Saturday, May 14, 2011

On Lucifer

I mourn the loss of thousands of precious lives, but I will not rejoice in the death of one, not even an enemy. Returning hate for hate multiplies hate, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.

Mangled quote from Martin Luther King, Jr.

This quote has achieved instant fame/notoriety on the Internet in recent days because of the powerful virality of Facebook, Twitter, and other social media.

It turned out, after some Internet sleuthing by various intrepid journalists, that one Jessica Dovey, a teacher based in Japan, had posted these words on her Facebook status update, expressing her own sentiments in the first sentence and then following with an actual quote from King. Others inspired by her words copied the paragraph in full as though it were all from King. And thus it spread.

Despite the mangled nature of the King quote, did it express a wise and compassionate sentiment even with respect to the world’s most notorious terrorist, a modern-day Lucifer?

This brief history is meant to be a light introduction to a heavy topic: Lucifer, the devil, Satan, evil. What do these words mean? Why is there evil? Is there evil?

Read the rest here.

On Explanations: Absent-Minded Science, Part X

This is the concluding piece in my series on absent-minded science, an extended critique of modern science’s tendency to willfully or unintentionally ignore mind in its explanations.

Tigger: Well, hello there Eeyore, my friend – lovely day isn’t it?

Eeyore: Lovely is all relative, isn’t it? Compared to yesterday I guess it is fair to say that today is lovely.

Tigger: Er… Yes! It is all relative, and today is indeed lovely compared to yesterday. But, you know Mr. Eeyore, this brings to mind a little philosophical problem I’ve been pondering.

Eeyore: Oh yes? [His large ears perk up as Eeyore loves philosophy almost as much as Owl.] Since when do you like philosophy my bouncy friend?

Tigger: Oh yes! [Tigger bounces on his tail in excitement.] You’ll be very interested in this, I have no doubt. I have been pondering… explanations.

Eeyore: Explanations?

Tigger: Yes! Explanations. Why are we convinced of certain explanations and not others? What is it that changes our minds and hearts?

Read the rest here.

On the Heart: Absent-Minded Science, Part IX

“Excuse me luv,” the woman said to me as I walked down the street on my way to the train station. As I turned around to see who was speaking, she picked my scarf up from the ground, which I had evidently just dropped, and handed it to me with a smile.

I was visiting Reading, England, and was always pleasantly surprised, amused, and a little perplexed by the familiar “luv” manner of speech in this rainy island where I was born.

The scarf had been given to me about a week earlier, by a very nice woman named Julie who was looking after my grandfather for a few days. The gift was unexpected, as I had never met Julie before then.

The kindness of strangers seems irrational to some people and wouldn’t generally be considered economically rational behavior to an economist focused on pure cost/benefit analysis. Thankfully, humans aren’t entirely rational creatures, despite the assumptions of economists. We follow our hearts as much or probably more than we do our heads.

This latest essay in my series on absent-minded science continues the exploration of reason and logic, begun in my last installment. Part X will conclude the series with a light-hearted examination of why certain explanations are more compelling than others.

Read the rest here.

On Logic: Absent-Minded Science, Part VIII

Is logic entirely logical? In a word: No.

Logic is the sine qua non of Western science and rationality. We are taught from an early age that the scientific method, with its language of mathematics and logic, can solve all empirical problems.

Sure, there are some areas that perhaps science will never shed much light upon – the sphere of values and spirit, better left to philosophy and religion (so the prevailing paradigm holds). But in everything else, science is generally perceived to be an all-purpose toolkit that will eventually unlock all of nature’s secrets.

If only it were that easy.

Western science is indeed built upon logic, with the ancient Greek philosopher Aristotle’s thoughts on the subject still in many ways at the core of today’s system. Aristotelian logic starts with the law of non-contradiction. Something can’t be true and false at the same time. Something can’t be A and not-A at the same time. This seems like good common sense as well as good scientific method. Surely something can’t be itself and something else at the same time. Surely something can’t be true and false at the same time.

Read the rest here.