Archive for February, 2011

February 13, 2011

A good golden idol

A wealthy man purchased a small statue made of solid gold and began to worship it. His neighbor reproached him: “What have you done?! You used to be free and now you must serve this piece of metal you bought for yourself!” But the first man replied: “No — yesterday this idol was hidden within my heart and dictated everything i did; now i worship a visible object and only grant it a few minutes of my time every day. I am more free than i ever was!”

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February 12, 2011

Poor preaching

The scientist Dawkins was strolling down the road when he saw a youth sitting under a chestnut tree gleefully singing at the top of es lungs, “Oh God, how great you are! You have saved us from our sins!”

Leaning down with his hands on his knees, Dawkins explained to the youth that God did not exist and that the world was all there is. Despondent, the youth stopped singing and teary eyed said, “Then there is no hope!”

“Of course there still is hope, responded Dawkins, it is just that God cannot provide it.” But the youth would not be consoled, so Dawkins gave up and continued on his way.

Further along, Dawkins heard singing once more and saw another youth dancing wildly on the side of the road: “Oh God, how wonderful you are! You created us with your mighty hand!”

Leaning towards him, the scientist Dawkins once again explained that there was no God, and that humans existed only because of blind evolution. The youth scratched es head, but after a moment of silence e resumed es joyous singing, “Oh world, my God, how wonderful you are! You generated us through your blind evolution!”

Disgruntled and weary, Dawkins sighed and continued on his way.


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February 4, 2011

Introverted and extraverted moralities

In es extraverted mode a person aims to maximize the health of es relationships; in the introverted mode e maximizes es own well-being. The introvert can learn to extend es self to others, seeing others as small or large parts of who e is, and thus reap the benefits of the extraverted view by incorporating others and es relationship to them into es self. The extravert can learn to cultivate es relationship to eself, spend time getting to know eself, which will enable e to strengthen es end of es relationships through introspection. The introvert thus learns to pursue es true, complete well-being, all people and all things considered, while the extravert learns how to improve es relationships to eself and all others.


February 4, 2011

Alternate moralities

Would we still require morality if we could move back and forth in time?

Time would still have a direction and a pace, only you wouldn’t always have to follow it, perhaps like walking back and forth on a moving walkway.

However, we couldn’t gradually tweak each of our actions to produce exactly the right results by moving back and forth in time because we would begin forgetting “the future” as soon as we started moving backwards in time. There would be only one possible life to live, namely the one we lived in the normal, “forwards” direction of time. We could always move back in time and start over, but we would choose exactly the same action over again and perform it the same way; moreover, we wouldn’t even know we were starting over: it would always feel as if we were doing it for the first time. Nothing would change about morality. (Actually, nothing would change about our perception of ourselves and the world.)


Would we still need morality if time had no direction?

If you had to always keep moving along a timeline but didn’t have a default, constant direction to go in, then this would still be a kind of time (i.e. forced movement, change). You would have to flip some kind of switch every now and then to start going in the opposite direction. Moving in the other direction, changing things in the “future” would affect how they will “have been” in the “past”, through an inverted kind of causality. You would have an “inverted” self-consciousness that knew the future and not the past. The “past” would have to adjust itself each time you acted to be the “past” that “would have been” necessary in order to result in your new action.

What would morality look like? You could still try to make the time in front of you better than the time behind you “had been”. Weaving back and forth between your birth and death, you could improve the general happiness of your lifespan, though you would only ever know of one half (though perhaps a very big one) at a time. You could relive your life an infinite number of times (your consciousness would never disappear or die), though you would not have (and certainly not remember) “past lives”. You would know you were moving back and forth in time but you would be “trapped” in your one life, i.e. that section of time.

Regardless of the direction in which you were moving, the good would always lie in front of you and be your goal, what lay behind you would be unalterable, though a source of knowledge about what was best to do moving forward. If there were a fifth dimension of uni-directional time from which godlike beings could observe your life, they would see progress along their line of time as you shuttled back and forth through your life, each new pass being slightly happier or better than the previous one. You, however, would never know.


Would we still have morality if time did not exist?

If there were no time we would only have dimensions of space, nothing would ever change, and so you couldn’t make anything better. The world would just be — neither good nor bad. There would be no morality. Even if there were other possible worlds, someone would have to exist outside of them, but in time, to evaluate whether our timeless world was “better” or “worse” than other timed or timeless worlds.


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February 3, 2011

Better times lie before us

In the Hebrew language you refer to the past as what is in front of you, whereas the future lies behind you. What you know and can see is what has already happened, the story of your people; the future is unknown and shrouded in darkness, you cannot see it, which is why it lies at your back. In our more modern languages that grammatical assumption has been reversed: tomorrow lies before us (“i am looking forward to…”) and the past is behind us (“back then…”). To us the past is hidden below the ground in sand dunes and burial grounds, and we must unearth it and decipher it, whereas the future is only a few days away, barely a little misty, and we can almost already see it. We now look expectantly to the possibilities of the future and are glad to have the unchangeable past behind us.

We can imagine two people standing back to back on a timeline. The first, an ancient, looks toward the past and cannot see the future (one must admit, a slightly more accurate metaphor); es modern counterpart is turned around and looks towards the future, keeping the past behind e.

Now we might add another layer to that picture. In both cases the individuals consider that (on the whole) what lies before them is better, the the present is relatively bad, and what lies behind them is even worse. However, the good that lies in front of the ancient is the past, whereas the good that lies in front of us moderns is the future. To the ancients Eden was the best of times, as was the Golden Age or the rule of the China’s first and supremely wise kings, Yao and Shun; now we have fallen from Eden through sin, our age is that of Iron and kings are evil or incompetent. The modern view is, of course, that we once lived in caves without central heating, but that tomorrow we will cure cancer and have flying cars.*

Both ancients and moderns view the good as a Bad->Better vector that begins here & now and points forward, either to the past or the future. Our conceptions of morality, ancient and modern, are thus closely linked to our conceptions of time, the good being understood as a “better”, a point in time that defines a preferred direction. The ancient view was tragic in that its “better” lay in an unreachable past that was inexorably moving further and further away from us. Our modern view is more “dramatic” or “comical” in that it follows the direction of time instead of working against it: the better lies in the future, where time is heading anyway: we only need to wait and see and all will be well — or much will be better.


*This view is that of Enlightenment modernity, the one that “believes” in progress, the (almost inexorable, if slow) advance of democracy and human rights, the gradual, if haling, perfectibility of humankind. However, there is also a newer contemporary view that follows the ancient moral time-line, namely the environmentalist movement which believes the future will likely be bad (destroyed ecosystems, out-of-control weather) and that the (recent) past or present is better (non-genetically modified foods, untampered climate, large bio-diversity). This ecological view has the same Bad->Better vector for describing morality as do the two systems i described above, though it is pointing in the ancient direction, towards the past, though it is anchored in the future and points at the recent past.


February 3, 2011

A supremely selfish king

When the old king died, his son, a supremely selfish person, took up the throne. He had been spoiled throughout his childhood, had always received everything he demanded, and everyone had always been under orders to make him as happy as possible. In fact, the only thing he truly cared about was his own well-being. On the day he became king, all of his subjects feared the worst.

The first thing he did was to inspect his stables. Walking along, he saw that one of his favorite horses looked a bit ill. Very upset at the sorry condition of his horses, he called over the stable boy to reprimand him. “My lord, the boy replied, your minister has so reduced the servants’ rations that i am often too weak to feed enough hay to all the horses and so some of them go hungry.”  Furious at having sickly horses, he ordered his minister to reinstate all servants’ rations so that he not have to suffer from their shortcomings anymore.

Later, riding through the countryside, the king saw beggars and scraggly houses everywhere. “How ugly and depressing this all is!” he complained to his minister. The minister replied, “The people are too poor to take care of themselves properly. We would have to reduce the taxes if the villagers are to repair their houses and not be reduced to begging.” The king would hear no more, “Do whatever it takes, but i don’t want to have to ride through an ugly kingdom anymore!”

That night the king went to bed and found his wife crying. “What are you crying for? Stop!, or you will spoil my mood!” he ordered. Sniffing her tears away, the queen answered, “You ignore me all day and never set eyes upon our children.” The young king thought for a while and then answered: “Very well, i will be kind to you and take time for our children. Now be happy, lest you make me sad!”


February 2, 2011

Preaching atheist

There was an atheist who traveled from city to city in an old beat up car with a step ladder in his trunk. He would drive to the town square and climb upon his ladder. To the passersby below him he would shout out: “There is no God! The world began with a big silent bang and one day will end in a loud crunch. The scientists have proven it. All the religions you follow were invented by human beings, they are all false! The truth is, we must learn to live without religion.” He railed against all religions, all creeds and all faiths. Men and women cried out: 
“You blaspheme!” 
“God forgive you!”, but he would simply raise his voice to cover theirs.
Then one day, when everyone had heard enough of him, they pulled him down from his ladder and began to beat him. Between the blows he cried out: “I am not afraid of dying, because i know for a fact that i will simply cease to exist. But my message, which your children have heard, will continue to spread once i am gone!”
Then someone said: “Let him go, for he has more faith than all of us.”