this isn't totally trivial. I have mentioned this before on Ask a Philosopher, but Sartre writes in a wonderful way about someone looking through a keyhole. He is alone and focussed on what is going on on the other side of the door. Then, suddenly, he realises that he is not alone, but someone is watching. He sees what he is doing under another description, one that brings shame. What Sartre is pointing out is the natural way in which we can see our behaviour under a moral description just because of the presence of another person. The presence of another can make us aware that what we are doing is wrong. This is ethics of the inter-personal. It is not simply about an emotion.

    The state of remorse leads to a different side ethics. It is deeply personal. If you truly feel remorse there is nothing anyone can say to make you feel better. It is a horror about you — that YOU did evil. Or perhaps just hurt someone when you know you needn't have. Or didn't do something you know you should have. I don't think this is like guilt. You can say "Oh, I feel so guilty about . . ", but remorse is something that you feel is really wrong and you don't like to express. It is ethical because it horrifies you as being wrong. Or so I think.

    Waffling on about ethics . . . but God. Yes, God, Gods, whatever . . . Well, off to a Joe Jackson concert R

  • FROM: Charles (06/05/03 1:19 PM GMT -06:00)
    Brain & religious experience

    Michael & others,

    Thought that you might be interested in the following relating neurology & religion. The one on 'Walking as a drug ... rituals' was especially interesting to me, because one of my meds for Parkinson's Disease, Ropinirole, is a dopamine agonist. Also the focus on dopamine activity in the basal ganglia (problems there are the locus of PD).

    The theory that religious experience is cognitively mediated does not necessarily conflict with the Realism of natures, "that which is viewed as having an existence external to the mind is an entity that, in some sense, is set apart in the world of things-an entity that is variously understood as the Form or Idea in which a thing participates," e.g. Platonic, Aristotelianism. There are also cognitive math & scientific constructs that seem to require a real counterpart. But since I do not understand the advanced math, I'll only cite Plato & Aristotle. Charles


    Walking as a drug. A neuropsychological approach of walking in rituals. Ineke Albers, section of cultural psychology and psychology of religion, University of Nijmegen. E-mail address:

    Pilgrimages and processions are common to almost all religions including Christianity. This is not that obvious, because in Christianity an omnipresent deity is at the centre of the faith. There should be no need to travel to a special place to make a request. Nevertheless, Christians do pilgrimage. These rituals seem to be a universal human phenomenon that under certain circumstances is stronger than theology. Researchers in the framework of the cognitive science of religion presume that such universal phenomena represent a pattern that is laid down in the phylogenetic heritage of humans.

    This review investigates whether the neuropsychological aspects of walking, a very important feature in pilgrimages and processions, could shed light on the enduring popularity of these rituals.

    The extensive literature on the neurological aspects of motoractivity in general and walking in particular, stems from researchers in the field of neurological diseases of the locomotor apparatus, the field of neuropsychiatric diseases, and the field of the neurological aspects of the healthy locomotor apparatus.

    Dopamine activity in the basal ganglia is an important feature in the wellbeing of humans and it seems that walking works as a dopamine agonist. The beneficial and therapeutic effect of pilgrimages may be accounted for by a real change in the chemical balance of the pilgrim's body.



    Religious Experience as 'Thinking that Feels Like Something Felt Before'. A Recent Neuroimaging Study. Nina Azari, Section on Theology and Science, Heyendaal Institute, University of Nijmegen. E-mail address:


    (Research in cooperation with: Janpeter Nickel, Department of Neurology, Heinrich-Heine-University, Duesseldorf, Germany; Dieter Birnbacher, Philosophical Institute, Heinrich-Heine-University, Duesseldorf, Germany; RŸdiger J. Seitz, Department of Neurology, Heinrich-Heine-University, Duesseldorf, Germany.)

    On a common sense view, religious experience is a matter of 'pure' non-cognitive feeling. On a currently dominant cognitive account, religious experience amounts to a belief regarding the source of an a-cognitive arousal. Little is known about the neurobiology of religious experience. The aim of this study was to explore, using functional neuroimaging, brain areas involved in religious experience. A non-cognitive view of religious experience would predict limbic activation; the current cognitive account would predict activation of areas involved in higher-order cognitive processes.

    Neuroimaging data were measurements of regional cerebral blood flow using positron emission tomography (PET). PET images acquired in religious subjects (n = 6) in a religious state showed a specific activation of the right dorsolateral prefrontal cortex as compared to non-religious subjects (n = 6). This activation pattern was also in contrast to a happy state control state. Other activations in the religious state were the dorsomedial frontal cortex (pre-SMA) and the right precuneus. Importantly, limbic areas were not activated. Rather, limbic activity was involved in the happy state.

    These results suggest that religious experience is cognitively mediated, but that the cognitivity feels like something distinctive. Religious experience emerges as thinking that feels like something felt before.

  • FROM: Hubertus Fremerey (06/06/03 4:24 AM GMT -06:00)
    once more a bit fun

    Dear all,

    for those who got tired with this "natural intelligence" and "neuronal" stuff, a bit of the artificial thing will be a relieve. And there is a nice picture of a typical Irish woman — while an artificial one, a robot-woman (or pretending to be).

    Have fun and don't get trapped in "neuro-theology". By the way: Some time ago I mentioned that at M.I.T. there is a woman-prof doing research on "robot-theology", on what and how to tell the poor robbies in the children's service. This would have pleased Queen Victoria very much — while not so Mike I suppose.



FROM: Hubertus Fremerey (06/17/03 7:01 AM GMT -06:00)
on being disoriented in this world

Dear all,

while I don't agree to this outlook below of the "Unabomber" (Theodore Kaczynski, see and it pays to think over what is wrong with this way of looking at things. There are many people with similar outlook and convictions today:

I found this link to the "Unabomber-Manifesto" by way of (slow server!)

which leads inter alia to pages on "doomism", i.e. "apocalypticism" from Antiquity up to now. All those conspirational theories concerning Bilderberg" or "Illuminati" etc. are only one aspect of this. There is much madness and fear in peoples heads, and it should not be taken too lightly: Hitler rode on it as did Chomeini, it's not always marginal. It's more like single persons: For most time of their lives they may be quite sensible, and all of a sudden they start to smell evil and to see signs everywhere. Their system of orientation breaks down and they get totally disoriented and constructing wild designs of hidden strategies going on.

I think one of the most important aspects of living together in this world is trust - mutual trust and trust in the world overall. It's no coincidence that extremists - especially from the right — tend to picture the evil as "slimy" and "insects" or "sneaky", while the good seems "crystal" and "strong" and "sound": The common trait of evil is to be untrustable, unreliable, generating uneasyness and fear. While the common trait of the good is trustworthiness. To be trustable is the main trait of God, to be unreliable and treacherous and disturbing is the main trait of Satan. It's an elementary psychological reflex from childhood: Children flee what is disturbing and irritating and strange and seek what seems familiar and well-known.

This is the background of what I said before: If you destroy the religion people are used to and that explained the nature of everything to them, you will not get them to be "factual" and sensible" and "scientific thinking", but you may scare them into panic and have them running into the arms of some Hitler or Stalin or Chomeini that seems to offer safety and clarity and strength in a world of horror and fear and insecurity. This at least is exaxtly the way Hitler, Stalin, and Chomeini were seen by their admirers. Those were replacing God in the eyes of their followers — being infallible, unwavering, invincible. "The God that failed" is a famous book on communism edited by Crossman (see /102-6905856-8938521?v=glance&s=books) But compare this one by Hans-Hermann Hoppe on Democracy: /102-6905856-8938521?v=glance&s=books

This even explains whay people go "back to gardening" or "back to caring" (f.i. old and sick people or children or animals or plants): Do something that is meaningful in itself, needing no dubious and controversial theory for justification. This is the way out that Voltaire commends at the end of "Candide".

The most important question about religion is not if it is "right" or "wrong", but if it gives meaning to a world and to a life. "Scientific" explanations most often do not. They explain "mechanisms" of cause and effect, but this is not "giving meaning to". Remember this old sigh of people falling in love: "You give meaning to my life!" And then identify this "you" not with your true love but with God — or with Hitler. That is the mechanism.

Now the question is: What is it, that makes this effect? What does it mean "to give meaning" to some life? I think people want to get the feeling — even as little children — to do something that is meaningful in a good or bad sense. Children want to be helpful to people they like and dreadful to people they hate. This gives "meaning" to their deeds. But this requires a sort of script and rules of understanding and values. If everything is doubtful and "meaningless" and controversial and unimportant, then our actions and our personalities become unimportant too. Do what you may — it doesn't matter anyway. That is why religions and "Great Helmsmen" always try to "restructure value systems": They tell people what is good and what is bad, they tell them that it pays to fight for this and against that. This gives meaning back to deeds and thoughts, this makes heroes and villains. A meaningful world is a world where deeds and thoughts and personalities count and can be evaluated.

But of course: A system of clearcut values and truths can be a system of lies. This was the case with Hitler and Stalin and Chomeini and many others. But then what to take instead? I think this is one of the really great problems of our time. The answer may be "humanity" — but that is a very vague concept and not at all a simple one. Humanity in the sense of Ghandi and Schweitzer and Pastor King and Mandela and others — but how to "simplify" this? It cannot be simplified. To write music that is at the same time "great" and "simple" you have to be Mozart or John Lennon, it's not just everybody. To stick with some black-and-white picture of the world and to follow some prescriptions is much easier. There seems no simple way out of this.

What I am interested in is the nature of madness". I have no doubt that people like Socrates, the Buddha, Jesus, Ghandi, Schweitzer, Dr.King and others of their cast were "sound". But I have trouble just to find out what is it, that makes this impression. What was wrong with people like Hitler and Staline and their likes? To be "good" and to be "evil" are both very complicated notions. If Hitler and Staline were only "mad, plain and simple" then how could they attract so many brilliant minds? There has to be some very deep misunderstanding like in mixing up Christ and Antichrist. It is this misunderstanding I am trying to understand. And it is clearly NOT the difference of being "religious" or being not, and it is neither the difference of being "sensible" or being not. The divide between "good" and "evil" is of a completely different nature. But then - what is it?


    REPLIES (20):

  • FROM: Rachel Browne (06/18/03 9:37 AM GMT -06:00)

    Hitler again?

    Perhaps he had a too highly developed rational side and could argue well and the great minds he attracted were like this too.

    What was missing was humanity, which you cannot, as you say, simplify. Though it has been called recognising the "presciousness of human being".


  • FROM: Hubertus Fremerey (06/18/03 7:19 PM GMT -06:00)
    on corruptible people


    I think Hitler got people because they were corruptible by vanity and greed for power. He had the charisma, the others had the brains. Speer, Goebbels, Himmler, Goering and many others were all really bright and able, but they knew that they would be nothing without Hitler. Hitler got the masses, and the masses meant power. Without Hitler his nearest companions were nothing — and they knew it.

    And it's the other way round too: Hitler needed the best and the brightest to shine himself by results.

    And this even applied to the German masses: They needed Hitler, and he needed them.

    Thus three parties — Hitler, his associates, and the Germans, that followed him (some 40%) — corrupted each other and made a "three component bomb". There was much to gain and much to loose, but they all saw more what was to gain and by this foundered altogether.

    It's not simply psychology or humanity, there lacked some sober and stubborn "Victorian" moral resistance of "it is not done".


  • FROM: Rachel Browne (06/19/03 8:35 AM GMT -06:00)
    on corruptible people

    Surely there was there more than vanity and greed? In what sense can this lead to mass murder? Surely this is evil beyond the merely "corrupt"?

    Victorian morality was more about not snogging in public than whether or not you should wipe out a whole race.

    There must be levels of immorality. R

  • FROM: Hubertus Fremerey (06/19/03 2:27 PM GMT -06:00)
    on being murderous corrupt


    that is an interesting objection you made. People are only seldom "murderers" by their own standards. Himmler, chief of the "Final Solution" — like Robespierre or Stalin or Pol Pot — was convinced of his virtue and of his obligation to "remove" the Jews "in the best interest of the future of mankind". This is "moral corruption". Many people "doing the good" are in fact suppressed and arrogant people despising humans and spending their lives in the thousands to feel their own power and "virtue". It is a twist of mind. Since they feel that they cannot be creative like Mozart or Einstein or Picasso, they at least can be destructive. The only difference to some Christian sects like Jehovahs Witnesses is that those leave the killing to god. But the idea behind it is similar: We are selected, the others are doomed, we are the good ones, the others are condemned and dismissed by God or by history.

    All those mass-killers are minor souls, corrupted souls. No really great soul ever would think like that.

    That is the great tragedy of Enlightenment and socialism: It offered those minor souls a way to show as self defined "Great Helmsmen" and as "Masters of the Universe" and let massmurder look like a good deed in the service of man. This I call a sort of corruptedness, a moral and intellectual one.


  • FROM: Rachel Browne (06/20/03 10:35 AM GMT -06:00)

    The thing is what do we mean by moral and intellectual corruption? Do we perhaps need a Kleinian explanation?

    I have just read a paper "Psychoanalysis, Racism and Anti-racism" which asks how what are trivial racial differences come to be so powerful given that such differences are so empty but can give rise to such force and passion destruction. The writer claims that beliefs in racial differences are not really beliefs at all (not cognitive, nothing to do with intelligence) and so since they are irrational they are best explained by psychoanalysic theory — the theory of the irrational.

    Sartre said that anti-semitic passion precedes the facts it calls forth. The passion originates in psychotic attitudes of projection of hatred outside the realm of reality and truth. The power of racism lies within the level of the unconscious rather than in false cognition. This chap, Rustin, claims that the Nazi's frenzied denunciations of "alien" kinds of thinking, indicate a deep hatred of the rational process as such. R

  • FROM: Michael Ward (06/20/03 12:48 PM GMT -06:00)
    No facts — only interpretations

    Hi everyone,

    Apart from being busy I have been reviewing Neitze with whom I find much in common. It is interesting that this discussion about morality/Hitler is now in progress as it dovetails into what Nietze (in my view) was so much concerned about.

    It seems that both Rachel and Hubertus have concepts of absolute values which I do not share.

    The fundamental driving force is the will to power and this correlates very closely to Darwinian evolution. We have deceived ourselves in the most fundamental way by thinking that we are moral beings and this is largely the fault of religion like Christianity and Judaism which deny nature.

    We are now paying the price for being Christians etc. by seeing the world as evil unfair etc. We do not as yet have confidence in ourselves as beings capable of creating a meaning of life for ourselves.

    Unfortunately the Nazis adopted the 'overman' which tainted the basic idea that we are as yet primitives evolving into something less encumbered by deities.

    Life is both hard and irrational but finding comfort in the Soma of belief cannot be other than a evolutionary dead end.

    More later but maybe this will revitalise our conference, hopefully.

    Michael Ward

  • FROM: Hubertus Fremerey (06/20/03 7:26 PM GMT -06:00)
    on telling good an bad apart

    Rachel and Mike,

    meanwhile I tend to fall to the old theory that Shakespeare cannot have been an Englishman but must have been this elusive "Jacques Pierre" from France, since you both always try to tell me what is rational, sensible, and decent behaviour. That is the trouble with analytical philosophy: You become unable to understand "what is all the fuss about?": "Why do people have religion? Why do they build cathedrals? Why slaying poor heathens in the name of God? Why becoming martyrs and praising God when roasted? Why not simply sit down and have a nice tea and nice talks with a nice English analytical philosopher?"

    But Macbeth, Lear, Romeo, Othello did not display exactly "rational, sensible, and decent behaviour", thus Shakespeare cannot have been an Englishman, he must have been one of those mad "continentals" to understand his heroes.

    Let me try to explain. Suppose you give a garden-party and some true "little green men" are showing up. Perhaps you will have not too much trouble. For you your dog is an alien too: Strange body, unknown ways of thinking etc, but lovable all the same. So why not be nice to those little green men? But what about the "they are among us"-scenario: You are told, that some of your guests are not real humans but aliens, but you cannot tell them apart from "real" humans. This is just the situation shown in "The Blade Runner" ( Rutger Hauer is playing an android, and Harrison Ford is trying to find him out as such by his special methods. And after all Harrison Ford accepts the possibility that his girl-friend is an android too. He is not sure that chasing down those androids is of any use, they may be even better than "normal" humans - as far as he can judge from experience.

    For some people — those antisemites — the Jews are like androids: They are looking like normal people, but they seem not to be. In fact many Jews look perfectly "German" — blond and athletic. Some opponents of the Nazi-regime even ridiculed "blond and athletic like Himmler and Goebbels". There was the famous "Red Scare" in the USA of the "Joe McCarthy-era" of the early 50s in the beginning of the Cold War. Everybody who uttered some socialist opinion could be a Russian spy. Today some think there are "sleepers" around from Al Khaida and everybody looking "oriental" should be checked and supervised. These are quite natural fears and I don't see what psychoanalysis is telling us about it besides the simple fact that some people tend to see hidden dangers lurking everywhere and others do not. Call it the "They are among us — scare". Some Protestants fear in this way the Catholics and some Catholics fear the Protestants like "aliens". A friend of mine from a very catholic background married a Lutheran girl and the parents on both sides had no problem. But there are other parents that would call such a thing a horror — like a "blanke" in Cape-Town befriending a black. Similar in some southern states of the USA.

    Many Germans especially after the loss of the first World War thought the Jews and the Socialists (Marx and Trotskij were Jews) to be main causes of German defeat and German decline. There have been antisemitic crazes in all parts of Europe. Many Nazis were not even antisemitic, but Hitler was to the extreme. But the problem is not Hitlers personal neurosis and obsession. The problem is his rise to power. People, even most Nazis, simply could not imagine that he would support anything like the "Final Solution". But then he was in power like Saddam Hussein and nobody could remove him. It was too late. It was never "the Germans".

    What was lacking in German political structure was a mechanism that would have prevented somebody like Hitler taking absolute power. If GW Bush would really try to undermine the system of checks and balances in the USA today, there would be an uproar and an impeachment like that forcing Nixon to step down in 1974. (Clintons "Monica-gate" backfired since it was not Clinton but the Republicans that endangered the balance of power then). Nothing of this sort prevented Hitler from becoming a dictator. This was the real trouble, not his personal neuroses.

    Now one special answer to Mike. I don't think that you are right on religion — or that Nietzsche was. There have been many opponents to Hitler and his bunch in both churches (Protestant and Catholic) and in the name of God. But there have been many Nazis and many antisemites of both confessions too. Thus christian faith per se was neither pro- nor anti-Nazi. Many true Christian believers protected the Jews as much as they could. There simply is no correlation. As I wrote before: Some people are "bad" — with or without religion — and others are "good" — also independent of religion. No, Nietzsche is plain wrong on this, he is talking nonsense. And I can say this even as a non-believer and as somebody who defends Nietzsche generally — but on other points. While Nietzsche was no antisemite, his hatred against the Christian churches was as irrational and mad as Hitlers hatred of the Jews.

    And the Nazis did their crimes not in the name of religion — Christian or otherwise. Antisemitism is a strange madness that even befell Luther, but most Nazis were no Christian true believers. There once more is no correlation. Some true believers are full of confidence and real love. Others are full of fears and hatred. What makes the difference? It is NOT the religion.

    You write "We are now paying the price for being Christians etc. by seeing the world as evil unfair etc. We do not as yet have confidence in ourselves as beings capable of creating a meaning of life for ourselves." But I have reminded you before that most of the atrocities of the last 100 years have been done in the name of reason and human progress and by "confidence in ourselves as beings capable of creating a meaning of life for ourselves.". "Reason" and "faith" are only two different ways of justifying our deeds. There are many outspoken non-believers and a-theists like f.i. Antony Flew that are "seeing the world as evil unfair etc.". Marxism is just on this. If you have a dark heart you will torture and kill people — either in the name of God or in the name of reason and human progress. Read Koestler, read Orwell!

    The really interesting question remains: What is it, that makes a dark heart. The great founders of religions — the Buddha, Jesus, and Muhammad — all tried to lead people to reasonable behaviour by showing them the dark sides of human thinking, aiming, and erring. They were as much "enlightening" people as were Socrates, Kant, Marx, and Freud. But most people are full of fears and hopes and passions anyway. Have a look at the current "Potter-mania". People are full of dreams — good ones and bad ones. Even most Nazis were idealists, most communists are, most christians are, even the Taliban are. They all want to improve the human soul and the human lot.

    But through all this "mist of war", through all this fighting over those many creeds and opinions, you always see some people shining in the dark and others making even the darkness darker. Everybody knows such people, and it is nearly irrelevant what their special creed may be. Nietzsche was a poor madman with great insights. Likewise was Schopenhauer. Likewise was Marx. They all lacked what people like Ghandi, Schweitzer, Pastor King had: Real love and real humility and real confidence. But this confidence is not simply "confidence in ourselves", because there always are those dark monsters in our soul waiting. True religion tries to tame those monsters, not to feed them. And they can become strong and terrible by feeding on reason too. One of the secrets of the success of the Potter-books is, that they (or Ms.Rowling) don't deny the dark sides of the human soul. The kids understand that. They feel themselves taken serious. But Ms.Rowling (or Harry Potter) encourage the kids to fight the evil, to be as brave and courageous as Harry, who gets his first "medal of honour" for fighting the mysterious dark side of reality even while risking his life.

    The dark beasts are among us. The task of the philosopher is to tell them apart from the good ones. On first sight they are indiscernible. What is the dark beast: Is it the Jew, the Christian, the communist, the capitalist, the Muslim — or is it the fear and the hatred in your own heart?


  • FROM: Hubertus Fremerey (06/21/03 5:58 AM GMT -06:00)
    on reading Nietzsche


    while I really understand your appreciation of Nietzsche I see some danger: Nietzsche - like Marx and Freud — is an eye- and brain-opener and a really great writer. But at the same time he — like the other two — is an eye- and brain-CLOSER too, since he tends to become a drogue and making people see a twisted world like having swallowed LSD. Nietzsche, Marx, and Freud make people believe that they now see "the truth" — but they don't. Those three have made us see some unseen sides of "the truth", but not "the truth". There is really much dangerous nonsense in Marx, Freud, and Nietzsche.

    But once more, to be not misunderstood: Those are three of the really greatest thinkers of modernity. There is no contradiction in this. They all three are to be admired. But even as a non-believer I think there is more truth in the New Testament and in the Buddha and even in Plato. We never should let us talk out of this by Marx and Freud — and Nietzsche.


  • FROM: Hubertus Fremerey (06/22/03 3:43 AM GMT -06:00)
    on living in Tubbieland

    Rachel and Mike again,

    this below I just read from an interview where Peter Jay is asking the opinions of Professor Williams on the conditions of a future society (see

    / Bernard Williams: ... I'm thinking of a utopia written by the American psychologist, B.F. Skinner, who has a utopia in which, by social engineering and the way people are brought up, all these aggressive and dominant and similar impulses have been got rid of.

    Peter Jay: Not unlike Aldous Huxley's 'Brave New World'.

    Bernard Williams: Yes, except that he presented it as horrible, and Skinner presented it as nice. Now what they all do, is they spend their time doing sort of Sunday painting and playing the fiddle in a very demure manner -- and in fact he tells us at one point that they are all sitting playing the works of Beethoven. Now, one question he never asks is: Would there have been the works of Beethoven if everybody had been like what people are in the Skinnerian utopia? The answer to that may in fact be no. So we could say, all right, that is the price that we pay.

    Peter Jay: They might say there has already been Beethoven so we don't have to worry about the question of what about another.

    Bernard Williams: Do we really have any assurance that the violence and destructive and generally undomesticated, or less domesticated aspects of a man aren't connected with a lot of things that we perceive as the creative aspects of man, including quite a lot of scientific creativity. People always talk as if somehow you can take these things apart, that aggression is just either something that's leftover from zoology, or the product of bad schooling, and we can find a social technology to get rid of it. But that is Enlightenment optimism -- that is the optimism of the 18th century -- that education or psychological engineering of some kind will leave men more domesticated but still creative and happy. And it may be the terrible truth that there is no middle ground between on one hand having men who are really creative, but also run the dangers of being destructive, disordered, cultures come and go and so on -- no middle ground between that and having them really doped down -- I mean tranquillisers in the drinking water.

    Peter Jay: And if that is the choice, I take it that your preference is no tranquillisers in the drinking water. But if one is trying to design a society, and that's putting it a bit high for what we're doing in this conversation, but if one's thinking about the kind of problems that one has to settle before one can set about designing a society for the next 25 years, how do you provide for these urges which you believe to be there, unless you tranquillise people, and how do you seek to canalise them into constructive purposes? /

    And this is exactly what I am saying for long: There are those tradeoffs. "No modern science without burning witches" during the transition years from 1450 to 1750 in Europe.

    We cannot simply be nice always. We all know by private experience that some really great insights come from really great dangers or misfortunes and sufferings. Some days back I happened to see "Yellow Submarine" on TV, this film where the Beatles drive the "blue meanies" out of Pepper-land ( This film is completely "nice" and "un-erotic" and reminded me on the four Teletubbies (Laa Laa, Tinky Winky, Po, and Dipsy) of Tubbieland ( and

    Maybe we will live some time in such a world of niceties. There will be no Beethoven anymore. Nor any Bach or Mozart or Schubert. There will be the nice Beatles and Teletubbies. Everybody and everything will be "nice". There will be a mix of Islamic and Buddhist religious thinking, which in essence is peaceful, and no Christian crucifixion and no fighting of God and Satan and no angles blowing the trumpets for dies irae anymore (hear the "dies irae" of Mozarts "Requiem" again, then you will know what I am speaking of. Or hear the "Requiem" of Verdi). This is a world that the New Age people tried to show us and to lead us to. The world of the nice Aquarius, the world of the musical "Hair" — not too different from the Pepper-land of the Beatles. Do we need Bach and Beethoven and Mozart and Schubert? Those would not be welcome to Pepper-land. Maybe this is what we are up to. We should see it coming. Should we object to it? One more of those truly hard questions.


  • FROM: Charles (06/22/03 7:51 AM GMT -06:00)
    re Hitler and historical disorientation

    I think that it is a simplification of historical analysis to focus on Hitler and his cronies and on the German masses. You can examine Hitler from the perspectives of individual and social psychology and cultural anthropology He can be examined from the perspective of religion (as an "antiChrist" for example.) But if you examine him from political economic and historical perspectives (with some geography mixed in) you cannot just focus on Germany and the German people.

    From a political economic and historical perspective, Hitler was part of a world wide fascist movement. I believe that he was evil. But regrettably, he was also more intelligent and focused than the other fascist party leaders in Europe and the Americas. Also, he took European (and Euro American) racism to a "logical" extreme conclusion, by declaring war on the Jewish people with an associated campaign against the Roma. He also turned evolution from a biological and anthropological theory into a political economic and geographical action plan against the Slavs.

    If you put Hitler into a larger perspective, you have to include the broader European racism against Jews especially, but also against Africans and Asians. In the Americas, this racism was focused against the Indian tribal nations and the Africans that the Euro Americans enslaved. There was also the Anglo racism against the Irish.

    And from the historical perspective, you have to look at the extended social effect on the German masses by the Anglo- American maritime blockade of War War One. Also, I think that historical argument can be made about the social effect on the German people by the excessive blame for the First World War placed on the German nation by the Anglo-American and French political economic elite.


  • FROM: Charles (06/22/03 8:33 AM GMT -06:00)
    continued disorientation?

    Hubertus said: This is the background of what I said before: If you destroy the religion people are used to and that explained the nature of everything to them, you will not get them to be "factual" and sensible" and "scientific thinking", but you may scare them into panic and have them running into the arms of some Hitler or Stalin or Chomeini that seems to offer safety and clarity and strength in a world of horror and fear and insecurity ... That is why religions and "Great Helmsmen" always try to "restructure value systems": They tell people what is good and what is bad, they tell them that it pays to fight for this and against that. This gives meaning back to deeds and thoughts, this makes heroes and villains. A meaningful world is a world where deeds and thoughts and personalities count and can be evaluated.

    My question, is Hubertus saying that there are some nice ethical things about religion, but religious people really do not think scientifically? Charles

    and he said: Those are three of the really greatest thinkers of modernity. There is no contradiction in this ... We never should let us talk out of this by Marx and Freud — and Nietzsche.

    I think that there are some analytical problems in putting Marx together with Freud and Nietzsche. I would find Marx and the early social democratic movement being the result of modern political economic evolution from the liberation ideal which originated with historic Jewish civilization. Part of Freud extends from Jewish civilization. But more of Freud and all of Nietzsche belongs to the delusional and sexually maladjusted wing of imperial European culture. The 'wisdom' wing of European culture is a much more judicious mixture of Athens and Jerusalem. Charles

  • FROM: Michael Ward (06/22/03 9:57 AM GMT -06:00)


    Collecting together your last three postings:

    The inspiration for creating great works whether literary, artistic or construction is not necessarily dependent upon religion but it is, I think, dependent upon both rationality, knowledge and skills.

    Your responses are well put together, coherent (from your perspective) and were no doubt the result of much rational thinking. Doesn't this then seem a little odd that you should use all these rational skills to defend what is fundamentally irrational, religion - wouldn't just an emotional outburst be more appropriate than sitting down with a nice cup of tea and analysing the matter?

    It seems to me that Neitze took the strongest opposition to religion replacing it with creativity. Yes he went wholeheartedly down that road which I cannot do because I cannot be as certain as he clearly was but I do think he was probably correct.

    If there could be common denominator across species whether they be humans, dogs, little green women, theists or atheists ought it not to be intelligence. You have on several occasions stated what is good or bad (though I do not know what your yardstick is) is not divided upon religious lines and with this I do not disagree but being an irrational believer further compounds the same errors being made by the irrational atheist. Let us remove one veil at a time.

    'Reason and Faith are only two different ways of justifying our needs' you say, but were I to say I can prove you are wrong in this statement rather than just believing you are wrong does this make any difference to you?

    What is the 'Dark Heart' you ask and my answer is Ignorance in both its senses — both the lack of knowledge and the deliberate evasion of facts that don't fit our prejudices.

    Truth, like good or bad, is unverifiable we all have a setpoint somewhere on the scale so in this I remain unconvinced and think that all such ideas are conditional.

    I liked the Jay interview and ended up wondering why we (humans) are trying to usurp evolution by creating some 'better' life possibly leading to Utopia. Maybe philosophers and the like are just interfering so and so's on their own ego trip doing it all, as Kenny Everett would have said, 'in the best possible taste'. Might it not be better for all philosophers to be relocated to an island somewhere and leave the rest of the world to their unexamined lives?

    Michael Ward

  • FROM: Hubertus Fremerey (06/24/03 7:52 PM GMT -06:00)
    on living in a strange world


    you are stubborn — and I am. So let's have another round of our perennial royal rumble in the jungle.

    I really understand what is on your mind. But suppose the Pope will grant you an interview and you start: "Holy Father, thank you very much for your time, but could we skip for the moment all this religious rubbish and simply exchange as two sensible persons?"

    You see: This will not do. While at least Pope John would have smiled and likewise the Dalai Lama, and nodded agreement. And then they would have tried — as do I — to shake your concept of "a sensible person".

    You tend to take things for granted. But they are not. There is no such thing as "good music". To make us aware of possibilities it needed a Bach and Handel, it needed a Haydn and Mozart, a Beethoven and Schubert, a Branhms and Bruckner and Wagner and Strawinskij and Jazz Music and the Beatles and many many others. The all expanded our idea of what music could be. Likewise in the arts, likewise in architecture, likewise in poetry and in philosophy and in science and where else. There is no such thing as "common sense" to achieve anything of real importance. It needs un-common sense, it needs the revelations of the genius — generally.

    As I said: The great spiritual masters — the Buddha, Socrates, Jesus, the great saints of all times — tried to open our minds to the errors and to the good and bad possibilities and delusions of humans just in the same way as did the "philosophers" of the 18th century. While the work of Descartes and Hume and Kant and Marx and Freud has been of great importance, the work of great religious and spiritual persons has been likewise. And even while I am not a true believer I study the works of theologians — christian and otherwise — because they offer important insights on the human nature that I would never get from any a-theist or "secular humanist".

    But I would concede you one thing: We have to be honest! During the 19th century there has been a "romantic" longing for medieval society and the medieval church — very much so in Germany. This of course were false dreams like those neo-romanic and neo-gothic churches built in that time. The Cologne-Cathedral was finished in 1882, not in 1282. Then came the French Impressionists ignoring God and Antiquity and Medieval concepts altogether and painting what was before their eyes: Flowers and people dancing and in the restaurant or at the beaches etc., even railways (Monet!) and street-life and factories etc.. This is the world you like: Simply practical and sensible and matter of fact, no God or gods, simply — so to say — "naked men and women without pretending to paint gods and goddesses or martyrs". In this respect it was a progress to honesty. But this does not include that the people of the Medieval times were not honestly adoring God. They surely were — most of them.

    As I said before: At least half of that dozen people I personally knew and really admired in my life were true (Christian) believers (protestant and catholic). I didn't say "all". And I never said that you have to be a true believer to be good. But the woman that has helped my wife in her last year when she was dying from aids did this out of Christian conviction and charity, she needed not, she was married to an industrialist, she did it not for money but for God. And she even founded a hoszpiz for patients from Aids and multiple sclerosis etc.. While there is much evil done in the world "in the name of God", there is much good done too always by faithful people that get their strength from the love of God. This applies to all great saints of course, but includes people like Ghandi and Schweitzer and Pastor King. There is really much of this, and Nietzsches view of this is totally distorted and blinded by hatred — while I would not deny that much of what he said on hypocrisy and vanity and double standards was clearly justified.

    And once more: We need to be honest! I never would claim to be a true Christian believer, since I am not. But the stupidity of Russels "Why I am not a Christian" outraged me, since I know by experience that this is nonsense. It is like you are an admirer of Bach's "inventions" or "suites for violoncello solo" or "art of fugue" and somebody is telling you that this music is "boring". Likewise if somebody does not understand the meaning of holyness in Bernanos or Claudel or Dostoevskij and that this is completely different from mere "correct moral behaviour" I cannot argue on this. For me these are experiences, not concepts to be debated. You cannot debate on experiences. I simply try to keep my mind open to as much as there is.

    And this applies to my remarks on what is good and what is bad. I am not debating special theories, I am reminding experiences. Alle people everywhere on this globe know from experience what is good and what is not in interpersonal relations: When people are open and humourous and understanding and wise and witty and helpful and trustworthy etc., that is good. And when people are aggressive and vile and hateful and cheating and liars and pretenders and tricky this is not good. And this is seen in England like in Germany like in India or China or elsewhere. This has nothing to do with philosophical theories on what is good or what is not. Thus I want to start from those experiences and not from theories. In the same way I would prefer to ask some religious people of what they see, what are their experiences, of what they would advice me to do. I really don't object your personal attitude, which resembles a bit that of Voltaire and Hume. But I think it would be better not to close the doors of perception against some important experiences.

    In my opinion even religion is a sort of science, while not on natural things, but on human things. I never mix up physics with religion. But the nature of man is a moral and spiritual nature, not only a physical or medical one. Being a human is much more than only being an "animal rationale", an intelligent animal. Humans ask for meaning in life, animals do not. But meaning in life does not necessarily include a personal god.

    A "dark heart" is not another term for the consequences of "ignorance". A dark heart is an inability and unwillingness to love and to understand. The problem of Hitler and Stalin and Pol Pot and Saddam Hussein was not a lack of knowledge and insight. It is proven that most people, if they lacked some real love in early childhood, become unable to love themselves. The ability to trust and to be trustful, to love and to be caring and helping and to feel pity and shame has te be learned in childhood like that language. There are predispositions but those have to be trained during a certain period in early childhood.

    Your first paragraph reads:

    /The inspiration for creating great works whether literary, artistic or construction is not necessarily dependent upon religion but it is, I think, dependent upon both rationality, knowledge and skills./

    No. "Rationality, knowledge, and skills" are only the technical side, the craft. You are never answering the other question: What made Newton interested in gravity? It was - theology. Yes, provably so. The way Shakespeare realized his dramas was masterly, but this does not explain why he wrote dramas and not reports on the London fish-market. What makes ut tick in the first line is always "irrational". What a horror if everybody would get married and getting children only because of rationality, knowledge and skills and without any "irration" love! What about theater and dancing and parties and tragedies and love and hate and play and the olympics with their great fun: Is this all by "rationality, knowledge and skills?" In fact: Not even philosophy is, not even science! There always is some irrational drive and dream behind it. To know the way and how to go it is one thing, but to start it is just another thing, totally different. If you ask the kid why it likes this pudding it will answer "because it is sweet". Is this "rational" or is this "irrational". Likewise if you could ask the people building those gothic cathedrals why they did it. God has inspired not only Bach and Handel. But of course: Religion does not make a minor artist a great one.

    I see you in the context of a great and respectable tradition including Socrates, Locke, Hume, Voltaire, and Kant and Antony Flew and many others. But I have been some years to a boarding school and from this I know what a "sensible life" is. I really prefer a sensuous life. Those "irrational" dramas of Shakespeare — Lear, Macbeth, Otello, Romeo and Juliet, Hamlet, The Tempest etc. — are his greatest. No, I would not like to live in a "sensible" world, but rather in a wonderful and a charming and strange and lovable world, which is quite another thing.


  • FROM: Michael Ward (06/25/03 5:30 PM GMT -06:00)


    Firstly I would not address him as Holy Father — lets get a bit of RC (Religious Correctness) under way here — I think that using such titles are tantamount to an implicit acceptance of the his ideology. Hi Karol would be quite in order.

    I agree that there is no such absolute thing as 'good' music, it is like alcohol an 'acquired taste' I often think of this when listening to the 'disharmonies' of Eastern music or Western Punk — an entirely subjective experience.

    You say 'The great spiritual masters' yet again you implicitly give them the credibility of being something more than human — were they more than human I ask you. I will restate that most religious doctrines are socially sound guidelines but why add anything more that is unverifiable?

    I do not wish to cause offence but saying that something is done for 'god' is beyond credibility. There is, no must be, some benefit in personal emotional satisfaction for the giver and keep doing it often enough it becomes obsessive.

    You said: 'While there is much evil done in the world "in the name of God", there is much good done too always by faithful people that get their strength from the love of God.' Were this a mathematical equation we could remove God from both sides of the argument leaving a much simpler solution.

    'Nietzsches view ···is totally distorted and blinded by hatred' — Why do you feel this? You know that might doesn't make right nor numbers of people holding a belief make it so. I think Neitze saw the need to radically remove the whole foundation of theistic thinking as it is incompatible with thinking logically. Let us consider replacing Shroedingers Cat with God — could theists resist opening the box I wonder.

    Yes, I think we agree that experiences cannot enter the realm of facts other than being internally truthful.

    You value 'open and humorous and understanding and wise and witty and helpful and trustworthy' above 'aggressive and vile and hateful and cheating and liars and pretenders and tricky' the first being positive values and the second negative. I need to think on this some more as I often see humour in the most tragic situations and sorrow in other peoples happiness.

    You say 'In the same way I would prefer to ask some religious people of what they see, what are their experiences' I have often tried this Hubertus but people will not share this, I know not why. Neither will they debate why belief is more important than substantiation. At the moment I attribute this to lack of total conviction on the believers part — not daring to seriously raise doubts. There could of course be another explanation, my Martian ancestry.

    I classify perception and experience as subjective and entirely valid. I would like to know your definition of Spiritual and whether it is subjective or objective.

    Ah! the meaning of life at last — do you consider that if such a thing existed it would be external to humanity or come from within it.

    I think you do not see (or accept) the distinction I make about 'Rationality, knowledge, and skills'. Whilst I can perhaps accept that theology may have been the motivation towards science in the west this is not a necessary causal connection. Australian dogs are marsupials but have no genetic connection whatsoever with wolves but they both look and behave the same — necessity is the mother of invention, if not one way then another.

    I like a creative challenging world free from dogma — still two out of three isn't too bad.

    Michael Ward

  • FROM: Hubertus Fremerey (06/25/03 7:27 PM GMT -06:00)
    only an interim this time

    Dear Martian Mike,

    I had great fun reading your answer. I like a good punch, no problem. Only this moment I take a time-out since it's 2:30 am local time and I should go to bed. There will be another round of this — like we were out for the Wimbledon finals!

    Have a good time always, Hubertus

  • FROM: Hubertus Fremerey (06/26/03 10:25 AM GMT -06:00)
    on the meaning of life


    here some minor comments on your many questions.

    On subjectivity: If 99% of all experienced lovers of music agree that Bach is greater as composer as compared to Telemann, what is the meaning of "subjective" of such a judgement? Will you leave the judgement to a computer? Or to inexperienced lovers of music? Or to lovers of music from another background? Since music is composed by humans for other humans, you have to ask the audience and those who are accepted as an audience by the composer. Since I am not used to hear Chinese music from the 18th century I don't feel competent to judge it's value and will follow the judgement of some Chinese specialist who is a real lover of that music. Of course it is a question of taste, but what else could it be? In a world of humans the advice of other humans that are experienced and competent is the only meaningful guidance we have — besides our own experience.

    Most lovers of music in our Western world find "modern" music — like that of Schoenberg, Webern, Britten, Ligeti, Glass etc. — horrible. They prefer Bach, Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert, Brahms, Verdi, Wagner etc. by far. But this evaluation is not justified: It is proven that our way of hearing is formed mostly in childhood. Thus people who from childhood hear "modern" music have no problem with it and compare its best works with that of the "classics" in the same way as many lovers of art prefer Romanic art (f.i. of the Autun cathedral in Burgundy of the 12th century AD) to the later Renaissance art. Since I have been to the museums all my life I can see the art of Klee or Picasso or T‡pies or Warhol as of the same rank as that of Rembrandt or Rafael, but incomparable.

    "Of the same rank — but incomparable": That is a formula applicable to humans too. In my opinion St.Paul and St.Augustine and St.Francis and Luther are some of the most impressive religious personalities of the Western world, comparable in that respect to what Bach, Mozart, Beethoven, and Schubert have been in Music. The true greatness of those thinkers is not dependent on wether their creed was "right". They showed us something important, they made us see like those composers made us hear. I start from experience and try to hone my judgement from experience, while you seem to go the other direction. By this you try to be "objective" in the tradition of analytical philosophy.

    This is my old contrasting of the judgement of a "gourmet" and a "gastro-enterologist": The latter tries to be "objective", speaking of calories and vitamins etc., while the former is "subjective" speaking of "great cooking" and "wonderful taste". I don't know if you are a fan of good cooking, but I am, and I always would follow the advice of the gourmet and not that of the "gastro-enterologist", since I am a human and not a robot. As a human I am interested in "grand cuisine" and not in vitamins and calories like a robot. In the same way I am interested in reading "great" books and hearing "great" music and not in reading "sensible" books and hearing "sensible" music. I want to have my mind and my life opened to new possibilities and experiences and to new worlds and not to learn some useful tricks. If people would have been sensible always, we still would "sit on the trees". And by applying this sort of "sensibility" we will come out in Pepperland and Tubbieland again, but surely not in heaven or in hell. This was exactly what Aldous Huxley tried to show in his "Brave New World": The "Brave New World" is a sensible world, and just by this is seen by most people to be hell.

    My question — and the very deep question underlying our current "rumble" — is on the nature of humans: WHY IS IT that most people find a sensible and rational world a hell? WHY IS IT that most people would prefer the advice of the gourmet to that of the gastro-enterologist? Who would ever see ANY drama of Shakespeare if he had only shown "sensible" people acting sensibly? Where is any great opera showing the fate of "sensible" persons? No kid would read Harry Potter if he would be only "nice and sensible". That is the central objection of "continental" philosophy against "analytical" philosophy: What is the value of being nice and sensible? As Nietzsche said "Man does NOT pursue happiness — only the Englishman does." (Maxims and Arrows, #11). With this side-swipe Nietzsche aimed at Jefferson and Bentham. In his opinion (and we had a lengthy debate on Nietzsche on this conference before) the true aim of man was not happiness but greatness and freedom. He fought the Christendom not in the name of Victorian "morality and sensibility" but in the name of the Greek demigods and heroes and the Renaissance-heroes. He was not an admirer of sensibility but of heroes and he charged the Christendom (but erroneously) with having placed a lamb and a dove instead of a lion and an eagle to be adored.

    But there is one last hightening in Nietzsche's evaluation: After the lion comes the child. But this child does not stand for sensibility but for freedom, for a new beginning of a new life. But then Jesus stands for freedom and for a new beginning of a new life too. As St.Paul writes: "Where there is the spirit of the LORD, there is freedom" (2nd Corinthians 3,17). Nietzsche grew up as a single boy without his deceased father among 5 women who were more or less "bigot sheep". If he could have met some really impressive person like Luther or Ignatius or like Teresa of Avila his idea of Christendom would have been totaliter aliter, totally different. Nietzsches greatest horror was a world in which "sensibility" reigns. If you read him only as opposing "superstition" and "submissiveness", then you are getting him completely wrong.

    The idea of freedom is much more comprising than a mere application of reason in the sense of Enlightenment, getting rid of "Christian superstition". Luther got his strong idea of freedom just from submission to God, likewise did Ignatius and Teresa. Those were really strong and impressive persons. And while Luther wrote a small but furious text "De servo arbitrio" (of the bondage of the will) against Erasmus, who had written a "De libero arbitrio diatribe" (a study on the free will), this same Luther had published a famous "open letter" before "Of The Freedom Of A Christian Person" four years earlier (1520).

    Of course you may "psychologize" all this, but I will not. To sail, as the Jesuit Franz Xaver did, to India and the Philippines and China and Japan to preach the gospel was in that time a heroic deed that required strenght, and this strenght was to be gained from the conviction to be a soldier of God. The whole of European expansion during the time from about 1500 to 1900 is driven by this strong faith in god like the expansion of Islam during the years from about 660 to 1060. You may call this "delusions", but then we are going for the Mount Everest or for Moon and Mars and what else and this too is "delusion". I do not doubt the honesty of all those really strong people that conquered the world in the name of God. Like you cannot build Gothic cathedrals on mere pretensions of faith, so you cannot build world-empires on mere pretensions of faith. To call this "subjective" is void: What else could it be? Everything done by humans is "subjective". Even Wernher von Braun was a dreamer, likewise Lilienthal, likewise Columbus. You will never move much if you have not a dream or a faith or a hope driving you. The rest is technique and craftsmanship.

    I want to understand what makes humans tick. I see greatness and I see failure and I see madness of the evil sort. And of course I see everyday routine. But — like Nietzsche — I wouldn't like this to govern us more than needed.

    You asked: "Ah! the meaning of life at last — do you consider that if such a thing existed it would be external to humanity or come from within it."

    In my opinion there is no meaning of life other than what we impose to it. But this does not make is "meaningless". Life as I see it is a work of art. Nothing in the work of a great artist or architect or composer or poet is "objective", but they have given us their work to let us know what humans can do and to make us see and hear and feel something we never imagined or thought possible before. They are pionieers opening us new worlds. And for this they deserve the gratitude and admiration of humankind. Imagine that this moment all over the world at least several thousand persons between 9 and 90 years of age are hearing Bach or Mozart or Beethoven or Beatles etc. and are glad to hear this music. And this goes for 24 hours every day across the globe — including India, China, Japan, Australia, Argentina, Mexico or what you name. And many thousands of people every day are visiting the museums or reading great novels etc.. Thus it's humans that give "meaning to the world and to life". But at the same time there are many millions of people all over the globe that visit the churches and temples of all religions. This too gives meaning to their lives and is even a greater and more important experience for most of them than hearing music or reading a novel. If you call this "fiction" then what is life other than "ficition"? The mere knowledge of "facts" never can give meaning to your life. Know everything on math and physics and chemistry etc.etc., what will you know then? Nothing save mere meaningless facts. Life is a drama and a dream, as not only Shakespeare and Calderon knew.

    You asked: "I would like to know your definition of Spiritual and whether it is subjective or objective."

    I don't know. I think "part-part". Holyness and greatness are experiences like beauty or love is. If you ever did fall in love seriously and maddeningly — what was it: "objective" or "subjective" or both? "By what name you call it", it is an experience and as such is a "fact", a reality. But remember my dream: This was "objective" — but in a way not explainable by known physics. A message of a strange and unknown nature, but a message nonetheless with a provably true factual content. Thus there may even be "objective" spiritual power the nature of which we don't understand. There are many witnesses that confirm the completely different nature of "true" and "false" saints. There are only very few "true" saints, but there are. Like there are very few true geniuses, but there are. There never are many Mozarts around, but this does not prove that the one we know of was not "real".

    You say: / I do not wish to cause offence but saying that something is done for 'god' is beyond credibility. There is, no must be, some benefit in personal emotional satisfaction for the giver and keep doing it often enough it becomes obsessive. /

    I am not offended. I am amused: If you ever have done something "beyond crdibility" for somebody whom you really loved — what made you do so? The only meaningful answer would be "because I loved this person". Or would you prefer to say — to stay a true sensible agnostic: "I did it because some unknown physiological processes forced me to do so"? This would be a good answer in a comedy, if somebody offering flowers to his great love and asked why he does it, would answer in such a way. Perhaps he would break her heart by laughter.

    While we do not know if God exists, we do know for sure that he can be loved, and that this can cause as much trouble, irritation and strength and great hopes and great feelings as any great love can do. To know a personal God you can love and speak to is a really great thing indeed. You once more may call this a delusion, but then: Is any great love something else? Thus we are again asking what "a delusion" means. The whole world is in this sense "a delusion", since "meaning" is never objective and cannot be — see above.

    Now I have a break for this time. "What are we doing here?" — this is the old central question of all philosophy.


  • FROM: Michael Ward (06/27/03 11:23 AM GMT -06:00)
    I took the Red Pill (The Matrix)


    I did not recognise myself as this sensible, objective, super computer whilst reading your last response and here is why. Being a pleasantly warm evening I printed out your words and read them outside on the decking whilst seated next to fish who were busily feeding themselves in my new garden pond. I had just opened a very pleasant wine and whilst drinking this and reading your words I was also keeping an eye on the BBQ which was slowly cooking our dinner.

    You see I do not think that being sensible and having pleasures are incompatible, I probably eat too much and likewise with wine, not exactly practising what I preach you may already be thinking, but not so. If I see the difference between sensible and hedonistic behaviour but still choose to do what I do then that is OK for me and I guess probably everyone else as well. My objection is not to being foolish but the inability to see the difference.

    Hence from this a basic objection to any creed that contains irrational denials and much of religion falls into this category.

    For the time being we shall have to agree to differ over the revolutionary ideas of Neitze in wiping the slate clean for humanity.

    The altruistic ideas you support when it comes to love and giving are I feel but one perspective of a far more complex situation. Having observed people for many years and read some on game theory I recognise the advantages of certain tactics in interpersonal relations. Hearts, Roses and gifts however beneficial to the recipient are equally beneficial, and often more so, to the giver. I will however except some circumstances where games are clearly not being played like giving up ones life to save another though I would think such rare examples would be rationally based choices.

    How arrogant, Neitze said, to suppose that because my existence is dependent upon the idea of there being a God then that is sufficient to prove that God exists. Likewise you wrote 'While we do not know if God exists, we do know for sure that he can be loved'

    'To know a personal God you can love and speak to is a really great thing indeed. You once more may call this a delusion' The room mate of Nash in 'A Beautiful Mind' was eliminated through drugs — maybe one day we shall get an Anti-God pill or perhaps you prefer delusions.

    Finally, I know What I am doing here I think Why is nonsensical question.

    Michael Ward

  • FROM: Hubertus Fremerey (06/27/03 3:07 PM GMT -06:00)
    on being relaxed on God


    I am waving a why-te towel. You are like Ferdinand the Bull not interested in fighting. You are sipping Nietzsche like red wine. There is nothing to object to this. I really prefer your way of seeing things to that of the mullahs and ajatollahs and witch-hunters and of all those that are killing and torturing in the name of God or "the truth" or "a better future".

    But I want to understand what is on the minds of people. You know as well as I do that this above all has happened and is happening today. Israeli and Palestinians will continue to be at each others throat as long as not Bush or somebody else gets them both by the neck and keeps them apart like Clinton got the people on the Balkans apart by brute force.

    You are already near to Pepperland and not even far from Tubbieland, and I cannot argue against that. In your world no Shakespeare and no Bach or Beethoven — and surely no Nietzsche — could have come up. And if you now ask "why should they?" I can only answer: "They were never needed." — like God was never needed and not the devil. To prove the necessity of passions and delusions is as impossible as is to prove the existence of God.

    You cannot build cathedral on "the assumption" of God like you cannot laugh about a joke under the assumption that it is funny or fall in love to sombody unter the assumption that he/she is lovable. There are important things in life that cannot be done under "the assumption of". But then: Are those things important? You cannot be impressed by some object under the assumption that it is impressive or important. Thus have your wine and have a fine evening at the pond. And I surely will not commit suicide now.

    If you could be cloned ten million fold and replace all those Israeli and Palestinians there for a while that would help.


  • FROM: Michael Ward (06/27/03 4:11 PM GMT -06:00)


    Whether the wine mellows me or just time matters little, though the more paths we try and find impassable towards our 'better' world the more I conclude that the task may be ultimately futile.

    Probably we are intellectually still up in the trees and the best humanity can ever hope for is to simply survive long enough to spawn a 'better' species. The single thing all six billion of us share in being good at is struggling to survive.

    Thinking back to the matrix the red pill taken with red wine seems a potent combination.


    Michael Ward

  • FROM: Rachel Browne (07/21/03 5:30 AM GMT -06:00)
    That was funny

    That was a most moving exchange!

    And funny. If the Nazis saw the Jews as androids, Hubertus, what would at an attitude to an android be?

    I agree with Michael that the idea of something done for God is a bit questionable. Wouldn't be better if the carer did it for man? Of your wife in the case?

    Just wading through the messages. R


FROM: Charles (06/22/03 9:03 AM GMT -06:00)

I really wonder Michael if this is due to prejudice, some bad experience, or lack of knowledge?

Michael said: "The fundamental driving force is the will to power and this correlates very closely to Darwinian evolution. We have deceived ourselves in the most fundamental way by thinking that we are moral beings and this is largely the fault of religion like Christianity and Judaism which deny nature.

We are now paying the price for being Christians etc. by seeing the world as evil unfair etc. We do not as yet have confidence in ourselves as beings capable of creating a meaning of life for ourselves."

Michael, even a non advocate of Darwinism like me knows that you are presenting an extreme explanation and probably scientifically discredited version, a 19th century version of evolution, with your "will to power" argument. "Give me a break," do you really think cells have a "will to power?"

And really what is your problem with Christians and religious Jews? We are minorities now, not the controlling elite in post modern Western culture. Even though it focuses on current American politics, I suggest that you take a look at the argument made by the non (never) religious, Lesbian Feminist pundit Tammy Bruce, in her 2003 book "The Death Of Right and Wrong." Ms. Bruce includes prejudice against Christians as part of the modern "Left's Inquisition." She also makes a "common sense" argument for the cardinal virtues of Prudence, Temperance, Justice, and Fortitude." Sincerely, not malignantly, Charles

    REPLIES (13):

  • FROM: Michael Ward (06/23/03 12:38 PM GMT -06:00)
    Without predjudice


    You asked about prejudice, bad experience or lack of knowledge, the original author of my posting comments was Neitze but on a personal level I can cite a recent first hand experience. On being asked to take some photographs at the Christening of a friends child I gladly accepted always wanting to experience what are today's practices.

    It was quite a high tech set up in the old church with video cameras trained on the priest and participants, roving microphones and large plasma screens for all the congregation to see the service with a control console at the back of the church that a small stadium would have been proud of.

    A section of the ceremony was set aside for the smaller children with a short video being played of Harrison Ford. Up till then all very innocuous but then the thought police moved in and started asking questions of the children 'how had God come into their lives?' not to dissimilar from big brother in 1984 (at least in appearance with big screen close ups etc.). The children were of course stuck for answers so the questions were mostly rhetorically answered and the children were left in no doubt that God was a reality — they were at fault as they simply didn't have the answers. Here before my very eyes were na•ve minds being intellectually mugged and nobody cried foul or lifted a finger to help.

    Again last night watching a reasonably objective programme on sex and religion it was apparent how badly women were still being discriminated against and sexual practice outside of marriage was still sinful though less so for men — no surprise there! Of all the religions depicted Hinduism seemed the least vengeful and not prone to punishment (although of course in the next life the less worthy came back as bugs)

    You ask what is my problem with Christians and Jews well I am equally opposed to all religions it's just that I have more direct experience to draw on from my western background — so I quote them more. I see little difference between religion and the concept of a God it's rather like the IRA claiming that their political wing is not involved in any of the atrocities its military arm commits.

    When people start citing 'common sense' as good cause for action I hear alarm bells ringing — I find little sense in the world so it's not very common, most motives when analysed are ultimately emotionally based, desire is what really drives us. All the believers over all time together with all the history of religions have no more weight than the single person with a rationally based objection. Might doesn't make right though of course it does win battles — where are these weapons of mass destruction?, I guess nobody's interested any more.

    This 'will to power' is, in my view, something that all life including single cells has — simply to be more successful than their competitors. But make no mistake it's not an imposed external directive but a self organising process which Darwin recognised as the manner in which life evolves and replicates itself.

    Before you respond about Darwinism being discredited I would agree that if what was known today was known to Darwin then a more accurate and refined thesis would have arisen — our ideas like life are also evolving, being prisoners of the past holds us back.

    Michael Ward

  • FROM: Charles (06/24/03 8:27 AM GMT -06:00)
    On sense of religion.

    Well Michael,

    I am relieved to know that you are "down" on all religions, not just Christians and Jews! I sincerely wish to personally meet you someday, not just via e-mail. So knowing that you are consistent and thoughtful in your beliefs leads me to think that we could have an interesting conversation.

    I do not think that my mission in life is to convert you or anyone else to my religious beliefs, so I will only briefly get into this. Coming out of the Lutheran wing of Christianity, I do not believe that there is freedom of the will. I am willing to philosophically debate this. But I would ask that you read Martin Luther's essay on Freedom of the Will first. (I could give you a better reference to it later.)

    Regarding the "indoctrination" of children by religion, I think that post modern Europeans (and Brits) have a bigger issue with this than Americans. Until very recently and still in many cases, Europeans had/have state related churches. That is not the situation in America. If you look at the history of many American families, including mine, our families immigrated to America largely to get away from state controlled religion. An example is my wife's employer, a Lutheran synod, which comes from an early 19th century refusal to submit to state control in Germany.

    Religion is largely a personal issue in the U.S., especially in the Western U.S. In my immediate neighborhood, my family is the only one which participates in religion in any regular sense. And yes, like members of any Christian Church of the Catholic tradition (as opposed to Baptist or Calvinist), my son was baptized as an infant. This tradition dates back to the early Church when entire families were baptized together after conversion of the parents. I do not know what kind of church you were at, but mine uses a liturgy based on one which goes back to about 400 A.D. What you consider indoctrination is really a promise made by the parent's of the child at the child's baptism to raise their child in the Christian faith.

    I do not buy into the argument that parents do not have a sacred obligation to teach their children. I know that my son will go his own way as an adult. But I have no intention to just sit back and passively let powerful ideological groups, the market, or entertainment mold him.

    But enough of that. This is a philosophical forum. But I do think that you are too quick to dismiss religion from the human experience.

    Sincerely, Charles

  • FROM: Charles (06/25/03 7:18 PM GMT -06:00)
    What is wrong with "common sense."

    Michael said: "When people start citing 'common sense' as good cause for action I hear alarm bells ringing — I find little sense in the world so it's not very common, most motives when analysed are ultimately emotionally based, desire is what really drives us. All the believers over all time together with all the history of religions have no more weight than the single person with a rationally based objection. Might doesn't make right though of course it does win battles — where are these weapons of mass destruction?, I guess nobody's interested any more."

    "Common sense" sets alarm bells off for Michael. But should he or we be alarmed by common sense? Is there necessarily a conflict between common sense reasoning and philosophical reasoning?

    I do not think that there is a conflict between common sense reasoning and philosophical reasoning. The third edition of Webster's New World Dictionary defines "common sense" as being "ordinary good sense or sound practical judgment." I see no reason for there to be a conflict between sound practical judgment and a judgment reached through philosophical reasoning. But I understand common sense being a narrow application of reasoning to practical day-to-day matters. Where philosophy is the broad application of reasoning to more fundamental issues.

    My experience is that reasoning, whether it be about day-to-day practical matters or fundamental issues, can be difficult. Since my reasoning ability is finite, I need to make a decision about where I am going to apply my limited analytical capability. Like the ancient Greek philosopher who refocused his attention from the fundamental issues of life and existence to the practical matter of controlling his region's olive presses for the purpose of gaining wealth, I also find it necessary to refocus my attention from philosophy to practical reasoning when dealing with the economy of my family and community. I do not see any necessary conflict between the realm of the practical and philosophy's realm. But perhaps a principal difference between philosophers and ordinary folk like me is that the philosopher has chosen to devote him or herself to defining and reasoning about fundamental issues rather than the day-to-day issues.

    However the extremes and in between are experienced at both the fundamental and day-to-day levels, for example in both the analysis of the fundamental issues of war and peace which the philosopher is devoted to and a citizen's daily experience which is either at or somewhere in between war and peace. At some point though, the concerns of the philosopher meet those of the citizen, perhaps best portrayed in philosophical literature in the relationship between Socrates and Crito.

  • FROM: Michael Ward (06/27/03 4:34 PM GMT -06:00)
    My truth


    I have long subscribed to the idea that philosophy has no value if it doesn't improve the lot of humanity and furthermore I see no difference between you Charles and the philosopher you claim not to be. 'We are what we repeatedly do' I find very apt and philosophy is a practise or a journey and along the way we may be lucky enough to influence others by example.

    From Socrates v Crito: In the arguments that Socrates makes, what other people think does not matter. The only opinions that should matter are the ones of the individuals that truly know. "The truth alone deserves to be the basis for decisions about human action, so the only proper approach is to engage in the sort of careful moral reasoning by means of which one may hope to reveal it"

    Michael Ward

  • FROM: Hubertus Fremerey (06/28/03 5:47 AM GMT -06:00)
    on being a sensible person


    if I understand you right, this below by an up to now unknown author could have been written by yourself:

    History of Morality

    # 35,000 BC: Cro-Magnons or modern humans emerge in east Africa; they possess contemporary capacities for thought, emotion, creativity, desire, fantasy, motivation, psychology, spirituality, etc.; the minds, hearts, and souls of these intensely individualistic but also highly social creatures are fully in place; as these sentient beings approach adolescence they quickly learn in depth -- thru experience and education —- the two fundamental universal virtues: (1) planning for the long term personally and (2) cooperating socially

    # 8000 BC: the Agricultural Revolution forces self-discipline and moral sophistication upward; these new farmers -- in order to survive and thrive -- are required to be less irascible, unpredictable, out-of-control, and animal-like in their behavior; and as proto-rancher-farmers domesticate their animal and plant food supplies, they become more 'domesticated' themselves; the new personal moral codes they're forced to adopt make them considerably less like traditional tribalist hunter-gatherers -- who basically lived like wolves and chimpanzees, and didn't need nearly as many moral skills

    # 3500 BC: the stunning, wondrous Governmental Revolution and advent of civilization and sophisticated culture in Mesopotamia and Egypt forces the individual to even more (1) plan for the future and (2) be socially friendly/cooperative; the newly-invented city-state forces people to live together in unprecedented closeness with their fellow man as old-style natural freedom and privacy become both much harder to get and more valuable to have; this vast expansion of socio-economic interactivity puts an unprecedented premium on social ethics; people handle this more or less badly, as was probably inevitable; this inept socialization and social morality is manifested thruout the various emerging cultures and societies; it's particularly seen in their rather tyrannical government and the interwoven freshly-created institution of polytheism; the cities of this period are actually rather rich in friends, money, and high culture -- but generally hard on individualism, originality, and eccentricity, all of which end up getting somewhat squashed; de facto social eugenics and the domestication/taming of man increases radically in the city

    # 500 BC: the Rational Revolution takes place -- miraculously -- simultaneously in the fundamentally unconnected worlds of China, India, Persia, Judea, and Greece; a brand new sophistication and consistency in thought inaugurates the world's first Age of Reason -- altho' full rationality doesn't actually form and triumph except in Greece; there, true full philosophy and morality are born

    # 250 BC: there is a surprising and depressing dialectic reaction against reason and philosophy across almost the whole Old World; people experiment with, and turn to, the nemesis and antithesis of rationality and philosophy: newly-invented pure irrationality and religion; this is especially true in Greece, as was probably natural and ineluctable; but world culture and morality suffer immensely; people become fixated on, or even obsessed with, excessively long-term personal enjoyment and social over-cooperation; neither goal is much achieved; it gets to the point where the individual -- the meaning and purpose of the universe -- gets very little pleasure or happiness short or long term; the man in the city street focuses on interpersonal cooperation to the point of self-sacrifice and self-immolation; the Sacred Self virtually abandons all-important personal morality in order to serve his monolithic bureaucratic Society -- an abstract institution and entity which doesn't much even exist; the newly-invented "god" is so evil he practically stands ethics on its head; morality is so perverted, subverted, and tortured by the hyper-evil of religion that it actually becomes the individual's enemy (a shocking situation which still obtains to this day); the holy Self and his Society suffer horrifically; poorly defined and explained "selfishness" and "greed" become highly condemned while bottom-feeding religiosos promote the ambiguous concepts and ideals of "duty" and "obligation"; these last two get interpreted almost exclusively as social concepts and become two new hateful words and enemies of the individual and his society

    # 500-750 AD: religion and the judeo-christiano-islamic ethic have sadly triumphed; true philosophy and morality lie crushed

    # 500-1500: social duties and obligations -- even including counter-productive charity -- continue to dog and torture the individual and society in Europe; fortunately, philosophical and ethical hypocrisy and corruption reign in both government and religion; thus, neither the Sacred Self nor his derivative society perish during this seemingly endless monstrous Dark Age

    # 1300-1500: reason returns to Italy; the false god and anti-philosophy of religion goes into steep decline; individualism and humanism emerge vigorously, while the loathsome god-based morality (sic) of altruism retreats; the selfish virtues of classic Greek "excellence" and classic Roman "manly power" reascend strongly

    # 1500-1700: more of the same, but this time much further, and thruout the whole of Europe

    # 1700-1800: the Enlightenment and new Age of Reason take place culturally, philosophically, and morally; the value of the individual, individualism, and individual happiness are somewhat realized and reach their historic zenith; self-centered and rational ethics see to it that human society and culture are never higher, sweeter, or better

    # 1800-1900: immoral amoral religion stages a strong comeback in the West; so does wildly-hyped social morality and consequent social- and self-destructionism; during this new decline in civilization, immoral amoral communism/welfare-statism is invented and soon takes over; god and state combine during this period to trash personal morality, morality in general, and the all-important center of morality: the individual

    # 1900-2000: more of the same, except much worse, and thruout the whole world; Big Brother and nuclear Armageddon seem just around the corner; Stalin and Hitler traduce and trash rational morality and personal morality utterly -- as the State becomes a kind of secular "god"; the religion and welfare-state based morality of the day is so perverted, inverted and demented that it has become almost entirely the enemy of the Sacred Self and his collective society; a new Dark Age has descended

    # 2000-2100: rationality and philosophy --invented some 2600 years ago! -- reascend; flagitious irrationality and religion retreat; proto-liberal libertarians and objectivists become a real intellectual force in world culture and people's moral codes; liberal culture, philosophy, ethics, and politics head toward full realization and perfection; moral individualism and ethical egoism ascend radically as loathsome, depraved, inane "sacrifice" and "selflessness" all but die out; by the end of the century, the priceless sacrosanct Individual -- the cynosure of the universe and of morality -- is more treasured, worshipped, prosperous, and transcendently happy than ever


    As long as everybody is allowed to have his own dreams and experiences in a world of "post-modern pop" — including all religions — I have no problem with that. I only do question the notion of "sensibility".

    Man is not only an "intelligent" animal, but a dreaming and creative and adoring animal too. At least "Yellow Submarine" is fun and full of fancy and pop-art, while the Tubbie-world is not eben that, it is only "nice and stupid".


  • FROM: Hubertus Fremerey (06/28/03 9:12 AM GMT -06:00)
    a note added

    The text I copied is from:


  • FROM: Charles (06/28/03 5:34 PM GMT -06:00)


    You said: From Socrates v Crito: In the arguments that Socrates makes, what other people think does not matter. The only opinions that should matter are the ones of the individuals that truly know. "The truth alone deserves to be the basis for decisions about human action, so the only proper approach is to engage in the sort of careful moral reasoning by means of which one may hope to reveal it"


    I think that this is the edited Socrates that Plato presents. But in the edited Socrates and other historical accounts are hints of a more complex and multifaceted person. Just as I would argue that to begin to understand scripture, you have to look to archeology, history, linguistics, and how religious practice has evolved, the study of philosophy requires a similar investigative effort.

    For example when I read the discussions between Crito and Socrates, I get the impression that sometimes Socrates got tired of talking to his younger students and wanted to talk to someone who understood something about the difficulty of cutting stone or being a soldier. Some other accounts report the bravery of Socrates while performing his "national service" as a foot soldier (and his meditative practice during a military campaign). In "Symposium" even Plato's account hints at the depth of Socrates character, when he records Socrates: "...I will rehearse a tale of love which I heard from Diotima of Mantineia, a woman wise in this and in many other kinds of knowledge ... She was my instructress in the art of love ..."

    I think that Socrates' "careful moral reasoning" takes place within a life fully lived but mediated by the results of his moral reasoning. Socrates' last words (spoken to Crito): "I owe a cock to Asclepius, will you remember to pay the debt?" (Hardly evidence for a strict rationalist interpretation of Socrates.)


  • FROM: Michael Ward (06/29/03 4:13 PM GMT -06:00)
    More morality


    You make the right assumption that I do agree in principal with that thesis on the history of morality with a couple of minor differences.

    3500 BC: It's difficult to see how people now living in cities lived any closer together than in small extended family groups. I would hypothesise that it was simply increased numbers that led to the 'not knowing' everyone. Once you cannot know someone personally the detachment makes it all to easy to stop seeing them as another as it was in tribal society.

    I would have also thought that it was just as possible to have a tyrannical patriarch in a family group just as much as a in a government.

    1500 + AD: What might science have been if it didn't start out from such a dark background I sometimes wonder?

    Regarding your last comment about keeping a personal religion I cite below a short extract by Edward DeBono.

    'Perhaps the greatest dangers are those of arrogance, complacency and the ability to defend that arrogance and complacency. An acknowledgement of inadequacy is a prelude to change. A defense of arrogance is a denial of any need to change. If we believe our thinking habits to be perfect — as many people do — we shall never see the need to supplement them with further thinking habits (creative, constructive, design etc.). We can always defend our existing thinking culture because, fundamentally, it is a particular belief system based on concepts of truth and logic. Every belief system sets up a framework of perception within which it cannot be attacked. The arrogance of logic means that if we have a logically impeccable argument then we must be right — 'I am right — you are wrong'.'

    I think religion falls into this arrogance category, but not so science as it's very structure is dynamic and evolving (when carried out appropriately) I expect that you might say that rationality is my religion:-)

    Michael Ward

  • FROM: Hubertus Fremerey (06/29/03 8:37 PM GMT -06:00)
    on being scientific


    first thank you for encouraging "lookers on" to engage on this conference. We have formally 19 listed "class-members" this time, while only four (you, Charles, me, and Rachel included) or five (Laura included) are actually showing up. But perhaps people should air some critical remarks. Remember that I offered at least three times on the old conference to step out. I am surely not touchy.

    On this de Bono argument: No, I will not say that "rationality is your religion", since this charge is a bit cheap and outworn. What I indeed do question — like Charles does - is what I think is a restricted concept of rationality. There are experiences. If you ever have been in love really and forgot yourself, and somebody who obviously never had such experiences tries to lecture you on what love is and is not, then you simply change the topic and talk on the weather or the prices. Millions of people understand what is on the mind of Romeo or Otello and are deeply moved by Shakespeares handling of these subjects. What will you tell to somebody who shrugs and says he does not understand what all this fuss is about?

    Remember what I wrote on 2nd June (06/02/03) on "the seventh hat":

    /...You will see that all six hats (of de Bono) are too small for the head of a Plato. And of course for the head of a St.Augustine or a Luther or any really great thinker or artist or saint. It's like the difference between some "nice" piano-music for the rookies to learn and have fun and the "real" Moonshine-sonata. A real genius never will fit under any hat offered by de Bono. /

    Harry Potter is fine reading, but to call it "great literature" would be nonsense — and not even Ms.Rowling would deny that for a moment.

    But all this has nothing to do with the conflict "scientific — religious". The factual is meaningless. I simply will not accept a philosophy that reduces man to a mere intelligent animal searching for food and shelter and nothing else. The true greatness of man shows in his dissatisfaction with what there is. This made the greatness of Don Quijote, this made the greatness of Dr.Faust, and this made the greatness of Plato and St.Augustine - and even of Nietzsche. James Bond's motto was "The world is not enough" — and mine is too.

    And if you had a look in the Pathways Issue of today, where you posted your own call to "speak up", then you should note that Descartes comes to his insights on rationality by two mad dreams — and NOT by rationality — in a similar way Newton came to his insights on gravitation by being a mystic and an alchemist. It has been made plausible that Newton would not have found his "laws of gravitation" if not by being a great admirer and avid reader of the German mystic Behmen. The roots of a great rose are in dark earth with worms. Likewise the roots of great thoughts are in dark spiritual souls "with worms". It's not "rationality against superstition" but a meek and reduced rationality against a rich one.

    And I am surely not calling for a crusade or for burning witches at stakes. But I insist that the holy is a reality separate from the moral and that to be good is quite another thing than to "obey the law", and that the simplicity of a Mozart is totally different from the simplicity of spa-music. Of course this is "subjective" — but this does not mean that it's not really important. I like those James Bond films, I have seen them all, but as compared to Chaplins "Limelight" or to "Gone with the Wind" or to "Titanic" and to many many other films James Bond is simply irrelevant. Thus to call something "subjective" comes to nothing.

    "Greatness" — whether applied to works of art or to humans or to experiences — surely is a complicated qualification, but not a void one.


  • FROM: Michael Ward (06/30/03 3:10 PM GMT -06:00)
    the science of love


    Today Audrey Hepburn' a star in my all time favourite film 'The African Queen' died and on the same day you also ask me what love is about. I guess that you may surprised to hear my choice of this film but it seems to contain a whole realm of aspects about human values. Can it be analysed? why yes of course just as the colour spectrum of a particularly spectacular sunset can be. Perhaps the point at which we may differ is that you may see no advantage to knowing the how and why of love and beauty but I do.

    Sgt. Pepper is great as is Monty Python and I personally find little music I actively dislike though I have to be 'In the mood' as it were to enjoy different genres.

    You also say — 'I simply will not accept a philosophy that reduces man to a mere intelligent animal searching for food and shelter and nothing else.' — Well we agree neither do I, so where do aspirations arise from.

    You may be inspired by Chaplins "Limelight" or "Gone with the Wind" or "Titanic" and the like as I am by other films. But surely neither Chaplin nor Hepburn were in any way Holy, by skill they generated emotions within us and here you will probably strongly disagree that just like Nash and group dynamics I think it can be reduced to a formula. Knowing this in no way denigrates its human value.

    Michael Ward

  • FROM: Hubertus Fremerey (07/01/03 6:44 AM GMT -06:00)
    on "The African Queen"


    I did like Catherine Hepburn too from several of her films — including "African Queen" with Bogard. But it's not simply "skill". Of course any great artist — including Chaplin and Shakespeare — needs "skill" and knows what "works" on the audience that same way as Hitler did know who got lessons from an actor on how to deliver his speeches effectively. But you never will be a great actor or playwright or artist if "skill" and "technics" is all you can provide. As I said "The roots of the rose are in dark earth with worms". You always try to ignore and to deny this and to concentrate on the rose. Is this "scientific"? I simply deny from historical evidence that modern science would be possible without "religion and superstition".

    I think you mix up two different meanings of "possible". Of course Picasso could have copied the works or Rembrandt or Leonardo, since Picasso was in command of the skill needed (when he was 18 he was a prodigy and made "professional" but worthless paintings. He had no problems with the technical side of the art). But Leonardo could not have painted like Rembrandt and Rembrandt could not have painted like Picasso, because "the time has not come". Like in you private life it simply needs some time to arrive at some way of seeing things. You cannot shorten that way save (perhaps) by some great tragedy or by some important acquaintance etc.. This is not a question of "skill" but of "knowing". To write Otello or Lear like Shakespeare did you need much much more than mere "skill".

    Nietzsche did not ask for "rational" people but for "great" ones. But "greatness" can NOT be analyzed "like a spectacular sunset" can be. It's NOT a mere physical or physiological effect. And I am not even interested: I am interested in the results. There has never been a really important writer from a "writers school" — or if, then only by chance and he/she would have done without. Greatness cannot be teached or learned, only skill can. Most great artists and scientist did something that never was expected and even called impossible or "not the way things should be done". Van Gogh never would have got an A-grade from an artists school, but those that got are forgotten.


  • FROM: Hubertus Fremerey (07/03/03 7:07 PM GMT -06:00)
    on questions and the quest


    when thinking over our friendly dispute, I was amused and surprised to find out that we once more are disputing this old "continental vs. Anglo-Saxon" stuff that concerned the old conf before Christmas on the text provided by Matthew del Nevo. While I am not that much a dreamer, I am defending this time the German and "continental" tradition of the "Faustian" dreamer and the "knight riding on the quest for the Holy Grail". Those strange continentals — including Don Quijote — are always out for the impossible, the better world, the better human. Thus Marx was a German — not an Englishman.

    You always ask for practical and "sensible" solution, while even pragmatism was despised by German and "continental" philosophers as merely "results-oriented". The Russian philosophers are — if possible — even more "spiritual" and more "idealist dreamers" than the Germans. German Romantic movement in the years from about 1800 to 1850 was full of dreams of renewing the old Roman Empire and the old Roman Church of the medieval times. There was God and the "Weltgeist" and always much more than meets the eye and daily requirements. Perhaps this tendency to dream was aggravated in the protestant part of Germany and in Russia by the lack of a solid Catholic worldview that offered a plausible model of the world to the romanian peoples. But indeed Anglo-Saxon thinking and feeling has never been nearly as "dreamish" as the continental one.

    You seem content with "sensible solutions for practical problems", but Germans and Russians and the Iberians in Spain and Latin America never have been, they always asked for something "eternal" and "great" behind what meets the eye and the "rationality". Did you realize that Nietzsche is a favourite philosopher of Spanish readers both in Spain and in Latin America? Surely NOT because he chastized the Christian religion, but more to the contrary: Because he was passionate and despised rationality and happiness! This is what the Spaniards like: A world full of magic and superstition — including Christian superstition — and passion and blood! Remember that Nietzsche went to the opera to hear "Carmen" TWENTY TIMES! What he despised in Wagner was not passion as such but a false and hypocritical and affected passion and a false piety. "Carmen" was true to life in his feeling, truly "dionysian". And of course he was a great admirer of Shakespeare by the same standard. Shakespeare didn't care the Churches either.

    I do not object to your way of seeing things, I only tried to shed some light on the character of our current debate.


  • FROM: Michael Ward (07/06/03 6:47 PM GMT -06:00)
    Ways of being


    I do not see what all the fuss is about over this Anglo Saxon practical and "sensible" approach. All this emotional feeling against such a straightforward way of being leads me to think that these 'continentals' must be either rather insecure or over passionate people.

    Furthermore it would appear that there are frequent pre emptive strikes against analytical philosophy thinly disguised as being defensive.

    Would you not agree that experiences are both subjective and transient and make an unsound basis for any consistent argument. Is there I wonder a genetic basis for passion — or is that a question to far.

    Michael Ward


FROM: Charles (06/26/03 9:18 AM GMT -06:00)
Meaning of life?

Michael said: "Ah! the meaning of life at last — do you consider that if such a thing existed it would be external to humanity or come from within it."

Are these the only two options? Perhaps Benedict Spinoza, Arthur Schopenhauer, and Friedrich Schelling should be considered? Is there necessarily a dichotomy between human and the other?



FROM: Charles (06/26/03 9:33 AM GMT -06:00)
Australian dogs and North American coyotes.

Michael said: "Australian dogs are marsupials but have no genetic connection whatsoever with wolves but they both look and behave the same — necessity is the mother of invention, if not one way then another."

Coyotes, another wild member of the dog family, thrive at the edge of western urban areas, eating stray domestic cats and dogs. In my community they have been observed to use a female coyote to lure a male domestic dog out and then the rest of the coyote pack ambushes the dog for dinner. Coyotes do not coexist well with wolves. Where wolves have been reintroduced in Western North America, like in the Yellowstone region, the wolves proceed to destroy the coyote population.

Just a nature note, maybe it has something to do with philosophy?



FROM: Hubertus Fremerey (07/06/03 6:37 AM GMT -06:00)
on the reality of good and evil

Dear all,

Kant wrote a "Critique of Practical Reason" on ethics and a "Critique of Judgement" on esthetics. Man people seem to think that ethics like esthetics is "only subjective" and "not provable". I think this is at least a misunderstanding: While you cannot "prove" anything in ethics, you have personal experiences of "good" and "bad" persons, you know what this difference "is" — while perhaps not what is at the bottom of it as a cause. And it is simply not true that our judgement of what is good or not is "culturally dependent": See any movie from Japan or Hongkong or India or Vietnam or Tunisia or Africa or Cuba or Brazil to know better! I never have seen such a film which in the least showed a different conception of what is "good" and "lovable" and "humourous" in human intercourse than what we are used to. And those films definitely were not made by western directors in strange settings like the James Bond films, but were made by indigenous directors with indigenous actors.

Thus once more: To be good and to be bad is understood everywhere in the world in the same way, since it is a common understanding of the human species. What is different are only customs and religious convictions. But religious and moral hypocrisy and fanaticism and superstitious obsession is seen and despised as such everywhere in the world, in the Islamic and Buddhist world just like in our world. Thus we should not get irritated by different content of what is seen as good or bad in a formal sense. People always and everywhere instincitvely know what is friendliness and helping and open attitude and wise and humourous acceptance of oneself and of others etc.. We never should let us get talked out of that fundamental experience by the argument that "it cannot be proven". This is what I call "analytical rubbish".

Lest I be misunderstood: I don't say that it can be proven, I only say that we all know what it is and that it is the case. You cannot "prove" that sugar is sweet, but you know it. Don't let "analytical philosophy" talk you out of what you know. We live in a world of humans, not in a world of logicians. I try to get down to reality again.


The following text of Maslow is from :

/ We also need a humanistic and transpersonal psychology of evil, one written out of compassion and love for human nature rather than out of disgust with it or out of hopelessness. This talk of evil may sound like a paradox, or a contradiction to this book's main thesis, but it is not, definitely not.

There are certainly good men in the world. But it is also true that there are so few of them even though there could be many more, and they are often treated badly by their fellows.

So this too must be studied, this fear of human goodness and greatness, this inability to turn one's anger into productive activities, this fear of maturity and the godlikeness that comes with maturity. It is this kind of research that I recommend most urgently to the young and to others of good will.

I recommend strongly that they consider science — humanistic science — as a way of doing this, perhaps even the best way of all. We simply do not have available today enough reliable knowledge to proceed to the construction of the One Good World. We do not even have enough knowledge to teach individuals how to love each other.

I am convinced that the best answer is in the advancement of knowledge. The life of science can also be a life of passion, of beauty, of hope for mankind, and of revelation of values.

Abraham Maslow Toward a Psychology of Being


And perhaps have a look into these ones: Search=submit&page=2&qid=5D11185B0CE8234AA70FF41550E2D40C&s=m Search=submit 22psychology+of+evil%22 /purchase/ref=pd_sim_x_b/102-0546552-6391357

    REPLIES (6):

  • FROM: Michael Ward (07/06/03 7:19 PM GMT -06:00)
    One small step for man ......etc


    You wrote 'We live in a world of humans, not in a world of logicians'

    I would hazard a guess that when you wrote that it was meant as a encouraging statement and a goal for humanity. I fear history would say otherwise as there is over millennia a steady move towards being logicians — not as yet successful but nevertheless a clear direction.

    What will you say when the first visitors from other worlds arrive — as your human centred view will have evaporated — and you couldn't have said that to my Martian friend.

    Michael Ward

  • FROM: Hubertus Fremerey (07/07/03 4:12 PM GMT -06:00)


    see the film "Mars Attacks" for an answer: A dove of peace is the start of disaster, and folk-music is its end. Very realistic!


  • FROM: Michael Ward (07/08/03 12:57 PM GMT -06:00)
    Mike attack.


    If I can I will, but in the meantime what is YOUR response?

    Michael Ward

  • FROM: Hubertus Fremerey (07/08/03 2:53 PM GMT -06:00)
    even bears need a rest


    no problems with being attacked, but this time I am lazy and tired and not defending Occidental Culture but being just a bear like you, lying under the famous Bambrough-tree of the older conference — which is not that different from the Boddhi-tree of nirvana.

    Have a good time till somewhen, I will not run off, and surely not from attacking Marsians!


  • FROM: Hubertus Fremerey (07/08/03 3:01 PM GMT -06:00)
    a faint hint from a lazy bear


    my notion 'We live in a world of humans, not in a world of logicians' was a bit ambivalent: "What sort of humans — butchers or saints?" and "What sort of logicians - Einsteins or Strangeloves?"

    Of course I see what you question intends: "Human progress from religious superstition to scientific thinking and falsifying false claims." But it is really not THAT simple. If the bear has had his sleep, he will come down as a dragon again. See the film "Shrek" to know what a dragon is. And both films (the other was "Mars Attacks") are available on VHS and DVD if needed.

    Have fun, Hubertus

  • FROM: Rachel Browne (07/21/03 5:38 AM GMT -06:00)
    the world of humans

    But we do live in a world of logical humans Hubertus. Isn't it because we are rational that we understand one another? R


FROM: Michael Ward (07/28/03 7:25 AM GMT -06:00)
Artificial or Real intelligence


What is ro-co? I feel maybe I am missing out on something hear. I'll dismiss the 'No point in movies without comedy sex and romance.' as subjective if that's alright with you.

No of course we don't need movies to raise issues but it does create a level playing field upon which we can each lay bare our prejudices.

To the best of my knowledge we have never met nor I with Hubertus and yet we conceive in these exchanges that we are talking to other humans — what precisely gives us that confidence it can't be shared knowledge because I don't know what ro-co means.

As to your move to Oxfordshire out of the city, don't be shocked, there is electricity and rumour has it they've stopped eating their young J

Michael Ward


FROM: Michael Ward (07/28/03 7:46 AM GMT -06:00)
All too Human


You recently wrote:

'In my opinion even this "Anglo-Saxon" analytical philosophy is a way to evade real problems: Anaytical philosophy tries not to solve problems but to dissolve them, to show them to be meaningless and no problems at all. Instead confronting like Luther people to God and to Satan, the analytical philosopher tries to show that there is nothing to confront save superstitions and outdated concepts and phantoms. The analytical philosophers see themselves as universal ghostbusters driving all spirits and spirituality out of the world. By this you remind me on Bill Murray killing all our dearest monsters with some technical devices...'

I think you have successfully scored a home goal here Hubertus, giving us such a well written analysis deriding the very process of analysis you refute.

The world, except just possibly in the mind of some God, is arbitrary and not organised around this mediocre little species calling themselves human. We build walls around us for comfort and then complain we live in a prison.

So let's just stick with being all too human as in our definition below — personally I like the last one best, failing to meet our own low standards.

Michael Ward

human — adjective

1.of people: relating to, involving, or typical of human beings ' human nature ' human frailty

2.made up of people: composed of people ' the human race ' a human chain of protesters

3.compassionately kind: showing kindness, compassion, or approachability

4.imperfect: having the imperfections and weaknesses of a human being rather than a machine or divine being ' Remember he's only human, so don't expect too much.

    REPLIES (6):

  • FROM: Rachel Browne (07/28/03 1:47 PM GMT -06:00)
    Humans and robots

    Well, Michael a ro-co is a romantic comedy. My husband is doing a PhD in film studies, so we do media-speak.

    Well, talk in terms of movies might well provide a "playing field" but we have one already. Human life, our life, our experience. Our experience and horizons seem to be limited. I can only really believe you are human. What else should I think when I know from my own experience that humans use the internet and haven't come any robots? It's metaphysically and logically possible that you are not human, but why should I entertain such possibilities? We go for the best and most likely rational explanation. To think that you are not human I would have to invent some sort of sci-fi story. It would be a fiction of my own making to try to believe that you are not human. Which would be ludicrous. And not rational.

    In your message to Hubertus you quote him as saying that analytical philosophers try not to solve problems but just dissolve them and show them to be meaningless and no problem at all. But how does this "refute" the aims of analysis? It is just that some things are not analysable. As Wittgenstein surely should have taught us. This is a mere dispute. Hubertus wants answers to problems that don't necessarily have answers. This is why he doesn't like the rational, and he doesn't like analytical philosophy.

    In an e-mail to me Hubertus claims that Kubrick's movie has shown our deep fear of robotic "super-humans" taking over from us. The fear may be seen in the movie. But it is a highly dubious claim — and after all, originally, it is aesthetic force in a movie.

    You point out that humans are weak and imperfect, so why should robotic super-humans who don't succumb to weakness be human? Perhaps being super-human and organically developed from actual man means a greater capacity for weakness and a greater capacity for good. Hubertus thinks these robotic super-humans will be more "humane" — but being humane seems to require that others can be weak. But, also, since we have limited capacities for thought, anything sufficiently like us wouldn't be thought as a robot. It would be another living species. If it was pure mechanics it wouldn't be like us at all.

    Yes, there is electricity in Oxfordshire! But not in a storm — or recently when a tractor driver trimming hedges cut through a cable. There is water too. But not if the pump at the reservoir overheats. But it means we can get another dog! R

  • FROM: Michael Ward (07/29/03 1:36 PM GMT -06:00)
    Playing God

    To anyone out there,

    We've done a lot of talking about 'God' maybe it's time we started taking on that role ourselves in this AI robotics discussion.

    I'm going to start with an assumption that there is some critical point at which no further human input is required into this new species and it becomes self sustainable.

    However before we can get to that point we 'The Creators' need to determine the rules by which these beings start to conduct themselves as they have avoided the trials and tribulations of evolution so far. We could set out to initially to give them the rules of how to behave like humans — the dilemma with that is we have no rules that are reliably consistent. No matter how much data or ethics or intelligence we may bestow on them there would seem something still to be lacking. For want of a better word lets call it a soul.

    Now Rachel believes, presumably from our conversations, that I have a soul. But how can her believing something make it so — or maybe that isn't so far from the truth (well a human truth that is).

    Now this new species may not be at all troubled by lack of a soul and treat every other member as one and the same. The only thing then that would motivate such individuals in this species would be desire, the need to acquire something they haven't got (perhaps David wanting his Mommy for example). Desire creates a need and a need creates competition, competition leads to winners and losers and suddenly we have a soul.

    Thus soul is simply the capacity to recognise others as similar beings with similar needs.

    But before I take this any further what objection might anyone have, though I shall disregard comments in the vein 'well I don't much like the idea' as irrelevant twaddle - but then I would say that wouldn't I?

    Michael Ward

  • FROM: Hubertus Fremerey (07/31/03 5:09 PM GMT -06:00)
    are robots the better humans?

    Dear all,

    things got a bit helter-skelter lately. Thus I try to bring some line back to the debate.

    There was one thread started by me on the film "AI", and another thread just started by Charles on the connection of death and evil.

    On July 27 I saw from DVD Spielbergs "A.I." for the first time ( and was fascinated by the opposition of several "nice" machines and several "irritated" humans. My reaction to this was a letter to Rachel and then to Charles, Mike, and Laura: (sent July 27, 2003, 15:03)

    (... it is just on the theme you always engage in: Being a human and no robot, being a human and having interpersonal feelings etc..)

    A robot-boy of 11 is programmed to learn to love, and he succeeds. But then the mother, who got him as replacment for her "true" son who is in coma, gets emotional trouble, and the true son, coming out of coma and back home, gets envious and tries to outsmart this "mere machine". So the mother and her h, in a sort of nervous breakdown, get the robot-boy back to the woods anywhere. But he dreams of the "Blue Fairy" from Pinocchio, that will change him to a "true human" who then would be worth of the "real" love of his "mommy". In the end he finds "Blue Fairy" in New York Disney-Park which then is under water since the whole story is set in some near future with advanced robotics, but N.Y. is drowned from rising sea-level. Then the boy — a robot, needing no food and no sleep - enclosed in a sort of submarine as is used for underwater-inspections — prays to the fairy to change him to a true human, but of course nothing happens. Then a new Icetime comes, and after some 2.000 years the humans are extinct and a modern sort of advanced robots have taken their place and happen to find the robot boy in the ice that has become of the former New York haven. From his memory they learn about the former world of humans, since his robot-memory has stored everything. From this they build up his whole former environment to observe his behaviour there. He still wants to have his mommy, and since he has got some hairs of her with him, they reconstruct his mommy from her DNS and from his memory and he can be for another day with her in the old dwellings. Since he doesn't try to go out, he doesn't know that this is only a studio and not the real world again. Then he gets asleep besides his mommy and the end is left open. Perhaps the advanced robots, looking like angels, will friendly turn him off. They wanted to do him good — and had said so. But perhaps they will get him admitted to their sort of spiritual order, teaching him to become wise like they are?

    This "looking like angels" is intended. The film was designed by Stanley Kubrick in the opening and in the final part, but directed and completed by Spielberg. Kubrick was very pessimistic on humans ("Dr.Strangelove", "A Clockwork Orange", "Eyes Wide Shut", "Full Metal Jackett"), so the trans-human robots of the time around 4000 AD are graceful, a-sexual, friendly and wise beings that don't need and don't understand human passions. But by this they are very similar to our saints and ZEN-masters who have conquered fear and passion in themselves.

    Remember our debates on the conference on those "blue spheres singing hymns"? This is what Kubrick had in mind: Replacing those stupid fanatic humans by friendly and really wise robots. And this I called "disturbing": You would be forced to check all your convenient preconceptions of what a true human is from a new perspective. Most people don't like it. And this explains why the film divided the audience. Some people hate the idea that one day saintly robots — our own creatures and offspring of those! — would let us look like stupid, passion-ridden mad monsters — which in several respects we are from the perspective of a saint. As a true philosopher you should see the film and think it over, but it needs guts — as all films of Kubrick do. As Wittgenstein said: Philosophy should never be comfortable.

    We generally oppose humans to animals and "dead objects". But now we have to introduce "robots" and "angels" into the picture, which are neither humans nor animals nor "dead objects". Things get more complicated by this. But — as was to be expected: the younger generation seems up to this. The film got the highest ratings from women under 18, nearly 8 out of 10 points. Thy younger generation has not that clear-cut preconceptions on what a human is. The difference between humans and animals became blurred before, but now the difference between humans and robots becomes too.


    On this Mike answered to the same group (my answers included here):

    > Hubertus & everyone, > > > AI is a film I have seen several times and raises some uncomfortable > questions — for most people I suspect! > > The questions that I see arising are: > Mike: > How do we define what is a sentient life form?


    what do you call "sentient": every modern robot playing in the annual soccer-contest must have all senses of course and by this is "sentient". A quite different and much deeper question would be in my opinion "how do we define what is a SENSIBLE life form?" And of course: Would we grant a robot playing soccer to be "a life form"? Compared to a dog we may not, but compared to a beetle or a worm we may very well. But Jean would even deny that.

    Mike: > How reasonable is it to discriminate based upon whether your constituent parts are silicon or carbon?

    me: In my opinion this does not matter anyway. Wether it is silicon or carbon, this is only a substratum supporting "life and spirit", which I think are emergents from structure. What we are interested in when reaing a poem or novel is not the language but the "content", while not the "factual" content but the "meaning" and how it is "realized". Shakespeare ore the New Testament or even Harry Potter are great in any language, which is why they are translated and read everywhere.

    Mike: > Why do we all think of evolution as fundamentally historical — it isn't of course and this challenges our temporary position at the top of the evolutionary tree.

    me: What do you mean by "historical"? The biological evolution of humans has become nearly irrelevant now, while the cultural evolution in the sense of Toynbee and "memetics" has taken over since about 10.000 years. What we enter now may be the next logical step: An "evolution by design" replacing the old Darwinian "evolution by trial and error" resp. "evolution by chance and necessity".

    Mike: > It shows we are very bad at coping with change and accepting new ways of rationalising reality — let's put our emotional heads in the sand and pretend it's not happening as we speak.

    me: This seems quite natural, since any change has its costs. We simply don't like to change habits — and surely not "habits of the heart" and of the brain. They seem to be proven by experience and hard learning. Life is conservative. Max Planck said that to change the accepted wisdom of even the scientific community you have to wait until the representatives of the old wisdom are dead and those of the new wisdom are in place. For most people change means disorder and disorientation and chaos and even destroying piousness: We don't like our ancestors to be wronged — which is part of the costs of "progress"!

    Revolutionaries are people who either have nothing to lose or who have lost nearly everything already. But most people have much to lose!

    In my opinion even this "Anglo-Saxon" analytical philosophy is a way to evade real problems: Anaytical philosophy tries not to solve problems but to dissolve them, to show them to be meaningless and no problems at all. Instead confronting like Luther people to God and to Satan, the analytical philosopher tries to show that there is nothing to confront save superstitions and outdated concepts and phantoms. The analytical philosophers see themselves as universal ghostbusters (see driving all spirits and spirituality out of the world. By this you remind me on Bill Murray killing all our dearest monsters with some technical devices...

    Mike: > Even the robots that replaced humans at the end were them selves limited in being able to recreate the mother for one day only — they were just a bit further down the evolutionary line, but towards what?

    me: in my opinion they were not unable to keep the mother alive, but they saw that this would be meaningless and cruel against both — the mother and the boy. This was not their world anymore, this was only one more experiment for them both, but not a world to live in save a very strange sort of "alien planet". It would have been like reconstructing not even Socrates but Nefertiti in our modern world: Would you think to do her a favor by that? Perhaps if you think she is herself from those aliens depicted in "Stargate" ( or in "The Fifth Element" (

    Mike: > This subject has been raised in the past and been deprived of debate due, I think, to the inability to accept such concepts- even for the simple purposes of thought experiment.

    me: to this I would agree. But why should anybody like to see himself as becoming outdated? To be "at the top of the evolutionary tree" or "the crown of creation" is much more comfortable and flattering. Remember the old joke: "We are the crown of the creation!" — cheers the optimist. "That could be true" — murmurs the pessimist in despair.

    ... -----------------------------

    This was what one reader thought:

    on which Mike remarked:

    > very "feely" and not to be dismissed but from the robots (new humans) point of view.................?

    my answer to this was:

    of course, this is not the view of the saintly robots. But it need not. Those are put as contrasting OUR ways of living and feeling. The film is true to David. But several viewers are not really intersted in David but only want to change this or that for some effect. They really don't care a trifle for David, they only call the end "pathetic" or "feely" or "Hollywood". But most people ARE "pathetic" or "feely" or "Hollywood". This film is very true to life like is any good novel. People ARE "feelies" and "hearties" and not "brainies" and "smarties". Why not accept that? David is programmed to love his "mommy" against advice! When Monica reads to him those words she did it against instruction or with a bad conscience. There was a danger. And love IS dangerous. Kubrick was very well aware of this!

    and later:

    Several people — perhaps half of them all — had the idea that the end of the film, entering those advanced mechas 2000 years after David being locked under the sea of Manhattan, was worthless and boring and should have been skipped. What a nonsense! This ending was the most important part of the film. Without it, with leaving David praying to the Blue Fairy, the message, that our own creatures, the robots, will survive us as a better sort of humans, as true super-humans, would have been lost. And I think this is what those critics had in mind subconsciously: They simply cannot stand the idea that robots should not only out-smart but even out-moral humans, being sensible and holy creatures replacing stupid and hateful and emotional ones. Once more: This was the essential "Kubrick"-MESSAGE OF THE FILM! How can anybody in his right mind require that exactly this central message be skipped as worthless without showing a complete misunderstanding of the whole film!

    In another commentary (see it was rightly stated that the only true friends in the film are David and his Teddy, both of them robots! This is a very pessimistic statement on humans. And the middle part shows the humans hatefully destroying robots — since robots are about to replace humans. But — and that is essential to this scene: The robots are depicted as loving and caring and set against the jeering and disgusting human audience seeing them smashed. Thus the whole film from the beginning to the end has only this one message: The robots are much more humane in the good sense than the "real" humans are, the "bios". This looks very much like Kubrick and NOT like Spielberg. But people see what they want to see and then they beat Spielberg for being "too sweet" — ignoring the deep underlying pessimism of Kubrick that holds the film together. The same critics, that call Spielberg "sweet" suggest to take the essentially "unsweet" parts out of it — since they cannot bear it! They wanted entertainment and got lectured on morals — and of course they hated it and tried to tear the movie down.

    / Overall, the readers opinions on the AI-film were rather split. But up to now some 2.000 viewers-responses have been posted to imdb, which is quite a lot. And the mean was 6.9 out of 10 points from some 23.000 votes. Not bad! ---------------------------

    Now, after this "pre-history" of the AI-debate, I have some more philosophical comments left:

    The question that startled me was not wether there will be robots in the near future and how they may look etc.etc., but what do we learn about ourselves.

    Humans are primates, animals from evolution. One of the characteristic traits of evolution is "the struggle for life and dominance" and the "survival of the fittest". This is what Ardrey and Dawkins are talking about: The "eogistic genes" that explain much of human behaviour and human struggle for dominance, which is quite "natural", i.e. in line with the ways of nature. Subdue or kill your enemy, "fight it out", "the winner takes all" etc.. Life seen as a permanent contest — and by this a permanent improving of solutions. In this sense Darwinism was the perfect philosophical model for the rising capitalist society.

    Now compare that to the robots: They need not eat and by this no territory, they need no sexual love and by this no envy or jealousy, and they need not "fight it out" for dominance, since they can improve on the drawing-board, which is much cheaper and much more efficient than "fighting it out". Thus robots by their very mode of existence can indeed be "the better humans" and "saintly beings", since they simply don't NEED most of what makes us humans "evil".

    And this in part is my answer to Charles on "what is evil": The con-structive work of nature, "making babies from two cells and their DNA" represents life, while death is decay. Thus the principle of life — as represented in the babies — is what we call "good". "Building" is good, "destroying" is evil. But building cannot be without destroying. Where should all those babies live if nobody would die? And to get the improved versions you have to subdue the weak and outdated versions. That is a principle of life too.

    But — as the Pope writes in the text citet by Mike — this principle of life should not be applied to humans. There should be some restrictions to "scrapping the weak". Thus human morality is not necessarily in line with "nature", and likewise "robot morality" need not be in line with human morality either — as I just tried to show.

    These are the questions that I was interested in from a philosophical point of view.

    Of course, as an "outdated and emotional hearty" I still prefer films like "Gone with the wind" or "Titanic" or "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon" ( and many many other charming and disturbing love-stories to these robot-films. By the way: The theme of "Blade Runner" ( is very similar to that of AI: "Are cyborgs/androids the better humans?" But this is not a conference on literature but a philosophical one.

    Of course Laura is right when stating that the people shown in AI are not the most impressive ones. But in my opinion this was not essential and displaying more impressive humans would not have changed the message of the film which in my opinion is nearly: "To become a saint you should be a robot. If you won't be a saint, then you have to fight it out and be dominant and evil." But we are told that to be a saint is better than not - so what?


  • FROM: Rachel Browne (08/06/03 1:41 PM GMT -06:00)
    Playing God


    Actually, did I say you had a soul, Michael? Surely it as just that I don't believe you are a robot or a Martian. You couldn't even persuade me that you were. A soul doesn't mean much to me. I don't think believing someone has a soul makes it the case that someone has a soul. But if they have inner life, we find it difficult to believe otherwise. If there is a soul, I'm sure my dog has one. He definitely has an inner life. You can tell by his behaviour and the shine in his eyes and his questioning looks and his twitching when dreaming and all sorts of things. Is the light in the eyes, and doing a little running movement when dreaming behaviour? Our robot hoover moves around and does things but it doesn't even have eyes. If a robot is to be believed to have a soul it will probably need to look as if it is an organic being.

    Wouldn't a felt desire be sufficient for a self (or soul) without having to go on to winners and losers? Would we need other beings just in order to have desire which would be "self-centred" but in relation to something in the world. Isn't is rather that you think that for ethics, or for a fully fledged human being, we need something which suggests more, like a "soul"?

    Who the hell is David? R

  • FROM: Michael Ward (08/08/03 4:33 AM GMT -06:00)
    Our souls


    Ah-soul! Do I have one and am I a blasphemer?

    I tend to agree with you that people choose belief in the absence of no overwhelming evidence to the contrary — in order that that can simply get on with their lives (in an unexamined way I mean)

    I remain undecided whether the world is deterministic or not, still I live my life as if I really have freewill. I do this because it is the preferred alternative and not whether it may be true or not — but how does this make me any different from 'believers' would be a reasonable critical response. For my part the difference is that I choose not to ignore what contradicts my position but simply to leave the matter unresolved until it can be finally determined.

    Experiments weighing bodies before and after death gave no indication whether the Soul had left the body or not and today that may seem a somewhat laughable approach but still what is essentially the difference between a live body and a dead one? If we could answer that then maybe we could know soul.

    David was the little boy created in the film AI but maybe Lazarus would have been more appropriate.

    Michael Ward

  • FROM: Hubertus Fremerey (08/11/03 9:25 AM GMT -06:00)
    on having a soul

    Rachel and Mike,

    only soulless robots can exchange e-amils at these temperatures...

    On "before and after death" I would say that it is a bit similar to lost memory of a computer: Once you switch off and the memory is lost, all processes called "life" will vanish and "decay by loss of meaningful feedback" begins. Or call it "the Tower of Babel syndrome": When people became unable to understand each other, they had to stop building the tower and it began to crumble.

    On soul: In principle we may need no soul, but it may help reflect our doings. For social animals like dogs and humans it is essential to understand each other in some way by "expression without verbal language" to mutually adjust behaviour. And they even may need "emotions" for structuring and reflecting their behaviour for themselves on the "lust-unlust"- or "pleasant-unpleasant"- or "dangerous-safe"-scale or something like that. If this model is right, then a soul and "consciousness" is not exactly "needed", but helps for quick response by "emotionally checking the situation" not in an optical but in an emotional way. To only solve a mathematical or logical problem as an analytical philosopher you surely need no soul...



FROM: Charles (07/29/03 8:08 PM GMT -06:00)
Good and Evil (and strong AI)

I think that the idea of Strong AI takes place within a wider context of the tendency of the universe toward organization. From an exchange about Good and Evil that I had with Rachel.

(First though, I have misplaced my copy of "Do Robots Dream of Electric Sheep" (Blade Runner), but I do not remember the cyborgs arguing that there is no meaning in life. Before the last cyborg turned off, he spoke about what mere humans missed, the order he had seen in the vastness of space.)

My edited side of an exchange with Rachel: What I meant about signs and evil includes distinguishing between "symbols", "icons," and "indices " (Charles Peirce). Where when death is related to evil just as a symbol, it is just a metaphor. And I do not believe that death = evil. I don't think that it makes any difference whether one has religious beliefs or not, most people accept the natural reality of dying and death.

But there some aspects of death that relate to evil, some aspects of death that show one to one correspondence with evil and are not just symbolic. Death becomes an icon for evil. For example, I think that it can creditability be argued from both a religious perspective and from a scientific perspective (the universe's tendency towards self organization — Stuart Kauffman, Ilya Prigogine, Gregory Bateson and etc) that the universe naturally tends toward order (and this is good). Decay and disorder should be seen as subprocesses in the order of cosmic organization. When decay and disorder are elevated to be the principle characteristics of the universe, it is a misunderstanding of the natural tendency toward organization. The opposite of the predominant universal organizational characteristic tending to take on the opposite moral characteristics of evil.

If decay and disorder are not seen in the wider context of a universe tending toward organization, instead being raised to first principles, in that error can be seen the foundations for evil.

(I think that any possibility of strong AI needs to be understood to exist within the greater universal tendency towards organization.)


    REPLIES (8):

  • FROM: Michael Ward (07/30/03 9:52 AM GMT -06:00)
    Moving on


    The idea that the universe naturally tends toward order is interesting though not strongly supported from various critiques I have just read — so I'll leave that one on the back burner for a while.

    Forgive the length of the next extract but I found it pertinent to the issues you raised about death and evil.

    It seems to me that the whole drift of the Popes thoughts shows up the inability or reluctance to accept change — a clinging to comfortable value systems, dare I say archaic thinking!

    Michael Ward

    Quotes from Evangelium Vitae (1995) by Pope John Paul II

    In fact, while the climate of widespread moral uncertainty can in some way be explained by the multiplicity and gravity of today's social problems, and these can sometimes mitigate the subjective responsibility of individuals, it is no less true that we are confronted by an even larger reality, which can be described as a veritable structure of sin. This reality is characterized by the emergence of a culture which denies solidarity and in many cases takes the form of a veritable 'culture of death'. This culture is actively fostered by powerful cultural, economic and political currents which encourage an idea of society excessively concerned with efficiency. Looking at the situation from this point of view, it is possible to speak in a certain sense of a war of the powerful against the weak: a life which would require greater acceptance, love and care is considered useless, or held to be an intolerable burden, and is therefore rejected in one way or another. A person who, because of illness, handicap or, more simply, just by existing, compromises the well-being or life-style of those who are more favoured tends to be looked upon as an enemy to be resisted or eliminated. In this way a kind of 'conspiracy against life' is unleashed.

    The eclipse of the sense of God and of man inevitably leads to a practical materialism, which breeds individualism, utilitarianism and hedonism. The values of being are replaced by those of having. The only goal which counts is the pursuit of one's own material well-being. The so-called 'quality of life' is interpreted primarily or exclusively as economic efficiency, inordinate consumerism, physical beauty and pleasure, to the neglect of the more profound dimensions — interpersonal, spiritual and religious — of existence. In such a context suffering, an inescapable burden of human existence but also a factor of possible personal growth, is 'censored', rejected as useless, indeed opposed as an evil, always and in every way to be avoided. When it cannot be avoided and the prospect of even some future well-being vanishes, then life appears to have lost all meaning and the temptation grows in man to claim the right to suppress it. In the materialistic perspective described so far, interpersonal relations are seriously impoverished. The first to be harmed are women, children, the sick or suffering, and the elderly. The criterion of personal dignity — which demands respect, generosity and service — is replaced by the criterion of efficiency, functionality and usefulness: others are considered not for what they 'are', but for what they 'have, do and produce'. This is the supremacy of the strong over the weak.

    If the promotion of the self is understood in terms of absolute autonomy, people inevitably reach the point of rejecting one another. Everyone else is considered an enemy from whom one has to defend oneself. Thus society becomes a mass of individuals placed side by side, but without any mutual bonds. Each one wishes to assert himself independently of the other and in fact intends to make his own interests prevail. Still, in the face of other people's analogous interests, some kind of compromise must be found, if one wants a society in which the maximum possible freedom is guaranteed to each individual. In this way, any reference to common values and to a truth absolutely binding on everyone is lost, and social life ventures on to the shifting sands of complete relativism. At that point, everything is negotiable, everything is open to bargaining: even the first of the fundamental rights, the right to life. This is what is happening also at the level of politics and government: the original and inalienable right to life is questioned or denied on the basis of a parliamentary vote or the will of one part of the people — even if it is the majority. This is the sinister result of a relativism which reigns unopposed: the 'right' ceases to be such, because it is no longer firmly founded on the inviolable dignity of the person, but is made subject to the will of the stronger part. In this way democracy, contradicting its own principles, effectively moves towards a form of totalitarianism. To claim the right to abortion, infanticide and euthanasia, and to recognize that right in law, means to attribute to human freedom a perverse and evil significance: that of an absolute power over others and against others.

    In seeking the deepest roots of the struggle between the 'culture of life' and the 'culture of death', we cannot restrict ourselves to the perverse idea of freedom mentioned above. We have to go to the heart of the tragedy being experienced by modern man: the eclipse of the sense of God and of man, typical of a social and cultural climate dominated by secularism, which, with its ubiquitous tentacles, succeeds at times in putting Christian communities themselves to the test. Man is no longer able to see himself as 'mysteriously different' from other earthly creatures; he regards himself merely as one more living being, as an organism which, at most, has reached a very high stage of perfection. Enclosed in the narrow horizon of his physical nature, he is somehow reduced to being 'a thing', and no longer grasps the 'transcendent' character of his 'existence as man'. Life itself becomes a mere 'thing', which man claims as his exclusive property, completely subject to his control and manipulation.

  • FROM: Hubertus Fremerey (08/01/03 2:07 PM GMT -06:00)
    on evil humans and saintly robots

    Dear Charles and all,

    I put my answer to Charles' question on what is evil in the context of the other thread on the AI-film. For convenience I put it here again:

    The question that startled me in the AI-film was not wether there will be robots in the near future and how they may look etc.etc., but what do we learn about ourselves.

    Humans are primates, animals from evolution. One of the characteristic traits of evolution is "the struggle for life and dominance" and the "survival of the fittest". This is what Ardrey and Dawkins are talking about: The "eogistic genes" that explain much of human behaviour and human struggle for dominance, which is quite "natural", i.e. in line with the ways of nature. Subdue or kill your enemy, "fight it out", "the winner takes all" etc.. Life seen as a permanent contest — and by this a permanent improving of solutions. In this sense Darwinism was the perfect philosophical model for the rising capitalist "competing" society.

    Now compare that to the robots: They need not eat and by this no territory, they need no sexual love and by this no envy or jealousy, and they need not "fight it out" for dominance, since they can improve on the drawing-board, which is much cheaper and much more efficient than "fighting it out". Thus robots by their very mode of existence can indeed be "the better humans" and "saintly beings", since they simply don't NEED most of what makes us humans "evil".

    And this in part is my answer to Charles on "what is evil": The con-structive work of nature, "making babies from two cells and their DNA" represents life, while death is decay. Thus the principle of life — as represented in the babies — is what we call "good". "Building" is good, "destroying" is evil. But building cannot be without destroying. Where should all those babies live if nobody would die? And to get the improved versions you have to fight and subdue the weak and outdated versions. That is a principle of life too.

    But — as the Pope writes in the text citet by Mike — this principle of life should not be applied to humans. There should be some restrictions to "scrapping the weak". What is "natural" most often is not "moral", and what is "moral" most often is not "natural". And we have to understand why this should be so.

    Thus human morality is not necessarily in line with "nature", and likewise "robot morality" need not be in line with human morality either — as I just tried to show.

    These are the questions that I was interested in from a philosophical point of view.

    Of course, as an "outdated and emotional hearty" I still prefer films like "Gone with the wind" or "Titanic" or "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon" ( and many many other charming and disturbing love-stories to these robot-films. By the way: The theme of "Blade Runner" ( is very similar to that of AI: "Are cyborgs/androids the better humans?" But this is not a conference on literature but a philosophical one.

    Of course Laura is right when stating that the people shown in AI are not the most impressive ones. But in my opinion this was not essential and displaying more impressive humans would not have changed the message of the film which in my opinion is nearly: "To become a saint you should be a robot. If you won't be a saint, then you have to fight it out and be dominant and evil." But we are told that to be a saint is better than not — so what should we make of this?


  • FROM: Charles (08/03/03 11:25 AM GMT -06:00)
    "Moving on"


    Thank you for your quotes from "Evangelism Vitae." I consider John Paul II to be one of several "Popes," including the current Egyptian/Ethiopian Coptic Popes, Armenian Pope, Archbishop of Canterbury, and Archbishops of Eastern Orthodox Churches. I do not think any of them are infallible, but neither do I find their thinking archaic. Instead I think that their logic is closer to Wisdom than that of the "practical materialists."


    P.S. Have you looked at Mars lately?

  • FROM: Charles (08/03/03 11:55 AM GMT -06:00)
    "saintly robots"

    I think that we must distinguish between robots ("anthropomorphic mechanical being") and strong AI (artificial intelligence). While I would not rule out the possibility of robots with strong AI, I do not think that strong AI necessarily requires robots, cyborg for example. Both "AI" and "Blade Runner." were primarily about cyborgs, but there were some robots running around in the background. "Data" from Startrek may be a robot? I think science is moving towards "Robo sapiens" though: see the book with that title by Peter Menzel and Faith D'Aluisio, the MIT Press 2000)


  • FROM: Hubertus Fremerey (08/03/03 5:04 PM GMT -06:00)
    on robo sapiens and encyclicals


    thank you for the hint on this 4181532

    while this may be fascinating, I am still "an outdated human" like you. My main interest in AI and Blade Runner was this critique on our human behaviour — not so much in a technical but in a moral sense.

    The Papal encyclical Evangelium Vitae (see was fascinating for ignoring the challenge of robots altogether. Man is seen as the last stage of creation — and perhaps cannot be otherwise in Christian understanding. I would like to know the opinion of a Japanese Buddhist. Those are much more "naturalistic". I don't know if there is a "robot Zen-master" in SF-literature now but I would not be surprised. In Japanese movies and "animes" cyborgs are very common. The concept of person is not well defined in Asiatic cultures.


  • FROM: Hubertus Fremerey (08/03/03 5:14 PM GMT -06:00)
    on "Startrek"s "Data"-robot


    this links you to Data, who (which?) indeed is a robot: from


  • FROM: Brian Tee (08/08/03 8:24 AM GMT -06:00)
    Star Trek's Data

    Correction: Mr Data is not a robot. He is an android.

  • FROM: Michael Ward (08/08/03 4:48 PM GMT -06:00)
    A rose by any other name

    Brian welcome to the conference, Data is perceived somehow less than human and maybe thus denied equality with humans — in what way would you say this is either reasonable or acceptable?

    Michael Ward


FROM: Charles (08/05/03 3:35 AM GMT -06:00)
AI: Life by design.

Michael said:

"How do we define what is a sentient life form?"

"How reasonable is it to discriminate based upon whether your constituent parts are silicon or carbon?"

These are good questions. While I personally enjoy sf like "AI" and "Blade Runner," (and both the silent original of Fritz Lang's "Metropolis" and its remake with rock music), my favorite movie being "The Day The Earth Stood Still." I wonder if approaching the question from an AI perspective is very useful.

To begin with, Michael's first question is a scientific question and I doubt the utility of using philosophical thought problems to answer scientific questions. Instead I would recommend at our level that we read and discuss some foundational essays such as Erwin Schrodinger's "What is Life?" and C.H. Waddington's "The Nature of Life." Or currently, Paul Davies' "E.T. And God: Could earthly religions survive the discovery of life elsewhere in the universe?" Davies' is in the September "The Atlantic," which has been mailed already in the U.S. but will be on the web edition soon:

Michael's second question is a moral question not a scientific question and could be addressed through philosophical inquiry. But he also in his original text raises the issue of evolution. I believe that his definition of "evolution" is selection by random selection. My question then is: How can the deliberate scientific and engineering process that is behind Strong AI be considered random selection? Wouldn't it be more correct to consider any possible Strong AI to be the result of creation by design? (Now does that give you nightmares Michael?)


    REPLIES (10):

  • FROM: Hubertus Fremerey (08/05/03 6:51 AM GMT -06:00)
    on robot-evolution


    while I am not addressed directly, I dare to enter some remarks on your answer to Mike.

    1. What exactly do you call "strong" AI?

    2. Those robots playing soccer are "designed for meaningful behaviour according to rules but not to schematics". This is a step ahead of chess, where the rules are much more precise than in soccer.

    3. While I cannot exclude "creation by design" as long as nobody has proven "life by chance" in the lab, I think we should keep the question open.

    The usual comparison — that you did not enter here — seems to be, that life is much too complicated for "emerging by chance" like Shakespeares work could not IN A FINITE TIME created by shaking the letters of the alphabet. Since in an infinite time every possible sequence of letters would appear, even the Bible in an infinite time would be generated by such a process by mere chance. But it would be meaningless, since to become meaningful the Bible like Shakespear needs readers to understand the text and its importance.

    Besides that the adherents of "artificial life" start from very primitive forms of "life" like archeo-bacteria, which are much less complicated than even a normal bacterium, leave alone an amoeba, which looks "rather advanced". But even if the generation of life needed rather improbable conditions, those may have been found in some time and at some places on the young earth. Improbable is not impossible.

    Some problems turn out much more difficult than expected: Fusion, translation of natural languages, most parts of AI, and artificial life. But while the character of those problems my be a bit more complicated than that of Newton's planetary orbits, I would not like to enter "God" for everything we don't understand easily now. Maybe in 100 years all those problems just named look very easy to understand — at least for computers.


  • FROM: Michael Ward (08/06/03 12:41 PM GMT -06:00)
    Errors in reasoning


    Hubertus wrote: 'life is much too complicated for "emerging by chance"' and then proceeded, in practical terms, to take that as a truth upon which to determine alternatives. I accept unreservedly that we simply do not know with certainty the origins of biological life. Geological data can provide indications as to the incept date and evolution but the cause is down to the best fit theory until we know more.

    Whether my ultimate origin was God or a Spaceman what now do I owe to them? unless of course they had some ultimate purpose to 'harvest' us in some way. I am more disposed to the future and AI is significant in both knowing ourselves and what we may become. I append below a thought provoking article for consideration.

    Michael Ward

    The Cognitive ƒlite

    Keep in mind Charles Murray's book The Bell Curve where he discusses the very real, and very measurable phenomenon of increasing IQ amongst the children of parents who met at coed institutions of higher learning in the post-WW II era. Never in history, anywhere, has such a concentrated number of individuals of high IQ (which has at least a 50% genetic component to it), met, married and had children. These children then repeated the process, boosting the IQ of their children not only through 'nature,' but through high cognitive stimulation in their early years, through 'nurture' also.

    This is, in Murray's terms, the 'cognitive Žlite.' It is real. They have the brains and money, and they are pulling away, literally, from the rest of the pack each succeeding generation. Murray recounts carefully how the 'cognitive Žlite' prefers higher elevations for their houses, this is a historical pattern, deeply ingrained in humanity. Murray paints a picture of the 'cognitive Žlite' perched up above everyone else, not just in urban areas, but in exurbia also.

    They are protecting themselves physically, through gated communities, private security forces, and fortress-mentality architectural design. This pattern is straight from the anarchistic Italian Renaissance towns, with their towers and their private armies. The 'cognitive Žlite' recognizes that the state no longer has their safety as top priority, that its top priority is buying votes through welfare state entitlement programs like Social Security and Medicare. They also recognize that they will never have the votes to change this situation in a direct democracy.

    They are protecting themselves financially through 'Commie deed restrictions' of their 'Homeowner's Associations,' the primary concern being resale value of their abodes. They are selling to each other, of course, and any newcomers rising up the IQ pipeline. It is tribalism. The 'cognitive Žlite' is a tribe, or a class in old-fashioned language. They recognize each other, they conduct business with each other, they protect each other, they marry their children off to each other and dote on grandchildren together. Regional differences between them pale before their tribal similarities. Before we cast too many stones at their socialistic lives, look closely at their tribalism, and don't forget that they are literally smarter and richer, as a tribe, than any similar group of individuals ever before in history. This is the natural order of society, it is 'organic.'

    Thomas Aquinas says, in Summa Contra Gentiles (Book III, ch. 81): '...There is an order among men themselves. For those among them who excel by their intellect naturally dominate the others; as to those who do not shine by their intellect, but whose body is robust, they seem to be destined by nature to servitude.' Etienne Gilson, in Elements of Christian Philosophy (1960), doesn't sugar-coat this organic fact of nature. The only really new development since the time of Thomas Aquinas is that, in the more advanced types of 'democratic' societies, where technocracy is taking the lead in guiding economic revolution, it is becoming more and more true to say that, whatever the name of the regime, the best assets for anybody to have are first health and next brains. In short, nature is desperately aristocratic. In the long run, the odds are always on the more intelligent. I submit that the protected socialist clubs, perched above and away from the barbarians roaming the streets, are growing organically. The 'cognitive Žlite' are just living the best they can, making decisions concerning their future and their children's future the best they can in the environment they find themselves in. These individuals have seen the future, and they want to be, if not ahead of the screaming technological pace of development, at least not too far behind it. They see that many will be left far behind, and they see that this is 'natural.' Not in a late-nineteenth-century social Darwinistic sense, but in a Thomistic sense of the only society that makes any sense at all, a hierarchical one.

    The 'cognitive Žlite' really aren't as fog-bound as you might think they appear to be. At the Johns Hopkins CTY Talent Search (Center for Talented Youth) awards ceremony in Eugene, Oregon for the finalists (by virtue of finishing in the top 3% of the nationally administered SAT-type tests given to seventh and eighth graders), the MC got up and said, basically: We know you have been told that students are all equal, that you have had to put up with frustrating group grading, with the slow pace of presentation of material necessary to keep the class coherency intact; well, we are here to tell you that you need not pay attention to what we tell the rest of the students who are not here today. You are the leaders of tomorrow, push yourselves, advance as fast as you can, do not worry about the others, we are proud of you; excellence, not equality, is all that counts. To hear it so baldly put was shocking! The educrats acknowledge that their system is a crock, and that only individual excellence is the ticket to avoid dronedom. By the way, the girl that took the absolute top honors, was home-schooled!

    If something, really I should say someone, affects your life, they either: a) help you, or b) hinder you. Neutral intentions or actions have no effect on your life. Individuals tolerate neutral intentions or actions, that is, they are indifferent to them, which is also a form of disapproval or patronization. Individuals welcome intentions or actions which help them, this is the basis for consensual moral polities, for approval or respect, not tolerance. Individuals fight against intentions or actions which hinder them, they do not tolerate them. Servility is not tolerance.

  • FROM: Rachel Browne (08/07/03 1:45 PM GMT -06:00)
    that's vile

    There is now something in the US called EQ which is "emotional intelligence". There are different sorts of intelligence and why champion IQ? Shouldn't people just be different? Shouldn't there be other ways of being available to appreciate? My husband probably has a high IQ and I probably have a dreadfully low one, but once my husband said he wished he was me (proving that a person with a high IQ can be a nutter). We value difference in others, and we value variety. This is probably because we think freedom and choice are important, even if they aren't really available. Even if we can't choose to have a low IQ, why should that not be something a person might want? A person might want not to be driven and successful and know all the answers. R

  • FROM: Michael Ward (08/08/03 5:10 AM GMT -06:00)
    The Cognitive Élite


    The Cognitive ƒlite

    Yes, it was a rather chilling portrayal (if true) of the development of humanity and maybe foretelling the demise of Homo Sapiens akin to Neanderthals.

    I am not equating 'being smarter' with happiness or contentment but in our world the less smart come second. Now the Christians particularly turned this survival disadvantage into an asset (a false one in my opinion) with ideas such as 'the meek shall inherit the earth'.

    You say 'A person might want not to be driven and successful and know all the answers' and that is undoubtedly true for many people but the consequence is that they are more likely to be selecting themselves to be second class. By second class I mean having a disproportionably smaller share of the planets limited resources — simple death rate statistics in first and third world countries is evidence enough of this.

    So don't fight back, give up on the idea of justice and keep taking the happy pills - it's less effort!

    Michael Ward

  • FROM: Charles (08/08/03 12:47 PM GMT -06:00)
    On robot evolution

    Robin Murphy, in her book "Introduction To AI Robotics" (MIT Press 2000) says: "The science of making machines act intelligently is usually referred to as artificial intelligence, or AI for short. Artifical Intelligence has no commonly accepted definitions...Perhaps the most amusing of all AI definitions was the slogan for the now defunct computer company, Thinking Machines,Inc, '...making machines that will be proud of us."

    Dr. Murphy goes on to say: "Engineers often dismiss AI as wild speculation. As a result of such vehement criticisms, many researchers often label their work as 'intelligent systems' or 'knowledge-based systems."

    Dr. Murphy, making application of AI to robotics, says AI includes learning, planning, reasoning, problem solving, knowledge representation, and computer vision. I would say that AI includes "Perceptive Assistant" projects that would help decision makers automatically manage mundane chores, so the decision maker can concentrate on more important tasks.

    I think what "engineers often dismiss" is Strong AI. Strong AI would be a self aware AI system, like "2001" HAL and the kid in the movie "AI." I do not dismiss Strong AI, but neither am I an engineer. I doubt Strong AI though, because I think that most strong AI advocates are materialists who are simply uninformed and in some cases intentionally ignorant about advances in noetic science and in the Eastern arts dealing with Chi (or Ki). I do not think that current research in Strong AI takes adequately into account the energy requirements for Mind.


  • FROM: Rachel Browne (08/08/03 1:35 PM GMT -06:00)
    On being second class

    Well Michael what is wrong with having less of the planets resources? What is wrong with being second-class? In England does that mean you can't have a garden and a dog? It probably means you can't have a garden. (Of course most people want children rather a dog and that is very expensive here).

    Being of no class at all, in a developing country, of course, is different. But there your thoughts are just about survival. Ethical considerations, far less the impact of robots, don't enter into thought probably — well, maybe the real ethical actions are non-theoretically just carried out.

    Developing countries are a major part of the world's population and here we are in the developed world thinking of robots and enlightened spheres that float around with superior natures. Well, Hubertus was. Did he say they might be blue? Fanciful, whatever.

    And David is . .? R

  • FROM: Rachel Browne (08/08/03 1:42 PM GMT -06:00)

    Dear Charles

    Yes I thought AI was materialist, in that something can be made to have a computational system, so its intelligence is identical to the hardware or what it is realised in.

    Now it seems to me that the program isn't identical to what it is realised in. This may be weak AI. But the strong AI seems to assume that intelligence is in some way seperate and can be put in to something which it then becomes identical with.

    Of course all AI is rubbish in my view, and I go with Searle, but we must understand the difference between weak and strong AI. Do we know this?

    Too hot for our dog here. R

  • FROM: Michael Ward (08/08/03 4:33 PM GMT -06:00)
    The winners write history


    I do not argue for or against having more or less of the planets resources the straightforward point I raise is that it's a strong disadvantage to success in survival terms unless society deems it to be otherwise.

    Is this idea an anathema? that people should earn the right to bear children!

    I think you are wrong, everyone is of some class because that's the way all societies orders themselves. Perhaps you know of a society that does not compete I would like to know more about it.

    The fact that we are thinking about robots and AI etc. is some substantiation for the elite to which I earlier referred and you are part of.

    Michael Ward

  • FROM: Rachel Browne (08/09/03 12:40 PM GMT -06:00)
    winners aren't the only involved in history

    Well, I think we live in a competetive society and it needn't be like that. I don't know about other societies, but imagine the less developed the less competetive. But the point is society isn't necessarily competitive. Only when it is materialistic, it seems to become like that.

    Well thinking about robots doesn't make me think of an elite at all, just a totally other. I don't believe in un-drugged happy blue spheres or angels. Even theologians don't BELIEVE in angels, just that the concept of an angel can show us something. Don't know what. Hubertus thinks they'll show us how awful we are, but we know that already. R

  • FROM: Hubertus Fremerey (08/11/03 10:56 AM GMT -06:00)
    on being superior

    Dear Rachel, Mike, and Charles,

    after being off the conf because in part of computer breakdown here, I just read the whole thread of your lively exchange.

    On this "Bell-curve" and Žlites and the class thing: "To be dominant is to be dominant" — plain and simple. This has nothing to do per se with morals. If you have a gun you are by this superior to sombody having a knife or a stone to defend himself, and this has nothing to do with his or her personal qualities. By this principle the Americans could "outsmart" the Iraqis with those modern "smart weapons" without anybody claiming (hm, yes, there may have been some...) that the Americans are "morally superiour" to the Iraqis. The great danger of the Bell-curve approach as of any other form of Žlitism - even the Thomist one — is of course to be misused in different ways as an excuse for suppression: Of the American Blacks, of "heathen", of people "cognitively less able" or something of that sort. By this argument the Nazis killed the disabled and the Jews ("false genes"), and the Japanese and others had their own standards of "genetic superiority". The whole thing is depicted in another SF-movie "Gattaca" (

    When the Japanese Tokugawa Empire was "cracked" by the "Black Ships" of commodore Perry in 1853, the Japanese had the good idea to learn from the "best" — i.e. most advanced - Western techniques to be up to the danger of being suppressed as a colony like China. They got the navy-specialists from GB, which had the most advanced fleet of the time, and they got the army-specialists first from France. But when the Prussians had hit the French army in 1870, the Japanese sent the french military instructors home and replaced them by Prussian ones. In 1905 they destroyed the Russian fleet in the battle of Tsushima and got very proud since they had proven by this that they were up to a Western Great Power. When they were defeated by the US in 1945 they began to admire the Americans as superiors and once more started copying them. When a Japanese woman was carried away half dead from the remains of Hiroshima by a Western Jesuit to a hospital she only remarked "Wow, that was a thing! If only WE had it before!" THAT is competitiveness and ambition. Most of todays US-heroes in sports and music etc. are Japanese heroes too. By this the Japanese are - like the Germans have been in the times of the Wilhelms — very "competitive" and "ambitious" as a culture.

    Thus the problem is: To be technically superior is not to be "morally" superior, but if you want to protect your culture you have to be able to do it. And this is not a moral but a technical question. This even explains much of the current ambivalence of opinions concerning the War on Iraq: On the cultural level one may call the Islamic culture to be of equal rank or even superior to the American culture, but then the problem remains how to defend the Islamic cultures against the technically superior Western and Far-Eastern societies. This once more is the problem Japan faced in 1853, and that all other colonies before and after had to face. Exactly by this argument many Islamic leaders today think the defeat of the Iraqis by the US-troops may be helpful in "waking up" the Islamic people(s) to the modern world and getting them out of mere "wishful thinking" and "day dreaming", and getting them start(l)ed to "facing reality".

    This all sounds cynical — but is not. Read the book "Culture Matters" edited by Harrison and Huntington (see below). Most people WANT to be "modern" and to get at all those good things modernity offers — including liberty and democracy and getting rid of all those well-meaning priests and mullahs and their moral advice. Thus we have to be honest on this. In todays Iran — like in todays China and Turkey and other countries — students rebel against being paternalized by some party or religion. This is what Laura hinted us to by citing the book on Iranian woman literary students debating "Lolita".

    And my point in comparing "saintly" robots to "awful" humans was not to "moralize" but to ask what this so called "ideal" of being a saint comes to in the light of robotics: "If you want to become a saint or a Zen-master, it may help to be a robot, since then you need no territory and no sex and no hierarchies and not all the evils naturally derived from those." That was the thesis put forth by the "AI"- and the "Blade-Runner" movies. This thesis is analogous to: "If you are a modern 'enlightened' human, you need no human sacrifice or ritualistic cannibalism or stakes to burn witches and heretics on to calm down the gods." — which is about the gospel of Mike. Seen in this way the robots (or androids or "super-mechas") are "the next natural step of moral evolution". This was the philosophical thesis I was interested in after seing "AI" for the first time.

    But of course Rachel and Charles (and Searle) may be right in suggesting that to be "spiritual" in a human way may be more than any android will ever be able to get at (and surely the Terminator and Terminatrix, which are really boring and stupid beings without the slightest trace of spirituality). I cannot prove it though, and I cannot prove that Schwarzenegger (in my opinion) compares to Pastor King like the Terminator compares to "real humans". And the possibility to have Schwarzenegger for Californian governor now explains why Jean left this conference for being "too Californian". Having Pastor King or his like for governor there would have been to his — and to my — delight. But entertaining robots start to take over now ...


    P.S.: The book mentioned in the text is: 9798195-8953644


FROM: Charles (08/08/03 2:44 PM GMT -06:00)
The cognitive elite

In 'Cognitive Elite' Michael said: 'Now the Christians particularly turned this survival disadvantage into an asset (a false one in my opinion) with ideas such as 'the meek shall inherit the earth'.

I think error can easily occur when we apply our current definition of words to ancient text. In this case, "meek" not only has difficulties in translation from ancient to modern language. But Michael needs to clarify who he refers to as Christians? Is he referring to the early church's understanding of "meek" and their experience under Roman rule? Maybe he refers to the understanding that came through Augustine of Hippo, philosopher and some say Saint? Is it St. Francis' understanding (and he has been called "the last Christian")?

In this edited message, I withdraw a lengthy personal response about the idea of survival of the fit and will simply point out that even the fit end up dead. In the cosmic (and evolutionary) scheme of things, there is no essential difference between anyone. Charles S. Peirce pointed out in his essay "Illustrations of the Logic of Science" that Darwin proposed to apply statistical method to biology. I doubt if the "elite" have any significant impact on the results of biological algorithms.


    REPLIES (2):

  • FROM: Charles (08/09/03 2:28 AM GMT -06:00)

    In "Cognitive Elite" Michael said: "Now the Christians particularly turned this survival disadvantage into an asset (a false one in my opinion) with ideas such as the meek shall inherit the earth."

    Let's put this into historical context. You may or may not agree with Michael that early Christians turned this "disadvantage" into an asset. But where did they get this idea and what did they understand about it? Whatever you may think of Jewish and Christian scripture, you cannot reasonably deny that Matthew 5:5 comes FROM:

    Psalm 37:11 ("A Psalm of David) "But the meek shall possess the land, and delight themselves in abundant prosperity."

    Whatever you may think about Jesus of Nazareth, you cannot reasonably deny that Jesus the man probably had a literal belief in his culture's stories about David the king. The opinion of some post-modern archeologists that David's kingdom did not exist as described in ancient Jewish literature is not relevant to what Jesus the man thought 2,000 years ago. Jesus the man (rabbi) probably did not think that David the king was some passive, "laid back" character.

    It is not reasonable to deny that Jesus the Jewish rabbi said something like reported in Matthew 5:5 "Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth."

    Now how did the early non Jewish Christians understand this saying of Jesus the rabbi. Chromatius (Italy about 400), friend of Jerome the translator of the Latin Vulgate, wrote in his "Tractate on Matthew: "The meek are those who are gentle, humble and unassuming, simple in faith and patient in the face of every affront. Imbued with the precepts of the gospel, they imitate the meekness of the Lord, who says, 'Learn from me, for I am meek and humble of heart." Moses found the greatest favor with God because he was meek. "And Moses was the meekest of all people on earth."

    MY NOTE- Chromatius' quote about Moses comes from the Jewish text Numbers 12:3. Whatever some post-modern archeologists may think about the Moses stories, it would not be reasonable to deny that Chromatius probably had a literal understanding of them. In ancient Jewish literature Moses, may be meek, but he is also a great liberator of his Jewish people and according to the stories had a direct role in killing a lot of Egyptian first born (both of man and cattle), Egyptian soldiers, "mowed" down Am'alek and his people, and about 3,000 Jewish men who didn't like his leadership. It is doubtful that Chromatius and other early Christians understood Moses' meekness as being (from Webster's) "too submissive; easily imposed on; spineless; spiritless." (That is the modern and post-modern definition of meekness.) Chromatius also quoted from "David's Psalm" and probably understood David as being a killer of lions, Philistine thugs (regular and super sized), Ammonites and their Syrian mercenaries, and murdered his own Hittite general (Uriah), among others.

    But really I do not think that there is much to be gained from quoting any religious literature unless there is a general agreement about its meaning. I doubt if "meek" is one of those generally agreed upon.

    My quote of Chromatius comes from the "Ancient Christian Commentary On Scripture, New Testament Ia (Matthew 1-13), edited by Manlio Simonetti (InterVarsity Press, 2001).


  • FROM: Rachel Browne (08/19/03 1:33 PM GMT -06:00)
    Moses the meek

    Crickey. Moses was involved in killing people and is thought to be a role model in some way? I suppose he is, if he is in the Bible. Certainly doesn't seem meek by todays meaning of the term.

    Seems dominant to me. But not in the way Hubertus means when he says being dominant has nothing to do with morality in that it is neither moral or immoral — with which I agree. Moses has a mis-used ability to be dominant I'd have thought.

    I don't like the sound of the Bible at all. But if our concepts have changed a lot, and our morals too, does it have any direct relevance? R


FROM: Hubertus Fremerey (09/02/03 8:46 AM GMT -06:00)
whom to call "a good human" — and why?

Hubertus Fremerey Tuesday, September 2, 2003 8:43AM CST

Dear all,

my question this time is: "Whom to call a good human and by what argument?" And the starting point would of course be: "Whom do we think to be a good human — and why do we think so?" Like with "good society" there may be differences of opinion on details, but overall we have — independent of culture and religion and traditions etc. — from childhood some experience of what is a good human. We generally don't know how to describe it, but we know it. And we once more know it from the other experience of "bad" humans. There are people where little children and animals go and feel happy, and there are people everybody hates or fears and tries to avoid. And we all know that this is independent of being stern or dull or bright or "well behaved". The patron of all Catholic priests — Jean Marie Vianney, the curŽ of Ars (1786-1859, see, model to the "curŽ de campagne" of the Bernanos novel, was not at all a bright one. The biographer tells us that "He did so badly in theology at the Seminary of St. IrŽnŽe in Lyons that after five months he was asked to leave. M. Bailey, however, undertook to coach him privately, and Jean-Marie was allowed to sit the May examinations. Again he lost his head as soon as he was questioned in Latin and failed to pass." It is indicative to the wisdom of the Catholic church to rise such a person to be patron of all priests. He had, as the "sermon of the mountain" calls it, "purity of heart". We find similar figures depicted in Dostoevski, f.i. Sonja in "Raskolnikoff" or prince Myshkin as the "Idiot". Most of us know such people we would like to have around all time and whose death is felt as a great loss by many. And my question is: What is exceptional in those persons, what do we mean when we say "this is/was a really good person?" The judgement of children and "wretched" and criminals is most important here, since those are judges not to be deceived easily and surely not by arrogance and shining and pretensions. True holiness is a great mystery, but it is the only true standard against which to measure what a good human is. And we even should think it fascinating that such a standard exists. If there were no real saints well known from history and from today, we would not know what is possible. It is something above psychology and "reasonableness". And of course it is not a specific Christian thing. There are Jewish and Muslim saints as well as Buddhist or Hinduist or other. And of course it is not a specific Catholic thing either: There are Protestant saints and Orthodox ones likewise. On this Jean Nakos was quite right. But of course one need not be a saint to be a good person. I only use the notion of the saint to get away from the trap of "good behaving" or "well esteemed". Most good humans are not at all "models" in the usual way of being "achievers". They seldom are. Like with good life and good society we have the strange experience that to be an "A-grader on all disciplines" does not make a good human, like to be "perfect" does not make a good life or a good society. So what is it?

To begin with: It is surprisingly hard to find a good introduction to the GENERAL nature of saintness or sanctity on the internet, while the phenomenon is well known in all religions. But in the Western world the concept of saintness seems to be monopolized by the Catholic church and it's orders. Which of course is not only a pity but misleading. Sanctity is a universal phenomenon, while a very rare one of course. This is a link to a paper on Sufi-saints: But if you enter "sainthood" or "sanctity" or "nature of the saint" or something like that into Google or another search-machine, you will get 99% catholic pages. From their self-understanding even specialists of the phenomenon in the Western world simply ignore the possibility that the phenomenon could occur outside of the Catholic or even Christian realm. To be a saint — this seems the message — is nearly identical to being a Catholic true believer. Which of course would be nonsense.

There is another problem: Since the Protestant church officially and from its theology calls every true believer a saint, by this Protestant theology becomes blinded for the fact that this too contradicts experience. This too is a pity, since it is "spiritual socialism": By definition all men and women are equal, while by evidence and experience they clearly are not. But how will you know what makes a difference if it is officially denied to exist anyway?

Likewise the secular humanists seem to deny the existence of saintness, since the notion itself seems to contradict the idea of "reason" in the Western sense. Only Abraham Maslow in his book "The Farther Reaches of Human Nature" seems to introduce a general concept of saintness as an anthropological possibility not restricted to any religion. See 6232288-9950457

Thus it is surprisingly hard to get at the nature of sanctity because everywhere people seem to deny its existence or keep it restricted to their own creed.

But it is not that hard to get at results if you irgnore all this religious preconceptions for a while. The concept of holiness is related to the concept of "being whole", and by this is a psychological concept: the contrast to being whole, being true and honest and consistent, against being a liar, being dishonest, a pretender, and being fragments hold together only by a hide. If you are a whole you are not broken but integral, without a hidden crack. If you are holy you are without falsity, you are what you seem to be, you are not "a house divided". This is the original meaning of holiness above all religious confessions.

And from this the concept of "healing" is derived: Putting the parts together again, bringing peace to the warring factions of the soul, replacing doubt and desperation [1] by assuredness. Holiness in the Bible means to close the rift between God and man. But this is not principally different from closing the rift between "ego" and "id" in Freudian psychotherapy, or between the person and its "shadow" in the Jungian concepts etc.. See the book "Healing East and West" [2] on a general approach to the concept of healing.

The question in all these cases is: "What rift to close, what scar or crack to heal, what conflict to pacify?" If you only try to adapt people to "what is usual" and to "going along" or "keeping up", you may only arrive at what the psycho-analyst Arno Gruen calls "The Insanity of Normality" [3] and which may be called "the efficient way of getting along by lying to yourself and to others". Against this Jesus said (St.Matthew 10, 34-39): "Think not that I am come to send peace on earth: I came not to send peace, but a sword. For I am come to set a man at variance against his father, and the daughter against her mother, and the daughter in law against her mother in law. And a man's foes shall be they of his own household. He that loveth father or mother more than me is not worthy of me: and he that loveth son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. And he that taketh not his cross, and followeth after me, is not worthy of me. He that findeth his life shall lose it: and he that loseth his life for my sake shall find it." (from You need not follow the Christian creed of course, since in principle the message of the Buddha or of the Hindu saints or of the Sufis or the Jewish prophets or of Socrates has never been different: "Be honest to yourself and to your experiences and do not adapt to what is usual and expected if you think it is not honest to do so."

If somebody is "whole" and "honest", he is "trustworthy", he assumes the quality of truth itself, of being sound and solid and reliable. And this often is a quality of "simple minded" people that use no tricks because they don't know them or if they know them they don't know how to handle them — or are not interested. This is what we call straight, upright, true, honest or something similar in contrast to crooked and false and twisted. A movie that tries to show this is "Forrest Gump" [4]. People like Abe Lincoln or Dr.Martin Luther King or Nelson Mandela seem to be of this sort, while perhaps not just "holy" in the spiritual sense. These many aspects of the notion of "a good human" are what I am interested in: "How to be a good human in our time?" — be it in a Christian or in a non-christian, in a religious or in a non-religious way. There is much left to debate on the extension of what is "a good human".

And you see why I am interested in this topic in connection with the concept of "good society": There is always this fascinating neighborship of maximal truth and maximal lie, of Christ and Antichrist, of real "being" and mere "shining". The Nazi- and fascist regimes were regimes of the lie, and likewise were the Stalinist regimes, and so were many others. But what does it mean? How do we know that? That I want to find out. And I think if we know it better in humans we will know it better in societies — and vice versa. There even is a science of "ethno-psycho-analysis", of the study of collective madness [5].

And "honestly": We all don't like these topics anyway — good humans, good societies. Even I don't. It all sounds like "good behaviour" a bit, on which we have been lectured a life long without much effect after all. Or so it seems. But like Sokrates I cannot avoid the question: "Why and how do I do what I do — and why and how to get better at it."



[1] In German doubt="Zwei-fel" and desperation="Ver-zwei-flung". But "zwei"=two in German, thus both words express a sort of dividedness, either of conflicting opinions as when in doubt or of conflicting expectations or options when in desperation.

[2] 5F11%5F1/002-6232288-9950457

[3] /002-6232288-9950457?v=glance&s=books


[5] In a general sense Erich Fromm and Herbert Marcuse and overall the "Frankfurt School" was concerned with many aspects of "collective madness", which T.W.Adorno called the "connection of deceit" ("Verblendungszusammenhang"), but which was a notion not unknown to the Buddha or to Jesus of course.

    REPLIES (38):

  • FROM: Hubertus Fremerey (09/02/03 2:33 PM GMT -06:00)
    an addendum on Sep.2, 2003, 1:20PM CST

    Dear all,

    the following I wrote to Mike, but it is a general statement re. the "good human" topic. H.



    as you should know already, I am never hurt or touchy. So if you are out for "royal rumble" again I have no problem. Perhaps get people startled a bit by offering some ideas on how to become a BAD person, that may shed some more light on the good ones. And of course Mary Seifert and the other teacher may have something to tell us from their experiences (cf. your entries in "documents" here).

    I am not at all out for a debate on holiness. I simply want to know what are we judging if we call somebody a "good human" — which definitely is NOT the same as calling somebody "nice" or "correct" or "well behaved". There are people that are on most accounts "losers" but we miss them if they have to go. Others are by nearly all accounts "winners" and we may even be happy if they go. This is what I am interested in: The difference between "felt" value and "official" value. On what and how do we evaluate a human being. Why?

    Sincerely Hubertus

  • FROM: Michael Ward (09/03/03 12:54 PM GMT -06:00)
    Royal Rumble — part 1

    Hubertus writes:

    "Whom to call a good human and by what argument?"

    According to Hubertus if I understand it, it seems the yardstick to measure this by is how much we are either drawn to or repulsed by a persons behaviour. We then proceed to use this measurement to rank other people and thus end up with a top ten list.

    This list is of course entirely subjective to the person who created it and thus has no independent value though it may be shared by a majority of people. Lying (or deception) is an integral part of being human so the concept of honesty as being an admirable human attribute is contrary to our nature. Just try telling the truth for only one day to see what I mean — especially the next time your wife/partner asks 'does my bum look big in this?'

    Then comes some further advice from Socrates "Be honest to yourself and to your experiences and do not adapt to what is usual and expected if you think it is not honest to do so."

    So armed with my trusty sword of honesty I am forced to smite all the concepts and references to holiness and religious values out of this posting and look at what is left.

    What seems to be left is humans talking about other humans within a human frame of reference — sounds rather like a night at the film awards.

    I put it that the original question cannot be answered by a human, for humans cannot even agree what constitutes facts, nor given the same information reliably agree what fact means.

    There is much I could say upon the perception of religious experience but it is very nicely summarised in a document called Imagine I have posted to the Library.

    Top of my list would be Socrates, "Why and how do I do what I do — and why and how to get better at it." — if only he could have been armed with the knowledge coming from neuroscience today!

    Saint Michael. (self appointed)

  • FROM: Hubertus Fremerey (09/03/03 3:04 PM GMT -06:00)
    a first yes and no to St.Michael, dragon-slayer


    you are right of course on lying. But Kant said that lying is forbidden under all circumstances, because in a way it is an insult to the honesty and sensibility of the other person. Read his famous text "On the old saw 'this may be true in theory but is not applicable in practice'" (the text is available on the net, I will look it up). Like the categorical imperative this may be questionable. But on the other hand: Could you imagine Socrates or Jesus or the Buddha lying? Thus you see this is NOT impossible, but only "against all common usage".

    By the way: You really should read the text on Jean-Marie Vianney! While it is of course a bit "idolatrous" and makes you smile, it is very typical and contains an important lesson on "honesty". It is just what Kant had in mind: If you take people serious, you cannot lie to them. That may be a shock, but it is at the same time a sort of awakening and the beginning of healing from the "web of common lies". Thus this brings you very near to the core of our problem.

    If we really want to get at a better world — better humans in better societies — we should "slay the dragons" (St.Michael!) and start being honest and rip the "webs of lies" that are like cobwebs or like the strings with which the Lilliputans kept down Gulliver. In this sense all great saints really tried to liberate mankind from bondage. And in this same sense Kant tried to achieve this goal by reason. This was his life's work, so he could not accept lies in any form.

    And then: It is NOT the case that "this list (of good persons)is of course entirely subjective to the person who created it". As I said EVERY person in the world — be it English or Chinese or Swaheli or what else — KNOWS the difference between nice and decent persons and repelling persons. It is NOT a theoretical thing, but anthropological. We ALL know the difference between good and bad persons BEFORE all theory. Children and criminals and lunatics seldom get wrong on this — and holy persons never. They feel the hidden lie and pretension of the pretender and hypocrite.

    If you get cheated then typically you wanted to get cheated, you wanted to be lied to, since it was what you needed. This is the well known effect of flattering and advertizing: "Buy some gadget to become James Bond!" This too is part of "the web of lies". Socrates and Jesus never flattered anybody save the really honest and humble people — and that got them killed.

    As you see: the devil will not be too much scared by your trusty sword of honesty. The kids of Mary Seifert surely will know if there is a true saint entering their class-room. They would feel it. Like the many people that approached Vianney.


  • FROM: Hubertus Fremerey (09/04/03 5:16 AM GMT -06:00)
    on devils and subjectivism


    this is the place:

    // And there was war in heaven: Michael and his angels fought against the dragon; and the dragon fought and his angels, and prevailed not: neither was their place found any more in heaven. And the great dragon was cast out, that old serpent, called the Devil and Satan, which deceiveth the whole world; he was cast out into the earth, and his angels were cast out with him (Rev. 12: 7-9). //

    Surely the St.John had very outspoken convictions on who is bad and who is not. He wouldn't have accepted your suggestion that it all is subjective opinion. And neither do I.

    Of course — I would not deny that — it may be terribly hard to explain what is subjective and what is objective in our moral evaluations. But we should start perhaps with at least two important differences: The first is between "bad behaviour" and "bad intentions", the second is between "sanity" and "madness".

    The expression "to be well behaved" relates to some social norm, to some usage and "mores". "Correct behaviour" in this sense is different from one culture or subculture to the next. And what may be accepted at the workers desk may not at the Queens table. But this is of minor importance and sort of trivial.

    Quite another thing is "bad intentions": To be vile and atrocious and destructive is not at all "subjective", is no matter of taste! If somebody is vile and atrocious we know this — as everybody does independent of cultural background or worldview. To speak in a slangy tone to the Queen may be "bad taste" or "bad behaviour" under certain circumstances, but to lie or to openly insult is quite another thing.

    And then there is the difference of "sanity" and "madness". This too is a very problematic notion of course. In the eyes of many contemporaries Socrates and Jesus have been "mad", while most people today think they both have been sane in a mad society. I am completely aware of this problem — as is the psychotherapeutic profession.

    But this does not remove the problem of "real" madness. If somebody admires Hitler after knowing all his deeds, this does not tell me that the evaluation of Hitler is only a subjective judgement, but here I would say with uncompromising assuredness that one madman is admiring another madman. They both are twisted souls, and to speak of mere subjectivity is in this case "intellectual and moral sloppiness" and evading a real problem. Read the short but great booklet of Sebastian Haffner on Hitler!

    But this is just what I wanted to debate with you and all others on this conference: What do we call madness of a person or of a whole society — and by what arguments. We all know that there is such a thing and that it is NOT "entirely subjective".

    To be more precise: Of course ALL evaluations are "subjective" in the Kantian sense. But in your text ("This list is of course entirely subjective to the person who created it and thus has no independent value though it may be shared by a majority of people.") "subjective" is synonym to "a matter of taste", while in my reading — as in that of all experienced therapists and "saints" — it is not.

    There is REAL madness that should not be mixed up with personal whims. If somebody is a depraved mass-murderer like Dr.Jekyll but at the same time a nice husband and correct and efficient employee he is clearly a menace to society and a madman and not merely "a person with debatable habits".

    This is the difference I am interested in.


  • FROM: Hubertus Fremerey (09/04/03 6:54 AM GMT -06:00)
    on meditation and the brain


    I have no problem with those results of neuroscience telling us that "transcendental feelings are sort of brain disturbance". Such a thing was well known even in Antiquity: Take some mushrooms or other tricks and you will see God and the angels and devils. Maybe even St.John ate mushrooms before writing the Revelations.

    But what does it tell us? It does tell us that the piano from which we hear the music of Bach, Mozart, Beethoven or Fats Waller is the same as that from which we hear any child plonk away. If you hit the keys you will hear piano-music.

    To be a St.Paul or St.Augustine or Luther you need not "mystical experiences" but "brains". Those mystical experiences were only a help, like for some artist wine or coffee or "snow" may be. These are stimulantia. If there is nothing in your brain to be stimulated, it doesn't help. There are thousands of nuns and Zen-masters around that are great meditators but who will never make a big footprint in human culture, since their thinking is quite normal and conventional. But if this "spiritual drug" does help in getting along with a hard life, what is wrong with it?

    There is an old saying in the tradition of religious orders: "If the monk starts flying away, get him on both feets and pull him down back to earth!" No great saint ever has denied that the true measure for evaluating a saint is his character and behaviour, not his experiences. You NEVER know a saint from mystical experiences, since those are only "psycho-technical" — and can be mastered as such by any develish Dr.Jekyll likewise. In short: Having mystical experiences is irrelevant for being or judging a saint. Of course it gives some colour to the life of a saint if we are told that he had to fight temptations like St.Anthony or poltergeists like Vianney. But this is folklore and of no real importance. People did not flock to Vianny because of those poltergeists, which may have been good PR though. Even if a Rockstar is told to have fascinating sexual practices this may be good for PR and the mags — but only as far as the music is fascinating too.


  • FROM: Michael Ward (09/04/03 6:59 AM GMT -06:00)
    The devil is in the detail


    Turning the 'good human' argument upside down we can, as you suggest, strip away what is bad thus as Sherlock Holmes would deduce leave us with the explanation.

    There is, in my opinion, a false perception that people 'go bad' and it's not that I argue that people don't change but it would presuppose that people start out 'good'.

    The human is more animal than rational at birth and I find it difficult to accept that evil is a genetic disposition. As far as animals go few of us would give them attributes such as bad or evil but merely behaving as 'that kind' of animal does.

    Doe rabbits will, if stressed, eat their newly born young — but we do not punish them for premeditated murderous cannibalistic behaviour so where is the difference with Hannibal Lechter? How did this tiny new born baby turn into Hannibal ought to be a means of shedding some light onto the good/bad human issue.

    I suppose the good/bad criteria are closely related to morality and ethics as a good person would be higher up the moral/ethical scale than an evil one. I suggest the we look at the moral/ethical development then of the child from birth and I can find no better guideline than this below.

    Kohlberg's stages of moral development

    Stage 1: Respect for power and punishment.

    A young child (age 1-5) decides what to do--what is right--according to what he/she wants to do and can do without getting into trouble. To be right, you must be obedient to the people in power and, thus, avoid punishment. Motto: "Might makes right."

    Stage 2: Looking out for number 1.

    Children (age 5-10) tend to be self-serving. They lack respect for the rights of others but may give to others on the assumption that they will get as much or more in return. It is more a matter of "you scratch my back and I'll scratch yours," instead of loyalty, gratitude, or justice. Motto: "What's in it for me?"

    Stage 3: Being a "Good Boy" or "Nice Girl."

    People at this stage (age 8-16) have shifted from pleasing themselves to pleasing important others, often parents, teachers, or friends. They seek approval and conform to someone else's expectations. When they are accused of doing something wrong, their behaviour is likely to be justified by saying "everyone else is doing it" or "I didn't intend to hurt anyone." Motto: "I want to be nice."

    Stage 4: Law and order thinking.

    The majority of people 16 years old and older have internalised society's rules about how to behave. They feel obligated to conform, not any longer to just family and friends, but also to society's laws and customs. They see it as important to do one's duty to maintain social order. Leaders are assumed to be right; individuals adopt social rules without considering the underlying ethical principles involved. Social control is, therefore, exercised through guilt associated with breaking a rule; the guilt in this case is an automatic emotional response, not a rational reaction of conscience based on moral principles (as in stage 6). People at this stage believe that anyone breaking the rules deserves to be punished and "pay their debt to society." Motto: "I'll do my duty."

    Stage 5: Justice through democracy.

    People at this stage recognise the underlying moral purposes that are supposed to be served by laws and social customs; thus, if a law ceases to serve a good purpose, they feel the people in a democracy should get active and change the law. Thought of in this way, democracy becomes a social contract whereby everyone tries continually to create a set of laws that best serves the most people, while protecting the basic rights of everyone. There is respect for the law and a sense of obligation to live by the rules, as long as they were established in a fair manner and fulfil an ethical purpose. Only about 20-25% of today's adults ever reach this stage and most of those that do supposedly only get there after their mid-twenties. Motto: "I'll live by the rules or try to change them."

    Stage 6: Deciding on basic moral principles by which you will live your life and relate to everyone fairly.

    These rather rare people have considered many values and have decided on a philosophy of life that truly guides their life. They do not automatically conform to tradition or others' beliefs or even to their own emotions, intuition, or impulsive notions about right and wrong. Stage 6 people carefully choose basic principles to follow, such as caring for and respecting every living thing, feeling that we are all equal and deserve equal opportunities, or, stated differently, the Golden Rule. They are strong enough to act on their values even if others may think they are odd or if their beliefs are against the law, such as refusing to fight in a war. Motto: "I'm true to my values."


    Somewhere along the road the childs moral/ethical development gets arrested and then by way of power, size or cunning the ability to implement its concepts of 'Might makes right, What's in it for me' produces beneficial results for the individual and suddenly you have BAD person. So I would tend to say that you don't actually have a bad person but an undeveloped good one.

    Maybe I'm wrong and there is a Devil, Hell and Evil together with an omnipotent Creator who is ultimately responsible for everything — there that makes me feel so much less responsible.

    Michael Ward

  • FROM: Rachel Browne (09/06/03 1:15 PM GMT -06:00)
    Saints and things

    What are these saints really like? Would we like them, Hubertus? Do we really want to be surrounded by Sonja and Myshkin or are they only acceptable as standing for something in a novel. Isn't saintliness a bit nauseating, which is why it is funny that Michael can designate himself one and we're not offended?

    I have doubts about what you say, Hubertus. You say, for instance, "If you take people seriously you cannot lie to them" and this seems extremely doubtful. The more seriously you take them the more you may have to lie about some things.

    And when you say "St John would have had outspoken convictions on who is bad and who is not" then doesn't this confirm the likelihood that we wouldn't put up with him easily? Perhaps saints were such highly sanctimonious shits that they had to busy themselves with good works as no-one would want to have anything to do with them.

    But this subjective/objective value distinction is philosophical. Hence most likely to be meaningless. Good, bad, nice, socially acceptable. Insane. Admittedly these are determined normatively but there is a lot of individual difference in what we find acceptable. This doesn't mean all value is subjective. Some values we cannot deny without being taken as insane. Sound judgement is some sort of measurement probably. With sound judgement, how many saints could we put up with in our personal lives? Perhaps all saints are good for is society and as an ideal to aspire to in some ways, but not to entirely!? So what do you think sound judgement is?

    Hey Charles? Are you there? We have another dog. A rescue bitch aged 3. Really sweet natured. Now I see what thugs dogs are. But I like thuggish dogs. R

  • FROM: Hubertus Fremerey (09/06/03 4:44 PM GMT -06:00)
    on being a good human — and not


    as I said before in a reply to Mike, analytical philosophers cannot be serious: They analyze the meaning of "sinful behaviour" — and then continue behaving sinfully, since they were never interested in the nature of sin anyway but only in the nature of THE CONCEPT OF SIN — wich is not the same.

    I finished my opening text with:

    / And "honestly": We all don't like these topics anyway — good humans, good societies. Even I don't. It all sounds like "good behaviour" a bit, on which we have been been lectured a life long without much effect after all. Or so it seems. But like Sokrates I cannot avoid the question: "Why and how do I do what I do — and why and how to get better at it." /

    But on the other hand you are interested in your dogs — not in "the concept" of dogs but in the real animals. This is a difference. The saints are interested in the nature of sin like you are in the nature of dogs — in the real thing, not in "the concepts". Which brings me to


    Yes, I completely agree. Our concepts of good and bad are normative, as they are not in the case of animals. But that does not include that they are meaningless. Of course we may — and some judges try to do so — see punishment and capital punishment and closing up somebody as a pure technical measure to protect society without asking for anything like "sin" or "guilt". But humans like to live in a meaningful world. They don't like to be taken for mere robots committing murder but being without guilt. "Guilt" is a social and cognitive concept that is "needed" by society and by the "guilty" alike to defend the meaning of human behaviour. You will severely disturbe a child if you deny the existence of guilt!

    This is supported by the Kohlberg scheme too: Kohlberg, as a disciple of Piaget, calls those stages "intellectual" stages in the process of "moral concept formation". Thus "guilt" is as much a necessary moral concept as "truth" or "error" or "lie" is in the scientific realm. From a Socratic point of view — and Socrates was morally as strict as any Christian saint — to behave "bad" is "to lack insight into what is best for you and others". By this he proved (in the "Republic") that to suffer evil is better than to do evil, since to do evil would spoil the soul of the person who does evil. And this argument has been very important in Christian theology.

    But then Freud and Marx (and Nietzsche and many others before and after) showed that to know and to do "what is good" is not as easy as Socrates seems to think. The atrocities of the Nazis and of the Stalinists and of the French Revolution (the "terreur" of Robespierre) have been done "in the name of human progress and improvement" — as have been the killings of Pol Pot or of the Taliban, and of course of all those Christian true believers that burnt "witches" and "heretics" at the stakes or that have slain "heathen" in many crusades.

    Exactly because of this I aked for a "non-theoretical" model of "good person" and time and again stressed the fact, that we alle KNOW what makes the difference and should not let us be talked out of that. You know, Rachel knows, Mary Seifert knows, her schoolchildren know, all humans everwhere know before all theory what a good human is, BECAUSE THEY ALL KNOW BY EXPERIENCE WHAT IS A BAD ONE.

    So once more: You need not read the Bible, you need not read Kohlberg — since YOU KNOW THE DIFFERENCE FROM DAILY EXPERIENCE. This was — and is — my question: WHAT do we know?

    The notion of a good person has an intellectual aspect as in Kohlbergs "concept formation" and "stages of moral growth", but it has an emotional aspect too: What we know — everybody — is the difference between true love and "manipulation" and hatred — to call only some main catchwords to your attention here. There is much more to say on this of course.

    And once more: We should try to be serious and honest! You will not find many people who prefer Hitler to Schweitzer and give convincing arguments for that without being mad or insincere. This is simply by experience. And I want to know WHY this should be so. What makes most people think so?

    If you want to keep "good children" from being spoilt to become Lecters, you imply by this that you acknowledge a difference between good people and Lecters. Rachel my be right to shun the neighbourship of a saint, but she would not like the neighbourship of a Dr.Lecter or Dr.Jekyll or Dr.Mengele either. Why not? What do we ask for if we ask for a "good human"?

    What I definitely want to avoid is this "oversocialized" model: "A good person is a well adapted one" No, it is not! Socrates was not "well adapted", Jesus was not, Luther was not, Mandela was not, many of the best were not.

    This in mind I wrote in my opening text: /If you only try to adapt people to "what is usual" and to "going along" or "keeping up", you may only arrive at what the psycho-analyst Arno Gruen calls "The Insanity of Normality" [3] and which may be called "the efficient way of getting along by lying to yourself and to others"./ and

    /Most good humans are not at all "models" in the usual way of being "achievers". They seldom are. Like with good life and good society we have the strange experience that to be an "A-grader on all disciplines" does not make a good human, like to be "perfect" does not make a good life or a good society. So what is it? / and

    / Could you imagine Socrates or Jesus or the Buddha lying? Thus you see this is NOT impossible, but only "against all common usage". /

    And I suggested elsewhere to see Socrates and Jesus and Schweitzer as arguing from the 5th and 6th stage of the Kohlberg list against masses and their mis-leaders arguing from the 3rd and 4th stages.

    This is no simple stuff. Even I do not like it. But the history of philosophy and theology and pedagogics since Socrates is full of arguments concerning "the nature of a good human" — proposing the Stoic model and the Thomist model and the Lutheran model and the Kantian model and the Marxist model and the liberal model and many others. So I only take this debate up anew.


  • FROM: Michael Ward (09/07/03 4:49 AM GMT -06:00)
    Man is neither good nor bad

    Analysing what Hubertus said,

    'They (analytical philosophers) analyse the meaning of "sinful behaviour" — and then continue behaving sinfully.' No I disagree for such analysts have at least taken a step back, and removed one veil of prejudice that accepts 'a priori' that there is such a thing as sin in the first place. Many peoples living otherwise perfectly natural lives only learnt of their sinning by Missionaries. Most values come as pairs good/bad etc, but what is the opposite of sin!

    You have made the claim on a number of occasions that people intuitively know what is good or bad and ask for this to be set out as a "non-theoretical" model.

    So what do we know?

    1)We know how we feel.



    4)ad infinitum

    It's all emotional it's feeling, innate prejudices, unthinking stereotypes. When such positions are questioned responses boil down to 'don't confuse me with the facts' and 'I know how I feel' Furthermore you cannot make the claim that either I nor other people know what you know.

    I consider that the good/bad scale does exist but it has no values other than how it supports or conflicts with my perceptions.

    Let's burn the witches to save the witches.

    Michael Ward

  • FROM: Hubertus Fremerey (09/07/03 4:45 PM GMT -06:00)
    on feeling and knowing


    if I would take your stand earnest I only could sit down and resign. Of course I cannot "prove" that Schweitzer is in any way better than Hitler or Pol Pot. But what do you expect? Would you like to have witches burning still today? And if not, why not, if all is only a question of "feeling"?

    What I try to get across to all those analytical philosophers is simply that the value of something NEVER can be proven. The whole basis of analytical philosophy is nonsense. If you don't like your meal, you will not eat it. You never will "prove" that it is tasty. You simply cannot. Either you like it or you do not. Thus there is never another definition of "value" than the mere fact that somebody is valuing it. To stop witches and heretics burning, you have to be against it, not to "prove" that it is wrong, since you cannot.

    So once more: What do you expect? We all simply find some people good and some others bad, and we all agree on this more or less. There is nothing to prove. I only want to know what causes us to judge this way. And you evade this seemingly simple question. If I claim that 99% of all normal people in the world would call Schweitzer good and Hitler bad, you try to stop me by the argument that this cannot be taken as a proof. And my counterargument is: There never can be a proof of this, but the conclusion from this, that the difference is irrelevant and "scientifically" Hitler is not different from Schweitzer would be just the sort of fundamental mistake of the typical analytical philosopher.

    The analytical philosopher is trapped in his false conclusion that things have to be proven valuable to be valuable. But the proof of the pudding is in eating it, not in asking the philosopher. We never will get at better societies or at better humans if people wait for any "proof" of what should be "better". But this does not include that the notions of better societies or of better humans are meaningless. Analytical philosophy is just that — analytical, dissolving everything down to meaninglessness, getting rid of the world. The kid that wants to have sweeties is not interested in getting "the concept of sweeties" instead. And neither in getting "proven" that there ar no sweeties at all, since it is only "feeling" and thus only "virtual" and not "real". To have sweeties is VERY real! At least for the kid.


  • FROM: Rachel Browne (09/07/03 5:09 PM GMT -06:00)
    good and bad people

    We find people good and bad as we like them subjectively because they are to our taste, but we still have some other standard by which we recognise value and sainthood. We actually have double standards. Maybe more! And why not? If you understand everything, Hubertus, you won't be satisfied! What difference will it make to you except recognition from other people? Is that "good" in the value sense or pandering to your ego? Which would be fine by us, but is that good in the sense of valuable? Finding an answer to all problems of society seems a bit creepy to me. We are a muddle. R

  • FROM: Michael Ward (09/08/03 11:39 AM GMT -06:00)
    Food for thought


    I sense frustration in your response and trust that you can empathise with me at least in sharing the same frustration, maybe upon that much at least we can agree.

    I think you are incorrect about 'proving' whether or not I like a meal or some particular wine. The proof for me comes from the subjective experience that eating the meal provides. But it is not something that can ever be shared, it is entirely mine and always will be. And yet here you are asking for what makes a good person. A good person in no different from a good meal, does it agree with me? how did I like it? would I indulge again?

    In a world populated by Hitlers a Saddam would not be very outstanding — it's all relative. In a world of saints Jesus would equally not be very outstanding — again it's all relative.

    I do not believe the reasons exist for the good/bad discrimination that you seek so I contend that it is the irrationality of feelings that is the source of your dilemma.

    The only alternative I can see it that there are absolutes in values and that these were handed down on tablets of stone (or other material) from some creator — but I don't subscribe to that. However I'm beginning to consider that you may.


    Michael Ward

  • FROM: Hubertus Fremerey (09/08/03 4:18 PM GMT -06:00)
    what to call "normative"

    Rachel and Mike,

    I am indeed a bit frustrated and aghast now. From Socrates on to Kant and Buber the question of what should we commend to the parents and teachers and priests as models for education to become "a good human" has been of central importance. And I just asked anew: "What would you suggest for an answer?" And now you both answer: "don't care, doesn't matter, it's only a matter of personal taste and subjectivity". Thus one of the most central questions of all philosophy East and West is dismissed as for the trash-can. Did you even realize this?

    If Mike is right and it does not matter wether all people are Hitlers, then it does not matter wether all people are apes or spiders of whatever. Did you realize this? Man by this is only a strange and mor or less funny whim of nature without any real value. We could do without, nature would not care. Do you realize that this devalues ANY philosophy and religion and art to mere entertainment? Thus Socrates and Jesus and Kant and Schweitzer and who else has only been an entertainer like Michael Jackson, and all Christians or Muslims or Buddhist are only fan-clubs of their masters, but the message is irrelevant for other humans. The whole of ethics is a mere nonsense. Values in ethics are like values in pop-music. A matter of taste. There is no such thing as a good human, humans are only strange animals hopping around. And of course the ideas of Nietzsche and those of Maslow and Kohlberg — like those of Plato and Jesus and Kant — are only pop and fun too, but essentially irrelevant.

    If this is all that philosophy comes to, it is a mere analytical splitting of hairs - which is just what I am arguing agains analytical philosophy: It tries to drive any meaning out of every problem to render the whole of philosophy meaningless.

    Somebody once said: "Being too much interested in the whereabouts of some persons shows by this a fundamental disinterest in this person." By analyszing everything, analytical philosophers try to keep abreast of life and the world. They won't be bothered. Socrates was interested in "the truth" and Jesus said of himself "I am the truth", but analytical philosophy only is interested in the meaning of truth, not in truth itself. The last thing an analytical philosopher seems to love is "sophia", he is not interested, since for him philosophy is like a game of chess: Grist for the intellectual mill but then to leave it and go back to the more important things. Only those strange people from the continent could be that mad to take philosophy seriously and make it a matter of life and death. For Nietzsche philosophy was no game of chess, and neither was it for Kant or for Heidegger, for Pascal or for Hegel and all others.


  • FROM: Hubertus Fremerey (09/09/03 1:45 AM GMT -06:00)
    on "why to improve our world?"

    (posted Sept. 9, 2003, 8:55 AM MEZ)

    Rachel and Mike,

    I think we should get the whole debate back to what is meaningful. Of course: In a world of Hitlers a Saddam or Castro does not matter. But that was not my question. My question was: Would we like a world of Hitler — and if not, why not? This was a simple question and you evaded it since you felt uneasy. We all have a bit Hitler inside. So if we argue against Hitler, we in part argue against ourselves. And we don't like it. Thus we all prefer to debate harmless things as "free will" or "nature of thinking" etc., all those analytical questions that do not hurt anybody, since we can do without an answer. "Continental" philosophers seem mad since they really ask for answers. No sensible analyticist would do that. Even Kant was interested in humanity, likewise Buber. But there are analytic philosophers that seem not at all interested in f.i. "beatitude" itself — wether in the Aristotelian sense nor in the sense of St.Augustin or Kierkegaard — but they only are interested in the elegance of the arguments given for justifying beatitude as a highest value. It's only a nice game of chess after all.

    I really want to know: "What sort of future should there be — why?" And I won't like a future full of Hitlers. So I have to ask: "What is wrong with Hitlers? Why oppose a world full of Hitlers?" What is "the value of philosophy" if such a question cannot be taken serious?

    About a year ago, in an answer to Luiz on the philosophy of education ( I wrote: / If you had to educate your mom and dad or your teachers or your friends, what would you want to improve in them — why? And what would you want to improve in yourself — why? This "why" is the starting point of all "philosophy of education"./

    And now replace "your mom and dad and ... yourself" by "our world" — what then does this "improving" and this question "why" come to? That was what I am asking here.

    But of course nobody is forced to answer to my questions. You may change the whole topic and quit this one. You may go back to harmless questions on "the nature of free will" etc.. I wouldn't object to this.


  • FROM: Hubertus Fremerey (09/09/03 5:01 AM GMT -06:00)
    on the notion of "improvement"

    Rachel and Mike,

    I try to clear up some confusion. The question of the "analytical" philosopher is: "What does 'improvement' mean, what should we call an improvement — in what respect and by what argument?" Thus if anybody tries to "become a better human" or to help others "to become better humans" — as Socrates and Jesus and Kant and many others without doubt intended to do — then this goal is meaningless without any indication of what "a better human" should mean — and why.

    But the next step is not analytical but empirical: To ask for "a better cooking" is possible only if somebody knows from experience the difference of good and "less good" cooking. Likewise to ask for a better human includes theoretical and empirical arguments: Theoretical arguments derive from a general idea of what a good human should be, i.e. from philosophical anthropology and from some sort of Aristotelian "entelechia", from some model of "the good Christian" or "the good muslim" or "the good socialist" or "the good liberal democrat" etc.. This is the well known "models of man"-topic.

    The other approach is from experience: What does our everyday experience tell us on what to improve in ourselves and others?

    And we have to keep apart "style" and "quality": We all may disagree on what "cuisine" to prefer — French cuisine, Italian cuisine, Chinese cuisine etc.. But independent of this we have the difference of "quality". There is good and bad cooking in French, Italian, Chinese etc. cuisine. On the preferable cuisine people will always disagree, but on the quality nearly never. Whether you like a certain cuisine or not, you always will know and dislike bad cooking.

    And this is my question: There are many ways of living a human life, but independent of whether you are a playboy or a monk, a callgirl or a nun, you can be a good or a bad person by character. And I want to know the nature of this difference. People most often will disagree on ways of living, but they seldom disagree on the quality of a person as a character. Most people would prefer a nice whore to a hypocrite churchy type. This is the difference I am interested in.

    This difference is real and empirical and known to all people from all cultures and backgrounds. This is the sort of important differences that evades the analytical philosopher.

    And only from this difference then derive the practical questions of psychology and sociology. The task of the philosopher is to ask what the meaning of "improvement" is. This can be seen as a metaphysical and as a practical question, but even the practical question cannot be without some metaphysics contained in it. This is brought out in the statement:

    / We should never accept the idea that man is only an intelligent animal trying to make his life as comfortable as possible by applying "science and technology and common sense". To see man in this light not only is disgusting, it is downright stupid since it supposes a very restricted concept of humanity. To live comfortably is not -- and never has been in any culture -- the greatest ideal of humans. /

    How this position can — or why it even should — be defended is quite another question.


  • FROM: Michael Ward (09/09/03 1:40 PM GMT -06:00)
    The way things are


    Yes, Yes and mostly yes to your summary. It only matters about being good if you are not something you aspire to be — but what drives aspirations! Religion certainly does because it contains absolutes. But outside of this where are the absolutes — please tell me I really would like to know. Is truth an absolute, does truth actually amount to anything more than an equals sign?

    Yes I think I realise the consequences of what I was saying about values and I am prepared to consider my proposition as probably factual, but that doesn't bother me, though I suspect you may not like the idea at all. Does liking an idea have any influence on it being valid — I think not.

    Human thinking is still like pre-Copernican physics, the world exists to meet human values and human philosophy rules the waves. No it doesn't as I'm sure the next interstellar visitor might impress on you. You are quite right when you say 'There is no such thing as a good human, humans are only strange animals hopping around.'

    You also say 'I think we should get the whole debate back to what is meaningful.' This again is a relative term — meaningful for who? We are a kind of being that thinks — well actually we are more a kind of being that thinks a lot about themselves, for themselves.

    People tend not to like pain and prefers pleasure, or at least the absence of pain. Hence anything that moves us in that direction is better and vice versa. Correct me if I'm wrong but I suspect you want there to be more to life than just some arbitrary coagulation of replicating genes — the serious question to ask is why and if it's as I describe what aspirations are being starved.

    "Continental" philosophers seem mad since they really ask for answers. Well given that there are no absolutes and everything is relative then answers too are relative, relatively useless. Don't get me wrong I don't argue for cannibalism, for example, but there are times when it's a survival necessity but mostly it's genetically a bad practise, bad in the sense of leading to deaths — CJD etc.

    You ask "What does 'improvement' mean' — I suppose it means going further in the direction you want to go in though like hindsight it seems only measureable in the future.

    Let me suggest rewriting the dictionary without the words good and bad, it's only two less words and I'm sure we could cope without them — what would you substitute in their places?

    Finally the following statement is downright wrong / We should never accept the idea that man is only an intelligent animal trying to make his life as comfortable as possible by applying "science and technology and common sense". To see man in this light not only is disgusting, it is downright stupid since it supposes a very restricted concept of humanity. To live comfortably is not -- and never has been in any culture -- the greatest ideal of humans. /

    I guess you think I am avoiding your question, what I challenge is that it isn't a valid question at all — rather like have you stopped beating your wife, kind of loaded with hidden assumptions!

    Michael Ward

  • FROM: Michael Ward (09/10/03 12:46 PM GMT -06:00)
    Further reflections


    My last response was rather shooting from the hip and now upon further reflection I wonder if I see some of the fundamental differences with 'Continental' philosophy. There does appear in your approach a rather Kantian fundamentalist theme along the lines of the Categorical Imperative which purports to the existence of absolute moral maxims in an intellectual realm. This contrasts very much with English Utilitarianism and the value of outcomes being the maxim — thus each action has its own maxim or morality.

    Now you may argue that either route will still bring one up against the same judgements as to whether something is bad or good and in this I think we do not disagree. I sense a desire for answers where in fact there cannot be any answers, the world as represented in our minds has lots of open ragged edges to concepts and ideas and this good/bad definition is but one more example.

    I contend there is but one realm and it contains everything including thoughts and ideas (which are no less material than say gravity), there are no separate spiritual, ethical or moral domains of existence as these are purely false human constructions. I also contend that this does not devalue philosophy because philosophy never had the values that you credit it with — unless philosophy has become a type of religion i.e unsubstantiated belief in something.

    You ask 'And I want to know the nature of this difference. People most often will disagree on ways of living, but they seldom disagree on the quality of a person as a character. Most people would prefer a nice whore to a hypocrite churchy type. This is the difference I am interested in. This difference is real and empirical and known to all people from all cultures and backgrounds. This is the sort of important differences that evades the analytical philosopher.'

    So you are searching for some yardstick of measurement that is both apparent to the majority of people but not capable of being analysed — something shared but empirically immeasurable? Here we return full circle to my earlier proposal that the only thing fitting this requirement are feelings, we all have them but they are incapable of being independently measured.

    Michael Ward

  • FROM: Hubertus Fremerey (09/10/03 4:30 PM GMT -06:00)
    to scare the monkeys


    the rumble is on and all the monkeys are up the trees now chatting with fear! This reminds me on Ali vs. Foreman in Kinshasa. Was a great show!

    Yes, we agree! There is nothing to be proven save mathematical fomulas. Philosophy is on arguments, not on feelings. But who is arguing? Humans are — not robots! Why do people want to overcome Mount Everest? Why do they want to overcome the White Whale? Why do they want to overcome the opponent in a game of chess? There never was any necessity! So why do they want to overcome sin? Or why do they take hardships for a great love? There is no necessity either! But there is a model in your heart of what you want to be, and that is your private Mount Everest or your private White Whale. We ourselves write the script, or we adapt to a role of a script that any founder of a religion or any great philosopher or "Fuehrer" offered and that we found convincing and fitting with our self-image.

    Thus by taking up a role and by measuring ourselves against some ideal and going for some goal we give meaning to our thoughts and deeds and biography. We want to go for something and stand for something and not being mere jellybabies.

    The value of our "values" and goals cannot be proven, like the value of climbing the Mount Everest cannot be "proven". And this was the meaning of / To live comfortably is not -- and never has been in any culture -- the greatest ideal of humans. / You call this "plain wrong". How can you call something "plain wrong" that is a simple empirical fact. Does anybody go for the Mount Everest or for saintness only "to live comfortably"? Why do people admire those persons as "heroes" that definitely do NOT try to live comfortably but go to risk and even to sacrifice their life for something they find valuable? Why do people even despise somebody who prefers "living comfortably" instead of being a hero and fighting if a real "value" is at stake? Those we then call "corruptible".

    This is what I am saying: Analytical philosophy has rendered you nearly unable to understand the questions that are on the minds of "real" people. If you were right on philosophers, than 99% of all great philosophy — from Socrates to Heidegger and Wittgenstein — would be for the trash-can. Including of course the continental Nietzsche. What would be left over were the banalities of Russell. In real life, Russell was going for all those things that he despised theoretically — women and justice and freedom. This I call dishonest.

    The Greek had the good idea that while we cannot prove anything — see Socrates — we at least can and should debate everything to know what we are going for. They hated the idea that humans behave like stupid animals. In this way the two principles of Socrates — "I don't know nothing" and "a life not questioned is not worth living" — don't contradict each other. The first principle was honest. The second meant: Humans have intelligence and language, thus they are obliged by self-respect to make use of this.

    "Ideals" cannot be proven, but they can be defended like honour can be defended. Concerning this I wrote in an answer to Richard on the 17th Q/A-list: / First ask yourself if you want to be called a robot or an "intelligent animal". Then think of what may be the difference to being "a human". The idea of Aristotle's was to bring out the best possibilities of any being, and that he called "virtue". So his question was: what are the virtues that make the difference between "man-kind" and (for instance) "ape-kind" or "horse-kind". But of course, nobody can hinder you if you are satisfied being a happy ape. You must find out for yourself if that is "a rationale for the telos of being a human". /

    This is just what I am asking for: What do you call "the telos of being a human" - why? How should a human be in your opinion to be honoured as a good one — why? And even if you really think it does not matter if he is a Hitler or a Schweitzer, I would like to know your argument for that. But if you defend "the right of Hitler to be Hitler" as a staunch English liberal, then you are defending a value here. But then you will defend the right of Churchill to be Churchill and to kill Hitler likewise. That would at last be a true position: The right of Popeye to be as he is ("Iyam wot Iyam"). Thus the kid that scares Ms.Seyfert with a gun has a natural right to do so.

    I wrote in my paper "on the notion of 'good society'" (PATHWAYS issue 66 as of last Sunday): / It is not "the system" that defines who is included and who is not. It is us. And there is no rational argument to decide. Here we are to respond as humans, not as "experts". Here we have to decide by honesty and decency and experience, not by looking up theories. It is like deciding whom to invite to our party. No theory will tell us. We decide. /

    You are right that philosophy cannot "prove" that Hitler is worse than Schweitzer. But once more I ask: "What do you expect?" You always seem to throw out the baby with the bath-water. If philosophy cannot "prove" something to be of value, than there is no value. If some people have a neurotic concept of sin, then sin is a neurotic concept, etc.. This is like hearing some bad music and the claiming that all music is bad. No - there is good music too.

    Philosophy is on arguments, but this does not imply that all arguments need be "logical" ones. That was exactly why Wittgenstein changed from the author of the "Tractatus" (1921) to the author of the "Philosophical Investigations" (1951). The "Tractatus" was a dead end, but the "Investigations" asked for the meaning of philosophy: "What is on the mind of people, what are they asking for?" And I stand in this latter tradition: My question is: "What are people dreaming of if they are dreaming of a better tomorrow?" and "Since everybody of any brains agrees that there are good and bad, valuable and stupid and mad dreams — what makes the difference?" These are completely meaningful questions for a rational being. But analytical philosophy is not up to them. If you only can "analyze" the music of Mozart or Beethoven or the Beatles you never will know why so many people like it. This is why I said that "I think we should get the whole debate back to what is meaningful." "Analyzing" and "proving" does not get us to anything of value. Once more: Philosophy is by and for humans, not by and for robots. Logics is not interested in answers — WE ARE.

    Once more: We all KNOW the difference between good people and bad ones in the same sense that we know the difference between truth and error or lies. We know at the same time that we may err and be lied to, but this does not invalidate the first sentence. Exactly this was the starting point of any really great philosophy: How to know the real thing from the fake. This may be very very difficult, like climbing the Mount Everest, but this does not mean that the difference itself is only a delusion, like the Mount Everest is not a delusion only because it is difficult to climb it.


  • FROM: Michael Ward (09/11/03 8:39 AM GMT -06:00)
    Over to you now.


    Q. Why do people want to overcome Mount Everest? Why do they want to overcome the White Whale? Why do they want to overcome the opponent in a game of chess?

    A. The necessity to win, it's genetically inbuilt competition.

    Q. But there is a model in your heart of what you want to be, and that is your private Mount Everest or your private White Whale. We ourselves write the script, or we adapt to a role of a script that any founder of a religion or any great philosopher or "Fuehrer" offered and that we found convincing and fitting with our self-image.

    A. Yes we write the script but out of our experience and imagination — bad experiences and poor imaginations.

    Q. Thus by taking up a role and by measuring ourselves against some ideal and going for some goal we give meaning to our thoughts and deeds and biography. We want to go for something and stand for something and not being mere jellybabies. The value of our "values" and goals cannot be proven, like the value of climbing the Mount Everest cannot be "proven".

    A. The value is achievement and it is proven to the individual only

    Q. And this was the meaning of / To live comfortably is not -- and never has been in any culture -- the greatest ideal of humans. / You call this "plain wrong". How can you call something "plain wrong" that is a simple empirical fact.

    A. Comfort is personal satisfaction both physical, emotional and intellectual different people get a buzz in different ways

    Q. This is what I am saying: Analytical philosophy has rendered you nearly unable to understand the questions that are on the minds of "real" people.

    A. I think I am a real person at least I have a much proof of this as you have.

    I have no issue with 'Humans have intelligence and language, thus they are obliged by self-respect to make use of this', but you continue using words like 'ideals', 'virtue' as if they have some intrinsic quality rather than a comparative yardstick. Hence my reference to Kant and maxims.

    You ask What do you call "the telos of being a human", well it's this: I am one of many natural creatures in an impartial cause-and-effect universe. I judge my own ideas and actions by their consequences and believe that the best, most rational society is one that promotes the mutually advantageous growth and welfare of its members. Knowledge is valuable only as means of this end.

    This view permits other less rational and hedonistic societies and provided they do not disadvantage my society then let them live as they wish.

    We are all born equal? — NO WE ARE NOT so how is it possible to respond consistently enough to be called HUMANS, you know that given the same input different groups will reach different conclusions. Human values are very much a like bag of 'pick and mix' sweets.

    My view of philosophy is that it has little or no value if it doesn't improve peoples lives, but before you jump on this as validating some of your claims I have to add that I have no preferred direction of improvement for you, but for me yes.

    I will play the game for little while now in my way and answer your question 'what makes people good':

    Believing in GOD

    Having lots of money

    Exotic holidays

    Several cars

    Several wives (or husbands)

    Being like mother Theresa

    Having the wisdom of Soloman

    Being Happy

    Lots of children

    Caring for the poor whilst being richer than them

    Sacrificing yourself for others

    Over to you now what is your list?

    Michael Ward

  • FROM: Hubertus Fremerey (09/11/03 8:39 AM GMT -06:00)
    there need be no truth


    as Kant has shown the concept of "truth" is meaningless, while the concepts of "correctness" and "sensibility" are not.

    "Correctness" applies in the logical realm: Logics never is on "truth" but only on correct transformations and derivations. To give an example:

    The well known formula:

    P1 All humans must die. P2 Socrates is a human. C Socrates must die

    is a nonsense, but the formula "if P1 and P2, then C" is not.

    What makes the difference? P1 is not only an expression but a statement on facts. But do we really know that all humans must die? No, we do not. So the proposition, taken as an expression, is always correct, but taken as a statement on what is really the case it may be false. In this way logics is always formal, i.e., it cannot prove any facts that are not known to be facts before.

    This is no splitting of hairs! The whole of astrology, alchemy, kabbala, gnostics and similar "systems of truth" is mere nonsense if taken as a set of statements on the world, since all those systems derive countless "true statements" from mere "logics" and "analogies" etc..

    This was what Popper opposed: Science has to build models to make sense of observations. But if the observations don't fit the models, then the models have to change. This includes that models never can be "true", since they always are hypothetical. They guide our interpretation of the world and they help us looking for the right facts and putting the right questions, but they don't tell us "the truth". Modern physics never claimed to show "the truth" but only to give meaning to observations "as good as possible". There is no physical law that cannot be turned over by new evidence.

    Thus neither logics nor science will give us "truth" in the strong sense, only religion and superstition will. But this then is no truth either, but is "meaning" and "order". And here religion and science meet with art: Science tries to develop a model of what is observable, of "the facts". Religion and ethics and metaphysics try to give models of a meaningful world to live in as moral beings. "Facts" never can be "meaningful" in any ethical sense. This would be "naturalistic fallacy". From "is" does never follow "ought". But the judge and the accused both want to know why a certain way of acting should be called "good" or "bad" not in a technical but in a moral sense. Thus we need a moral order which is no "truth" either, since it is our human convention.

    Religion and metaphysics try to give meaning to this conventions and moral order. The modern debate is whether this is needed: Why not being cautious and call a moral rule a man-made rule and not a "God-made" or a "nature-made" rule? Why not turn from metaphysics to pragmatism. If a rule is feasible and sensible, then why not be content with that and not adding God and nature to make it more impressive and "holy" and untouchable. On this I agree to you: The tendency to "objectify" and "holyfy" moral rules to make them unassailable is dangerous. But it is understandable: People — not only regimes — need stability and orientation.

    The problem always is in the people: If people have a good and strong character, they will make a good and strong use of religion. If they have a bad and meek character, they will not. But this is not different with science or "sensibility".

    Where I disagree with you is not this analysis of "truth" but the underlying "fanaticism of reason". You always seem to say: "Why should people praise palaces if they could as good live in huts?" And I say: "From a pure medical point of view they could live in clean huts, but since people have phantasy and a longing for what is great and beautiful, they prefer villas and palaces and look envious at the world of the rich and beautiful. And I do respect this longing for greatness and won't restrict human life to a mere medical problem.

    As I say time and again: "At least 90% of what people do and want to do or to have is not needed in a practical sense. But this exactly makes the greatness of humans and the difference to the animals." We "need" nor palaces, we "need" no music, we "need" no jewelry or great robes etc., we "need" no beauty, no drama, no fiction etc., but this is our world, this is the greatness of humans. I simply don't see what you will gain by reducing human life to the life in a barracks or in a prison where you have only "what is needed". Then you need no private home and no swimming pool either. Thus to say that "religion is not needed" does not imply that it is worthless and could or should be spared. Most things that are valuable are not needed, and most things that are needed are not valued.

    What does it all come to with respect to "good society" or "good human"? We as humans - parents, teachers, novelists, film-directors etc. — are always debating and evaluating "human behaviour". Why should we if it does not matter? Since IT DOES MATTER. And it does matter since there is no "natural" human behaviour. Any culture and any religion is a frame and stage where to play your role. And we all are evaluated by our role-playing. We can be a leading actor as a hero or a villain or a mere extra or background. But sometimes even minor roles can be quite impressive, and there have been Oscars for these. Thus once more to be good makes a difference. This is the difference I am asking for. This was my question from the beginning: What do we evaluate if we call an actor or a script a good one — on the stage and in real life?


  • FROM: Michael Ward (09/11/03 9:09 AM GMT -06:00)
    ain't that the truth!


    These truths I like,

    Ethical axioms are found and tested not very differently from the axioms of science. Truth is what stands the test of experience. Albert Einstein

    God forbid that Truth should be confined to Mathematical Demonstration! William Blake

    I never give them hell. I just tell the truth and they think it is hell. Harry S. Truman

    If the truth were self-evident, eloquence would be unnecessary. Cicero

    Lastly the best one.

    I preach there are all kinds of truth, your truth and somebody else's. But behind all of them there is only one truth and that is that there's no truth. Flannery O'Connor

    Michael Ward

  • FROM: Hubertus Fremerey (09/11/03 9:13 AM GMT -06:00)
    what makes a good human?


    when I put my message on "truth" your own message "over to you now" seems to have come in at the same time. But this is a partial answer to your posting:

    You asked what I would suggest to make a human a good one.

    Believing in GOD = NO

    Having lots of money = NO

    Exotic holidays = NO

    Several cars = NO

    Several wives (or husbands) = NO

    Being like mother Theresa = NO

    Having the wisdom of Soloman = NO

    Being Happy = NO

    Lots of children = NO

    Caring for the poor whilst being richer than them = NO

    Sacrificing yourself for others = NO

    Simply think of what persons — personally known to you or only from the movies or from novels or from hearsay etc. — did you find impressive not for their knowledge or achievements etc., but for being "good humans"? And my question was: What was it, that made this impression?

    As I put it in the original message to this thread: /.. we have the strange experience that to be an "A-grader on all disciplines" does not make a good human, like to be "perfect" does not make a good life or a good society. So what is it? /

    Jesus said, we should become children again. And elswhere he said: "For what is a man profited if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?" (St.Matthew 16,26)

    I am not preaching the Gospel here. You could ask Mary Seifert instead what she wants to get her pupils to become like — and why. She too tries to make them "good humans". So ask her what she thinks on this goal.

    This was my question, nothing else. But of course the "why" is not easy to answer. And this is the "use of philosophy" — to put our heads together to find some answer.


  • FROM: Rachel Browne (09/12/03 10:49 AM GMT -06:00)
    what makes a good human

    I agree that if we were all Jesus, being like that wouldn't be seen as valuable, but it would BE valuable. To an extent. It would seem to destroy life and history. There would be no arguments, no conflicts. Is that really what we want? It is said by psychologists that a certain amount of conflict is essential to a marriage, for example. If you just agree in all ways and feel the same and have the same values, it would be too boring to go on.

    Perhaps what we aspire to we shouldn't actually achieve, or we would have no aspirations, no questions about what improvement is. The possibility of improvement marks out the difference between the way we actually are and the way we could be. But what is the sense of "could" here? Logically and metaphysically, there is a possibility we could all be like Jesus. But it doesn't seem to be a natural psychological possibility. How could we do it?

    Hubertus, how can you ask "what is wrong with Hitlers?"

    I agree with Michael that to seek answers where there none is pointless. It is not philosophy that holds values, but human beings. You cannot criticise philosophy for its failure to be able to say what a good human is. Evaluating human behaviour is an actual non-philosophical practice. Philosophers cannot come along and say what a good human being is. That is what would be disgusting, Hubertus.

    Was Mary Seifert trying to make "good humans" or just trying to make improvements in specific ways?

    What is this thing that "all humans must die" isn't known, Hubertus? Isn't a human a "mortal being"? Would we accept a thing that didn't die to be a human? Again it is just a logical possibility but not really a conceptual or natural one. R

  • FROM: Rachel Browne (09/12/03 11:08 AM GMT -06:00)
    Don't moralise, Analyse!

    This is what you always say, Hubertus.

    But it seems to me that a philosopher asks what values are rather than what we should value. We cannot lay down what we should value, as that would be moralising. Not analysing.

    To ask what improvement is is one thing. It is to ask about the meaning of the concept. But to ask what improvement in a human being is, is another. This is simply to ask what we value. That isn't a philosophical question either. It is a matter of fact.

    Perhaps a poll?

    If we just ask why we value Jesus over Hitler, it is simply that he wasn't for killing. We don't value killing as a good thing. We can ask why don't we value killing as a good thing, and that isn't moralising, but analysing.

    It seems to me you are asking the wrong questions. R

  • FROM: Michael Ward (09/12/03 12:33 PM GMT -06:00)
    Back to soapy frogs


    You ask a question, I give you a reply, I ask a question and you ask another question.

    It's getting rather like the soapy frog syndrome for me, simply unable to get a grip on.

    I reiterate 'What are your qualities for a good human' so that we may comment?

    Michael Ward

  • FROM: Hubertus Fremerey (09/12/03 6:19 PM GMT -06:00)
    why do we call something "good"?

    posted Sept.13, 2003, 1:30 AM MEZ

    No, Mike,

    it's not "soapy frog syndrome"! I simply try to get you out of this analytical trap. The trap says "to become a good human you have to behave in a good way!" "If stealing is bad, so don't steal, if lying is bad, so don't lie!", "If beating is bad, so don't beat!" etc. This is the analytical approach: The meaning of "bad" is "it should not be or it should not be done!"

    But we all know — not only Rachel does — that we do not strive to become saints. I said that before — several times. But from an analytical point of view this is illogical: If it is the obligation of humans to become "good" ones, and if to be a good human is to be a saint, then we are obliged to become saints.

    There are only two ways out of this: The one is to say "This may be right — but I don't care!" This is the attitude of people that smoke or eat fat and sweeties: They know that it is bad for health, but they do it, since it is good for feeling. Then we have this double standard. This explains why so many people like analytical philosophy: It is only a game of chess, it has nothing to do with real life — and it should not. And why double standard? To have fun in life is a value and to have a long life is another value. Thus if you shorten your life by having fun this is a bargain, not a double standard.

    The other way out of this dilemma — the way I try to go — would be to put analytical philosophy into question: If analytical philosophy tells us something to do which we do not find convincing, and if we are right on this, then analytical philosophy itself is at fault and suggests a false ethics. And this would be an exciting result! But I think it is right. Thus the simplistic logics of "If stealing is bad, so don't steal, etc." is wrong and not up to life. But then we need another sort of ethics.

    Rachel wrote "But it seems to me that a philosopher asks what values are rather than what we should value. We cannot lay down what we should value, as that would be moralising. Not analysing."

    No, the task of the philosopher is to ask WHY we call something valuable. This at least was the conviction of Socrates and Kant and all the others: Why to defend freedom, why to defend truth and honesty, why to defend loving behaviour over killing and maiming? If Rachel and you were right, these would be mere psychological questions, not philosophical ones.

    What Rachel seems to say — and what you seem to say — is always: "We defend freedom and honesty and we oppose killing and maiming, but we don't know why, it's just our way of feeling, it's just moralizing."

    And this — if it is what you really would subscribe to — would confirm what I say on analytical philosophy: It is unable to handle reality. There seems to be a hiatus: Here is life — and there is philosophy, and they have nothing to do with each other. Philosophy is just a game of chess, a word-play without any meaning, and the answers of philosophy don't oblige us to anything. We would do just as good without philosophy. This surely was not the idea of Socrates or Kant.

    Once more: / Simply think of what persons — personally known to you or only from the movies or from novels or from hearsay etc. — did you find impressive not for their knowledge or achievements etc., but for being "good humans"? And my question was: What was it, that made this impression? /

    This is not "soapy frog". It is a serious question. Get off analytical philosophy which is on meaningless conclusions and try to answer my question. This is what Socrates would ask you to do. It is just the same schema: Socrates showed that some sort of argument gets you into trouble. Thus you have to approach the problem from another side.

    Rachel was quite right: / ...if we were all Jesus, being like that wouldn't be seen as valuable, but it would BE valuable. To an extent. It would seem to destroy life and history. There would be no arguments, no conflicts. Is that really what we want? It is said by psychologists that a certain amount of conflict is essential to a marriage, for example. If you just agree in all ways and feel the same and have the same values, it would be too boring to go on. /

    This is exactly the way I see it myself. But if I were content with this, then the hiatus will not be closed: Double standard will be accepted. "We know what is valuable and what we should do, but we don't care!" And what I am asking for is another ethics, an ethics that is true to life, that is meaningful and practicable. I agree that this is a big task.

    In my opinion our whole way of debating ethical things is unsincere and dishonest. We cannot be content with "... being like (Jesus) wouldn't be seen as valuable, but it would BE valuable." The very MEANING of "being valuable" is to be valuable, to be a goal. You cannot say of something that "it is valuable but of no value". Analytically this is impossible. If you find freedom or honesty or decency valuable, then as a philosopher you have to explain why you think so. And if you don't see "to be like Jesus" as a meaningful goal for all humans, then you have to explain — as a philosopher — why you do think so.

    This was my question: If you think some person you met in your life deserves to be called "a good human", then why do you think so? Simply keep to experience, forget all analytical philosophy, only try to see this person and ask yourself why you think it deserves a qualification as a good person. What was/is special about this person that you call it "good"?

    Remember what I said on those saintly robots — "advanced mechas" — at the end of the "A.I."-film of Kubrick/Spielberg: They simply needed not to be envious or aggressive or dominant etc. since as robots they did not need all those traits of human character that are dictated from evolution and "struggle for survival". From a Darwinian point of view you can explain aggressiveness and killing and dominance and polygamy and other traits of "egoistic gene" in the way Ardrey or Dawkins have explained this. But robots don't need all this, and therefore I asked in the context of the A.I.-film if "robots are the better humans" and wether "to become a saint you should better be a robot".

    While biological evolution is no longer important for humans, it can be argued that to be aggressive and achieving in a liberal society is good for the advancement of human welfare generally. American society — and even much of European and Japanese society — is "achieving" and "contesting". But "Hippie counter-culture" and "New Age" was opposed to this and said we should follow the soft ways of the Indians and the Buddhists. This is a quite real philosophical and ethical problem. On this Erich Fromm (1900-1980, a Jew from the Frankfurt School) wrote his famous "To have or to be" (1976)

    ( 9466323-7444128)

    Should we favour "having" and "achieving" as contesting Westerners, or should we favour "being" and "growing" in a Buddhist sense (Fromm, coming from psychoanalysis, was a friend of Suzuki in his later years).

    This is not at all "soapy frog"! These are serious, deep and hard questions on what values to defend or to support as a good human and why. It is NOT about "being like Schweitzer or Mother Teresa or Jesus", but this does not render the question meaningless.


  • FROM: Hubertus Fremerey (09/13/03 5:25 AM GMT -06:00)
    on humans and robots

    posted on Sept.13, 2003, 12:30 MEZ


    look at Freud and his school and at Marx and Adam Smith: They all tried to understand what people are doing REALLY — even if not knowing or not thinking thus. You are quite right: To be "like Jesus" is not on our minds, and to be always "nice and understanding" in a marriage is not always helping and not essential for a good marriage. But you simply cannot expect another answer from analytical philosophy. This is what I call "the analytical trap": It's always like: "You agree that to be vile and not understandig is bad for a marriage?" "Yes, agree!" "OK, then to be always nice and understanding must be good!" "NO, that is against all experience!" Then the philosopher, perplexed, answers: "But if to be vile and not understandig is bad for a marriage, then to be always nice and understanding MUST be good! This follows with necessity and from logics!" And then I step in and say — with Freud and Marx etc. nodding agreement: "From a logical point of view you are right of course, but life is not a subdiscipline of logics. I am not interested in improving logics but in improving human life.

    This is exactly why Wittgenstein turned from 'Tractatus' to 'Investigations': The 'Tractatus' is on logics, while the 'Investigations' are on common language and on life described by common language. To use common language is not 'sloppy', but it is 'near to experience'. A marriage is a part of life, not a part of logics. Thus to understand what makes a good marriage, you need common language and experience, not logics! This is what I am saying.

    Logics — in a very general sense — is derived from "logos". Thus it is on our usage of words and language generally. We should always be careful not to stumble over our own concepts and theories. This would be the failure of "objectification". The conclusion of the analytical philosopher, that "if to be vile and not understandig is bad for a marriage, then to be always nice and understanding MUST be good!" is this sort of stumbling into a trap: He tries to derive a statement on a real situation — a marriage - from the analytical meaning of mere concepts like "vile" and "nice" and comes to absurd conclusions by this.

    To give another example of this fallacy: Somebody defined "democracy" as being "the identity of the governing and the governed". This is correct in a Rousseauist sense, but it is an utmost nonsense by practical standards, since it hides the possibility that "the governed" are no homogenous group but generally consist of fighting parties. In the former communist states officially "the working people" was "identical with the party of the working people" — and by this "identity" the people got suppressed by the party like it is today in Cuba and North Korea. This too is an example of the "analytical trap" of mixing up words with realities.

    You somewhere asked "If we learn from experience how can we continue to be stupid?" This was a central question of Socrates. If you KNOW that something is not good to do - smoking, eating fat and sugar etc. — how can you continue to do it? Since you are (luckily!) no robot. On a robot you simply change some program or turn some knob. No robot will do what he is not expected to do, otherwise he will be scrapped. Humans are humans and not robots, and life is life and not logics. And as a philosopher I am asking what this means and implies. This is why I call my sort of philosophy "pragmatist" and why I was surprised when I found out that in English there is no word for "Lebensphilosophie" — the sort of philosophy Schopenhauer and Nietzsche and Marx and Heidegger were engaged in.

    "Lebensphilosophie" is NOT "philosophy of life" but "philosophy FROM life". It is asking "Why does an intelligent animal like man philosophize at all? What is philosophy good for? Why not simply go along without philosophy?" This is what the "analytical philosopher" does not understand. He thinks the problems are "there" — only waiting to be analyzed. No, they are not! Since I am on this panel I always stressed that problems come and go and that there is no "natural" question. The problems of Luther with the devil and with Gods grace are not on your mind and neither on my or on that of Mike. But there have been and there still are millions of people that find Luthers problems quite natural and his answers quite convincing.

    We all try to make sense of our life and of the world around us — anyhow. This is what "Lebensphilosophie" is about: How to make sense of it all — and why. But the analytical philosopher tries to show us that there is nothing to ask, since it is all meaningless. He sees the car as "a transportation device" only, while in fact it is a social and psychological device too, used for "meaningless" car racings and showings of "masculinity" and a sex-symbol and what else. This all evades the analytical philosopher like the meaning and value of conflict and laughter and misunderstandings in a good marriage.


  • FROM: Rachel Browne (09/13/03 5:42 AM GMT -06:00)

    Why should be analytical philosopher move from being vile and not understanding in a marriage is not good so being nice and understanding is good?

    You can't suppose that one thing is false the opposite is true. Do you think that because tomatoes are not white they must be black?

    But the psychology of a marriage isn't philosophy anyway. it is just a fact that as every marriage is different, so is every individual in the balance of his interests and the way he makes meaning of life. So how can you get to these "people"? Perhaps you should look at why Freud, Marx and Smith failed in this project? R

  • FROM: Hubertus Fremerey (09/13/03 5:51 AM GMT -06:00)
    on listing up what's "good"


    you put a list of possible criteria of "what makes a human good?" When I answered all those suggestions with "NO" you saw a soapy frog jumping away.

    But suppose in your opinion Mary Seifert is — at least in some respects — "a good human". Then try your list on her and you will find that it's all NO.

    But what about "to be honest", "to be sincere", "to be courageous", "to be benevolent", "to be trustworthy", "to be caring" — these I would have answered with YES. But you did not put them. So no soapy frog here.

    There remains one question: How will we know that this list is complete and necessary. "Complete" means, we have not left out some important quality of "a good human", while necessary means, we have requested something which may be not essential for being "a good human".

    What about "humour", what about "love", what about "energy and drive"? Those are debatable candidates for our list.

    But perhaps there are several good combinations like there are many good meals with different ingredients. In an omelette you need salt, in an apple-pie you need sugar. To be a good teacher you need not be a saint. To be a saint or to be "perfect" is not a necessary goal for to become a good human — rather more to the contrary. But to be honest seems to be essential, and to be humble and learning seems to be too.

    This is what I want to debate: What is essential and what is not — and why.


  • FROM: Hubertus Fremerey (09/13/03 6:02 AM GMT -06:00)
    on being real


    you say that Freud and Marx etc. failed. What did analytical philosophers came to? Freud and Marx at least put some meaningful questions and changed our way of seeing things. What did the analytical philosophers change?

    You say "But the psychology of a marriage isn't philosophy anyway." Agreed. But if philosophy is of any use — we are on "use and value of philosophy" here! — then it should help us humans in understanding our problems and our "logics", i.e. the way we are speaking of our problems.

    I said that "if vile is no good, then nice must be good" is NOT a justified conclusion for me, but may be for the analytical philosopher falling into his "analytical trap" of the "meaning of concepts".

    I just tried to show that there is a difference between "meaningful speech" and "logics", and that this difference is brought out in the contrast of Wittgensteins "Investigations" and his "Tractatus".


  • FROM: Michael Ward (09/13/03 8:57 AM GMT -06:00)
    No recipe

    A short story

    It's baking day in Gods kitchen and he (or she) takes down the jars of the following genetic ingredients and decides to bake himself a human. Like you Hubertus he doesn't have a recipe and so he puts in a dash of honesty a smidgeon of sincerity, a splash of courage, a dollop of benevolence, a sprinkling of trust, a little caring, some humour, a shovel of love and a handful of energy. Puts it in the blender and then into the oven for usual seven days.

    Mmmm that's good says God I'll bake another lot but every time he tries it comes out different.

    The point I am trying to make is that good/bad is that it's just different, it's relative, better than the last one or worse than the next — you might as well ask what makes good weather.

    Give up looking for something that cannot be found because it doesn't exist, wanting it so doesn't make it so.

    Here's the humour bit. Descartes walk into a bar and orders himself a drink which he then consumes. The barman ask him if he would like another and he answers 'I think not' and promptly disappears

    Michael Ward

  • FROM: Hubertus Fremerey (09/13/03 3:45 PM GMT -06:00)
    how not to improve the world — or let it be


    this Descartes joke must be from a philosophical seminary. And so my question disappears from the screen too.

    You see: All politicians and all educators and all ethicists and moralists and even most scientists justify their professional goals and actions — if asked — by the grandiose claim to "improve society and the human lot and character." And you call this a meaningless endeavour. You simply seem not to realize how many people have given their life to enable modern liberal democracy and the welfare state. But you say this doesn't matter, it's all the same.

    In a sense I could agree: How to prove that it is better — in what sense? — to be a "modern man" instead of being "a happy cow" or "a happy ape".

    Doesn't it seem quite natural to ask — if everybody justifies his deeds with "improving the lot of mankind" — what this means?

    This I try to find out like Socrates would have done: "What do we mean if we claim to 'improve the lot of mankind'?" What do we improve, in what sense.

    People ask for meaning and for salvation, but you tell them there is no meaning and no salvation, it all doesn't matter. Wittgenstein tried to show the fly a way out of the fly-bottle, but you say "why not let the fly in the bottle, it doesn't matter!"

    This is just what I said: Analytical philsophy is unable — and unwilling — to understand what is on the minds of humans. It all comes down to a meaningless game of chess.

    Thus in your opinion all this striving of teachers and psychotherapists and politicians etc. to improve the human condition is a mere false dream. The truth is that they all are running around like ants, doing this and that, but in effect it doesn't matter, since the mere concept of improving anything is meaningless. Let the world be a world of Hitler or of Schweitzers, it doesn't matter, since nobody can "prove" that it makes a difference. Some like this, some prefer that, it all doesn't matter.

    Hm, OK. So you suggest another theme for debate.


  • FROM: Michael Ward (09/14/03 3:38 PM GMT -06:00)
    Here's hoping


    I hold a hope that if philosophy has any real benefit then it should, as I think we both agree, be able to improve the lot of mankind. So why have I held contrary views and fundamentally differed in these discussions?

    My concern is that there are no measurements or criteria we can universally apply to arrive at some rules or even guidelines that move people towards the good and away from the bad especially because bad and good are relative terms themselves. All these values are our own creations and maybe we should be looking into why 'we feel' they are beneficial.

    Humans, including myself or course, live in conflict with ourselves. We tell our children not to lie and in the next breath tell the about Father Christmas or whatever is our social myth. We still do all the things you have mentioned that are 'bad' for our health in blatant disregard for the likely outcome. We are fickle, self opinionated and resent having our ideas challenged let alone crushed.

    Not only are we each an individual but we are not the same individual today that we were yesterday so where is the commonality in all this — is it just the name human?

    Philosophers setting down behaviour that leads to 'good' seems little different from the Ten Commandments — by what authority can we do it?

    If you want to by what authority can you do it?

    Michael Ward

    I'll give some thought to another topic.

  • FROM: Hubertus Fremerey (09/14/03 5:17 PM GMT -06:00)
    to start and to stop


    I subscribe everything that you just wrote on generalizations. We are not at all separated on this. Only you want to stop and leave it there, while I wanted to start just from this point and to ask for the conclusions to be drawn. What we need is a new ethics for real humans, not for philosophical dress-puppets, and I never said that this would be a simple task.

    Remember what I wrote in my last PATHWAYS-paper on last Sunday: Instead of calling "social justice" or "assuring peace" or "rising welfare" or "protecting the ecosphere" etc. to be the most urgent problems of todays social philosophy, I wrote:

    / Why is it that we today are no longer convinced that the claims of the "Great Helmsmen" of the 20th century were justified? Why is it, that -- contrary to the fears of Weber and Marcuse -- the bureaucrats and technocrats and experts did not take over? Why is it that the models of people like Gandhi and Schweitzer and Dr. Martin Luther King still seem more promising as guides to a better world and society? This in my opinion is "the most urgent problem posed to todays socio-political philosophy". /

    And my question on "good human" was quite similar. If "to be an A-grader on all disciplines" is not what makes a good human, then what is?" That was my question.

    But of course you may change the topic, I am not insulted if you do. And I like you stubborn resistance that makes me think it over.


  • FROM: Rachel Browne (09/15/03 1:40 PM GMT -06:00)


    Idealism and values are just that. Not the way we live, but beyond. Man will always just be fickle, as Michael says. Even if you find a formula for a good society very few people will abide by it's rules or recognise it's aspirations. Everyone will go their own way. We're all individualists now. And where do we go from here? Where do we go from conceptual art and from post-modernism? It will be interesting to see. Just be thankful you live in an interesting time. Why do you need to solve this problem? R

  • FROM: Hubertus Fremerey (09/15/03 6:01 PM GMT -06:00)
    why to solve problems?


    you ask "Why do you need to solve this problem?" Simply because all politicians, all theologians, all psychotherapists, all pedagogues and gurus do. They all since times immemorial ask: "If we try to change society and humans to the better, as we naturally should, what are we doing, what are our goals and standards here, what does 'better' mean?"

    You cannot be a psychotherapist if you don't make a difference between what is "madness" and what is "sanity". If you say "we are all mad in some way or other" then you evade the problem. If this were the only answer then there would never have been Freud or Freudianism.

    The very notion of improvement includes that there is something to improve. Artists and musicians and novelists have sacrificed their lives to improve the arts and music and literature. Why did they do so if there is nothing to improve?

    What does "solving the problem of good human — or good society" mean? It does mean to know what people, that want to improve man and society, are talking of. If this is not a question that should concern philosophers — as in fact it has always done — then I don't see what should. You dismiss the greater part of philosophy as mere rubbish. Nearly all Platonic dialogues are on how to know what makes a good human. Nearly the whole of New Testament is. It is one of the central questions of mankind of all times. And it is not only on how to DEFINE a good human, but on how to MAKE one. But you and Mike call this a meaningless goal and debate.

    I even offered a way out! I said: Instead of talking of a "right" ethics and "wrong" behaviour, we perhaps should look at it the other way: People behave according to their needs, but the ethics is for saintly robots and not for real humans, thus we should change the ethics to fit with real humans and their requirements.

    What questions of philosophy are meaningful anyway? I f.i. find the questions concerning free will boring. Why? Because the answer doesn't change much. If there is a ripper or a rapist around, people are not interested in wether he is acting from free will, they only are interested in how to stop him and how to assure that he never will be a menace to other humans again. Thus the question of how to make "good humans" is much more meaningful than the question of "free will".

    But of course the question of what is and what makes a "good human" is a bit touchy and personal, while the question of free will is not. And this was exactly what I was saying before: Analytical philosophy tries to avoid the important problems and keep to the unimportant ones and play a mere game of chess and not — like Socrates and Jesus and Luther and others did — a game of life and death.

    There even are limits to philosophical mutual understanding. Suppose Mike would enter a talk-show with Luther and Ignatius and would start: "We surely will have very interesting questions to debate, but please keep all this 'God'- and 'sin'- and 'grace'- and 'devil'-rubbish out here, since it would be a waste of time." Then Luther and Ignatius would leave the room, since in their opinion any debate without God and devil and sin and grace would be meaningless and without any value.

    Remember that I always — even on the older conference — have stressed the fact, that there are only a few "natural" problems. Most problems in philosophy like in art and in life are appearing and disappearing like clouds on a sky.

    And there are confliciting notions of what is "important": To have children you need only sex, not love. But all great poets and novelists are talking of love much more than of sex. So what is "important"? Likewise with philosophical problems. Of course people have to eat and to sleep, but they are talking of God and salvation and ambitions and achievements and beauty etc.. So once more: What is "important"? And what is "a problem"?


  • FROM: Michael Ward (09/16/03 12:41 PM GMT -06:00)
    Free to do what I want.


    I will paraphrase something you recently wrote:

    The very notion of improvement includes that there is something to improve. Saints and Theologians and Priests have sacrificed their lives to improve faith and worship and theology. Why did they do so if there is nothing to improve?

    What is indeed a problem Hubertus, I suppose it is something that troubles you and you do not have a solution. Pardon my analytical approach but like the study of language it is difficult to talk about it without using the words you are studying.

    The question is why do anyone perceive something to be problem. There is some comparator being used between "what is" and "what ought" to be the case. Now in all these discussions you seem to take "a priori" the existence (or possibility of existence) of some state of affairs that can be described as universally better. Also that being better equates to good and the reverse equates to bad. This is what I would call common sense or perhaps more appropriately common misconception. History abounds with the residue of the discarded "common sense" ideas as I am sure you know well.

    It seems to me also that that the more I know I realise increasingly how much more there is to know. Taking this to a rational conclusion I have to accept that within my very finite abilities there will always be more unknown than known — and this is something that I must accept and in doing so change my behavior.

    So as you ask what is "important"? and my response would be the freedom to do what I want. You also ask "Why is it that we today are no longer convinced that the claims of the "Great Helmsmen" of the 20th century were justified?" With increasing freedom (of ideas) comes the capacity to question and I put to you the ultimate acceptance that there are no answers, simple or otherwise, though through philosophy we can get ideas into some relational order.

    If all things are arbitrary (as I currently think) then I must create meaning if I want meaning to life. This is not an easy thing to achieve as I am sure we all agree but it doesn't have to mean anarchy or despair is the alternative either, what it does mean is having to work hard at it and this is where the majority get off the train.

    Most people get off the thinking train, settle down and live their lives according to rules given to them by those who know better. I see their happy smiling faces every Sunday morning on the way to whichever church they worship and also going about their daily lives in varying degrees of contentment and I ask myself "who has a better handle on life — them or me"

    Michael Ward

  • FROM: Rachel Browne (09/17/03 3:10 PM GMT -06:00)
    The good society

    Hubertus, I agree with Michael, except that I don't think we need a meaning in life and don't even understand what that means. Or even what meaning means. We just need a role or life-style we're comfortable with, I think. We can't plan for others.

    People ask for too much.

    And what is the point of asking "what is a good society?"? Even if you had an answer - which you cannot have — it would be something purely theoretical which you came to by looking at history and current disciplines like philosophy. But then it gets practical. If you did get the answer you'd have to impose it on people to try it out to see if it is right and they wouldn't think that "good" and may not agree with your end. I mean, it is really a bit fascist. R


FROM: Michael Ward (09/21/03 3:51 AM GMT -06:00)
What where when how why

To all,

In attempting to make sense of an arbitrary world we have a hierarchy of information need to eventually be able to say we 'know'.

There would be little argument about the what being anything other than some form of pattern recognition.

The where puts the patterns into a spacial order.

The when puts the patterns into a temporal order

The how is the detailed causal ordering

The why is the purpose or intent behind all the "what where when how".

I think this hierarchy will stand up to examination and testing in all situations and I will give one specific example now.

Take the current case of Ruth Ellis who was the last woman hanged in Britain as a result of being found guilty of murder. There is a move now underway to have her verdict changed from murder to manslaughter. The difference between murder and manslaughter is the shift away from the priority question being why to the question being how.

If the correct verdict truly answered the why question then she was guilty of murder that is to say she deliberated, intended and actually of her own volition and freewill killed her boyfriend. If however the verdict is now overturned then she had no freewill (for whatever reason) and was nothing other than one link in a cause and effect chain. In effect she did not cause the death of her own free will.

It is my contention that once humanity became capable of asking of itself the question 'why' it has been rarely asked of itself 'why ask why' or more pertinently is why a valid enquiry at all. The development of the why question seems inversely proportional to being able to answer the how question. In fact they are in all respects one and the same question today with the big bang being the only valid why question left.

A short timeline of why questions might be: Why does the sun rise every morning Why do the crops sometimes fail Why do I feel there is more to life than this Why am I here Why do I think.

As demonstrated in the example of Ruth Ellis to be capable of asking why is 'de facto' acceptance that there is freewill and origination for how would it otherwise be acceptable to punish her for something she wasn't responsible for? More problems are created by asking the why question instead of the how question and it does seem to me that if there is a valid why question at all it must always follow a full and complete answer to the how question first.

So my questions are:

What are your comments

How do you justify them

I will not ask why

Michael Ward

    REPLIES (12):

  • FROM: Rachel Browne (09/21/03 10:53 AM GMT -06:00)
    Ruth Ellis

    Michael, I don't understand this how/why distinction. But on Ruth Ellis, if the murder verdict is overturned, it doesn't mean she has no free will, but just that in that particular case death was caused by accident or some illness she was suffering.

    We are all cogs in the wheel to some extent. Surely the murder/manslaughter distinction shows that we sometimes do intend and act with free will.

    But the how/why thing? Both ask for explanations, but "how" asks for a causal explanation you say — the "detailed ordering". But the question of "why" the boyfriend was murdered is also about causal ordering — whether intention was involved. This language assumes mental causation is possible. So maybe "why" is something that just satisfies our understanding because it is explanation in non-scientific terms of the mental. Surely it would precede the "how" question?

    But this is strange and interesting and difficult to think about. You should say more! R

  • FROM: Hubertus Fremerey (09/21/03 4:14 PM GMT -06:00)
    why differ murder and manslaughter?

    Rachel and Mike,

    I am a bit confused. The meaning of the difference of murder and manslaughter is to know what we have to expect. We suppose that a stone has no intentions to kill. But a lion may have. Only a lion has no conscience — while he may regret the unintentional killing of the waiter, if this was manslaughter. But in humans we cannot accept intentional killing, not even in affect. The argument is: Everybody — even if angered — should keep back from killing. Otherwise he is out of control. Likewise a sex killer. Those are more dangerous than professional killers, since those are at least reliable. Their fault is that they were able to kill for money. Thus they too have to be locked up. I cannot see where the problem is. Society has to defend itself from dangers. To lock up or to kill a murderer is analogous to killing a roaming lion or venomous snake. There is no choice. In my opinion the whole question of free will in the case of Ruth Ellis is completely irrelevant.

    I once asked, if those soccer-playing robots have a free will, since their behaviour is unpredictable. I never got an answer. I think they have a free will but no awareness of it — and they need not have an awareness. "Free will" in my opinion only means "goal directed" instead of "cause driven" behaviour. The cruise missile is cause driven, it has no choice but to follow its path. But the robot has to get the ball into the goal - however he may do it as long as he obeys the rules. There is no "path" he has to follow.

    And overall I am amused by this strange obsession with "free will": What is it, that makes this topic that fascinating (while surely not for me)?

    As a pragmatist I always have to ask "what will change if some assumption changes?" Thus my question to Mike is: What will change wether you grant or deny Ms.Ellis a free will? In my opinion nothing will change, since the difference between intentional and unintentional killing remains valid and important for the society to know how to protect itself. It is like the difference between a killer bee and a normal one. We have to know if the insect is an active killer or only an accidental killer. Even if we call this insect a robot without free will or intentions, this makes a very important difference. Against an active killer — robot or not — we have to protect in quite another way. And there even are cases when it is not clear what happens. See Hitchcocks "The Birds". There may be collective madness or some brain damage by a virus that suddenly changed the behaviour of otherwise friendly birds.

    Suppose it is a virus. Does this change "nice birds with a free will" into "mad robots without a free will"? I see no necessity for this. It is like the effect of a computer-virus. This does not change the nature of the computer as an electronic device, it only changes its behaviour in an unfavourable way. I simply cannot see why the question of free will should be important, wether in the case of the computer or in the birds or in the soccer-robots — or in us humans.


  • FROM: Hubertus Fremerey (09/21/03 4:42 PM GMT -06:00)
    minor addendum on "free will"

    many people seem to fall to the error that to be "determined" is equivalent to being "predictable". This is NOT the case. The outcome of the throwing of a fair dice is BY NECESSITY not predictable, while there is not the slightest argument why it should not be "determined". And this has nothing to do with Heisenberg's "principle of uncertainty" or any other physical law save the "principle of symmetry": If two outcomes are symmetrical then they are by this symmetry of the same probability. Since if they were not, then there would be no real symmetry.

    Thus once more: To be determined does NOT include to be predictable — not even in principle.


  • FROM: Michael Ward (09/21/03 4:58 PM GMT -06:00)

    Rachel, To me the how/why distinction is pivotal in the way people conceive reality.

    The 'How' people tend towards the method we call science and empirical information gathering and having found this explanation are satisfied and ought to look no further. That is not to say that scientists (who are also people) do not ask why — though I think they are asking the why question from a different standpoint to the how question.

    The 'Why' people need to seek the reason for some event happening and the only acceptable answer is one that includes at some point an act of volition by a person. If there were totally uncaused events (chaos and quantum theory) then how could anyone possible claim responsibility for that event. On the other hand if events are caused by an individual out of their free choice then the mechanism for this origination is not yet obvious.

    For example I am writing this in response to a previous question raised by yourself, even my original posting developed out of still yet earlier postings of other people and so on 'ad infinitum'. I least that is what I think but it puzzles me to observe people choosing to 'find' breaks in the chain of causality — how is this done?

    So where did this break or point of origination occur — surely not in this material world of cerebral cells, synapses, chemical and electrical discharges and brain waves. No it must have occurred in some other realm like mind or spirit which does not have to follow this universes system of causality. I'm sorry but I cannot buy that argument that there is some other ethereal realm free of causality which still has the ability to effect this material existence. Some would argue that art and music cannot be other than origination, for indeed the very word original commands an enhanced value — I would however substitute the word unique instead of original and think it to mean the same but without all the attached baggage.

    There is another explanation and that is that we totally deceive ourselves, and the method by which this happens is that there always is a causal event in our brain chemistry but it is not perceptible to our consciousness. All we are aware of is 'having the idea' and the causes for these 'ideas' remains subconscious. Were this to be the case then we could honestly believe in ourselves as being capable of origination whilst at the same time not violating causality.

    That generates an interesting question because if that were the case then whilst we may think we are 'guilty' or responsible the reality is that we are not. That would I think constitute reasonable grounds for a plea of diminished responsibility for everyone. But then I would say that wouldn't I.

    Michael Ward

  • FROM: Michael Ward (09/21/03 5:33 PM GMT -06:00)
    Determined to reply


    The cruise missile could not be held accountable for killing the people it landed on, that would be too ridiculous a concept as we would by now have a backlog of trials for smart bombs. No it's not the missile but the person who aimed and fired the device knowing the specific effects. Even if we automated the whole missile launch system with a robot there still would be a responsible person at the end of the chain of command of system implementation to hold accountable. The issue of intent always ends up with a human making a decision.

    In the example of Ruth Ellis the issue of freewill determined whether she should live or die — she died because the jury believed that killing was her intent. Maybe people shouldn't be prosecuted for near misses just successful killings as until they are dead we cannot be really sure what was the intent in the mind of the killer.

    Regarding your soccer playing robots, that's just what they are complex robotic machines and probably uninterested in high salaries, fame and transfer fees. When they are interested in matters like those then perhaps the word robot would not be so applicable.

    As to predictability I think the analogy of throwing dice creates a false concept, it is numbers and places that are the uncertainty not two dice made up of billions of particles being thrown in anything but a random manner.

    Finally when you wrote your posting was it done with freewill or were you determined to do it:-)

    Michael Ward

  • FROM: Charles (09/23/03 12:08 AM GMT -06:00)

    Michael said: " A short timeline of why questions might be: Why does the sun rise every morning Why do the crops sometimes fail Why do I feel there is more to life than this Why am I here Why do I think."

    Do we not distinguish between different levels of "why?" There is the "why" of the natural sciences and technology, based on progressive scientific method. "Why do the crops sometimes fail..." probably belongs in this category, certainly questions about sun rise. Parts of questions like "why am I here" and "why do I think" are certainly subject to scientific method, but there are also metaphysical aspects that science cannot measure and evaluate.

    Re Ruth Ellis, this would be a question of justice. There was a recent news report about at least some members of the "monkey family" having a sense of justice. So it would seem that even the example of a murder case would have different levels of "why," both from the natural sciences and from metaphysics and ethics.


  • FROM: Michael Ward (09/23/03 6:49 AM GMT -06:00)
    Insufficient Discrimination


    Hi and welcome back, all building and aerials complete?

    I think you have highlighted an essential part of what I perceive to be the problem. You are right people do not distinguish between different levels of why whereas I maintain that 'why' can only apply to an event that has behind it an identifiable secular purpose — otherwise the question ought to be 'how or what'. Children ask why does the sun rise or why does it rain until they know enough to see it as a 'how' question.

    Remember the Abbot and Costello sketch 'who is on first base' — this is exactly the confusion that arises out of inappropriate use. I'm interested to know what part of 'why does the sun rise' is of a metaphysical nature in your view?

    As for monkey justice that doesn't surprise me very much, actually I find it rather comforting, that there is some species 'on standby' as it were to replace us after our demise.

    Michael Ward

  • FROM: Charles (09/24/03 10:55 PM GMT -06:00)


    I agree that often people (including myself) through habit, lack of examination, whatever, confuse "how" and "why". I missed Abbot and Costello on first base though.

    Re metaphysical and sunrise. I see the daily rise of the sun being one of many patterns in nature that seem to me to be indicators of a tendency towards balance and order in the universe and despite the many indicators of disorder in human society. Another example of a tendency towards balance and order is the Gaia theory.

    So now I'm dealing with what appears to me to be one of those universal "big questions": Why does there appear to be a tendency towards order? I think that this big question cannot be answered through scientific method. Although certainly scientific methods could be used to verify or disprove my operating theory of nature tending towards balance and order.

    Re your question re the state of my antennas and the International Scout Jamboree on the Air: My antennas appear to be in a state of disorder, but I'm making progress. I've borrowed an idea from L.A. Moxon, G6XN, Radio Society of Great Britain book: "HF Antennas For All Locations" though. His "simple mast" constructed from three 20ft 4x2 ("2x4's" in America) may save my situation and blend in with the wooden framework of my house. But I learned a long time ago to always have an alternative means of communication. For me and JOT