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.