Thursday, November 20, 2008

Hurting your brain!

I was surfing the internet as usual until I landed on the BBC's website and found this article about the World Philosophy Day (which came 3 months ago). The article's title is, "Four Philosophical Questions To Make Your Brain Hurt."

Frankly, I never knew before this year that philosophy had a day too. A mother's day may sound good, a father's day maybe OK, even a water day might be useful, but philosophy!

Since my brain is usually hurting all the time, I decided to hurt it more. After all, I spent a lot of time of my short life trying to get answers to the toughest philosophical questions, so why not try these ones too? The writer is a lecturer of philosophy at the university of Glasgow. Thus I felt I won't be wasting my time.

Of all the four questions, only two I would consider brain hurting, the third and the fourth. Those are also the two questions I already thought about long time before reading this article, and I'm still thinking. The other two (the first and the second), the argument the writer made about them weren't even convincing for me to make a lot of thinking.

The first question is about killing one person to save the life of more persons. The writer gave us three hypothetical situations to think about.
  1. Killing a healthy person and use his organs to save many unhealthy people.
  2. Being a hostage yourself, you'll have to kill one other hostage so as to secure the release of all hostages. Otherwise all would be killed. You'd be released in either cases.
  3. You're given a choice: Left, and five will be killed. Right, and one will be killed.
The writer tries to use the second and third situations as analogies to the first. It is true that the three cases have the same relation (killing a person to save many others), but looking closer, they're very different. Personally, I would not kill the healthy person (case 1), I would not kill the hostage (case 2), and I will choose right (case3). The reason? Well, only in case 3 I have no choice but to kill. The second case is the toughest to think about, but I will choose not to kill. It's all about direct responsibility in my opinion. To be indirectly responsible of the death of five is much better than being directly responsible of the death of one. Here, passivity is a much better choice. As fore case 1, it's a whole different situation. While the issue of direct responsibility holds here too, there's no urgency about it. Killing a random person who is not even part of the situation doesn't fit in the analogy.

Verdict: Pain is a reality of our world. As long as you are not directly causing it, you should accept its existence. You should work as hard as you can to eliminate or reduce it, given that you don't reside to relief pain by inflicting it upon others. Two wrongs don't make a right.

The second question is about our continued existence over time. In other words, what makes our personalities? Who are we?

As simple as the question might sound, we are yet to find a satisfying answer. But who said that we need answers? Thinking is a permanent process, and if we find satisfying answers, we will stop thinking.

The writer refrained from mentioning the word "soul" (maybe because it sounds unscientific), but for me, our existence is not determined only by the existence of our functional body or functional brain, but by both of them together and that's what I call the "soul." Take one of them away and the personality (soul) will be nonexistent. Swapping minds is mere science fiction, but if it is to happen, it will not mean swapping personalities.

Verdict: I am who I am. An evolving (but one) personality, affected by its surroundings and affecting them at the same time. As long as this loop is working and I feel it, I exist, otherwise, I don't.

The third question is about reality and illusion. What makes us sure that something exists when we can't even independently check if our senses are reliable?

Our senses are all what we have to check for reality. These are all the tools we've got. In collaboration with our brains, they give a meaning to our surroundings. Questioning the reliability of these tools mean that we live in nothing but an illusion; and since illusions do exist in life, why not life itself may also be an illusion?!

But wait. How come we are so sure that illusions exist? Even the existence of illusion was known to us through our senses.

Verdict: Our perception is what creates illusions. In optical illusions, two lines may look of identical lengths while in reality they are not. Our eyes see them in their real (unequal) length, but its our perception that make us think they are equal. And my perception is the product of my experience in this world, so even if life is an illusion, I can't check it out as I am part of it. Therefore, it is my reality.

The fourth question deals with the issue of freewill and predestination. Are they compatible with each other? Can they coexist?

I have to say that I thought about this subject many times. I think it is also related to the third question. This question is so complex that any answer of it will directly or indirectly contradict with some aspects of science and morality.

People usually think that it is either predestination or freewill. But I disagree. I am a believer in determinism, and as the writer said, randomness doesn't imply freewill. It would be bizarre to disregard cause and effect as one of the fundamental truths of our existence. It is what all sciences and philosophies are built upon.

Even if some random patterns appear in our world, that doesn't mean that there was not a cause. In relation with the third question, I see randomness as an illusion. It describes what we don't know, that's how we perceive it.

We perceive ourselves as having free will. Based on our experiences and our existence, this is our reality. Everyone can experience freewill while making the smallest choices in his life, like choosing what to wear for instance. Facts are based on our observations, our experiences, and that's why there's no doubt in my mind that I have free will. Even if all my choices were written down some billions of years ago, I don't know and can't know it. I only know what I can experience, and in that sense freewill and predestination can coexist,

Verdict: Think of it that way. You are a protagonist of a story. Within the story you have all the free will, but your actions are predestined by what's in every page. In your reality you make all the choices, while in the writer's reality, your choices are predictable. Different realities mean different perceptions.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

American Elections 2008

In what is certainly a historic presidential election, today the Americans will choose their new president, a post that was occupied by one of the worst presidents in history for the last eight years. A host of tough challenges will face the new president that includes (but not limited too) a very weak economy, a lost war, a war being lost, instability in many regions of the world, and an environmental crisis that may affect the life on Earth as we know it.

While a huge contrast can be found between the main two candidates, there are still many undecided voters according to the most recent polls. It really is amazing how someone could be undecided in the very last day between two completely different paths. On what bases such a person will base his choice in the last hours, except for tossing up a coin? This way seems the only legitimate one for someone who couldn't make up his mind for that long.

One one hand we have McCain, a conservative, who seems to support every kind of war just because he's a war veteran. Although he had been for so long doing politics, he seemed lacking a lot of experience in his campaign that he chose a woman who knows almost nothing about politics to be his vice president and a potential president, he acted foolishly calling to cancel a debate so as to help the economy (obviously he wasn't successful), and he spoke about his opponent much more than he spoke about himself!

On the other hand, Barack Obama was able to build on of the strongest campaigns ever, and he seemed to be more experienced and stable throughout the whole campaign. But Obama spent a lot of money (from donors) in order to achieve this; and money is a very strong factor in this kind of elections. But the most important positive thing about Obama is that he seemed to have a plan; maybe he doesn't have one, but he seemed to. Obviously, if you speak more about yourself and what you're planning to do, you'll be in a much better position than just being a naysayer.

So, Obama seems closer to clinching the victory according to every single poll in the USA. But if this election was all over the world, McCain would have conceded loss long time ago. Indeed the whole world seems to favor Obama on McCain by a far margin and that's mainly because the whole world is sick and tired of the failed policies of the Republican party under the reign of George W. Bush. They know that McCain won't be very different.

"Change" was the keyword of these elections. The word was first used by Obama in the beginning of his campaign, but then, everyone wanted to be a part of the change. However, the word was linked more to Obama whose skin color and physical features certainly had an effect as well as his somehow leftist policies and his firm opposition to the war on Iraq. After his defeat of Hillary Clinton, he seemed to be the only hope for change since a change from a Republican conservative to another Republican conservative would bring less than 10% of change (including the names) to the white house. The American people seems to need more.

A more insightful look on those involved in this year's election would bring more people into consideration. Hillary Clinton was on of the most important players that even though she lost, she raised the bar of the Democratic party and got more people involved in the election (some die hard Hillary supporters even chose to choose McCain over Obama!). Another important woman is the VP Republican candidate Sarah Palin. A woman with no experience at all, brought by surprise to hold the second most important post in the American government; an unexpected but not very smart move from the McCain side. Another interesting person was Ron Paul, someone who seemed very odd sitting between all the Republican candidates in the early debates opposing the war of Iraq with strong words that weren't even matched by some of the Democratic party. And last but not least, Ralph Nader. He's not new to the presidential elections, but he would probably bring real change to Washington if he was ever to be elected.

With all the focus on the main two parties, one wonders why those other candidates care about campaigning when they are standing a zero percent chance to get to the white house. The only reason would be to spread their ideas which is really good. But still, why there are no many independent voters in the USA. Most of the voters choose their candidate just because of the color of the party he represents; there are no much emphasis on the policies as there is on what the parties represents. If you're a conservative or a liberal, you know what colors you'r choosing. If you'r a member of the small group of independents and not leaning to any of the main candidates, then either waste your vote on another candidate, abstain from voting, or toss up the coin. More independent voters mean more choices, and therefore better options.

It is just a few hours until the name of the next president of the USA will be known. The whole world is waiting eagerly for a change. But maybe they shouldn't. Whoever the candidate will be, all changes will be minor compared to the amount of instability brought by the current administration. A local change could happen in America, but on the global scale, we should expect the worst so that we will not be disappointed.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

The world is too hot to get cold. Or is it?

Since the beginning of the Russian-Georgian conflict, there hasn't been a day that has passed without me hearing a reference to an upcoming cold war. In developing countries, many dream of the end of a unipolar world; they don't want the USA to be the only superpower in the world as they think that the emergence of another superpower will make the world more peaceful and just. On the other hand, some folks in Russia as well as the USA are equally fascinated by the idea. But the question remains: Is another cold war really inevitable?

Looking at the state of the world right now, it seems that no one is ready for another cold war. America has enough problems in Iraq and Afghanistan, and it won't be able to open yet another front, not even with Iran. Russia also has its own problems and it isn't powerful enough to face the USA and all its followers.

But even that reality won't deter cold-warmongers from keeping on speaking about the cold war. The common thing between those people in both camps is that they are driven by some sort of arrogant nationalism. American cold-warmongers keep on searching for potential cold enemies, whether it is China, Russia, or even - at certain times - France! They have been alarmed by the rise of Russia under Putin's rule, and they don't like it. They just want America to remain as the only superpower, and they are afraid that any other nation maybe on the way to challenge them. As for the Russian cold-warmongers, they are exactly the opposite. They can't forget the days of the Soviet Union when they were head to head with the USA, and their national pride make them dream about a revival of these days.

One may think that Georgia was caught between all of this, but the reality is that Georgia brought all this to itself. A small and weak country like this don't even have a chance to beat Russia; and if they thought that the USA would stand by them militarily, they were gravely mistaken. They didn't gain anything except for hearing some opportunistic American politicians saying stuff like "We are all Georgians," when prior to this conflict, most Americans didn't know that there is another Georgia other than theirs!

Now it seems that the conflict brought the situation to a temporal, but long, deadlock. Maybe the world is too hot for a cold war, but it is certainly not that hot for a cold peace.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Union for the Mediterranean!

Yesterday, a new union was born to this world. Instead of speculating about the ill fate awaiting this union, let's just be optimistic for a second and look at its chances of success. The last thing the world needs right now is another useless union.

This new baby was part of Sarkozy's election campaign. And even before seeing the light, the then proposed union was met with objections from some parts in the north and the south of the Mediterranean sea. While the only south objection came from Libya (a country whose leader is famous of objecting just for the sake of gaining more publicity), the north's objections were even more bizarre; they came mainly from Germany which is not even part of the Mediterranean culture (if we can call it that way) and asked for the inclusion of all 27 EU members!

So here we came to the modified version of the union with most of the European countries along with some Arab countries and Israel as part of it. While it is obviously no more about the Mediterranean, this regional union brings together extremely diverse cultures; the north and the south.

So what are the chances of such a union to succeed?

I think that the answer of this question depends on what kind of success we are hoping for. I would consider removing the pollution from the Mediterranean sea as a huge success. A more optimistic person may think that it will enhance trade, stop illegal immigration, or maybe even reducing the gap between the north and the south in all areas. An extremely optimistic person may think it could help to bring peace to the most troubled region in the world.

Back to reality, I don't believe there's much room for improvement except for, maybe, environmental and trade issues. I also hope that it may improve the human rights record in some countries, but that's all. The only way for the success of such a union is to have realistic goals and to work steadily to achieve them without much propaganda (less meetings and fewer cameras). Adding a list of impossible goals will just undermine its credibility.

Building bridges between the east and the west is always a welcomed step. The newly born Union for the Mediterranean may seem very small next to greater unions like the UN (both in scale and value), but at least this time all parties are equal; there's no vetoes, there's no permanent and non-permanent members and, more importantly, there's no USA.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Watch: Kung Fu Panda

Taking place in China, the movie tells a story of a Panda (Po) who aspires to be a Kung Fu warrior. Po works in a noodle restaurant with his father (Mr. Ping) who wants Po to succeed him in managing the restaurant, but wants to be sure that he's ready to be given the secret ingredient. Po keeps his dreams for himself, but his desire to be a Kung Fu warrior is to big to be hidden. So when the opportunity comes, will Po be able to seize it?

From the movies title it is really easy to know that Po will seize this opportunity, the question is how? But what's more important is that from this moment in the movie, all the fun begins. I went to this movie with not very high expectations having been disappointed by many of the previous Dreamworks 3D animated movies (Shrek 2 - Shark Tale - Madagascar). I also thought that the movie would be very childish (something like Hoodwinked) and may not be enjoyable by adults (I am 23). However, it was really enjoyable for most of the time, and I had some pretty good laughs every know and then.

The concept of the film is fine. A Panda playing Kung Fu may sound a little like a Rat who is cooking, but repitition is something we are used to in animated feature films (AntZ & A Bug's Life, The Wild & Madagascar, Shark Tale & Finding Nemo), at least this time they were two different animals! The message within the movie (moral lesson) was also done before in some animated movies, but nevertheless it perfectly fits the story line.

The characters design is the best aspect of the movie IMO. While most of the attention is given to the Panda and its struggle with its heavy weight, the movie is rich with a variety of characters that range from the old and wise tortoise Kung Fu master (Ogoway) to the snow leopard villain (Tai Lung) passing through a tiger, a monkey, a green tree viper, a praying mantis and a Japanese crane. Did I mention that Po's father is a goose?!

Kung Fu Panda is a fairly enjoyable CGI movie. Its main audience is of course kids, but if you're an adult who love animated movies, you'll most propably like it.

  • Amazing traditionally animated intro.
  • Nothing exceptional in the voice acting, maybe except for Master Shifu (Dustin Hoffman).
  • Cartoonish character design that goes well with the theme of the movie.
  • The music seemed to be nice, but I could hardly hear it in most parts of the movies (well...except for the intro and the casting).
  • Progress of events is mantained throughout the movie which makes it far more enjoyable than some previous Dreamworks CGI movies.

My Score:4/5

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Animated Shorts Academy Nominations

Each year at the same time I am waiting eagerly to know to whom the Oscars go; not in the best actors categories, nor the best picture, director, but for the best animated short film. This category, which is hardly mentioned before and after the ceremony, is the most one that attracts my attention, and that's because of many reasons.

Firstly, the films are really short which means that you can watch them all together in a far less time than feature films. Secondly, shorts are usually more hard to do than the feature films; it is harder to find a short appealing story, it is harder to leave a lasting impression from a movie that usually doesn't exceed the half hour mark. Thirdly, these are shorts and animations, so it is very easy for many to neglect them, and indeed they are neglected by many.

This year's nominations come from different countries and with different styles and genres.

1- I Met The Walrus

A short animation about an interview that John Lennon did with a 14 years old boy in 1969. The film is made by simply drawn illustrations which go along with Lennon's speech and contains many symbolism. That 14 years old boy is now 53 and he's the producer of I Met The Walrus.

Country: Canada
Technique: Handdrawings, 2D.
Runtime: 5 min.

2- Madame Tutli-Putli

A stop motion accompanied by real eyes integration into the main characters, the film is visually impressive. Along with its original music and story, that's propably what granted it a nomination. Madame Tutli-Putli is in a journey both in reality and in her imagination. While travelling in a train, she's also confrontin her demons.

Country: Canada
Technique: Stop Motion
Runtime: 17 min.

3- Même les pigeons vont au paradis (aka. Even Pigeons Go To Heaven)

An ironic 3D short film about a priest who races death to reach an old man and to sell to him a machine that will transport him into paradise before he dies. Death, faith and salesmen attitudes, all are combined in this beautiful short film.

Country: France
Technique: CGI
Runtime: 9 min.

4- Moya Iyobov (aka. My Love)

The most eye-catching of them all, this short film has its unique style. Aleksander Petrov's paint-on-glass technique, together with the romantic story and the russian atmosphere, makes this movie a serious contender for the award. It is worth to mention that Petrov already won an Oscar in 1999 for his short paint-on-glass animated film The Old Man And The Sea.

Country: Russia
Technique: Paint-On-Glass
Runtime: 26 min.

5- Peter & The Wolf

The classic fable about the fearless child set to Prokofiev's musical score, this movie is a combination of three different techniques producing a unique looking version of the story.

Country: Russia
Technique: CGI, Puppets, and Stop Motion.
Runtime: 33 min.

My Opinion: Once again this category proves to be the richest when it comes to creativity and techniques. With the absence of Pixar's shorts, it was an empty seat for others to be nominated, specially that there's not a single American film in this category this year. With the exception of Even Pigeons Can Go To Heaven, all the shorts well deserve the nominations (IMO). If you want to watch the films yourself just do a search in YouTube; most if not all of them are available there.

Predictions: I always suck at predictions, but for me it is either I Met The Walrus, or My Love; both movies truly stand out from the others. However, I think I Met The Walrus will eventually be the winner.